Archive for the ‘Revenue’ Category

Regular readers of this site know our disdain for the undue influence of lobbyists and special interests over lawmakers to the exclusion of the very voters who elected those same lawmakers to represent them and their best interests.

Our opposition to political decisions made with priority given to campaign contributions over what is best for the state is well-known—and uncompromising. Money should have no place—repeat, no place—in political decisions.

Unfortunately, we know that is not the case. Politicians for the most part, are basically prostitutes for campaign funds and those who choose to remain chaste usually find themselves at a serious disadvantage come election time.

To that end, you can probably look for State Rep. Jay Morris (R-Monroe) to attract strong opposition when he comes up for re-election in 2019. And that opposition, whoever it might be, is likely to have a campaign well-lubricated by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the Louisiana Chemical Association, and the oil and gas industry.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, we have gone on record on numerous occasions as saying the voters are merely pawns to be moved about at will by big business in general and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street and oil companies in particular. It is their money that inundates us with mind-numbing political ads that invade our living rooms every election year telling us why Candidate A is superior to Candidate B because B voted this way or that way and besides, good old Candidate A has always had the welfare of voters uppermost in mind.

The presence of that influence was never more clearly illustrated than in Tyler Bridges’ insightful story in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/15225624-78/la-legislative-staffers-sort-out-changes-added-at-the-last-minute

In the very first paragraph of his story, Bridges wrote that a secret deal between Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) and lobbyists for LABI and the Louisiana Chemical Association.

We won’t bother to re-hash the details of that meeting and the agreement finally reached just before the closing minutes of the recent special session. You can read the details in the link to the Bridges story that we provided above.

But suffice it to say had it not been for Morris digging his heels in and threatening to kill his own bill when he learned of a manufacturing tax break that had been added to his bill, HB 61 that aimed at eliminating exemptions and exclusions on numerous sales tax breaks. Though a Republican, Morris feels that big business isn’t paying its fair share of taxes.

“I was not aware of the deal,” Bridges quoted Morris as saying. “I was not invited.”

Neither, apparently, were any spokespersons for consumers, organized labor, teachers, or the citizens of Louisiana.

Oh, but you can bet LABI President Steve Waguespack was invited to a meeting in Alario’s office earlier in the day, as was Louisiana Chemical Association chief lobbyist Greg Bowser.

Given that, we would like to ask Sen. Alario and Rep Barras why no one representing the people were invited to that little conclave. And don’t try to tell us that the Senate President and House Speaker were representing the people. You were not. You were representing the vested interests of the chemical industry and big business. Period.

Sen. Alario, Rep. Barras: the people of Louisiana are far more deserving of a place at the table in some furtive backroom meeting than LABI and the chemical association.

Either all factions are invited in or no one is. The playing field should be level.

By not excluding lobbyists or by not inviting those on whose shoulders are placed the greatest burden, the ones who placed you in office, you have not just failed at your job; you have failed miserably.

Our late friend C.B. Forgotston would have said of the meeting which produced that secret deal: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

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First it was the State Dental Board exposed by LouisianaVoice as serving in the multiple capacity of prosecutor, judge and jury in investigating complaints against dentists, filing charges and then judging on their guilt or innocence. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/07/state-board-employs-intimidation-harassment-to-generate-funds-to-pay-for-lucrative-contracts-worth-millions-of-dollars/

Then there was the Auctioneer Licensing Board and the manner in which it failed to defend an 84-year-old widow against a case of shill bidding (efforts to drive prices up by a  plant) or to protect her from unscrupulous actions by an auctioneer.

Now we have another board, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) which, through its executive director, is being accused of tactics similar to those of the dental board. The result has been a spate of lawsuits, ethics complaints, and court hearings, all revolving around charges brought against a Baton Rouge doctor and encouraged, he says, by his competitor who sits on the board that brought the charges against him.

The one common thread running through each of the regulatory boards is that they receive no state funding. And with the dental and medical examiners boards, at least, there are expenses: staff, including attorneys, investigators and executive directors, and rent of nice, upscale offices in New Orleans central business district.

