By Maggie Fick SHEKHAN Iraq (Reuters) - For Salah Paulis, it came down to a choice between his faith and his crop. A wheat farmer from outside Mosul, Paulis and his family fled the militant group Islamic State early last month. The group overran the family farm as part of its offensive that captured vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq. Two weeks later, Paulis, who is a Christian, received a phone call from a man who said he was an Islamic State fighter. “We are in your warehouse. Why are you not here working and taking care of your business?” the man asked in formal Arabic. “Come back and we will guarantee your safety. But you must convert and pay $500.” When Paulis refused, the man spelled out the penalty. “We are taking your wheat,” he said. “Just to let you know we are not stealing it because we gave you a choice.” Other fleeing farmers recount similar stories, and point to a little-discussed element of the threat Islamic State poses to Iraq and the region. The group now controls a large chunk of Iraq’s wheat supplies. The United Nations estimates land under IS control accounts for as much as 40 percent of Iraq’s annual production of wheat, one of the country’s most important food staples alongside barley and rice. The militants seem intent not just on grabbing more land but also on managing resources and governing in their self-proclaimed caliphate. Wheat is one tool at their disposal. The group has begun using the grain to fill its pockets, to deprive opponents – especially members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities – of vital food supplies, and to win over fellow Sunni Muslims as it tightens its grip on captured territory. In Iraq’s northern breadbasket, much as it did in neighboring Syria, IS has kept state employees and wheat silo operators in place to help run its empire. Such tactics are one reason IS poses a more complex threat than al Qaeda, the Islamist group from which it grew. For most of its existence, al Qaeda has focused on hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings. But Islamic State sees itself as both army and government. “Wheat is a strategic good. They are doing as much as they can with it,” said Ali Bind Dian, head of a farmers’ union in Makhmur, a town near IS-held territory between Arbil and Mosul. “Definitely they want to show off and pretend they are a government.” The Sunni militants and their allies now occupy more than a third of Iraq and a similar chunk of neighboring Syria. The group generates income not just from wheat but also from “taxes” on business owners, looting, ransoming kidnapped Westerners and, most especially, the sale of oil to local traders. Oil brings in millions of dollars every month, according to estimates by Luay Al-Khatteeb, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. That helps finance IS military operations – and is why IS-held oilfields in Syria are targets in U.S.-led airstrikes. “Islamic State presents itself as exactly that, a state, and in order to be able to sustain that image and that presentation, which is critical for continued recruitment and legitimacy, it depends on a sustainable source of income," said Charles Lister, another visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. SEIZING CROPS AND LIVESTOCK In early August, Kurdish farmer Saeed Mustafa Hussein watched through binoculars as armed IS militants shovelled wheat onto four trucks, then drove off in the direction of Arab villages. Hussein said he does not know what became of his wheat. But he knows that IS runs flour mills in areas it controls and he believes that his wheat was likely milled and sold. He had 54 tonnes of wheat on his farm in the village of Pungina, northeast of Arbil, wheat he had been unable to sell to a government silo or private traders because of fighting in the area. The militants also took 200 chickens and 36 prized pigeons. "What made it worse was that I was helpless to prevent this, I couldn’t do anything. They took two generators from the village that we had recently received from the Kurdish government after a very long process," said Hussein. Residents are too scared to return even though Kurdish fighters are now in control. "We think the Islamic State laid mines to keep us from going back," said neighbor Abdullah Namiq Mahmoud. There are scores of similar stories at displacement camps across Kurdistan. "We escaped with our money and gold but left our wheat and furniture and everything else," said farmer and primary school teacher Younis Saidullah, 62, a member of the tiny Kakaiya minority. "Everything we built for 20 years using my salary and our farming: It's all gone. We are back to zero," he said, sitting on the floor of a tent at a United Nations-run camp on the outskirts of Arbil. MILITARY AND ECONOMIC POWER After Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait triggered Western sanctions, the then-Iraqi dictator built a comprehensive subsidised food distribution system in Iraq. That was expanded under the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program. Joy Gordon, a political philosophy professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut and author of the 2010 book “Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions,” estimates that two-thirds of Iraqis “were dependent primarily or entirely” on food subsidies between 1990 and 2003. The system survived the U.S. invasion and years of violence. Now fully run by the Iraqi government, it has been plagued in recent years by “irregular (food) distributions” that have cut dependency, according to a June report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. A