What Remote Working Can Mean for New “Tourism” in the Caribbean

This article from the on-line Washington Post special travel-related section called “By the Way” <https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/02/22/digital-nomad-visas-covid/?itid=sf_travel-news&utm_campaign=wp_by_the_way&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_bytheway > presents some of the issues that might influence the development of new tourism models, based on new work modes for several categories of worker.I haven’t seen much discussion of this in regional fora, although lately I don’t follow the many threads of the tourism press in the region.

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Like summer camp for grown-ups:
The pandemic is changing the digital nomad scene

From nomad villages to “slowmadism,” the uptick in remote work has ushered in a new wave of nomads.

QCCK7BOOUJG7BGRDP63PDO7IPQ.jpg
(Illustration by Dan Page for The Washington Post)
By JD Shadel February 22

About 300 miles off the coast of Morocco, a tiny archipelago seems like Portugal’s take on the classic Hawaiian getaway.

For one, there’s a noteworthy cultural connection between Madeira and its Pacific counterpart: Immigrants from this autonomous region of Portugal introduced the ukulele to Hawaii in the 19th century. Then there’s the tropical volcanic landscape, with terrain ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Now, both island destinations are hoping to attract remote workers to help prop up their largely tourism-driven economies, which have struggled throughout the ongoing pandemic.

In mid-December, Hawaii kicked off a long-term stay program for 50 out-of-staters to work remotely there. Madeira, which has maintained relatively low infection rates, launched a program earlier this month that takes the concept to another level — converting infrastructure in one coastal town to launch a community for digital nomads.

[These 8 countries are accepting American travelers for remote-work trips*]

Digital Nomads Madeira Islands is akin to a summer camp for grown-ups. The program provides a free co-working space and helps find accommodations, which nomads rent privately. Organizers have dubbed it the first “digital nomad village” in the European Union.

A privileged class of workers have used the disruption of the pandemic and subsequent surge in remote work to become nomads. For some, it’s been an experience fraught with “covid grief,” “travel shaming” and even a few controversial deportations. Responsible nomads have temporarily chosen a new home base, but many are planning their post-pandemic moves. Digital nomad advocates say these new workers signal a much larger wave set to break as soon as travel restrictions ease.

“People are taking advantage of this new freedom they have to travel and work from different places,” says Gonçalo Hall, a nomad and remote work consultant who first pitched the idea of a digital nomad village to Madeira’s authorities in September.

At first, Hall framed the village as a way for struggling communities to replace lost tourism revenue. But he sees this pandemic pilot of around 100 nomads — most of whom have come from throughout the European Union, all required to show negative coronavirus tests on arrival — as the start of a growing trend.

“I think this new remote work wave will allow more and more people to [become digital nomads].” At this point, he suggests, it’s only inevitable.

The rise of the ‘slowmads’

The pandemic has accelerated several predictions that Japanese technologist Tsugio Makimoto made 2½ decades ago in his book “Digital Nomad,” one of the first-known uses of the term. In the late-’90s, Makimoto said the digital revolution would eventually eliminate the need to live near your employer — or have an employer at all.

In the case of Madeira, thousands of people from around the world have expressed interest in joining the program in Ponta do Sol — far more than the few hundred the organizers originally expected. Of those respondents, about 50 percent decided to become nomads because of the pandemic, Hall estimates.

Newer nomads say the pandemic pushed them to take a more location-independent approach to their careers — sometimes out of necessity.

“The pandemic forced me to stop and reflect on my life, and gave me the time to develop as a ‘travelprenuer,’ ” Kesi Irvin, said in an email. After covid-19 eliminated Irvin’s job as a host on sailing charters, she quickly had to pivot. As she had already built an audience on Instagram for her travel content, where she’s known as @kesitoandfro, she decided to become a full-time blogger, relocating to Budapest in September.

Pandemic travel restrictions have halted the rapid pace of most nomads. But with increasing concerns over the aviation industry’s carbon footprint, as well as the negative impact of overtourism, some nomads plan to slow their roll even when they’re able to travel more freely. It’s a travel style sometimes referred to as “slowmad.”

“I actually was never a fan of the country-hopping, fast-paced rhythm of some travelers,” Gabby Beckford, a co-founder of the Black Travel Alliance, said in an email. She is better known on Instagram and TikTok as @packslight.

A post shared by Gabby Beckford, Travel Blogger (@packslight). A year ago, Beckford quit her 9-to-5 engineering job to travel, but the pandemic kept her working remotely from her parent’s house in Virginia. At the start of 2021, she decided she “couldn’t stay home for another year,” so she relocated to Dubai. There, she says, she’s keeping an eye on the case counts. “With the vaccine rolling out,” she says, “I’m giving myself a bit of time to see how things evolve.” In the meantime, she is making a plan for what countries she might “‘slowmad’ through” once the public health conditions permit her to make her next move.
Nomad visas signal a paradigm shift

Nomads before the pandemic were mostly a niche group of millennials, many of whom promoted the #DigitalNomadLife on Instagram. They would live out of carry-on suitcases and often cross borders every few weeks, a pace set by the limits of short-term tourist visas.

This was an era of the “bromads” and the “life-hacking” popularized by self-help authors like Timothy Ferriss, who wrote the 2007 bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich.” Ferriss preached a gospel of “geo-arbitrage” — the idea that money goes further in “cheaper” places than San Francisco or New York.

If “overtourism” defines the negative effects of an overwhelming number of tourists, then “overnomadism” seems like an apt way of describing what happened when this young class of jet-setters descended on popular destinations, from Bali and Berlin to Barcelona and Chiang Mai, Thailand. With destinations trending online and the influx of short-term rentals driving up rent, some cities began cracking down on Airbnb to tackle this brand of global gentrification.

But the economic crisis and covid-19 pandemic seems to have changed the tone in many destinations. A new category of “digital nomad visas” might make it easier for foreigners to legally stay in one place for longer periods of time. The visas also allow countries to target more mindful nomads in the process.

Last summer, Estonia became the first country to announce a digital nomad visa, which authorities believe appeals to a different type of traveler. “If you are the kind of digital nomad who would like to build long-lasting business relationships and friendships, a digital nomad visa can certainly get you into a more relaxed head space for when you approach social interactions,” says Florian Marcus, digital transformation adviser at the government agency e-Estonia.

So far, the tiny Baltic country has seen more than 10,000 people sign up for more information about its visa.

Related programs, including Barbados’ “Welcome Stamp” to Greece’s tax breaks for “digital migrants,” signal the international enthusiasm for allowing these highly mobile workers to stick around longer than most earlier nomads were permitted to. Croatia, a popular spot for nomads during the pandemic, recently approved the first foreigner, an American, for its new 12-month visa program.

“Right when the pandemic started, I was asked the question what we can do to turn Croatia into a year-round destination,” Jan de Jong says. The Netherlands-born, Zagreb-based entrepreneur wrote an open letter on LinkedIn last summer to Croatia’s prime minister. “Seeing a global trend of remote work being accelerated by covid-19, my thoughts were to start welcoming remote workers to Croatia.”

His viral post ultimately inspired the country to become among the few in Europe so far to approve a temporary residence permit for digital nomads. “Many more countries will follow,” he predicts.

Before the pandemic, Madeira’s tourism sector was booming, with more than a million annual visitors. When designed with participation from locals, nomad villages have the potential to bring in similar revenue as seasonal tourists, but with a smaller number of longer-term visitors, Hall says. He says the community partnerships might help this new wave of newbies avoid making “the same mistakes” pre-pandemic nomads commonly made such as “traveling too fast” and “not having a positive impact [on the locals].”

“These new people can learn from the more experienced people,” Hall says. “I don’t want all OGs. That would be Bali again. And I don’t want all newbies, either. That would be a weird environment. This new mixture is actually quite fun.”

JD Shadel

JD Shadel is an independent writer and editor, who covers culture, travel, technology and LGBTQ+ life. Originally from Maryland and based in Portland, Oregon since 2013, Shadel frequently travels to report stories for national and niche media outlets. Wherever they go, they always bring a can of Old Bay Seasoning.

* EIGHT COUNTRIES WITH NOMAD VISAS:

EIGHT COMMENTS:

I don’t want all OGs.

What are OGs? Old Guys?

Original gangsters, yo.

(Edited)

My partner and I spend a year as digital nomads in 2008-2009, and we are going to do it again as soon as we get vaccinated. It’s an incredible experience and one that I would recommend to anyone who can make it happen. Plus, it costs less than living in the US if you do it right.

My wife and I are digital nomads, we got stuck in Barcelona during the initial part of the pandemic. We hope more and more countries break out the welcome mat for remote workers.

Most countries, including the United States don’t allow you to work on a tourist visa. It’s clearly stated on the visa. Doing so can possibly put you in legal jeopardy in a foreign country if some local with “pull” complains. Then you will find out how much legal protection you will have during your trial, where the legal system might not be as transparent and honest as back home. 😉

(Edited)

That’s the entire point of these new programs. They allow digital nomads to work legally.

Meanwhile, doing some work over the internet in a foreign country for a short time period is really a grey area. Imagine a situation where someone is on vacation for two weeks, but answers a couple emails from work from the hotel room. Obviously that is not going to get someone in trouble. Being a digital nomad based on a country for a month looks barely different from that, from the outside, which is why in practice, basically no one actually gets in trouble that way.

Meanwhile, doing some work over the internet in a foreign country for a short time period is really a grey area.

2 days ago

Hey, I’m all for the concept of “slacking”. But it’s not free. Look at the prices they’re charging.

I’m just stating the fact that many desirable, i.e. inexpensive locations around the world don’t have special “digital nomad” visas, like Chiang Mai, Thailand, only tourist visas.

And all it takes for them to get a conviction in court is to print out your emails showing you’re working without a work permit.

But yeah, most criminals get away with crimes, especially minor ones. Good luck 🤞

2 days ago

Aren’t the work restrictions there to keep you from taking jobs within the host country? As long as you don’t overstay your visa, I don’t see what difference it makes to the host country if you are earning a living through blogging or whatever, or if you’re independently wealthy.

I’m not saying work isn’t forbidden–I’m sure you are right, and people would be wise to avoid breaking the law. I just wonder if the laws have perhaps not caught up with digital realities or if there is some reason a host country would prefer tourists to be unemployed or on vacation.

Antigua and Barbuda

Remote workers earning at least $50,000 per year can live and work on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda for up to two years through the country’s Nomad Digital Residence program. The cost to apply is $1,500 for a single applicant, $2,000 for a couple and $3,000 for a family of three people or more.

“Visa holders will be able to travel into and out of the country as they wish for the period of the visa, but will have to maintain accommodation in the country,” the program’s website states. It also notes that “applicants are not allowed to work for any entity of any kind in Antigua and Barbuda, nor to derive any income from any entity in Antigua and Barbuda.”

Entering Antigua and Barbuda requires a negative coronavirus test result received within one week of arrival, and all arriving passengers will be monitored for up to 14 days to ensure they do not develop symptoms.

Dubai

The Emirati city of Dubai launched a remote-work program that allows employed people making a minimum of $5,000 per month to live and work remotely in the city for up to one year. “Tourism has reopened in Dubai thanks to safety and hygiene management across the city — with open access to hotels, restaurants, theme parks, beaches and shopping malls,” according to the Visit Dubai program’s website.

A visa fee of $287, international medical insurance and a valid passport with six months validity remaining is required to apply. Americans entering Dubai must provide a negative coronavirus test result and are subject to airport health screenings, according to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates.

Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands tourism department will allow remote workers who make over $100,000 annually, couples who make a joint $150,000 annually, and couples with children who make $180,000 together annually, to stay in the country for up to two years when they acquire a Global Citizen Certificate. In addition to the salary requirement, applicants must have a valid passport, a reference from a bank, a letter of employment from a company outside of the Cayman Islands, and proof of health insurance coverage. The program also charges an application fee of $1,469.

“Global citizens can begin their day with a stroll along Seven Mile Beach, snorkel with stingrays in the clear waters of the Caribbean during lunch,” Visit Cayman Islands said in a news release announcing the program. “Not to mention, remote workers have the unique opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the wonders of island life in the Cayman Islands.”

Aruba

The small island of Aruba launched its One Happy Workation program in September. The remote-work visa allows U.S. visitors to stay up to 90 days by booking a package-stay program at a participating hotel, villa or condominium.

Applications are not required to book a participating stay, according to the Aruba tourism board’s website, and depending on the property chosen, “program amenities will include special rates, complimentary WiFi, breakfast, all-inclusive food & beverage options and more.” All U.S. nationals with a valid passport for their stay are able to book a “workation” with a participating property. You can browse the options, which range from hotel rooms to apartments, on the One Happy Workation website.

Estonia

Launching on Aug. 1 after years of development, the Republic of Estonia’s digital nomad visa will allow foreigners to stay in Estonia for up to a year.

Applicants must have a gross monthly salary of 3,000 euros (about $3,530) or more from a remote work job to be considered for the visa, which is an extension of Estonia’s e-Residency program for foreign entrepreneurs.

“We saw that there was kind of a lack of opportunities for [digital nomads], so we wanted Estonia to solve the problem,” Ott Vatter, the managing director of e-Residency, told The Washington Post. “Estonia aims to be the hub for these kinds of new entrepreneurs that we see trending globally.”

Since the Estonian Parliament authorized the program in June, international applicants mostly from the United States, Canada, Russia and Asia completed the online request for either a Type C short stay visa, or a Type D long stay visa.

At this time, Estonia is not allowing Americans to visit the country for tourism, but they are allowed in for the purpose of work or study. On arrival, foreigners must self-quarantine for 14 days.

Barbados

Shortly after reopening its borders to international travel, Barbados launched a program that allows visitors, including Americans, to stay on the Caribbean island visa-free for up to one year.

Called the “Barbados Welcome Stamp,” the program was created to bring remote workers to the country.

“The aim is to attract remote workers, with a bill to be introduced in Parliament by the government that will remove the local income taxes that normally kick in after six months,” The Post reported.

The online application fee is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families. Applicants must certify they earn an annual income of $50,000 or have the means to support themselves during their time in Barbados.

Those traveling to Barbados for remote work or pleasure during the pandemic must follow new travel protocols.

Georgia

On July 16, the country of Georgia announced a new program for foreigners to work remotely from the country.

“Georgia has the image of an epidemiologically safe country in the world and we want to use this opportunity,” the country’s minister of economy, Natia Turnava, said in a statement. “We are talking about opening the border in a way to protect the health of our citizens, but, on the other hand, to bring to Georgia citizens of all countries who can work remotely.”

Applicants must provide proof of employment and give their consent to self-quarantine for 14 days to be considered for the program. Applications should be available soon.

American travelers are not allowed into Georgia at this time unless they’re granted a long-term visa of at least six months, traveling for business with a special permit or are the spouse of a Georgian citizen.

Jamaica

Travelers from the United States are allowed to visit Jamaica. However, the entry requirements vary depending on their home state.

All Americans must have an approved Travel Authorization ahead of their trip, or they won’t be allowed to travel to Jamaica.

At this time, visitors from Florida, Arizona, Texas and New York are classified as high-risk states by the Jamaican government and are required to provide a proof of negative covid-19 PCR tests from an accredited lab to receive a travel authorization.

People who identify as business travelers in their Travel Authorization application will be given a test for the novel coronavirus on arrival to Jamaica.

“We have worked with IATA to ensure that it is a part of the airline check-in protocols that if you’re coming to Jamaica you have to produce this authorization,” said Donovan White, Jamaica’s director of tourism.

White says that while most travelers are given a 30-day visa on arrival, they can apply for a longer stay visa to enjoy more of what Jamaica has to offer digital nomads.

“There’s so much history and folklore around Jamaica. Anyone who is a nomad traveler … will be able to write a storybook about spending an extended time in Jamaica,” White said.

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Funniest Thing I’ve Read in Years: Abbott & Costello versus the Marx Brothers

From AXIOS, just out < https://www.axios.com/trump-oval-office-meeting-sidney-powell-a8e1e466-2e42-42d0-9cf1-26eb267f8723.html >

8 hours ago – Politics & Policy

Off the Rails
Bonus episode: Inside the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency

Axios by Jonathan Swan, Zachary Basu

Photo illustration of the white house surrounded by scraps of paper feating a ballot, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, and Patrick M. Byrne per Sarah Grillo/Axios. Getty Images photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, George Frey/Bloomberg

Last month, Axios published “Off the rails,” a series taking you inside the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, from his election loss to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that triggered his second impeachment — and a Senate trial set to begin next week.

In this bonus edition, we take you back into those final weeks — to one long, unhinged night a week before Christmas, when an epic, profanity-soaked standoff played out with profound implications for the nation.

Four conspiracy theorists marched into the Oval Office. It was early evening on Friday, Dec. 18 — more than a month after the election had been declared for Joe Biden, and four days after the Electoral College met in every state to make it official.

“How the hell did Sidney get in the building?” White House senior adviser Eric Herschmann grumbled from the outer Oval Office as Sidney Powell and her entourage strutted by to visit the president.

President Trump’s private schedule hadn’t included appointments for Powell or the others: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and a little-known former Trump administration official, Emily Newman. But they’d come to convince Trump that he had the power to take extreme measures to keep fighting.

As Powell and the others entered the Oval Office that evening, Herschmann — a wealthy business executive and former partner at Kasowitz Benson & Torres who’d been pulled out of quasi-retirement to advise Trump — quietly slipped in behind them.

The hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy.

Herschmann took a seat in a yellow chair close to the doorway. Powell, Flynn, Newman and Byrne sat in a row before the Resolute Desk, facing the president.

For weeks now, ever since Rudy Giuliani had commandeered Trump’s floundering campaign to overturn the election, outsiders had been coming out of the woodwork to feed the president wild allegations of voter fraud based on highly dubious sources.

Trump was no longer focused on any semblance of a governing agenda, instead spending his days taking phone calls and meetings from anyone armed with conspiracy theories about the election. For the White House staff, it was an unending sea of garbage churned up by the bottom feeders.

Powell began this meeting with the same baseless claim that now has her facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit: She told the president that Dominion Voting Systems had rigged their machines to flip votes from Trump to Biden and that it was part of an international communist plot to steal the election for the Democrats.

[Note: In response to a request for comment, Powell said in an emailed statement to Axios: “I will not publicly discuss my private meetings with the President of the United States. I believe those meetings are privileged and confidential under executive privilege and under rules of the legal profession. I would caution the readers to view mainstream media reports of any such conversations with a high degree of discernment and a healthy dose of skepticism.”]

Powell waved an affidavit from the pile of papers in her lap, claiming it contained testimony from someone involved in the development of rigged voting machines in Venezuela.

She proposed declaring a national security emergency, granting her and her cabal top-secret security clearances and using the U.S. government to seize Dominion’s voting machines.

“Hold on a minute, Sidney,” Herschmann interrupted from the back of the Oval. “You’re part of the Rudy team, right? Is your theory that the Democrats got together and changed the rules, or is it that there was foreign interference in our election?”

Giuliani’s legal efforts, while replete with debunked claims about voter fraud, had largely focused on allegations of misconduct by corrupt Democrats and election officials.

“It’s foreign interference,” Powell insisted, then added: “Rudy hasn’t understood what this case is about until just now.”

In disbelief, Herschmann yelled out to an aide in the outer Oval Office. “Get Pat down here immediately!” Several minutes later, White House counsel Pat Cipollone walked into the Oval. He looked at Byrne and said, “Who are you?”

The meeting was already getting heated.

White House staff had spent weeks poring over the evidence underlying hundreds of affidavits and other claims of fraud promoted by Trump allies like Powell. The team had done the due diligence and knew the specific details of what was being alleged better than anybody. Time and time again, they found, Powell’s allegations fell apart under basic scrutiny.

But Powell, fixing on Trump, continued to elaborate on a fantastical election narrative involving Venezuela, Iran, China and others. She named a county in Georgia where she claimed she could prove that Dominion had illegally flipped the vote.

Herschmann interrupted to point out that Trump had actually won the Georgia county in question: “So your theory is that Dominion intentionally flipped the votes so we could win that county?”

As for Powell’s larger claims, he demanded she provide evidence for what — if true — would amount to the greatest national security breach in American history. They needed to dial in one of the campaign’s lawyers, Herschmann said, and Trump campaign lawyer Matt Morgan was patched in via speakerphone.

By now, people were yelling and cursing.

The room was starting to fill up. Trump’s personal assistant summoned White House staff secretary Derek Lyons to join the meeting and asked him to bring a copy of a 2018 executive order that the Powell group kept citing as the key to victory. Lyons agreed with Cipollone and the other officials that Powell’s theories were nonsensical.

It was now four against four.

Flynn went berserk. The former three-star general, whom Trump had fired as his first national security adviser after he was caught lying to the FBI (and later pardoned), stood up and turned from the Resolute Desk to face Herschmann.

“You’re quitting! You’re a quitter! You’re not fighting!” he exploded at the senior adviser. Flynn then turned to the president, and implored: “Sir, we need fighters.”

Herschmann ignored Flynn at first and continued to probe Powell’s pitch with questions about the underlying evidence. “All you do is promise, but never deliver,” he said to her sharply.

Flynn was ranting, seemingly infuriated about anyone challenging Powell, who had represented him in his recent legal battles.

Finally Herschmann had enough. “Why the fuck do you keep standing up and screaming at me?” he shot back at Flynn. “If you want to come over here, come over here. If not, sit your ass down.” Flynn sat back down.

The meeting had come entirely off the rails.

Byrne, backing up Flynn, told Trump the White House lawyers didn’t care about him and were being obstructive. “Sir, we’re both entrepreneurs, and we both built businesses,” the former Overstock CEO told Trump. “We know that there are times you have to be creative and take different steps.”

This was a remarkable level of personal familiarity, given it was the first time Byrne had met the president. All the stanchions and buffers between the White House and the outside world had crumbled.

Byrne kept attacking the senior White House staff in front of Trump. “They’ve already abandoned you,” he told the president aggressively. Periodically during the meeting Flynn or Byrne challenged Trump’s top staff — portraying them as disloyal: So do you think the president won or not?

At one point, with Flynn shouting, Byrne raised his hand to talk. He stood up and turned around to face Herschmann. “You’re a quitter,” he said. “You’ve been interfering with everything. You’ve been cutting us off.”

“Do you even know who the fuck I am, you idiot?” Herschmann snapped back.

“Yeah, you’re Patrick Cipollone,” Byrne said.

“Wrong! Wrong, you idiot!”

The staff were now on their feet, standing behind one of the couches and facing the Powell crew at the Resolute Desk. Cipollone stood to Herschmann’s left. Lyons, on his last day on the job, stood to Herschmann’s right.

Trump was behind the desk, watching the show. He briefly left the meeting to wander into his private dining room.

The usually mild-mannered Lyons blasted the Powell set: “You’ve brought 60 cases. And you’ve lost every case you’ve had!”

