Campaign finance and campaign contributions: Both sides of the argument have merit

April 18, 2014

By Charles Krauthammer

The debate over campaign contributions is never-ending for a simple reason: Both sides of the argument have merit.

On the one hand, of course money is speech. For most citizens, contributing to politicians or causes is the most effective way to augment and amplify speech with which they agree. The most disdainful dismissers of this argument are editorialists and incumbent politicians who — surprise! — already enjoy access to vast audiences and don’t particularly like their monopoly being invaded by the unwashed masses or the self-made plutocrat.

On the other hand, of course money is corrupting. The nation’s jails are well stocked with mayors, legislators, judges and the occasional governor who have exchanged favors for cash. However, there are lesser — and legal — forms of influence-peddling short of the outright quid pro quo. Campaign contributions are carefully calibrated to approach that line without crossing it. But money distorts. There is no denying the unfairness of big contributors buying access unavailable to the everyday citizen.

Hence the endless law-writing to restrict political contributions, invariably followed by multiple fixes to correct the inevitable loopholes. The result is a baffling mass of legislation administered by one cadre of experts and dodged by another.

For a long time, a simple finesse offered a rather elegant solution: no limits on giving — but with full disclosure.

Open the floodgates, and let the monies, big and small, check and balance each other. And let transparency be the safeguard against corruption. As long as you know who is giving what to whom, you can look for, find and, if necessary, prosecute corrupt connections between donor and receiver.

This used to be my position. No longer. I had not foreseen how donor lists would be used not to ferret out corruption but to pursue and persecute citizens with contrary views. Which corrupts the very idea of full disclosure.

It is now an invitation to the creation of enemies lists. Containing, for example, Brendan Eich, forced to resign as Mozilla CEO when it was disclosed that six years earlier he’d given $1,000 to support a referendum banning gay marriage. He was hardly the first. Activists compiled blacklists of donors to Proposition 8 and went after them. Indeed, shortly after the referendum passed, both the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento and the president of the Los Angeles Film Festival were hounded out of office.

Referendums produce the purest example of transparency misused because corrupt favoritism is not an issue. There’s no one to corrupt. Supporting a referendum is a pure expression of one’s beliefs. Full disclosure in that context becomes a cudgel, an invitation to harassment.

Sometimes the state itself does the harassing. The IRS scandal left many members of political groups exposed to abuse, such as the unlawful release of confidential data. In another case, the Obama campaign Web site in 2012 published the names of eight big Romney donors, alleging them to have “less-than-reputable records.” A glow-in-the-dark target having been painted on his back, Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot (reported the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel) suddenly found himself subject to multiple audits, including two by the IRS.

In his lone dissent to the disclosure requirement in Citizens United, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that American citizens should not be subject “to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in core political speech, the primary object of First Amendment protection.” (Internal quote marks omitted.)

In fact, wariness of full disclosure goes back to 1958 when the Supreme Court ruled that the NAACP did not have to release its membership list to the state, understanding that such disclosure would surely subject its members to persecution. “This court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations . . . particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

A different era, a different set of dissidents. But the naming of names, the listing of lists, goes on. The enforcers are at it again, this time armed with sortable Internet donor lists.

The ultimate victim here is full disclosure itself. If revealing your views opens you to the politics of personal destruction, then transparency, however valuable, must give way to the ultimate core political good, free expression.

Our collective loss. Coupling unlimited donations and full disclosure was a reasonable way to reconcile the irreconcilables of campaign finance. Like so much else in our politics, however, it has been ruined by zealots. What a pity.


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Patient care: Doctors urged to weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments — “They can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care”

April 18, 2014


The New York Times

Saying they can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care, some of the most influential medical groups in the nation are recommending that doctors weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, as they make decisions about patient care.

The shift, little noticed outside the medical establishment but already controversial inside it, suggests that doctors are starting to redefine their roles, from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.

“We understand that we doctors should be and are stewards of the larger society as well as of the patient in our examination room,” said Dr. Lowell E. Schnipper, the chairman of a task force on value in cancer care at the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

In practical terms, new guidelines being developed by the medical groups could result in doctors choosing one drug over another for cost reasons or even deciding that a particular treatment — at the end of life, for example — is too expensive. In the extreme, some critics have said that making treatment decisions based on cost is a form of rationing.

Traditionally, guidelines have heavily influenced the practice of medicine, and the latest ones are expected to make doctors more conscious of the economic consequences of their decisions — even though there is no obligation to follow them. Medical society guidelines are also used by insurance companies to help determine reimbursement policies.

The society of oncologists, alarmed by the escalating prices of cancer medicines, is developing a scorecard to evaluate drugs based on their cost and value, as well as their efficacy and side effects. It is expected to be ready by this fall.

Avastin costs $50 a dose

And the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recently announced that they would begin to use cost data to rate the value of treatments in their joint clinical practice guidelines and performance standards.

Some doctors see a potential conflict in trying to be both providers of patient care and financial overseers.

“There should be forces in society who should be concerned about the budget, about how many M.R.I.s we do, but they shouldn’t be functioning simultaneously as doctors,” said Dr. Martin A. Samuels, the chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He said doctors risked losing the trust of patients if they told patients, “I’m not going to do what I think is best for you because I think it’s bad for the health care budget in Massachusetts.”

Doctors can face some stark trade-offs. Studies have shown, for example, that two drugs are about equally effective in treating an eye disease, macular degeneration. But one costs $50 a dose and the other close to $2,000. Medicare could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year if everyone used the cheaper drug, Avastin, instead of the costlier one, Lucentis.

But the Food and Drug Administration has not approved Avastin for use in the eye, and using it rather than the alternative, Lucentis, might carry an additional, albeit slight, safety risk. Should doctors consider Medicare’s budget in deciding what to use?

Some insurers and state Medicaid programs are now also saying that a highly effective new drug for hepatitis C, Sovaldi, from Gilead Sciences, could lead to an immense increase in spending because so many patients will want to use it, at a cost of $84,000 per course of treatment.

Some of them are hoping that, to save money, only more seriously ill patients will be treated. But Dr. Donald M. Jensen, director of the center for liver diseases at the University of Chicago, said some patients with earlier disease have symptoms like fatigue and would benefit from the drug. “I think ethically we are just worried about the patient in front of us and not trying to save money for the insurance industry per se, or society as a whole,” he said.

Still, some analysts say that there is a role for doctors to play in cost analysis because not many others are doing so.

“In some ways, it represents a failure of wider society to take up the issue,” said Dr. Daniel P. Sulmasy, professor of medicine and ethics at the University of Chicago.

Generally, Medicare is not supposed to consider cost effectiveness in coverage decisions, and other government attempts to do so are susceptible to criticism as rationing. Insurers do perform cost analyses, but they also risk ire from patients and doctors.

