Caravaggio's ‘assassin’ finally revealed four centuries after his mysterious death at 38

Four centuries after Caravaggio mysteriously died at the age of 38, scientists claim they have determined what killed the famous Italian painter.

Over the years the baroque painter’s death has been shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories, ranging from lead poisoning, to syphilis and even to murder.

Now, a group of French scientists based at the Marseille University Hospital Institute (IHU) claim they have finally identified the killer: an infection caused by Staphylococcus Aureus, also known as Golden Staph.

The team cooperated with Italian anthropologists and microbiologist Giuseppe Cornaglia to extract teeth from Caravaggio’s skeleton. They then examined the dental pulp –rich in blood vessels– using a combination of three methods of DNA detection.

“The killer was identified – a Staphylococcus aureus,” the institute, led by Professor Didier Raoult, confirmed in a statement.

The results will be published before the end of the year in the journal ‘Lancet Infectious Diseases’, according to AFP.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died in Tuscany in 1610, four years after he killed a man in a brawl in Rome, adding to the intrigue surrounding his demise.

‘Offense to history & art’: Facebook censors Caravaggio’s nude cupid painting

Previous attempts to explain his death pointed to lead poisoning and claims that he literally died for his art. In 2010 scientists found a high content of lead, which was previously used in oil paints, in Caravaggio’s bones. They admitted that lead poisoning alone would not have killed him but could have been a contributory factor.

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‘Russians are coming for the Boy Scouts’ says professor in warning to Americans

Not content with (alleged) efforts to destroy US democracy through election interference in 2016, Russia is now “likely” targeting American civic society groups like the Boy Scouts and local charities, a professor has suggested.

“It may be hard to imagine Russia going after the Boy Scouts,” Susan Landau, a professor at Tufts University, wrote in an essay published by The Conversation and reprinted by Salon. Indeed it is, but Landau posits that groups like the Boy Scouts, as well as local charities, sports teams and churches, are the perfect target for Russia, because these are the things that “knit together a community and a society.”

They are the groups, Landau says, that provide the connections that keep “legitimate disagreement from exploding into acrimony and sharp divisions” among Americans – and pesky Russians are trying to ruin it all.

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FILE PHOTO © Felix Vogel/Global Look Press

As evidence to back up her claim, Landau points to a report by the infamous Atlantic Council think tank, a lobbying arm of NATO which is also funded by various Middle Eastern governments and multiple US arms manufacturers. The report claimed that Russia seeks to “sow discord among European Union member states [and] destabilize European polities,” to add to social tensions.

A similar thing is happening in the US, Landau claims. Indeed, Russia’s only goal is to ensure that America is “tearing itself apart” internally so that it has no time to “contest Russia internationally.”

Landau also refers to recent claims by Microsoft that Russian hackers set up fake websites to appear as though they were legitimate conservative think tanks in order to collect personal information from the people they fooled. The trouble with this claim is that even Microsoft admitted it had “no evidence” that the domains in question were used in any successful attacks – and no evidence “to indicate the identity of the ultimate targets.” Blaming Russia in this instance literally amounted to a “faith-based assumption.”

Landau warns that a “similar technique” had been used against Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, during which some fake text messages (purporting to be from the campaign) offered to transport illegal immigrants to vote. It turned out the texts had come from the campaign, from a volunteer “who had signed up under a fake identity.” Landau admits herself here that while there is “no indication” whatsoever this incident had anything to do with Russia, it still serves as an example which “illustrates” the “type of activity” the Russians get up to.

So, why the Boy Scouts? The organization, Landau reminds us, is a “tempting target” for Russia because it has been at the center of a number of controversies over social values issues over the course of its 50-year history – including whether to allow women to serve in leadership roles and whether to allow gay men and boys to join. Russia, Landau suggests, might use these already-heated issues to jump in and “deliberately inflame the debate.”

Landau ends on a stark warning: “The Russians are coming for American society” and people must be ready to “resist” both technologically and socially. Or not: one of her suggestions is to take sharp political disagreements “offline” to make it more difficult for Russia to get involved. While this sounds like taking a “step back to the 1990s,” Landau warns dramatically that there is “little choice.”

Alternately, Americans could exercise some critical thinking skills and not blame Russia for every problem with their society, real or imagined. But that’s precisely what a “Russian meddler” would say, isn’t it?

