Biden Won’t Commit to Backing Sanders if He’s the Nominee

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden stopped short Tuesday of saying he’d support Bernie Sanders if the progressive Vermont senator wins the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I’m not going to make judgments now,” Biden told reporters in Muscatine, six days before the Iowa caucuses. “I just think that it depends upon how we treat one another between now and the time we have a nominee.”

Biden had previously promised to support the Democratic nominee, “regardless” of who it is. At some stops along the campaign trail, Biden has even pledged to “work like hell” to help any of his rivals defeat President Donald Trump.

Yet tensions are rising between Biden and Sanders on the campaign trail. The two men reflect the larger ideological battle between a Democratic establishment in which Biden has spent his career and the progressive left that has surged in influence since Sanders’ failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

The two have jousted over their records on Social Security, foreign policy and trade. Sanders recently apologized to Biden after one of the senator’s high-profile supporters penned a column asserting that Biden has a “corruption problem.” And Biden has ratcheted up his suggestions in recent days, without naming Sanders, that the party will lose big in November if it makes a sharp leftward turn.

Asked later Tuesday whether he can defeat Sanders, a democratic socialist elected in Vermont as an independent, Biden smiled, nodded and then boarded his campaign bus. Biden is in the middle of his final tour of the state before the Monday caucuses begin Democrats’ 2020 voting. Sanders is balancing his campaign with Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on Capitol Hill.

Polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses suggest Sanders and Biden are in a tight race with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Sanders has confidently predicted victory in Iowa and in the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary that follows, telling his supporters that the party establishment is “nervous” about his strength. His advisers argue that such momentum would dent Biden’s long-standing advantage in most national polls of Democratic voters.

Biden’s advisers maintain that the state is a toss-up, and they’ve said for months that the former vice president doesn’t have to win in Iowa because he maintains a wide advantage among nonwhite voters who will have strong sway over states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Last week, Sanders’ 2016 rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, initially refused to say whether she would endorse the Vermont senator if he wins the 2020 nomination — “I’m not going to go there yet,” she said — and she offered a broad condemnation of his style of politics. Later, she walked back her comments, saying her No. 1 priority was “retiring Trump” and that “as I always have, I will do whatever I can to support our nominee.”


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Budget Deficit to Break $1 Trillion Despite Strong Economy

WASHINGTON — An annual congressional report says the U.S. budget deficit is likely to burst through the symbolic $1 trillion barrier this year despite a healthy economy.

Tuesday’s Congressional Budget Office report follows a burst of new spending last year and the repeal in December of several taxes used to help finance the Affordable Care Act. Those have combined to deepen the government’s deficit spiral well on into the future, with trillion-dollar deficits likely for as far as the eye can see.

The annual CBO update of the government’s economic and fiscal health estimates a $1 trillion deficit for the ongoing fiscal year, which would bring the red ink above $1 trillion for the first time since 2012, when former President Barack Obama capped four consecutive years of $1 trillion-plus budget deficits. The government, slated to spend $4.6 trillion this year, would have to borrow 22 cents of every dollar it spends.

Most economists say the most relevant way to look at the deficit is to measure it against the size of the economy, with deficits at 3 percent or so of gross domestic product seen as sustainable. The latest report shows deficits averaging 4.8 percent of GDP over the course of the coming decade.

“As a result of those deficits, federal debt would rise each year, reaching a percentage of the nation’s output that is unprecedented in U.S. history,” the CBO report says.

Obama’s deficits came as the U.S. economy recovered from the deep recession of 2007-2009. The return of trillion-dollar deficit now comes as the economy is humming on all cylinders, with the CBO predicting that the jobless rate nationwide will average below 4 percent through at least 2022. The growth rate is predicted to average 2.2 percent this year.

“The economy’s performance makes the large and growing deficit all the more noteworthy,” said CBO Director Phillip Swagel. “Changes in fiscal policy must be made to address the budget situation, because our debt is growing on an unsustainable path.”

The government reported a $984 billion deficit for the 2019 budget year. Cumulative deficits over the coming decade are expected to total $13 trillion — a total that would have gone higher save for CBO’s belief that yields on Treasury notes will remain unusually low as the government refinances its $23 trillion debt.

The recent surge in the deficit has followed passage of the 2017 Trump tax bill, which has failed to pay for itself with additional economic growth and revenues as promised by administration figures like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The surge in deficits also follows a final rewrite last summer of a failed 2011 budget deal to increase spending of both defense and domestic programs.

Divided government isn’t helping the deficit picture as the Democratic-controlled House led the way in repealing $377 billion worth of “Obamacare” tax hikes, including a so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was also a driving force in last summer’s budget accord, which is scored at adding $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade.

CBO holds a traditional view of economists that debt that’s too high has a “crowding out” effect on private sector investment in the economy and can lead to higher interest rates and maybe even a European-style debt crisis. But interest rates have remained low despite CBO’s alarms and more liberal economists hold a much more dovish view of the effects of higher deficits on the economy.

The CBO report landed amid an intensifying presidential campaign in which concerns about the deficit are not really an issue. President Donald Trump has promised to leave Social Security pensions and Medicare benefits off the table as his administration seeks ways to blunt the political impact of the eye-popping deficit figures.

The administration’s budget is being released next month but is likely to be largely ignored, especially as election-year politics take over.

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Palestinians Call on World to Reject Trump ‘Peace’ Deal

The so-called “peace deal” authored by White House adviser Jared Kushner was met with protests and condemnation by Palestinians on Tuesday ahead of an expected announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, D.C.

With critics calling it the opposite of a peace plan as well as an effort for both leaders to distract from domestic legal and political scandals, the proposal was set to be unveiled jointly by the two leaders just hours after Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges back home and amid the second week of an impeachment trial against Trump in the U.S. Senate.

Palestinian leaders urged the international community to boycott the plan that the pair are set to unveil, with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh calling the deal “nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.”

“This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan.”
—Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister“This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan,” Shtayyeh said. “We reject it and we demand the international community not be a partner.”

The deal reportedly will allow Israel to annex large swaths of Palestinian territories, all of contested Jerusalem, and Israeli settlements.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman—vocal proponents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank—were largely responsible for drafting the deal, while Palestinian leaders were not invited to the discussions.

Trump said Monday that the deal was “very good for” Palestinians and called it “historic.”

“Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal,” countered Rabbi Alissa Wise, acting co-executive director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), on Twitter.

Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal. #DOAPeacePlan

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 27, 2020

Sending love and rage to Palestinians all over the globe today. I’m certain that in response to these callous, vicious overreaches they just confirm that the world will rise to realize freedom for Palestine and us all.

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 28, 2020

Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal. #DOAPeacePlan

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 27, 2020

Shtayyeh said the deal “contradicts the basics of international law and inalienable Palestinian rights,” and Palestinian leadership threatened to withdraw from the Oslo Accords—in which Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a party to peace negotiations—over the plan.

At protests on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians held up pictures of Trump and Netanyahu with red marks crossing them out.

“We will not allow this deal to pass and we will resist it in every way in order not to open the way for it, as we consider it as a way to put an end to our national rights,” Talal Abu Zarifa, Democratic Front leader, told the Middle East Eye at a demonstration.

“We will not allow this deal to pass”

Palestinians gear up for mass protests to denounce Trump’s Israel-Palestine plan, which they say is an attempt to finish off their cause.

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) January 28, 2020

Palestinians in Rafah (Gaza Strip) protesting Trump Mideast peace plan. More Palestinian protests expected later Tuesday and Wednesday.

— Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) January 28, 2020

On social media, JVP highlighted a number of actions taken by the Trump administration in the past three years to undermine Palestinians’ human rights, including cuts to humanitarian aidendorsing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and claiming Israel has ownership of Golan Heights in Syria.

We know that no peace can come without justice for Palestinians, and that means building and supporting a broad-based effort that allows for self-determination and equality. JVP commits to working towards this future for all in Israel/Palestine. #DOAPeacePlan

— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) January 28, 2020

“We know that no peace can come without justice for Palestinians, and that means building and supporting a broad-based effort that allows for self-determination and equality,” tweeted the group. “JVP commits to working towards this future for all in Israel and Palestine.”

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Trump Team: Impeachment Not About ‘Unsourced Manuscripts’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s legal team neared the end of his impeachment trial defense Tuesday, painting him and his aides as hounded by investigation and taking a dismissive swipe at an unpublished book by John Bolton that is said to contradict a key defense argument.

“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow. “That’s politics, unfortunately.”

He was referring to reports of a forthcoming book by former Trump’s former national security adviser, who writes that Trump told him that he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly insisted he never tied the security aid to political investigations.

While scoffing at the manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning Bolton to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.

One of the president’s lawyers, Deputy White House Counsel Pat Philbin, told the senators that America’s Founding Fathers took care to make sure that impeachment was narrowly defined, with impeachable offenses clearly enumerated.

“There has to be a defined offense in advance,” Philbin said.

News of the Bolton’s manuscript clouded White House hopes for a big finish Tuesday as well as a swift end to the impeachment trial. Democrats are demanding witnesses, and some Republicans are expressing openness to the idea.

One Republican, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, is floating an idea to subpoena Bolton’s book manuscript so senators can see the evidence themselves — but only in private.

It’s an idea that may be gaining traction even as other Republicans have warned against a protracted legal dispute with the White House, which has tried to block administration officials.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter that he “totally” supports Lankford’s proposal. Graham, a key Trump ally, said the Bolton document should be made available to the Senate, in a classified setting, “where each Senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination.”

However, Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, called the proposal, which would keep Bolton out of public testimony, “absurd.”

“We’re not bargaining with them. We want four witnesses, and four sets of documents, then the truth will come out,” Schumer said.

Senate Republicans were to meet behind closed doors to consider next steps.

