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Rapper Snoop Dogg backs Swedish online payments company

Sweden’s Klarna Bank has turned to Snoop Dogg to promote its online payment services and the U.S. rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, has also invested in the financial technology startup.

In a video posted on YouTube Thursday, the 47-year-old artist is renamed Smoooth Dogg, a reference to Klarna’s ambition to enable “smoooth” payments. Snoop Dogg has also become “a minor” shareholder in the company, Klarna said in emailed comments.

Klarna, which helps online shoppers arrange for financing at the point of sale with a few clicks, is one of a myriad of upstarts that are challenging companies such as PayPal Holdings, Square and Adyen with their own twist on facilitating commerce between merchants and shoppers.

Klarna was founded in Sweden in 2005 and has expanded to 14 countries, with more than 100,000 merchants using its payment solutions for online and in-store purchases. It was valued at $2.25 billion in 2015 when a group of insiders sold shares privately, making it one of Europe’s tech unicorns, or private companies valued at more than $1 billion.

Forbes first reported the rapper’s investment in the Swedish startup. Snoop Dogg’s venture firm Casa Verde Capital has previously invested mainly in cannabis-industry companies such as weed-delivery service Dutchie, and pharmaceutical company Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies.

Gymboree will go out of business

Gymboree Group will shut down after going bankrupt a second time — the victim of falling mall traffic and cheaper online sources of kids clothing.

About 10,000 people could lose their jobs.

The retailer filed for protection from creditors who were owed about $212 million in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, according to a statement late Wednesday.

The San Francisco-based company, which operates 945 stores under three brands in the United States and Canada, plans to close its Gymboree and Crazy 8 chains after failing to find anyone willing to buy them, court papers show.

Gymboree stores are in Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville and Tanger Outlets in Williamsburg.

A unit of Goldman Sachs Group is leading bids for Gymboree’s higher-end Janie and Jack business.

Gymboree will join Toys “R” Us, ShopKo Stores and Bon-Ton Stores — Younkers’ parent company — in the ranks of defunct retailers that collapsed as shoppers deserted malls and bought online.

The decision came less than a year and a half after Gymboree emerged from an earlier Chapter 11 bankruptcy that cut debt, overhauled operations and enabled it to launch a rebranded clothing line.

An auction of company assets is expected by Feb. 25. Going-out-of business sales are being planned to dispose of inventory, raising about $155 million in net proceeds, Chief Restructuring Officer Stephen Coulombe said in court papers.

The company expects the sales and store closings will continue through April.

The bankruptcy comes at a time of weakness for the children’s apparel industry, with sales at children’s and infant wear stores falling 5.8 percent in November and 5.9 percent in December, according to First Data.

Greene Square cameras aid in arrest of juvenile vandals

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has arrested two juvenile females after they reportedly vandalized plastic illumination globes in Greene Square.

According to the report, eight 22” plastic globes used as part of a light feature that illuminates the fountain in Greene Square were found damaged on the morning of January 8. The total damage is reportedly estimated at $1,200.

The report states the recent installation of security cameras in the park provided video that aided in the identification of those responsible. A review of the footage reportedly revealed two juvenile females, and Cedar Rapids Police school resource officers recognized one of the suspects. An investigation reportedly led to the identity of the second suspect, and both have been charged with Criminal Mischief.

Cedar Rapids Police Lieutenant Tony Robinson credits the cameras with the arrest of the suspects. “We are pleased that the evidence produced by the camera installation quickly led to the arrest of two subjects. Without the cameras this arrest would not have been possible.”

I.C. West’s Veronica Kharunda has come a long way

IOWA CITY — Education was not a guarantee for Iowa City West senior Veronica Kharunda.

The first school she attended was at a refugee camp in Kenya when she was 10 or 11. Children ranging from 5 to 20 years old attended before it was even finished being built. When it first opened, kids sat on the floor in the roofless building.

From ages 7 to 16, Kharunda lived in that camp. She was born in Uganda, but her mom brought her and her five siblings to Kenya because of war and lack of security. At the camp, she was separated from two of her older siblings.

“I just say I’m from Kenya because I know everything about Kenya, I don’t know anything about Uganda,” Kharunda said. “I left there when I was 7 years old and the memories I left there were so bad. I don’t want to think of Uganda.”

With help from the UN Refugee Agency, Kharunda, her mother and older sister Rachel were relocated to Arizona in 2016. Veronica was excited to continue her education in the United States, where she had access to more resources.

“I was determined to get an education because I know that that was the only way for me to get out of poverty and make my world better, because I did not want to live in the same situation,” Kharunda said. “I wanted a better life for me and my family.”

She moved to Iowa City in February of 2017. She finished her 2016-2017 school year at City High and then became a West student in the fall of 2017, her junior year of high school.

At West, she felt more a part of the community and a sense people were willing to help her. Counselor Greg Yoder was one of those people. Yoder worked through the Iowa State application process with Kharunda, who wrote about her experience in an essay to Iowa State.

“Ever since I got to the camp I knew I had to work hard to be where I wanted to be, so I just thought maybe writing that to Iowa State and telling them that if they give me the opportunity I’m not going to waste it. I’m really gonna work hard,” Kharunda said.

“I was just so moved by Veronica’s story and I just felt like she really exemplifies what Iowa State is all about,” said Phil Caffrey, Director of Admissions Operations and Policy at Iowa State.

On Nov. 16, Yoder was contacted by Iowa State. Not only was she accepted into the college, but the Iowa State staff wanted to surprise her in person.

The following Monday, Jean Morsch’s fifth period Pre-Calculus class was interrupted when faculty members from ISU appeared at the doorway with balloons, a cookie cake and Cy, the Iowa State mascot.

“I’m really sorry about this, because I know how passionate you all are about Pre-Calculus, but we have a very special student that we wish to recognize,” Caffrey said as he entered room 215. “Is there a Veronica in the classroom?”

