Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

System In Our War

The War Department underwent a substantial change at the beginning of World War I, transforming from a largely combat-based agency to a manufacturing- and business-based one. Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell explained in this 1918 interview:

The War Department [has] become a business affair. He cited the aircraft work of the army as an example.

“A year ago,” said Mr. Crowell, “there were eleven officers, all strictly military men, and about 1,000 privates in the aircraft work. Now in that branch of the war business we have thousands of officers and 100,000 men. But 96 per cent. of those officers are trained business men and engineers from big civil enterprises. Most of them are in military uniform, but that is merely a matter of form that does not go to the substance of the business.

“And this change that has come over the aircraft division in its personnel is illustrative of what is being done or has been done by Mr. Baker [Secretary of War Newton Baker] throughout the department. There is very little about it today that is military, on this side of the Atlantic, except the outward form, the dress and the assumed military ceremonial. Under all that is the same sort of spirit and energy and organization that is indispensable to the successful business enterprise.”

In the words of comedian Bo Burnham to the tune of the classic Edwin Starr song War: “War! / What is it good for? / Increasing domestic manufacturing.”

 

System In Our War: An Interview with Acting Secretary Benedict Crowell, Who Tells of a Year’s Changes in Baker’s Department 

Published: Sunday, March 24, 1918

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Written by Jesse

March 22nd, 2018 at 8:01 am

Posted in Business,Politics,War

Business World’s Grievance Against Germany

President Trump spent the past few weeks ratcheting up his trade wars, which he claims would be “easy to win.” He has implemented tariffs on steel and uranium, in a move that even many or most of his own party’s Congress members oppose, not to mention most other world leaders. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, and indeed America’s $566 billion trade deficit in 2017 was the highest since 2008.

But this 1918 article by Edward A. Bradford made a similar case to the argument against Trump today — namely, that freer markets rather than protectionism benefit all. Similar to how the current administration’s policies are trying to discourage Americans from purchasing products from China, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and other nations, the feeling was widespread in 1918 that Americans shouldn’t purchase products or encourage business from Germany once World War I was over. Bradford rebutted that notion:

It is necessary to curb Germany in order to make the world safe for democracy. It is even more necessary in order to make the world safe for business. And the number of those who care for business is incomparably larger than the number of those who care for politics…

Business makes the whole world kin, and there is business under monarchies and democracies alike, without regard to politics. There is no law about politics, and probably never can be so long as politics does not disturb property and business. But there is a world law of business, for all the world trades together, and thereby establishes a common law of business…

No nation can allow another nation to impose law upon it, and no formula for international law can be agreed upon. Under our laws a man is entitled to trial before a jury of his peers. There can be no such jury in international cases. The case starts with prejudices, which never were so strong as now. The world is in hostile camps, and there are those who would like to see business done under systems of boycott or economically hostile organizations. This war must have an end, but a war of boycott would run interminably, with loss for all and benefit to none.

Business World’s Grievance Against Germany: A Nation Organized Like a Trust, Conspiring for Restraint of all Trade Without Guidance of Reason or Conscience (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 17, 1918

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Written by Jesse

March 13th, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Business

Some Good in the Garfield Shock

The hyperbole-free New York Times described a contemporary January 1918 government decision as “Probably no executive order in this country ever aroused such a unanimity of expression.”

What was this controversial decision that had the entire nation on edge? “Fuel Administrator Garfield’s recent five-day closure of industry and business east of the Mississippi River.”

Wait, what?

Harry Garfield, son of former president James A. Garfield, was serving as president of Williams College when he was named by President Wilson as the first Administrator for the Fuel Administration, a new agency created to better manage American resources during World War I.

As this article from 1914-1918-online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War details, a massive coal shortage was causing many homes and businesses to go without heat, energy, and light. The problem was distributional rather than supply-based, as railcars intended to transport coal were halted or even abandoned due to backlogs on the railways.

Since this problem was primarily on the east coast, Garfield ordered most factories east of the Mississippi River closed for five days, from January 18-22, 1918, and then again every Monday thereafter. The plan generated massive outcry of government overreach, and indeed the policy was abandoned mere weeks later.

Even at the time it seems hard to imagine that executive order being considered more controversial and significant than, say, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. There have certainly been a wealth of more controversial presidential administration executive decisions since then, ones whose controversy hasn’t dimmed over the decades as Wilson’s/Garfield’s did — from Roosevelt’s Japanese internment camps to Ford’s blanket pardon of Nixon.

