By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Anne Niven recognized the pattern. She'd been in the magazine business too long not to see it. The unanswered phone calls and e-mails. The frequent staff turnover. The promised checks that didn't arrive.
Throughout last fall, Niven fielded story after story from the tiny office in which she and her husband publish pagan magazines like SageWoman and newWitch.
It seemed to Niven that another newsstand distributor was about to go under, probably taking several magazines down with it. But this wasn't just any struggling distributor: Indy Press Newsstand Services was a unit of the Independent Press Association, a San Francisco nonprofit whose members include hundreds of indie publications nationwide, from the 240,000-circulation political magazine Mother Jones, housed in an enormous Financial District office, to the tiny car-culture magazine Garage, which publisher Dan Stoner until recently ran out of his Sunnyside kitchen. The IPA was supposed to be the champion of independent magazines large and small, and its IPNS division was designed to shield clients from just this sort of financial crisis. The distributor was simply supposed to get magazines into stores and pay publishers a portion of the revenues.
For years, Niven, who works in Point Arena on the Mendocino Coast, had coached publishers of start-up magazines through similar rough periods, and she hoped the IPA would come clean with its member-clients, unlike the for-profit distributors that had gone belly-up in the past. Yet IPA executives became even more guarded with information as the months wore on, compelling magazine owners to sign nondisclosure agreements, making secret payments to quiet down one frustrated publisher, and asking two board members who raised tough questions to resign. Not until January did IPA executives come clean about the extent of the damage: IPNS owed dozens of publishers a total of more than $500,000, a huge sum in an industry where even $10,000 in unpaid debt can put a small publication out of business. The long list of creditors includes Mother Jones and Garage, along with prominent Bay Area indie publications such as the SOMA lesbian magazine Curve, the Sunset vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews, and the Oakland feminist magazine Bitch.
IPA executives, directors, staffers, and members disagree about just how Indy Press Newsstand Services went from a noble idea in 2000 to a financial disaster five years later. Yet the crisis drove several independent publications close to bankruptcy, and the way IPA management handled the situation has shaken members' faith in the institution they once saw as their greatest advocate. Even now, as IPNS is offering a new contract that promises to pay off all debts, its clients aren't sure whether they trust the organization enough to sign on the dotted line.
"Here you have an organization made up of independent publishers, which turns into an organization that doesn't want to hear from members and tries to shut down dissent," Niven says. "The irony here, you could cut with a chainsaw."
Oddly enough, it was a distributor meltdown that transformed the IPA from a minor advocacy group into a powerful independent media organization.
The company grew out of a lunch meeting at the 1996 Media and Democracy Congress in San Francisco, at which left-leaning magazines decried a crisis in resources for progressive publications and formed the IPA to support each other. John Anner, then editor of Oakland's Third Force (now called ColorLines), and Beth Schulman, then associate publisher of Chicago's In These Times, became its first co-executive directors.
When the national distributor Fine Prints went bankrupt in 1997, the IPA hired a lawyer to consolidate tens of thousands of dollars in small publications' claims. Though the group failed to collect any money in a year-long court battle, it had gained dozens of members.
From the beginning, the IPA was a community-oriented advocate for small publishers, from its peer-to-peer e-mail list to its technical manuals that taught publications how to work with the post office. The charismatic Anner, executive director for seven years, was revered by the staff, and raised millions from foundations during the economic boom of the late 1990s.
Shortly after Schulman left in 1999, Ellen Sugarman, founder of BigTop Newsstand Services in San Francisco, confided to Anner that she was about to sell her company. BigTop distributed several IPA publications, and Sugarman and her staff had helped Anner understand the vagaries of distribution, a process so complex that many working in the industry don't even understand its particulars.
Here's how it works: Few publications go directly from the printer to the newsstand. Instead, everything goes through at least one distributor, a logistical way station between thousands of publishers and thousands of stores. Some distributors deal with large chains like Borders; others focus on independent bookstores. There are also national distributors (like BigTop) that negotiate with smaller distributors on behalf of individual publications.
