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Bipartisan Internet Sales Tax Bill Introduced 548

Posted by samzenpus
from the just-in-time-for-the-holidays dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Four senators, including both Democrats and Republicans, have introduced a bill that would allow (but not require) states to collect sales tax on items purchased by residents online, even the seller has no physical presence in that state. Sellers would be able to pay through either the existing Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement or a new alternative tax simplification plan. Battle lines are being drawn predictably: brick-and-mortar retailers love the idea, Internet-only sellers hate it."
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Bipartisan Internet Sales Tax Bill Introduced

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  • Bipartisan support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Totenglocke (1291680) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:10PM (#38006820)
    Because the one thing all politicians can agree on is that they want more of your money.
    • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:15PM (#38006878)
      And citizens want police & fire departments, better schools, better public transportation, better water supplies, better sewers, better roads, better bridges, etc. What they dont want is to have to pay for any of it.
      • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:20PM (#38006962)

        Everything you just listed above is paid for in my property taxes, my fuel taxes (both that I pay and UPS/Fedex when delivering my Amazon packages), and my water bill. Why you need sales tax from me if I'm not using a brick and mortar store to buy something?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dunbal (464142) *
          Eh no - haven't you heard? Every single penny of every type of tax you pay ever only covers 38% of government spending. None of what you mention is "paid for" by you. Not even close. But the solution isn't to tax more, it's to spend less. I can't believe the amount of sheep who scream "rob me rob me yes please rob me some more!" in the name of raising taxes however whenever a tax hike is proposed, though. I guess I'm too old and too cynical now.
          • by riverat1 (1048260) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @09:58PM (#38007858)

            You are talking about Federal taxes, not state and local taxes which is the subject of this post. In general state and local governments are required to balance their budgets.

            • by stdarg (456557)

              But the feds transfer a lot of money to the states. Would their budgets still be balanced without it?

          • by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @09:58PM (#38007866)

            Or you have absolutely no clue how expensive things are. Services have been cut back pretty substantially over the last 3 decades or so to the point where infrastructure is beginning to literally fall down. It's not the spending that's the issue it's the refusal to collect the taxes necessary to maintain what we have.

            Around here the infrastructure has been crumbling since at least the late 70s and it's gotten to the point where the city is just working on the worst streets first and has a tremendous backlog. And this is a city in which the voters generally understand that we need to pay taxes to maintain and invest in the infrastructure.

            • by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff@g3.14159indulis.net minus pi> on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @11:15PM (#38008388)

              "ervices have been cut back pretty substantially over the last 3 decades or so to the point where infrastructure is beginning to literally fall down. "

              Yes, and meanwhile there has been an explosion of six figure salaries in "administration."

              • Bipartisan fuckery (Score:5, Insightful)

                by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @11:56PM (#38008564) Homepage Journal

                Yes, and meanwhile there has been an explosion of six figure salaries in "administration."

                This. And also, six and seven and eight figure salaries in corporations, yes, those same corporations who won't hire anyone, but are delighted to offshore production while at the same time offshoring income so they don't pay the amount of tax they were intended to, thus putting more of it (taxes) on the backs of the middle class.

                But, hey, keep electing rich fucks to political positions, and keep wondering why the tax laws/loopholes favor the rich, while your household budget shrinks every year. It's a frigging mystery, isn't it?

            • Are you talking at a federal level or a state level, because as of 2010 just over 60% of the federal budget is comprised of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Unemployment/Welfare and interest on the debt. The rest covers defense and all the other shit most people think of when they think of federal programs (education, transportation, EPA, etc).

              Government services have become a lot more expensive, SPECIFICALLY the welfare services which interestingly enough are usually required by those who have lesser i

              • Government services have become a lot more expensive, SPECIFICALLY the welfare services which interestingly enough are usually required by those who have lesser incomes and therefore pay little or nothing in taxes.

                Hey, look everybody, it's the "no taxes exist except income taxes, therefore poor people don't pay any tax" lie/meme! How ya doin' NTEEITTPPDPAT? Still discredited but being used by people trying to justify their hatred of anyone with less money than themselves? Great, I'm fine too. Be seei
            • by paper tape (724398) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @12:05AM (#38008590)
              The problem is that the government is made up of people who want to be re-elected - and what they have learned is the best way to do that is to pander to the special interests that finance them, and also to the electorate with handouts, subsidies, grants, kickbacks, loans, credits, bailouts, loans, etc.

              All of those things cost money - and the people who write and pass the laws that create them have for decades done so without any consideration for how much they cost. Every year, the government just borrows more money to cover the additional spending. This is not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem - both major parties are equally guilty - they just want to spend the money on different things.