The cancer and oncology societies are not the only ones considering costs. A review last year of clinical guidelines issued by 30 of the largest physician specialty societies found that 17 of them explicitly integrated costs. That appeared to be an increase from 2002, when a different review had found more limited use of economic analysis.

Also, in recent years, as part of a campaign called Choosing Wisely, many medical societies have submitted lists of the top five procedures, tests or products to be questioned because they are considered wasteful.

The cardiology societies say that the idea that doctors should ignore costs is unrealistic because they already have to consider the financial burden placed on the patient, if not society. “Protecting patients from financial ruin is fundamental to the precept of ‘do no harm,’ ” the societies wrote in their paper outlining the new policy.

Still, the groups said that value and resource use had been explicitly excluded from formal consideration in their practice guidelines. And that has been true of some other guidelines as well.

Dr. Schnipper, who is also chief of hematology and oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, pointed to guidelines that the oncology society issued in 2011 on preventing vomiting caused by chemotherapy. For certain patients, the guidelines recommend the drug palonosetron, sold by Eisai as Aloxi, which is more effective but also much more expensive than similar drugs. While the full guidelines contain a table listing the prices of various drugs, there is no explicit discussion about the cost trade-offs in the recommendations.

Lucentis costs close to $2,000 a dose.

Hepatitis C guidelines issued in January by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America recommend the new drug Sovaldi with no mention of its cost.

Dr. Steven D. Pearson, a visiting scientist in the ethics department at the National Institutes of Health, said the move by some societies to incorporate economic analysis “heralds an important shift in the way doctors in America are talking about cost and value.”

He said that having societies do such evaluations was better than having a doctor make such trade-offs while treating an individual patient, which is sometimes called bedside rationing.

Still, it is unclear if medical societies are the best ones to make cost assessments. Doctors can have financial conflicts of interest and lack economic expertise.

The cardiology societies, for instance, plan for now to rely on published literature, not commission their own cost-effectiveness studies, said Dr. Paul A. Heidenreich, a professor at Stanford and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the new policy.

They plan to rate the value of treatments based on the cost per quality-adjusted life-year, or QALY — a method used in Britain and by many health economists.

The societies say that treatments costing less than about $50,000 a QALY would be rated as high value, while those costing more than $150,000 a QALY would be low value.

“We couldn’t go on just ignoring costs,” Dr. Heidenreich said.

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, April 18, 2014 — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

April 18, 2014


The Kiss of Judas and the Arrest of Jesus, Art by Fra Angelico, Fresco, San Marco, Florence, 1437–1446

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)
Lectionary: 40

Reading 1 is 52:13-53:12

See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.

Responsorial Psalm ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25

R/ (Lk 23:46) Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
R/ Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
they who see me abroad flee from me.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
I am like a dish that is broken.
R/ Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
But my trust is in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”
R/ Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
all you who hope in the LORD.
R/ Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

reading 2 heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Gospel jn 18:1-19:42

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley
to where there was a garden,
into which he and his disciples entered.
Judas his betrayer also knew the place,
because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards
from the chief priests and the Pharisees
and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him,
went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?”
They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
He said to them, “I AM.”
Judas his betrayer was also with them.
When he said to them, “I AM, “
they turned away and fell to the ground.
So he again asked them,
“Whom are you looking for?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
Jesus answered,
“I told you that I AM.
So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
This was to fulfill what he had said,
“I have not lost any of those you gave me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it,
struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.
The slave’s name was Malchus.
Jesus said to Peter,
“Put your sword into its scabbard.
Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus,
bound him, and brought him to Annas first.
He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year.
It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews
that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.
Now the other disciple was known to the high priest,
and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus.
But Peter stood at the gate outside.
So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest,
went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in.
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter,
“You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire
that they had made, because it was cold,
and were warming themselves.
Peter was also standing there keeping warm.

The high priest questioned Jesus
about his disciples and about his doctrine.
Jesus answered him,
“I have spoken publicly to the world.
I have always taught in a synagogue
or in the temple area where all the Jews gather,
and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me?
Ask those who heard me what I said to them.
They know what I said.”
When he had said this,
one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said,
“Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
Jesus answered him,
“If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong;
but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.
And they said to him,
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said,
“I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest,
a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
“Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
Again Peter denied it.
And immediately the cock crowed.

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium.
It was morning.
And they themselves did not enter the praetorium,
in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
So Pilate came out to them and said,
“What charge do you bring against this man?”
They answered and said to him,
“If he were not a criminal,
we would not have handed him over to you.”
At this, Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.”
The Jews answered him,
“We do not have the right to execute anyone,”
in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled
that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
So Pilate went back into the praetorium
and summoned Jesus and said to him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered,
“Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered,
“I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
Jesus answered,
“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him,
“Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered,
“You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this,
he again went out to the Jews and said to them,
“I find no guilt in him.
But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover.
Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
They cried out again,
“Not this one but Barabbas!”
Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head,
and clothed him in a purple cloak,
and they came to him and said,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
And they struck him repeatedly.
Once more Pilate went out and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you,
so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
So Jesus came out,
wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.
And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him.
I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews answered,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this statement,
he became even more afraid,
and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
Jesus did not answer him.
So Pilate said to him,
“Do you not speak to me?
Do you not know that I have power to release you
and I have power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me
if it had not been given to you from above.
For this reason the one who handed me over to you
has the greater sin.”
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out,
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.
Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out
and seated him on the judge’s bench
in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon.
And he said to the Jews,
“Behold, your king!”
They cried out,
“Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but Caesar.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Simon assists Jesus with the cross

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself,
he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull,
in Hebrew, Golgotha.
There they crucified him, and with him two others,
one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.
It read,
“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
Now many of the Jews read this inscription,
because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city;
and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,
“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’
but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.”
Pilate answered,
“What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus,
they took his clothes and divided them into four shares,
a share for each soldier.
They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless,
woven in one piece from the top down.
So they said to one another,
“Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be, “
in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says:
They divided my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots
This is what the soldiers did.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

Now since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one,
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken
and that they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true;
he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe.
For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled:
Not a bone of it will be broken.
And again another passage says:
They will look upon him whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea,
secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews,
asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.
And Pilate permitted it.
So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night,
also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes
weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus
and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices,
according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day;
for the tomb was close by.

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

Does God love me?  This is the all-important question.  Even the question of God’s existence is unimportant.  Why?  Even if we could prove beyond doubt that there is God but if this God does not love me, it doesn’t matter and won’t change our lives anyway.  That is why there are some who just speak about a philosophical God.  For them, God is just an idea based on reason alone.  Or we go to the other extreme of denying any reality of God by concluding that we are gods, as in pantheism and new age.  Indeed, today people are turning to impersonal prayers and an abstract relationship with an impersonal God because there is a loss of the experience of a personal God in their lives.  They end up confusing their psychological consciousness with God. 

