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Florida man charged with making online threat against Donald Trump

A South Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill President-elect Donald Trump in a video posted online.

A Miami Beach police report released Wednesday identified the suspect as 51-year-old Dominic Puopolo. Jail records show Puopolo is being held without bail on state charges of threatening harm against a public servant. Court records do not list a lawyer for him.

The police report says Puopolo on Monday posted a video on his Twitter account stating that he would “be at the review/inauguration and I will kill President Trump, President-elect Trump” while in Washington.

The report says he was arrested a short time later at a Miami Beach Subway restaurant and admitted to officers he had posted the threatening video. Police say Puopolo told them he is homeless.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz accuses HHS nominee Tom Price as another of Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’

Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, is poised to be grilled by Senate Democrats when he appears Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The six-term Georgia Republican congressman has been one of the leading opponents of the Affordable Care Act in Congress, and an advocate for the restructuring of the Medicaid and Medicare health entitlement programs. Democrats have vowed to fight the nomination of Price, an orthopedic surgeon.

Undoubtedly, Price will be asked about his stock holdings in more than three dozen companies, including health care related agencies like Aetna, Biogen and Zimmer Biomet Holdings.

It’s his purchase in that latter stock that may get him in some trouble with the committee.

CNN reported that in March, Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer, before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company. That news comes after The Wall Street Journal reported last month that he traded roughly $300,000 in shares over the past four years in health companies while pursuing legislation that could impact them.

Democrats pounced on that revelation.

“With what we have recently learned about his apparent conflicts of interest — including filing legislation to benefit a medical device company in which he recently bought stock — it’s clear that he’s also another swimmer in President-elect Donald Trump’s ‘swamp,'” declared South Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz Wednesday.

“No Member of Congress or Cabinet secretary — or president for that matter — should be creating the appearance of lining their own pockets on the taxpayers’ dime. Unfortunately, President-elect Trump, whose own record is rife with conflicts of interest, has tapped a number of Cabinet appointees that fit this alarming pattern. Congressman Price’s appalling record on health care policy should be reason enough to reject his nomination, but it should be withdrawn if these allegations prove to be accurate.”

Wasserman Schultz also is criticizing Price for his opposition to the ACA and repeatedly proposing “draconian legislation to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care.”

“He is committed to dragging American health care back several decades with his proposed cuts to Medicare, our social safety net, and would callously ensure that 129 million Americans who live with a pre-existing condition like me — a breast cancer survivor — will be denied coverage based on our medical history.”

Wednesday’s hearing is being called just a “warm up,” because, in fact, Price faces confirmation by another committee — the Senate Finance Committee, and not the group of senators he speaks to Thursday.

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A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Dominic Calabro: Keeping cigars in the Cigar City

Politicians talk repeatedly about doing things to help create jobs. But, sometimes, doing nothing is the best option. We hope that newly-elected lawmakers understand that less government intrusion is often the key to keeping the American Dream alive.

A great example is the 2009 “Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” This innocuously named effort actually increased federal regulation in ways that even many of its supporters now regret.

The act gave the Food and Drug Administration the right to regulate all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. But bureaucracies tend to expand whenever they can and the agency soon extended its reach to premium cigars — a move that even the most liberal members of Congress said they never intended.

The result is a possible loss of jobs, the death of family-owned businesses and an unnecessary impediment to the American Dream.

A great example is the J.C. Newman’s Cigar Co. It is a classic “only in America” success story. Founded in 1895 in Ohio by an immigrant from Hungary, it is the nation’s oldest manufacturer of premium cigars.

In the 1950s, the business moved to Tampa, also known as Cigar City. What autos are to Detroit and movies are to Hollywood, cigars are the signature item in Tampa. The business flourished in this natural new home.

Cigars made by the 121-year-old family-run business are not marketed toward youth, nor are they used by younger consumers.

