Walmart’s CEO joins widening group to rebuke Trump over Charlottesville

The New York Times reports: Walmart’s chief executive has issued a strong rebuke of President Trump’s response to the protests that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., saying the president “missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together.”

The criticism came in a statement that the retailer’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, emailed to employees Monday evening, which was reviewed by The New York Times. The statement was later posted on a company website.

“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” he wrote.

Mr. McMillon’s statement came amid a backlash against the president for what critics viewed as a tepid initial response to violence at last weekend’s rally of white supremacists and right-wing extremists, which left one counterprotester dead. On Monday, the chief executives of Merck, Under Armour and Intel said that they would step down from a presidential advisory council for manufacturing.

On Tuesday, a fourth executive, Scott Paul, president of an organization called the Alliance for American Manufacturing, announced via Twitter that he would resign from the presidential council because “it’s the right thing for me to do.” [Continue reading…]

Quartz reports: The real question, according to former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers, is why any CEOs still remain. At this point, it’s clear that Trump isn’t listening to their advice, and making the case that staying on his advisory councils will have a positive influence no longer holds water. “No advisor committed to the bipartisan American traditions of government can possibly believe he or she is being effective at this point,” Summers, an economist who was also president of Harvard, argued in the Financial Times. [Continue reading…]

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Under Trump, coal mining gets new life on U.S. lands

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is wading into one of the oldest and most contentious debates in the West by encouraging more coal mining on lands owned by the federal government. It is part of an aggressive push to both invigorate the struggling American coal industry and more broadly exploit commercial opportunities on public lands.

The intervention has roiled conservationists and many Democrats, exposing deep divisions about how best to manage the 643 million acres of federally owned land — most of which is in the West — an area more than six times the size of California. Not since the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion during the Reagan administration have companies and individuals with economic interests in the lands, mining companies among them, held such a strong upper hand.

Clouds of dust blew across the horizon one recent summer evening as a crane taller than the Statue of Liberty ripped apart walls of a canyon dug deep into the public lands here in the Powder River Basin, the nation’s most productive coal mining region. The mine pushes right up against a reservoir, exposing the kind of conflicts and concerns the new approach has sparked.

“If we don’t have good water, we can’t do anything,” said Art Hayes, a cattle rancher who worries that more mining would foul a supply that generations of ranchers have relied upon.

During the Obama administration, the Interior Department seized on the issue of climate change and temporarily banned new coal leases on public lands as it examined the consequences for the environment. The Obama administration also drew protests from major mining companies by ordering them to pay higher royalties to the government. [Continue reading…]

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Can the tech giants be stopped?

Jonathan Taplin writes: I would date the rise of the digital monopolies to August 2004, when Google raised $1.9 billion in its initial public offering. By the end of that year, Google’s share of the search-engine market was just 35%; Yahoo ’s was 32%, and MSN’s was 16%. Today, under Alphabet, Google’s market share is 87% in the U.S. and 91% in Europe. In 2004, Amazon had net sales revenue of $6.9 billion. In 2016, its net sales revenue was nearly $136 billion, and it now controls 65% of all online new book sales, whether print or digital. In mobile social networks, Facebook and its subsidiaries (Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) control 75% of the American market.

This shift has brought about a massive reallocation of revenue, with economic value moving from the creators of content to the owners of monopoly platforms. Since 2000, revenues for recorded music in the U.S. have fallen from almost $20 billion a year to less than $8 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. U.S. newspaper ad revenue fell from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013 (the last year for which data are available). Though book publishing revenues have remained flat, this is mostly because increased children’s book sales have made up for the declining return on adult titles.

From 2003 to 2016, Google’s revenue grew from about $1.5 billion to some $90 billion as Alphabet. Today, it is the largest media company in the world, collecting $79.4 billion in ad revenue in 2016, according to Zenith. Facebook is a distant second, with $26.9 billion.

The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked. [Continue reading…]

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Corporate surveillance in everyday life

Cracked Labs reports: In recent years, a wide range of companies has started to monitor, track and follow people in virtually every aspect of their lives. The behaviors, movements, social relationships, interests, weaknesses and most private moments of billions are now constantly recorded, evaluated and analyzed in real-time. The exploitation of personal information has become a multi-billion industry. Yet only the tip of the iceberg of today’s pervasive digital tracking is visible; much of it occurs in the background and remains opaque to most of us.

