Monthly Archives: August 2017

THE COST OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The American Civil Liberties Union has been taking a lot of heat recently for defending the free speech rights of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other low-life scum in places and events such as the recently concluded uproar and demonstrations in Charlottesville VA. As far as the ACLU is concerned, the principle of every American having the right to freedom of speech, as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution, is sacred and never to be “abridged” as the Constitution states, no matter how vile, vulgar or bigoted that speech may be. Of course, free speech rights are “abridged” virtually every day in common sense ways that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned. For example, try verbally threatening someones life, and see how fast you wind up in the clink should the cops overhear that threat. Or try crying out “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and you will also accrue that same jail house experience. To say nothing of all the civil libel actions that could brought against you should you wrongfully defame someone’s character. Because of all the backlash received from the Charlottesville experience, even the ACLU may now be reconsidering its long-standing position regarding the sacredness of the first amendment. So let’s go back a century and see the consequences, end results and havoc that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to.

The year is 1919, and WWI has recently ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1918. The Allies have inflicted harsh punishment on Germany, through the Treaty of Versailles, for instigating the war in the first place. One of the provisions of that treaty was that Germany would not be allowed to militarily re-arm without permission of the Allied countries. The German economy is a disaster as a result of that war, with a combination of rampant inflation and high unemployment. The Allies refuse to provide any economic aid to help Germany recover. A young German corporeal, (originally from Austria) who was wounded toward the end of the war, finds himself with little money and no job prospects upon being released from the hospital. Although he fought for four years, he could only achieve the rank of Corporeal whereas almost all other recruits in similar circumstances rose to at least the rank of Sergeant. In his younger days he fancied himself as an artist; but his paintings were mediocre at best and certainly not salable.

With no particular job skills, and virtually out of money, the ex-Corporeal, in desperation, visits an office of the German government’s bureaucracy in Berlin and practically begs for some type of work whereby he could earn a paycheck. At first he’s denied, but finally the head bureaucrat agrees to give him some work. He tells the ex-Corporeal that a fringe element of rabble-rousing morons, calling themselves the German Workers Party, is trying stir up unrest against the government because of the existing deplorable economic conditions. While the bureaucrat believes the movement is really too small for the government to be concerned, just to make sure, he would pay the ex-Corporeal to attend one of their meetings and report back his findings.

So ex-Corporeal Adolf Hitler agrees to sit in on the next gathering of the German Workers Party. There are less than 20 people in attendance. Various attendees give speeches about Germany’s dismal current state of affairs, but they all revolve around the same themes. Germany’s predicament was due to two major factors-the harsh treatment at the hands of the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, because of the Jews. The same Jews that constituted about 3% of the German population, and were almost all peaceful shopkeepers or teachers. The demonization of Jews throughout, not only Germany, but virtually all of Europe, had been a universal imperative almost since the crucifixion of Jesus, or for nearly 2000 years. While the speech-givers at that get-together were amateurs, Hitler liked what he heard. They jibed almost exactly with his own prejudices and deep-seated hatred of all Jews.

Hitler never did report his findings back to the bureaucrat that hired him. Instead he continued to attend meetings of the German Workers Party, and began making impassioned speeches of his own, castigating both the Allies and the Jews. Hitler found that he had a natural talent for speechifying and demagoguery. Soon, as word spread, hundreds of people and then thousands, began attending these meetings, to hear Hitler demonize the Jews and Allied powers. Hitler quickly rose to top party leadership, and renamed the German Workers Party as the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. And in a particularly brilliant public relations move, he found an ancient tribal symbol, and adopted as the insignia of his newly formed Nazi Party. It came to be known as the Swastika, and it began popping up everywhere-on armbands, flags, shirts, etc. Since Germany had a rich cultural history, especially in music, philosophy, literature, and education, most Germans considered Hitler a fringe crackpot during the 1920s. But as Swastika armbands and flags began showing up more and more in the public square, greater numbers of Germans began paying more attention to Hitler’s impassioned vitriol and demagoguery, and Nazi power and popularity exploded throughout German cities. For those that were unbelievers, Hitler had formed gangs of Nazi goon squads, called the brownshirts, that roamed throughout Germany beating up or other wise terrorizing any and all opponents.