But why have we lost the experience of a personal God?  Firstly, many of us feel that God does not care for us in our sufferings.  He seems to be oblivious to our pain, illnesses, innocent suffering and the injustices we suffer. Like the suffering servant in the first reading, how often have we been wrongly accused, punished or suffered injustices?   Like Jesus, we too often feel that we have been used, abused, taken advantage of and rejected.  Our friends and especially our loved ones have betrayed us and even turned against us after all the good we have done for them.  We cannot but think of them as ingrates.  When we are alone in our sickness, we cannot but in despair cry out to God.  Like Jesus, we say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And all we hear is a cruel and long silence, as if God has excommunicated us. 

The other reason why we, like Jesus, experience the absence of God is our sins.  On the cross, Jesus was separated from His beloved Father because of the sins He carried for us in His body.  Jesus was not simply punished in our state but took upon Himself our sins.  In our sinfulness we too feel condemned by the Lord.  We cannot forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. We cannot forgive ourselves for the wrongs we committed.  We feel ashamed of ourselves for being so weak and cowardly in denying Jesus, especially for not standing up to the truth and our conscience.  We feel terrible for betraying our loved ones and those who trust us so much.

Of course, for some of us, it is others whom we cannot forgive.  We keep thinking of the past and nurse our wounds.  We become fearful of those whom we used to trust.  We are suspicious.  There is no more love left as there is no trust.  We just cannot forget.  The hurts, misunderstandings and betrayals come back to haunt us again and again.  As a result, we cannot get out of our depression.  We want to take revenge on our enemies for hurting us and our loved ones.  We are being tormented by the past.  As a consequence, our spirit is down, so too is our body.

Most of all if we cannot experience God, it is because we cannot forgive ourselves.  We transfer this un-forgiveness to God.  We think God will not forgive us.  We think that God will punish us and that He will send us to hell.  When there is fear there is no love.  We cannot love God whom we fear.  Indeed, many people see God as a policeman and a discipline master.  He is ever ready to catch us falling so that He can punish us.

This leads us to despair, like Judas.  When we do that, we allow Satan, the accuser, to win the victory over us.  The strategy of Satan is not just to lead us into sin.  This is just the first step.  Because when we sin, the Lord will forgive us anyway.  Having sinned, the battle is not yet won because Jesus, by His death and resurrection, forgave our sins.  The real victory of the devil is to make us fall into total despair like Judas, so that we commit suicide.  This is a sign of complete hopelessness and frustration.

As a consequence of God’s absence and the fear of punishment, the distance between God and us gets further.   A person in depression, instead of looking out, starts looking inwards.  He falls further into the dark hole.  He stops praying.  He is closed to the love of God and those who try to reach out to him.  Falling further into depression means falling further into sin as well because we cannot get up when we hate ourselves.  Hence sin leads to further sins.  When we are caught in sin, the punishment for our iniquities is to commit further sins till we become sins personified.  This is the great plan of the devil.  He will slowly destroy us by leading us from one sin to another till we give up on ourselves completely.  Then his victory is won for certain.

The way to victory is precisely through the love and mercy of God.  The passion of Christ is meant to reveal God’s incredible love for us.  By contemplating the Crucified God in Christ’s passion, we will recover our personal relationship with God.  In Christ’s passion, the Trinitarian God is revealed to us as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  How is this so?

Firstly, by identifying with us in our pains, Christ reveals to us that this God whom we worship is not immutable to suffering and pain.  This is reflected in all the three readings, especially the suffering servant in Isaiah. Christ who suffered with us surely could identify with us.  Indeed, it is important to ask ourselves what sufferings He had not undergone.  He suffered all these and more.  So we cannot say God did not suffer or don’t know how we feel.  We are not alone in our pain and sufferings.  We are not the only ones who have been betrayed by our loved ones, abandoned, used or humiliated or mocked at.

Secondly, Christ too was tempted by sins and threatened by fear.  He was tempted from the beginning of His ministry right up to the last moment of His passion.  At the garden of Gethsemane, He was sorrowful unto death, so much so that His sweat was like drops of blood flowing down.   And at the cross, He was mocked and taunted.  “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, if he delights in Him.” (Ps 22:8)  Jesus had to resist taking control of His life.  Hence, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that “Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme High Priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.”   The difference was that He conquered sins once and for all.  Indeed, more than anyone else, Jesus knows the meaning of temptation and understands the struggles involved.  Jesus knows our fear of pain and alienation, especially from people we love.

Thirdly, He suffered the effects of our sins.  Jesus knew no sin but He chose to bear sins in His own body.  In other words, as a man, being tried, tempted and suffered with and for us, He suffered the effects of our sins.  His was innocent suffering.  He was a lamb without blemish.  He did not have to carry the cross.  For us, we carry the cross because of our own sins and that of others.  As the Good thief remarked, “… in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Fourthly, Jesus is forgiving because He knows our struggles and how difficult it is to overcome the temptations of the Evil One.  He is aware that we are weak and unable to resist evil because of our fallen nature.  Hence, He could say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they were doing.”  With His passion and death on the cross, we know for certain that Jesus will forgive us our sins because He feels with us and knows our limitations.  On the other hand, He gives us hope that sin could be overcome just as He did using His human will to say ‘Yes’ to the Father.  Jesus however does not simply show us the way or the example but He will also supply us the grace to do what He did.

Indeed, if we still doubt the love of God, we need only to contemplate on His passion to find strength and hope.   This is what Isaiah is telling us.  “As the crowds were appalled on seeing him, so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human – so will the crowds be astonished at him, and kings stand speechless before him; for they shall see something never told and witness something never heard before: ‘Who could believe what we have heard, and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’”  Truly, it is incredible that we have a God who loves us so much that He would condescend to become one of us and with us, to share in our sufferings and struggles so that He can be a leader in salvation. “Although he was son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedeck.”

When we ponder on the love of God in Christ crucified, we cannot but feel the heart of God.   He will change our hardened hearts. No one suffers more than God.  He suffered for us 2000 years ago and still suffers as much for us today.  The passion of Christ is not something of the past.  He did not die for sinners in His time only.   Why is that so? He died in view of us, of our sins, and still suffers because we are unrepentant and continue to doubt His love and mercy.  He loves us more because He sees us hurting ourselves.

