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Fire destroys much of 249-year-old church in California

A fire destroyed the rooftop and most of the interior of a nearly 250-year-old church in California that was undergoing renovation

A fire early Saturday destroyed the rooftop and most of the interior of a California church that was undergoing renovation to mark its upcoming 250th anniversary celebration.

Fire alarms at the San Gabriel Mission rang around 4 a.m., and when firefighters responded to the historic structure they saw smoke rising from the wooden rooftop, San Gabriel Fire Capt. Paul Negrete said.

He said firefighters entered the church and tried to beat back the flames, but they had to retreat when roofing and other structural materials began to fall, Negrete said.

“We were trying to fight it from the inside, we weren’t able to because it became unsafe,” he said.

After evacuating the church, the crew was joined by up to 50 firefighters who tried to douse water on the 50-foot-high structure from ladder trucks, he said.

“The roof is completely gone,” the captain said. “The fire traversed the wood rapidly, the interior is pretty much destroyed up into the altar area.”

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Negrete said.

The interior wall was redone a week ago and crews had just finished installing the pews as part of a larger renovation of the property to mark the anniversary of the founding of the mission in 1771, said Terri Huerta, a spokeswoman for San Gabriel Mission.

She said the firefighters’ aggressive stance and “a little bit of a miracle” kept the flames from reaching the altar.

The church had been preparing to reopen next weekend following a four-month closure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Selena Casada, 26, was in tears when she drove to the mission after she heard about the fire. She said she grew up in the parish and attended the elementary school on the church’s grounds.

“I was baptized here, I had my first communion here … I was getting ready to get married here next year so this hurts,” Casada said. “It’s just really sad to see such a historic place burned down because this place means a lot to us.”

The church, built of stone, brick and mortar, originally had a vaulted ceiling that was damaged by two earthquakes in the early 1800s, she said. Franciscan fathers replaced the ceiling with a wood-paneled ceiling and the roof was last repaired following some damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Huerta said.

The church was the fourth of a string of missions established across California by the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra. The Roman Catholic priest forced Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment.

Statues of him in San Francisco and Sacramento were toppled by demonstrators during the recent protests focusing on the rights and historical struggle of Black and Indigenous people.

In response to the toppling of Serra’s statues, the San Gabriel Mission said it moved a bronze statue of Serra from the church entrance to “a more appropriate location, out of public view” without specifying where.

“Whereas the California Catholic Conference of Bishops reminds us that the historical truth is that St. Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American community, we recognize and understand that for some he has become a symbol of the dehumanization of the Native American community,” said the church’s pastor, Father John Molyneux, said in a statement.


Associated Press writer Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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UNC commission recommends re-naming 4 campus buildings

A commission at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has voted in favor of a recommendation to rename four campus buildings that currently have ties to slaveholders or white supremacists

A commission at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has voted in favor of a recommendation to rename four campus buildings that currently have ties to slaveholders or white supremacists.

The recommendation from the Commission on History, Race & A Way Forward on Friday will go to school’s chancellor, who can then decide to forward it to the Board of Trustees, the Charlotte Observer reported. The board, scheduled to meet Thursday, is expected to discuss a policy to change the names of facilities on campus.

The four buildings at issue are named after men who “used their positions to impose and maintain violent systems of racial subjugation,” said history professor Jim Leloudis, who co-chairs the commission.

The recommendation comes after the university last month lifted a moratorium that had been in place since 2015 preventing the school from removing names on campus buildings that may be associated with slavery, segregation and white supremacy.

The newspaper reported the Daniels Building is named after former newspaper publisher and lifelong white supremacist Josephus Daniels, while Carr Building holds the name of Ku Klux Klan supporter Julian S. Carr. Carr gave a racist speech during the dedication of the Confederate statue on campus known as “Silent Sam,” which was torn down by protesters in 2018.

Aycock and Ruffin residence halls are named after former North Carolina Gov. Charles Aycock and Thomas Ruffin Sr. and Thomas Ruffin Jr. Aycock led a white supremacy campaign that suppressed black voters, according to the newspaper. The elder Ruffin was the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and enslaved more than 100 people.

Aycock led a white supremacy campaign that suppressed black voters. The elder Ruffin was the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and enslaved more than 100 people, according to the newspaper.

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Johns Hopkins sues to block rule on international students

Johns Hopkins University has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s decision to make international students leave the U.S. if they intend to take classes entirely online starting this fall

Johns Hopkins University has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s decision to make international students leave the U.S. if they intend to take classes entirely online starting this fall.

