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Home -> Current Affairs -> MP Expenses: ACA, FOIA, whistleblowing leak

Parliament: Disclosed, or Closed? The MPs' expenses scandal

Published: 18th June 2009

The furore over MPs' expenses is one of constitutional significance. It has to do with the quintessential nature of the relationship between citizens and their representatives in public offices throughout the land.

It's a story of much detail, and one that shows astrological principles very clearly. In this article we'll extract the pivotal moments and trace the development from 1971 to today, keeping our coverage as simple as possible in this complicated tale, whilst aiming to do justice to the subject and to the astrology of it.

Not every chart or transit that deserves to be looked at can be examined here, so there are many dates and links given as references for those who wish to investigate further.

Let's start with documenting some of the attitudes expressed as recently as February 2007 by Parliament's representatives when they were campaigning to keep the door to information closed:

"MPs should be allowed to carry on their duties free from interference..."

"Public confidence is not the overriding concern per se..."

"Transparency will damage democracy."
Source: Guardian newspaper

These three simple quotes provide context to the conflict over MPs' expenses and hint at the revolutionary potential that MPs' resistance has played a big part in unleashing. That revolutionary potential is shown astrologically in a very straightforward way, which we'll shortly see.

The quotes give a clue as to the changes afoot in the national psyche. Something is dying, and new life is longing to break through. Although we're still in the birth pangs phase and the time is not yet here, we know it's coming and its been what many have been eagerly anticipating for a long, long time.

Now, to the first piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We begin with the origin of the current allowances system, voted into existence late one evening by MPs at Westminster in 1971.

Additional Costs Allowances: The MP expenses system

The Additional Costs Allowances (ACA) system, otherwise known as the MP expenses system, was agreed in the Houses of Parliament on the 20th of December 1971. The Hansard record of the debate and resolution shows that it was agreed sometime between 9:42pm and 10:01pm.

After the time-stamp at 9:42pm Hansard shows a considerable chunk of speech, followed by the ACA agreement, and then the next debate beginning at 10:01pm. The record shows that the agreement on ACA was resolved slightly before this next debate started at 10:01pm, therefore to find out approximately when the Resolution was passed I've used the periodic time-stamps within Hansard throughout the debate - which lasted a few hours - coupled with a word count between time-stamps to work out a mean average rate of speech. It points to a time for the Resolution of approximately 9:57pm.

Based on this data then, here is the chart for the official Resolution of the House agreeing the ACA system's workings and the date of its coming into effect:

ACA - MPs expenses system - birth chart for the resolution
Highlighted are the chart features that recur in the charts of subsequent events. We have:
  • A T-square between Sun, Mars and Pluto.
  • A Grand Trine in the early degrees of the Air Signs, between Pluto, Moon-Node, and Saturn-MC
  • The Ascendant at 7 degrees of Virgo
  • Jupiter at 20 degrees of Sagittarius
The Resolution which agreed the workings of the ACA system also agreed that it would come into effect as of the 1st of January 1972. Here is the chart for that moment:

ACA - MPs expenses system - birth chart for its introduction

The angular Grand Cross involving Sun opposite Moon, and Mars opposite Pluto, shows the people and the powerful are disunited, with the presence of forces beyond their control. The Ascendant-Descendant axis with the MC-IC axis shows a locking of this into the pillars, the foundations and the roof, the roots and branches.

Saturn's position has moved from the MC to the cusp of the 9th house, but is placed in the 8th. The 8th house is associated with 'other people's money', and the 9th house represents publication. Mercury at 17 degrees of Sagittarius is close to where Pluto was in the previous chart, and is conjunct the UK's Mercury in the 3rd house of data and information - appropriate considering the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act issues which ACA has now run headlong into.

