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Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22

Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed

I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.

As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”

Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.

Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.

I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.

“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.

“Si se puede! – it can be done!”

But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.

The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.

I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.

Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.

The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.

The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.

The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.

Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.

“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.

His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.

Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”

Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.

Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.

Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.

Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.

Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.

Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.

We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.

Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

Hershey’s ‘No Charlie’s Chocolate Factory’ August 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
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Roger’s note: I am personally boycotting Hershey’s chocolate.  Now that’s dedication!
 
Published on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 by The Sydney Morning Herald

 

  by Jon Swaine

 

NEW YORK – It sounded like the perfect summer job.

Anger … a student protests against the working conditions at a Hershey’s factory. (Photo: AP)

Students from China, Africa and eastern Europe would work in a Hershey’s chocolate plant before using their earnings to travel the US and learn English.

“We have all seen Charlie’s chocolate factory,” said one student, 19-year-old Harika Duygu Ozer. Another said: “I thought we would see America like in movies.”

The factory, in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, did not live up to Roald Dahl’s thrilling world of chocolate waterfalls and infinite treats, however.

The 400 students, who each paid up to $US5940 ($5700) to join the State department’s cultural exchange scheme, claimed they were forced to become “captive workers”.

Shifts, often at night, consisted of lifting dozens of heavy boxes, trying to control fast-moving production lines, they said.

“They don’t care if you are small, you don’t have the power, you didn’t eat – they just care about their production,” one of the students said.

A spokesman for the National Guestworker Alliance, which is backing the group, said: “They were warned to stop complaining or they would be kicked out.”

The students walked out last week in protest at their conditions and pay, which after deductions and rent charges allegedly amounted to between $US40 and $US140 for 40 hours of work per week. They marched with dozens of supporters through Hershey itself.

Hershey said the plant was run by Exel, a logistics company. Exel said temporary workers were overseen by a third company, and that it had been told to stop hiring students from the scheme. It said students were informed of likely working conditions.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald
 
5 Comments so far
Posted by Stonepig
Aug 23 2011 – 8:54am
      Please boycott Hershey.  This is frigging ghastly.  Now instead of shooting aliens, we are making them pay to come here, (to learn English? are you kidding me?) and be treated like this?   Who the fuque are we?  Amnesty and the HRW and ACLU should be all over this.  Outrageous.   
Posted by Stonepig
Aug 23 2011 – 8:59am
      Hey Hershey…couldn’t find any Americans to work your lines for floor dropped peanuts?????   
Posted by Stonepig
Aug 23 2011 – 9:09am
      Hey Hershey…couldn’t find any Americans to work your lines for floor dropped peanuts?????        
Posted by pjd412
Aug 23 2011 – 11:17am
      They probably DO employ plenty of USAns. But unlike the foreigners, the USAns sullenly accept the conditions and wages of their work without complaint.  After all, the USA is the very best place in all the world, so surely, it couldn’t be any better than 60 hours of toil at a generous $7.50 per hour (less if you  are called a ‘1099 contractor”), couldn’t it?

Nothing new here.  The entire US labor movement in the late 19th/early 20th century was founded by foreign immigrants.  The anglo-saxon protestant natives accepted their lot in life, or even filled the ranks of the scabs and Mr. Blocks (look it up).   

Posted by PEAdvocate
Aug 23 2011 – 10:19am
      How long will it take before people realize that capitalism is akin to slavery?  Now the slave-drivers are subcontracted to insulate those who are really responsible.  I’ve mentioned this before but it just doesn’t seem to sink in – labor law today still refers to “the master-servant relationship”.  That is what capitalism is – just a different form of slavery; wage slavery and debt slavery.  We need to be talking about emancipation from capitalism.       
 

List of cities boycotting or condemning Arizona June 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism.
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www.votolatino.org, May 13, 2010 

Below is a list of cities who have passed (or are considering passing) boycotts on business in Arizona or have condemned SB 1070.  Please comment and leave a source on this story if there are more cities not listed that have (or are considering) resolutions.

