Archive for October, 2011

Where child sacrifice is a business

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

– Superstitions and destructive cultural practices are among the worst aspects of humanity.   This story is really sad.  I have a hard time sharing the planet with people like this.  And I’ll let you guess, dear reader, who I think should go.

– dennis

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The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda’s capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.

School children are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until around three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice.

‘Sacrifice business’

Many believe that members of the country’s new elite are paying witch doctors vast sums of money for the sacrifices in a bid to increase their wealth.

At the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries church, Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga is teaching local children a song called Heal Our Land, End Child Sacrifice.

To hear dozens of young voices singing such shocking words epitomises how ritual murder has become part of everyday life here.

“Child sacrifice has risen because people have become lovers of money. They want to get richer,” the pastor says.

“They have a belief that when you sacrifice a child you get wealth, and there are people who are willing to buy these children for a price. So they have become a commodity of exchange, child sacrifice has become a commercial business.”

The pastor and his parishioners are lobbying the government to regulate witch doctors and improve police resources to investigate these crimes.

– more…


Malware compromises USAF Predator drone computer systems

Monday, October 10th, 2011

– Now, this is scary in several ways….

– dennis

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According to a Wired report, malware has infected the control systems used by the United States Air Force to fly Predator and Reaper drones, logging keypresses as the unmanned aircraft are flown remotely in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and other conflict zones.

The malware intrusion is said to have been detected by the Department of Defense’s ownHost Based Security System (HBSS), but attempts to permanently remove the infection from one of America’s most important weapons systems have proven unsuccessful.

Inevitably there has been some concern in the media that malware could interfere with the flight of drones that are not just capable of surveillance, but can also carry deadly missiles to remote targets.

Questions are understandably being asked as to whether a remote hacker could interfere with the drones mid-flight, or send information to a third party about the drone’s whereabouts or intended target.

Wired quotes an unnamed source familiar with the infection as saying:

"We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back... We think it’s benign. But we just don't know."

Hmm.. If I “just didn’t know” I would assume the worst. In computer security, it’s always safest to assume the worst possible scenario has happened and take the necessary steps until you have proven that it hasn’t, rather than assume everything is ticketyboo.

– More…


Financial world dominated by a few deep pockets

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Economic “superentity” controls more than one-third of global wealth

Conventional wisdom says a few sticky, fat fingers control a disproportionate slice of the world economy’s pie. A new analysis suggests that the conventional wisdom is right on the money.

Diagramming the relationships between more than 43,000 corporations reveals a tightly connected core of top economic actors. In 2007, a mere 147 companies controlled nearly 40 percent of the monetary value of all transnational corporations, researchers report in a paper published online July 28 at

“This is empirical evidence of what’s been understood anecdotally for years,” says information theorist Brandy Aven of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

The analysis is a first effort to document the international web of relationships among companies and to examine who owns shares — and how many — in whom. Tapping into the financial information database Orbis, scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland examined transnational companies, which they defined as having at least 10 percent of their holdings in more than one country. Then the team looked at upstream and downstream connections, yielding a network of 600,508 economic actors connected through more than a million ownership ties.

– More…


Coal is the enemy of the human race, mainstream economics edition

Monday, October 10th, 2011

… noted a new paper in theAmerican Economic Review: “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy.”   Brad Johnson has a longer summary here.   I want to emphasize the paper’s conclusions and make a few related points. But mostly I want to beg everyone: spread this around. Coal’s net economic effects on the U.S. are poorly understood, to say the least, and this paper’s findings are stunning.

Once you strip away the econ jargon, the paper finds that electricity from coal imposes more damages on the U.S. economy than the electricity is worth. That’s right: Coal-fired power is a net value-subtracting industry. A parasite, you might say. A gigantic, blood-sucking parasite that’s enriching a few executives and shareholders at the public’s expense.

– From the Grist Blog (

– To more of the original article…  

Arctic ozone loss in 2011 unprecedented

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Record ozone depletion over the Arctic early this year rivals what was observed in the Antarctic when holes in the protective atmospheric layer first appeared there during the 1980s.

