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Foul odor sickens multiple people at SW Houston sporting goods store, HFD says

Multiple people reportedly become sick after smelling a foul odor inside a Houston-area sporting goods store on Tuesday, according to the Houston Fire Department.

Ambulances were requested to assist the people who were overcome by the smell at 7538 Westheimer Road.

KPRC will provide updates when they become available.

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Texas Children’s Hospital ranked among best in US

Our own Texas Children’s Hospital is being recognized as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country, according to a new list from U.S. News and World Report.

TCH is number four, behind hospitals in Boston, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

The report compared hospitals based on clinical outcomes, efficient care, and resources for patients.

For a complete list of the hospitals, click here.

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City of El Paso joins plaintiffs in suit against Texas immigration law

The city of El Paso voted on Tuesday to join the growing list of local governments that have filed a legal challenge in  hopes of stopping Texas’ new immigration enforcement law from going into effect.

The city council’s unanimous vote to join El Paso County and the cities of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston to halt the legislation, Senate Bill 4, means Fort Worth is the only major Texas city that hasn’t registered its opposition to the bill. Maverick and Bexar counties and the border city of El Cenizo are original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in San Antonio in May, just one day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill.

Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB 4 would allow local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and would punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Unless the court intervenes, the law is set to go into effect Sept. 1.

In a statement, the city council said even though El Paso is not considered a “sanctuary city,” they voted to join the effort because local leaders are “concerned with provisions in SB 4 that raise questions related to the compliance and integration of the proposed bill in current law enforcement operations.”

“The unfunded mandate is expected to put additional strain on the El Paso Police Department, as SB 4 will add an extra requirement on the workforce that is already seeing a shortage in staff,” the statement continues. “The City of El Paso has a long successful history of working alongside our federal law enforcement partners, to add additional mandates on local resources will only limit officers from performing their public safety responsibilities.”

The council also made it clear that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which currently represents the Bexar County plaintiffs in the lawsuit, would be footing the bill for the litigation and that there would be no cost to El Paso taxpayers.

The El Paso City Council’s decision comes a day after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard oral arguments on the case in San Antonio. Garcia didn’t rule on the plaintiffs’ motion to temporarily halt the measure as it winds through the judicial process, but he told all the parties in the case he would work diligently to make a ruling soon.

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Fawn rescued after mother is killed in accident

A fawn is in good hands after a tragic accident claimed his mother’s life.

North Carolina State Patrol Master Trooper Rocky Deitz reported to an accident last week involving a car hitting a pregnant deer along Highway 74 in Jackson County.

The impact caused the doe to give birth, and when Deitz arrived, he found the newborn fawn.

Dietz said wildlife officers were busy, so he brought baby “Buckshot” home.

“A deer, a dog, anything that’s new, young, helpless. I mean, I’m not going to leave it on the side of the road,” he said.

The bond was instant.

“Those big eyes and his ears looking at you. When you hold him, he loves to nibble on your face,” Deitz said.

Buckshot will be taken to a deer-rehabilitation clinic before being released back into the wild.

Read more here.

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Former Friendswood officer charged with indecency with child

A former Friendswood Police Department officer has been charged with indecency with a child, according to authorities.

Jeffrey Miles Kimball, 31, was an officer at the time the crime took place Feb. 21, according to authorities.

Kimball is accused of touching the breast of a person younger than 17.

Kimball was terminated by the department April 20.

KPRC will provide updates when they become available.

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How the GOP Health Plan Would Give Governor Abbott Power Over Your Coverage

Governor Greg Abbott
Governor Greg Abbott at the Texas Capitol  Patrick Michels

The Senate Republicans’ health care plan would give governors virtually unchecked discretion over health insurance plans. In red states with governors hostile to health care expansion, such as Texas, that could mean loss of coverage and skyrocketing costs for patients. Governor Greg Abbott would be able to determine what is covered in Texans’ health insurance, and how much they pay.

Nestled near the bottom of the Senate legislation is a provision that would allow governors and state insurance commissioners to waive health insurance requirements without the consent of the state’s legislative body. The bill would require federal officials to approve proposed changes as long as they don’t add to the deficit, even if they would result in price increases or coverage losses for constituents.

“It’s very easy to spend less on health care, you can cut benefits and save a lot of money,” said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. “It’s kind of shocking the degree to which this waiver includes no insurance standards. The state could submit a waiver without legislative approval, kick millions off their insurance and the federal government would have to approve it.”

These waivers could include allowing insurers to stop covering essential health benefits such as maternity care and emergency services, or getting rid of caps on out-of-pocket costs.

Currently, the Affordable Care Act allows states to apply for a waiver from the federal government to do away with certain provisions of the health care law. The waiver plan must first pass the state legislature and be approved by the governor. Then state officials are required to prove that their plan meets a strict set of criteria: It can’t reduce the insured population, the robustness of the insurance, or its affordability, and it can’t add to the federal deficit. If these standards are met, federal officials may choose to approve the state proposal.

U.S. Capitol  KidTruant/Flickr

The draft Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, states that the federal government shall approve any state waiver requests, and requires only that they not increase the federal deficit.

We’ve already seen what the individual market in Texas looks like absent essential health benefit requirements, Pogue notes. In 2013, before the Obamacare exchanges, not a single insurance plan on the individual marketplace in Texas included maternity coverage. Before the ACA set out-of-pocket maximums ($7,150 this year for an individual plan before subsidies), some of the cheapest policies had $10,000 deductibles and didn’t cover the most expensive services.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday that most of the people affected by these additional waivers would be in states that limit the health benefits insurers are required to cover. This would lead to lower premiums overall, but coverage for high-cost services like maternity care and mental health care “would become extremely expensive,” CBO said. The waivers could also allow states to use the federal funds for purposes outside health care, the agency notes.

