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THE MIGHTY CEDAR HAS FALLEN
by Tom Pauken    Thu, Apr 20, 2006, 10:00 AM

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Lawrence E. Ackels, Sr.

For those who reminisce from time to time about the old days in Dallas when this city worked, one of the things that made Dallas so successful was the type of leaders who rose to positions of influence in our city. One of those "unsung heroes" was Lawrence Ackels, Sr., a prominent Dallas attorney and former member of the Dallas City Council. Mr. Ackels died shortly before Easter and his funeral was held at St. Monica’s Catholic Church on the Tuesday after Easter. The Church was packed with the family and friends of the late Lawrence Ackels. They had come to pay their respects to this good man.

A family man, a veteran, a man of deep religious faith, and a man of the utmost integrity, Lawrence Ackels, Sr. represented the very best of what Dallas once was. His son, Larry Ackels, Jr., gave a marvelous eulogy about the life of his father. With his permission we reprint that Eulogy here at DallasBlog. While "The Mighty Cedar has Fallen", he has gone to meet his Maker. May his soul rest in peace.

Here are Larry’s words about his father, the late Lawrence Edward Ackels, Sr.:

THE MIGHTY CEDAR HAS FALLEN   by Larry Ackels, Jr.

He was our strength and consolation. Our fortress against the storm. Our knight in shining armor. Our lion in winter. Our advocate for justice. Our patriarch and mentor. Our blocking back on fourth down and goal to go. We leaned on him for his wisdom and courage, his knowledge and experience, his love and devotion. He fulfilled the ancient biblical precept: "He fought the good fight, he completed the race, he kept the faith." We shall not see his likes again. We shall miss him dearly. But his invincible spirit lives on in our hearts forevermore. And the angels rejoice in his glory.

I stand before you as the voice of my brothers and sisters and our entire family in celebration of the wonderful life and indomitable spirit of our beloved father and patriarch, and my HERO, Lawrence Edward Ackels, Sr.

We come here today to mark the passing of a good and great man. Not a perfect man - but a thoroughly good and decent man with an unfailing sense of fairness and justice. For us, it all began when Lawrence’s father, Henry John Ackels, emigrated to the United States as a boy in the early 1900's from his native Lebanon through Ellis Island. He and his wife, Mary Ellen Abraham, settled in Dallas, where Lawrence was born and raised. He attended the old St. Patrick’s church and school where the ruddy Irishman, Father Charles Redfern, was pastor and the Ursuline nuns taught him. He attended St. Joseph High School. And worked in his family’s poultry and grocery business as part of a pioneer family of the original Dallas Farmers Market. He graduated in three years from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where he played football and was ping-pong champion - a fact that he often proved to his sons in later years. As a member of the Greatest Generation, he served in the Army during World War II in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and was at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at the time of his honorable discharge in 1946. He forever remained proud to have served his country and he was an old-fashioned patriot who would get a lump in his throat every time he heard "God Bless America." After the war, he obtained his law degree on the trimester plan from SMU School of Law in 1948 and set up his law offices in Dallas where he practiced continuously as a prominent attorney for 58 years.

In 1949, he made the most important (and the most fortunate) decision in his life when he married Isabel Zoghby in Mobile, Alabama. Theirs was a beautiful and vibrant love affair for 52 years until Isabel’s death four years ago. They were a great team and had ten children – six sons and four daughters. They sacrificed mightily to raise their ten children and to educate them in Catholic and private schools and universities. We counted it up, and their ten children have amassed a total of 179 years of Catholic and private school education - that’s right 179 years - including six sons graduating from Jesuit College Prep, four daughter from Ursuline Academy, eight graduates of Spring Hill College, and seven graduates of the SMU School of Law. One prominent Dallas lawyer with six children says that every time he writes a tuition check, he thinks of Lawrence Ackels, Sr. and wonders how he did it. Well, we all wonder how he did it. And only Lawrence could tell us how -- he trusted in the Lord to show him the way. He called him the "Almighty Big Boss." And always said that he would "just turn things over to the Big Boss and He would take care of everything." For, you see, when he was about 46 or 47 years old, Lawrence took a long walk in the park one day. He saw the vast horizon looming before him with the onerous financial obligations and responsibilities of raising and educating ten children. That day in the park, he had a conversation with the Big Boss and told Him that if he was going to carry out his responsibilities to his family, the Boss would have to help him, would have to show him the way. And from that moment on, Lawrence writes in one of his many essays, he never worried or fretted about anything. He just turned everything over to the Big Boss and that was it. "Pray," he said, "as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you." Lawrence never deviated from this riveting belief in the power of the Almighty. This is what he always told us and this is how he lived his life - faithfully, steadfastly, loyally, consistently.

