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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, January 07, 2013.

OND is a regular community feature on Daily Kos, consisting of news stories from around the world, sometimes coupled with a daily theme, original research or commentary.  Editors of OND impart their own presentation styles and content choices, typically publishing near 12:00AM Eastern Time.

Creation and early water-bearing of the OND concept came from our very own Magnifico - proper respect is due.

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This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: Hot Rod Lincoln by Bill Kirchen

News below Aunt Flossie's hairdo . . .

Please feel free to browse and add your own links, content or thoughts in the Comments section.

Any timestamps shown are relative to each publication.

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Top News
Will the U.S. lift its 38-year ban on crude oil exports?

By John Upton
. . .

The country banned crude exports after the oil shocks of the 1970s. But oil producers and oil-loving politicians alike are starting to push for that export ban to be lifted. Oil companies last year began preparing a legal challenge to the ban, which may argue that it violates international law. And last month, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz suggested that it may be time to consider lifting the ban. “Those restrictions on exports were born, as was the Department of Energy and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, on oil disruptions,” he said at an energy forum.

. . .

Emboldened by the recent boom in U.S. crude production, oil company executives and others closed the year by launching a highly public push for the right to freely export U.S. crude oil. The move is a 180-degree change from 40 years of telling Americans that the country needs all the oil it can get to achieve energy independence and to protect consumers and the economy from oil and gasoline price shocks.

It’s a particularly dicey appeal to make right now because the call for oil exports — and the industry’s rationale for it — run counter to the arguments that oil companies and politicians are still using to justify a host of industry-backed initiatives, including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that would import oil from Canada. . .

Lifting the ban would encourage still more drilling, which would be bad news for the environment in the U.S. and for the global climate.
Eight Million Lives Saved Since Surgeon General's Tobacco Warning 50 Years Ago

By (ScienceDaily)
A Yale study estimates that 8 million lives have been saved in the United States as a result of anti-smoking measures that began 50 years ago this month with the groundbreaking report from the Surgeon General outlining the deadly consequences of tobacco use. The Yale School of Public Health-led analysis is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

. . .

Terry convened a committee of specialists who reviewed some 7,000 scientific articles and worked with more than 150 consultants to formulate the report's findings. It was released on a Saturday in order to generate maximum media coverage in Sunday's newspapers. Years after its publication, Terry referred to the report's release as a "bombshell."

The report has since spawned numerous other efforts at various levels of government to curb smoking. This has included the now-familiar Surgeon General's warning on the side of cigarette packages, as well as increased taxation, restrictions on advertising, and limiting public areas where people can smoke, along with programs and products to help people kick their smoking habit.

. . .

"Tobacco control has been a great success story for public health. We have essentially cut in half the number of tobacco-related deaths each year compared to what would have occurred in the absence of this effort. This is very encouraging, but the halfway point also means that there is more to be done," said Holford.

US trade deficit narrows to four-year low in November

By (BBC)
The US trade deficit narrowed to its lowest level in four years in November, as rising sales of oil pushed US exports to a record high.

. . .

US exports were also boosted by stronger sales of American-made planes and machinery.

The drop in oil imports was helped by lower global prices.

After peaking at $102 per barrel in September, the average price of a barrel of imported crude oil has been falling. It averaged $94.69 a barrel in November.

Obama lacked faith in Afghan policy: Gates

By (Al Jazeera)
Barack Obama’s former defence secretary has said the US president lacked faith in his own policy to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, saying he was focused on “getting out” despite ordering a surge.

In comments in his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Robert Gates says Obama didn’t trust his military commanders, couldn’t stand the Afghan president, and didn’t believe in his own strategy to renew the fight against the Taliban by committing 30,000 additional US troops to the war.

. . .

Gates, who has retired, adds that Obama was "sceptical if not outright convinced it would fail”. "I never doubted Obama's support for the troops, only his support for their mission.”

