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In Oakland peaceful #Occupy demonstrators were camping out in front of city hall. The city launched a police raid to clear out the camp, using tear gas, flash-bank grenades, rubber bullets and beating people with batons. An Iraq war vet was hit in the head by either a rubber bullet or tear gas canister and critically injured. These days this is the typical government response to non-Tea-Party "protesters." Let's look at how the Occupiers and protests would be treated if we were a functioning democracy -- a government of by and for We, the People -- instead of a dysfunctional plutocracy serving the biggest corporations and the billionaires behind them.

Citizens?

The first thing to understand about every single person involved in the #occupy movement is that they are citizens and human beings. Even the ones with beards. Alas, even the drummers. (What do you call a drummer who breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless. What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted.)

The people involved in the #occupy movement are upset that our country has abandoned democracy in favor of plutocracy. They are upset that every decision made in Washington is based on the wishes of the top 1%. They are upset that we do not have a reasonable health care system, no reasonable pension system, or child care system, or other benefits that people in democracies around the world receive. They are upset that most of the benefits of our economy instead go to a very few at the top. They are upset that a huge amount of our money goes to pay for a military machines that costs more than all other countries spend on military combined. They are upset that there is a "Super Committee" meeting in secret to decide how much money to take out of the economy to pay for the bailouts and other costs of the fiasco caused by Wall Street and the big banks.

So with their government ignoring their majority demands they have finally decided to voice their protests publicly. For doing this they have been met with smears, derision, and police attacks.

Police Ordered To Attack

Just as in countries like Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iran, the instinctive response of our plutocratic government and Wall Street-backed power structures has been to see those people who have shown up at these protests as somehow suspect, possibly even as an enemy, and to attack them. FOX News and the entire corporate/conservative media machine regularly attacks them. And the police are ordered to attack them.

This is not "protesters vs police." People who work in law enforcement are part of the 99%, just like us. They have families to feed, bills to pay, and have to do what they're told.

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And this is what they were ordered to do, to people who were exercising their legitimate rights:

American citizens were treated as criminals and attacked just for speaking out about the injustice of Wall Street getting a huge bailout after they caused this mess, and now the rest of us are told to sacrifice to pay for it.

John Stewart on The Daily Show reacts to the Oakland attack:


If We Were A Democracy Instead Of A Plutocracy

The occupy movement clashes with federal, state and local governments the way they currently work. We really have an opportunity here to come back to an understanding of democracy and the role of government, and who government should serve. Currently government is really set up to serve the top few, and facilitate bigger businesses, and understands the people in their communities as consumers and corporate employees, and not as citizens.

So imagine how it cold be different, if we had a government designed to serve the people rather than keep them in their place. In a country with a true democratic culture the local governments would be serving these people and honoring their right to dissent and protest. They would instinctively be showing up at protests like this and offering to help with any sanitation problems, etc, setting up public toilets, and other services. They would even be offering tents. If there are security problems in the occupy camps a city would be posting police in the encampment to help the people there, with a clear mission to serve them. They certainly would not be seeing them as the enemy, and attacking them.

Imagine Real Democracy and its Implications

The #occupy movement opens up the space to imagine what the country could be if we really did have a democracy with a first instinct of serving the people, instead of serving only the wealthy and their big corporations.

Imagine a government of, by and for the people and the things that regular people want and need. Imagine everyone entitled to a free education through college? Imagine a transportation system that helps us all get around -- mass transit and high-speed rail systems instead of just roads and highways for those who can afford cars, with plutocratic pay lanes so those with more money can get around.

Imagine a people outraged at special passes through airport security for those with first-class tickets.

Imagine advertisers having to get people's permission before they are allowed to interrupt their attention. Imagine the things we would have if We, the People were in charge.

Imagine a modern, maintained infrastructure, good schools, and a guarantee of a job working on those for any9one who needed work.