The Bolton revelations distracted from hours of arguments Monday by Trump’s lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump’s delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats. Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if summoned by the Senate.

“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. “We do not deal with speculation.”

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine’s leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

On Monday, Trump’s attorneys, including high-profile lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, launched a historical, legal and political attack on the entire impeachment process. They said there was no basis to remove Trump from office, defended his actions as appropriate and assailed Biden, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi devoted her presentation to Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company when his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. The legal team argued that Trump had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the younger Biden’s business dealings and concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that, in any event, he ultimately released the aid without Ukraine committing to investigations the Republican president wanted.

Trump has sought, without providing evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Though anti-corruption advocates have raised concerns, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Democrats say Trump released the money only after a whistleblower submitted a complaint about the situation.

Starr, whose independent counsel investigation resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton — he was acquitted by the Senate — bemoaned what he said was an “age of impeachment.” Impeachment, he said, requires an actual crime and a “genuine national consensus” that the president must go. Neither exists here, Starr said.

“It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else,” Starr said of impeachment. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.”

Dershowitz, the final speaker of the evening, argued that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct — a view largely rejected by legal scholars. He said “nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”

“Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses,” Dershowitz said.

Even as defense lawyers laid out their case as planned, it was clear Bolton’s book had scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. Trump’s legal team has rejected Bolton’s account, and Trump himself denied it.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump tweeted. “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

Republican senators face a pivotal moment. Pressure is mounting for at least four to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

“John Bolton’s relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has always wanted “the opportunity for witnesses” and the report about Bolton’s book “strengthens the case.”

At a private GOP lunch, Romney made the case for calling Bolton, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the meeting and granted anonymity.

Other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said if Bolton is called, they will demand reciprocity to hear from at least one of their witnesses. Some Republicans want to call the Bidens.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t known know about Bolton’s book, his office said. But the GOP leader appeared unmoved by news of the book. His message at the lunch, said Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun, was, “Take a deep breath, and let’s take one step at a time.”

Once the president’s team wraps up its arguments, senators have 16 hours for written questions to both sides. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump’s refusal to allow administration officials to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White House has had Bolton’s manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from Bolton’s attorney.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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Trump Unveils Controversial Peace Plan for the Middle East

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan Tuesday, calling for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in portions of east Jerusalem. He declared it a “win-win” opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians.

The plan ends speculation as to whether his administration, in preparing a proposal without input from Palestinian leaders, would abandon a “two-state resolution” to the conflict.

Trump, releasing the plan before a pro-Israel audience at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.” Trump said the deal is a “historic opportunity” for Palestinians to achieve an independent state of their own.

The plan more than doubles the territory currently under Palestinian control, although it also recognizes Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank, something to which the Palestinians will almost certainly object. The Palestinians have already rejected the proposal, accusing Trump of being biased in favor of Israel as he has adopted policies that bolster Israel at their expense.

The plan does call for a four-year freeze in new Israeli settlement construction, during which time details of a comprehensive agreement would be negotiated. However, it was not immediately clear if the freeze could be extended if a final deal is not concluded in the four years.

The 50-page political outline goes further in concessions to the Palestinians than many analysts had believed was likely. However, it would require them to accept conditions they have been previously unwilling to consider, such as accepting West Bank settlements. It builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected,

Under the terms of the “peace vision” that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on for nearly three years, the future Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels.

Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.

The White House event came as Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the Senate and Israel’s parliament had planned a hearing to discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from criminal corruption charges. Netanyahu withdrew that request hours before the proceedings were to begin, but Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is still expected to meet. The body had been likely to vote against immunity, dealing Netanyahu a blow.

In the run-up to the March 2 election, Netanyahu had called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.

Security responsibility for the Jordan Valley would remain in Israel’s hands for the foreseeable future but could be scaled back as the nascent Palestinian state builds its capacity, under the terms of the plan, which says that statehood will be contingent on the Palestinians meeting international governance criteria.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s release, said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, as well as Turkey and Iran, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright. The officials said they expected Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to cautiously welcome the plan.

The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, will be particularly significant, according to the officials, who said Kushner and others were reaching out to Arab leaders ahead of the rollout.

The Palestinians see the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters and could give him a much-needed boost from his base as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.

But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump and they called on support from Arab leaders. The Palestinian leadership also has encouraged protests in the West Bank, raising fears that the announcement in Washington could spark a new round of violence. Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli military said it was reinforcing infantry troops along the Jordan Valley.

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Catholic Leaders Haven’t Answered for the Church’s Child Abuse

This story is co-published with the Houston Chronicle.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

It took 40 years and three bouts of cancer for Larry Giacalone to report his claim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Boston priest named Richard Donahue.

Giacalone sued Donahue in 2017, alleging the priest molested him in 1976, when Giacalone was 12 and Donahue was serving at Sacred Heart Parish. The lawsuit never went to trial, but a compensation program set up by the archdiocese concluded that Giacalone “suffered physical injuries and emotional injuries as a result of physical abuse” and directed the archdiocese to pay him $73,000.

Even after the claim was settled and the compensation paid in February 2019, however, the archdiocese didn’t publish Donahue’s name on its list of accused priests. Nor did it three months later when Giacalone’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, criticized the church publicly for not adding Donahue’s name to the list.

Church leaders finally added Donahue to the list last month after ProPublica asked why he hadn’t been included. But that, too, sowed confusion. Despite the determination that Giacalone was entitled to compensation, Donahue’s name was added to a portion of the list for priests accused in cases deemed “unsubstantiated” — where the archdiocese says it does not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the clergy member committed the alleged abuse.

“To award a victim a substantial amount of money, yet claim that the accused is not a pedophile, is an insult to one’s intelligence,” said Garabedian, who has handled hundreds of abuse cases over the last 25 years. “It’s a classic case of the archdiocese ducking, delaying and avoiding issues.”

Donahue, in an interview with ProPublica, denied the allegation by Giacalone.

Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.

But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgement of victims’ suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused.

A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese initially said Donahue wasn’t on its list of accused priests because he was still being investigated and subsequently called the delay an “oversight.”

Even when dioceses and religious orders identify credibly accused clergy members, the information they provide about those named varies widely. Some jurisdictions turn over far more specifics about problem priests — from where they worked to the number of their victims to the details of their wrongdoing — than others.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, has issued no instructions on disclosures related to credibly accused priests, leaving individual dioceses and religious orders to decide for themselves how much or how little to publish. The USCCB says it does not have the authority to order dioceses to release names or to resolve disputes over who should be on the lists, though in 2002 after a scandal in Boston, the conference did put in place new protocols intended to ensure alleged abuse by clergy was reported and tracked.

“Recognizing the authority of the local bishop, and the fact that state and local laws vary, the decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” said Chieko Noguchi, a USCCB spokeswoman.

While the USCCB can propose policies for church leaders in the U.S., the bishops themselves are appointed by the pope and answer to him.

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who helped establish a new set of child protection protocols within the USCCB in the early 2000s, has urged bishops and religious orders for nearly two decades to create a comprehensive list of accused clergy. She said our database will allow the public to better track dioceses’ disclosures, rather than seeing each list in isolation.

“People don’t know where to look,” McChesney said. “The contribution of the one list will help a lot of people to perhaps identify someone that they believe abused them.”

Still, much crucial information remains missing. Despite the recent surge of releases, 41 dioceses and dozens more religious orders have yet to publish lists, including five of seven dioceses in Florida, home to more than 2 million Catholics.

The database also doesn’t include many accused clergy members whom bishops have yet to acknowledge, even if they’ve issued lists. An organization called Bishop Accountability has long maintained its own database of publicly accused priests, drawn from court records, news articles and church documents. The organization’s list includes more than 450 names connected to dioceses that have not released disclosures.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an advocacy organization for victims of clergy abuse, has pushed dioceses to identify known abusers and turn over records on them for decades. This process has finally begun, but the church’s obdurate culture of concealment remains, said David Clohessy, who led the group for nearly 30 years.

“They continue to be as secretive as possible, parceling out the least amount of information possible and only under great duress,” Clohessy said. “They are absolute masters at hairsplitting — always have been and still are.”

“Do we now know the names of more predator priests than before? Yes, of course. Are we anywhere near full transparency? Absolutely not.”

A Lack of Standards

Until recently, only a few dozen bishops had released lists of priests with credible allegations against them. Many did so only when compelled by courts, as a condition of bankruptcy proceedings.

That changed after August 2018, when the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, published a 900-page grand jury report detailing not only abuse but a systematic cover-up by church leaders throughout the state. The report came just weeks after the resignation of then- Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and one of the highest ranking Catholic leaders ever felled by abuse allegations.

“The overall feel was like 2002 happening all over again,” Kevin Eckery, a Diocese of San Diego senior administrator, said, referring to the intense scrutiny that followed a Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into sexual abuse by priests. “You could see that there was a need for a response that was about action and not a response that was about more words.”

Many of the 178 dioceses that have released new or updated lists of accused clergy since last year have cited the Pennsylvania grand jury report as a reason for doing so.

Still, without a consensus among church leaders on what constitutes a credible accusation, bishops have used vastly different standards to determine who should be named.

The Archdiocese of Seattle, which released its list prior to the grand jury report, began by dividing allegations into three categories: cases in which priests admitted the allegations or where allegations were “established” by reports from multiple victims; cases that clearly could not have happened; and cases that fell into a gray area, like those that were never fully investigated at the time they were reported. The archdiocese decided it would name priests whose cases fell into the first category and leave out the second group, but it sought additional guidance on the third set of cases.

“There’s the question of who determines it to be credible,” said Mary Santi, the chancellor and chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Seattle. “We decided that we couldn’t be the determiners of that.”

The Seattle Archdiocese brought in McChesney to help choose which names to disclose. Dozens of dioceses have turned to outside advisers, hiring former judges, former local law enforcement agents and law firms while others relied on internal review boards, composed of mostly non-clergy members.