The Baltimore private institution filed the lawsuit Friday against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal court in the District of Columbia, the Baltimore Sun reported. It argues that the agency’s decision “completely upended” the university’s reopening plans for the upcoming semester.

ICE notified colleges Monday that international students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall. New visas will not be issued to students at those schools, and others at universities offering a mix of online and in-person classes will be barred from taking all of their classes online.

The guidance says international students won’t be exempt even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also filed a lawsuit to prevent federal immigration authorities from enforcing the rule. Neither school plans to offer in-person classes this fall.

About 5,000 international students are enrolled at Johns Hopkins.

The school has plans for hybrid semesters with a mix of in-person and online classes. It also intends to shift to online-only classes after the Thanksgiving break.

The lawsuit characterizes the Trump administration’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious” and argues it puts the university in the “untenable dilemma” of either following its reopening plans or attempting to offer in-person instruction to allow international students to remain enrolled.

“The adverse consequences of this sudden displacement are devastating financially and personally,” according to the complaint.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

In a statement earlier this week, the U.S. State Department said international students are welcome in the U.S., but the policy “provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America.”

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Q&A: US government not as prolific an executioner as states

Executions carried out by federal authorities have stopped, restarted and stopped again for long stretches since the first one in 1790, when U.S. marshals hanged a mariner in Maine for fatally shooting the captain of a slave ship.

After a 17-year hiatus, the Trump administration wants to restart federal executions this month in Terre Haute, Indiana. The first was supposed to happen Monday, but it was delayed by an Indiana federal judge’s ruling. The Justice Department appealed that decision.

Some questions and answers about the history of the death penalty:


A: . The federal government has never been a prolific executioner. It has carried out no more than a few hundred executions since Congress first codified which federal crimes called for capital punishment more than 200 years ago.

Just 37 people were executed for federal crimes between 1927 and 2003, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Thirty-four were executed between 1927 and 1963, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were put to death in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

No federal executions were carried out from 1963 to 2001. Only three happened from 2001 to 2003, all by lethal injection in Terre Haute. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was among them.

The last was the March 2003 execution of Louis Jones, a decorated Gulf War veteran who said exposure to Iraqi nerve gas caused him to rape and kill a female soldier.


A: From the colonial days to the present, states have put to death more than 15,000 people, according to data compiled by leading death-penalty researchers M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla.

Virginia has had the most executions, with more than 1,380. Wisconsin has had the fewest, with just one, when John McCaffary was publicly hanged in 1851 for drowning his wife in a barrel.

Since 1977, Texas has carried out the most, with 570.


A: A 1624 Virginia Assembly report described settlers being “putt to sundry deathes as by hanginge, shooting and breaking uppon the wheele.” Into the 1700s, Virginia retained an eye-for-an-eye clause, which meant that those who shot their victims were shot and those who used poison were poisoned.

In recent decades, the vast majority of executions (more than 1,200) have been carried out by lethal injection. That’s the only method currently authorized for federal executions.

But most executions since the 1700s have been by hanging. Espy and Smykla put the number at around 9,000. The second-most prevalent mode has been electrocution, with more than 4,400. That method began to displace hanging in the early 1900s.


A: Among the acts that carried the death penalty in colonies and states in the years before and after independence was using the Lord’s name in vain and children striking their parents.

From colonial days to the mid-1800s, 35 people were executed for witchcraft, 20 for aiding runaway slaves and two for adultery, according to the Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy.

Congress in 1790 made the death penalty mandatory for about a dozen federal crimes, including piracy and forgery, according to the Fordham Urban Law Journal.

In 1897, Congress rescinded the death penalty for all but five federal crimes. Capital punishment could also no longer be mandatory and was left to juries to impose.

The list of federal crimes that carried the possibility of death got longer over the years. Providing illegal drugs to minors was added in 1956 and a 1988 law made drug kingpins eligible. Acts of terrorism were added in 1994.


A: The first documented execution in the colonies occurred in 1608, when Capt. George Kendall was shot for working as a spy for Spain.

The first federal execution was the 1790 hanging of Thomas Bird. The mariner unsuccessfully sought clemency from President George Washington after shooting a captain with a reputation for brutality on “the Mary,” a small vessel that ferried captured Africans to slave ships anchored off of Africa’s coast, according to the book, “Portland Neck: The Hanging of Thomas Bird.”


A: There were few detectable movements immediately after independence. The American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment was founded in 1845.

Criticism of the death penalty grew in Wisconsin after McCaffary reportedly took five minutes to die by hanging. Two years later, in 1853, Wisconsin became the first state to permanently end executions.

