Archive for October, 2011

Seven Billion People: A Note on Market Systems and Hunger

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Unacceptable; makes you want to cry while bludgeoning capitalists

Today is the day that the human population reached seven billion. And according to an op-ed piece at the New York Times:

Some 850 million to 925 million people experience food insecurity or chronic undernourishment. In much of Africa and South Asia, more than half the children are stunted (of low height for their age) as a result of chronic hunger. While the world produced 2.3 billion metric tons of cereal grains in 2009-10 — enough calories to sustain 9 to 11 billion people — only 46 percent of the grain went into human mouths. Domestic animals got 34 percent of the crop, and 19 percent went to industrial uses like biofuels, starches and plastics.

This is without a doubt one of the most obscene facts in human history. While there is enough food produced to feed 10 billion people, a billion of us go hungry so that 34% of what gets produced can be fed to animals (i.e. pets and livestock for consumption) and nearly twenty percent to business. To add insult to injury: half of the food in the U.S. goes to waste!

A billion people with names, lives, stories, friends and loved ones are hungry so that someone in Beverly Hills can feed their pure-bred Samoyed, or perhaps you can fill up with “ethanol” and then sit in traffic.

But what is behind this maldistribution of resources? In his book The Food Wars, author Walden Bello writes that,

To capital, food, feed, and agrofuels are interchangeable as investment areas, with rates of profit determining where investment will be allocated. Satisfying the real needs of the global majority is a secondary consideration, if indeed it enters the calculation at all. To the critics of capitalist agriculture, it is this devaluation and inversion of real relations into abstract relations of exchange – otherwise known as commodification – that is at the crux of the crisis of the contemporary food system.

Answer: Capitalism. The market systems function as the allocation arm of the global economy and as Bello points out, what determines what goes for where and for how much are the “rates of profit.” If firms can make more in biofuels or animal feed then markets give signals to send it there, even if a billion people starve.

A few years ago the former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, told an audience the cold truth about market systems: “The market does not drive scientists, thinkers, or governments to do the right things.”

If ever there was a case for abolishing markets, and replacing it with participatory planning, a billion starving people while food is wasted is it.

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‘The Ugly Proclivities’ of Global Capitalism: Foreign Direct Investment and Human Rights in Africa

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky began their book The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights Volume 1 with a quote from George Orwell where he said that, “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” And so it is that I would comfortably bet that most American patriots are unaware of the following: the prevailing poverty of Africa, and the human rights abuses at the hands of brutal governments, is directly related to the wealth of the developed world.

In the Preface Herman and Chomsky write that,

The ugly proclivities of the U.S. clients, including the systematic use of torture, are functionally related to the needs of U.S. (and other) business interests, helping to stifle unions and contain reformist threats that might interfere with business freedom of action. The proof of the pudding is that U.S. bankers and industrialists have consistently welcomed the “stability” of the new client fascist order, whose governments, while savage in their treatment of dissidents, priests, labor leaders, peasant organizers or others who threaten “order,” and at best indifferent to the mass of the population, have been most accommodating to large external interests. In an important sense, therefore, the torturers in the client states are functionaries of IBM, Citibank, Allis Chalmers and the U.S. government, playing their assigned roles in a system that has worked according to choice and plan.

Colombia plays its assigned role: trades unionists are “on average . . . have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years.”

Recently the UN reported that Afghanistan’s assigned role where we learn that torture is “systematic.”

With the passing of Steve Jobs came a reminder of how China acted as a “functionary” for Apple with their mistreatment of workers.

But nowhere is “the ugly proclivities” more blatant and gruesome than in the poorest place on Earth: Sub-Saharan Africa. It is no wonder that the region comprises the “least developed economies” while also being the place of highest returns for foreign investors. In fact, in late 2002 the World Bank said that, “The rate of return on FDI [foreign direct investment] was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared with other regions in the world,” and nothing has changed.