Gates, who also served during the presidency of George W Bush, accuses White House staffers of undermining Obama’s resolve by criticising General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan at the time, and the idea of a "troop surge". He said White House staff undermined the president and had not clue about the realities of war

The US surge is credited with pushing the Taliban out of large areas of southern Afghanistan and accellerating the development of Afghan security forces. However, the Taliban continues to attack coalition and Afghan government targets. The US is preparing to pull the bulk of its forces out of Afghanistan later this year.

International
Georgia's disabled 'locked in a box'

By Rayhan Demytrie
Georgia has become one of the first ex-Soviet republics to abolish state orphanages in favour of foster care. But disabled children continue to be marginalised and face the prospect of life-long isolation from society.

. . .

But in its recent report "Left Behind", DRI accuses the Georgian government of excluding disabled children from its childcare reform, and turning a blind eye to a parallel system of orphanages run by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The report claims that an unknown number of children are housed within the Church system and are vulnerable to abuse.

. . .

Andro Dadiani says that although the government has collaborated with the Church and financed the establishment of two small group homes as alternative service to orphanages, it is still reluctant to hold the Georgian Orthodox Church to account.

"The Church is the most trusted institution in this country, and politically, if you go against the church you lose a lot of votes.

Thousands flee tribal clashes in India's Assam state

By Subir Bhaumik
Thousands of people have fled their homes in India's north-eastern Assam state after clashes between two tribes in which at least 16 people have died.

More than 3,000 Karbi and Rengma Naga tribal people have taken shelter in relief camps following the violence which in late December.

. . .

The state's ethnic problems mainly stem from claims for territory between rival tribal groups.

. . .

"The displaced villagers are suffering from lack of essentials like food and clothes and living in the bitter cold," said Sushanta Roy, who edits a newspaper in Karbi Anglong's main town of Diphu.

Central African Republic crisis: Aid worker fears attack

By (BBC)
An aid worker at a Catholic mission in the Central African Republic, where some 3,000 people have sought shelter, says he fears a massive attack.

Vojtech Bily told the BBC that the town of Bozoum, north of the capital Bangui, was surrounded by Christian militia, who he feared could massacre Muslim residents.

. . .

About half the people of Bangui have been driven from their homes, a total of about 513,000, he said.

. . .

Mr Bily, a volunteer at the mission, said that international aid workers had been unable to get supplies into the town as attacks by Christian militia, known as anti-Balaka, had intensified.

. . .

Muslim rebel leader Michel Djotodia seized power last March, forcing President Francois Bozize, who came from the majority Christian population, to flee into exile.

Removal of Syria's chemical weapons begins

By (Al JAzeera)
Syria has started moving chemical weapons materials out of the country in a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament programme that has been delayed by war and technical problems.

The joint mission overseeing the disarmament, the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on Tuesday that the materials had been moved from two sites to the port of Latakia and then loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel.

. . .

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Damascus blames rebels for the attack.  

Washington welcomed the removal of chemical materials and said Assad's government appeared to be sticking to the deal.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Prosecutor: More than 100 NYC police and firefighters indicted in PTSD scam

By Ray Sanchez. Susan Candiotti and Lorenzo Ferrigno
Though the former New York City police officers and firefighters were supposed to be fully disabled -- some suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- images in court documents released Tuesday painted a starkly different picture.

. . .

The alleged scam spanned more than two decades, with law enforcement officers and firefighters coached on how to behave during doctor visits in order to qualify for full disability benefits, officials said.

. . .

The defendants received up to $50,000 a year because, they claimed, they were no longer able to work, officials said. Many of the claims allegedly involved work-related trauma caused by the 9/11 terror attacks. The 9/11-related claims alone totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday, according to the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Chart of the Day: America's Health Care System Is Killing You

By Kevin Drum
. . .

It's certainly true that American life expectancy, which largely tracked other rich countries in the years after World War II, diverged rather dramatically starting around 1990. Why? It's true that there could be a thousand different reasons related to culture and food and violence and so forth, but most of those things existed all along. So what happened around 1990?

