Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Result of U.S. War on Drugs: PRISON NATION

The United States leads the world in prisoner production. There are 2.3 million people behind bars. China, with four times as many people, has 1.6 million in prison.

In terms of population, the United States has 738 people in prison for every 100,000, while the closest competitor in this regard is Russia with 611 (see chart above,
data available here). I'm struck by this figure: 487 in Cuba. The median global rate is 125.

What's amazing is that most of this imprisoning trend is recent, dating really from the 1980s, and most of the change is due to drug laws. From 1925 to 1975, the rate of imprisonment was stable at 110, lower than the international average, which is what you might expect in a country that purports to value freedom. But then it suddenly shot up in the 1980s. There were 30,000 people in jail for drugs in 1980, while today there are half a million.

From Prison Nation by Llewellyn Rockwell, via Division of Labour


At 4/29/2008 3:50 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Yet another example of how we are getting the government we deserve?

At 4/29/2008 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This so-called "War on Drugs" should be renamed the Correction Officers' Full Employment Act.

At 4/29/2008 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Critics follow up their charges about crack with several false claims about drugs and imprisonment.

The first is that drug enforcement has been the most important cause of the overall rising incarceration rate since the 1980s. Not true.

Violent crime has always been the leading driver of prison growth, especially since the 1990s. In state prisons, where 88% of the nation's inmates are housed, violent and property offenders make up over 3 1/2 times the number of state drug offenders."

- Heather Mac Donald, IBD


At 4/29/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger Dave Narby said...

Oh, come on!

This is where Libertarians need to get more PRACTICAL (that is, if they want to be taken seriously).

Check out the murder statistics of various countries:


The US is number twenty-four.

RUSSIA is number FIVE!

Chad isn't on the list, perhaps they had trouble with gathering the numbers.

Cuba also has no murders. Because it is a worker's paradise, of course.

Seriously, though - I find it hard to understand how people can't correlate incarcerating violent criminals with a reduction in violent crime.

Although I agree that we need to be vigilant about prisons becoming an industry (allowing profit for incarceration is a REALLY BAD IDEA, given that a corporation's only responsibility is to the shareholders), we also need to be PRACTICAL.

Personally? This is my favorite crime statistic.

At 4/29/2008 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come to your own conclusions as to why but the non-black US incarceration rate is about 423 per 100,000, 1/2 of the overall rate of 738. Changes the 'America is Bad' calculus quite a bit, doesn't it?

At 4/29/2008 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody is riding their drug legalization hobby horse again.

One of my friends is a prison psychologist. If you think you've had a bad day at the office, talk to him for a while.

I've heard a lot of stories. One I haven't heard and expect to never hear is, "Gee, we got this great kid in here who would be a wonderfully productive member of society if it wasn't for those gol durned drug laws."

At 4/29/2008 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


One should also consider that there is a high proportion of mentally ill inmates due to the de-institutionalization movement of the 1980s.

At 4/30/2008 2:27 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

I would like to see the breakdown of how many of the criminals in question are there on low-grade possession raps, and how many are actual violent career criminals.

I support putting violent criminals in prison. I do think that a large measure of drug crime does tie to illegalization of drugs. What percentage of the so-called violent criminals would be violent in support of some illegal activity is the chief question. Throw THOSE bastards in prison, and throw away the keys. But anyone there because of some idiot "three strikes you're out" rule applied to three joints found in their glove compartment in one traffic stop? That person has no business in any program beyond house arrest, if that.

At 4/30/2008 3:14 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Come to your own conclusions as to why but the non-black US incarceration rate is about 423 per 100,000, 1/2 of the overall rate of 738. Changes the 'America is Bad' calculus quite a bit, doesn't it?

How? Your point is quite unclear -- If black people commit more crimes (and evidence does support that notion) then one has to ask why?

It can't be just poverty -- they weren't that bad back before the modern "social" movement got started.

When black people who are successful, like Colin Powell and Condi Rice are denigrated by the media and other blacks as "Uncle Tom", "Oreo", "Pickaninny", and "Mynah Bird", what does that say to blacks who might choose them as role models?