              I'm very conservative. Despite that, I'll agree taxes probably need to go up at this point - BUT... with a couple of caveats:

              1) Since the federal government has proved that it is incapable of reining in its spending, increased taxes by itself is not a solution - without some sort of enforced fiscal responsibility, they would just treat increased revenue as a license to increase spending. To that end, a balanced budget amendment is an immediate requirement. If necessary, peg spending to income, and pro-rate all budget items - but it has to be done.

              2) The income tax needs to be replaced with a flat, federal sales tax that exempts food and clothing below a set dollar amount that is indexed to inflation. This accomplishes several things. First, it closes all the tax loopholes that the ultra-rich use to pay lower tax rates than the middle class. Money does them no good unless they spend it, and when they spend it, they pay taxes. Second, it abolishes corporate income taxes (which are just taxes on the customers of those corporations by proxy, since the corporations simply pass the costs of those taxes on to the consumer). Third, it gives private citizens at all income levels a stake in paying for the services and monies provided by the federal government. Currently almost half the population pays no federal income tax. As a result, they often have no concern for the costs of benefit programs. This change would mean that the "poor" while not taxed on basic necessities, would be paying some tax - and that tax would increase as federal spending increases. "Want national healthcare? No problem. Your taxes will go up X amount next year to pay for it."
              • by Alastor187 (593341) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @12:43AM (#38008742)

                I'm very conservative. Despite that, I'll agree taxes probably need to go up at this point - BUT... with a couple of caveats:

                I don't agree, raising taxes will just exacerbate the problem. Not because it wouldn't balance the budget, but because it just 'enables' more of the same behavior. Federal spending is out of control because the federal government is out of control. The federal government has taken on far more than was ever intended when the country was established.

                The federal government as essentially usurped power that should have been reserved to the states. Our financial problems are fundamentally due to size of government (spending) and not insufficient revenue (taxation). As a conservative I understand the need for taxation but it is the size and number of services that I take issue with and therefore don't want to pay the additional taxes required to support those programs.

              • Third, it gives private citizens at all income levels a stake in paying for the services and monies provided by the federal government. Currently almost half the population pays no federal income tax. As a result, they often have no concern for the costs of benefit programs. This change would mean that the "poor" while not taxed on basic necessities, would be paying some tax - and that tax would increase as federal spending increases. "Want national healthcare? No problem. Your taxes will go up X amount next year to pay for it."

                You're not identifying the right argument for this. Unless the actual amount of tax paid by poor people is the same as what rich people pay, they're always going to want more spending. Getting $10,000/year worth of medical coverage by paying an extra $800/year in taxes (and having other taxpayers pay the rest) is an obvious win for a poor person.

                The real problem with having "taxpayers" who pay no taxes is the perverse incentive it gives to Congress. The single best and most agreeable way to increase tax rev

        • by abhi_beckert (785219) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:40PM (#38007184)

          Exactly how much tax is collected is a perfectly valid topic to discuss. But a successful nation needs to collect some kind of tax, and the tax being collected needs to be fair.

          Making a local business charge tax while their competitors on the other side of the country (or planet) don't charge tax is damaging to the local economy.

        • by suutar (1860506)
          At that point, why do you need sales tax even if you are using a brick and mortar store? I have my doubts that your property taxes cover all that. (Of course, if you live in a state that has no sales tax, you shouldn't be affected anyway.)
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Why should some online retailer have an advantage over your local retailer because they don't have to collect the sales tax? When the internet first got going the feds made a rule that you couldn't charge state sales taxes over the internet. That was probably a good thing at the time to encourage the growth of the internet. But it's here to stay now so we can move beyond the startup phase.. Why should you be allowed to avoid your local sales tax/use tax by buying online. Morally you don't have a leg to

          • by zzsmirkzz (974536)

            Why should you be allowed to avoid your local sales tax/use tax by buying online.

            For the same the reason you can avoid them by driving out of town/state, because the other state (where the sale is actually made) doesn't impose them. This has to do with competition between states and if you want your state to be more competitive, eliminate or reduce the sales tax.

