Clinton ‘Regrets’ Trying to Steal UN Chief’s Credit Card

When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs appeared on the Today Show and angrily denied that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered spying against UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, the credibility was instantly in doubt. After all, the specific order, signed by Secretary Clinton, is now a matter of public record.

But the official denial seemed to convince a lot of people to let the matter drop, at least for the time being. Now we have further evidence of how little the White House Press Secretary’s words are worth, with reports that Secretary Clinton spoke with Ban yesterday and expressed “regret” over trying to steal his credit card, among other things.

The “regret” stopped well short of an apology, according to officials, but seems to at least confirm the authenticity of the order, which really should never have been in doubt in the first place. Spokesmen for Ban had expressed grave concerns about the plans to steal his credit card info, a clear violation of both US and international law.

The bizarre combination of the high profile denial and the immediate, apparently not for domestic consumption pseudo-apology points to an Obama Administration that clearly has not learned its lesson about the consequences of lying to the American public, and if Secretary Clinton was facing calls to resign for ordering the theft, surely Secretary Gibbs must face similar calls now for his failure to tell the truth, which as the press secretary ought to be the only thing one can count on him to do.



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Posted in Politics

“I’m with you, not my president,” House Leader Eric Cantor told Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Republican Cantor recants on Israel
Incoming House Majority Leader tries to explain why he pledged allegiance to Israel’s leader over the US President.

Soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is desperately trying to explain away the promise he made to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last Wednesday.

Cantor huddled with Netanyahu just prior to the Prime Minister’s meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was expected to reaffirm the American commitment to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.

Cantor wanted Netanyahu to know that he had his back.

Cantor’s office itself put out a statement bragging about his pledge to Netanyahu: “Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington,” the readout said.

“He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

For now, forget Cantor’s ridiculous assertion that the security of Israel and the United States are “reliant upon the other.”

No, the United States provides Israel with the security assistance to survive – it is not the other way around.

But lay that aside. It is Cantor’s statement of loyalty to Netanyahu that is the shocker. Specifically, it is his promise that he would ensure that Republicans in the US House of Representatives “will serve as a check” on US Middle East policy.

Almost immediately, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s bureau chief in Washington, Ron Kampeas, declared that Cantor’s statement was “extraordinary”.

He wrote that he could not “remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the President.”

Kampeas was clearly shocked, but he was understating the enormity of Cantor’s offense.

Cantor’s pledge of allegiance to a foreign leader would be remarkable, and deeply offensive, even if the foreign country in question were Canada or the United Kingdom, our two closest allies with whom we have few policy differences.

The United States has major policy differences with Israel, and has had them for decades, most notably over settlements, the occupied West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, etc.

Israel is also the largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world, which means that the President of the United States has every right to express those differences firmly and clearly.

On the other hand, no American official – by any stretch of the imagination – has the right to tell the government of Israel, or any foreign government, that he stands with the foreign leader against his own president.

It is one thing to oppose particular US policies; it is quite another to tell a foreign leader, “I’m with you, not my president.” Of course, Cantor was just being honest.

Although he does oppose virtually all of President Obama’s policies – he’s a Republican and that is what Republicans do – he supports 100 per cent of Israel’s policies.

And although an extreme partisan domestically, when it comes to Israel, he supports whichever government is in power.

He believes in the right to criticise this government, just not that one.

Cantor’s mistake was not telling Prime Minister Netanyahu what everyone knows is true anyway, but telling the world what he said.

This is the classic Washington definition of a gaffe (i.e., inadvertently speaking an inconvenient truth).

In this case, the gaffe produced a firestorm.

And this is where I consider the possibility that Cantor simply doesn’t understand what he’s doing.

After all, he has been an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cutout since he first was elected to office.

He’s been to more AIPAC meetings than he can probably count.

And he should have figured out by now that the lobby is extremely careful, obsessively careful, to always empathise loyalty to the United States while simultaneously endorsing Israeli policies that undermine our foreign policy objectives.

