Opinion | In a House subcommittee’s report, a strong step toward an antitrust revival

The subcommittee revived a key function of Congress: the power to investigate, report and set the stage for legislation. The report itself may become a keystone in a long-overdue dawning of progressive tech reforms.

Since the mid-1970s, Congress has celebrated the rise of new technology and tech businesses. Both political parties, for different reasons, dismissed antitrust concerns as a relic of a bygone age. For Democrats, globalization and technology seemed to guarantee competition. When antitrust was excised from the party platform in 1992, it had been there since the Gilded Age. For Republicans, markets cured themselves; antitrust was simply another form of regulatory abuse.

Into the vacuum between these positions came the rapacious Big Four. The subcommittee report details how they came to operate at unprecedented scale and reach. The companies’ combined valuation is more than $5 trillion. Add in Microsoft ($1.5 trillion) and Tesla ($275 billion), and the collective value is nearly equal to that of the NASDAQ 100.

The Big Four have enormous influence given their hold on communications infrastructure (Facebook, Google), e-commerce (Amazon), and start-ups and entrepreneurs (Apple). They directly compete with businesses that use their markets. The report tracked how they have gouged suppliers and imitated, acquired or eliminated competitors. It showed how their profits allow them to enter into new lines of business, where they repeat their predatory strategies.

As the subcommittee detailed, the Big Four have acquired hundreds of companies, often to eliminate potential competitors, in what are known as “killer acquisitions.” Meanwhile, antitrust regulators are underfunded — or possibly compromised by lobbying — and seldom are their powers exercised under antitrust laws to block mergers. Of nearly 100 Facebook acquisitions, the Federal Trade Commission extensively investigated only its 2012 purchase of Instagram (over which the FTC took no action).

When monopolies have unlimited power to buy up or kill off competitors, they turn perverse. History shows how, in a variety of sectors, monopolies led to prices going up, quality and innovation declining, and wages and working conditions worsening. Inevitably, concentrated economic power becomes a political issue. The Big Tech monopolies illustrate the cycle. They control more and more parts of society. They employ legions of lobbyists to consolidate their control. Big-money politics expands their influence. They have grown further during the pandemic, as more economic and social activity has moved online.

The subcommittee report includes recommendations for action, including divestment of different lines of business — such as forcing Facebook to split off Instagram and WhatsApp — and preventing platforms such as Amazon from giving preference to its own services or products. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) It calls for increasing the budgets and authority of the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department Antitrust Division.

Although the subcommittee investigation proceeded with bipartisan support, that fell apart when it came to remedies. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the right-wing disrupter, assumed minority leadership of the subcommittee midway through the investigation and focused his attention on the canard that the

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Boris Johnson’s 95% mortgages will put Britain back on course for a house price crash | Josh Ryan-Collins | Opinion

This week Boris Johnson boasted that his government would “turn generation rent into generation buy” via a return to 95% mortgages for first-time buyers. In other words, easier credit to help more people buy houses.

To say we have been here before would be an understatement of epic proportions. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, every UK government has sought to cut through the housing affordability problem with the easy and politically popular option of subsidising the demand for homeownership. Generally, this has taken the form of liberalising mortgage regulation or providing direct government subsidies for first-time buyers, most recently the various help-to-buy schemes. All have failed to bring down the price of homes.

More demand for homeownership leads to more more credit flowing into an inherently limited supply of homes. Most housing in the UK is provided at market rates by private landlords and private sector developers. These groups have no incentive to increase the supply of housing to match this increase in demand, since they generate their profits from increasing, not decreasing, prices.

The result, inevitably, is house price inflation. As result, homeownership for younger adults on middle incomes has halved in the UK in the last two decades. Similar outcomes have been seen in other advanced economies – more mortgage credit does not stimulate supply when the provision of housing is left to the market.

