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Trumpcare: Who Benefits From the New Plan?

After months of talk, the GOP released what is now being called “Trumpcare”. The health care reform bill, known as the “American Health Care Act,” is being presented in response to Obamacare, also known as the “Affordable Care Act”. During his campaign President Trump promised he would repeal Obamacare as one of his first orders of business. Now in two months, it appears he and the Republican party are making good on their promise.

But now that the GOP has presented their plan, people are starting to think Obamacare wasn’t so bad.

Obamacare

In 2009, the Democratic members of Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. It was signed into law by President Obama in 2010. Republicans hated it, although it has done a lot of good. For one, it guaranteed that people with preexisting health conditions could not be rejected by insurers or charged more than others. It also allows children to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26. As a result, more than twenty million uninsured people now receive health insurance coverage. Access to primary care, specialty care, medicines, surgeries, and treatment for chronic conditions has risen. It’s projected that Obamacare saves tens of thousands of lives every year. Obamacare also expanded Medicaid and helped people living near the poverty line obtain health coverage.

But for all the good Obamacare has done, it certainly has its problems. For instance, high deductibles for its Bronze plan users make up about 20 percent of its customers. Notwithstanding, people are realizing all the benefits they will miss now that the Republican-backed Trumpcare has been released.

TrumpcareHow Obamacare was Funded

The Affordable Care Act is funded by single taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 annually. They pay an additional 0.9% Medicare payroll tax. There’s another 3.8% tax that applies to investment income properties which also helps fund Obamacare. The two taxes have been in effect since 2013.

Major Modifications for Trumpcare to Benefit the Wealthy

Under the proposed Trumpcare bill, people earning more than $1 million per year are projected to save approximately $165 billion in taxes over 10 years. The legislation is looking to eliminate two surcharges on the rich that helps pay for Obamacare, but the taxes would end after this year.

It’s not just the millionaires that benefit from Trumpcare. People who earn between $500,000 and $1 million per year also get a tax break of nearly $55 billion over a decade. Further, those with annual incomes of between $200,000 and $500,000 save approximately $53 billion.

Reaction to Trumpcare

The financial implications for the rich of Trumpcare have Democrats and Republicans alike upset. Trumpcare seems to benefit tax filers in the top 1%, or those who earn more than $772,000 a year, who expect to enjoy a $37,000 tax cut in 2022. The top .01% will receive a tax cut of more than $207,000. Clearly the bill will benefit the ultra wealthy.

At the same time, it’s the lower-income Americans that stand to suffer the most. Specifically, those who are insured through Medicaid or subsidized policies will suffer under the legislation. The new health care bill will potentially leave 14 million Americans uninsured than under Obamacare in 2018, rising to 24 million by 2026. In total, approximately 52 million people would be uninsured by 2026 under the GOP plan, compared to 28 million who would lack insurance under the current law.

Immigration: Understanding the United States’ New Policies

Under the Obama administration, enforcing immigration policies meant focusing on dangerous criminals and keeping families together, not a hard-lined approach that would deport every undocumented immigrant.  Times have changed, though, and Trump’s executive orders, titled Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, changes the enforcement practices of our nations’ immigration laws.

Veiled Rule Really Includes All Undocumented Immigrants

immigrationAlthough Obama took a more progressive approach during his first term, deportations dropped during his second term and priority was given to dangerous criminals—not to those immigrants whose only violation was being in the country illegally.  In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created the Priority Enforcement Program, which focused on deporting undocumented immigrants that posed threats to public safety, national security, and border security.  This program within the DHS has now been terminated because under Trump’s executive order undocumented immigrants that:

  • have been convicted or charged of any criminal offense,
  • have committed a chargeable criminal offense,
  • have engaged in fraud (think visa fraud) or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency,
  • have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits,
  • are subject to final order of removal, but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the U.S., or
  • in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security are to be given priority for deportation.

Let’s be clear here.  The policy includes virtually every person in the country that is here illegally.  Under this new policy, any unauthorized immigrant that has committed a chargeable criminal offense is to be deported.  Crossing the border illegally is in and of itself a criminal offense, so all those campaign promises that he only wanted to deport criminals wasn’t entirely true.  The only other way an immigrant could be here illegally is by overstaying a visa.