Imagine a government that enforced laws even when the top few violated them, enforced job discrimination laws, enforced anti-trust laws... or a government that protected citizens from corporate fraud, fees, scams, etc.

Occupiers Are People Too

These occupiers are "the people' just as much as any other people in the community and government should exist to serve them just as much as any other group.

Alas, even the drummers.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

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Have We, the American People, Lost our Heart and Compassion and appear as grave hypocrites at this particular time of year? Or is it just our political "leaders" who have reduced the President to a virtual afterthought in their quest to bankrupt government and give the wealthiest Americans even more? Heavens, the wealthiest among us have a difficult choice to make, as one bold U.S. Senator stated earlier this week. Their dilemma is in which house should they celebrate Christmas. For the unemployed, the question is whether they will have a home at all this Christmas. And yet, the debate goes on about continuing the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while those same "leaders" are refusing to agree to continue unemployment payments to those who have virtually nothing

I find myself offended and embarrassed by the rhetoric being espoused by the Republicans in Congress today. They are insisting that we continue billions of dollars of tax-breaks to the wealthiest of Americans at the same time expressing deep concern about the growing deficit, which such tax breaks helped create. Of course, the record is clear that these continued breaks for the wealthy do NOT significantly stimulate the economy. In fact, it is just the opposite. By providing money for those unemployed we are assured that they will put money back into the economy for food, for rent and necessities. They are in no position to SAVE; they will spend it for basic living expenses. The rich, with so much, put that money in the bank and do not spend it. So, there is not even any fiscal logic to their protestations, yet that doesn't (ever) stop them from making these false claims.

How did we become a nation like this? Or is it, perhaps, just the Republican leadership that is so heartless, so morally bankrupt that they are willing to sacrifice down-on-their-luck Americans, millions of them, in exchange for continued wealth and opulence for a small number of already well-fed and well-heeled supporters.

This is a moral outrage so where is the moral outrage from the Democrats? The President, supposedly the moral leader of this country, is apparently willing to make a deal, a Faustian deal at that, with the heartless politicians who are newly emboldened by their "victory" in November.

And not to be at all blinded by the irony, this is Holiday Season---when we Americans claim to be of good cheer, wishing Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all. Have we, as a nation, become so anesthetized, so paralyzed, so cold-hearted that we are unable or unwilling to DEMAND of our so-called "leaders" that they do the right thing, for once?

If our leaders need to know we have their backs on this issue, then let's tell them.
Let them know we are a moral, good and decent people and expect them to reflect our values. It's Christmas-time, dammit. Do something to show you care. Tell them to care, too.


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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Toyota is planning on closing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. NUMMI auto-manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA on March 31. The immediate effect is a loss of 5,000 jobs. But, as with any factory closing, the effects ripple out well beyond the immediately obvious. The public has put up a lot of money to have the plant here, and the costs this closing will put on the public will be enormous.

Toyota takes off with a ton of cash, we pay the costs, it's the way the system is set up -- by us.

The effect? From The California Labor Federation, Toyota NUMMI Closure Would Kill Jobs, Destroy Communities,

...more than 5,000 autoworkers at the plant will be out of work, and another 1,500 Teamsters who transport the cars from the NUMMI plant to the dealerships will also be jobless. Additionally, as many as 50,000 workers at hundreds of businesses in California are completely dependant on NUMMI to stay afloat, from the suppliers that manufacture car parts to the restaurants where the NUMMI workers go for lunch and even the shoe stores where the plant workers buy their specialized work boots.

Toyota has benefited tremendously from this plant, as well as receiving state and federal money. A study released yesterday by the NUMMI Blue Ribbon Commission says,

The United States is Toyota's largest market in the world. California accounted for almost 18 percent of Toyota's U.S. sales and 5 percent of the automaker's global sales in 2007. Toyota led California sales with a quarter of the market, more than the combined share of General Motors and Ford in 2009.

