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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

John Sachs, a good friend and an old—and I do mean old (flies leave fresh dog poop just to follow us around) Ruston High School classmate (Class of 1961) is something of a political activist.

He learned well at his father’s knee. Dr. Tony Sachs, longtime head of the Louisiana Tech University Department of English had something of a liberal bent at a time when it was extremely unfashionable in north Louisiana, a trait he passed down to son John and daughter Elizabeth.

The word liberal has been turned into something nasty over the years but all it really implies is that its adherents believe that the poor that are entitled to the same rights as the rich, that people of color are entitled to the same protection under the law as whites, that women deserve the same opportunities—and pay—as men, that gays are entitled to the same consideration as straights, that the religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) are personal and should not be infringed upon, and that no one—NO ONE—should be deprived of his or her rights under the law.

In short, the liberal is rock steady in his support of non-discrimination in all areas of society—a resolve difficult to find in so-called conservatism, particularly of the Republican stripe.

After all, it is a document called the Declaration of Independence that proclaims:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

That brings us to the point of all this:

What gives Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or anyone else the right to deny a dying child critical health care?

All those Republican members of the House and Senate who pay lip service to our military men and women but want to scrap Obamacare without a viable replacement are little better than pathological liars.

Let me explain.

Have you ever been to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall where the names of 58,000 Americans killed are inscribed? Well, there would be a lot more names had it not been for the Hmong, an ethnic tribe of the Golden Triangle of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The Hmong were America’s secret weapon. They protected our radar stations in Southeast Asia and rescued and cared for downed pilots. Without their assistance, many more Americans would have died in that terrible war.

After the war, many Hmong settled in the U.S. One particularly intelligent Hmong girl, a teenager, fell ill with a rare illness that was extremely expensive to treat. She lives in Minnesota and Obamacare got her the medical care she so desperately needed. With the scrapping of Obamacare, she loses her insurance and with a pre-existing condition, it will be cost-prohibitive to get insurance—if she can get it at all.

Thanks Mitch, thanks Trump and thanks John Kennedy.

The reason I single Kennedy out when all of Louisiana’s congressional delegation but Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, voted to kill Obamacare, is that John Sachs wrote Kennedy to plead with him to consider all the ramifications of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, there was much wrong with the ACA but there are also weaknesses—glaring weaknesses—in our tax code, our sentencing guidelines for criminal acts, our campaign finance laws, and the laws enacted to protect American citizens from predatory Wall Street greed mongers, to name only a few. If there is a problem with a law, the duty of Congress is to address specific problem areas and pass bills to eliminate the flaws, not scrap the law in its entirety.

I have yet to see a single Republican member of the House or Senate rushing to tweak a tax code heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy, or advocating revamping the criminal code, or reining in Wall Street (to be completely fair, it was Obama’s own Attorney General Eric Holder who punted his responsibility to prosecute the criminal element that brought about the 2008 financial crash). And other than McCain-Feingold, there have been precious few attempts by either party to reform campaign finance laws.

After John Sachs sent his letter to Kennedy, this is the canned (but typical) response he received from Louisiana’s junior senator:

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

Obamacare was sold as something that would provide millions of uninsured Americans with access to affordable healthcare.  Unfortunately, Obamacare failed on those promises.  Americans were promised lower health insurance premiums.  In reality, premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent this year for the millions of Americans in the exchanges.  Americans were promised “if you like your plan you can keep it.”  What really happened is that 4.7 million Americans were kicked off their health care plans by Obamacare.  Americans were also promised more choice when purchasing health insurance, but a large part of the country has only one insurer offering plans on the Obamacare exchanges.  That’s not choice. 

Americans deserve better.  I am focused on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with personalized, patient-centered health care that will be affordable.  Americans should not be forced to buy insurance they don’t like, don’t need, and cannot afford.  I’m working to make sure they won’t have to for much longer.

As you know, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act on May 4.  Also, a draft Senate bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released on June 22.  I am carefully studying it in its entirety to see how it would impact Louisianans.  As I am reviewing, I will be sure to keep your concerns in mind.  Thanks again for writing.

If he is really that appreciative, why didn’t he conduct town hall meetings during a recent recess? Instead, he was nowhere to be found.