This report by Cracked Labs examines the actual practices and inner workings of this personal data industry. Based on years of research and a previous 2016 report, the investigation shines light on the hidden data flows between companies. It maps the structure and scope of today’s digital tracking and profiling ecosystems and explores relevant technologies, platforms and devices, as well as key recent developments.

While the full report is available as PDF download, this web publication presents a ten part overview. [Continue reading…]

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America’s CEOs fall out of love with Trump

Politico reports: The relationship between corporate America and Donald Trump’s White House has chilled.

The regular parades of business titans into the West Wing are gone. A gathering of executives led by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman initially planned for next week fell apart amid scheduling conflicts.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger quit as outside advisers to President Donald Trump following his rejection of the Paris climate accords. Dozens of other executives also publicly rebuked the White House over the decision, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein—a former colleague of many top administration officials—used his first-ever tweet to criticize the Paris decision, calling it a “setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.” [Continue reading…]

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EPA dismisses scientists from major scientific review board

The New York Times reports: The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

The dismissals on Friday came about six weeks after the House passed a bill aimed at changing the composition of another E.P.A. scientific review board to include more representation from the corporate world.

President Trump has directed Mr. Pruitt to radically remake the E.P.A., pushing for deep cuts in its budget — including a 40 percent reduction for its main scientific branch — and instructing him to roll back major Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection. In recent weeks, the agency has removed some scientific data on climate change from its websites, and Mr. Pruitt has publicly questioned the established science of human-caused climate change. [Continue reading…]

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‘Most non-communicable diseases are spread by big corporations’

Pacific Standard reported in 2016: [Cristin] Kearns is one of the only people who have found evidence that cane- and beet-sugar manufacturers contributed to public-health problems. That’s thanks in part to her having worked as a dentist both in private practice and in a low- income clinic, which helped her realize something was amiss when conversations about dental health rarely included considerations of sugar. But it’s more a tribute to her doggedness, her willingness to comb through even the most obscure corners of library archives, and her persistence even in the face of a large and well-funded target.

She’s also unusual in the world of academia, where she’s settled for now as a research fellow at the University of California–San Francisco. Most folks who study sugar and health at universities are chemists, biologists, or epidemiologists. They examine sugar’s effects on the body, or they analyze data about whether people who eat more sugar are more likely to be in poor health. No other academic researchers study the secret workings of sugar refiners’ science campaigns.

But companies’ activities — including how they formulate their food, how their advertising and marketing affect what people buy, and their scientists’ roles in crafting nutritional guidelines — could help explain a number of major public-health problems. They could be especially important to understanding so-called non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which don’t spread from person to person the way cholera or the flu do.

“Most non-communicable diseases are spread by big corporations,” says Stanton Glantz, a public-health researcher famed for his analysis of tobacco industry documents in the 1990s, “because profit-maximizing behavior leads them to be out pushing products which end up causing disease.” Glantz is Kearns’ mentor at UCSF. “If you’re interested in disease control, in addition to understanding the detailed mechanics of how smoking causes heart disease or how smoking causes cancer at a molecular level, you’ve got to be looking up at what forces are out there that are promoting the disease because they’re making a lot of money doing it.”

Evidence of corporations’ influence on science can lead to certain policy changes that biological and epidemiological evidence alone cannot. “This kind of research is very useful to make the point that, yeah, you simply can’t have these guys at the table,” says Richard Daynard, an expert on public health law at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Simply knowing that a product can be bad for people’s health isn’t enough to convince the governmental organizations to remove industry folks from policy discussions. There must be evidence of company wrongdoing too. [Continue reading…]

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Leashes come off Wall Street, gun sellers, miners and more

The New York Times reports: Telecommunications giants like Verizon and AT&T will not have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released.

Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase will not be punished, at least for now, for not collecting extra money from customers to cover potential losses from certain kinds of high-risk trades that helped unleash the 2008 financial crisis.

And Social Security Administration data will no longer be used to try to block individuals with disabling mental health issues from buying handguns, nor will hunters be banned from using lead-based bullets, which can accidentally poison wildlife, on 150 million acres of federal lands.

These are just a few of the more than 90 regulations that federal agencies and the Republican-controlled Congress have delayed, suspended or reversed in the month and a half since President Trump took office, according to a tally by The New York Times.