Trump came back into the Oval Office from the dining room to rejoin the meeting. Lyons pointed out to Powell that their incompetence went beyond their lawsuits being thrown out for standing. “You somehow managed to misspell the word ‘District’ three different ways in your suits,” he said pointedly.

In a Georgia case, the Powell team had misidentified the court on the first page of their filing as “THE UNITED STATES DISTRICCT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRCOICT OF GEORGIA.” And they had identified the Michigan court as the “EASTERN DISTRCT OF MICHIGAN.”

These were sloppy spelling errors. But given that these lawsuits aimed to overturn a presidential election, the court nomenclature should have been pristine.

Powell, Flynn and Byrne began attacking Lyons as they renewed their argument to Trump: There they go again, they want to focus on the insignificant details instead of fighting for you.

Trump replied, “No, no, he’s right. That was very embarrassing. That shouldn’t have happened.”

The Powell team needed to regroup. They shifted to a new grievance to turn the conversation away from their embarrassing errors. Powell insisted that they hadn’t “lost” the 60-odd court cases, since the cases were mostly dismissed for lack of standing and they had never had the chance to present their evidence.

Every judge is corrupt, she claimed. We can’t rely on them. The White House lawyers couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “That’s your argument?” a stunned Herschmann said. “Even the judges we appointed? Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Powell had more to say. She and Flynn began trashing the FBI as well, and the Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr, telling Trump that neither could be trusted. Both institutions, they said, were corrupt, and Trump needed to fire the leadership and get in new people he could trust.

Cipollone, standing his ground amidst this mishmash of conspiracies, said they were totally wrong. He aggressively defended the DOJ and the FBI, saying they had looked into every major claim of fraud that had been reported.

Flynn and Powell had long nursed their antipathy to the FBI and Justice. Flynn had pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation but withdrew the plea after hiring Powell as his lawyer in June 2019.

The two alleged the FBI had entrapped Flynn and failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, known as Brady material, as required by law. They had found an ally in Barr, a fierce critic of the Russia investigation who finally directed the DOJ to drop Flynn’s case.

Herschmann, known inside the White House as a defender of Barr and the DOJ, went off on Flynn again: “Listen, the same people that you’re trashing, if they didn’t produce the Brady material to Sidney, your ass would still be in jail!”

It was no longer technically true that Flynn would be in jail, as he had received a post-election pardon from Trump. But Flynn was furious. “Don’t mention my case,” he roared. Herschmann responded, “Where do you think Sidney got this information? Where do you think it came from? From the exact same people in the Department of Justice that you’re now saying are corrupt.”

Byrne, wearing jeans, a hoodie and a neck gaiter, piped up with his own conspiracy: “I know how this works. I bribed Hillary Clinton $18 million on behalf of the FBI for a sting operation.”

Herschmann stared at the eccentric millionaire. “What the hell are you talking about? Why would you say something like that?” Byrne brought up the bizarre Clinton bribery claim several more times during the meeting to the astonishment of White House lawyers.

Trump, for his part, also seemed perplexed by Byrne. But he was not entirely convinced the ideas Powell was presenting were insane.

He asked: You guys are offering me nothing. These guys are at least offering me a chance. They’re saying they have the evidence. Why not try this? The president seemed truly to believe the election was stolen, and his overriding sentiment was, let’s give this a shot.

The words “martial law” were never spoken during the meeting, despite Flynn having raised the idea in an appearance the previous day on Newsmax, a right-wing hive for election conspiracies.

But this was a distinction without much of a difference. What Flynn and Powell were proposing amounted to suspending normal laws and mobilizing the U.S. government to seize Dominion voting machines around the country.

Powell was arguing that they couldn’t get a judge to enforce any subpoena to hand over the voting machines because all the judges were corrupt. She and her group repeatedly referred to the National Emergencies Act and a Trump executive order from 2018 that was designed to clear the way for the government to sanction foreign actors interfering in U.S. elections.

These laws were, in the view of Powell, Flynn and the others, the key to unlocking extraordinary powers for Trump to stay in office beyond Jan. 20.

Their theory was that because foreign enemies had stolen the election, all bets were off and Trump could use the full force of the United States government to go after Dominion.

It was remarkable that the presidency had deteriorated to such an extent that this fight in the Oval Office between senior White House officials and radical conspiracists was even taking place.

“How exactly are you going to do this?” an exasperated Herschmann asked again, later in the conversation. Newman again cited the 2018 executive order, which prompted Herschmann to question out loud whether she was even a lawyer.

Then Byrne chimed in: “There are guys with big guns and badges who can get these things.” Herschmann couldn’t believe it. “What are you, three years old?” he asked.

Lyons, the staff secretary, told the president that the executive order Powell and Flynn were citing did not give him the authority they claimed it did to seize voting machines. Morgan, the campaign lawyer, also expressed skepticism about their idea of invoking national security emergency powers.

To help adjudicate, Trump then patched in the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, on speakerphone. Trump’s personal assistant brought O’Brien into the call with no explanation of what madness would await him.

O’Brien said very little in the short time he was on the call but intervened at one point to say he saw no evidence to support Powell’s notion of declaring a national security emergency to seize voting machines. There was so much fiery crosstalk it was hard for anyone on the telephone to follow the conversation.

Trump expressed skepticism at various points about Powell’s theories, but he said, “At least she’s out there fighting.”

The discussion shifted from Dominion voting machines to a conversation about appointing Powell as a special counsel inside the government to investigate voter fraud. She wanted a top secret security clearance and access to confidential voter information.

Lyons told Trump he couldn’t appoint Powell as a special counsel at the Justice Department because this was an attorney general appointment. Lyons, Cipollone and Herschmann — in fact the entire senior White House staff who were aware of this idea — were all vehemently opposed to Powell becoming a special counsel anywhere in the government.

By this point Trump had also patched into the call his personal lawyer Giuliani and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows indicated that he was trying to wrap his mind around what exactly Powell’s role would entail. He told Powell she would have to fill out the SF-86 questionnaire before starting as special counsel.

This was seen as a delaying tactic. The sense in the room was that Trump might actually greenlight this extraordinary proposal.

At its essence, the Powell crew’s argument to the president was this: We have the real information. These people — your White House staff — don’t believe in the truth. They’re liars and quitters. They’re not willing to fight for you because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Put us in charge. Let us take control of everything. We’ll prove to you that what we’re saying is right. We won’t quit, we’ll fight. We’re willing to fight for the presidency.

On some level, this argument was music to Trump’s ears. He was desperate. Powell and her team were the only people willing to tell him what he wanted to hear — that a path to stay in power in the White House remained.

The Oval Office portion of the meeting had dragged on for nearly three hours, creeping beyond 9 p.m. The arguments became so heated that even Giuliani — still on the phone — at one point told everyone to calm down. One participant later recalled: “When Rudy’s the voice of reason, you know the meeting’s not going well.”

Giuliani told Trump he was going to come over to the White House. The president, having forgotten about the others on the line, hung up and cut multiple people off the call.

Herschmann, Cipollone and Lyons left the Oval Office, but soon discovered that the Powell entourage had made their way to the president’s residence. They followed them upstairs, to the Yellow Oval Room, Trump’s living room, where they were joined by Giuliani and Meadows.

Trump sat beside Powell in armchairs facing the door, separated by a round, wooden antique table. Giuliani sat in an armchair to the right of them, while Byrne and Meadows sat on a couch. Byrne wolfed down pigs in a blanket and little meatballs on toothpicks that staff had set on the coffee table.

Herschmann was primed to brawl and ready to dump on Powell. It had been a long day.

“Rudy,” he said, turning to Giuliani, “Sidney was just in the Oval telling the president you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Right, Sidney?” He turned to Powell: “Why don’t you tell Rudy to his face?”

“Eric, really it’s not appropriate,” Trump replied curtly.

“What’s not appropriate?” Herschmann shot back. Turning to Powell, he said, “Why don’t you repeat to Rudy what you just told the president in the Oval Office — that he has no idea about the case and that he only just began to understand it a few hours ago.”

Three days later, Giuliani would publicly distance himself from Powell, telling Newsmax that Powell did not represent the president, and that “whatever she’s talking about, it’s her own opinions.”

It didn’t take long for the yelling to start up again. They were now in hour four of a meeting unprecedented even by the deranged standards of the final days of the Trump presidency.

Now it was Meadows’ turn, blasting Flynn for trashing him and accusing him of being a quitter. “Don’t you dare challenge me about whether I’m being supportive of the president and working hard,” Meadows shouted, reminding Flynn that he’d defended him during his legal troubles.

Trump and Cipollone, who frequently butted heads, went at it too, over whether the administration had the authority to do what Powell was proposing.

Powell kept asserting throughout the night that she had — or would soon produce — the evidence needed to prove foreign interference. She kept insisting that Trump had the legal authority he needed to seize voting machines. But she did not have the goods.

Powell at one point turned to Lyons and demanded, “Why are you speaking? Are you still employed here?” The staff secretary, who had already resigned, laughed and joked, “Well I guess I’m here until midnight.”

It was after midnight by the time the White House officials had finally said their piece. They left that night fully prepared for the mad possibility Trump might still name Sidney Powell special counsel. You have our advice, they told the president before walking out. You decide who to listen to.

🎧 Listen to Jonathan Swan on Axios’ new investigative podcast series, called “How it happened: Trump’s last stand.”

Read the rest of the “Off the Rails” episodes here < https://www.axios.com/off-the-rails-episodes-cf6da824-83ac-45a6-a33c-ed8b00094e39.html >.

About this series: Our reporting is based on multiple interviews with current and former White House, campaign, government and congressional officials as well as direct eyewitnesses and people close to the president. Sources have been granted anonymity to share sensitive observations or details they would not be formally authorized to disclose. President Trump and other officials to whom quotes and actions have been attributed by others were provided the opportunity to confirm, deny or respond to reporting elements prior to publication.

“Off the rails” is reported by White House reporter Jonathan Swan, with writing, reporting and research assistance by Zach Basu. It was edited by Margaret Talev and Mike Allen and copy edited by Eileen O’Reilly. Illustrations by Sarah Grillo, Aïda Amer and Eniola Odetunde.

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Thank you, Marty Baron , and Jeff Bezos, too

From The Washington Post, 27 January 2021:

< https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/martin-baron-washington-post-retirement/2021/01/26/62a76198-5ff0-11eb-9430-e7c77b5b0297_story.html >

Media
Martin Baron, executive editor who oversaw dramatic Washington Post expansion, announces retirement

Photo caption: Martin Baron, seen in the Washington Post newsroom as it is announced that The Post received Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting and national reporting in 2018. Baron announced his retirement Tuesday, effective Feb. 28. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
By Paul Farhi ——— Jan. 26, 2021 at 7:58 p.m. EST

Martin Baron, one of the most highly regarded editors in American journalism and an outspoken advocate of the value of a free press, announced Tuesday he would step down as executive editor of The Washington Post on Feb. 28.

Over a 45-year career, Baron led reporters at some of the nation’s finest newspapers through groundbreaking investigations of challenging targets — including the Catholic Church, the National Security Agency and the charities of Donald Trump. During his last eight years at The Post, the paper has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes.

“From the moment I arrived at The Post, I have sought to make an enduring contribution while giving back to a profession that has meant so much to me and that serves to safeguard democracy,” Baron, 66, wrote in a memo to The Post’s staff Tuesday morning announcing his retirement.

Baron, who was formerly the editor of the Boston Globe and the Miami Herald, joined The Post on Jan. 1, 2013, at a time when many newspapers, including The Post, were in financial decline. It was also just months before the paper embarked on one of its most consequential stories, centered on the leak of material describing the NSA’s extensive surveillance operations.

