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The Cost of Revealing LAUSD’s Bloated Bureaucracy

September 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

lausd-headquarters-1-edit.jpg

With all the drama yesterday around the Wall Street bailout (or lack thereof), I didn’t post this story by the Daily News’ Beth Barrett about LAUSD’s 20 percent increase in its number of administrators between 2001 and 2007.

It’s a relevant piece of journalism, but it contains a dicey editorial decision that has some people justifiably angry. However, we’ll get to all that in a minute. First here are some clips from the story:

On the edge of downtown Los Angeles, overlooking the 110 Freeway, stands a 29-story office building that boasts many of the trappings of a modern corporate headquarters: a cafeteria with flat-screen TVs, a state-of-the-art media production center, an on-site dry-cleaning service.

The tower is the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District - home to more than 3,400 employees. They are the core of a massive bureaucracy that has surged in recent years even as the number of students and teachers has dropped.

[SNIP]

Managing almost 900 schools and more than 650,000 students is a huge task. But a Daily News review of salaries and staffing shows LAUSD’s bureaucracy ballooned by nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007. Over the same period, 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent.

In addition to the article that outlines the broad strokes of the LAUSD administrative over-bloat, Barrett and the Daily News also contend that administrators’ salaries are high, and thus have provided a searchable database, so that we-the-readers may look for ourselves.

The database is, to say the least, a controversial move, as was the DWP salary database that the DN published earlier.

The teachers union (UTLA) is extremely upset at the teacher salary postings. .

Although I favored the DWP database at the time, as it revealed so much excess, I too find I am made very queasy by the DN’s choice to put the names and salaries of school teachers online. It is legal? Yes. But is it right? I’m not so sure.

DN executive editor, Caroline Garcia, explains the paper’s thinking here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, LAUSD | 11 Comments »

Okay, What Now?

September 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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These are scary days.

Nobody liked the bailout bill. But a lot believed it was better than nothing.

Yesterday and today’s market meltdowns would suggest they might have been right. Yet, at best the Wallstreet rescue package seemed like a case of damned if you do, lots more damned if you don’t.

Not pretty either way.

The fact that the democratic shot callers felt they had to settle for such a flawed plan in the first place, and that they did not take a few days longer in order to get a bill that their rank and file could more fully support, then tried to pass it prematurely without the requisite votes, showed a failure of will and of leadership.

Yet, it was far more troubling that so many Republicans voted against the bill for the most cynical of reasons—either out of ruinously childish partisanship or because they refused to be parted from some ideological “free market.” fantasy.

Whatever. It’s all blood-soaked water under the bridge now.

The question is, where do we go from here?

The New York Times editorial this morning has some broadstrokes of what fixes are needed to get this puppy passed a second time around.

Since last week, this page has urged Congress to take the time to get the bailout right. Over all, lawmakers have given too little consideration, in public at least, to alternatives to the Treasury’s plan to buy up the bad assets from various financial firms.

In the bill rejected on Monday, the unlimited powers that the Treasury Department had initially sought were curbed, and Congressional oversight was added. But judicial review of Treasury’s purchases was not adequately ensured. The courthouse door was not closed entirely; lawyers could still seek effective remedies for actions that violate the Constitution. But that’s a much higher hurdle than the already formidable barriers in place to discourage lawsuits against the government.

Homeowners were also given short shrift with provisions that mainly urged lenders and the Treasury to do more to help them. That’s unconscionable. The financial crisis is as much a problem for homeowners as for Wall Street investment bankers. Appeals to lenders’ better natures have not worked to bring lasting relief to homeowners. If they are still not working in the coming months, Congress will have to revisit the issue.

Taxpayer protections are also iffy, such as a requirement that in five years, the president must give Congress a plan for recouping any losses from financial firms. What will happen then is anyone’s guess. Lawmakers could decide at that point that taxpayers are the only pit bottomless enough to absorb those losses.

Today’s LA Times editorial is less specific but, in its general way, says the same thing.

Congress may take up a very similar bailout proposal later this week. In the meantime, Bush and top administration officials need to speak more often and more persuasively about the nature of the problem. They need to distance themselves from Paulson’s initial request for unfettered authority and embrace the oversight Congress demanded. Meanwhile, lawmakers need to stop trying to turn the bailout plan into a referendum on the administration’s policies, presidential candidates or anything other than the specifics of the proposal. Opponents can and should try to reduce its cost and increase market discipline. But they can’t pretend that it’s someone else’s problem to fix.

No. They can’t. Again, Congress needs to improve the bailout the best it can, and pass it.

Then let’s elect a president with some sense and begin to reform and rebuild. Please.