In magazine distribution, money flows backward from the person who buys the magazine to the store to the distributor to the publisher in his garage. First, the publisher and distributor agree on how much the distributor will pay for each issue, and the distributor negotiates a price with stores. The publisher sends copies of the magazine to the distributor (along with a bill), and the distributor ships them to newsstands. Barely half will be bought; those that aren't are tossed out. Months later, the distributor tells the publisher how many copies didn't sell, chipping away at the publisher's bill. At each stage, someone takes a cut. The way the system is set up, magazines don't expect to see money from newsstand sales until long after an issue comes out.
Given the challenges, Anner thought that if the IPA became a national distributor, it could solve two of the biggest problems its members faced getting titles into stores and collecting money from sales. He convinced the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to fund the acquisition of BigTop's assets (later renamed Indy Press Newsstand Services).
By the time Anner left the company in 2003, BigTop titles were generating more than $4 million in gross revenue, although only a small percentage went to the IPA, because publishers, distributors, and stores all took a cut. Staff member Jeremy Smith took over as interim executive director for several months, until the IPA hired Richard Landry, whose for-profit management experience at PC Worldmagazine and HyperMedia Communications seemed like an asset to the board. Two years later, Landry discovered that the IPA was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to its own members.
What happened in between is the subject of a debate that may never be resolved, but the results soon became apparent.
Some nights on the way to bed, Dan Stoner would step over boxes of magazines, worried that his quarterly publication, Garage, was about to fold. The checks from Indy Press Newsstand Services had stopped arriving months before. By his own calculation, Stoner was owed only a few thousand dollars, but that meant the difference between putting out another issue and having to shut down.
Stoner says IPNS had promised that a check would arrive in a week, then two weeks, then a month, but none showed up. "You're doing this from your kitchen table," Stoner remembers. "If that check doesn't come in, maybe [you don't] eat that week."
He called the IPA, begging for the money owed to Garage. "I'm dying here," Stoner told one IPNS staffer. "If you can't pay me this money, I'm deader than anything."
As Stoner recalls, the staffer said, "We understand," then asked Stoner when he would be shipping the next issue of Garage.
"Are you listening to me?" he responded. "I can't do anything! I held up my end of the agreement, but you're not paying me."
At the height of his frustration, Stoner posted a message about his problems to the IPA e-mail list, on which members talk shop about indie publishing. To his surprise, publisher after publisher each thinking he'd been the only one in trouble replied with similar stories. Many were owed thousands of dollars, more than a year overdue. They had trouble reading the account statements IPNS was sending them (if it was sending them at all). When they phoned to complain, account executives referred their questions to other staffers or managers, who often didn't return the calls.
"Our accounting systems were largely manual, and that meant that responding to specific requests or complaints took a lot longer than anyone would like," Landry explains. "We couldn't keep up with the volume of requests, and we were as unhappy about this as were our publishers."
The uncertainty over when and if the IPA would pay up changed the way publishers, already living on shoestring budgets, ran their businesses. Some had to publish less frequently or decrease print runs to cut costs. "We depend on newsstand revenue for things like payroll," says Frances Stevens, founder and publisher of Curve. "It's been hard not to cut staff."
Magazines struggled to pay off their own creditors, too. Bitchused a credit card to cover a $5,000 bill from the printer just to keep the presses running.
Many of the publications that came closest to going under were the small, niche magazines the IPA was founded to help. "A magazine like Punk Planethas a small circulation, but within our community we're a vital voice," says Dan Sinker, editor and publisher of the Chicago bimonthly. "That's true for every publication distributed by the IPA. In every community they represent, that publication is thepublication. All of these voices have been threatened."
Punk Planetremained in print only after Sinker appealed directly to his readers, asking them to send in donations to keep it alive, and the Chicago Reader reported on Sinker's troubles.
Amid the ruckus, in October 2005, IPNS General Manager Maggie Wells resigned "to pursue other opportunities," and the IPA brought on marketing and circulation consultant Thea Selby to replace her as interim director. Stoner called Selby often, and he says she once asked what it would take to stop the fierce missives he'd been posting to the list.
Stoner said he wanted out of his IPNS contract and for the IPA to pay what it owed him.
Selby agreed, but asked him to keep the deal confidential. "If you talk about this with other members," Stoner recalls her saying, "there's going to be a run on the bank. We can't have that." (Selby says that Garage, a car magazine, wasn't a "good fit" for the IPA's mission of fostering an "open and democratic society.")