Obviously not much time elapsed between the date of the Resolution and the date of coming into effect, therefore the slower-moving planets are in more or less identical positions. The faster-moving planets have shifted though as have the house cusps. Let's put these two wheels together to more easily see what's changed from the Resolution to its coming into effect:

ACA: Resolution & Into effect
Inner wheel: ACA agreed (20th December 1971)
Outer wheel: ACA came into effect (1st January 1972)

The main changes to keep in mind are:
  • The Sun has moved from 28 degrees of Sagittarius to nearly 10 degrees of Capricorn
  • Mercury has moved to 17 degrees of Sagittarius
  • The MC-IC axis has become the 3rd-9th axis
We'll return to these three key pieces of information shortly.

The High Court considered that the formula for expenses pertaining to the period for which the FOIA requests were made dated from the 5th of July 2001. This was when MPs awarded themselves a 42% increase, with the rationale being that the London property market had outstripped inflation and thereby rendered the allowances level too low.

According to Hansard the agreement to increase the ACA allowance was passed at 4:02pm. Here's the chart, with the inceptional chart for ACA on the inside:

ACA Introduction & 42 percent increase
Inner wheel: ACA Introduced (1st Jan 1972)
Outer wheel: ACA increased by 42% (5th July 2001)

The highlighted areas to note between these wheels are:
  • The reversed Sun and Moon opposing each other across Cancer-Capricorn
  • Mars in 2001 is where Mercury was in 1972
  • Venus in 2001 is where Saturn and the 9th cusp were in 1972
As a brief aside, it's this chart that Michael Martin is resonating with. Michael is the Speaker who has just been forced to step down since he was head of the department in charge of the administration of ACA (though not the originator of it - that was the MPs themselves).

Michael has a Sun-Saturn-Node-MC conjunction between 9-16 degrees of Cancer, 'plugged in' directly to the Sun-Moon oppositions in the bi-wheel above. Some say that he has been a scapegoat; Capricorn is the Sign of the goat, and Saturn is its ruler....

Freedom of Information Act

The history of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) goes back quite far. Labour had it as a manifesto commitment for many years, and when New Labour got into power in 1997 they initially proposed what was widely regarded as a very good White Paper, containing substantial and useful proposals.

When push came to shove, however, they attempted to introduce what some termed a Freedom from Information Act - the White Paper proposals had been drastically watered down and the legislation had almost been reversed, becoming something that strengthened Parliament's and the government's right to withhold information from the public rather than the public's right to easily gain access to it.

During the course of its passage through Parliament there were six back bench rebellions in the Labour Party, and eventually the government had to force the legislation through and stop MPs - who had tabled 118 last-minute amendments - from re-strengthening the public's right to know.

The three main political parties - Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats - have all been part of actively preventing or actively seeking to prevent freedom of information at various points since then, although most recently they are vying for position having jumped on the bandwagon of openness - they have their eyes on the looming General Election.

All this reduction of the White Paper's proposals happened on the watch of the current prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who was Lord Chancellor at the time of the proposed Act being written, introduced and debated, as well as other Cabinet members such as Jack Straw.

Jack Straw used to be a barrister practising in criminal law. He became Home Secretary when New Labour came to power in 1997, and is now Secretary of State for Justice. It's this latest position that has given him the power to veto FOIA releases even when they have been ordered by the Information Commissioner. Ironically, its by virtue of this role that he is also in charge of 'constitutional reform'.

In other words, those who currently proclaim themselves to be guardians of the public's rights and bastions of open government have amply demonstrated otherwise.

Now to the FOIA astrological charts.

The FOIA was introduced to Parliament for debate on the 18th of November 1999. The Hansard records show that this took place sometime between 11:33am and 11:56am, but towards the end of that segment. It hasn't been possible in this case to extrapolate a more specific time so an estimate of 11:50am has been used. Here is the chart:

Freedom of Information Act - Bill introduced to Parliament

Note the position of the Sun in Scorpio, at just over 25 and a half degrees.

Neptune is at 2 degrees of Aquarius, picking out the early degrees of the Air Signs once again.

The Bill received Royal Assent, thus becoming an Act, just over a year later on the 30th of November 2000. From Hansard we know that it received Royal Assent sometime between 7:32 and 8:00pm, but again it hasn't been possible to work out a closer time so an approximately halfway point of 7:45pm has been used. Here is the chart:

Freedom of Information Act - Royal Assent
Note the position of Mercury, in Scorpio, at just under 25 and a half degrees - the position of the Sun when the Bill was introduced to Parliament (see previous chart).