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Monsanto asks judge to overturn $289m cancer verdict, claims dying man presented lack of evidence

Agrochemical giant Monsanto has appealed to a California judge to throw out a $ 289 million jury verdict awarded to a man who claimed that the Bayer-owned company’s glyphosate-based weed-killers, including Roundup, gave him cancer.

The company filed motions in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California to claim that the jury’s decision was insufficiently supported by the evidence presented at trial by Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper diagnosed with a terminal form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

During the 2016 case, Johnson alleged his cancer was caused by years of exposure to Roundup and Ranger Pro herbicides, which both contain glyphosate – an ingredient that the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” back in 2015.

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© STAN HONDA

Monsanto has applied to Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos, who presided over the original trial, asking her to set aside the verdict, reduce the award, or grant a new trial.

Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial over allegations that the ingredients used in Monsanto’s weed-killers cause cancer. Following the jury awarding $ 289 million to the school groundskeeper, the company is now facing a flood of 8,000 similar lawsuits across the United States.

Shares in Monsanto’s parent company Bayer plummeted after the August 10 court ruling, and have yet to recover from such a fall – currently trading about 20 percent below its value prior to the verdict: 73.30 euros ($ 85.45).

Germany’s Bayer released a statement on Tuesday, claiming that “the jury’s decision is wholly at odds with over 40 years of real-world use, an extensive body of scientific data and analysis … which support the conclusion that glyphosate-based herbicides are safe for use and do not cause cancer in humans.” The company added that Johnson failed to prove glyphosate caused his cancer, and that the scientific evidence he presented at trial “fell well below the causation standard required under California law.”

A hearing is set for the motions for October 10.

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Satellite pics show Syria strike as IAF chief goes to Moscow to explain Il-20 incident

Timely released satellite images have revealed the destruction left by IDF air strikes in Syria’s Latakia after Israel was forced to make a rare admission to the raid which resulted in the downing of the Russian Il-20 recon plane.

On Wednesday, Israeli satellite imaging company ImageSat released three photos of an “ammunition warehouse” in Latakia, showing it before and after the Monday night attack. The three photos, posted on Twitter, show the building was completely destroyed in the strike.

Israel does not normally acknowledge its airstrikes in Syria, at least not until much later. However, the IDF made a rare immediate admission of responsibility on Tuesday, after the Russian Defense Ministry identified Israeli F-16 jets as taking part in the attack, and said the Il-20 aerial observation platform vanished from radars during the strike.

Moscow criticized Israel for not providing advance warning of the raid and said the Israeli jets used the Russian plane to mask their approach. Targeting the Israelis, Syrian air defenses fired the missile that shot down the Il-20 instead.

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FILE PHOTO. Russian Su-30 fighter jets at the Khmeimim Air base near Latakia. © Dmitry Vinogradov

The IDF rushed to explain that their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” On Tuesday, the IDF expressed“sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but once again said the responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express his condolences and offered to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report.

Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the “the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event,” and the “pre-mission information” the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.

Norkin will be joined by Brigadier General Erez Maisel of the International Cooperation Unit, as well as officers of the Intelligence and Operations directorates of the Israeli air force, according to the IDF. The delegation is also supposed to further acquit themselves of any blame and inform Moscow of “continuous Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to the Hezbollah terror organization and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria.”

Though the Russian military condemned“these provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said it reserves “the right to an adequate response,” President Putin described the loss of the plane as a likely “chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” rather than a deliberate provocation.

READ MORE: Will Russia-Israel ties suffer after downing of Il-20 military plane off Syrian coast?

Monday’s attack came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province, which is the last remaining stronghold of anti-government militants, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (also known as the Jabhat Al-Nusra).

At the request of Damascus, Russia sent an expeditionary force to Syria in September 2015, to help the government defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and other terrorist groups.

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Not aliens, after all? Mysterious solar observatory closure triggered by FBI child porn probe

Despite much speculation and conspiracy theories, the reason for the mysterious closure of New Mexico’s Sunspot Solar Observatory by the FBI earlier this month was an ongoing child pornography investigation, court documents show.

The secret behind the 11-day closure of the facility was finally explained in newly unsealed FBI records and its application for a search warrant. According to the court documents, the federal agents were investigating a janitor suspected of using the observatory’s WiFi network to download child pornography.

READ MORE: Aliens or solar flare? Questions remain as Sunspot Observatory partially reopens after FBI closure

Authorities launched an investigation after a tip-off from a source within the observatory, who stumbled on a computer with images described as “not good.” After narrowing the list of suspects, the FBI discovered that a personal laptop was used to access prohibited content via the internal network.

