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Citations Needed

Author: Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson

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Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
130 Episodes
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In this News Brief we examine the old––and new––ways police and government officials seek to undermine and divide the George Floyd protests.
In this News Brief we catch up on the patronizing, racist media coverage of protests in Minneapolis.          
Trump is likely pinning his reelection hopes on "reopening" the NFL––a grand media spectacle that will signal victory over the virus and usher in a new low in Triggering The Libs politics. A cynical corporate media and pro-Trump billionaire NFL owners are happy to go along with it. But will NFL players? Will Democratic Party leaders? What will a "safe reopening" look like and how, more broadly, should the Left and liberals counter the Right's nihilistic "reopen" narrative? On this News Brief, we are joined by The Nation's Dave Zirin to shed some light on the upcoming perfect storm of sports-infused election season PR bullshit.
“Free markets drive innovation!” It’s a narrative imparted to us ad nauseam. The ultimate catalyst of creation and progress — we’re told by policymakers, business executives, think tanks, and the media outlets that bolster them — in which great strides in healthcare, electronics, media, and other areas are the domain of private enterprise motivated by competition and profit, and unencumbered by state intervention. As the prospect of socialism — or at least the word “socialism” — regains currency in the West, these claims have resurged. Capitalism’s supporters insist that a profit-first system is the reason the world is always improving, lifting people out of poverty while equipping them with iPhones, WiFi, and central air conditioning. Socialism, they contend, hinders innovation because public ownership of the means of production removes the competition and profit that ostensibly incentivize creativity. But why are we expected to believe that concentrating ownership of the means of production in the hands of a few is the key to progress and prosperity for all? How is it that the most important metrics of “innovation” are consumer goods available to some, rather than socialized, need-based programs available to all? And above all, who does this narrative that “innovation” is driven by Anglo-American style Randian capitalism really serve? On this episode, we delve into these questions, looking at how the United States — the world’s foremost champion of capitalism — packages propaganda about its alleged innovation; the reasons capitalism not only fails to drive innovation, but also actively destroys it; and the U.S.’s brutal actions to thwart socialist efforts toward a more equitably and sustainable version of “innovation” at home and aboard. Our guest is Current Affairs associate editor Vanessa A. Bee.
How can one achieve happiness? It’s the eternal question. From Aristotle to Al-Ghazali, Thomas Aquinas to Arthur Schopenhauer. The answer, we’re told, is to look within. These days, we’re told repeatedly by our modern philosophers, Oprah Winfrey, Srikumar Rao, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and other corporate happiness monitors that prosperity and fulfillment come through deep introspection and mindfulness—just pay for more inspiring books, videos, retreats, seminars, and classes!   These prescriptions, while ostensibly useful in the short term for answering personal questions or alleviating stress, all fall within the genre of self-help. The trouble is, on the whole, they’re not very helpful at all. The self-help industry is predicated on the ever-American and thoroughly capitalist concepts of rugged individualism and personal responsibility, arguing that if you have a problem, it’s invariably up to you, and only you, to fix it. Meanwhile, it imparts the appearance of virtue and legitimacy with hollow, cherry-picked references to Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and psychology.   In recent years, there’s rightfully been a new crop of criticism leveled against the self-help industry, with books offering “anti-self-help” alternatives for improving one’s life, calling for people to relax and stop placing so much pressure on themselves. Still, many of these critiques embrace the same form of individualism as the media they decry, ignoring the reality that the best way to ‘help’ people is to ensure their material needs—like housing, food, and healthcare—are met.    On this episode, we’ll chronicle the development of modern self-help culture, from its 19th-century protestant, capitalist roots to its modern ambassadors; analyze how self-help culture promotes the values of neoliberalism; examine the ways in which modern mainstream critiques of the self-help industry fall short, embracing the same reactionary principles they should be rebuking, and dissect the profound institutional incentives that compel us to prioritize solipsism over solidarity.    Our guest is political economist and author William Davies.
