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It Should be about Accountability….

Once again, I wish we could just get to the heart of the matter and strip away the comments that tend to color our arguments and incite the opposition unnecessarily.

I am certain I do not have all the facts, but what I do know is that there is some honest question and doubt over the way in which a Planned Parenthood is currently operating. The debate around this matter should not be a conversation about health care for women or the funding of abortions in the United States. The debate should strip away that rhetoric and focus on what is right and wrong.

Because of that simple fact, we need to take stock in some facts before acting. Let’s try to do that –

  • Planned Parenthood uses both Federal and non-Federal funds to provide a range of important preventive care and health services, including health screenings, vaccinations, and check-ups to millions of men and women who visit their health centers annually.
  • The reality is that PPFA provides contraceptive services, sexually transmitted disease services, cancer related services, pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services, abortion services, and other services.
  • Planned Parenthood conducts 1 million screenings for cervical cancer, and 830,000 breast exams annually.
  • Planned Parenthood conducts roughly 300,000 abortions annually, among the 5 million people the organization serves (26% of which are teenagers under the age of 19), and due to restrictions, federal resources are not used to fund abortion services.
  • Planned Parenthood is a federation of nearly 85 independent Planned Parenthood affiliates around the U.S.
  • Planned Parenthood is staffed by 27,000 staff members and volunteers.
  • According to the organization, 75% of their clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Planned Parenthood’s net revenue increased 5% to total of $1.21 billion in its organizational fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, according to the most recent annual report I could find. About 45% of that revenue–$540.6 million–was provided by taxpayer-funded government health services grants.

I do not think that anyone could argue that Planned Parenthood doesn’t serve a sector of our society that desperately needs healthcare services. But there are a few other facts that we need to consider as well:

  • Someone at Planned Parenthood messed up – they were caught on tape implying, saying or admitting to things that may or may not be at the core of the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • Planned Parenthood receives 40-45% of their revenues from federal tax dollars.
  • Women have other options for seeking primary care, contraception, STI testing, and cancer screening besides Planned Parenthood.
  • In addition to the tens of thousands of U.S. doctors and hospitals providing this type of care, there were 1,048 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. which provide women cancer screening, contraception, and STI testing.
  • The tapes that have everyone upset appear to demonstrate illegal activities regarding the selling of fetal tissue by the organization – violating several laws and potentially committing a felony.

Much of the controversy leading up to today’s debate stems from a lack of widespread public knowledge of who buys and sells fetal tissue, what it is used for, and what the law allows regarding its purchase and sale. It includes lack of information on how the tapes were “edited.” I too was disheartened and disgusted after reviewing the tapes. But I began searching the law and tried to discern what is currently allowed under the laws of the United States. Frankly, after reviewing the materials available on line, I am not certain which laws apply or do not apply to the actions alleged on the tapes.

For instance, scientists have been using such material in medical research for decades to study (and possibly develop cures for) a number of diseases and medical ailments. Federal law indicates that agencies may sell fetal tissue that has been “donated” for that purpose (through abortion), but they may not profit from it. According to federal law, agencies may only charge for the processing and shipping involved in transferring the material from donor to purchaser, but the law doesn’t regulate how much they may charge.

The bottom line is that there is ambiguity about the law surrounding the set of facts at hand. Additionally, there seems to be some evidence that Planned Parenthood (or some of their representatives) acted inappropriately. Since Planned Parenthood lobbies for and accepts federal resources, any Member of Congress or the President, should be clear on all the facts before allowing them or any grant recipient to continue to use federal resources for potentially illegal purposes.

So, rather than being bogged down in politics, or semantics, it makes sense to hold agencies or organizations accountable for the way in which they utilize those resources in the operation of their organizations. If Planned Parenthood acted inappropriately, or in the worst-case scenario, illegally, they should be held accountable.

The fact that Planned Parenthood does good things for women and men requiring healthcare is irrelevant. Those good deeds do not, nor should they, give the organization a “pass” on the fact that they might have engaged in bad actions, or have a few bad actors on their staff.

