Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 24

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Joe Henderson: Two cities, one push for Amazon HQ

The news that Tampa and St. Petersburg will work together to attract the much-sought new Amazon headquarters is exactly what outsiders have been saying for decades this area needs to do.

This goes back to when the squabbling sibling cities submitted separate proposals to attract a Major League Baseball team. Baseball bosses rolled their eyes and said this place needs to act as one if it wants to join the league of important cities.

We haven’t been disposed to do that, though. Tampa seemed to get all the big stuff – the airport, University of South Florida, skyscrapers, the Bucs, etc. – while St. Pete endured jokes about green benches.

No one is laughing at St. Pete now, though. It has a thriving and trendy downtown, quick access to beaches, gobs of entertainment options, and any envy it felt about wanting to be Tampa should long ago have subsided.

The last big hurdle that both sides had to conquer was maybe the hardest one – realizing that to compete for prizes like the Amazon headquarters, it can’t be about one location or the other. It’s about a united “us” and that needs to be the mantra going forward.

The mayors here – Bob Buckhorn in Tampa and Rick Kriseman in St. Pete – have joined forces to convince Amazon that it should spend the estimated $5 billion the company has budgeted for its headquarters right here in the Bay area.

St. Pete’s initial pitch includes the interesting idea of making the current site of Tropicana Field available for Amazon. That’s top-shelf thinking that makes tons of sense.

I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the Tampa Bay Rays and where a new stadium should be though. This is about much more than that.

It could bring in 50,000 jobs.

This would be a life-changer more than a game-changer for this area, which is why Buckhorn tweeted he is “happy to partner” with his St. Petersburg counterpart.

OK, reality check: It’s a long shot.

For one thing, our shabby transportation system could, and probably will, be a huge negative in this bid. Maybe that will finally convince enough people to do something about that.

Even in losing, though, Tampa Bay could win. Coming close to landing a prize like this would send a potent message to potential moguls looking to do business here.

The list of cities pursuing Amazon includes all the big boys and represents real competition. We’re used to having pro teams around here, but something like this will teach this place we call home  what it is really like to play in the big leagues.

Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio maybe gets the message

Gwen Graham’s attempt to make Marco Rubio look bad may have fallen flat, but it does raise a couple of interesting points.

First, Democrats obviously still plan to make an issue of Rubio’s image as a detached and disinterested U.S. senator. You may recall that was a major point of contention last year when Rubio successfully ran for re-election.

But second, is Rubio doing enough in the early stages of his second term to put that question to rest?

Maybe. His performance – and especially that of his staff – during the recent hurricanes suggests he has gotten the message that being a senator requires than showing up at election time and asking for votes.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, released a video last Friday that hit directly at Rubio’s detached image. With a camera rolling, Graham called Rubio’s office to urge him to vote against the pending health care bill in the senate.

The call went to voice mail. She left a message.

She called his offices around Florida. More voice mail. More messages. Apparently, she never reached a live human, and she punctuated that with a tweet that read: Senator @MarcoRubio, answer your phone.

Olivia Perez-Cubas, Rubio’s communications director, responded with a zinger that said the reason no one answered is because staffers were busy helping “over 10,000 people apply for FEMA assistance, not sitting behind desk waiting for a political stunt.”

She released pictures to back up her claim.

Boom!

Rubio also just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico to survey and report on damage, again with photos. And this was after he was highly visible, along with Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, going around Florida before Hurricane Irma struck. After the Keys were dealt a severe blow by Irma, Rubio was on the scene with Tim Tebow (!) to pass out ice to people in need.

Genius.

Rubio’s staff gets an A-plus during this time. And someone seems to have gotten through to Rubio that being a senator, especially in a crisis, requires visibility and action. We need to see these people. We need to hear from them.

The late former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons was renowned throughout Tampa for his rapid response to constituent needs. Nelson routinely returns to Florida to see what’s going on, and not just for fund-raisers.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also spends a lot of time back home, listening to concerns from the people who elected her.

Throughout his first term, Rubio basically blew off the job he was sent to Washington to do, concentrating instead on an ill-fated run for president. He moped that he didn’t like being a senator and even said he wouldn’t run for re-election before changing his mind.

He won a second term, but after six years his brand was that of an absentee representative. As Graham’s gambit showed, that can be a tough image to change.

Give Rubio credit for this much, though – at least he seems to be trying.

Joe Henderson: Patriotism is more than flag waving

Patriotism is not the exclusive property of any one group. Showing real devotion to this country takes more than waving a flag and snarling at someone who doesn’t. It starts with understanding what this nation is supposed to be about.