There is a direct link between the enriching of foreign investors and the poverty of third world people. Just look at this recent UN report, Investment Climate and Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, where it is openly stated that African countries can attract foreign investors “if they would institute reforms that will improve the investment climate in their country through improving the business regulations that promotes friendly business environment.”

As the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported: “Many of the most grave and complex human rights challenges facing the world today are found in Africa. Poverty, discrimination and exclusion are reinforced in many countries by poor governance, corruption and ethnic divisions.” In regards to the “poor governance” the OHCHR is referring to I am reminded of the documentary Congo in the Crisis: Uncovering the Truth, where there is a scene in which Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, says:

When you have great wealth, no government—it’s an open invitation, and it’s been a sort of free-for-all war [where some] have just gone in there and helped themselves to this enormous natural wealth.

When the ability of government to defend and provide for its people is reduced to “no government” as it has pretty much been done in Africa, in order to “improve the investment climate,” it can come as no surprise that what we see is private tyrannies coming in, and through their armed gangs, helping themselves at the expense of the people of Africa.

Herman and Chomsky went on to write in their Preface that, “The picture that emerges from this inquiry seems to us a very grime one, both at the level of fact and with regard to the capacity of Western ideological institutions to falsify, obscure and reinterpret the facts in the interests of those who dominate the economy and political system.”

The last point on “the capacity of Western ideological institutions” is worth further attention and can easily be checked by anyone with the inclination to do so. Simply go to the New York Times, the so-called “paper of record,” and have a look. More likely than not you will find articles about—at least more recent ones—how the West is competing with China to gain investment in the region, not the relationship between foreign investment and human rights abuses. Two random articles, “Trade Ties That Cut Out the West” and “Looking for Investments, China Turns to Europe,” demonstrate that. The pieces are void of a human rights element and what it means for Africans to have their country used for the benefit of foreign investors.

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Liberalizing Libya: The return of colonial rule

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Earlier this year, just as “liberation” was getting under way in Libya, McClatchy Newspapers reported that “As gasoline soars, Libyan rebels pay 46 cents a gallon.”

And with health care and education free in the north African country (which has radically increased the quality of life in the country), as well as having a nationalized bank that gave out interest-free loans and 60,000 Libyan dinars to newly married couples, considerable subsidies for cars, a national irrigation system that allowed the desert to bloom, and much more, it is no wonder that Libya was ranked first in human development for Africa, and 53rd for the world.

In order for that last fact to really carry its weight you have to understand that in 1951, when Libya gained independence from Italy, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. In sixty years, especially starting with the Green Revolution in 1969, the country has become such a success story that migrant workers fled to the country for jobs and wealth to send back home.

Shortly before the 2011 civil war Gaddafi again announced plans for an African gold dinar to challenge the Dollar and Euro as part of his plans for creating a United States of Africa. France’s President Sarkozy responded by saying such a move was a threat to the financial security of humanity. Two years ago I interviewed Demba Moussa Dembélé, a Senegalese economist who worked for Senegal’s Ministry of Economy and Finance back in the 1980s, about the United States of Africa and Gaddafi’s role in it where he told me that the Libyan leader was “the main driving force” behind it and was “committed” to integrating the continent in order to defend itself from the West.

Much of this story is similar to that of Iraq who, under Saddam Hussein, was able to turn a very poor country into a relatively rich one, especially in terms of human development. Iraq was a secular country that, like Libya, dramatically increased literacy and health standards while providing considerable economic assistance to the population. The kind of economic rights Iraq and Libya enjoyed are unheard of in the U.S. where the government has resisted cultural and economic rights tooth and nail.

