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The Overwhelming Present: On Having Too Much To Write About

In Chronic Pain, Class Politics, Creative Writing, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality on May 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM
"It burns the thing inside it. And that thing screams." - "An Agony. As Now." by Amiri Baraka

“Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,
white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.
It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling.”
– “An Agony. As Now.” by Amiri Baraka

 

Over the past year I’ve come to realize that my constant hesitation to write emanates not so much from anxiety or deep-seated insecurity, but from an overwhelming sense that there’s way too much shit to write about. If you’ve ever had to make a list of all the possible topics you could speak, write, or blog about, then you might have a sense of what I mean here.

Just the other day, heading back home from work in an hour-long trek from one part of Brooklyn (Bushwick) to another (Sunset Park), I was engaged in my most common activity: sitting, thinking, dwelling on issues that seem insurmountable. Even indescribable. Just the thought of putting these experiences and thoughts into writing was exhausting.

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For me, there’s an almost-insurmountable catatonia that comes with writing about the struggles of the everyday. Where to begin? After all, the elusive present is hard to understand without an acknowledgment of history. Do I cherry-pick old historical events, like the wave of destruction that swept over the Arawaks of the Bahamas when Columbus landed his avaricious gold-seeking feet? Do I speed through Manifest Destiny and slavery-fueled industrialization? Or the reproduction of urban savagery a lá Robert Moses and red-lining and… Or do I begin with what I’m seeing right now in 2014: the drastic efflux of white (with the ever-so-often black, brown, and yellow-hipster) faces walking past me at the subway stop near my job.

Goddamn. In a mere six years, the social landscape of this neighborhood has changed at a terrifying pace.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). Neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). The multi-story condo to the left was opened just a few years ago and already suggests near-full occupation. Indeed, neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

 

In a world with too many wars to fight, to many colonnades to dismantle, reality is jarring. And at the end of the day, here I am…sitting inside a train. Zig-zagging my way out of Brooklyn, then back again. Joining up again where the political meets the personal.

I still have to deal with soul-crushing limitations. Trying to live like a revolutionary in a neoliberal age, my mind slumped after a night of teaching in impossible circumstances. And as much as I wanted to scream, a bourgeois sentiment in me also wanted to make demands and compelling critiques. But the number of topics I could potentially write about (that were also personally embroiled) were staggering:

  • I can write about gentrification, urbanization, and settler-colonialism in the United States. Using the example of Bushwick or Sunset Park to demonstrate how gentrification—a term that has been popularized in the left and right to the point of losing considerable political valence—is really just another iteration of white supremacist, urban colonization. Even in cases where the gentrifiers and the gentrified come from similar ethnoracial backgrounds, a similar logic of invasion, plunder, and proselytization operates, often with indirect repercussions to communities of color.
  • I can write about the linkages between police brutality, mass incarceration, and the reciprocal relationship between carceral regimes and capitalist development (including criminalization and its association with gentrification in Brooklyn).
  • I can write about the struggles of adult education programs, or the constant struggles and physical and cultural violence experienced by my transnational, multi-status immigrant students. The unique, indescribable experience of being a teacher at the crossroads.
  • I can write about the insidiousness of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), its ableist romanticization of long hours, commitment, and passion. Its coercive management of dissent. The funneling of revolutionary momentum into the rat race of data-driven bureaucracy.
  • Then there’s the fact that I often feel like I’m being ping-ponged between the NPIC and the (bio)medical-industrial complex. As if I wasn’t already drowning in paperwork and numbers, I also have to keep track of my co-pays, premiums, medications, and insurance policies. I have to manage a deeply crippling, mysterious condition (chronic pain) layered upon another (multiple sclerosis). I have to deal with doctors’ racisms, insensitivities, and general misunderstanding. I have to deal with pharmacists and insurance reps and union reps and social workers and disability lawyers. More days than I can count, I am filled to the brim with sadness and fury and hopelessness.
  • I can write endlessly about what it’s like to live with pain, all forms of spiritual, existential, psychological, physical, collective, or intergenerational pain. And the wisdom that pain provides.
  • I can also join the graduate student-blogger bandwagon and write about my detachment from academia (here comes another industrial complex: the academic IC). I can write about my alienation as an economically precarious “millennial,” or write about intersectionality and identity through the lens of a crippled, queer cisgender working-class man of color.

For me, it feels like the possibilities are endless. I can write substantially about any and all of these things—not simply because they seem fascinating, but because they are integral to my everyday material experience. But unlike those who have the luxury of waging war in one or two battlefronts, I’m living in sheer and utter political cacophony, living with the threat of debt, hunger, and detonations of pain. I’m forced to deal with an amalgam of interrelated injustices, not simply an isolated cause or issue of the moment.

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Fact is, no one embodies single-issue politics; but for some, the layering of oppressions is too adamant, too imperious, to conveniently omit in any writing of personal experiences. For how have I become the sort of subject, the sort of human that I am today were it not for a constellation of experiences that is simply more than the sum of its parts? While disembodied scholarship coercively tempts us into partitioning our lives like specimens under a microscope, life teaches us how beautifully, sometimes agonizingly, complex and unpredictable the world must be.

Glancing back at this list, I am reminded of how overwhelming it all is. It is overwhelming to be alive today—and most of us ignore the telltale signs (sometimes out of necessity). Living through the tyrannies of a globalized capitalist order, sensing that the orderliness of modern civilization, urbanization, and economic development is actually more mythology than a worthwhile endeavor. Putting our bodies through cruel regimens of poorly cooked, chemical-ridden foods and substances while working until we literally drop. Or resorting to a jaw-dropping level of consumption of entertainment, drugs, and alcohol to deal with the pain of isolation. Or lest we forget the weight of ruptured, dismembered, or even annihilated communities and histories.