One plausible answer is that it's related to divergences in health care starting around then. That's a tricky thing to prove, however, unless you dig deeply into the details. Recently a team of authors did just that in JAMA and produced the chart below. It shows Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL) as multiples of the median for other rich countries. A number greater than one means we're losing more years than the rest of our peers. Here's the chart:

blog_ypll_us_vs_oecd

The dramatic thing about this chart is that the United States does worse than other rich countries in every single area. Sure, it's possible that there are 16 different reasons that we're doing worse in 16 different categories, but it doesn't seem likely, does it? When something is this widespread, the cause is a lot more likely to be something broadly based, like health care delivery.

U.S. healthcare rate of growth at 53-year low

By (UPI)
Total U.S. healthcare spending in 2012 increased by 3.7 percent -- 0.4 percentage points higher than in 2011 -- the lowest rate since 1960, U.S. officials say.

. . .

"The low rates of national health spending growth and relative stability since 2009 primarily reflect the lagged impacts of the recent severe economic recession," Martin said in a statement. "Additionally, 2012 was impacted by the mostly one-time effects of a large number of blockbuster prescription drugs losing patent protection and a Medicare payment reduction to skilled nursing facilities."

. . .

Still, it could prove difficult to convince the public that healthcare spending is slowing when many people are facing plans with higher out-of-pocket costs. In the last decade, insurance companies have increased the patient's share of paying for healthcare treatment dramatically with higher deductibles, higher co-pays and higher co-insurance.

The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country -- more than 2.5 times more per capita than the second highest spending country.

Welcome to the "Hump Point" of this OND.

News can be sobering and engrossing - at this point in the diary, an offering of brief escapism:

Random notes related to this video:
. . .  It should come as no surprise to find something so appealingly put together given that its creator is a veteran who’s been shaping the good stuff and the good stuff only since the late 60s, first as a founding member/spiritual architect/guitar maestro in the legendary Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and then in quality combos The Moonlighters, Too Much Fun and more. Bill Kirchen is a bona fide classic in an age with too few of them, a primo musician that done it right and done it for a really long time.

. . .

You have the major guitar lexicon down, and one need only check out the version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” on Seeds And Stems [where Kirchen expertly quotes Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly and many more] for resounding proof. I’m guessing is a real showcase in concert, too.

We call it the “Big Wayne Newton Climax” [laughs]. People will say, “Wow, man, it sounds exactly like the records!” but it really doesn’t. It’s more like a guy that draws you at the Boardwalk. It’s not a photograph but it’s a decent likeness of these other guitar players. My task in doing the little quotes in “Hot Rod Lincoln” is to do something eminently recognizable that makes people feel it’s like the originals. I get close!

. . .

And you’re playing the styles and signature riffs of famous guitarists on a Telecaster, which was not always their instrument of choice.

Right and I only have one button with a little delay and reverb but otherwise the only thing I’m changing is different pick-up positions and I’ll hit whatever loud pedal of the day is, say a Tube Screamer or whatever. Other than that it all has to happen with your hands.

. . .

One of the through-lines in your career is how your music communicates well both with music of the past and music of the present. Your music throws a line back to Merle Haggard but it also sits well with the twangier Americana today. You remind folks that music is a continuum.

Well, thank you, and the reason for it is we approach that stuff with great reverence but not in a precious way because that stuff rocked! We never liked to treat it with kid gloves. It was in Berkeley that the Cody band got it together. We played Mandrake’s on University and the other honky tonks in Berkeley from ’69 on, and that’s where we got our sea legs.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen had an unforced air of weirdness about them. Other bands had to put on hats and play at being strange, and you guys seemed like a band that had smoked just enough grass to not be straights.

[Laughs] We took acid and smoked joints and everything else after that. I worry a little bit sometimes. I don’t want my humor to be too arch. You want to have fun with something rather than at something. I hope I’m not being ironic or being at a hipster’s distance from things.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Honduras and the dirty war fuelled by the west's drive for clean energy

By Nina Lakhani
The west's drive to reduce its carbon footprint cheaply is fuelling a dirty war in Honduras, where US-backed security forces are implicated in the murder, disappearance and intimidation of peasant farmers involved in land disputes with local palm oil magnates.