Kharunda rose from her desk and walked to the front of the room.

“We received your application of admission and we were very impressed by you; we were very inspired and motivated by your story,” Jesus Lizarraga of ISU said. “You show dedication, passion, resilience and those are the type of qualities that we look for for students that embody who we are at Iowa State, so we are going are going to offer (you) admission for the fall of 2019.”

Veronica stood in front of her clapping peers, absorbing the shock of the moment. It was her dream school, with its engineering program and in-state location. A decade earlier, this achievement would have seemed unimaginable to her.

The cluster of Iowa State staff then led Kharunda to another room near Morsch’s classroom.

“I was explaining to Veronica what the next steps would be ... She would be receiving her official admissions letter in the mail very shortly, and I wanted to make her aware of a couple of scholarships that I thought she was the ideal candidate for that she should apply for,” Caffrey said. “During the course of that conversation, Veronica broke down. It was a really emotional time for everybody.”

“It was (emotional) because where I’m from, education is not your right,” Kharunda said. “Only the rich people get to go to school and all that, so I didn’t start school until I was like 11 years or 10 years old ... thinking of all the things that I’ve gone through to get to college is, sometimes I just think back and think, I don’t know, I’m lucky or something. Not everyone gets that opportunity, especially where I’m from, it’s a blessing.”

After class, Kharunda told her sister, Rachel, a student at Kirkwood Community College, not to go anywhere. When she got home, Kharunda didn’t even use her keys; she knocked on the door and waited for Rachel to open it and find her standing there with balloons.

“She kept praying to get into this school so the first thing I was like, ‘Oh my God. Her dream came true. Her dream just came true,’” Rachel said. “She was so excited, actually I’ve never seen her excited ... the way I saw her face that day.”

Kharunda is hoping to be one of 100 Iowa students who will receive the Hixson Opportunity Award to pay for her schooling. She will find out later this month if she received that award.

Along with her perseverance, Kharunda’s volunteer work also stood out to Iowa State. She has worked nearly 100 hours at Crowded Closet, where she enjoys interacting with customers. One day she hopes to give back to the kids in Kenya as well.

“Once I’m done with education and get a good job I just want to go back and help them with their tuition fees because Kenya has some really good schools but it’s really expensive,” she said.

Rachel hopes her sister can be an inspiration to kids in the same situation she and Veronica were in a few years ago. She also reminds Veronica to never forget how far she has come.

“Remember where you come from, that you didn’t have even a chance to sit in a class and not worry about food, safety, where you’re gonna sleep,” Rachel said. “It’s a blessing, it’s blessing.

“So I tell her everyday: Do not forget. Do not forget. We’ve come a long way ... and you need to keep pushing.”

Injured Clinton firefighter breathing on his own

Though still in critical condition, Clinton firefighter Adam Cain now is breathing on his own and “continues to slowly improve” from a Jan. 5 explosion that killed a colleague, according to an update Thursday from the city.

The 23-year-old’s ventilator was removed Wednesday, City Administrator Matt Brooke said.

Cain was badly injured in the grain-silo explosion at the ADM plant in Clinton. Clinton fire Lt. Eric Hosette, 33, died in the blast.

Cain “is scheduled for surgery on one of his broken arms this morning,” Brooke wrote in the update. “The family asks for continued prayers and thanks everyone for all the support. It truly has been incredible!”

A firefighter at the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department, where Hosette served as chief, said Cain sustained many injuries. In addition to respiratory damage, the firefighter said, Cain also suffered many broken bones and cuts.

He has been undergoing lifesaving treatment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City since the incident, which remains under investigation.

Brooke said the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health are looking into the cause of the fire and the resulting explosion. Officials won’t comment on the incident until the investigations are done he said.

Ex-Trump lawyer: rigging polls ‘was at the direction of’ Trump

WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, said on Thursday he paid a firm to manipulate online polling data “at the direction of and for the sole benefit of” Trump.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen had paid the data firm RedFinch Solutions to manipulate two public opinion polls in favor of Trump before the 2016 presidential campaign.

“As for the @WSJ article on poll rigging,” Cohen wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

The attempts to influence the polls ultimately proved largely unsuccessful but shed a light on the tactics of the Trump campaign and Cohen’s role within it. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently referred to his polling numbers to help fuel his candidacy.

Cohen was sentenced last month to three years in prison for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Trump’s campaign and for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

Cohen has said Trump had directed him to commit the campaign-finance violations, which Trump has denied.

The Journal said Cohen commissioned John Gauger, who runs RedFinch Solutions, to write a computer script to repeatedly vote for Trump in a February 2015 Drudge Report poll on potential Republican candidates. The move came as Trump was preparing to enter the 2016 presidential election race, the newspaper reported.

Trump ranked fifth in the Drudge Report poll, with about 24,000 votes, or 5 percent of the total, according to the Journal.

Cohen also commissioned Gauger to do the same for a 2014 CNBC online poll identifying the country’s top business leaders, although Trump was unable to break into the top 100 candidates, the Journal reported.

“The president has no knowledge of the polls being rigged,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in an interview with Reuters.

Trump tweeted about a CNBC poll on business leaders in 2014, calling it “a joke” and suggested he was removed from the list because of “politics.”

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the details of the newspaper report. Cohen did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did representatives for RedFinch Solutions and the Trump Organization. Charles James, a lawyer for Gauger, declined to comment.

Gauger said Cohen paid him in cash out of a blue Walmart bag, although not for the total amount he was owed. Cohen also promised Gauger work on the Trump campaign that never materialized, according to the Journal.

Cohen worked for Trump for many years as his self-proclaimed fixer, and once said he would take a bullet for Trump.

But the relationship has since publicly soured. Trump has called Cohen a “rat,” while Cohen has cooperated with U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign. Both Trump and Moscow have denied any wrongdoing.

