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Bezos spent more on new home than AMAZON paid in taxes…

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is reportedly paying $165 million for a palatial Beverly Hills mansion, and, according to SEC filings, with that sum the Amazon

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founder could have footed the entire 2019 federal tax bill his company is planning to pay this year. He’d have $3 million left over.

Bezos purchased the Warner Estate, originally designed in the 1930s for the Warner Bros.

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president Jack Warner, from music mogul David Geffen, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources described as familiar with the transaction.

That surpasses the previous highest price paid for a home in California. Last year, media executive Lachlan Murdoch spent $150 million on Chartwell, the Bel-Air mansion famous from the television series “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Lachlan Murdoch is the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and co-chairman of News Corp, which owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal. (A spokesperson for News Corp declined to comment.)

Amazon owes more than $1 billion in federal income taxes for 2019, according to SEC filings submitted last month. The online retail pioneer so far has paid $162 million on its 2019 bill, with the remaining $914 million owed in 2019 federal income taxes deferred, the filing noted.

An Amazon representative declined to comment on Bezos’s property purchase or the company’s tax rates but referred to a previous company statement on Amazon’s tax bill.

“We follow all applicable federal and state tax laws, and our U.S. taxes are a reflection of our continued investments, compensation of our employees, and the current tax rules,” the company said in a Jan. 31 blog post.

Read more: 25 bathrooms? Former Clinton labor secretary says Bezos’s mansion helps make case for soaking the rich

Amazon listed a “summary” of its 2019 U.S. taxes as including $2.4 billion in other federal taxes, including payroll taxes and customs duties, and more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. The company also noted that it remitted nearly $9 billion in sales and use taxes to states and localities in accordance with applicable law.

Deferred taxes represent a forecast of the taxes companies will need to pay. There’s “no guarantee” companies ultimately make tax payments equal to their deferred figures, said Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Amazon’s deferred taxes “should eventually get paid, but companies can also defer this for a long time,” said Andrew Schmidt, an accounting professor at North Carolina State University. “Deferred taxes arise because there are differences in the way companies account for assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses for financial reporting purposes compared to tax purposes.”

Bezos’s property-tax rate appears close to Amazon’s effective federal tax rate

In California, property-tax rates are calculated based on a home’s most recent selling price, leading to the inference that Bezos could pay around over $2 million in property taxes this year, as compared with the national average of roughly $3,500, based on calculations by real-estate data provider Attom Data Solutions.

That’s significantly more than the previous owner, Geffen, who reportedly would have paid more than $705,000 in annual property taxes on the Warner Estate, based on an assessed value of the property when he purchased it, according to data from the real-estate website Zillow

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. Geffen was not immediately available for comment, and a lawyer for Geffen did not respond to a request for comment.

What homeowners ultimately pay in real-estate taxes depends on rates levied by a number of local authorities. Nationwide, the average property-tax rate hovers at around 1.2%. In California, property taxes are pegged at 1% of a home’s assessed value, and a property-tax bill cannot increase more than 2% from one year to the next.

Stephen Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County assessor’s office, said property owners in the county might expect to pay roughly another 0.25% of a property’s valuation for various municipal expenses, like improving water systems, area schools and fire departments, he said.

Like California property-tax rate, Amazon’s corporate tax rate is also in the low single digits, according to Gardner, from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The Trump administration’s 2017 tax overhaul cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from a prior 35% rate.

But Amazon’s effective federal tax rate last year was 1.2%, based on what the company has paid thus far, said Gardner. He arrived at the number by dividing the company’s more than $13 billion in pretax domestic income by the $162 million it’s planning to spend on federal income taxes this year. If factoring in deferred taxes, the effective federal tax rate jumps to 8%.

Amazon shares are up about 15.5% since the start of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

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is up 3% and the S&P 500

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is up 4.6% in that time.