Later that same year, the Graham family, longtime owners of The Post, sold it to Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos — marking the beginning of the newspaper’s sustained revival under Baron’s leadership, both financially and in its journalistic ambitions.

Baron oversaw a dramatic expansion of the newsroom, which had undergone several buyouts before his arrival; its numbers grew from 580 journalists at his arrival to more than 1,000 this year. In a memo to the staff Tuesday, Publisher Fred Ryan said Baron had “inspired great reporting, managed an awesome digital transformation and grown the number of readers and subscribers to unprecedented levels.”

Within a couple of years, the understated editor became something of a journalism icon. The 2015 movie “Spotlight,” which won the Oscar for best picture, dramatized the Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s child sexual-abuse scandal, with Baron a key heroic figure portrayed by actor Liev Schreiber.

“His depiction has me as a stoic, humorless, somewhat dour character that many professional colleagues instantly recognize,” Baron later wrote, “and that my closest friends find not entirely familiar.”

And at the dawn of the Trump administration, it was Baron who clarified the mission of the mainstream press as it was blasted with political attacks of “fake news” from the right.

“We’re not at war with the administration,” Baron said, asserting his paper’s dedication to aggressive, fair and nonpartisan reporting. “We’re at work.”

In an interview, Baron said he decided to step down now after several years of intense work. “It’s an exhausting job,” he said. “With the Internet being so big a part of it, it’s 24-7-365. You’re pretty much on duty and on alert all the time. It means you never really get to disconnect.”

He has no immediate plans after he leaves The Post, he said: “I think I’m owed a breather.” The Post has not yet named Baron’s successor.

He credited Bezos with transforming The Post from a primarily regional publication to one that was national and international in scope and more focused on digital presentation, rather than print. “Had we stayed largely regional, we would be facing severe financial problems today, as most newspapers are,” Baron said. “He knew we could leverage The Post’s name and tradition of great journalism to national scale.”

Under Baron’s stewardship, Bezos introduced a new motto for the paper: “Democracy dies in darkness.”

“You leave behind a newsroom that is bigger and stronger and more thoughtful than ever,” Bezos wrote in an Instagram tribute to Baron. “You will be missed so much. Not just your intellect but also — and most hard to replace — your heart.”

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who worked with Baron when Baron was a Times editor, said Tuesday, “He made three newspapers [The Post, Globe and Miami Herald] better. He led The Post brilliantly. And he has been an important spokesman for the industry, a champion of investigative work and holding power to account.”

Baron’s retirement is part of a generational change at some of the nation’s largest news organizations. The Los Angeles Times’s top editor, Norman Pearlstine, recently announced his retirement, as has Stephen Adler, the editor of the Reuters news service. Baquet has been widely expected to retire from the New York Times soon.

Baron has worked in the upper echelons of newsrooms throughout his career. He spent his longest professional stretch, from 1979 to 1996, with the Los Angeles Times, rising to editor of its Orange County edition. After four years at the New York Times, he was named editor of the Herald in 2000 and led its coverage of Elián González’s return to Cuba and the disputed 2000 presidential election.

As the editor of the Globe, starting in 2001, Baron emphasized regional investigative reporting, culminating with the newspaper’s reporting on the Catholic Church’s coverup of allegations against abusive priests.

In 2012, Katharine Weymouth, then The Post’s publisher, hired Baron to succeed Marcus Brauchli as the newsroom’s leader. “I was looking for an editor with a proven track record, who could lead the newsroom as we became truly multiplatform and who would push us to do better work than ever,” Weymouth said Tuesday. “He has far exceeded my greatest expectations.”

Barton Gellman, a former national security reporter for The Post, recalled Tuesday how he met Baron for the first time in 2013 to discuss what Gellman would do with the voluminous trove of leaked material shared with him by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

“I remember thinking he might throw me out of his office when I laid out my outlandish conditions — a windowless room, a heavy safe, encrypted email and so on — for bringing the Snowden documents to The Post,” Gellman said. “He did not hesitate.”

At one “delicate moment,” Gellman said, Baron overruled a Post lawyer who had advised greater caution in the reporting.

“This was an uncommonly risky story,” he said. “Marty never put a foot wrong. Every choice he made came from a place of courage and common sense and journalistic integrity.”

In 2016, it was Baron who suggested the direction that Post staffer David Fahrenthold should take in covering then-candidate Trump as the two waited for an elevator at the office one night.

Fahrenthold had been reporting on Trump’s broken promises to contribute to veterans’ charities; Baron said he should go wider and look at all of Trump’s charitable claims over the years.

“The logic was that Trump had just tried to wiggle out of a charitable promise he’d made on national TV,” Fahrenthold later wrote. “What, Marty wondered, had he been doing before the campaign, when nobody was looking?”

The answer was a pattern of deceptive, even fraudulent activities, all of which led officials in New York to shut down Trump’s charitable foundation. Fahrenthold later broke the news that Trump had been recorded bragging about assaulting women during an appearance on the “Access Hollywood” TV show in 2005. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage in 2017.

In his note to the Post staff, Baron said he had told department heads two years ago that he was committed to staying as editor until after the 2020 election. He said he has worked in journalism “without stop” for nearly 45 years.

Baron wrote that his journalism experiences have “been deeply meaningful, enriched by colleagues who made me a better professional and a better person. At age 66, I feel ready to move on.”

He added, “Working at The Washington Post allows each of us to serve a purpose bigger than ourselves. Such is the honor of being a journalist, perhaps nowhere more so than in a newsroom like ours. I came here eight years ago with a reverence for The Post’s heritage of courage and independence and feeling an inviolable obligation to uphold its values. With all the energy I possess, I have tried to ensure that we remain faithful to all this institution has long stood for, with an emphasis on our duty to seek the truth and tell it.”

This story, originally published at 11:24 a.m., has been updated. Twelve hours after posting, there were over 400 comments.

Paul Farhi
Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter. Follow

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Obituary for Juan Guzmán

From The Washington Post —
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/juan-guzman-tapia-judge-who-battled-chilean-dictator-dies-at-81/2021/01/23/3d51a1f8-5d00-11eb-a976-bad6431e03e2_story.html >

Obituaries

Juan Guzmán Tapia, judge who battled Chilean dictator,
dies at 81

Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia in 2005.
Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia in 2005. (Tom Uhlman/AP)

By. Matt Schudel – – – – – Jan. 23, 2021 at 11:23 p.m. EST

Juan Guzmán Tapia, a Chilean judge who was the first person to prosecute the country’s onetime military ruler, Augusto Pinochet, using novel legal strategies to hold him and members of his regime accountable for killings and human rights offenses in the 1970s and 1980s, died Jan. 22 at age 81.

Chilean newspapers, including La Tercera, reported his death, which was confirmed by his family to Spanish-language news services. Other details were not disclosed, but Judge Guzmán lived in Santiago and had dementia, said a friend, Peter Kornbluh, the author of “The Pinochet File.”

Judge Guzmán, who was the son of a Chilean diplomat, said he and his conservative family celebrated in 1973 when Pinochet and his military supporters overthrew Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, in a coup. It took years before Judge Guzmán understood the full extent of the terror that was then unleashed by Pinochet, his secret police and other henchmen.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Judge Guzmán led an often risky legal campaign to redress rampant human rights abuses that left thousands of Chileans dead.

“He has become the iconic pursuer of justice in Chile — the first judge to indict and began a legal process to bring Augusto Pinochet to justice for crimes against humanity both within Chile and elsewhere,” said Kornbluh, who is director of the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.

Judge Guzmán, who became a regional magistrate in the early 1970s, was an appeals court judge by the time Pinochet relinquished power in 1990. Pinochet maintained control of the military until 1998, and the country’s judicial system and leading media outlets were also aligned with him.

A Chilean Dictator’s Dark Legacy

After democratic rule returned to Chile in the 1990s, accounts began to surface of systematic kidnappings, torture and murder carried out at Pinochet’s behest. Lawyers for victims and their families filed suit against Pinochet, and Judge Guzmán was assigned to investigate the cases, becoming, in effect, a special prosecutor. (In Chile’s judicial system at that time, judges had investigative and prosecutorial authority, in addition to the role of presiding in court.)

JG4AAFC7MYI6XILXO5S7FGUVEQ.jpg&w=300

Judge Guzmán leaving a court building in Santiago,
Chile, in 2001. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

Judge Guzmán was appalled by what he began to learn about his country.

Soon after Pinochet seized control in 1973, he launched a purge of local government officials associated with Allende known as the Caravan of Death. Military squads arrived by helicopter, rounded up local officials and shot them. Their bodies were buried in remote places. Pinochet loyalists were installed in their former offices.

Pinochet was also a central figure in a second wave of repression, called Operation Condor, which linked several military regimes in South America, reportedly with support from the CIA. Students, professors and dissidents were hounded and sometimes kidnapped, many of them never to be seen again. These people became known in Spanish as the desaparecidos, or “the disappeared.”

A Chilean commission on truth and reconciliation later documented 3,197 victims of extrajudicial execution or disappearances. A separate commission estimated that there were more than 80,000 survivors of torture. Against that background, Judge Guzmán assembled a team of detectives and forensic experts to investigate Chile’s bloody past.

“I traversed Chile city by city to piece together the macabre puzzle left behind,” he wrote in a 2005 memoir. “We found eyewitnesses, people who’d been waiting for decades for the judicial system to pay attention to what they had to say.”

He interviewed relatives of people who disappeared and others who had been tortured. He found mass graves and secret prisons. He interviewed helicopter mechanics who described how bodies were loaded onto military helicopters, then dumped in the Pacific Ocean, weighted down by sections of railroad track.

Judge Guzmán often brought journalists with him to document the grisly discoveries, which included skulls and skeletons dug from the earth. Judges on higher courts admonished him for being a publicity seeker, but he pressed forward.

“The deeper I got into my inquiry into the crimes of the dictatorship,” he told the New York Times in 2006, “the more I realized that people in Chile were either unaware or wanted to be unaware of those crimes.”

The bulk of the human rights abuses had occurred during the first five years of Pinochet’s regime. He later issued a blanket amnesty to military and security officials for any crimes committed before 1978. After Pinochet lost the presidency in 1990, he was named a senator-for-life, which granted him immunity from prosecution.

Judge Guzmán was particularly troubled by the cases of people who had vanished.

“I was convinced the amnesty did not apply to disappearances,” Judge Guzmán said in a 2008 documentary, “The Judge and the General,” directed by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco Leverton. “The bodies of the disappeared had never been found, and so the crimes never ended. It was continuing crime.”

Another term used for the disappearances was “perpetual kidnapping.” In other words, if a criminal act had no clear resolution, the crime was still ongoing, and the perpetrators could be brought to justice.

The Chilean supreme court agreed with Judge Guzmán’s theory. He brought his first indictments in 1999 and ultimately sent dozens of onetime Chilean officials to prison.

In the meantime, Pinochet was taken into custody while visiting London in 1998 on orders from a Spanish judge who sought to have the general stand trial for genocide, torture and other crimes against Spanish citizens in Chile.

Pinochet was never extradited to Spain, but after 17 months of house arrest in London he returned to Chile in March 2000, welcomed by cheering supporters. Within 72 hours, Judge Guzmán filed documents to have Pinochet’s legal immunity removed.

He brought charges against Pinochet, connecting him to 75 killings in the Caravan of Death, and ordered him confined under house arrest at his mansion outside Santiago. The case stalled when Pinochet’s lawyers argued that the aging dictator had developed dementia and could not stand trial.