"Economists' forecasts for GDP growth in 2020 vary widely," says The Economist. "Algeria's GDP growth falls to 0.8% in 2019," one Reuters headline reads. "GDP — the broadest measure of economic activity — grew at an annual rate of just 1.9% during the third quarter," NPR warns. Everywhere we turn for economic news, the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, is held up as the key proxy for prosperity and sound fiscal policy.    Since its codification as the new gold standard for measuring prosperity at the Bretton Wood conference in 1944, the GDP has been the most popular metric used by American and British media when measure a nation’s prosperity. The GDP, and its close cousin, the Gross National Product, have not been without its critics for decades, but prying it from its top position as The Most Important Policy Goal has been an impossible task. Despite many labor activists, environmentalists and economists leveling critiques at its myopic, capitalist ideology, the metric has remained central to how the media and lawmakers determine fiscal policy.    But what is the GDP exactly? How did it become the go-to proxy for prosperity in Western media? What are its ideological inputs, and how did post-war notions of colonialism and extractivism helps cement its place in our collective mindset? And what, more importantly, do activists argue we should replace it with? On this episode of Citations Needed we will explore these questions and examine how centralizing Gross Domestic Product––by its very design––obscures climate crisis, labor abuses, racism, drudgery, and a whole host of society's ills.    We welcome economic anthropologist Dr. Jason Hickel back to the show.
“Woman Sues TripAdvisor After Falling off Runaway Camel,” reports the Associated Press. “Red Bull Paying Out to Customers Who Thought Energy Drink Would Actually Give Them Wings,” eyerolls Newsweek. “Tennessee man sues Popeyes for running out of chicken sandwiches,” scoffs NBC News. We see “frivolous lawsuit” stories all the time and have for decades. Seemingly absurd cases of get rich quick schemes often with catchy headlines, a caricature of a plaintiff friendly legal system run amok. These stories play into faux-populist tropes of a country full of lazy poor people looking to cash in and a sleazy legal system that leeches off hard-working Americans. But how organic are these “pop torts”––or popular stories of frivolous lawsuits––and more importantly, how true even are they? What organizations are behind cherry-picking and teeing up these shameful tales of greed for uncritical writers, editors and producers? Who’s backing them, and what, perhaps, may be their ulterior motives? Moreover, what are the human stakes to so called “tort reform” and how did it come to be that the vast majority of Americans came to accept the premise that, at some point in the 1980s, we all became amoral lawsuit happy scumbags out to shutdown mom and pop stores and grab a quick buck? We are joined by the Center for Justice & Democracy's Joanna Doroshow.
As COVID-19 continues to endanger the health of people throughout the world, it also magnifies a long-existent global humanitarian crisis: The use of sanctions by the United States and other powers as a weapon of war. In Iran, one of the countries most devastated by the contagion, sanctions have strangulated the supply of medical equipment crucial to testing the population and treating those who are infected, inspiring some members of the political establishment to call for sanctions to be eased. While these pleas are necessary, they’re woefully inadequate and long overdue. Sanctions aren’t just a problem when there’s a pandemic. Iran had been subjected to U.S. and UN-imposed sanctions long before the appearance of the contagion—as had Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and far too many other countries deemed Official Enemies of the United States and its allies, resulting in economic destabilization, vulnerability to U.S. militarism, starvation, illness, and mass deaths.    Amid these life-or-death stakes, media and think tanks’ responses to sanctions range from mere handwringing to outright bloodlust. Rather than decisively condemning sanctions as ruthless acts of economic warfare, American media largely perpetuates the narrative that sanctions are a necessity, and often a force for good, in the effort to punish and “change the behavior” of some perceived “rogue” government. Meanwhile, little criticism is offered outside of tepid suggestions that those sanctions should be tweaked.    On today’s show, we’ll examine how the U.S. levies sanctions to undermine countries opposed to U.S. hegemony, how sanctions are laundered as benign in the media, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the preexisting, decades-long barbarism of U.S. foreign policy.    We are joined by guests Keyvan Shafiei and Hoda Katebi.
In this extended News Brief, we discuss how the rapid increase of Covid-19 in prisons and jails is being met with indifference by lawmakers and US corporate media.
After over 100 episodes, scores of News Briefs, and almost three years of content production, Citations Needed has finally done it: reduced itself to a listicle. On this News Brief, we examine the top ten worst COVID-19 takes to date (not including the celebrity 'Imagine' video). Proceed with caution.