Cohen has also agreed to testify publicly in front of the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee in a hearing scheduled to take place next month.

Michigan State’s president to resign after he said sexual abuse victims enjoyed the spotlight

The embattled interim president of Michigan State University sent a letter Wednesday that he is resigning, becoming the school’s second leader in a year to step down under pressure because of the scandal involving a university physician convicted of sexually abusing girls and women.

John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan, is quitting amid outrage over comments he made about women who were sexually abused by the disgraced former doctor.

His year-long tenure sparked controversy from start to finish, as he took a firm executive hand at a public university in crisis, making changes intended to strengthen the school and prevent abuse. But he often escalated tensions with people who felt the university had wounded and betrayed them. His remarks about sexual abuse victims sparked headlines, and academic leaders sought assurance the university leadership would operate with empathy, honesty and transparency after revelations of sexual abuse, hidden for years, horrified the university and the nation.

The chairwoman of the board of trustees, Dianne Byrum, responded to questions with a link to Engler’s 11-page resignation letter. A university spokeswoman also responded to questions for Engler with the letter, which details changes he initiated at MSU, and how he moved swiftly to address crises at the university he loves, with bullet points about offices created, employees hired, reviews initiated.

“The bottom line is that MSU is a dramatically better, stronger institution than it was one year ago,” he wrote.

Engler noted, in the first lines of his letter, that five Democratic members of the board had requested his resignation and that the election of two new Democrats and the replacement of a former trustee with another Democrat had created a new majority on the board.

The resignation is effective at 9 a.m. Jan. 23, he wrote.

Trustee Brian Mosallam said in an interview Wednesday that trustees would vote Thursday to terminate Engler if he did not resign.

“We cannot move forward with him at the helm,” Mosallam said. Engler has been a distraction from work being done on campus to improve student health and wellness, and to implement institutional reform, Mosallam said.

“No one is ever talking about that,” the trustee said. “All we are constantly talking about are John Engler’s incendiary comments. For that, he must step down immediately.”

Engler told the Detroit News editorial board last week that some victims are “enjoying” the spotlight after speaking out about abuse by Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State sports medicine doctor who is serving a sentence of at least 40 years.

The chairwoman of the Board of Trustees announced a meeting Thursday morning to consider a personnel issue, and Mosallam made his feelings clear on social media, tweeting: JOHN ENGLER’S REIGN OF TERROR IS OVER.

Members of the Dean’s Council, a panel of academic leaders at the school, wrote to the Board of Trustees that they do not support Engler’s continued leadership, given the pattern of his comments about women who have allegedly suffered sexual abuse, and asked the board to “take appropriate action.”

A spokeswoman for the university did not immediately respond to requests for comment or a response from Engler.

Engler’s tenure as interim president has been tumultuous from the beginning. Immediately after the board voted unanimously to appoint him, a protester climbed onto a table to tell him students opposed him, and people shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” as Engler left.

Student and faculty leaders said they were angry about the choice of Engler, predicting a former governor and longtime Republican politician would not help restore trust at a school they felt was in desperate need of a dramatic culture change. And they said they felt blindsided by his selection.

It was a raw moment on campus, coming after more than 150 women had spoken out about the sexual assault they endured from Nassar and about how their complaints over many years were ignored. The school’s longtime president, Lou Anna Simon, resigned in the wake of the national outrage over Nassar.

When he was appointed, Engler said the abuse victims would be his priority, pledging that a better Michigan State would emerge and that it would be the victims’ legacy.

In May, the university agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits by 332 woman who alleged abuse by Nassar.

In June, Engler apologized for an email to a university official in which he speculated that one of the victims was getting a kickback from her attorney for manipulating other women in the case. “That was a big mistake. I was wrong,” he said.

Later that month, the board voted to support Engler, despite pressure to replace him.

An attorney representing more than 180 women alleging abuse by Nassar welcomed the news.

“John Engler has always treated survivors as the enemy,” attorney John Manly said. “He took actions to obstruct and undermine criminal investigations of the University and its administration by the Michigan Attorney General. His reckless and vile personal attacks upon individual survivors and their legal counsel continued to revictimize them. It is sad that Engler actually had to say publicly that he believed that survivors ‘enjoyed the spotlight’ brought about by their abuse for the University to finally force him to resign as President. It was long overdue.”

Cedar Rapids eyes Cedar Lake transfer this spring for ConnectCR project

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids could take ownership of the north cell of Cedar Lake as soon as this spring, while the city has a less firm timeline on acquiring the old Rock Island Railroad bridge owned by CRANDIC railroad, officials said during a ConnectCR planning meeting Wednesday.

City leaders are actively involved in a $20 million recreation project dubbed ConnectCR. It is headlined by restoring the 100-plus acre lake — once a cooling pond for the old Alliant Energy power plant north of downtown — and rebuilding the old Rock Island bridge as a pedestrian span over the Cedar River between Czech Village and the NewBo District.

“You may hear people say that, ‘Oh, you know, you’re not moving forward,’” said Dale Todd, who championed the effort as a private citizen and now chairs the committee as a City Council member. “That’s wrong. There’s simply no truth to that. This is a complicated project and it’s going to take some time. At the same time, we are further along than we ever, ever ever have been on this project.”

City ownership would potentially open fundraising opportunities not available if it is privately held, and the city would agree to maintain the property going forward.

Transfer of the lake, which is grouped into different “cells,” has proved time-consuming, particularly completing legal descriptions.

For example, several abstracts make up Cedar Lake, so staff have to evaluate those and assure surveys are correct, and then combine the abstracts into one for the land transfer, said Rita Rasmussen, the city’s real estate property manager. The city attorney must also prepare a title opinion, she said.