The lack of state funding coupled with the aforementioned high costs means the boards must necessarily generate funding—lots of it—through licensing fees and disciplinary actions against dentists and physicians. No dentist or physician in the state wants make waves because the boards literally hold the fate of their livelihoods, indeed their licenses to practice, in their hands.

In the legal profession, rainmakers are those within a firm who generate business by enlisting well-heeled clients who can afford expensive legal representation. Legal fees, after all, are the lifeblood of a law firm and the bigger the firm, the greater the pressure to bring clients through the door.

Taking the comparisons between the dental and the medical examiners board even further, the board acts in the capacity of investigator, accuser, and judge in disciplinary cases and, again like its counterpart, depends to a certain extent on penalties imposed on doctors for its operating revenue. Consequently, there is an undeniable incentive to generate revenue to ensure the boards’ survival.

So when it comes down to adding needed revenue to the coffers, it matters little whether the dentist or physician is guilty; if the need for revenue is present, as it usually is, then the boards, to paraphrase British politician and businessman Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes, “will squeeze the lemon until the pips squeak.” https://richardlangworth.com/pips

LouisianaVoice has previously documented strong-arm tactics by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry whereby a dentist may first be assessed a modest fine for some supposed transgression. Should the dentist resist, he may quickly learn that that modest fine of a few thousand dollars somehow has run into six figures because he is also assessed the costs of the investigation of his practice—and because the board can. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/16/13976/

Sitting members of the dental board are allowed to initiate charges against a competing dentist in the same town—and often do just that.

And while physicians may not actually initiate charges against one of their peers, LouisianaVoice has learned that a board member who was a direct competitor with a doctor under investigation may have participated in the investigation, board discussions and votes affecting his competitor.

Baton Rouge pain management physician Dr. Michael Burdine, an LSBME member, has emerged as a key figure in the board’s investigation of Dr. Arnold Feldman, also of Baton Rouge because of his apparent reluctance to recuse himself from discussing Dr. Feldman’s case pending before the board.

The board’s legal counsel did produce somewhat belatedly a document that purported to recuse Dr. Burdine from participating in proceedings relative to Dr. Feldman’s case but board minutes indicate “unanimous” votes on matters pertaining to Dr. Feldman even as Dr. Burdine was supposedly recused. Moreover, Dr. Burdine repeatedly participated in executive session discussions when the subject of the closed session was Dr. Feldman’s case. Board member Dr. Mark Dawson, however, insists that Dr. Burdine did, in fact, recuse himself. “The pain management doctor’s attorneys are playing you for a fool,” he told LouisianaVoice.

The Dental Board until recently brought charges at the recommendation of a private investigator retained by the board whose offices were housed in the dental board’s suite on Canal Street in New Orleans. LSBME, on the other hand, employed its investigator as a full time employee. Following Dr. Burdine’s selection as vice president of the board, investigator Cecilia Mouton, a physician also, was appointed executive director of the board and immediately requested—and received—a 10 percent pay increase to $211,600.

Mouton, while still employed in 2010 as an investigator who looked into complaints about doctors, married attorney Jack Stolier who at the time represented physicians who were subjects of investigations and who had disciplinary action pending before the board and Mouton. Stolier ceased representing physicians before the board following his marriage to Mouton, Dawson said.

Taking the comparisons between the dental and the medical examiners board even further, LSBME acts in the capacity of investigator, accuser, and judge in disciplinary cases and, again like its counterpart, depends entirely on penalties imposed on doctors for its operating revenue.

Dr. Burdine’s Spine Diagnostics of Baton Rouge, one of the largest pain management clinics in the state, had annual receipts of slightly less than $9 million compared to Dr. Feldman’s $6 million in 2012. The two clinics are only about five miles apart. Dr. Feldman maintains that closure of his facility would necessarily mean that Dr. Burdine would inherit much of his caseload, thus enhancing the size of his clinic and providing an economic windfall for him.