Does that mean that we should advocate for a defunding of the organization’s resources for a full year? Perhaps not.

However, any recipient of federal funding is subject to upholding the law and the restrictions that come with accepting those federal dollars. That same standard must be applied to Planned Parenthood.

Our system of government and law dictates that federal funding for Planned Parenthood – and any other organization that allegedly abuses the law – at the very least be frozen until all the facts can be sorted out and any applicable laws are researched to ensure that no laws have been violated.

That is something we should all be able to support.

Note: the United States House of Representatives considered two bills related to this subject today. H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (which passed by a vote of 241-187) and H.R. 3504, the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (which passed by a vote of 248-177).

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

College – a new beginning, or has it all ended?

And so without too much ceremony, the “end” that we have been planning for and talking about for the last two years has arrived.

The last of “the last high school (fill in the blank)” for all our children took place this summer. The last BPC IMPACT Back Home Concert, the last high school graduation, the last high school performance, the last high school youth conference – you get the picture! It all really started to hit me last week when Catherine sang in church for the last time before heading off to college.

The parenthood thing has been an amazing journey and in a few days, we officially close the books on the high school years.  The next chapter has yet to be written, but for nearly half my life, I’ve played what I believe has been the single most important role of my entire life – being a father. It is the role that I have so enjoyed and so loved (most of the time). Almost nothing compares to holding the title of dad, father, Johnny, Pops.

I know that doesn’t change this week but we begin to cross the bridge that changes the relationship between a child and the father or parent forever. I liked this role and I loved this time of my life. And don’t misunderstand what I am saying – I may feel this ominous change ahead, but it is indeed balanced by feelings of happiness, pride, excitement, and optimism for the future. But I guess at the same time, I guess I am experiencing a small dose of grieving.

With one foot firmly planted on and comfortably set in the sands of being the parent of a teenager, its time to cross the bridge. I’m just not sure I am ready. Of course, this is not foreign territory. Yet there is something so very unfamiliar, and even a little uncomfortable about it, that it is unsettling. I suspect I am missing the comfort that comes from the fact that even though the other two were older, I always had that other foot firmly planted as the father of a high school student. But, without that, it’s all new again.

I’ve thought about this and tried to plan for it in my mind. But nothing can prepare you for the intense impending change that is about to occur. I take comfort in knowing that we are not alone and many of our friends are right there with us. And countless others have been here before as well. Nevertheless, as we cross another “last____” for the summer, I realize that it is truly the last of the lasts.

Grief can come from any type of separation, ending or change in our lives. And as I walk across the bridge, I know deep down inside, despite my excitement, I should not bury the grief. Sending off the last kid to college means the end of my experience of being the kind of dad I have been for the past 25 years. After today, I have to realize that my children are becoming independent and do not need me in the same way as they had before. I know that is what is supposed to happen.

I never thought that launching the kids would be so difficult. And, despite preparing for all the lasts this summer, putting Catherine’s belongings into the car and driving her to NYC always was “at the end of the summer.” The end of summer is here. And now, as Susan and I launch her, we will drop her off at college, and wave goodbye.

With that simple, unceremonious act, it will end. We will move on to a new chapter. But it will be important to allow us to grief as well. Twenty-five years is a long time to hold the position of mom or dad, and with that final wave, it seems like “Dad, Inc.” is closing up shop.

I know I will eventually be relieved and excited; however, today I can’t help but feel a bit hollow.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

The Hunger Games – Musical Theatre Edition

A few years back, I applied to five colleges when trying to decide my future.  I wanted a school that would prepare me for what I knew would be my graduate work – law school.  The process was simple.  Find the right schools, do well in high school, and be well rounded. When application time came along, the formula was to apply to a reach school, a safe school, and anything in between.  It all went according to plan.

Fast forward 20 or so years and repeat the process for child number one and child number two.  Once again, everything seemed to go according to the plan. Enter child three. She uttered eight words that turned this tried and true process into some sort of fight till the death amongst potential applicants – “I want to be a musical theatre major.”

