Category: Opinion

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Test Scores for Class of 2018 Lowest in DECADES…


The creators of the ACT test announced on Wednesday that scores for the class of 2018 are the worst reported in decades. Math scores, in fact, are in freefall among ACT-tested U.S. high school graduates, falling to their lowest mark in 14 years, according to The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018, the ACT’s annual report.

The report includes ACT test results from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“The percentage of ACT-tested graduates who met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in math—suggesting they are ready to succeed in a first-year college algebra class—fell to its lowest level since 2004,” the report declared, with only 40 percent of 2018 graduates meeting the benchmark, “down from a high of 46% in 2012.”

The average score on the ACT math test dropped to its lowest level in 20 years — 20.5 on a scale of 1 to 36. American students scored 21.1 in 2012 and 20.7 last year.

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

But it’s not just math scores that have parents and educators concerned. Scores in other subjects are also falling.



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Birth of new Ukrainian church brings fears of violence…


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The rough-looking young men brought clubs and brass knuckles to the Pechersk Monastery in Kiev , one of Orthodox Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites, apparently seeking to disrupt worship. Police spread-eagled them against a wall decorated in faded centuries-old frescos of solemn saints, then hauled them away.

On the other side of the dispute, at a small church in the center of Kiev, a dozen men organized round-the-clock guard duty, worried that nationalist radicals might make their third attempt in a year to seize the place of worship.

The incidents a week ago underline the tensions in Ukraine as it prepares to establish a full-fledged Orthodox church of its own. The planned religious rupture from the Russian Orthodox Church is a potent — possibly explosive — mix of politics, religious faith and national identity.

The imminent creation of the new Ukrainian church raises deep concerns about what will happen to the approximately 12,000 churches in Ukraine that are now under the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The question of what will happen to the property of the Orthodox churches existing in Ukraine after the emergence of a single local church is key and could be one of the most painful” issues of the Orthodox split, said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Ukrainian think-tank Penta.

Since the late 1600s, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had been a wing of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than ecclesiastically independent — or “autocephalous.” Many Ukrainians chafed at that arrangement, resenting its implication that Ukraine was a vassal state of Russia.

Schismatic churches formed under their own Ukrainian leaders, but they were not recognized as canonical by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the so-called “first among equals” of leaders of the world’s Orthodox Churches.

That is about to change.

The Istanbul-based patriarchate last week removed an anathema against Ukrainian church leaders, a major step toward granting full recognition to a Ukrainian church that does not answer to the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Russian Orthodox Church, furious at the move, announced it would no longer recognize the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It also fears it will lose deeply cherished sites including the Pechersk Monastery, the seat of the church’s Ukrainian branch and a major tourist destination renowned for its richly decorated churches and labyrinthine caves holding the relics of holy men.

It’s not exactly clear when the autocephaly will be formally granted. The two schismatic Ukrainian churches must meet to decide who will be the patriarch of the unified church. Once that decision is made, Constantinople is expected to grant the independence order.

In recent years, about 50 churches in Ukraine that were under the Moscow Patriarchate have been forcibly seized and transferred to the Kiev Patriarchate, according to Metropolitan Antony Pakanich of the Moscow-loyal Ukrainian Church.

“People have been forcibly dragged out of our temples, the locks have been sawed off,” he told The Associated Press. “People in camouflage and balaclavas, with insignia of radical organizations, have come and beat our believers and priests.”

Some believers say they will forcefully defend their right to stay.

“The creation of a local church will push for a new round of confrontation … we, who are supporters of canonical Orthodoxy, will defend our interests here,” said Ilya Bogoslovsky, a 28-year-old who came with his wife and daughter for a service at the chapel of the Tithes Monastery, where the guards had been deployed.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has hailed the creation of the full Ukrainian church as “a guarantee of our spiritual freedom,” has pledged that there will be no action taken against parishes that choose to remain under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Similar promises have come from Patriarch Filaret, head of the largest of the schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox churches, who said “creating a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine does not mean that the Russian Orthodox Church does not have the right to exist on our territory.”