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Reflecting on the obstacles to produce through writing, I recognize how frighteningly obvious some of the “internal” ones are. With my eyes looking straight ahead to an impending life in grad school, I’m reminded of what Andrea Smith has written about with respect to the academic industrial complex:

“A phenomenon that results from academia’s myth of meritocracy is that scholars feel an undue burden to prove their brilliance. They can never take short cuts. They cannot publish anything unless it is perfect. Consequently, it takes many scholars an inordinate amount of time to finish their work because they suffer from excessive anxiety attacks as to whether or not their contributions are going to be sufficiently brilliant to warrant their publication.”

This resonates: I can be a perfectionist and hesitate to print or publish anything that doesn’t conform to a standard I’ve created for myself. I am also fearful of being “too public” with my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and fear their resultant social repercussions. I fear being stigmatized, or analyzed, or romanticized and co-opted by well-meaning liberals. I also fear not articulating myself in a way that reflects how I truly think or feel—something that becomes particularly salient in my life with chronic fatigue. Even as I write this, I am constantly redacting my statements, cognizant of the critiques (feeling more surveilled than an object of the Panopticon state)….

Of course, the joint effect of these fears is to avoid writing altogether, with only an inkling that perhaps one day I can do so at a difficult convergence of free time, good health, good energy, and “feeling inspired.”

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So, to what extent are these barriers psychological/individual vs. systemic? And to what extent are these barriers that I have agency over? I don’t think I’ll ever develop a satisfying response to those questions, but I’m very much aware of how I’ve come full circle since my very first blog post on overcoming writing paralysis.

I still believe in the importance of writing, and speaking out against all forms of violence. I even see the importance of writing within political projects, even if those projects cannot be reduced solely to an ideological exercise.

But it’s fucking hard to put all the pieces together, to synthesize an amalgam of experiences that often feel too disjointed and irregular and incredibly messy. Sometimes it’s too much work to synthesize and create a story that fictionalizes a union of the world’s haphazard parts.

And while it’s generally hard for most people to find the time and space to write, the challenges are exponentially worse when you have to struggle with pain, fatigue, and brain fog.

Yet, none of that is to render invisible a more basic conundrum: There is too much shit going on in the world. There is too much shit going on in my life. There are too many fucking things to write about.

Yes, there is way too much shit. 

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.  What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.
What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

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Survivors of Solitary Confinement

In Class Politics, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 13, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Survivors of Solitary Confinement

The above graphic, from Mother Jones, conveys how widely such torture is executed in our nation’s prisons. But to understand the harshness of solitary, one need only listen to the stories of survivors (from the National Radio Project):

[audio http://www.radioproject.org/sound/2013/MakingCon_130710_Ax.mp3]

To learn more about the prison strike that’s making national news:
Strike the Prisons
Prison Strike
Critical Resistance
Solitary Watch

Reasons To Oppose the Latest Immigration Reform

In Class Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Identity Politics, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics on July 7, 2013 at 8:40 PM

WHY BORDER (IN)SECURITY IS A THREAT TO ALL OF US

Border_Patrol

We can expect increased border militarization to result in more deaths, incidents of violence, racial profilings, and a “locking in” of the Surveillance State.

As with many people on the so-called Left in this country, I am against the further militarization of our borders and what would inevitably amount to more violence, death, and destruction in and around our southern borderlands. This criticism, however, has been mollified by arguments in favor of the bill, with many groups hesitating to reject it outright and choosing to simply acknowledge that there are both good and bad provisions.

In a nutshell, I want to argue that such a concession is unacceptable: the bill is egregiously flawed in all respects, including, but not limited to, its failure to go far enough in its “good” provisions, its jeopardization of the security and lives of current and future immigrants, and its hazardous implications in locking in the surveillance state. Indeed, whether or not you are undocumented, an immigrant, a person of color, or simply a resident in fortress America, this bill—if ever enacted—has dangerous implications for all of us.

The bill of which I speak, of course, is the one that was passed with bipartisan approval in the Senate last month—S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (what I’ll dub the ‘Border (in)Security Act” for short). We are told, most especially by the Democratic Party establishment, that the militarization provisions of the Corker-Hoeven amendments were necessary if we were to at all have amnesty in the foreseeable future. We are told, explicitly or implicitly (by such liberal organizations such as the National Council of La Raza or the National Immigrant Justice Center), that although increased border enforcement is a shame, the much-sought immigration reform makes it ultimately worthwhile. And, indeed, the liberal arguments in favor of adopting the bill (warts and all) are compelling:

  • it ensures that many people will no longer live underground, in terror, or under the most heinous exploitative conditions
  • it ensures that many children won’t be heart-wrenchingly ripped away from their parents
  • it promises much-needed relief to undocumented students who face harsh difficulties in applying to colleges and jobs
  • and, if issues regarding the federal deficit matter to you, then it might please you that the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the bill will actually reduce it by a sizeable $56 billion between 2014 and 2018 (and $197 billion between 2014 and 2023). (2)

I am deeply in favor of many of these things. In fact, people’s livelihoods depend on it. But if we are to work towards liberation, towards a world not wagered on the lives of future generations, we also need to think strategically, being mindful of longer-term consequences and global ramifications. For even if this bill doesn’t move forward (as many analysts doubt its approval in the House), what we have here is nonetheless a perfect example of how the sheer illusion of bipartisan consensus can insidiously manufacture consent in favor of state violence. It is not so much about this particular bill as it is about its implications for any future legislation, and the real consequences for the people of this country (u.s.), of Mexico, and throughout the globe.

Proposed immigration bill

A widely-circulated meme from Culturestrike & Presente.org.

