Robert Reich and The Establishment

The 2016 Presidential campaign has captured public involvement and commentary more so than any previous election year I can remember, possibly excepting the Goldwater vs. Johnson election year of 1964.

Election Fever has spread to Facebook too, of course. A friend “Shared” an editorial essay by UC Berkeley political economist Robert Reich, which I’d say is recommended reading regardless of your preferred political party. I’d go further: our vote is often ignored and in some cases actually goes to the candidate your vote was meant to keep out, and it’s entirely legal. The system is rigged.

A link to the Reich article is provided at the bottom of this post.

After reading the article and pondering its implications, my thoughts over the past few weeks began to gel. I posted the following comment. Its intent is not in criticism of Reich but as expansion on one of Reich’s observations. I focused on our two-party apparatus as it has evolved in recent decades.

=====

A friend said they hope more folks read this. Very good summary and analysis. I’d go farther than labeling both parties as entrenched within the structure of the Establishment. Our parties have too much power. They’ve had it for a LONG time. I believe most of us were raised to view political parties as a means to allow us to organize effectively according to our political philosophies.
The whole idea of “pre-committed super-delegates” is a slap in the face to the entire electoral process. So is the idea of “winner-take-all” states. We have the right to vote, but we don’t have the right to vote to cast out others’ ballots, and our elected representatives most certainly don’t either.
Our parties insulate the electorate from the process with a firewall of lobbyists, corporate donations and interests, secret slush funds and an unwritten agenda of “business as usual.” Instead of the parties and elected partisan representatives being directly accountable to the electorate, the people are expected to fall into line with one or the other of the major parties’ rigged picks. Another sad case of the tail wagging the dog.

READING: The End of the Establishment? by Robert Reich

 

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The New Economic Colonialism

Urban renewal, or economic imperialism? In Corsica, some residents resorted to dynamiting empty mansions to intimidate the wealthy from taking over their neighborhoods and homes. In San Francisco, we see increasing unrest among the poor and middle classes, for it is no longer a city where the poor and middle classes are permitted to live, let alone welcome…

FRANCE: STRIFE WITH SPECULATORS – Real estate prices on the Mediterranean island of Corsica are extortionate. A little cottage can set you back 400,000 euros. The Corsican authorities have passed a law requiring anyone who wants to buy a house there to have lived on the island for at least 5 years. The move is a response to people from mainland France and abroad buying up properties as holiday homes, causing prices to spiral. As a result, many Corsicans can no longer afford to buy property there. But now a few communities are fighting back, and threatening to enforce pre-emption rights – including the village of Cuttoli near Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon.


SAN FRANCISCO TENDERLOIN PROTESTERS RALLY AGAINST TENANT EVICTIONS
: The Tenderloin is the seediest, highest-crime district in The City. Arrests do little to curb assaults, robbery and drug trafficking. Yet a 1 bedroom studio, a 475 square feet apartment, lists for $2295 monthly. Residents protest being evicted and displaced as wealthy yuppies renovate whole districts at bargain prices.

In the Middle Ages, when wealthy power elite wanted a piece of property, they simply used armies to take it.

Today, they use “perfectly legal” economic strong-arm tactics to force existing residents out. Landlords, police and sheriffs handle all that messy, unseemly business of serving eviction notices, warrants and arrests. In the end, the wealthy get what they want, and displaced residents are forced to try to find someplace else to live, else join the growing ranks of homeless.

I don’t have the answers. But we are going to have to find them. It seems obvious that improving a neighborhood and simply taking it over are two different things. Increasingly, this problem is going to become a problem of good government – and governance. We’re being pushed back closer and closer to the feudal economy.

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The Breaking VA Scandal

We’ve all read today that retired four-star General Eric Shinseki just resigned as head of the Veterans Administration. As reported by the New York Times:

In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, Mr. Shinseki apologized and described the V.A. he led as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the Phoenix medical center, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.
But his contrition and promises of action came too late to save his job.

