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Deaths of Soldiers and Policemen Held by Kurdish Guerrillas Roils Turkish Politics – The New York Times



President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the United States and opposition Kurdish politicians in an effort to deflect responsibility for a failed rescue operation.

ISTANBUL — Turks reacted with shock and anger Monday to the news that Kurdish guerrillas had executed 13 Turkish soldiers and police officers held captive in a cave in the mountains of northern Iraq.

The men were being held hostage by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., a Maoist guerrilla movement that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades. Turkish soldiers discovered their bodies in a cave during a military operation in Iraq’s Gara region, the government said Sunday. All of the hostages had been executed, all but one with gunshots to the head, it said.

The death toll, and the manner in which the men were killed, landed like a bombshell in Turkey’s tense and divided politics. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political allies condemned the attack, as opposition parties questioned why the government had failed to negotiate the men’s release and had risked a military operation to rescue them.

The P.K.K. said the deaths were caused by airstrikes during the Turkish military operation that began on Feb. 10. The Turkish minister of defense, Hulusi Akar, said the P.K.K. commander in charge had executed the men as soon as the operation began.

Twelve of the hostages who have been identified were junior members of the army and military police. All had been captured five or six years ago by the P.K.K. in a period after peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish guerrillas had broken down.

Turkey’s military operation took place in the Gara mountain region of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The guerrillas often set up impromptu roadblocks on remote roads in areas of eastern and southeastern Turkey, and abduct members of the armed forces traveling on public buses or private cars to go home to visit their families and return to their bases.

The men found in the cave had been abducted and taken across the border into the mountains of northern Iraq, a region the P.K.K. has long used as a rear base.

Ozturk Turkdogan, head of the Turkish Human Rights Association said the organization had been in touch with 10 of the hostages’ families since 2015. But despite efforts to press for negotiations, the Turkish security services had been unyielding in their pursuit of military operations, he said. Speaking on Arti TV, he also criticized the P.K.K. for holding the hostages for so long.

The incident could prove politically damaging for Mr. Erdogan, but may also give him ammunition to whip up nationalist feeling and crack down on his opponents.

He called the mother of one of the slain soldiers during a speech broadcast on national television on Monday, promising to avenge her son’s death. His political ally, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, vowed that anyone showing sympathy for the Kurdish group would be treated as a terrorist and accomplice.

Mr. Erdogan lashed out against the P.K.K. in his speech, and said the United States and the pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey were also responsible for the soldiers’ deaths.

He blamed the United States for supporting and arming the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., an affiliate of the Kurdish group, which U.S. forces use to fight against the Islamic State in Syria, even though Washington, along with Turkey and the European Union, has designated the P.K.K. a terrorist group.

“If we are together with you in NATO, if we are to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely toward us,” Mr. Erdogan said in the speech, made to members of his party at a gathering in Rize, in Turkey’s Black Sea region. “Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists.”

Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Turkish foreign ministry said it had summoned the American ambassador Monday to protest the conditional wording of a U.S. State Department statement on the incident, which read, “If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the P.K.K., a designated terrorist organization, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P., is regularly accused of terrorism for its ties to the P.K.K. Mr. Erdogan’s criticism could signal of new wave of oppression against the party, which has seen many elected representatives and activists removed from their positions and detained.

Anadolu Agency, the state-run news service, reported that an investigation had been opened against two H.D.P. lawmakers, for “provocative” social media posts on the incident when news first broke of the killings on Sunday. The H.D.P. said Monday that 700 people, including party officials, had been detained overnight around the country.

Members of the H.D.P. and of the Human Rights Association have in the past worked to mediate with the P.K.K. and secure the release of hostages. The two lawmakers being investigated had met with families of the hostages.

The party called on the government and the P.K.K. to give an account of what happened in a statement Monday.

“The government is in a position to account for the losses to the families of the deceased and to society, instead of asking our party to account for them,” the statement read.

“Likewise, the P.K.K. should inform the public of Turkey and the world about how the captives lost their lives, which were entrusted to them, and about their responsibility for those deaths.”

The party also called for the P.K.K. to release other captives in their hands.

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'The world has changed': The scrambled new politics of the minimum wage – NBC News



WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders, Josh Hawley and Amazon don’t often find themselves on the same side of an issue.

But years of stagnant wages that have failed to keep up with living costs and the political realignment spurred by Donald Trump are bringing together more than just Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont; Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri; and Amazon, one of America’s biggest businesses.

The politics of the minimum wage have been scrambled, dividing the business community and making strange bedfellows out of populists on the right and the left.