I must admit this whole musical theatre major thing was brand new to me.  I had no idea that we would be thrust into some alternate universe where nothing I had experienced as a college student or a father helping his first two children through the college process mattered.  Dance lessons, voice lessons, college coaches, auditions, pre-screens, call backs and BFAs were all new words that became part of my vocabulary.

Just when we started getting comfortable with all of this, we learned something else as audition season began – we had entered one of the most competitive, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog processes I have ever experienced.   It was the Hunger Games, the Musical Theatre version, and Catherine was our Tribute!

Law School is competitive.  Veterinary School is difficult.  Musical theatre is insane!  I learned that some schools consider 1,500 applications for 18-20 spaces.  Instead of applying to 4-6 schools, these kids have to apply to 14 or more school because of the difficult odds associated with being selected.  Part of the process includes the special games to cull the herd, also known as Unifieds. This is an intense extended weekend long process where families bring their Tributes to one of three venues.

We decided to travel to the northern district called New York for the games.  There are also culling competitions in Chicago and Los Angeles.  During this thrilling weekend, Tributes navigate through the city to find one of several studio locations for their interviews.  Their support teams are with them to watch, help carry clothing changes, dance shoes, water bottles, and provide moral support. Frankly, I’ve never seen so much Lycra and spandex in one place in my entire life.

Some of these interviews have parental components where you quickly learn that the students might be more intelligent and composed than their parents. Some interviews have rounds, which require candidates to check the callback list in order to move on. After several of these interviews, the day is over only to begin again the next morning.

Catherine’s drama teacher talked about this process for some time.  It sounds surreal, cruel, daunting, and the stuff that makes a great fictional novel.  But until you live it, breathe it, and experience it for yourself, you can’t explain it or appreciate it.

The truth is, when you are a part of this process up close and intimately, you gain a whole new level of respect for the young people who choose this career path.  Each day, they are tested over and over again, audition after audition.  Sometimes they find their names on the callback list, while in other cases, their hopes and dreams are extinguished with the simple posting of a list.

Yet, they go on.  No matter where this journey takes these kids, they have more poise, determination, and discipline than most others their age.  They have learned important life lessons before ever leaving for college, including important organizational skills, how to conduct oneself in a job interview, and rejection. And that makes them all winners in these Hunger Games.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

The ABLE Act – A Rare and Welcome Example of Bipartisanship

Tonight the efforts of countless advocates, legislators, former colleagues and congressional staffers converge as the U.S. House is poised to consider the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2013 on the House Floor.

A little over eight years ago, a group of concerned parents and advocates visited Ander Crenshaw’s office with an idea to create equality in the tax code for disabled individuals in this country. I took that meeting because one of my neighbors and former colleagues was part of the group. We sat and talked for a long time and together we laid out the foundation for the first version of what we know today as the ABLE Act.

Each subsequent Congress we pushed for more cosponsors. We educated more offices. We re-drafted key provisions based on input from families, legislators and stakeholders. We worked as a group of dedicated and committed individuals to draft and introduce the best legislative proposal we could – and today we have a proposal that can actually impact the lives of millions with disabilities in the United States.

When we set out on this journey, I recall telling the advocates that this was not going to be easy. I never knew it would be eight years later before we would see our first Ways and Means Committee mark-up of the bill, or our first Senate Finance hearing on the proposal, or actual consideration of the bill. But here we are, with 380 Members of the House joining Mr. Crenshaw and 74 U.S. Senators joining Mr. Casey in a broad bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort to pass the ABLE Act of 2013.

I saw ABLE as one of those “why doesn’t this already exist” moments in my professional career. As my good friends from NDSS, Steve Beck and Sara Weir said, “By enacting the ABLE Act, we aren’t asking Congress to create a new program or give us a hand out, we are asking Congress to give the disability community the chance to provide and save for themselves through savings tools that all other Americans have access to today.”

