Guarding Democracy from News

As Orwellian as the Disinformation Governance Board may be, it’s not even the most immediate threat to our freedom of speech, writes John Kiriakou. 

(@revzack, open clipart)

By John Kiriakou 
Original to ScheerPost

The past month has seen blows against freedom of speech for independent news outlets and, indeed, for all Americans. I’m not being hyperbolic here. There are real threats to our freedom of speech against which we ought to mobilize. 

First, the Biden administration named something called a “Disinformation Governance Board,” housed in the Department of Homeland Security, whose job will supposedly be to “standardize the treatment of disinformation by the agencies it oversees.”  That means that the government will be the final arbiter of what disinformation is. It will decide what we can and can’t read. At least that’s the plan. (It is now on hold after an angry backlash.)

Republicans were furious with the announcement, with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) telling Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a Senate hearing last month, “This is an awful idea, and you ought to disband it.”

Twenty state attorneys general have already threatened to sue the Biden administration and are calling for it to “immediately disband” the board and to “cease all efforts to police Americans’ protected speech.” 

For his part, Mayorkas, in that Senate hearing, said that the Disinformation Governance Board would protect the country from foreign disinformation tied to natural disasters, acts of terrorism and war.

When it became clear that senators weren’t buying that, he said that the board would help to combat human trafficking, a non-sequitur from which he quickly walked back.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas arrives at DHS headquarters following his swearing-in ceremony on Feb. 2, 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said, “We don’t have a definition for what the board is. We don’t have boundaries on what it does. Why should we not have suspicions about this?” And when it became obvious that Mayorkas wasn’t getting any love even from Democrats, he admitted that the board had no charter and no mission statement. 

Mayorkas never even bothered to raise the appointment of Nina Jankowicz as the Disinformation Governance Board’s chairman. She’s the hyper-partisan author of two books, How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment and How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict, a former Fulbright-Clinton scholar who oversaw programs for Russia and Belarus for the National Democratic Institute. (She has now stepped down as chairman of the disinfo board).

She has also courted controversy with her social media posts, saying previously that the Hunter Biden laptop was “a Trump campaign product.” This was patently false and was, in fact, disinformation promoted by the Democratic National Committee.

She also endorsed a podcast appearance by Christopher Steele, the discredited author of the so-called Steele Dossier, alleging Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

And commenting about Elon Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter, she said,

“I shudder to think about, if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms, what that would be like for the marginalized communities around the world, which are already shouldering so much abuse, disproportionate amounts of abuse.”

So, disinformation doesn’t count when it matches your own political agenda, while free speech is actually a bad thing? 

Nina Jankowicz, center, during a panel on cybersecurity. (U.S. Embassy Vienna, CC BY-ND 2.0)

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Disinformation Governance Board never comes back from its suspension. But I also don’t think it’s the most immediate threat to our freedom of speech. That comes from purportedly private companies that take government money, name former government big-wigs to their boards, and then, feigning independence, crack down on alternative media that don’t tout the government narrative. I’m talking about a dangerous new organization called NewsGuard. 


NewsGuard is a private company created and run by Steven Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz. Brill founded CourtTV, as well as a number of publications. He is also a former columnist at Newsweek and Reuters. Crovitz is a former editorial writer and later publisher of The Wall Street Journal and the former vice president for planning at Dow Jones. These men have fine journalistic credentials. But that’s not where my complaint lies.

My complaint is that NewsGuard issues what it calls “trust ratings” for news. The company brags on its website that these ratings are “produced by humans, not AI” (Artificial Intelligence.) It offers something called “Misinformation Fingerprints” to tell you when you are consuming what the company has determined to be disinformation.

They market this as a “journalistic solution to online misinformation,” and they claim “partnerships” with the Departments of State and Defense, Microsoft, Apple and other tech giants, although the nature of those partnerships is not clear.