AIPAC officials never, ever, say that when push comes to shove their loyalty is with Israel not the United States. In fact, the accusation that this is the case is the charge AIPAC hates most.

But the soon-to-be Majority Leader came right out and said it: Israel, right or wrong.

It took a few days for Cantor to understand how utterly offensive his statement was. He might have heard from a few Tea Party types who, say what you will about them, tend to take their patriotism seriously.

So Cantor explained that he was misunderstood. His inconvenient truth, his gaffe, was replaced by a laughable untruth.

This is how the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports it:

Brad Dayspring, Cantor’s press guy, tells me Cantor’s promise that the Republican majority would “serve as a check on the administration” was “not in relation to US/Israel relations.”

Mmmm. So Cantor’s pledge to stand with Netanyahu against Obama was “not in relation to US/Israel relations” despite the context of Cantor’s statement – just before Netanyahu’s meeting with Clinton – and the fact that the person he was talking to was the Prime Minister of Israel.

So, what was Cantor’s pledge “in relation to”?

Was it in relation to either repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the Bush tax cuts for millionaires? Maybe it was about farm subsidies.

Come on, Eric. Don’t make us laugh.

It is eminently clear what you said and what you meant.  And this time we will take you at your word.



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Posted in Republicans, US - Israel relations

German Rail Under Fire for Controversial Israeli Project

Peace activists have strongly criticized a planned high-speed rail line in Israel that will cut through the West Bank and deprive Palestinian communities of land. A subsidiary of Germany’s national rail operator apparently helped plan the line, and critics claim they must have known about the controversial route.

Germany’s state-owned national rail operator Deutsche Bahn is a world leader in railway technology, and other countries often call on German expertise when planning their networks. But the involvement of a Deutsche Bahn subsidiary in a controversial planned high-speed line in Israel, which cuts through the occupied West Bank, could prove embarrassing for the company.

The high-speed rail link is set to connect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, reducing travel time between the two cities to just 28 minutes. The planned route would solve one of the country’s biggest transport problems: The current stretch takes 90 minutes and is little used, while highways between the cities often experience massive traffic problems.

Two sections of the line, totalling 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) in length, pass through the West Bank. Much of that stretch will run through tunnels, but Israeli peace activists argue that the route violates international law as Israel will be taking Palestinian land for tunnel portals and access roads.

“By crossing the … border into the West Bank, the … train line is unlawful and unethical,” argues the Coalition of Women for Peace, a group of Israeli feminist peace organizations which has compiled a report on the project. The coalition argues that international law states that an occupier may not use occupied resources solely for the benefit of its own citizens. “This line was planned for the exclusive use of Israeli citizens; it is imposed on the local Palestinian residents by the dictates of a military regime, in which they have no representation; and it would be completely inaccessible to the local residents,” the report argues.

Deutsche Bahn Subsidiary Provided Support

The coalition has called on the European companies that have been involved in the planning and construction of the route — including Deutsche Bahn subsidiary DB International (DBI) — to pull out of the project.

DBI denies involvement in planning the high-speed route, however. DBI spokesman Bernd Weiler told SPIEGEL that the company could not rule out the possibility that German expertise might be used for all of Israel’s rail lines — including the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route — as DBI had provided general consulting services for Israel Railways, the state-owned national rail company.

A report that has been seen by SPIEGEL provides evidence of concrete support from DBI for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route, however. DBI’s predecessor, DE-Consult, prepared several studies for the project on behalf of Israel Railways, including a travel-time comparison of the route through the West Bank with the stretch that was originally proposed, which kept to Israeli territory. The report’s conclusion was that, in terms of travel time, the alternative route through the West Bank was just as suitable as the original plan.