When the idea was first presented to Congressman Crenshaw, his response was focused and right to the point – if the federal government encourages Americans to save for their retirements through 401(k) plans and for education through education savings accounts or 529 plans, why not expand that to folks with disabilities? That became his guiding principal. These existing tax-deferred saving plans are now such a fundamental part of how families prepare for the future we barely think of them as public policy. But of course they are.   The ABLE Act applies this successful model to help people with disabilities and their families save for costs they will likely encounter down the road.

Of all the amazing things I had the privilege of doing during my tenure as a Congressional Staffer, leading the charge for Mr. Crenshaw on this bill will always be one of the highlights of my career. It was such a pleasure to work with so many dedicated staffers on the House and Senate side who helped us in guiding this proposal through the process, and it was equally memorable to meet so many constituents of this cause – not just in Florida or Pennsylvania – but from all over the country. Since my departure from Mr. Crenshaw’s office, I have been working on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) to continue to work with some of the most incredibly dedicated people I have met – from the NDSS, to Autism Speaks, to the ARC (to name just a few) – to get to this point.

Tonight we stand at the precipice of one of those unique moments in history – when a simple idea from a group people becomes a legislative proposal that is actually considered by our lawmakers. The ABLE Act represents what is best about our legislative process.

I will be watching with great anticipation, hope, excitement, and pride as ABLE is brought to the floor and when it passes, I will have one of the biggest smiles on my face and in my heart knowing that some sense of equity will be afforded to some of our nation’s everyday heroes.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Compelling Theatre Just Down the Street at your Local High School

DSC_0659 Sometimes we overlook our local high school as venues for compelling theatre and once again West Springfield High School did not disappoint. Last night I saw “Nerdicus (My Brother With Autism)” and I left the auditorium wanting to see more of this thirty minute, one act original play written by Bernie DeLeo – the Drama Teacher at West Springfield.

“Nerdicus (My Brother With Autism)” premiered last night as part of West Springfield High School’s annual Winter One-Acts festival. I have had the privilege of working with a few national disability advocacy groups – like the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and Autism Speaks – over the last few years to promote some legislation on Capitol Hill and what I saw last night reminded me of the countless stories I have heard from these families over the years. While Nerdicus alludes to – as best as you can in a 30-minute act – some of the challenges that a family, and particularly, a sibling, might encounter in day-to-day interactions with a brother with Autism, the one act captured the other side of life in such a home. In this short one act, the cast drew me into the love, respect, and humor of daily life in the Miller home.

The play, written by Bernie DeLeo, is 90% autobiographical. The play stars senior Austin Morrison as Eddie DSC_0748Miller, based very much on Mr. DeLeo’s own son Charlie. Bernie stated that “Austin is on the autism spectrum and he been taking drama classes since middle school. I’d cast him in all of the plays last year because drama had been an appropriate social outlet for my son – and I was determined to include Austin to give him that opportunity as well. It’s Austin’s senior year now, and he’d never had a lead – so I wanted him to go out with a bang. He’s very similar to my own son in many regards, and he’s doing a terrifically funny job. There’s a movement these days to cast people with disabilities in roles that require characters to have disabilities; as a parent of a child with a documented disability, I decided I need to put my money where my mouth

was – and I’m so proud of Austin.”

Mr. DeLeo is the father of a teenaged boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. And his one act is really about his daughter Sophie, who is two years younger than Charlie and attended high school with her brother. The play examines how having a sibling with a disability affects the other sibling who does not. Mr. DeLeo stated that his son “had some pretty eccentric behaviors that drove his sister, a typical, easily-embarrassed high school girl, crazy.” Many of the scenes on stage come right from the DeLeo home – such as when Charlie, obsessed with Greek and Roman history, showed up at the bus stop one morning wearing his ‘Nerdicus’ armor having an imaginary battle with the Visigoths.

Last January, the West Springfield Drama Department staged a one-act play about autism – and

DSC_0752

won the Virginia High School League district, regional and AAA state drama championships with it. The Other Room by Ariadne Blayde is about Austin, a teenaged boy with high-functioning autism who tries to connect with a fellow classmate – but the voices in his head, presented on stage by warring actors, doom that budding relationship.

