#56 — Jamil Smith (Rolling Stone)


Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is… Jamil Smith, senior writer at Rolling Stone where he covers national affairs and culture. Jamil is one of the most prominent voices in America on race and politics, so I picked his brain on voter suppression and remembering the life of congressman Elijah Cummings, who sadly passed away last month. Both issues have shaped politics as we know it, so we got into the weeds of how to fix voting discrimination, as well as what legacy Cummings will leave behind. Below is a post-game of everything we discussed. Enjoy 💪

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Elijah Cummings Wasn’t Done

The news of Elijah Cummings’ passing last month sent shockwaves through the political world. On both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans attended Cummings’ funeral, which lasted for four and half hours due to the volume of people lining up to give eulogies. My favorite was from Barack Obama…

No matter how much Cummings achieved in his 23 years in congress — Cummings was sworn in in 1996 after winning a special election of Maryland’s 7th District — it still feels that his death, at 68 years of age, was premature. Whether it was standing up for police brutality in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in his native Baltimore, or his role in the impeachment of Donald Trump, Cummings was as good as they come.

And he wasn’t done. As his widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and Maryland Democratic Party chairwoman, said in her statement above, Elijah was working “until his last breath”, signing two subpoenas on his deathbed, both relating to the Trump administration’s policy change to temporarily end the ability for severely ill immigrants to seek care in the United States. Congressman Elijah Cummings left behind a gargantuan legacy that will take multiple people to replicate.

Jamil Smith, Rolling Stone

Racism Kills, Literally

It’s currently unknown what led to Cummings’ death, except “complications concerning longstanding health challenges," according to his office. What we do know is that Cummings faced the brutality of racism all his life, having first being attacked by a white mob for integrating a swimming pool in Baltimore when he was just 11 years old.

We also know that racism causes real health problems. According to a recent study, racism promotes genes that trigger inflammation, one of the major drivers of disease. This is just one reason why black Americans have a life expectancy at birth of 75.6 years, while white Americans are expected to live to 79.

April Thomas, University of Southern California


A Real-Life Purge

One of congressman Cummings’ biggest fights was against voter suppression, spearheading the House Oversight Committee and becoming a leading voice within the Democratic Party on several civil rights issues. Continuing that fight is Stacey Abrams, a relatively new face to the wider public who’s tipped to be a powerful voice within the Democratic Party for years to come. Abrams shot to fame after she lost by just 0.4 per cent, or less than 60,000 votes, to Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia’s race for governor in the 2018 midterms. The race was riddled with so many allegations that the House Oversight Committee, led by Cummings, launched an investigation into what really happened.

While the investigation is still ongoing, it was revealed recently that top Republicans in Georgia are continuing to use their power to suppress minority voters. In what is being ripped out of Kemp’s playbook, top officials in the state are investigating and issuing subpoenas to political opponents, without publicly showing evidence there was wrongdoing by those parties.

That’s where Abrams comes in. Instead of following top Democrats’ calls to run for president, Abrams launched a new national voting rights campaign, Fair Fight 2020, which aims to educate and protect voters of their rights. In some ways, Republicans understand black voters better than Democrats. While voter suppression laws aren’t as overt as they once were, individual red states now use more insidious methods carefully planned to make it harder to register and to cast a vote. In Georgia, some counties were left with just a single polling station, and it’s thought that almost 16 million Americans overall were removed from electoral register between 2014 and 2016.

Oliver Laughland, The Guardian

Which States Are Most Restrictive To Vote?

I was surprised to see that Virginia, a state Hillary Clinton won by more than five points, was among the most restrictive states in the country, but that can be explained by the majorities held by the Republicans in both the state House and Senate. Thanks to the fine folks at the Guardian US, you can find out how restrictive each state is.

Shelby County vs Holder

In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision to strip away key protections of the Voting Rights Act, a staple in the country’s democracy since 1965. In the judgement, the SCOTUS ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — the section that determines which states can change their voting laws without approval — was unconstitutional. Chief Justice John G. Roberts delivered the court’s opinion stating that “the Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem,” suggesting that there’s now less need for voter protection.

The neutering of the Voting Rights Act has paved the way for more than half of the nation’s states to tighten their voter-ID laws, including most recently Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas.