But the FDA, empowered to expand its reach without limit, has recently ruled that all cigar manufacturers must pay exorbitant “user fees,” undergo costly scientific tests that could run into the millions of dollars, fulfill new loads of paperwork and are now essentially prohibited from introducing new sizes, brands and blends. Samples provided for charity auctions or soldiers overseas are no longer allowed. And in a cruelly concurrent move, the federal government recently ruled that Cuban cigars will not only be allowed for sale in the United States, but they won’t have to meet the new requirements for American-made cigars.

The overall result is not an increase in consumer safety, but a potential death knell for companies like J.C. Newman’s.

The company has more than 125 employees in the Tampa Bay area, hardworking families with mortgages to pay and children to feed. Strangling their livelihood with no increase in consumer safety is ludicrous.

Thankfully, led by Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate and Bill Posey and Kathy Castor in the U.S. House, there has been bipartisan support from Florida’s legislative delegation to eliminate the job-killing provisions for premium cigar manufacturers. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has also presented President-elect Donald Trump with more than 200 regulations that could be immediately eliminated to help working Americans, including the job-killing provisions on premium cigars.

We hope the new administration and the FDA find the proper balance and remove this requirement that benefits nobody. And we hope that this classic example of unnecessary regulations strangling businesses becomes a warning against well-meaning mandates that too often spiral out of control.

___

Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

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18M more Americans would be uninsured under 2016 GOP repeal

Insurance premiums would soar and some 18 million Americans would lose health coverage if Republicans partially repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law without a replacement, Congress’ nonpartisan budget office estimated Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed a GOP 2016 repeal measure, which Republicans have cited as a starting point for their 2017 drive to dismantle and replace Obama’s health overhaul.

Premiums for policies bought from online marketplaces established by Obama’s law would rise up to 25 percent a year after enactment of repeal. They’d about double by 2026, the report estimated.

There’d also be 18 million more uninsured people a year after enactment and 32 million more by 2026, the report projected.

The numbers served as a flashing yellow light for this year’s effort by President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to annul Obama’s law and — in a more complex challenge — institute their own alternative. While Republicans have produced several outlines for how they’d recraft Obama’s 2010 statute, they’ve never united behind one plan despite years of trying and there are many unknowns about what will happen in insurance markets while the GOP effort is underway.

The report also became immediate political fodder for both sides in what is expected to be one of this year’s premier battles in Congress.

Trump seemed to complicate that fight over the weekend when he told The Washington Post that a forthcoming GOP plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In contrast, some congressional Republicans have used a more modest description, saying the plan will offer “universal access.”

The 2016 bill that CBO analyzed did not replace Obama’s law with a GOP alternative, which Republicans have insisted will be an integral part of their health care drive this year.

Because of that omission, Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the report “assumes a situation that simply doesn’t exist and that no one in Congress advocates.” AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the estimates “meaningless” because they ignored plans for legislation and regulatory actions by the incoming Trump administration aimed at revamping how people could obtain coverage.

Even so, Republicans have cited last year’s bill — which Obama vetoed — as a starting point for their 2017 drive to erase his law. Finding unity among Trump and GOP lawmakers on what a new plan should look like is expected to be a challenging task

Democrats used the report as ammunition to assail the Republican health-care push.

“Nonpartisan statistics don’t lie: it’s crystal clear that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will increase health care costs for millions of Americans and kick millions more off of their health insurance,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement that used the law’s formal name.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump inauguration a special moment for Brian Ballard

This isn’t Brian Ballard’s first inauguration, but it will likely be one of his most memorable.

Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, is one of several Floridians expected to attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration this week. And while his schedule is flush with lunches and galas, he’s most looking forward to the moment Trump takes the oath of office.

“The swearing-in, for me, is going to be the cool part. It’s almost hard to comprehend and put into words. It’s going to be a hugely impactful moment,” said Ballard. “Seeing him take the oath and the government becoming Trump government, which is hard to fathom even for me. It’s going to be so exciting and emotional.”

For Ballard, that moment will also mark the culmination of months of work behind the scenes to help send Trump to the White House.

A top fundraiser for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, Ballard served as finance chairman for Trump’s campaign in Florida. Days after Trump won the presidency, he was selected to serve as one of the finance vice chairs on the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The two men’s relationship goes beyond politics. Ballard served as the The Trump Organization’s lobbyist in the Florida Legislature for several years.