He was a man of deep and abiding faith and a leading Catholic laymen in the Diocese of Dallas, a founder and charter member of St. Phillip the Apostle Church in the 1950's, and a faithful member of St. Monica Catholic Church for the past 30 years, where he was President of the Holy Name Society and a Eucharistic Minister. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus for more than 65 years attaining the rank of Fourth Degree and Grand Knight. And as members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, he and my mother made a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land in 1992.

And he had a special devotion to St. Michael the Archangel, the strong right arm of God, whom he always called his champion and protector. He recalls seeing St. Michael on that fateful night in 1969 when we were driving to Mobile with eleven people in the family station wagon and were caught in the violent middle of Hurricane Camille. He lost control of the car, it began to fishtail on a dark narrow two-lane highway in Mississippi. That was when an agitated St. Michael appeared to him, the archangel was driving his spear downward. Lawrence took this to mean that he should apply his breaks. So, disregarding everything that he had ever been told to do in a skidding vehicle, he slammed on his brakes - hard. The station wagon did a 180 degree turn and stopped on a dime in the middle of the pitch-black highway - where once it was heading north, it was now pointing due south. But we were all okay.

In the 1950's he was Judge in the City of Carrollton and was known by many in the legal profession and the community as "Judge Ackels," or simply, "the Judge." He served on the Dallas City Council in the early 1970's. He loved public service and his term on the City Council was a happy time for him.

He was the founding attorney of Ackels & Ackels, where he practiced with four of his sons until the time of his death. As a Dallas pioneer in mediation, he assisted thousands of parties and attorneys in resolving their legal disputes on amicable terms in more than 1,000 mediations. The best decision I ever made in my professional life was to go into law practice with my father. For 31 years, I saw my dad at the office every day. For me, and my siblings, this was the greatest experience we could have – to get to know our father as a colleague and a friend, as well as the most brilliant legal mind around. He taught us how to practice law ethically and morally, with high-minded principals of honor and integrity. To him, a lawyer’s good reputation was worth more than anything. Your word was your bond. This is the creed he practiced for 58 years. He knew all the Judges at the courthouse and thousands of lawyers. But the court clerks and staff were his favorites. He chatted with them constantly, knew their names, their children’s names, and always asked how they were feeling. For years, he personally delivered candy at Christmas, and always wearing his trademark Stetson hat - he was instantly recognizable.

I can remember my first days in his law office, back in the mid 1970's. The end of the month rolled around and, having worked summers during law school in other law firms, I was accustomed to submitting time sheets and preparing the monthly client billings. I asked my dad about the monthly invoices and I was shocked when he replied that he did not regularly send bills to his clients – "It all has a way of working itself out," he said. That was Lawrence Ackels. For him, being a lawyer was not a business, it was a calling. His most significant case was the one for which he never got paid. His most important client, the least among us.