Note also the Moon's position at 2 and a half degrees of Aquarius in trine with Jupiter in Gemini - the early degrees of the Air Signs again. And the cusp of the 3rd house (data, information) at 8 degrees of Virgo is conjunct the Ascendant of the ACA Resolution chart.

The empty circular highlighted area at the bottom corner of the triangle is the UK's Ascendant, which is at 7 degrees and 10 minutes of Libra. Thus this moment when the Bill became an Act directly plugs into a primary location within the UK's psyche.

The FOIA came into force in stages over a 5-year period. One of the key stages of that process was the requirement for public bodies, including Parliament, to have an approved publication scheme in place. According to the FOIA these schemes had to be in place 'by 30th November 2002'. It's not clear whether that meant by the start of the 30th or by the end of the 30th; I'm presuming the start. Here is the chart for that moment:

FOIA Publication scheme - date into force

Note the position of Mercury at 16 and a half degrees of Sagittarius, conjunct Pluto at 17 degrees. This is the exact degree of the UK's Mercury, positioned in the 3rd house. Mercury and the 3rd house are associated with information and its communication, hence this being a perfect time for focusing on data and publication issues.

The close conjunction with Pluto points to the fact that hidden things are being forced above ground, and as is so often the case with Pluto we can add 'unwillingly and in spite of great resistance.' In the mythology of Pluto/Hades and similar gods in other cultures there are stories of rape; when being asked for information Parliament is shouting 'rape' at the citizens.

Still with the mythology, Mercury/Hermes was the only non-underworld god of the pantheon to be able to repeatedly travel into the underworld - the realm of Pluto/Hades - and come back alive and well. Isn't that a metaphor for free access to information from the hidden corridors of governmental power?

Scorpio on the cusp of the 3rd house re-states the Plutonic theme (Pluto is the planet associated with Scorpio), and the fact that the chart ruler (Mercury) and the ruler of the 3rd (Pluto) are conjunct at the foot of the chart, which represents the point of greatest darkness and utmost privacy, is highly apt. This goes to the very foundations. The Ascendant at 15 degrees of Virgo is similarly important, as we'll see later.

The Act came fully into force, including at long last recognition of the public's general 'right to know', on the 1st of January 2005 at midnight. From this watershed moment on Parliament had to shift from a mere publication scheme to receiving and having to handle specific requests to divulge information not already released via the publication scheme. Here is the chart for what is, potentially, an epoch-making change in the 'deal' between citizen and representative:

Freedom of Information Act - Fully into force
On the 4th and 5th of January 2005 two newspaper journalists, Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Ben Leapman, submitted the first FOIA requests for information about the expenditure of certain MPs under the ACA system.
By April their requests had all been refused - twice - by Parliament.

Later, on 20th March 2006, another journalist, an independent named Heather Brooke, submitted a written request for information about MPs' expenses. Heather had made her first enquiry about expenses by telephone back in 2004 when writing her book 'Your Right to Know', and is often reported as one of the biggest champions of the campaign to publish MPs' expenses. Heather's request was refused twice too.


All three journalists appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner, and the saga began.

Parliament has since played a slippery game of trying to avoid disclosure by releasing information under broad categories and aggregate totals, and dragging its heels. A great deal of time passed because of their refusals to be straightforward and simply accountable.

By June 2007 the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, was trying to run with the hare and with the hounds by insisting on the one hand that Parliament release more information but ruling that other information could be kept secret. He cited 'invasion of privacy' but what was being blocked was full itemisation of the list of MPs' expenditures of taxpayers' money.

A month later (13th July 2007) Richard Thomas proposed a 'compromise': the figures were to be broken down but receipts were not to be published. Parliament didn't want to comply and so appealed, as did the FOI requestors.

A landmark Tribunal was held on the 7th and 8th of February 2008 in central London and the verdict was announced later in the month on the 26th: Parliament had lost, but still they refused to co-operate.

