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Pennsylvania Voter ID Ruled ‘Unnecessarily’ Burdensome, Unconstitutional

Pennsylvania Voter ID Ruled 'Unnecessarily' Burdensome, Unconstitutional

Pennsylvania Judge Bernard McGinley ruled today that the voter ID law passed in 2012 was a violation of the state’s constitutional protections of the right to vote. Judge McGinley found that the burdens imposed on voters who lacked the documents to obtain a photo ID if they didn’t have one, or lacked access to state offices that supplied IDs were too heavy and could lead to massive disenfranchisement. From the judge’s ruling:

“The burdens the Voter ID Law entails are unnecessary and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. And the record is rife with testimony from numerous Pennsylvania voters whose right to vote will be — and indeed already has been — denied or substantially and unnecessarily burdened by the Voter ID law.”

The state court agreed that hundreds of thousands of voters would suffer disenfranchisement because of a number of restrictions and obstacles imposed by the state on those seeking photo ID to vote. Lawyers from ACLU, Advancement Project and other legal organizations presented dozens of witnesses who testified to how difficult it was for them to get ID, many of them denied.

The judge also found the state’s voter education campaign — mandated by another court for the state to produce billboards, brochures and other ads about the voter ID law to make sure all were aware of it — to be confusing and ineffective. 

This case has ping-ponged from court to court on appeals, starting with a ruling in August of 2012 denying a temporary halt on the law that civil rights attorneys requested so that it would not be in effect for the November presidential elections. The state’s supreme court later told the judge to revisit that decision, though, and to grant the halt if he couldn’t guarantee that no one would be disenfranchised. Unable to make that assurance, the judge blocked the law for the November elections, but with the confusing requirement that poll workers could ask voters for photo ID, though voters didn’t have to show it. And, in fact, voters were confused on Election Day. 

Today’s ruling is based on last year’s trial asking for a permanent block of the law, on the grounds that it was both too restrictive and violated constitutional equal protection rights for people of color. Curiously, Judge McGinley found that the voter ID law did not discriminate based on race, despite evidence provided that the law would unfairly disadvantage thousands of voters of color and Puerto Ricans in particular. The state government may appeal this decision back to the state supreme court, but there’s one wrinkle: Pennsylvania has a new attorney general, Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who is less sympathetic to the state’s hopes to preserve the law than her conservative predecessor Linda Kelly, who was attorney general when this case first went to court. 

On a press call earlier today, Ben Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia said he hoped that instead of spending more taxpayer dollars on an appeal, the state would put that money toward better voter education and registration efforts. 

“The only fraud uncovered in this case is the ID law itself, which is exposed as a voter suppression tool adopted to game elections,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Fast Food Worker Naquasia LeGrand Wows on Colbert

Fast Food Worker Naquasia LeGrand Wows on Colbert

Fast-food worker and organizer Naquasia LeGrand took on host Stephen Colbert last night and came out like a champ. “I have never spoken to someone in your industry without yelling the phrase, How long does it take to fry something, where’s my order?” Colbert says, perhaps speaking for many currently debating whether LeGrand should earn $15 an hour. That new minimum wage—and the right to organize without retaliation—is what she’s fighting for along with hundreds of other fast-food workers across the country.

LeGrand, who works for a New York City-based KFC, currently earns $8 an hour and works a 15-hour shift. It’s impossible to take on a second part-time job, she says, because managers don’t give workers set schedules.

(h/t The Colbert Report)

National Bill Would Make College More Affordable for Undocumented Students

National Bill Would Make College More Affordable for Undocumented Students

On Thursday, congressional lawmakers kicked off a new effort to help make college more affordable for undocumented students. Proposed by Washington Sen. Patty Muray and Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the Investing in Students to Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) for DREAMers Bill would create a $750 million grant program to be handed out over a decade in the form of need-based financial aid to states which currenly provide in-state tuition and financial aid eligibility to undocumented students. According to the lawmakers’ estimates, 1.8 million undocumented students could be helped by the bill. The grant program would be paid for by increasing F-1 student visa fees $150 to $350, the Huffington Post reported. 

