Salon: Trump and His ‘Cult’ Won’t Easily Be Defeated

In a sign Americans have begun to tune out the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, Trump climbed from 46 percent to approval to 50 in one daytied for his biggest single-day increase ever –  on the Rasmussen daily presidential tracking poll, the only daily tracking poll now operating.

Trump’s enduring polling strength has caused alarm in the mainstream media that he will be re-elected in 2020.

In response, there have begun to be pieces such as one by Chauncey Devega of Salon headlined: “Don’t get suckered by the polls: Donald Trump will win again – unless we fight for democracy,” with a subhead that reads: “All the pieces for Trump’s re-election are in place. At this turning point in American history, will we fight?” 

Devega’s thesis is that 2020 is “starting to feel a lot like 2016” when Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, “who had devoted much of her life to public service, is highly intelligent and an expert on public policy,” was supposed to have crushed Trump, who was “viewed by the news media and most serious political observers as a buffoon, the gimp at a political freak show.”

But Trump won, Devega wrote, because news networks “found him to be an ‘entertaining’ TV character and rewarded him with $5 billion in free air time and spent what time they did on true coverage of the election “focusing more on negativity and scandal than on substantive policy issues.”

To prevail, Trump employed his “skill at developing and manipulating a cult-like following, his authoritarian and fascist appeal to racist, nativist and sexist voters, his deft use of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, the Fox News right-wing propaganda machine and illegal Russian interference on his behalf,” Devega wrote.

Democrats are doing something about it, Devega noted. They’ve ”finally decided to impeach Donald Trump for his many crimes and other misdeeds, including obstruction of justice, abuse of power including bribery and extortion {as seen in the Ukraine scandal}, his rampant corruption and violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution and his general betrayal of the presidential oath of office.”

Beyond that, “Trump’s overt embrace of white supremacy and racism, his disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution, and his threats of violence against the American news media, leading Democrats and various private citizens are also impeachable offenses,” Devega wrote.

On top of that Trump’s “many political scandals are multiplying like bacteria in a petri dish,” Devega wrote, and he “should be doomed.”

But he’s not doomed, Devega wrote. In fact, “Despite all the evidence suggesting otherwise, Trump will likely win in 2020.” Americans are turning against Trump “at an increasing rate,” Devega wrote, ignoring the Rasmussen result, but 62 percent say they will continue to support Trump “no matter what he does,” and the president has the “highest level of baseline support for an American president in the history of modern public opinion polls.”

Moreover, he noted, citing a poll mentioned in a New York Times article, Trump may trail Democrats in mythical face-to-face matchups, but he is ahead and appears to have expanded his advantage in the six battleground states where the election is expected to be decided – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

How does Trump do it? He “leads a political cult,” Devega wrote. “His members will not abandon him for any reason, because they are enmeshed together in a state of collective narcissism and other mental pathologies.” They’ve also “sealed themselves into a right-wing echo chamber of lies and disinformation,” he wrote.

Particularly galling to Devega is that white women especially continue to support the president – especially those without college degrees. “Non-college-educated white women’s support for Trump is also a function of internalized hostile sexism where his misogyny, dozens of alleged sexual assaults and efforts to take away women’s reproductive rights and freedoms are not viewed as disqualifying and may in fact be understood as reasons to vote for him.”

Devega did not say how he knew Trump’s misogyny and alleged sexual assaults were driving women to vote for him.

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Author: Brian McNicoll


Issues Surround Study that Claims ‘Disinformation Still Running Rampant on Facebook’

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published an article citing a study about Facebook, which concluded that Facebook is permitting disinformation to run “rampant” on its social media platform. The study was conducted by Avaaz, which CJR said is “a site that specializes in raising public awareness about global public-policy issues.”

The study claimed that between January-October 2019, “politically relevant disinformation” reached over 158 million views, “enough to reach every reported registered vote in the US at least once.” The study used a top 100 content list from a Facebook-owned tool “that tracks the network’s most popular pages and links.”