. . . Toyota has benefitted considerably from federal and state programs over the years. ... the automaker captured first place in "Cash for Clunkers" sales ... In a similar program in Japan at about the same time, U.S.-based automakers were excluded initially.

California has invested heavily in NUMMI ... The state has given NUMMI more than $18 million for training
since the plant's inception... Millions more have gone to NUMMI suppliers for training. Major infrastructure improvements have been done explicitly for the plant and to meet its needs. The Port of Oakland, for example,
was dredged 12 years ago to accommodate the kinds of cargo ships the plant requires at a cost of $410 million.

When the plant closes the public takes up the costs -- paying unemployment, for example, for the up-to-50,000 people expected to become unemployed. The Federal Government will pick up the costs of the workers' pensions.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced yesterday it will assume responsibility for the underfunded pension plan of the 5,800 employees and retirees of New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI), pending the plant's liquidation by the end of the month.

Just as I wrote this week about Whirlpool, this is the way WE have chosen to make the system work. We can and must change the way the system works.

This is what companies today do. It is just the way the game is played, the way the system works. ... There aren't "good" or "bad" companies; ANY company will do these things because if they don't they lose out to the companies that do. BECAUSE WE LET THEM. In fact, by letting this happen we make it happen because, as I just wrote, if one company doesn't the next will, and the company that doesn't loses out. The system.

So here is what we have to do. We have to change the rules to stop these jobs from leaving the country.

We are going to have to put our foot down, as a people, and take control of the system to make it work for us. This is not only something we can do, it is our responsibility to do this.

Call Congress and demand that they stop companies -- ALL companies -- from closing factories in the US and moving the jobs out of the country.

I have more coming about this.

Here is one immediate action you can take. American Rights At Work has an action page with a petition: Take Action: Tell Toyota: Don't Abandon Your Workers

Toyota got its start in America 25 years ago when it opened a plant in Fremont, CA. But on March 31, Toyota plans to close the plant.

Laying off 5,000 people will only be the beginning. 50,000 workers, vendors, and suppliers - and the families who depend on them - could immediately lose their livelihoods. And hundreds of thousands more will be affected by the loss of tax revenue and consumer spending.

Will you help us demand Toyota do right by the workers who helped it get a foothold in America?


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California Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined a group of Senators threatening to allow the nation to default on its debt unless a commission to "fast track" cuts to Social Security is created. 

Talking Points Memo describes what is going on,

Moderate and conservative Democrats want to empower an outside entitlement commission to reshape major domestic spending programs like Medicare and Social Security, and they're threatening a truly nuclear option to get their way. If Congress does not create this commission, they say, they will vote against must-pass legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.

"I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told McClatchy. "This is our moment."

About this commission,

As proposed, it would hand a significant amount of Congressional authority over entitlement programs to an outside body. That body would make recommendations that Congress would have to vote on, up or down--no filibusters. That's a bridge way too far for liberals, who see the commission as a backdoor approach to gutting Social Security.

Here's the problem.  Many people believe that there is a problem with Social Security - that it is "going broke."  But the fact is that Social Security has a huge reserve in the bank.  Social Security runs a huge surplus, and that surplus has been added to this reserve every year for decades.  Social Security will continue running a surplus until at least 2017, and can then draw on that trust fund to make up any shortfalls for at least the next 30-40 years.

Ah, but where is that trust fund?  According to a recent Washington Post story, 

The Treasury Department has for decades borrowed money from the Social Security trust fund to finance government operations. If it is no longer able to do so, it could be forced to borrow an additional $700 billion over the next decade from China, Japan and other investors. And at some point, perhaps as early as 2017, according to the CBO, the Treasury would have to start repaying the billions it has borrowed from the trust fund over the past 25 years, driving the nation further into debt or forcing Congress to raise taxes.

So there is the problem in a nutshell. They spent it. They spent it on tax cuts for the rich, and now that people are retiring and want that money, Senator Feinstein and the others don't want to raise taxes on the rich to pay back what was borrowed from the nation's retirement account.