The observation raises concerns that portions of the Northern Hemisphere might periodically begin experiencing potentially harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation during early spring, an international team of scientists reports online October 2 in Nature.

“It was significantly worse than anything we have ever seen,” says Geir Braathen of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, who was not one of the authors of the Nature paper. Typically, spring Arctic ozone depletion has maxed out at a drop of between 20 and 30 percent, the atmospheric chemist notes. “But in 2011, we had a loss of around 40 percent.”

In Antarctica, 70 percent of the ozone can disappear in springtime, Braathen says. Within a 5- to 7-kilometer–thick band of the stratosphere, ozone concentrations actually plummet to zero, he says.

Arctic conditions have not gotten nearly that bad, says Michelle Santee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., one of 29 authors of the new Arctic ozone analysis.

Although ozone can be found at any altitude over the Arctic, most accumulates between 14 to 21 kilometers up. There, concentrations hover around 4.5 parts per million much of the year. But in late March, “there was an approximately 2-kilometer altitude region where ozone fell to around 0.7 ppm,” Santee says — “meaning the ozone was pretty much gone.” In small regions, she adds, patches of the Arctic stratosphere saw ozone drop to 0.5 ppm.

It takes four things to destroy much of the stratosphere’s ozone: sunlight; very prolonged cold temperatures; a stable vortex of winds that prevents ozone losses inside it from being replenished with more from outside; and the presence of special clouds that foster the transformation of benign chlorine molecules into ozone-vanquishing types. For the first time in the Arctic, all of these conditions aligned for months, says JPL atmospheric scientist and coauthor Nathaniel Livesey, “making it the perfect storm.”

– More…


Chickening Out in Iraq

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

– Another article (see also:  & ) about how the taxes of U.S. citizens are wasted.   Unbelievable, really.

– dennis

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Who doesn’t like roasted chicken? Fresh, crispy with a little salt, it falls off the bone into your mouth. It’s a great thing, unless the price is $2.5 million of your tax dollars.

As a Foreign Service Officer with a 20-year career in the State Department, and as part of the George W. Obama global wars of terror, I was sent to play a small part in the largest nation-building project since the post-World War II Marshall Plan: the reconstruction of Iraq following the American invasion of 2003. My contractor colleagues and I were told to spend money, lots of money, to rebuild water and sewage systems, fix up schools, and most of all, create an economic base so wonderful that Iraqis would turn away from terrorism for a shot at capitalism. Shopping bags full of affirmation would displace suicide vests.

Through a process amply illustrated below, in my neck of rural Iraq all this lofty sounding idealism translated into putting millions of dollars into building a chicken-processing plant. It would, so the thinking went, push aside the live-chickens-in-the-marketplace system that Iraqis had used for 5,000 years, including 4,992 years without either the Americans or al-Qaeda around. It did not work, for all sorts of reasons illustrated in the story below. We did have great ambitions, however, and even made a video to celebrate opening day. Don’t miss the sign at the very the beginning thanking us Americans for “the rehabilitation of [the] massacre of poultry.” We sure paid for the sign, but the quality of the proofreading gives you an idea of how much thought went into the whole affair.

If the old saying that there is nothing more frightening than ignorance in action is true, you should be terrified after reading this excerpt from my new book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. And keep in mind that it all happened on your dime.  What follows catches my experience of what was blithely called “reconstruction” in post-invasion Iraq.  I can assure you of one thing: the State Department isn’t exactly thrilled with my version of their operations in Iraq — and they’ve acted accordingly when it comes to me (something you can read about by clicking here).  For this excerpt, I suggest adding only a little salt.  – Peter Van Buren

Chickening Out in Iraq

How your tax dollars financed “reconstruction” madness in the Middle East.

Very few people outside the agricultural world know that if the rooster in a flock dies the hens will continue to produce fertile eggs for up to four weeks because “sperm nests,” located in the ovary ducts of hens, collect and store sperm as a survival mechanism to ensure fertile eggs even after the male is gone. I had to know this as part of my role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Like learning that Baghdad produced 8,000 tons of trash every day, who could have imagined when we invaded Iraq that such information would be important to the Global War on Terror? If I were to meet George W., I would tell him this by way of suggesting that he did not know what he was getting the country into.