There’s no mistaking that Kennedy is in complete lockstep with Trump and that’s really strange. If you recall, Kennedy fought Bobby Jindal during Jindal’s entire eight-year reign of error, goading Jindal to cut contracts and repeating the mantra, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” And now we have Crump who is Jindal 2.0 and Kennedy practically wets his pants trying to make Grump happy. Witness Kennedy’s fawning over Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions during their confirmation hearings. DeVos was a horrible person to put in charge of educating our children and Sessions is a throwback to Southern demagogues Strom Thurmond and George Wallace.

Kennedy invokes the Chump mantra of 4.7 million Americans being kicked off their health care plans by Obamacare, yet he conveniently ignores the fact that McConnell’s plan would strip 23 million Americans of their healthcare.

How can Kennedy reconcile those numbers and still call himself an advocate of Louisiana citizens? Is this his idea of compassion?

Is he an intimidated, frightened, cowering little man afraid to stand up to the bully or is his behavior an indication of blind, unquestioning loyalty to Frump in the belief that it will enhance his own political career?

If the latter is the case, I would strongly suggest that Kennedy has misread the tea leaves and hitched his wagon not to a falling star but a plummeting one.

 

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Two Louisiana elected officials, both Republicans, have demonstrated starkly contrasting examples of responsible leadership this week.

First, the good news about an elected official doing the right thing.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler staunchly refused a request from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to provide it with highly personal information about Louisiana voters, including social security numbers, birth dates, and certain family history.

The commission was formed by President Frump in investigate what he claims was fraud in the presidential elections last November. Could anything have been so inappropriately named? It’s like calling the KKK a commission on human dignity and equal rights.

President Grump seems to think that widespread voter fraud prevented him from winning the popular vote. That claim seems a tad far-fetched, given the fact he lost the popular vote by about three million. Next thing you know, the Trumper will be trying to convince us that pro wrestling is real.

About two dozen states have refused outright to provide such information and another 20 or so have either not made a decision or only partially complied with the request.

Mark Ballard, writing in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, quoted Schedler as saying, “The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release. My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”

Louisiana’s public voter list, Ballard wrote, includes only names, addresses, party affiliation and voter history. Voter history only indicates whether or not people participated in previous elections but not how they voted.

Schedler deserves credit for making the decision to comply with state law instead of trying to see if he could circumvent the law and cater to the wishes of a president who seems to have taken a ride on the Disoriented Express and checked into the Hotel Silly.

Too bad the same can’t be said of U.S. Rep. Clay (Barney Fife) Higgins, that rootin’-tootin’, gun-wavin’ former deputy (as in public information officer) sheriff who once threatened to single-handedly take out all the drug lords of St. Landry Parish only to wind up being forced to resign by an embarrassed sheriff.

Higgins somehow managed to get himself elected as something of a wannabe Trumpette and now the good folks of the Third District are saddled with him for the next 18 months. Surely, common sense will prevail and he will be denied a second term—unless, of course, they feel sorry for him and want to keep him in office until his $200,000 in delinquent child support payments are caught up.

In the meantime, he has advocated murdering all radical Islamics, radical being a relative term most likely applicable to all Islamics in Higgins’ demented mindset.

And now, this ignorant ass-clown has tried to turn a visit to the AUSCHWITZ MEMORIAL into some kind of personal political statement in violation of posted plaques that requested respectful “mournful” silence inside the most infamous concentration camp where more than a million Jews were gassed by Nazis during World War II.

Higgins posted a video on YouTube in which he walks through different areas of the Poland camp, explaining that it took only about 20 minutes to kill the Jews inside the gas chambers. “This is why Homeland Security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible,” he said on the video.

“The world’s a smaller place now than it was in World War II,” Higgins said. “The United States is more accessible to terror like this, horror like this. It’s hard to walk away from gas chambers, ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment, unwavering commitment, to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world.”

The Auschwitz Memorial tweeted, “Everyone has the right to personal reflections. However, inside a former gas chamber, there should be mournful silence. It’s not a stage.”

Well, the folks at the Auschwitz Memorial need to quit wasting their time with tweets about Higgins’ lack of decorum. They have to realize that this is the country that gave the world Donald Trump and Louisiana is the state that gave the U.S. Congress Clay Higgins.