Progressives were outraged after the White House acquiesced to a Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour could not be included in the Covid-19 relief bill working through Congress. President Joe Biden has promised to try again.

For the first time in years, Democrats may find a receptive audience from major business interests and some Republicans for raising the minimum wage — although not all the way to $15. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the titan of Washington business lobbying, says the current $7.25 federal minimum is “outdated.”

March 5, 202106:17

Holly Sklar, who runs a coalition of hundreds of companies that support a $15 minimum wage called Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, said: “This is 2021. So whatever people thought of $15 in 2012, 2013, 2014 or 2015, a lot of time has gone by. It should look different. The world has changed.”

‘What business do they have?’

Corporate America is in the middle of a reset, not just because of the Democratic takeover of Washington, but also because of sweeping changes that businesses say respond to public outcries about race and justice.

What the left sees as a realignment has prompted some conservative backlash.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was once bastion of pro-businesses libertarianism, a panel last month decried the “The Awokening of Corporate America.” But at the same conference, Trump campaign veteran Steve Cortes argued that a $15 minimum wage should be a key pillar of a future Republican platform, along with “border sovereignty” and “toughness in trade.”

Amazon, which raised its starting wage to $15 an hour, is trying to lead the charge, and it is actively lobbying Congress, having taken out full-page ads in The New York Times supporting the Raise the Wage Act. Target and Best Buy have also set their lowest wages at $15 an hour, while Walmart set its minimum at $11 and Costco’s just jumped to $16.

“We’ve seen the positive impact this has had on our employees, their families, and their communities,” Amazon said in a blog post.

Bipartisan backing is growing, although not necessarily for $15.

At least six Republican senators have come out in favor of raising the wage to $10 an hour or more; Hawley proposed a $15-an-hour wage for companies with revenues of more than $1 billion.

“For decades, the wages of everyday, working Americans have remained stagnant while monopoly corporations have consolidated industry after industry, securing record profits for CEOs and investment bankers,” Hawley, a potential presidential candidate who faced heat after he cheered on Trump supporters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, said in a statement.

Others on the right see Amazon’s move as self-serving. Critics who point to other parts of Washington that are putting pressure on Amazon, some of it over antitrust concerns and the company’s working conditions, argue that the company could use some goodwill points.

And they say that Amazon doesn’t speak for business but rather that is trying to put its competitors out of business by forcing a cost increase that small businesses couldn’t absorb.

“Is it to ingratiate themselves with the new Biden administration? I have to say yes,” said Alfred Ortiz, the CEO of the Job Creators Network, a conservative small-business network founded by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. “What business do they have dictating to these small businesses that they should be paying $15 an hour?”

The group recently put up a billboard in Times Square in New York asking: “How does Amazon bulldoze its Main Street competitors without getting dirty?” The answer: “They get Congress to pass a $15 minimum wage.”

Amazon’s move to $15 came only after Sanders introduced a bill in 2018 dubbed the “Stop BEZOS Act,” which would have forced companies like Amazon, founded by Jeff Bezos, to foot the bill for government safety net programs used by employees, like food stamps.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we want to lead,” Bezos said at the time.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage increasingly point to Amazon to portray their fight as one that pits large businesses against small ones, especially as Amazon’s profits soared while small restaurants and mom-and-pop shops were hammered by the pandemic-induced recession.

“If you’re already paying more than $15, then it’s in your best interest to have your competitors pay more than $15, too,” said Jerry Parrish, the chief economist at the Florida Chamber Foundation, which fought a referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage last year.

‘Strike a deal’

Traditionally, the minimum wage has broken along a simple divide in Washington — business and its Republican allies on one side and labor and its Democratic allies on the other.

But the minimum wage fight is now divided into three camps, none of which neatly conform to expected ideological or business groupings: There are those who support a full $15 minimum wage, those opposed to raising the wage at all and a large group in the middle open to raising the minimum to, say, $10 an hour but not all the way to $15.

The third camp includes centrists in Congress, like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and the mainstream business lobbies, like the Business Roundtable, which represents some of the world’s most powerful CEOs, and the Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber, with its imposing Beaux Arts headquarters across Lafayette Square from the White House, almost exclusively supported Republicans in congressional elections until a shake-up last year as the C-suite grew weary of Trump’s trade wars and unpredictable governance.

Last year, the chamber backed 23 freshman Democrats — including 18 who voted for a $15 minimum wage — and 29 freshman Republicans, compared to just seven Democrats and 191 Republicans in the previous election cycle.