So, let us renew our love for the Lord and be moved by His love for us on the cross.  Until we contemplate on His love and mercy, we cannot be touched by His love and mercy.  We must use our heart, not our head, to come to repentance.  Only the heart can move us to open our arms to embrace His love and mercy.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites


A key to the reading:

- Jesus master of his fate

I would like to suggest that we meditate in the spirit of Mary, at the foot of the cross of Jesus. She, the strong woman who understood the full meaning of this event of the passion and death of the Lord, will help us cast a contemplative glance at the crucified (Jn 19: 25–27). We are looking at chapter 19 of John’s Gospel, which begins with the scene of the scourging and the crowning with thorns. Pilate presents “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews” to the chief priests and to the guards who call for his death on the cross (Jn 19, 6). Thus begins for Jesus the way of the cross towards Golgotha, where he will be crucified. In the story of the Passion according to John, Jesus reveals himself as master of himself and in control of all that is happening to him. John’s text is full of phrases that point to this theological fact, that Jesus offers his life. He actively, not passively, endures the events of the passion. Here are just some examples putting the stress on some phrases and words. The reader may find other examples:

Knowing everything that was to happen to him, Jesus came forward and said: “Who are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene”. He said, “I am he!”. Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said to them “I am he”, they moved back and fell on the ground. He asked them a second time, “Who are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene”. Jesus replied, “I have told you that I am he. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go“. This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, “Not one of those you gave me have I lost”. (Jn 18: 4-9)

Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe” (Jn 19: 5),

Jesus replied, “You would have no power over me at all, if it had not been given you from above.” (Jn 19: 11).

On the cross too, Jesus takes an active part in his death, he does not allow himself to be killed like the thieves whose legs were broken (Jn 19: 31-33), but commits his spirit (Jn 19: 30). The details recalled by the Evangelist are very important: Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ (Jn 19: 26-27). These simple words of Jesus bear the weight of revelation, words that reveal to us his will: “this is your son” (v. 26); “this is your mother” (v. 27). These words also recall those pronounced by Pilate on the Lithostrotos: “This is the man” (Jn 19: 5). With these words, Jesus on the cross, his throne, reveals his will and his love for us. He is the lamb of God, the shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. At that moment, by the cross, he gives birth to the Church, represented by Mary, his sister Mary of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene together with the beloved disciple (Jn 19: 25).

- Beloved and faithful disciples

The fourth Gospel specifies that these disciples “stood by the cross” (Jn 19: 25-26). This detail has a deep meaning. Only the fourth Gospel tells us that these five persons stood by the cross. The other Evangelists do not say so. Luke, for instance, says that all those who knew him followed the events from a distance (Lk 23: 49). Matthew also says that many women followed these events from afar. These women had followed Jesus from Galilee and served him. But now they followed him from afar (Mt 27: 55–56). Like Matthew, Mark gives us the names of those who followed the death of Jesus from afar (Mk 15: 40-41). Thus only the fourth Gospel says that the mother of Jesus and the other women and the beloved disciple “stood by the cross”. They stood there like servants before their king. They are present courageously at a time when Jesus has already declared that “it is fulfilled” (Jn 19: 30). The mother of Jesus is present at the hour that finally “has come”. That hour foretold at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2: 1ff). The fourth Gospel had remarked then that “the mother of Jesus was there” (Jn 2: 1). Thus the person that remains faithful to the Lord in his destiny, he/she is a beloved disciple. The Evangelist keeps this disciple anonymous so that each one of us may see him/herself mirrored in the one who knew the mysteries of the Lord, who laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the last supper (Jn 13: 25).

Questions and suggestions to direct our meditation and practice

● Read once more the passage of the Gospel and look in the Bible for the texts mentioned in the key to the reading. Look for other parallel texts that may help us penetrate deeper into the text presented for our meditation.
● In spirit, and with the help of the prayerful reading of John’s text, visit the places of the Passion, stop on Calvary to witness with Mary and the beloved disciple the events of the Passion.
● What struck you most?
● What feelings does this story of the Passion arouse in you?
● What does the fact that Jesus actively bears his passion mean for you?


O Eternal Wisdom, Infinite Goodness, Ineffable Truth, You who probe hearts, Eternal God, help us to understand that you can, know and want to! O Loving and Bleeding Lamb, crucified Christ, fulfil in us that which you said: “Anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). O perfect light, from whom all lights proceed! O light for whom light was created, without whom all is darkness and with whom all is light. Light up, light up, do light up! Let your whole will penetrate all the authors and collaborators you have chosen in this work of renewal. Jesus, Jesus love, Jesus, transform us and make us conform to you. Uncreated Wisdom, Eternal Word, sweet Truth, silent Love, Jesus, Jesus Love!  (St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, O.Carm.,  in The Renewal of the Church, 90-91.)


Repeat frequently and calmly these words of Jesus when he offered himself:

“Father into your hands I commend my spirit”



Indonesia should remain cautious about involvement in South China Sea disputes

April 18, 2014


Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea (Photo by Xinhua)

By Arif Havas Oegroseno

There seems to be an obsessive belief among political commentators in Asia and beyond that Indonesia has to admit that it is a claimant state in the South China Sea (SCS) dispute and, therefore, must surrender its role as a “mediator”. This is indeed laughable in the eyes of international law.

Here is my take on the matter.

First, the very essence of the SCS dispute is, in simple terms, about who owns over hundreds of islands, rocks, reefs, low-tide elevations and sandbanks in the Spratlys and the Paracels. The claimants are Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Taiwan is also considered a claimant by many.

Since its independence, Indonesia has never imagined laying claim to any of those hundreds of features in the SCS. Even when then prime minister Djuanda Kartawidjaja proclaimed Indonesia’s archipelagic waters in 1957, Indonesia did not include the Spratlys. Indonesia has no territorial ambition in this area whatsoever.

If the claimants truly want to settle who owns what and where, they have to adopt the general principle of public international law and jurisprudence that dates back to the decision of Las Palmas/Miangas in 1928. They cannot operationalize the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 as it was not designed to settle sovereignty disputes.

Second, if, not when, the ownership of the hundreds of features in the SCS is ever determined, the following exercise would be the delimitation of maritime zones from those features. International legal principle stipulates that “land dominates the seas,” therefore, any width of maritime zones in the South China Sea must be based on projection from land. The applicable laws are embodied in the UNCLOS 1982, especially articles 15 (delimitation of territorial waters), 74 (delimitation of exclusive economic zones [EEZ]), 83 (delimitation of the continental shelf) and 121 (regime of islands).

Regime of islands is a very critical facet of the law of the sea in determining the entitlement of the maritime zone of a particular island. The Chinese delegation to the 19th session of the state parties to UNCLOS stated that according to Article 121 of UNCLOS, rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life shall have no EEZ or continental shelf. As most of the features in the dispute fall within this article, what could happen would be “bubbles” in the 12-mile (19.3 kilometer) territorial waters. Those bubbles are likely to be located too far away to overlap with the Indonesian EEZ in the SCS.

Third, all claimants in the dispute have made their statements of claims crystal clear, yet none of them has elaborated the basis of their bids. Perhaps their arguments lack legal grounds so that revealing them would be disastrous.

Fourth, one of the claimants has proposed a cartographic piece with an inconsistent drawing known as nine-dashed line. It is inconsistent because the line does not always have nine dashes. Sometimes there are 11 or 10.

The dashed line is not connected. The dashes appear not to be a maritime zone projection of any features in the SCS. The cartographic piece on which these 11/10/nine dashed lines are drawn has neither coordinates nor specific datum nor geodetic system. No one has ever explained decisively whether the map is intended to show the claims over features only or features and waters or features, waters and maritime boundaries.