The federal Healthcare Quality Improvement Act of 1986 provides that physicians are entitled to a professional review action “before a panel of individuals who are appointed by the entity and (who) are not indirect economic competition with the physician involved.”

Not only has the board, with the active participation of Dr. Burdine claimed by Dr. Feldman, plowed ahead with its prosecution of Dr. Feldman, Mouton, first as board investigator and later as executive director, denied Dr. Feldman access to his investigative file in order that he might formulate a defense, said Dr. Feldman in a 42-page complaint filed with the State Board of Ethics.

The specifics of the board’s complaint against Dr. Feldman have never been revealed but appear to stem from the death of a patient while in Dr. Feldman’s clinic even though the death was determined to be from natural causes and not connected to pain treatments being administered to the patient by Dr. Feldman.

The Ethics Board found no ethics violation in a decision that has become all too familiar since the ethics laws were amended in 2008, effectively gutting the ethics board. But that hasn’t stopped Feldman from seeking justice from what he feels is malicious prosecution, abuse of due process and violation of Louisiana commerce statutes.

He filed suit against Dr. Burdine in Civil District Court in New Orleans last August and the children of one of his patients has filed a separate suit in CDC naming LSBME, Mouton and board investigator Leslie Rye as defendants.

That lawsuit, filed by Alexia Senee James and Albert Lewis James of Baton Rouge, claims that Mouton and Rye intervened in Dr. Feldman’s treatment of their mother, Tonja Guitreau James.

After Tonja James was convinced by Mouton and Rye to leave the care of Dr. Feldman, she subsequently died from a prescription drug overdose, the petition says, adding that Mouton and Rye “violated the doctor-patient privilege, confidentiality and sacrosanct relationship between Tonja James and her physician.”

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You just have to love Louisiana politics.

It’s kind of like having someone pee down your back while telling you it’s raining.

Or maybe trying to run a marathon with a rock in your shoe.

And to no one’s real surprise, it doesn’t seem to matter much which political party is in power.

Take Thomas Harris, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for example.

On Feb. 19, not quite two weeks ago, Secretary Harris testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget. In his testimony, Harris, who spent about a dozen years at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before his Jan. 26 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, lamented the fact that his agency was so strapped for funding that up to 66 employees face layoffs come July 1.

While it may difficult for some to feel much compassion for DNR, given the historically cozy relationship between the oil and gas industry and the agency’s top brass. It was DNR and DEQ, after all, which conveniently looked the other way all these years as our coastal marshlands were raped by the industry that curtailed the so-called legacy lawsuits filed against oil companies that neglected to clean up after themselves. http://theadvocate.com/home/9183574-125/house-oks-legacy-lawsuit-legislation


Harris gave his testimony during the afternoon session of the Appropriations Committee that met during the recent special legislative session called to address major budget shortfalls.

To save you some time, open the link HERE and move to the 41-minute mark. That’s where Harris begins his address to committee members, most of whom were talking among themselves (as is the norm) and not really paying attention.

So just why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s no big secret, after all, that budgetary cuts are hitting just about every agency and employees are going to have to be laid off. It’s a fact of life for anyone working for the state these days.

Unless you happen to be named David Boulet or Ashlee McNeely

Harris hired Boulet as Assistant Secretary of DNR, effective March 10 (last Thursday), less than three weeks after his calamitous testimony about projected layoffs.

But get this: Ashlee McNeely, wife of our old friend Chance McNeely (we’ll get to him presently), worked in Bobby Jindal’s office from Feb. 3, 2014, until last Oct. 22 as a legislative analyst at $78,000. On Oct. 23, she was promoted to Director of Legislative Services at the same salary (someone please tell us why Jindal needed a director of legislative services when he had less than three months to go in his term—and with no legislative session on the immediate horizon). Of course, come Jan. 11, the date of John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, she was quietly terminated along with the rest of Jindal’s staff.