Stoner had a choice: stick to his principles and refuse to censor himself, or keep his own magazine from collapsing. "The printer and other people I owed money to expected me to take care of myself. ... No one else would pay my bills for me. I thought I'd better make this deal with the devil." He said yes, and soon picked up a check for several thousand dollars at the IPA office.
"Isn't it funny," he asked himself, "how the voice of the independent press has gotten me into a situation where I'm biting my tongue?"
The official explanation for the IPA's money troubles seems simple: The distribution business was doomed from the start, and poor accounting systems prevented IPA executives from discovering the truth until it was too late. Anner had promised that BigTop would have the leverage to collect payments quickly for clients, but Landry says that with just 70 clients, IPNS is too small to pressure large chains into paying up on time. (Large distributors have hundreds of clients.) Meanwhile, board Treasurer Cheryl Woodard says that a suitable IPNS accounting system might have cost as much as $500,000, a significant chunk of the IPA's entire 2004 expense budget of $2.8 million.
The IPA's founders admit they lacked financial know-how; in fact, at one point Anner asked the board to send him to business school. "There was a general concern about the finances and an inability to completely understand what was happening with the finances," says Schulman, who rejoined the IPA as a board member from 2000 until 2005. "We all suspected integrating BigTop would involve a level of financial management and bookkeeping none of us was well prepared for."
Landry joined the IPA about a year after Anner fired its chief financial officer, and the books were still disorganized, according to Daniel Leibsohn, IPA board treasurer from 2002 until 2005.
Other IPA funds obscured the fact that BigTop already had debts, according to current and former employees.
Sugarman BigTop's founder as well as Anner and early IPA staffers provide an alternate version of the unit's troubles. Sugarman says the accounting and computer systems IPNS inherited from BigTop kept the business balanced while she was in charge.
"We were never a day late. If we were, we would've closed our doors," she says. "Even if I couldn't figure out how to pay the phone bill or buy stamps, I thought we should still pay publishers."
Anner says that when he left the IPA, he was unconcerned about BigTop, even though it was a far more complex business, having expanded its distribution reach to large booksellers like Barnes & Noble.
"We had staff in place who had long-term experience both at BigTop and IPA," he says. "I may well have put the seeds of destruction in place, but when I left, everything was more or less fine."
Anner pleads ignorance of events after 2003, but several former staff and board members place some blame for the problems with Landry and the current board.
During the interim period between Anner and Landry, foundations didn't make any large grants to the IPA, a situation common during periods of change in a nonprofit's leadership. When Landry took over, though, he raised far less money than Anner had. The IPA received just $475,000 in 2004 grants, during Landry's first full year, versus $1.3 million in 2002, Anner's last full year, according to the organization's IRS filings. Landry says that that data doesn't reflect "public support throughout the year," but the audited financial statements he cites still show a 21.5 percent decline in grant income and contributions during the same period. (The IPA has not yet made its audited 2005 finances public.)
"Richard [Landry] doesn't like to fundraise," says former board Treasurer Leibsohn. "So that fell off which is fine; we knew fundraising wasn't his strength. But you need to come up with a business model that's going to replace or fill in for whatever your weakness is, so it doesn't fall off the planet."
Although Landry was hired in part to whip the IPA's accounting practices into shape, several former employees say he was unable to repair its financials.
"Frankly, I couldn't get viable financial reports out of the [San Francisco] office," says Abby Scher, former director of IPA in New York. "That was really troublesome."
Until last fall, Landry was also unsuccessful in ending the confusing accounting practices of the previous years, including paying magazines their BigTop income out of non-BigTop funds.
"Instead of not paying magazines right away, they were loaning to magazines upfront without telling us," says Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, a senior editor at the Berkeley spiritual/political magazine Tikkun and IPA consultant from mid-2004 until late 2005. "They started a pyramid scheme, pulling some of the money coming in to pay people they owed. They got more and more behind and eventually started owing lots of magazines so much money that the whole thing started collapsing."
IPA had created a loan fund to help publishers with direct-mail campaigns, but in 2004 the company began offering "emergency" loans from the fund. Several publications owed money by BigTop, including Bitch, got loans to cover that debt, according to interim Executive Director Smith, who was in charge of the loan fund from 2000 through 2005.