This is the same as the situation in California. They cut taxes and made up the shortfall with various gimmicks, until the gimmicks ran out.  So now that the bill is due the protectors of the wealthiest talk about "spending" - which is government coming through for the people - as the area to cut, instead of turning to the people who received all the benefits of the earlier actions.

Senator Feinstein, keep your hands off of my -- and everyone else's -- retirement account.  You borrowed that money, now pay it back.  Don't think you can solve this problem by asking me to accept less than what I was promised because you handed that money out to the wealthy.  The people who got it should be the ones paying it back, not the people it was taken from.  You already took money from the taxpayers to bail out the wealthiest, don't do it again.


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A number of people I have spoken with are planning to attend a "tea party" tomorrow, so I thought it might be a good idea to write about this.  They are not what they claim to be.  They are not "spontaneous" or "grassroots."  They are another corporate-funded campaign to trick people into supporting more cut taxes for the rich.

The idea is supposed to have started on February 19, when Rick Santelli of CNBC "spontaneously" complained about plans (click link for video) to help people avoid foreclosure, saying this is the government "subsidizing the loser's mortgages."  Santelli called for organizing a "Chicago tea party" against helping people pay their mortgages.  But investigators starting finding clues that the on-air rant was not spontaneous, and signs that the campaign was organized by the right-wing, corporate-funded Freedomworks .  According to a March 2 New York Times story,

"Mr. Santelli's televised commentary appeared spontaneous to viewers. However, the Internet domain name ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered in August 2008 -- well before his commentary -- but not used until afterwards."
The events have been widely promoted by corporate-funded conservative PR professionals who specialize in "astroturf."  This is a term for the use of money to create an appearance of widespread "grassroots" support.  Currently the corporate-funded conservative lobbying groups Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, are organizing the events and conservative media including talk radio and FOX News are widely promoting them.  Support appears to be coming from Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in the country.  According to the Think Progress blog post, Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests,

"This type of corporate 'astroturfing' is nothing new to either organization. While working to promote Social Security privatization, Freedom Works was caught planting one of its operatives as a "single mom" to ask questions to President Bush in a town hall on the subject. Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed Freedom Works for similarly building "amateur-looking" websites to promote the lobbying interests of Dick Armey ...

Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, [a] former partner in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. The group is funded by Koch family foundations -- a family whose wealth is derived from the oil industry. Indeed Americans for Prosperity has coordinated pro-drilling 'grassroots' events around the country."

The "tea parties" are promoted as a "grassroots uprising" against "high taxes."  Tea stands for "Taxes Enough Already."  However, 95% of Americans will received a tax cut in the next year if the upcoming Obama budget passes.  Only Americans with incomes above $250,000 will receive a small tax increase -- and even then their taxes will be much lower than almost any time in the last 80 or so years.   This increase on the top incomes will help pay for some of the Republican-caused economic damage as well as reduce the budget deficits that the country has faced ever since the same income group received tax cuts after George W. Bush was elected.  (This is similar to the tax increase in first Clinton budget that led to the great economy of the 1990s and large budget surpluses.)

The other complaint from tea party organizers is that President Obama is "spending too much."  The increased spending in the stimulus package and upcoming budget funds education, unemployment checks, efforts to ward off foreclosures and other programs designed to help bring us out of the recession and provide jobs.  These are programs that benefit regular people instead of big corporations and the rich.

So regular people who go to these corporate-organized tea parties are asking the government to undo their own tax cuts and reduce their own government services in order to keep taxes low for the very rich.  I wonder if people have really thought this through?


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The other day I brought up immigration, asking the practical question of how we would identify people who are here without documentation.

Suppose -- just suppose -- the people who advocate harsh treatment of non-citizens are successful in their efforts, and our government starts an effort to locate and deport them. How do we identify who is here without authorization? This is a practical question.