In the Burkina Faso-Mali dispute it was stipulated that “Maps … by virtue of solely their existence … cannot constitute territorial title”. In the arbitration of Eritrea against Yemen, the International Court of Justice ruled that it “is unwilling to attribute meaning to dotted lines. The conclusions on this basis urged by Eritrea in relation to … its map are not accepted”.

In explaining its claim, China employed terms unknown in the UNCLOS 1982, namely “relevant waters” and “adjacent waters.” Chinese commentators also mentioned that the map represented historic rights or historic waters. Yet the UNCLOS 1982 only knows historic bays and historic title in relation to territorial waters.

Fifth, Indonesian waters in that region are divided into two segments by the outer line of the 12-nautical-mile (19.3 kilometer) territorial water belt. This outer line is generated from archipelagic baselines that have been lodged with the UN and is considered in accordance with the archipelagic principle of the UNCLOS 1982.

The waters behind this outer line are Indonesian territorial waters and archipelagic waters called the Natuna Sea. The waters beyond this outer line all the way to the Indonesian limit of the EEZ are part of the SCS. Indonesia and Malaysia lodged their treaty of delimitation of continental shelves in the SCS in October 1969 with the UN secretary-general.

Not a single country has challenged the validity of this 45-year-old treaty that divides rather significantly certain segments of the SCS.

Sixth, for Indonesia to declare itself a claimant state in the SCS dispute by virtue of the existence of the 11/10/nine-dashed-line map would be absurd. As a matter of law, fact and logic make it simply unfathomable that Indonesia would start overlaying its highly precise and legally correct work with an incomplete, inaccurate, inconsistent, and legally problematic map.

Indonesia outlined its position on the dashed-line map in its diplomatic note to the UN secretary-general on July 8, 2010, saying the map lacked international legal basis and was tantamount to upsetting the UNCLOS 1982.  reiterated Indonesia’s rejection of the legality of the map on March 19.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa

As an international Law of the Sea abiding country, Indonesia has always dismissed any lines over waters that have no basis regarding UNCLOS 1982, such as the 1898 Treaty of Paris and the dashed-line map. In the realm of international law of the sea, they have no legal value, whatsoever. There is no ambiguity, strategic or otherwise.

Seventh, arguments by some commentators such as Dr Ann Marie Murphy of the US ( see: “The end of strategic ambiguity: Indonesia formally announces its dispute with China in the South China Sea”) and Dr Batongbacal of the Philippines that Indonesia has lost its role as mediator in the SCS dispute, are a mistake beyond repair. Indonesia is not a “mediator” because the dispute has not entered into the “mediation” stage.

It is beyond any reasonable doubt that the dispute is currently being discussed, not mediated, under the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS that just met last March in Singapore.

Indonesia’s relentless facilitation in the second track approach, known as the Workshop on Managing Potential Conflict in the South China Sea, is not intended to position Indonesia as a mediator. It is a confidence-building measure to enhance understanding and mutual trust.

The mere existence of an incomplete, inaccurate, inconsistent and legally problematic map will neither force Indonesia to abandon its efforts to facilitate confidence building nor suddenly make Indonesia lose confidence in its highly precise, legally correct and UN-lodged maritime projection in the SCS.

Arif Havas Oegreseno ( is the Indonesian Ambassador based in Brussels. Previously, he was vice minister for International Treaties and President of the States Parties of UNCLOS 1982 Conference. This article was previously published in the Jakarta Post here.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed.


Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.


The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.


U.S., China Must Exercise Caution in the South China Sea While Global Jihad, Other Threats Remain Dangerous To All

April 18, 2014

By John Price

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel touring a military academy in Beijing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel making his fourth trip to the South China Sea region recently, wanted to reassure Japan and other nations that the U.S. stands with them if China pursues stated territorial annexation. The “Sleeping Dragon” has arisen, hungry for the small mostly uninhabited islands in the East and South China Sea claimed by Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Mr. Hagel’s visit comes on the heels of Russia’s takeover of Crimea which had been part of Ukraine. The fear is that China has been emboldened by Russia’s move, leading to similar action over the long disputed islands. China claims their rights to the islands go back 2,000 years, which could possibly include the international waterways between them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously noted that unimpeded navigation access was important to U.S. national interests. More than half of the world’s merchant goods flow through these waters.

Mr. Hagel announced that two additional guided missile destroyers would be sent, bringing the total to seven U.S. warships in the China Sea region. The news gave Chinese officials the opportunity to showcase their newly refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its J-15 fighter jet strike group, signaling China’s growing global reach. China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the islands was made very clear. Any provocation would require a response—crossing their Red Line. China has a growing global appetite, expanding its economic interests in every continent. Chinese warships could soon be cruising off the coasts of Africa, South America, and North America to protect their interests.

China has made terrific progress in modernizing its military and has gone into space in a big way. Pictured: China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, a huge symbol of China’s pride. Photo: Computer-generated imagery (CGI) of the Chinese Liaoning CV16 (Ex-Varyag) Aircraft Carrier with J-15 Flying Shark Naval fighter jet. The J-15 Flying Shark is naval version of the J-11B fighter jet with folding wings, shortened tail to maximize the number of aircraft which can be carried by the aircraft carrier. But China still spends more on “internal security” than on national defense, intelligence experts say.


Photo: Chinese warships participating in military exercises. Xinhua photo.

Immediate concern however to U.S. national security is North Korea, where the ruler Kim Jong-un has been building up a weapons arsenal that could include nuclear capability. Kim Jong-un believes the U.S. is plotting to depose him, which would be crossing his Red Line–requiring a military response. A stopover by Mr. Hagel would have been a good start for diplomatic dialogue, possibly averting a military confrontation. U.S. foreign policy is viewed in a number of countries as being inconsistent, except where economic interests are concerned. The U.S.-NATO incursion into Libya in 2011 appeared to be more about oil than building democratic institutions. Libya has the world’s fifth largest reserves, with 85 percent going to European countries.

Back in history, Mohammad Mosaddegh was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. Two years later he was deposed in a coup d’état orchestrated by British and American intelligence agencies. Mosaddegh had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a major source of oil for Europe. Today in Syria the U.S. wants to oust Bashar al-Assad, the country’s ruler, and seek democratic elections. In addition a neighboring Arab country wants to run a natural gas line through Syria to reach Europe, but Assad stands in the way. After the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt the U.S. was concerned about access to the Suez Canal. So the U.S. mentored the Muslim Brotherhood on the election process, which brought to power Mohamed Morsi. One year later Morsi was deposed, almost destroying the country attempting to institute Sharia law.