(NOTE: Only the chorus of this song really applies to the subject at hand. But, Tom Waits still feels like he’s right for this week’s soundtrack.)

Posted in Bailout, Economy | 2 Comments »

Yes, It’s Scary…But the NO Vote Was Probably Right. Here’s Why

September 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Defeating the bailout package was a BIG gamble.
But passing it was, I think, a bigger gamble. After reading conflicting opinions by economists and commentators long after I should have gotten to bed last night, I found that the prospect of what seemed to be an almost certain passage of the 110-page bailout plan…..filled me with dread.

So of the two possible rolls of the dice, I was secretly hoping for the one labeled: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD.

As everyone said, there was much improved about the extra 107 pages (over the original three pages offered by Paulson). But it wasn’t enough to justify the risk that no one really wanted to talk about.

Yes, after that not-so-lucky triple seven drop of the Dow, a part of my brain is shrieking: You idiot! Retirement account? What retirement account!!!

Still (my inner Paulson notwithstanding) David Corn’s post, written before the vote, reflects my view likely better than I can:

(Chapeau tip to commenter reg for flagging the Corn post.)

For my money, the $700 billion bailout plan is being rushed through Congress with too much haste. There’s been little debate of the plan’s basics and not much consideration of alternative approaches to the administration’s preferred choice: buying up the bad paper of Big Finance firms that screwed up royally. Yet few in Washington–including John McCain and Barack Obama–want to go out on a limb. Any politician who stands up to Wall Street and opposes this thing has to fear being blamed should the plan not go through and the financial meltdown worsen. In politics, there’s safety in numbers. So if everyone jumps aboard and this plan doesn’t work out, nobody stands to lose politically. It’s the safe political play: get on the train with everyone else.

But there are some legislators who are saying, slow down. House Republicans tried to put on the brakes last week. But their alternative–cut taxes–was a non sequitur. On the Democratic side, Representative Brad Sherman has pulled together a Skeptics Caucus. He drew 30 or so House Democrats to meetings on the weekend.

Then Corn goes on to post the entirety of what Sherman had to say about why he favored a NO vote. Sherman, by the way, is a mild-mannered California Congressman from the San Fernando Valley (with offices a few miles from me), whose mother always used to give out plastic hair combs at her balding son’s campaign events.

I’ve posted the whole thing below. It’s worth the read.

BIZARRE RANDOM NOTE: It’s been almost impossible to get on any Congressperson’s website today. At first I thought it was my WiFi, which has been acting up on me. It’s not. It’s the whole .GOV system. Evidently the natives are definitely restless. (That would be you, me and the rest of the ordinary folks across the country.)

Here’s Brad:

Million Dollar a Month Salaries
Tens of Billions to the Bank of China

The Troubling Secrets of the Bailout Bill

It is widely known that the Bailout Bill does not provide any source of revenue to pay for its enormous cost. It is equally well known that the Bailout Bill will not modify our bankruptcy laws in any way or provide any mechanism by which the terms of a mortgage can be changed without the consent of the owner of the mortgage. The purpose of this article is to outline other troubling provisions.

Stop the Panic. We do not have to pass a bad bill on Sunday. The last two sections of this article demonstrate that the sky will not fall if we don’t pass a bad bill Sunday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bailout, Economy | 2 Comments »

The House Kills the Bailout Package – Dow Plummets 777 – UPDATED

September 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Not even close: 207 to 228
Here’s the breakdown: 141 Democrats voting yes; 94 no; 66 Republicans yes; 132 no. One member not voting.

LA Times has live blogging of the sequence of events.

WSJ BLOG – DEAL JOURNAL: “Ahead of the effort, Wall Street was lobbying like there’s no tomorrow. (Which, considering the history of the past three weeks, there may not be.)” (Their opinion, not mine)

Here’s the roll call.

Those voting against are an unusual mix: In California, for instance, Barbara Lee, Lucille Royball-Allard, Grace Napolitano and Darrell Issa are among the NOs. Henry Waxman was a yes. Brad Sherman a no.

Irritatingly enough—according to the LA Times live blog, Republs are blaming Dems, Dems are blaming Repubs…..and partisanship has kicked into overdrive.

Republican John Boehner just told WaPo that there will be no more votes. Members are headed for the airport for recess. ” Boehner said he had no idea when there could be a new vote. This appears not to be true.

Okay, I admit I’m secretly relieved (and surprised) the thing has gone down in flames—at least until there are improvements. When the best thing that could be said about this plan is that “it’s better than it was”—-why is that a good reason to roll the dice with our future?

I turns out, as Brad Sherman just said on KPCC, the country is not as stupid as the Bush adminstration thinks.