“They had the complete maps in order to make these calculations,” Dalit Baum of the Coalition of Women for Peace told SPIEGEL. “It is impossible that DBI does not know that the route runs through occupied territory.” DBI was also involved in the electrification of the line, Baum said. The Austrian company Alpine Bau, which had been contracted to do the tunneling, had chosen to back out of the project before construction started, according to the organization’s report.

Fears of Losing Land

Residents of the Palestinian villages of Beit Surik and Beit Iksa in the West Bank are particularly concerned about the project. The route runs close to their communities, and locals fear that their fields will be destroyed due to the construction of bridges and tunnels. They also speculate that Israel might later deny them access to the area for security reasons. “The 6 kilometers of the railway route which fall outside the official Israeli state borders are creating devastating effects on the … Palestinian communities in the area,” writes the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Beit Surik has already lost 30 percent of its land through the construction of the Israeli security barrier in the West Bank, which is partially built on Palestinian territory, while Beit Iksa has lost 60 percent of its land as a result. The communities will not, however, benefit from the new train line, as no stations are planned in their villages. The planned train line passes along the Israeli side of the security barrier.

The initial version of the plans foresaw the route passing closer to the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, which would have meant the line staying well within Israeli territory. Local residents protested against the plans, however, claiming that the train line would have blighted their views and brought down property prices. “It was easier for the planners to move the railway line than to negotiate a compromise with the Israeli citizens,” says Baum.

‘Cynical Ploy’

The route looks set to become another bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority will “resort to all legal and possible diplomatic methods to try to end this violation of Palestinian rights,” spokesman Ghassan Khatib recently told the Associated Press. He urged foreign companies to pull out of the project.

The Israeli government insists that the route will in the future also benefit Palestinians, saying that planning has begun on an extension that would connect the West Bank city of Ramallah with the Gaza Strip. The Coalition of Women for Peace describes that argument as a “cynical ploy” to justify the project.


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Posted in Israel, Legal, Palestinian Territories

Study: Few Afghans know about 9/11, reason for war

92% of 1000 afghan men interviewed in Helmund and Kanhdahar provinces unaware of 9/11 according to UN study

KABUL – Afghans in two crucial southern provinces are almost completely unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States and don’t know they precipitated the foreign intervention now in its 10th year, a new report showed on Friday.

NATO leaders gathered in Lisbon for a summit on Friday where the transition from foreign forces — now at about 150,000 — to Afghan security responsibility will be at the top of the agenda, with leaders to discuss a 2014 target date set by Kabul.

Few Afghans in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, Taliban strongholds where fighting remains fiercest, know why foreign troops are in Afghanistan, says the “Afghanistan Transition: Missing Variables” report to be released later on Friday.

The report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) policy think-tank showed 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men surveyed in Helmand and Kandahar know nothing of the hijacked airliner attacks on U.S. targets in 2001.

“The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier,” ICOS President Norine MacDonald told Reuters from Washington.

“We need to explain to the Afghan people why we are here, and both convince them and show them that their future is better with us than the Taliban,” MacDonald said.

The report said there was a continued “relationship gap” between Afghans and the international community, describing the lack of understanding as “dramatic.”

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Islamist Taliban government in late 2001 for sheltering al-Qaida leaders who plotted the 9/11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

The war has now dragged into its 10th year and violence is at its worst, despite a record number of foreign troops, with military and civilian casualties at their highest levels.

Exit timetable
Attention is now focused on an exit timetable. U.S. President Barack Obama, who will review his Afghanistan war strategy next month, wants to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from July 2011.

European NATO leaders, under pressure at home to justify their continued commitment to an increasingly unpopular war, are following a similar timetable. Some are withdrawing troops and others are looking to move from combat to training roles.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai has set a target of 2014, NATO’s civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said this week “eye-watering levels of violence by Western standards” might mean the transition spills into 2015.

That throws the emphasis back on the Afghan government — widely seen as so corrupt and inept that it is unable to support itself — and the readiness of Afghan forces to take over.


