Income Inequality News StoriesExcerpts of Key Income Inequality News Stories in Major Media
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For most of the moneyed class, an inquiry into their wealth elicits silence and cringes. Not so with 28-year-old Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. For the Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker, wealth is the focus of his life's work. In Johnson's first documentary, Born Rich, he exposed how 10 children from families like the Trumps and the Newhouses spent their time – and their fortunes. Now he turns the camera on his own family in The One Percent. Johnson's documentary ... offers a rarefied view of the scandalously secretive world of "the one percent," a small segment of the U.S. population that owns roughly 40% of the country's wealth. Through a series of interviews with high-profile figures like Bill Gates Sr., U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and economist Milton Friedman, Johnson explores the disparity of wealth in America. Forbes.com: You got your own father, as well as other phenomenally wealthy people, to talk to you. How did you get these folks to open up about such an intensely private topic? Johnson: It wasn't easy. A lot of patience – there was a lot of waiting around. Forbes: I imagine you'll have critics who will call this "rich boy's guilt." What do you say to them? Johnson: That both liberal and conservative economists agree that there is a growing wealth gap, and that it's a problem. It's important to get wealthy people to think about this and think about solving this problem. They are the most influential people in our society and therefore, they should be working on treating this and coming up with a solution.
Note: The films of Jamie Johnson give very rare views into the lives of the upper crust that are incredibly revealing. For another article at CNN on his excellent documentary Born Rich, click here. To see revealing video clips, click here.
New government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades. Life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the researchers said, but affluent people have experienced greater gains, and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap. One of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers [and] that federal officials had found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level. He and another researcher, Mohammad Siahpush, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, developed an index to measure social and economic conditions in every county, using census data on education, income, poverty, housing and other factors. In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said. After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that “life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000. If you look at the extremes in 2000,” Dr. Singh said, “men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years).” The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).
Note: For a powerful summary of corruption in the government regulation of the health care industry, click here.
The environmental damage caused to developing nations by the world's richest countries amounts to more than the entire third world debt of $1.8 trillion, according to the first systematic global analysis of the ecological damage imposed by rich countries. There are huge disparities in the ecological footprint inflicted by rich and poor countries on the rest of the world because of differences in consumption. The authors say that the west's high living standards are maintained in part through the huge unrecognised ecological debts it has built up with developing countries. "At least to some extent, the rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor and, in effect, there is a debt to the poor," said Prof Richard Norgaard, an ecological economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study. "That, perhaps, is one reason that they are poor. You don't see it until you do the kind of accounting that we do here." The researchers examined so-called "environmental externalities" or costs that are not included in the prices paid for goods but which cover ecological damage linked to their consumption. They focused on six areas: greenhouse gas emissions, ozone layer depletion, agriculture, deforestation, overfishing and converting mangrove swamps into shrimp farms. The team confined its calculations to areas in which the costs of environmental damage, for example in terms of lost services from ecosystems, are well understood. "We think the measured impact is conservative. And given that it's conservative, the numbers are very striking," said co-author Dr Thara Srinivasan, who is also at Berkeley.
Wall Street's five biggest firms are paying a record $39 billion in bonuses for 2007. It was a year when three of the firms suffered their worst quarterly losses in history and shareholders lost over $80 billion. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns together awarded $65.6 billion in compensation and benefits last year to their 186,000 employees. That means year-end bonuses, at 60% of the total, exceeded the $36 billion distributed in 2006 when the industry reported all-time high profits. The firms have said they are eliminating at least 6,200 jobs amid mounting losses from the subprime mortgage mess. The payouts come as the economy slows, with unemployment rising, retail sales declining and new home foreclosures surging to a record. The industry's bonuses are larger than the gross domestic products of Sri Lanka, Lebanon or Bulgaria, and the average bonus of $219,198 is more than four times higher than the median U.S. household income in 2006, according to Census Bureau data. Shareholders in the securities industry endured their worst year since 2002, as Merrill and Bear Stearns slumped more than 40% and the CEOs at both firms gave up their jobs. Morgan Stanley fell 21% and Lehman dropped 16%. Only Goldman rose, gaining 7.9%.