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PREDICTION: This news will benefit Obama. Bigtime.

The Republicans killed this bill. But John McCain pushed all his chips to the middle of the table and said that his flight to Washington was the thing that helped make the deal. The fact that he could not persuade his own party is now a big problem for him, and no amount of blaming Obama can fix it.

Posted in Bailout, Economy | 14 Comments »

MONDAY MUST READS – 3 a.m. Bailouts and the Supremes

September 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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SO MANY MUST READS, SO LITTLE TIME….

The first, longest, most impenetrable and the most MUST READ is….


1. THE BAILOUT PLAN

Yes. I know. it’s over 100 pages long. But it has a name (the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008) and an acronym (EESA).

Actually the thing is littered with acronyms. For instance, our $700 billion now has its own chipper acronym: TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program).

(How over-caffeinated do you think the bailout negotiating committee had to be to have thought that one up?)

In any case… one can find much by skimming.

On p. 16, for example, we find there is, as promised, an oversight board to reign in Henry Paulson’s initial urge to name himself absolute monarch.

But, take a glance at who will be on that board.:

The Secretary of the Treasury, (AKA the selfsame guy who wanted to be King or Emperor or something involving a crown and complete and unfettered power)

Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke (who was totally down for the King/Emperor thing)

The Head of the Federal Housing Finance Board (That would be James Lockhart. He did a great job with Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, so certainly let’s include him)

The Chairman of the SEC (He’s the guy who McCain wanted to fire.)

And just to give the appearance that someone other than the usual suspects is involved…..The Secretary of HUD

(Why don’t I feel encouraged?)

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2. PAUL KRUGMAN & THE 3 A.M. CALL

In Paul Krugman’s Monday morning column (posted on the NY Times website on Sunday night) Krugman, who earlier called the bailout deal “cash for trash,” says this latest incarnation is worth passing (marginally, anyway) but says that it’s nothing close to a fix-it.

So which of the two candidates, Krugman wants to know, will we trust to take the 3 a.m. call when the next stage of the ongoing financial crisis hits? Here’s a clip:

I’m not being melodramatic. The bailout plan released yesterday is a lot better than the proposal Henry Paulson first put out — sufficiently so to be worth passing. But it’s not what you’d actually call a good plan, and it won’t end the crisis. The odds are that the next president will have to deal with some major financial emergencies.

So what do we know about the readiness of the two men most likely to end up taking that call? Well, Barack Obama seems well informed and sensible about matters economic and financial. John McCain, on the other hand, scares me.

About Mr. Obama: it’s a shame that he didn’t show more leadership in the debate over the bailout bill, choosing instead to leave the issue in the hands of Congressional Democrats, especially Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. But both Mr. Obama and the Congressional Democrats are surrounded by very knowledgeable, clear-headed advisers, with experienced crisis managers like Paul Volcker and Robert Rubin always close at hand.

Then there’s the frightening Mr. McCain — more frightening now than he was a few weeks ago.

Read the rest.

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3. THE SUPREMES MAKE FOREIGN POLICY

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has an excellent article (unlike the LA Times, which has no magazine anymore). It is by Harvard’s Noah Feldman, who asks us to evaluate the presidential candidates—not so much in terms of 3 a.m. phone calls—but in light of what kind of SCOTUS appointments they might make. (And he’s talking about way more than the fate of Roe v. Wade.)

According to Feldman, a few teensy-weensy things like our relationship with the rest of the world might hang in the balance.

Here’s one of his opening ‘graphs:

In the coming presidential election, every voter understands that there is a choice to be made between the foreign-policy visions of John McCain and Barack Obama. What is less obvious, but no less important, is that Supreme Court appointments have become a de facto part of American foreign policy. The court, like the State Department and the Pentagon, now makes decisions in cases that directly change and shape our relationship with the world. And as the justices decide these cases, they are doing as much as anyone to shape America’s fortunes in an age of global terror and economic turmoil.

For example, he says, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, the Bush administration was confident that the court would decide that Guantánamo prisoners had no legal rights.

….. the Bush administration seemed to believe it could treat Guantánamo as a law-free zone. Unlike Iraq, which the administration conceded was a war zone in which the Geneva Conventions applied, Guantánamo was initially considered legally off the grid. It is often said by liberal critics that Bush’s anti-terror policies ignored the Constitution and international law. But this is a misleading oversimplification. What the choice of Guantánamo demonstrates, rather, is the profoundly legalistic way in which those policies were designed. Using the law itself, the lawyers in the Bush administration set out to make Guantánamo into a legal vacuum.

The court’s decision in Boumediene repudiated that attempt..