But some Ukrainian nationalists appear ready to use force. In September, radical right-wingers broke into a church in western Ukraine, beat up a priest, drove parishioners away and locked the building.

A leader of the ultranationalist C14 group, whose adherents have twice attacked the Tithes church in Kiev, sees the presence of Moscow Patriarchate churches in Ukraine as a form of propaganda by an “aggressor country” since the Russian Orthodox Church has close ties with the Kremlin.

The Tithes church is “the Kremlin’s political tool,” Serhiy Mazur said.

The war between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014 and has killed at least 10,000 people, has also sharply increased the hostility toward the Moscow Patriarchate churches.

Father Sergii Dmitriev, a chaplain in the Ukrainian army, was once part of the Moscow church but switched to the Kiev Patriarchate after the Russia-linked church began to refuse holding funerals for Ukrainian soldiers killed in the war.

“To be in the Moscow Patriarchate is to take part in the murder of Ukrainians,” he told the AP. “Not only those who pull the trigger are responsible, but those who bless the pulling of the trigger.”

With such passions on both sides, the cleric feared that more violence between the two uneasy neighbors lay ahead.

“The birth of a new Ukrainian church is taking place amid throes for which everyone should be prepared,” he warned.



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San Diego No. 1 booziest city…


San Diegans apparently have an outsized fondness for beer, wine and spirits, helping lift the metro area to the top of a new list of the booziest cities in America.

That’s according to a study assembled by Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a company that owns and operates drug and alcohol detox and treatment centers. Curious about testing the theory that staying sober can help consumers save money, Delphi decided to probe data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Based on expenditure stats tabulated by the BLS, a San Diego consumer spent on average $1,112 last year on alcohol, easily catapulting the metro area to No. 1, past San Francisco, the leader in 2016. That year, San Diego came in at No. 2, at an annual expenditure of $850 per household, Delphi found.

San Diego’s spending on booze rose more than 30 percent in just one year, according to the study. Could it be the explosive growth of the region’s craft beer industry that’s contributing to all that imbibing?

After all, a soon-to-be released report found that San Diego County has more craft brewing locations — about 178 — than any other U.S. county. Not only that, but local breweries produced 1.1 million barrels of beer in 2017, up from 900,000 in 2016.

While Delphi doesn’t offer any explanations of its own for the area’s growing affinity for adult beverages, it surmises that San Francisco’s 23 percent drop may have had something to do with last year’s wine country wildfires that “may have kept San Francisco residents away from weekend trips to nearby vineyards.”

Meanwhile, San Diego’s neighbor to the north, Los Angeles, ranked a distant 14th, with an average household expenditure of $620, still up 20 percent.

According to Delphi’s analysis, here are the top 10 tipsiest cities:

1. San Diego: $1,112

2. Seattle: $986

3. San Francisco: $875

4. Boston: $823

5. Anchorage: $788

6. Denver: $771

7. Minneapolis-St. Paul: $754

8. Baltimore: $724

9. St. Louis: $684

10. Washington, D.C.: $662

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg



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What's at stake if investors begin to shun…


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The disappearance of a Saudi journalist last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has shaken confidence in the country as a place to do business, with potential consequences for billions of dollars in investments going into and out of the country.

It’s a blow, analysts say, to efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to convince the world that the country is a reputable place to strike the deals needed to power a wide-ranging transformation of the economy.

As allegations emerge that Jamal Khashoggi was gruesomely murdered, political pressure to isolate Saudi Arabia is increasing.

Here is a look at the Saudi leader’s economic plans and what is at stake if business leaders begin to shun the country.

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Q: Why does Prince Mohammed need foreign investors?

A: The crown prince wants to diversify the economy away from oil and transform its business and political model. For years, oil revenues paid for plenty of government sector jobs and benefits. That model has come under strain amid a growing population and a period of low oil prices.

The prince’s Vision 2030 strategy foresees the creation of a vibrant private sector. As part of that, he wants to develop new industries like alternative energy, tourism and entertainment. Projects include a new business zone near the Red Sea called NEOM that would focus on advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.