Once the waiver is granted it can’t be taken back for several years, even if there’s evidence that a state egregiously misused its funds. Even if “state officials blow the Obamacare money on cocaine and hookers, there’s apparently nothing the federal government can do about it,” wrote University of Michigan Law School professor Nicholas Bagley.

Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the United States, and Abbott declined a federally funded Medicaid expansion that would have covered 1.1 million more Texans. Nearly 2.5 million Texans could lose their health insurance under the Senate bill by 2026, including about 1.9 million Medicaid enrollees, according to a report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress released Tuesday.

The governor’s office did not respond to a question about what kinds of coverage waivers, if any, Abbott would pursue under the Senate health proposal. Texas is currently without an insurance commissioner, a post appointed by the governor, after David Mattax died in April.

Republican Senate leaders are scrambling to gather support for their health care bill, ahead of a planned vote after the July 4th recess. Texas Senator John Cornyn, who is the majority whip, had been pushing for a quick vote this week, but leadership does not currently have enough votes. Fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz is part of a small group of Republicans advocating for a more conservative health care bill.

The post How the GOP Health Plan Would Give Governor Abbott Power Over Your Coverage appeared first on The Texas Observer.

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Teens accused of stealing man’s life savings, guns, Porsche

Six South Florida teenagers are accused of stealing a man’s life savings and blowing it on jewelry, cars and even gold teeth.

St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said Monday that Walter Walker, 16, and five other teens, ages 14 and 15, drove to the 200 block of Marina Drive on North Hutchinson Island in April and burglarized a home, stealing a 2014 Porsche Cayman as they left.

“It’s clear through the interviews with these thugs that they intentionally targeted our community, searched out a house in an affluent neighborhood and stole their life savings,” Mascara said.

Mascara said the Fort Lauderdale teens stole a safe with more than $200,000 in cash inside it and two handguns from the home.

The safe was found empty later that day, and the car was found days later in Delray Beach.

“Over the course of the last two months, the thorough work of our detectives and crime-scene technicians (has) led us to identify these six individuals and their extensive history of similar crimes throughout the South Florida region,” Mascara said. “The investigation would not have been such a success without the teamwork of law enforcement from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Delray Beach police and Fort Lauderdale police, all trying to track and arrest this group of thieves.”

According to arrest affidavits, the teens used the stolen cash to buy gold chains, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, a Mercedes-Benz C300 and gold teeth for a 15-year-old suspect.

Mascara said the teens were already in custody on other charges. He said all but one 14-year-old confessed to the St. Lucie County burglary.

The teens face multiple charges, including grand theft.

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Woman suffers stroke, left paralyzed after sex with husband

A woman who was left paralyzed following sex is now warning other women about her plight.

Lucinda Allen, of Birmingham, England, had just finished having sex with her husband in 2012 when she felt an excruciating headache.

Allen, who was also six months pregnant, had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was immediately put into a medically-induced coma following a series of strokes.

The Mirror reports Allen is now on a campaign to warn others of thunderclap headaches, which affect many women during and after sexual intercourse.

Allen said a congenital abnormality in a blood vessel led to her experience a lifetime of headaches following sex. However, the headache during this episode was unlike anything she had suffered previously.

“It’s normally a bit like brain freeze and never lasts long – but this time, it didn’t go away, and soon I was writhing in agony,” Allen told The Mirror.

After being placed in a coma, doctors performed a craniotomy to relieve the pressure on her brain. However, the five strokes Allen had suffered left her paralyzed on her left side.

Despite all she had been through, including a three-month hospital stay, Allen gave birth to a healthy baby girl in November 2012.

“Nobody talks about post-orgasm head pain,” she says, “That’s understandable. But I want to raise awareness of how it can be a warning sign.”

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Houston among top 10 cities for vehicles with open recalls

Summer travel season is here and the National Safety Council and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles U.S. have launched a new campaign called “Check to Protect.”

The campaign encourages drivers to check for and address open recalls on their vehicles. There are currently more than $53 million vehicles on the road with an open recall.

In Houston, the rate of open recalls is even higher, with 31 percent of vehicles having an unfixed recall. The city also saw a 41 percent increase in the rate open recalls since last year.

This is important given the increase amount of traffic fatalities that has happened in 2016.

Texans ranks first in the nation for the highest rate for open recalls.

“Vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death in the United States,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “When vehicles are in top form, they reduce critical risks. Unfortunately, too many drivers are complacent when it comes to recalls, or they are unsure whether their car is subject to one. ‘Check To Protect’ should help close that knowledge gap and, by extension, make our roads safer.”

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Senate Republicans halt health care overhaul as Cruz maintains opposition

WASHINGTON – After days of arm-twisting, Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday essentially conceded that they had not secured the votes to move forward on a massive overhaul of the American health care system and would pick up the issue again in July. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky emerged with the updated plans from a lunch with other GOP senators, along with the news that the chamber’s Republicans were headed to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump.

Both U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were at the lunch, as were several senior advisers to the president. 

Cruz has yet to back the Senate GOP bill but publicly maintains he is open to supporting the effort. He is part of a bloc of senators who are withholding support for the bill, asking for changes to move the legislation in a more conservative direction. 

Cruz has postured himself as a key dealmaker in the process, hosting a working group in his conference room. 

“My central focus from day one has been the need to lower premiums, to make health insurance more affordable for families who are struggling,” he told reporters after the lunch.