And, he had a flair for the dramatic. He was a stirring orator who could move a judge or jury to tears with his emotional and well-paced speaking style. During his illness, we received a message from one of his colleagues who recalled their first case against each other in the 1950's. It was a week-long child custody case and, after announcing his ruling in my dad’s favor, the Judge cried for 3 or 4 minutes. Another case early in his career is recounted humorously by the legendary Paul Crume in his BIG D column on page one of The Dallas Morning News, November 23, 1952. Mr. Crume wrote:

Young Lawyer Larry Ackels, a devout Catholic, Friday defended a man in justice court who was charged with offering moldy lunch meat for sale. Worked up by the injustice of the whole thing, Ackels ate some of the meat during his argument to prove that it was all right. His client got only a $25 fine, the minimum. But it wasn’t until after the jury had come in that Ackels realized he had eaten meat on Friday....

And Lawrence was always proud of his Lebanese heritage. He was a faithful member and Past President of the Southern Federation of Syrian Lebanese American Clubs. While he was President of the Federation in the early 60's, he and Isabel, as personal escorts for the Patriarch of Antioch, were visitors to the LBJ Ranch and guests of Vice-President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson; and they were involved with Danny Thomas and others in the early development of ALSAC and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. He loved Lebanese food, especially kibbee, and he and my mother imparted to their children our Lebanese customs and traditions, which we carry on today. And in 1995, he accompanied Bishop Charles Grahmann on a trip to Lebanon – the first and only time Lawrence ever went. He visited his ancestral hometown of Bzebdine and found his family’s house still intact. He recalled that on Bishop Grahmann’s birthday, the Lebanese children, not sure how to pronounce his last name, sang "Happy Birthday to Charlie!"

We will remember the things that Lawrence loved, like:

· crossword puzzles
· watching "Jeopardy," and "Who Wants to be A Millionaire" hosted by Regis Philbin
· card games, especially bridge, canasta, and poker
· Babe Ruth, whom he saw play one time in Dallas
· his favorite depression-era meal of bologna, cheese, tomatoes, and sardines
· "The Honeymooners" and his alter ego, Ralph Cramden
· Trips to Las Vegas with all the guys, especially his 80th birthday celebration, and the time his grandson and his fraternity brothers joined him and,
because of their limited student funds, they all slept spread out in Lawrence’s hotel room
· Mario Lanza
· Winston Churchill, the Lion of Britain, and his hero of the twentieth century
· ice cream ("a scoop of each, please")
· that he was a lifelong Democrat and a proud Texan
· the Dallas Cowboys
· and SMU athletics, especially his hero, Doak Walker, and the Doc Hayes’ basketball teams
· and that he was a special friend and generous supporter of the clergy, here and throughout the country, including especially the Bishops, diocesan priests and deacons, the Jesuits, the Ursuline nuns, and the Brothers of the Holy Cross. Many of those priests are on the altar here today.

He made friends everywhere he went. And he would always take the time to talk to people, to learn their names, and the names of their children. He listened to them. For Lawrence, life was all about human relationships and he was genuinely interested in people from all walks of life. From the mail-room clerk to the Supreme Court Justice, from the janitor to the Chairman and CEO – he was a friend to all. That is why he had such a lasting impact on people of all ages – young and old. To some he was like a second father, to others he was a wise counselor, a mentor, a big brother, a hero.

In the past few days, we have received hundreds of visitors, cards, letters, e-mails, and telephone calls. One forty-something young man said, "When I was 17 he talked to me like I was a man and no one had ever done that." Another, commenting on Lawrence’s youthful outlook on life, opined, "He was never like all the other old men." A mother of two young children said, "Your Dad was one of those people who made you feel like the most important person on earth when you were in his presence." And a past president of the Dallas Bar Association said that, "He made great contributions to our community and to our profession." Another prominent attorney wrote that, "the combined contributions of your family to the practice of law in North Central Texas over the past 50 years have been enormous." A judge on receiving news of his death e-mailed, "I am on the bench in a jury trial with a tear in my eye."