To date, 20 states have abolished the death penalty.


A: A 1972 landmark ruling deemed the death penalty cruel and unusual, citing racial bias and arbitrariness in applying it. That essentially voided all existing capital punishment laws.

But the court followed with a 1976 decision clarifying that states could rewrite laws to render the death penalty constitutional.

A year later, Utah became the first state since that ruling to carry out an execution, when serial killer Gary Gilmore was killed by firing squad.

Federal capital punishment was restored by law in 1988.


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Lawyer: Over 150 Minneapolis officers seeking disability

More than 150 Minneapolis police officers are filing work-related disability claims after the death of George Floyd and ensuing unrest, with about three-quarters citing post-traumatic stress disorder as the reason for their planned departures, according to an attorney representing the officers.

Their duty disability claims, which will take months to process, come as the city is seeing an increase in violent crime and while city leaders push a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency that they say would have a more holistic approach.

While Floyd’s death in May and the unrest that followed are not the direct cause of many of the disability requests, attorney Ron Meuser said, those events and what Meuser called a lack of support from city leadership were a breaking point for many who had been struggling with PTSD from years on the job. Duty disability means the officer was disabled while engaged in inherently dangerous acts specific to the job.

“Following the George Floyd incident, unfortunately it became too much and as a result they were unable to, and are unable to, continue on and move forward,” Meuser said. “They feel totally and utterly abandoned.”

He said many officers he represents were at a precinct that police abandoned as people were breaking in during the unrest. Some officers feared they wouldn’t make it home, he said, and wrote final notes to loved ones. People in the crowd ultimately set fire to the building.

Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying that COVID-19 and unrest following Floyd’s death tested the community and officers in profound ways. He said cities need resources to reflect the realities on the ground.

“In the meantime, I am committed to supporting those officers committed to carrying out their oath to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis during a challenging time for our city,” he said.

Meuser said in recent weeks, 150 officers have retained his office for help in filing for duty disability benefits through the state’s Public Employment Retirement Association, or PERA. So far, 75 of them have already left the job, he said.

Police spokesman John Elder questioned Meuser’s figure of 150, though he does expect an increase in departures. The department currently has about 850 officers and will adjust staffing to ensure it can do its job, he said.

The city said it has received 17 PTSD workers compensation claims in the last month, but when it comes to PERA duty disability, officers are not obligated to notify the Police Department that an application was submitted. Meuser said the city isn’t being transparent about departures, and the numbers it sees will lag as PERA benefits take months to process.

Doug Anderson, executive director for PERA, said 150 officers seeking duty disability from one department would be high. PERA approved 105 disability applications from both police and firefighters statewide in all of 2019, including 60 claims for duty-related PTSD and 20 for other work-related injuries.

PERA is primarily a retirement plan, in which members and employers contribute funds. Members who become disabled can receive a disability benefit until age 55, at which time retirement benefits kick in.

A high percentage of those on duty disability do not return to the job, Anderson said.

“It’s a disability that as a general rule is a permanent designation entitling them for benefits for the rest of their life,” Meuser said.

A high number of people taking PERA disability likely won’t impact the city budget immediately, as the city’s rate of contribution to the plan is fixed, though the Minnesota Legislature could increase contribution rates. The city can incur significant costs if the leave is classified as “duty disability,” because the city would continue to pay for the officer’s health insurance.

To apply, an officer needs supporting documents from two physicians. A third-party administrator ensures applications are complete. If there is a discrepancy, PERA can require an independent medical evaluation. The Police Department could also challenge an application, and there is a process for appeal. Denials and appeals are uncommon, Anderson said.

Meuser made his announcement amid an increase in violent crime. From Thursday night to Friday morning alone, nine people were shot in Minneapolis, including one fatally. Police data analyzed by the Star Tribune show that at least 243 people have been shot so far this year, compared with 269 in all of 2019.

Asked about his timing, Meuser said he believes Minneapolis officers are being unfairly tarnished, and it’s time to call out “decades of failed leadership” in the city.

Meuser opposes calls to dismantle or defund the Police Department, and said he hopes the news that veteran officers are leaving will make the public reassess the city’s current trajectory.