I got caught up Sunday night in watching the latest installment in Ken Burns’ epic series about the Vietnam war. Given current events, it seemed an oddly appropriate thing to do.

The show focused on the late 1960s, a particularly volatile time. Americans were beginning to realize their government was feeding them loads of bunk about what was happening in that faraway country.

Students were taking to the streets in protest, and many of them burned U.S. flags. Many who supported the war argued that anyone who believed differently was unpatriotic. That seems to happen any time the authority of a president is questioned like we’re seeing now.

Here’s a quote from a pretty patriotic guy that might lend some perspective.

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

George Washington said that.

Washington and many of this nation’s founders, which some on the right embrace when it suits them, would be appalled by President Trump’s reaction to the protest by football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem.

That includes Tampa Bay Buccaneers players Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn locked arms with his players on the sideline in a show of solidarity before their game Sunday. In a direct shot at President Trump, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross noted, “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”

Alas, the nation’s Tweeter-in-Chief once again has mistaken division for leadership. At a rally, he said anyone who kneels in protest is a “son of a bitch.” So, here we go again. We’re deep enough into this astonishing presidency to understand this is the way it’s going to be.

He is so ill-informed and lacking in circumspection that he doesn’t realize the protest isn’t about the U.S. flag or patriotism, at least it wasn’t at the start. It began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to highlight what he believes is racial injustice in this country. Trump, however, is succeeding in making the protest all about him.

It must be at least a little awkward for high-ranking Republicans from Florida – particularly Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott.

Publicly denouncing this man would be statesmanlike, but both seem more interested in pushing through political agendas no matter the compromise that takes.

It hasn’t been business as usual in this country since Jan. 20 of this year, when this president took over. At the rate we’re going, I’m not sure how long it will take to get back to a semblance of what used to be normal.

Our friends in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are in ruins. Mexico, which Trump wants to wall-off, was staggered by a major earthquake. A lunatic in North Korea wants to vaporize us. Who knows what chicanery Russia is up to this week.

And our president wants to pick a fight with athletes who exercise their freedom of expression?

For a final thought, let’s go back to the Vietnam war.

I graduated high school at the height of that war. I dutifully registered for the draft, but wasn’t called because my lottery number was 275.

I attended funerals of guys my age who died over there. One of my classmates won a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry I can’t even fathom.

It is possible to respect the sacrifice everyone made there and still be against the war, and I was. I believe strongly that the relentless protests in this country against the Vietnam “conflict” (like leaders wanted to call it) helped save lives by pressuring this nation to end the war.

Being an American means you can do that and still love this country. Anyone who says otherwise is flat out wrong.

 

Joe Henderson: Bad timing for USF money request

The medical school and heart institute being built by the University of South Florida in downtown Tampa is ambitious and more than a little bold. It can be major step in the ongoing re-invention of the city’s urban core.

Speaking of bold, though, that’s the word that came to mind after reading the News Service of Florida story about how USF plans to ask state lawmakers for an additional $21 million next year to complete the project. That’s on top of the $91 million it already has received.

Construction has begun on the sprawling complex, which will cover 50 acres of prime real estate as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project. Local businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani also has contributed $18 million, and in return gets his name on the college of medicine.

Noble aim.

Bad timing.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced a couple of days ago that instead of requests for local projects, lawmakers should concentrate on ways to provide hurricane relief and planning in the next Legislative Session.

He pointedly noted, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

I can almost hear USF President Judy Genshaft arguing that a project like this is hardly pork or business as usual. She would be correct.

The medical school proposal is a game-changer for Tampa in many ways. It would attract the kind of young, upwardly mobile and skilled professionals that all cities value so highly.

At a news conference Wednesday to update the project, Genshaft noted that USF received more than 6,000 applications this year to fill 170 spots.

Corcoran, however, warned that money is going to be tight next year even before the billions in damage from Hurricane Irma.

The worthiness of the medical school should not be questioned, but put it this way: There are a lot of worthy projects in the state, and they will all be competing with Florida’s urgent need to repair from Irma and prepare for the next monster hurricane.

Good luck.

Joe Henderson: Maddon is right; build Rays stadium in Tampa

I always suspected Joe Maddon, a smart man, wanted the chance to say out loud that the Tampa Bay Rays new stadium should be built in Tampa.

Well, he got his chance Tuesday when he came to St. Pete as manager of the Chicago Cubs. He didn’t hold back.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Maddon “came out strong for the need for a new stadium, and on the Tampa side.”