British politicians and policymakers seem unable to recognise these simple facts. Indeed, it took a massive financial crisis over a decade ago for politicians to allow the tightening of mortgage regulation in any significant way. Johnson may not be aware of the fact that there were quite a few 95% mortgages around leading up to the housing bubble that precipitated the UK’s 2007-9 banking crisis. The resulting economic catastrophe led to them being phased out. Along with other restrictions on borrowing, these policies helped dampen the growth of UK house prices and household debt (currently around 85% of GDP, down from a record 95% in 2009), although it has been increasing again in recent years.

One can only imagine the Bank of England’s reaction to Johnson’s announcement. The Bank has been carefully nurturing its post-crisis financial stability mandate and delicately implementing “macroprudential policy” powers to stifle excessive lending in the domestic and corporate real estate sector. Johnson clearly doesn’t see much value in such an approach when there are votes to be won.

The UK remains locked in a self-defeating “doom loop”: falling levels of homeownership lead governments to loosen mortgage regulation, resulting in increasing household debt and house prices, leading to a housing bubble and eventually a financial crisis, leading to stricter mortgage regulation, which is then blamed for falling homeownership and so on.

What then is the solution? Do the opposite of current policy. Reduce, rather than increase, the demand for homeownership, and in particular the demand for housing as a financial asset. Implement higher and fairer property or land value taxes that reduce unearned capital gains that generally

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Opinion | The White House coronavirus outbreak shows that testing alone is not enough

But the castle walls were penetrated — presumably by an asymptomatic carrier, a covid-era Trojan horse — and infections among the president’s circle have cascaded out this week. The spotlight is on the Rose Garden reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, an event attended by nearly all of those who have recently tested positive: the president, first lady, senators, aides.

Per protocol, attendees were tested before they got near the president. But other defenses were down. According to The Post: “After guests tested negative that day they were instructed they no longer needed to cover their faces. The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions.” No masks, no distancing and time spent among crowds indoors are a recipe for transmission.

All of this underscores the central flaw in the White House’s approach: Testing alone is not enough. Guarding against covid-19 requires a layered defense.

Don’t take this to mean testing is bad. Testing is a valuable and important tool, useful for screening and for detecting cases before they explode into a massive outbreak. On the former, the White House failed by using testing as a prevention measure without additional measures. With respect to detection, recent testing has prevented the president and others from continuing to spread the virus beyond the initial damage.

It’s only when testing is used in isolation that problems can ensue. And the surprising thing about this sole-strategy approach to covid-19 is that layering defenses is exactly what the White House does for physical security. The fence bordering the White House grounds is hardly the only layer of protection. If someone got over the fence, an alarm would be triggered. Armed Secret Service officers, and possibly dogs, would respond. If an intruder still managed to breach the building, he or she would face additional defenses inside.

So why take a single-strategy approach against the virus? As good as testing has gotten, it still is not perfect. False negatives are a known risk. The U.S. military would not rely on a radar system that is 99 percent accurate without having backups. Multiple layers are core to safeguarding valuable assets — human and otherwise.

Why weren’t redundancies built into the White House strategy to guard against a virus that has already taken the lives of more than 208,000 Americans?

Since April, I’ve been working with companies and organizations on risk-reduction strategies. Not a single one — whether finance, biotech or arts organizations, or universities or other schools — relies on testing alone. Instead, many use a layered defense strategy rooted in the “hierarchy of controls,” a decades-old framework from the field of worker health and safety. Applied to covid-19, it looks like:

Elimination: Prioritize work-from-home strategies.

Substitution: Identify the core people who need to be physically present together and allow only them on-site.

Engineering: Implement “healthy” building strategies, such as higher ventilation rates and enhanced filtration.

Administrative: Maintain physical distancing.

Personal Protective Equipment:

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Opinion | Testing Was Not Enough to Protect Trump’s White House From Coronavirus

The president has been infected with coronavirus. Schadenfreude is inappropriate. This is, however, a good opportunity for leaders to rethink their current policies and rhetoric on prevention — because what the president’s case highlights are the limitations of even the best testing regimes.

