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“Fighting For The Lords Of Darkness”: Chris Christie Defends The “Great American” Koch Brothers

The Koch brothers like to meet in secret with their political minions. And, for the most part, the minions prefer to keep their interactions with the billionaire campaign donors on the down low.

But not Chris Christie.

The governor of New Jersey, who currently chairs that Koch-tied Republican Governors Association, and who well understands that a steady flow of dark money will be required to light up his 2016 presidential prospects, is elbowing everyone else aside in his mad rush to defend the billionaire brothers.

A Koch favorite who has appeared at secret summits organized in the past by the major donors to conservative causes and the RGA, Christie has been among their most vocal defenders in recent months. At the the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, he hailed brothers Charles and David Koch as “great Americans who are creating great things in our country.”

Now, as the 2014 midterm elections approach, no one is championing the Kochs more aggressively than Christie—even if that means he has to grab the spotlight from candidates the embattled New Jerseyan is supposed to be assisting.

After The Nation revealed that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey had flown to California in June to attend what was supposed to be a secret summit with the Kochs and the circle of millionaires and billionaires they work with to shape the political discourse, Ducey took a lot of hits at home.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal demanded that Ducey renounce the “dark money” support that has benefitted the Republican’s candidacy. DuVal campaign consultant Rodd McLeod offered a checklist of complaints: “Doug Ducey works for out-of-state billionaires, not for Arizona. He goes to meetings with them, gives a secret speech, says you’re known by the company you keep.”

Headlines in the state’s newspapers told the story:

Ducey took campaign pitch to Koch network

Ducey’s Secret Speech at Koch Getaway

Secretly kissing up to Kochs pays off for Doug Ducey

The “kissing up” piece, a column by The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts, began

Well. I suppose it’s safe to say that Doug Ducey won’t be fighting the lords of darkness if he gets into the governor’s office.

Fresh off a primary in which dark-money attacks were launched against any Republican who stood in Ducey’s way, we now learn that Ducey has been cozying up to America’s premier princes of dark money.

As he traveled Arizona, Ducey was bombarded with questions from print and broadcast reporters about why he thought getting together with out-of-state oligarchs at an elite resort was—as the gubernatorial candidate told the Kochs—so “very inspirational.”

Those aren’t the sort of questions a candidate who is in a tight race wants to answer.

So Chris Christie did the answering for Ducey.

Visiting Arizona in his capacity as the chairman of the RGA, Christie was with Ducey when the gubernatorial candidate was asked about his sojourns with those premier princes of dark money.

Yet, though the questions were clearly directed at Ducey, Christie jumped in with the answers.

Such as they were.

Brahm Resnik, one of Arizona’s most prominent political reporters and the host of KPNX-TV’s Sunday Square Off, set the scene, explaining to viewers, “You’ll hear Christie jump in before Ducey could answer my question about why he meets in secret with the Koch brothers. Now, those brothers, Charles and David, are billionaire industrialists who host these beauty pageants for candidates for the benefit of their wealthy donors. Ducey’s campaign has benefited from several hundred thousand dollars from Koch-connected organizations—all the money from anonymous donors. Ducey is also supported by Sean Noble, an Arizona operative who is one of the leading bundlers of Koch brothers’ cash. Now, watch Ducey begin to answer my question a few minutes ago, before Christie jumps in:

DOUG DUCEY: Uh, uh…

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, that’s your opinion. Your opinion is that are that these folks are folks with dark money. The facts on Fred DuVal are pretty clear…

BRAHM RESNIK: You’re saying the Koch brothers and these entities are not dark-money givers?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, what I’m saying very clearly is that everyone has a right to participate in the political process and let’s judge these people up or down based on what they do. But, no, I don’t believe the Koch brothers are that—nor any of these other folks.

Christie dismissed attempts to track the influence of the Koch brothers as “silliness” and “sophistry.”

Ducey’s critics were taking the issue seriously, however.

The DuVal campaign featured links to the tape from the Koch summit, along with media coverage of it, on social media. A tagline read: “Doug Ducey is quietly hanging with billionaires who seem intent, among other things, on privatizing education, killing unions and eliminating government regulations that protect the air we breathe.”

