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tv   Book Discussion  CSPAN  November 9, 2014 1:00pm-1:36pm EST

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the leader of that challenge. but if we grant that, then davis is somebody that we need to know more about because we need to understand the successful survival of the challenge by the united states, we have to look at the other side of the story, the leader of the party that challenged the survival. >> host: thank you, jim. ..
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>> on the upper right side of the page. >> new york university professor marion nestle sat down with booktv to talk about her book, "food politics," about the power and influence of the food industry in the u.s. this 30-minute interview, recorded in new york city, as part of booktv's college series. the book is called "food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health." the author, marian nestle, who is a professor of public health at new york university. professor nestle, how big is the u.s. food industry? >> guest: oh, it's more than a trillion dollars a year. it's enormous. it employs a vast percentage of the nation's people.
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everybody eats every day. it couldn't be more important. >> host: in your book you compare it to the tobacco industry. >> guest: only in certain ways. food is very different from tobacco. tobacco is really simple: one product, really bad for health, clearly responsible for a terrible form of cancer and deaths, and there's one message, don't smoke. food is much more complicated than that. you can't tell people not to eat. they can't live if they don't eat. and it's not just one product, it's thousands and thousands and thousands of products. and so the question for dealing with nutrition issues is eat this instead of that or how much you eat. those are the big questions. >> host: how has the food industry changed over the last 50 years? >> guest: well, i think within the last 50 years what we've seen is increasing consolidation. but the big problem that the food industry faces in the united states at least is that
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there's too much food. we produce in this country plus imports less exports roughly twice the number of calories that the population needs on a daily basis. there are about 4,000 calories available in the food supply every day, and people need about 2,000. these are ballpark figures. so the food industry is very competitive. and it has to find lots and lots of ways to sell food. and in doing that as the number of calories in the food supply increase, the food industry became more competitive and had to find more and more and more ways to push food on people. and it did that very effectively; hence, obesity. >> host: how did it do that? >> guest: well, we have to go back in history to the 1970s. starting in the late 1970s, early 1980 three things happened. the first was agricultural
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policy changed so that instead of paying farmers not to grow food, we paid farmers to grow as much food as they can. they did, and that's why there are more calories in the food supply. the second had to do with wall street. wall street in the early 1980s changed. there was a shareholder value movement that insisted that instead of those lovely blue chip stocks that a you never hear about anymore, but those lovely blue chip stocks that gave long, slow returns on investment, forget about them. we shareholders want high returns on investment, and we want them right now. so for food companies that we're trying to sell food in a very competitive environment, now they had an additional pressure. thaw had to produce growth, evidence of growth to wall street every 90 days. this put them under enormous pressure, and so they began to look for ways that they could
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sell more food, and they got one break also in the early 1980s after president reagan was elected on a deregulatory agenda, the deregulating of marketing to children occurred. so it was then possible for food companies to market directly to children in a way that had never been done before. and that combination of things plus deregulation of the food. and drug administration, removal of resources from the food and truck administration gave -- drug administration gave food companies the opportunity to market in ways that they never had before. and they did that by making larger portions of food. if there is one lesson i would love to get across is larger portions have more calories. [laughter] larger portions started coming in in the early 1980s.
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they also put food everywhere. if you go to a drugstore like duane reid, it looks like a grocery store now. there's food at bed bath and beyond. there's food at staples. there's food everywhere. it used to be that libraries wouldn't allow any kind of food anywhere near the library. now every library has a café in it. so these are ways of selling food. and we're humans. humans eat when food is in front of us. and the more times we see food a day, the more food we eat. >> host: you write in your book, "food politics," food companies will market any product that sells regardless of its nutritional value or its effects on health. >> guest: i did say that, and take coca-cola, for example, as a, you know, sort of random example. the soda industry is under enormous pressure from health authorities right now because it's sugar water.
