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Archive for July 18th, 2021

The Big Law Cartel: How Antitrust Lawyers Help Their Clients Break the Law

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today I’m going to write about how antitrust defense attorneys get paid $1000-2000 per hour to help firms engage in illegal mergers. I’ll also discuss the fun new tool FTC Chair Lina Khan is about to unleash to upset all these lawyers.

Plus:

  • Anti-Monopoly Election Candidates Begin to Emerge in Both Parties
  • “A Real S*** Show”: Soldiers Angrily Speak Out about Being Blocked from Repairing Equipment by Contractors
  • Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan: Monopolies Are a National Security Problem
  • Help! I want to know more about sleep treatment devices and dental implants.

Finally, if you would like to address the commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission, they have an open meeting this Wednesday at noon where members of the public get to speak for a minute apiece. You can sign up to speak here. If you are dealing with a monopoly or some sort of consumer deception, let ‘em know. It’s your government.

Mergers That Shouldn’t Get Out of the Board Room

Last August, I noted that Warren Buffett, the seventh richest man in the world, is America’s folksiest predator, a charming, beloved, and ruthless investor who made much of his fortune from monopoly power. Last week, his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, tried to acquire yet more market dominance.

Berkshire’s energy subsidiary owns one of two pipelines that bring natural gas from the Rocky Mountains production areas to central Utah. The other is owned by Questar Corporation, and they compete vigorously over who can ship gas.

So what did Buffett do? You guessed it – he tried to buy Questar, which would have formed a regional pipeline monopoly and let the new firm raise prices on consumers. It’s hard to convey how over the line this merger attempt was. Going from two pipeline firms controlling an area to one, is not complex. It is a merger to monopolize a line of business – pipelines – that is well-understood and over 100 years old. To make this naked power grab even more ridiculous, the two pipeline firms had already attempted the same merger in 1995, and been stopped.

Once again, the FTC blocked it. Holly Vedova, the Bureau of Competition Acting Director, issued an angry statement, saying she found it “disappointing” that the FTC even had to spend money and time to stop this merger.

Antitrust enforcers are dealing with a lot of deals like this, ones that would radically consolidate industries. These deals are blatantly illegal, but the hope from dominant firms is that enforcers might let a few of them slip by, or not have the resources to litigate them all. In 2016, Bill Baer, the head of the antitrust division, noted that mergers which shouldn’t even “make it out of the board room” were constantly sucking up division resources. Office Depot and Staples, for instance, have tried to merge multiple times.

Echoing Baer, Vodova added that the pipeline deal was “representative of the type of transaction that should not make it out of the boardroom.” Then she cryptically offered a threat to aggressive antitrust lawyers who knew this merger shouldn’t have been proposed, noting that the FTC “will be actively exploring its options on how to curtail this type of re-review to better deploy the Commission’s scarce resources.”

Why would firms propose obviously illegal mergers? And why would antitrust lawyers let them do so? Sure, lawyers work for clients, but aren’t they also supposed to uphold the law? To put it differently, lawyers should defend their clients if there are charges of criminal or illegal activity, and they should give them advice on the best way to legally accomplish some business objective. But they aren’t supposed to help their clients plan a bank robbery.

So why are lawyers pushing crazy and obviously illegal mergers?

The Most Boring Conspiracy is Big Law

As I’ve worked through politics, I’ve come to realize that giant conspiracies are far less interesting than they seemed to have been when I was younger. Don’t get me wrong. There are conspiracies, and they are far-reaching. It’s just that most of them, at least when it comes to corporate power and antitrust, are not run by titanic cackling geniuses, but by middle aged slightly overweight lawyers with bad posture who live in and around Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco and love talking about wine clubs.

A few weeks ago, New York Times reporters Cecilia Kang and David McCabe published a useful article on the hot market for antitrust lawyers. “Antitrust work — once a relatively sleepy area of the legal world — is now providing a windfall for the big firms,” they wrote. “Top partners at a large firm often bill $1,000 to $2,000 an hour, and the scores of young associates who help them charge hundreds of dollars an hour.”

While there are antitrust lawyers who sue monopolists in private actions, most of these lawyers help large firms engage in mergers, or defend those firms from government or private suits. And what do they get paid so much for? It’s not so much legal advice as it is being willing to facilitate illegal activities, like trying to help Berkshire buy a monopoly in central Utah.

Now, legal ethics are blurry, since laws and regulations aren’t always clear. But sometimes, lines are clear, and too often, the antitrust defense bar forgets that there is a distinction between advocating for a white collar client and acting as an accomplice to lawbreaking. In fact, helping clients violate the law is now routine in the industry.

