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Archive Monthly Archives: February 2017

Trump's never-ending campaign, McCain's no maverick, and why liberals should own guns: roundup of US academic … – USAPP American Politics and Policy (blog)


USAPP American Politics and Policy (blog)

Trump's never-ending campaign, McCain's no maverick, and why liberals should own guns: roundup of US academic …
USAPP American Politics and Policy (blog)
On Monday, Lawyers, Guns & Money says that the “deep state” idea that has been doing the rounds recently – the concept that institutions are acting as a check on Donald Trump – is a harmful one, because it ignores the idea that divisions between civil

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Live-Blogging #3 – TPM (blog)

Live-Blogging #3
TPM (blog)
10:00 PM: I will only say this moment is a very jarring contrast between the agony of the wife of a fallen soldier and the fairly transparent and clearly political purpose of this passage of the speech, which is that questioning whether this raid was a

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The future is a decentralized internet

Blockchain technology is quickly expanding beyond bitcoin. While many proponents of bitcoin see the blockchain as no more than competition for existing payment methods or gold, I believe blockchain technology is the harbinger of things the world has never before seen.

In a world with many blockchains and hundreds of tradable tokens built on top of them, entire industries are automated through software, venture capital and stock markets are circumvented, entrepreneurship is streamlined and networks gain sovereignty through their own digital currency. This is the next phase of the internet.

To date, bitcoin companies have received more than $1 billion in venture funding the entire industry was built on the shoulders of VCs. Yet Ethereum, a blockchain protocol that allows arbitrarily complex financial transactions to be encoded by anyone and executed in a provably accurate manner by a distributed network, has seen a de minimis amount of VC investment. Rather, open participation crowdsales run through financial contracts built on Ethereum have raised more than $250 million from backers all around the world.

So why is less VC money flowing into Ethereum? Perhaps it is more risky, and perhaps investments in failed bitcoin companies has lowered interest. Perhaps. But importantly, entrepreneurs now have an alternate route for funding their projects. We are seeing entrepreneurs issuing their own blockchain-based tokens to raise money for their networks, sidestepping the traditional, exclusive world of venture capital altogether. The importance of this cannot be overstated in this new world there are no companies, just protocols.

Using this new model, entrepreneurs create blockchain-based tokens that represent ownership in the network they are building, and also act as fuel for their network. For an investor, there are not shares of a company available, only the blockchain-based token. As the blockchain space expands, disproportionate returns will go to holders of the actual tokens, not traditional venture investors betting on a shares of a company. These tokens are application specific they are not meant to be general-purpose units of value like bitcoin. For example, tokens built on Ethereum like REP and GNT power a decentralized prediction market and a peer-to-peer market for renting computation, respectively.

Imagine being able to actually make money when you contribute on social media.

These application-specific tokens, or app-tokens, are built on top of existing general-purpose blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. For the first time, open-source project creators can directly monetize their open-source network. Historically, successful open-source projects like the torrent protocol or the Tor network were not directly monetized at the protocol level. Now, the founder of a decentralized file storage network can issue blockchain-based tokens that represent ownership in the network.

However, these tokens are not like stock certificates, which represent ownership but have no real use. App-tokens are actually used in the network to participate. In the file-storage market example, they are used to prove file ownership and buy and sell storage space. The founder of the network keeps roughly 10 percent of the tokens for themselves and their founding team, and if their network becomes popular, the demand for tokens rises, and because the supply of the token is fixed, the price increases. This means that founders can monetize their networks directly by simply holding their tokens and making the network useful. If they need liquidity to continue funding the project, they can simply sell the tokens on the open market.

In addition to rewarding founders, these app-tokens allow participants in networks to actually own a piece of the network. This network equity ownership is unprecedented. Consider how many networks the modern western internet user is a part of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, eBay, Etsy, Tumblr the list goes on. In each of these cases, the networks value is created by the users, but the value each individual user generates goes to the owners of the network. In this new blockchain-based model, that value is actually given back to the users of the network, proportional to their contribution.