“When you get into commercial industrial — Cedar Lake property — you need to make sure you understand what you’re getting,” Rasmussen said. “So that in itself can really slow down the process. Usually what we want to do is have an agreement, have an understanding of who’s doing what with environmental.”

The north and south cell of the lake will be handled as two separate land transfers with the south, which requires more significant environmental clean up, occurring later.

On the north cell, city staff are waiting for the plat to be recorded and the city attorney to review purchase agreements, which will be sent to Alliant, Rasmussen said. The transfer would ultimately need to be approved by the City Council, and Rasmussen said she is hopeful that can happen this spring.

Alliant and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been working on a cleanup plan for the south cell. A small west lobe of the lake, which is owned by Rick Stickle, has been lopped off from the project, but should not impact the enhancement plans, said Jennifer Pratt, community development director.

Transfer of the bridge will occur separately from the lake. It is less complicated, but the timeline is tied to progress of a private fundraising effort for ConnectCR, Rasmussen said. The city has committed at least $5 million to the project, as has the Hall-Perrine Foundation. Project leaders have also approached state and Linn County leaders for support separate from private fundraising.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Police: Girl found with gunshot wound to abdomen in Cedar Rapids alley

Cedar Rapids police are continuing to investigate after a juvenile female was found with a gunshot wound in her abdomen Wednesday evening.

According to a Cedar Rapids police report, emergency responders were dispatched at 6:52 p.m. to the area of 5th Avenue and 15th Street SE for a reference of shots fired. When officers arrived they found a girl “who was suffering from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen” in the 1500 block alley between 6th and 7th Avenue SE. At the time, the extent of her injury was unknown, according to the report.

Police provided medical treatment for the girl until she could be transported to the hospital, according to the report. Officers then canvassed the area, collecting evidence and seeking out witnesses.

This is an ongoing investigation and no further information with be released at this time, according to the report.

Shelter House opens 'housing first' project to combat chronic homelessness in Iowa City

 

IOWA CITY — Amid a heated controversy over whether Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall benches are designed to detract people who are homeless, Shelter House is debuting its own solution to chronic homelessness — Cross Park Place.

The new facility is a “housing first” model, operated with the mentality that stable housing should come before prerequisites such as addressing behavioral health issues or completing programs. Cross Park Place, which was debuted during an open house Wednesday, will begin filling its 24 single-occupancy apartments this month with residents who fall under the FUSE category.

 

FUSE stands for Frequent User System Engagement and refers to people who are caught in a cycle of jails, shelters, emergency rooms or other crisis services. The facility will offer common spaces such as a laundry room and an exam room for case workers, as well as health and behavioral health professionals.

“We can save lives and we can offer hope and opportunity for folks to change the entire trajectory of their lives,” said Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House. “This is where we choose to dedicate our time, to being part of a solution.”

So far, six future residents have completed paperwork and meet the definition of chronic homelessness. They’ll pay 30 percent of their income as rent and can live at Cross Park Place without expectations beyond that of a typical lease.

The project was awarded $2.7 million from the Iowa Finance Authority and another $463,000 from the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County. Cross Park Place is a “demonstration project” — the first of its kind in the state, to state and nonprofit leaders’ knowledge.

“What we have done here is entirely replicable. Each community has its different nuances, its different strengths and challenges,” Canganelli said. “I hope that they’ll be inspired by this.”

Cross Park Place is just the latest in various affordable housing efforts by governments and nonprofits around the county, including an affordable housing mandate for new developments just south of downtown Iowa City and numerous donations to the county’s housing trust fund. The Iowa City area is the most expensive rental market in the state, with a two-bedroom apartment going for $956 a month in an area with more than 23,000 renter households, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report.

   

Thanks in part to high living expenses, 38 percent of Johnson County residents live in poverty or struggle to meet their basic needs. Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, said while everyone needs an affordable place to live, her organization focuses on advocating for people making 80 percent or less of the area median income, which is nearly $60,000 a year for a single-person household, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“An easier way to think about it is, for a family who can only afford to pay $400 a month for rent, what options are available for them? For an older couple that’s trying to age successfully in our community who can afford $600 a month, what options are available for them? It’s only through looking at those groups and their specific needs that we can come up with the kind of strategies that will have the greatest impact,” Barron said.

The coalition has been advocating for local governments to be specific and intentional about the types of populations they’re trying to help with initiatives. However, Barron said there’s a different set of strategies and programs needed to address the challenges of a family at 80 percent of the area median income versus someone struggling to meet their basic needs every day.

“Both groups need affordable housing but the solutions our community needs to provide for those different groups varies. There’s not one single solution to housing everyone and meeting everyone’s needs,” Barron said.

A similar housing complex opened in Cedar Rapids last fall on Edgewood Road NW. The 45-unit Crestwood Ridge Apartments devotes 10 percent — or 5 — of its units for permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Other units in the complex are geared to other income levels. The complex provides on-site case management from Willis Dady Homeless Services.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

           

Cedar Rapids golf rounds hit 10-year low but changes unlikely

CEDAR RAPIDS — Municipal rounds of golf hit a 10-year low last fiscal year, but officials say a reorganization last year has put the financially challenged golf department in a much better position than past years.

The four courses — Jones, Twin Pines, Ellis and Gardner — saw 92,097 rounds in fiscal 2018, down slightly from 93,338 in fiscal 2017. Those two performances were the lowest usage years by far in a 10-year review presented by city staff to the Cedar Rapids Parks, Waterways & Recreation Commission on Tuesday.

Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock attributed the 2018 dip to the weather — “A short spring season due to late snowstorms,” he said Wednesday, adding golf play could climb in 2019.

“I am not uncomfortable with where we were, because of the weather, but we do want to bring those numbers up,” Hock added.

Municipal golf in Cedar Rapids has been under fire for years with some calling for the city to sell or close courses or privatize the operations.