On the 25th of March the Speaker, Michael Martin, announced that he would, on behalf of MPs (some of whom objected) and the government (which didn't object), take the case to the High Court to try to overturn the Tribunal's decision.

One MP - Stuart Bell, a barrister, a senior Labour MP, a friend of Michael Martin, and someone who voted to keep MPs' expenses secret - has said on the BBC that senior Labour Party MPs pressured the Speaker to take this action:

"The Speaker came under severe pressure from very senior political sources that he must appeal this to the High Court."


Government's and Parliament's attempts to block access

As well as straightforwardly rejecting FOIA requests for MPs' expenses information, the government and Parliament also actively tried to block scrutiny of their expenditures, using at least 150,000 of public money to do so. They:
  • Shredded information that was the subject of legal proceedings, which is illegal (circa January 2005)
  • Appealed to the Information Commissioner, and lost (dates above)
  • Decided (25th March 2008) to take it to the High Court, and lost (16th May 2008)
  • Overruled the High Court (laid draft on 15th, passed on 22nd, into force at 00:00hrs on 23rd July 2008)
  • Introduced and backed an Amendment Bill (introduced on 18th May 2007 at 10:06am) that would've ensured MPs' second addresses would have remained secret, thus covering up fraud. The Bill succeeded in the House of Commons and made it to the House of Lords, but didn't gain a sponsor there and so subsequently lapsed.
  • Introduced a motion to exempt MPs from the FOIA (initiated on 14th January 2009, announced on 15th January, scheduled for debate on 22nd January, but forced to withdraw the motion. The vote confirming withdrawal took place just before 3:58pm on 22nd January 2009.)
  • Threw out proposed reforms (3rd July 2008)
  • Rejected recommendations for independent scrutiny of their allowances and agreed to only an element of independent scrutiny (3rd July 2008)
  • Scrapped the infamous 'John Lewis List' but reserved their right to furnish their (theoretically second) homes at taxpayers' expense, with what one Conservative MP dubbed an 'Ikea list' (16th July 2008)
In addition, the Office of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, John Lyon, charged with upholding ethical conduct and decent standards, dismissed a complaint about the Cabinet's husband-and-wife team Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper claiming nearly 32,000 in allowances in 2006 for their London home.

Telegraph leak: unedited information via a whistleblower

Despite these attempts to obstruct scrutiny the government and Parliament lost in a big way when the unedited information was leaked via the Telegraph newspaper.

On the 8th of May 2009 the Telegraph began its now-famous day-by-day feed of information about the use and abuse of the MP expenses system. The information was provided by a broker on behalf of a whistleblower, a private firm doing work for the government and therefore having access to the data.

It was reported that they were shocked by the government's dangerously insecure approach to Data Protection, described as 'lax and unprofessional security procedures used in the House of Commons'. A more than ironic situation when placed side-by-side with Parliament's and the government's simultaneously extremely protective approach to Freedom of Information.

The broker, John Wick, explained to the media that the government intended to release a twice-redacted version of MPs' expenses, thereby covering up the 'flipping' of second homes and so forth, and so in the interests of the public good they decided whistleblowing was necessary.

John Wick also made reference to the fact that the government and Parliament are increasingly eroding the privacy of the citizens whilst bolstering their own secrecy.

According to the Telegraph their weekday London edition is first published around 6am, and this chart has been calculated for that data:

MP Expenses - Telegraph leak
There are three stationary planets in this chart, and with their stations they formed a linear '1 - 2 - 3' sequence correlating with the publication of the leaked information and its consequences. All three planets are highlighed in yellow-blue circles. Here is their stationary data:-