I would also invite the former president along to visit a chicken-processing plant built with your tax dollars and overseen by my ePRT (embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team). We really bought into the chicken idea and spent like drunken sailors on shore leave to prove it. In this case, the price was $2.58 million for the facility.

The first indication this was all chicken shit was the smell as we arrived at the plant with a group of Embassy friends on a field trip. The odor that greeted us when we walked into what should have been the chicken-killing fields of Iraq was fresh paint. There was no evidence of chicken killing as we walked past a line of refrigerated coolers.

When we opened one fridge door, expecting to see chickens chilling, we found instead old buckets of paint. Our guide quickly noted that the plant had purchased 25 chickens that morning specifically to kill for us and to feature in a video on the glories of the new plant. This was good news, a 100% jump in productivity from previous days, when the plant killed no chickens at all.

Investing in a Tramway of Chicken Death

The first step in Iraqi chicken killing was remarkably old. The plant had a small window, actually the single window in the whole place, that faced toward a parking lot and, way beyond that, Mecca. A sad, skinny man pulled a chicken out of a wire cage, showed it the parking lot, and then cut off its head.

The man continued to grab, point, and cut 25 times. Soon 25 heads accumulated at his feet. The sharply bright red blood began to pool on the floor, floating the heads. It was enough to turn you vegan on the spot, swearing never to eat anything substantive enough to cast a shadow. The slasher did not appear to like or dislike his work. He looked bored. I kept expecting him to pull a carny sideshow grin or wave a chicken head at us, but he killed the chickens and then walked out. This appeared to be the extent of his job.

Once the executioner was done, the few other workers present started up the chicken-processing machinery, a long traveling belt with hooks to transport the chickens to and through the various processing stations, like the ultimate adventure ride. But instead of passing Cinderella’s castle and Tomorrowland, the tramway stopped at the boiler, the defeatherer, and the leg saw.

First, it paused in front of an employee who took a dead chicken and hung it by its feet on a hook, launching it on its journey to the next station, where it was sprayed with pressurized steam. This loosened the feathers before the belt transported the carcasses to spinning brushes, like a car wash, that knocked the feathers off. Fluff and chicken water flew everywhere.

One employee stood nearby picking up the birds knocked by the brushes to the floor. The man was showered with water and had feathers stuck to his beard. The tramway then guided the chickens up and over to the foot-cutting station, which generated a lot of bone dust, making breathing in the area unpleasant.

The feet continued on the tramway sans torso, ultimately to be plucked off and thrown away by another man who got out of bed knowing that was what he would do with his day. The carcass itself fell into a large stainless steel tub, where someone with a long knife gutted it, slid the entrails down a drain hole, and pushed the body over to the final station, where a worker wrapped it in plastic. The process overall sounded like something from Satan’s kitchen, grinding, squeaking, and squealing in a helluva racket.

According to our press release, the key to the project was “market research which indicated Iraqis would be willing to pay a premium for fresh, halal-certified chicken, a market distinct from the cheaper imported frozen chicken found on Iraqi store shelves.” The only problem was that no one actually did any market research.

In 2010, most Iraqis ate frozen chicken imported from Brazil. Those crafty Brazilians at least labeled the chicken as halal, and you could buy a kilo of the stuff for about 2,200 dinars ($1.88). Because Iraq did not grow whatever chickens ate, feed had to be imported, raising the price of local chicken. A live bird in the market went for about 3,000 dinars, while chicken from our plant, where we had to pay for the feed plus the workers and who knew what else, cost over 4,000 dinars, more than the already expensive live variety and almost double the price of cheap frozen imports.

With the fresh-chicken niche market satisfied by the live birds you killed yourself at home and our processed chicken too expensive, our poultry plant stayed idle; it could not afford to process any chicken. There was no unfulfilled market for the fresh halal birds we processed. Nobody seemed to have checked into this before we laid out our $2.58 million.