What We Can Expect From S. 744 [the Border (in)Security Act]:

More Death and Physical Violence

–          We can count on more deaths. If there is any reason whatsoever to reject the concessionary attempts to further militarize the Mexico-u.s. border, it is this. If you are wondering what mechanisms will allow this, read on:

–          Walls force migrants to travel through difficult terrains. Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of people die in attempting to cross the border—often because checkpoints and doubly-fortified walls necessitate alternative routes through the desert, which many people traverse on foot. Others face dangers in being smuggled inside cramped trucks, vans, and shipping containers (7). The increased security measures will make it easier for coyotes, black market merchants, and unscrupulous employers to exploit the fears of the undocumented—often with physical or lethal repercussions.

–          More Border Patrol killings. The enforcement-first policies of recent years have already considerably increased the power of the Border Patrol, which has been documented to kill innocent people with little, if any, prosecution (19). Doubling the agency—especially under time constraints that will ensure hasty employment practices—could likely worsen the situation.

–          Barriers to life-saving services. Currently, draconian state laws and local policies create barriers to immigrants trying to access basic human services, such as health care. While some claim that more Border Patrol agents may help deal with any issues that may arise (such as instances of injury, abuse, or sexual/physical assault), there is little precedent to support this. Victims to crimes of human trafficking, domestic violence, bias crimes, and even physical abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents will likely be left in the lurch.

–          The federal government has a dismal human rights record. Amnesty International (7) recently chastised the united states for its poor track record of abiding by international human rights laws, including ensuring the safety of migrants and the right to due process. Given this fact—true under the current regulations—what would make us think that S. 744 will improve the situation for (im)migrants who do not qualify under the amnesty regulations?

Image

From the Alliance for Global Justice. Contrary to what amerikkans are often taught, violence at the man-made “border” is a recent, largely state-initiated, phenomenon.


The Pros Aren’t As Great As They Might Seem

–          The route to citizenship will take 13 years. The bill currently calls for the creation of a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) program, which is essentially a work authorization program that is not equivalent to a green card.  Under a best case scenario, undocumented immigrants will have to wait 10 years to become lawful permanent residents, and an additional 3 to apply for citizenship. (5, 14)

–          Documentation for 8 million, not 11. Rather than the much publicized 11 million, the bill is likely only to aid in the documentation of 8 – 8.5 million people. (20, 2)

–          There will be heavy prohibitive fees. In order to apply for RPI status, immigrants will have to pay $500 penalty fee, any unpaid taxes, and application fees. As such, the program will be inaccessible to the poorest undocumented immigrants.

–          “Little dreamers” will not benefit.  While the long-fought war for the DREAM Act will be passed with this legislation, it does not confer similar protections for younger siblings who do not turn 18 within 5 years of enactment.  Instead of the “fast track” to legal permanent residency given to DREAMers, they’ll be forced to take the longer route of waiting a minimum of 10 years.


Expansion of the Military-Security-Industrial Complex

–          The bill will double the number of Border Patrol agents in less than a decade.  It’s hard to imagine the enormity of such accelerated increase—from approximately 20,000 agents today to 40,000 within less than a decade (by 2021).  (4, 5, 9, 11).

–          Financially, this bill is extremely costly. The militarization aspects of the bill are expected to cost $30 billion—on top of the $18 billion annually already spent on border enforcement. This is more than any other federal law enforcement agency (4, 15).

–          Expect the worst and newest military technologies. This includes 24/7 surveillance systems, unattended ground sensors, infrared scopes, Predator drones and Blackhawk helicopters.

–          Requires that at least 90% of border crossers are apprehended in “high risk border sectors.” [Section 3(a)(3), p.9]

–          The DREAM Act provision encourages youth enlistment. Under Section 2103 (p.110), DREAMers will be able to apply for documentation status if they spend four or more years in the Armed Forces. Such an option perversely incentivizes involvement with the u.s. war machine while exploiting students unable to attend/afford college.


Racial Discrimination and the Persecution of Indigenous, Immigrant, and Latin@ Communities

–          There will be increased racial profiling. This one is a no-brainer: having more armed, federal military agents in the borderlands will exacerbate an already documented trend that terrorizes non-whites (7). One can expect more unjustified stops and detentions—not only of the undocumented, but of immigrants with federal status, Latin@s, Natives, and other communities of color.

–          Draconian state laws will prevent access to basic services. There’s every reason to believe that the terror and intimidation posed by S. 744 will force many undocumented immigrants further into the shadows—and thus, prevent them from accessing services that are sometimes completely legal (such as seeking health care or Food Stamps for U.S.-born citizen children). The potential law also legitimizes the growth of local military-police states borderlands that will heighten the structural and physical violence perpetrated against Latin@ and indigenous communities.

–          The English requirement is for mere documentation status, not citizenship. While the English requirement has been enforced in the citizenship exam, this could become the first time the English requirement is necessary for a federal legalization status that does not confer voting rights. Added by the Latin@ Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), this requirement is meant also enforces the sort of “assimilation” Rubio sees as necessary. In making no separate provision to include funding for adult education/ESOL courses, this requirement will negatively impact English language learners who are poor, ability-varied, and/or time constrained. (p.103, 1; 20)

–          S. 744 threatens indigenous sovereignty.  Amnesty International’s report, In Hostile Terrain (2012), devotes its third chapter to abuses against Native Americans. Although there are over 26 First Nations in the areas around the Mexico-u.s. border, the wall has already gravely threatened the rights and livelihood of inhabitants who have proper claim to the land. In addition to cutting through Native lands, many Native residents have been repeatedly accosted by Border Patrol agents while trying to access areas of their community. This is in direct violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1853), wherein the united states and Mexico both affirmed the rights of indigenous people.