The suspect, however, has not yet been detained or charged with anything, even though his name was mentioned on the warrant, according to KTSM.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory, located in the mountains of southern New Mexico, was abruptly shut down due to “security concerns” on September 6 and only reopened this Monday, triggering wild speculations on social media.

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Alibaba’s Ma says Trump’s trade war ‘destroyed’ his promise to create jobs for 1mn Americans

Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma has said that his promise to Donald Trump to create one million jobs in the US is no longer valid and viable after Washington slapped Beijing with new round of tariffs on $ 200bn worth of goods.

When Jack Ma met president Trump in January 2017, he laid out a five-year vision which would create one million jobs in the United States. Instead of building factories, or establishing Alibaba operation centers in the US, the Chinese billionaire expressed hope that small American businesses can sell goods to consumers in China thereby creating more domestic jobs in the US. Just over eighteen months down the line, Trump and his protectionist trade practices seem to have ruined these prospects for small businesses, such as farmers and small clothing makers, who could have tapped the Chinese market.

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Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2017 © Ruben Sprich

“This commitment is based on friendly China-US cooperation and the rational and objective premise of bilateral trade,” Ma said Wednesday. “The current situation has already destroyed the original premise. There is no way to deliver the promise.”

While promising to “promote the healthy development” of Sino-US trade, the 54-year-old entrepreneur noted that the “previous basis for trade has been undermined,” amid ongoing trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies.

“Trade is not a weapon and cannot be used for wars,” he added, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua news agency. “Trade should be the propeller of peace.”

Instead of helping American small businesses reach Chinese consumers, one of the richest men in China said Alibaba will seek business opportunities elsewhere, mainly in Russia, Europe, South America, and Africa.

READ MORE: China to impose new tariffs on US goods worth $ 60 billion effective September 24

Ma, who recently announced his departure as the chairman of the Chinese retail giant next year, slammed Trump’s policies just two days after Washington announced a 10 percent tariff on another $ 200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Beijing hit back on Tuesday with levies on $ 60 billion of US products.

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Hurricane Florence flooding kills millions of farm animals

Millions of birds and thousands of pigs have died as a result of Hurricane Florence, according to North Carolina agriculture officials. That number may rise due to additional flooding.

An estimated 3.4 million chickens and turkeys, as well as 5,500 pigs, have been lost as a result of the flooding, according to a preliminary report by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. There were no estimates of crop losses.

North Carolina is one of the top states in the nation producing pork and poultry. The storm dumped more than 8 trillion gallons of water on the state over a five-day period.  

“The storm’s impact was felt deeply across a very large region,” the North Carolina Pork Council said on Tuesday. The reported losses were “the result of all aspects of the storm, including wind damage and flooding. We are saddened by this outcome,” the council added.

Though some areas are still flooding, the council does not expect the losses to “increase significantly.” There are approximately 8.9 million pigs across 2,100 hog farms in North Carolina.

More poultry deaths could soon occur at farms near Lumberton,as flood waters have hampered the delivery of feed, poultry producer Sanderson Farms told AP.

Meanwhile, many pets and stray cats and dogs have been rescued from the flood waters, with photos emerging of many animals riding in kayaks or sitting in shelters awaiting care and, ultimately, adoption.

One particular animal lover by the name of Tony Alsup made headlines after he bought a school bus to rescue pets that would otherwise be left behind, managing to evacuate a total of 53 dogs and 11 cats from animal shelters located in the path of Hurricane Florence.

READ MORE: Flood waters leave workers stranded at North Carolina nuclear plant

One shelter praised him on their Facebook page. “It’s all true – Tony swooped in at 4am Wednesday morning to pick up our ‘leftovers’ – the dogs with blocky heads, the ones with heartworm. The ones no one else will ever take. And he got them to safety. Not the most conventional evacuation, but surely the one with the most heart,” wrote the Saint Frances Animal Shelter.

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‘Immigration is not a human right’: Hungary slams ‘pro-migrant’ UN officials for ‘spreading lies’

Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has accused the UN human rights watchdog of “spreading lies” about his country, saying that immigration was not a “fundamental human right.”

The official took aim at the “independent experts” with the UN Human Rights Council, stating they “should not be independent from the truth.”