“We’re open to discussion about raising the minimum wage,” said Glenn Spencer, the chamber’s senior vice president of employment policy. “The question is are there enough Democrats who are willing to strike a deal that will result in a minimum wage increase? Or are progressives going to stick with their politically motivated $15 and wind up with zero?”

March 7, 202105:08

Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage, including a strong contingent of Republicans. A growing number of major cities and states have set their own wage floors at $15.

Florida voters last year overwhelmingly approved the referendum, voting 61 percent to 39 percent to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15, even as they voted for Trump. And Arkansas, a relatively low-income and deeply conservative state, has set its minimum at $11.

Some business groups and Republicans see the writing on the wall and have rushed to get ahead of the issue.

The National Federation of Independent Business has taken a harder rhetorical line against minimum wage increases than the Chamber of Commerce or the Business Roundtable, for instance, although all have emphasized the need to insulate small businesses.

“Small businesses are far less likely than larger businesses to have cash reserves or profit margins to absorb the increase in labor costs,” National Federation of Independent Business Vice President Kevin Kuhlman wrote in a letter to lawmakers last month.

Democrats have been sensitive to that issue, too. When their minimum wage measure was removed from the Covid-19 relief bill, Sanders floated an idea to impose tax penalties on large companies that pay less than $15 an hour and to offer tax incentives for small businesses that pay more.

The plan was abandoned, and a standalone amendment to raise the wage to $15 failed in the Senate on Friday, with eight Democrats voting against.

With Manchin opposed to $15, Democrats may have to try to find a compromise, much to the chagrin of those on the left.

“I think for Democrats to settle for anything less than $15 is political suicide, given the moment,” said Joseph Geevarghese, who used to run the Fight for $15 campaign and is now the executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive activist group aligned with Sanders.

The negotiations could be the first real test of whether business interests are really interested in turning over a new leaf with the new administration. They might need to exert some pressure on Republican senators to get to the necessary 60 votes.

In the meantime, worker activists like Sara Fearrington, a server at a Waffle House in Durham, North Carolina, say they will keep fighting for a higher wage.

“We’re going to keep striking, we’re going to keep organizing, and we’re going to keep coming to the table until we get it,” she said.

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Barcelona Soccer Club Is Getting Caught Up in Politics – BNN



(Bloomberg) — FC Barcelona calls itself “more than a club,” an affirmation that its Catalan culture and identity within Spain goes beyond soccer. That motto could be about to take on wider significance as it gets more deeply embroiled in the nation’s politics.

The biggest club in the world by revenue will hold elections on Sunday to pick a new president. The outcome may have a bearing on the future of Catalonia’s independence movement, whose fight with the Spanish government has dominated the country over the past three years.

Known internationally for stars like Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Barcelona is a flag carrier for Catalonia and was a lightning rod for resistance against the Franco dictatorship. On 17 minutes and 14 seconds at home games—before the pandemic emptied the stadium—a faction of the crowd chants for independence to symbolize the fall of the city in 1714.

But the team is still considered the last big Catalan institution that remains largely outside the influence of secessionists.

During the campaign to elect a new president, candidates have mostly avoided speaking publicly about the Catalan issue. Behind the scenes, though, efforts are being made to ensure that whoever wins will be firmly aligned with the separatist cause, according to a person familiar with the plan.

“In a country where politics is as voracious as it is in Catalonia, where there’s a vengeful and fratricidal behavior in so many things, it’s no surprise that Barca has become a disputed power,” said Ramon Miravitllas, author of the 2013 book called “Barca’s Political Role.” “To those who favor independence, Barca needs to be a striker that plays against other forces beyond football.”

The two main pro-independence parties—Esquerra Republicana and Junts per Catalunya—are currently negotiating to form a government in the region after elections last month. While Esquerra looks set to lead the administration, the more radical Junts appears to have the upper hand in the race for who will run Barcelona.

The party’s leader, former regional President Carles Puigdemont, is personally following every twist and turn of the election. He is in self-proclaimed exile in Belgium following the turmoil of the region’s failed bid for independence in October 2017, which also divided Spanish soccer as well as the nation.

Junts is interested in using Barcelona to develop television content, according to the person familiar with the party’s involvement. The club owns a television channel and has a content studio, Barca Studios, with capacity to build streaming services.

Puigdemont and his allies have been working with Joan Laporta, a former president and the frontrunner to get the post again.

People close to Puigdemont have been helping gather the necessary financial guarantees for candidates on the Laporta team. They need 100 million euros ($119 million)—or about 8.5 million each—and enlisted the help of an executive at one of Catalonia’s main banks, according to the person familiar with the situation. 