Americans are not required to "carry papers." We do not have checkpoints, and inside of the country we do not have to prove that we are traveling with proper authorization. We certainly do not have to prove that we are citizens. Many of us could never even locate the documentation necessary to prove citizenship if we were, in fact, required to prove it.

One answer that comes up frequently is to deal with the immigration question through employment. The reason people come here is to try to have a better life, which means employment. So this opens up a two-pronged approach. One, attack the undocumented resident problem through the employers, and the other is to help the countries south of us to improve their economies so people are not desperately trying to come here so they can feed their families. (And opening up markets of people who can afford to buy things we make here, by the way.) Meanwhile, employers here are taking advantage of desperate people for their own gain.

So to approach this problem though employment we ask employers here to check for documentation when hiring. This is a natural time to do this, because people already need to show they are who they say they are when applying for jobs. An employer who hires an undocumented worker is the one committing the crime.

But what happens to families and lives if we cause people working now to be fired? What happens to neighborhoods, businesses, already-eroding housing prices, local tax bases, and all the other things that can be affected if hundreds of thousands -- maybe even millions -- of people are suddenly without jobs and forced to move? Perhaps part of the answer to the problem is to freeze any new hiring of people who are not citizens or have resident status, so the problem at least stops getting worse and ever harder to solve. But it is not a good idea for human and economic reason to punish people who are already living and working here.

The current discussion of immigration is so focused on the word "illegal" and that word helps turn human beings into a faceless, criminal "them." But it really is human beings, with families and lives just like everyone else.

Please discuss.


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Immigration Questions

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I want to ask some questions about how to handle our issue of undocumented immigrants. There is very little disagreement that our borders have become unacceptably porous and that we've got to change the way we secure them. That being said, how we approach solving the problem of the large number of people who are here already? The debate needs to be a practical and rational one rather than emotional and reactive so we can achieve sound and effective solutions.

Let's start by asking some practical questions. Some people use the terminology of "illegal" immigrants because the people in question have overstayed a visa (45%) or even crossed the border without passing through immigration and customs. As a result of this terminology -- "illegal" -- people react more strongly than they might if different words were used or if they had time to consider fully all of the ramifications of this issue.

Suppose -- just suppose -- the people who advocate harsh treatment of non-citizens are successful in their efforts, and our government starts an effort to locate and deport them. How do we identify who is here without authorization? This is a practical question.

Americans are not required to "carry papers." We do not have checkpoints, and inside of the country we do not have to prove that we are traveling with proper authorization. We certainly do not have to prove that we are citizens. Many of us could never even locate the documentation necessary to prove citizenship if we were, in fact, required to prove it.

So if we are going to identify people who have overstayed visas, etc. how do we go about it?

This is a simple and serious question that I hope can be discussed here. Please leave a comment with your ideas.

I’ll deal with the next set of questions in my next post.


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This last week I worked with SEIU to help publicize a strike by security guards at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. (That work was sponsored by SEIU, but this is not a sponsored post.)

The security guards at Kaiser facilities in California work for a company named Inter-Con Security, which then contracts with Kaiser. All other employees at Kaiser are unionized, and Kaiser is a responsible company with their employee relationships. And in other states like Oregon, the Kaiser security guards are unionized. But, for some reason, the security guards in California are not employees of Kaiser and the contractor, Inter-Con, is fighting unionization. In fact they are engaging in tactics that are not legal, including intimidation, interrogation of employees to find out who is trying to form the union, and other anti-union tactics. (It is legal to form a union and supposedly protected by law.) This week the guards went on strike to demand that these illegal tactics stop, and that laws against such tactics be enforced.

There are, of course, bigger issues in any strike and any drive to unionize. What it comes down to is that corporations are able to amass incredible power and wealth, while individuals on their own are not. So when individuals find themselves up against corporations they have little to no ability to stand up against this massed power and concentrated wealth. Employees are just one example of this dilemma. Most employees are not in a situation that makes it possible to ask for fair pay, benefits, sick pay, health insurance, etc.