“Recently, unfortunately, some UN officials started to spread lies against and about my country,” Szijjarto told the UN body’s meeting on Wednesday.

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Andrej Babis (L) and Viktor Orban during a press conference in January, 2018  © Attila Volgyi/Global Look Press

Such officials would like to “force on us impossible things,” namely allowing illegal migrants into the country, Szijjarto stated. “They say that migration is a fundamental human right, which is a lie,” he stressed.

The harsh statement of the foreign minister came as a response to criticism against Hungarian anti-immigration policies. Last week, the UN rights body blasted the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ law, adopted by the country’s government back in July. The UN paper said Hungary “attacks against civil society, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers” with the law, adding that it’s against the international human rights law and poses a threat to the “values” of the whole European Union.

It added that it targets the critical “civil society” and fuels “hostility, xenophobia and … discrimination against migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and all those trying to provide them support.”

The ‘Stop Soros’ law has imposed restrictions on foreign NGOs, which work with migrants, obliging them to seek licenses from the government. It also criminalized aiding migrants, namely “providing financial or property benefit” to them or simply informing them about the asylum-seeking procedures. Those who do so could now face 12 months in jail.

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FILE PHOTO A camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers near Calais, France. © Yves Herman

The controversial law is named after Hungarian-born billionaire, globalist and strong supporter of open-border policies George Soros. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has repeatedly accused him of conspiring to stir unrest in his native country and to undermine Europe’s stability with mass-migration waves.

A strong anti-immigration stance has also put Budapest at odds with the EU. Last week, the EU parliament greenlighted a move to trigger Article 7 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon against Hungary. The provision is designed to be applied when there is “a clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values by one of its member states and is often referred to as the ‘nuclear option’ of the bloc. If fully implemented, Budapest would be deprived from voting rights in the EU.

Budapest, in turn, accused Brussels of wishing to turn Hungary into a “country of migrants,” calling the EU parliament vote a “petty revenge” of the pro-immigration crowd. Other countries, who are at odds with the EU over immigration policies, namely Poland and Czech Republic, rushed to support Budapest after voting on Article 7. Last year, Poland itself became the target for the same Article 7 proceedings, over its judicial reform.

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Referendum, again? May & Tory minister at odds as EU wants UK’s Brexit plan ‘reworked’

As the EU sent London to rework its Brexit plan, British PM Theresa May insisted it will not accept a second referendum – hours after the Tory treasury minister admitted that another vote could happen “within months.”

At a summit with fellow European leaders in Salzburg on Tuesday, May once again stressed that the UK would be leaving the EU in March 2019, making it clear that the British government would not accept a second referendum on whether to leave the bloc.

Her comments, however, put her at odds with Treasury Minister Mel Stride, a top Tory in the current government, who told Sky News just hours beforehand that MPs could possibly trigger a new vote if they reject May’s ‘Chequers’ plan, which proposes close post-Brexit ties between the EU and the UK.

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Vince Cable and wife Rachel Smith listen to a speech at the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton. March 10, 2013. © Luke MacGregor

“Those to the right of the party – the pro-Brexit wing will be very concerned that if that deal doesn’t prevail, they’ll end up in the situation where we could have a second referendum and we could end up not leaving the EU altogether,” he said.

“So there is a danger of that happening if Chequers doesn’t prevail.”

His comments quickly sparked a conversation among some of Brexit’s most outspoken critics, including MP Tulip Siddiq, a Labour supporter of the anti-Brexit ‘Best for Britain’ group.

“This is one small step for the minister but a giant stride for our campaign to deliver a people’s vote,” she said, as quoted by The Independent.

Alison McGovern, an MP with the People’s Vote campaign also chimed in. “This has changed everything. A minister has had the courage to tell the truth about the mess the government are in over Brexit and let the cat out of the bag,” she said.

The EU criticized proposals within May’s Chequers plan at the summit on Tuesday, warning that they needed to be “reworked and further negotiated.” European Council President Donald Tusk said that major hurdles remained, including the UK’s policy on Ireland and the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU. 

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she hopes there will be a Brexit which takes place with respect and in a “good atmosphere,” while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stressed the need for a deal to be reached, in order to avoid both sides getting hurt.

“We are striving to make a compromise possible. [EU Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier is doing well, he has our full support. He has taken a step towards the British. Now we expect a willingness to compromise from the British, hopefully to bring about a deal,” Kurz said before the meeting of EU leaders.