Some Good in the Garfield Shock: Ex-Judge Lacombe Analyzes the Situation — Workless Days Order May Yield Eventual Benefits in Spite of Almost Unanimous Criticism

From Sunday, January 27, 1918

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Written by Jesse

January 25th, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Business,Politics

Female Labor Arouses Hostility

As more women entered the workforce during WWI, men were having a difficult time adjusting:

A conflict that was peacefully adjusting itself before the war has been churned into fresh fury. It is the ancient contest between male and female labor. Most often silent, it now threatens to become vitriolic. Many regard it as the powder magazine of the present labor world, one that an unforeseen match may explode into a national calamity.

Only those with an ear close to the ground hear the rumblings of the coming storm. The restraints of patriotic appeal have held in leash an ever-mounting resentment in the ranks of labor, organized and unorganized, and as yet this has found only a superficial expression. But there exist signposts which point the easy road to trouble.

Is it true that America, like Europe, is to have feminized industry? If so, will man resign his present place without a fight? If he does fight, what form will the contest take?

The present-day answers to those question:

  • Will America have feminized industry? As of December 2017, the official male unemployment rate was 4.0% while the female rate was a bit lower at 3.8%. (The “full” unemployment rate is usually about twice the “official” rate.) So women had a better rate of finding jobs than men.
  • Will man resign his present place without a fight? If he does fight, what form will the contest take? Man hasn’t “resigned” his place in any meaningful sense — it’s not like everything is run by women. But men have definitely put up a fight. Read the New York Times’ thorough expose Harvey Weinstein’s Complicity Machine if you doubt it. 2016 also saw the biggest gender gap in presidential voting ever, with a 24 point differential between men voting for Trump and against a potential first female president by +12, while women voted for Clinton by a reverse +12.

Female Labor Arouses Hostility: Union Leader Asserts That Men Workers Regard Substitutions as Exploitation of the Weaker Sex, Unnecessary as Yet and Tending to Cause Industrial Unrest (PDF)

From Sunday, January 20, 1918

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Written by Jesse

January 18th, 2018 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Business

Maryland Law Which Makes Everybody Work

Maryland and eight other state governments made work mandatory during 1917 and 1918, amid the labor shortage caused by so many men serving in World War I. Although many considered it a violation of personal liberty, the official unemployment rate dropped from 4.5% to 1.4% as a result.

For comparison, the official unemployment rate in December 2017 was 4.1% — the lowest rate since 2000. (A fuller measure of the unemployment rate pegs it 8.1% currently, but that’s still one of the lowest rates in years.)

So how come no states have compulsory work laws anymore? Such laws were declared illegal after World War I was over.

Maryland Law Which Makes Everybody Work: Conscription of the Unemployed Rich and Poor Has Begun in One State, and Congress Has Before It a Similar Plan for the Nation (PDF)

From Sunday, January 13, 1918

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Written by Jesse

January 15th, 2018 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Business,Politics

Civil War Food Prices Were Lower Than Those of Today

Between 1861 and 1863, the Civil War caused huge percentage price jumps. Eggs went from 15 to 25 cents per dozen, cheese from 8 to 18 cents per pound, and a bushel of potatoes from $1.50 to $2.25.

But if the prices were actually lower than they were in 1918, why was there so much more economic anger about prices during the Civil War than during World War I? Because during the Civil War, income and wages were doing a much worse job at keeping pace with inflation.

Ostensibly the lesson here for the present day would be that politicians should try their best to insure that wages go up. Yet in 2016, American middle-class incomes reached their highest levels ever, yet the presidential election reflected seemingly the opposite result.

Civil War Food Prices Were Lower Than Those of Today (PDF)

From Sunday, January 9, 1918

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Written by Jesse

January 9th, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Business,History

Where Women Supplant Men Because of War

 

Among the jobs which were women were filling in for men in larger numbers as a result of World War I: streetcar conductors, subway guards, elevator runners, firefighters, munition works, the felt hat industry, radium plating, and wagon drivers.

As a man, I would gladly volunteer for even the most unjust war to avoid an occupation of radium plating. Guess how Marie Curie died?

Where Women Supplant Men Because of War: Changes Taking Place in Many Industries — Employers Report New Workers’ Adaptability in Fields Hitherto Barred — Equal Pay Now the Rule (PDF)

From Sunday, December 30, 1917

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December 31st, 2017 at 8:01 am

Troublous Times for the Theatre Business

 

“In fact, the last week has been about the worst week in the history of the American theater.” That was the worry gripping Broadway in December 1917. What was causing this?

