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New Leaders Council Names 2013 Fellows

NLC training 2012

NLC Fellows at a training in 2012 – photo courtesy NLC-Louisiana’s Facebook page

Louisiana’s chapter of New Leaders Council just announced the 2013 class of Fellows for what will be their 4th annual statewide institute. The impressive, diverse group includes educators, attorneys, business and non-profit leaders, public servants, activists and social entrepreneurs.

Since 2010, NLC has conducted progressive leadership training for small groups of emerging young leaders. There is a rigorous selection process for the free program which is part of national network of chapters. In the Institute, Fellows meet monthly over five weekends to learn “political entrepreneur” skills – which emphasizes the application of risk-taking in the civic arena to achieve political goals.

NLC has a likewise impressive list of backers and alumni. The national alumni page includes current and aspiring elected officials, including State Representative Ted James of Baton Rouge who was part of the inaugural Louisiana class in 2010. Donors include former Governor Kathleen Blanco who also served as the chapter’s initial honorary co-chair.

While NLC has been operating across the country quietly since 2005, people are starting to take notice. In fact, last Sunday, the discussion on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show included New Leaders Council. Washington Monthly also published an article in September that sums up NLC’s work well:

The NLC is strikingly different from the typical DC think tank or policy shop focused on electioneering or fighting in the cable news trenches. For the last six years, its main operation is to run a kind of mini-graduate school in cities across the country for up-and-coming progressive political entrepreneurs, or “Fellows,” as they call them. In five weekends over five months, a class of around twenty fellows take classes in things like business, media and communications, campaign management, or political strategy. These fellows then serve as a network of communication and support as they move into their careers throughout the country.

And the NLC’s goal is not just to build a stable of potential congressional candidates—it has its eyes on every potential position of influence nationwide: city councils and school boards, boards and chairmanships of corporations, and of course state and national elected offices. The idea is to “infiltrate and take over all the levers of power—public and private, national and local,” says the NLC’s Executive Director Mark Riddle.

While local media and political commentators write off Louisiana as a permanent conservative stronghold, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact progressive groups like New Leaders Council can have.

Must Read On Education Reform In Louisiana

A national magazine takes a close look at the bizarre coincidence that some of America’s richest people, while not entranced enough to LIVE in Louisiana, are sufficiently interested in our education system to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to local education campaigns and political action committees.

It appears that the nation’s one-percenters are obsessed with poor Louisiana’s “experimental” education system. Like any good patricians, they sprinkle some (to them) insignificant amounts of cash toward this grand experiment that is our children’s future:

Last fall, a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815.

It turns out that two practical considerations drive this spending:

  1. Louisiana is a “cheap” state to play in. Politics might seem expensive here to the regular joe, but compared to TV ad rates in places like Florida or California, Louisiana is basically the low rent district. Furthermore, the counter-veiling forces, including teachers’ unions and advocacy groups, are basically not equipped to respond. They are broke and largely broken in the public opinion.
  2. Bobby Jindal has declared full-scale, no-holds-barred war on education and is unconstrained in his zeal to attempt total transformation. In other words, there are zero political obstacles in Louisiana for his agenda. Therefore, he can adopt as extreme agenda as possible, which only bolsters his standing in his ever-lasting run for another, higher office.

Read the whole article here.

A way of driving voters away?

Today I got a new driver’s license to reflect my weekend move from Baton Rouge to Lafayette. I did so as fast as I could to make the deadline for voting in the November elections. The deadline is 30 days prior to the Nov. 6 election — so if you aren’t sure about your current registration status, check it this week!

According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, voters are required to present identification such as driver’s license, Special ID or “some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.” Voters who don’t possess any of the above can bring “a utility bill, payroll check or government document that includes their name and address.” Voters with such documents “will have to sign an affidavit furnished by the Elections Division in order to vote.” As far as voting requirements go, this seems fair; it balances the integrity of the polls with accessibility for citizens.

I’ve spent 10 of my 14 voting years in Louisiana, and have never had a problem either voting or registering to do so. I voted in my first election before I had a driver’s license, using my college ID. A year later, I changed my address three weeks before an election, but still was able to vote at my previous precinct. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing everywhere I’ve lived.