We do know, however, that the Pentagon last year gave NewsGuard $750,000 for access to its “Disinformation Fingerprints” project, which it described in the contract as “a catalog of known hoaxes, lies, and disinformation stories spreading online.” 

Their team of human beings rates alternative media sites all over the world and gives them a score of 0-100. These scores are based on the following list of criteria:

Does not repeatedly publish false content (22 points); Gathers and presents information responsibly (18 points); Regularly corrects or clarifies errors (12.5 points); Handles the difference between news and opinion responsibly (12.5 points); Avoids deceptive headlines (10 points); Discloses ownership and financing (7.5 points); Clearly labels advertising (7.5 points); Reveals who’s in charge, including possible conflicts of interest (5 points); Provides names of content creators and their contact or biographical information (5 points).

A score 60 points or more gives a site a “green” label. But a score below 60 points gives the site a dreaded “red” label. 

So, who are these brilliant and unbiased human beings who get to decide if what we read is real news or disinformation?

One of them is Michael Hayden. (NewsGuard says its advisory board members don’t take part in rating news organizations). The name should ring a bell. Hayden is a retired four-star general who was the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) on Sept. 11, 2001. He was the guy who immediately implemented a massive program of warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, all in the name of “national security.”

Former Director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden in 2015. (Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hayden later became director of the C.I.A., where he oversaw the agency’s illegal, immoral and unethical torture, kidnapping, and secret prison programs. He’s also a former principal deputy director of National Intelligence, as if he hadn’t already done enough damage to the country.

More recently, Hayden was a signatory on an open letter full of disinformation and outright lies that indicated that the Hunter Biden laptop was a “Russian intelligence operation.” That was laughable even before Hunter Biden stated publicly that the laptop was his. 

Another one of NewGuard’s “advisers” is former Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Tom Ridge. It was Ridge who implemented the notorious Patriot Act in 2001 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which severely restricted Americans’ civil liberties. Those restrictions last to this day.

It was also Ridge who was the subject of a lawsuit in 2004 by Canadian national Maher Arar. Arar was a university professor in Toronto who had gone on vacation to Tunisia in 2002. On his way back to Toronto, while changing planes in New York, he was snatched by FBI agents at the request of the C.I.A., and with the cooperation of DHS agents, and sent to Syria, where he was tortured mercilessly for 10 months.

The U.S. maintained that he had “connections” to Al-Qaeda, allegations that were never proven. The Syrians finally informed the U.S. that, despite the fact that Arar had been forced to sign a confession, he had no information about Al-Qaeda. He was simply the wrong guy. Arar was released and finally returned to Toronto. Nothing ever came of his suit against Tom Ridge and others. Ridge cited “national security” to have it dismissed. 

June 21, 2004: Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge with reporters in Long Beach, California after remarks on U.S. port security. (USCG, Robert K. Lanier, U.S. National Archives)

Another of NewsGuard’s eminent advisers is Anders Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark and former secretary general of NATO. It was Rasmussen who sent Danish troops into Iraq to look for weapons of mass destruction that never existed. And as the leader of NATO, it was Rasmussen who oversaw NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Libya.

In 2014, this champion of transparency and opponent of disinformation told the Chatham House think tank,

“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”

Yes, he actually said this, with no evidence or proof whatsoever, that environmentalists oppose fracking only because the Russians have tricked them into it. 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2014, while serving as NATO secretary general. (NATO, Flickr)

I know many of these people. Washington is a small town. Having spent 15 years at the C.I.A. and another two-and-a-half on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the players in government.

I can tell you that they are as cynical and as dangerous as they seem. They are also the hypocrites they appear to be. Their thirst for power, and, once they have that, money, is exactly what you would expect of sociopaths who have climbed to the top of their fields on the backs of those around them.

Keep in mind that these “arbiters of truth” are the same men who have led us into false wars, who have gleefully violated even the most basic human rights and civil liberties, and who have made untold riches doing it. We must not trust them.