This is all the more revealing of the U.S.’s “humanitarian” intervention in both countries when in July of 2006 U.S. General Caldewell told reporters in one of the most under-reported stories of the war:

We’ve got what we call ministry advisory teams that work with the ministries to help them think through some of these challenges and issues [i.e. liberalizing the economy]. Price liberalization is a key aspect. Part of the World Bank’s requirements, as they move on for their monetary fiscal responsibility they have to establish here in this country, and they have certain gates where they’re supposed to be going through the liberalization of gas prices. They haven’t always been well-announced in advance, which leaves people to believe sometimes it’s a last-minute decision, but it’s not at all. You can actually lay that out and see when that should be occurring by what they had — they, the Iraqi government, had worked out with the World Bank and others.

When the U.S. went into Iraq they quickly turned the economy over to the “World Bank and others” for the purpose of undoing the social welfare policies that were distributing the wealth of the country to the general population in ways unacceptable to the powers that be so that international cartels could exploit the country for the profit. This was also a major part of Paul Bremer’s edicts, many of which still remain in place.

The same is also true for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, as admitted by John Norris, a senior Clinton official who was part of a team led by Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, for the Americans in tripartite negotiations, where he wrote in his eyewitness account Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo that, “It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war.”

So it was no surprise to read that not only had the Libyan rebels created a central bank that CNBC said “reveals that foreign powers may have a strong influence over the rebels,” but that even before Gaddafi was brutally murdered, and Sirte was “liberated,” the rebels had begun talks with the IMF.

How we are to believe the Libyan rebels are a liberatory force when they are led by former regime officials  who now say Gaddafi was so intolerable that he had to be beaten, tortured, sodomized and then executed without due process by their Islamic jihadists and racist minions—who are apparently so unpopular they needed NATO to propel them to power by nearly 10,000 aerial attacks on nearly 6,000 targets—which included government buildings (in an illegal effort to overthrow the government), state media centers, and civilians in general (i.e. Sirte, where the rebels openly admitted they were fighting civilians who supported Gaddafi and thus had to be bombed, shelled and denied humanitarian aid in order to demoralize them to the point that they would accept “liberation”)—is something to think about. Not to mention the attacks, rapes, lynches and ethnic cleansing of black Africans.

Regardless of what we think about Gaddafi, the facts are that Libya was, at least in terms of human development, a paradise in Africa and was moving towards the kind of regional integration that is badly needed to protect the continent from what will be a severe worsening of an already bad situation as resource wars escalate (see President Obama’s recent “intervention” in Uganda).

Not just for Africa, but for the Arab world too. It was in Gaddafi’s 2008 speech to the Arab League Summit that he talked about it not being in their interest to make an enemy out of Iran, that it made no sense to turn on one another, that if they really had a problem they should take it to the International Court of Justice where those disputes should be resolved. He also talked about the Iraq War and the hanging of an Arab government, and how if the Arab League doesn’t unite it could be any one of them hanging from their necks next time. But he said that kind of solidarity is impossible because:

We are the enemies of one another, I’m sad to say. We all hate one another, we deceive one another, we gloat at the misfortune of one another, and we conspire against one another. Our intelligence agencies conspire against one another, instead of defending us against the enemy. We are the enemies of one another, and an Arab’s enemy is another Arab’s friend. If only we used such ferocity against the enemy.

As for Libya, the success of the last sixty years will likely deteriorate dramatically as the country is “liberalized” and rejoins the rest of Africa as a source of wealth for the West—which is precisely what is happening according to the New York Times and their recent article “Western Companies See Prospects for Business in Libya.” Just as Iraq went from one of the most developed countries in the region to a place of hell, following the US-sponsored Iran-Iraq War, Gulf War, genocidal sanctions, and the 2003 invasion and occupation that led to US military officials openly talking about creating “military advisory teams” to guide the new government in “liberalizing” the economy.

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New York Times and Obama’s ‘Humanitarian’ Intervention in Uganda

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: written for New York Times Examiner: an antidote to the “paper of record”.