Prison Expansions and the Criminalization of Immigrants

–          Amnesty excludes immigrants with convictions, including misdemeanors. Undocumented immigrants with prior felonies would be ineligible for RPI status, as are folks convicted of three or more misdemeanors, and those caught voting unlawfully.

–          Expect more detentions, prosecutions, and prisons. Under Operation Streamline, a program implemented in 2005 to boost federal prosecution of unauthorized migrants along the Texas-Mexico border, we have seen a record number of detentions and arrests. In fact, in 2011, unlawful entry and unlawful re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system—with a concomitant expenditure running in the billions of dollars.  We can only expect more such prosecutions and expenditures under this bill. According to its estimates, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the cost of this extra criminalization to be around $3.1 billion from 2012 to 2023. (2; 18)

–          Increased profits for the private prison industry.  Private prison companies like the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America have received extremely lucrative contracts from the federal government to house detained immigrants. In essence, record profits are being made on the backs of immigrants—and is likely one of the sources fueling the militarization debacle. (17, 18)


Expansion of the Surveillance State

–          The creation and expansion of a federal employment verification program. Whereas now the existing verification program, E-Verify, is online and optional for many businesses, the program that would replace it would be mandatory for all businesses over a few years (p. 424). The CBO predicts an implementation cost of $1.4 billion over five years. Unclear, however, is what information (such as fingerprints) will be collected by the federal government. (2)

–          More funding for non-stop surveillance technologies. The border will be flooded with 24/7 surveillance, and a biometric exit system will be put in place in the 10 busiest airports within two years of the bill’s enactment. (9)

–          Expect more surveillance justified under the aegis of “national security.” Immigration was officially made a national security under the Bush Administration, with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. Increased funding for border militarization could easily extend into resources being devoted to a heightened criminalization of people of color and immigrants. Similarly, increased surveillance funding and equipment could fortify the Surveillance State for everyone residing here.


Considerable Costs at the Expense of Social Welfare & the Environment

–          Underlines a tragedy of government priorities. All sorts of reasoning are given to justify the country’s considerable defense spending. As it stands, the united states spends the most of any country on its military, and is responsible for 42% of total global military expenditures. Additionally, 20% of the FY13 federal budget was on defense (second only to Social Security), and about half of “discretionary” funds were allocated to this sector. These very same funds—instead of being allocated for killing and harassing people—could be used to build up our underfunded educational system, create new public housing, or develop scientific research. In the end, the costs of immigration enforcement and border violence benefit no one but the super-rich. (21, 22, 23, 24)

–          Poses irreversible threats to endangered species and fragile ecosystems. The bill’s threat to the environment is one of the most glaring examples of how the consequences can become irreparable. The construction of the current wall, in conjunction with the vast deployment of military vehicles and equipment, has already occurred at a severe cost to wildlife and endangered species—and all in shameless violation of numerous environmental protection laws. The lack of federal oversight has already resulted in significant landscape changes, such as when DHS filled in Smuggler’s Gulch (south of San Diego) using earth captured through mountaintop removal. We can only assume that this same trend will multiply under the proposed changes. (4, 8)

As if all of these cold facts aren’t enough, there are also the implications that come with accepting a bill that solidifies the power of an imperial nation-state—all while failing to deal with the root causes of oppression.

Sources:
1)      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s744is/pdf/BILLS-113s744is.pdf
2)      http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/s744.pdf
3)      http://www.natlawreview.com/article/border-security-economic-opportunity-and-immigration-modernization-act-2013

4)      http://www.nomoredeaths.org/Updates-and-Announcements/no-more-deaths-calls-on-congress-to-start-over-on-immigration-solutions.html
5)   http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/06/senate_passes_border_militarization_amendment_with_bipartisan_support.html
6)      http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/6-23-13%20Immigration%20Release%20Final.pdf
7)      http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-in-hostile-terrain-human-rights-violations-in-immigration-enforcement-in-the-us-southwest
8)      http://www.no-border-wall.com/environmental-impacts.php
9)      http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/2013/S_744_Summary.pdf
10)  http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/SouthwestBorderSecurityOperations.pdf
11)  http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/2013/06/derechos-opposes-hoeven-corker-amendment-new-immigration-bill-is-a-step-backward-for-border-communities-and-many-immigrant-families/
12)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/27/moveon-credo-presenteorg-18-million-rising-stmt
13)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/24/largest-online-latino-advocacy-group-opposes-immig
14)  http://www.immigrantjustice.org/immigrationreform/s744analysis#.UdeOFPmsim4
15)  http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/20/democrats-let-gop-name-their-price-on-immigration/
16)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/us/politics/2-gop-senators-reach-deal-on-border-security-plan.html?hp&_r=1&
17)  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/27/private-prisons-immigration_n_1917636.html
18)      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-libal/immigration-reform-must-end_b_2537547.html
19)      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/us/shootings-by-agents-increase-border-tensions.html
20)      http://prospect.org/article/broken-english-requirements
21) http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/
22)    http://useconomy.about.com/od/usfederalbudget/p/military_budget.htm
23)    http://www.cfr.org/defense-budget/trends-us-military-spending/p28855
24)    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/

The SCOTUS Rulings You Didn’t Hear About: Colorblind Racism and the Cult of Private Property in America

In Class Politics, Decolonization, GenSex & Queer Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Health Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics on June 28, 2013 at 11:08 PM

My head has been swirling with the various, pivotal issues upon which the conservative Roberts Court struck down its gavel this month. Voting rights. Affirmative action. The Patenting of Life. Indigenous Sovereignty. Housing Development. And, oh yeah. Marriage “equality.”

Not entirely familiar with everything on this abbreviated list? You’re not alone. After all, there were a considerable number of issues, all arbitrated by a mere nine people that make up this country’s judicial branch. A mere nine people who adjudicate rulings that govern a breathtaking jurisdiction: the entire united states** and its colonial “possessions,” over 300 million people.