The emerging effort — dozens of additional rules could be eliminated in the coming weeks — represents one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades. It is the leading edge of what Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, described late last month as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Trump is creating a government of, by, and for the oil and gas industry’

Kate Sheppard writes: Rex Tillerson at the State Department. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency. Rick Perry at the Department of Energy. Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice.

If environmentalists found themselves in some kind of paralyzing hypnagogia on Nov. 9, the day they realized that there was no waking up from this was Dec. 13.

Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon Mobil, a company that spent decades and millions of dollars supporting climate change denial and is currently under investigation for doing so. Tillerson has personally argued that climate change is no biggie because “we will adapt to this.” If he’s confirmed as secretary of state, he will be in the position of deciding whether the U.S. stays involved in the Paris climate agreement and whether to approve massive international oil pipelines like Keystone XL.

Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma and has described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He is currently suing the EPA ― the agency he could lead ― to stop the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to curb emissions from power plants, and he was caught letting oil industry lawyers draft letters to regulators on his behalf.

Perry, the former Republican governor of Texas, is expected to be nominated to lead a department whose name he once famously forgot while pledging to eliminate it. He has said that climate change is just a “theory that remains unproven” and that climate scientists have “manipulated data to keep the money rolling in.” A few years ago, Perry’s top environmental officials in Texas removed all mentions of climate change from a report on rising sea levels in Galveston Bay. There are already signs that the Trump team wants to undertake a climate purge at the Energy Department; transition officials sent a questionnaire to the department last week, asking for the names of employees who had worked on the issue. [Continue reading…]

Anders Åslund writes: President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson is profoundly disturbing. Tillerson will receive a “nest egg” of some $300 million from ExxonMobil when he retires. These future benefits will be paid over many years making Tillerson deeply dependent on the success of ExxonMobil, not least in Russia, which accounts for a significant share of its investment. This is a serious conflict of interest. Worse, it involves a hostile foreign power. Hopefully, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would consider such a conflict of interest disqualifying.

While ExxonMobil seems to have abided by the US sanctions against Russia, the company has persistently protested against these sanctions since they were introduced in July 2014. Thus, Tillerson stands out as one of the greatest opponents of the current US policy on Russia. Tillerson has also developed close personal relations with Vladimir Putin and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. While that might have benefitted the business of ExxonMobil, these are not people that are commonly considered decent. [Continue reading…]

Tillerson’s nomination has been warmly received by prominent Republicans with ties to ExxonMobil.

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Rex Tillerson’s company, Exxon, has billions at stake over sanctions on Russia

The New York Times reports: Now that President-elect Donald J. Trump has chosen Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to be the next secretary of state, the giant oil company stands to make some major gains as well: It has billions of dollars in deals that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia.

As head of America’s largest oil company, Mr. Tillerson has earned a friendship award from Russia and voiced skepticism about American sanctions that have halted some of Exxon Mobil’s biggest projects in the country.

But Mr. Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.

“The chances that he will view Russia with Exxon Mobil DNA are close to 100 percent,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a public interest group based in Washington. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil Corp. chief who is President-elect Donald Trump’s leading candidate for secretary of state, visited the White House repeatedly as sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014 to make sure his company’s competitors didn’t gain an edge in the way they were enforced.

Tillerson made at least 20 visits to the White House during President Barack Obama’s two terms, visitor logs show, including five after Obama began authorizing the 2014 sanctions in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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Trump picks ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state

The Washington Post reports: President-elect Donald Trump has picked as his secretary of state Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, setting up a possible confrontation with members of his own party in the Senate, Trump’s transition team announced Tuesday.

Since Tillerson’s name emerged as a candidate for the post, leading Republicans have expressed reservations about his years of work in Russia and the Middle East on behalf of the multinational petroleum company.

GOP advisers have warned that a growing number of Republican senators may be unwilling to vote to confirm Tillerson because of his ties to Russia. While Senate Democrats cannot filibuster Trump’s Cabinet picks, Republicans have only 52 votes in the Senate, leaving them in potential jeopardy if Democrats unite in opposition to Tillerson. It will take at least 50 votes to confirm a nominee, plus Vice President-elect Mile Pence casting a tiebreaking vote. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: Donald Trump’s long-time but informal adviser Roger Stone says the Secretary of State job was dangled in front of Mitt Romney in order to “torture” him for previously opposing the president-elect.