Currently, 19 states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students, but many fewer—just Texas, California and New Mexico—allow undocumented students to apply for state financial aid. 

Polis and Murray wrote in an op-ed for The Hill:

Over the last decade, the cost of a college degree has skyrocketed, and average annual costs at public colleges and universities have increased by more than 100 percent.  The American Dream Grants established by our legislation would supplement existing state financial aid funding for all students and help ensure that states continue to invest in their higher education systems and pass along cost savings to students.

In addition to the difference that affordable tuition makes for students, we’ve already seen that states benefit from equitable tuition policies, too.  By allowing all qualified students to access higher education, states can invest in thousands of additional students every year who are able to pursue their dreams, start a career, and contribute to their local economies.

Because undocumented students are considered out-of-state residents—even in the states where they reside and may have spent the entirety of their childhood—they are forced to pay out-of-state tuition which is two and sometimes three times the in-state tuition price. What’s more, undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, and unless states proactively extend tuition equity to undocumented students, college can become prohibitively expensive.

Willow and Jaden Smith Team Up For a New Song

Willow and Jaden Smith Team Up For a New Song

Looks like Willow Smith isn’t quite satisfied with being an ordinary kid. She teamed up with big brother Jaden for a new track called “5” produced by Ta-Ku. And while the content may seem a little bit too mature for a 13-year-old, all-in-all, it’s pretty good. Check it out.

(h/t Afropunk)

Watch Lupita Nyong’o Emotional Critics’ Choice Awards Speech

Watch Lupita Nyong'o Emotional Critics' Choice Awards Speech

Sure, she might have been snubbed at the Golden Globes, but Hollywood’s new “it” girl got a big dose of industry recognition at last night’s Critics’ Choice Awards, where she took home the award for best supporting actress. But beware with this video: It’ll have you in tears, too.

(h/t Vulture)

You Probably Won’t Like The Gap’s ‘MLK Event’

You Probably Won't Like The Gap's 'MLK Event'

Monday is a federal holiday that observes the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Accepting the holiday proved difficult with some politicians and some states—so much so that organizers launched a boycott against the state of Arizona, and inspired Public Enemy’s By The Time I Get to Arizona. Today, however, MLK Day is observed without protest. Some people treat it as a day off, while others take time to remember the struggle for racial justice. I personally don’t let the day go by without reading King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Some retailers use the holiday, however, to hold sales. Offering discounts on clothing on that holiday may prove offensive enough for some people—but The Gap is promoting what it calls an “MLK Event.” The company’s website and emails to its potential customers do not include one mention of the civil rights movement, racial justice, or King himself—but do feature several white women, who are promoting 50 percent off 500 styles from The Gap. 

Are you going out shopping on Monday? Why or why not? 

Colin Kaepernick Wears 13-Year-Old Designer’s Fashion Line

Colin Kaepernick Wears 13-Year-Old Designer's Fashion Line

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been getting a lot of attention this post-season for his unique fashion sense. The 26-year-old biracial quarterback isn’t a button-up kinda of guy, and his outfits reflect that: snapbacks, sneakers, hoodies, not to mention the tattoos. After San Francisco beat the Carolina Panthers in last week’s divisional playoff game, Kaepernick made it clear that he’s not afraid to take chances in fashion when he wore a vest designed by 13-year-old Jeremiah Jones, who lives in Long Beach, California.

From The Post Game:

Jones was watching the 49ers game with family Sunday when his sister noticed Kaepernick wearing one of Jones’ signature vests at his postgame press conference. They rewinded the TV and sure enough, Kaepernick had on the JY Collection Vest.

Upon seeing his vest on his favorite player, Jeremiah called his father and business partner, Ed.

“He just started screaming,” Jeremiah says of his father’s reaction. “I was speechless at that point.”