Avaaz’s study claimed that more than 90 percent of the fake news stories on Facebook were negative and that “the majority of those were about Democrats or liberals.” The study claimed that fake news benefitted Republicans and conservatives because coverage of issues relevant to Republicans and conservatives were portrayed in a positive light.

However, Avaaz did not make the study public. Instead, the media and other interested parties must rely on a single source: progressive journalist Judd Legum. Legum has been known on Twitter to espouse liberal and progressive ideology, such as calling President Trump “racist” and that his rhetoric is “ugly,” among his many social media posts.

CJR, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and countless other media outlets and pundits do not have another source outside of Legum, whose political ideology is well-known and calls into question Legum’s legitimacy as a neutral source of information and Avaaz’s political ideology or goals.

Also, the media’s reporting on the study is flawed because the media should not have to rely on a single source for reporting stories. There are countless examples of the mainstream media apologizing for poorly-sourced scoops from a single source and it fell into the trap of believing the scoop and information without being able to verify the scoop and information.

Upon further investigation, Avaaz could be considered a site that raises public awareness on public policy issues across the world, but it is far more than that. On its “About Us” site, Avaaz highlighted how it is a community-focused campaign, but is planning on affecting the global community. Many of its campaigns are progressive-focused, on issues such as climate change, and the site claims that it is a no-frills organization.

Another red flag is that Avaaz did not mention that it is a foundation on its site, but in its financial reports, it calls itself the “Avaaz Foundation.” It appears to try to hide its true purpose, despite the paragraphs-long information on its “About Us” page. To its credit, Avaaz included a decades’ worth of financial reports about the site, but the financial reports illustrate how Avaaz is far from a neutral community-based public policy awareness site. The site received over $19 million in contributions in 2017 and grants and spent under $4 million on salaries, compensation and benefits for its employees. For a community organization, and one that focuses on global issues, it is quite a wealthy organization.

There are significant red flags surrounding Avaaz’s study on Facebook’s alleged permissive fake news environment, such as Avaaz’s goals and mission, its funding sources, and why it outsourced the study to a single progressive online personality. The mainstream media has to do a better job of verifying the study’s information before running with the story.

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Author: Spencer Irvine

Time Magazine: Trump Misreads The Politics With Paris Agreement Withdrawal

President Donald Trump turned the commander-in-chief post into an entry-level position in the federal government. But if he understood politics a little better, he would not have announced Tuesday – on the first day he could – that he planned to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.

When Trump first indicated he wanted to do this – in June 2017 – “the political calculus looked good to the new chief executive,” wrote Justin Worland of Time magazine in “Trump’s Paris Agreement Move Is Unpopular. Here’s How He’s Trying to Spin It.”

Withdrawing would fulfill a campaign promise, please his supporters in the fossil fuel industry and anger only “mostly those unlikely to support him anyway,” Worland noted.

But now, Worland wrote, “the politics have changed: Climate change is now one of the most-discussed issues in the 2020 presidential race and the vast majority of Americans say they support measures to reduce emissions, including the Paris Agreement.”

Worland’s other evidence global warming has become a top issue – a link is provided in his story – is an earlier piece in which Time talked to Iowa farmers, who said, “Farmers and rural Americans, that’s who’s going to solve this.” The piece refers to ethanol and the role farmers play in supplying the corn that is processed into less-efficient fuel mandated to make up 15 percent of U.S. gasoline.

His evidence that global warming has become a top-tier issue is that Democrats are talking about it on the campaign trail. This is a marked difference, he wrote, from 2008, when 1 percent of voters thought it was important and from 2016, when not a single global warming question emerged from any of the presidential debates.

But a survey reported on in the summer found Americans may more or less agree with many of the claims of global warming, but they are unwilling to pay even $10 per month to “fight climate change.”

And most of the Democrat presidential candidates participated in a global warming town hall in September, which produced the lowest rating of any show on any television network that night.