Judge Guzmán later discovered an interview that Pinochet had given in November 2003 to a Spanish-langauge TV station in Miami and asked a panel of psychiatrists and other experts to examine it. In the TV interview, Pinochet appeared coherent, reasonable and utterly without remorse.

After questioning Pinochet in person, Judge Guzmán ruled in December 2004 that the 89-year-old ex-dictator was competent to stand trial. Furthermore, he leveled nine charges of kidnapping against Pinochet and one of aggravated murder, all related to Operation Condor. Other members of Pinochet’s junta, including the chief of his secret police, were arrested.

Millions of dollars were later discovered in offshore accounts controlled by Pinochet, leading to additional charges of financial fraud. In the end, Judge Guzmán indicted Pinochet three times, but the general never came to trial.

Pinochet spent his final years in internal exile, repeatedly under house arrest and deserted by his once-loyal followers. He died in 2006 at age 91, with multiple cases still pending against him.

“The important thing is what we leave to our children,” Judge Guzmán said in 2006, “and here they are going to be able to say, ‘Look, here a dictator was judged.’ ”

Juan Salvador Guzmán Tapia was born April 22, 1939, in El Salvador’s capital of San Salvador, where his father was serving as a diplomat. His father was also a poet, and his mother had studied theater and sculpture. Writers and artists were frequent guests at the family home.

Judge Guzmán spent his formative years, from 4 to 12, in San Francisco and Washington and was deeply influenced by his early exposure to American culture and constitutional principles.

He lived in Venezuela and Colombia before receiving a law degree from the Pontificial Catholic University of Chile. He studied at the University of Paris in the late 1960s and was fluent in several languages.

Survivors include his French-born wife, Inés Watine Dubrulle, and two daughters.

Judge Guzmán retired from the bench in 2005 and became a law school dean at the Central University of Chile and later taught at other law schools, including the University of Pennsylvania. He spoke widely about the need to pursue justice against those responsible for human rights crimes, regardless of how powerful they might be.

“Judges must speak,” he said in the documentary “The Judge and the General.” “They must be transparent. It’s important for the people, it’s important for the relatives of the victims, and it’s important for the country. . . . A wounded country needs to know the truth.”

Read more Washington Post obituaries

José Zalaquett, champion of human rights in Pinochet’s Chile and around the world, dies at 77

‘Tex’ Harris, U.S. diplomat who exposed human rights abuses in Argentina, dies at 81

Matt Schudel
Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004. He previously worked for publications in Washington, New York, North Carolina and Florida. Follow

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Bruce Potter
Annapolis, MD 21403

Bruce’s iPhone: 443/454-9044
E-mail: <bpotter>
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News from the Deep Swamp: Finance Companies Took $500 million in PPP Funds

[Long] From The Washington Post < https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/01/15/debt-collectors-payday-ppp/

Summary: More than 1,700 debt-collection agencies and related businesses borrowed from the program, totaling more than $520 million in loans.

Debt collectors, payday lenders collected over $500 million in federal pandemic relief
Paycheck Protection Program money went to firms that have drawn sanctions and received hundreds of consumer complaints

A customer leaves a payday loan store in Maryland. The check-cashing and payday loan services industry has thousands of branch offices nationwide.

A customer leaves a payday loan store in Maryland. The check-cashing and payday loan services industry has thousands of branch offices nationwide. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

By Peter Whoriskey, Joel Jacobs and Aaron Gregg Jan. 15, 2021 at 6:13 a.m. EST

A Texas firm that describes itself as one of the nation’s largest medical bill collectors was racking up consumer complaints last year.

“For months this company has been reporting inaccurate, unverifiable, erroneous things on my credit report and I am sick of it!!!” states one consumer’s report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in January 2020.

“I get calls almost every other day,” according to another in April. “I consider this harassment.”

“I am reporting a potentially fraudulent credit collection and reporting issue,” said a third.

The firm, Capio Asset Servicing, came under investigation last year as part of Operation Corrupt Collector, an enforcement sweep of the debt-collection industry by federal and state officials. In a September lawsuit, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) alleged that the company was seeking to collect debts that were not owed and “causing emotional and physical stress when they threaten and intimidate consumers.”

Yet the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program last year also gave the company a helping hand: It provided $2.4 million in forgivable loans to Capio and an affiliated firm, the Law Office of Mitchell D. Bluhm and Associates, which works with Capio, investigators said.

Those were just two of more than 1,800 loans that went to debt collectors and high-interest lenders through the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. In all, the aid to these businesses amounted to more than $580 million.

More than half of small-business loans went to larger businesses, new SBA data shows

More than 170 of those recipients have been the subject of a multitude of complaints — each racking up at least 100 with the CFPB, according to The Post’s analysis. Twenty-five have been subject to legal enforcement or consumer alerts, many by the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Giving these companies government money was a terrible idea,” said Don Yarbrough, a lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who represents debtors in collection cases. The government loans to debt collectors essentially finance “debt collection against people who already are dealing with a global pandemic.”

Yarbrough recently sued Capio on behalf of a Florida woman with a brain injury from whom Capio was allegedly seeking to collect a six-year-old medical debt. Capio did not respond to requests for comment about the case, which was settled.

A Capio representative said the companies met the requirements for the government loan and supplied all necessary information. The companies reported that the loans would support 245 jobs. Balderas, the attorney general, has voluntarily withdrawn the lawsuit as the parties conduct settlement discussions.

“Like millions of businesses in America, Capio and Bluhm enrolled in the Paycheck Protection Program,” a Capio representative said in a statement. “Capio and Bluhm are working closely with the New Mexico Attorney General and the Consumer Protection Division to address any of their questions.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Small Business Administration, which administers the pandemic loan program, declined to comment for this article.

Companies fined by regulators received loans

From the beginning of the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, disputes have arisen about which businesses should be eligible for the money.

Intended to support small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, the program offered loans up to $10 million — and critically, the loans could be forgiven if companies used most of the money to cover payroll. The idea was to encourage companies to keep people employed. In December, Congress finalized another coronavirus relief measure that provided an additional $284 billion for the program.

How to get a loan from the new $284 billion Paycheck Protection Program

For this article, The Post tallied the number of consumer finance firms receiving PPP loans that have faced scrutiny from regulators or drawn more than 100 consumer complaints with the CFPB.

While the CFPB does not verify all of the complaint narratives, The Post may be undercounting the number of such companies because some may have received loans under business names that differ from those reported in enforcement and complaint records. In addition, The Post found dozens of cases in which companies did not list themselves as debt-collection agencies despite having public websites advertising such services.

Consider, for example, National Credit Adjusters, a Kansas firm that provides debt-collection services. It received $1.5 million from the federal loan program.

In July 2018, the company agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty to the CFPB after the federal agency found it had used a network of companies that “engaged in frequent unlawful debt collection acts.” The companies told consumers they owed more than they were legally required to pay and threatened them and their families with lawsuits and arrests, according to the CFPB.

Over the past three years, National Credit Adjusters has provoked more than 1,000 consumer complaints, according to CFPB data.

“A man … called my office phone. He then stated that I would be served at my job and arrested!” according to an August complaint from Texas. “I asked him to not call my work and he called 4 times back to back to back harassing me and my co-workers.”

“I checked my credit report today and noticed a collection from National Credit Adjusters claiming that I owe ($480.00) to some company,” according to one November complaint from Tennessee. “I have never done business with [them] nor have I ever heard of them. This ridiculous collection has caused my credit score to drop.”

“A few months ago this random company showed up on my credit report saying I owed money. I have no loans and have never heard of them,” according to another last year from Wisconsin. “I attempted to reach out numerous times for verification and they just send more requests for money.”

The company declined to comment.

In several other cases, PPP loans have gone to companies facing recent financial penalties for regulatory infractions, and the loans could have helped the companies pay the government fines.

For example, seven mortgage firms agreed last year to pay civil penalties for problems the CFPB uncovered. The agency found that the mortgage companies were sending misleading advertising to veterans and service members about loans backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Their combined penalties totaled $3.6 million — less than half of the $9.8 million they collectively received in forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program.

“These are not the kind of companies you would hope to be at the front of the line for government help,” said Derek Martin of Accountable.us, a nonprofit government accountability organization. “Especially if their history of harming the consumer is there in official records.”

Debt collectors prosper in pandemic

Another question that has arisen regarding such loans to consumer finance companies is whether they needed the money.

Although the Paycheck Protection Program was intended to help ailing small businesses, it did not require evidence of losses. Its rules required companies only to attest that “current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary.”

More than 1,700 debt-collection agencies and related businesses borrowed from the program, totaling more than $520 million in loans.

Yet many of these firms are prospering during the pandemic. Although debt collectors often lose in recessions, this pandemic recession may be different, industry analysts said, and some are reaping more money than ever.

Many debtors — the primary source of revenue for debt-collection agencies — have at least temporarily been in a better position to pay their debts. Many received government stimulus checks in the spring; others have been granted permission to delay paying their mortgages.

Two of the largest debt collectors, Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates, have been seeing significant increases in collections, according to their quarterly financial statements. Although neither of those companies received money from the federal loan program, the renewed ability of their debtors to repay is probably helping other debt-collection companies, analysts said.

“We have continued to generate unprecedented cash collections,” Portfolio Recovery Associates said in a recent financial statement. “We have assumed that these collections are accelerated due to current circumstances providing consumers with additional discretionary funds and a willingness to voluntarily repay their debts.”

As a result, critics say, many debt collectors are prospering and should not have benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Some of these companies are recording record profits,” Yarbrough said. “They don’t need government assistance.”

A trade group representing debt collectors, however, defended the government loans provided to the companies.

“Our members employ 124,000 people, many of whom have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and the PPP has helped preserve those jobs,” Mark Neeb, chief executive of the trade group, ACA International, said in a statement. “Consumers and creditors depend on our members’ services to help resolve disputes and unpaid debts and in order to help keep the credit system running smoothly.”

Payday lenders, strip clubs vie for PPP loans

Similar questions have arisen about whether lenders, particularly payday loan companies that charge high interest rates, ought to be eligible for the program.

At the outset, the Small Business Administration imposed a rule excluding all lenders from the Paycheck Protection Program.

But the decision to exclude them — along with lobbying firms and businesses that offer “prurient” entertainment — has been repeatedly challenged in court: The SBA and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were sued last year by a strip club in Flint, Mich., a group of strip clubs in Wisconsin, a lobbying group and a payday lender.

Those who represent payday lenders argue that the point of the Cares Act was to keep employees on the job regardless of the industry in which they work.

“Employees of legal, licensed, and regulated lending companies are just as deserving of payroll protections and support as those of any other legitimate industry in the country,” said Mary Jackson, chief executive of the Online Lenders Alliance, which advocates on behalf of payday lenders as well as others.

Jackson said in an email that many “small-dollar lenders” actually have struggled during the economic crisis and are doing everything they can to make payroll. She added that such loans can be essential for people with a higher credit risk.

There are “approximately 100 million Americans who need these options,” Jackson said. “They are providing longer term installment loans that allow consumers the opportunity to build or repair their credit.”

Strip clubs, payday lenders, lobbyists fight to get emergency federal loans

At least some judges agreed with the excluded businesses. In two cases, federal judges noted that in approving the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress specified that the loans be available to “any business” and that the administration erred in ruling out some industries.

There was a political push, too: In the House, 24 Republicans and four Democrats signed a letter in April pushing for the program to include lenders such as payday-loan companies.

“As you may know, in many parts of our districts (especially in our rural communities), our constituents’ sole access to financial services is from small-size nonbanks — installment lenders, finance companies,” the letter said. A spokesperson for Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), one of the signees, later clarified that payday lenders were intended to be included in the request.