Although he’s only 13, Jones surprisingly isn’t exactly a rookie when it comes to his own line. He’s got 27,000 followers on Twitter, a website, and counts his father as his business partner. They sent Kaepernick a birthday package last November that included a red vest and a Postive Achiever Award, something Jones usually gives out to classmates who make the honor roll or have perfect class attendence. He didn’t hear back from Kaepernick, but got the biggest endorsement of his life when he tuned in to watch last weekend’s post-game press conference and saw Kaepernick sporting his red vest.

“I just want to thank him for wearing my brand,” Jeremiah later told the media. “There’s not too many 13-year-olds out there that can say Colin Kaepernick wore their brand.”

The Voting Rights Act Fix is In

The Voting Rights Act Fix is In

Last September, I wrote that Congress would fix the Voting Rights Act by the end of 2013. That didn’t happen. But today, a bipartisan contingent of the House introduced legislation that would modify VRA’s Section 4 and Section 5, which the U.S. Supreme Court disabled in the Shelby v. Holder ruling last summer.

Section 4 previously provided the coverage formula that captured a number of states and jurisdictions, mostly in the South, that would need to clear election law changes with the federal government (“preclearance”) before implementing them. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. The new legislation introduced in the House today by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan employs a different coverage formula that would capture states with five violations of federal civil rights laws over the past 15 years. Under that scenario, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas would fall under the preclearance regime, well below the nine states previously covered.

Other changes include a provision that makes it easier to pull additional jurisdictions under preclearance if they establish a pattern of voting rights violations, and a mandate for all 50 states to notify the public, via the media, about any major election changes at least 120 days before a federal election. Ari Berman has a comprehensive guide to understanding the new VRA legislation over at The Nation. 

The response from civil rights organizations have so far been a mix of praise and cautious criticism.

“As introduced, this bill does not go far enough in protecting language minorities or voters living in states with restrictive voter ID laws,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We look forward to working with Congress to improve this legislation and are strongly encouraged by this bipartisan unity for protecting voting rights for all.

“While the start of a critical debate on voting, the bill represents a floor, and not a ceiling, for ensuring that elections are free, fair and accessible to all Americans,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The proposal introduced today contains some positive steps forward, but we have serious concerns. Legislators must make changes to this bill to ensure all citizens have equal opportunities to participate in our democracy.”

One of the major concerns with the legislation is that it excludes voter ID laws as a voting rights violation.

“It is distressing that the bill treats discriminatory voter ID laws differently from other Voting Rights Act violations,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Advancement Project’s Director of Voter Protection. “Under the bill, findings of discriminatory voter ID laws are only partially counted as indicators for determining if a state should be required to have voting changes pre-cleared, while other discriminatory voting practices are fully counted. This exception is arbitrary.

The Senate is expected to follow with an identical bill from Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Now comes the fun part — Congress actually has to pass the bills, and during a year mid-term congressional election year, a period when politicians are hesitant to move or pass any legislation. If it does make it through Congress, it will likely look a lot different than the current version, with new amendments, carve-outs, opt-outs and waivers.

Over at Roll Call, Emma Dumain is reporting that rank-and-file Republicans have yet to rally around the new VRA bill, despite support from GOP brass like House Majority leader Eric Cantor.  

In Los Angeles, 87 Percent of Public School Libraries Lack a Librarian

In Los Angeles, 87 Percent of Public School Libraries Lack a Librarian

What’s a school library without a librarian? For many Los Angeles public school students, it’s a locked room they can’t enter. New figures reported by KPCC this morning show that nearly half of Los Angeles public school libraries have no trained staffers to run them, and 87 percent of school libraries lack a credentialed librarian.

KPCC reports:

In a district of 768 schools libraries, there are only 98 librarians to teach students how to find information, select a text or coordinate reading programs. Even adding library aides to the mix, 332 school libraries do not have staff.

Without librarians or library aides, many principals have been forced to keep libraries locked or run them illegally with parent volunteers or other school site staff. California law does not allow fill-ins for trained library staff.