“There’s not enough in the current draft to do that, but there are a number of common sense reforms that the working group has discussed for months that I believe will ultimately be reflected in the final draft, and when they are, I think we will have a bill that can pass.” 

“We’re not there yet, but I believe we can get there,” he added. 

Earlier this month, McConnell spearheaded an effort to overhaul former President Obama’s 2010 health care law. The House passed a similar bill in early May, but at various points the GOP campaign to unwind that law has appeared stalled only to be resurrected.

Democrats in both chambers are uniformly opposed to the GOP health care proposals. There are 52 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, at least 50 of which need to support the bill in order for it to pass, assuming Vice President Mike Pence casts the tiebreaking vote in their favor.

Among those expressing doubts about the current bill are Republicans from states that heavily rely on Medicaid and regions dealing with opioid epidemics. The funding of Planned Parenthood is also another sticking point.

McConnell fought hard to avoid sending senators to their home states without a passed bill this weekend. The fear was that indecisive senators could be firmly swayed against the measure by raucous constituent meetings over the Fourth of July holiday week.

Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, is at the center of the vote-counting process and was bullish on the bill’s prospects only hours before.

“Well, I expect to have the support to get it done,” Cornyn told ABC News. “And yes, we will vote this week.”

But after the lunch, he changed his tone.

“It’s a conversation, and we haven’t finished our conversation,” he said as he entered a Capitol elevator.

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Memorial Hermann laying off 350 employees

Memorial Hermann officials have announced a huge layoff of 350 employees Tuesday.

The layoff will affect employees at all levels.

“Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to implement a reduction in our workforce. This reduction will impact approximately 350 individuals, which represents less than 2 percent of our more than 25,000 employees and does not impact direct patient care,” Memorial Hermann official said.

Memorial Hermann officials said this is a part of a bigger strategy to adjust and grow in an uncertain health care environment.

Memorial Hermann released the following statement:

“This is an unprecedented time in healthcare. The past year has ushered in a tremendous amount of change in the industry across the nation, and Houston is no exception.

“We continue to face an uncertain healthcare environment with escalating costs and declining reimbursements. In addition, we are impacted by a softened local economy. Together, these reasons have driven Memorial Hermann to make proactive adjustments to position itself for continued success and financial sustainability.

“It’s important to first note that this is a proactive response to ensure our future financial stability: we remain financially profitable with a strong balance sheet and have made significant progress through focused efforts around operational efficiency.

“While decisions like this are never easy, these adjustments will ensure the organization is positioned to withstand the challenges we expect to face in the coming years. And none of these decisions and resulting actions will impact our promise to provide exceptional end-to-end patient experiences, anchored by superior quality, clinical excellence and affordable care. Memorial Hermann has been proudly serving the Houston community for 110 years. Our System is strong, we are financially sound, and we will continue to further our mission of advancing the health of all those whom we serve.”

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McConnell to delay health bill vote until after recess

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will delay the vote on the Republican leadership’s health care bill until after the July 4 recess, two sources told CNN.

McConnell told GOP senators that he wants to make changes to the bill, get a new Congressional Budget Office score and have a vote after the holiday.

A White House official and a GOP aide on the Hill told CNN that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence invited all Republican senators to White House on Tuesday afternoon.

Republican leadership, along with Pence, had sought earlier to woo members of their own party into supporting the fragile health care bill behind closed doors Tuesday, as a fifth senator came out against voting for a procedural step to advance their plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Mike Lee will vote against the motion to proceed on the health care bill as it is currently written, an aide told CNN, adding that Lee is “still negotiating with leadership to make changes as we have been since Saturday.”

Walking through a hallway, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn dropped the news that the Senate will hold a vote Wednesday on moving forward with the bill — a normally routine procedural move that now looks grim due to Republican intraparty division.

With Republicans only able to lose two votes, the bill appeared to be teetering on the edge by lunchtime.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, told reporters the effort to get to 50 votes was “fluid” but maintained a degree of hope. “I wouldn’t count McConnell out yet.”

Meanwhile, Democrats on the Hill were organizing news conference after news conference, including a large showing of Democratic senators who gathered on the Capitol steps to lambast the already-beleaguered bill.

But back inside the Capitol, the full court press was on. Along with Pence, Priebus was also spotted on the Senate side.

Behind the scenes, staffers for McConnell were trading potential legislative proposals with key offices, and McConnell himself met privately with Sen. Ted Cruz for nearly an hour. While the Texas Republican hasn’t said how he’ll vote on the motion to proceed, he has been publicly opposed to the bill though open to negotiations.

Asked if he was still a “no” as he was leaving McConnell’s office, Cruz told CNN: “It continues to be a work in progress.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, has been largely quiet since the bill went public last week. She’s long been a question mark on how she’ll vote on the bill, and she told CNN Tuesday she was “concerned about the bill in the form that it is now.”

Asked later if she needed more opioid funding in the bill, Capito said that was just one of the issues. “That’s not the only one,” Capito told reporters.

Aides were seen scurrying around in the Capitol trying to buttonhole members and their key staff about where things currently stand, with the idea being to have a menu of options ready for the Senate Republicans’ weekly Tuesday lunch, according to two GOP aides.

As McConnell and his top lieutenants attempt to thread the needle inside a wary conference, the lunch is expected to be at effort to both rally the troops and serve as a policy discussion. For his part, according to one aide, the message will be clear: A vote against the bill is a vote to maintain Obamacare. If the bill fails, McConnell will argue, the only option will be working with Democrats, which will certainly lead to a less conservative outcome.

While Cornyn offered a definitive timeline for the motion to proceed, Pence was less sure earlier. “We’ll see,” he told CNN when asked whether he thought the bill would be taken up on the floor.