Dignity and decorum are passe to these two. You could throw both into a sack, shake it up and the only way you could tell the difference between the two when you poured them out would be the orange hair and a money clip.

Trump is an insufferable egomaniac and we may as well accept that fact. Higgins is an insufferable buffoon and we may as well accept that fact.

Higgins has been in office just a tad more than six months and he’s already making transcontinental junkets.

A mere six months in office seems a little soon for him to be taking one of those “fact-finding” trips for which members of Congress are famous.

So what I’d really like to know is this:

  • What was he doing in Poland?
  • Was he on official business?
  • If so, what was the nature of that business?
  • Or was part of the official support group for the Tweeter in Chief’s Poland trip?
  • Did U.S. taxpayers pay for that trip or did he receive a free trip from some campaign supporter or lobbyist?

Or perhaps he was just hot on the trail of a St. Landry Parish drug lord.

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As recently as 2015, Lockheed Martin LOCKHEED MARTIN, with $36.2 billion in contracts, was the single largest Pentagon contractor, more than double Boeing’s $16.6 billion.

There is little reason to believe that those numbers have changed significantly in the last two years.

With three large cost-plus contracts for testing and maintenance support services, Lockheed Martin has a commanding presence at NASA’s primary rocket propulsion facility at the STENNIS Space Center just over the Louisiana state line in Mississippi.

But as history has shown (remember the $600 toilet seats and the $100 screwdrivers?), the potential for ABUSE with such large contracts that seem to carry little apparent oversight, is overwhelming.

Now two Louisiana residents, one former Lockheed employee and the other a former contract employee for Lockheed, are bringing suit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans under the federal FALSE CLAIMS ACT.

The two, Mark Javery of St. Tammany Parish and Brian DeJan of New Orleans, claim that they were first given no duties and then fired from their jobs after reporting cost overruns and safety and performance issues.

They are represented by Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III.

DeJan was a project engineer for a Lockheed subcontractor, Camgian Microsystems, Inc. He was supervised by Javery, who was an infrastructure operations manager for Lockheed. As part of their respective jobs, they were to monitor preventive maintenance metrics and to report the results of their findings to NASA employee Reginald “Chip” Ellis, Deputy Program Inspector for the Rocket Propulsion Test Program.

In April 2014, DeJan and Javery began investigating “unexplained cost overruns and performance issues with the maintenance of test facilities.”

Their lawsuit says that during their investigation, they received “credible information that maintenance and charges related to NASA’s agreement with Space Exploitation Technology were being charged “inappropriately” to the Test Operations Contract for which Lockheed was the prime contractor.

They reported their findings on April 22, 2014, to Ellis and to their immediate supervisor, Terrance Burrell.

On April 28, Lockheed Martin suspended Javery during “pendency of an informal investigation and disciplinary process,” and on April 29, Lockheed requested that Camgian remove DeJan from the Test Operations Contract “until further notice,” which Camgian did.

On May 20, Lockheed terminated Javery’s employment and requested that Camgian “remove DeJan from the Lockheed Martin contract.” Camgian terminated DeJan on May 21.

The two claim that their actions were protected under the False Claims Act, enacted in 1863 over concerns that suppliers contracted to supply the Union Army with goods were defrauding the Army.

Javery and DeJan are seeking reinstatement, double their back pay, compensation for any special damages and attorney and legal fees.

Lockheed, like most defense contractors, has a history of overcharges and the occasional penalty. In 2011, it settled a whistleblower LAWSUIT for $2 million in another False Claims Act at the Stennis Space Center.

“Companies that do business with the federal government and get paid by the taxpayers must act fairly and comply with the law,” said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Whistleblowers have helped us to enforce the law by bringing to light schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust by undermining the integrity of the procurement process.”

West, of course, was describing life in a perfect world. In the real world, things are quite different and the “schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust” are rarely reported and even more infrequently punished.

The occasional fine is a mere fraction of illicit profits gained through overbilling and outright fraud.

That’s because no one seems to be watching and because members of Congress passionately protect the contractors domiciled in their districts.

And that’s why contractors continue to belly up to the public trough.