As for the Ducey campaign, it wasn’t highlighting the Koch tape or the tape in which Chris Christie elbows Ducey aside in order to defend billionaires who have the resources and the connections to make or break ambitious Republican politicians like, well, Chris Christie.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Koch Brothers, Midterm Elections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Free Enterprise Groups”: How The Koch Brothers Helped Bring About The Law That Shut Texas Abortion Clinics

In this March 6, 2014 file photo, over 40 people hold a candle light vigil in front of the Whole Women’s HealthClinic in McAllen, Texas. The clinic will close on October 3, 2014, along with 12 others in Texas after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated part of sweeping new Texas abortion restrictions that also shuttered other facilities statewide six months ago. The state has only 8 remaining abortion clinics in operation.

In Texas politics, abortion is front and center once again—and so is the role of so-called “free enterprise” groups in the quest for government control of women’s lives.

Yesterday, there were 21 abortion clinics available to the women of Texas, the second-largest state in the nation. Today, thanks to a decision handed down from a three-judge panel on the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there are eight. But the story really begins with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, and the flow of money to anti-choice organizations from groups that profess to care only for the deregulation of industry and markets.

The closing of some 13 abortion clinics today in Texas hinges on a provision of the highly restrictive, anti-abortion bill passed in the state legislature in special session in 2013—the part of the law that requires clinics to comply with the building code standards for hospital-quality ambulatory surgical clinics, despite the assertion of nearly every credible medical association that such requirements are medically unnecessary.

In fact, the most significant effect of the facility requirements is to prevent women from obtaining safe abortions, since the clinics cannot not afford the alterations to their facilities demanded by the law. And given the state’s other restrictions on abortion—a mandatory and medically unnecessary sonogram, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on abortions taking place 20 weeks post-fertilization—you’d be forgiven for thinking that most significant effect to be by design.

That aspect of the law, as well as others, were challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other pro-choice groups. In August, the groups won a reprieve from the requirement that clinics meet hospital building-code standards, as well as from another provision that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the practice or clinic where they conduct the procedure. At that time, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin ruled in the clinics’ favor.

Then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, appealed Yeakel’s ruling, yielding Wednesday’s ruling from the three-judge panel in a decision that was contemptuous of Yeakel’s decision, declaring him to have exceeded his judicial authority.

But even more astonishing in the 5th Circuit’s opinion is its assertion that the shuttering of most of the state’s abortion clinics will not place an undue burden—the standard set in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—on women seeking abortions. According to the New York Times, some 5.4 million women of childbearing age live in the Lone Star State, which covers more than 268,000 square miles.

The ruling puts abortion politics front and center, once again, in the Texas gubernatorial race, just a month before Election Day. In truth, it’s the issue that’s provided the subtext of that race from the get-go, as the Democratic candidate, State Senator Wendy Davis, rose to national prominence for her fortitude in launching, on June 25, 2013, an 11-hour filibuster that temporarily forestalled passage of the law, as pro-choice demonstrators poured into the state capitol building. In his role as the state’s top lawyer, Abbott is charged with enforcing that law, and has done so with gusto

But, as I reported for RH Reality Check in November 2013, the rash of anti-abortion laws that flooded the agendas of state legislatures across the nation that summer were hardly the result of spontaneous uprisings; they were fueled with the dollars of such “free enterprise” groups as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and 60 Plus—all part of the fundraising network organized by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.

The brothers may care little about killing the right to choose, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hesitate to throw women under the bus if it helps them in their anti-regulatory, shrink-the-government crusade. Religious-right leaders, in recent years, theologized the free-market cause, providing the Kochs and their ilk with foot-soldiers willing to execute it, if only they could find their way to political power.

In the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gave license to groups like those mentioned above to spend unlimited sums in elections without disclosing their donors, millions of free-enterprise dollars flowed to anti-choice groups and politicians. (In Texas, for example, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, the sponsor of the House version of the draconian 2013 abortion law, was also president of the state chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential right-leaning group, supported by the Kochs, that crafts legislation designed to cut regulations on corporations.) The Koch network money led to an unprecedented number of anti-choice politicians elected to state legislatures in 2010 and 2012.

With a month to go before voters hit the polls, Wendy Davis is gaining on Greg Abbott, but a recent poll still has her 9 points behind the Republican. He’s likely to enjoy a flood of outside spending on his behalf by the Koch-network groups.

Then there’s money in their respective campaign coffers. “In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand,” reports Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, “while Davis had $8.8 million.”

