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Welcome! "What's Happenin'?" is a casual community diary (a daily series, 8:30 AM Eastern on weekdays, 10 AM on weekends and holidays) where we hang out and talk about the goings on here and everywhere.  

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Good Morning!

A fence in summer. August, 2012 by joanneleon
Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.

~Robert Frost

Ella Fitzgerald - Don't Fence Me In
Drop in
any time
day or night
to say hello.


Viva la Casseroles. Pre election protests.

Quebec students protest tuition hikes

Thousands of protesters marched against planned tuition hikes in Montreal, opposing the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest, two weeks before parliamentary elections. ...

The presidents of two student unions, the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) and the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ), Eliane Laberge and Martine Desjardins, condemned the Charest administration’s plans.

“On September 4, citizens will remember how the Liberal Party has addressed the youth and people of Quebec,” said Laberge, while Desjardins reiterated her call against voting for parties failing to support students.

Tens of thousands protesters on the streets of Montreal
Watched the movie "J. Edgar" on HBO this week.  Interesting.  I thought it looked like the birth, the roots of today's police state, though it took a long time, a Pearl Harbor and a 9/11 to get here.
"Subversives": How the FBI Fought the 1960s Student Movement and Aided Reagan’s Rise to Power

Investigative journalist Seth Rosenfeld’s new book, "Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power," is based on more than 300,000 pages of records Rosenfeld received over three decades through five Freedom of Information lawsuits against the FBI. The book tracks how then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ordered his agents to investigate and then disrupt the Free Speech Movement that began in 1964 on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The protests prevailed and helped spawn a nationwide student movement. Rosenfeld outlines in great detail how FBI records show agents used "dirty tricks to stifle dissent on the campus." In the book’s more than 700 pages, he uses the documents to explore the interweaving stories of four main characters: the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover; actor and politician Ronald Reagan, who was running for governor of California at the time; Clark Kerr, then the University of California president and a target of scorn from both Reagan, Hoover and student activists; and legendary Free Speech Movement leader and orator, Mario Savio.

The Program

It took me a few days to work up the nerve to phone William Binney. As someone already a “target” of the United States government, I found it difficult not to worry about the chain of unintended consequences I might unleash by calling Mr. Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower. He picked up. I nervously explained I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to speak to him. To my surprise he replied: “I’m tired of my government harassing me and violating the Constitution. Yes, I’ll talk to you.”

[ Video link: ]

When looking at the link to this Op-Ed, it seems that the original title might have been "Who's watching the NSA watchers".
Giving In to the Surveillance State

But what Mr. Poindexter didn’t know was that the N.S.A. was already pursuing its own version of the program, and on a scale that he had only imagined. A decade later, the legacy of T.I.A. is quietly thriving at the N.S.A. It is more pervasive than most people think, and it operates with little accountability or restraint.

[ ... ]

Today, this global surveillance system continues to grow. It now collects so much digital detritus — e-mails, calls, text messages, cellphone location data and a catalog of computer viruses — that the N.S.A. is building a 1-million-square-foot facility in the Utah desert to store and process it.

What’s missing, however, is a reliable way of keeping track of who sees what, and who watches whom. After T.I.A. was officially shut down in 2003, the N.S.A. adopted many of Mr. Poindexter’s ideas except for two: an application that would “anonymize” data, so that information could be linked to a person only through a court order; and a set of audit logs, which would keep track of whether innocent Americans’ communications were getting caught in a digital net.

The N.S.A. sorely needs such restrictions now. [ ... ]

Poll: As conventions open, a more negative view of politics

WASHINGTON – As Democrats and Republicans prepare to open back-to-back conventions, a nationwide USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds Americans taking a decidedly more negative view of the presidential candidates and the tenor of their campaigns than they did four years ago.

[ ... ]

• Views of the political parties have soured. For the first time at this point in at least six elections, voters are inclined to see both the Republican and Democratic parties unfavorably.

[ ... ]

In 2008, 25% said both candidates would make good presidents. Now, just 12% do.