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Posted in Afghanistan, Reports/Studies/Books

The Man Who Killed The Economy

Ireland’s economic troubles threaten the financial health of Europe and even the U.S. At the heart of the multibillion-dollar crisis are two highflying bankers who some say took the country for a ride.

Ireland was hailed as an economic miracle not so long ago. Now, it’s an economic basket-case that threatens the financial health not just of Europe but of the U.S. as well.

But the outsize role of two men in this financial meltdown is a little-known story offering a salutary lesson about the dangers of greed, groupthink, and lax regulation as anything that has taken place on this side of the Atlantic.

Sean FitzPatrick was the CEO of Anglo Irish Bank from 1986 to 2005. At that point, he assumed the chairmanship, and David Drumm, his protégé, became the bank’s leader.

The two men built the bank from a tiny operation—it had eight employees when FitzPatrick took over—to something that looked like an international powerhouse. Looks were deceptive. The bank would be its nation’s downfall.

During the boom years, Anglo expanded its market share by reckless lending, especially to property developers. More established, conservative Irish banks began to ape some of the same tactics to ward off the new contender. Then, the property bubble popped and the whole house of cards tumbled.

The Irish government took control of Anglo in January 2009. It has been hurling taxpayers’ money into an apparently bottomless pit ever since. Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan originally estimated the cost of propping up the bank at $6.1 billion. He admitted two months ago that it would actually be between $39.8 billion and $46.7 billion.

The price tag has propelled Ireland’s deficit to hitherto unimaginable levels—and this, in turn, now necessitates international intervention.

“The banks are gobbling up the state,” is the verdict of Martina Devlin, an Irish newspaper columnist and the co-author of Banksters, a 2009 book tracing the roots of the collapse.

“He is just considered a scumbag… I would think his life would be in serious danger if he came back here.”

Brian Lucey, a Trinity College, Dublin finance professor, says that the feeling on the streets of the Irish capital is that “the republic has been raped, torn apart” by the bankers and their political friends.

At the heart of the rapaciousness, at least in the public mind, are FitzPatrick and Drumm.

FitzPatrick was once one of the heroes of Celtic Tiger Ireland. An ebullient former accountant with a fondness for bowties, he was known as “Seanie Fitz” to his many social acquaintances. For those on the way up, FitzPatrick was someone to whom it was useful to pay obeisance.

Devlin recalls seeing the banker’s aura in full effect at a 2007 charity function.

“It really was like the parting of the Red Sea,” she tells The Daily Beast. “People actually did step aside for him.”

FitzPatrick knew some things that the general public did not—notably, that he held personal loans amounting to well over $110 million from the bank. He used the money to finance a host of exotic ventures: a share in a Nigerian oil well; an interest in a casino in Macau; a property investment in Budapest. There were even plans to get into the movie-financing business.

The eventual discovery of these loans precipitated FitzPatrick’s departure from the company in December 2008. David Drumm followed him out the door the next day.

Prior to becoming CEO, Drumm had made his name at Anglo by expanding its U.S. business. Drumm did not share FitzPatrick’s taste for the limelight but he was just as aggressive about growing the business.

The attitude was apparently widespread at Anglo. During a court case in April, an Irish property developer, Michael Daly, described how the company was “extremely anxious” to lend him money during the boom years, in the process allegedly dismissing the need to secure large loans as “a formality.”

The duo’s downfall has had its share of drama. Irish police arrested FitzPatrick in March this year, though he was released without charge soon afterward. In July, a Dublin court took 12 minutes to declare him bankrupt. Around $95 million of the loans he took from the bank have never been repaid. (Calls and emails to a lawyer identified in previous media reports as representing FitzPatrick were not returned.)

Drumm has embarked on a more circuitous path. Anglo says that it is owed around $11.5 million by him. When negotiations over a settlement broke down in Ireland, he filed for bankruptcy in Massachusetts, a move widely seen as an attempt to frustrate the bank.