Ultimately, dioceses have set different limits on what to publish. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas disclosed the names of priests even in cases in which officials could not substantiate the allegations themselves. In New Hampshire, the Diocese of Manchester’s bishop also opted for greater transparency than most, disclosing clergy members who were currently under investigation and who had died before an inquiry was complete.

Other jurisdictions, however, drew tighter lines, sometimes based on idiosyncratic criteria. In Nebraska, the Archdiocese of Omaha leaves out names of seminarians with “substantiated” allegations of abuse against minors. In Ohio, the Diocese of Toledo did not identify priests who died before a victim came forward because they “posed no threat,” the diocese’s website explained.

SNAP leaders have pushed the diocese to publish those names, so far to no avail. “Their lack of transparency is devastating to those left in their wake,” Claudia Vercellotti, a SNAP leader in Toledo, said. “It defies logic that even when the church leader is dead, they are still protecting them over offering healing and transparency to the victims.”

Many dioceses have chosen not to include members of religious orders, such as the Jesuits, who have been accused of abuse. Religious order members, who make up 30% of U.S. priests, are taught and ordained within those orders, but they often spend much of their time working in the parishes and schools of local dioceses.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, at the direction of its court-appointed bankruptcy committee, discloses extensive information about each accused priest it names, including timelines of their careers and documentation of when and where they abused their victims.

But it leaves out religious order priests and priests who died before victims reported the abuse. Names of the deceased are only added if enough victims come forward to “show a trend,” though the archdiocese does not define how many allegations that would require.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said there’s room for debate over which accused clergy members should be named, but each diocese has to draw the line somewhere.

“At some point you have to make a decision,” Topczewski said. “Someone’s always going to say your list isn’t good enough, which we have people say, ‘Your list is incomplete.’ Well, I only control the list l can control and that’s diocesan priests.”

It’s impossible to know how many accused clergy members dioceses have opted not to put on their lists.

Bishop Accountability applies different standards for inclusion on its list than church leaders, tracking public accusations against nuns and other clergy members often left off the official rolls.

As a result, there are sometimes substantial gaps between the group’s tallies and those of dioceses.

The Archdiocese of Boston currently lists 171 names. Bishop Accountability lists 279, including dozens of religious order priests omitted from the official list as well as several priests who died before victims came forward.

“For every person who’s left off a list, bishops ought to be aware that they are retraumatizing survivors and doubling the insult and doubling the pain,” Terence McKiernan, the founder of Bishop Accountability, said.

Lost in the Archives

Over his 40-year career, Alfredo Prado was accused of abusing children repeatedly, in nearly every corner of Texas where he was assigned by his order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Today, he’s named on six separate diocesan lists of credibly accused priests. Yet each jurisdiction gives different information about him, making it difficult to piece together the arc of his career, the totality of his wrongdoing or what became of him.

The year Prado was ordained is shown on one list as 1958 and on two lists as 1957. The Diocese of San Angelo and the Diocese of Victoria refer to him as “Alfred” rather than “Alfredo.” San Antonio is the only diocese that discloses the total number of children he was accused of abusing within its jurisdiction, five.

His status is also characterized differently from one diocese to another. He’s described as suspended by the Diocese of Corpus Christi, dismissed from his religious order and the clerical state by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and laicized (or returned to the lay state) by the Diocese of San Angelo. The Diocese of Amarillo adds that he fled to Costa Rica, but it doesn’t say when (according to news reports, it was in the early 2000s). The Diocese of San Angelo says Prado died, but doesn’t list the year. Only the Diocese of Victoria provides a complete bio for Prado, noting each time his status changed, though the list does not confirm he’s dead.

ProPublica contacted Prado’s order, which has not released its own list; an administrator said the order did not know if Prado was alive or dead.

Prado’s story is a striking example of inconsistencies in the information that bishops disclose about accused clergy members. Perhaps most remarkable is that it happened in Texas, where church leaders have made an effort to coordinate their releases. Nationally, the disparities in disclosures are even more pronounced.

At one end is the Diocese of Sacramento in California, which issues a release on each credibly accused clergy member, outlining identifying information that helps distinguish one priest from another such as their ordination dates, seminaries, birthdays and every place they served within the diocese. Leaders also disclose each accusation submitted against the clergy member, including the year it was reported, the nature of the abuse and the victim’s age and gender.

The Diocese of Ogdensburg in upstate New York is at the other end of the spectrum. Its list provides the first and last name of accused priests, with hardly any additional information.

Most disclosures fall somewhere in between. The Diocese of San Bernardino in California, for example, outlines each clergy members’ current status in the church, the assignments they held within the diocese, the dates of abuse and when the diocese reported the incident to law enforcement.

Dioceses consistently label clergy who have died as “deceased,” which accounts for about half of the priests in ProPublica’s database. Jurisdictions are far less uniform in giving information about living members’ current locations or standing in the church. Over 700 clergy members’ status isn’t given or is marked as “unknown.”

Details about credibly accused priests’ abuse are scarce. Church leaders have disclosed the number of allegations made against roughly 10% of the clergy members they’ve named, according to a ProPublica data analysis.

In the early 2000s, dioceses across the country filled out detailed surveys compiled by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the first-ever nationwide study of sexual abuse by clergy. The USCCB mandated the study as one of the new safety initiatives outlined in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Dioceses have continued reporting new allegations annually to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Two John Jay researchers who helped diocesan employees fill out the initial surveys say that sometimes the lack of details about abuse by priests stems from sparse recordkeeping or different ways of defining abuse, especially when it comes to older allegations.

“It was thought about differently, so it was recorded differently than it would be today,” one of the researchers, Karen Terry, said.

Still, dioceses have other information that they often do not disclose, including schools or parishes clergy members were assigned to while serving in a diocese.

McChesney, whose firm, Kinsale Management Consulting, has worked with a few dozen dioceses and religious orders on their disclosures over more than a decade, says dioceses typically keep thorough records of who is serving and when.

“If you want to find out if somebody was baptized in 1889 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, you can find that,” she said.

Disclosing those details can help survivors, especially those who were young at the time of their abuse, to distinguish between clergy with common or similar names, McChesney said.

Only about 58% of the clergy members listed have information about what parishes or schools they served in. Often, the assignment histories provided by dioceses list only a priest’s appointments within that diocese, not where they worked or what positions they held over the rest of their careers.

“It’s so simple,” McChesney said. “All it takes is a good research look and frankly, if you look sometimes at websites of dioceses and universities in the area, you can put that together.”

Mary Gautier, a senior research associate at the Georgetown center, said smaller dioceses with limited budgets don’t always have the money or staff to dig through their archives.

“One thing that the church is very good at is recordkeeping … but it’s very, very time consuming and labor intensive to really go through years and years and years of personnel records and track all this out,” Gautier said. “And I mean doing hand searches. There’s none of this computerized, of course.”

Decades of Rage

After his years in Boston, Donahue spent much of the last 20 years of his career serving in Honduras, where he established and ran schools funded by his organization, the Olancho Aid Foundation. He was back in the United States for medical care in 2015 when he was informed of the first of two abuse allegations made against him. The second accusation, by Giacalone, came in 2017.

In the interview with ProPublica, Donahue denied both men’s allegations and said he assumed his accusers had confused him with someone else or were looking for a payoff from the church. One accuser says he was abused for several years, up until 1981, but Donahue noted that in 1980, he moved to another assignment, elsewhere in Massachusetts.

“I never met either one of them,” Donahue said in the interview at his house in Cape Cod. “From a faith perspective, I’m trying to think there’s a reason I’ve gone through this cross, for the last three years, with these false allegations. Why me? I don’t know.”

After the first abuse allegation, in 2015, Donahue was prohibited by the archdiocese from participating in public ministry or entering parish or school property and was barred from returning to his work in Honduras.

The accuser who came forward in 2015, also represented by Garabedian, has submitted a claim through the archdiocese’s compensation program and is waiting for the church to decide if the claim is credible, Garabedian said.

Giacalone, now 55, says Donahue’s abuse led to decades of rage, alcoholism and drug use. He said he started drinking the day Donahue touched him. “What was I going to turn to?” he told ProPublica. “I thought I’d get relief. The first couple times, yeah, it helped me forget. But getting stinking drunk doesn’t really do anything for you.”

Giacalone said that he was held back in school and dropped out at one point, and that he had trouble holding down work and had run-ins with the police from an early age. In December 2010, he faced assault charges after his wife told police he had threatened and pushed her; the charges were dropped after she refused to go forward with a case.

He doesn’t blame the dispute with his wife or other low points in his life directly on his sexual abuse, but says it colored everything that followed. “It all stems, mostly, from that incident,” he said.

When a reporter told Giacalone that the Boston Archdiocese had found his accusation against Donahue to be “unsubstantiated,” even after the decision that Giacalone had to be compensated, he shook his head.

“I feel bad for their parishioners,” he said. “They are living a lie too.”

Katie Zavadski of ProPublica and Nicole Hensley of The Houston Chronicle contributed reporting.

Logos for the Dioceses of San Angelo, Victoria and Amarillo by Roberto221. Logos for the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Diocese of Corpus Christi by Alekjds. Logo for the Diocese of Lubbock by Jayarathina.

The post Catholic Leaders Haven’t Answered for the Church’s Child Abuse appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Joni Ernst Gives Away the Game on Impeachment

After President Donald Trump’s legal team on Monday completed the second day of their impeachment defense—which largely consisted of attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter—Republican Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters that she is “really interested to see” how team Trump’s performance at the Senate trial “informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers.”

Ernst’s remarks, which came just a week before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, were widely viewed as an open admission that Trump’s attorneys and the Republican Party are using the Senate impeachment trial as an opportunity to damage Biden at the polls.