In Texas, as in much of the nation, it’s hard for a woman to catch a break.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, October 3, 2014

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Reproductive Choice, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Purely Political Operation”: How The Koch Network Exploited The Veterans Affairs Crisis

As the scandal over waiting lists at Veterans Affairs hospitals exploded earlier this year, there was widespread outrage—and justifiably so, as the country learned that more than 100,000 veterans waited over ninety days for care or never received it.

An ever-present force in this debate was a group called Concerned Veterans for America. Its leader, Peter Hegseth, frequently appeared on cable news segments about the scandal, and CVA was often mentioned on the floor of the Senate.

Though the group doesn’t disclose its donors, it has for a long while been clear the group is funded in part, or perhaps even in full, by the Koch brothers. Any remaining doubt can now be erased thanks to audio from the secretive Koch donor retreat this summer, obtained by The Undercurrent and reported here.

Hegseth addressed the crowd and not only confirmed that the Koch network “literally created” CVA but explained giddily “the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning.”

Most notably, during his roughly ten-minute speech, Hegseth outlined how the group was turning legitimate grievances over Veterans Affairs care into a political weapon to attack both the Obama administration and the idea of government-provided healthcare.

When Kevin Gentry, vice president of the Charles G. Koch charitable foundation, introduced Hegseth to the assembled donors, he noted that “you all helped build a group called Concerned Veterans for America.”

At various points, Hegseth took pains to express his gratitude to the people funding his operation. “Concerned Veterans for America is an organization this network literally created to empower veterans and military families to fight for the freedom and prosperity here at home that we fought for in uniform on the battlefield,” he noted.

“We utilized the competitive advantage that only this network provides: the long-term vision to invest and the resources to back it up,” he continued.

Hegseth also created a distinct impression for the audience that CVA was responsible for bringing the VA crisis to the forefront:

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you know about the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs. What you probably don’t know is the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning.

After years of effort behind the scenes privately and publicly, the scandal eventually made national headlines when initially in Phoenix it was exposed that veterans were waiting on secret lists that were meant to hide the real wait times veterans had at VA facilities of months and months and months.

Indeed, CVA played a key role in bringing the scandal to the national consciousness. In early April of this year, a doctor from the now-infamous Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix retired and went to The Arizona Republic with allegations of falsified data about long wait times for patients.

But despite the story, it remained a local issue. One of the things that helped drive it into the national news was a rally organized by CVA in Phoenix with Republican Representative Dave Schweikert. Not long after, CNN reporter Drew Griffin ran a long investigative piece that sent the story viral.

The scandal surely deserves attention. But Hegseth’s speech is striking for the naked political motivations behind CVA’s advocacy, and what he deems most important:

Perhaps most importantly to this effort, we have created a new line of defense against the march towards socialized medicine, educating veterans and Americans in the process. Veterans have had government-run healthcare for decades. We’ve had the preview of Obamacare, and the scandal has exposed the inevitable result of central planning for all Americans: massive wait times, impenetrable bureaucracy, de facto rationing, wasted tax dollars. It goes on and on.

Throughout this effort, Concerned Veterans for America, along with our network partners, have intentionally broadened the debate to include big government dysfunction generally, further fortifying a new skepticism that AFP and others have brought to what government-run healthcare does.

Even before this year’s scandal, CVA was using problems with Veteran’s Affairs healthcare as a political cudgel against both the Affordable Care Act and vulnerable Democrats. This ad taken against Representative Alan Grayson is a good example, in which a veteran explains his troubles getting care and then says “If you want to know what Obamacare’s going to be like, just look at the VA system.”

CVA operates in the expanding world of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that, in reality, are pure political operations. The group’s finances are hard to parse, but it appears much of their spending is on ads targeting Democrats in swing states—late this summer, for example, CVA began a $1.6 million advertising campaign against Democratic Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina. (Notably, the air time was already reserved by the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, but they canceled their buy and turned it over to CVA.)

Finally in his speech, Hegseth claims that Republican senators were working hand-in-glove with CVA to pass the Sanders-McCain legislation this summer on veteran’s healthcare, and that the Koch network alone is responsible for the “market-based” reforms included in the bill:

Ten days ago, the Senate struck a historic deal, a deal that Concerned Veterans for America was central to in every aspect literally ensuring that the language stay focused on real market-based reform, and we pushed the ball across the Now usually deals in the Senate include only one thing: billions and billions of dollars in more spending. Not this one.

This deal, as with the legislation in the House, was instead built on two market-based reforms that were injected by Concerned Veterans for America and advanced the entire point, the entire way.