A senior administration official involved in the government’s PPP implementation declined to comment on payday lenders specifically, but said lending organizations generally would not be eligible for PPP loans in the next $284 billion phase of the program.

“Generally businesses whose stock and trade is financing or lending are generally, and I need to qualify this, may not be eligible,” said the senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the federal government’s plans.

“I can’t comment on specifically payday lenders, but we are aware of those, and this is part of our data verification and identity management controls that we are seeking to have with our new round,” the official said.

In a departure from the first rounds of funding, the SBA says it plans to conduct automated eligibility checks before disbursing funds. The agency said this week it plans to allow community financial institutions — those with assets under $1 billion — to start making loans beginning Friday, with larger banks allowed to begin making loans Tuesday.

The Paycheck Protection Program data does not clearly indicate which companies are consumer lenders that charge high rates, but The Post was able to identify more than 80 of them that received loans totaling more than $60 million. Those loans were approved by banks that distributed the money based on applications from the companies.

LoanMe, based in Anaheim, Calif., received a PPP loan of $4.8 million to support 85 employees. Although interest rates vary by state, the company’s disclosures say it can charge annual percentage rates as high as 99 percent in South Carolina and 510 percent in Texas. The business did not respond to requests for comment. The interest rate for the government loans that aren’t forgiven is far less — about 1 percent.

Similarly, a group of 17 companies with the same Alabama address and affiliated with Title Cash, a title and payday lender, received loans totaling more than $3.6 million from the program.

The Title Cash chain has hundreds of locations across nine states and provides short-term loans with very high interest rates, according to its website. A 14-day loan in Alabama is advertised at 456 percent interest on a yearly basis, for example, and a 30-day loan in Mississippi has a maximum annual percentage rate of 267 percent.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

At the very least, Martin said, “these companies should pay back the U.S. government at the same rate they’re lending to consumers.”

Updated January 15, 2021

Peter Whoriskey
Peter Whoriskey is a staff writer for The Washington Post whose investigative work focuses on American business and the economy. Previously, he worked at the Miami Herald, where he contributed to the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Andrew, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service.
Joel Jacobs
Joel Jacobs is a data reporter working with the corporate accountability team at The Washington Post.
Aaron Gregg
Aaron Gregg covers the defense industry, government contractors and federal policy issues for the Washington Post’s business section.

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Chilean Wine in the Jan 8th edition of the Economist

Link to the on-line version of this article, but it may be behind a “pay wall” for non-subscribers. . . . <https://econ.st/3pXgMQV >

Label your libation with love

Why Chinese tipplers like Chilean wine
Presentation counts as much as the taste

The Americas. Jan 2nd 2021 online edition

SANTIAGO

IN THIRTY YEARS Chile’s wine industry has gone from backwater to global powerhouse. Its vineyards are blessed with few pests, warm summers and low costs. That has helped it become the world’s largest non-European wine exporter by volume. Now it is taking China by storm; only Australia and France send more wine there.

The absence of tariffs helps. Since Chile signed a trade deal with China in 2006, the value of its wine exports to that country has rocketed from $5m to $250m in 2019. Another factor is Chile’s ability to make wine that is specially branded and packaged for the Chinese market, known in the trade as “private-label” wine. This requires not only good plonk, but also impeccable labelling and bottling: the drink is often given as a gift, so it has to look impressive. Chilean wine sent to China fetches an average of $33.11 a case, a price that includes all costs up to loading it onto a ship, compared with $27.42 for wine sent to the United States.

“The key to success in China is to understand the market and…cultural context,” says Nathalie Malbrán, who oversees Asia for Viña Futaleufú, a winery that specialises in private labelling. Founded in 2012, it now leads Chile’s wine exports to China, ahead of dominant brands Concha y Toro and Montes. China’s size and diversity mean there is no common pattern for bottles and labels. “It is essential to be flexible,” says Ms Malbrán.

This business model has fostered a flourishing label-design sector in Chile to cater for China’s changing requirements. It is a huge challenge, says Carlos Scheuch of Colorama, a label-maker, not least because the labels must withstand rough weather and extreme temperatures on the month-long journey across the Pacific to China, then overland to the retailers.

“The label designs are spectacular,” he says. They involve different textures, unusual shapes and advanced printing techniques such as embossing, silk-screen printing and coloured metallic foils. Gold and silver are favoured colours. Whereas chateaux often appear on French bottles, Chilean private-label ones favour landscapes, animals, birds and images that emphasise their Chilean character. Designs are rarely repeated, so printers have adjusted to one-off print-runs. “Eighty per cent are printed only once and never again,” says Mr Scheuch.

The wine’s name is noticed as much as the design. The ideal is to retain some meaning when transliterated or written phonetically in Chinese, says Jaime Muñoz, who founded Antawara Wines in 2006 to enter the Chinese market. The transliteration may be Chinese for an auspicious number or a hopeful omen, he says.

Viña Futaleufú, for instance, trades in Asia under the simpler name Anun Wines. The two Chinese characters for Anun (an and neng), which means “putting down roots” in Mapudungun, the language of Chile’s Mapuche people, can be interpreted as “safe” and “capable”. Anun also markets a brand called Ahu, a ceremonial platform for the moai stone carvings on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a Chilean territory. A gold moai head stands out on the black label.

Six out of Chile’s top ten wine exporters to China use private labels, says Ms Malbrán. This is paying off. In 2016 China became Chile’s main wine destination by value, though in 2020 it slipped behind Brazil and Britain by volume after covid-19 left stocks languishing in Chinese warehouses. Chile’s industry insiders reckon that time, and vaccines, will restore the Asian giant to its perch. ■

This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print edition under the headline “Label your libation with loving lustre”

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Congress Confirms Biden Victory

From the National Public Radio account at 3:41 AM, 7 January, 2021.
“ . . . One woman was killed by a Capitol Police officer in the Capitol. Wednesday night, D.C. police said three other people died from medical emergencies in the surrounding area.”

Not a proud toll, I’d say, Mr. President.

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Well, THAT was quick . . . .

From the Washington Post: < https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/01/04/haven-amazon-jpmorgan-closes/ > If you can, go to the web site to check out some of the interesting comments offered by the public.

Technology
High-profile health-care venture backed by Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway shutters
The start-up, which promised to overhaul health care by reining in costs and improving outcomes, will shut down next month with little to show for its efforts.

By Jay Greene Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:23 p.m. EST

SEATTLE — An ambitious effort by three of America’s most prominent companies and their high-powered executives to overhaul health care in the United States will shut down next month with little to show for it.

Haven, created two years ago by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to address soaring health-care costs and improve patient outcomes, announced in a terse statement on its website Monday that it will shutter.

“Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of their own employee populations,” the company wrote. “Haven will end its independent operations at the end of February 2021.”

The Boston-based company has 57 employees.

It’s a stark shift from the ambitious announcement of the group’s creation three years ago by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Berkshire’s Warren Buffett. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Buffett said in a statement at the time. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable.”

Haven demonstrated plenty of ambition when it debuted in 2018. At the time, the three prominent executives put their names behind the effort, garnering massive media coverage for their efforts to address one of the most intractable challenges in corporate America. Reducing costs was a primary objective.

“Our nation’s health-care costs are essentially twice as much per person versus most other developed nations,” Dimon said at the time.

Health-care spending increased by 4.6 percent in 2019, after growing 4.7 percent in 2018, according to an analysis published in Health Affairs, a health-policy journal. The nation spent $3.8 trillion on health care in 2019, accounting for 17.7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, compared with 17.6 percent in 2018.

The company also tapped health luminary Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a writer for the New Yorker magazine, as its chief executive in 2018. At the time, Gawande said that “the backing of these remarkable organizations” provided the opportunity to “incubate better models of care for all.”

Atul Gawande named to head cost-cutting health-care venture from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase

Gawande stepped away from Haven last spring. Last month, President-elect Joe Biden named Gawande to his coronavirus advisory board.

JPMorgan declined to say how much it spent on Haven, except to note that the costs were “immaterial,” spokesman Joseph Evangelisti said via email. In a letter to employees, Dimon pledged to build on Haven’s accomplishments, even though he didn’t specifically detail them.

“Haven worked best as an incubator of ideas, a place to pilot, test and learn — and a way to share best practices across our companies,” Dimon wrote. “Our learnings have been invaluable, and I look forward to working with all of you as we seek to make healthcare better, simpler and more affordable for all.”

Haven’s accomplishments remain unclear, and its struggles illustrate the challenges endemic to improving health care delivery in the United States, said Kate Bundorf, a professor of health policy at Duke University.

“Health care is hard,” Bundorf said. “It wasn’t totally obvious to me what exactly those three organizations working together were going to accomplish.”

At Haven’s launch, Bezos said Amazon was “open-eyed about the degree of difficulty” to reduce health care costs while improving patient outcomes. With Haven’s demise, Amazon spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to disclose the amount the company spend on the start-up, but said it was happy with the investment.

Representatives for Berkshire didn’t immediately comment.

The three backers will “continue to collaborate informally” on health care initiatives, Haven spokeswoman Brooke Thurston said Monday.

Among the three companies, Amazon has taken several steps to develop its own health care business. In November, it debuted the Amazon Pharmacy a little more than two years after it acquired online pharmacy PillPack for $753 million, expanding into online prescription drug sales.

Amazon has also rolled out facilities at its warehouses to test workers for the novel coronavirus.

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Talk about crazy . . . .

From the Washington Post — think I saw a similar headline for The NY Times

Exclusive

‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’:

In extraordinary hour-long call,

Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state

to recalculate the vote in his favor

By Amy Gardner Jan. 3, 2021 at 12:59 p.m. EST

President Trump urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that election experts said raised legal questions.

The Washington Post obtained a recording of the conversation in which Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking “a big risk.”

Throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions, explaining that the president is relying on debunked conspiracy theories and that President-elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was fair and accurate.

Caption:President Trump walks to the Oval Office after returning from Florida on Thursday. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Trump dismissed their arguments.

“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

Raffensperger responded: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”

Election results under attack: Here are the facts

At another point, Trump said: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

The rambling and at times incoherent conversation offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains about his loss, unwilling or unable to let the matter go and still believing he can reverse the results in enough battleground states to remain in office.

“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

Several of his allies were on the line as he spoke, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell, a prominent GOP attorney whose involvement with Trump’s efforts had not been previously known.

In a statement, Mitchell said Raffensperger’s office “has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct and everyone involved with the efforts on behalf of the President’s election challenge has said the same thing: show us your records on which you rely to make these statements that our numbers are wrong.”

The White House, the Trump campaign and Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Raffensperger’s office declined to comment.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Raffensperger, saying the secretary of state was “unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”

Raffensperger responded with his own tweet: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true.”

The pressure Trump put on Raffensperger is the latest example of his attempt to subvert the outcome of the Nov. 3 election through personal outreach to state Republican officials. He previously invited Michigan Republican state leaders to the White House, pressured Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in a call to try to replace that state’s electors and asked the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to help reverse his loss in that state.

His call to Raffensperger came as scores of Republicans have pledged to challenge the electoral college’s vote for Biden when Congress convenes for a joint session on Wednesday. Republicans do not have the votes to successfully thwart Biden’s victory, but Trump has urged supporters to travel to Washington to protest the outcome, and state and federal officials are already bracing for clashes outside the Capitol.

Growing number of Trump loyalists in the Senate vow to challenge Biden’s victory

During their conversation, Trump issued a vague threat to both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel, suggesting that if they don’t find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County have been illegally destroyed to block investigators — an allegation for which there is no evidence — they would be subject to criminal liability.