It is too soon to gauge the extent to which Mr. Shinseki can really bear responsibility for those decades-long failures of the VA to professionally care for our nation’s military veterans. Budget cuts and unethical medical practices both do a great disservice to both our veterans, and to the thousands of highly competent, dedicated doctors and medical assistants who struggle to provide care in a dysfunctional and understaffed system.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many, Shinseki’s most visible failure was in not acknowledging and addressing these deficiencies more visibly and proactively. But with his departure, we now face the prospect that our do-nothing Congress can now say the problem has been fixed, and move on to what it does best.

My own personal VA story is trivial by comparison, but I see it as a tiny snapshot of a small part of a much bigger picture. I’m a Vietnam veteran (1963-1964), but VA ineptitude caused my application to be denied in 2009, 2010 and 2013. I’m still waiting. My honorable discharge documentation is in order. For the military time period in which my documentation was issued, it’s accurate to say it has always been in order. The VA told me they “believed” me, but they could find no evidence that I was in fact a Vietnam veteran … Continue reading

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Big Government vs. Big Business

“There is a legitimate concern about large institutions, be they government or others, who haven’t really delivered the America everybody thought we were on our way to,” acknowledged John R. McKernan Jr., a former Maine governor who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. But, he said, that fear is “totally misplaced” when it comes to the Common Core.

~~ New York Times, “Republicans See Wedge in Common Core,” April 20, 2014.

This interesting article mainly focuses on the opposition to the Common Core educational approach, which is opposed by Tea Party conservatives who want to replace public schools wholesale with privately funded schools whose curricula they can control, and by some liberal groups, such as teachers, who want to see a divorce between educational testing and onerous teacher performance evaluations.

The larger issue is growing mistrust of Big Government, and/or Big Business.

The opposition to the Common Core also captures another shift since the Bush administration: While long contemptuous of an expanding federal government, some Republican activists are growing wary of big business, too, including figures like Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder whose foundation supported the development of the standards.

The facts of the matter are clear. Government hasn’t adequately delivered on its promises of equality, fairness, equal access, and equal opportunity for all to achieve the American Dream.

The elephant in the room here is Big Business. Somewhat arbitrarily, we can map the start of The Big Rip with the dismantling of the old Anti-trust laws, which happened, counterintuitively, in the Democratic Clinton Administration. This breached the geologist’s “angle of repose,” that steepest angle of a debris slope at which a boulder, or a massive pileup, will not slide downhill.

We’ve watched the buildup of a new breed of corporate and financial giants who dwarfed the old “military-industrial complex,” about which Eisenhower warned our nation. We saw monster rogue corporations like Enron. In 2008 we saw the established premier banking cartels of the country almost bring the country and economy to its knees, and the world with it: Chase-JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide, almost every big name financial institution you can think of, and more that you can’t.

Recently, the right-biased Supreme Court handed down its infamous Citizens United and McCutcheon  decisions. The decision was manna from heaven for the Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch (“Mr. Coal Is Your Friend”) billionaires and their corporate empires. The Kochs can contribute half a trillion dollars to state and federal election campaigns, and I can contribute $25 annually.

The law, in its majesty, has decreed that corporations, being people, are finally able to participate equally with me and you.

Big Government has not delivered on all its promises; NO. But Big Business has delivered on its promise to dismantle democracy, freedom of speech, and the American Dream. If anybody had been listening, they’ve been warning us all along.

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Nelson Mandela and Facebook Blocking

He who cannot forgive … breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~~ old African proverb

There are many finer tributes to Nelson Mandela than this one. I join so many others in feeling sorrow at the passing of a revered and inspirational world leader, but I never expected to compose this essay at all. Something happened to change my mind.

This week has witnessed a huge outpouring of fine tributes worldwide, honoring and remembering the death of Nelson Mandela. Some of these can be found on Facebook, posted or shared by many admirers. I admit I wasn’t prepared to encounter a comment to a Facebook post which actually profaned that memory. I engaged briefly with that poster. Considering his past history of online acting-out, I finally just blocked him.