The U.S. and European Union want to stop Russia from further control over Ukraine. Sending NATO forces to Eastern Europe is seriously being considered. Such action needs to be carefully thought through, so a toe-to-toe standoff with Russian troops does not escalate into war, with Eastern European countries caught in the middle. The European Union needs to take the lead, and find a diplomatic solution, since it is in their backyard. Mr. Obama needs Mr. Putin’s cooperation in Syria to help destroy the chemical weapons cache, and in Iran to halt the nuclear weapons enrichment program. Together these leaders need to arrive at a diplomatic solution. We don’t want Mr. Putin to lose interest, and draw a Red Line over the Ukraine issue.

U.S. focus has shifted away from Africa since the Arab Spring. However the region still represents a concern to our national security interests. Today Osama bin Laden’s “jihad” against the U.S. remains in place. Islamists linked to al-Qaeda continue to undertake attacks daily, killing hundreds of innocent people in North Africa, the Sahel region and as far away as Iraq in the Middle East.

The U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) was established in October 2002, based in Djibouti. Its mission included undertaking military training with East African military forces, and to protect our security interests in the region. In 2007 the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was formed to combine the three U.S. military commands that had oversight of the continent. With its headquarters in Germany, AFRICOM has only had a limited impact in Africa. Many of the terrorist attacks against U.S. have emanated from the Horn of Africa and Sahel region.

Hundreds of people die daily at the hands of al-Qaeda linked Islamists embedded across Africa. Refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania are filled with millions of displaced Africans who have fled from Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali. Islamist extremists operating in the region are bent on creating Islamic states ruled under Sharia law.

This week more than seventy people were killed in Nigeria by an Islamist bomb attack in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital; more than 2,000 have died so far this year. In Tripoli, Libya’s capital the Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped, and Libya’s second prime minister in less than a month resigned under Islamist threats. In 2014 there have been numerous killings and other abductions, including a Libyan government leader, five Egyptian diplomats and one Tunisian diplomat. In northern Mali Islamists in 2012 kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats of which one was killed, three released for ransom, and three are still being held.

A new “West African Spring” is brewing in Burkina Faso, where 10,000 impoverished demonstrators took to the streets in January 2014. They protested over poverty conditions and against President Blaise Compaore seeking re-election after twenty-eight years in power. There is great fear that the uprisings could spread to neighboring countries, allowing Islamists to gain control in any chaotic governing situation.

The U.S. should not be drawn into a confrontation with China over the island claims. Keeping the shipping lanes open is of mutual interest for access to the world markets. In the Middle East we need Mr. Putin’s help in resolving the crisis there. Diplomacy is ”key” to averting a confrontation with either China or Russia. The U.S. needs to focus on the chemical weapons in Syria; the Iran and North Korea nuclear weapons programs. The U.S. needs to help train the African country military forces, where Islamists attacks run rampant. These issues affect our national security interests.

Published under the Headline “Gunboat Diplomacy in South China Sea Can Lead to a Red Line”


Fox News Poll: Nearly six in ten voters say Obama lies to the country on important matters

April 17, 2014

Dana Blanton

Fox News Channel

About six in ten American voters think Barack Obama lies to the country on important matters some or most of the time, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday.

Play the video:

Thirty-seven percent think Obama lies “most of the time,” while another 24 percent say he lies “some of the time.” Twenty percent of voters say “only now and then” and 15 percent “never.”

President Obama has been accused by political opponents and media fact-checkers alike of telling falsehoods.  Frequently cited: His repeated claim that under Obamacare “If you like your plan, you can keep it” and his insistence that “the day after Benghazi happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.”

The number of voters saying Obama lies “most of the time” includes 13 percent of Democrats.  It also includes 12 percent of blacks, 16 percent of liberals, 31 percent of unmarried women and 34 percent of those under age 30 — all key Obama constituencies.

Yet some of those groups are also among those most likely to say Obama “never” lies to the country on important matters: blacks (37 percent), Democrats (31 percent), liberals (28 percent) and women (19 percent).

The poll also asks about the trustworthiness of a few possible 2016 presidential candidates.  For comparison, about half of voters think former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (54 percent) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (49 percent) are honest and trustworthy, while fewer think the same of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (41 percent).

On a more positive note for the White House, Obama’s overall job performance rating has improved.  The new poll finds that 42 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing, while 51 percent disapprove.  That means he’s underwater by nine percentage points.

Last month the president was in negative territory by 13 points with a 40-53 percent rating (March 23-25).

Approval of the president is up six points among independents and now stands at 32 percent.  Obama was near record-low approval among independents last month (26 percent).  He also improved four points among Democrats and now stands at 80 percent among his party faithful.

How voters feel about Obama as a person closely matches his job ratings:  45 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 51 percent have an unfavorable view.  A year ago those numbers were reversed: 52 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable (April 2013).

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 1,012 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from April 13-15, 2014. The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Pro-Russian militants in Donetsk, Ukraine tell Jews they must “register” with pro-Russia Ukrainians

April 17, 2014


By Oren Dorell
USA Today

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine, calls for all Jewish people over 16 years old to register as Jews. The leaflet demanded the city’s Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own or else have their citizenship revoked.
(Photo: The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism)

Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia. The news was carried first by the Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he was stunned by the news of the leaflets,”is beyond unacceptable.”

“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable — it’s grotesque,” he said.

“And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities — from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of — there is no place for that.”

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt called the leaflets “the real deal,” and not representative of the Ukraine’s government in Kiev.

The leaflets bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who is identified as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government,” and were distributed near the Donetsk synagogue and other areas, according to the reports.

Pushilin acknowledged that fliers were distributed under his organization’s name in Donetsk but denied any connection to them, Ynet reported in Hebrew. USA TODAY could not independently verify the circumstances surrounding of the leaflet.

Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, told Ynet his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.

“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flier and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.

The leaflet begins, “Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register.”

It says the reason is because the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta, a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk,” a name adopted by the militant leadership.

The leaflet then described which documents Jews should provide: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship being revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property,” it said. A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.

Olga Reznikova, 32, a Jewish resident of Donetsk, told Ynet she never experienced anti-Semitism in the city until she saw this leaflet.

“We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists,” she said. “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941,” she said referring to the Nazis who occupied Ukraine during World War II.

The Jewish community in Donetsk issued in a statement saying the flyers distribution “smells like a provocation.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel group in the USA, said the leaflets should be seen in the context of a rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe and the world.

“This is a frightening new development in the anti-Jewish movement that is gaining traction around the world,” Klein said.

Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, said it’s unclear whether the leaflets were issued by the pro-Russian leadership or a splinter group operating within the pro-Russian camp.

But he said the Russian side has used the specter of anti-Semitism in a cynical manner. Russia and its allies in Ukraine have issued multiple stories about the the threat posed to Jews by Ukraine’s new pro-Western government in Kiev, Salberg said.