But Ballard wasn’t all in with Trump from Day 1. He initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush, signing on early and raising thousands upon thousands of dollars for the former governor and Right to Rise, the super PAC that backing Bush.

He later shifted his support to Sen. Marco Rubio, saying the Bush campaign’s decision to attack the Miami Republican didn’t sit well with him. Once he joined Team Trump, Ballard emerged as one of the New York Republican’s top advisors.

There have been rumblings Ballard might be nominated for an ambassadorship, but he has dismissed them. With a multi-million construction project underway at the corner of Park Avenue and South Monroe Street and a full roster of clients ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session, Ballard appears to have plenty of things to keep him busy in Florida’s capital city.

But that isn’t stopping him from enjoying the festivities and celebrating with friends.  Ballard and his family planned to travel to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Once there, the schedule is filled to brim with events.

A black tie dinner was scheduled for Tuesday evening to kick off the official festivities. A lunch-hour reception is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by a dinner to honor Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

There’s a leadership luncheon Thursday, and the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” a public event at the Lincoln Memorial. That evening, you might be able to find the Ballard family at a candlelight dinner.

When Trump raises his right hand to take the oath of office Friday, Ballard will be there. And he and his family will be on hand later in the evening, this time decked out in tuxedos and ball gown for the inaugural ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

And that is only a piece of Ballard’s schedule.

“It’s incredibly filled with events,” said Ballard, who last attended an inauguration nearly 30 years ago for President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration. “Every night there’s parties before and after, there’s lunches every day. I’m getting a lot of invitations.”

One other event definitely on his calendar: The Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott. The inaugural ball, according to the Miami Herald, is being sponsored by Let’s Get to Work, Scott’s political committee.

“This is unique because of the president-elect and our relationship,” said Ballard. “You think of people who get sworn in as president as (someone) who is bigger than life, not someone you know very, very well. Knowing someone and seeing him take the oath of office, I’ll never experience (that again).”

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Florida House leaders support Betsy DeVos in letter

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Reps. Jose Oliva and Jose Felix Diaz have signed on to a letter supporting Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump‘s pick for Education Secretary.

They’re among nearly 150 “state-level elected leaders in all 50 states” who say they support DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor who carries financial and political clout.

Oliva is expected to become speaker in 2018-20 following Corcoran; Diaz chairs the House’s Commerce Committee. Both are Miami-Dade Republicans.

The letter, dated Tuesday, is being sent to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It will hold a confirmation hearing on her at 5 p.m.

“(W)e must have a Secretary of Education committed to the needs of all of our nation’s children,” the letter says. “Betsy DeVos has made it her life’s mission to find, support and push for education solutions in her home state of Michigan and across the country. She is an advocate and ally for all children, and we write to you today to express our support for her nomination to this important position as her confirmation hearing approaches.”

DeVos, a charter school advocate, is widely expected to push for expanding school choice programs if confirmed as education secretary, prompting pushback from teachers unions.

Democrats and activists also are raising concerns about how her conservative Christian beliefs and advocacy for family values might impact minority and LGBT students.

“Her support for an all-of-the-above approach to K-12 education – from charter schools, to public, private and online education – defines the school choice movement that has helped countless children across many of our states,” the letter says.

“By advancing these innovative solutions from the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos will put children first and empower not only states to lead the way in making critical education decisions, but also empower parents to choose what type of education is best for their children.”

The letter concludes: “We encourage the (committee) to ensure a swift confirmation process so that we together can get to work making classrooms a place for all children to thrive.”

Background for this post provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

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Stephen Bittel for Florida Democrats, what do you have to lose?

Over the weekend, Florida Democrats elected Miami rich guy Stephen Bittel to lead their party. The choice was controversial and left many members screaming that Bittel is the wrong man at the wrong time.

They have their reasons, I guess.

But, let me ask a simple question:  Whom would be the right person?

The political cosmos has been trying to send a message for years to Florida Democrats. They haven’t been listening.