Maybe you changed your mind because doing anything else would make you look like a total idiot?  He stands firm on deregulation in other industries though. Until proven wrong, I guess.  
Reagan-appointed judge: Deregulation advocates made a fundamental mistake

Richard Posner, a well-respected federal judge, said Thursday on Current TV that he no longer believed the financial industry should not be regulated.

“I was an advocate of the deregulation movement and I made — along with other, a lot of smarter people — made a fundamental mistake, which is that deregulation works fine in industries which do not pervade the economy in their consequences,” he said. “The financial industry undergirds the entire economy and if it is made riskier by deregulation and collapses and widespread bankrupties the entire economy freezes because it runs on credit.”

Posner, who was appointed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Ronald Reagan, is associated with the conservative Chicago School of economics.

Wall Street Tightens Grip on Public Water as Local Residents Suffer

Investment bankers and other major financial players are increasingly swooping in on public water utilities and other municipal services in cash strapped towns to the detriment of local residents, according to a new report released today by advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Vulture capitalists are increasingly facilitating the privatization of public infrastructure, taking control of public utilities while skimping on services and causing steep price hikes -- all the while making massive profits.

According to the report, private equity firms show up to hurting municipalities as hired financial advisers and subsequently push through privatization deals. Massive profits are made in the process, as such advisers stand to make great financial gains through these deals. Following privatization, local residents are continually denied sufficient services and face steep consumer price hikes in the under-regulated process.

“Like Wall Street’s manipulation of the housing market in the previous decade, private equity firms and investment bankers are increasingly looking to cash in on one of our most essential resources—water,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These deals are ultimately a bum deal for consumers, who will end up paying the price through increased water bills and degraded service.”

Uncle Sam Needs YOU for a Bailout: 6 Reasons Another Big Banking Crisis Is Coming Our Way

Time is running out for prosecutors to file cases against big banks for activities that triggered the 2007-2009 financial crisis, since statutes of limitations set deadlines for launching prosecutions for fraud and other financial crimes. If prosecutors don’t start lawsuits before these deadlines expire, the big banks will, once again, have got off scot-free.

Failure to pursue banks, culpable management and employees for their complicity in causing the financial crisis is one of six bad policies that ensure we’re likely to see another bust-up of a big U.S. bank -- sooner rather than later.

Who’s going to pay the price for such a failure?  We will, of course. Uncle Sam’s policy of allowing banks to get too big to fail means we’ll all be left holding the bag when that collapse occurs — and another banking bailout is necessary.

Matt Taibbi, Eliot Spitzer Discuss Eric Holder's Failure

But that's exactly who Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer haven't been, exactly who Bob Khuzami at the SEC hasn't been. Instead of being fighters, they've been dealmakers and plea-bargainers. They've dealt out every major financial scandal, from Abacus to the Muni-bid-rigging cases (they prosecuted a few low-level guys at GE but let the big players at the big banks skate) to the Citigroup fraud settlement that was so bad a judge threw it back at the govenment's face. In that latter case, amazingly, the govenment is now fighting not for its constituents, but for its right to give out crappy deals to repeat-offender banks without judicial review.

A Debtcropper Society

A lot of people forget that having debt you can’t pay back really sucks. Debt is not just a credit instrument, it is an instrument of political and economic control.

It’s actually baked into our culture. The phrase ‘the man’, as in ‘fight the man’, referred originally to creditors. ‘The man’ in the 19th century stood for ‘furnishing man’, the merchant that sold 19th century sharecroppers and Southern farmers their supplies for the year, usually on credit. Farmers, often illiterate and certainly unable to understand the arrangements into which they were entering, were charged interest rates of 80-100 percent a year, with a lien places on their crops. When approaching a furnishing agent, who could grant them credit for seeds, equipment, even food itself, a farmer would meekly look down nervously as his debts were marked down in a notebook. At the end of a year, due to deflation and usury, farmers usually owed more than they started the year owing. Their land was often forfeit, and eventually most of them became tenant farmers.