“The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”


Pope Francis Performs Holy Thursday Foot Washing At Home For Elderly And Disabled

April 17, 2014


Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives at the Don Gnocchi Foundation for assistance to disabled and elderly to celebrate the rite of the washing of the feet, in Rome, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pope Francis has washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people — women and non-Catholics among them — in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve like a “slave.” Francis’ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center just two weeks after his election helped define his rule-breaking papacy. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men. The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the elderly and disabled Thursday. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs. He said the ritual is a gesture of “a slave’s service.” (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives at the Don Gnocchi Foundation for assistance to disabled and elderly to celebrate the rite of the washing of the feet, in Rome, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pope Francis has washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people -- women and non-Catholics among them -- in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve like a "slave." Francis´ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center just two weeks after his election helped define his rule-breaking papacy. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican´s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus´ 12 apostles were men. The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the elderly and disabled Thursday. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs. He said the ritual is a gesture of "a slave´s service." (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives at the Don Gnocchi Foundation for assistance to disabled and elderly to celebrate the rite of the washing of the feet, in Rome, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pope Francis has washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people — women and non-Catholics among them — in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve like a “slave.” Francis’ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center just two weeks after his election helped define his rule-breaking papacy. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men. The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the elderly and disabled Thursday. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs. He said the ritual is a gesture of “a slave’s service.” (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)


NICOLE WINFIELD, The Associated Press

ROME (AP) – Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 disabled and elderly people Thursday – women and non-Catholics among them – in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve others like a “slave.”

Francis’ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center helped define his rule-breaking papacy just two weeks after his election. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men.

But as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently performed the ritual on women – a practice that he seems intent on keeping up now that he is pope.

The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the disabled and elderly in Rome. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs, some with grossly swollen and disfigured feet.

The Vatican didn’t release the exact breakdown of their religious backgrounds, but said they came from various religious confessions. Italian news reports said one was a Libyan Muslim and four were women.

Francis told the faithful that he was performing the ritual to remind himself how to serve others, as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his apostles.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” he said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

Francis began Holy Thursday by presiding over Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrating the priesthood, the start of a busy four days of Holy Week commemorations and preparations for next week’s canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

During his morning homily Thursday, Francis urged his priests to exhibit joy, though he admitted that he too had suffered “moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life.”


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Pope Francis washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, Italy, 17 April 2014, during the “In Coena Domini” Mass with the people hosted in the center and their families. EPA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO / HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES EPA

SYMBOL OF SERVICE. Pope Francis (L) kisses the foot of a man as he performs the traditional ‘Washing of the Feet’ during a visit at a center for disabled people as part of Holy Week on April 17, 2014 in Rome. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP


ROME, Italy – Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen elderly and disabled people, including a Libyan Muslim, during a Holy Week ritual in Rome on Thursday, April 17, imitating Jesus Christ’s humility.

The 77-year-old bent down with difficulty to wash and kiss the feet of the 9 Italians and 3 foreigners aged between 16 and 86 years old at the Don Carlo Gnocchi foundation’s Santa Maria della Provvidenza center.

Francis arrived in a Ford Focus to cheers from crowds and stopped to speak with elderly and disabled people gathered at the center’s modern Church in Rome’s suburbs, before picking up a silver urn of water and a white towel, and kneeling in front of the chosen 12.

“The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine, because at that time, the streets were made of dirt and when they entered in a house, it was necessary to wash one’s feet,” the Pope explained.

“And Jesus performed this action – a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this he leaves like an inheritance among us. We must be servants of each other,” he said.

The youngest to have his feet washed at the ceremony, which is part of the run-up to Easter Sunday, was 16-year-old Osvaldinho from Cape Verde, who is wheelchair-bound after damaging his spine diving into the sea last summer.

Angelica, 86, who fell and broke her hip last year, was the oldest – along with artisan Pietro, who suffers from muscular problems and poor balance.

Among the others was 75-year-old Hamed, a Libyan Muslim who worked for years for the Italian-Arab chamber of commerce, before a road accident left him with serious neurological damage.

Francis has often shown particular attention to disabled people and the elderly, condemning a “hidden euthanasia” in modern societies against the old.

Shortly after his election last year, Francis visited a youth detention center where he performed the washing of feet ritual on a group of young inmates – including two Muslims, the first Catholic leader ever to do so. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/


ROME (AP) – Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 disabled and elderly people Thursday – women and non-Catholics among them – in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve others like a “slave.”Francis’ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center helped define his rule-breaking papacy just two weeks after his election. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men.But as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge MarioBergoglio frequently performed the ritual on women – a practice that he seems intent on keeping up now that he is pope.The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the disabled and elderly in Rome. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs, some with grossly swollen and disfigured feet.

The Vatican didn’t release the exact breakdown of their religious backgrounds, but said they came from various religious confessions. Italian news reports said one was a Libyan Muslim and four were women.

Francis told the faithful that he was performing the ritual to remind himself how to serve others, as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his apostles.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” he said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

Francis began Holy Thursday by presiding over Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrating the priesthood, the start of a busy four days of Holy Week commemorations and preparations for next week’s canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

During his morning homily Thursday, Francis urged his priests to exhibit joy, though he admitted that he too had suffered “moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life.”


Follow Nicole Winfield at

Xi Jinping ‘using purge of Chinese officials to fill key positions with allies’

April 17, 2014

China: China’s president using purge of senior officials to fill key positions with progressive officials, sources say

Xi Jinping at the closing ceremony of Chinese National People's Congress last month

Xi hopes that removing corrupt officials and those resisting change will allow him to consolidate his grip on power Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to use a purge of senior officials suspected of corruption to put his own men and reform-minded bureaucrats into key positions across the Communist Party, the government and the military, sources said.

Xi hopes that removing corrupt officials and those resisting change will allow him to consolidate his grip on power and implement difficult economic, judicial and military reforms that he believes are vital to perpetuate one-party rule, said the sources, who have ties to the leadership.

In the most far-reaching example of his intentions, Xi plans to promote about 200 progressive officials from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, where he served as party boss from 2002 to 2007, to senior positions across the spectrum in the years ahead, two of them said.

“The anti-corruption (drive) is a means to an end. The goal is to promote his own men and like-minded officials to key positions to push through reforms,” said one source.

To be sure, Xi is also tackling endemic corruption to try to restore public faith in the party, other sources said.

The seven sources interviewed for this article sought anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics.

The biggest investigation Xi has ordered so far revolves around retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who is under virtual house arrest.

Reuters reported on March 30 that more than 300 of Zhou’s allies, proteges, staff and relatives had been taken into custody or questioned since late last year as part of China’s biggest graft scandal in six decades.

The government has yet to make any statement about Zhou, who retired in late 2012 from the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in China, or the case against him. It has also not been possible to contact Zhou, his family, associates or staff for comment. It is not clear if any of them have lawyers.

Another source who met Xi in private this year quoted him as saying implementing reforms had been “very difficult” due to opposition from state-owned enterprises along with influential party elders and their children, known as “princelings”.