What this means is that what ultimately disrupts many of the major web services created in the last decade could be peer-to-peer protocols, not companies. This would be similar to the effect that the torrent protocol had on media companies, but on a much larger scale. The result would be twitter the protocol without Twitter the company, facebook without Facebook, uber without Uber.

And as an investor, for the first time, it is possible to buy a portion of these networks, which will power the future infrastructure of the internet. Investing directly in TCP/IP (packets), SMTP (email), HTTPS (encryption) or another low-level internet protocol in the early 1990s would be extremely valuable today.

If this sounds complicated, its because it is. To be sure, the blockchain space is still mostly in a phase of experimentation, but the first breakout apps will be explosive because they financially incentivize users to participate in the network. Imagine being able to actually make money when you contribute on social media.

Bitcoins market share has slowly dropped over the last several years, and while I believe that bitcoin will continue to grow, rapid growth in other parts of the blockchain ecosystem is imminent.

The entire market capitalization of blockchain-based assets is $13 billion today, a rounding error when compared to the current value of the systems which blockchain technology could potentially unseat. When decentralized blockchain protocols start displacing the centralized web services that dominate the current internet, well start to see real internet-based sovereignty. The future internet will be decentralized.

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LIVE BLOG: Takeaways from Oscars night 2017 – Colorado Springs Gazette (blog)


Colorado Springs Gazette (blog)

LIVE BLOG: Takeaways from Oscars night 2017
Colorado Springs Gazette (blog)
Gotta make my money back from my best actor pick. Going with Emma Stone. Doubling down. My bookie is on speed dial so I'm golden. 9:53 – Three hours of fluff, then three straight awards in a row with meaning. Seriously?!? 9:51 – And its Casey Affleck.

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A Quick Guide to Starting a Money-Generating Blog – Entrepreneur


Entrepreneur

A Quick Guide to Starting a Money-Generating Blog
Entrepreneur
Even with the rise of social media and other cutting-edge web 2.0 marketing platforms, blogging can still form the basis of a successful internet venture. It's a low-cost (your startup costs could be basically zero), low-risk way to start an internet

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Flint crisis reminds us: profit motive has no place when it comes to necessities

A New Jersey law makes it easier for cities to sell off municipal assets, setting a dangerous standard at a time when citizens face threats to water supplies

Last year was a disappointing year for many investors but over at American Water Works, shareholders were celebrating. They scored a 13.5% profit last year, and have continued to swim against the market tide so far in 2016.

Great news if you happen to be a shareholder in the company. Not so much, perhaps, if you happen to believe that the business of providing water to our houses shouldnt be about maximizing profits.

American Water Works has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the unwillingness and/or inability of state and municipal governments to invest in upgrading or replacing everything from aging water pipes to dilapidated sewer systems and pumping plants.

The biggest loser? In the short term, undoubtedly, it is the residents of Flint, Michigan, struggling with the decision by city officials to save money by drawing water from the local Flint river instead of purchasing supplies from Detroit. The result? A cascade of problems, culminating in serious lead contamination that may leave thousands of children with lifelong health issues. One investigator now says that any officials found to be negligent may even face manslaughter charges, if deaths (such as an outbreak of Legionnaires disease) can be tied to the contamination.

American Water Works is based in New Jersey, however, and its in New Jersey where some of these battles are likely to be fought. Almost exactly a year ago, the states governor, Chris Christie, signed into law the Water Infrastructure Protection Act. Supporters describe it as a way to avoid a Flint-style situation, by ensuring that new investment flows into ageing water infrastructure systems, one way or another.

The problem is that to accomplish this, the law enables municipalities to bypass what had been the requirement to obtain citizens consent to sell off municipally owned assets in a public referendum, as long as they can prove their system is deficient. Anyone who objects has a mere 45 days to collect signatures from 15% of voters to demand a vote on the issue.

In the same year that Christie put together a five-person privatization task force (two of whose members had ties to the water industry), the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey, had turned thumbs down on a proposed $80m takeover of their water system by a subsidiary of American Water Works. Now, citizens of other municipalities whose systems are struggling, like Atlantic City, will have almost no say in the matter.