The president is tested for coronavirus every day. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the incubation period can be two to 14 days, it usually appears to be somewhere between three and five days after exposure. Given that President Trump tested positive on Thursday, he was most likely infected sometime between Saturday and Monday. We are usually concerned about a sick person being able to spread infections to others for up to two days before symptoms began or a test was positive. Therefore, the president might have been infectious to others as early as Tuesday. He probably interacted with many, many people in this time frame; likewise for Melania Trump and Hope Hicks.

The three of them will now need to isolate for at least 10 days. All of the people who were in close contact with them — and by close contact, I mean spent 15 minutes within six feet of them — will have to quarantine for two weeks, because they are at significantly increased risk of being infected themselves and infecting others. If any of them later test positive or show symptoms, they need to isolate for 10 days from that time.

This, in other words, is going to be a contact tracing fiasco — one that could easily shut down the White House.

Many, including me, have called for more testing for all. But what happened with Ms. Hicks and the president illustrates that testing doesn’t matter unless you close the infection loop with other interventions.

The president and the White House benefit from what is arguably the most rigorous coronavirus testing in the country. In the past, the White House has claimed that Mr. Trump is tested multiple times a day, and is the most tested man in the country.

Screening people without symptoms finds those who are infectious and gets them into quarantine and isolation earlier. But this doesn’t serve any purpose unless you’re also pairing this screening with careful behavior. Even if the infections of the president and others were discovered during regular screening, they still had a huge number of contacts; it’s still a disaster. If you’re going to lead a life where you could theoretically infect hundreds of people or more a day, slightly earlier knowledge doesn’t matter that much.

The most testing, the most advanced technology, and the best health care are simply not sufficient when it comes to this disease. What’s necessary are simple public health measures, like distancing, masking, washing hands and spending as little time as possible close together indoors in the same room. The key to slowing down the spread of coronavirus infections is to have few, if any, close contacts. There’s just no getting around it.

Unfortunately, this has

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Opinion | To the Fox News reporter who’s ‘tired of it’: Clean up your own house

Let’s stipulate that Roberts is not akin to the “Fox & Friends” hosts or Fox’s evening lineup of Trump sycophants when it comes to distorting reality and cheerleading Trump. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) However, the White House has been deflecting like this for nearly four years. It has refused to answer all sorts of questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin, about Trump’s finances, about Trump’s embrace of racists and about any topic that would reveal Trump to be clueless or malicious. McEnany is just the most egregious practitioner of the non-response or the out-and-out falsehood. Roberts cannot possibly have just figured this out.

Roberts should look closer to home, if he’s “tired of it.” It is his network that allows Trump on air to spin bizarre conspiracy theories and blatant lies about his opponent. It is Fox News that has become a cesspool of anti-democratic (small “d”) and racist tropes. It is Fox News that tries to avoid — or to borrow a word, “deflects” — topics injurious to Trump, such as the New York Times bombshell about his taxes. It is his network that followed Trump’s anti-mask sneering. It is Fox News that has denigrated Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and defended Trump’s covid-19 inanities — until he declares he was joking or being sarcastic. Even its “straight news” anchor Bret Baier went on air before the presidential debate to treat wild conspiracy theories about former vice president Joe Biden cheating at the debate as a serious story. It is Fox News that repeats Russian propaganda debunked by our intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning Ukraine.

It would be hard to find one entity on the planet more responsible than John Roberts’s employer for enabling Trump, keeping his base in line, misleading the public about Trump’s corruption, excusing his culpability and giving him a sense of invincibility. It is not the only one, but it certainly leads the pack of Pravda-like outlets whose job is to defend Trump by deceiving viewers and readers if need be.

And speaking of Fox News’s role in creating and sustaining the Trump phenomenon, what exactly does the network do if and when Trump loses and the story of Trump’s unfitness, incompetence and the rest comes tumbling out? I suppose it would decline to cover that as well.