San Francisco

  • San Francisco supervisors, on a 10-1 vote, approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for a boycott of Arizona-based businesses. It asks for, but does not demand, that city departments refrain from entering into new contracts or extending existing ones with companies headquartered in Arizona, unless severing those ties would result in significant costs to the city or violate other laws. (via SF Gate)

Los Angeles

  • The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-1 to stop doing business in Arizona unless the state’s tough new immigration law is repealed.  The city does about $52 million worth of business with Arizona companies, but it’s likely that only about $8 million worth of contracts can be terminated. (via NPR News)

Milwaukee, WI

  • The Milwaukee Common Council Tuesday (5/4) failed to act on a resolution calling for the city to boycott companies based in Arizona.  The council sent the measure back to committee. Alderman Robert Puente said his colleagues need to further study the Arizona law. (via WUWM)

Austin, TX

  • The resolution, proposed by Council Member Mike Martinez, calls for ending all business-related travel to Arizona by city employees, unless it is related to police investigations, providing humanitarian aid or protecting Austinites’ health and safety. (via Austin American Statesman)

West Hollywood, CA

  • The council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve the boycott. The action immediately suspends official travel to Arizona and calls for developing official sanctions. (via CBS2)

Boston, MA

  • As the City Council passed a resolution urging that Boston cut business ties with Arizona, Menino said it was important to send “a message’’ that the city disagrees with that state’s response to illegal immigration. (via Boston.com)

Oakland, CA

  • The council voted 7-0 Tuesday in favor of the boycott. It calls on city officials to review existing contracts with Arizona-based businesses and not enter into any new ones. It also says staff should not travel to the state on official city business. (via Fresno Bee)

St. Paul, MN

  • Mayor Chris Coleman is ordering city departments to no longer travel to conferences in the state of Arizona. (via My Fox 9)

Washington D.C.

  • Responding to Arizona’s new immigration law, the resolution requests that the city government and the employee pension fund “divest’ from all Arizona state and municipal bonds and ban city workers from traveling to that state on official business.  The resolution, which will be voted on at a later date, does not appear to prevent the city from doing business with Arizona-based companies, as some Hispanic activists had proposed. (via Washington Post)

New York City

  • New York’s City Council will consider a resolution calling for a boycott of all things Arizona. Ydanis Rodrigues, a Manhattan Democrat, filed the non-binding resolution Wednesday, a council aide confirmed. (via WSJ)

Boulder, CO

  • Employees of the City of Boulder will no longer be traveling to Arizona for business, City Manager Jane Brautigam announced, as a show of the city’s opposition to the recent immigration legislation passed in that state. (via Examiner)

Seattle, WA

  • Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed the Boycott Arizona Resolution, directing departments not to send employees to the Grand Canyon State and to refrain from doing new business with firms in Arizona in protest of the tragic new law. (via Examiner)

Brownsville, TX

  • During their Tuesday evening meeting, the city commission voted unanimously to pass a resolution against Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. (via Valley Central)

Hartford, CT

  • That until the repeal of SB 1070, the City of Hartford shall not engage in any discretionary travel to Arizona and when applicable and without conflicting with any laws, the City of Hartford shall not engage in any contract for goods or services with any Arizona-based company. the Court of Common Council urges all public and private universities with campuses in Hartford to decline invitations to any sports tournaments in Arizona (via L. E. Cotto and City of Hartford Resolution)

Coachella, CA

  • The Coachella City Council formally opposed Arizona’s new immigration law Wednesday night. (via Desert Sun)

El Paso, TX

  • The city’s resolution only condemned Arizona, but counselors added a boycott at last minute and approved the measure. (via News Channel 9)

Columbus, OH

  • Mayor Michael B. Coleman has banned city workers from traveling to Arizona on government business, a decision that plunged Columbus yesterday deep into the nation’s emotional debate over illegal immigration. (via The Columbus Dispatch)

Author Naomi Klein Calls for Boycott of Israel July 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Friday, June 26, 2009 by Agence France Presse

BILIN , West Bank – Bestselling author Naomi Klein on Friday took her call for a boycott of Israel to the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where she witnessed Israeli forces clashing with protesters.

 

[Bestselling Canadian author Naomi Klein on Friday took her call for a boycott of Israel to the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where she witnessed Israeli forces clashing with protesters. 'Boycott is a tactic . . . we're trying to create a dynamic which was the dynamic that ultimately ended apartheid in South Africa,' she said. (Photograph by: John Kenney, National Post)]Bestselling Canadian author Naomi Klein on Friday took her call for a boycott of Israel to the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where she witnessed Israeli forces clashing with protesters. ‘Boycott is a tactic . . . we’re trying to create a dynamic which was the dynamic that ultimately ended apartheid in South Africa,’ she said. (Photograph by: John Kenney, National Post)

“It’s a boycott of Israeli institutions, it’s a boycott of the Israeli economy,” the Canadian writer told journalists as she joined a weekly demonstration against Israel’s controversial separation wall. 