“The men and women in public safety who give their heart and soul to serve Minneapolis and keep it safe deserve to have Minneapolis leaders to step up and supporting them,” he said. “Instead of spending time plotting the dismantling of the force, let’s come together to improve community trust and work towards a safer city for all. “


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2 arrested, 2 wanted after 11-year-old killed on July Fourth

Two men have been arrested and two others are wanted in connection with the killing of an 11-year-old boy who was shot during a Fourth of July cookout in Washington

Two men have been arrested and two others are wanted in connection with the killing of an 11-year-old boy who was shot during a Fourth of July cookout in Washington, police said Friday.

The boy, Davon McNeal, was shot in the head during an exchange of gunfire between five armed suspects, police said. His killing came during a surge of violence in Washington and in other major cities across the U.S. and sparked widespread outrage from community members.

Two suspects — Christian Wingfield, 22, of Maryland, and Daryle Bond, 18, of Washington — were arrested on first-degree murder charges. It was not immediately clear whether either of the men had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

Both of the men had prior arrests for violent crimes and Wingfield was on court-ordered supervision with a GPS monitor at the time of the crime, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said. Wingfield cut off his GPS monitoring bracelet shortly after the shooting and investigators believe he “may have tried to change his identity,” Newsham said.

Police said arrest warrants have been issued for two other suspects, 19-year-old Carlo General and 25-year-old Marcel Gordon.

General and Wingfield were each arrested in the spring, charged with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, and had both been released pending trial, Newsham said.

After McNeal’s death, Donald Trump Jr. shared a conservative-created meme of McNeal on Facebook that read: “Davon was murdered after a string of BLM (Black Lives Matter) violence on the Fourth of July.” But the shooting was not connected to Black Lives Matter, the movement behind many of the protests against police brutality.

Police have said the boy had been at a family-oriented anti-violence cookout, but he left to get a phone charger from his aunt’s house when he was struck by the gunfire.

“We are heartbroken and outraged by Davon’s murder. It is just the worst thing that can happen in a community for a child to lose his life to violence,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The boy’s grandfather, John Ayala, said he was “full of joy” when police announced the arrest.

“The police did a great job. The mayor did a great job. The community did a great job,” he said. “Of course, I’m sad, because I lost my grandson.”

Newsham said detectives worked tirelessly on the case and do not believe McNeal was targeted in the shooting. A fifth suspect is still being sought by police and officials have offered a $25,000 reward in the case.

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3 Los Angeles officers accused of false gang identifications

Three Los Angeles police officers have been charged with falsifying records reporting that people they stopped were gang members or associates

Three Los Angeles police officers have been charged with falsifying records reporting that people they stopped were gang members or associates, prosecutors said Friday.

The members of the Police Department’s Metropolitan Division were charged Thursday in a 59-count complaint alleging one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence.

The officers were identified as Braxton Shaw, 37; Michael Coblentz, 42, and Nicolas Martinez, 36.

Directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, said it expects the department “to investigate this matter fully in a fair and objective manner to determine the facts, ensure that officers are accorded their due process rights and any proven mischaracterizations are corrected.”

Shaw faces the most potential liability. Accused of falsifying 43 field interview cards, he could receive up to nearly 32 years in jail if convicted.

His attorney, Gregory G. Yacoubian, wrote in an email that he was confident his client will be cleared of wrongdoing, saying he always acted at the direction of police leadership.

“Braxton has devoted his personal life and professional law enforcement career to enhancing the quality of life for everyone,” Yacoubian said.

The case involves so-called field interview cards filled out by officers, in this case by officers from Metropolitan Division, which puts crimes-suppression units on the streets.

The department revealed in January that officers had been assigned to home duty or taken off patrol after a mother complained in 2019 that her son was wrongly identified as a gang member and a police supervisor began a review of documentation.

Prosecutors in the case of the three officers alleged the cards contained false information and misidentified dozens of people as gang members.

Some of the false information was used to enter individuals into a state gang database, prosecutors said.

The defendants are accused of writing in some instances that a person admitted to being a gang member but video from body cameras showed the individuals were not asked about gang membership.

Prosecutors said in some instances individuals denied gang affiliation but the defendants wrote that they admitted being gang members.

County prosecutors have been directed to corroborate any information from field interview cards with other evidence including officers’ body cameras.

The Police Department issued a statement that did not identify the charged officers but said one was relieved of duty and police powers at the end of January and has been referred to an administrative tribunal “for the purpose of removal.”

The other two officers have been assigned to their homes and their peace officer powers have been suspended.

The department said there were 21 additional officers under investigation involving use of the field identification cards.

Ten have been assigned to their homes, eight are assigned to administrative duties, five are still on field duty, and one has retired.

In addition, all Metropolitan officers are being retrained on use of the cards and the frequency of audits of body cameras has been increased, the department said.