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The increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans, data in a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows. The poorest fifth of households had total income of $383.4 billion in 2005, while just the increase in income for the top 1 percent came to $524.8 billion, a figure 37 percent higher. The total income of the top 1.1 million households was $1.8 trillion, or 18.1 percent of the total income of all Americans, up from 14.3 percent of all income in 2003. The total 2005 income of the three million individual Americans at the top was roughly equal to that of the bottom 166 million Americans, analysis of the report showed. Earlier reports, based on tax returns, showed that in 2005 the top 10 percent, top 1 percent and fractions of the top 1 percent enjoyed their greatest share of income since 1928 and 1929. Much of the increase at the top reflected the rebound of the stock market after its sharp drop in 2000, economists from across the political spectrum said. About half of the income going to the top 1 percent comes from investments and business. In addition, Congress in 2003 cut taxes on long-term capital gains and most dividends. Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington who characterizes the Bush administration’s policies as YOYO economics, based on You (Are) On Your Own, said the differences in income growth explained why so many Americans have told pollsters that they are feeling squeezed. “It is meaningless to middle- and low-income families to say we have a great economy because their economy looks so much different than folks at the top of the scale because this is an economy that is working, but not working for everyone.”
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When it comes to producing billionaires, America is doing great. Until 2005, multimillionaires could still make the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. In 2006, the Forbes 400 went billionaires only. This year, you'd need a Forbes 482 to fit all the billionaires. A billion dollars is a lot of dough. Queen Elizabeth II, British monarch for five decades, would have to add $400 million to her $600 million fortune to reach $1 billion. And she'd need another $300 million to reach the Forbes 400 minimum of $1.3 billion. The average Forbes 400 member has $3.8 billion. When the Forbes 400 began in 1982, it was dominated by oil and manufacturing fortunes. Today, says Forbes, "Wall Street is king." Nearly half the 45 new members, says Forbes, "made their fortunes in hedge funds and private equity. Money manager John Paulson joins the list after pocketing more than $1 billion short-selling subprime credit this summer." The 25th anniversary of the Forbes 400 isn't party time for America. We have a record 482 billionaires — and record foreclosures. We have a record 482 billionaires — and a record 47 million people without any health insurance. Since 2000, we have added 184 billionaires — and 5 million more people living below the poverty line. The official poverty threshold for one person was a ridiculously low $10,294 in 2006. That won't get you two pounds of caviar ($9,800) and 25 cigars ($730) on the Forbes Cost of Living Extremely Well Index. The $20,614 family-of-four poverty threshold is lower than the cost of three months of home flower arrangements ($24,525). Wealth is being redistributed from poorer to richer. Between 1983 and 2004, the average wealth of the top 1 percent of households grew by 78 percent, reports Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University. The bottom 40 percent lost 59 percent. Inequality has roared back to 1920s levels. It was bad for our nation then. It's bad for our nation now.
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The richest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and underlining the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers. The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks. The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000. The IRS data go back only to 1986, but academic research suggests the rich last had this high a share of total income in the 1920s. Until this summer, soaring stock prices and buoyant credit markets had produced spectacular payouts for private-equity and hedge-fund managers, and investment bankers. One study by University of Chicago academics Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh concludes that in 2004 there were more than twice as many such Wall Street professionals in the top 0.5% of all earners as there are executives from nonfinancial companies. Mr. Rauh said "it's hard to escape the notion" that the rising share of income going to the very richest is, in part, "a Wall Street, financial industry-based story." The study shows that the highest-earning hedge-fund manager earned double in 2005 what the top earner made in 2003, and top 25 hedge-fund managers earned more in 2004 than the chief executives of all the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, combined. The IRS data show that the median tax filer's income -- half earn less than the median, half earn more -- fell 2% between 2000 and 2005 when adjusted for inflation, to $30,881. At the same time, the income level for the tax filer just inside the top 1% grew 3%, to $364,657.
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A billion dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. For the first time, it takes more than $1 billion to earn a spot on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans. The minimum net worth for inclusion in this year's rankings released Thursday was $1.3 billion, up $300 million from last year. The new threshold meant 82 of America's billionaires didn't make the cut. Collectively, the people who made the rankings released Thursday are worth $1.54 trillion, compared with $1.25 trillion last year. The very top of the list was unchanged: Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates led the list for the 14th straight year, this time with a net worth estimated at $59 billion. He was followed by Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in second place with an estimated $52 billion. The list showed some notable changes. Joining the top 10 of the country's richest for the first time were Google Inc. founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who tied for fifth place. The 34-year-old moguls' wealth has quadrupled since 2004 to an estimated $18.5 billion this year, while their company's stock value has surged 500 percent. Lower down, almost half of the 45 newcomers made their millions in hedge funds and private equity investments. "Wall Street really led the charge this year," said Matthew Miller, editor of the Forbes list.