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important moving it forward,” he said.

“Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that. People would get upset with me because I said that. But it’s true. Those who argue against it, that’s just a bad argument.

“You need a better facility (than Tropicana Field). You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get to where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.”

This is especially interesting because Maddon has always publicly remained neutral about which side of the Bay would be a better location for the Rays.

It also should be noted that Maddon has a home and business interests in Tampa. Maybe that makes him more likely to favor Tampa as a stadium site, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

He was almost always a goodwill ambassador for the Trop when he managed the Rays. He wouldn’t suffer any complaints about the team’s Dome Sweet Dome, although did tiptoe to the edge one afternoon in early August 2010.

That was the day when the Rays, in the middle of a pennant race, lost a game to Minnesota. A routine pop-up in the ninth by the Twins’ Jason Kubel should have been the third out. Instead, it clanked off a catwalk overhanging the infield, fell into fair territory, and the winning run scored.

“There was a time when it was kind of cute,” Maddon said after that fiasco. “In 2006 and 2007 it was kind of cute when you might win a game or lose a game when the ball hit the roof or rafter or whatever, but it’s not cute today. It’s not cute.”

Hillsborough County has identified a site between downtown Tampa and Ybor City as a potential new home for the Rays. Although St. Petersburg has made overtures to keep the Rays, my guess is the Rays will say they like Tampa better.

Now we know how Maddon feels. He may have hurt some feelings in St. Pete, but he just said out loud what people should already know.

Evacuation Route Sign, photo: AAA

Joe Henderson: Corcoran’s big move for hurricane readiness

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken the first step to improve Florida’s hurricane readiness, and it sounds like a good one.

He is convening the bipartisan Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness to study what steps the state should take to prepare in the future for mega-storms like Hurricane Irma.

Excellent idea.

We’re all going to play close attention to the group’s findings.

Yes, there is more than a little bit of political grandstanding involved, but it is really good grandstanding.

In a memo to House members, Corcoran said, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

We’ll see how that goes, since the 2018 elections would usually signal a year-long pork buffet in Tallahassee. My guess is, not well.

And we have to mention that since the Speaker hasn’t ruled out running for governor while all this is going on, he’ll have critics willing to label this a political stunt designed to improve his standing with voters.

Well, guess what?

While every bit of that may true, it also is a fact that these storms have shown they will devastate large portions of this state we all love and call home.

That’s exactly why we need a group willing to study the issue in detail and issue a report that, frankly, may be hard for a lot of folks to swallow. If it happens to play well with voters, shouldn’t that tell everyone something?

Or course, anyone can make recommendations and some of what needs to be done probably is obvious – just as it has been for decades.

Developers seem intent on filling every inch of coastline with resorts and condo cities, which leaves residents especially vulnerable in a hurricane. Their attitude seems to be that it’s easier to clean up the mess and rebuild than to worry about things like 12-foot storm surges.

So, it will be Corcoran’s task to make the group’s recommendations into laws, not suggestions. There is a lot at stake here and none of it will be easy or unanimously accepted.

Leadership is about doing the right thing, though. After what Florida has just been through with Irma and likely will endure again with future storms, there is no other choice.

Joe Henderson: Florida’s hard choices after mega-storm

Hurricane Irma rammed home the point that Floridians need leaders to provide more than a mop to deal with the damage and misery these mega-storms bring.

We just got overwhelmed by a natural disaster that showed again how vulnerable we are. Climate change – yes, deniers, it is real – will likely bring more storms the size of Irma, or maybe larger.

Ponder that.

Oh, people will clean up from the most powerful storm to hit Florida in a quarter century. There will be investigations into the nursing home tragedy in Hollywood Hills. Some places might enact tougher building codes and things like that.

The bigger question, though, is whether Tallahassee will finally realize Florida needs some fundamental policy changes.

Take the catastrophic power failures throughout the state, for starters. There is an ongoing power struggle between large power companies and those who advocate for expanded use of solar power.

Solar was helpful during Irma.

In Coral Springs, for instance, where an estimated 300,000 people lost power Inside Climate News reported how that city kept solar-powered traffic lights functioning at 13 major intersections.

There were stories of individuals who used solar to power their homes even in hard-hit places with widespread electrical failures.

The wise thing to do would be to remove the many bureaucratic barriers and surcharges power companies charge homeowners who want to go off the grid.

Floridians want solar energy.  They overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 last year, which gave property tax breaks to homeowners who installed solar panels, with 73 percent of the vote.