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it's not only sugar and no newt represents, but it's sugars in liquid form which may have their own metabolick difficult -- met baa lollic difficulties. so, yes, millions of dollars go into marketing coca-cola every year, and people would be much healthier if they didn't drink soft drinks or sugary drinks in general. >> host: at all? >> guest: in small quantities. when coca-cola first started out as a company, it had a six-ounce bottle. now you can buy 64-ounce bottles or cans or whatever. you know, small amounts, fine. but we're americans, we don't do moderation. it's against our genetic code. [laughter] >> host: professor nestle, a lot of products are fortified, have vitamins added in or are supplemented with vitamins. isn't that a good thing? >> guest: fortification? i've just read a new paper that's come out that shows if
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you ask people about the difference between products that are fortified and unfortified, they think that the fortified one has fewer calories. and if you set up fortified products versus the foods that those vitamins came from, people think that anything that has vitamins added is healthier than the original foods. that's marketing. that's what, you know, some of us call nutritionism. it's using nutrients as a code for food when really we would be much healthier if we ate real foods. >> host: have our farmers gotten a lot more efficient? >> guest: our farmers are fabulous at growing food. i mean, the level of efficiency and productivity per farm has increased dramatic chi over the last -- dramatically over the last 50 years, and the number of farms has gone way, way down as small farms have gone under because they can't compete on -- and, of course, what that has
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done is depleted the population of rural america. you know, if you don't have small farms, you don't have people around. you just have great big conglomerates and migrant farm workers going through. and you go through rural america now, and it's just devastated. it's really heartbreaking when the new secretary of agriculture in the obama administration, tom vilsack, came in, he came in with an agenda of revitalizing rural america. and that meant promoting small farms again. he hasn't been able to do very much with that, and i think that's been a real tragedy. >> host: why not? >> guest: because the forces of agribusiness in this country are huge, and they understand that the organic, seasonal, local food movement that is so popular among the educated population of the united states is a direct critique of industrial
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agribusiness. they don't like it, and they have the power in congress. >> host: genetically-modified foods. >> guest: uh-huh. >> host: neutral on that, or is it a bad thing? is it affecting us? >> guest: it's probably, it's just as polarizing in the united states as the middle east is. [laughter] you can't get people in the same room just like you can't get pro-israel and pro-palestinian people in the same room. you can't get pro-gmo and anti-gmo people in the same room. they have no common basis for speaking. that's really too bad. i think the industry brought this on itself. by insisting right from the beginning that there was no reason to label genetically-modified foods. just think about what would have happened if they'd been labeled right from the beginning. i was on the fda food advisory committee at the time, and i said you've got to label them. if you don't label them, the public is going to wonder what you're trying to hide.
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and people won't have a choice. you've got, you know, this is a big consumer choice country, and the food industry is always argue aing about choice -- arguing about choice except for genetically-modified foods. if they'd put a label on it right from the gunning, people would have -- from the beginning, people would have had a choice, and by this time, 20 years later, people would realize that nobody had dropped dead from eating genetically-modified foods, and maybe there were good ones and bad ones, and they could talk about what good products were and what harmful products were and why and not have it be so polarized. >> host: what are the rules regarding labeling something organic? >> guest: oh, those are very -- the organic rules are very clear. the department of agriculture has codifications that go on for, i think, hundreds of pages of what the rules for organic are. so in the united states if a product is labeled or begannic -- organic, it has to
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follow the department of agriculture's rules, and it's inspected to make sure that it does follow those rules. and those rules say that for plant crops no genetic engineering, no fertilization with sewage sludge, no chemical fertilizers or herbicides and no e radiation. i think those are the main ones. for animals there are rules about how the animals, what they must be fed. they must be fed organic food, that's the difficult one because there's not a lot of organic feed around, and it's expensive. but they also have certain things that have to be done in order to make their conditions of raising a little bit better. so those are very clear, and anybody that has a usda organic label on the food product is following those rules and is inspected to make sure they do. >> host: marion nestle, as a professor of public health at new york university, do you eat
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organic foods? do you look for organic foods? >> guest: i do look for organic foods because what organic foods do is they are produced without using the worst of the chemical herbicides and pesticides. and they also have to maintain the quality of soil in ways that industrial farming doesn't have to do. industrial farming uses fertilizers rather than building up soil. and as anybody who knows anything about farming knows, what really counts in farming is the quality of the soil. so every time you pick an organic product or i pick an organic product, i'm voting for -- and i'm willing to pay a little bit more in order to make sure that the soil is maintained more sustainably. >> host: why is it that foods that seem to have a lot of sugar, a lot of salt, a lot of fat seem cheaper to buy?
