The Washington Quid Pro Quo and a Comment on Roe v. Wade

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Yves here. On the one hand, it’s good to see the fact that Congressional committee chairmanships are bought and paid for finally starting to get some traction. On the other hand, we are hardly Washington insiders, yet we wrote about this back in 2011 in Tom Ferguson: Congress is a “Coin Operated Stalemate Machine”. An extract:

Ferguson cites the work of Marian Currander on how it works for the Democrats in the House of Representatives:

Under the new rules for the 2008 election cycle, the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] asked rank-and-file members to contribute $125,000 in dues and to raise an additional $75,000 for the party. Subcommittee chairpersons must contribute $150,000 in dues and raise an additional $100,000. Members who sit on the most powerful committees … must contribute $200,000 and raise an additional $250,000. Subcommittee chairs on power committees and committee chairs of non-power committees must contribute $250,000 and raise $250,000. The five chairs of the power committees must contribute $500,000 and raise an additional $1 million. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel must contribute $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. The four Democrats who serve as part of the extended leadership must contribute $450,000 and raise $500,000, and the nine Chief Deputy Whips must contribute $300,000 and raise $500,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must contribute a staggering $800,000 and raise an additional $25 million.

Ferguson teases out the implications:

Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising…..

The whole adds up to something far more sinister than the parts. Big interest groups (think finance or oil or utilities or health care) can control the membership of the committees that write the legislation that regulates them. Outside investors and interest groups also become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within the parties in Congress. You want your man or woman in the leadership? Just send money. Lots of it….

The Congressional party leadership controls the swelling coffers of the national campaign committees, and the huge fixed investments in polling, research, and media capabilities that these committees maintain — resources the leaders use to bribe, cajole, or threaten candidates to toe the party line… Candidates rely on the national campaign committees not only for money, but for message, consultants, and polling they need to be competitive but can rarely afford on their own..

This concentration of power also allows party leaders to shift tactics to serve their own ends….They push hot-button legislative issues that have no chance of passage, just to win plaudits and money from donor blocs and special-interest supporters. When they are in the minority, they obstruct legislation, playing to the gallery and hoping to make an impression in the media…

The system …ensures that national party campaigns rest heavily on slogan-filled, fabulously expensive lowest-common-denominator appeals to collections of affluent special interests. The Congress of our New Gilded Age is far from the best Congress money can buy; it may well be the worst. It is a coin-operated stalemate machine that is now so dysfunctional that it threatens the good name of representative democracy itself.

Back to the present post. So if this situation has been an open secret for over a decade…why the silence? Perhaps this is the Beltway code of omerta: access journalism is the only game in town, so no one dares bite the hands that feed them.

As to Neuburger on Roe v. Wade, the fact that many people are mighty unhappy about it being overturned is not germane unless they manage to pass new Federal legislation, which seems unlikely. Women’s advocacy groups collectively need to be taken out and shot. If you read the original ruling, it’s a handwave. It was always vulnerable to being reversed. And yet those with most to lose did nothing to protect their rights. The response to abortion doctors being shot and women going to abortion clinics being threatened didn’t elicit remotely the warranted level of outrage. This action should have been made domestic terrorism in the laws of the Democratic-leaning states and prosecuted as such. The defenders of abortion acting like a bunch of wimps helped pave the way to where we are.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

NOTE: With the bombshell release of the leak of the Roe v. Wade draft decision, a ruling that will void both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey when it becomes “law” — because yes, the Supreme Court now writes law — I want to point out Cenk Uygur’s comments quoted near the end of the piece below.

If you are a Roe advocate or a choice advocate and you think the Democratic Party will somehow save this situation, you can relax and stop the conniptions — they won’t. From Bloomberg: “Biden Pledges to Try to Enshrine Roe Into Law If Court Strikes Down Landmark Ruling”.

This means, first, that Biden and the national Democratic Party have no plans to fix the Court, which is the source of the problem. And second, it means that the national Democratic Party plans to fix the national choice problem using the broken Congressional process that failed to get even his own agenda passed.