They have lost five consecutive races for governor (or, put another way, they haven’t been in control of the governor’s mansion in this century). Republicans also control both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans pass whatever laws they want, many of which trample on Democratic ideals. All the Dems have been able to say is, “May I have another?”

This has happened despite the fact Democrats have long held the lead in the number of registered voters in Florida (that number, by the way, is shrinking).

It takes a special something to have turned such an advantage into what is essentially political irrelevance in Tallahassee. Democrats used to console themselves because they delivered the state’s electoral votes to Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns, but they couldn’t even keep that trend going last November against Donald Trump.

So, to borrow Trump’s own slogan and apply it to Bittel: What have you got to lose? At least the guy seems to have some energy a willingness to engage in the fight.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after beating four other candidates with more established track records.

He has a point there. Florida Democrats have “contentious” down to a science. What they haven’t shown is any evidence that they have a realistic game plan for returning some political balance to the state.

Bittel made his mark by donating and raising large amounts of money for Democratic candidates. While he told reporters Saturday at the Democratic gathering in Orlando that he is not a billionaire, as was reported, he obviously is a person of substantial wealth and energy.

Democrats? Listen up: You need energy. You need passion. You need a sense of purpose. And most of all you need to explain, in clear words, why you’re better for the state than Republicans.

Democrats deluded themselves into believing voters would never elect Rick Scott, but they didn’t understand the beautiful simplicity of his “Let’s Get To Work” message. They talked themselves again into believing that surely voters wouldn’t re-elect Scott.

Now, Scott likely is coming for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in a couple of years, and in Adam Putnam Republicans appear to have a strong gubernatorial candidate ready to make his run. This kind of ballot box domination should send a message that doing things the same ol’ way is a losing strategy for Democrats.

So when Bittel talks about greatly expanding the staff at the state Democratic headquarters in Tallahassee and, as reported in FloridaPolitics.com, promising to “ …  grow this party to a size and strength that has never been seen before,” Democrats should be at least a little invigorated.

That is, assuming they still remember what that feels like.

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Conciliatory meeting between Donald Trump, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son

The Latest on President-elect Donald Trump (all times EST):

2:10 p.m.

The son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says he had a “very constructive” meeting with President-elect Donald Trump on the holiday marking King’s life.

Martin Luther King III played down Trump’s recent claim that Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, was “all talk.” He told reporters at Trump Tower on Monday that in the heat of emotion, “a lot of things get said on both sides.”

King says the focus of his meeting with Trump was to improve voter participation and stress the need to bring America together. He says Trump assured him it’s his intent to reach out to all Americans, even those who did not support him.

Trump briefly appeared with King after their nearly hour-long meeting but ignored reporters’ questions.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative media commentator Monica Crowley will not be joining the Trump administration following accusations of plagiarism.

That’s according to a transition official.

Crowley had been slated to join Trump’s National Security Council as a director of strategic communications. Her decision comes after CNN reported that several passages in a 2012 book written by Crowley were plagiarized. Publisher HarperCollins then pulled the book.

Crowley’s withdrawal from her position was first reported by the Washington Times. The transition official confirmed the decision on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

10:00 a.m.

President-elect Donald Trump is continuing to lash out at critics in the intelligence community and Democrats in Congress who are vowing to skip his swearing-in ceremony.

The tough-talking Republican questioned whether the CIA director himself was “the leaker of fake news” in a Sunday night tweet.

The extraordinary criticism from the incoming president came hours after CIA chief John Brennan charged that Trump lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to the United States.

Trump shot back in a Twitter post Sunday, saying: “Oh really, couldn’t do much worse – just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Joe Biden: Donald Trump should retain sanctions on Russia

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on a last foreign trip before leaving office, has met with Ukraine’s president and called on the impending Donald Trump administration to retain Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

Biden’s comments Monday at a briefing with President Petro Poroshenko came after Trump indicated in a Times of London interview that he could end sanctions imposed in the aftermath Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal.

“The Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

Other U.S. sanctions are connected to Russia’s involvement in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine. Biden said that Russia must fulfill its obligations under the 2015 Minsk agreement on ending that conflict.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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