“We will propose today an extraordinary summit in November and if the member states support this, it will happen. Hopefully by then we will reach an agreement with Great Britain.”

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Mainstream media gangs up on Sanders over ‘Stop BEZOS’ bill

Senator Bernie Sanders’ anti-corporate welfare bill aims to hammer the companies that pay their workers so poorly they need government aid to survive. Corporate media outlets are gunning for Sanders in response.

The Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (Stop BEZOS) would impose a tax on companies equal to the amount of money their employees receive from federal welfare programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. It would apply to both full- and part-time employees as well as independent contractors.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) co-wrote the bill with Sanders (I-Vermont). While more symbolic than workable, it “speaks to the injustice people perceive – that the market isn’t properly rewarding work,” Khanna said.

The proposed bill would target companies with 500 or more employees, including some of America’s largest corporations such as Amazon, Apple and Walmart. Its name is a pointed jab at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. Bezos is worth $ 160 billion, and earns the median salary of an Amazon worker – $ 28,000 – every nine seconds.

Workers in Amazon’s UK distribution facilities are often so overworked that they are reportedly forced to urinate in bottles to make their quotas. In the US, a large number of them earn such a pittance that they rely on food stamps to make ends meet, and Medicaid to take care of their healthcare needs. In Arizona, one in three Amazon workers is on food stamps.

Amid the negative publicity, Amazon has resorted to paying employees to tweet nice things about the company. The tweets praise working conditions at warehouses while repeating the mantra of “safety is the priority and we just want to get your packages out on time.”

But Bezos apparently has little to fear. Since Sanders unveiled his ambitious proposal, the mainstream media has taken over PR duties for his omnipresent megacorporation.

“In Bernie Sanders vs. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, only workers lose” read a headline from USA Today on Sunday. What Sanders proposes, economist Ryan Bourne argued, is “dangerous,” as it would make workers who would rely on government assistance unemployable. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that Amazon is duty-bound to pay the lowest wage possible, instead of raising it to avoid this situation in the first place.

“Shareholders and customers of companies should not be responsible for every factor of their workers’ lives,” Bourne wrote. He is the chair in public understanding at the Cato Institute, a think tank of free-market evangelists that sits somewhere to the right of Ayn Rand.

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© Mark Makela

“Bernie Sanders Picks the Wrong Kind of Fight With Amazon,” declared Noah Smith in Bloomberg last week. Making a similar case to Bourne’s, Smith argues that Amazon would be morally bound to fire workers before raising the minimum wage, or would actually cut wages to save money. As government benefits don’t rise 1-for-1 with falling income, Amazon could game the system instead of raising wages.

Instead, Smith suggests federally mandating a higher minimum wage, which is a frequent progressive talking point.

The Washington Post (fully owned by Bezos), blasted Sanders for trying to “outsource the fight against poverty,” which editor Charles Lane argues is the government’s job.

“Bezos is good at many things,” Lane wrote on Tuesday. “As a businessman whose shareholders depend on him to meet the demand for low-cost consumer goods, however, he’s not well-positioned to produce public goods. And equality and a decent safety net, like a working court system and national defense, are public goods.”

But Amazon is not the only corporation that would have to change its ways under the bill proposed by Sanders. Walmart and McDonalds have more employees on food stamps, according to an analysis by New Food Economy. Accusations of abusing corporate welfare have been leveled at Walmart for decades. Most notably, liberal agitator Michael Moore focused a large segment of his 2009 documentary ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ on the practice.

In naming Bezos, however, Sanders takes advantage of the billionaire’s ‘household name’ status to get people talking about income inequality and ending it, something the Vermont socialist has been pushing for decades. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi argued on Tuesday that this was the senator’s aim all along.

That kind of publicity seems to work, too. Walmart raised its minimum wage to $ 9 per hour in 2015, citing a desire to improve workers’ welfare, and therefore customer service in-store. Earlier this year, the retail giant bumped its minimum wage up again to $ 11, with CEO Doug McMilon crediting President Donald Trump’s trillion-dollar tax cuts for making the jump possible.

In painting a target on Amazon, Sanders has also made himself an otherwise unlikely ally. Trump has blasted Amazon for taking advantage of a tax loophole that allows online retailers to avoid paying state-level taxes. He has also attacked Bezos for putting small-scale ‘mom and pop’ retailers out of business, taking advantage of the US postal system, and perhaps most importantly to him, funding negative articles on his administration in the Washington Post.

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