Please note that stations are not events with a duration of a minute or a day, they last from, in the case of Mercury, a few days either side of the exact date specified below, to about three weeks either side of the exact date in the case of Saturn and Neptune
  • Mercury was stationary retrograde on the 7th of May at 2 degrees of Gemini - the day before the Telegraph started its daily leaks - on the MC for the ACA Resolution in December 1971, and the 9th house cusp of the ACA introduction in January 1972
  • Saturn was stationary direct on the 17th of May at 15 Virgo - on the 12th house cusps of both the UK itself and the ACA introduction chart. The 12th house represents hidden enemies and self-undoing. This is when the first Speaker in 300 years to be forced out was pushed to resign - he announced his departure on the 19th after two days of MPs' pressurising him to go.
  • Neptune was stationary retrograde on the 29th of May at 26 Aquarius, in conjunction with Jupiter and Chiron and opposite the UK's Saturn in the 11th house - Neptune representing a leak and a meltdown of the Saturn-in-the-11th government, Parliament, the establishment, and the status quo.
Note how pivotal Saturn is in this chart. Not only is it stationary but it's at the apex of a triangular formation involving Venus and Jupiter, and via Jupiter it links with the stationary Neptune (plus Chiron, not shown) and from there to Uranus (indicated by the double thin black line). It also shares multiple septile aspects with other planets - Moon, Mercury, and Mars.

The Sun also trines Saturn, simultaneously connecting with Pluto, whilst Saturn and Pluto form a tenth harmonic aspect with each other. Saturn is, to put it simply, at the focal point of a complex web of aspects, all of which are channelled through and into the UK's and ACA's 12th house cusps.

These show that Saturn's conjunction with the UK's and ACA's 12th house cusps is not just an ordinary event. There is an incredibly intense focus indicated in Saturn's configuration with the other planets. The fact that Saturn was stationary in this position shows a build-up then slow release of energy in the national psyche via issues related to the 12th house cusp - secrecy and 'hidden enemies'.

Furthermore, the Sun is not only in trine with Saturn, it's directly opposite the UK's Neptune and this opposition is tellingly located across the UK's and ACA's 2nd-8th house axis. These are the houses of 'other people's money' and 'one's own money/possessions'. They are associated with material gain and loss, and all forms of acquisition and taxation. Neptune is the planet of fog, deception and all not being what it seems with the consequent need to bring clarity and transparency to what is opaque and muddled. How fitting that the Sun - the brightest light - aligned with Neptune on this day of the whistleblowing publication.

UK birth chart

Diagram showing some of the main transits to the UK's chart -
the highlight down the centre is also the Sun-Moon opposition
at the commencement of the ACA system
showing how its core links with the UK's people (IC, Moon)
and Parliament (MC, Sun)

And so to Pluto, the planet of inscrutability and wealth. Pluto had technically stationed and changed direction on the 4th of April 2009, and had been effectively motionless throughout March and the remained of April after its turning point. This is the time when the whistleblowing was being arranged and the leaks prepared.

In the charts, Pluto was trine the UK's Uranus in the 12th house, indicating the desire for what is hidden to break out, break free of constraints, and become known. Uranus is considered 'the awakener' and represents the Promethean spirit of stealing fire from the Gods. Perhaps this Promethean mythology says something about whistleblowing in and of itself, not just its pivotal role in this particular story.

In its birth chart the UK's Uranus is in quincunx aspect to its Pluto. The nation is actually primed for revolutionary actions, although it prefers peaceful ones domestically. This natal Uranus-Pluto aspect was being transited back in 1971 when ACA was planned and agreed, in 1972 when ACA was 'born', in 2008 when Parliament lost at the Information Tribunal and the High Court, and in 2009 when the information was published both by whistleblowing and by official consent.
  • In 1971-72 the transit was by Pluto, conjunct the UK's Uranus and quincunx the UK's Pluto.
  • In 2008-09 the transit was by Pluto, square the UK's Uranus and sextile the UK's Pluto.
  • In other words, the whole affair has taken place within 90 degrees of Pluto's movement around the Zodiac.
  • And the uniting factor? Mercury at 17 degrees of Sagittarius, which is exactly halfway between the UK's Uranus and Pluto (Mercury = Uranus/Pluto, in midpoint notation).
Conclusion

The astrology shows a clear emphasis on the early degrees of the three Air Signs. Interestingly, they tend not to appear singularly, but either as a pair of Air Signs or as all three together. Air Signs are associated with data, information, publishing, and so on, so it's not difficult to understand why the events correlate with those astrological markers.