But in the end (we are reaching the end, right?), Fox News aggravated Trump’s worst tendencies and put him in a feedback loop. He comfortably inhabited a parallel reality and therefore never learned to function in our reality. He could always count on Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson or “Fox & Friends” to reinforce his delusions. Fox News has encouraged him and its viewers to downplay the coronavirus, literally putting Americans’ lives at risk. Fox News might have sustained Trump for a few years, but it has left him entirely vulnerable to a real opponent with real facts. And if the goal was to bolster the views of its viewers,

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The Taste with Vir: Elizabeth Kerkar’s contributions to Taj Hotels created new school of Indian interior design – opinion

In the 1950S and the 1960s, the big American hotel companies looked as though they would take over the world. Such chains as Hilton (owned by the eponymous family and then by TWA), Intercontinental (owned by Pan Am) and a little later, Sheraton (owned by the multinational conglomerate ITT), opened in many of the world’s capitals.

Some of these hotels were not bad looking structures (though it later became fashionable to dismiss them as ugly skyscrapers) but it is fair to say that they had no sense of place about them. There may have been a few token nods to the city they were located in, but most days, if you suddenly woke up in a Hilton or an Intercontinental, it was hard to tell which city you were in.

That began to change a little from the 1970s onwards but it continues to be a problem for many global chains even today. They use the same service model, the same systems and often, the same architects and designers no matter where they build their hotels. So there is very little to distinguish one property from another. Nor is there much sense of art or aesthetics.

Indian hotels have always been different much to the bemusement of foreign chains. I have heard it said that when the Tatas did not know what to do with the Taj Mahal Hotel in the 1950s, they asked Hilton if the chain would run it. Hilton said it would. But the existing building was too awkward and had to be pulled down. A huge new skyscraper would be constructed in its place.

The Tatas said goodbye to Hilton and decided to run the Taj themselves. They were up against the Oberois, India’s leading hotel chain who had collaborated with Intercontinental in Delhi and were about to collaborate with Sheraton at a brand new hotel in Mumbai. It should have been a no-contest. But against the odds, largely thanks to the genius of JRD Tata and the team he entrusted the Indian Hotels company (which owned the Taj) to, the Taj brand grew from one Mumbai hotel to rival the Oberois as a national chain.

Though the Oberois worked with the great American chains, they retained an Indian sensibility. Such great Indian artists as Krishan Khanna and Satish Gujral created works of art specially for Oberoi hotels and Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi, who built the chain, was keen to imbue it with an air of Indian-ness.

At the Taj, JRD Tata and Ajit Kerkar, the man who turned the Taj into an all-India chain, worked to a similar brief. Their combined efforts helped create the Indian hotel industry: one reason why India is probably the only non-Western country where the top hotels in each city are still run by Indian companies and not by foreign chains.

At the Taj, at least, a key element of the planning of each hotel was the design. Kerkar had worked in London before he was headhunted by the Tatas

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Opinion | The White House says Trump will accept election results. Feel better? You shouldn’t.

Sadly, there’s a limit to how much reassurance Ms. McEnany can provide. Mr. Trump will reserve to himself the right to determine whether the election is “free and fair,” and he has already said the only way he could lose is through fraud. Mr. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr have pre-spun the results by fanning conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots. “Get rid of the ballots” means curbing the mail-in voting that large numbers of Democrats say they will use this year.

There’s a touch, but only a touch, more reassurance to be had from the mild condemnations that Republicans issued following the president’s antidemocratic statement. There is some comfort in the fact that they said anything at all; such things are not guaranteed these days. But it is easy for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to say that “the winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th.” It may take more gumption for them to do the right thing after their president has spun a narrative of massive electoral fraud.

The most distinct danger, in other words, is not that Mr. Trump will refuse to cede power after unambiguously losing. It is plausible he will lead in key states on the evening of Nov. 3, based on an advantage in in-person voting — and that his lead will then diminish or disappear as mailed ballots are counted. If he falsely portrays the shift or the delay as scandalous, will Republicans stand up for democracy and the truth? Or will they support him as he seeks to do what he has openly said he intends — to “get rid of the ballots”?