In this News Brief, we detail recent reports the National Guard and US military may be used in a law enforcement capacity and what this says about the failures of the liberal state. With unemployment potentially reaching 30 percent and an urgent, robust social democratic response from the federal government unlikely, a debate about safeguarding against martial order––especially from an administration with a well documented inclination towards abuse of power–-is urgently needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the globe, leaving immeasurable human suffering in its wake. Who is left behind, struggling to survive on the frontlines of precarity, is – as with all things – determined primarily by wealth, privilege, and access to resources and political capital.   This fact has been starkly on display in recent days, as Congressional Democrats began debating their response to the crisis: corporations, wealthy investors and industry were prioritized, formal wage workers were given crumbs, and the undocumented and informal economy workers – such as domestic caregivers; undocumented workers; sex workers; and freelance, contract, and off-the-books workers – were ignored completely.  On this week's episode, we analyze a 48-hour time period of coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post when the discussion of who was going to be prioritized and aided – and who wasn't – cemented in popular discourse with little logic or meaningful debate.   We are joined by Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).
“According to the Bipartisan Policy Center," "a recent study by the Concord Coalition disagrees," "One review of your budget by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says." We’ve seen these seemingly benign Official Sounding sources hundreds of times—from presidential debates to 60 Minutes to countless articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times. But what the average person can’t reasonably know is that these organizations—Bipartisan Policy Center, the Concord Coalition, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and PR projects like “The Can Kicks Back” and “America Speaks”—are all veiled front groups for a single, far-right billionaire whose entire life mission was to privatize social security, medicare and other entitlement programs under the auspices of fighting a so-called “deficit timebomb.” For decades, a web of Pete Peterson-backed front groups—often funded in concert with other like minded billionaires—has used the faux neutrality of think tanks, institutes, and academia to launder "anti-deficit" messaging for American pundits, reporters, and politicians, entirely capturing the narrative around deficits and their alleged pending destruction of society as we know it. This week, we explore the origins of Pete Peterson’s austerity propaganda machine, his web of influence, how he helped co-opt both conservative and liberal knowledge production, and how he and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to undermine what little liberal government the United States has left. We are joined by David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect.
"Obama Warns Against ‘Purity Tests’ In Democratic Primary," Spectrum News reports. "Spare Me the Purity Racket," Maureen Dowd opines in The New York Times. "'Purity Tests' Divide Democrats," US News & World Report announces. "Political purity tests are for losers," bellows The Hill.   We hear it all the time: progressives, leftists, radicals — and even liberals — are told they must not engage in the siren song of "purity politics." Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we are told. We must be pragmatic, realistic, we must lay down our ideological arms and stop pining for Nirvana when so much is on the line in November.    Evoking purity politics functions — more often than not — as a catch-all defense against any and all criticism of establishment Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton partisans used it against Bernie Sanders supporters; in 2020, Bloomberg’s flacks use it against Sanders again, and even Sanders partisans use it against leftist skeptics of electoralism. Put simply, purity politics is a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a perennial lesser of two evils narrative of an inherent impossibility of anything other than incremental change. At their core, charges of purity politics are ahistoric and anti-intellectual, pathologizing alternative theories of change that don’t require political compromise as youthful vanity. Indeed, how to balance compromise and ideals has been, for centuries, the central question of the Left, everyone from French revolutionaries to Russian socialists, Black American radicals and Indigenous struggles in North America to Third World liberation movements around the globe have struggled to answer: when do we compromise and when do we not?   But "purity politics" ignores this essential and rich question altogether, brushing aside morally fraught debates about political strategy and reducing anything short of the path of least resistance to unserious solipsism and juvenile stubbornness.  
   On this episode, we discuss how demands that people drop "purity politics" only go in one direction; how moral urgency has historically been pathologized as youthful narcissism; and how our jaded, broken media elites routinely conflate preemptive defeatism with political savvy.   Our guest is attorney and writer Malaika Jabali.  