Gibson Dunn, for instance, is one of the more powerful global law firms, and represents a large swath of corporate clientele (including big tech). I downloaded a marketing presentation from their website, and it offers standard advice for clients and prospective clients on how to get a merger through the regulatory gauntlet.

Most of it is basic, a political and legal analysis of the existing environment, along with suggestions for corporate executives on how to navigate it. It goes over the impact of Trump judges, Biden appointments, and the existing antitrust cases in the hopper, like those against Google. What I found towards the end, however, is what’s interesting. It’s basically a guide to how to get away with an illegal merger, or at the very least, to push the boundaries of the law.

One slide, for instance, is titled, “When should we start thinking about antitrust?” And the answer is, “before anyone starts creating documents.” (I added the red box for emphasis.) In other words, Gibson Dunn is telling clients to beware of their paper trail, because enforcers are going to get to look at their various emails to make sure there’s no intent to monopolize. Here’s the slide. . .

Continue reading. And he shows several slides of sleazy legal advice — plus much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 3:59 pm

On a Single Day in May, Israeli Settlers and Soldiers Cooperated in Attacks That Left Four Palestinians Dead

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Yuval Abraham reports in The Intercept:

NIDAL SAFADI WAS a quiet man, his neighbors said. He lived in Urif, a Palestinian village of several thousand people in the West Bank. Just 25, Safadi had three children with his wife and a fourth, a girl, on the way.

Urif is not always quiet. With the Palestinian city of Nablus less than 10 miles away, the occupying Israeli military established a base on a nearby hilltop in 1983. A year later, it was turned over to civilian purposes: part of Israel’s illegal settlement program in the Palestinian territories. Since 2000, the settlement, called Yitzhar, has been home to a yeshiva known for its hard-line Jewish nationalist views; the settlement become known for its extremism. The so-called outpost settlements it has spurred — illegal even by Israeli law, but nonetheless defended by the Israel Defense Forces — have gradually encroached on villages like Urif. Over the past 10 years, settler aggressions have given rise to violent recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians living nearby.

On May 14, though, Urif was calm — unlike much of the West Bank. In dozens of places around the territory, Palestinians protested against recent Israeli provocations: police storming Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound and heavy bombardment, in response to Hamas rocket fire, of the Gaza Strip.

“There were many protests in the area, but Urif was quiet,” said Mazen Shehadeh, head of the village council. “It is a small village and the residents stayed indoors. Had the settlers not arrived to attack the houses, nothing would have happened.”

Shehadeh said a group of settlers arrived at about 2 p.m., along with six soldiers, and began wreaking havoc. “The settlers uprooted almost 60 fig and olive trees,” he said. “Then they attacked the school with stones and broke its solar panels.” The damage was still evident when I visited a month after the attack. “While the settlers did all of that, the soldiers covered for them by gunfire,” Shehadeh continued. “The soldiers led, gave orders, everything looked coordinated. The soldiers pointed for the settlers, where to go, where to uproot, and then they shot at anybody who tried to get close. After a few minutes, residents came to protect the village.”

One of the villagers who arrived was Nidal Safadi. “Nidal arrived at the school terrified,” said his brother, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “We have relatives who live nearby, and the mosque’s loudspeaker announced that the settlers were attacking, so he ran.”

Photos and videos from the scene show settlers and soldiers from the IDF aiming their weapons toward the Palestinian villagers. One video, obtained by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows a shirtless settler with a face covering walking around and chatting with nearby soldiers. At one point, the settler, armed with an automatic rifle, stands directly in front of a solider, takes aim toward the villagers, and opens fire. Other photos show settlers and soldiers alike with weapons raised.

Amid the chaos, Safadi struck by four bullets in the chest and abdomen, according to Shehadeh. He died of his wounds.

“We do not know whether it was a settler or a soldier who shot him,” Shehadeh said. “We had many who were wounded by gunfire that day. Nine people were hurt: one in the abdomen, another was shot three centimeters from his heart. And there was Nidal, who got killed.”

Shehadeh went on, “It was a planned attack. Revenge, not a confrontation. We used to have clashes every day and it never looked like that. They didn’t use live ammunition before, only tear gas and rubber bullets. Also, more soldiers used to be present.”

Joint Attacks

Safadi’s death was one of 11 violent killings of Palestinians in the West Bank on May 14, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. While Israeli media reported that the killings occurred amid “clashes” — implying the widespread protests over Al Aqsa and the Gaza bombings — at least four of the deaths occurred during deliberate attacks by settlers and soldiers on Palestinian villages, an investigation by Local Call and The Intercept found.