Although Landry and board member Richard Lawton contend that IPNS is too small to pressure big distributors into paying up, some independent publishers including Anne Niven of SageWoman do survive without a national distributor like IPA. BigTop founder Sugarman says the failures of IPNS aren't structural; they're due to a shortage of industry knowledge. "I believe Richard Landry doesn't understand newsstand distribution," Sugarman says. "I believe that wholeheartedly."
Nevertheless, many who've worked with Landry see him as a man who climbed aboard as captain of a sinking ship in the middle of a storm no one saw gathering.
"I don't think anybody on staff, including Richard [Landry], understood fully until late last year how bad the problem had gotten," IPA co-founder and former board member Schulman says. "I don't think anybody was trying to create a disaster. We tried to do the right thing."
The biggest impediment to finding out what really happened, though, is that an organization dedicated to informing the public can't agree on its own story.
IPA's employees and directors once mirrored its membership what Schulman calls "a feisty group of liberal independents." Under Landry's leadership, that changed.
He added board members like Woodard, co-founder of PC World(where Landry had once worked) and other technology business publications, and Lawton, senior vice president of Comag Marketing Group, a sales and marketing company jointly owned by Hearst and Conde Nast. Like Landry, they were vocal supporters of independent media, but worked as managers in for-profit corporate environments.
Landry brought to the IPA a new kind of professionalism, adding job titles and middle managers. He also added a concept previously foreign to the organization: proprietary information.
"[Landry created] a real culture of secrecy," says Tikkun's Kaiser. "People are only given information on a need-to-know basis. Even program directors didn't know what the other [program directors were] doing."
In the pre-Landry days, say Smith and other former employees, if a publisher called the IPA with a problem, the phone call would be returned within 24 hours. Throughout a cash-flow crisis in early 2003, for example, no members quit the IPA. In fall 2005, however, account executives even those who'd built up years-long relationships with clients were instructed to refer debt-related calls to a manager. The stated goal was to ensure that clients received accurate information, but IPA members were skeptical.
"Richard [Landry] has never been upfront enough with the members," says Lisa Jervis, Bitchfounder and former IPA board member. "It's not out of some nefarious place. He's not used to a nonprofit structure. He comes from the for-profit business world, where hoarding information is OK in a lot of ways, preferred."
Longtime IPA staff members clashed with the new culture. After four years at BigTop, account executive Lauren Cooper left over differences with IPA management in spring 2005. "If I wanted a corporate job," Cooper says, "I would've worked for a corporation."
Landry says that soon after he joined the IPA in 2003, he knew that "BigTop had a working capital requirement bigger than anyone in the organization understood at the time, including people on the board." Which is to say, in order to deal with the long payment cycles of the distribution business, BigTop needed a lot of cash. At the time, that money came from other IPA funds, instead of from BigTop revenues. It took Landry 18 months to figure out "whether or not the IPA could sustain that cash-flow requirement on its own, or whether it needed to get outside sources of capital." Several former board members and staffers say that during that time, if Landry thought the problem was severe, he didn't tell them. Older BigTop clients like Bitch, and new IPNS clients like Punk Planet(which signed a contract in March 2005), were told nothing.
"Nobody saw it coming or stopped it soon enough," board Treasurer Woodard says. "What the IPA should've done two years ago was stop taking on new clients and only deal with big ones selling lots of copies, but that wouldn't have been popular, either."
Last summer, information trickled out in private conversations between the IPA and members. "The IPA kept saying: 'Don't worry, don't worry,' or telling each magazine individually, 'We have it all under control; it's just you,'" says Kaiser.
The IPA's debt to Bitch reached nearly six figures while then-publisher Jervis was a member of the IPA board. She considered resigning, but stayed on, hoping to advocate for smaller publications in even worse shape. Jervis, Leibsohn, and Schulman say they had asked for financial details about items including the BigTop budget, but were usually outvoted by other directors or denied access to data by Landry. The current board leadership calls this a difference of opinion a small cadre of board members wanted greater financial detail, they say, but the majority wanted only analysis by IPA staff. "We're board members. We have access to whatever we want," says chair Lucia Hwang. "I don't know what people are so upset about."