This should be a front-burner conversation in Tallahassee.

The state and local communities also could finally find the backbone to curb runaway coastal development. I know – insert laugh track here.

If common sense doesn’t win the argument though, maybe this will. The New York Times recently provided some staggering numbers about both the growth along Florida’s coasts and the cost associated with hurricane damage.

Since 1990, two years before Hurricane Andrew ripped apart large portions of South Florida, the state has added about 6 million people. That growth isn’t slowing.

The Times cited a 2016 Congressional Budget Office report that estimated hurricane damage costs $24 billion annually, a number that is expected to increase dramatically.

Ashley Dawson, a professor at the Princeton Environmental Institute, pointed out another potential danger in an op-ed that appeared in the Times a few days before Irma hit.

“ … there’s the threat of a storm-caused nuclear meltdown. The Turkey Point nuclear power station sits on an exposed island in Biscayne Bay, about 25 miles south of Miami,” she wrote.

“Built in the early 1970s, the aging plant depends on similar vulnerable backup systems to prevent a meltdown as those of Japan’s Fukushima plant, which is still leaking radiation.”

Washington needs to get in the game too. President Trump’s proposed budget called for a 16 percent cut at NOAA, an agency that proved to be kind of valuable in providing early and detailed warnings about Irma and other storms.

Add it up.

Millions of displaced residents. Billions in damages. Florida’s emergency response both before and after the storm was exemplary, but people deserve more to help mitigate these storms long before they arrive.

We can’t stop them, but better policies going forward might help limit the damage. That will require some hard decisions in Tallahassee starting now. Think they’re up to it?

Joe Henderson: Hollywood Hills deaths horrifying outrage

Of all the heartbreak and damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, nothing is worse than the deaths of eight elderly residents, aged 71 to 99, at a Hollywood Hills rehabilitation center.

It’s an outrage. It’s horrifying. It left people sputtering with anger and officials on the trail to find answers.

The facility lost power during the storm and backup systems failed. That left residents to swelter with no air conditioning, and now multiple investigations are under way, although other possible causes of death are being considered, including carbon monoxide poisoning. If there was negligence, criminal charges may follow.

My goodness, this rehab center was located across the street from a hospital emergency room. Did no one think to run over there and say, “Hey, we have a problem.”

The Florida Health Care Association, which advocates for elderly in the state, called it “a profound tragedy within the larger tragedy of Hurricane Irma.”

That about sums it up, and there is something potentially more disturbing. Will we find stories of neglect at other facilities? The FHCA said of the nearly 700 senior homes in the state,  about 150 didn’t have power Wednesday.

Hurricane Irma was a monster and everyone in the state, especially in south Florida, knew to expect havoc. But there were also several days to prepare, and the loss of power is one of the first things to happen with a hurricane.

The rehab center’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, told the Miami Herald facility officials are fully cooperating with authorities.

He added that the staff “diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators.”

If that is so, then why did no one there think to alert someone, anyone, that a portable cooling unit at the facility had failed?

Mara K. Gambineri, spokeswoman for the state health department, told the Herald, “At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk.”

Could no one see this coming? This facility recently received a “much below average” rating from a state agency.

Seniors make up nearly one in five of the state’s 20 million residents. By 2040, officials estimate the state will have more than 6 million senior citizens. Many of them will eventually need specialized care.

Even today, many seniors need help with basics like bathing, when to take their medications, or just getting out of bed. They require elevated care for diseases like Alzheimer’s, senior dementia, or Parkinson’s. Their diets have to be watched and managed.

They are not always the most cooperative patients.

It’s expensive, too. Agingcare.com reported the median national cost of a one-bedroom assisted living facility is more than $3,600 a month. Many places cost a lot more than that, and as rates continue to rise, some seniors are forced to find other places to live.

As events in Hollywood Hills proved, tragedy can result when things go wrong.

So, yes, there must be a thorough investigation. If there was criminal negligence, people should go to jail. Don’t stop there, though. Florida is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable citizens.

Every senior facility should be under renewed scrutiny.

They have to get this right.

Joe Henderson: It’s past time for flood insurance reform

The images of sunken cars, water-soaked homes and submerged streets in the aftermath of hurricanes in Florida and Texas should be enough to convince politicians to finally address the issue of flood insurance.

Millions who need coverage don’t have it or can’t afford it. It’s an old problem in states like ours, and it’s time to fix it – past time, really.