So it is not surprising that, as Worland reported, none of this has “stopped Trump.”

The move to withdraw from the Paris accord has “already” been “criticized” by Democrat presidential candidates and “strategists say [this] will help clearly delineate any eventual Democratic candidate from Trump,” he wrote. “To make the withdrawal even more politically fraught, the decision will take effect the day after the 2020 presidential election.”

Yet, even Trump appears to be coming around somewhat on global warming, Worland wrote. “He’s largely stopped making the brazenly inaccurate claim that climate change is a ‘hoax,’ instead making a more nuanced but also spurious claim that climate policy would mean wrecking the economy.”

Trump has been quoted as recently as late-August calling global warming a hoax.

Worland says it’s also a hoax for Trump to claim his policies, such as promoting fracking, which produces natural gas and thus reduces greenhouse emissions, actually address global warming.

“It goes without saying that there’s a big problem with this rhetoric: It does not accurately reflect the urgency of addressing climate change,” Worland wrote. “A landmark report from the IPCC (the UN’s climate science body) warned last year that the world is on the bring of hitting 1.5C of warming, which could bring a slew of catastrophic effects, including impoverishing millions and driving a mass migration crisis.

“At best, Trump’s policies maintain the status quo. Any future fall in emissions will happen in spite of Trump’s policies – which have sought to restore the high-polluting coal industry, reduce fuel efficiency standards and open vast new swathes of land to oil and gas drilling.”

Worland ignored data from the official NASA global temperature data that showed temperatures had dropped more than a half-degree worldwide in just the two years from February 2016 to February 2018. This included the biggest five-month drop since weather record-keeping began – from February to June 2016.

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Author: Brian McNicoll

Washington Post: Trump’s Impeachment Defense is a Bunch of Lies

President Donald Trump’s strategy to deal with the impeachment investigation he’s enduring now has become to simply lie, according to a story Wednesday in the Washington Post.

He lies about the “whistleblower,” who appears to have coordinated with House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. He claims people who testify against him are “NeverTrumpers.” He has “recounted conversations in which senators deemed him ‘innocent’ only to have the lawmakers deny making the statements.”

And he makes claims about the “whistleblower’s” testimony that can’t be reckoned.

The common theme is “a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet,” wrote Toluse Olorunnipa and Philip Rucker in “Trump makes falsehoods central to impeachment defense as incriminating evidence mounts.”

But this approach “is coming under increasing strain as congressional Democrats release transcripts and prepare to hold public hearings presenting evidence that directly undercuts Trump’s claims.”

The story began with Olorunnipa and Rucker pointing to a moment in Trump’s rally Monday in Lexington, Ky., when he claimed “a whistleblower from the intelligence community misrepresented a presidential phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.”

Trump responded by promptly releasing a transcript of the call. One of the whistleblower’s claims was that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky eight times about Biden. The transcript, which others have testified accurately depicts the call, has him mentioning Biden once, in passing, at the end of the call.

The Post says the “whistleblower report essentially mirrors the set of facts that have since been revealed by a stream of documented evidence and sworn testimony” and that Trump has “pushed other specious arguments in his harried attempt to counter the growing evidence from witnesses implicating his administration in a quid pro quo scheme linking military aid to Ukrainian investigations targeting Democrats.”

Trump points this out not to challenge the substance of the call – his transcript allows everyone to judge that for themselves – but to call into question how the “whistleblower” received the information given it got this significant detail wrong.

The Post claimed that Trump misquoted the whistleblower’s account and, paraphrasing remarks from former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, that his “willingness to repeatedly mislead the public represents an attempt to protect himself by creating doubt about the fundamental nature of truth.”

It referred to the “Read the Transcript” T-shirts distributed at the Lexington rally as “Trump’s attempt to recast an incriminating summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president as a piece of exonerating evidence.”