The figures come on the heels of the district’s decision to double down on its investment in iPads—the district set aside another $115 million to expand its iPad initiative across the district. The initial iPad rollout has already cost $1 billion. Los Angeles isn’t alone in slashing its school libraries. In Philadelphia, the Bay Area, Oregon, Illinois and New York, when money gets tight—or priorities shift—school libraries are usually on the list of early eliminations.

Is White Still Right?

Is White Still Right?

Lightening dark spots is one thing but the supposed before-after transformation attributed to new skin lightening cream, “Whitenicious,” is shocking. And according to Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia, her new milk-white look is helping to move product. “Whitenicious just sold out. Wow, restocking and will have more products by January 10th…,” says a Tweet sent on January 6, what appears to be the day of the product’s debut. 

Either folks from Nigeria to Brooklyn are fed up with their lifetime supply of Ambi, or Dencia is a smart marketer. Whatever the business strategy, the singer’s new appearance sparks a still very necessary conversation about skin color, attractiveness and upward mobility. A Nigerian-American explains the popularity of skin lighteners in Nigeria this way:

“There’s a different treatment and desirability factor in Africa for lighter skinned women, well beyond what we experience in the US,” he tells Clutch. “It’s an epidemic. You can’t walk a day in the streets of Lagos without seeing someone who has/is bleached. The possible benefits (more respect, increased desirability to men) outweigh the consequences, especially in a male-dominated society where women’s “independence” is frowned upon….”

But it’s not just Nigeria, India or the Caribbean where this conversation strikes gold. According to a new small study from San Francisco State University, “educated” black men are remembered as appearing lighter-skinned than they actually are. Researchers ran two pictorial experiments with 125 college student in one, 35 in the other. Both groups participated for college credit. Findings suggest to researchers that, “Black individuals who defy social stereotypes might not challenge social norms sufficiently but rather may be remembered as lighter, perpetuating status quo beliefs.”

(h/t Jezebel and Clutch)

‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ Among This Year’s Oscar Nominations

'12 Years a Slave,' '20 Feet From Stardom' Among This Year's Oscar Nominations

The awards season continues to be kind to “12 Years a Slave.” The film is nominated for a best picture award and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o are up for best actor and best supporting actress awards, respectively. Director Steve McQueen is also up for a best director award.

Also of note: “20 Feet From Stardom,” Morgan Neville’s excellent documentary about backup singers, is up for a best documentary award. And Jeremy Scahill’s “Dirty Wars” is also up for an award in the same category.

Despite “12 Years a Slave’s” presence on this year’s awards circuit, Hollywood’s biggest stage is still overwhelmingly white. My colleague Stacia L. Brown recently wrote over at Salon that people of color are still often snubbed when it comes to actually winning in the big categories.

See the full Oscar nod list over at the Los Angeles Times.

Justin Bieber Faces Possible Deportation for Egging Crimes

Justin Bieber Faces Possible Deportation for Egging Crimes

It doesn’t take much to become deportable. Just ask Justin Bieber. The pop star, who’s facing felony charges for allegedly egging his neighbor’s Calabasas, Calif., mansion to the tune of $20,000 in damage, could face deportation if convicted. The damage from Bieber’s alleged vandalism exceeded $400, which makes it a felony—and felony convictions become deportable offenses, Fox News reported.

Of course a decent attorney, which Bieber can certainly afford, will try to get his charges dropped or lowered to a misdemeanor. Bieber also happens to live in California, which limits immigration enforcement’s involvement with the criminal justice system thanks to the TRUST Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October. The law should limit the numbers of those who are swept into deportation proceedings as a result of a brush with the law.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that non-citizen U.S. residents have been deported for much less than what Bieber’s being accused of here. Getting caught with a blunt, peeing in public, accidentally identifying oneself as a citizen instead of a permanent resident—these are the kinds of extremely minor infractions which the U.S. has used as catalysts to deport hundreds of thousands of non-citizens and undocumented immigrants every year. In fact, the vast majority of those the U.S. has deported in recent years have no criminal record, and among those who were deported for committing a crime, the vast majority of those convictions were for non-violent offenses. So good luck, Bieber!