When black people like Bill Cosby, who certainly is old enough to know real discrimination, point at least some of the finger at black attitudes get shouted down and written off as a "sell-out", what does that say to blacks who might choose to listen to what he has to say?

When blacks stand by when someone like Latrell Sprewell chokes his coach and cry "racism!" when the league wants (rightfully) to throw him out, what does that say to blacks about acceptable behavior?

Sorry, we have an entire generation of white people who have been brought up with one of the central features of their TV viewing habits an affluent, capable black family as exemplary role models... It isn't "the white people" holding blacks back. The vast majority of them are totally willing to accept a black person as an equal.

The thing which currently holds blacks down is their own bad choices. Teen pregnancy, gang violence, illiteracy, and incarceration for violent offenses. THOSE are the true source of the black problem. You don't get thrown in jail for "violent offenses" unless you're doing something violent. If you're doing something violent because you are part of a gang, you're an idiot. If you're part of a gang because it's the only way to survive in that neighborhood, then it was up to your parent(s) to move.

If I lived in one of those vile areas and had kids to raise I damned sure would be packing my bags and moving to the midwest somewhere -- or at least well away from those inner-city areas. It's not like there's much to keep you there. If you need to, hop on a bus and leave it all behind.

Yeah, giving up friends is a tough choice, but if it's a choice between risking having my kids shot in a drive-by and getting inducted to a gang at 12, to wind up in a revolving door juvie system until they wind up tried as an adult, then I don't see that as much of a choice!

Get the f*** out of there!!

Do whatever you have to do, to get your kids OUT of that ridiculously unhealthy situation you are in. That's what parenthood is about. Making sometimes hard personal choices for the benefit of your kids. And any black parent whose kids are growing up in an inner city slum is an idiot of a bad parent dooming them to a likely life of poverty and crime.

How to get black people as a whole out of the self-imposed death spiral of victimhood that the liberals have handed to them is the real question. But it's got to start with them and everyone else realizing that the era of true, hold-em-back discrimination is long gone.

While there are certainly still some racist pr**ks out there who would refuse to hire a hard working and/or talented person because of his skin color, there are not enough of them to hold back 10-15% of the US population if they were capable of the work and interested in doing the work.

It's hard to qualify for anything more complicated than "Do you want fries with that?" when black literacy rates are less than half what they were in 1930, and *qualifying* for a college education is at its current level.

So one has to look at other forces besides "Bad, Racist Amerikkka" for the answer. At least if one is interested in actually solving the problem instead of whining about it.

At 4/30/2008 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you rather legalize it and have all the unintended consequences you cant imagine? What they need to do is make prison so horrible that PEOPLE DONT COMMIT CRIMES to avoid going there. No more TV/law library/gym/3 squares. Bread/water/solitary should be the rule. If it were, the jails would be far less occupied.
Seems to me you whine alot Professor. Glad im not in your 'class'.

At 4/30/2008 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember in college a professor made the comment that one day all Americans will either work for Wal-Mart or the prison system, and those who don't will be the ones in prison.

At 4/30/2008 8:32 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Would you rather legalize it and have all the unintended consequences you can't imagine?

Yes, having a lot of guys getting AIDS from being raped in prison for smoking a doobie is much, much better.

I can see how easily the "unintended consequences" of drug legalization would be just infinitely worse.

/sarcasm off

You do grasp that this is, in fact, the primary vector of AIDS in blacks in this country, do you not?

At 4/30/2008 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it also make sense to post a chart showing declining crime rates in the US during the same period? After all, as even a NY Times story recently on incarceration pointed out, they imprison far fewer people in Europe, but crime rates there are rising.

At 4/30/2008 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This morning in a community not far from me, a man and woman were found unconcious in a car. She had no pulse and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. He will live.

First report indicates meth overdose.

At 4/30/2008 3:55 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Don't assume violent crimes aren't driven higher due to illegal drug activities!

At 4/30/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

This discussion, alas ---unlike Mark Perry's own thrusts throughout his admirable blog (the more admirable for me, by the way, since I am not a libertarian) --- is way too abstract and lacking in data. So . . . I have recreated the more relevant posts that were left at another libertarian site --- Samizdata --- in 2003.