This is because taxpayers have been bailing out the department, covering annual six-figure financial deficits. Contributing to this, Jones has been routinely forced into extended closures due to flooding, including shuttering for the season last October. Also, nationally, golf’s popularity has been waning, a trend felt in Cedar Rapids, officials have said.

In 2017, the City Council, under pressure from golfers, rebuffed a recommendation from city staff and the commission to close Jones as a way to stabilize the department. Council members instead voted to explore privatization, but that, too, appears off the table at this point.

Last season, the department established a new staffing model with an interim operations manager, two golf pros and four course superintendents, down from golf pros and superintendents at each of the four courses, a roving superintendent, and an operations manager.

The new staffing model saved the department money and have pushed off talk of any more serious changes, Hock said.

Hock and the commission considered the reorganization a success, but because they occurred mid-fiscal year, they want a full year with the new model.

City Council member Susie Weinacht, who is a liaison to the commission, said she supports the plan.

“Once we decided to give staff a shot at this, let them have a fair shot to follow through on what they are working on and the changes they’ve made,” she said.

The commission discussed golf performance at the Tuesday meeting.

“I think we are getting very very close to a break-even situation,” said Bill Unger, a commission member who focuses on golf. “It is working. They’ve proved themselves that they can run it and get it to a profitable situation, so let’s let them move forward and run the business.”

Expenses at Jones have been minimized, and with the compensation for the eliminated positions off the books for a full year, the courses would have broken even, Unger added.

City officials did not have budget figures available Wednesday, but numbers provided by the city last fall showed fiscal year 2018, which ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, ended with an operational deficit of $49,063. By comparison, the department lost $200,000 to $300,000 annually each of the previous five years.

Jeff McLaud, chairman of the commission, added, “We want to give this model a few years and see how we go. If changes have to be made, at that time we can make recommendations accordingly. ... At some point, it is the City Council who will have to decide is this an acceptable loss to have for the golf courses.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Attorneys spar at Iowa House election appeal

DES MOINES — Attorneys representing rival candidates in a contested Northeast Iowa election agreed Wednesday during an Iowa House committee hearing that the issue at stake is not partisan.

“It’s a straightforward application of Iowa law,” said Matt McDermott, attorney for Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, who has been declared the winner in House District 55 by nine votes.

Attorney Shayla McCormally also said it’s a non-partisan issue because the 29 absentee ballots her client, Democrat Kayla Koether of Decorah, wants the House to count include Republican, Democratic and no-party voters.

Beyond that, the attorneys found little on which to agree.

The committee heard arguments brought by Koether challenging the Winneshiek County auditor’s decision not to count mailed-in ballots that were submitted without the proper postal marking. Her appeal to the Legislature follows a Polk County District Court decision that the matter should be settled according to House rules.

For Koether, the issue is that all ballots legally submitted should be counted. McCormally argued that 29 of 33 mail-in ballots that have not been counted were mailed ahead of the legal deadline, which is one day before Election Day.

Though the envelopes do not have postmarks, the postal service reviewed its data to show when they were mailed.

“Voting is a guaranteed right” under the U.S. and Iowa constitutions, McCormally said. If the ballots are not counted, the government is “knowingly and intentionally” denying the 29 voters that right.

She also told the panel — three Republicans and two Democrats — that Koether “has a right to have the ballots brought down here and opened.”

McDermott led the panel through an explanation of the postal service’s tracking system as it applies to state law.

Besides relying on postmarks, county auditors are allowed by law to use a tool known as the “intelligent mail barcode” to track the mail-in ballots. However, that system is used in only a handful of Iowa counties — and Winneshiek is not among them.

Without that system or a postmark, McDermott argued, “there is no readily available method for anyone to determine in rational way when a mail piece was put into the system.”

It would be unfair to change how absentee ballots are tracked and which ballots are counted in the midst of an election, McDermott said.

The integrity of elections requires that the state “stick to the rules through the entire process,” he said.

What’s not fair, McCormally countered, would be to not count the 29 ballots in question.

The issue is not tracing, she said. Iowa law does not refer to the post office tracing system. That’s in administrative rules. The 2016 legislation that applies refers to “tracking” — which she argued is what the Winneshiek auditor used to verify that the ballots met the mailing deadline.

It is the responsibility of the voter, McDermott said, to sign the ballot, seal the return envelope and ensure it arrives in the auditor’s office in a timely manner. If not, he said, the ballot isn’t counted.

Democrats argued for calling witnesses to learn more about, among other things, how the ballots were handled to answer “chain of custody” questions. McDermott didn’t think that was necessary or would be helpful.

Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the panel will later discuss whether to call witnesses.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

UI reports progress on diversity goals

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is making progress on its diversity goals to increase underrepresented populations on campus and promote their success — but still has work to do, according to an annual update Wednesday.

Melissa Shivers, vice president for student life and interim chief diversity officer, announced a redefined and expanded vision for the office and title for the leader the UI is seeking to hire this spring. The associate vice president would lead the newly-defined division of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The semantic shift is indicative of a national trend toward not only increasing minority representation on campus, but making sure underrepresented populations have equal access to campus opportunities and feel broadly included.

“This shift in paradigm can’t just exist by adding a couple of layers,” Shivers said. “ ... “We will no longer be able to sit on the sidelines and say, ‘That’s their job,’” Shivers said. “This work is the responsibility of every single person who is a part of this community. The chief diversity officer has the responsibility of helping to guide. But the work actually happens through and with all of you.”

She noted past and present UI goals to, among other things, improve the campus climate for minority students, increase their graduation rates, strengthen recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty and staff and enrich campus education and training.

She reported progress in those areas, noting the university’s undergraduate underrepresented minority enrollment has nearly doubled from 5.6 percent of the student body in 2008 to nearly 11 percent in 2018. The undergraduate underrepresented minority four-year graduation rate has increased from about 29 to 47 percent — although it still remains below the 54 percent average rate for all students.