The joint attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers were not linked to protests in the targeted villages; no demonstrations preceded the violence in three of the four locations. The incursions all occurred at almost the same time, around 2 p.m., and all involved the settlers destroying agricultural land, including by setting fires, as well as stone throwing and the use of live ammunition.

Attacks on Palestinians by stone-throwing settlers, as Israeli soldiers stand idly by, are a common occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territories. But scenes like those from May 14 — settlers and soldiers attacking villages in apparent cooperation, with live ammunition — are unprecedented.

“The only way I can describe this is by calling it militias,” said Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, an attorney and a partner in Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, an organization that works in the Israeli court system to represent Palestinians who have faced settler violence. “These cases, in which soldiers enter villages together with settlers, and in which there is massive gunfire by settlers — this is unprecedented.”

Five such attacks on May 14 left four Palestinians dead. One was killed in the village of Asira Al-Qibliya, in the Nablus area; another in Iskaka, near the Israeli settlement Ariel; a third in the village Al Reihiya, in South Mount Hebron; and Nidal Safidi in Urif. In the fifth village, Burin, which is also near Nablus, a similar attack ended without any deaths.

Videos, photographs, and villagers’ testimonies of the attacks indicate that, in at least three cases, Israeli settlers and soldiers acted as a combined fighting unit, effectively working as a joint militia attacking civilians and firing interchangeably at Palestinian residents. Coordination between the military and settlers is a burgeoning political issue in Israel: On Tuesday, 100 former combat soldiers sent a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanding he take action against settler violence that they themselves had witnessed during their service. “In the past year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 3:12 pm

Why Crash Weight Loss Programs Don’t Work: Clues From Hunter-Gatherer Societies

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Changing the analogy of how the body uses calories from an engine to a business is highly illuminating. John Henning Schumann reports at NPR:

It’s an eternal question: What diet is best for weight loss? Or, what should we eat (or avoid) to stay healthy?

Devotees of paleo or keto will talk your ear off about why their diet is the most sensible. People choosing vegan diets (no animal products, including dairy) make a compelling case for both personal and global health.

Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, argues that human metabolism has evolved to the point where how we eat and expend our calories is more important than all of our collective obsession with what to eat.

In his new bookBurn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Stay Healthy and Lose Weight, Pontzer breaks down the science of metabolism and shares tales from his work studying caloric expenditure among hunter-gatherer societies.

One of the most startling findings is the notion of constrained daily energy expenditure. This is the idea that the human metabolism adapts to our activity levels to keep our daily calorie burn in a surprisingly narrow range — no matter how hard you work out. But don’t let that depressing fact hold you back from the gym — it’s crucial that you still get daily exercise for weight maintenance and overall health.

This interview with Pontzer is adapted from an interview for Public Radio Tulsa’s Medical Monday program and has been edited for length and clarity.

In your book you debunk the common metaphor we use for caloric expenditure — an engine or a machine. You say it would be more accurate to compare it to running a business. Why is that?

The engine view gets a few things right. We put fuel into our bodies in the form of food. And we do burn it off in all the tasks that our body does, the way that an engine burns fuel.

But an engine, like the engine in your car, doesn’t get to decide how it burns the fuel. A car’s energy burn is all about how hard you step on the gas pedal. Your body isn’t like that. Your body is more like a business, as it has an overall goal like any business does. The overall goal of your body is to survive and reproduce, because that’s what every organism has evolved to do. But there are many parts and pieces and departments that are in the service of that overall goal.

In a business you have finance, sales, human resources and security and everything else. It’s the same with your body. You’ve got all these different organ systems that all work together. And like a business, when income is low, you can juggle things around. So you spend less on this or that task. And when things are good, you can ramp up the energy that you spend on different tasks. And so that kind of juggling or prioritization that businesses do is the same that your body can do with how it spends calories.

One fallacy with the engine model of calorie burning is we think, OK, I’ve got to burn more calories than I take in, either by eating less or exercising more or both. But as you point out, the metabolism adjusts, and it becomes harder to lose weight. So even though exercise isn’t really a great weight-loss strategy, it’s still very important for your overall health, right?

That’s exactly right. If you’re more physically active, eventually you don’t burn more calories a day, but you change the way your calories are spent. If you spend your calories on exercise, what that means is you’re spending fewer calories on other tasks.

And for most of us, that’s a really good thing, because if we spend less energy, for example, on inflammation, we reduce our inflammation levels. If we spend less energy on stress reactivity, for example, our cortisol levels don’t go up as high and our adrenaline levels don’t go up as high, we achieve lower levels of stress response. And it seems that that exercise might also help keep testosterone for men or estrogen levels for women at a slightly healthier level. So that adjustment, that metabolic adjustment that we make is one of the reasons exercise is so good for us.