They were in hock to the man, and eventually became slaves to him. This structure, of sharecropping and usury, held together by political violence, continued into the 1960s in some areas of the South. As late as the 1960s, Kennedy would see rural poverty in Arkansas and pronounce it ’shocking’. These were the fruits of usury, a society built on unsustainable debt peonage.

Today, we are in the midst of creating a second sharecropper society. I first heard the term “slaves to the bank” from a constituent fighting a fraudulent foreclosure. The details aren’t so important — this couple had been illegally placed in a predatory loan — but at one point, the wife explained that she and her husband were so scared they would have “given their first born to the bank to keep their home”. That was fear speaking, total unadulterated panic. And as we watch debt-holders use the ornaments of fear, such a loan sharking company that set up fake courts to convince debtors they were losing cases, we should recognize that what the creditor class wants is what they’ve always wanted: total dominance of our culture.

Professors Making $10,000 a Year? Academia Becoming a Profession Only the Elite Can Afford
One after another, the occupations that shape American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.

The theme of this year's meeting is "Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies." According to the explanation on the American Anthropological Association  website, we live in a time when "the meaning and location of differences, both intellectually and morally, have been rearranged".  As the conference progresses, I begin to see what they mean. I am listening to the speaker bemoan the exploitative practices of the neoliberal model when a friend of mine taps me on the shoulder.
"I spent almost my entire salary to be here," she says.

My friend is an  adjunct. She has a PhD in anthropology and teaches at a university, where she is paid $2100 per course. While she is a professor, she is not a Professor. She is, like  67 per cent of American university faculty , a part-time employee on a contract that may or may not be renewed each semester. She receives no benefits or health care.

A Freshman All Over Again

My father unlocked the trunk. It contained a suitcase, a stereo, a box of records by the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, a leatherbound journal, a psychedelic poster of the cover of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” a copy of Coffin & Roelofs’s “Major Poets,” a three-legged milking stool and a bong shaped like one of the statues on Easter Island.

[ ... ]

I’m thinking about all of this now because in a week’s time my wife and I are dropping our firstborn son off at Vassar, where he will begin his freshman year (or “first-year experience,” as we are now supposed to call it).

[ ... ]

Back in ’76, my parents and I had a dignified farewell on the lawn of Butterfield. My father, a reserved, diffident man, shook my hand. Then they walked away. I’d be home for Thanksgiving, and until then, I was Bruce’s problem. In some ways, that was the first and most important thing I learned at college — what life was like without them.

[ ... ]

But now I know exactly how impossible this is. Before I became a college parent, it was easy to come up with rules of disengagement for my students’ mothers and fathers. Now that I am one myself, I finally know what it is parents are going through — not just letting go of a child but of an entire chapter of their lives.

Assange lawyer has ‘surprising’ key info on rape claims: report

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s lawyer Thursday said he had key information relating to the rape claims his client was facing which would be surprising when revealed, a report said. ...

Garzon, best known for trying to extradite Chile’s Augusto Pinochet from London to Madrid in 1998, declined to go into specifics on the rape claims but said there was “fragmented knowledge” about the matter.

He reportedly said the defence was in possession of a number of fundamental elements about the allegations that when made public would be a “big surprise”.

“We cannot divulge them right now but we have requested that the prosecution take a statement from Mr. Assange,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in the Australian city of Brisbane.

European ministers worry about ‘new Berlin Wall’ in North-South debt crisis split

European ministers warned Thursday that the debt crisis risks splitting Europe between north and south in an echo of the east-west division of the Cold War, as pressure mounted on Greece.

“Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new split threatens to divide our continent, this time between north and south,” the foreign ministers of Germany and the three Baltic states said in joint statement released in Lithuania. ...

Greece’s call for more time to implement budget cuts and tax hikes required to continue receiving bailout support has set the stage for another bruising European debate and speculation that the country could be forced out of the euro.

Amid worries that contagion could trip up Spain and Italy, a number of economists have suggested splitting the eurozone into two — a stronger northern euro and a weaker one that would help southern countries adjust their economies.

But the German and Baltic ministers warned that the problem had spread beyond the economic arena.