It’s not the first time I’ve blocked someone, but it’s the first time I’ve ever blocked someone twice in a row.

The first time, this person we’ll just call “Charlie” made some egregiously offensive remark – one of those gratuitous remarks seemingly made just to be as off-the-wall unpleasant as possible. And it fit a pattern. Basically, it was a credible imitation of what a skinhead would sound like. So, I said, “this person is outta here,” and I blocked him.
Continue reading

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La mystérieuse affaire de Yasser Arafat

In recent news, the widow of the poor unfortunate old Arafat authorized the exhumation of his remains for further forensic testing. The rumor that he had been poisoned had never gone away. Arafat died in 2004, or was murdered, depending on which rumors you believe. So far, two forensic teams have completed investigations of this case. Swiss, Russian and French scientific teams gained access to the remains for independent analysis in November 2013.

According to Aljazeera, “Swiss scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from Yasser Arafat’s body have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The scientists said that they were confident up to an 83 percent level that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned with it, which they said “moderately supports” polonium as the cause of his death.”

According to Reuters, “The French report concluded that some of the radioactivity could be explained by the presence of radon gas in the tomb where Arafat was buried. The Swiss experts said on the contrary that the level of radon gas was due to the radioactivity in his body.”

The French team found the radioactive gas radon on the outside of Arafat’s clothing. If, Reuters cited the French finding accurately, the French said they found “some of the radioactivity could be explained by the presence of radon gas,” there is no explanation for the phrase “some of the” unless there were also other sources of radioactivity.

Having the advantage of unlimited access to the results of the autopsy, which was conducted in Paris where Arafat died, the French said that Arafat died of a stroke which was a complication of a severe bacterial infection, which was the original 2004 finding. So, they ruled the cause of death to be illness.

Thorium and uranium decay byproducts include radium, and its decay product radon. Radon has a half-life of 3.8 days. Polonium is a radioactive metal found naturally in uranium and thorium ores.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “Polonium-210 (Po-210) is a radioactive element that occurs naturally and is present … Because Po-210 is produced from the decay of radon-222 gas.”

This directly contradicts the Swiss opinion as reported by Reuters, that “the level of radon gas was due to the radioactivity in his body.” If the Swiss were quoted accurately, that would represent a huge disconnect with physics.

Polonium is produced from the decay of radon, not the other way around, so radon is not “the smoking gun” for polonium poisoning.

On the other hand, if it is true that radon detected on the burial clothing was just the result of naturally occurring concentration, it would be unreasonable to expect French scientists to report an even tinier trace of polonium, a naturally occurring decay product.

So far, there is no news report that either Swiss or French have exchanged results of their independent investigations, why they did or didn’t attach any particular relevance to the radioactivity connection, or detailed reasons for their conclusions. The French report is still preliminary at this writing, because news of it was leaked.

A number of obvious questions seem to remain unanswered. There is no clear consensus whether the radiation source was polonium or radon; they attributed it only to naturally occurring radon where it collects in underground spaces such as tombs. In either case, radioactivity is hazardous to the health, and there is a huge discrepancy between the highly abnormal polonium concentration found by the Swiss, and naturally occurring levels of radon found by the French.

If the Swiss scientists identified polonium by a combination of chemical tests and spectroscopy, a mistaken identification seems extraordinarily improbable. Also, the idea that they could mistakenly measure an 18-times concentration of that metal is quite implausible.

Samples for the independent tests would have been taken at the same point in time. It would be difficult to hypothesize that one set of samples contained polonium and the other did not. It will be interesting to learn what Russian scientists find.

Signs of radiation sickness would, all other things being equal, strike the elderly or infirm first. Arafat was both. The effects of radiation exposure are cumulative, and can affect the immune system in many ways. The effect of even medical radiation dosages on the immune system is already well known in hospitals.