Knock on wood.

One of the big political stories of 2012 has been the push toward more stringent voter laws nationwide. Though Louisiana hasn’t been among the major players in this push, the state shares the conservative makeup that most of the states involved have in common. Mandatory picture ID for voters could absolutely happen here in the near future.

Critics — I’m raising my hand here — contend that photo-ID laws are less about curbing voter fraud than about curbing voters, period. In a sense, it’s a genius political calculation by Republicans, who would benefit from the reduced influx of poor, minority, college and elderly voters for whom narrow ID standards can be an obstacle, and can disguise that de facto purge as upholding poll integrity. And who could possibly be against voter integrity?

Well, my trip to the DMV reminded me exactly why I’m against voter integrity — at least as the ID proponents define it.

In Lafayette, the DMV office is located at the very north edge of town near Carencro, on a frontage road off I-49. It’s the only one in the entire city, and people often confuse it with a police station on another frontage road (which, for a long time after the new DMV opened, had a stack of fliers pointing visitors to the correct location). The DMV’s isolated location is accessible almost exclusively by car, adjacent only to a Mexican restaurant whose core business is probably weary licensees. For those relying on the bus, their own two feet or a walker, it might as well be Emerald City. Even if you do get there, you’d better have the right papers and cash, just in case. Some don’t. Some never have.

As long as ID offices are less ubiquitous than polling stations, stringent ID laws are going to disenfranchise some (or many) legit voters — citizens whose only crime is lack of access to offices and/or proper documentation. For those making the push, this outcome is exactly what they want.

Let’s make sure anyone wanting to bring Louisiana into this poisonous movement has an equally tough road ahead.

Everyone deserves a party

Louisiana is, to understate it drastically, an interesting state. It is an epicenter for diverse cultures and events not typically seen anywhere in the U.S., let alone the Deep South. And yet, it is one of the reddest states in the country. Why?

To start, Louisiana is an oil-and-gas state. Its people are largely religious and socially conservative. Businesses are widely seen as saintly as, well, the Saints. The state’s top leadership is a virtual Republican monopoly. In a sense, Louisiana’s steady migration from Democrat to Republican seems natural, if not inevitable.

But even Republicans will lose in the long-term if Louisiana slides so deeply into a one-party system. Why? Look no further than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform. It’s revolutionary, and not for a good reason. Such an unabashed kickback to parochial and charter schools would not have happened had there been a healthy ideological balance in state government. A “yes man” autocracy is a disaster in the making for any leader, regardless of affiliation.

Republicans don’t shoulder all the blame for that; Democrats have been inconsistent in their opposition. The party’s label has become toxic enough that many state Democrats switch to Republican just to have a chance at the polls. That stigma is in part due to Louisiana’s longstanding reputation as a pit of one-party (Democrat/Dixiecrat) corruption. Another aspect is outnumbered progressive citizens either hesitant to speak out or discouraged that it will do much good.

I wouldn’t say the ratio of liberal to conservative in Louisiana is anywhere close to even, but it’s also not as one-sided as its leadership would suggest. The difference is largely one of confidence.

By and large, people here assume that you’re a Republican — specifically, that you’re a far-right, tea party-leaning neoconservative. They’re the ones who offer forth their opinion in public with confidence. Conservatives freely affix bumper stickers advocating their candidates and stances, but an Obama sticker is more likely to meet and greet a baseball bat.

Coming out as liberal — or otherwise being critical of conservatism or unchecked capitalism in any way — can lead to horrified reactions from otherwise loving people. They take it as personally as if you declined to eat their home-cooked seafood dish. (I’ve had plenty of point-and-shriek moments on both counts.) This usually results in liberals being far less confident and effective than their conservative counterparts. For candidates, it’s political suicide.