Also closely matching the traditional astrological symbolism is the charts' repeating emphasis on 'Mercury Returns' - ACA introduced, FOIA Publication Scheme, FOIA fully into force - and its repeating degree area - Jupiter at the ACA Resolution,
Chiron at the Royal Assent, Pluto at the Publication Scheme, and Venus at FOIA coming fully into force. Clearly this being on the Uranus/Pluto midpoint speaks volumes about the revolutionary unleashing of energy, and the dramatic exposures involved.

In terms of Parliament, there has been no mass resignation so far despite widespread complicity in and knowledge of wrongdoing, and amid an absolute breakdown of public trust and public confidence.

Pluto's transit through the UK's 3rd house, moving ever-closer to the nation's IC and Sun, indicates that issues about data loss and data security, plus the deep constitutional dilemmas within the national psyche, will continue to reverberate for some years yet. The EC's Sun is experiencing the same transit during the same time-frame too, indicating a similar soul-searching at transnational levels.

The latest development is that Parliament has today (18th June 2009) just published heavily redacted versions of MPs' expenses, laying claim to openness yet concealing data that would have revealed deceitful 'flipping' and expenses for things like duck houses.

The public aren't swayed. The controversy continues.

Related articles on this website

Freedom of Information Act - published in 2005 [read]

Pluto's transit to the UK's Sun - published in 2007 [read]

References


Times article: 'Blair's expenses shredded'
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3953909.ece

FOI Bill background information
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/
cmbills/005/en/00005x--.htm

Background to the Bill/Act, including dates of debates etc
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/
2009/may/18/freedomofinformation-information-commissioner


Heather Brooke's MPs' expenses saga
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/15/
mps-expenses-heather-brooke-foi


Guardian article by Jeremy Hayes, author of the research paper 'A shock to the system: Journalism, government, and the FOIA 2000'
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2009/
may/14/freedom-of-information-mps-expenses


Jeremy Hayes' article 'A Shock to the System'

Guardian Newspaper - FOI section
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/freedomofinformation

BBC News report: 'Speaker 'leaned on' over expenses'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8071731.stm

BBC: Audio report by Simon Cox charting the origin of the expenses row and how MPs blocked changes that would have averted the crisis
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kk0xr

Time/date of resolution for ACA
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1971/dec/20/schedule

History of ACA
http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-04641.pdf

John Wick speaking about the rationale behind the whistleblowing
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/
5369066/MPs-expenses-whistleblower-John-Wick
-on-why-he-set-the-scandal-running.html

and

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5370852/
John-Wick-I-am-proud-to-have-exposed-expenses-scandal.html

Information Tribunal's decision of February 2008
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/Documents/
decisions/HOCfinaldecisionwebsite260208.pdf


Campaign for Freedom of Information - MPs' expenses
http://www.cfoi.org.uk/mpsexpenses.html

MPs officially publish their expenses - well, just a few years' of them - and with all the damning evidence blacked out, naturally - or in Tony Blair's case, illegally shredded
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8105227.stm

UK Parliament - Allowances by MP (for what it's worth!)
http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/
hocallowances/allowances-by-mp/

Websites of the requestors:

Jon Ungoed-Thomas
Writes for The Times and The Sunday Times, e.g http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3998902.ece

Ben Leapman
Writes for the Telegraph, e.g.
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/ben_leapman/blog/2008/05/
16/victory_in_the_high_court_over_details_of_mps_expenses


Heather Brooke - Your Right To Know
http://www.yrtk.org/

Applying astrology to political lifeGordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, EU, USA, France, Australia, Uranus in Pisces & Neptune in Aquarius, & more

Applying astrology to business life Euro Currency, NHS, BBC,
USA economy, Ofcom, Concorde,
W Edwards Deming, Banco Santander, European Central Bank, stock markets, & more

Applying astrology to people's lives Health, emotional intelligence, Zodiac elements, understanding change, Russell Brand, James Bond, Angelina Jolie, Desmond Tutu, & more

Astrology for the 21st Century - Bringing the sky down to Earth


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