Underrepresented UI staffers and faculty each make up 7.6 percent of their respective totals, up from 2014 percentages of 5.8 percent for staff and 6.9 percent for faculty.

Shivers said the university is actively pursuing methods to increase those percentages at a quicker pace, launching a three-year “distinction through diversity” pilot program last July funded by the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Office of the Provost and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The program supports recruitment and retention of tenured and tenure-track faculty in undergraduate departments. So far, the “distinction through diversity” program has helped hire or retain three faculty members.

“The focus on creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus increases opportunities for collaboration, extends the openness and importance of discussions that include divergent

points of view, highlights the importance of (diversity, equity and inclusion) work as everyone’s responsibility and helps us eliminate barriers that hinder the success of our campus

community,” Shivers said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Iowa Chief Justice silent — maybe? — on picking judges

DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady didn’t weigh in on the developing controversy over the state’s process for picking judges Wednesday during his annual Condition of the Judiciary speech. Or did he?

Judges and justices in Iowa’s courtrooms are chosen under a system widely praised as one that curtails the role of politics in the process.

However, in the run-up to the legislative session that opened this week, Republican lawmakers have discussed making changes to the 17-member state judicial nominating committee that would hand the governor more power.

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has made one appointment to the state Supreme Court and faces making another, has signaled her openness to adopting changes.

According to Republicans who support a change, the system voters added to the state constitution in 1962 gives lawyers too much influence in the process.

Of the 17 members of the state commission that forwards appeals court and Iowa Supreme Court finalists, eight are appointed by the governor and eight by licensed Iowa lawyers. The committee is rounded out by the most senior justice who is not the chief.

The governor picks from the among the finalists vetted by the commission. Voters later decide whether to retain the justices.

Cady’s only mention of the process during his speech Wednesday was in thanking “those who serve on the judicial nominating commissions and Gov. Reynolds for their commitment to selecting the best people to serve as judges.”

“Iowa has a strong national reputation for fairness and impartiality,” he said.

That didn’t sound to Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee, like the chief justice was taking sides.

“I would have been disappointed if he had brought it up,” Worthan said. “Knowing Chief Justice Cady, he’s very cognizant of the separation of powers. That’s not within the court’s purview. That’s within the Legislature’s and the executive branch’s purview as to what that process will be. He would be entering into a realm that they don’t have a say.”

Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, the ranking Democrat on the Justice System subcommittee, heard the same speech and thought Cady handled it “quite well.”

“He didn’t address the judicial nominating process, but he did by pointing out we have a high-quality court system based on merit-based selection,” said Hogg, a lawyer and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although it’s Republicans who have been talking about changes, not all of them think it’s necessary or a good idea.

“I don’t see a lot of problems with the current system,” Worthan said. “If somebody can point out some problems, they haven’t yet to me.”

Each of Iowa’s 14 judicial districts has an 11-member nominating commission, and there is a separate commission of 17 members at the state level for nominations to the Iowa Supreme Court and state appeals court.

So far talk of changes has centered on the state commission, but until a bill is filed there are no specifics. A bill filed last year in the Senate would have removed lawyers from the process, replacing them with gubernatorial appointments.

The current system gives the legal industry too much clout, according to some critics — and they believe, too much of it Democratic.

Worthan said it appears to him the lawyers are “pretty well evenly divided between Republican and Democrat. It doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of political problem there.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said several members of his 32-member GOP caucus have made altering the nomination process for the Supreme Court a priority. That seems to stem from decisions on social issues — same-sex marriage and abortion, for example — that rankled conservatives.

“Frankly, over 20 years-plus there have been a lot of decisions that legislators feel conflicted with what they wanted to do, or their intent,” Whitver said.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Urbandale, wouldn’t predict what his chamber will do, but said a decision would be independent of the court.

“That’s a decision for the Legislature to weigh in on more than taking cues from the court,” he said, adding it’s “worth taking a look at. There are several different ways people could go on that. We’ll look at what members want to do.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed.

North Liberty man arrested for multiple burglaries of items from farm buildings

A North Liberty Man has reportedly been arrested and charged for burglary of local farm buildings, taking mostly tools and shop related items.

According to a report by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, deputies received a report of a suspicious vehicle possibly related to recent burglaries. The report included a license plate, which allowed sheriff’s deputies to track down the owner, Aaron Parker, at his residence on West Lake Rd in North Liberty.

The report states Parker was taken into custody and a search warrant was requested for his residence, garage, and vehicle, where deputies reportedly discovered multiple items that had been reported stolen in the recent burglaries.

Parker is reportedly being held in Johnson County Jail and is being charged with 3rd degree burglary, 3rd degree theft, and possession of burglars tools. The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.

Qualcomm co-founder testifies in FTC antitrust trial

Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs testified Tuesday in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s anti-monopoly lawsuit — laying the historical foundation for the San Diego company as it begins to present its side of the case.

Much of Jacobs’ testimony focused on the early efforts to get Qualcomm’s Code Division Multiple Access wireless technology adopted and the evolution of its patent licensing business model that is under attack by the FTC.

Jacobs’ testimony became tense when an FTC lawyer focused on an email he sent to an LG executive several years ago.

In the email, Jacobs said Qualcomm would not make a shipment of certain 3G chips — known as WCDMA — as long as LG maintained that it had no obligation to license Qualcomm’s WCDMA patents.

Qualcomm repeatedly has said that it has never cut off supply to an existing chip customer during a dispute of patent fees.

The FTC attorney asked Jacobs if the email proved that Qualcomm’s claim was false.

Jacobs countered that the email referred to a first-time, small shipment of WCDMA chips for LG to test out, and he was not making a threat.

The companies eventually worked out an agreement.