Saudi Arabia has its own companies in more traditional fields like construction, which would get a lot of that investment. But the country would need technology, expertise and financing from outside to carry out Prince Mohammed’s ideas. He wants, for instance, to have his Public Investment Fund — the state-backed investment vehicle — raise more money by selling a stake in chemicals company SABIC to state oil firm Saudi Aramco. Analysts say Saudi Aramco would likely have to borrow to make the deal happen. The PIF itself has already borrowed $11 billion from international banks.

“Foreign investment is a main pillar of Vision 2030,” said Sebastian Sons, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The old tradition is on the brink. Diversification of the economy is strongly needed and Vision 2030 is the strategy for that.”

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Q: How would the Khashoggi disappearance affect that?

A: Foreign investors already had doubts about the country amid regional conflicts like a blockade of neighbor Qatar and a brutal war against rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia ranks 92nd out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, which measures things like ability to enforce contracts and get goods in and out of the country. Another cloud was cast over the business environment when Prince Mohammed locked up several dozen members of the Saudi elite in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and seized what the country’s attorney general said was more than $100 billion in assets.

The Khashoggi scandal comes at a time when “the private sector is cowed and hurting in many ways,” said David Butter, an analyst with the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The hotel incident shows that “they don’t know if their assets are safe from sequestration.” And grisly details reported in news media about Khashoggi’s alleged killing “are just going to make the private sector even more worried,” he said.

The war in Yemen has led to horrors such as an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition that killed 40 children, but the Khashoggi incident is harder to play down as a regrettable mishap of war. Butter said Prince Mohammed’s image as the “face of future reform is now much more difficult to sustain.”

Turkish authorities say Khashoggi was killed. The Saudis have denied involvement.

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Q: Are people losing faith in Saudi Arabia as a business destination?

A: Foreign business and political leaders are dropping out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative, an annual event started last year to showcase the country as a place to do business. Among those cancelling are U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Sons of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said the no-shows “are a serious indicator for Mohammed bin Salman that he is losing trust, that Saudi Arabia is not seen as the ideal place to invest.”

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Q: Why are the Saudis investing abroad as well?

A: They’ve been buying stakes mainly in technology firms to diversify their revenue and show the country as forward-looking and tech-friendly place.

The sovereign fund has invested $3.5 billion in Uber, for example. It has pledged $45 billion for the SoftBank Vision Fund, a private equity fund that has taken stakes in Uber and messaging software maker Slack Technologies Inc.

The question now is, whether companies will be leery of Saudi money for fear it will taint their reputations. Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, has said he is freezing talks for Saudi investment in his space companies. Other executives have limited themselves to the symbolic rebuke of shunning next week’s Saudi conference. Others have simply kept quiet.

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Q: How likely are sanctions against Saudi Arabia?

A: Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham called for Saudi Arabia to be punished if it is confirmed it organized Khashoggi’s disappearance. But they did not specify what that might mean in practice.

The 2016 Global Magnitsky Act makes it possible to impose visa bans barring entry into the U.S. and targeted sanctions on individuals for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption. Congress can submit proposed names.

Analyst Butter at the Royal Institute said the prospect of sanctions was unclear but that “any kind of sanctions would have a strong symbolic effect.”

President Donald Trump has promised “severe punishment” if regime involvement is proved, but has also said he does not want to cost U.S. jobs by curtailing U.S. sales of military equipment to the Saudis.



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Thousands turn out for anti-Brexit protest in London…


LONDON (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Organizers want the public to have a final say on the government’s Brexit deal with the EU, arguing that new facts have come to light about the costs and complexity of Britain’s exit from the bloc since Britons voted to leave in 2016.

Some 150 buses ferried thousands of activists from across the country to the British capital, and organizers estimated that over 500,000 took part.

“What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined the “People’s Vote March,” told the BBC. “That’s a million miles away from what was promised 2 1/2 years ago.”

Khan said Saturday’s protest was a “march for the future” for young Britons, including those who were too young to vote in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, when those who favored leaving the bloc won narrowly by 52 percent to 48 percent.