Chris

Chris Christie holds a news conference in Trenton. Photograph: Kevin R. Wexler/AP

Thats especially true since Christies budgets have cut funding for environmental programs; some of those monies could have gone to assist cash-strapped municipalities in repairing their water systems.

The appeal of privatization to municipalities struggling to balance their budgets isnt hard to see. They get to transfer one big headache to someone else to deal with, dust their hands, and move on to address the next problem. And its up to companies like American Water Works to make it all come together: to invest the capital required, upgrade the systems, and generate a profit.

And there are all kinds of issues that arise in connection with that.

First of all, while the municipality will end up with a better water system (we hope lets assume thats the case), residents also will be paying for it in the shape of higher water rates. If the city couldnt afford to make those improvements before, what will have changed? Not much. Yet the regulators will approve rate hikes for the water utility based on the amount of capital invested, whether or not they are affordable. And one study by Food & Watch found that investor-owned utilities charged rates that were an average of 33% higher for water and 63% higher for sewer service than those levied by government agencies. In part, thats because a corporation pays more to finance its infrastructure investments, since it cant issue tax-free municipal debt at lower interest rates.

Living in North America, many of us have become accustomed to the privilege of turning on a tap and finding ourselves rewarded with a stream of fresh, clean water. We forget that it is a relatively recent phenomenon something that even our great-grandparents may have found astonishing and in spite of sharp price increases in recent years, even in California, some residents still call their tap water one of the biggest bargains imaginable. While its not likely that well see a repeat of the kinds of scenes we witnessed in Detroit when thousands of people had their water cut off due to their inability to pay their bills its certainly conceivable that a bill that once was a minor expense could suddenly become anything but, especially if privatized utilities take the lead in upgrading our water systems.

Utilities of all kinds are discussing the need to raise their rates to cover the cost of financing infrastructure improvements. Its tough enough when those utilities arent private corporations with an incentive to maximize profits, but city departments. Even then, citizens in cities such as Baltimore and New York are in financial peril and losing access to their water supplies. Throw the profit motive into the mix, and things could get worse. What happens if those for-profit utilities have too many delinquent bills, and shareholders are unhappy? The pressure will be on to cut costs, which could result in some of the same problems that prompted the sale in the first place.

Water isnt a private commodity, but a necessity of life, making access to it a public good. And steps need to be taken to ensure that access remains open, not to install toll gates and barriers.

Barack Obamas decision to seek an 18% boost in the state drinking water infrastructure fund, raising it to $157m in fiscal 2017, is a good concept, but its a drop in the bucket. Somehow, there needs to be a willingness to assist municipalities in funding these infrastructure investments, so that theres no need to resort to private corporations and enable a handful of investors to profit from our need for clean water. If that cant come in the form of direct assistance, it could be in the form of loan guarantees that would enable municipalities to raise capital more inexpensively on the open market. Anyone absolutely determined to make money by trading in clean water securities could buy those bonds rather than speculate that policies like those of Chris Christie will make American Water Works a winning stock to own.

It isnt that there is no role for the free market in water, either. Venture capitalists are backing technology companies that monitor how water is used and try to ensure that an increasingly scarce resource isnt squandered; they are financing de-salinization, wastewater treatment and other water recycling technologies. Thats where the business risks are being taken, and thats where its appropriate for a for-profit business to look in pursuit of profits not in the bare bones business of getting water safely through pipes to our taps.

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Japan’s Shinto Shrines in Crisis Despite Abe Pushing Religion

In Japan, the Ise Grand Shrine is considered one of the holiest sites in the Shinto religion, a faith whose rituals have been woven into the nations culture for centuries. Located more than 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tokyo, the historic complex of wooden buildings set in a deep forest is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom Japans emperors are said to be descended.

Ise Jingu, as it is known in Japanese, is also fraught with political meaning this week for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hosts a Group of Seven summit on the nearby and secluded Kashiko Island. Despite constitutional restrictions, Abe would like to see the indigenous religion play a more prominent role in Japanese society.