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Corporations working with Trump administration to control online speech…

Special interests trying to influence federal laws and regulations are nothing new in Washington. Big banks and drug companies have been wildly successful at working the system to discourage competition and stay on top. Occasionally, however, Congress actually passes a law that protects the less powerful elements of our society, the insurgents and the disrupters. That’s what it did in 1996 when it passed a law I co-authored called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 was written to provide legal protection to online platforms so they could take down objectionable material without being dragged into court. It lets companies remove posts from white supremacists or trolls without being sued for bias or for limiting individuals’ First Amendment rights. If a website wants to cater to the right wing, it can. If it wants to ban Trump supporters, it can do that, too.

Section 230 also says the person who creates content is the one responsible for it. So if President Trump libels an innocent person on Twitter, he can be sued. Without 230, social media couldn’t exist. Sites such as Yelp would be sued to death. Start-ups such as Portland’s AllGo, which collects user reviews about how restaurants serve plus-size customers, would never get off the ground. Movements such as Black Lives Matter or #MeToo, whose advocates post controversial accusations against powerful figures on social media, would have remained whispers, not megaphones for oppressed communities.

The fight is defined by an intensive lobbying effort by big legacy corporations such as Disney and IBM that are looking for an advantage against big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Each side wants to rewrite the rules to cement its own dominance.

Some have argued that repealing Section 230 would punish Facebook and Google for their failures. That’s simply not true. The biggest tech companies have enough lawyers and lobbyists to survive virtually any regulation Congress can concoct. It’s the start-ups seeking to displace Big Tech that would be hammered by the constant threat of lawsuits.

Whenever laws are passed to put the government in control of speech, the people who get hurt are the least powerful in society.

That’s what happened in 2018, when, in the wake of news stories about disturbing ads on a site called Backpage, Congress scaled back 230 with a law known as SESTA-FOSTA — a combination of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. At the time, I proposed a different approach, including hiring more prosecutors. And I warned that this bill would do little to stop sex trafficking or help true victims but would simply push sex work underground.

By all accounts that is exactly what has happened. Backpage was shut down before SESTA even went into effect. And sex workers have been driven to the dark Web or the streets, where sex trafficking has increased dramatically. The most vulnerable group bore the brunt of this law.

This is how speech regulation inevitably works in practice. If Congress somehow were to amend the First Amendment and ban hate speech from the Internet, I see no reason to believe President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr would use that authority to protect LGBTQ activists or female journalists or African American civil rights leaders.

Instead, I’m certain this administration would use power to regulate speech to punish its enemies and protect its allies. It would threaten Facebook or YouTube for taking down white supremacist content. It would label Black Lives Matter activists as purveyors of hate.

The Trump administration is working with Republican Senate leaders to advance legislation giving the attorney general power to set online speech guidelines along with the opportunity to access everything Americans do with their digital devices.

There are plenty of things Congress can do to hold Big Tech accountable. I’d start with passing a strong privacy law, such as my Mind Your Own Business Act, which includes tough enforcement provisions for tech executives, including the possibility of jail. And concerns about anti-competitive practices, including the Facebook-Instagram merger, deserve serious investigation from the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.

I stand ready to work with anyone to hold the biggest corporations accountable, whether for dodging taxes, extorting Medicare or ripping off consumers. I draw the line at putting any politician in charge of what people can say or how they can say it, whether it’s on the Internet or anywhere else.

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Video shows WENDY's employee taking bath in kitchen sink…


After this Wendy’s bath went viral on TikTok, several fast-food employees were fired in Greenville, Michigan. See him in the restaurant’s kitchen sink.

Video Elephant

A video posted last Tuesday on TikTok shows an employee at a Michigan Wendy’s taking a bath in the kitchen’s sink. 

The video, which took place at a Wendy’s in Greenville, Michigan, according to WOOD-TV and WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, shows an employee bathing himself in the store’s Power Soak sink while his co-workers play along, laughing. They’ve since been fired.

In the brief, unsavory clip, which was posted on TikTok with the caption “Almost got fired for this (expletive),” the unidentified man in the sink joked that it felt like being in a hot tub. 