“That’s a criminal offense,” he said. “And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.”

Trump also told Raffensperger that failure to act by Tuesday would jeopardize the political fortunes of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia’s two Republican senators whose fate in that day’s runoff elections will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Trump said he plans to talk about the fraud on Monday, when he is scheduled to lead an election eve rally in Dalton, Ga. — a message that could further muddle the efforts of Republicans to get their voters out.

“You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam,” Trump said. “Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. Okay? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”

Trump’s conversation with Raffensperger put him in legally questionable territory, legal experts said. By exhorting the secretary of state to “find” votes and to deploy investigators who “want to find answers,” Trump appears to be encouraging him to doctor the election outcome in Georgia.

But experts said Trump’s clearer transgression is a moral one. Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, said that the legal questions are murky and would be subject to prosecutorial discretion. But he also emphasized that the call was “inappropriate and contemptible” and should prompt moral outrage.

“He was already tripping the emergency meter,” Foley said. “So we were at 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and now we’re at 15.”

Throughout the call, Trump detailed an exhaustive list of disinformation and conspiracy theories to support his position. He claimed without evidence that he had won Georgia by at least a half-million votes. He floated a barrage of assertions that have been investigated and disproved: that thousands of dead people voted; that an Atlanta election worker scanned 18,000 forged ballots three times each and “100 percent” were for Biden; that thousands more voters living out of state came back to Georgia illegally just to vote in the election.

“So tell me, Brad, what are we going to do? We won the election, and it’s not fair to take it away from us like this,” Trump said. “And it’s going to be very costly in many ways. And I think you have to say that you’re going to reexamine it, and you can reexamine it, but reexamine it with people that want to find answers, not people who don’t want to find answers.”

Trump did most of the talking on the call. He was angry and impatient, calling Raffensperger a “child” and “either dishonest or incompetent” for not believing there was widespread ballot fraud in Atlanta — and twice calling himself a “schmuck” for endorsing Kemp, whom Trump holds in particular contempt for not embracing his claims of fraud.

“I can’t imagine he’s ever getting elected again, I’ll tell you that much right now,” he said.

He also took aim at Kemp’s 2018 opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, trying to shame Raffensperger with the idea that his refusal to embrace fraud has helped her and Democrats generally. “Stacey Abrams is laughing about you,” he said. “She’s going around saying, ‘These guys are dumber than a rock.’ What she’s done to this party is unbelievable, I tell you.”

The secretary of state repeatedly sought to push back, saying at one point, “Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, that — people can say anything.”

“Oh this isn’t social media,” Trump retorted. “This is Trump media. It’s not social media. It’s really not. It’s not social media. I don’t care about social media. I couldn’t care less.”

At another point, Trump claimed that votes were scanned three times: “Brad, why did they put the votes in three times? You know, they put ’em in three times.”

Raffensperger responded: “Mr. President, they did not. We did an audit of that and we proved conclusively that they were not scanned three times.”

Trump sounded at turns confused and meandering. At one point, he referred to Kemp as “George.” He tossed out several different figures for Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia and referred to the Senate runoff, which is Tuesday, as happening “tomorrow” and “Monday.”

His desperation was perhaps most pronounced during an exchange with Germany, Raffensperger’s general counsel, in which he openly begged for validation.

Trump: “Do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? ’Cause that’s what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their, uh, machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that’s illegal.”

Germany responded: “No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County.”

Trump: “But have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?”

Germany: “No.”

Trump: “Are you sure? Ryan?”

Germany: “I’m sure. I’m sure, Mr. President.”

It was clear from the call that Trump has surrounded himself with aides who have fed his false perceptions that the election was stolen. When he claimed that more than 5,000 ballots were cast in Georgia in the name of dead people, Raffensperger responded forcefully: “The actual number was two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted.”

But later, Meadows said, “I can promise you there are more than that.”

Another Trump lawyer on the call, Kurt Hilbert, accused Raffensperger’s office of refusing to turn over data to assess evidence of fraud, and also claimed awareness of at least 24,000 illegally cast ballots that would flip the result to Trump.

“It stands to reason that if the information is not forthcoming, there’s something to hide,” Hilbert said. “That’s the problem that we have.”

Reached by phone Sunday, Hilbert declined to comment.

In the end, Trump asked Germany to sit down with one of his attorneys to go over the allegations. Germany agreed.

Yet Trump also recognized that he was failing to persuade Raffensperger or Germany of anything, saying toward the end, “I know this phone call is going nowhere.”

But he continued to make his case in repetitive fashion, until finally, after roughly an hour, Raffensperger put an end to the conversation: “Thank you, President Trump, for your time.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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Diplomatic Reform by Linda Thomas-Greenfield

From the November/December edition of Foreign Affairs
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-09-23/diplomacy-transformation

The Transformation of Diplomacy
How to Save the State Department
By William J. Burns and Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Foreign Affairs — November/December 2020

We joined the U.S. Foreign Service nearly 40 years ago in the same entering class, but we took very different paths to get there. One of us grew up amid hardship and segregation in the Deep South, the first in her family to graduate from high school, a Black woman joining a profession that was still very male and very pale. The other was the product of an itinerant military childhood that took his family from one end of the United States to the other, with a dozen moves and three high schools by the time he was 17.

There were 32 of us in the Foreign Service’s class of January 1982. It was an eclectic group that included former Peace Corps volunteers, military veterans, a failed rock musician, and an ex–Catholic priest. None of us retained much from the procession of enervating speakers describing their particular islands in the great archipelago of U.S. foreign policy. What we did learn early on, and what stayed true throughout our careers, is that smart and sustained investment in people is the key to good diplomacy. Well-intentioned reform efforts over the years were crippled by faddishness, budgetary pressures, the overmilitarization of foreign policy, the State Department’s lumbering bureaucracy, a fixation on structure, and—most of all—inattention to people.

The Trump administration also learned early on that people matter, and so it made them the primary target of what the White House aide Steve Bannon termed “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” That is what has made the administration’s demolition of the State Department and so many other government institutions so effective and ruinous. Tapping into popular distrust of expertise and public institutions, President Donald Trump has made career public servants—government meteorologists, public health specialists, law enforcement professionals, career diplomats—convenient targets in the culture wars. Taking aim at an imaginary “deep state,” he has instead created a weak state, an existential threat to the country’s democracy and the interests of its citizens.

The wreckage at the State Department runs deep. Career diplomats have been systematically sidelined and excluded from senior Washington jobs on an unprecedented scale. The picture overseas is just as grim, with the record quantity of political appointees serving as ambassadors matched by their often dismal quality. The most recent ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, seemed intent on antagonizing as many Germans as he could—not only with ornery lectures but also through his support for far-right political parties. The ambassador in Budapest, David Cornstein, has developed a terminal case of “clientitis,” calling Hungary’s authoritarian, civil-liberties-bashing leader “the perfect partner.” And the U.S. ambassador to Iceland, Jeffrey Ross Gunter, has churned through career deputies at a stunning pace, going through no fewer than seven in less than two years at his post.

In Washington, career public servants who worked on controversial issues during the Obama administration, such as the Iran nuclear negotiations, have been smeared and attacked, their careers derailed. Colleagues who upheld their constitutional oaths during the Ukraine impeachment saga were maligned and abandoned by their own leadership. In May, the State Department’s independent inspector general, Steve Linick, was fired after doing what his job required him to do: opening an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s alleged personal use of government resources. Battered and belittled, too many career officials have been tempted to go along to get along. That undercuts not only morale but also a policy process that depends on apolitical experts airing contrary views, however inconvenient they may be to the politically appointed leadership.

Not surprisingly, the Foreign Service has experienced the biggest drop in applications in more than a decade. Painfully slow progress on recruiting a more diverse workforce has slid into reverse. It is a depressing fact that today only four of the 189 U.S. ambassadors abroad are Black—hardly a convincing recruiting pitch for woefully underrepresented communities.

No amount of empty rhetoric about ethos and swagger can conceal the institutional damage. After four years of relentless attacks by the Trump administration and decades of neglect, political paralysis, and organizational drift, U.S. diplomacy is badly broken. But it is not beyond repair, at least not yet. What is needed now is a great renewal of diplomatic capacity, an effort that balances ambition with the limits of the possible at a moment of growing difficulties at home and abroad. The aim should be not to restore the power and purpose of U.S. diplomacy as it once was but to reinvent it for a new era. Accomplishing that transformation demands a focused, disciplined reform effort—one that is rooted in the people who animate U.S. diplomacy.

REFORM AND RENEWAL

The State Department is capable of reform. The challenge has always been to link that reform to wise statecraft and adequate funding. After 9/11, with uncommon speed and few additional resources, the department managed to retrofit itself to help prosecute the war on terrorism and take on the new imperatives of stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with smaller but still complex missions from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia. New training and incentives were put into play, and a generation of career Foreign Service officers was shaped by tours in conflict zones. Diplomats quickly became secondary players to the military, preoccupied with the kind of nation-building activities that were beyond the capacity of Americans to accomplish. It was easy to lose sight of the distinctive role of the U.S. Foreign Service—the classic, head-banging work of persuading senior national leaders to bridge sectarian divides and pursue a more inclusive political order while standing up for human rights.

Although the transformation of the State Department into a more expeditionary and agile institution was healthy in many respects, it was also distorting. It was tethered to a fundamentally flawed strategy—one that was too narrowly focused on terrorism and too wrapped up in magical thinking about the United States’ supposed power to transform regions and societies. It paid too little attention to a rapidly changing international landscape in which geopolitical competition with a rising China and a resurgent Russia was accelerating and mammoth global challenges, such as climate change, were looming. It also neglected what was happening at home—the powerful storms of globalization that had left many communities and parts of the economy underwater and would soon overwhelm the United States’ political levees.

After four years of attacks by the Trump administration, U.S. diplomacy is badly broken.

The contours of a new agenda for diplomatic reform have to flow from a sensible reinvention of the United States’ role in the world. The restoration of American hegemony is not in the cards, given China’s rise and the diffusion of global power. Retrenchment is similarly illusory, since the United States cannot insulate itself from outside challenges that matter enormously to its domestic health and security.

Instead, U.S. diplomacy has to accept the country’s diminished, but still pivotal, role in global affairs. It has to apply greater restraint and discipline; it must develop a greater awareness of the United States’ position and more humility about the wilting power of the American example. It has to reflect the overriding priority of accelerating domestic renewal and strengthening the American middle class, at a time of heightened focus on racial injustice and economic inequality. And it has to take aim at other crucial priorities. One is to mobilize coalitions to deal with transnational challenges and ensure greater resilience in American society to the inevitable shocks of climate change, cyberthreats, and pandemics. Another is to organize wisely for geopolitical competition with China.

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

The ultimate measure of any reform effort is whether it attracts, unlocks, retains, and invests in talent. The last thing the State Department needs is another armada of consultants descending on Foggy Bottom with fancy slide decks full of new ideas about how the department should look. It’s time to focus on—and listen to—the people who drive U.S. diplomacy: the Foreign Service professionals who rotate through posts around the world, the civil service employees whose expertise anchors the department at home, and the foreign-national staff who drive so much of the work of U.S. embassies and consulates.

To start, the United States needs a top-to-bottom diplomatic surge. The Trump administration’s unilateral diplomatic disarmament is a reminder that it is much easier to break than to build. The country doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for a generational replenishment, marking time as new recruits slowly work their way up the ranks. Since 2017, nearly a quarter of the senior Foreign Service has left. That includes the departure of 60 percent of career ambassadors, the equivalent of four-star generals in the military. In the junior and midcareer ranks, the picture is also bleak. According to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, as many as a third of current employees in some parts of the State Department are considering leaving—more than double the share in 2016.