former U.S. Department of Agriculture economist estimates that about quarter of Iraqis living in rural areas were dependent on subsidised food before the latest violence, while another quarter used it to top up food they bought. IS is demonstrating that controlling wheat brings power. As its fighters swept through Iraq’s north in June, they seized control of silos and grain stockpiles. The offensive coincided with the wheat and barley harvests and, crucially, the delivery of crops to government silos and private traders. IS now controls all nine silos in Nineveh Province, which spans the Tigris river, along with seven other silos in other provinces. In the three months since overrunning Nineveh’s provincial capital Mosul, IS fighters have forced out hundreds of thousands of ethnic and religious minorities and seized hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat from abandoned fields. A SILO UNDER ATTACK One target was the wheat silo in Makhmur, a town between the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The silo has a capacity of 250,000 tonnes, or approximately 8 percent of Iraq’s domestic annual production in 2013. IS attacked Makhmur on August 7. But even in the weeks before that, the group had found a way into the silo and the Iraqi state procurement system. Abdel Rizza Qadr Ahmed, head of the silo, believes that IS forced local farmers to mix wheat produced in other, IS-controlled areas into their own harvest. The farmers then sold it to Makhmur as if it all had been grown locally. In the weeks before the attack, the silo purchased almost 14,000 more tonnes than it had in 2013. That extra wheat is worth approximately $9.5 million at the artificially high price Baghdad pays farmers. Ahmed believes IS was looking to make money from the wheat and ensure there was bread available for Sunnis in the areas it controlled. Ahmed said it was not his job to investigate the source of the grain, just to buy it. “We just take the wheat from the farmers and we don't ask 'Where did you get this from?'" he said. Huner Baba, local director general of agriculture, said he too believed that traders and farmers had sold wheat from outside the region. But Baghdad usually pays its wheat farmers around two months after they deposit their produce and so wheat farmers around Makhmur – and therefore IS – had not yet been paid by the time IS militants entered the town on June 7 and, according to Baba, headed for the silo. The militants were met by Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, and fighters from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). After IS took the silo, Baba said, they installed snipers there. He speculates that the militants believed U.S. warplanes would not strike the facility, which is in the center of town. “They want to get people on their side especially the Arabs. Maybe that’s why they didn’t do anything to the wheat, not to anger people,” he said. IS held Makhmur for three days before the Kurdish fighters and U.S. air strikes on IS positions – though not on the silo – drove them out. U.S.-led air strikes did hit grain silos in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Sept 28. A group monitoring the war said the aircraft may have mistaken the mills and grain silos for an Islamic State base. There was no immediate comment from Washington. SMOOTH TRANSITION In many ways, IS is replicating in Iraq strategies it developed in Syria. In the year it has controlled the town of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, for instance, IS militants say they have allowed former employees from Assad’s regime to continue to run its mills. The group has set up a wheat "diwan," or bureau, in charge of the supply chain, from harvesting the crop to distributing flour. The same push to keep things running smoothly can be seen in Iraq. IS fighters have regularly avoided destroying government installations they have captured. When IS took over Iraq's largest dam it kept employees in place and even brought in engineers from Mosul to make repairs. Baghdad, too, has tried to minimise upheaval. Hassan Ibrahim, head of Iraq's Grain Board, the Trade Ministry body responsible for procuring Iraq’s wheat internationally and from local farmers, said that government employees in IS-held areas keep in regular touch with head office. Some staff in IS areas even come to Baghdad every couple of weeks, he said. In the past few weeks, he said, IS fighters had disappeared from some areas in Mosul and Kirkuk because of the U.S.-led air strikes. “The situation is stable,” he said, with IS fighters mostly happy to allow state employees to continue to run the silos. “I give instructions to my people to try to be quiet and smooth with those people because they are very violent people. It is not good to be violent with violent people because they will come to kill you. Our aim is to keep the wheat.” After IS’s June offensive, Ibrahim was ordered to suspend salaries for workers in IS areas. “But this troubled me," he said. "I cannot have the mills stopping. I need people to stay there like guards to convince the Islamic State that wheat is important for everybody.” Ibrahim says he convinced his bosses to keep paying salaries. A Trade Ministry spokesman confirmed that all government employees in Mosul had been paid their salaries “through state banks in Kirkuk, as it’s safer and under government control.” Ibrahim is now worried about farmers who have not been paid for the wheat they delivered in the weeks before the grain was seized by IS. He said the Grain Board and the Trade Ministry were trying to pay farmers