State-owned firms and princelings in business enjoy many privileges and virtually monopolise certain sectors, something at odds with China’s efforts to steer its economy away from a reliance on heavy industry and investment to one driven more by consumption and innovation.

On the judicial front, Xi has overseen reforms that limit the ability of the party to interfere in most court cases – apart from politically sensitive ones – but more still needs to be done to deal with frequent miscarriages of justice that outrage the public, legal experts said.

While Xi appears set on driving reform on many fronts, human rights activists have said major political change was not on his agenda. For example, authorities have increased controls over the local media and prominent bloggers in the past year.

In looking for people he can trust, Xi, 60, will also tap reform-minded officials from his alma mater Tsinghua University in Beijing and other provinces, one source said.

But his key recruiting ground will be Zhejiang, south of Shanghai. The province is seen as ideologically progressive and has long been at the forefront of economic reforms thanks to the concentration of private firms there that helped make China the world’s factory.

Under Xi’s orders, the military has clamped down on the doling out of PLA vehicle number plates, the illegal occupation of military housing and the selling of positions.

But Xi is unlikely to punish all the officers who bought promotions, the sources said, adding he would use this as leverage to make them agree to more reforms.

Xi has also not decided whether to prosecute Zhou or Xu, who is being treated for bladder cancer, they said.

“It shows that he can get to just about anybody if he can bring down a guy like (Zhou),” said David Zweig, a Chinese politics expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“It tells officials that if he’s making reforms that they may not like so much, then they better get on board.”

Using corruption to topple rivals is not uncommon in China.

Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao went after two Politburo members – Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu in 2006 and Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai in 2012. Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin purged former Politburo member Chen Xitong for corruption in 1995.

Some sources say one reason Xi put Zhou under investigation was to eradicate any lingering influence of Bo Xilai, one of the most charismatic but divisive Chinese politicians of his generation.

Zhou had opposed the ouster of Bo, who was jailed for life in September for corruption and abuse of power after a murder scandal involving his wife.

“There’s a risk of a backlash from elders if they believe the anti-graft campaign has gone too far,” said Bo Zhiyue, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

“The issue for Xi is how to manage the whole campaign to make sure he himself remains secure.”

Ukraine crisis: Russia announces deal to disband illegal armed groups

April 17, 2014

Russia announces a deal has been reached between Russia, Ukraine, the US and EU to “de-escalate” dangerously high tensions in the former Soviet republic

Vladimir Putin hosting his annual phone-in question and answer session

Vladimir Putin hosting his annual phone-in question and answer session. In the background a scene from Sevastopol Photo: Ria Novosti/AFP

Ukraine crisis: in pictures
Ukraine and Russia sit down for crisis talks in Geneva
Kiev in third day of ‘full scale anti-terrorist operation’
Three pro-Russian militants killed in clash at Mariupol army base
Government forces appear to be losing grip on east
Russia has warned the country is on the brink of civil war
Pro-Russian militia occupying government facilities in several cities
Moscow accused of stirring unrest in the Russian-leaning east
Want to share your views? Tweet @hannahkstrange



Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session with the nation in Moscow on Thursday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images


19.20 Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings have been told told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to reports.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, said his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.

“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flyer and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.

Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship being revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.” A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.

18.25 Pro-Russian separatists occupying a local government building in Donetsk said they would not leave until supporters of Ukraine’s new government quit their camp around Kiev’s main square, known as the Maidan.

Asked how his group would react to an international accord in Geneva under which the Ukrainian and Russian governments agreed that illegal occupations of buildings and squares must end, Alexander Zakharchenko, a protest leader inside the Donetsk regional government building, told Reuters by telephone:

“If it means all squares and public buildings then I guess it should start with the Maidan in Kiev. We’ll see what they do there before we make our decision here.”

17.50 John Kerry, the US secretary of state, says the Ukraine deal represents a “good day’s work,” but words must be turned into actions.

Mr Kerry said notices were sent to Jews in a Ukrainian city asking them to identify themselves as Jews, a move he condemned as “grotesque”.

“In the year 2014, after all of the miles travelled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable,” he told reporters after crisis talks in Geneva on Ukraine.

17.30 Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has announced that all sides at Geneva have agreed to take steps to “de-escalate” the Ukraine crisis.

The agreement reached after marathon talks in Geneva include disbanding “illegal armed groups” in all regions of Ukraine, Mr Lavrov told reporters, and that Russia had “no desire” to send troops to Ukraine.

We have no … desire to send our troops into Ukraine. This is against our core interests.

17.05 In case you didn’t manage to watch Vladimir Putin’s four hour phone-in in its entirety today, here’s a useful rundown of his key comments from AFP:

“I remind you that the Federation Council (Russia’s upper house of parliament) gave the president the right to use force in Ukraine. I hope very much that I will not have to use that right.”

“That is all nonsense! There are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine…. These are all local people…. They have nowhere to go, they will not go anywhere, they are masters of this land and have to be spoken with.”

“Our goal was to ensure the conditions for a free vote of Crimea…. So behind the self-defence of Crimea of course there were our soldiers. They acted correctly but decisively and professionally.”

“They have completely lost their minds: tanks, armoured transport vehicles… guns are being moved. Who are they moving the guns against? Are they nuts? Attack planes overhead, Su planes overhead, are they bonkers?”

“We are prepared to wait one month. If after one month we do not receive any payments then we will switch, in line with the contract, to so-called pre-payment.”

“Mr Snowden, you’re a former agent, I also had something to do with this, so we’ll talk in a professional language.”

“When the infrastructure of a military block moves to our borders, then that leads to our worries and questions. We have to take steps in response.”

“Our decision on Crimea was made partly because of this.”

“We met and talked (with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen), and it turned out he had brought a voice recorder with him and secretly recorded our conversation and then published it in the press,” Putin said.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. That’s some kind of nonsense, you understand.”

“Our country sucked people of various ethnicities and nationalities like a vacuum cleaner. That foundation created not just our culture code, but a powerful genetic code…. It is one of our competitive advantages in the world.”

“A Russian person, or rather a person of the Russian world, thinks first and foremost that there is a higher moral destiny of a man, a moral inception. A Russian is directed not inward… but outward.”

“Southeast Ukraine – to use the terminology of tsarist times – is Novorossiya (New Russia) – Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolyaev (Mykolaiv), Odessa were not part of Ukraine in tsarist times.”

“You know what? I need to marry off my ex-wife Lyudmila Alexandrovna first, and then think about myself.”

“I cannot say that we have a special personal relationship. But I think that he is a decent and brave person. And of course, he would.”

“Faina Ivanovna, dear, why do you need Alaska?”



16.45 As allegations of Russian covert actions in eastern Ukraine swirl, CNN has this report on the detentions of alleged Russian agents by Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU). It includes an interview with one of the detained individuals, 22-year-old Russian citizen Maria Koleda.

Much more:


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