One of the most prized professional norms for journalists, particularly the United States, is the preservation of neutrality in reporting. While the concept of “objectivity” has fallen out of fashion among mainstream reportage in recent years, related concepts that convey a similar idea such as “impartiality” and “neutrality” have come to replace it. In their mission statements and codes of ethics, corporate and government owned outlets routinely proclaim the importance of impartiality and balance, in the sanctified pursuit of fair, unbiased reporting.    In theory, this can be a healthy idea. Distinguishing between so-called opinion or editorial versus neutral, down-the-middle reporting –“objectivity” or “impartiality” can give the reader a sense that a series of facts are being reported rather than some guy’s opinion.   The fundamental problem is when this vaguely aspirational genre morphs into an unchecked ideology––an ideology that requires one to think we live in a world where said facts are curated and created outside of long-existing power structures; that those who produce, on an institutional scale, knowledge products via think tanks and academic institutions are without bias. That journalistic institutions, funded by large corporations and billionaires themselves, don’t decide which neutral facts are important and which aren’t.   “Objectivity” that doesn’t calibrate power asymmetries or attempt to account for its own institutional ideology isn’t a mode of reporting, it’s conservative conditioning that––if not in intent, in effect––does little more than advance prevailing ruling class ideology. Indeed, anyone who’s ever studied marketing or PR or propaganda will tell you the most effective messaging is that which appears unbiased and impartial.    On today’s show, we’ll examine how objectivity came to be a defining principle of Western journalism and how U.S. media’s understanding of impartiality provides an urbane veneer for racism, homophobia, anti-poor policies and other reactionary currents.   We are joined this week by journalist Lewis Raven Wallace, author of The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity.
“145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass 'Common-sense, Bipartisan' Gun Laws,” NPR states. “Local Democrat pushes back on NY bail reform law: It's about 'common sense,' not politics,” a Fox News headline reads. “The Only Thing More Dangerous Than Trump’s Appeal to Common Sense Is His Dismissal of It,” The Nation warns. Everywhere we turn we are told by pundits and politicians that "common sense" demands we support their preferred policy prescription.   It's a common appeal: a political issue—whether health-insurance, immigration, foreign policy, or gun violence—reaches a real or perceived extreme, and, in reaction, media pundits and political figures claim the most appropriate response must be ostensibly neutral, reasonable "common sense" reforms.   But these claims are insidious. While "common sense" may appear to be a constructive guiding principle, there is no meaningful definition of the concept and when it is evoked, it's almost always an appeal to status quo ideology. What’s sensible to a member of the Tea Party isn’t the same as what’s sensible to an activist seeking to end police violence. So, whose “common sense” is really being promoted when we hear these calls to action? On this week's episode, we explore how appeals to “common sense” present politics as a matter of rationality rather than of morality; how these demands reinforce centrist and right-wing ideologies and how the Left can work to build an alternative common sense.   We are joined by cultural anthropologist Dr. Kate Crehan, Professor Emerita at College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center.  
Since the rise of Black Lives Matter and a broader cultural awakening in the United States of just how wildly out of whack, cruel and hyper-punitive our criminal legal system is, modest reforms began to emerge across the United States. The lowest hanging fruit for reforms was to get rid of or radically reduce pretrial cash bail: a system that simply exists to punish the poor for being poor. 20 percent of people in the United States currently incarcerated––76 percent of those in local jails––have not been found guilty of any crime, they are simply awaiting their trial and cannot pay their bail because they cannot afford it. One 2015 study found that people in jail had a net median income of less than $5,000 a year, and are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. Put simply: bail exists not to protect the public, it exists to punish the poor for being poor. In response to this jarring injustice, some states began instituting modest reforms, reserving bail for so-called “violent crimes,” but requiring judges to consider people’s income when setting bail for other offenses. A number of cities across the country began to see reductions in the number of people in jail pretrial. Unsurprisingly, reform has been met with swift and vicious reaction from pro-carceral forces. Police unions, sleazy politicians, rightwing think tanks, and conservative and liberal media alike prey on propagandized public fears to attack reforms as ushering in a new dystopian era of Escape from New York lawlessness. To do this, among other disingenuous tricks of emotional blackmail, they’ve reanimated one of the oldest in the book, Willie Hortonism: seeking out anecdotal cases of a formerly jailed person who goes on to commit a crime, demagoguing this one example often using racist tropes, and exploiting the media feedback loop to pushback and curtail movements for reform. On this episode, we're joined by Color Of Change's Clarise McCants and Brooklyn Defender Service's Scott Hechinger to highlight various tropes the media use to push back against prison reform and how to fight back against their playbook of fear and racism.