The Post also wrote: “Without evidence, Trump has claimed that his own administration officials who have complied with congressional subpoenas are ‘Never Trumpers.’” There actually is abundant evidence that Bill Taylor, whom Democrats see as their strongest witness to date, has been associated with anti-Trump groups such as the Soros-funded Atlantic Council and the McCain Institute, named for the late Arizona senator who opposed Trump.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine and another key witness for the Democrats, was accused by Ukraine’s top prosecutor of presenting him a “do-not-prosecute” list that included Biden, Burisma, the company Biden’s son worked for in a no-show job that paid him $83,000 per month, and the Post says Yovanovitch did criticize the Trump administration but only because she thought Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, was working to undermine her.

The Post includes some psychoanalysis as well. Trump’s “repetitive use of false claims represents an attempt to immunize himself from impeachment by seeding favorable information in the minds of the public, even when that information is incorrect.”

It then quotes Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, saying: “We know from work in social psychology that repeated exposure to a claim increases the likelihood that you think it’s accurate. As you hear or read something repeatedly, you are more likely to think it’s accurate even if faced with evidence that it’s not.”

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Author: Brian McNicoll

Why did CNN run headline ‘Why Mitch McConnell is smiling today’ when Former Aide Became First Black AG in Kentucky History?

In another curious case of mind-boggling headlines and online content, CNN published an electoral analysis on the Kentucky state elections, headlined, “Why Mitch McConnell is smiling today.” The analysis and headline made it seem that the content would be about McConnell and Kentucky, which state he represents in the U.S. Senate.

But the analysis pivoted to one of McConnell’s former aides, Daniel Cameron, who won the state attorney general race as the first African-American to become the state’s attorney general. It pointed out how Cameron is the first Republican to hold the office of the attorney general in 70 years, and that he also served as McConnell’s general counsel for two years from 2015-2017.

Instead of making the rest of the analysis about the social impact of Cameron’s victory, the analysis pivoted back to focus on McConnell. The analysis claimed that this could cement McConnell’s legacy in the state, and could lead to McConnell’s eventual retirement from the Senate. It suggested Cameron could be groomed as the next U.S. Senator from Kentucky and replace McConnell, his mentor and former boss.

CNN’s analysis concluded, “Cameron’s win does mean something for Kentucky and for the Republican Party. But it also means a lot for McConnell and how he wants to shape his legacy, as well as the contours of the state and national Republican Party, in the years to come.”

CNN barely mentioned the potential social impact of Cameron’s electoral victory as the first black attorney general in Kentucky history, and missed on a potentially-unifying moment in news reporting and analysis. Also, the analysis did not give enough credit for Cameron’s watershed moment, appearing to marginalize Cameron’s achievement, and focused too much on the media’s obsession with Mitch McConnell.

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Author: Spencer Irvine

Media Appears to Cheer Anti-Trump Cyclist’s Election Victory

About two years ago, photographers captured a photo of a cyclist flipping off President Donald Trump’s motorcade in northern Virginia. The cyclist was identified as Juli Briskman, who worked as a government contractor, and the photograph led to her losing her job and running for a local county board of supervisors position.

Briskman said that after the photograph became viral and reported on major news networks, she told her bosses about it. She claimed she was told to either resign from her job or be fired, and after suing her former employer, won a severance claim. Briskman did lose a wrongful termination lawsuit against her former employer.

Briskman won a county board of supervisors election in Loudoun County, Virginia, where many of D.C.’s wealthy live. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Loudoun County is the top affluent county in the United States with a median income of $119,000. Briskman defeated Republican incumbent Suzanne Volpe with 52 percent of the vote.

The media’s coverage of Briskman’s electoral victory is outsized compared to the impact she will have on a national level. Her election was to a local county board, not Congress or the U.S. Senate, so the policies she will propose or implement only affect residents in the affluent Loudoun County.