The full article makes for fascinating and important reading.

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4. THE PERILS OF TRUTHINESS

One more. This one is from an Op Ed in today’s LA Times in which Gregory Rodriquez writes that conservatives are “playing a dangerous game in attacking the media for bias…”

He points in particular to the Republicans’ recent volleys lobbed at the New York Times when the Times reported the entirely true fact that McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, had made a pile of money heading up a group that advocated for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“…What irks me, and should concern us all, is not the everyday disregard for this or that particular truth but the very assault on the idea that there is such a thing as truth at all.

Read on.

Posted in Economy, Elections '08, international issues, Presidential race | 27 Comments »

Blood Lust

September 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
began the process needed to put wolves back on the endangered species list, reports the LA Times on Sunday.

Now remember, the gray wolves were taken off the list in March—despite warnings and law suits on the part of environmental groups. (Follow the links for previous posts on the wolf issue.)

So what happened? Just what many of us feared. In a bare six months so many wolves have been shot by hunters seemingly gone wild with wolf blood lust, that the Feds felt they had no choice but to step in.

It was a stunning reversal in what wildlife biologists had hailed as a success story. The species had flourished, its population growing by about 20% a year since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. This was proof the Endangered Species Act worked, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said when it delisted the wolf in March.

In July, federal District Judge Donald Molloy issued an injunction against the state wolf plans, after a challenge by environmental groups. He questioned whether indiscriminate killing would reduce wolf numbers back to crisis levels. He also said the hunt could isolate packs of wolves, reducing the species’ gene pool.

Some wildlife biologists say the damage is already done. Nearly all of the known wolves in Wyoming’s free-fire area were killed in little more than a month. Recent estimates show that the wolf population in the three states began to decline for the first time in more than a decade even before the hunt.

I’m not at all surprised by this news. Just sickened.

Look, I get the point of view of ranchers who’ve lost stock to wolves. (Although according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, coyotes, dogs, mountain lions and vultures kill more cattle than wolves. But, whatever.)

Yet why one is driven to hunt and kill a wolf for sport is beyond me. Especially in such numbers.

Especially like this:

[Rancher Merrill] Dana thinks he knows the details of the last wolf kill, on May 2. He believes the hunter was a young man who tracked a female for 70 miles on a snowmobile in and out of dense stands of trees.

“She was a loner who was plumb lost,” Dana said of the wolf. “All her mates were gone [killed]. The kid was going through sagebrush and fences and trees. He tore up an $8,000 snow machine.”

Yeah, that’s really manly. A real sportsman.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 1 Comment »

Rest In Peace, Paul. We Will Really, Really Miss You

September 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Thinking of Joanne Woodward today.

By the way, the LA Times Carina Chocano has a lovely piece about Newman titled, “Paul Newman Wielded His Beauty Like a Craftsman”

That he did.

Posted in American artists | 5 Comments »

You Just Don’t Understand

September 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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I realize I said I’d live blog the debate (and I will the next one, the V.P. debate) but, although I jotted down my usual rambling, minute-by-minute notes, I came to the conclusion that, the individual moments were not really the point.

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As it turned out, I listened to the debate twice —–first on the radio, NPR, while driving back from UC Irvine. Then when I got home, I watched it again on CNN.

The difference was fascinating—and crucial.

(And I’m not just talking about those mesmerizing lines waving at the bottom of the TV screen, which supposedly measured the responses of Republicans, Democrats and undecideds. All that was weirdly distracting—and not in a good way–like when you’re visiting a friend in the hospital, and your eyes repeatedly stray over to watch the heart monitor. But, whatever. The wavy lines too were beside the point.)

Listening to the debate on the radio, I judged that Obama clearly won the first half (but in a tepid kind of way). But in the last half, he seemed to take some blows. There was, for example, the whole thing about whether Obama would or would not meet with Ahmadinajad. And, he didn’t defend himself well on the earmarks issue, either. (Hint to Barack: Next time, hit back. Harder.)

But watching the debate was a significantly different experience. Adding in the visual of the faces and the body language changed a great deal.

Take for example, the night’s catch phrase: You just don’t understand.

It was evident that McCain’s Rovian handlers worked hard to give their candidate a snappy phrase that would work the same magic as Ronald Reagan’s famous there you go again.

McCain’s chosen version was—as we all saw: What you just don’t understand…..

Yet, while Reagan’s ploy in his debates with then-president Jimmy Carter worked beautifully—because, when he said it, he seemed genial and paternal. Not at all….well…..mean.

McCain, in contrast, was condescending. At least that’s how it sounded on the radio.