either living in IS-held areas or recently displaced from them. "We would like to help the farmers, but not IS," he said. WINNING HEARTS AND STOMACHS In some places, the IS stranglehold on wheat appears to be winning support among Sunnis. Ahsan Moheree, chairman of the government-affiliated Arab Farmers Union in Hawija, says IS has gained in popularity since its fighters took over. Baghdad’s dismissive attitude towards the country’s Sunni Arabs had forced people towards IS, he said. But IS’s ability to provide food had also helped. “They distribute flour to the Arabs in the area. They get the wheat from the Hawija silo ... And they run the mill and they distribute to people in a very organised way,” he said. Even those who have fled IS see wheat as one reason for the group’s strength. “Nowadays a kilo of wheat is 4,000 or 5,000 dinars ($3.45 - $4.30). It used to be 10,000 to 11,000 dinars,” said Joumana Zewar, 54, a farmer who now lives in Baharka camp outside Arbil. IS and Sunni Arabs are selling the wheat they stole “for very cheap. It’s cheap because they stole it.” Zewar called a friend in Mosul to check on the latest prices. “The price of foods and bread is very cheap,” the friend said. Islamic State had taken control, and as in Syria, was dictating prices. “They are the government here now. They are going to the bakeries and saying, ‘Sell at this price.’” THE YEAR AHEAD The big worry now is next season’s crop. In Nineveh province, home to the capital of the group’s self-declared caliphate, 750,000 hectares (1.8 million acres) should soon be sown with wheat and 835,000 hectares with barley, an Iraqi agriculture ministry official said. The official said that the province normally has 100,000 farmers. But thousands have fled. Iraqi farmers normally get next season’s seeds from their current harvest, keeping back some of the wheat for that purpose. IS controls enough wheat so finding seeds should not be a problem. It also controls Ministry of Agriculture offices in Mosul and Tikrit which should have fertilizer supplies. But getting the seeds and fertilizer into the right hands will be a problem. Mohamed Diab, director of the World Food Program's Regional Bureau for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said that it is "highly unlikely" that displaced farmers would return. "The picture is bleak regarding agriculture production next year," he said. "The place where displacement has happened is the main granary of the country." That’s especially true for non-Sunni Arab farmers. Those who have remained on their land just outside IS-held territory fear the militants will soon take their villages, and their harvested but unsold crops. Even if that does not happen, they say, they will not plant after the first rain, which typically comes at the end of September or in early October. Farmers in the town of Shekhan, nestled among sun-bleached wheat fields, say they have no hope of getting the seeds, fertilizer and fuel needed to plant because the provincial government in Mosul is under IS control. "The real problem is how to get seeds to those inside Mosul and surrounding areas,” said Nineveh Governor Atheel Nujaifi, who believes production will drop next season. Bashar Jamo, head of a local farmers' cooperative, is also worried. “The most important thing to us is agriculture, not security. Maybe (IS) will have a state, maybe an army, but all we need is to be able to farm.” (Additional reporting by Ned Parker and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Editing by Michael Georgy and Simon Robinson)
- The Independent
House Republican leader tells Fox News that he supports rising GOP figure
- The Independent
Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene in conspiracy laden double act designed to delight Florida’s most famous retiree – Donald Trump
Few Republicans more outspoken in support of former president than Greene or Gaetz, writes Andrew Buncombe
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Panthers first-round pick was deciding whether he wanted to wear a single-digit jersey.
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Panthers first-round pick was deciding whether he wanted to wear a single-digit jersey.
- The Independent
Event is ‘calling on leaders to make sure vaccines are accessible for all so we can end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere’
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Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-102 on Saturday night, moving closer to an outright playoff spot. CJ McCollum added 27 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and nine rebounds for Portland, which has won seven of eight. DeMar DeRozan finished with 20 points and Lonnie Walker added 18 for the Spurs.
- The Independent
“Many of us still live in fear,” the former first lady says
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- The Independent
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- The Independent
Social justice posts by coffee company are reportedly ‘overwhelmed’ by ‘hate speech-related comments’
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The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year contains $350 billion of flexible aid for state and local governments, plus billions of dollars more for specific programs such as housing assistance. Unlike earlier coronavirus aid, states have broad leeway to use the money to plug budget holes, invest in certain infrastructure or address the “negative economic impacts” of the pandemic. States are expected to receive an initial installment soon, with a second round coming a year later.