Congolese children watch Ugandan forces pull out of the Congo in April 2003. The repeated deadly incursions into Congo by the armies of Uganda and Rwanda, both heavily backed by the U.S., serve as a cover to hide the ongoing plunder of Congo’s incredibly valuable mineral resources, such as cobalt, essential to the U.S. military.
Photo: Patrick Olum, Reuters

Nearly two weeks ago the New York Times (NYT) published a piece on President Obama’s latest invasion of Africa. It was a blog by Robert Mackey titled “Human Rights Group Welcomes Obama’s Decision to Send Troops to Uganda.”

In the piece we are told by Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) that “there is no better case for the humanitarian use of force than the urgent need to arrest Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.), and protect the civilians who are his prey.”

The problem with such a statement is it can only look like a humanitarian intervention if you ignore the historical situation of it all.

In August of 1990 the world is flipping out about Iraq invading Kuwait. Former President George HW Bush is on television telling the world, “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

Two months later while Uganda’s President/Dictator Yoweri Museveni is in New York and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) leader, Paul Kagame (now President/Dictator of Rwanda), is at Fort Leavenworth learning how to plan an invasion, the RPF (which was basically a wing of the US-backed Ugandan military) invade Rwanda in a much more violent and gruesome war that lasted for 4 years, and that ends with the assassination of Rwanda’s President Habyarimanaan event that triggers the genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the RPF, and the overthrow of the Rwandan government. Then Uganda and Kagame’s Rwanda invade Democratic Republic of Congo where six million people are killed, not including those wounded or turned into refugees.

Throughout the period of what is inappropriately called a “civil war”, from October 1990 to April 1994, the US and Western powers say and do nothing to stop the aggression against Rwanda. There is no brave leader saying, “This will not stand, this aggression against Rwanda.” In fact they are helping the aggressors, just as they helped them in the Congo.

Fast forward to today.

Somehow, not long after the discovery of a huge amount of oil in Uganda, an “army” of 400-500 people that have been operating since 1987 and have already been severely weakened, and who are responsible for considerably less deaths (exact figures are unknown but estimated to run in the tens of thousands) than what is attributed to the more than seven million people killed (again, not including the wounded or the millions more who were made into refugees) by Museveni and Kagame, are now such a humanitarian threat to Uganda and the region that interfering on Museveni’s behalf warrants a human rights group to say, “there is no better case for the humanitarian use of force.”

When there are “worthy victims” who get our attention and compassion and “unworthy victims” who, happen to be in much greater numbers, get our silence the unavoidable question is: How else can one interpret this farcical display of concern for human rightsby a media outlet that constantly acts as an echo chamber for state violence, and a human rights group that presents itself as a voice for the oppressed—but as serving the propaganda interests of the US/Western establishment?

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Mohawk Valley formula and Occupy Oakland

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Scott Olsen, 24, was shot in the head by Oakland PD with a tear gas cannister.
Other protesters took him to the hospital where he remains in critical condition.

This morning on my way to work I listened to the local classical station. I have a 30 minute commute on the highway so it’s ideal for me to listen to calm music to contain my road rage. Anyway, after some Bach I hear a weather and traffic report followed with some national news. They talk about what happened in Oakland on Tuesday. Here is how they described it:

Police “cleared out” the location the protesters were at and then had an “altercation” with them later that evening where police fired tear gas cannisters and bean bags. And then yesterday they were allowed to return.

That was it. Not one mention of the rubber bullets, which the PD denied using and recanted after images of them flooded the internet. Not one mention of the severity of the police attacks on Tuesday night or how people were shot in the head with tear cannisters, leaving one in critical condition. Not one mention how when protesters tried to rescue injured protesters that cops were shooting tear gas cannisters at them. The news report sounded like it occured without incident or injuries.

non-existent rubber bullets

One protester injured. Rubber bullet to the head.
rubber bullet to the head
Oakland PD arrest an Occupier

Since Tuesday the Oakland PD have said they didn’t want violence.


The protesters weren’t violent.

In the videos found online you see and hear the protesters walking down the street chanting against Wall Street and then you hear the police over loudspeakers saying it is an unlawful assembly and that they must disperse. The protesters kept walking and chanting and then all hell broke lose when the cops started shooting and arresting and beating people.