“Pro Bono Publico writes to his favorite paper that it is because the plays presented nowadays are so inferior that intelligent people won’t tolerate them.” This is similar to the main explanation for why movie box office in summer 2017 had its lowest-selling summer since 1997: that almost every summer release besides Wonder Woman and Dunkirk was terrible. (It wasn’t competition from Netflix and the like; Netflix was almost as massive in 2016 and 2015, which were comparatively stronger box office years.)

Other explanations offered included a wartime tax on theater tickets, and the fact that war started to become more “real” for Americans outside of combat round October due to several factors such as a sugar shortage, even though America had entered the conflict in April.

Troublous Times for the Theatre Business: All Sorts of Suggestions for Remedying War Slump Are Being Considered by the Managers — The Question of Prices and Ticket Speculators (PDF)

From Sunday, December 16, 1917

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December 16th, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Why Stocks Tumbled in 1917 and Rose in 2017

In November 1917, the prices of most stocks were between 20 and 70 percent below where they had stood a year before. The plummet was so steep that rumors abounded that the Stock Exchange would be entirely shut down, permanently.

This article from the time interviewed former Director of the U.S. Mint George E. Roberts for his analysis of the stock market’s plummet. He laid the blame at four causes, quoting directly:

1.) The demands of the Liberty Loan. Every one [sic] has subscribed or has pledged to subscribe about all the spare cash he can must for the coming few months.

2.) The collateral demands of the war, the Red Cross, the hundred and one charities which reach forth on every hand to waylay the pocketbook.

3.) The vast needs for new and quick industrial investments to meet the munition and supply demands of the war.

4.) The uncertainty of the immediate future. Those who have available cash hesitate to invest it in stocks or bonds, even at the present ridiculously low prices. They would rather wait a bit and see what the Winter brings forth.

The market eventually self-corrected. In fact, if you had invested $1,000 in Coca-Cola stock during its original 1919 initial public offering, two years after this article was published, that stock would be worth $9.8 million today.

A century later in 2017, the opposite question is being asked: why does the stock market keep going up? Derek Thompson of The Atlantic recently wrote an excellent article analyzing this question after the Dow reached a new record high.

Thompson, like Roberts a century before him, laid out three or four reasons for the stock market’s performance:

1. It’s simple: Corporations everywhere are making a bunch of money.

2. A1 chaos doesn’t drive the business cycle.

3. There aren’t many obvious signs of bubbles, or causes for imminent corrections.

Thompson’s reason #2 in particular on its face may seem to contradict Roberts in 1917, since Roberts’ theory was that the page-A1 chaos of the time — namely World War I — was exactly what was driving the business cycle.

Then again, WWI truly consumed everything about the economy, politics, culture, and life. By contrast, Trump’s headline-driving tweet of the day usually generates more of a “Wasn’t that interesting?” response (or “Wasn’t that terrifying?” depending on who you ask) rather than proving transformative to the markets.

Usually… but not always. After Trump tweeted attacking their respective companies, Amazon’s stock market value dropped $5 billionBoeing dropped $550 million, and Toyota lost $1.2 billion in five minutes.

Why Stocks Tumbled: No Business Panic and No Prospect of One, Says George E. Roberts, Banker — Wartime Causes of Low Prices (PDF)

From Sunday, November 11, 1917

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Written by Jesse

November 8th, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Business,War

Enter America as Chief Fur Trader

World War I had unexpected effects on the fur market, not least because of… the invention of the submarine?!

“American buyers and American furs no longer play the parts they formerly did in England. The submarine is one of the chief reasons. It has caused a scarcity of ocean freight space and a big jump in war risk insurance on cargoes.”

Another factor was the plummeting number of materials (read: animals) brought into the U.S. from other nations.

“Another way in which the war has affected the fur situation has been to cut down the supplies of skins received from other countries… However, as a result of depleted supplies, prices have advanced sharply, particularly on skins of animals not native of this country…

“It has been ably aided by Fashion, which is figuratively crying for furs and still more furs. Proof that the women of the country are responding to the cry is seen in the fact that, despite the higher prices, the fur trade as a whole is enjoying one of the best seasons it has ever had.”