As Uygur says, quoted below, regarding the corruption that has metastasized in both political parties:

Democrats do it too [i.e., are corrupted by money as well]. Definitely. Do not ever listen to corporate media telling you, “Oh, when Mitch McConnell takes the money, oh, it is nefarious.” … But if Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden take it, “Oh, it is angelic. It’s all charity. It’s all for the public good.”

No. You saw [that the Democratic majority] didn’t pass a single thing that would help the average American worker when they had clear majorities in the House, the Senate, and the presidency.

[The Democrats protest,] “Oh, well, it’s because other Democrats wouldn’t go along.” Why wouldn’t they go along? For this exact reason. You remember, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, two Democrats [who] went to go collect checks from the [National] Restaurant Association after they voted against the 15 dollar minimum wage. What was the special interest most interested in defeating the 15 dollar minimum wage? The National Restaurant Association. [emphasis his]

It certainly seems that the national Democratic Party is too corrupted by money to be of help to actual people. You saw it during the last two years and you’ll see it with Roe. They’ll respond vociferously (they have to, given who they depend on for votes), but do little that’s effective. You can’t serve money and stay on the side of the angels. That circle can’t be squared.

And now to the original piece planned for today.


I’ve written about this elsewhere, but these facts are so little known that they bear repeating. Fortunately, we have Lauren Windsor’s undercover reporting (see video below) to point them out again.

Fact: Both parties in the House force members to buy their way on important committees. The going rate for an “A group” committee seat, like Ways and Means where the money gets doled out, starts at 1 million dollars and goes up from there.

Where does a congressperson get that kind of money?

Fact: From lobbyists, who often specify explicitly what their money should buy them. Thus when a House member takes that money, she or he knowingly agrees to the trade.

Note in these transactions there are two quids and two quos. First, money from lobbyists is given by elected House members to the NRCC and the DCCC for use in buying House seats during primaries and elections (almost none of which gets spent on progressives). That’s the first quid pro quo — the purchase of committee seats, and especially chairmanships, from party leaders by elected House members.

The second quid pro quo is what the lobbyists’ money buys from the favored House member — his or her vote on legislation the lobbyists’ clients are interested in.

Note that all this quidding and quoing starts with the parties themselves. If House committee seats weren’t for sale, House members wouldn’t need to go to lobbyists to raise cash for them. Thus both parties abet in creating a corrupt system, and both parties benefit from it. In other words, the corruption is institutional and institutionally enforced by the parties.

The corruption is also perfectly legal, which is why (almost) everyone feels perfectly free to do it.

Mo Brooks Explains How Washington Really Works

The latest revelation of these facts comes from corrupt House member Mo Brooks (R-AL), who spilled those particular beans in an apparent attempt to curry favor with Alabama constituents in his so-far-failing campaign for a Senate seat

Consider the secretly recorded video above. I’ve transcribed most of it (very lightly edited for clarity) for those who prefer reading to listening.

[Mo Brooks:] I’m sure y’all are very much concerned about why our Congress is so unresponsive to the regular needs of American citizens, why some of these policies that come out are so bizarre, so unfair, so skewered [sic; he means skewed] against regular Jane and Joe Citizen. The reason is simple. Special interest groups run Washington, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean literally.

Here is how it happens. In the House of Representatives — I use that as an example because that’s where I work — if you want to be chairman of a major committee, you have to purchase it. And the purchase price for a major committee, like Ways and Means, [the] minimum bid is a million dollars. Now I’m talking literally here. I’m not talking metaphorically.

We have committees broken down by A group, B group, and C group. C are the cheapest, B are middling, A is the most expensive. [A group] is the most expensive because those are the committees that the special interest groups care the most about.

So where does a congressman come up with a million dollars to be chairman of one of these A committees? You can’t get it from Joe and Jane Citizen because Joe and Jane Citizen back home, they’re not going to be contributing that kind of money. …

You have to get it from the special interest groups, and with the special interest groups there is a quid pro quo. If you don’t do what they tell you to do, they won’t give you the money that finances your chairmanship.