More than 100 people have been killed in the past four years, many assassinated by death squads operating with near impunity in the heavily militarised Bajo Aguán region, where 8,000 Honduran troops are deployed, according to activists.

. . .

Peasant farmers say they are the victims of a campaign of terror by the police, army and private security guards working for palm oil companies since a coup in June 2009 ended land negotiations instigated by the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya.

. . .

The Bajo Aguán dispute dates back almost 20 years, to a World Bank-funded land modernisation programme. The farmers say thousands of hectares of land used for subsistence farming were fraudulently and coercively transferred to agribusinesses that grow African palms, which are lucratively exported to the west for biofuel, and are traded in the carbon credit market.

Since then, they have tried to reclaim the land using the courts, as well as roadblocks and illegal land occupations.

McDonald’s will shift (very slowly) to sustainable beef

By John Upton
We aren’t suggesting that you try this, but should you venture into a McDonald’s a few years from now and order a hamburger, some of the beef you end up eating may have come from a sustainably raised cow.

. . .

Langert says McDonald’s isn’t yet ready to commit to a specific quantity it will purchase in 2016, or when it might achieve its “aspirational goal” of buying 100 percent of its beef from “verified sustainable sources.” (The company will only say that, “We will focus on increasing the annual amount each year.”) Realistically, it could take a decade or more to achieve the 100-percent goal.

. . .

Beef isn’t the only sustainability issue the company is looking at. For years, the company has been addressing the environmental and social impacts of its supply chain, one ingredient at a time. The company’s Sustainable Land Management Commitment, unveiled in 2011, requires suppliers to gradually source food and materials from sustainably managed land, although there are no specific timelines, and it is initially focusing on beef, poultry, fish, coffee, palm oil and packaging. Notably missing for now are pork, potatoes and other produce.
There’s plenty more that is notably missing, including a willingness to pay workers a living wage.
Science and Health
Thousands of Unseen, Faraway Galaxies Discovered

By (ScienceDaily)
The first of a set of unprecedented, super-deep views of the universe from an ambitious collaborative program called The Frontier Fields is being released today at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

. . .

Though the foreground cluster Abell 2744 has been intensively studied as one of the most massive clusters in the universe, the Frontier Fields exposure reveals new details of the cluster population. Hubble sees dwarf galaxies in the cluster as small as 1/1,000th the mass of the Milky Way. At the other end of the size spectrum, Hubble detects the extended light from several monster central cluster galaxies that are as much as 100 times more massive than our Milky Way. Also visible is faint intra-cluster light from stars inside the cluster that have been stripped out of galaxies by gravitational interactions. These new deep images will also help astronomers map out the dark matter in the cluster with unprecedented detail, by charting its distorting effects on background light. An unseen form of matter, dark matter makes up the bulk of the mass of the cluster.

. . .

With each new camera installed on Hubble, the space telescope has been used to make successively deeper, groundbreaking views of the universe. To get a better assessment of whether doing more deep field observations was scientifically compelling or urgent, the Space Telescope Science Institute or STScI in Baltimore, Md. chartered a "Hubble Deep Field Initiative" working group. The Hubble Frontier Fields initiative grew out of the working group's high-level discussions at STScI concerning what important, forward-looking science Hubble should be doing in upcoming years. Despite several deep field surveys, astronomers realized that a lot was still to be learned about the far universe. Such knowledge would help in planning the observing strategy for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

Amid Abortion Debate, the Pursuit of Science

By Nina Martin
For the last decade or so, Tracy Weitz has been one of the most prominent abortion researchers in the United States.

. . .

 This summer, one of the studies she oversaw persuaded California lawmakers to allow trained non-doctors (nurse practitioners, certified midwives, physician assistants) to perform first-trimester abortions, possibly the biggest expansion of abortion access since the Food and Drug Administration approved the morning-after pill in 2000.

 . . . states [including Texas] started passing new laws that require physicians who offer abortion care to have admitting privileges to hospitals. And we realized that, thanks to [the non-doctor] study, we had very good data showing that complications requiring transfers to hospitals are actually exceedingly rare.