            Not to mention, that all states (I believe) already have a "Use Tax" which is imposed on purchases made out of state/town/country that the state would have charged sales tax on. So the mechanism for collecting these taxes is a

      • by Dunbal (464142) * on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:24PM (#38007002)
        If by "paying for it" you mean "paying at least 20 times what it's actually worth, then no, they don't want to pay for it. Paying for some lard ass to taser everyone he sees in the name of policing, or some pot-hole filled monstrosity that's always under repairs in the name of roads, or some zero tolerance school that teaches kids to walk through metal detectors, etc etc etc is not "better".
        • TASERS! (Score:5, Funny)

          by TiggertheMad (556308) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @09:31PM (#38007638) Homepage Journal
          Paying for some lard ass to taser everyone he sees

          I would pay for this. Is it like some sort of new reality tv show? "Chubby d00dz taser random people", tonight on Fox.
        • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infamo[ ]net ['us.' in gap]> on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @11:31PM (#38008448) Homepage

          some lard ass to taser everyone he sees in the name of policing,

          If you want better cops, you need to pay better salaries to attract more qualified people and pay for more training.

          or some pot-hole filled monstrosity that's always under repairs in the name of roads

          If you want better roads, you need to pay more maintenance, and for a higher grade of construction.

          or some zero tolerance school that teaches kids to walk through metal detectors, etc etc etc is not "better".

          If you want better schools, you need to pay to repair the buildings, and pay for more and better qualified teachers.

          All the problems you cite are evidence that taxes are too low to support necessary services. The idea that "underfunded public services suck, so we won't tax the wealthy to pay for public services" meme is the most irrational idea floating around in politics today.

      • If only they spent money of those things instead of pouring it down the bottomless holes of bailouts and subsidies.

      • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:29PM (#38007078)

        And citizens want police & fire departments, better schools, better public transportation, better water supplies, better sewers, better roads, better bridges, etc. What they dont want is to have to pay for any of it.

        Wrong. What they don't want is a vast gulf between the amount of taxes collected and the quality of the services and infrastructure provided. For example spending more money per student and getting some of the lowest test scores. Its not that people are unwilling to fund education, its that money is obviously not the problem with education. Something else is broken and perhaps we should fix that first before evaluating what an appropriate level of spending would be.

        Or if you prefer, a car analogy: They don't want to pay Cadillac prices and have a Chevy Aveo delivered. :-)

        • You know, for a long time I have been telling people that is the very reason the right is so fucked up. I would think a true fiscal conservative wouldn't be so upset about the amount of money that is taxed, but that it is spent as efficiently as possible, getting the maximum bang for the buck, as it were. It seems to me that they are very confused about what they should be focusing on.
      • This is a standard strawman. People don't mind paying for the practical things like you listed. The problem is we're bombarded every day with news of idiotic waste, public employees endlessly gaming the system, sometimes millions of dollars just gone into vapor with government officials shrugging and pointing fingers all over the place, and other varied brands of bullshit. The list is endless, and nothing ever happens to anyone beyond the occasional resignation (right into some cushy lobbying or "consulting

      • by khallow (566160)

        And citizens want police & fire departments, better schools, better public transportation, better water supplies, better sewers, better roads, better bridges, etc.

        And if that was all that states paid for, then we wouldn't have a budget problem or this huge movement to cut taxes. State funds pay for a lot more than just that..

      • If I were to live in a state without sales tax, for instance Alaska and I ordered something on the internet and had it delivered to me. Than I sent the same package to a resident in a state that did have a sales tax, for instance Michigan, Now who would have to pay the sales tax? I know someone can order something and have it sent to a different address. Which state would get the sales tax if both of them had sales taxes? If the one who purchased the item had no sales tax than someone might just set up
    • by bcrowell (177657)

      Because the one thing all politicians can agree on is that they want more of your money.

      Maybe you missed the existence of the Republican party? The party at the national level is very clear on not being willing to raise federal taxes. This bill does not constitute an exception to that. It will result in increased taxes collected by the states. "They" (the federal-government politicians who wrote this bill) are not getting any more of your money.

      BTW, I typically vote Libertarian, never Republican -- but let's be accurate rather than glib.

  • The question was only when the pressure from state governments for the revenue became strong enough. With state revenues still down because of the economic downturn, it seems likely that its time has come.
    With the battles between California and Amazon as a foreshadowing, it may be that there will be some sort of phased in deal first.
  • That's lovely (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wmbetts (1306001) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:11PM (#38006836)

    I wonder how long until all of the big retailers are no longer in the US.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:16PM (#38006898)

      I wonder how long until all of the big retailers are no longer in the US.

      That would make taxation even simpler. Your package sits in customs until the use tax is paid.

      • by cdrudge (68377)

        All my "purchases" are actually made by overseas family members who give me gifts on a regular basis. Tax circumvented under current procedures.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          All my "purchases" are actually made by overseas family members who give me gifts on a regular basis. Tax circumvented under current procedures.

          Surely you pay duty on everything.