The US Department of Agriculture representative from Baghdad visiting the plant with us said the solution was to spend more money: $20,000 to pay a contractor to get license plates for the four Hyundai trucks outside in the parking lot facing Mecca. Our initial grant did not include licensing the vehicles we bought. The trucks, he hoped, would someday transport chicken to somewhere there might be an actual market.

Another Embassy colleague repeated the line that the plant was designed to create jobs in an area of chronic unemployment, which was good news for the chicken slasher but otherwise not much help. If employment was indeed the goal, why have an automated plant with the tramway of chicken death? Instead, 50 guys doing all the work by hand seemed like a better idea. A chubby third Embassy person who came to the plant for the day, huffing and puffing in body armor, said the goal was to put more protein into the food chain, which might have been an argument for a tofu factory or a White Castle.

A Poultry Field of Dreams in Iraq

How many PRT staff members does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One to hire a contractor who fails to complete the job and two to write the press release in the dark.

We measured the impact of our projects by their effect on us, not by their effect on the Iraqis. Output was the word missing from the vocabulary of developing Iraq. Everything was measured only by what we put in — dollars spent, hours committed, people engaged, press releases written.

The poultry plant had a “business plan,” but it did not mention where or how the chickens would be marketed, assuming blindly that if the plant produced chickens people would buy them — a poultry Field of Dreams. Without a focus on a measurable goal beyond a ribbon cutting, details such as how to sell cold-storage goods in an area without refrigeration fell through the cracks. We had failed to “form the base of a pyramid that creates the possibility of a top,” the point of successful development work.

The plant’s business plan also talked about “an aggressive advertising campaign” using TV and radio, with the modern mechanized chicken processing, not the products per se, as the focus. This was a terrific idea in a country where most people shopped at open-air roadside markets, bargaining for the day’s foodstuffs.

With a per capita income of only $2,000, Iraq was hardly a place where TV ads would be the way to sell luxury chicken priced at double the competition. In a college business class, this plan would get a C?.  (It was nicely typed.) Once someone told the professor that $2.58 million had already been spent on it, the grade might drop to a D.

I located a report on the poultry industry, dated from June 2008, by the Inma Agribusiness Program, part of the United States Agency for International Development (and so named for the Arabic word for “growth”). The report’s conclusion, available before we built our plant, was that several factors made investment in the Iraqi fresh-poultry industry a high-risk operation, including among other factors “Lack of a functional cold chain in order to sell fresh chicken meat rather than live chickens; prohibitive electricity costs; lack of data on consumer demand and preference for fresh chicken; lack of competitiveness vis-à-vis frozen imports from Brazil and USA.”

Despite the report’s worrying conclusion that “there are no data on the size of the market for fresh chicken,” the Army and the State Department went ahead and built the poultry-processing plant on the advice of Major Janice. The Major acknowledged that we could not compete on price but insisted that “we will win by offering a fresh, locally grown product… which our research shows has a select, ready market.”

A now defunct blog set up to publicize the project dubbed it “Operation Chicken Run” and included one farmer’s sincere statement, “I fought al-Qaeda with bullets before you Americans were here. Now I fight them with chickens.” An online commentator named Jenn of the Jungle added to the blog, proudly declaring: “This right here is what separates America from the swill that is everyone else. We are the only ones who don’t just go, fight a war, then say hasta la vista. We give fuzzy cute little baby chicks. I love my country.”

So, to sum up: USAID/Inma recommended against the plant in 2008, no marketing survey was done, Major Janice claimed marketing identified a niche, a business plan was crafted around the wish (not the data), $2.58 million was spent, no chickens were being processed, and, for the record, al Qaeda was still in business. With this in mind, and the plant devoid of dead chickens, we probably want to wish Major Janice the best with her new ventures.

Telemarketing? Refi sales? Nope. Major Janice left the Army and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Baghdad hired her. Her new passion was cattle insemination, and we learned from her blog, “You don’t just want semen from bulls whose parents had good dairy production. You may want good feet, good back conformation or a broad chest.” Just what you’d expect from a pile of bull.