Ex-U.S. ambassador Crocker arrested in hit-and-run

SPOKANE, Washington – Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, faces hit-and-run and intoxicated driving charges after his vehicle collided with a semi truck and a breath test registered twice the legal limit for alcohol, authorities said.

[ ... ]

Crocker, who was driving a 2009 Ford Mustang convertible, was stopped in the left lane at a red light. And when the light turned green, he tried to turn right across the path of the semi in the right lane, Briggs said.
The vehicles collided and Crocker's car spun out, but he kept driving, Briggs said. A witness followed him to a nearby bank and called police.

[ ... ]

Crocker pleaded not guilty in court the next day [ ... ] Crocker retired from the foreign service last month after serving three decades in some of the world's most dangerous hotspots, most recently Afghanistan.

Why Afghanistan Isn’t a Campaign Issue: Neither Obama nor Romney Have a Solution
The 'systemic problem' of uniformed Afghans attacking their American mentors raises questions about the viability of a bipartisan exit plan

“Just don’t talk about the war!” was the motto evinced by John Cleese’s comic British innkeeper Basil Fawlty when entertaining German tourists at his establishment. The same motto seems to have been embraced by both candidates in the 2012 U.S. presidential election — and not simply because it’s difficult to detect significant differences on their policies for ending the longest war in America’s history. Neither President Barack Obama, nor Governor Mitt Romney can offer the electorate the prospect of a plausible outcome in Afghanistan that won’t leave many Americans wondering what was achieved in 11 years of a war that this week claimed its 2,000th American combat casualty. Opinion polls routinely find a substantial majority of Americans opposed to remaining militarily engaged in Afghanistan, which may be why the bipartisan consensus envisages most U.S. troops coming home by the end of 2014, handing security responsibility to the Afghan forces whose training and mentoring is rapidly becoming the mission’s prime focus. The Taliban won’t be defeated by the time the U.S. leaves, in other words, and it takes a leap of faith to envisage Afghan security forces finding the political will to fight the Taliban on behalf of a widely discredited Afghan regime once the U.S. leaves — and that was before the emergence of what the U.S. military calls a “systemic problem” of uniformed Afghans turning their weapons on their U.S. and NATO mentors. Afghanistan, for U.S. presidential campaign purposes, is a huge downer.

Afghanistan, U.S. disagree on culprits behind 'insider' shootings
Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, surprises U.S. and NATO officials by blaming 'foreign spy agencies' for 'insider' shootings.

But late Wednesday, a day after Dempsey's departure, Afghan President Hamid Karzai caught Western diplomatic and military officials by surprise when he asserted in a statement that infiltration of the Afghan security apparatus by "foreign spy agencies" was the driving force behind insider attacks, which have taken the lives of 40 coalition members this year.

Although Karzai did not specify whom he was accusing, it appeared he may have meant Pakistan's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which he has often said is in league with insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

[ ... ]

Afghan officials routinely accuse Pakistan of inciting insurgent violence, and Karzai's statement may have been intended primarily for domestic consumption.

Ambassador To Afghanistan: 'Vast Majority' Of Afghans Support Coalition

With "green on blue" attacks by Afghans in uniform increasingly in the news, Americans officials are being asked whether the people of Afghanistan are turning against the coalition troops that have been in the Central Asian nation since late 2001.

[ ... ]

"These are very unfortunate and sad events, and we and our Afghan partners are working hard to understand what's happening, why it's happening, and how we can prevent it," he told Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, in a conversation due to be broadcast Saturday. "But ... while they're difficult for both of us — they affect the Afghans as well as the [international forces] — they are a minor part of many thousands of interactions that take place between our military forces every day. And we're determined to find a way to minimize and end them, if we can."

[Editor's note: There are two audio excerpts in this article to listen to.]

Ministry of Propaganda article shows up in Google News (Dept. of Defense, "American Forces Press Service".
Allen Predicts Period of Hope, Challenge in Afghanistan’s Future

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2012 – After the International Security Assistance Force mission ends in December 2014, Afghanistan will experience a period of hope combined with lots of challenges, the ISAF commander said today.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters via satellite from his command in Kabul, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said Afghan security forces will be at full strength by 2015 with 352,000 members, and Afghanistan will have a new, democratically elected government.