A president with a modicum of decency would seek to reduce national tensions and assure Americans that the government is working to ensure that every American has a fair opportunity to vote. During a pandemic, that would mean acknowledging that many more Americans will want to vote by mail, which was not controversial until Mr. Trump decided it might hurt his chances. It would mean explaining that the shift toward mail-in voting might make things feel different — full results will not be available on election night, for example — but assuring people that this is not evidence of fraud.

That is not the president we have. So it falls to others — Democrats and, we hope, Republicans — to explain and explain again. Mail-in and early voting are safe and appropriate. The winner may not be known on election night. It is more important that every vote be counted. Vote, be patient, and do not be swayed by the president’s lies.

Source Article

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Opinion | The White House blames voters for the messes Trump made

In the White House driveway Tuesday morning, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was asked about the spontaneous surge in contributions to Democrats since Republicans announced, 80 minutes after the first report of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, that they would ram through a replacement.

“I’ve heard the reports of Democrat fundraising going through the roof because of this particular event,” Meadows said, using Republicans’ bastardized name for the Democratic Party. He called it “very sad” and concluded: “But that just shows you, at this particular time in history, we have a very divisive electorate.”

A divisive electorate? No, we have a divisive president. The voters aren’t divisive.

Perhaps Meadows misspoke and meant “divided.” But the electorate isn’t that, either. There is partisan polarization, but voters aren’t really divided on the issues. They simply don’t like what Trump is doing.

This isn’t the first time Team Trump has blamed voters. Back in 2015, when Ben Carson was surging in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Trump said Iowans were fools for believing a personal story Carson told. “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Trump asked. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

The American people are not stupid, and they are not with Trump. The “silent majority” Trump often refers to is in fact a boisterous minority artificially amplified by the electoral college, the Senate’s structure, gerrymandering and the Supreme Court’s rollback of voting rights. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million in 2016 and he has been below 50 percent public approval for his entire presidency. He trails Joe Biden badly in nationwide polling, and his campaign strategy indicates he isn’t even contesting the popular vote.

And what of the Senate majority, which now claims to be fulfilling a mandate from the American people? Senate Republicans received 18 million fewer votes than Democrats in 2018, and 10 million fewer votes in 2016.

Vast majorities of Americans are concerned about the coronavirus, support the mandatory wearing of masks and say they avoid crowds. Trump mocks mask-wearing, holds mass rallies and boasts about playing down the virus. Monday he falsely said covid-19 “affects virtually nobody” under 18. Meanwhile, The Post reports, his Pentagon spent $1 billion of pandemic-relief funds on military hardware.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose choosing a new justice now. A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds 62 percent, including half of Republicans, saying the winner of the election in six weeks should make the choice.

But Trump on Tuesday shared radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh’s call for a nominee to be confirmed without even holding hearings. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brazenly reversed his pious defense of the voters four years ago. Back then, when he refused to consider an Obama nominee more than eight months before the election, he said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”

Nearly 90 percent of Americans, of all stripes, have pleaded for more civility from public officials. Yet this week, Trump

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Weed your garden | Opinion

Racism and atheism are fruits of ignorance. I don’t mean that in a derogatory or demeaning way but rather in the sense that we don’t know what we don’t know. Although there are many facets that make up our human minds, two keywords are association and communication. Growing up, we associate and communicate with those around us.

For example, I happen to be a white male born and raised in a predominately white area. The only Blacks and Latinos I saw growing up were migrant workers who were working in another section of a field that we teenagers were picking beans in for the local cannery. My parents and grandparents were not racists. Thus, I had no positive or negative experiences regarding race. On the plus side, we were taught in church and Sunday school that God loves everyone regardless of race or color. People who have parents who are racists will have a negative ‘mindset’ to overcome.