      • Sounds like that'll make it easy to tax my online books/music/software purchases *rolls eyes*

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Sounds like that'll make it easy to tax my online books/music/software purchases *rolls eyes*

          Internet sellers include those who are selling packaged goods, not digital goods, packaged goods that are the same things that the mentioned brick and mortar stores are also offering?

      • by Dunbal (464142) *
        AFAIK Customs belongs to the feds, not the individual states. Therefore the states would see none of that money. But that's a good thing, they don't know what to do with money anyway.
        • by perpenso (1613749)

          AFAIK Customs belongs to the feds, not the individual states.

          No problem. The item sits in customs until the state OK's its release.

  • by An dochasac (591582) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:16PM (#38006894)
    It's as though a billion potential businesspeople in China collectively cried out, "Horray for 0wn3d U.S. Congressmen enacting a clever tarriff against their own country!"
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:33PM (#38007112)

      Most people already owe these taxes, they just aren't paying them. Some don't know it, some do, but the fact of the matter is that most states already have a "use tax" that matches their sales tax, and is applied only to out-of-state purchases. This is just a way making the online retailers collect the current taxes, instead of the current "Yeah, pay your taxes after the goods ship. Wink, wink." system we have right now. And since it is being done on the federal level, it is entirely legal and constitutional.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        It's more than that, even if I did want to pay the tax I'm not even sure where or how to do it. I don't even know where I would get the form to fill out as my state has no income tax and as such doesn't generally expect to get tax forms from citizens that aren't engaged in commercial activity.

  • by poppopret (1740742) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:16PM (#38006900)
    Any time you do a sales transaction over a border, even by phone or snail mail, both places should get paid but each at half their normal rate. Example: You're in a state that wants 7%, and the seller is in a state that wants 4%. OK, your state gets 3.5% and the seller's state gets 2%.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Any time you do a sales transaction over a border, even by phone or snail mail, both places should get paid but each at half their normal rate.
      Example: You're in a state that wants 7%, and the seller is in a state that wants 4%. OK, your state gets 3.5% and the seller's state gets 2%.

      You're far to clever for government. ;)

    • by Smallpond (221300)

      Sellers who do business in multiple states pay each state the rate for that state, not their local rate. The bill says the state that collect will be the buyer's state. What I wonder is if the rate will be based on the billing address or the shipping address? I might want to get a credit card issued to a NH address -- no sales tax, instead of Massachusetts at 6.25%. The exorbitant state sales tax has already driven me out of local stores and buying everything I can on the net.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      The income tax (your state) and property taxes (seller's state) already get their share of the transaction.

      So let's do away with sales taxes entirely. They're regressive and discourage commerce more directly than other taxes.

  • Oregon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baloo Uriza (1582831) <baloo@ursamundi.org> on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:19PM (#38006946) Journal
    I wonder how this will fly in states that have a long history of successfully defending it's 10th Amendment rights, where sales tax is unconstitutional.
  • Ten Senators (Score:5, Informative)

    by Attack DAWWG (997171) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:20PM (#38006954)
    According to this [sacbee.com] article it was ten senators—six Republicans and four Democrats.
  • I find it very amusing that it will 'allow' states to collect sales tax on online purchases. As if any state would pass up an opportunity to collect taxes on something.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I find it very amusing that it will 'allow' states to collect sales tax on online purchases. As if any state would pass up an opportunity to collect taxes on something.

      California rolled back the online tax plan, at least for now, after Amazon threatened to excommunicate all in-state partners.

      That really wasn't that long ago, did you forget already?

      • by Smallpond (221300)

        When every state is in on it, they won't have much choice. Is Amazon going to pull out of the USA?

    • There are states without _any_ sales tax. I would be surprised if they implemented this.

    • by stinerman (812158)

      As has been said here before, if I, an Ohioan, buy something from Newegg.com in CA, my state of residence has no idea about it. They can't compel Newegg to collect tax on my behalf like they can Best Buy.

      Ohio is not allowed to tax purchases I make across state lines per Article I, Section 10. They get around that by taxing the use of the item rather than the sale. So on my Ohio taxes, there's a line where I declare any purchases I made that were not subject to sales tax. They then tax me on the use of t

    • by cosm (1072588)
      I too find it amusing that the 10th amendment is pretty much ignored with votes like this. Since when does the congress 'allow' things that are automatically reserved to the states?

      Amendment 10: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

      • by Imrik (148191)

        Article I, Section 8: "The Congress shall have power To [...] regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes"

        While I don't think it really applies to most of the ways this clause is used, in this case it seems appropriate since the bill would only ensure that existing taxes are enforced.