The mayor, from the opposition Labour Party, has previously backed mounting calls for a fresh referendum so that the public can have a say on whether they accept Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal or choose to stay in the EU.

May, the leader of Britain’s Conservatives, has ruled out another public vote on the subject.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but negotiations over the divorce have been plagued by disagreements, particularly over the future border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will be the U.K.’s only land border with the EU after Brexit, for Ireland is part of the EU and Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.

One of the great accomplishments of the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland was to dismantle the police and military presence at the border with Ireland. Many on both sides do not want a hard border again.

There are also growing fears of a “no-deal” British exit, which could create chaos at the borders and in the EU and the British economies.

May, speaking at an inconclusive EU summit in Brussels this week, said she would consider having a longer post-Brexit transition period — one that could keep Britain aligned to EU rules and obligations for more than two years after its March departure. Pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, however, saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.

“This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain,” said Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords. “Voters will neither forgive nor forget if (lawmakers) allow this miserable Brexit to proceed without people being given the final say.”



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Javier Bardem condemns Woody Allen 'public lynching'…


Javier Bardem has spoken out in support of Woody Allen, who directed him and his wife Penélope Cruz in the 2008 comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Bardem’s comments emerged from a masterclass at the Lumiere festival in Lyon, France. The Spanish actor, who also appeared in the 007 film Skyfall and won an Oscar for best supporting actor for the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, said he would be happy to work for Allen again.

“At the time I did Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the allegations were already well known for more than 10 years, and two states in the US deemed he was not guilty.”

He added: “If the legal situation ever changes, then I’d change my mind. But for now I don’t agree with the public lynching that he’s been receiving, and if Woody Allen called me to work with him again I’d be there tomorrow morning. He’s a genius.”

Bardem’s attitude contrasts strongly with a number of high-profile actors, including Colin Firth, Greta Gerwig, and Timothée Chalamet, who have said they regret working with Allen and won’t do so again, following a newspaper article in 2013 by Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow in which she repeated accusations of child sexual abuse by her father, alleged to have taken place in 1992. Allen denies all the allegations. An investigation by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut concluded in 1993 that no abuse had taken place, and New York state’s Department of Social Services cleared Allen later the same year following a child welfare investigation.

Allen, meanwhile, has said that he intends to keep working despite the hostility of large sections of the film industry. Page Six, the New York Post’s gossip section, reported Allen as saying: “I’m a writer. It’s what I am. What I do. What I always will be. I’ll write. Since I continually have ideas it’ll be new ideas and I’ll write new things.”

Allen’s most recent film, A Rainy Day in New York, has yet to secure a release date.



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Crown prince had 'no knowledge'…


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had no knowledge of the specific operation that resulted in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul this month, a Saudi official familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is seen during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy/File Photo

“There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding that there was a standing order to bring critics of the kingdom back to the country.

“MbS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody. He will have been aware of the general instruction to tell people to come back,” the source said, using the initials of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The source said the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body were unclear after it was handed over to a “local cooperator” but there was no sign of it at the consulate.

Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Shark washes up dead on Florida shore with old hat wrapped around head…


The body of a shark was found washed ashore in Florida with the remains of an old hat wrapped around its body.

The photo of the dead finetooth shark was posted to St. Johns County Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page.

The post says the 6-foot-long shark of a species that ranges from North Carolina to Brazil migrates along the Florida coast in the early fall.

The photo shows the remains of the hat identified by the post as a plastic brim, which is seen wrapped tightly around the shark’s neck near its gills.

“Although the cause of death is undetermined without a necropsy of the animal, this is another great example of how plastic marine debris is not just a global issue, but a local one as well,” the post reads.

County staff responded to the report of the shark on Friday and then reported it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline, the post said.

See the Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/sjcparksandrec/photos/a.859404720781050/1876441302410715/?type=3&theater

Richard Tribou is a Senior Content Editor for the Community Conversations Team. He can be reached at rtribou@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5134



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Gunman torches own home before ambushing firefighters…


SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – The gunman who set a fire that burned four Springfield homes and shot at firefighters before killing himself posted on Facebook about an hour before it all happened.