Afghan forces will be fully in the lead for the security of the entire Afghan population, and they will be deployed in a manner to deal with violence

Apparent improvements in security will create opportunity for improved governance from both Afghanistan’s central government and the provincial governments throughout the nation, the general said.

Enhanced security has provided opportunity for improved governance at the at the local level, “which is really key for the Afghans -- increasingly key, even today, in some areas of Afghanistan where we have seen really dramatic improvements in security,” Allen said.

“This is now the moment for [Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s] administration to begin the process of concentrating on subprovincial and district governance and the establishment of the rule of law,” he said. As security continues to improve, he added, Afghanistan has the opportunity to improve subnational governance and give the Afghan people the chance to commit themselves to the government.
Allen noted by Jan. 1, 2015, Afghanistan will have new national leadership in place following democratic elections.

“So we will see a transition in [2014] to a new administration and a new government with a new president,” he said. “And that president will have seen the period of time in the last 28 months, in the last several years, of the emergence of an Afghan national security force.”

The general described the 2015 Afghan security force as professionals willing to sacrifice mightily on behalf of the Afghan people to achieve a level of security to give the new administration, ministries and judiciaries the opportunity to become a part of Afghan citizens’ lives.

Allen also said the Afghan people will feel the reassurance of the international community as it fulfills the commitments to Afghanistan decided upon three months ago at NATO’s summit in Chicago.

[ ... ]

'Insider attacks' won't deter U.S.-Afghan teams

"We think Ramadan was a part of it," Allen said. "We don't think it was the principal reason."
Allen said the military tried to adjust the tempo of operations to account for Ramadan but the stress of fasting may have taken a toll on some troops.
Overall, Allen said the campaign in Afghanistan is succeeding.
"Coalition and Afghan forces have maintained unrelenting pressure on the insurgents, and we have denied and disrupted their operations and have largely pushed them out of the population centers," Allen said.
"We've taken scores of their leaders and fighters off the battlefield," he said.

India-Pakistan-Afghanistan Triangle

When Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, stated that the cooperation of both India and Pakistan was required for a stable Afghanistan he was recognizing that India has always been the unacknowledged elephant in the room during talks between Pakistan and the U.S.

Pakistan's fears about India-Afghan ties are both ideological and strategic. [ ... ] Further, Pakistan's strategists have always feared a 'pincer movement' or strategic encirclement if India and Afghanistan become allies. To prevent such an eventuality, Pakistan has sought a pro-Pakistan Afghan regime which does not have close ties with India. Any ties between Afghanistan and India have been seen extremely dangerous to Pakistan's very survival.

[ ... ]

Trade is a key part of India-Afghan ties both for bilateral reasons but also because for India, Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asian markets and energy resources. Unfortunately, since Pakistan has not yet allowed open transit trade between India and Afghanistan, India has been forced to trade via Iran. Indian companies have invested in Afghanistan and a consortium of Indian steel companies led by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) was recently awarded a block in the Hajigak iron ore mines.

Syria spillover clashes escalate in Lebanon
Killing of Sunni leader by sniper fire reignites violence that has left 17 people dead in Tripoli over last five days.

A sniper has killed a Sunni sheikh in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, sparking new clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian factions that dashed a tenuous truce, a security official has told the AFP news agency.

[ ... ]

"I can no longer cope with this situation. In my house I have got three families who have fled the violence," said Ahmed Breiss, who runs a car workshop in Qobbeh.

"We have nothing to do with what's going on in Syria. We want to live in peace," he said.