Pressed on what they are doing to salvage the bill, he responded, “lots of good discussions underway and we’ll continue to work very diligently.”

Also at the Capitol was Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was scheduled to hold meetings with Pence, McConnell and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Rubio, like some senators, has been waiting to make his decision on the bill until he feels like he has enough input from his state’s governor and other constituents. An aide to the senator said Rubio’s staff invited staff from the offices of Scott — as well as the Florida speaker and Senate president — to Washington to be “embedded” in Rubio’s office for the week and work with Rubio’s team to analyze how the bill will affect Florida.

Over on the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan was urging his members in a closed door session to give their Senate colleagues some space, according to a person in the room.

Ryan’s point was that given the current state of play, it’s not helpful for anyone in the House to come out and attack or criticize elements of the bill. Should the Senate pass the bill, Ryan argued, the House will get their chance, one way or another, to weigh in. Until then, he urged members to hold their fire.

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Man behind Fisher affirmative action case files new lawsuit against UT-Austin

The man who helped Abigail Fisher sue the University of Texas at Austin for discrimination in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court twice is suing UT-Austin once again.

This time, he claims the university’s use of affirmative action violates the Texas Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution. 

Edward Blum’s group Students for Fair Admissions filed the suit in Travis County court Tuesday. The group cites the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, which bans discrimination based on “sex, race, color, creed or national origin” in arguing that UT-Austin shouldn’t be allowed to give slight preference to minorities in admissions. 

Blum’s previous suit spent years in federal courts. It eventually failed, following a 4-3 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court that UT-Austin could consider the race of its applicants as a minor factor. That ruling should have no bearing on how state courts analyze the Texas Constitution, Blum said. 

“We believe that most Texas judges and justices will agree with our interpretation of the Texas Constitution,” he said in a press release. 

UT-Austin officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The university has been using affirmative action in a limited way since a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision made it allowable in Texas. About three-fourths of its Texas students are admitted through an admissions policy known as the Top 10 Percent Rule, which grants automatic admission to students who graduate near the top of their high school’s class. UT-Austin considers the race of its applicants as a minor factor when considering the rest of its applicants. 

 

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Police: Trio beats armored truck guard during West University Place robbery

Three men beat an armored truck guard Tuesday during a robbery outside a West University Place bank, police said.

The robbery was reported at 8:55 a.m. outside of a Bank of America near the intersection of Stella Link Road and Bellaire Boulevard.

According to police, three robbers held up the armored truck and hit the guard over the head during the robbery. They said the group then fled the scene.

Police said the robbers were last seen heading west on Bellaire Boulevard toward the West Loop.

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Man accused of sexually assaulting underage girl for at least 3 years

A man accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl for at least three years is on the run and authorities need your help to find him, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Celso Jaimes, 33, is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child.

Deputies said Jaimes forced the teenage girl to have sex with him for a period of at least three years. After interviewing the victim and a witness, investigators gathered enough evidence for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to charge Jaimes.

KPRC2 spoke with the girl’s mother earlier this month after she made a plea on social media to find Jaimes.

The girl’s mother’s sister found something on Jaimes’ phone and told her.

“Mostly, they were stills, but he did make videos,” the child’s mother said. “Pictures of my daughter and him doing stuff that they’re not supposed to be doing. They were very explicit, they’re very detailed.”

When the child’s mother confronted Jaimes, she said he left and has not been heard from since.

“All he told me was, ‘I’m sorry. I (messed) up.’ Those were his answers to me, and I just lost it. I completely
lost it,” she said.

Jaimes lives in the 1500 block of Little York in north Harris County. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Jaimes is a Hispanic man, about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing around 245 pounds. He has black hair that may be shaved to his scalp.

Anyone with information about Jaimes is asked to the call the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Child Abuse unit at 713-830-3250.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the charging and/or arrest of the suspect in this case. Information may be reported by calling 713-222-TIPS (8477) or submitted online at www.crime-stoppers.org. Tips may also be sent via a text message by texting the following: TIP610 plus the information to CRIMES (274637). All tipsters remain anonymous.

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Suffer no more: Houston band The Suffers celebrate after stolen van replaced

Houston band The Suffers had its tour van stolen recently, according to an Instagram post from the group.

The band posted that it had an eventful 10 days, with the high of performing with the Houston Symphony, and then the low a day later, in the middle of the night, of their van being stolen.

The band said it reported the burglary to police, and that whoever was responsible made off with little besides the vehicle — “No gear was stolen,” the post reads. “(All) they got was pillows, old food, and a copy of ‘The Keys’ by @djkhaled.”

“Our schedule has been so crazy, we haven’t even had a chance to get upset about it,” the post reads. “Instead, we kept it moving, and focused on how we’d replace our van on the one day we’d have off before the next tour.”

The band said it purchased a new van for its West Coast shows at Chastang Ford in northeast Harris County.

The post reads: “We’re looking forward to all the new adventures in it.”

The last 10 days have been pretty eventful for us in good and not so good ways. The night after we performed with the Houston Symphony, our van was stolen in the middle of the night.? We took the necessary steps to report it to the police and insurance, but our schedule has been so crazy, we haven’t even had a chance to get upset about it. Instead, we kept it moving, and focused on how we’d replace our van on the one day we’d have off before the next tour. Thankfully, we were able to buy a new van today, and our west coast shows will continue as planned. Thank you to Justin, Randy, and everyone at @ChastangFord for helping us buy our new baby. We’re looking forward to all the new adventures in it. Please go and visit them if you need help picking out your next tour van or commercial vehicle! They’re fantastic! ? Edit: No gear was stolen. Also they got was pillows, old food, and a copy of “The Keys” by @djkhaled

A post shared by The Suffers (@thesuffers) on

Jun 26, 2017 at 4:01pm PDT

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Over the Wall: How Texas Border Communities Are Gearing Up to Fight Trump

Over the Wall

After a decade of living in the shadow of the border wall, people in the Rio Grande Valley are ready to move on.
But Donald Trump has other plans.

