To right the wrongs in gold mining, focus on good governance

Every year, according to the World Gold Council, as much as 3000 tonnes of gold are pulled from the earth. The Council estimates that 190 400 tonnes of gold have been mined throughout modern history, with most of it (about two-thirds) extracted since the 1950s.

Despite how much has already been mined — nearly all of which exists in above-ground stores because gold is virtually indestructible and easily recyclable — demand for newly mined gold remains strong. The jewellery sector is the largest industrial user of it, consuming nearly half of all newly mined gold annually. The tech sector uses about 8% annually, but it is the finance sector and governments that take up most of the rest.

In many cultures, gold is a symbol of wealth, luxury and love, whether in the form of a wedding band, a candelabra, ingots or an iPhone. But like so much that we consume, the production process behind gold is rife with negative social, environmental and economic impacts. Far from the exception, injustice, destruction and inequity are systemic traits of this industry.

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Child labour, poverty and terrible working conditions lie behind the sugar you eat

Reach for a packet of sugar in the café, browse the shelves at supermarkets, or take a look at the packaging of your favourite sweet treat, and you are likely to see the Fairtrade label. What’s more, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act requires large companies to publicly report on the steps they take to ensure that forced labour is not a part of their products. The EU’s non-financial reporting requirements broaden out from modern slavery to include many issues related to social responsibility and human rights.

Provisions such as these, as well as a multitude of corporate social responsibility programmes and industry specific commitments, have been put in place as measures to correct the longstanding social risks and challenges faced by the people who produce the goods we consume. To deepen our understanding of the status of those risks and challenges, our team has, for the past nine months, taken a close look at the sugarcane consumed in the UK.

About 25% of the UK’s sugar comes from sugarcane imported from outside the EU, while the rest comes from sugar beet grown in the UK and other EU nations. Consequently, given the prevalence of the Fairtrade mark and supply chain reporting requirements, most of us are likely to have the impression that sugar is produced in a socially responsible way.

But unfortunately, serious problems including forced and child labour, poverty, and dangerous heat-related illnesses persist in today’s sugarcane industry.

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Amazon versus brick-and-mortar booksellers: who’s better for the economy?

News of Amazon’s seasonal hiring of 20,000 temporary workers, reported in various UK news outlets this autumn, is generally heralded as good news for job seekers. The company is expanding. Surely good news all around?

Yet, in light of Amazon’s recent massive reduction in its corporation tax and repeated reports of poor working conditions in its fulfilment centres, one has to wonder if Amazon is all that good for the British economy. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) suggests that the UK’s brick-and-mortar booksellers, the retail outlets most at risk from ‘Amazonisation’, might be making a far greater contribution than the online retail giant.

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A white woman and her child using EBT coupons (food stamps) represent the real face of welfare.

Who Really Receives Welfare and Government Entitlements?

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about people who receive welfare. They’re lazy. They refuse to work and have more kids just to collect more money. In our mind’s eye, they are most often people of color. Once they’re on welfare, they stay on it, because why would you choose to work when you can get free money every month?

Politicians traffic in these stereotypes too, which means they play an active role in influencing government policy. During the 2015‒16 Republican primary, the problem of an increasingly expensive welfare state was commonly cited by the candidates. In one debate, then Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal said, “We are on the path to socialism right now. We’ve got record dependents, a record number of Americans on food stamps, record low participation rate in the work force.”

President Trump has regularly claimed that reliance on welfare is “out of control” and even wrote about it in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough. In this book, he stated, without evidence, that recipients of TANF, popularly known as food stamps, “have been on the dole for nearly a decade,” and suggested that widespread fraud in this and other government assistance programs was a significant problem.

Fortunately, the reality of who and how many people receive welfare and other forms of assistance and the circumstances of their participation in these programs is well-documented in factual data collected and analyzed by the U.S. Census Bureau and other independent research organizations. So, let’s get down to those non-alternative facts.

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The Post-Election Surge in Hate Crimes and How it Differs From Past Surges

Many across the United States have been victims of or witness to election-related hate crimes or hateful incidents since Donald Trump became the apparent president-elect on November 8, 2016. Numerous media outlets reported incidents in which perpetrators invoked Trump’s name or referenced policy positions and stances of his, as they verbally or physically assaulted victims targeted for their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, or presumed national origin. Simultaneously, social media has been awash in first-hand accounts of such events.