After all, they think so little of us that they won’t respect the constitutional rights and freedoms that are not even theirs to take away. I, for one, will not take my orders from the likes of Mike Hayden, Tom Ridge, Anders Rasmussen or the former corporate journalists who employ them. 

NewsGuard recently launched a battle against independent news sites like Consortium News,, The Grayzone and MintPress News.

In the case of Consortium News, for which I write on a regular basis, NewGuard’s initial email accused the outlet of categorically “publishing false content.” The NewsGuard employee making the accusation had only one previous job in journalism. It was as a science reporter for two years for a company that no longer exists. That’s it. That’s the extent of his experience in journalism. But it’s up to him (with input from NewsGuard senior editors) to decide if Consortium News is a worthy journalistic outlet. is going through the same experience. A source who works there said that NewsGuard is demanding that they now explain conclusions that they published in articles more than 10 years ago. is no longer willing to fight Newsguard’s likely “red label” designation. And Grayzone founder Max Blumenthal recently said on the Jimmy Dore Show that he wears NewsGuard’s red label as a “badge of honor.” 

As bad as all this is, NewsGuard and the government’s silly Disinformation Governance Board aren’t the only problems that independent journalism sites are currently facing.

PayPal last month canceled the Consortium News account and, at least temporarily, seized its funds. (It finally released the funds after three days, but said that the account itself would be suspended permanently.) PayPal gave no warning or reason for the action and there was no due process or appeal. PayPal took the action on the first day of Consortium News’ biannual fundraising drive. MintPress News’ PayPal account also was suspended. 

Consortium News is one of the country’s most highly-respected independent news sources. It was founded in 1995 by journalist Robert Parry, who gained fame at the Associated Press, and later at Newsweek, for his role in uncovering the Iran-Contra affair and for breaking the story of C.I.A. involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking. Parry was a winner of the prestigious George Polk Award for National Reporting and of the I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, bestowed by Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation. 

Its board of directors includes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, foreign policy author Diana Johnstone, Black Agenda Report editor Margaret Kimberley, political consultant Garland Nixon, United Nations Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe communications director Nat Parry, documentary filmmaker John Pilger, award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter, producer and Academy Award nominee Julie Bergman Sender, 2012 Green Party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein, and this author. 

These latest developments are more than a few odd organizations seeking to be players in the information space. This is a full-on threat to freedom of speech. NewsGuard is a throwback to the thought police in new clothes, a descendent of the mindset that cast peaceful, anti-war protestors Eugene V. Debs and Bertrand Russell into prison during World War I.

It’s one thing to flag statements of fact for proven falsity. It is quite another to cast aspersions on interpretations of facts that do not align with those of NewsGuard or the government to poison the minds of readers. 

The latter is a form of censorship unfaithful to a free marketplace of ideas celebrated by the founders of this great nation. Indeed, as John Stuart Mill elaborated in On Liberty, both correct and wrongheaded ideas advance the search for truth:

“If the opinion is right, [members of the public] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”  

Independent voices must be heard. Freedom of speech and press were among the basic tenets upon which this country was founded. We should all be willing to fight to keep those freedoms.

And now we have to take that fight to private corporations and even to our own government. Are we guarding the news against misinformation, or are we guarding the country from the news?

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant. While employed by the C.I.A., he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” After leaving the C.I.A., Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former C.I.A. officer to confirm that the agency waterboarded detainees and label waterboarding as torture. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.

This article is from Scheerpost.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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29 comments for “Guarding Democracy from News

  1. robert e williamson jr
    June 5, 2022 at 13:25

    Thanks John. Still I don’t see that many seem to pick up on the idea of mounting an offense against these “Goof Balls, Hayden and Ridge.

    I just now finished sending off an e-mail to Sen. Dick Durbin asking for their funding to be pulled.