Department of Homeland Security Memos Shifts Policies Further

Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, released a set of implementation memos that give guidelines on how to enforce Trump’s policies under his executive orders.  According to the DHS, these memos are “designed to answer some frequently asked questions about how the Department will operationally implement the guidance provided by the president’s order”.

In short, the memos expedite deportation, tighten immigration laws for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors entering the country, could send immigrants awaiting immigration proceedings in the United States back to Mexico, seek to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants, build new detention facilities, strip immigrants of privacy protections, and enlist local police officers to enforce immigration policies.

Here’s a closer look at some of the changes.

  • Although the memos do list specifics about who is to be given priority for deportation in accordance with Trump’s executive order, the memos direct that the DHS will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens. This is contrary to the policies under Obama, who worked to keep illegal immigrants with strong ties to their communities and this country, including those with citizen children, here in the United States.
  • Establishes the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office. This one allows the VOICE office to release information about the offender to victims and their families.  Further, it terminates any and all resources used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens; all resources are reallocated to the VOICE office.
  • Directs establishment of regulations to collect civil fines and penalties from illegal aliens.
  • Strips Privacy Act protections from any person that is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Expanded expedited removal processes for undocumented immigrants that haven’t been here long. Immigration law says undocumented adults captured within 2 years of entering the U.S. can be removed without a hearing.  In the past, DHS policy limited this policy to those captured within 14 days of entering the country, but, even though the memo doesn’t give a specific change of time frame, this will likely no longer be tolerated based on the essence of the memos.
  • Criminalizes those who help unaccompanied children. Any individual who “facilitates the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States” is subject to deportation and/or prosecution.
  • For those that entered the country through a neighboring territory, the memos authorize their return to that territory where they will wait for the outcome of their removal proceedings. This is true even if that territory isn’t their country of origin.

Although some of the information contained in the memos references already existing laws, the message is clear—violating immigration laws will no longer be tolerated.  Under these policies, the government no long considers violating immigration laws a secondary offense and the memos direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire 10,000 additional officers and agents to implement these new policy changes.

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DAPL: Protest Camp Burned to the Ground, What’s Next?

A few weeks back, heavily armed and outfitted police took the final steps in clearing out the camp which has housed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters for over a year; carrying out a raid removing the last of the peaceful protesters from a burnt down camp

The protest has, from start to finish, been totally peaceful on the part of demonstrators, however the final raid is just one of many intense and heavily armed encounters between the protesters and police or DAPL security personnel.  While in the immediate wake of the raid many thought the police themselves burnt down the camps, it has surfaced that the reality of the situation is that the demonstrators themselves held a ceremony in which they burned down their tents in order to not see them destroyed by others.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum had set a final date by which all protesters needed to leave the camp or face arrest.  Those who left prior to this cutoff date were told that they would not face arrest and would be provided with vouchers for buses and lodgings away from the camp.  While the camp had once housed as many as 10,000 people, when the Gov. set his cutoff date only that number had substantially diminished.  The majority of the remaining protesters had left the camp after the ceremonial fires the day of the cutoff, marching out arm in arm.  When the raid began, counts left those remaining between forty and a hundred demonstrators.  The police moved in on these remaining few the day after the cutoff, February 23rd, and arrested dozens of people with at least one recorded arrest appearing to seriously injure a peaceful protester.

DAPL

This raid has come less than a month after President Trump’s executive order reversing an Obama administration order to stop construction on the pipeline.  The Standing Rock Sioux had long argued that the pipeline violated their treaty rights by failing to properly consult them as to the construction of the DAPL through their ancestral lands–lands they had the right to protect under both previous court rulings and treaties between the tribe and the government.  They argued that the environmental impact of the pipeline would render much of the drinking water their tribe uses undrinkable.  There is some serious evidence to support their concerns, the original plan for the pipeline was changed to this new location through their lands after fears of pollution made the pipeline shift away from a populated city.  Just last December, there was big oil spill right by where the Standing Rock camp used to be with about 130,00 gallons of crude spilling into Ash Coulee Creek and yet more seeping into the surrounding hills to potentially contaminate ground water.  An investigation was unable to provide a reason why the spill occurred so no further action has been taken.