Hardly isolated or rare, these events are evidence of a significant surge in hate crimes and hate-related incidents, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal research and activist organization. In a report published on November 29, SPLC reported that it had documented 867 hate incidents that occurred in the 10 days following the election. However, it’s likely that figure could be much higher since the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

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How Race, Gender, Class and Education Influenced the Presidential Election

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. For many social scientists, pollsters, and voters Trump’s win came as a shock. The number one trusted political data website FiveThirtyEight gave Trump less than a 30 percent chance of winning on the eve of the election. So how did he win? Who came out for the controversial Republican candidate?

In this slideshow, we take a look at the demographics behind Trump’s win using exit poll data from CNN, which draws on survey insights from 24,537 voters from across the nation to illustrate trends within the electorate.

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Who are Trump supporters? Get the demographics here.

Which Social and Economic Trends Are Behind Trump’s Popularity?

Survey data collected throughout the 2016 presidential primary season reveal clear demographic trends among supporters of Donald Trump. They are composed of more men than women, skew older, have low levels of formal education, are at the lower ends of the economic stratum, and are predominantly white.

You can read more about the data behind these trends here in our in-depth coverage, but in this post, we take a close look at the social and economic trends that have changed American society since the 1960s, and consider how they worked together to create this particular political base that has come together in support of Trump.

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Mass shootings in the U.S. are on the rise and they're getting more deadly.

Get the Facts on Mass Shootings in the U.S.

On June 12, 2016, The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. Shooter Omar Mateen, killed by police during a siege on the club, is alleged to have murdered 49 people and injured 53, bringing the total of victims to 102.

If it seems like the problem of mass shootings in the U.S. is getting worse, that’s because it is. Let’s take a look at the history of mass shootings to better understand current trends.

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The water crisis in Flint is not an isolated incident: poor communities and those composed of people of color are facing environmental crises across the nation.

Beyond Flint: What You Need to Know About Toxic Communities

In January 2016 attention across the U.S. turned to Flint, Michigan, a poor, majority-minority community that has been poisoned by toxic drinking water polluted with lead. This tragedy of structural inequality resonates with many who study environmental inequality as an example of how poor communities and those that are majority non-white experience disproportionate levels of dangerous toxic pollution. But to date evidence to support this trend has been mostly anecdotal and small-scale in nature.

A new study that relies on big data to test this claim has revealed it to be true. The study, titled “Linking ‘toxic outliers’ to environmental justice communities,” and published in Environmental Research Letters in January 2016, found that across the U.S., the worst toxic polluters are mostly located in communities experiencing significant structural oppression–those that are primarily poor, and those composed of people of color.

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Learn how pride in ethnic heritage and ethnic studies courses can improve student performance.

Why Ethnic Studies Classes Improve Performance of At-Risk Students

For decades, teachers, parents, counselors, and activists have struggled to figure out how to raise the academic performance of high school students at risk of failing or dropping out, many of whom are Black, Latino, and Hispanic students in inner-city schools across the nation. In many school districts, emphasis has been placed on preparation for standardized tests, tutoring, and on discipline and punishment, but none of these methods seem to work.

A new study by education experts at Stanford University offers a simple solution to this problem: include ethnic studies courses in educational curricula. The study, published by The National Bureau of Economic Research in January, 2016, reports results from research into the effect of ethnic studies courses on student performance in San Francisco schools participating in a pilot ethnic studies program. The researchers, Drs. Thomas Dee and Emily Penner, compared academic performance and engagement between students enrolled in an ethnic studies course and those not, and found a clear and strong causal effect between ethnic studies courses and academic improvement.

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Unmarried Women Are More Politically Liberal. Here’s Why.

There’s long been evidence that unmarried women are more politically liberal than married ones, but there’s never been a good explanation for why this is the case. Now there is. Sociologist Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon State University (OSU) found that women who are not married tend to be more concerned about the social status of women as a group, which makes them more politically liberal and likely to vote Democrat than married women.

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An Airbnb user enjoys her rented balcony but may have unintended negative economic consequences on the community she visits.

What’s the Economic Impact of Airbnb?

Airbnb is considered a godsend by many travelers. The (mostly) affordable alternative to staying in hotels and motels has become widely popular since it launched in 2008. The company, which is headquartered in San Francisco and estimated to be worth nearly 20 billion dollars, has risen to such heights by promising hosts and renters an intimate experience of sharing, learning, and togetherness, and by allowing hosts to earn money through renting available space in their homes. Much of the appeal for travelers hinges on the benefits of having a local host in a new or foreign place who can offer welcoming conversation and guidance on where to shop and eat, and how to get around–a chummier version of a hotel concierge.