The FTC had wrapped up its case Tuesday after testimony from expert witnesses about how Qualcomm’s business practices harmed competition for CDMA and top-tier LTE processors.

During the first week of the trial, the FTC served up a parade of smartphone makers — Apple, Samsung, Huawei, LG and others — who testified that Qualcomm strong-armed them in patent-licensing negotiations by threatening to cut off chip supply.

The FTC is arguing that Qualcomm employed a three-part scheme to leverage its market dominance in 3G CDMA and 4G LTE chips to coerce smartphone makers to pay high patent fees in violation of antitrust laws.

Qualcomm won’t sell chips to smartphone makers until it they take a patent license, which the FTC calls “no license, no chips.”

Because Qualcomm had a technology lead in these processors — and device makers needed them for top-tier smartphones — they don’t negotiate hard for lower patent fees, according to the FTC.

Carl Shapiro, a UC Berkeley professor and former Department of Justice economist, testified that Qualcomm’s ability to achieve high patent fees harms competition and helps maintain a monopoly in certain cellular chips.

“If a company is ahead, it doesn’t mean they are allowed to trip up the companies behind,” said Shapiro. “These royalty surcharges have that effect because they raise the costs for rivals.”

Qualcomm also refuses to license rival chipmakers, and entered into two supply deals with Apple that the FTC claims were de facto exclusivity agreements that harmed competitors.

For the FTC to prevail, it must prove harm to competition and consumers — which could be tricky given the success of the smartphone market.

Testimony in the trial will resume Friday. The trial is expected to wrap up in early February.

Marion man charged with first-degree murder in death of woman found in Muscatine County

A Marion man who had been arrested as a “material witness” in connection with the death of a woman found on a roadside in rural Muscatine County now has been charged with first-degree murder.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren said Tuesday that Douglas Joseph Foster, 35, of Marion, is being charged in the death of Lea Ponce, 20, of Fairfield.

Foster made his initial appearance Tuesday at the Muscatine County Courthouse.

Ponce was found dead about 1 a.m. Jan. 8 on the side of Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton.

According to a criminal complaint, Ponce last was seen alive at 12:30 a.m. Jan. 8, entering a white GMC pickup at the Muscatine Walmart. Investigators said they linked the truck to Foster.

The complaint said Foster’s vehicle was found parked behind a storage facility Jan. 9 at 4857 10th Ave. in Marion. Investigators searched the facility and found some of Ponce’s belongings in an area “where it appeared Foster had been staying,” the complaint said.

Foster was found nearby, “hiding in an attic space among the rafters,” according to the complaint.

Foster told investigators he was hiding because he had out-of-state arrest warrants. Police determined Foster has an active felony warrant out of Texas.

During an interview, Foster told investigators he picked up Ponce at Walmart. But “after a few minutes, she insisted on getting out of the vehicle,” and he let her out, the complaint said.

Foster said he then returned to Marion, getting his vehicle stuck on a maintenance road along the way.

An obituary posted on the Behner Funeral Home and Crematory website said Ponce was a mother of two and worked as a housekeeper. The obituary said Ponce loved softball, soccer, dirt-track racing, cows and “spending time with her kids and family.”

Gillette ad stirs debate [VIDEO]

Gillette made a risky bet with a new ad referring to the #MeToo movement and questions around “toxic masculinity.”

If the intention was to stir the debate, it succeeded. The ad drew immediate, impassioned reactions on social media — calls for boycott of Cincinnati-based parent company Procter & Gamble from men who said they were offended by “political correctness” and praise from people who called it brave to challenge gender norms.

It’s not the first big brand to take on hot, dividing issues. Nike also got criticized — and lauded — a few months ago with a campaign featuring the controversial football player-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick.

In the ad, razor maker Gillette draws on its old slogan “The Best a Man Can Get” to take a fresh look at what it means to be a man in today’s world.

NBCUniversal to launch streaming service

Comcast’s NBCUniversal will launch a streaming media service in early 2020 under a pricing model that seeks to mollify traditional pay TV providers while going after a market dominated by Netflix and Amazon.com.

The advertising-supported service, announced on Monday, will be available at no cost to NBCUniversal’s pay TV subscribers in the United States and eventually across the globe.

As consumers are increasingly dropping their pay TV subscriptions, NBC’s decision to provide its service free for cable and satellite TV customers makes the new offering less of a threat to those providers.

Other traditional media companies plan to launch services that will charge a separate monthly fee.

An ad-free version of the NBC service will be available for approximately the same price as other subscription video services, according to one person familiar with the plans.

Services such as Hulu and Netflix range between $8 to about $14 a month. Non-pay TV customers can purchase a subscription to the service, the media company said.

Customers of Comcast and Sky, which is controlled by Comcast, will provide the service to their 52 million global subscribers, potentially making it the largest of the new streaming services when it launches next year.

AT&T-owned WarnerMedia and Walt Disney both plan to launch streaming media services by the end of the year.

Apple also is preparing to announce a TV service, which will include the reselling of other networks and originally produced content some time this year.

NBCUniversal said it would continue to license content to other studios and platforms, while retaining rights to certain titles for its new service.

NBC said it is hoping to generate about $5 per user from ad revenue. It plans to air between three to five minutes of ads per hour.

Unlike other services, NBC also plans to offer live news and sports from its networks, which could be an advantage in 2020 when it will air the Olympics, the source said.

Pelosi asks Trump to postpone State of the Union address because of government shutdown — or deliver it in writing

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday asked President Donald Trump to postpone his State of the Union address — or deliver it in writing — citing security concerns related to the partial federal government shutdown.

The suggestion, which could deny Trump an opportunity to make his case for border wall funding in a prime-time televised address, came as White House officials were urging Republican senators to hold off on signing a bipartisan letter that would call for an end to the government shutdown, now in its 26th day.

