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The Truth

The truth is as hard to grasp as water in your hand. – Justin Bass, copyright June 5, 2015.

Google search for %22water EPA%22 on June 5, 2015

Google search for “water EPA” on June 5, 2015

WARNING: Cancer in the Water

Carcinogens in oil-drilling wastewater pose a threat to California’s drinking water. That is why on July 1, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board will craft its first groundwater-protection program. The final criteria will be based partly on input from the public in May and June. Unfortunately, the Water Board has no plan for a public-awareness campaign to let the people know about the public-comment period, other than the Water Board’s website.

Anyone can make suggestions to the Board’s headquarters in Sacramento by email, fax, standard mail or in person, until May 29. Then the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will make its recommendations available to the public on June 16. Public comment on the final draft of the groundwater model criteria will be open until June 29. If all goes according to schedule, the Board will finalize the groundwater plan July 1 and adopt it officially on July 7.

In contrast to New York’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), California decided to regulate all methods of well stimulation used by the oil companies. California is not only the 7th largest economy on the planet, it is also the 3rd largest oil-producing state in the country.

The black dots represent California’s active oil wells regulated by the state’s Department of Conservation (map procured from http://maps.conservation.ca.gov/doggr/index.html#close):

California's Active Oil Wells

This is the first time in the history of the state that California will regulate enhanced methods of oil extraction used by oil companies, since oil drilling started in the Golden State over 120 years ago. Long, metal straws, as oil-drilling pipes, pierce the groundwater on the way to the pools of fossil fuels thousands of feet below the surface. Any leak in the oil-drilling pipe could contaminate the groundwater. The oil companies also use injection wells to dispose of wastewater. Likewise, the injection wells stick through the groundwater, and any hole in the injection wells could pollute the groundwater.

California does not even know how much groundwater it has because nobody has ever bothered to measure and track it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed oil companies to dump waste into certain areas of California’s groundwater because it was thought that the water was so deep and dirty it would never need to be used. Farmers who typically drilled to a depth of 500 feet to access drinking water now have to drill past 1,000 feet to reach the potable groundwater. Corporations, like Crystal Geyser, Coca-Cola and Nestlé, also drill for California’s groundwater to make as much bottled water as they want, and they do so legally because the state currently allows property owners to access the water under the land they own. Some parts of the state are sinking, or subsiding, because taking water out of the sediment is similar to letting air out of a tire.

Now in the fourth year of a debilitating drought, Governor Jerry Brown and the Water Board enacted a 25 percent reduction in urban water use. California farmers, who grow the overwhelming majority of fruits, nuts and vegetables for the rest of the country, have also agreed to a 25 percent reduction in water use. On top of that, the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies drinking water for most of the 22 million people living in Southern California, announced a 15 percent reduction in imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The panoply of water-rationing programs will go into effect on July 1.

There is less water to go around for California’s 38 million people and to grow the fresh produce shared with America’s 300 million-plus thirsty and hungry mouths. Yet oil companies continue to use well-stimulation techniques that could contaminate drinking and irrigation water. The state’s oil regulators admitted that oil companies have been illegally dumping drilling waste into underground sources of drinking water that were not exempted by the EPA. Recently 23 of the offending injection wells were shut down.

The U.S. Clean Water Act protects surface waters, such as lakes and rivers, from which California draws about 25 percent of its potable water. The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act protects the other 75 percent of the Golden State’s drinkable water, which comes in the form of groundwater. There is one exception to the SDWA: the Republican-majority Congress of 2005 exempted fracking fluids from federal regulation, thus leaving it up to the states to regulate fracking contamination of groundwater. Now California’s oil regulators are investigating all 50,000 injection wells in California, and they suspect approximately 2,500 injection wells may be operating in violation of the SDWA.

In addition, President Barack Obama will announce a new rule to protect all United States drinking water, surface water and groundwater, The New York Times reported on May 22, 2015.