This sociologist has enjoyed staying in the homes of others via Airbnb in several countries and states across the U.S., and has found it to be an unbeatable way to travel in terms of social and economic value. But data compiled by Murray Cox, a self-described “digital storyteller” and community activist, disrupts the pleasant veneer that makes Airbnb so appealing to many.

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Labor Violations Occurring for Over a Decade at Apple Suppliers

Right now hundreds of thousands of young Chinese workers are laboring on iPhone 7 production lines. With these products set to launch in September, the final assembly is happening in a series of Foxconn and Pegatron factories across the country.

Foxconn is likely a familiar name to readers, as it became the focal point of international media attention in 2012 after widespread legal and ethical labor violations were revealed by This American Life and The New York Times. Pegatron, however, has received scant media attention, despite its growing role in Apple’s supply chain over the last four years. Unfortunately, the terrible conditions in which 100,000 young Chinese workers labor and live at Pegatron’s Shanghai factory are painfully familiar.

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What I Learned From the Mining Community That Produced My Engagement Ring

When people in the global North think about gold, “they think about something beautiful and precious, like your ring,” says Dajhanna Zarate, the daughter of a miner, referring to the gold engagement ring on my left hand. But when people who work at her father’s mine in Peru think about gold, she says, “they think about a metal — about rocks and hard labor.”

The band of my engagement ring, which supports a flower-shaped cluster of small, ethically sourced diamonds, is made of Fairtrade gold from the SOTRAMI mine in Peru where Zarate’s father has worked for 27 years.

“When someone buys Fairtrade gold jewelry, they give something precious to the miners and the community,” Zarate added near the end of our long, crackly conversation over WhatsApp.

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Who Really Owns Guns?

Our perception of who owns guns in the U.S. is heavily shaped by stereotypes perpetuated by news media, film, and television. The armed Black man is one of the most pervasive, but the image of the armed white southerner, the military veteran, and the hunter are common too.

The results of a 2014 Pew Research Center survey reveal that while some of those stereotypes hold true, others are way off the mark, and likely quite damaging as such.

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Why Feminists Are Fighting About Rihanna’s New Video

The internet is buzzing about the controversial video for Rihanna’s hit song “Bitch Better Have My Money” (BBHMM). The video has been viewed over 19 million times after just eight days online, and has boosted sales of the digital single, bringing the tally to 735,000 since its debut on March 26, 2015. The popularity of the video has even been credited with a spike in streaming of the single, which lifted the track to the number 15 spot on the Billboard Top 100 list during the second week of July.

But not all of the attention is praise. Some journalists and bloggers, who identify as feminists, have slammed the video for its theme of violence, especially that directed at a kidnapped woman who appears nude through much of the seven-minute long video.

CO2 Emissions Growth Takes a Bite Out of Apple’s Sustainability Claims

Apple recently announced that it had spent $848 million on a 25-year purchase of solar power from First Solar in California. The deal makes Apple’s US operations 100 percent powered by renewable energy, and is the largest solar deal on record. The company also announced in February a $1.8 billion plan for the construction and operation of two data centers in Ireland and Denmark that will provide renewably powered Apple data to its European customers, just as it already does for those in the United States. And on April 16, Apple announced a partnership with SunPower to build two solar plants in China, to power its corporate and retail facilities in the region.

According to its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report, Apple has avoided about 750,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2011 with its various energy-saving measures. In the midst of a climate crisis fueled by the burning of fossil fuels, these are undeniably good moves. As such, Apple is deservedly receiving praise for these efforts at its US operations.

Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and now Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives, has spearheaded these projects for the company since mid-2013. Jackson announced the solar deal in a televised conversation with Jeffrey Ball for The Wall Street Journal in late March. While speaking with Ball, Jackson said that it was important to her and the company to show others that it is possible to earn profit, return money to shareholders and “still be on the right side of sustainability.”

While Jackson’s statement rings true for Apple’s US facilities, those represent just 1 percent of the company’s 2014 emissions. An investigation into the year-over-year growth in Apple’s annual emissions since 2010 shows that the company is in fact on the wrong side of sustainability, with substantial growth in manufacturing and transportation emissions, including those per product sold. This historical growth in emissions combined with Apple’s gargantuan land and water footprints paint a dirty portrait of a company claiming to be a leader in the battle against climate change. Continue reading

Despite Claims of Progress, Labor and Environmental Violations Continue to Plague Apple

By Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

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The Most Important Words in Emma Watson’s UN Speech Were About Masculinity


Emma Watson, British actor and Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, said many smart, important, sociologically informed things during her speech on gender equality at the UN on September 20, 2014. Surprisingly, the most important words of Ms. Watson did not have to do with women and girls, but rather with men and boys. She said:

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

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Nine Things You Can Do to Help End Racism


If you are anything like me, the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri—the killing of an unarmed black teen, followed by the terrorization of a community by a combat-ready and brutal police force—have alarmed, angered, frustrated, and saddened you. You might feel overwhelmed by the destructive power of racism, and unsure of what to do about it. Depression and the desire to look away and disconnect might set in. Trouble is, that’s a big part of the problem: white people like me have the option to look away while our fellow citizens die in the streets.