(h/t @prernaplal)

Kanye West Sues Amazon Over ‘Coinye West’ Currency

Kanye West Sues Amazon Over 'Coinye West' Currency

Kanye West is angry again, but this time he’s got good reason. Amazon’s part of the new fad of digital currency (aka “cryptocurrency”) and there was a strand of it going around named “Coinye West.” 

West has filed has accussed the online retailer of trademark infringement. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

The hip-hop artist has filed a lawsuit, looking to hold liable those who have tendered the digital money. If he wins the lawsuit alleging publicity rights and trademark violations, he could get some cold, hard cash — a.k.a. the Benjamins (no disrespect intended to Mr. Franklin).

[snip]

In his complaint filed in New York federal court, West says that consumers are likely to mistakenly believe that he is the source of the cryptocurrency. The lawsuit provides examples of tweets like the one fromChristopher Hudson, who wrote, “Move over #Bitcoin, @kanyewest now has his own cryptocurrency called @CoinyeWest.”

The hardest part for West and his legal team will be identifying the anonymous consumers who have exchanged “Coinye” currency. But the suit alleges that Amazon is encouraging and contributing to websites’ use of “Coinye.”

 

Study: AP Computer Science Test-takers Overwhelmingly Male, White

Study: AP Computer Science Test-takers Overwhelmingly Male, White

A new national study of 2013 AP Computer Science test takers found that it’s not just the professional tech world that’s an overwhelmingly white and male arena. The tech education pipeline is the same as well. In eight U.S. states, not one Latino student took 2013’s AP Computer Science exam, and zero black students took the exam in 11 states. Meanwhile zero female students took the test in three U.S. states. Altogether, it meant that in Mississippi and Montana, not a single female, black or Latino student took the exam. The figures come from a study released in December by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing research and a senior researcher at Georgia Tech University.

“We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students,” the College Board told Education Week. Our dominant culture sells technology and science as a white and male pursuit, it’s true. But the flipside is that high-level science and computing courses—the kind which encourage students not just to do their homework on iPads but to understand how computers work in the first place—are typically not pitched as girl-friendly, or even offered in the underresourced schools where students of color are concentrated. 

The distribution is only ever so slowly improving, but for black students in particular, it’s worsening. In 2006, girls were 17 percent of AP Computer Science exam takers and made up 18.5 percent of the students taking the 2013 test. Black students were less than 5 percent of 2006’s AP Computer Science exam takers and just 3.6 of those who took the exam last year. Latino students were 7.6 percent in 2006, and 8.1 percent of 2013’s test-takers. In 2006 Asian-American students were a fifth of the national test-taking pool and last year they were 28.6 percent. White students were 58 percent of the 2006 test-takers and 54 percent of the test-taking pool. 

(h/t Education Week)

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Perform ‘Can’t Hold Us’ on NYC Bus

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Perform 'Can't Hold Us' on NYC Bus

Let the Grammy promos begin. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the Seattle-based MC and producer combo behind the 2013 smash hit Grammy-nominated album “The Heist,” brought their signature style to an unconventional New York Cityl location: a bus. Check out the video and let us know what you think.

(Via The Hollywood Reporter)

‘The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975’ is Coming to You in Book Format

'The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975' is Coming to You in Book Format

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975,” the powerful 2011 documentary by Sweedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson that used archival footage of America’s black power movement, is coming to audiences in book format. It features a preface written by Danny Glover and new work from Angela Davis.

Haymarket Books will publish the project on February 4. It will include historical speeches and interviews with some of the era’s most important figures, including Stokely Carmicheal (Kwame Ture), Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and Huey P. Newton along with contemporary commentary from today’s prominent black artists like Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.

You can pre-order your copy on Amazon.