During a Sunday appearance on InfoWars with Alex Jones, a conspiratorial media outlet that has become a mouthpiece of the next president, Stone called Romney a “choker” and said that Trump was simply toying with him.

Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for Secretary of State in order to torture him,” Stone claimed on the program. “To toy with him. And given the history, that’s completely understandable. Mitt Romney crossed a line. He didn’t just oppose Trump, which is his democratic right, he called him a phony and a fraud. And a con man. And that’s not the kind of man you want as Secretary of State.” [Continue reading…]

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Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it

George Monbiot writes: Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.

Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.

I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.

Among those I clashed with was Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI calls itself a thinktank, but looks to me like a corporate lobbying group. It is not transparent about its funding, but we now know it has received $2m from ExxonMobil, more than $4m from a group called the Donors Trust (which represents various corporations and billionaires), $800,000 from groups set up by the tycoons Charles and David Koch, and substantial sums from coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. [Continue reading…]

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Sugar industry funded research as early as 1960s to coverup health hazards, report says

The Associated Press reports: The sugar industry began funding research that cast doubt on sugar’s role in heart disease — in part by pointing the finger at fat — as early as the 1960s, according to an analysis of newly uncovered documents.

The analysis published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine is based on correspondence between a sugar trade group and researchers at Harvard University, and is the latest example showing how food and beverage makers attempt to shape public understanding of nutrition.

In 1964, the group now known as the Sugar Assn. internally discussed a campaign to address “negative attitudes toward sugar” after studies began emerging linking sugar with heart disease, according to documents dug up from public archives. The following year the group approved “Project 226,” which entailed paying Harvard researchers today’s equivalent of $48,900 for an article reviewing the scientific literature, supplying materials they wanted reviewed, and receiving drafts of the article.

The resulting article published in 1967 concluded there was “no doubt” that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease. The researchers overstated the consistency of the literature on fat and cholesterol while downplaying studies on sugar, according to the analysis. [Continue reading…]

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Just 90 companies are to blame for most climate change, this ‘carbon accountant’ says

Science reports: Last month, geographer Richard Heede received a subpoena from Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Smith, a climate change doubter, became concerned when the attorneys general of several states launched investigations into whether ExxonMobil had committed fraud by sowing doubts about climate change even as its own scientists knew it was taking place. The congressman suspected a conspiracy between the attorneys general and environmental advocates, and he wanted to see all the communications among them. Predictably, his targets included advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. They also included Heede, who works on his own aboard a rented houseboat on San Francisco Bay in California.

Heede is less well known than his fellow recipients, but his work is no less threatening to the fossil fuel industry. Heede (pronounced “Heedie”) has compiled a massive database quantifying who has been responsible for taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere. Working alone, with uncertain funding, he spent years piecing together the annual production of every major fossil fuel company since the Industrial Revolution and converting it to carbon emissions.

Heede’s research shows that nearly two-thirds of anthropogenic carbon emissions originated in just 90 companies and government-run industries. Among them, the top eight companies — ranked according to annual and cumulative emissions below — account for 20 percent of world carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement production since the Industrial Revolution. [Continue reading…]

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How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy

By Sarah Waters, University of Leeds and Jenny Chan, University of Oxford

A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.

All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.

Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.

Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.

In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.

But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.

Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.

For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.

[Read more…]

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When you dial 911 and Wall Street answers

The New York Times reports: A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life. [Continue reading…]

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Panama paper trail goes online with massive searchable database

panama-papers

CNET reports: One of the biggest databases of leaked documents has just hit the internet, and what lies within is a massive and complicated web of corporate ownership that spans the globe.

The Panama Papers contain more than 2.5 million files, analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 112 reporters across 58 countries. Today’s data dump is just part of the picture, detailing the relationships between individuals, companies and offshore entities.

Think of it like a searchable corporate registry. But in this case, it’s a network made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals and companies, with seemingly endless links criss-crossing from Australia to Zimbabwe. The question now is which of these links can be used to prove the companies involved were attempting to hide massive wealth overseas.

While there’s no evidence that any of the entities have acted illegally, the “John Doe” behind the leak argues the data dump exposes the names behind growing income inequality, saying “it doesn’t take much to connect the dots.” [Continue reading…]

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