It was because of dangers like these that the Obama administration halted the construction for a much more thorough review of the potential environmental impact of the pipeline.  Trump’s order substantially truncated that review and ordered his agencies to approve the pipeline as quickly as possible.  So with Trump’s order and the camp burned to the ground, it is easy to look at the DAPL protests as a finished battle.  However, while the camp the protesters stayed at might lay empty the struggle of the DAPL still has a number of battles still ongoing in the courts.

The Ongoing Legal Battles of the DAPL Protesters

First and foremost, the order of the Trump administration pushing through the DAPL is itself facing legal challenges from organizations supporting the DAPL protestors.  This action seeks to enforce the treaty rights discussed above and argues that the truncated approval process continues to violate these treaty rights.  This lawsuit will be the forefront of the efforts to halt work on the DAPL.  However, it is far from the only ongoing legal battle stemming from the DAPL and the actions of the government.

Lawsuits have also cropped up, some months back over excessive force on the part of the police and DAPL security in how they’ve dealt with otherwise peaceful protesters.  Most have seen the videos of high-power hoses, dogs, and pepper spray used on non-resisting protesters.  As mentioned above, the most recent raid resulted in what appeared to be a serious hip injury to a protestor.  These ongoing lawsuits are based in a claim of excessive force, a cause of action which generally requires the plaintiff to show that the police used more force than was reasonably necessary.  A determination of how much force is necessary looks to many factors, such as the amount of force used, whether the force was used against an armed suspect, and whether the suspect was subdued prior to using the force.  Another element commonly looked to in these cases is whether the force was in line with police procedures for use of force.  Where it is, it can be very difficult to succeed in such a case.

The force used by police and DAPL security is often well documented through video evidence.  However, these type of cases hinge on the unreasonableness of the amount of force.  This can be very tricky to prove in court.  What’s more, while many criticize the arrests as a violation of the First Amendment right to assemble the legal reality is that, while the arrests certainly appear to use much more force than necessary for peaceful protestors, the right to assemble is not without some exceptions.  The government can put neutral restrictions (restrictions not targeting a specific group or viewpoint) on the time, place, and manner of assembly.  This often takes the form of permitting for protests.  Refusing to grant such a permit may be a violation of the right of free assembly, however the right does not grant as much protection to these unpermitted protesters as many seem to believe–regardless of how good their cause may be.

Finally, there are also lawsuits challenging the police use of warrants to seize and search the Facebook accounts of DAPL protest organizers.  These lawsuits hinge on the warrants violating constitutional protections by being too broad as to be permissible and chilling political speech.

Unforeseen Consequences of the Protests

While the legal battles in the court rages on, the protests will also have a lasting effect due to lawmakers around the country.  In an unfortunate turn of events the DAPL protests, along with the increasing number of protests around the country, have led to laws being passed making it harder to protest.

Just recently, we discussed a proposed Arizona law which would have allowed police to arrest peaceful protestors before any crimes were actually committed, target organizers specifically, and seize assets of those who had not even yet attended a protest.  Fortunately, this bill has since been discarded, but it is far from alone.  Ten different states have proposed legislation expanding the definition of protesting, making more elements of protesting illegal, and enforcing harsher punishments against protesters.  In North Dakota, where the DAPL protesters are based, bills have been passed making it illegal for a protestor to wear a mask (even to protect the face from the elements or pepper spray) and changing rioting from a misdemeanor to a serious felony carrying a penalty of a $20,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

There is very little more American than political protest, we owe the very seeds of our nation to it.  However, we unfortunately also owe our nation to lands taken unfairly from Native Americans.  This has led to the many court cases supporting the treaty rights and land rights of tribes such as the Standing Rock Sioux.  It is sad to see the response to their protests be so violent and end in flames.  They have many legal battles ahead of them, some with a better chance for success than others.  Hopefully, the results of these legal battles will be the ultimate legacy of the DAPL protests and not a perverse response to criminalize the very thing our country was founded on–political resistance.