“There are enough chemicals in oils that are carcinogens,” but when acid-mixes are used to stimulate the oil well and then injection wells shoot the hazardous materials underground “that’s even worse. That creates all the chlorinated hydrocarbons, which are all carcinogens. Like chloroform, that’s a carbonate. All the PCBs, all the polychlorinated biphenyls, are even more toxic,” said Dr. Robert Schiestl, who is a professor of Pathology, Environmental Health Science and Radiation Oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as a member of the University’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Epidemiological studies lag behind 40 years because that’s how long it takes for the people to get cancer.”

Many times health professionals, like those at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for example, treat the symptoms of leukemia without anyone ever asking what caused the leukemia in the first place. A mother, who for many years has lived on the same block as a residential oil-drilling site in the City of LA, gave birth to a child with leukemia, her neighbor said. The baby died and the mother does not want to talk about it for public consumption, according to the neighbor, who did not want to be named. When asked if a woman could give birth to a child with leukemia as a result of drinking water with oil-drilling contaminants in it, Dr. Schiestl answered, “It is possible.”

Since January 1, 2014, oil companies operating in California are required by the law, known as Senate Bill 4, to inform neighbors of any well stimulation within 1,500 feet (or the length of five football fields), so that the neighbors can request tests of the local groundwater. The oil companies and their state regulators keep changing the definition of well stimulation. Therefore, the public is not notified and never knows its rights. Likewise, California’s first groundwater-monitoring program is supposed to be open for public comment, starting with a public workshop in Sacramento on May 19. Again, the majority of the public did not know about Tuesday’s open event and most people do not know about the problem of oil companies contaminating the public groundwater.

In March, Governor Brown staged a photo-op in front of a desiccated, Sierra Nevada mountainside, where there is historically a visible covering of white snow for scientists to measure. April storms provided enough snow for popular winter resorts in Mammoth Mountain and Tahoe to extend their ski seasons, but 2015 was the driest winter in California since the state started recordkeeping of droughts in the 1800s. California needs snow more than rain, because snow melts slowly and accumulates in underground aquifers whereas rain runs off into the gutters and out to the ocean before state and local agencies can collect it for drinking. Not only does the oil industry contaminate groundwater with its use of injection wells dumping into pristine aquifers, but the burning of oil creates warmer precipitation events and thus depletes California’s essential snowpack. The snowpack is the state’s slow-drip supply of drinking water. Snow we can hold in our hands, rain runs through our fingers.

Despite having a law to protect drinking water from oil-drilling contamination, the enforcement of the law is still up to the oil regulators at the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (under the aegis of the Department of Conservation), who are operating in the best interest of the oil companies’ profits and the $6 billion worth of annual taxes they produce for the state, rather than informing the public of potential well-stimulation contaminants in the groundwater, beneath their homes and near the oil drilling sites.

The $6 billion tax figure comes from a December 24, 2013 Op-Ed published in the Los Angeles Times by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. The WSPA lobbies for the oil industry in California and five other states. When the LA City Council voted to ban hydraulic fracturing within the city limits in 2014, the oil companies and their lobbyists threatened to sue the City. So there is no ban on hydraulic fracturing in the City of LA.

To date, California has conducted only one SB 4-related, water-quality test, and that test was for surface water not groundwater, according to Andrew DiLuccia, Public Information Officer at California’s Water Board. “The test results indicated no impacts associated with well stimulation,” he said about the lone water test near Fillmore, in Ventura County, California. None of the underground sources of drinking water polluted by the oil companies’ 23 illegal injection wells have been tested under SB 4 regulations. However, benzene, a known human carcinogen, was detected inside fracking wastewater at “levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe” in 2013, according to an article from the Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, Julie Cart, of the Los Angeles Times.