(h/t Shadow and Act)

Filmmaker Raises Funds for ‘NAMI,’ a Story About Her Mother’s Mourning

Filmmaker Raises Funds for 'NAMI,' a Story About Her Mother's Mourning

Masami Kawai is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who has created a role that only her mother, who is a Japanese immigrant, can play—and she’s raising $10,000 to do it. But the film, which was inspired by Kawai’s mother following the death of her father, is aiming to do a lot more:

“For me, this stands as an important representation of a character that usually goes unnoticed in our society. Sometimes we see older immigrant women as grandmas or workers, but rarely do they get to be a protagonist with their own struggles and triumphs. It’s important to me to create nuanced immigrant characters for the screen.”

Kawai originally set her fundraising goal to produce the film, called NAMI, at $7,000. When supporters hit that mark, she stretched it to $10,000 to help with costs for post-production and festival submissions. With just 15 hours to go at press time, Kawai needs to raise just $580 to make this film a reality.

Court Rules Against Open Internet, Strikes Down Net Neutrality

Court Rules Against Open Internet, Strikes Down Net Neutrality

So much for an open Internet. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled against the Federal Communications Commisssion’s (FCC) mandates that internet service providers treat all online traffic equally. The FCC had originally voted in favor of these rules, known as net neutrality, back in 2010.

From USA Today:

Supporters of Net Neutrality took some good away from the decision, noting that it established the FCC’s power to create Internet rules. “In some respects, no one got what they wanted out of this decision, and confusion over the proper role of the FCC is greater than ever,” said Public Knowledge senior vice president Harold Feld in a statement. The consumer interest group intervened on the FCC’s side in the case.

Still, open Internet advocates lamented the court’s decision a step toward turning the internet into a pay-for-play model like cable television. It should also be pointed out that the FCC’s original deicision back in 2010 wasn’t perfect becaue it was largely silent on mobile web traffic, which is fast becoming the way that most users get online. But it was something.

“The compromised Open Internet Order struck down today left much to be desired, but it was a step toward maintaining Internet users’ freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted, and communicate freely online,” said Craig Aaron, CEO and President of Free Press, in a press release issued Tuesday. “Now, just as Verizon promised it would in court, the biggest broadband providers will race to turn the open and vibrant Web into something that looks like cable TV. They’ll establish fast lanes for the few giant companies that can afford to pay exorbitant tolls and reserve the slow lanes for everyone else.”

Janelle Monáe Performs on Sesame Street

Janelle Monáe Performs on Sesame Street Play

Check out a behind-the-scenes look at Janelle Monáe’s upcoming appearance on Sesame Street.

(Okayplayer)

Dr. Dre Teams Up With AT&T to Beat Spotify, Pandora

Dr. Dre Teams Up With AT&T to Beat Spotify, Pandora

Dr. Dre isn’t satisfied with conquering the world of designer headphones. On January 21, his company will release a new product called Beats Music to compete with Spotify and Pandora. Bloomberg Media points out that Beats isn’t all that different from Pandora, which both rely on human curators to make customized playlists for users. But here’s what sets Beats apart:

Beats has a secret weapon, however, that its chief executive officer announced over the weekend: a deal with AT&T to offer free trial subscriptions as well as a “family plan” for up to five users. Those who like their service will get their monthly Beats Music fee bundled into their wireless bills. According to Billboard, AT&T sees the service as a way to upsell higher-end data plans to customers who suddenly need to stream more and more content.

Combined with the celebrity endorsements and an advertising blitz — Beats Music bought a spot to run during the Super Bowl — the service may be able to use its AT&T connection to attract some new customers and build momentum for its alternative platform. That may not be enough to make any money, however. According to an analyst cited by Bloomberg News, streaming-music services need 5 to 10 million paying subscribers to break even after licensing fees.

Read  more over at Bloomberg.

After wrestling the technology away from a smaller company, Dr. Dre and music mogul Jimmy Iovine turned Beats into one of the most popular music-related brands in the world largely by associating them with high profile athletes like LeBron James. During these NFL playoffs, you’d be hard pressed to see 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick or Seahawks rival Russell Wilson go through pre-game warm-ups or post-game interviews without a customized pair of beats headphones around their necks. ESPN The Magazine detailed this relationship last year and it looks like that’s just the beginning. 

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