Today, animal skins are a $40 billion business — although according to Kopenhagen Fur, the global production of fur has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Enter America as Chief Fur Trader: Foreign Countries Formerly Ran the Business of Selling Pelts, but New York and St. Louis Are Now the Leading Markets (PDF)

From Sunday, September 30, 1917

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Written by Jesse

September 29th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Business,Development

Business Men in Control of American Colleges

Evans Clark, a professor of history and politics and Princeton, lamented the increased influence of members of the business community on American universities in 1917. Clark perceived these board of trustees or regents as often lacking either familiarity or best interests of the school they represented:

Princeton University, however, is legally not the Faculty and students, the community citizenship, but a group of twenty-nine men in no way responsible to them, and none of whom lives or functions at the university. These twenty-nine men at Princeton, and other small groups like them in every college and university community, are in law rulers whose power is absolute.

They have the legal authority to employ and dismiss whomsoever they wish in the service of their institution — the President, the professors, administrative officers, janitors, and day laborers. And no one of these, it is well to note, has any more constitutional security of tenure than another. They can discharge a janitor who complains that his wages are low, or an instructor who makes the fact known to his classes.

That Trustees and Regents to not exercise in practice every one of the powers granted to them by law is proof not of any lack of authority, but merely a lack of desire to do so.

It’s an increasing issue now: according to a 2015 Atlantic article, “Twenty percent of U.S. college presidents in 2012 came from fields outside academia, up from from 13 percent six years earlier, according to the American Council on Education.”

Business Men in Control of American Colleges: Member of Princeton’s Teaching Force Criticises Condition Which He Regards as a Baneful Autocracy in Higher Education (PDF)

From Sunday, June 10, 1917

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Written by Jesse

June 8th, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Business,Education

Three Film Stars Get $1,000,000 a Year Each

Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks were earning a then- staggering $1 million per year in 1917. $1 million in May 1917 would be worth $17.5 million today. How does that compare to the highest-grossing movie stars now? That would only make Chaplin the 24th-highest paid movie star in the world last year.

Forbes ranked Dwayne Johnson as the highest-paid actor of 2016 at $67.5 million. Chaplin would be sandwiched between Matthew McConaughey at #23 with $18 million and Chinese film star Chan Bingbing with $17 million.

What’s fascinating look at the last is how many of the top 25 highest-paid actors may not be worth the salary. Many just in the past year alone have starred in box office domestic underperformers, relative to studios’ pre-release hopes: #3 Matt Damon with The Great Wall, #5 Johnny Depp with Alice Through the Looking Glass, #7 Ben Affleck with Live By Night, #8 Vin Diesel with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, #13 Brad Pitt with Allied, #19 Scarlett Johansson with Ghost in the Shell, #20 Will Smith with Collateral Beauty, #23 Matthew McConaughey with Gold,

 

 

Three Film Stars Get $1,000,000 a Year Each: Motion Picture Business, at Pinnacle of Success, Sees No Sign of Waning Popularity — Tax Talk Stops Boasting of Profits (PDF)

From Sunday, May 27, 1917

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May 26th, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Man’s Labor the Best, British Committee Decides; Woman Handicapped

As men entered World War I, women were called upon to perform traditionally male roles involving more physical labor and brawn. The British Health of Munition Workers Committee found:

“that, compared with man, woman has less strength, less endurance; that she can undergo neither such long hours nor such long periods of labor; that she cannot stand the strain of night work; that her body, physiologically different from man’s, is subject to ‘certain ailments and forms of physical disability’ that are ‘readily caused or at least accentuated’ by various forms of body activity, and that these ailments are ‘far-reaching in effect’; that the lifting and carrying of heavy weights, ‘all sudden, violent, or physically unsuitable movements in the operating of machines,’ and prolonged standing, are ‘highly provocative causes of trouble to women and girls.'”

Anybody who still claims that men have more stamina and women need more “days off” should read the news this week. Ivanka Trump had to fill in for her father at an event that he dropped out from citing “exhaustion.”

Man’s Labor the Best, British Committee Decides; Woman Handicapped: The Frailer Sex Lacks Nothing in Patriotism, But Needs More “Days Off” — Endurance in Munition Plants (PDF)

From Sunday, May 27, 1917

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Written by Jesse

May 25th, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Business,Life

Wealthy Men Willing to Pay Higher Taxes

The top income bracket always tries to fight increased taxes, but historically just about the only time they willingly acquiesce is during wartime, when abrupt increased governmental expenditures are required. What made 2001-02 so unprecedented was that President George W. Bush simultaneously lowered tax on the top income bracket while launching war and requiring increased government outlays. (Bush lowered taxes for all income groups, not just the wealthiest.) The result was a large spike in deficits and debt as a percentage of GDP. Although, to be fair, those numbers would increase even more under Bush’s successor Barack Obama — and will almost certainly increase even further under Donald Trump given his plans for lower taxes and higher expenditures.