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Pay comparisons almost always leave someone feeling dwarfed, and none more so than the CEO-to-worker pay gap. But even CEOs have reason to feel seriously dwarfed these days, thanks to the outsized paychecks of private equity and hedge fund managers. The average CEO of a large U.S. company made roughly $10.8 million last year, or 364 times that of U.S. full-time and part-time workers, who made an average of $29,544, according to a joint analysis released Wednesday by the liberal Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. The IPS and UFE pay-gap numbers are also wider than some other measures of CEO-to-worker pay because they count both full-time and part-time workers in their calculations, which effectively lowers workers' average pay due to fewer hours worked. If you just consider the average compensation (wages plus benefits) of full-time year-round workers in non-managerial jobs - roughly $40,000 - CEO pay is more like 270 times bigger than the average Joe's. That's still a far cry from days gone by. In 1989, for instance, U.S. CEOs of large companies earned 71 times more than the average worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The top 20 CEOs of U.S. companies made an average of $36.4 million in 2006. The pay gap numbers don't include the value of the many perks CEOs receive, which averaged $438,342, according to the report. Nor do they include the pension benefits CEOs receive. But even including all that, CEO pay can look like chump change next to private equity and hedge fund managers' pay. Those managers made an average of $657.5 million in 2006 - more than 16,000 times what the average full-time worker makes, and roughly 61 times that of the average CEO.
Minimum-wage workers made $5.15 an hour when Harry Potter became a sensation a decade ago, and nothing more until July 24, three days after the final Harry Potter book release. [That] year, 1997, Business Week declared CEO pay was "out of control." Since then, CEO pay has gotten more out of control. Average CEO pay at the top 500 companies jumped 38 percent to $15.2 million in 2006 -- the year we broke the record for the longest period ever without a raise in the federal minimum wage. The ... minimum wage increase from $5.15 to $5.85 is so little, so late, that the minimum wage is still worth less than it was back in 1997, when it was $6.67 in today's dollars. Minimum-wage workers had more buying power when Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton opened his first Walton's 5 & 10 in 1951. CEOs make more in 90 minutes than minimum wage workers make in a year. The two longest periods in history without a minimum wage increase have occurred since 1980. Those long droughts without a raise have left minimum-wage workers in the dust. In 1980, the average CEO at a big corporation made as much as 97 minimum-wage workers. In 1997, the average CEO made as much as 728 minimum-wage workers. Last year, CEOs made as much as 1,419 minimum-wage workers. "As the productivity of workers increases, one would expect worker compensation to experience similar gains," a 2001 U.S. Department of Labor report observed. Instead, the gains have gone to record-breaking profits, CEOs and other have-mores. Between 1980 and 2006, worker productivity went up 70 percent, average worker wages went nowhere, the minimum wage fell 32 percent, and domestic corporate profits rose 256 percent, adjusting for inflation.
What is the value of a human life? This came to mind recently, thanks to U.S. Marines, who, in early March, went on a killing rampage near Jalalabad in Afghanistan. A platoon of elite Marine Special Operations troops was ambushed by a suicide bomber in a minivan and one was wounded. Initially, it was reported that as many as 10 Afghans were killed and 34 wounded as the platoon fled the site. Later, it was admitted that the Marines had wielded "excessive force" after the ambush had ended. The Marines were reported to have murdered "12 people -- including a 4-year-old girl, a 1-year-old boy and three elderly villagers.'' According to a report by Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, a "16-year-old newly married girl was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family's farmhouse." After much protest in Afghanistan, Col. John Nicholson met with the families of the Afghans who had been killed and wounded by the Marines. He offered this official apology: "I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people." And then he paid about $2,000 per death to family members. The military calls these "condolence payments." We also know something about how the U.S. government evaluated the worth of the lives of slaughtered American innocents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The family or spouse of a loved one murdered that day was also given a monetary value -- $1.8 million. The U.S. government has indeed offered the world an evaluation of what price slaughter should exact in the deaths of innocents: The value of a civilian slaughtered ... on Sept. 11: $1.8 million. The value of a civilian slaughtered by U.S. Marines near Jalalabad, Afghanistan: $2,000.
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Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928. The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression. While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent. The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent. The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. The top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980. The disparities may be even greater. The [IRS] estimates that it is able to accurately tax 99 percent of wage income but that it captures only about 70 percent of business and investment income, most of which flows to upper-income individuals. For Americans in the middle, the share of income taken by federal taxes has been essentially unchanged across four decades. By comparison, it has fallen by half for those at the very top of the income ladder. [Incomes of] the top tenth of a percent and top one-hundredth of a percent ... soared by about a fifth in one year, largely because of the rising stock market and increased business profits.