When Jervis sent an e-mail critical of Landry and the board to another publisher in January, she accidentally cc'ed the entire list. In it, she said she felt restricted from raw, public honesty by her "stupid board involvement" and called Landry "so defensive." After reading the e-mail, Hwang called Jervis, asking her to change her attitude or, Jervis says, resign. (Hwang says she did phone Jervis, but didn't specifically ask her to step down.) Jervis quit.
"One way to deal with squeaky board members is to ask them to leave," says Leibsohn, who has sat on dozens of nonprofit boards. "Another way is to deal with questions they raise."
Leibsohn says he was "kicked off the board because I asked questions." Shortly before an August executive board meeting, Woodard e-mailed Leibsohn to say she was introducing a motion asking him to relinquish his seat. "[Landry] needs support from us," one line read. "He does not feel that you are supportive."
"I was very supportive," Leibsohn says, "but I also need information. You can't make decisions like that when you don't have information." He considered taking the battle to members, but resigned instead. "I was humiliated, frankly. I ate it because I didn't want to fracture the organization anymore."
Woodard describes the situation as a "personnel issue" Leibsohn was disruptive in meetings, wasting precious board time on trivial issues. "He's a tough guy to work with, and we tolerated him as long as we could," she says. "It was not Richard [Landry] getting someone off the board who asked important questions. The whole board was frustrated."
Last October, just before an emergency board phone call, Landry sent an e-mail to clients outlining IPNS' difficulties, then pledged to keep IPA members updated every two weeks. The updates were imprecise and often delayed. In a typical e-mail, sent just before Christmas 2005, Landry promised further information to members, some of whom were near bankruptcy, by mid-January. "By that point," he wrote, "we believe that things will be a lot clearer. However, until then, we won't know much more than we know now." At the time, the IPA hadn't yet disclosed important facts such as the total amount owed to publishers.
This vagueness only added fuel to the conspiratorial fire. "The [IPA offices] had moved from the Mission to the Financial District, and people started making guesses: 'Why'd they move downtown?' 'While we haven't gotten paid, how much is Richard Landry making?'" says Garage magazine's Stoner. "While we were dunking our torches in lighter fluid and making a run on Frankenstein's castle, the IPA kept saying, 'We're going to figure things out.'... We said, 'Folks, look, if you just tell us what's going on, we can replace conjectures with facts.'"
At the IPA convention in January 2006, at the Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel near Union Square, Landry, Hwang, and Selby stood before dozens of IPNS clients, for the first time answering questions publicly about the financial problems. According to the convention program, the panel's title was "Indy Press Newsstand Update" because two weeks before, Kaiser, who created the event's curriculum, had convinced Landry and membership director Mike Tekulsky to change it from "Understanding Newsstand Reports," the original title. "Until the end, they thought they'd be able to get people to not talk about the problem," says Kaiser.
"I felt like a deer caught in headlights when the whole crisis emerged so quickly," Landry told them. "I hope we're going to be able over the next few months not only to begin the process of rebuilding our trust with you, but use this entire experience as a lesson about what we need to do going forward."
Some publishers appreciated Landry's sincerity; others called it too little too late. Several IPNS clients soon ended their distribution contracts after hush-hush negotiations with the IPA. These include three of those owed the most money: Tikkun, Bitch, and Mother Jones, whose publisher, Jay Harris, is on the board of the IPA and did not return several e-mails or phone calls. Management at Tikkun declined to comment for this story; according to IPA members and former employees, they had signed a nondisclosure agreement, something Landry does not deny.
Others owed money by IPNS declined to speak about it, fearing that public criticism might decrease their chances of prompt payment. Few publications have considered hiring lawyers. "To a lot of people," Anne Niven says, "the idea of taking IPA to court is like suing Santa or God. It's unthinkable."
In April, several publishers appealed to Niven for advice in dealing with IPNS. She posted to the e-mail list a series of rabble-rousing questions about IPNS, including "Has anyone got up on their hind legs and called for the ouster of the board of directors and top management that led the IPA down this road to hell in a handcart?" Twenty-four hours after the post went up, Hwang sent Niven an e-mail "on behalf of the IPA board and staff" removing her from the e-mail list for this and other "speculative and alarmist" postings. Niven's retribution was to forward Hwang's e-mail to every IPA member she knew. By the time Hwang rescinded the removal, members had founded an alternative e-mail list, which currently attracts more traffic than the official one.