Should he prevail, Laporta faces the task of fixing a club in a mess, with debt of  about 1 billion euros and a cash crunch in May. Former President Josep Maria Bartomeu and three other directors were arrested earlier this week amid a prosecutor’s investigation into the previous administration’s use of the club’s funds.

In December, Laporta made an advertising splash when he put up a billboard outside the stadium of archrival Real Madrid in the Spanish capital. The slogan “Eager to see you again” referenced the rivalry, but the message was also that the independence movement is back, said a person familiar with the decision.

“Barca has been ‘more than a club’ since the dictatorship, but it can’t have the same role,” said Miravitllas. “Times have changed.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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‘We need the government’: Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan reflects seismic shifts in U.S. politics – The Washington Post



A new Democratic administration facing down a massive economic crisis pushes an $800 billion stimulus package. A bloc of centrist Democrats balk at the price tag, and Republicans are thrown into a frenzy warning about the impact to the federal deficit.

A little more than a decade later, another new Democratic administration takes office facing a different economic crisis. This time, it proposes spending an additional $1.9 trillion, even though the federal deficit last year was $3.1 trillion — much larger than during the last crisis. Centrist Democrats unify behind passing the measure, and the GOP rejects it but in a more muted fashion.

The disparity between the reception to President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics — the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy.

Since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, polling has found substantial support among Americans for providing more government aid for those in need. That is partially due to the nature of the current crisis, which for a time opened a deeper economic hole than even the Great Recession. But the shift is also the result of a reorientation on economic policy — on the left and on the right — that has transformed the political landscape.

On the right, congressional Republicans may still fret about higher deficits — but the most popular politician among their voters does not. As a candidate and as president, Donald Trump blew past Republican concerns about the deficit, pushing for trillions in additional spending and tax cuts and running unprecedented peacetime debt levels.

And on the left, Democratic lawmakers have increasingly learned to ignore fears about spending too much. Party leaders have said they suffered crippling political defeats in the 2010s precisely because they did not deliver enough meaningful economic relief under Obama — a mistake that they see an opportunity to correct under Biden. Democrats also repeatedly tout the 2017 Republican tax cut, which is expected to add approximately $2 trillion to the national debt, as a reason to be skeptical of GOP concerns about fiscal restraint.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) explained on March 7 why he stalled the coronavirus relief vote, a day after the Senate approved the package without Republicans. (The Washington Post)

“It’s been a major shift. People have gone from being anti-government, to beyond being even neutral on it, to thinking: ‘We need the government; it has to help us,’ ” said former congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who helped craft Congress’s response to the last financial crisis and Great Recession.

“You have a new consensus in America — that the government has an important role, and that Ronald Reagan was wrong. For the first time in my lifetime, people are saying that the government has done too little rather than doing too much.”

The upshot is that Americans overall have appeared largely supportive of Biden’s stimulus blitz, which would push the total national debt beyond $23 trillion. This change has helped speed Biden’s massive relief package through Congress with relative ease, despite unified Republican opposition and last-minute changes pushed by moderate Democrats. Centrist Senate Democrats trimmed unemployment benefits but did not significantly reduce the overall size of Biden’s legislation.

After a roughly 24-hour, around-the-clock session, Senate Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan on March 6 without any Republican support. (The Washington Post)

“What happened in 2009 and ’10 is, we tried to work with the Republicans, the package ended up being much too small, and the recession lasted for five years,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “People got sour; we lost the election.”

This emerging consensus is not without its detractors. Congressional Republicans widely panned Biden’s relief bill as providing far more funding than is necessary, arguing much of it goes to waste. A number of leading economists, influential Washington groups and Wall Street analysts have said key parts of Biden’s bill are poorly targeted to the specific needs of the crisis — particularly given the encouraging signs on vaccinations and the job market.

Although the bill is popular right now, congressional Republicans have also projected confidence that will change once its provisions become more widely known and they have a chance to campaign against it.

Every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the bill, undermining Biden’s campaign promises to work across the aisle and find common ground. The president’s difficulty at points securing the support of centrist Senate Democrats — a process that led to a nine-hour standoff with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Friday — also suggests the challenges he is likely to face securing support for his next legislative effort. Moderate lawmakers of Biden’s party may be less likely to back a narrowly partisan effort again if it’s not responsive to an economic emergency.

“I think it’s important for the American people and our Democratic colleagues to recognize that when they’re going to propose spending money that’s not needed and that’s wasteful — and they lard up a piece of legislation — that we’re not going to just sit back and take it,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters on Thursday. “We’re going to fight back.”