Then Brooks provided examples:

I had one guy who ran for chairman of the NRCC [National Republican Congressional Committee], which is where the Republicans pay their money for these committee assignments and chairmanships, just as the Democrats pay theirs to the DCCC. And this guy who wanted to be chair of the NRCC actually had a brochure. And that brochure had price listings listed on it. And his argument for getting elected was, “Elect me. I will charge you less.”

Now you understand how the public policy debate is corrupted. … You have to do what the special interest groups require, which undermines the public policy debate. The money now is triumph[ant].

I’ll give you a second example, so it’s not [just] Mo Brooks talking. … Congressman Thomas Massie, who by the way endorsed me yesterday … he had a lobbyist come up to him, and the lobbyist said, “Look, I will pay your $500,000 to be on Ways and Means if you will sponsor this patent bill.”

Thomas is brilliant, he has patents, MIT grad. And Thomas said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

And he looked at it and he said, “No, this hurts the small inventor. The people with the power and the money are going to use that power and money to steal the patent rights from the person who actually had the idea, who should be reaping the rewards of that idea.”

So Thomas went back to the lobbyist and said, “No, I’m not going to do it.”

The lobbyist said, “Okay, I’m not going to pay that $500,000.”

Thomas Massie got that published on the front page of USA Today, that story. And I saw it, and I’m going, “Finally, somebody else in the House of Representatives who is honorable, who is ethical, and sees the corruption associated with this process.”

Note the self-aggrandizement, by the way. Brooks is running for, and losing, the Senate seat in Alabama, and he obvious wants to paint himself as a drain-the-swamp guy, despite the sums that he himself has taken and from whom he’s taken it.

But back to Brooks:

And I went to Thomas and said, “Thank you for doing that [publishing the article].” And Thomas responded, “Well, I made one big mistake.”

[And I said,] “It looked good to me.”

[He] said, “Well, I talked about it [in the article] in terms of ‘buying committee assignments,’ when really it’s a rental agreement [because] you have to pay [the party’s committee membership fee] every two years.”

And of course, the so-called “news” outlets are quite familiar with this arrangement.

Now the national media knows about this. Both political parties do it. So neither party rises to the occasion and makes this a major public policy issue that would increase exposure about what’s getting done.

I’ll bet everyone in Washington is familiar with this arrangement. It’s just us rubes who are (kept) in the dark.

Austerity for Thee, Corruption for Me and My Friends

In a separate video discussing this revelation, The Young Turk‘s Cenk Uygur explains how these facts account for the austerity being visited on the country by its leaders:

[Cenk Uygur:] Democrats do it too. Definitely. Do not ever listen to corporate media telling you, “Oh, when Mitch McConnell takes the money, oh, it is nefarious.” … But if Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden take it, “Oh, it is angelic. It’s all charity. It’s all for the public good.”

No. You saw [that the Democratic majority] didn’t pass a single thing that would help the average American worker when they had clear majorities in the House, the Senate, and the presidency.

[The Democrats protest:] “Oh, well, it’s because other Democrats wouldn’t go along.” Why wouldn’t they go along? For this exact reason. You remember, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, two Democrats [who] went to go collect checks from the [National] Restaurant Association after they voted against the 15 dollar minimum wage. What was the special interest most interested in defeating the 15 dollar minimum wage? The National Restaurant Association. [emphasis his]

Where Are Our Electeds, the Progressives?

You might think that honest progressives, people like AOC and Cori Bush, would blow the whistle on this corruption. After all, they work for the people, right? You would be wrong in that thinking. Have you heard such a denunciation from any of our progressive electeds? In the same video, Uygur explains why:

[Uygur:] By the way, progressives in Congress, you couldn’t do that [speak like Mo Brooks just did]? You know why they didn’t do it? Because it would offend their beloved Democratic colleagues, who all bought their chairmanship through corruption.

For example, Richie Neal, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, the [committee] that Mo Brooks mentioned because it’s the most powerful committee in the House [and it] controls the money. The guy in charge of that committee is Richie Neal. He is a Democrat who is one of the most corrupt people in all of Congress. He often beats the Republicans in corruption. Why do you think he controls the most powerful committee in the House? Because he’s the most corrupt.