Following this line of logic, it would appear that, if a strong source of radiation was actually present in or on the ailing Arafat, a “bacterial infection” might easily have resulted.

Staph infections, for example, are frequently contracted right in the hospital. This hypothesis would argue strongly in favor of a murder verdict, not against the medical facilities, but on unknown persons who might have caused the hospital death through a hard-to-trace chain of events initiated by poisoning Arafat with a radioactive substance.

Analysis appears further complicated by ambiguous news reporting on such a highly technical scientific subject.

Finally, there’s the unresolved question of who might have murdered Arafat. For the foreseeable future, this is a cold case that will never be solved without new discovery.

The popular theory in the Middle East, outside of Israel, is that the Israeli Mossad was responsible for this. Arafat became an internationally respected leader and a stabilizing force in Palestine, after co-brokering the Camp David Accords with Prime Minister Rabin. Arafat was most heavily criticized by Islamists, PLO leftists and Hamas for being too lenient in negotiations with Israel. This would tend to place Israel lower on a theoretical list of suspects, and PLO dissidents and similar militant factions, relatively higher.

The device of polonium poisoning is also associated with a number of sensational assassinations in Northern Europe, suspected to be the work of Soviet or Russian agents. But since scientific experts cannot even agree on evidence for or against these theories in the mysterious Arafat affair, blame is usually attributed to the political motivations of the accuser. If Arafat died as a result of foul play, there does not yet seem to be compelling evidence for any particular cause or agency.

Alex Forbes, December 4, 2013

Sources for this article

==========================

http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Factsheets/English/polonium210.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonium

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radon

http://www.aljazeera.com/investigations/killing-arafat/swiss-study-polonium-found-arafats-bones-201311522578803512.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/03/us-palestinians-arafat-idUSBRE9B20DI20131203

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Telephone Opinion Surveys

The next time your phone rings and it’s a telephone opinion survey, instead of hanging up, consider telling them, “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria” — and THEN hang up.

My mother used to enjoy public opinion research for part-time income and stimulation in her senior years. We spent many an enjoyable evening together over dinner, analyzing how surveys were conducted, how the survey scripts sometimes channeled responses into canned categories, and how much she enjoyed talking with other people who care passionately about our country and its issues.

So I always viewed opinion surveys as a valuable civic feedback mechanism, almost a birthright, and I tried to participate enthusiastically. But no more. This ain’t our mothers’ polite question-and-response era no more.

For one thing, the survey concept has been hijacked by the fundraising crowd. When you get a mail survey, for example, flip to the back page and see the donation checkboxes for $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000 or “more.” They don’t want our opinion; they want our money.

For another, the audience is rigged. Once, participants were selected by elaborate statistical methods designed to guarantee a truly random polling base. Now, they don’t even want to talk with you unless you meet selection criteria that practically guarantee you’ll tell them what their sponsors want to hear.

So, guess what: 99.5% of (Senator Snort’s) supporters say they’re voting for Snort this year.

When the phone rings, “What is this about?” and “How long will this take?” are fair questions. Telephone surveys are scripted to be evasive and misleading on both queries. Their first job, of course, is to ascertain whether they even want to talk with you.

Last fall I took a call soliciting my opinion on the economy. It should “only” take 20 minutes. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether my age group was 18-25, 26-45, 46-55 or “above.” When I answered “above,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Earlier this week I took a call on a phone that does not display caller id. They were sounding out respondents on the November elections. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether I felt I’d “definitely not” vote in November, was “uncertain” whether I’d vote, or “definitely” would vote in November. When I answered “definitely,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Now, I’m unlikely to even answer the phone if caller id indicates it’s a survey, but if I do, it’ll be to tell them “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria,” and hang up.

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Church vs. State: Religious Freedom vs. Freedom of Speech

Just when we thought the HHS “Contraceptive Kerfuffle” was resolved! So-called “social conservatives” from the religious right are attempting to hijack the issue from the Catholic Bishops to put a two-pronged political and religious spin on it.