Since I participated in those posts for that particular thread, I hope the Samizdata bloggers and managers will not mind my selecting from the original and very lengthy thread.

What the data show is that, contrary to what most of the posters here think, 1) The US is not a particularly high crime-rate country among industrial countries --- just the contrary. It ranks toward the bottom third or so of the various industrial countries surveyed in the ICVS --- international crime victims surveys . . . carried out by the UN via Dutch team (with help of local academics across several countries)between 1989 and 2000. There were four such surveys, and for some reason, they stopped then.

2) The US is not a particularly violent country compared to all the West European large and medium-sized countries, and even some fo the small ones. The same is true compared to Australia and Canada.

3) The American people rank highest in the industrial world in the confidence they feel going out in public spaces.

4) Tied with Sweden, the American people rank highest in the confidence they show in their police force.

5) Homicide is the one exception here, and we do rank higher, though the main reason is due to the black homicide rate --- for whatever reason. As for the white homicide rate --- including Hispanics --- it is either slightly lower than the West EUropean rate or about the same or possibly twice as high. The cause of this uncertainty? West European police forces report homicide and attempted homicide in the same data-category.

6) To attribute the high black murder rate compared to the white murder rate is quite simply simple-minded. That rate was and has been always higher going back through the 20th century. It has surged in the last few decades owing to a complex of reasons --- and possibly drug-usage is one of them. The deeper causes are cultural
changes since the 1960s and the practical disappearance of the two-parent black family --- virtually the same in 1950 to the white (88% vs 89%) --- but now much less than half of that. 70% of black kids are born illegitimately, and you don't have to know much about personality dynamic development to grasp that boys growing up without fathers around will develop with a hatred of female authority, blazing resentments of "'ho" and a failure to internalize self-discipline and restraint --- including an ability to calculate long-term self-interest.

6) As for incarceration rates, I too favor legalizing drugs, but that legalization will not likely reduce the rate or incidence of crime, violent or otherwise, as long as the deeper cultural, social, and family causes of crime persist, especially in the black community (and increasingly, alas, in the Hispanic community) in this country.


Now for the Samizdata: file:///C:/Documents/US%20v%20European%20crime%20%20Samizdata_net.htm

US v European crime | Samizdata.net

August 15, 2003

US v European crime
Robert Clayton Dean (Texas USA) Self defence & security

To follow up on the discussion under Good news on guns, which drifted (and
I do mean drifted) into comparisons of US and European crime and the
unfortunate concentration of violent criminal activity in the US in the
black community, I ran across a summary of statistics at the Useful Fools
blog. You really should read the whole thing, but the relevant points are:
Here are Interpol 2001 crime statistics (rate per 100,000):

4161 - US
7736 - Germany
6941 - France
9927 - England and Wales
Thus the US has a substantially lower crime rate than the major European
. . .

[The US] murder rate is high largely due to the multicultural nature of
our society. Inner city blacks, members of a distinct subculture, have a
vastly higher criminal and victim homicide rate than our society as an

Homicide Offender Rate/100,000 by Race in US (2000):
3.4 - White
25.8 - Black
3.2 - Other

It is often hypothesized that blacks are overrepresented in murder
statistics due to racism on the part of police and the justice system.
If this were true, one would expect that the race of victims would have
significantly different distribution than the race of the perpetrators,
but this is not the case:

Homicide Victim Rate/100,000 by Race in US (2000):
3.3 - White
20.5 - Black
2.7 - Other

Thus if you remove homicides committed by blacks (total: 21862,
Blacks:9316), and assume a proportionality between number of offenders
and number of offenses, you can extrapolate US homicide offender rate of

if John's numbers are right, the murder rate is lower than that of France
and Germany
Well, per the first set of numbers, the "crime" rate is lower - whatever
that means specifically.
After breaking down the US rate by race, he goes on to calculate: "Thus if
you remove homicides committed by blacks (total: 21862, Blacks:9316), and
assume a proportionality between number of offenders and number of
offenses, you can extrapolate US homicide offender rate of only
2.6/100,000, lower than Germany (3.27) and France (3.91)."
That's a little fiddly for my taste. Particularly, as you say, without
France and Germany being able to adjust their numbers by ethnicity, as

Posted by S. Weasel at August 15, 2003 05:06 PM


As the author of the original post on Useful Fools, let me throw in a few
The national crime and homicide rate numbers came from here.