But wait. Harris decided he needed a “Confidential Assistant.” And just what is a “confidential assistant,” anyway? Well, we’re told that the term is loosely translated to “legislative liaison.” No matter. Harris did the only logical thing: he brought Ashlee McNeely on board on Feb. 10, just nine days before his cataclysmic budgetary predictions. What’s more, he bumped her salary up by eight thou a year, to $86,000.

But back to our friend Boulet: His salary is a cool $107,600—to fill a position that has been vacant for more than five years. So what was the urgency of filling a long-vacated slot that obviously is little more than window dressing for an agency unable to fill mission-critical classified positions?

Had Harris chosen instead to allocate the combined $193,000 the two are getting, he could have hired four classified employees at $46,750 each. Not the greatest salary, but certainly not bad if you’re out of work and trying to feed a family. And still higher than the state’s family median income

So, what, exactly are the qualifications of Boulet? Well, for openers, he’s the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and that’s of no small consequence. In fact, that was probably enough.

In fact, it’s not the first time he has landed a cushy position that took on the appearances of having all the right connections. We take you back to 2001, when Blanco was Lieutenant Governor and Boulet was hired as the $120,000-a-year Director of Oil & Gas Cluster Development for the Louisiana Office of Economic Development, a move that did not sit well with the scribes at the Thibodaux Comet: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20011108/NEWS/111080313?tc=ar

And then there’s our old friend Chance McNeely, another holdover from the Jindal disaster. McNeely, all of 27, has seen his star rise in meteoric fashion after obtaining a degree in agricultural business and working four years as a legislative assistant for the U.S House of Representatives. From there, he found his way into Jindal’s inner circle as an analyst at $68,000. He remained there less than a year (March 6, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015) before moving over to DEQ where the special position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance (in circumvention of Jindal’s hiring freeze in place at the time and despite having no qualifications for the position)—complete with a $37,000 raise to $102,000. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

He held onto that job recisely a year, exiting the same day as his wife got her pink slip, on Jan. 11 of this year. Unlike Ashlee, who remained unemployed for just over three months, Chance was out of work for exactly eight days before being named Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Development, albeit at a slight drop in salary, to $99,000.

But by combining his and his wife’s salaries, the $177,000 isn’t too shabby for a state with a median income of $42,406 per household, according to 2014 data. And how many 27-year-olds do you know who pull down $99,000 per year? http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

So, Secretary Harris, as you struggle with balancing the high pay of your political appointees with cutbacks of the ones who do the real work, please know that we understand fully that we live in Louisiana where, no matter the rhetoric, things never change.

You will head an agency that will protect big oil from those of us with ruined pastureland and briny water. DNR will continue to shield big oil from those who would do whatever necessary to preserve our wetlands. And as those oil companies continue to fight back with whatever legal chicanery they can craft—including the buying of legislators.

And the merry-go-round of appointments to those with the right political connections will continue unabated—no matter what self-righteous rhetoric of freedom and justice for all is spewed by the pompous ass clowns we continue to elect.

Now ask me how I really feel.


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What happens when a former governor’s privatization plan goes terribly wrong?

Okay, perhaps we need to be a little more specific, given so many things have gone so terribly wrong with so many of Bobby Jindal’s half-baked privatization schemes.

In the case of the Office of Group Benefits, the answer is plenty and none of it is good.

As chronicled in several posts, LouisianaVoice told of then-Commissioner Paul Rainwater first saying OGB would be sold, then saying it would not be sold, and in the end, its operations were turned over to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana, throwing about 150 OGB employees to the curb.

Tommy Teague, who had taken over the debt-ridden agency and transformed it into a smooth-running outfit which managed to build a $500 million fund balance from which it paid claims promptly, giving state employees and retirees and their dependents little cause for concern, is a case in point.

For his trouble, he was fired (teagued) because he didn’t fall immediately in line with Jindal’s Milton Friedman-inspired doctrine of privatization. Teague’s successor lasted barely six weeks before he threw in the towel and departed for another state.