The fact is, not only is wealth super-concentrated and polarized in this world (see videos on global and US wealth inequalities)—so is power and knowledge. Indeed, that something like NSA mass surveillance has been happening—and continues to happen—should not surprise us when we recognize the realities that enable unadulterated greed and the thirst for conquest. So, understandably, the project of trying to get at the roots of the many issues decided on by our “highest” court is daunting. The powers that be would never want us peering behind the curtains that enable them: our time-consuming wage labor, our mainstream media, our nefarious multinational corporations, our Orwellian Security State.

Given the spate of historic rulings this month, I made a deliberate effort to examine some of those minimized, distorted, or completely hidden from the limelight. I also wanted to contextualize some of the more well-known rulings against the backdrop of deeply-entrenched racism and u.s. colonization (without repeating a recurrent mantra found elsewhere on the Web). Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to analyze some of these issues as I would’ve liked—let alone trace their roots and connections. But I’ll leave that for another day.

So, please. Feel free to skim. (And share. And digest. And critique.)

Image

A bastion of Enlightenment reason…or kangaroo court for white supremacy?

Colorblind Racism and the Tradition of White Supremacy

1) Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (June 24)

Verdict: Universities will need to showcase evidence race is a “necessary” component in their admissions policy that can’t be achieved by any other means. 

Between the heart break over the evisceration of our era’s voting rights laws, and the hoopla over same-sex marriage, we might have forgotten about this one. Granted, affirmative action, a pivotal civil rights accomplishment, has been eroded over the years through numerous legislations, the consolidation of a black and brown elite, and the inauspicious rise of the culture of colorblindness. But this ruling still deals a considerable blow to a faltering, yet much-needed, compensatory policy.

In this ruling, the common admissions practice of factoring in race will now be regulated by a vague notion of “good faith.” Universities will now need, if ever pressed, to showcase evidence that it is “necessary” to factor in applicants’ race “to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Blanketed under this cover of multiculturalism is a blatant ignorance of politics and history—a perfect ruse for the neoliberal white supremacist state. And so farther thus we go from the promise of a truly liberatory and equitable education.

 Read More: Supreme Court Ruling May Spell The End of Affirmative Action

2) Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (June 25)

Verdict: A Cherokee father who has appealed for custody of his daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act—a legislative attempt to preserve the integrity of indigenous sovereignty—has no parental claims above those of the white couple trying to adopt.

This ruling, which dealt a significant imperialist blow to indigenous sovereignty, got little media coverage outside race-focused news and policy agency Colorlines and the Rachel Maddow Show.

In this case, a Latina Oklahoma woman made a decision to give up her daughter for adoption—in this instance, to a white, non-Native couple, the Capobiancos, in South Carolina.  The biological father, an indigenous Cherokee, had been estranged from the mother throughout the pregnancy and initially agreed to relinquish his parental rights. However, upon learning of the news of the adoption, became upset and decided to take matters to the courts.

The father appealed the adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law enacted in 1978 for the preservation of tribal cohesion in the face of countless Native child adoptions by non-Natives. (As a matter of fact, a cursory inspection of the Act’s history reveals its dark, colonial legacy. From 1958 to 1967, the united states government was directly responsible for a program, the Indian Adoption Project, whose primary aim it was to assimilate Natives into white supremacist amerikkka.) As far as the Cherokee nation is concerned, the daughter, Veronica (“Baby Girl”), is Cherokee and is deemed eligible to live with the biological father. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father, and she was, against the wishes of the Capobiancos, returned to Oklahoma.

And it is upon appeal, at the Supreme Court level, where the politics of empire and white supremacy are most heinously manifested. In its decision, the Roberts Court undermined the determination of the South Carolina Supreme Court and, more tragically, that of the Cherokee nation by claiming that the ICWA does not bar termination of a father’s parental rights. The father, according to the ruling, was never able to invoke the ICWA because he never had legal custody of the girl.

However, it is the long-term implications of this ruling that are truly disheartening. The concept of indigenous sovereignty, or the rudimentary rationales that prompt a need for tribal preservation, never emerged in the ruling. The centuries of genocidal barbarism and destruction of countless First Nation societies, cultures, and languages were never discussed. And the dismissive attitude of the majority side towards Veronica’s claim to indigenous ancestry—that “she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee”—makes apparent the undergirding Amerikkkanist notion of race that guides the notion of how a child should be categorized. Indeed, as if to chastise her colleagues for their substral racism, dissenting Justice Sotomayor felt compelled to mention the “majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee.”

Yet little is said about the rights of Cherokees, First Nation peoples, and the threat this ruling poses to further white adoptions to tribal integrity. Such is the violence of the white supremacist state.

3) Shelby County v. Holder (June 25)

Verdict: The preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, imposed on certain states to curb discriminatory policies in voter registration, are no longer constitutional.

Although I don’t equate voting in corporation-hijacked elections “liberation,” we should nevertheless call this for what it is: a shameless coup on black and Latino self-determination. If appeal efforts prove unsuccessful, this blatant evisceration of Voting Rights Act of 1965 (sections 4 and 5) will surely go down in infamy Using a logic that is very much aligned with a conservative Court (even with the presence of two non-white bodies, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor), a decision was made to eliminate the “preclearance” requirements of states deemed culpable of discriminatory registration practices in the Civil Rights Era.

The decision, delivered by Justice Roberts, was based on two central arguments: 1) the “historic tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty” and 2) that much has changed in the country since 1965. Right. I especially relish this most exquisite pearl of racist color-blind wisdom: “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” To the extent that efforts at racial parity were ever realized, they likely won’t persist when threats of gerrymandering (redistricting) and voter identification laws are legalized.