John Schwartz, New York Times

Trump Visits Atlanta To Woo Black Voters

Donald Trump visited Atlanta last week to launch his campaign Black Voices For Trump, and unsurprisingly, it quickly turned into a circus. Sadly I’ve run out of words to describe the hypocrisy of the president when it comes to trying to attract minority voters, so I’ll let you watch for yourself…

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Job Corner

Each week I’ll feature a selection of new journalism jobs. This week, the Texas Tribune announced several postings for their investigative unit project with ProPublica. They also have a bunch of student fellowships…

Student Fellowships

Data Reporter

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Research Reporter

Senior Editor

Story Producer

#55 — Lindsay Gibbs (Power Plays)

Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is… Lindsay Gibbs, sports writer and author or the Power Plays newsletter. Lindsay was a writer for Think Progress covering injustices in sport, but after Think Progress was shut down a couple of months ago, she decided to branch out on her own and start the newsletter. Lindsay has been invaluable in her reporting on women in sports, so much so that even Hope Solo is a fan. Unfortunately, our audio was lost to the interwebs, so there’ll be no podcast today. Still, below is a post-game analysis of everything we talked about and more. Next week I’ll have Jamil Smith on the pod, senior writer at Rolling Stone covering politics and culture. Enjoy 🤓 ⚽️ 🏀

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The NCAA Is Being Forced To Act

California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September that will allow college athletes in his state to make money off of their names, images and likeliness from 2023. It’s a momentous move that will change the landscape of college sports for generations to come. Now that California is the first state to speak out against the NCAA through its legislature, at least a dozen other states are considering following suit. Forced to do something, the NCAA announced last week that it will consider allowing athletes to make money off their name. As Lindsay described, the announcement is being interpreted as “setting up a committee to talk about setting up a committee to talk about discussing the issue.”

Steve Almasy, Wayne Sterling and Angela Barajas, CNN

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How the Northwestern Football Union Nearly Came To Be

For decades, college athletes have tried to get paid, but each attempt to do so has been thwarted. The closest almost-bid came in 2015 when the Northwestern football team came inches away from forming an official union, but the National Labor Relations Board failed to climb on board. The NLRB initially ruled that the team could unionize, but ended up reversing its decision. Still, all of the hard work wasn’t for nothing: The Big Ten conference announced that it would improve medical insurance for its athletes and guarantee multiyear scholarships. And its impact on the national debate cannot be quantified in helping push the needle forward, making California’s bill all the more easier.

Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss, Sports Illustrated

Individual States Save the Day, Again

A recurring theme has popped up over several newsletters I’ve written over the past few months. Whether it’s fighting the climate crisis, protecting our privacy from creepy technology companies or ending the opioid epidemic, it’s been individual states that have stepped up to the plate. And now we can add allowing college athletes to make some money to the list of bipartisan legislation that is set to sweep through locally, while very little gets done at the federal level. On a side note, call me boring but I can see clearly why so many people from both sides of the aisle are fed up with the folks in Washington.

Anyway, with the likes of Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina already proposing bills in their respective statewide legislatures, the writing appears to be on the wall for the NCAA and you can expect to see athletes actually getting payed for their work in the next few years.

Charlotte Carroll, Sports Illustrated

What Does All This Mean For Female Athletes?

Thank God we have Lindsay to contextualize what all of this means for women. Here’s an excerpt from her newsletter on the issue:

Perhaps you’ve heard pundits fear-mongering over the years that ending amateurism in the NCAA will signal the death of Title IX, and I’m here to tell you, that is not true. (I give a full breakdown of why in this ThinkProgress piece.)

Do not fight to save this current exploitative system in order to protect women’s sports. In fact, ending amateurism can be viewed as a women’s rights issue, too. 

Women have far fewer opportunities in the sports world once their college athletic days have ended, so stripping away their rights and money-making opportunities during college is particularly damaging.

Lindsay Gibbs, Power Play Newsletter

Should Black Athletes Leave White Colleges?

Racism is sewn into the roots of all of this. In the NCAA’s three largest revenue generating sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball — the majority of athletes are black. Before money in college sports exploded — the NCAA reported $1.1 billion for the 2017 fiscal year — student athletes could achieve Hall of Fame status from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In Basketball, Willis Reed from Grambling State in ‘64; Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, from Winston-Salem State in ‘67; and football greats Walter Payton from Jackson State in ‘75; and Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley State in ‘84.

These days you’ll struggle to see someone from an HBCU even make the pros. That’s because the glitz, the glamour and the better opportunities to make money after graduation are so much greater at the top Division 1 schools like Alabama and North Carolina.

Because profit from college sports have never been higher for everyone except the athletes, it’s the athletes themselves that have never had so much power and leverage. Jemele Hill argues that if a group of elite black college football and basketball players decided to collectively attend solely HBCUs instead, then this would be another way to force the NCAA to budge from its archaic position.