  1. The President ordered a change to the HHS ruling so that health insurers automatically provide the coverage at no additional charge to any insuring employer.
  2. Brooks and Shields agree that the Administration pulled us back from the brink of “religious war.”
  3. The Catholic Church, ACLU, women’s groups and Planned Parenthood all seem mollified.
  4. GOP candidate Romney finally announces “that attacks religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
  5. Brooks shows how the Administration’s original ham-fisted proposal for universal access to birth control, and the recent California court overturn of the ban on gay marriage, have emboldened the religious right.
  6. The religious right will step up its long-standing assault on personal choice it opposes.

Well, Catholics having been somewhat mollified, we should have been able to predict this would only prompt the religious right “social conservatives” to step in where Bishops care not to tread. Brooks explained the religious right would be opposed to any aspect of the HHS bill anyway, since the original proposal concretized their claim that the whole “Obamacare” program is an unwarranted government intrusion upon their religious freedom, not to mention the untouchable private sector.

As we’d expect from any religion-driven political movement, this is partly political and partly because in the view of the religious right, reproductive preventative services of any kind are a violation of the word of the Creator who blessed only their interpretation of our founding state papers. We only need a Supreme Court to rubber-stamp doctrinaire edicts from the great pulpit on high. The constitutional separation of church and state is being broken down, piece by piece.

In other words, in the “social conservative” view, religious freedom must trump personal freedom of choice every time. In that view, religious freedom requires an imperative to impose upon others sharia, i.e. religious law, by force of political legislation. Never mind that this is unconstitutional in the United States.

Do you want fries with that? Did you know that the very organization which aggressively defames gays and lesbians has its own anti-defamation league? The irony is that we find freedom of speech and religion being used here as a tool to silence personal liberty. See:

1. DefendChristians.org
2. Right Wing Watch
3. Christian Anti-Defamation Commission

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“Occupy:” Say What?

We all dimly remember when some targets of the Occupy movement’s scorn struck some resonant chord with most of us. The popular spotlight on the vast 99%-1% gap was launched by Occupy. Public resentment against the unholy bank/investment bank consortiums who brought the economy to its knees in 2008 was brought into sharp focus by Occupy.

The cities of Oakland and Washington, D.C. are current newsworthy Occupy targets (among many others), further straining the resources of already financially beleaguered cities and their residents. And why Oakland, indeed? We don’t just have cities to house large law enforcement repositories. Believe it or not, ordinary citizens also try to live in cities, raise kids, and, if possible, earn a living.

Besides discovering that some police departments have learned nothing at all about police brutality vs. effective and humane crowd control in half a century, we don’t hear as much about Occupy these days because the question “how’s your poison oak” is only interesting to most of us for about the first week of the infection.

But they’re still here. What the hell do they really want?

To inspect the horse’s mouth – that part of the equine anatomy presented to those inspecting its teeth – I checked out an actual Occupy web site, OccupyWallStreet.

That site issues a disclaimer on the posted list of demands, “This content is user submitted and not an official statement,” but alas, I could not locate an “official” list. Here’s a smattering of the wackier zany demands I did find:

  • Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately. [Return of the 1923 “Wobblies?”]
  • Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US. [Oh, sure]
  • Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits. [Pie in the sky, a chicken in every pot]
  • Ban the private ownership of land [Nyet, komrade]
  • Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda. [Regular parents use it to give their kids real educations, too. Even Hippie parents couldn’t have sanctioned this proposal.]

So much for the notion “Occupy” is for increased freedom.

Looking up “Wobblie” in Wikipedia, I find the following wording in their preamble to the “current IWW Constitution:”

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

Sound familiar? Occupy needs to re-focus or disband. I believe union and popular social movements that address social problems by hurling walls of human bodies into the maw are short-selling the potential of the 99% to conceptualize and debate real issues. “Let’s protest police brutality by seeing if we can provoke it” is not a solution. It’s a shopworn, coldly calculated gambit to manufacture martyrs for a cause that often doesn’t bear up well under closer scrutiny. Rather than performing public-service educational functions, why do these movements invariably send their supporters into the failed strategic equivalent of World War I trench warfare?