Over time, though, workers learned that if they can organize into a single unit and act together they are able to fight back. This is known as organized labor, or unions. And by going on strike, shutting down the corporation's ability to bring in the bucks, they gain leverage over the corporation and can improve their situation. This is, in fact, what brought America its middle class -- weekends off, 40-hour workweeks, sick leave, vacations, pensions, raises, reasonable pay, etc. And, in fact, you can see that since the decline of the labor movement many of these benefits have been disappearing. We have been losing pensions and health care and raises, etc.

But it is not just employees who have a difficult time standing up against corporate power. Look at the vast power of the tobacco and oil industries to set the country's priorities. As many as 3-400,000 Americans still die each year from cigarettes that were marketed to children who did not have the maturity to resist while addiction to tobacco is especially strong if it begins at an early age. Yet we are still unable to fight back against the horror this industry inflicts.

And the oil companies and coal are able to fight efforts to reign in their power. We are unable to get our government to fund sufficient alternatives to automobiles, like urban rail systems and other mass transit, or high-speed trains between cities. And alternatives to oil and coal energy generation like solar, wind and research into others are all stymied or severely underfunded even though we know entire, new job-creating industries could be launched.

Our hopes for one-person-one-vote ideas about democracy continue to suffer from the one-dollar-one-vote corporate assault. It is not clear what the eventual outcome of this battle will be.


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Political Suicide II

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Earlier this week I wrote about how "conventional wisdom" says that politicians acknowledging reality and offering solutions that could actually fix the state's problems is considered "political suicide."

Here is something else that is considered political suicide: Acknowledging that undocumented residents live and work here and are members of our communities. But it is a fact. A lot of people have come across the country's borders and settled in California, especially across the southern border.

Economic conditions have forced people to come here to try to find work. This is something that each of us would do if the situation were reversed. Heck, if the financial crisis that we are reading about in the news continues we might be doing just that very soon.

It is especially dangerous for a candidate to acknowledge that undocumented residents drive on the state's roads and suggest that while we work out solutions to the documentation problem, we test and license them so they can be insured. And so instead there are lots of unlicensed and therefore untrained, untested and uninsured people driving. This endangers all of us. But woe to the politician who actually tries to suggest realistic and workable ways to fix this.

Second to this on the political suicide scale is acknowledging that these undocumented residents are human beings, just like the rest of us.

The challenge here is to find solutions that fit our progressive value system. As progressives, we recognize and celebrate the humanity of every person. We don't ignore reality and we don't condone lawbreaking. We must look for practical, humane, innovative, equitable and democratic approaches to resolving these difficulties. We must always look for progress.


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The fact that the U.S. EPA refused to grant California a waiver so we can initiate our own air emissions standards is really no surprise to anyone who has watched this administration ignore science, our legal system, common sense and the Constitution. Whether waterboarding, abstinence only education, refusing to fund "No Child Left Behind", illegally issuing wire taps without court order, or refusing to honor validly issued subpoena from Congress (to name only a very few of this administration's scofflaw attitude), it is the audacity and mendacity that is so astonishing. It makes one wonder whether the right-wing extremist P.R. firms have a class in how to lie with a straight face, perhaps calling it something like "How stupid do we think the American people really are?"

The chutzpah is endless---with the President today in his own press conference exemplifying it with astonishing ease. But the lack of embarassment or apology is what really takes the cake. And when EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson claimed that the reason for the waiver denials is that and I quote here: "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules." , that really takes the cake.
A clear national solution??? Nothing clear about said solution. Nothing national about it. And in fact, no solution identified either. Besides which, Bush doesn't even believe in global warming. Is it a "national solution" of denial or just plain old deception that this administration is trying to foist on a not-so-unsuspecting public?


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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Social Justice category.

Reproductive Freedom is the previous category.

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