 Of about 20,000 patients over several years, only four were directly transferred.

. . .

The take-home from that study is that most women are having an abortion because they say they can’t afford to have a child. And it turns out that they’re right: Two years later, women who had a baby they weren’t expecting to have, compared to the women who had the abortion they wanted, are three times more likely to be living in poverty. They knew they couldn’t afford a kid and it turns out they were correct.

Technology
Samsung pays out $1bn in bonuses to mark chairman Lee Kun-hee's 20 years

By (Reuters via theguardian.com)
Samsung Electronics earned less than even the most conservative analyst forecast in October-December after handing out an estimated $1bn (£610m) in bonuses to mark 20 years since its chairman set it on the road to becoming a global behemoth.

The world's largest smartphone maker has splashed out on its employees from a cash pile of around $50bn just two months after increasing its dividend yield far less than many investors had expected.

. . .

Lee, who turns 72 this week, set the agenda for the future in his New Year speech by stressing the need to drop a hardware-centric culture and adopt new ways of thinking to drive innovation.

The company usually pays bonuses up to 100% of basic monthly salary to employees in units which achieve targets, and up to 50% of annual salary by returning 20% of profits that exceed targets. Korean companies often pay low salaries and top up with bonuses.

. . .

Apple is widely expected to sell smartphones with larger screens in autumn when it traditionally announces products, neutralising a selling point that Samsung has enjoyed since introducing its Galaxy Note in late 2011.

Yahoo's News Digest Offers Bite-Sized News for Short Attention Spans

By Ashley Feinberg
Yahoo has finally revealed what a certain newly purchased, industrious young entrepreneur has been working. Say hello to News Digest, a Summly-inspired app that offers bite-sized bits of news stories "blended" from a variety of sources.

. . .

Supposedly Yahoo's goal with the app is to bring users "comprehensive, effortless, and complete" information, but it's hard to imagine how comprehensive anything with the express purpose of cutting facts to the bare minimum can really be. Though their goal might be counterintuitive to what they're actually offering, brining in supplementary information to provide context is, at the very least, a smart move. People already hop over to Wikipedia on their own time; this just makes the leap for you.

X-Ray Holographs Can See Moving Objects the Size of a Virus

By Jamie Condliffe
. . .  Holography is really just a complex word to describe the theory of using light to create 3D images of things. But one thing it does require is light of a single frequency—because it relies on measuring how waves are different from each other to weave its magic, and that's impossible with a mixture of frequencies.

With a single frequency of X-ray, then, you can throw waves at your sample—letting some pass through a pinhole nearby to preserve a reference wave—then compare the differences between the waves that have passed through the sample and the pinhole. The differences allow you to create a 3D representation of what the X-rays passed through, as the varying thickness and material cause the wave to change subtly.

. . .

But then, a lightbulb went on, so to speak: they could replace the pinhole with a series of concentric rings to let more light through. That made the images fast to acquire again—though, again, fuzzy. But the thing about those concentric circles is that the way they let light through is well understood by physicists, and some clever math allowed the researchers to work backwards with the images, eliminating the fuzz from the rings and making the images pin-sharp.

And pin-sharp they really are. . . the method can resolve structures as small as 46 nanometres—about the same size as a virus. And the best bit is that, because of all the light pouring through, exposure times are fast enough to study dynamic processes. Age-old imaging conundrum, consider your days numbered.

Scan-to-email patent trolls sue Coca-Cola and other large companies

By Cory Doctorow
MPHJ is America's most notorious patent troll. The company -- whose owners are shrouded in mystery through a network of shell companies -- claims a patent on scanning documents and then emailing them, and they threaten business-owners with massive lawsuits unless they pay $1,000 per-employee "license fees."

 Mostly, the troll has gone after small-fry, companies too small to defend themselves, and has stopped short of actually going to court. But now they've gone big-league, announcing suits against Coca-Cola, Dillards, Unum Group and Huhtakami.