An NYC fifth-grader died after being punched 'real hard' in the head by a fellow classmate who had been dared to hit him for $1, family says
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- The Daily Beast
Fox News SundayFox News anchor Chris Wallace repeatedly grilled Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) about former President Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrectionist riot, asking if he believes it is a “lie” that the 2020 election was stolen.Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, has been one of the key figures in the House GOP when it comes to ousting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from leadership over her refusal to accept Trump’s bogus claims about the election. The Indiana congressman has called Cheney’s continued criticism of Trump “an unwelcome distraction,” adding that “this idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where” the GOP is.Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Banks defended his push to replace Cheney with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a fervent Trump supporter who has publicly backed Trump’s election lies. At the same time, Wallace noted that Banks seemed “unwilling to discuss” Cheney’s criticism of the former president.“I'm not,” Banks declared, adding: “I know the belief that I have, that a majority of our conference have, that she has lost focus on the single mission that we have in winning back the majority, to push back against the radical Biden agenda, is the reason that she needs to be replaced.”Nonetheless, Liz Cheney PersistedUnsatisfied with Banks’ dodge, the veteran Fox News anchor said he was going to “try to get at this a different way,” asking the Republican lawmaker straight-up if he believes that Joe Biden is the legitimate president.“Yes, Joe Biden was elected. He was inaugurated on January 20,” Banks replied, prompting Wallace to get more specific with his questions.Noting that Banks had joined a Texas lawsuit challenging Biden’s electoral victory in several states, Wallace pointed out that he also objected to Congress’ certification of Biden’s election win on Jan. 6—the day of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.“Do you still question whether or not Joe Biden won the election fair and square and got over 270 electoral votes, fair and square?” Wallace pressed the conservative lawmaker.“I stand by my vote to object on January 6 and stand by the Texas lawsuit. I have serious concerns about how the election in November was carried out,” Banks replied. “That is where most Republicans in the GOP conference are unified around that single mission and goal and anything that distracts from it will hold us back from doing that.”Wallace, meanwhile, noted that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had said that Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol riots, wondering aloud if Banks felt McCarthy was wrong at the time. Deflecting once again, Banks merely said “every Republican denounced” the violence and there should be a commission to study what happened that day.“I’m just asking a question,” Wallace fired back. “Liz Cheney is saying it’s a big lie to say the election was stolen. Liz Cheney is saying that, in fact, Donald Trump contributed to the riot. I’m asking you for your opinion on those issues. Is it a lie that the election was stolen? Did he contribute to the insurrection on the Capitol?”Insisting that he’s “never said the election was stolen,” Banks still went on to say that he has “very serious concerns with how the election was conducted last November” before reiterating that he’ll “never apologize” for objecting to the election results.“When Liz Cheney says history’s watching and you upon can’t go forward until you resolve this question—the election was fair and square, Donald Trump played a negative role—you think she’s misguided making those points?” Wallace asked in one final question to the congressman.“Yeah, I’ve called on Liz Cheney to rejoin the Republican team and help us go out and win a majority in the midterm election,” Banks affirmed. “That is where my frustration bubbled up.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- The Week
Horse racing's Bob Baffert suspended after Kentucky Derby-winning Medina Spirit's positive drug test
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- Business Insider
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Melinda Gates had been seeking a divorce from Bill since 2019 after his meetings with Jeffrey Epstein became public, the WSJ reports
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- Business Insider
"We're in the middle of this slow sink," Kinzinger said of the GOP. "We have a band playing on the deck telling everybody it's fine."
- Associated Press
Medina Spirit’s victory in the Kentucky Derby is in serious jeopardy because of a failed postrace drug test, one that led Churchill Downs to suspend Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on Sunday in the latest scandal to plague the sport. Baffert denied all wrongdoing and promised to be fully transparent with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission during its investigation. Baffert’s barn received word Saturday that Medina Spirit had tested positive for an excessive amount of the steroid betamethasone, which is sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses.