Travel Ban 2.0: Trump’s Second Attempt to Ban Immigration

The initial executive order out of President Trump’s White House regarding limiting immigration to the U.S, widely known as the “Muslim Ban,” was an unmitigated disaster.  Rolled out overnight, the order caused chaos across the country as agencies tried to put the order’s new rule into force.  It also drew immediate legal challenges from numerous states, all challenging the order-in whole or in part-as unconstitutional.  Several of these legal challenges succeeded; most notably a challenge out of the state of Washington which culminated in a preliminary injunction–an order preventing the “Muslim Ban” from taking effect whatsoever until the Washington case is fully litigated.  In the face of court order saying that the order was most likely unconstitutional, and the fallout of the original implementation of the order, President Trump did something we perhaps should all have expected-he signed and put into force a nearly identical order.  On Monday, March 6th, President Trump issued an executive order titled “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”

In the past we’ve already covered the effects of the ban, the constitutional problems intrinsic to the ban, the many lawsuits brought after the ban was passed, and the injunction which ultimately put an end to it.  So with that in mind, you’ve got to know that we’ve got some thoughts about Trump’s second iteration of the ban.  So without further ado, lets dive into it–the changes between this new order and the original order courts ruled to be likely unconstitutional, the chances that this order will stand, and the legal challenges the order already faces.

How is This Order Different From the One Courts Already Stopped?

travel banThe short answer, it isn’t very different.  The order still targets specific Muslim majority countries, barring immigration from those countries for 90 days. It also still cuts the number of refugees allowed to be admitted to the U.S. per year by more than half.  However, with this being said, there are some important changes in effect from the initial order–mostly designed to make the order appear more kosher to the courts.

The new version of the order has removed the indefinite ban on the U.S. taking in any refugees out of Syria.  Instead, the order includes a 120-day freeze on taking in those refugees.  However, the order also includes the ability to renew the ban for a longer period of time upon review.  It also doesn’t include any limits on the number of times the ban can be renewed, so in effect the ban could very well be indefinite.

The order also has removed Iraq from the original list of countries slapped with a 90-day immigration ban, leaving only the other 6 original countries.  The reason for this change is a request from the Defense Secretary, fearing that such a ban would injure the U.S.’ ongoing efforts to fight ISIS in Iraq.  The order doesn’t take a ban on immigration out of Iraq off the table though, threatening to put the country back on the list if Iraq’s  leaders don’t increase their amount of intelligence they share with the U.S.

The new crack at the ban also has eliminated language specifically offering preferential immigration status to “persecuted religious minorities.”  This was one of the most widely criticized elements of the order, both by the public and in legal challenges to the order.  The thought being that the provision was designed to favor other religious groups over Muslims.

As opposed to the frenetic same-day introduction of the last immigration ban, the Trump administration has allowed for a slower implementation and time to prepare for implementation.  The ban only goes into effect ten days after its signing–March 16.

The order has a number of other changes.  The order includes specific details about why the six countries hit with the 90-day ban were selected; presumably to strengthen the order against the many legal challenges saying the order was targeting countries based on their Muslim majority.  The order focuses its details sections on the statistics regarding terrorism for each country selected.  The order also no longer affects current visa holders or refugees already granted asylum.

So you’ve likely noticed that these changes are, intentionally, targeted at trying to make the order stand up to the scrutiny of the courts.  In order to determine whether it has succeeded, let’s look at why the last order got hit with an injunction.

Why Was the Last Order Blocked?

Since we’ve covered this issue in previous articles, we’ll keep the discussion of why the last order couldn’t pass constitutional muster on the short side.