Wealthy Men Willing to Pay Higher Taxes: Victor Morawetz Says the Government Must Remember It Cannot Get Funds of People Twice, by Taxation and Bonds (PDF)

From Sunday, May 6, 1917

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Written by Jesse

May 5th, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Business,Politics,War

Cost of Home Here Has Soared in Decade

 

The most expensive New York City apartment in 1907 was $6,000. A decade later, in 1917, it had quintupled to $30,000. Those were the days. By 2017, the most expensive NYC apartment cost $100.5 million — and even that could be shattered by an estimated rumored $250 million apartment that’s currently under construction.

Cost of Home Here Has Soared in Decade: Highest Apartment Rent Ten Years Ago $6,000, Now Above $30,000 — Private Houses Are No Longer Choicest Residences (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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April 29th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Business,Development

U.S. Has Nearly as Much Gold as All Europe

The total amount of gold in 1917 was about $3.08 billion. Today that’s more than tripled to $11.04 billion, according to the Treasury Department. About 56 percent of that is held in the famed and heavily-guarded Fort Knox location in Kentucky.

The U.S. has had a long and complicated relationship with gold. American money used to be backed up by a gold standard since 1879, until President Franklin D. Roosevelt largely took the country off it in 1933. We were formally and fully taken off the gold standard by President Richard Nixon in 1971, and some critics such as former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul criticize this decision as being one of the key factors in subsequent inflation and the Great Recession of 2008-09.

U.S. Has Nearly as Much Gold as All Europe: Precious Metal Has Been Sent Across Atlantic Until We Have Accumulated $3,089,000,000 (PDF)

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 28th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Business

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness

In 1917, the average worker lost nine days annually due to illness, according to Frederic W. Loughran, then medical adviser to the New York State Insurance Fund. In 2013, the average worker only called in sick 4.9 days per year. This even though the average full-time private sector employee had eight paid sick days off.

Each Worker Loses 9 Days Yearly by Illness: Lack of Attention to Principles of Modern Industrial Hygiene Responsible at Present for Enormous Waste in Our Factories (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 8th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Business

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop

Between 1908 and 1916, the total value of U.S. peanuts more than quadrupled. Why? Because the cotton crop had been nearly wiped out boll weevils, leaving far more land for peanuts to be planted. As a result, the price per peanut bushel had doubled or more within only a few years. The more you know.

The final sentence’s prediction that “Down in the cotton country they are saying that we are soon to see the rise of peanut barons” never quite came true, as best I can tell from quick research.

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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Written by Jesse

March 29th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Business,War

Lowering the Cost of Living for the Navy

Here’s an element of navy/military spending that seems obvious once it’s brought up, yet might never have entered your brain before:

“Suppose, for instance, that you had about 65,000 men, the great majority of them young, healthy, and hungry, to clothe and feed. Suppose that when you bought flour you bought it by the millions of pounds; that you meat purchases totaled nearly 18,000,000 pounds a year; that you had to buy almost 25,000,000 pounds of cabbages, onions, potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, and other fresh vegetables annually; that your sugar and coffee and canned good purchases were proportionately large; that when you bought eggs the order specified a few hundred thousand; that you bought every twelve months more than 1,700,000 pounds of butter, not to mention scores of other foods which America’s bluejackets and marines must have and do get, what would you do about it?

That was in 1917. If anything, today those numbers for the Navy are almost certainly larger. I couldn’t find numbers related to the cost of food for today’s military, but the number of active duty Navy members currently stands at 323 thousand.

A few months ago I covered a talk from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, yet somehow this subject of food never came up.

Lowering the Cost of Living for the Navy: How One of the Newly Appointed Rear Admirals, as Paymaster General, Tackled a Vexatious Problem and Solved It (PDF)

From Sunday, January 28, 1917

 

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Written by Jesse

January 29th, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Business,War

George C. Boldt’s Life a Continuous Romance

george-c-boldts-life-a-continuous-romance

Ah, the days when “the most famous hotel man in the world” didn’t inherit the business from his father, but achieved his status through grit and determination after starting in the kitchen.

George C. Boldt’s Life a Continuous Romance: Reminiscences of Waldorf-Astoria’s Proprietor, Who Rose from the Kitchen to be the Most Famous Hotel Man in the World (PDF)

From December 10, 1916

 

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Written by Jesse

December 7th, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Business,Life