Robert Fisk: 'Rebel army? They're a gang of foreigners'
Our writer hears the Syrian forces' justification for a battle that is tearing apart one of the world's oldest cities

Many of the rebels' weapons had been taken from the scene by the military "mukhbarat" intelligence men before we arrived: they were said to include three Nato-standard sniper rifles, one mortar, eight Austrian machine-pistols and a host of Kalashnikovs, which may well have been stolen by Syrian deserters. But it is the shock of finding these pitched battles amid this world heritage site which is more terrible than the armaments of each side. To crunch over broken stone and glass with Syrian troops for mile after mile around the old city, a place of museums and Mosques – the magnificently minareted Gemaya Omayyad stands beside yesterday's battleground – is a matter of infinite sorrow.

[ ... ]

And then there was Sergeant Mahmoud Dawoud from Hama, who had been fighting in Hama itself, Homs, Jebel Zawi and Idlib. "I want to be interviewed by a reporter," he announced, and of course, he got his way. "We are sad for the civilians of this land," he said. "They were in peace before. We promise as soldiers that we will make sure a good life returns for them, even if we lose our lives." He does not mention all those civilians killed by army shellfire or by the "shabiha", or those thousands who have suffered torture in this land. Dawoud has a fiancée called Hannan who is studying French in Latakia, his father is a teacher; he says he wants "to serve his homeland".

But the thought cannot escape us that the prime purpose of men like Sergeant Dawoud – and all his fellow soldiers here – was not, surely, to liberate Aleppo but to liberate the occupied Golan Heights, right next to the land which the "jihadis" apparently thought they were "liberating" yesterday – until they discovered that Aleppo was not Jerusalem.

Robert Fisk: Aleppo's poor get caught in the crossfire of Syria's civil war
Our writer meets the civilians who have been stranded on the streets by a brutal conflict

"The imam was from the other side of Haderiyah. We knew who he was, he wore a sheikh's clothes; he was not a foreigner. As we were leaving, our nephew Hassan got out of the car to buy some bread. That's when the sniper shot him, one of the 'Free Army' – we saw him. He had a scarf around his face – he was shooting from a roof top."

[ ... ]

We could hear the latter still shooting – at soldiers or at the flea-like, pop-popping chopper, we could not tell, although a Syrian friend who had taken us to the park broke down and wept in fear at the uproar. The Syrian Kurd said he had gone back to his home a week later. The "Free Army" was still there but his home was undamaged. "If all the people went back, I would go back. The 'Free Army' has to leave because they are making a mess in our country. I want to go home."

The US and Iran: Calling Netanyahu's bluff
Now that the US has in effect called Netanyahu's bluff, will the Israeli leader make a fateful throw of the dice?

And Israeli President Shimon Peres, reflecting the concerns of many, said a few days ago that "It is clear to us now that we cannot do this alone. It is clear to us we need to work together with America." That view, we are told, is widely shared within the Israeli defense and intelligence establishments. The military people charged with conducting a preemptive strike on Iran are the most likely to resist starting something that they know they cannot finish on their own. They are the ones who realise, despite the uninformed and wishful thinking of some civilians, that long-range air attacks on Iran are unlikely to have more than a marginal impact on its nuclear programme unless they are sustained. Israel cannot sustain these attacks. Only the US can.

But the Americans have made clear that they want to wait. It is at least part of Netanyahu's calculation that credible threats of an Israeli strike during the US presidential campaign season and the Obama administration's desperate desire to avoid it will motivate the US to trade Israeli assurances of near-term forbearance for a more credible and irrevocable US commitment to employ military force if and when evidences of the failure of economic sanctions and the imminence of a hardened Iranian nuclear weapons capability converge.

Blog Posts of Interest

Allen Makes Worst Excuse Yet for Green on Blue Attacks: Ramadan Fasting by Jim White on emptywheel

New Bin Laden Book Author Skipped Broken Pre-Publication Review Process by Jesselyn Radack on DailyKos

Allergic to Courtrooms by ek hornbeck on Stars Hollow Gazette

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - Summertime


We are ready for some serious change. We are ready to take up the tools of a free and analytic press to peacefully undermine the stranglehold of the kleptocrats on our battered democracy. We are ready to expose and publicize their greed, lies and illegal machinations and hold their enablers in government and the media to account. Are you in?

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
 ~ Margaret Mead

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