“Well, OK, I’ll talk to you,” Eloisa Tamez told me. “But you’re the last reporter I’m ever going to speak with.” It was late March, and CNN, NPR, the BBC and countless other media outlets had converged on the Rio Grande Valley to report on the “big, beautiful wall” that President Trump had promised to build. Tamez was one of the first people they sought out. For years she had been a leader of the landowner resistance in South Texas, speaking out often and eloquently against the folly of a wall.

Her activism began in 2007, the year after Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, authorizing up to 700 miles of border fence. At the time, Border Patrol agents were going house to house in Cameron County, asking landowners to sign over their land. Tamez, then an associate professor in the graduate school of nursing at the University of Texas at Brownsville, politely told them to get the hell off her property. No way was she going to allow them to ram a wall through her 3 acres on the Rio Grande without a fight.

Tamez filed a lawsuit and prevented the government from taking her land for more than a year. But in 2009, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case and construction began on the wall.

In 2014, she finally settled with the government, reluctantly accepting $56,000 for a quarter-acre of her land occupied by the wall. By the time Trump supporters began chanting “Build the Wall,” most Americans had forgotten that the southern border already had 670 miles of fencing and barriers, including 110 miles in Texas.

But there hasn’t been a day that Tamez and other border residents are not reminded of it. One-third of the 320 condemnation suits filed against landowners in 2007 are still pending a decade later. In recent months the Trump administration sent out a new round of condemnation letters to landowners, in anticipation of Congress funding Trump’s proposal to build 34 miles of wall in the Valley.

And so the reporters had come to South Texas. For months Tamez had demonstrated for the TV crews how she punches in a passcode to open a massive gate in the wall that lets her pass from one part of her land to the other. She explained how her land was once part of a 12,000-acre Spanish grant deeded to her ancestors by the king of Spain before the United States even existed. She posed in front of the wall looking defiant. It made for great TV. But now, like so many other border residents, Tamez just wanted to be left alone. She was tired of America’s fears and obsessions with its southern border. Tamez was suffering from border security fatigue.

Eloisa Tamez has to pass through a gate to access her property south of the wall.  Eugenio del Bosque Gomez

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As I drove west from Brownsville toward Tamez’s home in the small community of El Calaboz, the hulking wall came into view, snaking through backyards past barbecue pits and swing sets. The wall couldn’t be built on the banks of the Rio Grande because a U.S.-Mexico treaty prohibits development in the flood plain. The river spills over its banks from time to time, and a fence could push floodwaters into communities on both sides. So, instead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) erected some segments as far as a mile inland from the Rio Grande. The wall cuts through the center of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and bisects neighborhoods and city parks. And some U.S. landowners live south of the barrier in a sort of no-man’s land.

Tamez greets me at the door of her modest home with a smile. She has a youthful energy and wears a colorful blouse that matches her turquoise and yellow reading glasses. At 82, Tamez still goes to work every day at the university. The walls of her living room are covered with framed black-and-white family photos. One of them shows her parents, young and smiling, tilling the soil to plant crops. In another photo, a young Tamez and her siblings gather around their mother under the shade of a mesquite tree, not far from where the wall stands today.

When the 5th Circuit declined to hear her appeal, Tamez said, it broke her heart. “My lawyer told me, ‘You can stop fighting. They’ve already taken the land,’” she said.

Afterward, Tamez used part of the $56,000 in compensation to create a scholarship fund for graduate nursing students. Tamez named the endowment after her parents. She also decided to offer her home as a basecamp for researchers examining the effects of militarization and the wall on border communities.

“People will sometimes come up to me at Sam’s or Walmart to congratulate me,” Tamez said. “Though I didn’t really win anything. I lost my land. But they think I won.” Tamez smiled wryly. “I don’t tell them anything different. I think it’s because they read about the scholarship fund in the newspaper. That’s what people remember. And I’m proud I’ve been able to turn something negative into something positive that is going to help our community.”

Tamez said she suspects the fight between landowners and the DHS will be even more protracted and bitter this time. The cheapest, most accessible places are already taken. At least 35 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border already has a barrier, mostly in New Mexico, Arizona and California. If Trump is to build hundreds of miles of new border wall, much of it will have to be along Texas’ 1,250-mile border with Mexico, including rugged terrain traversing Big Bend National Park and the vast expanses of Falcon Lake and Amistad Reservoir. At least 95 percent of the Texas border is privately owned.

It was Tamez who, in 2008, had first opened my eyes to a disturbing fact about the wall’s construction: It seemed to be bypassing the wealthy and the politically connected while targeting those who could least afford to fight the federal government in court. Tamez questioned why her land had been condemned while the Riverbend Resort, a gated community and golf course two miles down the road, had not. In 2008, my article “Holes in the Wall” showed how an army of subcontractors working for the Boeing Company, which had the multibillion dollar contract to oversee construction of the wall, appeared to be passing over properties owned by wealthy landowners in favor of land owned by working-class families.

Tamez says she sees some justice in the possibility of Trump’s wall being built on the property of the wealthy who avoided it last time.

“Go ahead and fill in the holes in the wall,” Tamez said. “Because those belong to the wealthy. We’ll see if they build it through the Riverbend Resort this time, but I doubt it.”