Along the way, the administration went against the advice of its own expensive consulting firm and lowered premiums to OGB members. That looked good for the covered employees but what the move really accomplished was the state’s being obligated for a lowing matching amount. The state pays 75 percent of the employee premium and by lowering the premium, it simultaneously reduced the state’s obligation and the money saved was used to patch one of those gaping holes that appeared in the state budget every single year of the Jindal administration. It was, in short, a shell game run by a con artist with one eye on the big score—the presidency.

Of course, that also had the effect of creating a heavy drain on that $500 million reserve fund, since premiums could no longer keep up with the cost of claims.

Accordingly, the $500 million evaporated to something around $100 million and Rainwater’s successor Kristy Nichols tried to implement a plan to simultaneously raise premiums and lower benefits to build the reserve back up—a plan that was revealed first by LouisianaVoice and which met instant opposition from employees, retirees and legislators.

The administration backed off that plan somewhat but the final compromise version left some retirees who lived out of state without coverage.

It also drove other retirees to other plans like People’s Health where premiums were cheaper and benefits better.

And that’s where the latest snag rears its ugly head.

Because the agency has been gutted of those employees who made it into such an efficient operation, things—big things—are starting to fall between the cracks and the plan apparently is to blame retirees and OGB’s fiscal collection department.

What has happened, according to word received by LouisianaVoice, is that OGB has failed to cut off coverage for retirees who self-pay for their coverage (through other programs) and who are “delinquent” in their premium payments.

It seems that OGB has not put “stop flags” on self-pay accounts that are in arrears for months but continued to pay claims. “Group Benefits has dozens of people who are late and they (OGB) are still paying claims to doctors and hospitals for X-Rays, MRIs, surgeries and prescriptions,” our source told us, adding that OGB initially told its fiscal collection department to ignore the delinquencies.

Now, though, OGB is sending out letters demanding payments for unpaid premiums.



One such letter provided to LouisianaVoice demanded payment of $10,511 in premiums dating back to October 2014 and pharmacy benefits of $425.

The Feb. 18, 2016, letter to the retiree said coverage “on OGB-administered health plans will terminate in October 2014 for non-payment of the full premium. During this period our records show that you continued to use the health and pharmacy benefits of the plan.”

Notice that the letter was dated Feb. 18, 2016 but said coverage “will terminate” in October of 2014.

No reason was given for a 2016 letter warning of pending termination of coverage in 2014. But that is somehow typical of any holdover from the Jindal years.

The individual was told if the plan was to be retained, the retiree would owe $10,511.29. “Should you not wish to retain your coverage through OGB, any medical claims incurred by you since Nov. 1, 2014, will be re-adjudicated and you may receive bills from your providers for services rendered,” the letter said.

“Pharmacy benefits cannot be re-adjudicated; accordingly, OGB will recoup costs incurred…by you,” it said, adding that the cost of pharmacy benefits “wrongfully used by you” is $425.49.

“Please consider this as demand to pay the respective amounts in full to OGB by March 4, 2016,” the letter said. “Should we not receive full payment on or before March 4, 2016, we may initiate further action to collect this sum, including but not limited to referral of this matter to the Office of Debt Recovery, the Attorney General, and/or other collection means.”

Below that was an ominous warning in boldface and all capital letters that read, “THIS IS A DEMAND FOR PAYMENT OF MONIES DUE. PLEASE TAKE NOTICE AND GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.”

Our source said that OGB administrators plans to place the blame for the latest fiasco on retirees and its own fiscal collection department. “They have a plan to hide this because they are scared the public, the commissioner of administration (Jay Dardenne) and the governor will find out.” The collections department, the source said, has maintained a paper trail which will absolve it of any fault in the matter.

“OGB is trying to get money back on the sly,” the source added. “They (OGB) are mismanaged and there are a lot of people in this condition who were allowed to keep insurance and paid no premium for years.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would love to hear of any similar difficulties you may have had with OGB. Send your stories to:



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There are three or four of us who every Sunday morning break out into a round robin email dissection of the latest op-ed column by LSU-Shreveport political science associate professor Jeff Sadow. While we invariably disagree with Sadow’s philosophical position, we have finally arrived at a consensus that The Advocate is striving for balance on its opinion pages.