When I went to boot camp, we had several Blacks in our platoon. I don’t recall any racial problems. We were trained to work as a unit regardless of race. When I went to aviation mechanic school, I became friends with a Mexican who talked me into joining the drum and bugle corps at the base. My first duty station was a small reserve training detachment. There was only one Black in our unit. We got along well and had a lot of laughs together. When I was transferred to Japan, there were several Blacks in our unit. I became good friends with one from Philadelphia. I guess we had the same interests. We spent a lot of time talking about anything and everything. I also had some good experiences with local Japanese residents.

Fast forward to today, two Blacks that I consider to be good friends are a Black pastor and a Black member of his congregation. Since I don’t presently attend his church, I don’t get to see them very often. When we meet, we don’t hesitate to greet each other with a warm hug. Thus, it is the sum total of my life experiences, both positive and negative, which have formed (made up my mind) my personal views on racism. 

Growing up, we attended a Lutheran church every Sunday. Like many kids, church didn’t interest me a whole lot. However, when I was assigned to an air station south of Boston, I was introduced to an Italian Catholic girl. We started dating and eventually decided to get engaged. When we informed our parents of our marital intentions, it was like all hell broke loose. Her father did not want his daughter marrying a Lutheran and my family did not want me to marry a Roman Catholic.

Since I was being transferred to Japan, I agreed to talk to the Catholic chaplain when I got there to find out what Catholicism was all about. When I arrived at the base in Japan, I met with the Catholic priest and attended

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Between the Stacks: Thank you, Garden Club | Opinion

Charleston County Public Library logo CCPL

If you have been to the Mount Pleasant Regional Library, you know that we have a lovely circle of plants surrounding our sign near the street. You may also have noticed our large pot of plants at the front of the library (pictured here). What you may not know is that these beautiful features are maintained by the members of the Mount Pleasant Garden Club. They also contributed the container in the photo.

All year long – including the hot days we’ve been experiencing – members of the club have been taking turns bringing gallons of water to the library and keeping the planter nurtured and moist. I thought the heat was bad enough just sitting in the shade during our curbside pickup days. But to lug gallons of water in the heat? That is an act of love.

For the dedication of the Mount Pleasant Garden Club, we at Mount Pleasant Regional Library are most grateful. Thank you for all the hard work you do to make the premises extra attractive.

Are you interested in gardening and wondering exactly how to start? Or are you wondering if there are any fall projects you could consider for your own garden or yard? The library has some books that can help. For instance, “The New Southern Living Garden Book: The Ultimate Guide to Gardening” is a great place to start, with “2,000 full-color photos, 500 garden ideas, 8,000 flowers, vegetables, trees and more.”

Or perhaps one of these books will help: “Year-round Gardening: Growing Vegetables and Herbs, Inside or Outside, in Every Season” by Lena Israelsson; “A Way to Garden: a Hands-on Primer for Every Season” by Margaret Roach; or “Carolinas Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year” by Bob Polomski.

Maybe you want to start your child on the path to becoming a gardener. An absolutely delightful book is “Gardening with Emma: Grow and Have Fun, a Kid-to-Kid Guide” by Emma Biggs with her father, Steven Biggs. With beautiful illustrations and practical advice, this book can be used by beginning gardeners of all ages. There is also a section especially for “fall and winter garden fun.” Bonus: You can also find the book in our digital resource called hoopla.

Another fun title for children is “The Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book: Fun Projects for All Seasons” by Kari Cornell, also available in both print and digitally through hoopla.

Remember to stay current with all that’s happening at Charleston County Public Library through our website, ccpl.org, as well as on social media. Most CCPL branches are open again, including Mount Pleasant Regional (Monday, Tuesday and Thurs. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Wednesday and Sunday. We’ll be glad to help you find more books about gardening.

Susan Frohnsdorff is the manager of the Mount Pleasant Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road, 843-849-6161, [email protected] Unfortunately, she does not have a green thumb on either hand!

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