But if progressives [blow the whistle like Brooks did], they’re like, “Oh, that is a colleague! That is a colleague!”

And everybody in Washington will cry. And the press will blame them [progressives] for causing division within the Democratic Party by saying true things. …

Uygur concludes: “So it takes a loathsome Republican on the last days of his desperate campaign to finally admit something that they all know.”

Apparently it does, and via a secretly recorded video at that.

And that’s how things work in Washington.

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38 comments

  1. Randall Flagg

    One always knew it was bad but Jesus Lollipop. I would like to email that clip to my senators and Rep in DC, Leahy, Sanders and Welch and see if they can confirm this, LOL

    There you go kids, the best way to get ahead in the good old USA, sell your soul, dismiss and destroy all decency within yourself as a normal human being and become a politician. Or a lobbyist. Those politicians are certainly doing much better than the average Joe. I have a hard time imagining what the hardships and collapse this country is going to have to go through to get to a better system of governing ourselves that would actually be for to the average citizen.

    I am reminded of what the radio personality Paul Harvey once said ( unknown who may have first said it), ” Self government doesn’t work without self discipline”

    Reply
  2. .human

    “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.”

    Several attributions and regularly seen in print in the US from the 1850’s.

    There are likely closely worded examples from antiquity. A barnacle upon the human condition.

    Reply
  3. Stick'em

    “Multivariate analysis indicates economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

    Gilens and Page (PDF)

    Consider what this is saying. The average person has zero impact on American politics outcomes. So we spend who knows how much of our time and effort keeping up with politics, having informed opinions about policies, discussing these things with other people, and not a single bit of our effort matters in the decision making of American politicians because their decisions are already bought. We might as well be following the Backstreet Boys or the latest Kardashian clan antics for all it matters.

    The fact we accept this situation as the status quo means we have learned helplessness.

    Reply
  4. flore

    Texas Dem primary runoff.
    https://www.businessinsider.com/henry-cuellar-vs-jessica-cisneros-texas-28th-district-live-results-2022-3

    Guess which candidate Pelosi and other top Dems are going to Texas to support?

    About buying committee assignments – that’s been going on since the 1990’s. Before pay-to-play, committee assignments were determined in large part by seniority. Seniority meant having been re-elected to Congress several times by the Congressperson’s local voters. Pay-to-play was the change, imo, that completely divorced the representation of voters’ interests from Congressperson’s actions.
    I still remember the Clinton era Dems claiming pay-to-play was a means to an end – competitiveness with the GOP. Now both parties are competing to see which is the most corrupt, imo. The ‘end’ is greater corruption and much less representation of the majority of voters’ interests.

    Reply
    1. flora

      adding, I wrote yesterday in another post’s comments :

      These people will do anything for money, and only for money.

      Reply
      1. flora

        adding: there’s a bill sitting in committee right now that Dem’s won’t bring to the floor for a vote. (like the m4a vote they refused to hold.) Tell’s me all I need to know about how “serious” the Dems are about protecting a woman’s right to choose. But, they’ll make impassioned speeches – they really! mean it this time – and ask for donations, in an endless cycle of doing nothing, asking for your money, and blaming the other party.

        https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3755/text

        Reply
        1. amechania

          I might have already remarked how depressing it is to consider Diane Feinstein might be taking hustling bribes she no longer even gets to remember taking.

          It boggles the mind.

          Reply
        2. Oh

          People donating to these low lives need to see a qualified shrink. I suggest people voting for these crooks do the same.

          Reply
        3. steve2241

          I’m wondering what the ratio is between special interest contributions versus the nickle and dimes collected from Joe Q. Public. I suspect it’s highly lop-sided. Gilens and Page for the win.

          Reply
    2. Tom Doak

      I have understood the pay for play nature of lobbying for years. Even so, I only thought that Pelosi would make trips to campaign against progressives in order to maintain her power. It never occurred to me that she might also be “raising” money directly from lobbyists who don’t want to see Cisneros or Nina Turner in Congress.