“But something nagged at me every time I watched the play,” confessed DeLeo. “Sure, I loved that people gasped and cried at the end of the play – that’s what you want as a director, for the play to evoke a visceral, emotional response from the audience. But it left people with the feeling ultimately that to live with autism is a sad and tragic thing – whereas in my experience, it has been anything but that. It’s not without challenges, but more often than not, life with my son Charlie is quite funny.” And so, in the summer months of 2013, DeLeo sat down to write a comic version of a teenaged life with autism.

Nerdicus is not unique. The passion and amazing talent found at our local high schools, and the dedication of the actors, directors, and stage crews, is something that can be found at countless high schools in our communities. Finding compelling theatre just down the street at our local high school has been one of the many joys of being involved in the West Springfield High School theatre department. I hope you have the chance to check it out yourself – it might just move you as it has moved me!

One acts run again tonight (January 31, 2014) at WSHS from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Auditorium at Door 6 (6100 Rolling Road in Springfield, VA). Tickets are $10 and available at the door. On Saturday, Nerdicus kicks off the VHSL Patriot District one-act competition at Lake Braddock High School (9200 Burke Lake Road, Auditorium – Door 14, Burke, VA). at 10:00 a.m. Admission is free, and all plays are open to the general public.

*****UPDATE******

The one act NERDICUS marches on!  The play was the 1st place runners-up last weekend and on Saturday, February 8, the play heads to the Regional Round at Lake Braddock High School at 3:30 PM.  So, it you missed it last week, want to see it again, or help Autism Awareness,  come on out to support these amazing actors and share this great news with your friends and family.

Photo credits: Catherine Ariale

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Life, Uncategorized

 

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Transitions

Life is full of transitions. For our family, this seems to be a season of transitions – and I am sure we are not alone. The good news is that our transitions are exciting, they are good transitions, the type you want to happen – but, sometimes it seems that they are the most difficult ones to deal with.

All three of our children are experiencing concurrent transitions…the oldest, Michael, our 21 year old, is exploring graduate school options as he plans to enter his senior year. As we discussed options over the last few weeks during his abbreviated summer recess, I was impressed with the young man he was becoming and that his mother and I always knew he would be – a confident, well-spoken and focused individual who is on the brink of beginning a new phase in his life. As he left today to head off to his summer job in one of his favorite places – Montreat, North Carolina – it struck me that he is at that point in his life where we might only get to see him for short visits. That’s certainly one of the more “difficult” transitions I mentioned above.

As I digested that, I thought of our 18 year old who is preparing to enter college in a few months. For those of you who know Thomas, you know that he is a passionate, dynamic, and well rounded young man. He has an amazing array of interests and he never has a problem with trying something new – unless it involves mashed potatoes or fish. He seems ready to transition to the next chapter in his life, but things will be drastically different in our house once he moves to his first dorm room. Just like when Michael moved out three years ago, it will be a transition and will take some time to address the new “normal” in our home.

We will miss Thomas and his sense of humor, his wit and his personality, which fills any room that he enters. But, just as we absorb Thomas’ move, our family will be dealing with one more transition when Catherine, our youngest, enters high school. The last few years have been a tremendous period of growth for her as we have watched our little girl blossom into a self-assured, poised, and determined young lady. She is one of the most talented people I know and I cannot wait to see what the next few years have in store for her.

As I thought about these transitions, my mind wandered to duplo towers; lego cities; city park visits; lacrosse, soccer, basketball, football, baseball, and volleyball games; fencing and wrestling competitions; plays, piano recitals, choir concerts, band performances, and orchestra concerts; and all of the Scouting activities. And of course, “baby cow” (an inside reference).

Reflecting on these transitions, and the ones that I know are on the horizon, helped me realize the unequivocal blessings that is each one of these amazing people that God has entrusted to me and my wife. I realize that my job as a parent is to help shepherd and guide, to teach and support, and to love my children no matter what. I also know that each one of them was brought into our lives for a reason. As cliché as it sounds, over the years, I think they taught me more than I taught them. They have taught me how to be a father, how to love unconditionally, how to step outside my comfort zone, enjoy a simply conversation, and so much more.