“Benzene is the most toxic of the fuel components and can seriously affect the blood cells. Industrial workers exposed to high levels of benzene in the air were at higher risk of developing a type of anemia and of having a low white blood cell count than other unexposed workers,” reads a July 1997 report from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, titled Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water. “Leukemia, a form of cancer of the white blood cells, was more likely to occur in industrial workers as compared to other workers. There is also limited evidence that benzene can injure the fetus or cause miscarriage.”

Statewide water rationing goes into effect this summer for all Californians, while the oil companies continue to use known carcinogens and stimulate oil wells with thousands of gallons of hydrochloric acid mixed with thousands of gallons of water. For instance, Breitburn Energy and Pacific Coast Energy operate dozens of active oil wells, called West Pico, at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive in the City of Los Angeles. The City is host to hundreds of active oil wells, many of which are in residential neighborhoods, where people in cars navigate the streets and pedestrians walk in the shade of tree-lined sidewalks.

The black dots represent the City of LA’s active oil wells:

LA's Active Oil Wells

The Department of Conservation’s public records show that on January 2, 2014, DOGGR’s engineer, John Huff, approved the West Pico 12 oil well to begin “stimulation of the Hauser Formation & new Repetto perforations with 15% HCl [Hydrochloric Acid],” in the Beverly Hills-adjacent neighborhood represented by LA City Councilmember, Paul Koretz. (Hauser and Repetto are millions-of-years-old geological formations.) This use of acid to stimulate the oil well is considered “maintenance” by the oil regulators, but it still creates wastewater that the oil company injects deep into the ground, in the same neighborhood as moms pushing baby strollers and dads pitching to bat-wielding kids in the front yards.

“DOGGR does not do an adequate job of regulation,” Koretz said.

Many of the local residents have no idea about the toxic chemicals being used down the block. “If we had known about the oil drilling, we never would’ve moved here,” said Lyndsey Vlaicu, who lives with her husband and their 2-year-old son within a stone’s throw of Pacific Coast Energy’s West Pico oil derrick, which is disguised behind a building-like façade and a fringe of trees. “I can smell gas four to five times a week.” Acrid fumes pervade the air more so when the workers show up with their trucks, Vlaicu added.

Full disclosure: I used to live on the same block as the West Pico oil wells, but moved away in March 2015. I did not know Mrs. Vlaicu until after I moved from the neighborhood and began reporting this story. Like many of the residents on the block, I was not notified about the productive oil derrick, which is located about the length of one football field away from my former apartment.

The black dots represent the active West Pico oil wells:

West Pico Active Oil Wells

In practice, the regulators at DOGGR determine what constitutes well stimulation, no matter what the text of SB 4 states. There is no agency other than DOGGR to enforce the law and there is no recourse for the people of California to challenge DOGGR’s authority. The EPA gave California “primacy” to regulate its oil drilling and groundwater, which the state ostensibly fulfills through DOGGR and the law, SB 4. The oil companies’ lobbyists helped to write the law and their regulators assist the oil companies to get around the required public disclosure of well stimulation.

“This is the well that we want to perforate the Repetto and do an acid job,” wrote Frank Smith of Breitburn Energy to Huff, the oil regulator at DOGGR, on January 27, 2014. “We believe that there is adequate protection of any USDW [Underground Source of Drinking Water]. Tom [McCollum of Pacific Coast Energy] and I would like to call you around 9:15 am this morning to discuss with you. Our West Pico rig is awaiting orders and not having to do a cement squeeze would save us about $100,000.”

West Pico 1

West Pico 2

West Pico 3

Breitburn got the approval for Pacific Coast Energy to go ahead with the acid job.

“To follow up on our phone conversation, based on the results of the cement bond log, no cement squeeze is necessary at this time,” wrote Huff, the oil regulator.

A cement bond log calculates the thickness and quality of the cement around the oil pipe.

Not only would it have added to the cost, but the cement squeeze at West Pico 12 would have also added an extra layer of protection between the groundwater and the toxic chemicals in the oil/acid mix running through the industrial piping. For a reference point, the inadequate cement job and the overdue cement bond log at the Deepwater Horizon oil drill in the Gulf of Mexico were largely to blame for the catastrophic ocean spill in 2010.