Being born and raised in south Louisiana, I didn’t fully see just how deep this attitude is rooted until I moved away. I lived in Missouri for four years — itself not the most secular or progressive state. But I noticed right away that liberals, despite being the minority there, weren’t reticent. It was the first time in my life that I regularly ran into people who would espouse left-of-center views to a total stranger. The newspaper for which I worked published columns from readers, and they ran a far more diverse spectrum of views than I was used to here. The liberal writers frequently defied stereotypes — many were older, white, male business owners and even preachers. The free and frank exchange of ideas was a tremendous eye-opener. The difference became even more stark when I moved back to Louisiana and saw the political climate through new eyes.

Plenty of progressive people live in Louisiana. We’re not a tiny sliver of the population. At least, not as small as our say in state affairs would suggest. What we need to do is match the confidence and the clout of conservatives. Show our increasingly disaffected fellow citizens that alternatives exist — alternatives that don’t oppose their best interests as much as they might think, wherever they stand.

After all, Louisiana is our home too.

Jindal and His Vouchers

As Bobby Jindal basks in the glow of VP speculation, his school voucher plan continues to garner national, as well – just not the positive kind.

From a Washington Post blog:

One of those schools is the church-affiliated New Living Word School, which was approved to increase its student enrollment from 122 to 315 — even though it doesn’t have the space, computers or the teachers to handle the students, according to the News-Star.

This means that this school will have 100 more voucher slots than any other school in Louisiana. The state Department of Education chose schools to qualify for vouchers without visiting any campuses.

According to the News-Star, Rev. Jerry Baldwin, the school’s principal and pastor of New Living Word Ministries, said that construction will begin this summer on a metal school building though he isn’t sure when it will be done. Current students now attend class in rooms used by the church’s Sunday school. If the new building is finished by the fall, he said, new students can hold class in the church gym.

The school’s mission, according to its Web site, is: “The mission of NLWM School is to provide a foundation built on biblical principles that will create an atmosphere for scholastic advancement and spiritual development.”

The school, Baldwin was quoted as saying, is moving forward “on faith.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch also reported on her blog that another school, the Eternity Christian Academy in Calcasieu Parish, will benefit from the voucher program. It now enrolls 14 students but has said it will take in 135 new students, a move that will result in some $1 million in taxpayer funds.

Jindal Reform Routes Tax Dollars to Religious Schools

Of the 125 schools approved to accept taxpayer funds under Louisiana’s new school voucher law, 115 (92%) are affiliated with a church or other religious organization.

From Americans United:

Louisiana has an incredibly bad record when it comes to taxpayer aid to religious schools.

Back in the 1920s, Gov. Huey Long pushed a bill through the legislature giving textbooks to Catholic schools at taxpayer expense. The state has been the site of repeated efforts to siphon tax dollars away from public schools into the coffers of religious schools ever since.

The Jindal administration released the list of schools which will participate in the voucher program starting this fall. Nine are private yet not directly connected with a religious purpose, and one is a public school. Almost all are religious and located in urban areas along the I-10 corridor. Here’s some additional data:

  • 380,000 = Total estimated eligible students statewide
  • 7,450 = Total number of slots
  • 125 = Total number of participating schools
  • 115 = Religious private schools
  • 9 = Non-religious private schools
  • 1 = public school 
  • ~12 = Participating schools in North & Central Louisiana
  • 33 = Parishes with approved schools
  • $8,500 = taxpayer money per voucher

“I can tell you that this is not a Louisiana agenda. This is a national agenda to do away with public education as we know it.” Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs

Apart from potential lawsuits which would challenge the vouchers on religious grounds, there may be more legal battles on the horizon for Jindal’s vouchers. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers opposed the voucher program citing the unconstitutional routing of public Minimum Funding Program (MFP) dollars into private hands. The union, led by President Steve Monaghan, has promised a lawsuit against the state on these grounds.

Another interesting development comes from one of the most conservative parts of the state. The St. Tammany Parish School Board approved a resolution to possibly challenge the education reform package on several constitutional grounds, in coordination with the Louisiana School Board Association and other school boards across the state. One of the principal grounds is also the routing of public school MFP funding into private schools – something that deprives school boards of much-needed funds. The folks in St. Tammany say that suing the state is the only way they can fight to save their public school system.