The gulf between rich and poor in the United States is yawning wider than ever, and the number of extremely impoverished is at a three-decade high. Based on the latest available U.S. census data from 2005, [a] McClatchy Newspapers analysis found that almost 16 million Americans live in "deep or severe poverty" defined as a family of four with two children earning less than 9,903 dollars — one half the federal poverty line figure. For individuals the "deep poverty" threshold was an income under 5,080 dollars a year. The number of severely poor Americans grew by 26% from 2000 to 2005. The surge in poverty comes alongside an unusual economic expansion. "Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income for working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years. These and other factors have helped push 43% of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty — the highest rate since at least 1975," the report said. Since 2000, the number of severely poor — far below basic poverty terms — in the United States has grown "more than any other segment of the population. That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began," said Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, a study co-author. U.S. social programs are minimal compared to those of western Europe and Canada.
Families earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush’s tax cuts, according to a new Congressional study. The study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also shows that tax rates for middle-income earners edged up in 2004 ... while rates for people at the very top continued to decline. While Mr. Bush’s tax cuts reduced rates for people at every income level, they offered the biggest benefits by far to people at the very top — especially the top 1 percent of income earners. Two of his signature measures, tax cuts on investment income and a steady reduction of estate taxes, overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest households. Households in the top 1 percent of earnings, which had an average income of $1.25 million, saw their effective individual tax rates drop to 19.6 percent in 2004 from 24.2 percent in 2000. The rate cut was twice as deep as for middle-income families. Those rates could decline even more as the estate tax on inherited wealth is gradually phased out by the start of 2010. Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress want to permanently extend that tax cut and almost all of the others. The cost of doing that would be more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Families in the bottom 40 percent of income earners, those with incomes below $36,300, typically paid no federal income tax and received money back from the government.
The richest 2 percent of adults still own more than half of the world's household wealth, perpetuating a yawning global gap between rich and poor, according to research published Tuesday. The report from the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research shows that in 2000 the richest 1 percent of adults - most of whom live in Europe or the United States - owned 40 percent of global assets. The richest 10 percent of adults accounted for 85 percent of assets. By contrast, the bottom 50 percent of the world's adult population owned barely 1 percent of the world's wealth. "Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years, and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth," said James Davies, a professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario, one of the report's authors. But ... there are some hopeful signs: China and India, which are developing rapidly, are gaining wealth, and in countries such as Bangladesh, the spread of microcredit institutions is helping people increase their personal wealth.
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A Times survey of the state's largest companies shows that CEOs' pay is growing at a much faster pace than that of rank-and-file employees. The difference is even sharper at the top rungs of the ladder. The 10 highest-paid executives on this year's list earned 36.7% more than last year's top 10 — garnering a collective $467.5 million. That's enough to buy about 275 homes in Malibu or 1.5 million sets of golf clubs or two 747 jumbo jets. Although limited to California companies, the survey reflects a national trend: a widening chasm between the pay of chief executives and rank-and-file employees. CEOs at California's largest 100 public companies took home a collective $1.1 billion in 2004, up almost 20% from 2003. That compares with the 2.9% raise that the average California worker saw last year. The average CEO made 42 times the average worker's pay in 1980. That increased to 85 times in 1990 and is now over 300 times. Sometimes, executive pay soars even in bad years. Sanmina-SCI Corp., a San Jose telecommunications company with $12 billion in sales, lost money in 2003 and 2004. Yet Chief Executive Jure Sola scored a 1,500% hike in total pay during 2004, according to The Times survey. Sola was paid $19.8 million last year, while the company lost $14.9 million.
It is no secret that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown, but the extent to which the richest are leaving everyone else behind is not widely known. The people at the top of America's money pyramid have so prospered in recent years that they have pulled far ahead of the rest of the population. They have even left behind people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The share of the nation's income earned by those in this uppermost category has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 percent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 percent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 percent fell. Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes - a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data - now pay ... taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000. From 1950 to 1970 ... for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000. An Internal Revenue Service study found that the only taxpayers whose share of taxes declined in 2001 and 2002 were those in the top 0.1 percent. Some of the wealthiest Americans, including Warren E. Buffett, George Soros and Ted Turner, have warned that such a concentration of wealth can turn a meritocracy into an aristocracy and ultimately stifle economic growth.
President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage. In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action. Bush's action came as the federal government moved to provide billions of dollars in aid. The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities.
Mullen has a schoolteacher's kindly demeanor, so it was jarring to hear him say he suspected that the levee breaks had somehow been engineered to keep the wealthy French Quarter and Garden District dry at the expense of poor black neighborhoods...a suspicion I heard from many other black survivors. And it was surprising to hear Mullen's gentle voice turn bitter as he described the scene at the convention center, when helicopters bringing food didn't even land and the soldiers "just pushed the food out like we were in the Third World." I literally stumbled into the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He looked genuinely shaken, [saying] "this looks like the hold of a slave ship."
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes. Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris.
Note: For some reason the Wall Street Journal has removed this article. You can read it on the website of the article's author at this link.
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