        • by cosm (1072588)
          Makes sense from that perspective, however the fact that the interstate commerce clause is used for so many things other than interstate commerce makes it seem like if they are going to use selective application of the constitution and selective enforcement of certain measures, we might as well just have another constitutional convention in which all of our current governing bodies get together and take turns defecating on the current document and then write a new constitution that says:

          "Section 1.0: We
      • I see your Amendment 10 and raise you Article 1, Section 8:

        The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
        ~
        To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.

        Buying something from OH and shipping it to CA looks like interstate commerce to me.

  • Trolling tax ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:21PM (#38006974) Homepage Journal

    They could balance the budget in less than a year.

  • by jackb_guppy (204733) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:22PM (#38006986)

    Make the USPS the handler of the sales tax system. They are already in position to id your house, down to the City, County, State and whether it is actually city, county, state, federal or other jurisdiction.

    Since we already have laws that make the drive of the truck responsible for the items. Then make the carriers which include FedEx and UPS, be the collector, since they are persons handing the package to customer.

    This way the calculation of tax, is part of address validation that all these systems use along with freight charges.

    • Not all sales involve a product which needs to be shipped to your door.

      The way it works here in Australia is any time a business sells anything to to a customer, they are required to provide an invoice stating how much tax was collected. If they do not provide an invoice, or if they collect the wrong amount of tax, or if they try to pretend they are not a business when they really are, they will be sent off to prison.

      It's simple, it works, and it's fair.

  • Clearly, Congress has no problem passing laws that will only be struck down.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Bellas_Hess_v._Illinois [wikipedia.org]

    "The Commerce Clause prohibits a State from imposing the duty of use tax collection and payment upon a seller whose only connection with customers in the State is by common carrier or by mail." The court stated, "the Court has never held that a State may impose the duty of use tax collection and payment upon a seller whose only connection with customers in the State is by

  • This is a bill that would actually allow the sales tax to be collected and hence close the loophole of people not self reporting their "use" tax??? Thus the gubermint will be able to actually collect on the money it already has claims on???

  • About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abhi_beckert (785219) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @08:31PM (#38007092)

    I'm not sure if this bill is the answer, but it's about time you guys fixed this issue over on your side of the pond. It's just plain stupid that some businesses collect sales tax, while other businesses don't.

    All businesses should be paying the exact same tax, under the same laws. Anything else is extremely unfair.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Yeah, too bad sales taxes differ even on brick-and-mortar establishments here. Oregon has no sales tax. In California the amount of sales tax varies by county. This is going to be fun!

    • Re:About time (Score:4, Informative)

      by broken_chaos (1188549) on Wednesday November 09, 2011 @09:46PM (#38007766)

      Sales tax is applied to the consumer, not to the business. The business is unaffected, except in how many orders they receive as a result of having lower taxes than buying in-state.

  • Although I'm only vaguely familiar with the so-called Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, I've read enough about it to know that calling it "streamlined" is a major misnomer. The rules behind SSUTA are sufficiently complex as to require computer software to calculate taxes due on particular kinds of items purchased by residents of particular states. While I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem for major online retailers, smaller retailers would almost certainly need to outsource tax calculations to third

  • by JustOK (667959)

    wasn't there an email about this a year or ten ago?

  • Everyone knows that if you want less of something you tax it. Sales tax disincentivises purchases and costs our economy jobs.

    If that argument works for capitol gains taxes it should work for sales taxes too right?

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Right, unless it replaces an existing tax. I don't presently pay sales tax, but would trade income tax for sales tax, if there was no constitutional possibility of ending up with both.

      But I see what you're saying. Taxing sales rather than income tends to promote savings, (which I think is a good thing) but fewer sales means less consumption, which leads to job loss.

    • Sales taxes disincentivises consumption, something that our nation is has no shortage of. Capital gains taxes disincentivises savings and investment, something that should be encouraged.

      • Sales taxes disincentivises consumption, something that our nation is has no shortage of. Capital gains taxes disincentivises savings and investment, something that should be encouraged.

        If your only goal is to improve your financial position, yes. However, keep in mind that the sole purpose of saving and investment is to enable future consumption of a net present value greater than the opportunity cost. There is a natural balance between present consumption and deferred consumption (saving), and targeting either with a tax to encourage the other results in misallocation of resources and consequently a loss of wealth.

  • offered by a seller who has no physical presence in the buyers state is a federal tax by any other name.
    heres how its worked so far:
    1. corrupt financial sector bankrupts millions of americans. staffed with conflicts of interest, the government sits politely on its hands
    2. facing bankruptcy themselves, numerous banks receive loans, then lobby to have them forgiven by the american public. some pay them back, not many.
    3. paid politicians acting on behalf of major corporations then insist government s

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