CNN and NBC News featured Briskman’s victory on their homepages, which is odd considering that it was a local county race and one that did not have significant national implications. Also, CNN did not mention she ran as a Democratic candidate. NBC News noted her party affiliation in the second paragraph of its article. Neither network mentioned how Loudoun County has Democratic state delegates and a Republican state senator, which indicated how the county has gone from a Republican stronghold to more of two-party county.

Photo by J Sonder

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Author: Spencer Irvine

CNN Headline Blames Trump for Kentucky Governor’s Loss, but Analysis Excuses Trump

Although the governor’s race in Kentucky is projected to fall to the Democrats, Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin has not conceded the race. The race is very close, with about 5,000 votes separating Bevin from Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D).

Yet CNN felt it appropriate to publish a headline that pinned the blame of Bevin’s alleged electoral loss on President Donald Trump. Trump rallied in Kentucky on behalf of Bevin leading up to this week’s election, and if Bevin loses the race, it will be another loss for a Trump-endorsed candidate.

During Trump’s first term as president, he has endorsed multiple candidates who have won elections, and others who have lost their elections. In other words, it is not a sure or guaranteed electoral victory when a candidate receives a Trump endorsement or hosts a rally with Trump.

Disregarding history and context, CNN’s headline read, “Is Kentucky a bad omen for Donald Trump?” But the text of the analysis appeared to be correct, noting that Bevin’s flagging popularity in Kentucky was likely to blame for his probable defeat. Also, CNN correctly pointed out that Bevin’s opponent, Andy Beshear, has significant name recognition in the state because his father was a Kentucky governor.

The analysis later outlined that Bevin did not have the personality that Trump has in rallying supporters to his cause, and that there was enough anti-Bevin backlash due to his policies to make the race as close as it was.

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Author: Spencer Irvine

Beto O’Rourke Campaign Blames Media for Campaign Woes

As the first presidential primary approaches in February in the form of Iowa caucuses, it is time for voters and donors to make decisions of who will be the top contenders for a party’s presidential primary. The Democratic Party intends to challenge President Donald Trump for the White House in 2020 and is slowly narrowing down its large primary field. The most recent candidate to drop out, former congressman Beto O’Rourke, admitted defeat and ended his campaign.

O’Rourke made headlines when he narrowly lost to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections, and capitalizing on his name recognition from that race, jumped into the presidential primary race. But his campaign ended before the first primary in Iowa due to a myriad of factors.

His campaign took unconventional tactics to the forefront, such as livestreaming a dental appointment, swearing on national television, and lacking a cohesive and organized campaign staff. He also swore multiple times on nationally-televised interviews, using the f-word to express his outrage over gun violence. O’Rourke also visited primary states that hold primaries later in the presidential primary cycle, which meant his campaign was not focusing on the primaries that could extend the life of his presidential primary campaign.

After O’Rourke officially dropped out, sources told CNN that the mainstream media was at fault for O’Rourke’s failed campaign. CNN’s Eric Bradner said that O’Rourke staffers believed the media mocked the campaign and “was over the top,” and that the mainstream media “was punitive” for O’Rourke refusing interviews early into his campaign.

However, O’Rourke and his staff should recognize that their unconventional approach sunk his candidacy more than the mainstream media. O’Rourke’s lack of a centralized campaign apparatus meant that donors and potential surrogates could not reach him or his staff, which discouraged any potential grassroots momentum in early primary states. Also, the overuse of profanity on television appeared to have a negative effect on public perception, in addition to O’Rourke’s propensity to overshare videos of him at a dental appointment.

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Author: Spencer Irvine

NBC News Asks Early State Voters About Impeachment and They Don’t Care Much About It

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd revealed that American voters in early primary states were not overly concerned with impeachment news and stories, which was a stark contrast to the news cycle in Washington, D.C., and other major media markets.

Todd shared video clips of voters in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and South Carolina who agreed to go on-camera and express their views about the impeachment news. All three of the voters agreed that impeachment does not concern them too much, which Todd admitted was significant news.