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I Am a Climate Change Denier, and So Are You

Originally published on on May 17, 2014

Recently news broke of two new climate change studies that show that the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is underway, and has been for over two decades. The melting of this sheet is significant because it acts as a linchpin for other glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica that will in turn melt over time. Ultimately, the melting of the south polar ice cap will raise sea levels globally by as much as ten to thirteen feet, which is in addition to the sixty-nine feet of sea level rise that scientists have already attributed to human activity.

These studies are just the most recent in a slew released over more than two decades that showcase the sweeping implications of human-caused climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published five substantive assessment reports since 1990. The most recent, published in March, reminds readers of key implications of climate change. These include changing rates and patterns of precipitation and sea-level rise; serious and complex changes in animal geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundance, and species interaction; reduced crop yields; and impacts on human health, including increases in heat-related deaths, and changing distribution of water-born illnesses and diseases. This latest report warns that we are underprepared for extreme climate events, as demonstrated by recent heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires; and, it reiterates that the negative implications of climate change are experienced more forcefully by economically and politically vulnerable populations around the world.

There is a troubling gap between the serious reality depicted by climate change science and the level of concern among the U.S. public. A recent Gallup Poll conducted by sociologist Riley Dunlap found that while most U.S. adults view climate change as a problem, only fourteen percent believe that the implications of climate change have reached a “crisis” level. A full third of the population believe that climate change is not a problem. Dunlap also found that self-identified political liberals and moderates are far more concerned about the impacts of climate change than are conservatives.

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The Orgasm Gap Has Got to Go

Originally published on

Gender disparities abound in our societyThe gender pay gap, for starters, shows that the labor of men is valued more than that of women. Women hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats in the U.S., which makes for a great disparity in political representation. Women are considerably underrepresented as writers and directors of film and television, and as artists in our nation’s museums. They are also more likely than men to live in poverty.

There’s another gender gap, ideologically connected to these, which at first glance, may strike readers as a sexy gender gap. However, it is deeply un-sexy. I’m talking about the orgasm gap.

The orgasm gap is a rigorously documented disparity in the rates at which men and women achieve orgasm during sexual encounters together. A nationwide survey of sexual practices found that women report only 1 orgasm for every 3 reported by a man.

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The Sociology of White Male Shooters

Originally published on

“Sick,” “twisted,” “disturbed,” “psychotic,” “mentally ill,” “psychopath,” “acted alone.” These words are familiar to anyone who pays attention to news accounts of mass shootings carried out by white males over the last three decades. Trouble is, none of these guys–Eliot Rodger, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Anders Breivik in Norway, among others–really acted alone. While news accounts typically frame mass shootings by white males as the work of deranged individuals, the actions of these men and boys are expressive of widely held patriarchal and white supremacist beliefs. They are the manifestation of a sick society.

The shooters who have left digital trails have made it clear that their actions were prompted by their perceived loss of power and status in society. They are slighted by women who do not obey them and their desires, by people of color and queer folks who have fought for, earned, and defend their civil rights, and by a society that doesn’t afford them the respect they believe they deserve by virtue of their maleness. They are the product of a changed and ever-changing social context in which historic forms of power and domination are being slowly but loudly destabilized, and of a society that socializes them to believe that this is wrong, and that they deserve to be in positions of power.

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The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple

Originally published on 21 Century Nomad on August 1, 2013

Blame Mike Daisey. He drew me into this mess of a research project with his appearance on This American Life in January 2012. Like many, I was enraptured and sickened by his description of the work conditions and lives of young Chinese laborers at the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China that assembles iPhones, and now iPads. What I learned in that podcast made me angry, as both an owner of Apple products and as a critical sociologist who focuses on globalization and labor. Daisey’s account of conditions at Foxconn and the experiences of Chinese workers sparked my initial cursory investigation into Apple’s supply chain and their stance on corporate social responsibility, by way of the their annual Supplier Responsibility Reports. Then, a couple of months later, This American Life aired a retraction episode that revealed that Daisey had fictionalized his account. While host Ira Glass noted that nothing Daisey said was actually untrue, he had not seen all that he said he had, but rather had folded into his monologue the documented accounts of others. Glass, and many Apple consumers, seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, and the affair was rather quickly swept under the rug by the consuming public and the press.