Jemele Hill, The Atlantic

Defending the Indefensible: Amateurism

NCAA President Mark Emmert has long defended the notion of amateurism in college sports, partly because he was paid $3.9 million for the 2018 academic year. But even if he does truly believe in the power of college sports contributing toward higher education, that many schools would leave the NCAA if athletes were paid and that many other smaller sports would be forced to be cut, it shouldn’t be the status quo that no college athlete gets paid. In no other industry or profession is this the case, whereby a workforce works for free to prop up the fortunes of others. That shit ended back in 1865.

Sarah Ganim, CNN

How Do Americans Feel?

Paying college athletes isn’t really a controversial issue anymore. A recent poll conducted after Newsom signed the bill in California showed that 60 percent of Americans are in favor of paying college athletes, versus 32 percent against the idea. And among students, 53 percent are in favor of compensating college athletes.

Daniel Roberts, Yahoo Finance

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Last Week… I had Emily Atkin of the Heated newsletter on the climate crisis and Bill Bishop on the NBA’s poisoned China chalice.

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#54 — Bill Bishop (Sinocism)


Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is… Bill Bishop, author of the Sinocism newsletter. Bill has covered China for several decades and has become an expert on everything China, so we got into why tensions between the U.S. and China are so bad right now, how bad they are in a historical context, and we also discussed what might or might not happen in the latest debacle between the two countries involving the NBA. Below is a post-game of everything we talked about, enjoy! 🤓🇺🇸🇨🇳

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The NBA’s Poisoned China Chalice

Two weeks before the new NBA season was due to start, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent a tweet affirming his support for Hong Kong’s freedom. No big deal, right? Well, as soon as you introduce billions of dollars into the mix, it quickly becomes a major problem. It’s estimated that 800 million people watch the NBA in China, almost three times the entire population of the U.S., resulting in around $4 billion in annual revenue for the NBA.

Morey deleted the tweet in a hurry, but he should have known that the internet is an unforgiving place, and the backlash started almost immediately in China. Whether he was instructed to by the NBA and the Rockets or not, Morey quickly issued an apology:

While much of the fiasco centred around the NBA’s lack of crisis management, it became clear that on American soil, China vs the U.S. is a bipartisan issue. My God did I never thought I’d agree with Mr. Trusted himself, but we’re in weird times.

As it stands, Chinese broadcasters have quietly begun to stream games again after threatening to cancel multibillion dollar contracts, while the NBA has made things 10 times worse by attempting to control the narrative back at home by confiscating signs at games in support of Hong Kong.

Bill Bishop, Sinocism

The Birth of Chinese Nationalism

Nationalism in China as we know it began on May 4, 1919, when 100,000 Chinese students took to the symbolic Tiananmen Square to protest their country’s paltry reparations for helping the allied forces defeat Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I. Although they joined the war late, several hundred thousand Chinese workers significantly boosted the allied powers in France, the Middle East and Russia.

In return, China wanted to reclaim Qingdao and the surrounding Shandong Peninsula, after Germany occupied the Chinese port city in 1897. When the victorious allies met in Paris to reshape the world after the war, also known as the Treaty of Versailles, the disputed territory was awarded to Japan, and China was given the cold shoulder.

On that fiery day in Tiananmen Square 100 years ago, the huge protests led to the dismissal of three pro-Japanese officials and the resignation of the entire cabinet. Thirty-one countries eventually signed the Treaty, but China wasn’t one of them, and nationalism in China was born.

Salvatore Babones, Foreign Policy

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This Is the Worst It’s Been Since the Korean War

The NBA debacle is symbolic for just how tense relations between the world’s two superpowers are. Things may have never been this bad since the breakout of the Korean War in 1950, when China defended communist North Korea and the U.S. backed South Korea. Through the years, the differences have mainly been over core values — like that thing called freedom of speech — and economic superiority. But in the past couple of years, the pressure has been ratcheted up.

Back in March, 2018, Donald Trump issued a sweeping round of tariffs on Chinese goods totalling around $50 billion, and then followed that up with a further $34 billion in tariffs four months later. Naturally, China retaliated with tariffs of its own on U.S. products totalling around $34 billion as well. Then came the Huawei lawsuit against the U.S. for banning federal agencies from buying its products. Huawei is of course the Chinese telecommunications company that is reported to have close links with the Chinese government and thus pose a significant security risk. Naturally, this resulted in another Chinese retaliation and a slew of American companies were blacklisted from operating in China. But that’s nothing new, as the “Great Firewall of China” has been in operation for decades. Exhausted yet?