Tamez said she was recently invited to a congressional hearing on Trump’s wall, but turned down the invitation. “I’m not going to be part of that spectacle anymore,” she said.

She’d rather have lawmakers meet her on her own turf, she said, not in Washington, D.C., or as part of a carefully scripted tour with local elected officials and business leaders. “My story is a real story about what this barrier and these government policies have done to me as an ordinary citizen,” she said. “I want them to walk the land with me and understand. But they never come here.”

Eloisa Tamez  Eugenio del Bosque Gomez

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After visiting with Tamez, I traveled 50 miles west to meet with Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia in his expansive office near the courthouse in Edinburg. If Tamez and her neighbors in Cameron County took the most direct hit from Bush’s wall, it is Hidalgo County that is likely to be one of Trump’s first targets. When I talked to Garcia in March, he was in the midst of controversy. In February, he’d sent a letter to John Kelly, Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, inviting the administration to convert 28 miles of earthen flood levee along the Rio Grande into a concrete barrier topped with a steel fence. The structure, he argued, could do double duty as a border wall and river levee.

Garcia’s invitation outraged many of his constituents, who saw it as an unnecessary, or at least premature, capitulation to an administration that had disparaged the border, Latinos and immigrants.

He explained to me that his letter was merely pragmatic politics. The wall is inevitable, Garcia said, and the county should get the best deal it can. “I personally don’t see any way of stopping it,” he said. “If they want to do it, they’re going to do it.”

In 2008, then-County Judge J.D. Salinas had made a similar calculation, offering Homeland Security the then-novel idea of a 22-mile levee wall. At the time, DHS was planning to build an 18-foot fence north of the levee, which meant razing homes that stood in the way. But that was an expensive proposition, not to mention bad optics in the media, so DHS seized on Salinas’ idea. There was just one caveat: Hidalgo County — one of the poorest in the nation — would have to kick in $44 million toward construction. Though the county tapped its drainage improvement fund to pay for the levee wall, U.S. Senator John Cornyn, who had voted for the Secure Fence Act, assured Salinas and other county leaders he would get Congress to pay them back. But the bills Cornyn introduced to reimburse Hidalgo County never passed.

This time, Garcia offered to chip in $38 million, 10 percent of the proposed $380 million project, with the understanding that it would probably never be reimbursed. In his letter to DHS, Garcia helpfully included new plans drafted by Dannenbaum Engineering, the firm that made millions building the 22 miles of levee wall nearly a decade ago. (In late April, the FBI raided local government offices in the Laredo area as well as four Dannenbaum offices across Texas in an operation that the FBI has said very little about, to date.)

While Garcia sought middle ground with the Trump administration, other elected leaders were vocal about their hatred of the wall. One Democratic congressman from nearby Brownsville, Filemon Vela, made headlines last year with his open letter calling Trump a “racist” and telling him, “You can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

A month after our visit, Garcia and the Hidalgo County commissioners, under pressure from constituents, reversed course on the levee-wall idea altogether, writing another letter to DHS — this time emphasizing their opposition to any kind of wall.

It may be too late. In its proposed budget, the White House asked Congress to fund the construction of 28 miles of “new levee wall barriers” in Hidalgo County. Though the stopgap budget that Congress passed in early May doesn’t contain funding for the levee wall, the idea is unlikely to go away.

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Garcia’s change of heart was in part the handiwork of Scott Nicol, a McAllen artist, teacher and activist. There is probably no one better versed in South Texas’ border walls than the 47-year-old Nicol. Over the last decade, he’s made a careful study of the Secure Fence Act, poring over contracts and submitting voluminous open records requests for government documents.

Shortly after Garcia sent his first letter capitulating to the Trump administration, Nicol wrote an op-ed in the McAllen newspaper, the Monitor, pointing out that if Congress were to fund the project, DHS would be digging up 28 miles of earthen levee that had just been repaired with $220 million in federal stimulus money.

In late March, Nicol, who is co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team, took me on a tour of the levee wall that was built in 2009, so I could see its effect on the local environment. “The whole project is just a huge waste of money, and devastating for the wildlife,” Nicol told me as I followed him along a gravel trail behind the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse. The pumphouse, which used to draw river water for farm fields, now houses a museum that anchors a nature preserve and several acres of wetlands connected to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, in turn, is part of a riparian wildlife corridor that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired piecemeal over the last 30 years at a cost of more than $70 million.

The 18-foot levee cuts through the wildlife corridor for 22 miles and seals off the river, a vital source of water, from wildlife stuck north of the wall. If the Trump administration builds another 28 miles of levee wall, the same would happen in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. In Nicol’s view, the wall would ruin much of what’s left of the Valley’s natural habitat. Even without the wall, conservationists were in a race against time.

Today, most of the Rio Grande Valley looks like Southern California with its traffic-choked expressways, strip malls and fast food restaurants. At least 95 percent of the native habitat has already been developed or farmed. And the wildlife corridor is increasingly vulnerable, especially with DHS’ “force multipliers” of surveillance cameras, Border Patrol vehicles and walls. This subtropical riparian sliver is one of the most biologically diverse areas left in the country. It’s the northernmost territory for the endangered jaguarundi, ocelot and other species.

In 2006, the Hidalgo pumphouse became part of the World Birding Center, an ambitious project to encourage birders and other nature lovers to visit the region. Every year, thousands of bird watchers come looking for buff-bellied hummingbirds and great kiskadees, species that can’t be seen anywhere else in North America. Economists at Texas A&M University estimate that birders generate more than $340 million a year for the regional economy. From Roma to South Padre Island, cities along the border collaborated to invest more than $60 million in observation areas, wetlands and native plant restoration to promote ecotourism. The state also invested at least $1 million in the effort. But in 2008, two years after the Hidalgo pumphouse reopened as a museum, DHS began construction on the levee wall just behind it, severing it from a 4-mile hike and bike trail through the wildlife corridor.