The lyrics from “For Good” from Wicked came to mind – “…we are led to those who help us most to grow…but I know I’m who I am today because I [know them…]. I do believe I have been changed for the better.”

So, in the midst of reflecting on the transitions we are undergoing or about to undergo, I am reminded of the blessings that each transition brings. I am not sure that the transitions will get easier to deal with over time, but I know that with each transition associated with these three wonderful people, I have been changed for the better.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Story that Wasn’t Covered at West Springfield High

As I went to bed on Thursday evening, the night before the second annual Relay for Life of Springfield Burke, I was surprised that area journalists saw fit to report on a senior prank that got out of control rather quickly at the high school hosting the Relay for Life of Springfield Burke.  I found myself researching the meaning of journalism and/or news.  The definitions of these words are:  

jour·nal·ism/Noun
1.    the profession or practice of reporting about, photographing, or editing news stories for one of the mass media
2.    newspapers and magazines collectively; the press
3.    the material published in a newspaper, magazine, etc: this is badly written journalism
4.    news reports presented factually without analysis
news/Noun
1.   Newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events.
Then I tried to listen to the reports again – several seniors at West Springfield High School thought it would be great fun to engage in a food fight in the cafeteria.  Unfortunately, this prank went too far, the event soon spiraled out of control, some students were injured and a fire alarm was pulled that disturbed the entire student body.  The principal and administration took care of the situation and vowed that those responsible would be punished accordingly.  Sounds like the school had a problem; they intervened, stopped the event, and planned on dealing with those involved in an appropriate manner.
For some reason, the news world decided that this was the most important thing happening in our region on Thursday so they assigned teams of professional journalists to cover the story.  They reported it on the news that night, but that wasn’t enough.  They showed up again on Friday – the day of Relay.
As we set up for the second and largest Relay event held at West Springfield High School, we saw three television van towers erected to cover the “food fight of 2011.”  We encouraged the stations to visit the rear of the school to check out Relay, but as the day went on, the media on site saw fit to only cover the flying food story from the previous day.
Only one local newspaper joined us at the West Springfield High School track to come see what was going on….
And what they saw was nearly 1,100 people brought together with one common goal – to fight cancer.  There were young people and adults walking the West Springfield High track from 7:00 PM – 7:00 AM to raise awareness, hope and resources to fight back against cancer.  That reporter also saw well over 500 West Springfield High students and their friends walking the track and raising money for the American Cancer Society.
Finally, that local journalist saw numerous student volunteers dedicating their Friday night and Saturday morning contributing hundreds of hours to help volunteer to make the 2011 Relay for Life of Springfield Burke a major success.
But the other professional journalists, the ones with the television towers up at the front of the school’s parking lot, stayed there and waited to get some additional comments and “news” items to report on the flying food incident.
I am not sure why the food fight got so much attention. Especially when so many students who were doing such an amazing thing for our community just a few short feet away from these “journalists” received no coverage at all.
The students I had the honor and privilege to work with on Friday night helped our Relay Committee all year long.  They provided talent throughout the night of Relay to help entertain the 1,000 participants.  They were the volunteers that helped set up, register, provide logistical support, and coordinated the multitude of activities that went on all night long.  And, they were some of the Team Captains that went to Team Captain meetings since January, provided input, and helped to raise awareness and resources to fight cancer. 
When it was all said and done, the 2011 Relay for Life of Springfield Burke raised over $142,000 and hosted 1,100 participants. 
I am baffled that someone actually decided that the food fight was more noteworthy information the public needed to know rather than covering the amazing thing 1,100 people can do when a community of students, adults, and cancer survivors, can do when they come together for a single purpose.
I’m no journalist, but to me that was the real story at West Springfield High School this weekend and I think the journalists missed out on an amazing opportunity to cover an amazing story that was literally right under their noses.
 
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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in Uncategorized