  2. Lois Gagnon
    June 4, 2022 at 17:20

    This ever expanding empire is in serious decline. Look around. You can’t miss the signs. The corporate owned congress critters and Biden administration hacks all know their job is to shore up the sinking ship using any means necessary. Same holds true for the media. It won’t work. It never has. Trying to shut down speech in such a draconian fashion just tips people off to the true nature of what passes for governance these days. We are not governed. We are ruled. By the billionaire banker class. The day is not far off when no amount of censorship or distraction will deter the the ruled from focusing their gaze at the real instigators of their misery. It won’t be a foreign country.

  3. Donald Duck
    June 4, 2022 at 06:09

    The western media, never squeamish about pointing a finger at Russian nationalism, or decry Russia’s covert and overt attempts to interfere in Ukraine, becomes surprisingly timid when describing Ukraine’s turmoil. Of course, it will admit the growing pains of Ukraine’s putative pro-Western democratic turn, including the activity of violent groups or parties, like Right Sector, that flaunt Nazi paraphernalia and expound bizarre and racist notions. But this acknowledgement is quickly modified by the insistence on the marginal nature of these groups. Rather than being marginal, these groups, however, constitute the tip of the ultra-nationalist iceberg that is going to crush the modern Ukraine.

    The nature of this iceberg is simple: Ukraine is rushing headlong to create a modern day fascist society. It might try to disguise itself as pro-European liberal democracy, as the country eager to resist Russian control or Soviet legacy, but behind this double dose of Ukrainian spinning and western Cold War narrative, lays a very menacing reality. It includes pervasive rhetoric focusing on the myth of heroic Ukraine that must be restored, its champions honoured, and its enemies vanquished. It also includes a forced imposition of such a myth upon the whole population of Ukraine resulting in the series of violent actions of genocidal character, be it the May 2 massacre in Odessa, or the killing and wounding of civilians further east in the port of Mauripol May 10, or relentless shelling of civilians in the East of the country.

    What remains hidden in the plain view of recent Ukrainian politics is a highly recognizable pattern shared by numerous fascist regimes.

    But what was once hidden how openly flaunts its proto-nazi symbolism and the elevation of war and violence with a rampant neo-nazi, anti-semitic, Polish, and Russian visage. The mass murder of Poles, Jews and Russians carried out between 1943-45 in Volhynia murdered approx 100,000 souls, but of course this never gets mentioned, other than in academic journals.

  4. lester
    June 3, 2022 at 21:38

    Is anyone taught critical thinking skills? My third grade teacher told us that we should not believe everything in a newspaper, that not everything written down is true.

    That was it! No more formal instruction, even through the PhD level. What other critical thinking skill I’ve acquired has beed done informally. I sometimes what more I need to acquire. A knowledge of logic and logical fallacies, also of rhetoric. Arguing with fans of nut archaeology and history has been useful experience.

  5. Mark Stanley
    June 3, 2022 at 12:06

    Excellent John.
    A picture tells a story, and we’ve seen this one before—the image of a little balding weakling—a Rex du Jour boldly strolling down the red carpet, flanked by masked Homeland Security goons clad in pseudo US Marine costumes, each with a little medal hanging from his breast. The fake soldiers are sporting erections in the form of polished, nickel-plated M1 Springfield rifles ( a WW1 weapon), with bayonets attached.
    What the f&*~ is all of that? My questions are of little importance, but still I would like to know. We are all aware who pays for all of this silliness, but:
    Who designed and organized for the tailoring of the uniforms? The Minister of Pageantry?
    Who are these guys planning on stabbing with those antique bayonets?
    Are those rifles loaded?
    If so, are the 30.06 rounds also nickel-plated?
    This is almost too much absurdity for one day, and is reminiscent of a similar event deep in history. From the article:
    “It’s one thing to flag statements of fact for proven falsity. It is quite another to cast aspersions on interpretations of facts that do not align with those of NewsGuard or the government to poison the minds of readers.” 
    In A.D. 325, at the Council of Nicea, on their way to the council chamber, the heads of the religious orders had to walk between rows of Roman soldiers with their swords drawn. Constantine’s message was quite clear: You shall do what I say or else!