I tried to find France's rates by ethnicity, but if they exist they are
not on the web. Based on what I have read and my experiences when living
in France, I would suspect that a lot of French homicides are also
ethnically tied.

I didn't try to find Germany's rates by ethnicity. I ran out of time. I
don't know much about the number of non-German ethnics in Germany.
The US crime rates by ethnicity were from US Department of Justice data on
pages following this one in the same document. Clicking on the graphs
brings up the raw data.

I did not originally put in links because the whole thing started in my
comment section while arguing in the comments section with a German lawyer
about the absurdly low sentence given one of the 9-11 conspirators (15
years) in Germany. He then attacked the US and my state (Arizona)
especially since we executed a couple of German murderers a few years
back, and made a few stereotypical assertions about our crime rates.
BTW... folks may find that discussion interesting... it wanders off into
the terrorist associations of the German foreign minister, who is
apparently a friend of my opponent. It ends with my opponent basically
losing all self control and his argument disintegrating. It was fun (but
time consuming).

By the way, as an armed American, I have personally fired a weapon in self
defense. It was quite successful. Like almost all such instances, nobody
was harmed (although there may have been some soiled underwear of those
who were attempting to attack me).

Posted by John Moore (Useful Fools) at August 15, 2003 07:41 PM


We all need to take a look at the ICVS
International Crime Victimisation Survey

It measures victimisation rates, not police statistics (which are often
cooked by governments for political purposes), and the results defy
conventional wisdom.

"The ICVS allows an overall measure of victimisation which is the
percentage of people victimised once or more in the previous year by any
of the eleven crimes covered by the survey. This prevalence measure is a
simple but robust indicator of overall proneness to crime. The countries
fall into three bands.

Above 24% (victim of any crime in 1999): Australia, England and Wales, the
Netherlands and Sweden

20%-24% : Canada, Scotland, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, France, and USA

Under 20% : Finland, Catalonia (Spain), Switzerland, Portugal, Japan and
Northern Ireland. "

Contact Crime

"An overall measure of contact crime was taken as robbery, assaults with
force, and sexual assaults (against women only).

The highest risks were in
Australia, England and Wales, Canada, Scotland and Finland: over 3% were
victims. This was more than double the level in USA, Belgium, Catalonia,
Portugal, and Japan (all under 2%). In Japan the risk of contact crime was
especially low (0.4%). "


"Women in Sweden, Finland, Australia and England and Wales were most at
risk of sexual assault. Women in Japan, Northern Ireland, Poland and
Portugal were least at risk."

Also the intentional deaths rate (murder + homicide + war) rate is
informative. (Hope you can see the graph without registration)
There is Finland again!
Statistics on intentional injury

Posted by Big Daddy Cool at August 15, 2003 08:06 PM


A neat summary - from the Guardian, no less

Posted by Big Daddy Cool at August 15, 2003 08:22 PM


On a statistical note, I just noticed that some of the number from the
original piece don't add up.

Homicide Victim Rate/100,000 by Race in US (2000):
3.3 - White
20.5 - Black
2.7 - Other

Thus if you remove homicides committed by blacks (total: 21862,
Blacks:9316), and assume a proportionality between number of offenders and
number of offenses, you can extrapolate US homicide offender rate of only
2.6/100,000, lower than Germany (3.27) and France (3.91).

The homicide victim rate figures are from 2000. I don't have a link for
these figures. The number of total homicides in the next sentence is very
high however. The interpol numbers show a total of 13230 homicides for
2000. In fact, the U.S. hasn't had anywhere 22000 homicides since 1995.
After the removal of black homicides, the result is compared to the
interpol data for Germany and France for what appears to be the year 2001.
Assuming that U.S. homicide data is for 1995, the comparable rates for
France and Germany should be 4.86/100K and 4.42/100K, respectively.
RK Jones

Posted by RK Jones at August 15, 2003 09:54 PM


The numbers I used on the ethnic breakdown are homicide OFFENDER rates,
which is not the same thing as a homicide rate.
Thus the extrapolation is a bit subtle.