A preliminary injunction is granted where the party seeking it can show that they are likely to succeed in their arguments, there would be irreparable harm if the thing they seek to stop isn’t stopped immediately, there isn’t a public interest against granting an injunction, and the party seeking the injunction will be more harmed by what they seek to stop than the party you’re bringing the injunction against will be harmed by the injunction itself.  In the case brought by Washington, the court ruled that they were likely to succeed in their arguments that the immigration ban unconstitutionally singled out targets based on religion or national origin–in other words the order discriminated likely discriminated against protected classes.

Will the New Order Stand Up in Court?

The White House certainly believes its changes, although extremely minor in practice, are enough to allow the order to pass muster.  In fact, the Department of Justice has already filed briefs saying that the revisions have rendered all the legal cases regarding the first order moot.  In other words, the injunction has no further effect and the new order must be challenged or not on its own merits.

However, as of March 9th, Washington state lawyers have taken the stance that the changes are so minor as to amount to essentially putting lipstick on a pig.  They argue that the prejudicial purpose behind the order remains and its most offensive portions are essentially untouched.  For this reason, they’ve asked the federal judge who placed the preliminary injunction on the original order to expand his order to cover the “Muslim Ban 2.0.”  A similar attempt to challenge the ban has been brought by Minnesota and Hawaii.  The Attorney Generals for Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon have all made it known that they intend to join in on the challenges brought by Hawaii, Minnesota and Washington.

So will the new and improved “Muslim Ban” stand up?  We’ll have to see how the courts rule.  However, the order has changed very little in actual effect.  It still targets specific nationalities in almost exactly the same manner and it still exclusively targets Muslim majority countries.  The same reasons it was likely unconstitutional before are all still there.  Even if the order itself has removed some of the language making obvious attempts to target Muslims and provided an alternate explanation, Trump’s own statements on immigration and the previous order still can be used as evidence of the discriminatory purpose to the new order.

Nothing in law is ever truly certain, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  The new ban is very similar to the previous order, it seems unlikely that it will pass constitutional muster with such minimal changes.

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Dress Code: Trump’s Alleged Requirements for Female Staffers is Surprisingly Legal

Long before he became President of the United States, President Donald Trump was obsessed with his public image, despite his apparent inability to get a decent haircut, and the image projected by those surrounding him.  This obsession with how he and his staff look has not gone away since he took office, but it has come under increased scrutiny. Now, thanks to a few comments made by one of President Trump’s campaign assistants, people who have already derided President Trump’s misogynistic ways have a new reason to hate him because he prefers that his female staffers dress “like women.” This particular preference has reportedly led to women feeling pressured to eschew pants in favor of dresses when in President Trump’s political workplace.

It is legal for an employer to have a dress code and even grooming standards. For certain industries, these restrictions are necessary for safety, such as prohibiting hospital employees from wearing jewelry that might interfere with their ability to assist patients or requiring construction workers to wear steel-toed boots. In other industries, these restrictions are part of the image presented by the company, which is the case with Disney and its infamous grooming requirements for theme park employees.

If Women Must Dress Like Women, Then Men Must Dress Like Men

dress codeEven though dress codes and grooming standards are legal, they are subject to anti-discrimination laws on both the federal and state level. In terms of laws prohibiting gender discrimination, employees of one gender cannot be required to adhere to far more regulations than employees of another gender. For instance, a restaurant cannot require male wait staff to wear three-piece bespoke navy suits while allowing female wait staff to dress however they want, regardless of whether that clothing choice is a ball gown or dirty old sweatpants.

To that end, though, a company can require its employees to dress within certain perimeters, if those perimeters are comparable between genders. A company can require all of its employees to dress in jeans and t-shirts or in suits and dresses. The courts have already made it clear that the dress code can, to the average person, appear to be sexist, so long as it is equal. An example of a dress code that may appear to be sexist at first would be cocktail waitress outfits. These outfits are notoriously skimpy, and many people label them as sexist because they promote the objectification of women. However, so long as the male counterparts of the waitresses have a similarly demanding dress code, a dress code demanding skimpy outfits is perfectly legal.