READ MORE: Police identify subject in early morning shooting, fire

Around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Lance Jacobs, 65, wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page about his declining health and numerous MRSA infections in the last two years, as well as suffering from sleep apnea.

He also said he never recovered from the trauma of his divorce 28 years ago and not being able to see his kids anymore devastated him. He said his life has been broken and meaningless ever since.

Jacobs said he was worried he would face charges for something he didn’t do because of his ex-wife’s lies.

About an hour later, police said Jacobs set fire to his home in the 500 block of Oakdale Avenue and then fired shots at firefighters.

The fire then spread to other homes, destroying three and damaging another.

RELATED: Police help put out fire after firefighters ambushed in Springfield

Police said Jacobs then shot and killed himself. They believe he was trying to kill first responders, but they are not sure why.

Jacobs does not have any past criminal cases in Oregon.

Read Jacobs’ entire Facebook post below:

“I have become so ill in recent years. My health just continues to go downhill. I’ve got painful injuries to discs in my lower back, and my left knee is getting to the point where it will soon need a knee replacement. My doctor told me that surgery has done all it can to repair the torn meniscus. Then my cardiovascular problems started six years ago, and have slowly been getting worse. On top of that, I have something wrong with the right side of my sinuses, and have suffered chronic infections in my right sinus for many years now. Many times my right eye has become infected too. Yet no doctor seems to be able to explain why this happens.

Then 2 1/2 years ago, I became infected with MRSA, after a visit to the Sacred Heart RiverBend hospital. And i have had numerous MRSA infections break out in many parts of my body since then.

And on top of everything else, I suffer from really severe sleep apnea. The chronic nasal congestion I suffer made trying to use a CPAP machine impossible. And when I get this bad congestion in my right sinus, it really aggravates my sleep apnea greatly. I wake up some mornings with my bed in shambles, and still feeling tired, and lately even with a headache.

I’ve continued to suffer falls, which I believe that the sleep apnea is contributing to. Just 10 days ago, I fell. I broke my fall, by putting out my left hand. But now my left wrist has been in pain ever since.

I had a great doctor at Springfield Family Physicians for 13 years, but since he is gone, I feel like I am treated like a stranger there. And Peacehealth staff at both the hospital, and also their Gateway Urgent Care, have both refused to believe me this year, when I told them that I was suffering from a bad sinus infection again, and instead brushed off my complaints by saying that I was having allergies.

My right sinus is so badly infected. And the infection has spread the past two months to my right eye, and my vision in my right eye has now been destroyed. It is like muddy blotches now cover my right eye, and everything is a blur now. And just the last couple of days, I now have new symptoms of bright dots of green and blue, and sometimes red, now appearing in my vision.

I’ve also never recovered from the emotional trauma of my divorce 28 years ago, and the monstrous abuse and witch hunt that my ex was able to orchestrate against me in divorce court, with the help of Samantha Payne. How the authorities in Nevada could have ever come to rely on that woman, I will never understand. When she told Judge Griffin that there was no such thing as false allegations of abuse, he simply nodded.The trauma of not being allowed to see my kids anymore totally devastated me. Plus the stress of the never ending police investigations due to my ex continuing to manufacture new allegations, and fearing being charged with something that I’ve never done, all based on her false allegations. I had two emotional breakdowns during the divorce, ( which lasted 2 years and 10 months in court ). I even sought help from a local expert on trauma after moving to Eugene, as I actually suffered constant nightmares, that went on for 4 years after the divorce was over. Night after night, I would relive the trauma and pain of losing my kids. It was like an echo that just would not stop.

I’ve never really fully recovered emotionally. My life has been broken and meaningless ever since.

It is ironic that the terrible emotional pain that I have suffered so very long with, is now being matched with all of these physical pains and health problems. I have become so very disabled by my medical issues now.”



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Border Patrol stops massive meth shipment…



Border Patrol stops massive meth shipment...

(Second column, 12th story, link)


Related stories:
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Mexico deploys hundreds of riot police as migrants near…
Adult Caught Faking as ‘Unaccompanied Minor’…

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