“This is saying the quiet part out loud,” tweeted MSNBC correspondent Garrett Haake, a sentiment that was echoed by others.

“Here is Joni Ernst screaming the quiet part into a bullhorn,” said Kaili Joy Gray, executive editor of The American Independent, in response to the Iowa Republican’s comments.

ERNST: “IA caucuses are this next Monday evening. And I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Demcaucus goers. Will they be supporting VP Biden at this point?”

H/T @JaxAlemany

— Alan He (@alanhe) January 28, 2020

Ernst’s comments run counter to the longstanding White House and Republican narrative that Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations—for which he was impeached by the House of Representatives last month—was a genuine attempt to root out corruption, not a politically motivated ploy to harm Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Like Ernst, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) also invoked the presidential election following hours of arguments by Trump’s defense team, which includes Pam Bondi, Eric Herschmann, Alan Dershowitz, and Ken Starr.

“I was watching Elizabeth [Warren] and Bernie [Sanders] and Michael [Bennet] and Amy [Klobuchar] and they were really eyes wide open during that part of it,” Barrasso told reporters, referring to Trump attorney Pam Bondi’s presentation, which heavily focused on Biden and his son.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said as he watched “Bondi and the other Trump lawyers spend most of the day savaging the Bidens (as expected) … it becomes crystal clear to me: Trump is trying to use the trial to do what Ukraine wouldn’t—destroy his political rivals.”

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The IRS Is No Match for Facebook

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In March 2008, as Facebook was speeding toward 100 million users and emerging as the next big tech company, it announced an important hire. Sheryl Sandberg was leaving Google to become Facebook’s chief operating officer. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, then 23 years old, told The New York Times that Sandberg would take the young company “to the next level.”

Based on her time at Google, Sandberg soon decided that one area where Facebook was behind its peers was in its tax dodging. “My experience is that by not having a European center and running everything through the US, it is very costly in terms of taxes,” she wrote other executives in an April 2008 email, which hasn’t been previously reported. Facebook’s head of tax agreed, replying that the company needed to find “a low taxed jurisdiction to park profits.”

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Later that year, Facebook named Dublin as its international headquarters, just as Google had done when Sandberg was there. And just like Google, Facebook concocted an intra-company deal to “park profits” in Ireland, where it would pay a tax rate near zero.

Like its Big Tech peers, Facebook wasn’t much afraid of the IRS. But, as it happened, the same year that Facebook started moving profits to Ireland, the IRS launched a team to crack down on deals like that. The effort started aggressively. As we recently reported, the IRS threw everything it had at Microsoft in the largest audit in the agency’s history.

But shortly after the IRS showed this new ambition, Republicans in Congress, after taking the House in 2010, began forcing cuts to the IRS’ budget. Over the years, as Facebook grew into one of the world’s largest companies, with 2 billion users, the IRS was shrinking. By the time the IRS finally took on Facebook over its Irish deal a few years later, the agency was in over its head.

ProPublica pieced together the story of the Facebook audit from court documents filed by the two sides in their yearslong battle. (Both the IRS and the company declined to comment.) The picture revealed by the documents provides a crucial window into the IRS’ struggles to check large corporations’ tax schemes.

At one point in the audit, the exam stalled for months because there was no money to hire an expert. Agents tried for five years to pick apart the deal’s complexities and were still scrambling when the statute of limitations expired in July 2016. Like a student forced, when the bell rings, to turn in a test with unanswered questions, the IRS sent Facebook the results of its incomplete audit. Based on the work it had done, the IRS thought Facebook had massively mispriced its Irish deal and should have paid billions more in taxes.

Today the fight continues before the U.S. Tax Court, and the conflict is about to reach a climax: A trial is scheduled for February, and the IRS is trying to convince a judge that it has a firm basis for its conclusions. For its part, Facebook has defended its actions in court filings, calling the IRS’ conclusions “arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.”

If the IRS prevails in court, it could cost Facebook up to $9 billion more in taxes, based on estimates in the company’s securities filings. It would be a notable defeat for a company that, when it comes to risky tax avoidance, has been more aggressive “than almost any other U.S. corporation,” said Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. According to Facebook’s public filings, from 2010 through 2017 (when the U.S. corporate tax rate was 35%), the company paid a total of $3.9 billion in taxes on $50 billion of pre-tax income, a rate of about 8%.

Still, the IRS hasn’t won a clear victory in a major profit-shifting case in court for decades, said Reuven Avi-Yonah, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and an expert on international tax. The agency, he said, has simply been “overmatched.” Given how things have gone so far in its conflict with the IRS, Facebook has good reason to be confident about the coming trial.

From the beginning in 2008, Facebook laid the foundations of its big profit shift with care, according to internal company emails disclosed by the IRS in court filings. The first step was to establish a company office in a low-tax country. Given Sandberg’s experience helping Google choose Dublin and set up its office there, Ireland was the first option. Then the question was what and who to put there. The key was having just enough of a presence in Dublin “to justify the tax benefits,” Sandberg wrote in an email at the time.

A Facebook finance executive explained that, to get “the tax advantages,” Facebook needed to transfer its intellectual property to the Dublin office. There needed to be servers there with “the key source code and user data” on them in order to “build the case” for the transfer. When a Facebook executive grumbled, “Ireland is not a first or second choice for a significant data center presence,” because it was easier to hire people in London, the tax exec responded that the Dublin center wouldn’t need to be particularly large.

In other words, it didn’t really matter how many people worked in the Dublin office. Yet, in October 2008 when Facebook publicly announced its choice of what it grandly called its “international headquarters,” Sandberg was quoted in a press release singing the praises of the Irish workforce. “After exploring various locations throughout the region, we decided Ireland was the best place,” she said. “The talent pool in Dublin is world-class and recruiting local talent will help us better understand the needs of local users.”

In a private email to an old Google colleague the previous day, however, she’d been frank. “Same decision process Google went through a long time ago,” she wrote: “tax breaks to put international revenue through. Our operations there will be very small — maybe 10 people by end of this year and 30-50 by end of next year.”

The main pieces now in place, Facebook started constructing its deal to move profits to Ireland. It set up an Irish company that declared itself to have management in the Cayman Islands. This was a trick to avoid paying even Ireland’s low 12.5% tax rate on the profits: The company would instead pay close to nothing. Now it just needed some profits. Essentially, Facebook would license its software platform to its Irish subsidiary, and this would in turn entitle the Irish subsidiary to a portion of Facebook’s profits.

IRS rules allow such intra-company deals, but the companies are supposed to arrive at a fair, “arm’s-length” price. How much the Irish company would pay for the license and what portion of Facebook’s profits the Dublin office would get — these are not numbers that companies can just make up. It doesn’t matter that the transaction was highly artificial, without any clear real-world models. The price is supposed to have some objective basis.

To conjure the prices Facebook should pay in this deal with itself, Facebook hired the giant accounting firm Ernst & Young. The firm’s experts and economists worked for years on the project. In 2011, a year after the deal had officially closed, E&Y’s team was still crunching figures and generating reports.

In September 2011, an E&Y economist emailed 600 pages of analysis to Ted Price, Facebook’s head of tax, and offered to send him three printed copies: two for his team, and one for the IRS, should the agency ever come calling. Price said that he’d take three, but they’d all be for his team. “I doubt the IRS ever even audits us on this,” he wrote. The E&Y economist replied, “knock on wood.” (In a court filing, Facebook said Price’s comment was “sarcastic.”)

The IRS began its audit, as it happened, soon afterward. But it wasn’t until 2015 that a team of agents presented preliminary findings to Facebook. The IRS thought E&Y’s estimates were off by billions of dollars. (E&Y declined to comment.)

A month later, Facebook responded with a presentation of its own that blasted the IRS’ analysis. The agency “had made significant and arbitrary errors,” Facebook later claimed in legal filings.

The IRS decided to regroup. The agency needed help, the team working the case decided, and for that, it would hire outside experts.

But there was a problem. In late 2014, Republicans in Congress had forced through a sudden $346 million cut to the IRS’ budget, and money was tight. Although billions of dollars were at stake in the Facebook audit, the IRS had no funds to hire an expert. The audit team had to wait for three months, until the new fiscal year began in October 2015, to even begin looking. Then, because of a lengthy contracting process, it took six more months for the $800,000 contract to go through. The expert, an economist who specializes in analyzing these intra-company deals, finally went to work in March 2016.

Meanwhile, the IRS was struggling to get all the documents it needed from Facebook. In January 2016, the exam team had sent off a broad request for documents about the Irish deal.

Two months later, Facebook turned over three emails in response. The company told the IRS it had “narrowly construed” the request, one of the agents on the case, Nina Wu Stone, later declared in court, and “the IRS would have to start over with issuance of a new set of [requests] if the IRS wanted a more comprehensive response.”

At the same time, the IRS feared being buried in paper. In response to another request, Facebook told the IRS the company’s systems couldn’t efficiently sort for responsive documents, and as a result, Facebook was going to turn over so much that it would “perhaps overwhelm the IRS,” as the agency put it in a court filing.

Through all of this, the clock was ticking. The IRS has three years to assess additional tax on a return, but corporate taxpayers often voluntarily extend the statute of limitations. In this case, Facebook had done so five times. Companies do this because they are hoping to avoid having to go to court.

But as the IRS began asking for more time to hire experts, Facebook decided it didn’t like where the audit was headed. The company played hardball. It offered to extend the statute again, but on one condition. The IRS had to commit that Facebook would be able to take its case to the IRS Office of Appeals.

The Office of Appeals offers taxpayers the prospect of a quiet settlement of a tax dispute, and as ProPublica reported in the story about the audit of Microsoft, large corporations often are able to obtain steep reductions in what they owe. But the IRS does have the power to block appeals. The agency rarely employs that power, but it had recently done so against other big taxpayers like Coca-Cola and Amazon. Facebook wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.