The United States needs a top-to-bottom diplomatic surge.

A diplomatic surge will have to incorporate ideas that in the past have seemed heretical to the department and its career staff but that today are inescapable. These include bringing back select personnel with critical expertise who were forced out over the past four years; creating midcareer pathways into the Foreign Service, including lateral entry from the civil service; and offering opportunities for Americans with unique skills (in new technologies or global health, for example) to serve their country through fixed-term appointments. Another useful initiative would be to create a “diplomatic reserve corps” made up of former Foreign Service and civil service midlevel officers and spouses with professional experience who could take on shorter or fixed-term assignments abroad and in Washington. Still another idea would be to create an ROTC-like program for college students, an initiative that would broaden understanding of the diplomatic profession across society and provide financial support to those preparing for diplomatic careers.

All these ideas would have landed in the “too hard” pile when we were serving. But the reality today is that the State Department simply cannot afford to continue its bad habits of offering inflexible career tracks, imposing self-defeating hiring constraints, and encouraging tribal inbreeding among its cloistered ranks.

Another major priority is the need to treat the lack of diversity in the diplomatic corps as a national security crisis. It not only undermines the power of the United States’ example; it also suffocates the potential of the country’s diplomacy. Study after study has shown that more diverse organizations are more effective and innovative organizations. At the very moment when American diplomacy could benefit most from fresh perspectives and a closer connection to the American people, the diplomatic corps is becoming increasingly homogeneous and detached, undercutting the promotion of American interests and values.

Another priority is the need to treat the lack of diversity in the diplomatic corps as a national security crisis.

The top four ranks of the Foreign Service are whiter today than they were two decades ago; only ten percent are people of color. Just seven percent of the overall Foreign Service is made up of Black people, and just seven percent are Hispanic—well below each group’s representation in the U.S. labor force. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has reversed a more than quarter-century-long push to appoint more female ambassadors. Overall female representation in the Foreign Service remains roughly the same today as it was in 2000—still 25 percent below female representation in the wider U.S. labor force. These trends have effectively undone much of the progress made following the settlement of two class-action discrimination suits shortly after we entered the Foreign Service.

The State Department should make an unambiguous commitment that by 2030, America’s diplomats will, at long last, resemble the country they represent. Achieving this goal will require making diversity a key feature of the diplomatic surge at every point along the career pipeline. It will demand an unshakable commitment to diverse candidates and gender parity in senior appointments. And it will require the State Department’s leadership to hold itself accountable by not only getting departmental data in order and making the information accessible to the public but acting on it, as well, with clear annual benchmarks for progress. Lower promotion rates for racial and ethnic minorities and the precipitous drop-off in the number of women and minorities in the senior ranks are flashing red warning lights of structural discrimination.

The State Department ought to invest much more in mentorship, coaching, and diversity and inclusion training. It has to make its career track more responsive to the expectations of today’s workforce for a work-life balance rather than perpetuate the imbalance that has prevented too many talented Americans—disproportionally those from underrepresented groups—from serving their country. The department has to pay more attention to the particular hazards facing minorities serving overseas, including LGBTQ employees. And it has to revise its promotion criteria to require personnel to foster diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces.

The top four ranks of the Foreign Service are whiter today than they were two decades ago.

To succeed in both a serious diplomatic surge and a historic new campaign for diversity and inclusion, the department must commit to winning the war for talent. The entrance exams to the Foreign Service are designed to weed out candidates rather than recruit the most talented ones. Too much of a premium is placed on written and oral examinations and too little on a candidate’s résumé, academic performance, skills, expertise, and life experiences. The whole process can seem interminable—taking as long as two years from start to finish and inadvertently benefiting candidates who have the means to hold out. After hiring their diplomats, the most effective diplomatic services spend up to three years training them. The Foreign Service Institute still spends only six weeks testing the mettle of its recruits; the only real difference from our experience many years ago is that the tedious lectures now feature PowerPoint presentations.

Once on assignment, there is no rigorous, doctrinal approach to the art of diplomacy and no system for after-action reviews. The personnel evaluation process consumes three months of an officer’s time, with no commensurate accountability for, let alone improvement in, individual or collective performance. Opportunities for midcareer graduate or professional education are scarce and carry little weight with promotion panels. The effect is often to penalize employees who receive extra training or undertake assignments to other agencies or to Congress. They should be rewarded instead.

Senior leadership positions are increasingly out of reach for career personnel. Over the past few decades, the proportion of political appointees to career appointees at the State Department, reaching down to the deputy assistant secretary level, has grown far higher than at any other national security agency. That worrisome trend—like so many others during the Trump era—has worsened dramatically. Today, only one of the 28 positions at the assistant secretary level at the State Department is filled by an active-duty career officer confirmed by the U.S. Senate—the lowest number ever. A record share of ambassadors are also political appointees as opposed to professional diplomats, a significant blow to morale and to diplomatic effectiveness. In a reformed State Department, at least half the assistant secretary jobs and three-quarters of the ambassadorial appointments should be held by well-qualified career officers. The remaining political appointments should be driven by substantive qualifications and diversity considerations, not campaign donations.

Political appointments should be driven by qualifications and diversity considerations, not campaign donations.

To unlock its potential, the State Department must increase its staffing pipelines to deepen its officers’ command of core diplomatic skills and fluency in areas of growing importance, such as climate change, technology, public health, and humanitarian diplomacy. In the traditional area of economics, the State Department must strengthen its capabilities significantly—working closely with the Commerce and Treasury Departments—and promote the interests of American workers with the same zeal with which it has promoted the interests of corporate America.

The State Department also needs to rethink how and where it invests in language studies. One out of every four positions designated as requiring foreign-language skills is filled by an officer who does not in fact meet the minimum language requirements. The State Department trains nearly twice as many Portuguese speakers as it does Arabic or Chinese speakers. It should expand opportunities for midcareer graduate studies and incentivize continuous learning as a requirement for promotion. It should also streamline the evaluation process by determining personnel assignments on the basis of performance, expertise, and leadership development rather than through a process of competitive, careerist bidding built on connections and “corridor,” or word-of-mouth, reputations.

A NEW CULTURE

Part of investing in people means investing in the technology that allows them to realize their full potential. A more digital, agile, collaborative, and data-centric diplomatic corps depends on more robust and secure communications tools. Today, too many diplomats lack access to classified systems and technology, especially on the road. That leaves them more vulnerable to foreign intelligence and unable to keep up with other U.S. national security agencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the need to reimagine how to conduct diplomacy remotely or virtually.

Technology can no longer be seen as a luxury good for diplomacy. The last big technological push at the State Department came during Colin Powell’s tenure as secretary of state, nearly two decades ago, when the department began to set aside its mini-fridge-sized desktop computers and move cautiously into the modern age. It is long past time for another major effort. To enhance the department’s technological platforms, the State Department should appoint a chief technology officer reporting directly to the secretary of state. That official should work with the U.S. Digital Service—an information technology consulting group within the executive branch that was created in 2014—to make internal systems, foreign aid, and public diplomacy more effective. Just as the department’s chief economist helps diplomats understand the impact of global economic trends on U.S. interests, the chief technology officer should help diplomats grapple with disruptive technologies and leverage private-sector talent.

But technology is not the only—or the most important—aspect of the State Department’s culture that must change. A systemic reluctance to tolerate physical risk has led to the proliferation of fortress-style embassies that can trap personnel behind chancery walls and isolate them from the people they should be meeting, not only foreign officials but also members of civil society. This has also led to an ever-growing number of posts where officers can’t be joined by family members, shorter tours, misaligned assignment incentives, lower morale, and less effective diplomacy.

A torpid bureaucratic culture is no less significant. Policy information and recommendations often amass 15 or more sign-offs before reaching the secretary of state’s office, suffocating initiative and stifling debate. Unstaffed Foreign Service positions create an imbalance between Washington and the field that prevents decentralized decision-making. And a rigid promotion structure incentivizes careerism over political or moral bravery.

Technology can no longer be seen as a luxury good for diplomacy.

A seismic cultural shift is needed to create a more upstanding, courageous, and agile institution, with greater tolerance for risk and a simplified, decentralized decision-making process. The State Department must get out of its own way—delegating responsibility downward in Washington and outward to qualified chiefs of mission overseas and reducing the number of undersecretaries and top-level staff members to avoid duplicative authority and inefficiencies. Initiative should be prized, and the passive-aggressive habit of waiting for guidance from above should be discouraged.

The department ought to discard the current cumbersome process for clearing papers and policy recommendations and start from scratch. A new, more flexible framework would allow expertise in Washington and in the field to be quickly distilled into cogent policy proposals and would grant embassies in the field more autonomy to implement the resulting decisions. The State Department’s leaders must also offer political top cover for constructive dissent, supplanting the corrosive “keep your head down” culture with an “I have your back” mentality—in other words, the exact opposite of how the State Department treated its diplomats during the 2019 impeachment hearings.

CHANGE THAT LASTS

Any effort to reform the State Department should start from within. It should focus in the first year of a new administration or a new term on what can be accomplished under existing authorities and without significant new appropriations. That is the moment of greatest opportunity to set a new direction—and the moment of greatest vulnerability to the habitual traps of bureaucratic inertia, overly elaborate and time-consuming restructuring plans, partisan bickering, and distracting forays into the capillaries of reform rather than its arteries.

If the department can take the initiative and demonstrate progress on its own, that would be the best advertisement for sustained congressional support and White House backing for a new emphasis on diplomacy. It would be the best way to show that U.S. diplomats are ready to earn their way back to a more central role. It could help generate momentum for a rebalancing of national security budget priorities at a moment when U.S. rivals are not standing still; in recent years, the Chinese have doubled their spending on diplomacy and greatly expanded their presence overseas.

A rigid promotion structure incentivizes careerism over political or moral bravery.

With a sturdy foundation of reforms laid, the next step would be to codify them in the first major congressional legislation on U.S. diplomacy in 40 years. The last Foreign Service Act, passed in 1980, modernized the mission and structure of the State Department, building on acts from 1924 and 1946. A new act would be crucial to making reforms durable. It would also help shape a style of diplomacy that is fit for an increasingly competitive international landscape and better equipped to serve the priority of domestic renewal. Serious, lasting transformation of U.S. diplomacy will be very hard. But it matters enormously to the future of American democracy in an unforgiving world.

We both bear the professional scars, and have enjoyed the rewards, of many eventful years as career diplomats. We saw plenty of examples of skill and bravery among our colleagues in hard situations around the world—from the horrific genocidal violence of Rwanda and the epic turmoil of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s to the later challenges of ambassadorial postings in Liberia after its civil war and in Jordan in the midst of a once-in-a-half-century royal succession. We saw how U.S. diplomats can produce tangible results, whether by holding secret talks with adversaries, mobilizing other countries to ease the plight of refugees, or promoting American jobs and economic opportunities.

Through it all, however, we still remember vividly the sense of possibility and shared commitment to public service that drew the two of us and 30 other proud Americans to our Foreign Service entering class all those years ago. Today, there is a new generation of diplomats capable of taking up that challenge—if only they are given a State Department and a mission worthy of their ambitions and of the country they will represent.

WILLIAM J. BURNS is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 to 2014.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD is Senior Vice President at the Albright Stonebridge Group. She was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2013 to 2017.

They served as Co-Chairs of the Advisory Committee for a Council on Foreign Relations Special Report, Revitalizing the State Department and American Diplomacy, authored by Jon Finer and Uzra Zeya. This essay draws on its recommendations.

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