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>> guest: the salt, sugar, fat foods are cheaper to buy for two reasons. first of all, they're processed food products which means they have a very long shelf life, which means that the companies can buy the ingredients when the ingredients are at their cheapest, make the product, put the product on the shelf, and it can sit there forever, and nothing bad happen to it. bad will happen to it. and also we like those foods, and the government subsidizes corn and soybeans which are the basis of a lot of the ingredients in processed foods. so those ingredients are cheaper than they would be if they were on the open market. and the other ingredient, of course, is hyperdose corn syrup which comes from subsidized corn and is much cheaper than sugar even now. >> host: so when it comes to the federal government, do you have faith that our food supply is being protected in a sense, or
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do you think the bad actors, in your view, are being promoted? >> guest: well, i have a lot more faith in the safe the oi -- safety of our food system now than i did five years ago. but when the obama administration came in, it came in with a very clear agenda to try to clean up the food safety problem to the extent that it could. and what that meant was getting congress to pass the food safety modernization act, which congress did in early 2011. finally. and that law gave the fda powers that the fda had been seeking for decades to issue recalls, for example, to require food producers to follow standard food safety procedures and so forth. so the fda is finally getting started on that process. the rules are out, they've been proposed. it's going to be a few years before they're completely implemented, but everybody knows that this is coming. and a lot of food producers have
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just gone onboard and started following these procedures. the other thing that's happened is the courts have started taking food safety more seriously, so the officials of the peanut corporation of america were convicted recently of doing very bad things. and this was the company that knew that its peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella and shipped it out anyway. and lots and lots of people got sick, and there were some deaths in that one. and so if between the fda's rules and an increased inspection ability and increased recall ability and what the courts are doing, i think we're going to see the safety system improve. >> host: one thing a lot of people know from the u.s. department of agriculture is the food pyramid. is that a successful model? >> guest: well, the food pyramid went from 1992 through 2011, i
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think, when the obama administration came in and got rid of it and replaced it with the food plate. i happen to be very fond of the 1992 pyramid. i think it did something that none of the other food guides have done, which is to make it very clear that it was better to eat some foods than others. and the others are less hierarchical than the pyramid, but the obama administration wanted a clean sweep of everything that had gone before, so they got rid of it. >> host: when your students come into class, do they bring snacks with them? and what's your reaction to some of the products that they have? >> guest: i never comment on what anybody else eats. >> host: why? >> guest: unless they ask me. i think it's rude. [laughter] >> host: we're asking you, professor, what's your, what's your opinion of some of the snacks when you go to the snack shelf? >> guest: well, they're designed to sell food products, that's what they're about. this is about marketing, it's
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not about health. you know, if you want, if you want to eat healthfully, it's really easy to do it. you make sure you have plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet, you don't eat too much junk food, and you balance your calorie intake against the number of calories you're expending. there's really nothing to it. and there are lots of ways of eating healthfully that let you eat foods you like. lots and lots and lots. but those kinds of diets don't include a lot of heavily advertised food products. and so the difference is, you know, it used to be that the periphery of the grocery store had the real foods, and i could say stay out of the center aisles. but i can't do that anymore because grocery stores caught on to the fact that nutritionists were making that kind of relation, and so now they have -- recommendation, and so now they have junk food everywhere. absolutely everywhere. >> host: what's the obesity rate in the u.s.? >> guest: it's now up to about
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33, 34% of the population is considered to be obese which means a body mass index of about 30 or above, and roughly almost 70% of the population is considered overweight. and, transfer, at race -- therefore, at risk of an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other kinds of chronic diseases. >> host: when we have bad eating habits, can we really blame that on general mills or kellogg? >> guest: well, i think that's a simplistic way of putting it, blaming it on one company. i think we can say that the default eating pattern in the united states is not particularly healthy eating pattern. the less healthful foods are cheaper, they're more widely available, they're more heavily advertised, and really the amount of money that goes into marketing is extraordinary. $17 billion a year for food,
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beverages, restaurants and alcohol. and people are very responsive to marketing. otherwise marketers wouldn't market. and what's so interesting about that is that almost nobody i know recognizes that marketing influences what they eat. it's not supposed to. it's supposed to slip below the radar of critical thinking. and marketers are very good at that. so, yes, i think the food industry has a great deal to do with creating a food environment that encourages people to eat more and to eat more of the wrong kinds of foods. you don't see those kinds of advertising budgets for fruits and vegetables, because fruit and vegetable growers don't have the kind of money that the food, that the marketers of food products do. if you're selling a half a billion units of a particular
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breakfast cereal, a sugary breakfast cereal a year, you've got enough money to really promote that cereal. especially to children. and you're going to be advertising on tv, you're going to be doing apps, you're going to be doing contests, you're going to be doing all kinds of things. or if you're really clever, you're going to be supporting community organizations, you're going to be funding research, you're going to be doing all kinds of things just like the cigarette companies did. to make sure that people don't -- so that health professionals don't advise eating less of those products. >> host: marion nestle, you talked about marketing, and one of the very effective marketing campaigns is the milk, it does a body good. and in fact, in your book, you have a picture of the former hhs secretary, president to have university of miami, with a milk moustache. >> guest: yes, i was horrified when i saw that, because that ad came out at exactly the time