The IRS refused, and the clock continued to tick. By May 2016, with just two months left, the IRS managed to get its second expert working on the case. Nancy Bronson, an IRS supervisor, asked Facebook to reconsider an extension. That’s when Price, the Facebook executive, offered another exchange.

The IRS has a powerful tool to compel documents from large corporations that the agency thinks are dragging their feet. It’s called a “designated summons,” and it stops the clock until the taxpayer turns over all the requested documents. This can buy the IRS valuable time, but it angers corporations who must now endure added time to the audit.

Price told Bronson that Facebook would give the IRS six more months if it agreed not to use a designated summons. Again, Bronson declined. “I explained my reservations with giving up that right given the difficulties in obtaining information in a timely manner and the short period of the proposed statute extension,” she declared in a court filing.

For years, the company has moved billions in profits to Puerto Rico to avoid taxes. When the IRS pushed it to pay, Microsoft protested that the agency wasn’t being nice. Then it aggressively fought back in court, lobbied Congress and changed the law.

Despite the apparent utility of designated summonses, the IRS has used them only three times since the mid-’90s. The most recent instance, against Microsoft in 2014, provoked a powerful response, and Microsoft and its corporate allies launched a lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill. Soon, lawmakers were introducing bills seeking to curtail the IRS’ use of designated summonses and other tools.

Against this added pressure, the IRS decided to take the middle path. The agency didn’t relinquish the ability to use the designated summons, but it didn’t take the aggressive step of actually using it, either. Instead, the IRS issued a conventional summons and then sued in federal district court to enforce it. This forced Facebook to turn over documents, but the clock continued to run and it would take months for Facebook to comply.

The IRS’ decision meant that it had to finish the audit without the benefit of documents that it characterized in court filings as essential to understanding Facebook’s Ireland deal. So, that’s what it did. Shortly before the statute expired, the IRS sent Facebook an official notice closing the audit. “The examination team had not completed its fact-gathering efforts when the notice was issued,” Bronson said.

The IRS concluded, based on its incomplete analysis, that Facebook’s Irish subsidiary had underpaid for Facebook’s software platform by $7 billion: The subsidiary had paid $7 billion when it should’ve paid $14 billion. If the IRS’ view prevailed, less profit would flow to Ireland and thus more income would be taxable in the U.S. As expected, Facebook soon filed a challenge in U.S. Tax Court.

The IRS said its findings weren’t absolutely final, because it could modify them in court as it acquired more evidence. But agency veterans say such changes are unusual and make the agency’s already difficult task — fighting a complex litigation battle against a better-resourced foe — even harder.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case where the IRS increased an assessment after it came out of exam,” said Ken Wood, a former attorney with the IRS who worked on large corporate audits. Making any sort of change is “dangerous,” he said, because it can undermine the IRS’ argument that its findings are firmly supported.

Last October, in a legal filing, the IRS disclosed that, having had time to review the millions of pages of documents that Facebook had turned over since 2016, it now thought Facebook’s Irish company should have paid $20 billion in the original transaction. However, the agency was apparently wary of shaking up its case by officially modifying its earlier findings. Confusingly, the IRS said it would argue at trial that its earlier estimate was too low, while simultaneously preserving that low estimate as the basis of the trial. The IRS wasn’t definitely saying Facebook should pay more; It was suggesting to the judge that it should.

A couple months later, just before Christmas, the IRS reversed course. It filed a motion officially changing its earlier findings and made the $20 billion valuation its one and only position at trial.

It’s unclear just how much tax Facebook’s Irish deal has saved the company, because the company has also made other moves to reduce taxes. Since Facebook refuses to divulge details, back of the envelope calculations based on other company disclosures provide the best guess. On that basis, ProPublica estimates that Facebook shifted at least $19 billion in profits offshore.

If the company’s big tax dodge were upended, Facebook could be forced to pay up to $9 billion more in taxes, the company recently said, an increase from its earlier estimates of up to $5 billion before the IRS changed its demand. But despite the increased exposure, Facebook’s chances in Tax Court are good. A win would be just another windfall for a company that’s clearly reached “the next level.”

Kirsten Berg contributed to this story.

The post The IRS Is No Match for Facebook appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Is the DNC Planning to Go to War Against the Left?

Progressives raised alarm this weekend after Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez released his picks for the 2020 Democratic National Convention committees.

The list of nominees, Sunrise Movement political director Evan Weber said Sunday, looks like “a who’s-who of people explicitly opposed to the progressive agenda.”

Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof, sparked a flurry of responses when he shared Perez’s list on social media Saturday afternoon.

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Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez issued a list of individuals he nominated for the 2020 Democratic National Convention committees.

Let’s examine some of the individuals. I’ll initially focus on the nominees for the DNC Platform Committee.


— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) January 25, 2020

Gosztola’s Twitter thread delved into the backgrounds of a number of candidates, including Bakari Sellers, who’s nominated to sit on the Platform Committee.

In 2015, Sellers became member of National Council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the notorious pro-Israeli government lobbying group.

Mentioned here too:

— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) January 25, 2020

“Sellers drafted letter and spearheaded effort in 2016 to ensure the DNC platform did not adopt language Bernie Sanders supported, which would’ve acknowledged responsibility to confront humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians in Gaza,” Gosztola added.

Gosztola wasn’t alone in criticizing Sellers’s placement on the list.

Seems like a problem that this dude who’s spent the last 4 years straight bashing Sanders is one of @TomPerez’s nominations to @DNC 2020 governing committee.

— Joe Biden is a Racist (@BethLynch2020) January 26, 2020

Carol Browner was on the list for the Platform Committee as well. Browner, as “a Clinton delegate, during the 2016 Platform Drafting Committee meeting, voted against a ban on fracking, Medicare For All, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), keeping fossil fuels in ground, and measure to halt abuse of eminent domain by fossil fuel industry,” wrote Gosztola.

Perez also nominated former Congressman Barney Frank to be co-chair of the Rules Committee.

Frank, as Gosztola pointed out, has argued against the Green New Deal and sits on the board of directors of Signature Bank in New York, which a New York Times report showed “was a go-to lender for President Donald Trump’s family, as well as Jared Kushner’s family.” Frank also penned a 2015 Politico op-ed entitled “Why Progressives Shouldn’t Support Bernie.”

Political analyst Lauren Martinchek, in a Sunday post on Medium, also highlighted concerns with Perez’s list. She wrote:

Even more controversial and dangerous than Barney Frank is John Podesta, also on the Rules Committee, who said in the infamous leaked DNC emails that they needed to make sure Bernie is “ground to a pulp,” and asked “where would you stick the knife in?” If this process was even remotely designed to be fair, this man would not be allowed anywhere near this convention.

Another incredibly questionable choice is Alex Padilla, Vice-chair of the Platform Committee. Padilla gained notoriety for refusing to count 2 million votes in the 2016 California primary, a move that undeniably favored Clinton and handed a massive disadvantage to the Sanders campaign. He was sued for this.

Win Without War executive director Stephen Miles and Sanders foreign policy advisor Matt Duss suggested the list shows that the DNC is out of touch with its base.

This is right. There’s a really important grassroots-driven progressive realignment taking place in foreign policy right now, and judging from this list the DNC is, and would like to remain, completely unaware of it.

— Matt Duss (@mattduss) January 26, 2020

The list of Perez’s nominees, Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor of Harper’s Magazinewrote Sunday on Twitter, represents “The true, grim, face of the Democratic establishment.”

The post Is the DNC Planning to Go to War Against the Left? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Arizona, California Cases Push U.S. Tally of New Virus From China to 5

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. has five confirmed cases of the new virus from China, all among people who traveled to the city at the center of the outbreak, health officials said Sunday.

Two new cases were reported Sunday — one in Los Angeles County in California and the other in Maricopa County, Arizona. The latter case was someone with ties to Arizona State University who did not live in school housing, state health officials said.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Health Service didn’t immediately release the gender or age of the Maricopa County patient, but said the person wasn’t severely ill and was in isolation to keep the illness from spreading.

The three previously reported cases were a patient in Orange County, California; a man in his 30s in Washington state; and a woman in her 60s from Chicago.

The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. It is a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the deadly SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

Dozens of people have died from the virus in China, which has issued massive travel bans in hard-hit sections of that country to try to stem spread of the virus. The U.S. consulate in Wuhan announced Sunday that it would evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight.

The U.S. patients generally have been reported to be in good condition and were hospitalized in isolation for monitoring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects many more Americans to be diagnosed with the newly discovered virus, which is believed to have an incubation period of about two weeks, as worldwide the number of confirmed cases nears 2,000. The CDC is screening passengers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan at five major airports in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

CDC officials noted Sunday that more than two dozen people who had been suspected of having the illness ended up testing negative.

Guidance from the CDC advises that people who have had casual contact with the patient are at “minimal risk” for developing infection.

The post Arizona, California Cases Push U.S. Tally of New Virus From China to 5 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

NBA Legend Kobe Bryant Dies in Helicopter Crash

CALABASAS, Calif. — Kobe Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.

Bryant died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. A different person familiar with the case confirmed that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the crash had not been released publicly. The crash happened around 10 a.m. about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said it was a Sikorsky S-76 and it was not known what caused the crash. The LA County Sheriff’s Department confirmed five dead in the crash, but had not released identities.

Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County for much of his adult life, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic. Even as a player, he often traveled to practices and games by helicopter, and he kept up the practice after retirement as he attended to his business ventures.

The NTSB sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. NTSB generally issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. It will not state a probable cause – that can take a year or longer to determine.

The Sikorsky S-76 “is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter crash litigation. “But parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”

The crash occurred several miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s basketball training complex in Thousand Oaks, California. Bryant, who had four daughters with his wife, Vanessa, dedicated himself to boosting women’s sports in his retirement.

Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”

“Ït was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”

A short time later the fog cleared a bit and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific scorer with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.

“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

On Saturday night, James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball player to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers.”

News of Bryant’s death inspired an outpouring of grief around the sports world and beyond. The NBA kept its games as scheduled when the news broke, but the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honor of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career.

Along with his work boosting women’s sports, he opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball,” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.

Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. In December 2017, the Lakers hung banners retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the Staples Center rafters in an unprecedented double honor.

Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players. After James passed Bryant on Saturday, he remembered listening to Bryant when the superstar came to speak at a childhood basketball camp.

“I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,” James said after passing Bryant’s career scoring mark. “There’s no substitution for work.”

James later teamed up with Bryant on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. … He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”

Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life. He entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally.

The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest as an upstart rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.

Bryant and Gasol formed the nucleus of another championship team in 2008, reaching three straight NBA Finals and eventually winning two more titles.

Between those title runs, Bryant accomplished innumerable feats including an 81-point game against Toronto in January 2006. Bryant’s final NBA seasons were dogged by injuries, but he still went into retirement with a jaw-dropping 60-point game against Utah.

In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex. Prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge against Bryant at the request of the accuser.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

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Fighting Rages as Libya Force Pushes Toward Key Western City

CAIRO — Officials from Libya’s two rival governments said fighting erupted Sunday as the country’s east-based forces advanced toward the strategic western city of Misrata, further eroding a crumbling cease-fire agreement brokered earlier this month.

The clashes came just hours after the United Nations decried “continued blatant violations” of an arms embargo on Libya by several unspecified countries. The violations fly in the face of recent pledges to respect the embargo made by world powers at an international conference in Berlin last week.

Libya is divided between rival governments based in its east and west, each supported by various armed militias and foreign backers.

The weak but U.N.-recognized government is based in the capital, Tripoli, and led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj. It is backed by Turkey, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. Rival forces based in the east and loyal to military commander Khalifa Hifter receive support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

Hifter’s forces were advancing some 120 kilometers (around 75 miles) east of Misrata, near the town of Abugrein, according to the media office of militias allied with the Tripoli government. It said clashes were still taking place in the outskirts of Abugrein.

A spokesman for forces allied with the Tripoli government, Mohamed Gnounou, said in a statement posted online that Hifter’s repeated violations made the cease-fire “useless.”

An official with Hifter’s forces said they have wrested control of two towns, Qaddaheya and Wadi Zamzam, on their way to Abugrein. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Ahmed al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Hifter’s forces, told a press conference that their offensive on Abugrein was a “limited, pre-emptive strike to achieve certain targets” after they received intelligence that the Tripoli-allied militias were preparing to attack in the area. He did not elaborate.

Misrata is Libya’s second largest city and home to militias who oppose Hifter and have been extremely important in Sarraj’s defense of the capital. Hifter’s forces have laid siege to Tripoli since last April.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at The Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said Hifter’s swing toward Misrata was a tactic calculated to draw away the Misratan militias defending the capital toward their hometown. He said it had a “good chance of succeeding” and weakening the U.N.-supported government’s defenses in Tripoli as a result.

Hifter’s forces captured Sirte earlier this month, a major below to the Tripoli-based administration. Sirte is located about 370 kilometers (230 miles) east of Tripoli.

The nationwide truce, brokered by Russia and Turkey, marked the first break in fighting in months, but there have been repeated violations.

Also on Sunday, the U.N. support mission in Libya, UNSMIL, said two civilians were wounded when two Grad missiles hit Tripoli’s only functioning airport, Mitiga. The airport was shut down earlier this month following a similar attack, with Hifter’s forces saying they would impose a no-fly zone over the terminals’ area.

Late Saturday, the UNSMIL released a statement saying “several (countries) who participated in the Berlin Conference” have been violating the arms embargo.

“Over the last ten days, numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country providing the parties with advanced weapons, armored vehicles, advisers and fighters,” the U.N. statement said.

Turkey has sent troops in support of the Tripoli government but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that the deployment consists of “trainers and educators” and not a combat force.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s civil war, says hundreds of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels have arrived in Libya and joined the fighting on the side of the Tripoli-based government.

U.S. officials said Hifter’s recent push came with the aid of hundreds of Russian mercenaries. U.N. experts said in a report earlier this month that Sudanese armed groups from the Darfur region also joined the fighting recently on both sides.

The Berlin summit participants were from Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Republic of Congo, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States plus representatives of the United Nations, African Union, European Union and Arab League.

The peace push followed a surge in Hifter’s offensive against Tripoli, which threatened to plunge Libya into chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Earlier this month, powerful tribal groups loyal to Hifter also seized several large oil export terminals along the eastern coast as well as southern oil fields. The closure of Libya’s major oil fields and production facilities has resulted in losses of more than $255 million in the six-day period ending Jan. 23, the country’s national oil company said Saturday.

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2020 Is Off to a Terrifyingly Hot Start

The year is less than four weeks old, but scientists already know that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to head upwards – as they have every year since measurements began  leading to a continuation of the Earth’s rising heat.

And they warn that the rise will be steeper than usual, partly because of the devastating bush fires in Australia.

The warning is a reminder that global heating and climate change create their own positive feedbacks: more numerous and calamitous forest fires surrender more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which helps raise temperatures, accentuate droughts and heat extremes, and create conditions for even more catastrophic forest fires.

The news is that the proportion of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere will peak at 417 parts per million (ppm) in the next 11 months, but settle to an average of just over 414 ppm. This represents a predicted 10% increase on the previous year’s rise, and a fifth of that can be pinned on blazing eucalypts in New South Wales.

Atmospheric scientists began keeping meticulous records of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in 1958. The average for most of human history – until the Industrial Revolution and the mass exploitation of coal, oil and gas – was no higher than 285 ppm.

The warning, from the British Met Office, comes hard on the heels of an address by America’s President Trump – who has previously claimed that climate change is a hoax – at Davos in Switzerland. He told the World Economic Forum (WEF) to disregard those he dismissed as “prophets of doom.”

n fact he was addressing an organisation that had only recently issued its own warning that “severe threats to our climate” accounted for all the identified top long-term risks that face the modern world.

The WEF Global Risks Report warned of extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life. It also pointed to other hazards: among them the failure of attempts to mitigate or adapt to climate change by governments and industry; human-induced environmental damage; and to biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, all of which are inseparable from the climate crisis.

Even the fifth set of global risks was environmental: these included earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms.

And, the WEF said, time to address these threats was running out. “The political landscape is polarised, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and invigorate our systems of co-operation, not just for short-term benefit, but for tackling our deep-rooted risks,” said Borge Brende, president of the WEF.

And as the WEF issued its own doom-laden warnings, scientists at two great US research agencies confirmed those fears. The space agency NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examined their separate datasets to pronounce 2019 the second warmest year since global records began, and to confirm that the decade just ended was also the warmest since records began.

Relentless increase

“Every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the one before,” said Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The British Met Office – working from yet another set of data – agreed that 2019 had been 1.05°C above the average for most of human history, and that the last five years were the warmest since records began in 1850.

And only days beforehand, Chinese scientists had taken the temperature of the world’s oceans to find them warmer than at any time in recorded history. The past 10 years had been the warmest decade for ocean temperatures worldwide.

In 2019, they write in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, a partnership of 14 researchers from 11 institutes around the world had measured from the surface to a depth of 2000 metres to find that the global ocean – and 70% of the planet is covered in blue water – is now 0.075°C warmer on average than it was between 1981 and 2010.

Measured in the basic units of heat-energy, this means that the seas have soaked up 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules of heat.

100 seconds to midnight

“That’s a lot of zeros indeed. To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation,” said Lijing Cheng, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who led the study.

“The amount of heat we have put into the world’s oceans in the last 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions. This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat-trapping gases to explain this heating.”

On 23 January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds from midnight  the closest they have ever been to the time chosen to represent apocalypse.

The reason? “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers  nuclear war and climate change  that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond”, say the scientists.

“World leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”


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Sanders Takes Commanding Lead in New Iowa Poll

Sen. Bernie Sanders has a strong lead over his Democratic rivals among likely voters in Iowa, according to a new New York Times/Siena College poll released Saturday, just over a week out from the state’s caucuses.

The Vermont senator had the backing of 25 percent of respondents—a six-point surge since the Times-Siena poll from late October.

Support for Former Vice Presdient Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is unchanged since the last poll, with Biden at 17 percent and Buttigieg at 18 percent in each.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 15 percent put her in fourth place in the new poll, a drop from the 22 percent that put her at the top of the Demcratic pack in October.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Download the crosstabs from this morning’s NYT/Siena College Poll in Iowa (follow the link)!<br><br>NY Times/Siena College Poll of Likely Iowa Democratic Caucus Participants – <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; SienaResearch (@SienaResearch) <a href=””>January 25, 2020</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The support captured by Sanders from younger likely Iowa caucus goers blows away his rivals.

Sanders had 40 percent of support from those under 30. Warren and Buttigieg came in distant second for that age group, with each getting 16 percent. Biden had 10 percent, and no other candidate scraped double digits.

For those aged 30-44, Sanders was again in the lead with 31 percent. Trailing well behind at 19 percent, Warren and Buttigieg tied for second place, and Biden followed with 14 percent.

Biden bested his rivals with voters over 65, nabbing 32 percent with Buttigieg a distant second at 17 percent.