The latest round of economic tit-for-tat is being played out as we speak, and the two countries are finalizing the first part of a massive trade deal that should soothe tensions for the time being.

Council on Foreign Relations

What’s In the Trade Deal?

Talks between the U.S. and China are secretive, but here’s what’s been reported to be included…

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#53 — Emily Atkin (Heated 🔥)


Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is Emily Atkin, author of the Heated newsletter for people pissed off with climate change, and also a contributing editor at the New Republic. Emily and I got really, wait for it… HEATED discussing CNN’s actions, or lack of actions, in the fight against the climate crisis, and we also named the world’s worst polluters. Below is a post-game analysis on everything we discussed. Enjoy 🔥

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What Is CNN For?

CNN is somewhat of an enigma when it comes to the climate crisis. One week they’ll absolutely smash the debate out of the park with seven whole hours of climate town halls, but the next week they failed to raise a single question on the issue at the fourth Democratic presidential debate. People were mad, including Republican governor of Washington Jay Inslee.

Now, to be fair to CNN, a seven-hour marathon dedicated to the climate crisis is more than any other cable outlet has done. So thank you CNN for that. But there’s simply no excuse not to keep the conversation going. The very purpose of journalism is to inform the public of the most important issues, and the climate IS among the most important issues we face today.

Emily Atkin, Heated

Who Are the Worst Polluters?

The Guardian published a bombshell of a series on the world’s biggest polluters. It’s no surprise that the top 20 polluters are all energy or oil companies, including BP whose social media team somehow kept a straight face when it tweeted this pile of shit. It’s one of the only times I’ve seen a mass list of culprits published like this, which I hope signifies a more aggressive approach from across the media to outing the worst offenders.

Matthew Taylor and Jonathan Watts, the Guardian

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Oh Hey Google!

One company that didn’t make the top 20 list, but is still far from out of the woods, is our darling search engine Google. Google has made substantial donations to some of the biggest climate deniers, despite creating a mirage that it cares about anything other than money. Most prominent on the list is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is the Conservative think tank behind convincing Donald Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement. To be fair, it’s not hard to make Trump do something.

Google said that donating to the CEI doesn’t mean it supports climate change denial. But that’s the same old excuse you’ll hear from large companies trying to evade any ounce of responsibility. Mr. Zuckerberg espoused the same strategy last week on Capitol Hill. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned why The Daily Caller was part of Facebook’s new factchecking service, Zuckerberg quickly palmed responsibility off to an outsourcer, saying that Facebook didn’t actually appoint who fact-checked the content on its own platform. It’s as if he’s missing the point, but I digress.

Google should know that donating to certain Conservative organizations will bring with it a justified backlash, and its bullshit excuses aren’t going to slide.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner, the Guardian

Big Oil, Meet Big Tobacco

It was only 20-odd years ago that the U.S. government finally sued Philip Morris and a group of other large tobacco companies for defrauding the public and hiding the truth about nicotine addiction. Not that I was conscious of what was going on back then, but I can’t believe Big Tobacco got away with it for so long. Even more maddening is that climate journalists have to write strikingly similar words today, as ‘Big Tobacco’ has morphed into ‘Big Oil’. So similar are the two that the same lawyers and PR companies that lied to the public all those decades ago about nicotine, are the same people defending and deflecting for the oil companies today.

Sharon Eubanks for the Union of Concerned Scientists

Exxon Goes To Trial

BUT, as wise as the oil companies think they are, the public are following an old playbook of their own. Just as is the case in the opioid crisis and the ‘techlash’, it’s been the people and individual states that have taken action. Last week, New York’s Attorney General began a trial against ExxonMobil for misleading investors by downplaying how much future environmental regulations could affect its bottom line. It might not be perfect, but it could be a major crack in the armor for the oil industry.

Justine Calma, The Verge

Have Journalists Made Any Progress Covering the Climate?

The answer is yes and no, depending on who you ask. But largely we haven’t been able to grapple with the idea that the climate crisis is among the most important issues we face today, if not the most important. Take a read of this article written back in 2008 by the Columbia Journalism Review, and you’ll see that we’re still discussing similar issues of how to tackle covering climate change more than a decade later.

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Next up… Bill Bishop, author of the Sinocism newsletter, to talk everything China.

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#52 — Katie Notopoulos (BuzzFeed News)


Hello! Welcome to another episode of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is… Katie Notopoulos! Katie covers internet culture and the tech industry for BuzzFeed News, and has a knack for finding kooky stories. We got into some serious stuff including Facebook’s new advertising tool which allows you to see who has your data, as well as why Apple are masquerading as a privacy champion. Below is everything we talked about, enjoy! 🤓

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Is Apple Really Our Privacy Savior?