Drumm has considerable assets in the area, though at least one residence in Wellesley, a tony Boston suburb, is owned by a trust, thus shielding it from repossession. He also owns a home in Chatham on Cape Cod, which is valued at around $3 million.

Drumm’s pushback against the bank received a boost this week, when a court-appointed official in charge of overseeing the bankruptcy process claimed that Anglo acted fraudulently in its dealings with him. Still, many Irish people look askance at Drumm’s efforts, which include an attempt to countersue Anglo for causing him mental distress.

“It shows an extraordinarily brass neck,” says Martina Devlin.

The imminent international bailout, meanwhile, is a source of real desolation to the citizens of a nation that, not so long ago, seemed to have finally transcended its impoverished history.

Killian Forde, a Dublin city councilman and a member of the opposition Labor Party, described the scene in one quintessential Irish setting on Wednesday evening.

“I went to the pub and there were only about 10 or 15 people there, because people don’t have the money to go to the pub anymore,” he said. “But the ones who were there were hopping mad. And behind the anger, there was just this sense of failure—total and utter failure. People kept saying: ‘This is pathetic.’”

Forde is among those who note that every scintilla of blame cannot be put on FitzPatrick and Drumm. He says that the banking crisis has shined a light upon “just how small Ireland is, and how interconnected the bankers are with the politicians.”

Brian Lucey, the Trinity College professor, also wonders if part of the anger directed at FitzPatrick is rooted in a kind of national self-disgust about the way avarice took hold in the boom years.

“When we hold a mirror up to ourselves, we see Sean FitzPatrick’s face looking back,” he says.

Still, there is no mistaking the depth of public rage. In May, an effigy of FitzPatrick was burned on the streets of Dublin. Forde says he believes that David Drumm is now held in even greater opprobrium—if such a thing is possible—because of his departure to the U.S.

“He is just considered a scumbag,” he says. “I would think his life would be in serious danger if he came back here.”

In 2007, Sean FitzPatrick, then seen as a leading captain of industry, complained publicly about governmental interference and “McCarthyism.”

“The tide of regulation has gone far enough,” he protested. “Our wealth creators should be rewarded and admired, not subjected to levels of scrutiny which convicted criminals would rightly find intrusive.”

In Ireland, as in the U.S., the debate about who the real criminals are may be only just beginning.

Niall Stanage is a New York-based, Irish-born journalist and the author of Redemption Song: An Irish Reporter Inside the Obama Campaign (Liberties Press, Dublin).



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Posted in Economics, Europe, Money

Albanian Muslims risked their own lives to save Jews from Nazis during World War II

Creve Coeur, MO (KSDK) — With rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, an untold story is raising greater awareness about the Muslim faith and the teachings of the Quran. That awareness comes from an unlikely source: a small Jewish congregation in Creve Coeur.

Temple Emanuel is premiering a groundbreaking exhibit of photos that reveals Albanian Muslims who saved 2,000 Jews during World War II.

It’s a story you’ve likely never heard. It is a story told through the faces of Albanian Muslims who risked their own lives to live by a code of faith and honor called Besa.

Dr. Ghazala Hayat is a neurologist at St. Louis University and serves as spokesperson for the Islamic Foundation of Greater Saint Louis.

Hayat said while Besa is an Albanian word, it is part of Islamic culture and teachings. According to Dr. Hayat, Besa is an ancient code which requires people to endanger their own lives if necessary to save the life of anyone seeking asylum. To this day, Besa is the highest moral law of the region, superseding religious differences, blood feuds, and even tribal traditions.

The exhibit is opening eyes throughout the world.

“You don’t have to share the same faith. You have to respect each other’s faith,” Hayat said.

Pictures of the Albanian Muslims in the exhibit tell a lifetime of stories. As a young mother, one woman did not have enough breast milk to feed her son. A Jewish woman she hid nursed him instead. She was asked if she minded that a Jewish mother had fed her baby.