One voter called the impeachment inquiry “a waste of time,” while the second interviewed voter said that he trusted in the United States’ “system of checks and balances.” The third voter told NBC News that “there was absolutely nothing concerning to me” in the Ukraine phone call transcript between the Ukrainian president and President Donald Trump.

Although polling has in favor and against the impeachment of Trump, these on-camera clips demonstrated the issue that Democratic Party strategists and lawmakers face: will impeachment drive away important independent and moderate voters?

This segment highlighted the dangers of trusting too much in polling, which is meant to give a perspective on how the public perceived an issue or event. Polling is not meant to give a hardline stance that is immovable but attempts to represent a wide swath of citizens to verify or confirm their top concerns and thoughts about a specific issue or event.

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Author: Spencer Irvine

Slate Claims Ukraine President Is Lying For Trump About Quid Pro Quo

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky still will not renounce his earlier statements and say that President Donald Trump pressured him to investigate a political rival for electoral advantage, and a writer at Slate thinks he knows why.

“Ukrainians are humble people,” Anders Aslund wrote in “Why the President of Ukraine Is Giving Trump a Key Impeachment Talking Point,” which appeared Tuesday on the Slate website. “They know that they are receiving foreign assistance and that they had better be grateful for it. … Being in a war with Russia since 2014, Ukraine needs all the support it can get. Therefore, it must not criticize a major donor.

“That does not mean that Ukrainians thought Zelensky told the truth, but sometimes a president has to do what a president has to do. Needless to say, it means nothing that Zelensky claimed publicly that there was no quid pro quo on the part of Trump. It only means that it would be unwise for the Ukrainian president to criticize the U.S. president.”

Aslund began his piece by pointing out Ukrainians are paying little attention to this scandal because it is an American scandal.

Trump “seems to have two aims: He wants to invent dirt on Joe Biden and create evidence that his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was not a crook. [Trump’s personal attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani wants to assist the president in these dubious endeavors. In addition, he aspires to make money by defending a variety of suspect criminals against Western law enforcement. Various characters connected with U.S. gas interests want to make money by supplying liquified natural gas to Ukraine and perhaps also in other ways, none of which appears charitable. The overall U.S. national security objective to stand up to Russian military aggression and defend Ukraine does not even figure in their calculations.”

No evidence is offered for any of this.

Trump does not seek to “invent dirt on Joe Biden.” The dirt on Biden – that he arranged a no-show $83,000 per month job for his son with an energy company that was under investigation by the Ukrainian government – is not in dispute.

In fact, the case against Biden and his son grew stronger yesterday with a story from John Solomon that showed through documents and text messages that the State Department was attempting to force Ukraine to drop its investigation into the energy firm, Burisma Holdings, which casts a new light on the video of Joe Biden regaling others with his tale of forcing the government to fire the prosecutor who was working on the case.

It’s not that Zelensky legitimately felt no pressure from Trump – he did not know any aid for his country was being upheld in the United States at the time of the phone call that is at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment probe, and the aide was eventually delivered with no new investigations having been open. It’s that he has decided to “play along with Trump” about the phone call.

Indeed, Aslund said Zelensky asking for more information from the U.S. on Burisma “might have been a way of hedging and delaying any probe.”

But this week, Zelensky was asked again whether he was pressured by Trump and again said he had not, which, Aslund lamented, gave Trump a way out.

“Trump, Giuliani and co. are seizing repeatedly on Zelensky’s denial of feeling pressure to make the case that there can be no quid pro quo unless Zelensky attests to it,” Aslund wrote. He pointed to Trump’s tweet on Sept. 26 that “The President of Ukraine said he was NOT pressured by me to do anything wrong. Can’t have better testimony than that!” and remarks from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that “The only opinion that legally counts is Pres. Zelensky’s. Who has clearly said NO pressure. End of impeachment.”

But Zelensky can’t be telling the truth, Aslund implies.

“Zelensky’s response is utterly logical – and acceptable – at home,” he wrote.

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Author: Brian McNicoll