Lombardi’s Entirely Fictional Fable

Former LSU System President John V. Lombardi is now a fiction writer. At his blog at Inside Higher Ed, he describes the struggles of a corrupt authoritarian, though fictional, small nation in great detail: 

Imagine a small, developing country of perhaps 3 million people. Like many other small developing countries, our imaginary nation is rich in natural resources, its economy has prospered on the export of agricultural crops and benefited from the revenue generated by petroleum production, refining, and support services. Its history, like some of its counterparts in the developing world, reflects a constant structural economic weakness covered by a colorful culture, truly creative and charming people, and an often dramatic sequence of past events.

He goes on to describe the political leadership as a “populist authoritarian government led by individuals in search of advancement to more prosperous and internationally significant posts.” Again, entirely made up. (What is this guy smoking, right?) Some of his writing is clearly influenced, quite peripherally, by the whimsy of Louisiana. But certainly not his description of the regime’s response to opposition: 

When confronted with opposition, the regime mobilizes its sycophantic adherents and paid partisans to discredit, isolate, and eventually drive out any people with an ability or opportunity to address the real issues and consequences of the regime’s behavior. The technique, developed with great political skill, involves three fronts.

The first is the effort to co-opt anyone with an independent perspective. These individuals receive coveted appointments to government boards, association with the regime’s powerful people, and assurances that the regime will protect their business and personal interests. This works quite effectively with some people, although others choose not to participate, and normally responsible individuals become dependents of the regime, bound to provide whatever support the regime requires.

When this strategy fails, as it often does with independent agency officials of some visibility, the regime turns to a form of more direct engagement. In this second mode, representatives of the regime explain to the official that the better tactic for success during these years would involve a collaborative arrangement with the regime. That collaboration would provide support and regime protection for the official, permitting continued leadership of the agency. But to achieve this protection and collaboration, and to ensure that the agreement to work together is of substance, the regime requires a test of loyalty. This loyalty test requires the official to dispose of close associates whose work the regime dislikes. Absent those associates, the regime’s messengers promise but do not guarantee the official a secure role as a significant leader under the regime’s protection.

This message of threat disguised as offer is usually delivered by reputable business leaders associated with the regime who also maintain a relationship with the non-conforming official. Should the official appear at all reluctant, the regime then reinforces the message by mobilizing their most trusted direct political operatives to echo the message.

When this second more direct approach fails, the regime moves to the third stage and mobilizes its dependents, especially those connected in one way or another to the non-conforming official, and identifies a method to remove the dangerous behavior of regime independence. This involves a conspiracy to exile the offending official, preferably to another nation. Recognizing the transparency of this maneuver, the regime activates its media experts and develops a slanderous rationale for the forced exile. A few courageous people object, but others fall silent, for the price of failing to cooperate with the regime is now clearly revealed.

Wow – so imaginative! A little fiction writing is always a good way to distract from the trials and tribulations here in Louisiana.

Piyush In The Budget Choke Hold

Governor David Vitter.

Sound good to you?

We thought not. Last week, however, we personally tasted our first Vitter-tinged teabagging as citizens under the rule of what could very possibly be the State’s next Governor. The Vitter-Kennedy tea-tard alliance gummed up the State House so badly that Gov. Jindal’s kabuki thuggery couldn’t put humpty back together again.

Jindal, in the end, is simply a privatizer, not a small-government advocate. He doesn’t want to make “government” smaller, he just wants the money to go to private corporations owned by his friends. If you actually shrink government, those guys might get less money! Aghast. That’s what the one-time money fight is all about. Jindal wants to keep the revenue veins open for his corporate vulture buddies. Vitter just wants to kill the patient dead. Oh yeah, and the patient is regular Louisianians struggling with one of the nation’s poorest, least healthy, and worst-educated states. But we digress.

Back to our story: So, Vitter had been warning Jindal over the use of “one-time” (sweeping revenues from other purposes to pay for Government operations) money in the State budget for weeks. Even as Vitter endorsed Jindal last year, Vitter made it clear that he was coming for Jindal. It was one of those tongue-in-cheek endorsements, sort of like this:

Here, Godfather of right-wing tea-bagging David Vitter kisses his brother-in-arms, signaling his brother’s death.