Ise Shrine
Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Yet as the international spotlight falls on Shintos equivalent of the Vatican, which draws 7 million or more visitors annually, Japans lesser shrines face a protracted financial crisis in a country with a decelerating population and younger generations far less attached to traditional rituals.

Abe is expected to take his guests to the shrine, in the latest instance of his promotion of Shintoism. He has held New Years press conferences at Ise and, in 2013, was the first premier since 1929 to take part in a rebuilding ceremony held there every 20 years, according to John Breen, a history professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

“Abe is much more focused on Shinto than almost any other post war prime minister,” said Breen, “He is a key member of Shinto Seiji Renmei, a political association that has as its aim the location of Shinto at the heart of government,” he added.

Ise is less controversial than the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japans war dead, including World War II leaders convicted as Class A war criminals. Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese leaders, including Abe, have sparked anger in China and South Korea, which suffered under Japans aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Backlash

Nevertheless, Abes 2013 participation in the Ise ceremony drew criticism from Christians in Japan, who said it violated a constitutional ban on the government favoring any particular religion. For some, Shinto is still associated with past nationalism, even though the U.S. and its allies removed its status as the national religion at the end of the war.

“Theres no doubt that Shinto was used by the government during the war,” said Katsuji Iwahashi, public relations chief at the Association of Shinto Shrines in Tokyo. “But is there a religion that has not been used as a reason for fighting? Shrines in themselves are not aggressive.”

Shinzo Abe visits Ise Shrine on October 2013.
Photographer: Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Ise Shrine employs about 600 people and, according to Diamond business magazine, spent about 55 billion yen ($500 million) on replacing all its buildings and artifacts in 2013 — the 62nd time it had carried out this ritual. Its high priests and priestesses are relatives of the Imperial family, and past visitors have included Queen Elizabeth II.

On a visit two weeks ahead of the May 26-27 G-7 summit, dozens of police clad in rain gear were already patrolling the shrines grounds among a steady stream of visitors.

For those who run the other 80,000 or so shrines in Japan, life can be hard. The country has only 20,000 priests, meaning that many of them supervise more than one shrine. 

Shrinking Shrines

Small shrines rely on visitors offerings or fees for blessings for everything from marriages to new buildings and cars. Priests often combine their religious duties with a job as a teacher or government employee, according to Iwahashi. Older priests are also increasingly struggling to find successors.

About 41 percent of Japans shrines are in danger of disappearing along with the rural communities that support them, estimates Kenji Ishii, a professor of religious studies at Kokugakuin University, one of only two Shinto colleges in Japan.

While the same trend is hitting Buddhist temples in rural areas, shrines are even worse off, according to Hidenori Ukai, a Buddhist priest and author of “Vanishing Temples — the Loss of Regional Areas and Religion.” Thats because temples charge their parishioners for the maintenance of family graves, he said.

“We joke that we take peoples bones hostage,” Ukai said. “Things are hard for temples in areas with shrinking populations, but its worse for shrines” which do not conduct burial rites or offer graveyards, he added.

The tiny Koami Shrine in Tokyo.
Photographer: Isabel Reynolds/Bloomberg

Tadaki Hattori, the 51-year-old chief priest of the tiny, 200 square-meter (240 square yard) Koami Shrine in the busy Nihonbashi area of central Tokyo, said he often tells his fellow priests that making a success of a shrine comes down to sheer effort. He decided to take a shot at full-time priesthood five years ago, after inheriting the 550-year-old shrine from his father.

What was once a lonely spot hemmed in by a parking lot Hattoris father used to supplement his income, is now bustling with visitors. The run-down buildings have been spruced up with a new bronze roof paid for by donations, and paper lanterns sponsored by businesses hang at the entrance. Far from worrying over a successor, Hattori said all four of his children are interested in qualifying as priests.

Providing a warm welcome and being willing to explain the shrine to visitors or listen to their problems is key to creating good word-of-mouth, Hattori said. An English-language web page has also helped bring in some of the record numbers of foreign tourists in Tokyo.