Over the last 20 years, the topics of substance use and treatment have become the stuff of televised entertainment: heart-wrenching stories of desperation and redemption, of suffering and survival. Shows like A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which depict people with substance use disorders and their experiences navigating recovery in rehab, have gone a long way to shape our common narratives about what addiction is and how it should be addressed.    The central conceit of these shows is that anyone struggling with addiction must follow the same road to recovery: stay at a for-profit treatment facility for approximately one to three months, requiring, among other things, complete abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol, no matter how excruciating or dangerous. While these methods are effective for some, they’re profoundly harmful for others.    In promoting this one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—which can be accompanied by punitive and often humiliating experiences—these shows reinforce techniques and philosophies that are not only scientifically debunked, but also have the potential to endanger people’s lives. Meanwhile, they serve as an advertising platform for these for-profit rehab centers themselves, many of which have been shown to be prohibitively expensive, ineffective, and, in some cases, deadly.    On this episode, we examine the pseudoscience, myths, and fundamentally quasi-christian self-help ideology promulgated by this genre of television; the ways in which these shows exploit addiction for the sake of story; and the relationship between rehab television and the multibillion-dollar for-profit treatment industry.  Our guest is journalist and author Maia Szalavitz.
From its inception as agriculture trade paper in 1843 to the present day, The Economist has provided a gateway into the mind of the banking class. Something of an anomaly in the publishing industry, The Economist is not quite a magazine, not quite a newspaper; aspirational in its branding but bleakly limited in political ambitions; brazenly transparent in its capitalist ideology, yet inscrutable in its favorably spinning for American and British imperialism and racism. It is publication owned by the wealthy for the wealthy and advertises itself as such. Its only moral pretense: a long history of championing what it calls “liberalism, ”a notoriously slippery term that, in The Economist’s world, views freedom to profit and exploit labor as interchangeable with the freedom of religion, press and speech. As such, examining The Economist’s history, its connection to British and American banking interests and intelligence services, can tell us a great deal about the narrow focus of Western, and specifically British notions of “liberalism.” The promotion of capital flows over justice, enlightened imperialism over self-determination, abhors overt racism while promoting more subtle forms of race science and colonialism, all along easing the conscience of wealthy white readers that want to feign concern about human suffering but who have everything to gain by doing absolutely nothing about it. On this episode, we are joined by Alexander Zevin, author of Liberalism at Large: The World According to The Economist.
Everywhere we turn, local media — TV, digital, radio — is constantly telling us about the scourge of crime lurking around every corner. This, of course, is not new. It’s been the basis of the local news business model since the 1970s. But what is new is the rise of surveillance and snitch apps like Amazon’s Ring doorbell systems and geo-local social media like Nextdoor. They are funded by real estate and other gentrifying interests working hand in glove with police to provide a grossly distorted, inflated and hyped-up vision of crime. One of the major factors fueling this misconception is the feedback loop where media — both traditional and social — provide the ideological content for the forces of gentrification. Police focus their “law enforcement” in low income areas, local news reports on scourges of crime based on police sources, then both pressure and reinforce over-policing of communities of color, namely those getting in the way of real estate interests' designs––All animated by an increase in police-backed surveillance tech like Amazon’s Ring. On this episode we will break down these pro-carceral interests, how they create a self-reinforcing cycle of racist paranoia and how local “crime” reporting plays a role in creating this wildly distorted perception of “crime.” We are joined by two guests: Sarah Lustbader, senior legal counsel at The Justice Collaborative, and Steven Renderos, co-director of MediaJustice.
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Comments (24)