  6. torture this
    June 3, 2022 at 12:01

    Max Blumenthal’s response to the accusatory email from Newsguard was the perfect response to a hostile empire toady but I can’t find any more than pieces of it. Hopefully, someone can share a link.

  7. Piotr Berman
    June 3, 2022 at 10:38

    I would not on Maher Arar episode that, whatever their methods were, Syrians actually followed a certain standard of truth, concluded that Arar is innocent and released him, while “our man Ridge” lacked any such standard. The general unspoken theory is that “we, the people” need some immoral and merciless activities (legal because the law and courts got suitably twisted) for our own good.

    One may wonder where the drive to institutionalize censorship comes from. As PayPal episode shows, censorship is vigorous and well. It is as if there was an urge to make it a matter of principle, official doctrine, whatever “misguided and obsolete” 2nd Amendment seems to say.

    In short, knowing certain facts is bad for us, so the public deserves to be protected. And the likes of Ridge decide what are those bad facts.

  8. June 3, 2022 at 10:23

    Thank you for this article and this news source. I am so grateful to have found it–and, frankly, appalled by what the Democratic party has become in my lifetime. I will do all I can, as a librarian and writer, to protect freedom of speech and freedom of information.

    It’s amazing to me that the only people in congress standing up for these fundamental American values seem to be right-wing Republicans! I disagree with them about almost everything else, but support them in this.

    • Eddie S
      June 4, 2022 at 14:41

      Yes, I know what you mean about ‘agreeing with right-wing Republicans’ on something—I have to take a shower after I say it! But when looking at it realistically, they’re virtually always doing it for venial political reasons — to protect their own lying propaganda network (ie; Fox ‘News’) and to block the Dems (their default reaction to any Democratic actions, other than increases to military spending).

  9. Henry Smith
    June 3, 2022 at 10:01

    The establishments links with MSM is well known in the alternative blogosphere. It’s important, IMO, not to confuse past reputations with current behaviors. Organisations, such as Reuters, now have very dubious bed mates. Consider:

  10. peter tusinski
    June 3, 2022 at 09:48

    Thank you John for this concise expose’of yet another diabolical government agency bent on destroying our freedom of speech and the press. It is truly more Orwellian than Orwell’s dystopia or Huxley’s dismal world view, Who the hell are these control freaks that come up with this stuff and why haven’t our MSM seen fit to inform “We the People”of this travesty?

  11. Nathan Mulcahy
    June 3, 2022 at 07:48

    America IS A totalitarian state. The question is whether it is inverted totalitarianism, as defined by Sheldon Wolin.

    The situation has become even more dire due to mass formation (psychosis) as explained by clinical psychologist Prof. Desmet. The best way to get out of it is to talk about it. Check it out – I Hugo recommend it


    • Yolanda Johnson
      June 4, 2022 at 23:25

      It was my understanding Corbett was another conspiracy theorist like David Icke, and yet there were a few times when I learned something from him that I didn’t find anywhere else. Amazon Sidewalk and mesh networks, for example, a.k.a. the beginnings of an all-pervasive Internet.

      Mr. Mulcahy, what do you and any other posters here think about Corbett’s articles and videos in general? Where would you put him on the conspiracy scale? Journalist or science fiction writer? Some stuff he has posted in the past had Rockefellers and secret societies kind of content in, whereas some of his documentaries seemed legitimate.

    • Yolanda Johnson
      June 4, 2022 at 23:59

      Truth teller or entrepreneur? You have to become a paid subscriber to post a comment on James Corbett’s site. Reminds me of “you have to vote for the bill to find out what’s in it.”

  12. mgr
    June 3, 2022 at 07:08

    A wonderful explanation. That lays it out very clearly. Thank you.

  13. Yolanda Johnson
    June 3, 2022 at 04:52

    Fight Big Tech with alt tech. How about a browser extension that adds news sites with “low trust ratings” to your bookmarks? Or better yet, why has no one thought of anti-propaganda spyware? Just redirect browsers to CN or MintPress.