The survey of 584 voters was conducted Jan. 20-23 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

A possible factor in Sanders’s lead in the new poll, progressive journalists John Nichols and Krystal Ball suggested on Twitter, could be senator’s rejection of President Donald Trump’s march to war with Iran

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Pundits have routinely underestimated how much voters care about issues of war and peace. <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Krystal Ball (@krystalball) <a href=””>January 25, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

As the Times reported, “the race remains up for grabs”—39 percent said they could be persuaded to caucus for a different candidate. Still, another good sign for Sanders’s supporters was the Iowa poll out earlier this month from Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom that put him in the lead with 20 percent, a five-point surge in support from November.

Sanders, on Twitter, said Saturday that it was not a moment for complacency.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough fight and we can’t take anything for granted. Knock on doors. Make phone calls. Do everything you can.”

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are February 3.

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Xi Calls Situation Grave as China Scrambles to Contain Virus

BEIJING — China’s leader on Saturday called the accelerating spread of a new virus a grave situation, as cities from the outbreak’s epicenter in central China to Hong Kong scrambled to contain an illness that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41.

President Xi Jinping’s remarks, reported by state broadcaster CCTV, came at a meeting of Communist Party leaders convened on Lunar New Year — the country’s biggest holiday whose celebrations have been muted — and underlined the government’s urgent, expanding efforts to control the outbreak.

Travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, the state-owned English-language China Daily newspaper reported, citing the China Association of Travel Services.

Millions of people traveling during the holiday have fueled the spread of the outbreak nationwide and overseas after it began in the city of Wuhan in central China. The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China, but fresh cases are popping up.

Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday — four each —and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.

In the heart of the outbreak where 11 million residents are already on lockdown, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown areas starting Sunday, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles would be permitted, the reports said.

The city will assign 6,000 taxis to neighborhoods, under the management of resident committees, to help people get around if they need to, China Daily said.

In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, the highest one, and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks on top of next week’s Lunar New Year holiday. They will reopen Feb. 17.

Lam said direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked.

In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan’s health care system, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city has said another hospital was expected to be completed Feb. 3.

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million — greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.

China’s biggest holiday, Lunar New Year, unfolded Saturday in the shadow of the virus. Authorities canceled a host of events, and closed major tourist destinations and movie theaters.

Temples locked their doors, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland closed, and people canceled restaurant reservations ahead of the holiday, normally a time of family reunions, sightseeing trips and other festivities in the country of 1.4 billion people.

“We originally planned to go back to my wife’s hometown and bought train tickets to depart this afternoon,” said Li Mengbin, who was on a stroll near the closed Forbidden City. “We ended up canceling. But I’m still happy to celebrate the new year in Beijing, which I hadn’t for several years.”

Temples and parks were decorated with red streamers, paper lanterns and booths, but some places started dismantling the decor.

People in China wore medical masks to public places like grocery stores, where workers dispensed hand sanitizer to customers. Some parts of the country had checkpoints for temperature readings and made masks mandatory.

The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number of infected people, to 1,287. The latest tally, from 29 provinces and cities across China, included 237 patients in serious condition.

Of the 41 deaths, 39 have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital city. Most of the deaths have been older patients, though a 36-year-old man in Hubei died this week.

French automaker PSA Group says it will evacuate its employees from Wuhan, quarantine them and then bring them to France. The Foreign Ministry said it was working on “eventual options” to evacuate French citizens from Wuhan “who want to leave.” It didn’t elaborate.

The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams to help handle the outbreak, a day after videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks, including SARS and Ebola, who arrived in Wuhan late Friday to help treat many patients hospitalized with viral pneumonia, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua also said medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits, 110,000 pairs of gloves and masks and goggles.

The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily mean the crisis is getting worse but could reflect better monitoring and reporting of the virus.

It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is or even whether it is as dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year in the U.S. alone.


Associated Press researcher Henry Hou and video journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

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Trump Lawyers Argue Democrats Just Want to Overturn Election

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers plunged into his impeachment trial defense Saturday by accusing Democrats of striving to overturn the 2016 election, arguing that investigations of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine have not been a fact-finding mission but a politically motivated effort to drive him from the White House.

“They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told senators. “And we can’t allow that to happen.”

The Trump legal team’s arguments in the rare Saturday session were aimed at rebutting allegations that the president abused his power when he asked Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and then obstructed Congress as it tried to investigate. The lawyers are mounting a wide-ranging, aggressive defense asserting an expansive view of presidential powers and portraying Trump as besieged by political opponents determined to ensure he won’t be reelected this November.

“They’re asking you to tear up all the ballots across this country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people,” Cipollone said.

Though Trump is the one on trial, the defense team made clear that it intends to paint the impeachment case as a mere continuation of the investigations that have shadowed the president since before he took office — including one into allegations of Russian election interference on his behalf. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow suggested Democrats were investigating the president over Ukraine simply because they couldn’t bring him down for Russia.

“That — for this,” said Sekulow, holding up a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which he accused Democrats of attempting to “relitigate.” That report detailed ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia but did not allege a criminal conspiracy to tip the election.

From the White House, Trump tweeted his response: “Any fair-minded person watching the Senate trial today would be able to see how unfairly I have been treated and that this is indeed the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax that EVERYBODY, including the Democrats, truly knows it is.”

His team made only a two-hour presentation, reserving the heart of its case for Monday.

Acquittal appears likely, given that Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and a two-thirds vote would be required for conviction and removal from office. Republican senators already eager to clear Trump said Saturday that the White House presentation had shredded the Democratic case.

Several of the senators shook hands with Trump’s lawyers after their presentation. The visitors’ galleries were filled, onlookers watching for the historic proceedings and the rare weekend session of Senate.

The Trump attorneys are responding to two articles of impeachment approved last month by the House — one that accuses him of encouraging Ukraine to investigate Biden at the same time the administration withheld military aid from the country, and the other that accuses him of obstructing Congress by directing aides not to testify or produce documents.

Trump’s defense team took center stage following three days of methodical and passionate arguments from Democrats, who wrapped up Friday by warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election. They also implored Republicans to allow new testimony to be heard before senators render a final verdict.

Give America a fair trial,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead Democratic impeachment manager. “She’s worth it.”

In making their case that Trump invited Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, the seven Democratic prosecutors peppered their arguments with video clips, email correspondence and lessons in American history. At stake, they said, was the security of U.S. elections, America’s place in the world and checks on presidential power

On Saturday morning, House managers made the procession across the Capitol at 9:30 to deliver the 28,578-page record of their case to the Senate.

Republicans accused Democrats of cherrypicking evidence and omitting information favorable to the president, casting in a nefarious light actions that Trump was legitimately empowered to take. They focused particular scorn on Schiff, trying to undercut his credibility.

Schiff later told reporters: “When your client is guilty, when your client is dead to rights, you don’t want to talk about your client, you want to attack the prosecution.”

The Trump team had teased the idea that it would draw attention on Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company Burisma, while his father was vice president. But neither Biden was a focus of Saturday arguments.

Instead, Republicans argued that there was no evidence that Trump made the security aid contingent on Ukraine announcing an investigation into the Bidens and that Ukraine didn’t even know that the money had been paused until shortly before it was released.

Trump had reason to be concerned about corruption in Ukraine and the aid was ultimately released, they said.

“Most of the Democratic witnesses have never spoken to the president at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance,” said deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura.

Pupura told the senators the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the Biden investigation was consistent with the president’s concerns about corruption, though Trump never mentioned that word, according to the rough transcript released by the White House.

Pupura said everyone knows that when Trump asked Zelenskiy to “do us a favor,” he meant the U.S., not himself.

“This entire impeachment process is about the house managers’ insistence that they are able to read everybody’s thoughts,” Sekulow said. “They can read everybody’s intention. Even when the principal speakers, the witnesses themselves, insist that those interpretations are wrong.”

Defense lawyers say Trump was a victim not only of Democratic rage but also of overzealous agents and prosecutors. Sekulow cited mistakes made by the FBI in its surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide in the now-concluded Trump-Russia election investigation and referred to the multi-million-dollar cost of that probe.

“You cannot simply decide this case in a vacuum,” he said.

One of the president’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, is expected to argue next week that an impeachable offense requires criminal-like conduct, even though many legal scholars say that’s not true. Sekulow also said the Bidens would be discussed in the days ahead.

The Senate is heading next week toward a pivotal vote on Democratic demands for testimony from top Trump aides, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who refused to appear before the House. It would take four Republican senators to join the Democratic minority to seek witnesses, and so far the numbers appear lacking.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump’s, said he thought the legal team had successfully poked holes in the Democrats’ case and that the Democrats had “told a story probably beyond what the market would bear.”

He said he had spoken to Trump two days ago, when he was leaving Davos, Switzerland.

Asked if Trump had any observations on the trial, Graham replied: “Yeah, he hates it.”


Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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Pompeo Lashes Out at Journalist; NPR Defends Its Reporter

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out in anger Saturday at an NPR reporter who accused him of shouting expletives at her after she asked him in an interview about Ukraine. In a direct and personal attack, America’s chief diplomat said the journalist had “lied” to him and he called her conduct “shameful.”

NPR said it stood by Mary Louise Kelly’s reporting.

Pompeo claimed in a statement that the incident was “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt” President Donald Trump and his administration. Pompeo, a former CIA director and Republican congressman from Kansas who is one of Trump’s closest allies in the Cabinet, asserted, “It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.”

It is extraordinary for a secretary of state to make such a personal attack on a journalist, but he is following the lead of Trump, who has repeatedly derided what he calls “fake news” and ridiculed individual reporters. In one of the more memorable instances, Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with a physical disability.

In Friday’s interview, Pompeo responded testily when Kelly asked him about Ukraine and specifically whether he defended or should have defended Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv whose ouster figured in Trump’s impeachment.

“I have defended every State Department official,” he said. “We’ve built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world … I’ve defended every single person on this team. I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team.”