“Boycott is a tactic . . . we’re trying to create a dynamic which was the dynamic that ultimately ended apartheid in South Africa,” said Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

“It’s an extraordinarily important part of Israel’s identity to be able to have the illusion of Western normalcy,” the Canadian writer and activist said.

“When that is threatened, when the rock concerts don’t come, when the symphonies don’t come, when a film you really want to see doesn’t play at the Jerusalem film festival . . . then it starts to threaten the very idea of what the Israeli state is.”

 

She briefly joined about 200 villagers and foreign activists protesting the barrier which Israel says it needs to prevent attacks, but which Palestinians say aims at grabbing their land and undermining the viability of their promised state.

She then watched from a safe distance as the protesters reached the fence, where Israeli forces fired teargas and some youths responded by throwing stones at the army.

“This apartheid, this is absolutely a system of segregation,” Klein said adding that Israeli troops would never crack down as violently against Jewish protesters.

She pointed out that her visit coincided with court hearings in Quebec in a case where the villagers of Bilin are suing two Canadian companies, accusing them of illegally building and selling homes to Israelis on land that belongs to the village.

The plaintiffs claim that by building in the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, near Bilin, Green Park International and Green Mount International are in violation of international laws that prohibit an occupying power from transferring some of its population to the lands it occupies.

“I’m hoping and praying that Canadian courts will bring some justice to the people of Bilin,” Klein said.

Her visit was also part of a promotional tour in Israel and the West Bank for “The Shock Doctrine” which has recently been translated into Hebrew and Arabic. Klein said she would get no royalties from sales of the Hebrew version and that the proceeds would go instead to an activist group.

 

© Copyright (c) AFP

Obama’s Caterpillar Visit a Thumb in the Eye for Human Rights Activists February 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Stephen Zunes, AlterNet. Posted February 14, 2009.

Caterpillar’s equipment has been used to level homes, build Israel’s illegal separation wall and, in some cases, kill innocent civilians.

Over the objections of church groups, peace organizations and human rights activists, President Barack Obama decided to return to Illinois to visit the headquarters of the Caterpillar company, which for years has violated international law, U.S. law and its own code of conduct by selling its D9 and D10 bulldozers to Israel.   

In his speech on Thursday, Obama praised Caterpillar, saying, “Your machines plow the farms that feed our families; build the towers that shape our skylines; lay the roads that connect our communities; power the trucks that deliver our goods.”  He failed to mention that Caterpillar machines have been used to level Palestinian homes, uproot olive orchards, build the illegal separation wall and, in some cases, kill innocent civilians, including a 23-year old American peace activist. 

Given the slump in sales that forced Caterpillar to lay off thousands of workers, the company is emblematic of the problems facing industrial towns of the Midwest in the face of the worse recession in decades and was therefore seen as an appropriate place for Obama to make an appearance.  Yet surely there were other heavy equipment manufacturers, or other industries, he could have chosen to visit — one which doesn’t provide its wares for what have been widely recognized as crimes against humanity and is not the subject of an international boycott by the human rights community. 

The Caterpillar boycott has been endorsed by scores of church groups, peace organizations, and human rights groups.  Following enormous pressure from both clergy and laity, the Church of England announced three days prior to Obama’s visit that it had sold off $3.3 million in stockholdings in the company.  And, two days earlier, Hampshire College became the first American college or university to divest from Caterpillar.  Some have interpreted Obama’s visit as a rebuke to these recent gains in the international campaign against the Peoria-based corporation. 

Supplying Repression

More than 15,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories have been destroyed by Israeli occupation forces, the majority with Caterpillar bulldozers.  Most of these have been for clearance operations to make way for Israeli colonists and related occupation infrastructure, not for security reasons.  An estimated 50,000 Palestinians have been made homeless by Caterpillar bulldozers. 

Meanwhile, more than one million olive trees — many centuries old and in the hands of a single family for many generations — have been destroyed, mostly with caterpillar’s heavy equipment. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler, in a letter to Caterpillar ‘s chief executive officer James Owens, argued that the Israeli occupying forces’ destruction of Palestinian agricultural resources “further limit[s] the sustainable means for the Palestinian people to enjoy physical and economic access to food” and constituted a clear violation of international law. 