Posted by John Moore (Useful Fools) at August 15, 2003 10:35 PM


"[The US] murder rate is high largely due to the multicultural nature of
our society."
I'm dissappointed, I never thought such a blatantly racist view would be
given support here. What's gotten into your heads?
"well the crime rate would be lower if it weren't for the n*ggers"...nah,
f__k that.

Posted by b-psycho at August 15, 2003 11:10 PM

b-psycho, try to comprehend what the data says and what interpretation(s)
people on this thread are putting on the data.
The data demonstrates pretty conclusively that the black community in the
US hosts a highly disproportionate number of both perpetrators and victims
of homicide. It is not racist to observe this pattern in the data. What is
your explanation for this pattern?
Do you dispute the data? If so, why?

People are drawing a number of conclusions from it. I personally think it
tends to refute the idea that American society as a whole is violent.
No one is saying that it is something genetic or inherent to black people.
Nearly everyone who has speculated on causes has spoken in terms of
culture - surely you wouldn't dispute that culture contributes to
violence. Other observations might tie it to poverty. I haven't seen a
single comment that I think could fairly be called racist.
Although yours is easily the least thoughtful comment on the thread.

Posted by R.C. Dean at August 15, 2003 11:21 PM


So, b, how do you explain the statistics for the disproportionate number
of black offenders?
a) it's simply not true. You can't trust The Man or his numbers.
b) it is true, but they have every reason to be ten times crankier than
the rest of us.
c) it is true, but we dare not speak of such things, for, yea, it is
forbidden unto us.
d) how do I know? I just like throwing the N word around whenever this
topic comes up.

Posted by S. Weasel at August 15, 2003 11:22 PM


By the way, the numbers for the white crime rates are inflated in the FBI
UCR, because Hispanics are counted as "white" when they're offenders, but
Hispanic when they're victims of hate crimes.

It's the truth - check out the Uniform crime reports website if you don't
believe me.

If you calculate the Hispanic crime rate separately (e.g. by using NCVS
data), you will find that it is also substantially higher than the white
average, but not as high as the black average. Also, Asians commit crimes
at *lower* rates than whites.

Posted by godlesscapitalist at August 16, 2003 01:34 AM


1, This is a highly inforrmative exchange, and the comparative statistics
about different crime rates are especially revealing. There is another
source, maybe even better, than Interpol for such comparative work: the
ICVS, The international Cime Victimization Survey, a UN-sponsored survey
carried out every 4-5 years by a Dutch university team. They have been
since 1989, and distinguish various kinds of crimes and victimization.


2) Note the stress on victimization.

Unlike Interpol --- which uses police reports --- the Dutch study does
what the US also does (no doubt other countries too): it uses random
survey techniques to probe the citizenry of various countries about the
level and rate of their being victims of crime: all sorts, violent and

It surveys about 24 industrial countries, though the number surveyed does
vary since 1989.

Not the least valuable part of the surveys is that they also probe the
attitudes of different populations towards the performance of their
police, and the extent to which people are fearful or confident about
going out into public space. The results:

1) the US ranks comparatively
low in violent crime compared to the big countries in West Europe, Australia,
and Canada.

2)The US population shows the least worries about going out into such public
spaces --- downtown, cinemas, restaurants, sport events, walks in streets
etc --- and 3)shares with one other country the highest levels of confidence
in their police.

--- Michael Gordon
the buggy prof

Posted by michael gordon at August 16, 2003 02:35 AM

Michael Gordon, Aka the buggy professor: http://www.thebuggyprofessor.org

At 4/30/2008 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to this article half a million offenders are in prison on crimes relating to illegal substances. (0.5 Million of 2.3Million).

The link that I posted concerned the rising numbers of former mental institition patients since the 1980s resulting from the deinstituionalization during the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of former patients have fallen through the cracks many becoming homeless or incarcerated.

Strangely, this author does not even mention de-institutionalization as a factor in the rise of the prison population even though it coincided with this trend.