      And since the corrupt Richard Neal was specifically mentioned in this article, let’s not forget what all the woke Democrats did in 2020 to discredit his primary challenger.

      Reply
      1. Big River Bandido

        You only used the phrase “Woke Democrats”, I would specifically include Senator Fauxchahontas, who is as dirty as Democrats come.

        Reply
      2. flora

        Remember the powerful Dem estab rushed to Connecticut to stump for Lieberman after he lost the Dem primary to candidate Lamont? Lieberman won the general running as an “Independent Dem” for Lieberman party ticket head… that had exactly one candidate. All the Dem estab backed him with money and campaign help.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_United_States_Senate_election_in_Connecticut

        Two years later Pelosi let Lieberman know she owned him. (There’s a rougher phrase about “owning” a man’s stuff – but this is a family blog. )

        https://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Pelosi-warns-Lieberman-for-undercutting-Obama-3200767.php

        Reply
  5. The Rev Kev

    Well at least they don’t have bidding rooms – I think. I can see it now. The auctioneer bangs his gavel and shouts-

    ‘Now Ladies & Gentleman. Next position on the block is as a Committee member of the House Committee on Ways and Means. This is an exclusive Committee with a minimum bid of one million dollars in cash and all settlements will be done immediately after the auction so please have your paddles ready. First bid then?’

    Reply
  6. Aleric

    Guess I’m surprised this is a surprise, I thought this had been reported on years ago and was common knowledge. Also feels like a limited hangout in that pay-to-play is how team D operates in Minnesota and Minneapolis, so presumably also every (at least D controlled) state and city.

    Reply
  7. Carolinian

    Stories like this clarify why people like Pelosi are so worried about “insurrection” and so eager for news management. TINA is the only way such a corrupt edifice can be kept from toppling.

    Presumably at some point–perhaps soon–it will topple itself.

    Reply
  8. poortiredandhopeless

    And yet Cenk urges you to vote blue no matter who and takes corporate billionaire money.

    Reply
    1. flora

      I think Cenk et al are doing the classic cooling out the mark part of the con. Cenk agrees with you! He’s on your side! But where ya go? Don’t make a fuss. Vote harder! (Cenk is acting as the cooler.)

      Reply
      1. sharonsj

        Personally I hate both parties, but I’m still a registered Democrat. This way I can vote in primaries and have some input. Also, Republicans are insane while Democrats have turned into the old Republicans. So I end up voting for the few Democrats I can stomach. It’s that or the Green Party. Which means this country remains totally screwed and nothing will change.

        Reply
        1. JBird4049

          Yes, the Democratic Party is like the old Republican Party for now.

          Since both parties are still going rightward, what stops the conservative Democratic Party from becoming the now reactionary Republican Party of tomorrow?

          Furthermore, they are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from the National Security State. A collection of rouge agencies responsible for political assassinations in the United States of America. Then there is the century plus of coups, torture, assassinations, death squads and so much more by the same agencies.

          I truly expect to see the finish merging of both the political and security/intelligence into a authoritarian or possible totalitarian regime of American oligarchy.

          Reply
  9. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Interesting that the Serenity Prayer, often wrongly attributed to St. Francis, was actually written by Ronald Neihbur in 1932. Was he prescient?

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

    Never have so few made it so easy for so many to make such a simple decision.

    Reply
  10. Glossolalia

    The leak I really want to see is the brochure Mo Brooks mentions with price listings on it.

    Reply
  11. orlbucfan

    “As to Neuburger on Roe v. Wade, the fact that many people are mighty unhappy about it being overturned is not germane unless they manage to pass new Federal legislation, which seems unlikely. Women’s advocacy groups collectively need to be taken out and shot. If you read the original ruling, it’s a handwave. It was always vulnerable to being reversed. And yet those with most to lose did nothing to protect their rights. The response to abortion doctors being shot and women going to abortion clinics being threatened didn’t elicit remotely the warranted level of outrage. This action should have been made domestic terrorism in the laws of the Democratic-leaning states and prosecuted as such. The defenders of abortion acting like a bunch of wimps helped pave the way to where we are.”
    ———————————-
    This needs to be screamed from the rooftops with the loudest, biggest bullhorn around. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Yves!