Landry admits that he should've addressed IPNS' problems earlier, but he doesn't see a problem with transparency. "I don't think there's an issue of disclosure or nondisclosure. A number of people wanted a level of information that would've violated our own business ethics in disclosing information that is proprietary to individual clients," he says. "I appreciate the frustration, but we gave the kind of information we felt we could do ethically and morally. ... We're as transparent as every nonprofit is required to be our books are audited, our tax forms are filed as required."
The IPA filed its 2004 taxes in November 2005 (extensions are common among nonprofits). It disclosed an annual deficit of roughly $476,000, versus about $78,000 during Anner's final full year. Program revenue increased under Landry, but not nearly enough to cover the drop in fundraising and higher expenses, including Landry's salary of $119,900 about 40 percent more than Anner had made, and twice the pay of most other IPA managers.
Several publishers believe Landry still doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation. "The explanation we've gotten has boiled down to, 'It's a bad business plan that was set up to fail,'" says Curve's Stevens. "The IPA had very good ideals and set BigTop up to help independent publishers do what we do. But if you put us out of business in the process, then it's more than just, 'It was a bad business decision.'"
This spring, the IPA offered a deal to IPNS clients: Renew your contract for three years, and we'll pay off our debt within weeks. For those that don't renew, Landry has no specifics. He has said he's committed to making all the publishers "whole," but he's made no guarantees about when the IPA will pay up.
The IPA has formed a strategic partnership with Disticor Magazine Distributor Services of Ontario, Canada. Interested publishers sign a three-way contract the IPA handles the marketing, Disticor handles distribution and accounting. But the agreement with Disticor comes at the 11th hour: Landry had spent the previous year unsuccessfully applying for loans to IPNS from social finance organizations like Rudolph Steiner Foundation, an IPA donor. RSF and others turned him down the distributor's risk profile was too high.
Meanwhile, IPNS clients are concerned about committing to three more years with a financially struggling organization, and those who've left are worrying whether they'll ever be paid.
"At this point, many of us would like to see their books," says Tikkun's Kaiser. "It's very hard to trust what they're saying and how much money we're going to get paid. ... The real issue is we don't understand if they have the money to pay us or not."
Landry says the Disticor partnership, which is "not a loan," would give the IPA "financial reserves to pay publishers what they're owed." Yet he's keeping the deal's terms confidential, and Disticor did not return calls for comment.
For smaller publications, especially, many questions are left unanswered. If the deal is so good, why did Mother Jones publisher and IPA executive board member Jay Harris turn it down? If Disticor is only covering the debts of publication that stick with IPNS, will the IPA collect enough overdue distributor money to pay off small magazines that turn down the deal and large ones like Bitchand Tikkun that have already left? If Disticor is taking the standard 10 percent national distributor cut, where will IPNS find revenue to sustain its finances?
Member publications, desperate for cash, have two options: sign with Disticor and hope it will pay as promised, or go elsewhere and hope that the IPA will act differently than it has for more than a year.
"It sucks," Punk Planet's Sinker says. "We don't trust them, and we don't know Disticor at all. Now all of a sudden we're in a position where we've got to sign a contract, because we need that money."
Many publishers have decided that a deal backed by Disticor is better than no deal at all. "I don't have any problem working with Disticor," says Jen Angel of Clamor, based in Toledo, Ohio. "If I want to get my magazine out there, I have to go with some big, gross corporation. It's just the way it is."
After speaking to nearly 20 IPA publishers and 10 former staffers, it was apparent that even the angriest still support the company's mission.
Several remain conflicted about the deal. VegNews, for example, is owed almost $20,000 and is still considering whether to sign with Disticor.
Even now, the IPA seems to be confused about the numbers. "In the last couple days, they sent me a contract that included a monetary figure many thousands less than we thought we were owed," Sinker said in late May. "I asked how they were arriving at that figure then they sent us one for $4,000 higher with no explanation." SF Weeklywas able to confirm only one publication as having received payment in full after signing with Disticor, though most have only recently signed the contracts.
Sinker and his team are weighing their options. "We'll see where it goes," he says. "We're starting at zero. After 12 years in publishing, we're learning that the only people we can trust are ourselves again."