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When I found him this morning in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark at John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Lightbulb Emporium in Watson, Louisiana, Harley Purvis was in his usual mood, i.e. nasty.

The Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC) had scheduled an emergency meeting for 10 a.m. and only two of the six members (that would be Harley and me) had arrived. As president, Harley was not one to brook tardiness.

But there was something else on his mind today as I slid into the booth opposite him. I can always tell the degree of his consternation by the amount of coffee he’d consumed and the condition of the day’s newspaper. Today, I could tell he was on at least his fourth cup and the Baton Rouge Advocate looked as though a squirrel had chosen today’s edition for a nest.

You don’t rush Harley when something is weighing on his mind. He will speak when he’s ready, so I ordered a cup of John Wayne’s high-octane coffee brewed from yesterday’s leftover grounds that went down more like Number Two West Texas Crude. And I waited.

Finally he spoke.

“If you want to sum up the complete worthlessness of Congress, I can do it in two sentences,” he said.

“Based on my current income, if I retire at 65, I will qualify for about $3,500 per month in social security.”

That surprised me because I never knew Harley made that kind of income, let alone reported it to Uncle Sam. He went on.

“My wife, Wanda Bob, is a school teacher and a damn good-‘un but if I die before her, she will get maybe a couple hundred bucks a month in Social Security spousal benefits.”

“Wait, what?” I managed to stammer. Two sentences and I was floored.

“That’s right. Because Louisiana is one of 15 states in which have their own retirement systems and in which public employees do not participate in social security, there’s this thing called the Government Pension Offset (GPO) passed way back in the Carter administration.”

“Government Pension Offset?”

“Yeah. Stay with me. It was passed in 1977 and it’s called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). It was passed ostensibly to prevent double dipping but as usual, it was passed without any real consideration of the consequences and it turned out to be a penalty for public service like the teaching profession.”

“A penalty? How so?”

“Simple. If she’d worked in the private sector at something like banking or a CPA, she would be entitled to my full Social Security benefits if I died first. Hell, even if she didn’t work at all and was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, she’d still be entitled to my full benefits. But because she chose to work as a teacher, she will penalized if I die first. Does that seem fair to you?”

I had to admit it didn’t. I asked him why something hadn’t been done to correct this egregious injustice. I should have known better than to ask.

“Hell, I can give you 535 reasons right up front!” he exploded. “That’s the 435 House members and the 100 Senators. They don’t give a rat’s patooty about us. Never have, never will. It’s like everything else they do: they give lip service but never follow through. Every member of Congress, with the possible exception of Clay Higgins and Ted Cruz is fully aware of this but they continue to sit on their butts and do zero about it. And they wonder why they have such low approval ratings.

“They’ve had bills introduced for years to do away with the WEP and enough members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors because it looks great to the folks back home. The problem is, they won’t bring it up for a vote. That’s their way to come back home when they run for re-election and to tell the good voters that they tried to help them but couldn’t get other members to go along. That’s crap but it works and they can then concentrate on raising campaign funds and catering to the special interest. Meanwhile, we’re left holding the bag.”

“What can we do about it?” I naively asked.

“Not a damned thing! You think Garrett Graves or Mike Johnson or John Kennedy or Bill Cassidy has ever given a thought to this? Hell no, there’s no campaign contributions to go with it. And Clay Higgins is such a dumbass he wouldn’t know unless it was an NRA issue. He thinks GPO stands for Guns and Preemptive Ops and WEP stands for Weapons of Extreme Prejudice.”

“That’s pretty strong,” I said, taking a sip of my now-cold coffee.

“Well, I stand by it. There are 46,000 public school teachers in Louisiana and some 60,000 other state employees and the same rules apply each one whose spouse works in the private sector and pays into Social Security. I’d guess at least 75,000 or 80,000 are adversely impacted by this B.S.

“You tell me if you think it’s fair for me to pay into Social Security all my working life, die a few months after retirement and my widow get nothing? That’s money I paid into the system and because she chose to become a teacher and worked to enrich the minds of children by teaching them to think and reason, she’s entitled to nothing. Meanwhile, my next door neighbor’s wife who chose to stay home and not work is entitled to her husband’s benefits after he dies. Is that fair?”

I had to admit it wasn’t. And he was correct: he had summed up the complete worthlessness of Congress in two sentences.