You’ve done extensive research with modern-day hunter-gatherers, like the Hadza people of Tanzania to better understand how human metabolism works. What did you learn?

The Hadza, to this day, don’t have any domesticated crops or animals or machines or guns or electricity or anything like that. They live in grass houses in the open savanna in northern Tanzania. And every morning they wake up and women are off to get plant foods, such as berries and tubers. The men go off to hunt for a wild game using bow and arrow.

For somebody like me who studies how humans evolved, a community like that is just an invaluable way to ask what hunting and gathering does to our bodies. Because we humans evolved over millennia as a hunting and gathering species. And yes — in a population like that, food can be scarce sometimes. And you’re always spending lots of energy on physical activity. So your body really has to be good at prioritizing how it spends its calories.

The Hadza walk everywhere they go, and compared to us, are seldom sedentary. I’d assume they burn significantly more calories than we do in a day. Yet surprisingly, your work shows that their metabolism isn’t all that different from the average American.

About 10 years ago, we went and measured how many calories men and women in the Hadza community burn every day. The Hadza are so physically active, we’d expect that their total calories burned every day would be much higher than we see in the U.S. and Europe and other industrialized populations. And instead, what we found was that actually, even though men are getting 19,000 steps today, women are getting 13,000 steps a day on top of all the other work they do, they aren’t burning more total calories every day than we are in the West.

Physical activity ends up being another one of those things that the body can juggle and adjust. And so in the same way that your body can adjust to changes in your food environment, your body can adjust to changes in your physical activity. So for the Hadza, their “metabolic business” has adjusted so that they spend less on other body systems to make room for that big physical activity workload that they have.

What does this mean for someone who is trying to lose weight today?

If you or I started an exercise program tomorrow, we will burn extra calories from that exercise for a while. But after a couple of months, our bodies will adjust so that we’re spending about the same energy every day as we were before we started the exercise. Your body adjusts how it spends its energy to keep the total calories burned every day within a relatively narrow range. It just speaks to how adaptable and flexible our bodies are and how we’re not really in charge of our metabolisms the way we think.

You include a section in the book about the TV show The Biggest Loser in which contestants competed to see who could lose the most weight. What was the problem with that? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 9:43 am

Alcohol Use Linked To Over 740,000 Cancer Cases Last Year, New Study Says

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For some reason — God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform — my online reading this morning keeps presenting me with various health risks due to lifestyle habits (smoking, poor diet, and now alcohol consumption). Susan Brink reports at NPR:

The link between smoking and cancer is well-documented and widely known. But alcohol?

“Fewer than one in three Americans recognize alcohol as a cause of cancer,” says Harriet Rumgay, researcher at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. “That’s similar in other high-income countries, and it’s probably even lower in other parts of the world.”

A new study shows just how much of a risk drinking can be. At least 4% of the world’s newly diagnosed cases of esophageal, mouth, larynx, colon, rectum, liver and breast cancers in 2020, or 741,300 people, can be attributed to drinking alcohol, according to a study in the July 13 edition of Lancet Oncology. Men accounted for three-quarters of alcohol-related cancers. Of the 172,600 alcohol-related cancer cas

It’s the first time, Rumgay says, that research has quantified the risks of different levels of drinking. “Our study highlights the contribution of even relatively low levels of alcohol to the risk of new cancer cases,” says Rumgay.

What’s the connection?

There are a few biological pathways that lead from alcohol consumption to a cancer diagnosis, according to the study. Ethanol, the form of alcohol present in beer, wine and liquor, breaks down to form a known carcinogen called acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and interferes with cells’ ability to repair the damage.

Alcohol can also increase levels of hormones, including estrogen. Hormones signal cells to grow and divide. With more cell division, there are more opportunities for cancer to develop. Alcohol also reduces the body’s ability to absorb certain cancer-protective nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, E and folate.

What’s more, the combination of drinking and smoking might indirectly increase the risk of cancer, with alcohol acting as a kind of solvent for the carcinogenic chemicals in tobacco.

The more a person drinks, the greater the likelihood of biological damage.

To come up with their statistical estimate, researchers crunched three sets of data: estimated global alcohol consumption estimates, specific cancer risks from alcohol, and estimates of the global incidence of those cancers in 2020.

They found that . . .

Continue reading.