A most captivating story involves an attorney-mediator colleague who called the house on the last day of my father’s life. He called at a particularly difficult time and my sister had to tell him to call back later. Like the persistent mediator he is, he did call back in the afternoon and I took the call. I thought he wanted to reminisce about the good old days when we first started mediating in the Dallas legal community as charter members of the Association of Attorney-Mediators. But he said, no, that is not why he was calling. He was adamant that I take a message to my father. And he told the story of traveling with my dad to another state to attend a mediation seminar. While at the seminar, he said that my dad witnessed to him and spoke to him about his faith in Jesus Christ. He said that, at that time, he had not accepted Christ, but that conversation with my Dad changed his life forever; that, in fact, it saved his life.

I want to thank my sister, Cecilia, and her husband, Matt Martin, for having Dad in their home these last two years and opening their doors 24-hours a day in the past few weeks to accommodate our family and hundreds of visitors who came to see Lawrence in his final days, and all the while taking care of their six children including their newborn twins, Christine and William. Lawrence was so happy to see the birth of those twins and he loved living with Cecilia and Matt. He was overjoyed in the final weeks, also, to learn of Michael’s engagement and to welcome Veronica into our family. They asked for his blessing, showed him the ring and we toasted with champagne in the hospital. Yes, Lawrence was ever thankful that his family’s cycle of life – weddings and funerals, birth and death – would go on and on.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a special and warm thank-you to two people who rescued my Dad after my mother’s death four years ago. Although he never recovered from the loss of his beloved Isabel, two of his dearest friends, Joe and Isabell Haggar, made sure they included him in their social life - especially their trips to Lone Star Park where they enjoyed the horse races together and became racing buddies. Lawrence enjoyed the track so much that he kept going back and soon he was on a first-name basis with everyone at the Jockey Club, from the lady who took his ticket to the waiter who served him lunch. All the regulars called him "the Judge," and treated him like a celebrity. In fact, they even named a race in his honor and took our family picture with the winning horse on the victory stand. It was a magic tonic for his still-aching heart. Thank you, Joe and Isabell, for being his guardian angels.

Finally, I know that Dad would have wanted me to say a word about the new generation.

Today, you have seen his thirty-nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren participating in this Holy Mass – as singers, pallbearers, altar servers, readers, and gift bearers. He would be so proud of all of you. And special recognition to our family’s songbird of the new generation, Catherine Karam, for her heartfelt rendition of the songs that her grandfather requested be sung at his funeral.

To his grandchildren and great-grandchildren – you were his pride and joy. He loved to hear you call him Giddy, to bring your favorite candy and chocolates when he came to your house, to display the handmade cards and letters you lovingly prepared for him, to take the college cousins to lunch at Al Biernat’s, to pass out $2 bills in honor of Sittie Bell, and to have you all around him on Christmas Eve as he handed out the gifts under the tree. As one of his granddaughters said: "You make it a point [,Giddy,] to have a special relationship with each and every one of us, which is an extremely hard thing to do considering how many of us there are." But your numbers energized him, because he saw in you a new generation, a promise of an even brighter future of hope and achievement for this family which he and Isabel started. It is to you that he confidently entrusts his good name and impeccable reputation and it is his most fervent desire that you continue to bring honor to your family as you reach your goals in life.

A few months ago, Lawrence wrote his last essay - addressed to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and descendants yet to be born. It is entitled, "You Carry The Flag," and it contains a lot of practical suggestions and old-fashioned advice about laundry, and studying, and discipline, and hard work, but it also has these words of wisdom that I think he wants me to pass on to you. Lawrence wrote:

This is my letter to each one of you as your Freshman year begins in college:

You carry the flag for us. Always put the Almighty Big Boss first in your life, your plans, your hopes. You will be blessed all the days of your life, and for all eternity.

Never give up. Never give up. Never. NEVER!! Always take the high road, always set as your target the farthermost star! Way out there. Never just the closest, easiest one.

Lifetime experiences must be carefully, thoughtfully approached and always decided with the Almighty Big Boss helping you.

It is our togetherness that carries each one of us to victory. You are never alone! Never! All members of our family love each other. Each one of us cares about you, prays for you. Will help you at anytime, at any place. You are never alone. YOU CARRY THE FLAG.