I wanted to ask more questions but two more members of LPAARMCSBCSLC had arrived, giving us a quorum. Harvey, as president, pounded his gavel, bringing the meeting to order.

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As a state and nation, we’ve lost our minds.

As weary as I get of writing one negative post after another (believe me, I’d love to write something really upbeat sometime), here I am once again wringing my hands and wondering how we ever arrived at this point in our history.

We have a president who’d rather tweet about how great he is than to actually act as a public servant.

We have a U.S. Senator (John Kennedy) who expressed a preference for weed killer over Obamacare.

We have a congressman (the Cajun Barney Fife, 3rd District Rep. Clay Higgins) who is $140,000 behind on his child support payments but who wants to kill all “radical Islamics,” even though he neglects to specify who—or what—defines “radical.”

And now we have a congressman (4th District Rep. Mike Johnson) who wants to throw teenagers in federal prison for a minimum of 15 years because he feels he is an instrument of God.

This is the same Mike Johnson, by the way, who, as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, tried to push through his “Marriage and Conscience Act.” That bill died in committee so Bobby Jindal promptly issued an executive order to enforce the act, which upheld discrimination against gays. Gov. John Bel Edwards rescinded that order last year.

Introduced by Johnson, the “Protection Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017,” would punish not only adults found guilty of sexting explicit photographs to minors, but also would subject minors found guilty of sexting to other minors to federal prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Johnson, like Higgins and Kennedy, is a Washington newcomer (all three took office in January of this year for the first time). In defending his bill, he says, “In Scripture, Romans 13 refers to the governing authorities as ‘God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation as any just government, to defend the defenseless.”

If imprisoning teens for sexting is what he means by defending the defenseless, I shudder to think what his punishment might be, for example, for teens actually engaging in sex? And it’s not like that doesn’t occur.

So he wants to set himself as judge, jury and executioner. Well, I’m not at all comfortable with that. Who gave Mike Johnson franchise right on judging anyone’s moral code?

Okay, I know the answer to that because he’s already said so. He’s God’s servant.

Well, let’s go straight to the Good Book and review.

“But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22: 20-21)

Well, there you go, Mike. And yet…and yet…didn’t Jesus rescue a prostitute from being stoned to death? I’m confused, Mike.

“Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalm 137:9)

I dunno, Mike. That seems a bit extreme to me. But, hey! It’s right there in the Bible.

“Master, Moses wrote unto us, ‘If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.’” (Mark 12:19)

Guys, you may want to talk that over with your wife first. Unless, of course, you also subscribe to this little ditty:

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection” Timothy 2:11, also translated as: “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

And, Mike, don’t expect your wife to defend you because she will be punished if she does. It says so, right here:

“When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

By the “secrets”? Now, there’s a visual for you.

Here’s my favorite, Mike:

“For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, Or a man that is broken-footed, or brokenhanded, Or crookbacked, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken. No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.” (Leviticus 21:18-21) 

So what it’s saying here, Mike, is that heaven isn’t for people like Helen Keller, Ray Charles, Franklin Roosevelt or anyone who wears glasses or contacts.

Paraphrasing, Here a few more, offered without comment:

  • Don’t have a variety of crops on the same field. (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Don’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Don’t cut your hair nor shave. (Leviticus 19:27)
  • Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed. (Leviticus 20:9)
  • If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a result, he must be punished. But he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property (Exodus 21:20-21)
  • Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh (I Peter 2:18)
  • Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.  If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.  But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her.  And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter.  If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife.  If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment(Exodus 21:7-11)

So, Mike, exactly what is your position on slavery these days?

The last thing this country needs now is for some little holier-than-thou despot to assert himself as the moral police over our teenagers—or over anyone else, for that matter.

Sexting is a disgusting practice I wouldn’t want my grandkids participating in. And to be sure, it is against the law—and should be. Adults who sext minors should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We can all agree on that. But you don’t toss a 15-year-old in federal prison for that. Like it or not, teens are going to do what teens do. Back when I was in school, They did their experimentations in the back seats of ’57 Chevys. At least they can’t get pregnant using an iPhone.

Only a sanctimonious jerk would seriously advocate federal prison for that.

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