“If people put in a bit more effort, I think things could improve,” Hattori said. “They give up too easily. They think they cant make money, but you dont know until you try. I think this is a trend in Japanese society as a whole — everyone is a bit weedy these days.”

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Nigeria: From Modeling to Blogging, the Story of Linda Ikeji – AllAfrica.com


AllAfrica.com

Nigeria: From Modeling to Blogging, the Story of Linda Ikeji
AllAfrica.com
I make a lot of money writing positive stories so why should I concentrate on negative stories? I stick to the one that works for me. I have a cordial relationship with a lot of entertainers. I have run into issues with few of them, but in recent times

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Reflections on 10 years of blogging – OC Housing News

Reflections on 10 years of blogging
OC Housing News
Blogging is not about the money, and anyone who blogs because they believe they will make money is engaging in wishful thinking. Unless they find a deeper purpose for their writing, they will not persist because they simply won't make enough money to …

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Private Prison Companies Ready to Cash In on Throwing Out Immigrants

It doesn’t matter that children caught pneumonia in one detention center, the business that runs it sees boom times with Donald Trump’s plan to lock up millions.”>

DALLASWhen the children were released from the privately run immigration detention facility in Karnes City, Texas, they were immediately taken to the emergency room with pneumonia.

Over the past few months, several children who fled from violence in South and Central America with their mothers have been hospitalized after leaving the facility run by GEO Group, a private prison company that saw its stocks jump following Election Day. The childrens health problems were the result of poor medical care inside what is essentially a prison for mothers and their children, according to Amy Fischer of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

A GEO Group spokesperson denied the claim, saying all children are given chest X-rays upon admission to the facility. The spokesman also said that not everyone is given X-rays when leaving Karnes City unless they seem to be ailing.

With Donald Trump now president-elect, the Karnes City facility and a dozen more like it across the country are preparing to fill even more beds with immigrants and refugees. GEO Group and another private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, are also preparing for more large, lucrative contracts with the federal government to run the detention centers.

Both companies saw their stock prices soar following Trumps historic and shocking win.

If we see how the stocks skyrocketed, I think they see this as a huge opportunity for profit, Fischer said of the two companies.

Of the 1,000 largest companies in the country, Forbes reported the day after Trumps victory, the biggest winner of the election was Corrections Corporation of America.

CCAs stock shot up 49 percent that day thanks to Trumps promise to enact mass deportations as president. GEOs stock rose 21 percent the same day.

But it isnt just the two companies who have an interest in detaining more immigrants. A report released Thursday shows that some of the countrys largest banks profit off fees and interest payments from the two companiesboth of which rely on such debt financing for their daily operations.

The report (PDF), compiled by In the Public Interest, which describes itself as a comprehensive research and policy center, shows the two companies have nearly $2 billion in debt each from lenders including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. Without them, GEO Group and CCA would have difficulty operating, according to the report.

In the Public Interest calls for the banks to immediately halt debt financing to GEO Group and CCA. If the banks did so, the companies will be forced to find other sources of funds, which would significantly reduce their operations and growth.

Some of those operations include significant donations to Republican lawmakers in Congress, many of whom have harsh stances on crime and immigration, according to Fischer.

You can trace their campaign contributions to some of the most aggressive anti-immigrant politicians both at the state and federal level, Fischer said.

Those contributions are in addition to the millions both companies spent on lobbying politicians between 2004 and 2014, according to a 2015 report from the liberal Center for American Progress. For its part, CCA says it makes a point not to lobby for specific criminal justice laws.

It is CoreCivic [CCA]s longstanding policy not to draft, lobby for, promote or in any way take a position on proposals, policies or legislation that determine the basis or duration of an individuals incarceration or detention, spokesman Jonathan Burns told International Business Times this week.

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On top of helping to fund its daily operations, large loans from banks have helped GEO Group and CCA to purchase smaller corrections companies, the report notes, allowing them to become the two largest private prison companies in the country.