Indeed, the voracious thirst for power—and the disenfranchisement of a potentially dissident voting bloc—has already seized the legislature of the affected states. As of today (June 28th), at least five of the nine states under the Section 4 preclearance requirements have forged ahead with voter ID laws.

In the case of Texas, where redistricting and voter ID bills were tossed due to failure to comply with Section 4 requirements, the threat is very inimically real. A federal court had previously rejected the infamous voter ID law because of its “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” and the state’s very own data that suggested Latinos were more likely to lack a certain state-issued ID. Now the voter ID bill has one less obstacle to passage.

Read moreSupreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act 

Colorblind racism

Throughout the centuries, racism has mutated and morphed in various ways. White people who assert “colorblindness” are doing little more than perpetuate a complicity in (post)colonial violence in the age of global neoliberalism.

Housing and Environmental Justice

4) Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District (June 25)

Verdict: This ruling in favor of a now-deceased developer argues in favor of limits on governmental fees and regulations over private land use—thus opening the door to unfettered displacement and environmental destruction.

Protecting the interests of private property is an amerikkkan tradition. And this ruling, which some of the justices referred to as a “revolution in land use law,” imposes scrutiny and constraints over governmental regulations and fees that would otherwise (so one would hope) benefit local communities and environments. If this doesn’t sound severe to you, imagine how your neighborhood, town, or nearest nature reserve could be impacted by the construction of a behemoth condominium complex…or even a natural gas company.

To understand this case, one must recognize the precedent set by two prior Supreme Court cases, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard. Together, these constitute the so-called Nollan-Dolan standard, which demands that the government’s request for land development concessions—such as monetary fees or a percentage devoted to public housing—have a “rough proportionality” (reasonability) as required by the Fifth Amendment. (For the Fifth Amendment reads: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”).

In this case, Koontz, who applied to develop a portion of his property in the Floridian wetlands, was denied approval by the local municipality unless he agreed to spend money to improve public lands elsewhere. Using the Nollan-Dolan standard as his defense, he appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the concessions were excessive. Defending the municipality’s decision, the Florida Supreme Court then argued that he did not have a claim for two reasons: 1) the Nollan-Dolan standard did not apply to the denial of a permit (as opposed to the approval), and 2) the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money.

As regards the first State claim, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the application of Nollan-Dolan to only permit approvals, and not denials, was arbitrary and would enable all sorts of unconstitutional circumventions. However, the second claim created a 5-4 schism in the Court, with the majority ruling that the exaction of fees was under the domain of Nollan-Dolan and hence subject to scrutiny and litigation under the Fifth Amendment and the Takings Clause (eminent domain).

The dissenting argument, written by Justice Kagan, asserted that a demand for fees in such cases was constitutional and not excessive.  Furthermore, it acknowledged the threat that such fees could result in excessive constraints on local government efforts to regulate land use for the public good. As Kagan writes:

Cities and towns across the nation impose many kinds of permitting fees every day. Some enable a government to mitigate a new development’s impact on the community, like increased traffic or pollution — or destruction of wetlands… Others cover the direct costs of providing services like sewage or water to the development… Still others are meant to limit the number of landowners who engage in a certain activity, as fees for liquor licenses do…. All now must meet Nollan and Dolan’s nexus and proportionality tests. The Federal Constitution thus will decide whether one town is overcharging for sewage, or another is setting the price to sell liquor too high. And the flexibility of state and local governments to take the most routine actions to enhance their communities will diminish accordingly.”

And with an ardor only a severe injustice can muster, Kagan even chastises her follow justices:

“The majority’s errors here are consequential.The majority turns a broad array of local land-use regulations into federal constitutional questions. It deprives state and local governments of the flexibility they need to enhance their communities — to ensure environmentally sound and economically productive development. It places courts smack in the middle of the most everyday local government activity.”

Taxed with the bureaucratic nightmare of proving “proportional” concessions from avaricious, profit-centric land developers (after all, who’s under the impression that they’re here out of loyal servitude to the community?), local governments may choose to not entertain development proposals at all (my hope). Or they may just green-light catastrophes.

Gentrification image

Land “development” almost always does nothing to develop the land, but to destroy it (or reconvert it) for the sake of profitable consumption. Consequently, any “development” project you hear of is likely a nicely-worded disguise for environmental destruction (as in the case of Koontz and the wetlands) or human displacement (gentrification).

Patents, Biotechnology, and DNA

5) Maryland v. King (June 3)

Verdict: This ruling opens the door to the warrantless collection—and processing—of DNA for anyone merely suspected of a serious offense.

This one likely flew under the radar amid the more eye-opening revelations of the NSA surveillance scandal three days later. Yet, ironically, it also deals with surveillance (albeit of a slightly different kind). In fact, it’s quite startling how obviously invasive this ruling is in the name of “security,” permitting the collection of DNA for those merely arrested—not convicted—on the basis of “probable cause to hold for a serious offense.”

As far as this case went, Mr. King was arrested in 2009 on assault charges when he was processed through Maryland booking, at which point a cheek swab sample was taken. His DNA was then run against the FBI’s DNA database (“CODIS”), where it was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape for which he was subsequently charged and convicted. The defendant appealed on the virtue of the “unreasonable search and seizure” clause of the Fourth Amendment. Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that such processing does not “intrude on respondent’s privacy in a way that [is]…unconstitutional.”

In the dissenting statement, which makes clear that the rape conviction was premised on a database scanning fluke, Justice Scalia writes:

“Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous….

Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

That remarkably little has been said about this case reminds me of the sort of popular obeisance that enabled passage of PATRIOT Act, two catastrophic wars, and, arguably, the PRISM program.