On Tuesday (March 1) I received a copy of the following blog post by Michael Kurt Corbello, Ph.d. and a former classmate of Sadow. I immediately contacted Dr. Corbello, a political science associate professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, to inquire if he would be willing to post his comments on as a guest columnist on LouisianaVoice. To our delight, he consented. Following is his column:

By Michael Kurt Corbello

Copyright 2016

     Numbers can be pesky things, a great source for truth, or a weapon to mislead.  Scientists like numbers because they are transparent, until human beings interpret them or insinuate that they have done so.  I am a political scientist who teaches my students “math is the language of objectivity!”  Yet, three-plus decades of research and teaching have taught me the pitfalls of data collection and interpretation for someone trying to conduct scientifically valid research, even if it proved me wrong.  In partisan politics, many divest themselves of scientific validity, some accidentally, others purposefully, and still others because they fail to admit their biases.  We all have biases, but numbers have a way of cutting through those most cherished.

Recently, Jeff Sadow for The Advocate (See “Lawmakers should call Edwards’ bluff on TOPS, Medicaid,” The Advocate, February 27, 2016) criticized Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget plan during the special session of the Louisiana State Legislature, arguing that the governor “refuses to meaningfully pare a state government that ranks well above the national average in per capita spending” [emphasis added].  Sadow didn’t indicate sources supporting these value statements, so I collected the most recent data and examined it. In fact, the only way to arrive at the columnist’s conclusion that Louisiana ranks “well above the national average in per capita spending” is to make it all up!

I looked at the most recent U. S. Census data estimates of state populations for 2015. I combined this with data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, State Expenditure Report (Fiscal 2013-2015) (Table A-1 in the downloadable report). In 2015, total state general fund and federal fund expenditures per capita ranged from a low of $3,724 (Florida) to a high $18,644 (Alaska), with a national average per state of $6,717. Louisiana ranked 22nd out of fifty states, in the middle of the pack, at $6,365 per capita. That’s right! Louisiana was $352 per capita below the state averages nationwide! Among 16 southern states, Louisiana ranked 7th in total state general fund and federal fund expenditures per capita, about $134 per capita above the state averages in the south.

Notice that while Louisiana spent a total of $29.7 billion in 2015, $10.15 billion of this was federal funds, $2,173 per capita (ranked 14th), or about $200 per capita above the state averages nationwide. The Louisiana state portion of total state spending was $19.58 billion. Nationwide, state general fund expenditures averaged $4,744 per capita. Louisiana averaged $4,192 in per capita state general fund spending, placing it 23rd, or $552 per capita below the state averages nationwide!

Now, I don’t mind voters, politicians, and citizens calling into question the spending and priorities of state government. All of us should be vigilant in our efforts to take care of our community of needs, while reigning in the natural and selfish human inclinations to abuse the system! However, looking at this data, it is difficult to make the argument that, compared to other states, Louisiana has a spending problem. Whether we look at per capita spending or gross dollar amounts, Louisiana was in the middle of the pack of fifty states, with one exception: We ranked 14th in State Federal Fund Expenditures! For that matter, Louisiana was one of eight southern states (including Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) in which state federal fund expenditures per capita were above the average per state nationwide ($1,973 per capita). In other words, we are dependent upon everyone else for a huge amount of resources in our state budget. Why? Because of our history of poverty, low levels of education, and lack of economic development (regardless of the deadbeat mantra always coming from Bobby Jindal and his apologists)! Imagine if we in Louisiana really did have to pay for our own spending!

The fact remains that we do not live in the 18th century, with the luxury to implement a minimalist government, not if we want to have a competitive position in a world driven more and more by competitive people of high intellect, hard work, creativity, technological knowledge and skill!  Anyway, those pesky numbers, they must be liberals!

For a closer look at the data used to draw my conclusions (and to refute The Advocate’s columnist), please click on the following link to my blog: http://corbellopolitics.blogspot.com/2016/02/an-advocate-writer-does-it-again-why.html


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