One of the employees throws a sponge at him, commanding him to “wash” himself. He then threw what appeared to be a food pan into the “bath” with him.

The original clip appears to have been removed from the platform, but not before it was recirculated on Facebook – amassing nearly 3,000 shares. The original poster’s TikTok has been removed from the platform.

The Wendy’s employees involved in the incident were terminated for what a spokesman for the company described as an “egregious” violation of health and safety regulations.

“This egregious behavior is completely unacceptable and counter to our safety, training and operational standards,” said Christian Camp, the vice president of human resources at Team Schostak Family Restaurants, which owns the branch. 

“Upon learning of this situation, all employees in the video were terminated immediately and the restaurant was completely sanitized. The health department visited the restaurant after this incident and no violations were reported.”

Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote


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Virus outbreak leading to recession…

TOKYO—Following a dismal final quarter of 2019, Japan’s economy is facing the risk of a recession because the coronavirus outbreak is hurting tourism and production, while Germany’s central bank called on the government in Berlin to use its surplus to support growth as a broader danger of a slowdown builds.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy after the U.S. and China contracted at an annualized rate of 6.3% in the October-December quarter, worse than economists’ forecast of a 3.9% contraction. The biggest reason was…

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Bombs, bats, ants and now trees: TESLA's big green hurdle in Germany…

Bombs, bats, ants and now trees.

Elon Musk’s dream of opening his first Tesla

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 gigafactory in Europe has been plagued by a series of obstacles — involving all of the above.

Production at the site in Grünheide in the eastern state of Brandenburg near Berlin, was scheduled to start in July 2021, with plans to build 500,000 units of the Y SUV and the Model 3 sedan per year.

But this weekend, a German court ordered Tesla to stop cutting down trees on the site until it considers an appeal by environmental group Green League Brandenburg, which argues that the factory could pollute the area’s drinking water and other issues.

Responding in emailed comments, a Tesla spokesperson in Switzerland said there was no official statement on the matter. “Facts are the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) Berlin-Brandenburg has asked the Brandenburg Government to initiate a preliminary halt to the deforestation so it has enough time to review the filed case papers. A statement from OVG is expected for tomorrow the earliest,” the spokesperson said.

Tesla’s plan involves cutting down 70 hectares, which is expected to be increased to 300 hectares later on. The latest holdup comes after seven U.S. World War II bombs found on the factory’s site had to be defused last month.

Tesla paid €40.91 million ($44.33 million) for the factory plot, which apparently came with lots of critters. German media reported last week that the U.S. electric car manufacturer had to promise to not only plant three times the number of trees it chops down, but relocate ants, lizards and hang 400 nesting boxes for birds.

The company has just a few weeks left to complete the task ahead of the start of the breeding season for birds in March. Last month, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “Giga Berlin / GF4 will absolutely be designed with sustainability and the environment in mind.”

Tesla has two other vehicle factories in the U.S. and then in China, where a Shanghai factory was up and running in under a year and a half once it got the needed permissions.

But should analysts worry about a potential thorn in the side of Tesla, whose shares have gained a whopping 91% so far this year, driven in part by analyst upgrades? David Whiston, an analyst for Morningstar Research Services, told MarketWatch via email that it’s too early to say whether investors should be worried.

“Worst-case scenario is Tesla wastes time and some money and eventually pulls out and finds another site in Europe, but it’s way too early to think about that yet. Tesla needs to negotiate and work something out,” said Whiston.

“There is precedent in the auto industry for government making it too difficult to build a plant. Tata withdrew from West Bengal in India in 2008 for a Nano factory and built the plant in another part of the country,” he added.

Politicians from Germany’s Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties have warned that the legal battle waged against the Gigafactory would inflict serious and long-lasting damage on Germany’s image as a place to do business. Some were quick to suggest over Twitter on Monday, that Tesla would be welcome elsewhere if the Grünheide site doesn’t work out:

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Commits $10 billion to fight climate change…

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Monday that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change.