I followed Nicol a mile east of the museum to the end of the levee wall, where two Border Patrol SUVs idled, the agents waiting to nab anyone who might come across the river.

After Trump was elected president, Nicol started getting calls from reporters from all over the world on their way to the Rio Grande Valley to write about Trump’s wall. Nicol was one of the only people in the Valley who hadn’t grown tired of talking to the media yet. “The first thing you have to explain is that the Texas-Mexico border is a river,” he said. “And then you have to explain that the wall is not on the river.”

The agents in the SUVs looked away as we walked around the edge of the levee wall and down a dirt road heavily rutted by the Border Patrol vehicles that patrol between the wall and the Rio Grande, a half-mile away. Mesquite, ebony and wispy huisache trees dusted with yellow flowers formed a dense canopy. A javelina rooted through the underbrush, then fled as we walked south on the abandoned trail toward the river.

Nicol reminded me that there were surveillance cameras all around us, some owned by the state, some by the feds. There were also ground sensors. We were in the United States, on land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it felt like we were trespassing. The terrain was beautiful but neglected. Trees had toppled onto the asphalt trail and we had to fight our way through vines and brush. Hiking through this forgotten zone, I had the sensation of America recoiling from the Rio Grande and taking shelter behind its wall.

We bushwhacked for nearly a mile until we came out again at the rutted dirt road. One of the Border Patrol SUVs came speeding toward us, trailing a white cloud of dust. Nicol stopped and I followed his lead as we waited for the vehicle to reach us. “We tripped a ground sensor,” Nicol said. He was used to these kinds of encounters. I was apprehensive.

The agent rolled down his window. “What are y’all doing out here?” he asked.

“Just hiking the trail,” Nicol said, nonchalantly.

The agent sized us up for a moment. “All right,” he finally said, nodding, then rolled the window up and sped away.

“I’m pretty sure DHS has a file on me,” Nicol said, smiling. “A really thick one.”

The 18-foot levee wall completed in 2009 cuts through a wildlife corridor and blocks many animals, some endangered, from accessing the Rio Grande.  Jen Reel

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No city in Hidalgo County has grown faster or become more economically prosperous than McAllen — largely due to its trade with Mexico. But the repeated border bashing from Washington has started to threaten McAllen’s hard-fought prosperity. I met up with Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, early one morning after he’d participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new shopping center. We had coffee at a recently opened Corner Bakery Cafe across from a brand-new Best Buy off Expressway 83.

Like Tamez, Mayor Darling said he was fed up with doing interviews about border security and the wall. The issue had become so polarized, Darling said, he wasn’t going to continue to lend his face to the media circus.

“It didn’t matter what side of the media I was talking to, they had a presumed message already. I got tired of it. We’re fighting this image that doesn’t depict who we really are,” he said, cradling a cup of coffee in his hand. “When we do surveys of the top 10 concerns for our residents, the No. 1 concern is traffic congestion, and security is like No. 8.”

For years, the city of McAllen — which has a population close to 140,000, “but more like 250,00 during the day,” Darling said, because of shoppers from Mexico — has had an economy that’s outpaced many other parts of the state. “We’re a poster child of NAFTA,” Darling said. Every year his city sends $200 million or more in sales tax to Austin, but gets little love in return. Instead, McAllen and other border communities are often used as a photo op for politicians talking tough on border security for their constituents back home. “Talking down on the border wins votes in Beaumont or Duluth,” Darling said.

Many Americans imagine the border as a desert, devoid of people other than human traffickers and drug smugglers — an image often reinforced by politicians: John McCain talking tough in a 2010 re-election ad with an Arizona sheriff as they strolled past a border fence and dusty vistas. McCain: “Complete the dang fence!” Sheriff: “It’ll work this time.”

Or former Governor Rick Perry and Fox host Sean Hannity in 2014 looking tough for Fox viewers in backward baseball caps and wrap-around sunglasses on an armored DPS gun boat with enough horsepower to reach Veracruz by morning.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who in a July 2015 visit was accompanied by an oversized security entourage that tailed him around town as he congratulated himself on having the courage to come to “dangerous” Laredo.

Rick Perry/Flickr

Governor Rick Perry, Mission, July 2014.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Flickr

Governor Greg Abbott, Weslaco, February 2017.

loiskolkhorst.com

State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Rio Grande, September 2014.

Ted Poe/texasgopvote.com

U.S. Representative Ted Poe, Rio Grande, October 2014.

Paul Ryan/YouTube

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Anzalduas Park, February 2017.

John McCain TV ad

Senator John McCain, Nogales, Arizona, May 2010.

Since Trump’s inauguration, a steady stream of congressional leaders has been visiting McAllen to get a look at “Ground Zero,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called the border, painting it as a hellscape rife with “filth” and head-chopping cartels. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, was still a topic of conversation among McAllen residents a month after his visit, because he’d opted for something a little different on his tour: hopping on a Border Patrol horse, which then bolted toward the river with panicked agents in pursuit. Afterward, Ryan tweeted a short video of himself on his mount, seemingly to prove he’d always been in control. Dozens of protesters had gathered along the street as his motorcade passed. Ryan didn’t stop.

Darling is so familiar with the border photo op that he is practically a connoisseur. “Typically, the Republicans like to ride on the river, and the Democrats go to the detention centers,” he said.