The bill’s $1.9 trillion cost — budget experts say the ultimate price-tag may be $1.8 trillion — makes it one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in terms of its single-year impact, particularly when considered in tandem with the approximately $900 billion bill approved in December. An analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which argues for lower deficits, found the package could ultimately cost $4 trillion if key provisions are extended.

Democrats are blowing past these concerns. Democratic lawmakers and aides say they have heard very few complaints from constituents about concerns the relief plan will drive up the deficit. Even senators representing states that Trump won by huge margins, such as Jon Tester (D-Mont.), have gone along with the bill’s price tag.

The White House has pointed to a range of economic analyses showing that without dramatic federal intervention, it could take as long as two years for employment to fully recover. Economists have also pointed to low interest rates as enabling historic borrowing at relatively low costs. The U.S. jobs report showed the economy added close to 400,000 jobs in February, but the number of Americans out of work is still over 9 million more than it was pre-pandemic.

Biden is in some ways the ideal messenger for their spending blitz. A septuagenarian who spent four decades in Congress, the president is hard to portray as a socialist or radical leftist — even as he advances some ambitious expansions of government spending, including a major new child tax benefit.

“Biden’s style and his persona have allowed him to be heard as pragmatic on policies that if articulated by other people would sound ideological,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who advised Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. “Just by temperament and culture and background, Joe Biden seems less ideological and more pragmatic.”

That has also appeared to contribute to a more muted reaction to Biden’s spending plans than Obama’s. Reports from the Conservative Political Action Conference, held this year in Florida, indicated that the debt and deficits were not major themes energizing the conservative base.

The shift has been accelerated by the party’s leader. Trump has so far largely avoided critiquing Biden’s stimulus plan. He did recently blast Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for refusing to support his and Democrats’ push for $2,000 stimulus payments in December, a decision that Trump said cost the GOP the Georgia runoff elections that determined control of the Senate.

“In the background leading to the Obama era, $300 billion deficits were considered a crisis, and in that context an $800 billion stimulus was an enormous sticker shock even among Democrats,” said Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) now at the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute. “It has been a massive shift toward the view [that] almost no level of borrowing will have negative consequences. Billions just became trillions.”

Dave Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College who studies the Democratic Party, said the Republican base is no longer “stoked” by criticisms of overspending.

“Moderate vulnerable Democrats feel a lot more freedom to vote for a big spending bill in the current moment — because the polls suggest it’s popular, and because the case against Democrats is being made on Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, not the debt,” Hopkins said.

Beyond the shifting politics, Democratic lawmakers have themselves shifted in their beliefs.

In the 1990s, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), now vice chair of the House’s Joint Economic Committee, supported the Democratic presidential candidates who most seriously campaigned on closing the national deficit.

Beyer’s thinking has changed. He cited conversations with a range of economists on wonky issues such as the relationship between employment and inflation, as well as watching the impact of covid aid as it was sprayed across the American economy.

Beyer sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws.

“We’re always doing things like the Employee Retention Tax Credit,” he said of a refundable credit to reimburse businesses hit by covid for keeping employees on the payroll. “I don’t want to diminish those kinds of things, but they don’t feel real to people the way the $600 check does.”

Beyer added: “I was knocking doors for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania [last fall], and the most memorable conversation I had was with a guy who said, ‘I just want to know who will send me the checks.’ . . . Covid has given us the opportunity to provide very meaningful benefits to these folks.”

Democrats were not always so concerned with the marketing of their plans.

In 2009, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) went to the White House and begged Obama officials to have the treasury secretary send letters to millions of American households explaining how they would benefit from a $1,000 tax cut in Obama’s stimulus. The administration refused.

“If you went to the streets of Philadelphia in 2010 and asked every man and woman if they got a tax cut from Obama’s stimulus, they would have said no,” Rendell said.

The White House is now aiming for the opposite. In remarks on Saturday, Biden emphasized the cash that the plan will send to millions of Americans — in direct stimulus payments, new child benefits, and unemployment assistance, among other provisions.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the administration would aim to do a much better job than Obama’s team had in ensuring that people saw how they were being helped by the government.

“Quite frankly, without the overwhelming, bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened,” Biden said after the Senate passed the measure. He touted the “real, tangible results” delivered by the package. Americans, he said, “will be able to see and know and feel the changes in their own lives.”

Tony Romm contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the federal deficit for 2008, which was $469 billion and projected to grow significantly in the next year. This version has been corrected.

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