Bezos, the world’s richest man, said in an Instagram post that he’ll start giving grants this summer to scientists, activists and nonprofits working to protect Earth.

“I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change,” Bezos said in the post.

Amazon, the company Bezos runs, has an enormous carbon foodprint. Last year, Amazon officials said the company would work to have 100% of its energy use come from solar panels and other renewable energy by 2030.

The online retailer relies on fossil fuels to power planes, trucks and vans in order to ship billions of items all around the world. Amazon workers in its Seattle headquarters have been vocal in criticizing some of the company’s practices, pushing it to do more to combat climate change.

Bezos said in the post Monday that he will call his new initiative the Bezos Earth Fund. An Amazon spokesman confirmed that Bezos will be using his own money for the fund.

Despite being among the richest people in the world, Bezos only recently became active in donating money to causes as other billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done. In 2018, Bezos started another fund, committing $2 billion of his own money to open preschools in low-income neighborhoods and give money to nonprofits that help homeless families.

Bezos, who founded Amazon 25 years ago, has a stake in the company that is worth more than $100 billion.

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Rare ice volcanoes captured erupting on Lake Michigan beach…


Weather forecast for Monday, Feb. 17, 2020


The recent cold front has brought an interesting phenomenon to Lake Michigan: first ice balls, now ice volcanoes. 

National Weather Service meteorologist Ernie Ostuno was able to capture some amazing photos of erupting ice volcanoes at Oval Beach in Saugatuck Sunday.

An ice volcano is a cone-shaped mound of ice formed over a terrestrial lake by the eruption of water and slush through an ice shelf.

‘Ice volanoes’ erupt on Lake Michigan on Sunday Feb. 16 (Photo: National Weather Service Grand Rapids)

“Ice volcanoes occur in locations in which waves hit accumulated ice on the shoreline with some force,” said Cort Spholten, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Grand Rapids. 

“We were cold enough to form ice on the shore of Lake Michigan and water had broken the surface of that ice,” Spholten said. “The waves … were strong enough so the water channels through, it squeezes water upwards and tosses the floating ice up. As it happens, over the course of hours or days, it forms a cone and it resembles a volcano.”

According to Spholten, there have to be very specific conditions for the ice volcanoes to form. 

“It needs to stay cold enough to keep the ice around and waves need to be large enough to force water upwards against the ice shelf,” he said.

How long will it last?

“Today, winds from the southeast should diminish the waves. It’s unlikely ice volcanoes will be seen today compared to yesterday, but it’s not impossible,” Spholten said.

However, ice volcanoes can also be dangerous especially when people climb on them. There may be no way to get out of the icy water if someone slips down the side of one of the mounds.

The ice volcanoes formed after another rare phenomenon on Lake Michigan.

On Friday, thousands of ice balls rolled up onto the lake shore. According to experts the weather conditions have to be just right: The temperatures are just below freezing along shallow beaches. Slush collects into round shapes and the waves sculpt ice chunks into orbs.

More: DNR raises price of regular Recreation Passport

More: Statewide road fixes for record-high water levels could top $100 million

Contact Bisma Parvez at 313-222-6420 or Follow her on Twitter @bismapar

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Ultrasonic bracelet jams microphones around you…

The bracelet design isn’t for the sake of fashion. It not only ensures omnidirectional jamming, it eliminates blind spots (where transducers cancel each other out) through your wrist movement. As a result, it’s more effective than dedicated stationary jammers and can even scramble hidden mics.

You’re not about to use the prototype bracelet. It’s more than a little clunky, and the internals amount to a handful of boards and a battery. The scientists told the New York Times that investors have asked about commercializing the technology, though, and it’s estimated that you could build this anti-mic bracelet for roughly $20. This could be viable for anyone who fears eavesdropping from voice assistants or spies, especially for people who tend to move from room to room.