“Jews are God’s people like us,” the woman said.

Another man who also hid Jewish families said, “I did nothing special. All Jews are our brothers.”

And the head of the Bektashi sect, with more than seven million followers, tells the story of Albania’s prime minister, who gave a secret order during the Nazi occupation.

“All Jewish children will sleep with your children, all will eat the same food, and all will live as one family,” the order read.

In post-war Europe, it is said Albania was the only Nazi-occupied country to boast a greater number of Jews than before the Holocaust.

“They were among the people who at great personal risk sheltered Jews and protected them in their homes and did so out of a religious obligation,” said Rabbi Justin Kerber, Temple Emanuel.

The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and several local Jewish agencies hope the St. Louis community will experience this rare look at the role Albanian Muslims played in sheltering Jews from the Nazis.

“At this time of tension over Islam in America, there is so much more to understanding Islam,” Rabbi Kerber said.

\\KSDK via CNN

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Posted in Civil liberties and human rights, Europe, History, Islamophobia, Oppression, Peace, Reports/Studies/Books, War

Wikileaks defies feds, releases Iraq war files

Wikileaks defied a series of increasingly stern warnings from the U.S. military and other government officials today by releasing a massive trove of secret documents from the Iraq war.

Portions of the U.S. military reports, totaling nearly 400,000 classified documents, began appearing on the Internet this afternoon, including on the Web sites of some news organizations that had been handed the documents in advance.

The U.K. Guardian reported that the Iraq war logs show an Apache crew killed insurgents who had tried to surrender. Al Jazeera’s analysis found a Pentagon directive told troops to ignore allegations of torture conducted by Iraqi soldiers. Germany’s Der Spiegel called the information deluge, simply, “the greatest revelation of U.S. military history.”

It will likely take weeks, or even months, for researchers and analysts to pore through the vast number of files, which can be browsed at (The New York Times chose to redact the portions it excerpted, and the main site remains offline.)

A few hours earlier, the Obama administration had asked Wikileaks not to release the files and had requested that news organizations not cooperate.

“We condemn the fact that Wikileaks will continue to release this classified information,” said assistant secretary of state Philip Crowley. “We do believe it continues to put both our personnel and our interests at risk. We wish heartily that they wouldn’t do it, and we wish heartily that news media organizations wouldn’t cooperate with them.”

The Defense Department had prepared in advance in case the Iraq files were to leak–really, to flood–onto the Internet. A task force has been sorting through the files that were considered most likely to have been leaked and trying to evaluate whether any disclosures would imperil current military operations.

A Pentagon spokesman warned U.S. troops not to read the leaked documents. “The information remains classified even if it is released publicly,” Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said today.

France’s Le Monde said that the logs show U.S. casualty figures are “partially false.”

Wikileaks’ release will escalate, if that’s possible, the war of words and rhetoric between its representatives and Washington officialdom.

After the Web operation posted about 100 megabytes of confidential dispatches from U.S. troops in Afghanistan this summer, a mix of condemnation and threats soon followed.

The White House condemned the leak, and conservative commentators argued that should be shut down by any means necessary. A Republican congressman who’s a member of the House Intelligence Committee went so far as to say that the Web site’s alleged source for the files, Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence specialist who is facing charges, should be executed for treason.

Geoff Morrell, the department’s press secretary, said at the time that it would be willing to explore ways to force the issue. If Wikileaks doesn’t comply with government requests, he said: “How do we intend to compel? At this point, we are making a demand of them…If it requires compelling them to do anything, then we will figure out what other alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.”

Free speech concerns aside, the problem with censoring Wikileaks is the difficulty of convincing an Internet service provider in Sweden–or the Swedish government, for that matter–that material that irks the Pentagon is necessarily also illegal under Swedish law. Even if is taken offline, the group has long planned mirror sites in other nations. And if the real damage was the revelations reported by the news organizations, that has already been done.


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Posted in Politics
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