Compared with Facebook, Apple is a saint. Its main business model is to sell phones and computers, so it doesn’t have a natural incentive to sell your data to ad companies. Regardless of what it sells, it’s not hard to be seen as the good guy when stood next to Facebook, whose founder and CEO would probably sell his own sisters to advertisers. Apple has hit the PR trail hard recently to tell us that, unlike its competitors, the iPhone maker will not track your data and sell it to marketers. But by the very nature of its products — Apple News+ and Apple Pay to name just two — that’s hard to believe.

It’s remarkable, and quite laughable, how much Apple’s classic soft sell adverts have morphed into direct and blunt messages about how terrible its competitors are. Gone are the days of Bono making you want to dance around like a prat in your bedroom. Today, Apple’s USP is fundamental privacy features that should be expected of any company.

Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed News

Facebook Is Rubbing Your Data In Your Face

Facebook recently rolled out a new tool that shows you all the previously-hidden advertisers that have your data. On the face of it, this is a positive step toward transparency. But it’s also a semi-admission that there are God-knows-how-many companies out there that have your personal data. According to Facebook, "These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they or their partner uploaded that includes info about you. This info was collected by the advertiser or their partner. Typically this information is your email address or phone number." So it’s telling us that random ass companies have our data, but not how they got it and whether they were complicit in this.

Now, seeing the likes of Airbnb or Spotify on the list won’t shock or surprise anyone. But I was weirded out as to why The Fillmore Charlotte, a music venue in Charlotte, North Carolina, had my details considering I’d never stepped foot in the state of North Carolina. This is an attempt by Facebook to showcase itself as transparent, but in reality it’s just a submission of the pressure stemming from a New York Times report that revealed Facebook’s emails to reveal their true mission.

Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed News

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The ‘Techlash’ Is Coming…

Like with most things, it’s easy to become caught in a bubble and lose sight of whether the ‘average’ person even cares about privacy. Thanks to our friends at the Pew Research Center, we know that consumers are starting to turn against social media and tech companies in what has been dubbed the ‘techlash’. It seems like a million years since The Social Network lit up the box office with almost a quarter of a billion dollars, with Zuckerberg and Facebook riding the feel-good factor that came with the success of the movie. But all good things come to an end. Facebook is now largely seen as the devil of the tech industry, which is pretty well justified after they helped screw up the 2016 election, and then failed to learn anything since.

Credit: Pew Research Center

Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center

U.S. Government to the Rescue?

Social media and tech firms have spent millions in lobbying Congress to let them continue to self-regulate, but it appears the tide is changing. The tech industry has suddenly become more open to the idea of the federal government enacting consumer privacy legislation, but don’t be fooled by their new-found receptiveness.

Until now, it’s been individual states that have been the most aggressive in the fight against the tech companies — California was the first in the U.S. to mandate companies notify customers in the event of a data breach — and the likes of Google, Microsoft and Uber know that handing the keys to lawmakers in D.C. will override state laws.

Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU

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Poll Finds Facebook Repugnant

A joint poll by Axios and Harris Poll ranked the most beloved, and the most hated, companies among the nation’s most recognizable brands. Apple’s marketing seems to be working and has staved off the techlash for now, but the same can’t be said of Facebook. Among the top 100 brands, Facebook is 94th overall, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Goldman Sachs, Trump Org. and the U.S. Government. Among just tech companies, Zuckerberg ranks dead last.

Chris Canipe, Axios

A World Where Public Is the Norm

The behaviour by the giants at the top has made way for publicly sharing data to be the norm across the industry. Even the likes of Venmo, whose privacy settings are automatically set to public when you first sign up, have taken advantage of the non-existent laws surrounding protecting user data. Each time you send or receive money from someone, Venmo needlessly posts the details of that transaction to all of your connections.

And the consequences of such settings, unbeknown to most of its users, are very damaging. Earlier this year a researcher was able to scrape the Venmo API and download personal details of 115,000 transactions per day. In total, he gathered seven million public transactions which, if in the wrong hands, could then be sold onto marketing companies to start advertising to you.

Samantha Cole, Vice

Next Week… We’ll have the red hot Emily Atkin on the pod, formerly a climate reporter for the New Republic who recently launched her own newsletter on fighting climate change, aptly named Heated. We’ll also have Bill Bishop on, who also has his own newsletter, Sinocism, which is the No. 1 newsletter on Substack!

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