Yon

i think i love you, citations needed

May 20th
Reply

Barbara Biira

Great work! Truly eye opening.

May 4th
Reply

Olivia Cranmer-Gordon

first time listener and I loved this ep! so spicy

Mar 27th
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Amanda Aho

Yet another excellent, informative episode. Honestly felt sick during the first half from the quotes about slavery and colonialism. I'll hope for a part 2, clearly there's much more to talk about

Jan 24th
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Wade Kaardal

If you liked this episode, check out the God Awful Movies Podcast.

Dec 13th
Reply (1)

Dre

Why are these guys so bad at enunciating and fully forming words so that we can understand them? The one guy clumps all his words together so fast that they get all jumbled and nonsense is all you hear

Dec 7th
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Michael

Marx and Engels, as usual, are still shockingly relevant. 17:39

Oct 24th
Reply (1)

70s man

Nice episode. I was one of the people who didn't guess the 2016 election right (to be fair, I was 16 years old at the time). I completely changed my worldview after that. It's easy to think you are a "logical person" and only stare at the data points. It's hard to realize that the data points are measuring YOU, and that you can change them.

Sep 22nd
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Max

What a fantastic podcast!

Sep 21st
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Samuel Richards

WOW. This podcast is well researched and consistently blows my mind. I would *strongly* recommend this podcast for anyone who is interested in the importance of language in politics/media and how it impacts various aspects of our society. 10/10

Jun 14th
Reply (1)

Victor Minjares

One of your best episodes!

May 3rd
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Jm

When did vandalism and looting become protesting?

Apr 26th
Reply (2)

Gio Gerena

This show is resurrecting brain cells long atrophied under the unending drum of neoliberal propaganda. I am in love! Shouldn't listen to it before bed, but how can I not?!

Feb 7th
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Benjamin Craft-Rendon

Dean Baker likes to track how often "Skill Gap" articles will include info about the employer refusing to raise wages

Feb 4th
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Angela Goldberg

love this show! sizzling analyses. can we have an episode about China?

Dec 7th
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cynicoma

If you enjoyed this intersection of sports and politics and you havent yet, check out the new documentary by renowned filmmaker Felix Biederman and Jon "the Jon Bois" Bois (of Jon Bois fame) titled Fighting in the Age of Loneliness...available on youtube. Even if you're not into MMA or sporting in general, it is a masterfully produced and well written doc.

Dec 5th
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Benjamin Craft-Rendon

intriguing conversation about the development of focus groups, how they're both a scapegoat for & a symptom of USA's decayed political systems

Nov 23rd
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cynicoma

Love every episode of the official podcast of r/chapotraphouse

Sep 29th
Reply

Ayokunle

This episode was just beautiful. So many great points. 👍

Jul 18th
Reply
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