Since the courts have determined that requiring women to dress a certain way is not discriminatory, so long as it is comparable to what the men must wear, it is not discriminatory for Donald Trump to request that women wear feminine attire, as long as he makes a similar request of men to dress in masculine attire. It does appear that men who work for Donald Trump are required to wear suits complete with ties. Requiring a man to wear a suit with a tie is comparable to making a woman wear a dress or other such feminine business attire. Thus, Donald Trump’s requirement for women to dress “like women” appears to be perfectly legal because he requires his male staffers to essentially dress like men, meaning that the burden for both genders is equal.

Dressing Like a Woman Does Not Mean Wearing an Ivanka Trump Dress

Now, if Donald Trump were to start requiring his female staff to wear Ivanka Trump-brand dresses, which he might start doing to increase the sales of his daughter’s clothing line, then he might wind up running afoul of the law. This is because making employees wear a specific item of clothing from a specific manufacturer or brand is tantamount to making them wear a uniform like those worn by McDonald’s employees. An employer can require the employees to wear uniforms if it is used to promote the brand or for any reasons why a dress code can be implemented. Additionally, under federal law, an employer can take the money required to cover the cost of the uniform out of the employee’s paycheck or require the employee to buy the uniform, the latter method being the one preferred by retail stores that have their employees dress in the store’s clothing. However, the amount used to cover the cost of the uniform cannot be so high that the employee is left with a wage that is below their state’s minimum wage. With the average Ivanka Trump-brand dress costing anywhere between $50 and $150, some lower-level staffers for the White House may end up facing clothing bills that would exceed their paychecks. Thus, if Donald Trump does end up requiring female White House staffers to wear dresses from his daughter’s clothing label, then he would likely be legally obligated to cover the cost of the dresses because they are very specific clothing items and their prices most likely make them cost-prohibitive to some employees.

Of course, requiring his female staffers to wear dresses from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line may lead to other problems for Donald Trump and his staff because of his position in the federal government, which are problems that President Trump may already be dealing with outside of the media’s scrutinizing eye due to his preference to see male staffers in Trump-brand ties. Employees of the executive branch are free to wear whatever clothing brands they want, but they cannot actively promote the brand that they are wearing. Doing so is seen as a “misuse of position,” and is prohibited by a regulation put forth by the Office of Government Ethics. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Trump, was recently accused of violating this regulation when she talked about Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on a television program and encouraged people to buy clothes from the brand. Often, employers have their employees wear clothing from only one brand in order to promote that brand, especially where the employees are working for a clothing brand in a retail store setting. Even though the White House is not a clothing retailer, requiring all of its female employees wear the same brand of clothing may give the impression that it is promoting that particular brand and, thus, a misuse of the White House’s position in the federal government.

It is also a misuse of position if a holder of a public office uses their government position for their own private gain or the private gain of their friends or family. If President Trump were to put all of his female staffers into Ivanka Trump-brand dresses at their own expense, he would be using his position as President to provide financial gain to his daughter as a private business owner. Additionally, if President Trump were to use federal funds to pay for the dresses, much like a traditional private employer would use company funds to cover the cost of uniforms, then Ivanka and her clothing line would be receiving a direct financial gain from the federal government as a result of her dad being President.

Even if Donald Trump were to pay for the dresses out of his own pocket, the female staffers would only be wearing the dresses as a result of Donald being President, so Ivanka would be experiencing a personal financial benefit from the White House female staffers wearing her company’s dresses courtesy of her father’s position. Ergo, Donald Trump would be misusing his official role as President of the United States in two ways if he required his female staffers to wear Ivanka Trump’s dresses: by promoting his daughter’s company and by providing her with private financial gain.

Ultimately, It Is Allowed

While it may come off as sexist, Donald Trump can require his female staffers to dress “like women,” so long as he continues to hold his male staffers to the same general standard for grooming and dress codes. However, if the dress code becomes more restrictive by Donald Trump making his female staffers all wear dresses from one brand, especially if the dresses come from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, then such a restrictive dress code may be illegal and in violation of federal government regulations. If you are facing a dress code at work that seems to be unfairly restrictive or heavily biased toward one gender, then you may want to talk to an employment lawyer about your rights as an employee in the workplace.