In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, both of which have key responsibilities for planning and implementing security at the scheduled Jan. 29 address in the House chamber, have been “hamstrung” by furloughs.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29,” Pelosi wrote in the letter.

The White House had no immediate response.

State of the Union addresses are traditionally made to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber at the invitation of the House speaker. The House and Senate must pass a resolution to formalize the invitation — which has not happened yet this year.

Pelosi later told reporters that her letter was intended as a suggestion and that she was not rescinding an invitation for Trump to speak. She stressed that no address had ever been delivered during a government shutdown.

“We would have the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the entire Congress of the United States, the House and Senate, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Cabinet of the United States, and the diplomatic corps all in the same room,” she said. “This requires hundreds of people working on the logistics and security of it. Most of those people are either furloughed or victims of president’s shutdown. ... The point is security.”

Pelosi added that Trump is welcome to deliver an address from the Oval Office.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., responded on Twitter, suggesting Democrats were trying to deny Trump an opportunity to make his case to the nation.

“#ShutdownNancy shut down the government, and now #SOTU. What are Democrats afraid of Americans hearing? That 17,000+ criminals were caught last year at the border? 90% of heroin in the US comes across the southern border? Illegal border crossings dropped 90%+ in areas w/ a wall?” he wrote.

There was still confusion Wednesday afternoon over the practical implications of Pelosi’s letter, fueled in part by a television appearance by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

“The State of the Union is off,” Hoyer said during a CNN interview.

Aides later said he had misspoken.

The House planned another vote Wednesday to reopen the government without funding Trump’s wall, this time on a stopgap spending bill through Feb. 8.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., once again rejected this tactic in a Senate floor speech Wednesday, saying: “As the White House has made clear just yesterday, cherry-picking continuing resolutions that fail to address the border security crisis are not going to receive the president’s signature. Not going to. The only way out of this impasse is a bipartisan agreement.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to McConnell’s remarks with his own floor speech saying: “I would say to the leader very simply, you may disagree with us, open the government. Open the government. You can do it, Leader McConnell. And all your blaming and flailing isn’t going to open the government. We all know Donald Trump is the obstacle here.”

Meanwhile, senior White House officials were trying to tamp down any signs of division among Republicans as Trump remained unyielding in his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.

A copy of a draft bipartisan letter in the Senate obtained by The Washington Post asks Trump to allow the government to reopen for three weeks “to give Congress time to develop and vote on a bipartisan agreement that addresses your request.”

“We commit to working to advance legislation that can pass the Senate with substantial bipartisan support,” the three-paragraph letter says. “This would include debating and voting on investments on the Southern border that are necessary, effective, and appropriate to accomplish that goal.”

In calls to GOP senators placed after word of the letter became public late Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner made clear that the president is unwavering and would not support the letter’s call to reopen the government, despite mounting concerns about the political cost of the shutdown for his party, according to a White House aide and three congressional officials who were not authorized to speak about the private discussions.

“The president sees this as a capitulation, and he’s not going to walk away,” the White House aide said.

But two other White House officials said Pence and Kushner have spoken carefully in these exchanges, knowing that the Senate may ultimately decide to act even if Trump is opposed to reopening the government.

“They’re not going to meddle, but they’re checking in and updating, reconfirming where the president’s thinking is at,” said one official familiar with the message delivered by Pence and Kushner.

Trump’s aversion to reopening the government was echoed by several conservative senators on Wednesday, who expressed skepticism about the moderates’ ability to convince Trump and congressional Democratic leaders to reopen the government.

“It’s not the time to kick this down the road,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said of the prospect of opening the government up and keeping talks about border security ongoing. “Apparently this draft has some support, but it’s the leadership that’ll decide what to do.”

Still, the moderates are moving fast to break open the stalled negotiations. The letter is being drafted by senators who took part in a bipartisan meeting earlier this week aimed at finding a way out of the shutdown.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an ally of McConnell, said early Wednesday that he intended to sign the letter but the timing and other signers remained in flux, reflecting a desire even among allies of the leadership to break away from Trump’s position.

“I see it as a solution,” Alexander said of the letter.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has been urging Trump to reopen the government, said, “We just have to demonstrate that there’s more than a couple people that want to do this.”

Murkowski added, “We’ve got to get the president to support it. Without that, we’re still stumbling along.”

Schumer is being regularly briefed on the bipartisan group’s activities and the count of senators on the letter, aides and lawmakers said, and has encouraged the group to pressure McConnell to act.

Other senators involved in the group include Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, plus Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

A top aide to a GOP senator said they were encouraging others to sign the letter on Wednesday as a show of force and a “message to Trump to take it seriously.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the GOP whip, said he “respected” the group’s attempt to broker a compromise but that the president and leadership would ultimately decide how to proceed.

The new effort among some senators comes as the White House invited a group of House Democrats and moderate House Republicans to meet with Trump on the shutdown for the second day in a row, this time members of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” caucus.

White House officials described Wednesday’s meeting with the House group as an attempt to contain the frustrations of moderates in both chambers and reiterate how the administration sees what’s happening at the border as a crisis that necessitates a wall.

Unlike Tuesday, when Democrats rejected a meeting called by the White House, seven Democrats planned to attend Wednesday, but their goal, they said, is not to negotiate with Trump but rather to share the Democratic perspective.

In a joint statement before the meeting, the Democrats, including four freshman, said a conversation on finding common ground on border security “can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened.”

Earlier Wednesday, Trump lashed out on Twitter at Democrats as “a Party of open borders and crime” and pointed to a surge in construction of border walls by other countries as the standoff continued.

“It is becoming more and more obvious that the Radical Democrats are a Party of open borders and crime,” Trump said in one tweet. “They want nothing to do with the major Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border.”

He added “#2020!” — an apparent reference to a previous contention that Democrats are trying to prevent him from fulfilling a marquee campaign promise in an effort to hurt his reelection prospects.

— — —

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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