- The Daily Beast
ViceIn I, Sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo speaks at length about the 2002 reign of terror he and partner John Allen Muhammad carried out in the Washington, D.C., area, resulting in ten deaths. Yet despite using audio clips from his phone calls as narration, Vice’s eight-part docuseries (premiering May 10) is most notable for putting its prime emphasis on the pair’s innocent victims, and the countless friends, family members and loved ones left to cope with unthinkable tragedy. To its admirable credit, it’s a true-crime affair that seeks to understand its “monsters” while simultaneously recognizing—and highlighting—the fact that such comprehension doesn’t necessitate empathy, especially when the atrocities in question are as inexcusably heinous as these.Spearheaded by director Ursula Macfarlane, I, Sniper’s calling card is those phone conversations with Malvo from Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison, where he’s currently serving multiple life sentences. In them, the killer recounts, in exacting and chilling detail, both the sniper attacks he perpetrated as a 17-year-old, and the troubled upbringing in Jamaica that led him into the welcoming arms of Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran with a surplus of rage and a desire to unleash it on his homeland. Abandoned by his dad, abused by his mom, and eventually left to fend for himself, Malvo found in Muhammad a father figure who promised to love him as he did his own biological offspring. From the outset, though, theirs was a bond built on exploitation, with Muhammad becoming not only Malvo’s surrogate parent, but also his lover—as well as his mentor, pouring all of his long-simmering hate and resentment into the impressionable, desperate-for-acceptance teen.The Tragic End to Wrestling’s First Great ‘Madman’Muhammad’s gripes were many—he despised the military, white people, and just about every American institutional structure. However, he reserved his greatest enmity for second ex-wife Mildred, who dared to take back her kids after Muhammad had kidnapped them. The loss of his (abducted) brood seems to have been the proverbial match that lit Muhammad’s homicidal spark, and he soon began molding Malvo into his instrument of destruction. Friends and relatives suspected that something was up with their relationship, but no one foresaw what was to come: the cold-blooded murder of Keenya Cook, the niece of Mildred’s friend in Tacoma, Washington, followed by violent robberies, shootings and slayings in Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. All of those initial acts were merely a test run for Malvo and Muhammad’s grand scheme in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of American power, and thus Muhammad’s venue of choice to strike fear into the heart of the republic by proving that everyone was vulnerable—even children.What transpired was a 22-day nightmare in which 13 individuals (white and Black, young and old, well-off and working-class) were shot, 10 of them fatally, in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Because Malvo and Muhammad’s intention was to terrorize in increasingly escalating fashion, each victim was chosen at random at gas stations, on street corners, and in parking lots that afforded the killers ideal vantage points and easy escape routes. They committed these crimes in a customized 1990 blue Chevy Caprice, with Malvo lying in the trunk and firing through the rear keyhole. It was a stealthy plot, and the two benefited from the fact that an early eyewitness said they’d seen a white box truck near the scene—thereby sending police, for the better part of the next three weeks, on a wild goose chase for the wrong vehicle. With no other ballistics-related leads, law enforcement was stymied, which proved to Malvo that Muhammad was right: no one could stop them from exacting their revenge.The question, of course, is revenge against what? I, Sniper connects the dots of Malvo and Muhammad’s troubled pasts and despicable 2002 presents, but no convincing argument is made that Muhammad—the mastermind behind this madness—had suffered losses that weren’t of his own making. Be it his unhinged military tenure, his marital craziness, or his transformation of Malvo into an assassin, Muhammad comes across as a man righteously angry over things that were his own fault. As for Malvo, his cold, clinical recitation of his murderous conduct (and claims of remorse) neuters any sorrow one might feel for his adolescent travails. His present-day compunction is far too little, too late, just as the case he makes for his own victimhood vis-à-vis Muhammad sounds like an accurate and yet insufficient explanation. He knew that gunning down men, women and children was dreadfully wrong, and yet in order to maintain Muhammad’s affection, he actively, and enthusiastically, chose to do it—and even got a thrilling kick from it, as he explains that post-shooting sex with Muhammad was exceptionally exciting.Malvo and Muhammad’s rampage of “retribution and punishment” was unforgivable; as Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose says, “There’s just no excuse for their behavior. None whatsoever.” To hammer home that point, I, Sniper consistently juxtaposes Malvo’s recollections with prolonged, heartrending interviews with the wives, brothers, aunts and friends of the duo’s victims, as well as some of those who survived their encounters. Those accounts turn out to be vital, providing an up-close-and-personal view of the anguish and trauma that Malvo and Muhammad brought about, and the lingering scars left by this ordeal. They’re the human face of this awful tale, stricken with grief, regret, guilt and fury over senseless crimes that robbed them of loved ones who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.Comprised of news reports, crime scene footage, 911 calls, Malvo-penned illustrations, maps and chats with patrolmen, detectives, reporters and doctors, I, Sniper is comprehensive enough to earn the description “definitive.” Yet more than its insight into the mind of its young subject—and, by extension, Muhammad, who was executed in 2009 by lethal injection—what separates it from much of the true-crime pack is its dogged refusal to forget the real, incalculable horror at the center of its story. Malvo is frequently heard but never seen, while the countenances of his and Muhammad’s victims (and those close to them) remain front-and-center throughout. That directorial decision is critical and commendable, allowing the series to pay fitting tribute to the individuals who deserve to be remembered, while keeping its central villain largely faceless, in the dark and out of sight, where he chose to live and kill with his murderous mentor, and where he’ll now remain for the remainder of his days.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.