Whether or not you’d see this widely available is another matter. There are a number of ethical concerns. If you wore this in public, you could play havoc with phone calls and other mic-dependent devices. And while this could help keep business meetings secret, it could also help politicians avoid accountability. As useful as the bracelet could be, it could prompt legal issues if it isn’t used responsibly.

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Thousands Gather for Japan Naked Festival…

Tokyo (CNN) — Thousands braved chilly weather on Saturday to gather at the annual “Naked Festival” in Okayama prefecture in the southern part of Japan’s Honshu island.

The event, called “Hadaka Matsuri” in Japanese, is a wild and raucous festival held every year on the third Saturday of February at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, about a 30-minute train ride from Okayama city.

But the 10,000 or so male participants aren’t as naked as the festival’s name suggests.

They sport a minimal amount of clothing; usually a Japanese loincloth called a “fundoshi” and a pair of white socks called “tabi.”

The festival, which celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility, starts at around 3:20 p.m local time with a separate event for young boys — aimed at fostering interest in younger generations.

“We hope they will be able to keep the tradition alive in the future,” Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman from the Okayama tourism board, told CNN Travel.

In the evening, the men spend an hour or two running around the temple grounds in preparation and purify themselves with freezing cold water, before cramming themselves into the main temple building.

When the lights go out at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs and two lucky 20-centimeter-long shingi sticks into the crowd from a window four meters above.

That’s when the commotion begins.

The 10,000 or so men, packed in like sardines, jostle with each other to get hold of one of the bundles and/or the two sticks. Whoever succeeds is guaranteed a year of good fortune, according to legend.

The shingi are more sought after than the less-coveted twigs, which can be taken home. The whole event lasts around 30 minutes and participants emerge with a few cuts, bruises and sprained joints.

Visitors come from all across Japan and a few from abroad to take part. Some attend the event alone, but many participants join as part of teams representing local businesses.
Men in loincloths bathe in cold water to purify their souls as part of the "Hadaka Matsuri" (Naked Festival) at Saidaiji Temple on February 15, 2020 in Okayama, Japan.

Men in loincloths bathe in cold water to purify their souls as part of the “Hadaka Matsuri” (Naked Festival) at Saidaiji Temple on February 15, 2020 in Okayama, Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Something for everyone

The festival evolved from a ritual that started 500 years ago during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), when villagers competed to grab paper talismans, which were given out by a priest at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple.

More and more villagers wanted those lucky paper talismans and the ritual grew in size. But they realized that when they went to grab the paper it ripped. Their clothes just got in the way too, so they eventually did away with them and exchanged paper for wood, said Itano.

With its long heritage, the festival was also designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 2016. It’s one of several “naked festivals” held across Japan, with another held at Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture, featuring men in loincloths fighting and carrying kids through mud as a method of exorcism.

There are plenty of other festivities to check out for those that don’t feel like stripping down to a loincloth in mid-winter, too.

Before the main Okayama event, there is an afternoon of traditional dances and a performance by a troupe of female drummers. A fireworks show starts at 7 p.m.

At Gofuku-dori, a nearby shopping street, locals open their doors and welcome participants and spectators.

You don’t have to be a local to take part in the main “naked” event. You can either register in advance to buy your loincloth and tabi socks, or buy them on site if you feel like joining in.

This year, festival organizers have also taken extra precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak. Itano suggested participants in the naked part of the festival not wear masks during the rough and tumble part of the main event. However, she added that hand sanitizers were placed at the temple entrance and around the festival.

Saidaiji Temple 3-8-8 Saidaiji-naka, Higashi-ku Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken 704-8116 Japan

Top photo: Approximately 10,000 men in loincloths try to snatch a lucky wooden stick during the “Naked Festival” at Saidaiji Temple on February 15, 2020 in Okayama, Japan. Credit: Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

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Warhol's 1950s erotic drawings of men to be seen for first time…

Dozens of previously unpublished Andy Warhol drawings on the theme of love, sex and desire are to be seen for the first time. The pop artist’s foundation is releasing a major study of his depictions of young men in private moments, whether in a loving embrace or more explicit acts.