The department said it was no longer using the California Gang Database “for anything other than removing individuals from it.”

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Shipbuilder files complaint over union threats during strike

Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing its largest union of threatening workers who cross the picket line during an ongoing strike

Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works on Friday filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing its largest union of threatening workers who cross the picket line during an ongoing strike in Maine.

The company accused leaders of Machinists’ Local S6 of threatening so-called scabs with fines and loss of benefits — and hinting at violence.

“We are extremely disappointed that union leaders would make false and threatening statements to the very employees they are supposed to represent,” said BIW President Dirk Lesko. “We take these issues very seriously and will continue to ensure our employees’ rights are protected.”

Union leaders in a statement warned that anyone who chooses to cross the picket line will be fined after the strike is over and had this to say about scabs: “No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.”

Jay Wadleigh, a district business representative for the Machinists, said the quote came from a Jack London poem, “Ode to a Scab.”

“Maybe they should study poetry a little more,” Wadleigh said of the shipyard’s managers.

Wadleigh insisted that production workers who cross the picket line are no longer eligible for union benefits, and may face fines, as well. The number of striking workers who’ve chosen to return to their jobs is small — roughly a dozen, he said.

About 4,300 Local S6 workers went on strike June 22 after overwhelmingly rejecting the company’s proposal in dispute that’s primarily centered on subcontractors, work rules and seniority while wages and benefits are a secondary concern.

The company’s final offer that was rejected called for a three-year contract with pay raises of 3% in each year.

Bath Iron Works is one of the Navy’s largest shipbuilders and a major employer in Maine, with 6,800 workers. The General Dynamics subsidiary builds Navy destroyers, the workhorse of the fleet.

The strike, with workers losing company-funded insurance during a pandemic, threatens to put the shipyard further behind schedule in delivering the destroyers to the Navy at a time of growing competition from China and Russia.


Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.

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Protester: Man pulls gun on anniversary of flag’s removal

Competing groups gathered in front of South Carolina’s capitol building to mark the five-year anniversary of the removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds

Counterprotesters said a passing driver pointed a gun at them Friday and said “All Lives Matter,” as competing groups gathered in front of South Carolina’s capitol building to mark the five-year anniversary of the state’s removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.

The driver stopped in the middle of the road and stuck his middle finger out at several demonstrators who were on a road median shortly before noon, protester Kamison Burgess told The State newspaper. He then said “All Lives Matter,” — a phrase used by critics of the Black Lives Matter movement — before pointing the gun and driving away, Burgess said.

A handful of members of the State House Honour Guard, supporters of the emblem, had gathered outside the state capitol in the morning. A separate group, the Columbia Racial Justice Coalition, held an event in the afternoon.

The flag held by one of the Honour Guard members, clad in dress uniform, was not the battle emblem, with its red field topped by a blue X and 13 white stars, as expected. Instead, the group unfurled the official state flag, with its iconic palmetto tree and white crescent.

A woman with the group did not answer questions about their choice of flag Friday. She said they were not speaking with reporters.

The group’s decision not to unfurl the Confederate battle flag prompted one counterprotester, Tori Hyder, to call the Honour Guard members “cowards.”

Two sets of barricades set up by law enforcement separated the Honour Guard from Hyder and about two dozen other counterprotesters, who lined the sidewalk carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans that have been associated with demonstrations nationwide against racial injustice and police brutality following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.

Counterprotesters interviewed said they were taking a stance against the Confederate flag, widely seen as a symbol of racism and hatred. Some of the demonstrators said they had gathered at the statehouse daily since late May.

South Carolina pulled down the rebel banner from the Capitol grounds in 2015, a month after a white supremacist slaughtered nine black church members during a Bible study at a Charleston church.

Since then, groups for and against the Confederate battle flag have regularly gathered on the anniversary of its removal from South Carolina’s Statehouse.

On Friday, the Honour Guard blasted music from its speakers, including “The Star-Spangled Banner” and songs from the Confederacy such as “Join the Calvary!”

At one point, counterprotesters on the opposite side of Gervais St. blared heavy metal, each side attempting to drown the other out.

Both the State House Honour Guard and the Columbia Racial Justice Coalition attempted to reserve a permit for the grounds at the same time on Friday, news outlets reported. State officials scheduled the Honour Guard’s gathering in the morning and the coalition’s event in the afternoon.

A third group, Flags across the South, aims to fly the Confederate flag from a temporary flagpole by a monument dedicated to confederate soldiers Saturday, The State newspaper reported.


Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.