May God bless you always, love you as I do, keep you on the right path – until we all share eternal happiness together forever. I love you.

I want you to know that up until the very last moment of his life, Lawrence’s mind was clear, his indomitable spirit unchallenged. As his great heart beat its last, he was surrounded by his children saying the prayers that he loved, ready to be escorted into eternity by the Ambassador of Paradise, St. Michael the Archangel. He fought like a lion to live, but he died in utter peace and tranquility. It was the happy death of a man who was ready to meet his Maker -- the Almighty Big Boss; ready to be united once again with his beloved wife, Isabel, his younger brother Alfred, his parents and all those who have gone before him.

Each day of his ordinary yet remarkable life, he showed us how to live as his lord and savior lived. And, ultimately, he showed us how to die – with dignity, with courage, with honor, and with grace.

I close now with words that have always reminded me of my Dad, my HERO from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

He was the noblest Roman of them all ...
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!

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HOUSE TAX COMMITTEE TAKES FIRST STEPS By Will Lutz
by DallasBlog.com    Thu, Apr 20, 2006, 08:45 AM

The House Ways and Means Committee reported out the first two bills of the special session this evening. Both are thought of as part of the Perry-Sharp tax plan.

HB 1 uses the surplus to "buy down" 17 cents of school maintenance property taxes. Once a school district exceeds a maintenance and operations tax rate of $1.36 per $100 of valuation (14 cents under the $1.50 cap), it must hold an election. It can go above $1.36 with voter approval at a rate of no more than five cents a biennium. The bill also allows Chapter 41 districts (property wealthy) to keep all the proceeds of local taxes above $1.33. (In other words, there would be no recapture above $1.33.) Districts below $1.36 tax rate are subject to the normal rollback law, which allows six cents of increase without an election. Chapter 42 districts (which receive money from the state) would be equalized (receive a state match) at the current yield for tax effort above $27.14.

The original version of HB 1 would have required an election to go above $1.33. It also would have required a two-thirds vote to go above the five cents per biennium. The school groups complained loudly about these provisions, accusing them of violating the Texas Constitution. Specifically, school lobbyists told committee members that requiring voter approval as a prerequisite to any increase in spending was tanamount to a state property tax. The two-thirds provision was removed, and the maximum rate that districts could charge without an election increased from $1.33 to $1.36.

HB 1 left committee 8-1, with Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) voting no. Villarreal tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to increase the guaranteed yield (money per penny) on tax effort above $1.33. He argued the feature of the bill that does not recapture tax effort above $1.33 would hurt equity and increase the gap between school districts. Proponents of HB 1 noted that the Texas Supreme Court has expressly authorized some unequalized local enrichment in its decisions. The Villarreal amendment would have increased the cost to the bill by about $350 million per year, committee members were told.
Because of the concern some house members have about equity, bill author Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) told LSR he is working with other house members on those provisions of the bill.

House Bill 2 by Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) would dedicate certain state revenues to property tax relief. Basically, any extra revenue generated by a revised franchise tax, the repeal of the "liar's affidavit" on used cars, and the tax increase on cigarettes would go to buy down additional property taxes. The bill cleared committee 7-2 with Villarreal and Rep. Vilma Luna (D-Corpus Christi) voting no.

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HOUSTON TO KATRINA REFUGEES: Y'ALL DON'T COME BACK NOW, YA HEAR?
by Trey Garrison    Thu, Apr 20, 2006, 08:05 AM

Even the New York Times noticed today. Seven months after two powerful hurricanes blew through the Gulf Coast, elected officials, law enforcement agencies and many residents say Texas is nearing the end of its ability to play good neighbor without compensation.

Houston is straining along its municipal seams from the 150,000 new residents from New Orleans, officials say. Crime was already on the rise there before the hurricane, but the Houston police say that evacuees were victims or suspects in two-thirds of the 30 percent increase in murders since September. The schools are also struggling to educate thousands of new children.