The violence was one-sided and came from the police.

That the PD allowed the protesters to return to the spot they were evicted from only goes to show how unnecessary it was for them to attack and “disperse” the protesters on Tuesday.

A lot of this reminds me of the Mohawk Valley formula which big business used back in the 1930s to break labor strikes:

  1. When a strike is threatened, label the union leaders as “agitators” to discredit them with the public and their own followers. Conduct balloting under the foremen to ascertain the strength of the union and to make possible misrepresentation of the strikers as a small minority. Exert economic pressure through threats to move the plant, align bankers, real estate owners and businessmen into a “Citizens’ Committee”.
  2. Raise high the banner of “law and order”, thereby causing the community to mass legal and police weapons against imagined violence and to forget that employees have equal rights with others in the community.
  3. Call a “mass meeting” to coordinate public sentiment against the strike and strengthen the Citizens’ Committee.
  4. Form a large police force to intimidate the strikers and exert a psychological effect. Utilize local police, state police, vigilantes and special deputies chosen, if possible, from other neighborhoods.
  5. Convince the strikers their cause is hopeless with a “back-to-work” movement by a puppet association of so-called “loyal employees” secretly organized by the employer.
  6. When enough applications are on hand, set a date for opening the plant by having such opening requested by the puppet “back-to-work” association.
  7. Stage the “opening” theatrically by throwing open the gates and having the employees march in a mass protected by squads of armed police so as to dramatize and exaggerate the opening and heighten the demoralizing effect.
  8. Demoralize the strikers with a continuing show of force. If necessary turn the locality into a warlike camp and barricade it from the outside world.
  9. Close the publicity barrage on the theme that the plant is in full operation and the strikers are merely a minority attempting to interfere with the right to work. With this, the campaign is over—the employer has broken the strike.

Points 2, 4 and 8 are really applicable to the Oakland incident, especially point 8 with the “turn the locality into a warlike camp,” though point 1 has been persistent in the press where protesters are presented as aimless, young, agitators just looking to make trouble.

The question left hanging in the air: which businesses, if any, are behind the “large police force to intimidate” and “demoralize the [protesters] with a continuing show of force” that turned Oakland “into a warlike camp”?

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NYT pedals Panetta’s talk of ‘serious threats’

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: written for New York Times Examiner: an antidote to the “paper of record”.

If the New York Times (NYT) is “the paper of record,” you got to ask: what record?

Like many of us who follow the work of notable persons such as Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, Robert McChesney and David Peterson, we know the NYT is a record of propaganda serving political and economic power.

For example, in The Politics of Genocide by Herman and Peterson, they wrote that, “The Western establishment rushed to proclaim ‘genocide’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, and also agitated for tribunals to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable. In contrast, its silence over the crimes committed by its own regimes against the peoples of Southeast Asia, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa is deafening.”

They attribute this silence and power of the political establishment to it having “an impunity that is rooted neither in their goodness nor their justice but in their vastly superior economic and political power and nothing more.”

How the press and papers like the NYT fit into it is in their “anomaly of disparate word usage (and differential attention and indignation),” which they say, “can only be explained by the adaptation of the media and intellectual to the propaganda and public relations needs of the Western political establishment.”

That can be tested with the NYT on a daily basis and at random.

And so it is that today the paper of record published a story in their world section titled “Panetta Says North Korea Remains a ‘Serious Threat’” where we read examples of “differential attention and indignation,” such as:

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Wednesday called North Korea a “serious threat” and told American and South Korean troops here that they were on the “front line” of defense.

This is explained as part of a “weeklong trip to Asia meant to project American power in the region and warn China and North Korea that even with coming defense budget cuts, the United States will not reduce its forces here.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke to American soldiers during a visit to an army base in South Korea on Wednesday.