Under Trump, they may have the opportunity to grow even larger. In June the president-elect told MSNBCs Chris Matthews that privatization of prisons seems to work a lot better. The comment came two months before the Department of Justice, citing security problems and poor conditions at private prisons nationwide, said it would phase out the use of private companies to run federal penal institutions.

Whether Trump still believes private prisons are superior to those run by the government is unknown, but GEO Group and CCA have the president-elects comments on immigration to lift their spiritsand, possibly, their bottom line.

In a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, Trump pledged to deport between 2 and 3 million immigrants, making it a priority to remove those with criminal records. Whether there even are that many who fall into that category is a matter of debate, to put it charitably. If there are that many criminal illegal aliens, Trump would have to make good on his campaign promise of creating a deportation force to remove thema promise House Speaker Paul Ryan assured the American public last week was only lip service.

Illegal immigrants with criminal records are an easy target for deportation, but the immigration plan on Trumps website makes no distinction for men, women, and children fleeing violent countries like El Salvador, where some 4,000 people had been murdered by October, according to The Washington Post.

Anyone who crosses the border illegally will be detained until they are removed out of our country, Trumps official immigration policy statement reads. Whether Trump intends to kick out the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing South and Central American violence remains to be seen, but what is clear is that GEO Group and CCA see Trumps win as a boon for business.

As you know, the need for new infrastructure has been frequently discussed during this election season, CCA CEO Damion Hininger said in a November call with investors just before the election. And (CCA) is positioned to assist government organizations in making investments to modernize their mission-critical criminal justice infrastructure, while allowing them to maintain their borrowing capacity to address other capital needs.

In laymans terms, were about to get paid.

The call came after U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement renewed a contract with CCA in October to operate the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, a $1 billion dollar deal that runs through 2020.

Prior to the contract renewal, the companys future was grimstock prices dove following the August Justice Department decree that called for the end of private companies running federal prisons. Partly in response, CCA changed its name to CoreCivic and, in the November call with investors, Hininger said the rebranding was part of an effort to change the company into a diversified government solutions provider.

The name change had nothing to do with problems at CCA-run facilities, like the deadly 2015 gang fight at an Oklahoma prison that left four men dead, Hininger said.

Despite poorly sourced claims from industry critics and activists to the contrary, our continued focus on operational excellence, flexibility, and our compelling value proposition have continued to create opportunities for the company to grow where our partners need and want solutions that we can deliver, Hininger said during the call.

Except Trumps pledge may be difficult to meet, a brief look at federal data shows.

It has taken President Obama six years to deport 2.5 million people, according to a 2015 Department of Homeland Security report. Last year, DHS, ICE, and Customs and Border Patrol deported less than 1 million people combined.

More than 30,000 of those men, women, and children were from South and Central America, according to the report, and at least 40,000 more such refugees are currently being held in private detention centers like the ones in Karnes City and Dilley, Fischer said. That number is expected to increase, as the renewed contract for the Dilley facility indicates.

Along with an expected increase in detentions will come a greater burden on an already overworked system in which credible fear interviews are held. There, DHS hears arguments from refugees who say a return to their home country would put them at risk of injury or death.

Unfortunately, theres no right to counsel in these proceedings, so what we do is prep the mothers as much as we can ahead of these interviews, Fischer said.

In Karnes City, a family facility that holds mostly mothers and their children, Fischer and other advocates have a high success rateroughly 90 percent of refugees there are granted the right to stay in the United States and eventually seek citizenship.

In official terms, their fear is credible. Now, they have a new fear: President Trump.

I think the immigrant community is right to be very scared, Fischer said. At the same time, its an expansive system and I dont think Trump has really thought through the intricacies of what it would take to deport the amount of people he has mentioned.

If Trumps words are to be trusted, no one currently in a detention facility or caught crossing the border illegally after Jan. 20 will have the opportunity to prove they have a credible fear of returning to their home country.

As we look forward to a Trump presidency we expect this to only be more aggressive, Fischer said.

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