"Personally I am sick of hearing about Katrina," said Ronda Authement, standing outside her trailer in Sabine Pass, where she will live until she can get the money and the workers to put her three-bedroom house back on its foundation. "I would like to throw up, frankly, hearing about Katrina."

In today's New York Times, no less.

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NOW IT'S STORMS KNOCKING OUT POWER
by Trey Garrison    Thu, Apr 20, 2006, 07:57 AM

Mother Nature seems to have it in for North Texas. Two days ago, it was the heat taxing electric generators which prompted rolling blackouts. This morning, about 80,000 Dallas-Fort Worth area households are without power, owing to the spate of thunderstorms that moved in after midnight throughout the wee hours.

Trees and power lines are down, and lightning has knocked out electric transformers. Another round of storms is expected later today as another storm system moves across the region.

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GAME NO. 82 by The Fish
by Mike Fisher    Thu, Apr 20, 2006, 03:24 AM

Officially, it was Clippers 85, Mavericks 71 on Wednesday night. A meaningless goof-off game except for airline tickets for the fans and playing time for P-Pod? Not to coach Avery Johnson, who, exhibition-game substitutions aside, coached this thing as if it was Game 7, Earth People Vs. Martians, Loser Gets Nuked. Some thoughts in the 'School of Fish':

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STATE APPLELLATE COURT SIDES WITH DeLAY
by Carolyn Barta    Wed, Apr 19, 2006, 05:45 PM

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the State Third Court of Appeals handed U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay a victory this morning, affirming a trial judge's decision to throw out one of two felony indictments against him.

The Sugar Land Republican, who has announced he plans to retire from Congress, still faces money-laundering charges. But the appellate court said Judge Pat Priest was correct to dismiss an indictment accusing DeLay and two associates of conspiring to violate the state election laws.

Priest ruled last year that the state's conspiracy statute did not apply to the election code until Sept. 1, 2005 — long after DeLay was accused of laundering corporate money into political donations for the 2002 legislative elections.

State law generally forbids corporate and union money from being spent in connection with campaigns.

DeLay's lawyer Dick DeGuerin said he expected prosecutors would appeal.

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INFLATION UP IN FIRST QUARTER
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Wed, Apr 19, 2006, 05:04 PM

Excluding food and energy, the CPI-U advanced at a 2.8 percent SAAR in the first quarter, following a 2.2 percent rise in all of 2005. While most categories advanced at a faster rate in the first quarter of 2006 than in all of 2005, about two-thirds of the acceleration was accounted for by a larger increase in the index for shelter – up at a 3.6 percent SAAR in the first quarter after increasing 2.6 percent in all of 2005. An upturn in the index for apparel and a larger increase in the index for education and communication also contributed to the acceleration in the first quarter of 2006.

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OIL SETS NEW HIGH FOR THIRD DAY
by Scott Bennett    Wed, Apr 19, 2006, 04:57 PM

Oil set a new high for the third straight day closing at $72.17 on the New York Mercantile Exchange - up 82-cents from yesterday.

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IMPORTANT TIP FOR FLYERS ON LONG AIR TRIPS
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Wed, Apr 19, 2006, 04:29 PM

The UK Guardian has a travel tip for those of our readers who make long trips by plane. According to a new research study, "flight socks can cut risk of blood clots by 90%."

Click here to read the complete story.

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SCOTT MCCLELLAN OUT AS BUSH PRESS SECRETARY
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Wed, Apr 19, 2006, 01:42 PM

Joshua Bolten, President Bush's new White House Chief of Staff, has moved quickly to put his own stamp on the White House staff operation by removing Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary and taking away the policy portfolio from longtime Bush political advisor, Karl Rove.  No successor has been named yet for McClellan, a Texas Bush loyalist and son of Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn.  Joel Kaplan, who worked for Bolten in the Budget office, is expected to  take Karl Rove's job as deputy chief of staff for policy.  Rove will continue to oversee political operations for the President.  There also have been strong rumors that Bolten wants a new Secretary at the Treasury Department.  Today's developments do nothing to dampen speculation on that front.

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