  14. Cal Lash
    June 3, 2022 at 00:53

    I sent them another email.
    I alleged they are bias neocons

  15. C. Parker
    June 2, 2022 at 23:47

    Great article. I must ask, this still is America, right?

    I hear more anger from the gun owners as they recite their 2nd amendment right. Mass shooting continue.

    Reports of a Bureau of Misinformation made the news thanks to CN, Grayzone, and Pushback. This is scary. I don’t hear Americans calling out for protection of our 1st amendment right. Take away guns, they scream. Send guns to a foreign country for war they wave flags. Take away our news, evidenced and fact based news and few people say anything.

    Personally, since reading Consortium News including the comment section from CN readers, I feel well informed on world events. Consortium News is the 1st amendment at work. It is a gift reading real journalism. How dare any self-anointed minister of truth put his/her stamp of approval on this news organization.

    It is worth asking, just what is it that CN reports that the government so fears. The truth?

    Again, this is America, right?

    • John R
      June 3, 2022 at 10:41

      Excellent comment – I feel exactly the same way.

    • Wolfram Beta
      June 5, 2022 at 03:29

      I agree. My experience at CN is greatly enhanced by posters who generously share their knowledge and perspectives. I learn as much
      from the comments as the articles.

  16. Jeff Harrison
    June 2, 2022 at 20:58

    The sheeple won’t stand up to the thought police. Americans have been too thoroughly propagandized. They actually believe that Americans are the greatest thing since pizza and canned beer.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      June 3, 2022 at 13:53

      That’s because they only know about pizza and canned beer. What passes for education in this country has taught them nothing but.

      • Piotr Berman
        June 5, 2022 at 08:18

        Do not forget “sliced bread”. If it were not sliced AFTER removing all taste and texture…

  17. Pork Torkildsen
    June 2, 2022 at 19:46

    Maybe CN could pool resources with other victims of these scumbags and sue their pants off. Need a favorable venue though. And lawyers! Too bad the ACLU is just a liberal groupthink hive now.

  18. June 2, 2022 at 18:08

    “Disinformation Governance Board,” something every self-respecting “liberal” should vehemently oppose. Yet, it is the GOP that opposes it. This illustrates why I always said that Biden is a greater threat to democracy than Trump. Not that Trump isn’t a threat but with Trump, there was always lots of opposition.

    The problem isn’t Biden as the situation was even worse with Obama. The very group of people who should be opposing the worst of neoliberalism remains silent when the President, “A Democrat,” puts forth the next fascist idea. They then rationalize by saying things like, “It is the best he could give the GOP opposition.” Or, another favorite, “It isn’t ideal but it is moving us in the right direction.” This was used extensively when Obama was pushing forward the Unaffordable Healthcare Act. UACA, developed by the Heritage Foundation which was supposed to move us closer to Medicare for All has further eroded Medicare, as it was intended to do.

    • Tobysgirl
      June 3, 2022 at 16:00

      It’s not so long ago that I don’t remember the “opposition to Trump.” It called itself the resistance and it resisted nothing. Democrats took over the local peace and justice groups in order to peddle disinformation such as Russiagate, and certainly did not stand for peace and justice. Yes, there were legitimate people opposing Trump, but most of what made it into mainstream media were robotic Democrats spewing propaganda.

  19. dhinds
    June 2, 2022 at 17:17

    What’s occurring in America

    Only occurs in totalitarian states.

    How much worse can things get before the nation disintegrates?

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      June 3, 2022 at 13:54

      Don’t ask.

    • Tobysgirl
      June 3, 2022 at 16:02

      Oh, they will get much worse. My husband thinks we are training young people to be robots: no thinking, no consideration, just robotically repeating whatever they are told to say, usually “transwomen are women.” When your generation which is supposed to be idealistic just becomes a programmed army for the state, there is no hope. We are our only enemy.

Comments are closed.