Surveillance

Imagine a world where your a cheek swab sample of your DNA was taken you so much as looked a cop in the wrong way. And now imagine having that DNA checked, processed and stored in an FBI database. Impossible you say? Not after Maryland v. King (2013) it’s not.

6) FTC v. Actavis (June 17)

Verdict: This ruling potentially jeopardizes the affordability of pharmaceutical drugs by refusing to make generic manufacturing payoffs (the so-called “pay to delay”) illegal.  

This case is centered laws regulating the manufacture and sale of generic drugs—a significant issue in the realm of global public health. To reiterate the obvious, drug patents are designed as measures to protect intellectual property and raise prices for pharmaceutical companies. In 1984, however, a bill originally meant to ease the manufacture of cheaper generics was mutated under the Big Pharma lobby to become what it is now: the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act (aka the Hatch-Waxman Act). As a complement to patent law protections, this law now prevents generic manufacturing of brand-name products until after patent expiration—a process that falls under a somewhat complex rubric and can take as long as 14 years.

In this case, Solvay Pharmaceuticals obtained a patent for Androgel, a topical testosterone medication. Subsequently, two competing companies—namely, Actavis and Paddock—filed applications for generic drugs modeled after Androgel, an action that was quite naturally brought to suit for patent infringement.

What proceeded next was nothing less than a back-room dealing. When Actavis’ product was approved by the FDA (in spite of the lawsuit), it chose to not immediately market the product per a “reverse payment” settlement agreement reached with Solvay. Such ‘pay to delay’ agreement had two main conditions: 1) that Actavis not bring the generic to market for a specified number of years, and 2) that Actavis promote AndroGel to doctors in exchange for a multimillion dollar amount. Two other companies—namely, Paddock and Par—made similar settlements with Solvay.

Upon learning of this coercion through the dollar, the Federal Trade Commission sued Actavis, Solvay, and the other companies for unlawfully agreeing “to share in Solvay’s monopoly profits, abandon their patent challenges, and refrain from launching their low-cost generic products to compete with AndroGel for nine years.” A lower court, however, dismissed the suit for “as long as the anticompetitive effects of a settlement fall within the scope of the patent’s exclusionary potential, the settlement [between the two pharmaceutical companies] is immune from antitrust attack.”

Fortunately for us, the Supreme Court did overrule the lower court’s dismissal, asserting that the FTC does have a right to sue on the basis of anti-trust laws. The 5-3 decision thus effectively legalizes anti-trust lawsuits against morally ambiguous “reverse payments”—an unequivocal victory. However, it is now the responsibility of judges throughout the country to arbitrate individual cases to determine whether or not such deals are anti-competitive (i.e. monopoly price-promoting). And this ruling does not assert the illegality of such deals, let alone discourage this habitual, anti-consumer practice that favors profits over people. And given the incredible resources of Big Pharma (with revenues expected to exceed $1 trillion next year) it is unlikely that many successful anti-trust lawsuits are forthcoming.

7) Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (June 13)

Verdict: This unanimous ruling affirmed that patents on naturally occurring human DNA, as a “product of nature,” is unconstitutional.

This case came about after a Myriad Genetics, Inc. obtained several patents over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes—mutations they identified as dramatically increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Conceding Myriad’s contribution to locating these genes, the Court nevertheless nullified the constitutionality of the patents, stating that products of nature are “not patent eligible.” Its undeniable significance, according to Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, lies in the fact that it puts “patients’ health before corporate profits.”

It is noteworthy, however, that the Court also argued that synthetic complementary DNA (“cDNA”) is patent eligible as it is not a “product of nature.” The ruling also makes it very clear that it does not involve “the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered.” Thus, while this ruling made a significant, if not essential, contribution to patent and biogenetic legislation, it still leaves the door open for biotech corporations to tamper with human DNA and unleash potentially dangerous products (as in the case of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs).

Tumors in rats after being fed GM corn

If Big Pharma doesn’t kill you with its many pills, you can always count on big agribusiness to finish the job. The images here are of two female rats with large mammary tumors…not because their genes were directly tampered with, but because they ate genetically modified (GM) corn, with and without herbicide

Reproductive Justice and Same-Sex Marriage

8) Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (TBD)

Verdict: Pending response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Like the Adoptive Couple case, this one deals with babies—err, potential babies—in Oklahoma. Except that the Supreme Court decided to hold off any “further proceedings” until after hearing from the State Court regarding its interpretation of the law in question

In the case, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice sued various state officials for what was then House Bill 1970—a piece of legislation that heinously sought to regulate how doctors could prescribe abortion-inducing FDA-approved medication.

The violence against women is evident in the very language used in the conclusion of a district court, which stated the purpose of House Bill 1970 was to “impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”

9) United States v. Windsor (June 25)

Verdict: You must have been living under a rock if you didn’t hear about this one. Plus, I’ve already written about this one.

** Many of the changes in conventional English grammar are intentional, including lower-cased proper nouns and otherwise “deviant” spellings.

Why I’ll Never Get Married: On DOMA, Assimilation, and Pink Capitalism

In Class Politics, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, GenSex & Queer Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality, Racial Politics, The Revolution on June 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM

While many news outlets, mainstream and independent alike, were saturated with updates about the different Supreme Court rulings this week, I made some observations about something that was vastly more intriguing: people’s reactions. In my social terrain within the left-wing spectrum, it was the rulings over civil rights—the right to vote and the right to marry—that garnered the most attention and provoked the most visceral reactions. One day people clogged my inbox and news feed with catastrophic laments over the callous evisceration of voting rights for disenfranchised people of color. The next day were various rainbow-colored displays of elation and relief, with a minor undercurrent of radical critique over the conservative institution of marriage (the latter of which I’m a part of).