Private and federal aid is pouring in to the parts of Florida and Texas that were battered by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, but for many that won’t be enough. Home insurance doesn’t cover damage from floods, and that left an estimated 85 percent of people whose homes were destroyed in Houston to face financial calamity because they don’t have the coverage.

Across Florida’s coastal counties, only 42 percent of homeowners carry flood insurance – and that number likely would lower if they weren’t required by law in some cases to purchase the protection.

With damage in the billions of dollars, people without proper insurance have few options. Many will be forced to declare bankruptcy.

So, what to do?

The biggest knock against flood insurance is that it is too expensive, so helping craft a bipartisan solution that brings down the cost while keeping coverage is simply the right to do for Americans.

Second, and more ominously, scientists warn that storms like Irma and Harvey will be firing up with increasing deadly strength and frequency due to climate change. Kicking the can down the road on tough issues is a favorite pastime of Congress, but that is not an option here.

As communities rebuild, local governments need to attack the problem of runaway development in flood-prone areas. That’s a different issue than insurance, obviously, but it’s no less important.

Low-lying cities like Houston and Miami have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to killer floods after these storms.

The problem is, people have always been drawn to the water and will continue to be. Leaders must find a way to balance the natural draw that waterfront homes have against the danger of building in those areas.

Elected leaders generally deal with these problems only by reacting when disaster strikes.

Fiercely independent states like Florida and Texas generally loathe interference from the federal government, but they’re also quick to plead for Washington to open the taps for relief in times like this.

Well, don’t stop with just requesting aid.

Demand that this nation come up with a comprehensive disaster plan that is fair and affordable. Yes, that probably means resistance from states where flooding isn’t the issue it is here. It will mean dealing with the question of why people in other states should subsidize our demand to live by the water.

Solve it anyway, because this problem is certain to come up again.

Joe Henderson: Hopefully we learned Irma’s lessons

The winds have died and the mopping up has begun. Businesses are reopening as people head back to work while dealing, at least for now, with their new realities.

I know people whose homes were badly damaged by this storm, while others – myself luckily included – had only minor inconveniences. No matter whether Irma dealt you a mighty blow or a glancing scratch, we’re all in this together.

That’s why the most important questions in Irma’s wake is what we learned about the experience, and whether those lessons will stay with us as we go forward into what seems increasingly to be an era of super storms.

They had better.

HAVE A PLAN: You know all those TV people who start preaching in June about the necessity of having a hurricane plan? Maybe everyone ought to listen.

When the news of Irma’s impending arrival became real, there was a rush on water, batteries, flashlights, and necessities like canned goods. Those things are a lot more available in June than they are 48 hours before a Category 5 hurricane is predicted to strike.

Water doesn’t spoil.

If you have bought supplies in the past, you might want to update the inventory. On Saturday, after shelves had been cleared out and stores started to close, we confidently pulled out the giant plastic container that kept the supply of size “C” and “D” batteries. They were right where we left them.

They also had expired in 2011.

CUT FORECASTERS A BREAK: I actually heard some people complain weather forecasters were totally wrong on this one because Irma didn’t follow the initial projected paths. That’s crazy.

They routinely warned viewers that even the slightest change in conditions could send the hurricane off in many directions. They emphasized everyone was in danger, and everyone had to prepare like they were going to be directly in the damage path.

Even with the advanced and other equipment, plotting an exact course of these storms can be an inexact science. They get it right more often than not, though.

I remember hearing Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV in Tampa say last Friday that the eye of Irma likely would pass just east of the city, which is exactly what it did.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: People seem to have this one down. Shelters filled early as people wisely took no chances, Hillsborough County had to open more.

I wonder, though, if the story would have been the same had Irma stayed on the original east-coast track. Given the size of the storm, that could have been catastrophic here. Some people in Miami probably thought they were safe when Irma moved west.

How did that work out?

A POLITICAL MODEL: Future leaders take note: Gov. Rick Scott again provided a blueprint for how someone in his position is supposed to lead during a threat like this.

Like last year with Hurricane Matthew, Scott was here, there and everywhere, sounding the warning early, often and loudly.

As someone noted, when you see Rick Scott wearing the Navy ballcap, you know it’s getting real.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was all over TV, radio and Twitter with similar warnings. He gets the quote of the week with his one about how after 90 years of avoiding, Tampa was about to “get punched in the mouth.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Remember the lessons from this adventure because there will be a test. Just look at 2004 after Hurricane Charley left devastation in its path. Three more storms followed.

Wanna bet this won’t happen again?

I don’t.

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