They date from the 1950s, when Warhol was a successful commercial illustrator but struggling to find recognition as a fine artist, long before he created paintings and prints of movie stars, soup cans and soap-pad boxes that turned him into one of the world’s most famous artists.

Standing Male Torso c 1955-57. Black ballpoint on manila paper 16 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches.

Standing Male Torso c1955-57. Black ballpoint on manila paper. Photograph: Andy Warhol/The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

When he tried to exhibit his drawings in 1950s New York, Warhol encountered homophobic rejection from gallery owners, the latest research reveals.

Michael Dayton Hermann, of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, said he had been “mesmerised” by images that are a precursor to the obsessive way in which Warhol was later to capture people and moments with his Polaroid and 35mm cameras.

He added that they showed an “emotional vulnerability in a way that a camera just doesn’t” and that “a lot of times you don’t see in Warhol’s work”.

He observed that Warhol declared that he wanted to be a machine and created works which were machine-like: “When you have a drawing of someone, the artist’s hand is there. There isn’t a barrier between the artist and the subject … It’s a much more personal and intimate way to capture someone and it tells you a lot about the artist as much as the subject.”

Hermann’s forthcoming book, Andy Warhol: Early Drawings of Love, Sex and Desire, will be published by Taschen this summer. It will include hundreds of drawings, of which “a good portion have previously not been seen”, Hermann said. “This is the first time that one monograph has been dedicated to comprehensively illustrating and reproducing these works.”

About 20 of the drawings will also feature in a forthcoming Warhol retrospective at Tate Modern in London, which opens in March.

Male Couple c.1955 Blue ballpoint on manila paper 16 3/4 x 14 inches.

Male Couple c1955 Blue ballpoint on manila paper. Photograph: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Research for the book included interviews with artists and others who recalled Warhol’s rejection by galleries in the 1950s when he tried to show these drawings. None of them could have imagined that, in 2013 his celebrated 1963 work Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) would sell for $105m (£65m).

The subject matter of the drawings was too controversial for them. In the book, Hermann writes: “That these works were created by a practising Catholic in the United States at a time when sodomy was a harshly punished felony in every state illustrates that, even at a young age, Warhol embraced the role of the nonconformist.”

He said: “Fellatio is probably the most explicit depiction that you see. There are men fully nude embracing one another. It depicts the full gamut of love, sex and desire.”

Male Partial Figure (verso) 1954. Black ink on manila paper 23 3/4 x 17 7/8 inches.

Male Partial Figure (verso) 1954. Black ink on manila paper. Photograph: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

He added that the drawings reflected that Warhol was an artist “who put sexuality at the centre of his work from day one”: “He was challenging the world to see things differently and he wasn’t successful at it in the 1950s because people weren’t ready for it.”

In 1952, Warhol approached the Tanager Gallery, an artists’ co-op in New York. One of them, Joe Groell, remembered his pictures of boys kissing: “[They] weren’t anything we wanted the gallery to be associated with.” He told Warhol the same thing.

Unknown Male. 1950s Black ballpoint on manila paper 16 7/8 x 14 inches.

Unknown Male. 1950s Black ballpoint on manila paper. Photograph: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

In 1959, Warhol tried again, approaching Philip Pearlstein, a former roommate, who had himself shown at the Tanager. But still no luck. Pearlstein remembered being unable to persuade the gallery to show drawings of young men “with their tongues in each other’s mouth”.

Hermann said: “These drawings point to the universality of emotions … [In the past], these have been diminished as being homoerotic art as opposed to depictions of love, sex and desire …

“This book will highlight work that was not given much traction during the homophobic 1950s. I’m really proud that the foundation that was established by Warhol, and which has donated over $200m to supporting artists, has for decades tirelessly made sure that marginalised voices can be heard. To me, it’s a terrific parallel.”

Andy Warhol with Nico (right) in New York, 1966.

Andy Warhol with Nico (right) in New York, 1966. Photograph: Adam Ritchie/Redferns

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