 It's not clear whether they've built their litigation warchest through the small-fry, but it seems unlikely. The lawsuit discloses that the troll extracted payments from Canon and Sharp in exchange for not suing their customers, and I suspect this is where the money for the suits came from.

The legal filings in the cases are very long, and detail the companies' internal networks as evidence of patent violation. The troll relies on the fact that all three companies use Xerox and Lexmark products and since these two companies haven't paid ransom for their customers, it can be assumed that anyone using their devices violates the patents.

. . .

Cultural
China blocks the Guardian, censorship-tracking website says

By Jonathan Kaiman
The Guardian’s website has been completely blocked in China, according to a censorship-tracking website.

. . .

China's leadership is known to block websites that it deems a threat – Bloomberg and the New York Times have been blocked since 2012, when they published lengthy investigations revealing the vast wealth accumulated by the families of senior leaders.

The reasons for the Guardian block are unclear – no China-related stories published by the Guardian in the past two days would obviously be perceived as dangerous by the country's leadership. One article, published on 6 January, explores tensions in China’s ethnically-divided north-western region Xinjiang, but the Guardian has covered the subject before without any noticeable fallout

Gaming Console Ban Temporarily Lifted in China

By Tiffany Kaiser
Gaming consoles have been banned in China for over a decade, but a temporary lift of that ban was announced earlier this week.

. . .

 The ban was originally implemented in 2000 as a way of protecting the mental health of children. The country didn't want its youth exposed to video game violence and waste away hours sitting in front of the TV.

. . .

 While the ban lift will make it possible for console makers to sell their products in China, one thing to consider is that there is already a large black market for consoles and games in the country. Many already got their hands on the products illegally, and have used P2P networks to download pirated games.

 Microsoft, maker of the Xbox console, is already very familiar with the piracy issues in China. Back in 2012, the company sued Gome Electrical Appliances Holding in China for installing pirated versions of its software on computers. Later that year, Microsoft hired 1,000 new employees in China for research and development (R&D), services, marketing and sales in hopes of reaching the full potential of that market.

Brazilian former slave community fights for land

By Julia Carneiro
. . .

Rio dos Macacos, home to 67 families, is one of Brazil's quilombos - communities started by former slaves before forced labour was prohibited in Brazil in 1888.

. . .

But even after slavery was abolished, elders say their ancestors had few rights. For a long time, they continued to work the sugarcane fields not for pay, but in return for food and housing.

It was only after the local farms went into decline, that the quilombolas - as quilombo residents are known - were allowed to harvest some of the fields and keep the proceeds for themselves.

. . .

Brazil's constitution - signed in 1988, 100 years after slavery was abolished - ruled that quilombolas were entitled to the land they had historically occupied.

. . .

Since 1988, only 207 quilombos have been issued with property titles. More than 1,200 requests have still to be dealt with, according to figures from the Fundacao Palmares.

Smoker numbers edge close to one billion

By Michelle Roberts
Although smoking is becoming less popular in many parts of the world, the total number of smokers is growing, global figures reveal.

. . .

In terms of ill health, the greatest toll is likely to be in countries with both a high prevalence of smoking and a high consumption of cigarettes, say the researchers - namely Greece, Ireland, Italy and Japan as well as China, Kuwait, the Philippines, Russia, Switzerland and Uruguay.

. . .

The World Health Organization says millions of additional lives could be saved with continued implementation of policies such as increased cigarette taxes and smoke-free air laws.

. . .

"Low and middle-income countries in particular face an enormous challenge to fend off the powerful tobacco industry and stop smoking rates escalating."

Zambia's Frank Bwalya charged over Michael Sata potato jibe

By (BBC)
An opposition politician in Zambia has been arrested and charged with defamation after he compared the president to a potato.

Frank Bwalya allegedly described President Michael Sata as "chumbu mushololwa" on radio on Monday.

The Bemba language phrase refers to a sweet potato that breaks when it is bent and is used to describe someone who does not listen to advice.

Mr Bwalya faces a maximum jail term of five years if he is convicted.

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