This has been a sensitive point for Pompeo. As a Trump loyalist, he has been publicly silent as the president and his allies have disparaged the nonpartisan career diplomats, including Yovanovitch, who have testified in the impeachment hearings. Those diplomats told Congress that Trump risked undermining Ukraine, a critical U.S. ally, by pressuring for an investigation of Democrat Joe Biden, a Trump political rival.

Yovanovitch, who was seen by Trump allies as a roadblock to those efforts, was told in May to leave Ukraine and return to Washington immediately for her own safety. After documents released this month from an associate of Trump’s personal attorney suggested she was being watched and possibly under threat, Pompeo took three days to address the matter and did so only after coming under harsh criticism from lawmakers and current and former diplomats.

After the NPR interview, Kelly said she was taken to Pompeo’s private living room, where he shouted at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself,” using the “F-word” repeatedly. She said he was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine.

Pompeo, in his statement, did not deny shouting at Kelly and did not apologize. Instead, he accused her of lying to him when setting up the interview, which he apparently expected would be limited to questions about Iran, and for supposedly agreeing not to discuss the post-interview meeting.

Kelly said Pompeo asked whether she thought Americans cared about Ukraine and if she could find the country on a map.

“I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing,” she said in discussing the encounter on “All Things Considered.” “I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, ‘people will hear about this.’”

Pompeo ended Saturday’s statement by saying, “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.”

Nancy Barnes, NPR’s senior vice president of news, said in a statement that “Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report.”

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Turkish Leader Slams ‘Propaganda’ as Quake Deaths Rise to 29

ANKARA, Turkey — The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey climbed to 29 on Saturday night as rescue crews searched for people who remained trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, officials said.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier in the day that 18 people were killed in Elazig province, where Friday night’s quake was centered, and four in neighboring Malatya. The national disaster agency later updated the total with seven more casualties.

Some 1,243 people were injured, with 34 of them in intensive care but not in critical condition, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

On Saturday afternoon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the hardest-hit areas and attended the funeral of a mother and son killed in the quake. He warned people against repeating “negative” hearsay about the country being unprepared for earthquakes.

“Do not listen to rumors, do not listen to anyone’s negative, contrary propaganda, and know that we are your servants,” Erdogan said.

Various earthquake monitoring centers gave magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 6.8. for the earthquake, which hit Friday at 8:55 p.m. local time (1755 GMT) near the Elazig province town of Sivrice, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said.

It was followed by 398 aftershocks, the strongest of them with magnitudes 5.4 and 5.1, the disaster agency said.

Emergency workers and security forces distributed tents, beds and blankets as overnight temperatures dropped below freezing in the affected areas. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.

“The earthquake was very severe. We desperately ran out (of our home),” Emre Gocer told the state-run Anadolu news agency as he sheltered with his family at a sports hall in Sivrice. “We don’t have a safe place to stay right now.”

While visiting Sivrice and the city of Elazig, the provincial capital located some 565 kilometers (350 miles) east of Ankara, Erdogan promised state support for those affected by the disaster.

“We will not leave anyone in the open,” the Turkish leader.

Earlier, a prosecutor in the capital Ankara announced an investigation into “provocative” social media posts. The Anadolu news agency reported that Turkey’s broadcasting authority was also reviewing media coverage of the quake.

At least five buildings in Sivrice and 25 in Malatya province were destroyed in the disaster, Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said. Hundreds of other structures were damaged and made unsafe.

AFAD reported that 42 people had been rescued as search teams combed wrecked apartment buildings.

Television footage showed emergency workers removing a woman from the wreckage of a collapsed building 19 hours after the main earthquake struck.

A prison in Adiyaman, 110 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of the epicenter, was evacuated due to damage its more than 800 prisoners transferred to nearby jails.

AFAD said 28 rescue teams had been working around the clock. More than 2,600 personnel from 39 of Turkey’s 81 provinces were sent to the disaster site. Unmanned drones were used to survey damaged neighborhoods and coordinate rescue efforts.

“Our biggest hope is that the death toll does not rise,” Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop said.

Communication companies announced free telephone and internet services for residents in the quake-hit region.

Neighboring Greece, which is at odds with Turkey over maritime boundaries and gas exploration rights, offered to send rescue crews to assist the Turkish teams.

Erdogan appeared to reject the offer of outside assistance during his visit to the city of Elazig, telling reporters, “Our state does not need anything.”

Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people in Elazig in 2010.

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Trump to Announce Peace Plan Giving Israel ‘Everything It Wants’

President Donald Trump is expected to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s political rival Benny Gantz at the White House on January 28 to unveil the president’s “Deal of the Century” peace deal for the Middle East.

Though the full plan has not been released, the deal reportedly delivers nearly all of Israel’s demands in exchange for the possibility of maybe, someday recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Peace has nothing to do with it,” said Haaretz journalist Amir Tibon.

The Deal of the Century: Trump helps Netanyahu in each of Israel’s 3 elections over the past year; Does everything he can to help Netanyahu survive. In return Bibi helps Trump get re-elected in November (Evangelical voters). Peace has nothing to do with it

— Amir Tibon (@amirtibon) January 23, 2020

The plan, said one observer on social media, “gives Israel everything it wants.”

“Palestinians are expected to beg for crumbs,” they added.

Vice President Mike Pence announced the White House meeting on Thursday during a visit to Jerusalem.

“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week for talks,” Pence said.

“At the prime minister’s suggestion,” the vice president added, “I also extended an invitation to Benny Gantz.”

“The White House apparently thinks the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the Israeli right and the Israeli center,” tweeted University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami.

According to the Times of Israel, the deal drastically undercuts Palestinian hopes for recovering land stolen by Israeli settlements and allows Israel to expand its territory even further:

The plan will be unveiled next week, and is the most generous US proposal ever for Israel, an unsourced Channel 12 report said, likely providing for Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements alongside a recognition of Palestinian statehood.

The network said the plan apparently includes a “significant moving of the [Israeli] border” eastwards, without specifying.

The plan is unlikely to net support from Palestinians, the Europeans, or Arab states, journalist Neri Zibler said, meaning that the deal may be primarily aimed at helping Netanyahu’s political prospects. But rejecting the plan comes with its own set of consequences.

“Real danger on the ground is what an Israeli government does afterwards,” said Zibler. “Push for annexation (per the American plan) will be intense.”

The American peace advocacy group J-Street said the deal is all about giving Israel the green light to take more territory.

“The plan is expected to be the culmination of a series of steps taken by Trump and his team to advance the annexationist agenda of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the far-right settlement movement in Israel,” the group wrote. “The known contours of the plan appear designed to formalize, entrench, and legitimize permanent Israeli control of the occupied West Bank and to undercut any prospect of Palestinian statehood via a two-state solution.”

Next week’s meeting to discuss the plan will come smack dab in the middle of the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate, timing that was not missed by observers.

As impeachment trial continues, White House announces Israelis will be at the WH on Tuesday next week; Trump has a campaign rally that night in Wildwood, NJ.

— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) January 23, 2020

The White House visit also comes on the very day Israel’s Knesset was scheduled to debate on whether or not Netanyahu’s position as Prime Minister makes the Israeli leader immune to prosecution on corruption charges.

Using the peace plan to distract both nations from their leaders’ foibles, tweeted PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, is “a lethal diversionary tactic at the expense of Palestinian rights and international law—criminality plus personal agendas equals no peace.”

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Annabella Sciorra Details Alleged Rape in Harvey Weinstein Trial

This article originally appeared on Salon.

On Thursday, “The Sopranos” and “Hand That Rocks the Cradle” actress Annabella Sciorra told a courtroom about a traumatic incident in which she claims disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein raped her. Her testimony joins one of many in the film producer’s sexual abuse trial, which had begun earlier this month.

“He put my hands over my head to hold me back and he got on top of me and he raped me. It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake,” Sciorra said, according to a Twitter report Molly Crane-Newman of the New York Daily News. She recalled waking up later after either passing out or blacking out, and then claims that Weinstein performed oral sex on her after saying, “This is for you.”

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Days later, after she confronted Weinstein about his actions, Sciorra says that his response was, “‘That’s what all the nice Catholic girls say.’ Then he leaned into me and said, ‘This remains between you and I.’ It was very menacing.” She claimed that “his eyes went black” and she thought he was going to hit her.

That incident, which reportedly happened in either late 1993 or early 1994, was not the only encounter that Sciorra says she had with Weinstein. According to Crane-Newman, “Sciorra described an incident in 1997 when Weinstein turned up outside her hotel room wearing nothing but his underwear ‘with a bottle of baby oil in one hand and a videotape in the other.’ She said this time, she was able to convince him to leave.”

Although Sciorra did not report the incident to the police at the time, she described how the incident traumatized her and changed her personality. She claims that Weinstein stopped her from booking roles for years and Sciorra’s friend Rosie Perez told The New Yorker that Sciorra “started acting weird and getting reclusive.”

Because Sciorra’s complaint is considered to have passed the statute of limitations to be prosecuted as a rape under New York law, her accusation will be used to support a charge of predatory sexual assault, according to The New York Times. That charge requires a jury convicting Weinstein of committing a seri£ous sexual offense against at least two people. Sciorra is one of six accusers who are prepared to testify that Weinstein attacked them. Three of those women are expected to testify to incidents similar to the one described by Sciorra. Two others are accusing him of rape and criminal sexual act, including a production assistant who says that he forced oral sex on her in 2006 and an aspiring actress from Washington State who says that he raped her in 2013.

The production assistant, Mimi Haleyi, alleges that Weinstein “wouldn’t take no for an answer and took me into a bedroom . . . that looked like a kid’s bedroom with drawings on the wall.”

She added, “He was extremely persistent and physically overpowering. He then orally forced himself on me, while I was on my period. He even pulled my tampon out. I was mortified. I was in disbelief and disgusted. I would not have wanted anyone to do that to me, even if that person had been a romantic partner.”

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