But the visitors often find it jarring when they learn that the lawless border they’ve heard so much about in Washington, D.C., is actually pretty pleasant.

There was the time in late February when Senator John Cornyn came down with Republican senators from Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Nevada for a ride-along with the Border Patrol on the river. They were standing on the dock in their life preservers, ready to get on the boat, when one of the senators noticed an amusement park full of children on the other side of the river.

“He asked what it was,” Darling said. “And I told him it’s an amusement park in Mexico. He started taking pictures of it. He was amazed.”

Another time, Darling was out on the Rio Grande with visiting dignitaries, all under the watch of heavily armed federal agents, when a party boat from Reynosa, Mexico, floated by. “They were dancing and drinking and waving,” Darling said, smiling. “It was pretty funny.”

Darling blamed the media for depicting his town as a crisis zone. Pushing back, I asked him about all the “war on the border” rhetoric coming out of Washington and Austin. What were visiting reporters supposed to think when they arrived at the park where politicians typically embarked on their river tours? As a reporter, I know the place well. It’s a county park with playgrounds and barbecue pits. But no one goes there anymore. Like the nature trails behind the Hidalgo pumphouse, it’s bristling with surveillance and a long line of DPS squad cars parked near the dock. Then there are the armored DPS boats outfitted with .30-caliber guns that wouldn’t look out of place in the Suez Canal. The park had become another border security sacrifice zone where no one ventured except for police and federal agents.

Darling listened politely, but said it was still the media’s fault. He especially blamed George Stephanopoulos, the former Democratic adviser and now anchor of America’s top morning TV show, Good Morning America. During the 2014 Central American migrant exodus, Stephanopoulos potrayed Darling ’s city as a place under siege. Darling found that hard to forgive.

“Stephanopoulos called it a crisis on the border,” Darling said. “But the crisis was in Central America, that’s why the families were leaving. The crisis wasn’t here. Mexican migration was at net zero when the Central Americans started coming in 2014,” he said. “And they were asking for asylum, so they weren’t technically illegal, and I think we handled it well.” (The city of McAllen and Hidalgo County spent more than $480,000 helping the families and were never reimbursed by the federal or state governments.)

“But now middle America believed the border was in crisis, and being overrun by Mexicans, and we needed a border wall to stop them,” Darling said. “And that’s how we got into this mess we’re in now.”

I brought up Darling’s recent letter to the DHS secretary, which, like Garcia’s letter, supported the idea of a levee wall. “No one likes a wall down here,” he said. “But building a wall was Trump’s defining moment during his campaign, so we figure he’s going to get it built no matter what.”

All of Trump’s negative rhetoric and the talk of building the wall and making Mexico pay for it had already damaged McAllen economically, he said. In the wealthy Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, 150 miles south of the border, “McAlleando” was popular slang for “shopping.” But now, Mexican shoppers already reeling from the devalued peso were encouraging their fellow consumers to boycott McAllen in a social media campaign called #AdiosMcAllen.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling (center, burgundy tie) at a recent groundbreaking for a new shopping mall. Darling says the city is working to reverse the economic decline brought on by negative rhetoric about border communities like McAllen.  Melissa del Bosque

“We’ll probably be down $3 million-plus this year in sales tax revenue,” Darling said.

To stop the economic slide, the city is investing thousands of dollars in advertising to encourage Mexicans to come back to McAllen.

“We are friends,” Darling said. “And they are always welcome here.”

But what words could make up for a wall? With much of the southern border already behind a wall, only Texas remains. The Rio Grande Valley is first on Trump’s list.

Before I’d left Tamez, I asked if she had any advice for the next wave of landowners who will be targeted by DHS. “Ask questions,” she said. “And write every single detail down that they tell you. And think long and hard about what it will cost you in the long term, after they take your land away. I didn’t have much, but what they took from me no amount of money could have ever replaced.”

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. Read more from the issue or become a member now to see our reporting before it’s published online.

The post Over the Wall: How Texas Border Communities Are Gearing Up to Fight Trump appeared first on The Texas Observer.

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Officer, prisoner injured when taxi hits police cruiser

A Houston police officer and the prisoner he was transporting were injured Monday night when a taxicab crashed into the officer’s cruiser, authorities said.

The crash was reported about 10 p.m. at the intersection of Chenevert and Commerce streets.

Houston police said an officer was traveling north on Chenevert Street while taking a prisoner to a jail facility. They said witnesses indicated that a taxicab ran a red light and slammed into the cruiser.

The officer and prisoner suffered minor injuries in the crash, police said, and the cab driver was not injured.

It was not immediately clear if the cab driver was ticketed.

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In Major Church-State Decision, Supreme Court Sides with Religious Institution

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On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds could not be denied to a church-run school in Missouri. In an oral dissent issued from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, "This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church." For more, we speak with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com. She is their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter and the author of the recent piece, "Did the court just seriously wound the separation of church and state?"

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Senate GOP Healthcare Bill Estimated to Kill 28,600 More in U.S. Each Year & Drop 22M from Insurance

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Twenty-two million Americans would lose their health insurance under the Senate Republicans’ healthcare bill over the next decade. That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, which released its assessment on Monday. Following the report, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky joined Senator Dean Heller of Nevada in pledging to vote against even debating their party’s healthcare bill this week. Republican leaders had been pushing for a vote as early as today, ahead of the July 4 recess. On Monday, the American Medical Association came out against the Senate bill, writing in a letter to Senate leaders, "Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or 'first, do no harm.' The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels." For more, we speak with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at CUNY-Hunter College and a primary care physician. She is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

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