Concerning yesterday’s Court case, United States v. Windsor, I find myself ambivalent, and extremely annoyed, with the deradicalized, traditionalist politics it embodies. Enough so that I’ve finally felt it necessary to add my voice to the infuriating cacophony of voices that infiltrate the Web. The notion of marriage has never been a component in my dreams or imagined personal narrative, and felt so distant that I didn’t care to give it more attention than economic inequality and the impacts of disaster capitalism. I’m breaking with this instinct to avoid “equality” talk because I see very little representation of people like me in the cyberscapes.

Enjoy Pink Capitalism

Do you prefer your oppressive, chemical-ridden carbonated sugar-water in black, brown, or pink? The U.S. v. Windsor (2013) ruling certifiably marks an additional step in the mainstreaming of “LGBT.”

For one thing, the “marriage equality” movement centers around an over-decade-long multidimensional debate with a mind-numbing amount of variables and issues, such as the quandary over dominant social norms, the role of the State in arbitrating interpersonal relations, and the constructions of meaning of the most ambiguous of terms used by liberals: “equality,” “justice,” and “liberation.” The numerous debates and critiques over “marriage equality” speak more to the issue than I ever can, though I think it’s important to highlight the Left critique of this historical practice that occupies such an integral part of the amerikkan imaginary landscape. As many queer theorists and activists rightly argue, “equality” and liberation are not identical concepts (although they may overlap). That “equality” has become virtually a trademark of the mainstream gay rights movement is a testament to how well their conformist, capitalist leaders have coopted a term, turned it into a politically saavy, marketable commodity, and repurposed it to mean a rigid form of formal/legalistic equality before the State. If this what “equality’ means, I want no part in it.

As a queer person of color, I simply don’t relate at all to the movement for marriage equality. Listening to and observing people’s reactions that confirm their deep-seated longings and acceptance for marriage, I can’t help but feel ever-more marginalized as the expansive scope of mainstream neoliberalism accepts more of this post-modern petty-bourgeoisie into its yoke. As dominant society accepts more “diversity” (if not the ever-growing legions of poor people) into its strictly-protected borders, I realize that those of us living in the alternative underground will be further invisibilized. Just as post-modernity fractures us within a kaleidoscope of subcultures, hybridities, and identifications, it can also atomize us to the point of colossal despair.

As someone sympathetic to anarcho-communist principles, such as State-less self-governance and the universal democratization of all human relations, I find marriage to be an extremely conservative institution, an oppressive relic of our sexist and colonial Judeo-Christian heritage. I fear that this latest ruling’s expansion of definitional marriage will only perpetuate an oppressive notion that the State has legal authority to sanction (i.e. “bless”) a particular, two-person relationship with exclusive benefits that would not be available to other, variably arranged relationships (e.g. polyamorous relationships, co-habiting non-spousal family members, non-romantic friends). If nothing else, a widespread legalization and proliferation of same-sex marriages would only deepen, and hence further the normalization and acceptability of, its significance in dominant society.

As a single, chronically ill man of color, I also find marriage to be an out-of-reach concept that has no pertinence in my life and would not, in any conceivable circumstance, proffer me any material benefits. It is alienating and disconcerting to see my affluent, white queers embrace this decision with hugs and wine glasses while I struggle through economic insecurity and chronic disease. The celebratory screams of my former classmates and co-workers simply accentuate the ever-present throbbing in my head as well as my disdain for an expansionist pink capitalism. I also need not say more about the rabid heteronormativity and singlism it perpetuates.

Having unleashed all this venom, however, I recognize that there are actually a number of radical leftists who defend the marriage equality movement in some shape or form. And I agree with some of them. There are great, substantive reasons (including some articulated below) to support a movement that can potentially ameliorate the material realities of marginalized individuals, even if it does come in a reformist package. In some of these more critical arguments in defense of legalizing same-sex marriage, the “movement” is defended as a short-term strategy that can uplift people on the road to revolutionary momentum. Although I can’t expound on these arguments, I think the general idea is that legalizing marriage today, within the oppressive western, white imperialist society we’ve inherited, could at least offer much-needed material benefits—such as adopting a partner’s health insurance, saving on expenses and taxes, and possibly gaining legal residency or other state-sanctioned status.  Since I am so disconnected from the very notion of marriage itself (I’ve never had a long-partner), I haven’t devoted much time to extricating the different strands of arguments and can’t make a decision about these arguments with any definitiveness. On the surface, at least, they seem to make sense granted one important condition: that it is done conscientiously, with participants being aware of their complicity in a structure that needs to be radically transformed.

In spite of the negative identity politics associated with marriage equality, I’m hoping, perhaps, that much of those millions of dollars and hours of human energy expended on marriage equality will finally filter into the frontlines of the working poor and add much needed fuel to the fights for humane housing, immigrants’ rights, labor justice, and health care equity. Perhaps.

Here are some articles and cases that DO reflect a good, immediate-term usage of marriage equality:

Colorlines: What DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

Colorlines: DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Politico: DOMA ruling stops deportation hearing at last minute

Left* arguments around queer liberation and the same-sex marriage movement:

Scot Nakagawa (03.25.13): Why I Support Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

Tamara K. Nopper (05.19.12): Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance

Kate Bornstein (12.04.09): Open Letter to LGBT Leaders Who Are Pushing Marriage Equality

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (11.02.09): Why Gay Marriage IS the End of the World (or the queer world, at least)

Yasmin (07.06.09): Legalize Gay, Or: So You Think You’re Illegal?

Dean Spade & Crag Willse: I Still Think Marriage is the Wrong Goal

 

Hear from Dean Spade, Kenyon Farrow and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Queer Voices: Beyond The Queer Mainstream – Beyond Gay Marriage and the Mainstream Gay Movement:

[audio http://archives.kpfa.org/data/20130630-Sun1100.mp3]
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