These events made me deeply curious about the brand power of Apple. I wondered, how does a company that receives such bad press persist in its popularity? How could it be that, rather than taking a hit in the aftermath of a vicious exposé of labor conditions at their suppliers, Apple revenues surged and broke records throughout 2012? So, I embarked on a really big research project–bigger, more complex, and vastly more difficult than any project I have ever delved into before. I seek to identify all of Apple’s suppliers, map their supply chain, illuminate their financial structure, and understand their brand power here in the US and around the world. While I have a couple of lengthier and more in-depth pieces on this research in the works that will be published in a few months, I wanted to share with you some highlights from the research thus far. Here we go.

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Let’s Talk About Socialism, Baby

Originally published on 21 Century Nomad on November 8, 2011

Though it is a taboo topic in the United States, socialism is everywhere in Paris. At least, aspirations toward it abound. The city as I see it is awash in advertisements for socialist party candidates and those of “Front de Gauche,” a coalition of leftist and workers parties in France. Not limited to contemporary politics, the city wears its socialist history on its sleeve. Historical markers that explain the relevance of places to the revolution of 1789-99, and to the events of the Paris Commune of 1871 remind Parisians and visitors that the history of France is one of cyclical struggle for radical social, economic, and political change. Far from the derogatory intonation “socialist” has in the U.S., its ideals are infused into everyday life, and are mainstream influences in the political terrain of France. Though the word is hurled about rather liberally in the U.S., many do not know what it actually means. This post addresses one simple question: What is socialism?

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Fair Trade is Dead. Long Live the Farmer Cooperative.

Originally published on 21 Century Nomad on December 18, 2011

Since 1999 Fair Trade USA, formerly TransFair USA, has brought Fair Trade certified coffee to the U.S. market. The organization, which manages the licensing and distribution of products in the U.S., introduced millions of consumers to the principles of Fair Trade. They did so primarily through coffee, which accounts for over seventy percent of the American Fair Trade market. Through product branding and advertising campaigns, even an award-winning documentary film, people in the U.S. have come to associate the Fair Trade label with democratically organized farming cooperatives, a minimum price that on average is higher than the price per pound paid on the open market, and social, economic, and environmental initiatives in producing communities. Well, come January first, you must forget everything you know about Fair Trade. Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) has changed the rules dramatically. While they will continue to market the small-scale farmer and the cooperative as the face of the brand, the base of it will be transnational corporations and large-scale plantations. So much for the little guy.

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Ten Things I Hate About Global Capitalism

Originally published on on July 14, 2014

In a recent post, we reviewed what makes global capitalism distinct from previous versions of the economic system. The five key elements that make capitalism “global” are: 1. the fully globalized nature of the production and distribution of goods; 2. the flexible nature of a global pool of labor that corporations can choose from; 3. globalized circuits of accumulation and investment among wealthy corporations and individuals; 4. the existence of a global class of elite who set the agenda for production, trade, finance, and development; and, 5. a globalized form of governance, known as the transnational state, run by these elite via institutions like the WTO, World Bank, and IMF, among others.

Now, let’s do what sociologists do best, and take a critical look at the implications of these particular arrangements of capitalist relations of production. The following ten critiques are drawn from the work of sociologists William I. Robinson and Saskia Sassen, the research of urban scholar Mike Davis, and on the philosophy and writing of Indian physicist and activist, Vandana Shiva.

1. Global capitalism is, to quote Robinson, “profoundly anti-democratic.” A tiny group of global elite decide the rules of the game, and control the vast majority of the world’s resources. In 2011, Swiss researchers found thatjust 147 of the world’s corporations and investment groups controlled 40 percent of corporate wealth, and just over 700 control nearly all of it (80 percent). This puts the vast majority of the world’s resources under control of a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Because political power follows economic power, democracy in the context of global capitalism is nothing but a dream.

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Apple’s Top Crimes of 2013

Originally published on CounterPunch on January 1, 2014

Recently Cult of Mac, a website dedicated to all things Apple from the fan’s perspective, published a piece titled “The Biggest Apple Stories of 2013.” In it, the author recounts the product and software highlights, sales, profit, and hires for the world’s largest company. The piece is a toast to capitalist greed and the smarmy, self-righteousness of the kings of Silicon Valley. Notably, other important Apple stories, listed below, were not on this list.

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