See also: Our World in Data on alcohol consumption and these NPR recipes for alcohol-free mocktails.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 9:26 am

Share of population that cannot afford a healthy diet, 2017

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From Our World in Data (click to expand):

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 8:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Cigarette companies are happy to kill people for profit

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If you are old enough, your will recall how cigarette companies denied evidence that smoking cigarettes damaged smokers’ health — and the health of those around them who inhaled the smoke. The science was unclear, they said, as they continued to market their products — as they do to this day.

The chart at the left (click to enlarge), from Our World in Data’s page on Smoking, shows that companies are still hard at work making and marketing and selling cigarettes, even though the health costs are now well known. These companies amount to legalized drug dealers, selling a deadly and addictive drug, and focusing on sales to the young because those who are young generally have bad judgment and feel immortal. By the time they are older and realize the danger, they are addicted, and most find quitting to be extremely difficult.

Of course, smoking is only one of the risks people face. Other risk factors includes diabetes (high blood sugar), obesity, poor food choices (lots of salt, sugar, and highly processed foods, low consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables). The chart at right (from the same page as above) provides a comparison — though it should be noted that one can fairly easily find (in the US) people who are obese and diabetic and make poor food choices, though nowadays in the US cigarette consumption has fallen substantially in most parts of the country.

In the US, despite strong resistance from cigarette companies and from smokers, most places now do not allow smoking. You can no longer smoke on airplanes or in most restaurants and bars and workplaces. And that has had an effect, as shown by the chart below (again from Our World in Data, but a different page). The chart also shows that the claims made by cigarette companies that smoking is harmless were lies — lies that result in the deaths of millions but did make money for the companies.

Note that this chart shows only deaths from lung cancer. Smoking also leads to deaths from emphysema, heart disease, stroke, and other causes. The CDC notes

Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.1

  • More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking.
  • For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness.
  • Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Smoking is a known cause of erectile dysfunction in males.

The also note that, on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Smokers pay money to die sooner.

From the same page:

The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year on cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertising and promotions.6,7

  • $8.2 billion was spent on advertising and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco combined—about $22.5 million every day, and nearly $1 million every hour. Smokeless tobacco products include dry snuff, moist snuff, plug/twist, loose-leaf chewing tobacco, snus, and dissolvable products.
  • Price discounts to retailers account for 74.7% of all cigarette marketing (about $5.7 billion). These are discounts paid in order to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers.

State spending on tobacco prevention and control does not meet CDC-recommended levels.1,8,9

  • States have billions of dollars from the taxes they put on tobacco products and money from lawsuits against cigarette companies that they can use to prevent smoking and help smokers quit. Right now, though, the states only use a very small amount of that money to prevent and control tobacco use.
  • In fiscal year 2020, states will collect $27.2 billion from tobacco taxes and settlements in court, but will only spend $740 million in the same year. That’s only 2.7% of it spent on programs that can stop young people from becoming smokers and help current smokers quit.8
  • Right now, not a single state out of 50 funds these programs at CDC’s “recommended” level. Only three states (Alaska, California, and Maine) give even 70% of the full recommended amount. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia spend less than 20 percent of what the CDC recommends. One state, Connecticut, gives no state funds for prevention and quit-smoking programs.8
  • Spending 12% (about $3.3 billion) of the $27.2 billion would fund every state’s tobacco control program at CDC-recommended levels.8

And the result of states refusing to spend money to prevent smoking?

Thousands of young people start smoking cigarettes every day.11

  • Each day, about 2000 people younger than 18 years smoke their first cigarette.
  • Each day, over 300 people younger than 18 years become daily cigarette smokers.

But many adult smokers do try to quit, and a few succeed:

  • In 2015, nearly 7 in 10 (68.0%) adult cigarette smokers wanted to stop smoking.
  • In 2018, more than half (55.1%) adult cigarette smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year.
  • In 2018, more than 7 out of every 100 (7.5%) people who tried to quit succeeded.
  • From 2012–2018, the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign has motivated approximately one million tobacco smokers to quit for good.13

Note: “Made a quit attempt” refers to smokers who reported that they stopped smoking for more than 1 day in the past 12 months because they were trying to quit smoking. See CDC’s Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts fact sheet for more information.

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, by John Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente, is an interesting book on making a change like quitting smoking. In fact, the book is based on a series of studies the authors did specifically on quitting smoking, funded by the NIH. They found that making such a change is a six-stage process, and that each stage certain essential tasks must be completed before moving to the next stage. If the essential tasks are not done, then the attempt fails. Smoking cessation workshops are quite helpful for people who are at the stage where that task is appropriate, but such workshops fail for those who are at an earlier stage.

It’s an interesting book, and it applies to other sorts of major changes, such as restructuring one’s diet. The link is to inexpensive secondhand copies.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 8:10 am

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