At 4/30/2008 11:21 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> First report indicates meth overdose.

Hey, two less idiots left to reproduce!

As I believe I have noted before, one of civilizations' prime qualities is "normalization". It brings up the weak and pulls down the strong, to prevent the strong from preying on the weak. It allows more and more disparate genes to survive, allowing more complex intermixtures to be tried, allowing for more serendipitous effects to occur to produce genius of all types -- artistic, scientific, and creative.

The downside is twofold:
a) It also brings up idiots and pulls down the smart (both types -- intellect and wisdom). So smart people have, really, no more say than stupid ones. And it protects the stupid ones from their stupidity, so they don't get removed from the gene pool by natural cleaning processes, something clearly to society's detriment.
b) The Marching Morons: More stupid people reproduce than smart people -- this means that more and more of the populace becomes less and less capable and competent. In an increasingly technical society, this is a major problem.

I don't advocate any defined measures to separate the fools and idiots from the rest of the populace -- I don't want that kind of power in anyone's hands.

The same holds true for any system which directly encourages smart/wise people to have more kids --- in both cases, "who decides?"

But it also means I don't feel a great pressure to keep in place lawa which solely work to protect people from their own idiocy and foolishness. We need far, far less of both. Yes, there are always cases in which stupid people take out smart ones on the way out, but that's the price you pay for an inexact system of removal.

Drug laws are a prime example of laws designed to protect people from their own stupidity and foolishness at best. A smart/wise person may choose to use drugs -- some drugs, at least -- but a smart/wise person won't let them take over their lives. If they do, they are, by definition, neither.

As a more pithy way to put this:

We need less tiger food, and more tigers.

At 4/30/2008 11:38 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Don't assume violent crimes aren't driven higher due to illegal drug activities!

If they weren't illegal, then there would be orders of magnitude less money in them. This is the root of the violence.

No one is going to fight a pitched battle with a rival importer over a $500 ton of cocaine. If it's a $500 million ton of cocaine, that's a bit different.

And if it's legalized, you can tax it. And if you tax it, you can apply those revenues to dealing with the downside... as well as preventing drug abuse in the first place.

While smoking isn't illegal, peer pressure has done far more towards restricting it, far more effectively, than any criminalization would have done.

People who have decided to do drugs are going to do drugs

I was in Gainesville, FL in 1985. There is little trouble growing it for yourself in sunny FL, as well as some, on the side, to pay for college tuition. In summer, 1985, the local, state, and DEA virtually shut down all distribution of pot in the area, to the point where people were actually sporting T-shirts that said "I survived the Great Gainesville Pot Famine of 1985". I had a lot of friends who smoked pot at the time. Virtually none of them had ever done cocaine before that. When the pot dried up, many switched to cocaine. Cocaine was smaller, lighter, and had a higher value-to-weight ratio than pot, so it was easier to smuggle in such tight times, and worth a lot more. It was also easier to dispose of when a bust was underway. Therefore, it was much harder to interdict.

... And since cocaine is far more addictive, per se, than pot, the effort to shut down pot almost certainly did far more harm than good.

...And since cocaine is generally worth far more than pot (esp. since it can't be grown locally), it massively increased the worth of efforts to smuggle and distribute it. And if you think this did not cost the lives of many -- you're a fool. It cost the lives of many who process it (since more was being processed, and the conditions, being illegal, don't favor a factory). It cost the lives of people who transport it, distribute it, and interdict it, as battles are fought, mules are killed, and screwups happen. And it cost the lives of lots of idiots who might, perhaps, have been smart enough to get help but could not afford to go to the Betty Ford clinic for necessary rehab.

The solution to stupid drug use is and has always been the same as the solution to tobacco and alcohol use -- peer pressure and "misuse control" (like drunk driving laws). It's the only mechanism that works at all and the only mechanism that ever will.

At 4/30/2008 11:41 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> possibly drug-usage is one of them.

I wouldn't argue drug usage as much as the obvious worth of drugs in a mileau with a low valuation of life. This makes the local drug kingpin, short though his life may be, more interesting than a life working at McD's.


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