War Tourism

Soon after my first chicken plant visit we played host to three Embassy war tourists. Unlike the minority who traveled out on real business, most people at the Embassy rarely, if ever, left the well-protected Green Zone in Baghdad during their one-year assignments to Iraq. They were quite content with that, happy to collect their war zone pay, and hardship pay, and hazardous duty pay while relaxing at the bar.

Some did, however, get curious and wanted to have a peek at this “Iraq” place they’d worked on for months, and so they ginned up an excuse to visit an ePRT. A successful visit meant allowing them to take the pictures that showed they were out in the field but making them miserable enough that they wouldn’t come back and annoy us again without a real reason.

One gang of fun lovers from the Embassy who wrote about water issues in Iraq decided to come out to “Indian Country.” At the ePRT we needed to check on some of the wells we were paying for — i.e., to see if there was a hole in the ground where we’d paid for one.  (We faced a constant struggle to determine if what we paid for even existed.)  So the opportunity seemed heaven sent. The bunch arrived fresh from the Green Zone, two women and a man.

The women still wore earrings — we knew the metal got hot and caught on the headsets — and had their hair pulled back with scrunchies.  (Anyone who had to live in the field cut it short.) The guy was dressed for a safari, with more belts and zippers than Michael Jackson and enough pockets and pouches to carry supplies for a weekend. Everyone’s shoes were clean. Some of the soldiers quietly called our guests “gear queers.”

Everywhere we stopped, we attracted a crowd of unemployed men and kids who thought we’d give them candy, so the war tourists got multiple photos of themselves in their chic getups standing next to Iraqis. They were happy. But because it was 110 degrees and the wells were located in distant dusty fields an hour away, after the first photo op or two the war tourists were quickly exhausted and filthy, meaning they were happy not to do it all again.

We took two more tourists back to the chicken plant: the Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (who proclaimed the visit the best day he’d ever had in Iraq, suggesting he needed to get out more often) and a journalist friend of General Raymond Odierno, who was thus entitled to VIP treatment.

VIPs didn’t drive, they flew, and so tended to see even less than regular war tourists. Their visits were also more highly managed so that they would stay on message in their blogs and tweets. It turns out most journalists are not as inquisitive as TV shows and movies would have you believe. Most are interested only in a story, not the story.

Therefore, it was easy not to tell the journalist about the chicken plant problems. Instead, we had some chickens killed so the place looked busy. We had lunch at the slaughter plant — fresh roasted chicken bought at the market. The Iraqis slow roast their chickens like the Salvadoreans do and it was juicy, with crisp skin. Served lightly salted, it simply fell apart in your mouth. We dined well and, as a bonus, consumed the evidence of our fraud.

– To the original article…


A Warning From the People to Christy Clark

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

– Now, this is the kind of stuff I’d like to see a lot more of; the people speaking their truth to power and asserting that the current trends of money and corporate interests consolidating their holds on our lives and futures will NO LONGER BE TOLERATED.  

– The people of British Columbia in Canada are speaking to their government leaders here.   I’d like to see a lot more of this type of talk-back.  

– It’s happening on Wall Street just now – even if the mainstream media are suppressing the news.

– It’s happening all across the Arab world – even if powers like the U.S. withhold giving their support to the people’s will until it is clear beyond any doubt that the puppet dictators are going to fall.

– In my opinion, there’s no way that we, the world’s people, are going to avoid a global ecological disaster and a significant collapse of modern civilization unless those obsessed with personal wealth and power at any cost are severely curbed. 

– And, the simple truth is that they are not going to give up their power without some sort of global grass-roots rebellion.  

– That’s a sad state of affairs because such a rebellion will, itself, bring down much of what we want to save.   But, in the end it is, unfortunately, of our available choices, the least of the evils.

– BRAVO to the people of British Columbia.

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This is not a threat – just a warning to both senior governments. Something is happening in this province that I’ve warned about for a couple of years – let me explain.