The cause of the massive oil spill in the California ocean water near Santa Barbara on May 19 is still unknown, as of this reporting.

It is important to note that solar-electric panels and plug-in cars never polluted the water in California. It’s time for all of us, as a civilization, to transition from using oil and other fossil fuels as soon as possible. We, the consumers, are causing our own problems by perpetuating the production and sale of dirty fossil fuels because almost all of us continue to use them in one way or another. We use oil and gas for our cars and we cook with natural gas flames. We heat our water with fire and we produce our electricity by burning fossils fuels. However, our cars, our cooking, our heated water and our electricity can all be energized by the Sun. If you want to point a finger at anyone for the problem of global warming, the prolonged drought and the scarcity of clean water in California, power down your computer or phone, extend your index finger toward the black screen and take a good, hard look at your reflection. What are you going to do? You can no longer plead ignorance. Now you know the problems and the solutions. So what are you going to do?

Here is the Water Board’s website:

http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/groundwater/sb4/docs/notice_model_criteria.pdf

For Perspective:

Go to page 4 of the highlighted document below to see “well stimulation” at the West Pico 40 oil well, as the South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD, defines it:

COM – R1148.2 Chemical Report – PB – 11-5-2013 – Event ID#868 – Fac ID; …-3

After receiving a public records request in April 2015, the AQMD, has delayed the release of 2014 and 2015 chemical reports at the West Pico facility, due to possible trade secrets, said Lisa Ramos, Public Records Coordinator at AQMD. SB 4 protects trade secrets as long as the oil company reports the chemicals to DOGGR and defines the use of them as “well stimulation.”

Neither Breitburn Energy executives nor Pacific Coast Energy executives returned calls and emails requesting a comment about their residential oil drilling and “well stimulation” that runs through neighborhood groundwater.

Read the public document cited in this article for yourself:

West Pico 12 – Well Stimulation in 2014 – 03720146_DATA_2015-04-28

After many attempts to interview the oil regulators in California, the Assistant Chief Counsel for the Department of Conservation, Justin Turner, replied via email, “The Department does not make field inspectors available to the press for interviews, as a rule.  An exception will not be made in this case.”

Multiple requests for an interview with Governor Jerry Brown went unanswered, including a hard-copy request mailed in an envelope to his office in Sacramento, as is the policy of his office. For the past two weeks, Governor Brown’s phone number responds with an answering machine stating that nobody can take a call and to try again later.

After more than a month of requesting an interview with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, his Communications Director and Senior Advisor, Rhys Williams, emailed back, “At this time, we’re unable to accommodate your request.”

* I submitted many different versions of this article to Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, The Orange County Register, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, National Public Radio stations 89.3 KPCC and 89.9 KCRW, as well as to local and national television news stations and many other news outlets. None of them decided to publish the article, so I am publishing it here because the information in this article is in the public interest.

Justin Bass is a freelance reporter and environmental advocate living in Los Angeles. He has a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University and previously reported on the financial markets in New York. He has worked for both SolarCity and Tesla Motors.

For lagniappe…

Head of California agency accused of favoring oil industry quits

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-head-of-oil-regulating-agency-quits-20150605-story.html

“Get more out of your solar power system by using water as a battery”

https://theconversation.com/get-more-out-of-your-solar-power-system-by-using-water-as-a-battery-37807

Fande = Fact & Evidence; Cande = Conjecture & Exaggeration

Bring your Fande, leave your Cande!

It’s time to break up the big banks

February 8, 2013 Leave a comment

[Now that the banks are healthy again] “let’s break these suckers up…so we can actually have justice for all, including bankers.” Go to minute 1:00 of the Daily Show interview to hear Neil Barofsky speak the words inside quotation marks.