Vitter’s allies in the legislature aren’t quite willing to cop to the game, lest they lose what independent balls they have left. Yet, it is undeniably the work of a dark-master of strategy:

Denials aside, Vitter has been peppering House members with emails and phone calls asking them to oppose Jindal on this issue.

For instance, last week Vitter emailed some representatives: “I think it’s crucial that we take the tough, but important, fiscal stand to end the use of ‘one-time’ money to balance the state budget … Please stand tall — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded colleagues and the great majority of Louisianians.”

Vitter, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 after serving in the Louisiana House for 12 years, also emailed constituents suggesting they contact their legislators and voice their “rejection of the tired and wasteful ways of the good ’ol boys who used to run things in Louisiana.”Of course, legislators receive all manner of communications from constituents exhorting the representatives to stand this way or that on various issues. But few correspondences have much impact among the House majority, if the way they’re urging differ from what Jindal’s aides say.

Jindal’s own political apparatus apparently spends its quality time with reporters attacking David Vitter, off the record of course:

About 30 minutes after the request Thursday to interview Vitter, his press secretary released a prepared statement that acknowledged the U.S. senator was “reaching out to legislators” and quoted the senator congratulating House conservatives “for standing tall” when they refused to accept “one time” money in the budget.

Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s political adviser, said, “Sen. Vitter and the U.S. Senate have not passed a budget in almost three years. Until they do, he should probably spend his time focused on that.”

Both Ivy League-educated officials repeatedly profess love and admiration for the other. But both Jindal and Vitter practice scorched-earth politics, and their aides in casual conversation are quick to belittle the other big elephant in the house — all off the record, of course.

The strongest will survive, so let’s see them rumble! Of course, Timmy Teepell is home-schooled, so he doesn’t know anything about natural selection. But he does know the Governor’s politics fairly well. And we would venture to guess that’s not the toughest thing he says about the Sinator behind closed doors.

Vitter’s not-so-silent partner in all of this is Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy. As many would acknowledge, Kennedy is held in high esteem around Baton Rouge by the business crowd at the Camelot club, and his dark alliance with Vitter only works in Kennedy’s favor overall.

For Bobby: When It Rains, It Pours On Your Vice-Presidential Dreams

From Esquire Magazine’s Pierce On Politics Blog

As the most recent bless’d Republican savior (David Frum fluffs the living shit out of the Jindal-for-VP-Will-Save-Mittens bandwagon here, calling ole Bobby “a brilliant policy mind with an inspirational life story who has run an effective government in corruption-tainted Louisiana.“), Bobby Jindal must be wetting his kids-size pants. National pundits all over the conservative spectrum (which spans a very acute wavelength) have been cheer-leading for Jindal as either a.) Mitt Romney’s very best awesome choice for Vice President – job that “isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit,” or b.) as a upstart, GOP convention coup d’tat replacement for the savagely emasculated Mittens Romney on the top of the ticket.

Sadly, for those of us who actually live in the state that Jindal “governs,” it seems like the gold standard has truly worn off:

The Jindal administration has certainly been very good for Bobby Jindal, but it hasn’t been so great for, you know, the rest of us Louisianians.

1. “Louisiana Last in ‘Camelot’ Index”

What does that mean exactly? No King Arthurs? No, something more damning:

Louisiana ranks dead last on a new composite index comparing how the fifty states fare on measures of economic vitality, education, health, crime and governance. The “Camelot Index” is issued annually by Federal Funds Information for States, a non-partisan subscription service created by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks and reports on the fiscal impact of federal budget and policy decisions on state budgets and programs.

…The Camelot Index brings together measures of economic vitality, health, education, crime, society and government. In the current index, many states rank consistently across measures, while others do quite well on some measures but not on others. “Overall for 2012, Louisiana ranks as Camelot-Not, with the report noting that, “Nevada and South Carolina move out of the bottom ranking from 2011, replaced this year by Louisiana. Seven of the Index’s 10 bottom-ranking states are from the South.”