Caterpillar bulldozers and other equipment have been used in the construction of Israel’s separation wall in the occupied West Bank, which has been declared illegal by a near-unanimous decision (with only the U.S. judge objecting) by the International Court of Justice. 

Caterpillar has not just been responsible for the destruction of Palestinian property and Israel’s illegal land grabs, however, but also for the deaths of nearly a dozen people, including an 85-year-old man, several children, and American peace activist Rachel Corrie. 

The Case of Rachel Corrie

In December 2001, as violent Palestinian protests against the then 34-year Israeli occupation increased — along with Israeli repression — the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for the placement of unarmed human rights monitors in the occupied territories. In response, a number of pacifist groups from the United States and Europe began to send their own representatives to play the role of human rights monitors, even to the point of physically placing their bodies between the antagonists.

Among these volunteers was Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Of particular concern for her and her colleagues was the use of Caterpillar bulldozers destroying Palestinian homes and orchards.

On March 16, in the Rafah refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation forces were preparing to destroy a series of homes, including that of a Palestinian pharmacist and his family.  Rachel was among a group of international observers who stood in front of the bulldozer as a form of nonviolent resistance against this illegal act by Israeli occupation forces. According to both Palestinian and American eyewitnesses, Rachel was standing in plain site of the bulldozer’s driver. She was wearing a bright fluorescent orange jacket and had engaged the driver in conversation to try to convince him not to destroy the house. Nevertheless, after an initial pause, the Caterpillar bulldozer surged forward despite cries from Rachel’s colleagues, trapping her feet under the dirt so she could not get out of the way before being run over. The Caterpillar bulldozer then backed up, running Rachel over a second time, mortally wounding her. She died in a nearby hospital a short time later.

Efforts by Rachel’s parents to sue Caterpillar were thrown out by a federal appeals court, where a panel of three judges argued that their suit could not have gone to trial “without implicitly questioning, and even condemning, United States foreign policy towards Israel.”

The Israeli government claimed that it was an accident.  Not only did the Bush administration accepted this interpretation and refused to call for an independent investigation, Rachel’s home state senators — Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell – backed the Bush administration in denying that she was murdered, and refused to call for Congressional hearings. Soon thereafter, both threw their support behind an additional $1 billion in military aid to Israel. 

Four months earlier, the United States had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel for the murder of three United Nations workers in two separate incidents in the occupied territories in December, 2002. Among those killed was British relief worker Iain Hook, who was assisting in the reconstruction of Palestinian homes destroyed during an Israeli military offensive the previous spring, also using Caterpillar bulldozers. This veto undoubtedly gave the Israelis the confidence that they could literally get away with murder, even if it involved a foreign national.

Now, in making his highly-public appearance at the Caterpillar headquarters, President Obama, taking after President Bush, appears to have also decided to come to the defense of these kinds of war crimes in the face of international criticism.

Breaking the Law

Caterpillar sells its bulldozers to Israeli occupation forces through the United States Foreign Military Sales Program.  Though originally designed for agricultural and construction purposes, the Israeli military modifies the Caterpillar bulldozers to include machine gun mounts, smoke projectors, and grenade launchers.  Caterpillar CEO Owens, praised by President Obama during his Thursday appearance, insists that his company has “neither the legal right nor the ability to monitor and police individual use of that equipment.” When confronted by human rights groups about the use of their equipment in violation of international humanitarian law, Caterpillar insists that “any comments on the political conflict in the region are best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process.” 

Despite this claim by Owens and other Caterpillar executives that the company bears no responsibility for its equipment’s end uses, the United Nations Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights explicitly states that companies should not “engage in or benefit from” violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that companies “shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.” 

Human Rights Watch has referred to Caterpillar’s denial of responsibility as the “head in the sand approach.” 

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory and is therefore legally bound to uphold, states that “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”  Obama, apparently has little concern for such legal obligations, however, and has thus far refused to limit the transfer of American-made equipment to Israel, even when used in such overt violations of international humanitarian law. 

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act limits the use of U.S. military aid, under which the sale of Caterpillar bulldozers is covered, to “internal security” and “legitimate self-defense” and explicitly prohibits its use against civilians.   

Unfortunately, Obama – like Bush before him – has indicated little interest in upholding such federal law, much less international law, and seems to have underscored his contempt for such legality in making his appearance at Caterpillar in the face of growing international opposition to that company’s policies.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

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