He names the accountability measures that allow quick termination of under-performing VA managers, which was initially advanced by Senator Marco Rubio.

Hegseth then says the “crown jewel” of the bill is the ability for veterans to obtain private healthcare if they are waiting too long in the VA system. “The latter reform, which seems like a no-brainer to everyone in this audience, is a huge development, rocking the core of big government status quo in Washington,” he claims.

Here, Hegseth is engaging in some undue bravado. The option for privatized care is for veterans is significant, though only available to veterans who have to wait thirty days or more for care or live more than forty miles from a VA facility. Hegseth doesn’t mention the provision has a sunset of three years or until funding runs out, whichever comes first.

And speaking of funding, the legislation increases the deficit by $10 billion. That would seem to go against much of the fiscal conservatism trumpeted elsewhere in the donor conference.

Nevertheless, the Hegseth speech is an interesting window into how the Koch network operates: funding an ostensible advocacy group that is, in fact, a relentless political operation—and one that can, with the right situation to exploit, do everything from take out political attack ads to help craft legislation.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, September 23, 2014

September 24, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Politics, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Deal!”: Koch Foundation Proposal To College; Teach Our Curriculum, Get Millions

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.

“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”

Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.

In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.

Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”

Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities — long bastions of liberal academics — would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.

Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students, and this year, his foundation donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”

Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”

A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.

Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.

But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.

That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.

Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.

While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”

The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.

The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”

Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”

Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.

Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”

The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.

At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.

“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”

Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.

“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”

The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.

For example, this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.

 

By: Dave Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Education, Koch Brothers, Libertarians | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Selfless Libertarian Activist?”: Charles Koch Personally Founded Group Protecting Oil Industry Hand-Outs, Documents Reveal

“Lifestyles of the Rich Environmentalists,” produced by a group called the Institute for Energy Research, is a slick web video campaign designed to lampoon Leonardo DiCaprio and will.i.am as hypocrites for supporting action on climate change. The claim is that wealthy celebrities who oppose industrial-scale pollution supposedly shouldn’t fly in airplanes that use fossil fuels. The group, along with its subsidiary, the American Energy Alliance, churns out a steady stream of related content, from Facebook memes criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency, to commercials demanding approval of new oil projects like the Keystone XL, to a series of television campaign advertisements this year attacking Democratic candidates in West VirginiaColoradoNorth Carolina and Alaska. On Capitol Hill, IER aggressively opposes any effort to repeal tax breaks afforded to the oil and gas industry.

Documents obtained by Republic Report reveal for the first time that the group was actually founded by none other than Charles Koch, the petrochemical, manufacturing, and oil-refining tycoon worth an estimated $52 billion.

IER has no information about its founding members on its website, and only lists a board composed of seemingly independent conservative scholars and businessmen. Earlier reports revealed that IER/AEA has received grants from Koch-funded foundations, and its leadership includes several individuals who have at times worked for Koch or Koch-related interests. But this is the first time it has been revealed that Charles personally founded the organization.

In October of 1984, Charles, then using a Menlo Park, California address, founded a non-profit called the Institute for Humane Studies of Texas. That organization briefly lost its charter in 1989 for failure to pay the Texas state franchise tax. Four years later, incorporation documents reveal, the group rebranded as the Institute for Energy Research, or IER, which later formed a subsidiary called the American Energy Alliance.

IER/AEA’s advocacy contrasts sharply with Charles’ personal brand as a selfless libertarian activist. The industrialist has argued that he is resolutely against special government handouts, such as tax credits or subsidies that benefit one industry over another. “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them,” Charles wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal this year.

But Charles’ group, IER/AEA, has fought to protect special tax breaks that benefit fossil fuel producers. Along with issuing press releases against various federal efforts to eliminate oil and gas industry tax credits, IER/AEA commissioned a study claiming that such tax reforms would have an adverse effect on jobs and on oil production.

Charles and his brother David are personally responsible for founding and funding much of the modern conservative infrastructure. The popular libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, was in fact first named the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc before rebranding. The largest political organization in America outside the Democratic and Republican parties is Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-organizing foundation also founded by the Kochs.

The latest organs in the Koch political network have carefully guarded the sources of their funding and direction. There is the new youth group, Generation Opportunity, along with the new veterans-related campaign organization, Concerned Veterans for America. But IER/AEA’s true origin casts new light on its motivations.
 

By: Lee Fang, Public Report, September 3, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Environment, Fossil Fuels, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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