Referring to an opinion article Panetta wrote for a South Korean newspaper, where the Defense Secretary wrote that the U.S., alongside its South Korean ally, “will continue to deter North Korean aggression and stand prepared to defeat the North,” the NYT said, “Mr. Panetta called North Korea a ‘serious threat’ and said it had ‘demonstrated its willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives.'”

Furthermore, in the space of the seven hundred and sixty-six word article, North Korea’s nuclear program is mentioned nine times with “indignation,” while the “differential attention” is demonstrated by the fact that not once was there mention of the U.S.’s nuclear presence in the region.

There was also the comment that, “Under the 2005 deal, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and diplomatic incentives by all the parties to the talks. That agreement soon came apart after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 and then pulled out of the six-party talks.”

No explanation of why North Korea “pulled out” of the talks or why they “conducted a nuclear test.” The assertion implied is what the NYT author calls North Korea’s “long history of erratic behavior.”

Chomsky did an interview for a South Korean paper in early 2006 where he was asked about how to “solve the North Korean nuclear weapons problem,” and his response was:

There’s a way to do it. There’s a very simple way to solve it. In fact, it came pretty close to working. In 1994, there was a framework agreement, which, as far as we know, stops nuclear weapons development in North Korea. In return, the West, primarily the United States, pledged to provide them with the capacity for nuclear energy development, which they need. They don’t have internal resources. The West didn’t live up to that bargain. And then when the Bush Administration came in, waving its weapons of mass destruction, saying, “We are going to attack you!” Well, OK, it’s the end of the framework agreement.

Readers have no chance to be reminded of how the U.S. put financial sanctions on the country, thus freezing $24 million in North Korean funds, and how North Korea said they would return to talks if the funds were released.

To the world public at large the biggest “threat” to peace and security is the U.S., not North Korea. The country who has repeatedly “demonstrated its willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives” is the U.S., not North Korea.

It is not North Korea who has nuclear subs being photographed near U.S. shores, or who is going around North America in order to to project North Korean power in the region while saying that “even with coming defense budget cuts, North Korea will not reduce its forces here.”

When former President George W Bush gave his infamous “axis of evil” speech and North Korea responded with going nuclear, it was not lost on many that the reason Iraq was invaded and occupied, and North Korea was asked to join “talks” was that North Korea had bargaining power.

It is not “erratic behavior” to say one will act in kind, or seek a deterrent from the world’s largest military power with hundreds of bases all over the world threatening to use force with impunity.

The only explanation for vilifying North Korea while treating the aggressive posturing and provocations of the U.S. as being part of some “‘front line’ of defense” is that the NYT is a wilful extension of the “propaganda and public relations needs of the Western political establishment.”

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Occupy and the Police

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Facebook keeps deleting this picture of a victim who was shot in the head
with a rubber bullet by Oakland PD yesterday but their attempts have proven futile.

Some in the Occupy movements think we can and should appeal to cops to join us because their income puts them in “the 99 percent.” They say “they are the 99 percent.” These foolish and naive souls have gotten too wrapped up in a slogan and have forgotten, or perhaps they never knew, what this is about. (They should ask Oakland, California or perhaps Athens, Greece.) This is about class war and how the rich have shown the ability to “bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes,” as former President Andrew Jackson put it. And in this war between the have’s and the have-not’s the institutional role of the police has been to protect and serve property . . . C-A-P-I-T-A-L-I-S-M . . . the ruling elite . . . the Lords of Capital . . . Wall Street . . . Mammon . . . the 1 percent.

There is a particular reason why you will not see one video of police in full riot gear encircling bankers and then firing on them with rubber bullets or tear gas. Just as there is a reason why you will not see the police rain down blows to their bankster skulls with batons.

When Flaubert wrote to a friend that “I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it” he was describing a good part of human history and it explains the purpose of police. The social function of the police is to keep the working class (aka the tide of shit) in its place as subdued wage slaves so that those in ivory towers can live in luxury.

Police can join us when they too begin disobeying.

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