While Gov. Bobby Jindal has foresworn any interest in being Mitt Romney’s running-mate, the Camelot ranking comes at an inopportune moment if he harbors any such ambition. The governor’s stewardship of Louisiana has won rave reviews in the conservative press, but the FFIS ranking would seem to indicate that Louisiana has a long way to go.

Even the Jindal “economic miracle” is slammed in the report:

The Camelot Index’s “healthy economy” ranking is based on the percentage of people in poverty, employment growth, population growth, per capita income growth, per capita federal tax liabilities — a reflection of high incomes — per capita taxable resources and the annual mean wage for retail salespeople. Combining these criteria, New Jersey ranked number one, followed by North Dakota, Wyoming, Maryland and Virginia. Louisiana placed 41st. Mississippi and Alabama were at the bottom.

Oh, I guess “Believing” in Louisiana just isn’t enough. Government by a hope and a prayer certainly isn’t working out for old Bobby.

2. Louisiana Most Violent State in the U.S.

Another wonderful reflection of the state of our state under Bobby Jindal was released this past week, and it’s a doozy:

According to a recent report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, Louisiana was ranked America’s most violent state for the 20th year in a row, based on homicide, violent crime and incarceration rates, as well availability of firearms.

“…What the [report] shows is that over the past 20 years, America has become substantially more peaceful, witnessing a significant and sustained reduction in direct violence,” said IEP founder and executive chairman Steve Killelea in a release.”Homicide rates in the U.S. have halved since 1991 and the violent crime rate has also fallen by nearly half during the same period.”

America becomes more peaceful, while Louisiana brings up the rear. Can’t even say “why Louisiana ain’t Mississippi” on this one, huh Jay Dardenne?

He’s done such a great job here, why not just make give him a promotion!

Budget Reality Catches Up On Jindal

How charming? It looks as though Governor Jindal’s economic miracle in Louisiana isn’t such a miracle after all. Not that he’d admit it:

The Revenue Estimating Conference — which decides how much money the state can spend — revised the state’s financial forecast Tuesday night after listening to economists’ projections.The state operating budget that funds schools and other public services is based on those projections. When they fall short, extra money has to be found or spending has to be cut.“The problem isn’t just too high of a forecast. The problem is the economy,” said Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Albrecht said the underlying economy is weaker than it is being reported to be. It’s an assessment to which Gov. Bobby Jindal disagrees.

Mind you, this is after the REC reported that revenues were a full $304m less than anticipated, putting more strain on an already beleaguered State operating budget. But after the facts were presented, Jindal refused to address his role in causing the disaster:

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s top budget aide, said state agencies already are aware of the financial problems.“Obviously, we’re going to have to make reductions,” Rainwater said.

The governor tried to strike a positive note during a news conference after the meeting concluded. Jindal said Louisiana’s economy is performing comparatively well. “Obviously, we’re going to work with the Legislature to make sure we have a balanced budget,” the governor said.

Jindal’s positive spin on the state’s economy conflicted with the conversation at the Revenue Estimating Conference meeting.

Well, “OBVIOUSLY” you are  required to balance the budget, but isn’t it also obvious that most of this issue is the result of Jindal’s addiction to one-time money and privatization schemes in his budgeting strategy?

Obviously.

But Jindal wouldn’t have to stray too far from the GOP alternative reality to get advice. None other than the Sinator “Diapers” David Vitter needled Jindal on this front earlier this month:

In an email to supporters, Vitter said the state’s continued use of one-time dollars for ongoing expenses only serves to “kick the can down the road from making the tough, but necessary, budget decisions for our state” because the state isn’t certain to continue to have the money.

“That practice is too akin to Washington’s way of business, and Louisianians rightly acknowledge Washington doesn’t know the first thing about fiscal stewardship,” Vitter wrote.The senator urged “conservative reformers” to restrict the use of such budget maneuvers that shuffle one-time dollars to continuing expenses.”It will certainly make budget decisions tougher, but I believe it will also make our fiscal house healthier in the long run,” Vitter said

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