For years governments have brought in environmental policy, especially as it relates to fish, rivers, wildlife areas and the like which divides the environmental community.

In the fishing area, the federal government, in particular, has encouraged all manner of interest groups – some based upon geography, some on species of fish, some professional fishermen, some sports, and on it goes. Divide and rule.

With wildlife issues, it’s been much of the same approach.

Starting about five years ago something happened that I and others in the environmental field noticed and reported on – a great number of what I will call well-off people from West Vancouver who had fought to save Eagleridge Bluffs from the rape the tractors of the uncaring and stubborn Transportation minister, Kevin Falcon; who went en masse to Delta to help local people fight the desecration on their area, also by the same Transportation Minister who, incidentally, has complained thatwe’re not like China, which couldn’t care less about the environment and brooks no dissent.

The “better-off” communities getting seriously involved in environmental issues was demonstrated by the good citizens of Tsawwassen fighting the overhead power lines, a battle that again brought people from other communities into the ring. These were not the first times environmental groups have helped one another but it showed that environmental concerns had crossed, for want of a better word, “class” lines.

Then, Delta did the unbelievable – it voted in an independent MLA who defeated the Attorney-General of the province – didn’t you notice that, Premier?

The good folks in the Kootenays have risen as one against the Glacier-Howser private river power project and have made it plain that it just is not going to happen!

All around BC, people are rising against their political masters and saying, “No damned way.”

The BC government has seemed anxious to piss off as many citizens as they can, as their policies destroyed our salmon and traumatized our rivers. They clearly didn’t give a fiddler’s fart for our wilderness or farmland – our precious “Supernatural BC”, as Grace McCarthy aptly named it.

In my travels around the province doing speeches, I noticed people there I would not have expected. The mail I get is short on the old chants of days of yore and long on impatience with both senior governments – and they’re deadly serious about stopping them.

Now we have both senior governments in favour of pipelines across our wilderness, carrying Tar Sands sludge, called “bitumen” in polite society, and putting this highly toxic petrochemical into huge tankers to move it down the world’s most dangerous (and perhaps most beautiful) coastline.

Very early we’ve seen how the feds will fight – as dirty as the shit in their much loved pipelines. They have set up a federal panel review but, get this, you only have until next week to file your intention to attend but they’re not going to tell you when and where the hearings will be held until sometime in 2012! This is the sort of merry little trick the Private Power bastards work – hold the obligatory, fixed, in-advance hearing at as inconvenient a time as you can, in a place too small for the expected crowd and as far as possible from where most people live.

Now let’s issue the fair warning to both governments. Premier Photo-op and Prime Minister Harper – he who so nicely rewarded the worst polluter in BC history with the softest and most pleasant diplomatic post in the world – listen carefully!

The public of BC is no longer disputing amongst themselves. All of us now support one another, speak at each other’s gatherings and in every way possible, help each other fight our battles, shoulder to shoulder. We will no longer be divided and, to put it plainly – there’s going to be hell to pay.

Yes, there will be civil disobedience and lots of it if these pipelines are approved or there is one more river dammed. For example, with the Enbridge Pipeline, if the governments are sufficiently unfeeling and arrogant to proceed, there will be agro virtually every meter of the way.

It’s clear that BC First Nations, many of them hard-up, will be a huge part of the battle.

I might just add for Premier Clark: You’re toast unless you have a Damascus-like conversion – and I say that without a care about when you hold the next election. I also warn you that the polls you will get do not ask the right questions – I know because I’ve been questioned. You and your economic pals at the Fraser Institute are passé – you’ve disgraced yourselves from that deadly day in 2001 when you were elected, and unless there is a miraculous change, you will get your comeuppance on the next chance we have to send you back into radio, where you won’t have a government’s ass to kiss as before.

No one I know in the environmental movement wants trouble but that can’t and won’t stop us if you don’t stop ravaging our province. People now understand that pipelines and oil tankers are not risks at all but dead certainties.

You see, Premier, no one believes a single word you or the corporations say.

– To the original article…