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      Seconded. I especially agree with this sentence:

      “Women’s advocacy groups collectively need to be taken out and shot.”

      And I don’t know about the rest of you, but my phone is going ballistic. All sorts of numbers that I don’t recognize, so I’m letting those calls go to voice mail. The callers aren’t leaving messages.

      Methinks that the Fundraising Industrial Complex has suddenly become very busy.

      Reply
      1. sd

        In the last 24 hours there’s been an onslaught of text messages from Nancy Pelosi and friends. I stopped being a member of the Democratic Party years ago. Block & Delete.

        Reply
  12. Jason Boxman

    And everybody in Washington will cry. And the press will blame them [progressives] for causing division within the Democratic Party by saying true things. …

    Or it isn’t a career enhancing move to embarrass your colleagues or threaten a system that many do quite well by? You might not get invited to the nice parties, after all. Or get support for your own pet legislative idea.

    Reply
  13. Dean

    Go to open secrets.org and search for you elected rep. Go to the expenditures page. Chances are you’ll see either of the two campaign committees at the top of the list. Here’s Pelosi’ 2022 expenditures.

    2nd larger expenditure of hers is $5.3M to the DCCC.

    It’s heartening to see that a party leader isn’t above the fundraising rules :)

    https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/nancy-pelosi/expenditures?cid=N00007360&cycle=2022

    And here’s the DCCC’s inflows:

    https://www.opensecrets.org/campaign-expenditures/vendor?vendor=Democratic+Congressional+Campaign+Cmte&year=2022

    Reply
  14. Michael Ismoe

    Does anyone ever question what they are getting for their money? Emily’s List trumpets that it has given “more than $700 million” to Democrats while Planned Parenthood says more than $25 million in the last ten years and yet there is going to be a run on metal coat hangers after July 4th.

    My incumbent Dem senator has $32 million “in the bank” and promises of “help” from the DSC of another $13 million. He could run ads 24/7/365 but he’s less than a 50/50 chance of getting re-elected. But if he is, he owes a lot of people a lot of favors.

    The real problem is that the Democrats are corrupt and the Republicans are nuts.

    Reply
  15. JAC

    To be honest, I am pretty upset/surprised you chose to quote Cenk Uygur over Jimmy Dore when Dore was way ahead of the curve on all this. I know many people do not like his style but the one thing you can not say is that he was wrong.

    You wonder why you will see Chris Hedges on The Jinny Dore’s show and never on The Young Turks?

    I held my breath and voted all Democrat last election. Never again. Third party or nothing.

    Reply
  16. Gulag

    This description by both Ferguson and Neuberger of Washington’s seemingly forever quid pro quo dynamics in our national Congress, for me, raises profound strategic issues/questions about what may be actually needed/ necessary to change our society.

    A very few things that initially come to mind:

    Taken the above structural realities does simply flooding the Senate and House with hundreds of Progressives or Greens or Pinks or whatever ideology, offer any real hope?

    Don’t we have to assume that such individuals, in order to stand their ground against such monetary corruption have somehow previously acquired and still maintain personal ethical standards capable of fending off such enticements? How likely is that?

    Can there be any real political change without a simultaneous and profound cultural change? Are we now both politically and culturally broken?

    Is there any hope for some kind of synthesis between the positions of a dissident/populist left and right that might eventuate in a new kind of political/cultural language embracing issues of meaning and limits as well as issues of redistribution?

    Reply
  17. TMR

    Lest we forget that Biden stayed completely unfazed in his debates with Bernie until the latter said the dread word “corruption”, at which point Biden acted as if he were personally wounded

    Reply
  18. ShawnD

    To be fair to AOC here, she very publicly refused to pay DCCC “dues” and lost our on committee assignments for it. I accept fully the premise of this article. But it is spoken about, and there are those who don’t play.

    Reply

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