But on TV, he was also derisive, clench-mouthed and angry–in a small, pinched kind of way. He looked like a man who was a fraction of an inch away from snapping.

It wasn’t a winning strategy.

Barack, as most of the pundits have said, was presidential and dignified—which was both the best and the still-needs-improvement part to his performance. We would have liked him to have slammed McCain far harder than he did on the economy, rather than being quite so….calm and measured. Obama also should have described the mess that the Bush folks and their Wall Street pals have made of this economy, in much stronger, more vivid terms. Some bolder statements on the bailout plan would have been nice too.

Instead he made, basically, the same four points that have already become conventional wisdom. (Oversight…..Any gains made must go back to American people…..No gigantic CEO salaries…..Help for hurting homeowners.)

Plus, he needed to allow himself one passionate, extremely human moment. Obama makes those emotional connections when he addresses big crowds. He needs to learn to do it when he squares off against McCain.

Nevertheless, Obama scored solidly on more issues than his opponent. On the economy, on taxes, on health care, renewable energy, the war in Iraq and so on.

Surely, McCain scored some points too. For instance, despite his stumble about Pakistan being a failed nation, pre-Musharraf, his description of the situation along the Afghani-Pakistani border was more grounded than Obama’s.

But none of that was the story of this debate. The real story was McCain’s moods. His twitches. His creepy, mirthless laugh, that was really more of a bully’s snigger. And most of all it was the repeated condescension and dismissal and derision of Obama—all of which only made McCain look petty, mean, and morally comprimised. Not strong. And certainly not one whom we would trust to lead us through perilous times.

“What Senator Obama just doesn’t understand….”

No, from what we saw at this first of three presidential debates, it is the good senator from Arizona who really, really doesn’t understand.

Friday night he made that unsettlingly evident.

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(Photo by Paul J Richards, AFP)

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 8 Comments »

Planning to Bail? Let’s Make Some Alternate Plans

September 26th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, they have a deal.
They don’t have a deal. They might have a deal.

So, far, however, what we’ve heard from Congress suggests that, after all the speeches, the “why-I-oughta’s” and the bluster, there have been few substantive changes in Henry Paulson’s I-Hereby-Declare-Myself-Emperor Bailout Plan.

Yet more and more Americans are coming undone at the notion of this trillion dollar give away. (Yes, on paper, Paulson says $700 billion, but with this administration we’ve learned that it’s wiser to round up.)

Our lawmakers will pass something. Count on it. The scare tactics have worked. Nobody wants to be the person who held out and brought on the Great Depression, Part Deux.

So what do you think they should do?

My young, smart pal, Zach Sire, over at Sire Says, has just posted: FOUR THINGS THE GOVERNMENT MUST DO IF IT WANTS MY TRILLION DOLLARS.

Here’s his first condition:

You want my trillion dollars? Here’s what you have to do:

1. Convert all US auto manufacturing plants and start retraining people to only make Hybrid and electric cars. We will not be producing any cars that use gasoline. We’re done, over it. If we’re the “best” workers in the world, we’re surely smart enough to learn a new craft. We will be producing more fuel efficient cars than any other country, which makes sense considering we’re the ones who use the most fuel…but WTF we’re still making Hummers? GAME OVER, time to start something new. I want to see Chevy Hybrids on the streets of Jakarta by 2010.


Be sure to read the rest.


And in an earlier thread, (proving that the left and the right can get along after all) regular WLA commenter, Pokey has some surprisingly similar suggestions:

The FREE Alternative Bailout Plan

Let’s try the GOP FREE Plan and spend the $700 Billion on a massive energy Independence infrastructure program that would jump start the economy, clean our environment and reduce our foreign trade.

(For the details, click here and read his full comment.)

I’ve expressed some of my opinions in my NEW RULES post, with more to come.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Listen: This moment in U.S. history is much too important for us not to have an opinion.

And whatever it is you believe the government should do, CALL YOUR CONGRESS PERSONS and tell them.

We cannot, repeat, cannot sit on the sidelines with this one. Let’s all say it again together: democracy is not a spectator sport.
Okay, I’m off to teach. See you tonight!

In the meantime, plans! We need plans! (And calls.)

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(By the way, the Tom Waits version above of Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime is quite beautiful.)

Posted in Economy | 5 Comments »

Debate or not to Debate? Whatever. Live Blogging Tonight – UPDATED

September 26th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

I’ll be live blogging the debate but with a TiVo delay. (I teach in Irvine today so must battle traffic before I can get to my keyboard.)

Of course, whether or not there will be a debate is evidently still open for…um… debate.

See you tonight!

UPDATE: The debate is on. Color us un-suprised.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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