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that the dietary guidelines advisory committee -- which is a committee of health and human services and the department of agriculture -- was dealing with how many servings of dairy products they were going to recommend in the dietary guidelines of that era. and i was told that dr. chalet la didn't see anything wrong with it. she thought it was fun. everybody wants to be in a milk moustache ad. it means you're famous, right? they never identify the people who are in it. so you're supposed to know who they are. and i thought it was a conflict of interest, and i worry a lot about the food industry's intense, unrelenting efforts to try to get academics of one kind or another to sign on in something that i would see as a conflict of interest situation. the soda industry, for example,
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funds an enormous amount of research on the effects of sodas on health. and guess what? those studies never show that sodas have any effect on health whatsoever. >> host: if you could make the decision, would you say no more subsidies of any food types from the u.s. government? >> guest: i think the u.s. government has better ways of supporting healthful diets. and if they're going to subsidize, i want to see them subsidize small farms, local farms and fruits -- growers of fruits and vegetables. we don't have an agriculture policy that's linked in any way whatsoever to health policy. they're completely separate. so as the affordable care act kicks in and it becomes clear that prevention of disease is going to be a much better way to go than to try to treat the disease -- because the treatment
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is always going to be hugely expensive -- i think the government is going to look for ways in which it can prevent some of these long-term chronic diseases, particularly type ii diabetes which is just awful to treat. they're going to look for ways to prevent obesity, type ii diabetes and early onset heart disease through diet and other means, and they're going to fund programs and policies that promote eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and so forth. >> host: your book came out originally in about 2002, it's been updated every couple of years since. what's the reaction of the food industry to your book? >> guest: well, they, i don't think, like me very much. in the beginning, there was a threatened lawsuit from the sugar association which was extremely upset that i had said something about sodas or sugars and water and nothing else. and the sugar association, which
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represents the growers of cane sugar cane and sugar beets was very offended because they said i should know that soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup which they don't represent. that's another lobbying group represents the corn refiners represent high fructose corn syrup, so they threatened a lawsuit, but they never followed up on it. >> host: are general mills, nestle, are they bad actors? >> guest: i don't think they mean to be. a lot of very well-meaning people work for those companies. but they're in a situation where they're publicly traded, and publicly-traded companies under the wall street rules have to report growth and their ability to meet growth targets every 90 days to wall street. this puts them under absolutely unbelievable pressure to demonstrate growth. and they will do anything to
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sell food products. they will cut corners on food safety, they will market to vulnerable children, they'll move all of their marketing overseas and market to poor people in india and china and indonesia and africa. you know, soda companies are sinking billions of dollars in marketing in places where people don't need these products at all. in order to meet growth targets. and all you have to do is read the business pages of the "wall street journal," "the new york times" or any newspaper and look at how closely their growth is scrutinized. i would hate to be many one of those companies -- in one of those companies. when students ask me i want to work for a food company, and i want to transform the food industry so that it's working towards health, i tell them they'd better go to a company that's not publicly traded. and if they do go to a publicly-traded company, they'd better make sure it's a benefit
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corporation in a state that allows corporations to make decisions that are based on other issues, social issues besides just holding stocks. >> host: marion nestle, what about food labels? they were changed in the last seven or eight years. are they effective? >> guest: yeah, the food label is in play right now even at this moment. the fda has put out proposals to revise the food label in order to make some significant changes and emphasize calories, put in added sugar, make some other changes that everybody's arguing about. those changes are at this particular moment out for public comment, or actually the comments have come in, and the fda's dealing with the comments. i don't know how long that will take, and i don't know what the decision will be. but there's been a great deal of lobbying about it. these things are very political. and, again, the label is only
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for food products. you don't see any nutrition facts labels on apples or oranges. so one way to deal with the whole what should you eat issue is never eat anything with a food label on it. >> host: how would you design a food label? >> guest: oh, with great difficulty. i think that i would use a front-of-pack label very much like the traffic label system that was used in great britain for a while, was withdrawn, is now back. the fda actually proposed a front-of-package labeling system, and before it could do that it got the institute of medicine in washington to do two major reports on front-of-package labeling, and the second report proposed a system of front-of-package labels, and it's sort of like traffic lights where it only looks at saturated fat and calories and has little check
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marks for them. but that report came out during an election year, it went into a drawer, and i think the fda is going to leave those reports in the drawer until they get the nutrition facts labels straightened out, and they may never go back to it. but i would pull that report out of the drawer immediately and put it into practice. >> host: because of the availability of more calories per person, has that led to a decrease in world hunger? >> guest: wouldn't that be nice? yeah, world hunger actually is decreasing according to the food and agriculture organization which just came out with its annual report, and it's down again by about 50 or 100 million people, so it's only about 80 million people in the world are considered to be hungry on daily basis. most of them in asia, africa and india.