[* My idea in brackets]

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-february-7-2013/exclusive—neil-barofsky-extended-interview-pt–2

The $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailed out Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and on and on. President George W. Bush and ex-Goldman Sachs CEO turned U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, said TARP would be used to buy up bad mortgages and help underwater homeowners in order to clear the “toxic assets” from the real estate industry and free up consumer credit again. Nope, didn’t happen that way. That’s why you always have to remember: Republicans and Conservatives will lie, cheat and steal.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/business/economy/02fed.html

EXCERPT:

“At home, from March 2008 to May 2009, the Fed extended a cumulative total of nearly $9 trillion in short-term loans to 18 financial institutions under a credit program….

Even bedrock corporations like Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, General Electric, McDonald’s, Toyota and Verizon relied on a Fed program that supported the market for commercial paper….

So did the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund, and several insurers and university endowments.”

Read more:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-28/secret-fed-loans-undisclosed-to-congress-gave-banks-13-billion-in-income.html

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/national/200904_CREDITCRISIS/recipients.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/oct/15/goldman-sachs-record-bonus-pot

Picture source: http://www.amazon.com/Bailout-ebook/dp/B00818J57W

Bailout

Open Letter to President Obama

February 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Mr. President,

No Mary Jo White.

Your Fellow American,

Justin Bass

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Read more:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/new-sec-chief-mary-jo-white-thinks-the-government-should-bring-cases-to-a-point-20130130

http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2013/01/30/mary-jo-white-sec-obama/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2013/01/send-mary-jo-white-to-justice-not-the-sec.html

Everything Under the Sun by Justin Bass

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Glenn Hubbard should resign as Dean of Columbia Business School

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

“During a stint as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2003, Mr. Hubbard was known as the principal architect of the Bush tax cuts.”

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/business/glenn-hubbard-is-romneys-go-to-economist.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Bush Tax Cuts were a disaster for our country. We lost more than $1 Trillion in revenue due to the Bush Tax Cuts. We could have used that money for our schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, and on and on. The Bush Tax Cuts mainly benefited the SuperWealthy, while the Average American’s wealth decreased during the Bush presidency. The architect of the Bush Tax Cuts – Glenn Hubbard – should not be teaching economics or supervising any business school as its dean. Worse yet, Glenn Hubbard advocates doubling down on “Trickle-down.” Glenn Hubbard wants more tax cuts that mainly benefit the SuperWealthy. We tried “Trickle-down” once, during Reagan’s term, twice, during George W. Bush’s term, and that’s it! No more! You can’t pull the wool over my eyes three times. Glenn Hubbard should resign as Dean of Columbia Business School. If he does not, the study of economics in America is a shameless exploitation of the majority of Americans for the benefit of the top 1-2% income earners. Glenn Hubbard helped cause the dire deficits we face as a country. He should be ashamed. But instead he is Dean of Columbia Business School and adviser to Mitt Romney – a man who is the epitome of the self-serving, tax-evading, lying, cheating, stealing, ship U.S. jobs to China and make millions of dollars of profit by ruining productive workers’ lives SuperRich.

You can call Glenn Hubbard “The Master of Disaster.” He did it with the Bush Tax Cuts in 2001 and 2003, and Glenn “The Master of Disaster” Hubbard wants to do it again with Romney. Don’t let him.

Vote for Barack Obama and the Democrats across the board in 2012, because President Obama and the Democrats work to benefit the majority of Americans.

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End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman

August 6, 2012 Leave a comment

EXCERPT from End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman, pages 64-66; W.W. Norton & Company 2012:

 

“The Big Lie

 

I hear your complaints. Some of them are totally unfounded. It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.

But they were the ones who pushed Fannie and Freddie to make a bunch of loans that were imprudent, if you will. They were the ones that pushed the banks because it’s one target, it’s easy to blame them and Congress certainly isn’t going to blame themselves. At the same time, Congress is trying to pressure banks to loosen their lending standards to make more loans. This is exactly the same speech they criticized them for.

–Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, on the Occupy Wall Street protests

The story I have just told about complacency and deregulation is, in fact, what happened in the run-up to the crisis. But you may have heard a different story—the one told by Michael Bloomberg in the quotation above. According to this story, debt growth was caused by liberal do-gooders and government agencies, which forced banks to lend to minority homebuyers and subsidized dubious mortgages. This alternative story, which says that it’s all the government’s fault, is dogma on the right. From the point of view of most, indeed virtually all, Republicans, it’s an unquestioned truth.

It isn’t true, of course. The fund manager and blogger Barry Ritholtz, who isn’t especially political but has a keen eye for flimflam, calls it the Big Lie of the financial crisis.

How do we know that the Big Lie is, in fact, not true? There are two main kinds of evidence.

First, any explanation that blames the U.S. Congress, with its supposed desire to see low-income families own homes, for the explosion of credit must confront the awkward fact that the credit boom and the housing bubble were very widespread, including many markets and assets that had nothing to do with low-income borrowers. There were housing bubbles and credit booms in Europe; there was a price surge, followed by defaults and losses after the bubble popped, in commercial real estate; within the United States, the biggest booms and busts weren’t in inner-city areas but rather in suburbs and exurbs.

Second, the great bulk of risky lending was undertaken by private lenders—and loosely regulated private lenders, at that. In particular, subprime loans—mortgage loans to borrowers who didn’t qualify according to normal prudential standards—were overwhelmingly made by private firms that were neither covered by the Community Reinvestment Act, which was supposed to encourage loans to members of minority groups, nor supervised by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored agencies charged with encouraging home lending. In fact, during most of the housing bubble Fannie and Freddie were rapidly losing market share, because private lenders would take on borrowers the government-sponsored agencies wouldn’t. Freddie Mac did start buying subprime mortgages from loan originators late in the game, but it was clearly a follower, not a leader.

In an attempt to refute this latter point, analysts at right-wing think tanks—notably Edward Pinto at the American Enterprise Institute—have produced data showing Fannie and Freddie underwriting a lot of ‘subprime and other high risk’ mortgages, lumping loans to borrowers without stellar credit scores in with loans to borrowers who failed strict lending criteria in other ways. This leads readers who don’t know better to think that Fannie and Freddie were actually deeply involved in promoting subprime lending. But they weren’t, and the ‘other high risk’ stuff turns out, on examination, to have been not especially high-risk, with default rates far below those on subprime loans.

I could go on, but you get the point. The attempt to blame government for the financial crisis falls apart in the face of even a cursory look at the facts, and the attempts to get around those facts smack of deliberate deception. This raises a question: why do conservatives want so badly to believe, and to get other people to believe, that the government did it?

The immediate answer is obvious: to believe anything else would be to admit that your political movement has been on the wrong track for decades. Modern conservatism is dedicated to the proposition that unfettered markets and the unrestricted pursuit of profit and personal gain are the keys to prosperity—and that the much-expanded role of government that emerged from the Great Depression did nothing but harm. Yet what we actually see is a story in which conservatives gained power, set about dismantling many of those Depression-era protections—and the economy plunged into a second depression, not as bad as the first, but bad enough. Conservatives badly need to explain this awkward history away, to tell a story that makes government, not lack of government, the villain.

But this in a way only pushes the question back a step. How did conservative ideology, the belief that government is always the problem, never the solution, come to have such a firm grip on our political discourse? That’s a slightly harder question to answer than you might think.”

________________________________________________________________________________

* I highly recommend the book by Paul Krugman, “Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.”

picture source: http://www.amazon.com/End-This-Depression-Paul-Krugman/dp/0393088774

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For lagniappe:

Minute 9:23…

Read more:

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”–Shakespeare, The Tempest

http://www.amazon.com/All-Devils-Are-Here-Financial/dp/1591843634