Occupy can jolly well get out of the cities and try a 21st-century communications solution, like the Internet.

Occupying Oakland makes about as much sense as picketing “Elmo & Oscar’s Kiddie Daycare Center” to force Assad to democratize Syria, or to induce North Korea to enthusiastically embrace free speech and elected government.

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Ron Paul, Libertarianism and 2012 Issues

by Alex Forbes

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

— The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

How long will our existing two-party system last? What do the parties really stand for? When will elected officials stop governing on the one-way, top-down model? Everybody wants to know, and no one has the answers. All we can do here is look at the one party that continues to change and surprise, even if those come as unpleasant surprises to so many of us. What’s going on?

Republicans are scrambling to find someone articulate enough to stand up to Barack Obama in debate, yet look good wearing the party’s ultraconservative new clothes. Gingrich has a tarnished past and is viewed as somewhat volatile and unpredictable, but he can certainly handle debate. Ron Paul by all accounts would have been viewed as a crackpot only a few short years ago, and the more you look at his platform and ask the question “so how would this work?” the more dubious it looks.

But Ron Paul has an unaccountably strong following. Why? Ron Paul is articulate; he can explain things all of the other candidates fumble, even though they are generally all sipping from the same slipper. Why is only Ron Paul giving answers that seem to make sense to the Republican base, even if they only make sense when we don’t ask what would happen next?

Ron Paul has been called the “godfather of libertarianism.” How did we get from a fringe backwater political philosophy to a serious national candidacy?

This isn’t the forum to discuss libertarianism, a generalized political philosophy with 18th century roots which anchors the individual (not governments) as the unit of all social transactions, advocates minimization of government, prohibits the use of force in settling disputes, and usually has a strong platform on individual rights. A “free market” is viewed not just as an adjunct to those principles, but as indispensably rooted in them. In the U.S., libertarianism is more apt to affiliate with “right wing” policy, where in Europe one may still see variants such as “libertarian socialism.”

The old-time U.S. Libertarian Party never expected to win popular acceptance, so they didn’t have any identifiable next-step plan in the event that should ever happen. What seems odd is that, under the present success of the Paul candidacy, which may properly be regarded as a huge and unexpected popularity boost for the libertarian philosophy, they still don’t.

Over the years I’ve come to see how nations succeed by creating a culture and environment that brings all their citizenry into the participatory fold. Nations that leave their children under-educated, create exclusionary castes, shelter their elite classes, and cut loose their middle classes are, historically, nations on their way out. As corporations use to spout, “people are our most important asset.” What conservatives have forgotten in the past 50 years is that squandering people is not like squandering money. You cannot simply go out and get more. The just society is also the most efficient when everybody is a player. And efficiency is exactly what capitalism was supposed to be all about, was it not?

2012 is the first election year in memory when we the electorate could actually really use a primer to better understand some of the libertarian political tenets. First, we’ll survey some snippets of libertarian ideology. Afterwards, we’ll sample some of what Paul would like to do to implement them.

1. The Theoreticians

In 2012 we’ll face another contest between the two main US political parties. The Democratic Party seems to be the last safe haven for the moderate, leaving the old-school liberal in a kerfuffle. The Republican Party is the new, mean, aggressive soldier force for corporate America and the wealthy. Many people who are neither corporate not wealthy still believe this is a good cause that will trickle down for the rest of us.

Ron Paul breaks the mold.

This means, uh-oh doodie, talking about the last vestiges of capitalism’s theoretical underpinnings, as preserved through the dark ages of participatory democracy by the high priests of old Ayn Rand style libertarianism. That would be Ron Paul if it were anyone. Paul is the one candidate who most closely explains most platform positions of all the others, because he appears to be the only one who understands the theory, and he’s the only one advocating it. Continue reading

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