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hunger isn't about the amount of food that's available, it's about whether people can afford to buy it or not. and this gets us into the whole question of income equity and issues related to, you know, how do you develop a system of payment of individuals, of support you have individuals -- supportive individuals, jobs and so forth, that enable people to buy the food that they need on daily basis and have enough for that? in the united states, we have a food insecurity rate we call it of about 15%. half of those, you know, that's 15% of 300 however many million people, 300 however many million people it is, it's quite a lot of people. and these are people largely the working poor who just either have jobs that don't pay enough for them to live in a reasonable
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way, or they can't get jobs. so the real issue is employment and wages. i mean, these are -- one of the things that i like about talking about food is it touches on so many important issues in our society. in our food studies programs at nyu, we talk about food as a lens in order to teal with the most -- to deal with the most important problems in the world. and i would say health care, agricultural production, income equity, climate change are some of those problems. immigration. >> host: wic, food stamps. successful? >> guest: well, certainly the wic, the women, infant and children's program and s.n.a.p., the supplemental nutrition assistance program r the only programs that stand between a lot of poor people and absolute destitution. there's plenty of evidence that
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there but for s.n.a.p., people just wouldn't have any money to do anything. but s.n.a.p. now costs taxpayers about $80 billion a year, and it costs 80% of the farm bill, of the entire farm bill. what it's doing in the farm bill is a long political story, but there it is. so if you're a republican legislator or a legislator who thinks the government is too big and needs to be cut, here's $80 billion sitting there. it's just a target for people who want a budget cut, and nobody really cares about what a difference $100 or $200 a month in food stamps makes to a family that's really poor. >> host: professor nestle, how'd you get interested in these topics? as a career? >> guest: well, i think i've been -- first of all, i like to eat, and so i've always been interested in food. and from the very first course
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that i taught on food and nutrition, you really can't understand anything about why people eat the way they do unless you understand the politics of food. because people don't eat food in a vacuum. they don't make choices in a vacuum. they make choices based on what's available, how much money they have, what their friends are eating, what their culture requires, and a lot of it gets into arcane politics. the most arcane politics i can think of is sugar subsidies or sugar tariffs and quotas. i mean, our sugar policy is extraordinarily complicated. i can't -- the farm bill is beyond complication. anybody who tells me they understand the farm bill, i just think they don't know what they're talking about. nobody can understand it. and yet these are political decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives not only of
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americans, but on the lives of people throughout the world. so i think we need to understand the politics, and my very clear, to accelerate, explicit goal is to try to get students interested in becoming advocates around food issues. >> host: marion nestle, "food politics. how the food industry influences nutrition and health." you're watching booktv on c-span2. >> is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail to tweet us @booktv or post on our wall, >> here's a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the country:
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>> let us know about book fairs and festivals in your area, and we'll add them to our list. e-mail us at >> coming up next, william easterly, co-director of the new york university development research institute, sat down with booktv to discuss his latest book, "the tyranny of experts." this interview is part of booktv's college series. it's about 20 minutes. >> host: nyu professor william easterly, in your book "the tyranny of experts: economists, dictators and the forgotten rights of the poor," what's your message? >> guest: my message is the tragedy of the fight against global poverty is that we have forgotten about the rights of the poor. and that often can make the poor worse off rather than better off, unfortunately. >> host: how are


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