By 1933, due to unbridled German political machinations, the former ex-Corporeal from WWI, ascended to the German Chancellory and within months used his power to become absolute dictator. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Hitler broke every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, especially when it came to vastly re-arming Germany. The Allies, by comparison, stood by and did nothing. By 1939, Hitler felt he was powerful enough to initiate WWII which eventually would kill 60 million people on the European continent alone. About 6 million Jews died in German concentration camps during the Hitler-initiated Holocaust. Millions of American and other Allied forces were slaughtered on European battlefields. And it all began with the demagogic power of freedom of speech.

So the next time you hear someone defend the unbridled and unconstrained ideal of free speech, you might want to point out how that ideal led to the greatest slaughter, tragedy and misery in the history mankind. Germany, today, 70 years after the end of WWII, is a thriving democracy; but its constitution forbids the advocacy of Nazism in any way, shape or form. And yet, it seems to perform quite well, even with this constitutional prohibition.

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Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

DISSOLUTION OF THE MIDDLE

When the middle cannot hold, extremism leading to violence and anarchy invariably ensues. Pragmatism is really the only mechanism that actually works when the people choose the method by which they will be governed. But it’s one of the great ironies of the human condition that large numbers of the existing populace often become too impatient or too agitated when governments follow such a path of moderation.  Or a consensus, if  you will, whereby different factions on the major political issues of the day settle for compromises that give each side at least partial achievement of their goals but not the entire loaf. Instead of this tacit moderation, passions often become  inflamed, and an “all or nothing” attitude becomes the ruling imperative. Then, instead of a large middle ground of consensus on key issues, extremist factions begin to form, each one diametrically opposed to the other, and ready for battle. A prime example was the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville last week, where, as I wrote last time, our president chose to draw a moral equivalence between the “haters” and those opposed to their hate-mongering.

In the U.S., the last time the center of political pragmatism began to dissolve into hardened extremist positions was over 150 years ago, and the issue was slavery. While our Declaration of Independence proudly proclaimed that “all men are created equal” our Constitution made no mention of such equality. Although most members of those writing the Constitution were opposed to slavery, and, indeed, most northern states had banished the enslavement of their black citizens, the South adamantly refused to to cooperate nor form a union, unless the Southern states were allowed to maintain the institution of slavery. It was all about economics. The South’s economy was almost entirely based on farming and its predominant crop was cotton. Since there was virtually no farm machinery at the time, cotton fields had to be harvested almost entirely by manual labor. The way to lower the labor costs of such of such harvests was, of course, to employ black slaves imported from Africa. Besides, the thinking went, Africans would be used to the sweltering summer heat and humidity while picking cotton in the South.

It seemed, at least to Southern plantation owners, the perfect solution. For the cost of providing minimal food and board, usually under the most dismal of conditions, the Southern cotton crop could be harvested and sold at prices that under-cut virtually any competition from any other country on the planet. Also, the slave traders, those that sent their ships to Africa to round up black people and transport them back to the U.S., usually under the most abhorrent of conditions, generally made a handsome profit in this human trafficking operation. Thus, Southern representatives to the constitutional convention were not about to abide by any prohibition against slavery and threatened to walk out and form their own confederacy if their demands were not met. The North finally acceded to the Southerners stipulations, the union was formed, and the Constitution remained silent on the issue of slavery. It would take another 70 years or so, when the middle could no longer hold, and the mandate to abolish slavery in this country would result in massive death, destruction and misery throughout the U.S.

When Abe Lincoln was elected president in 1860, his immediate imperative was to preserve the union at all costs. He stated that Southern states could keep their slaves if they agreed not to secede. Indeed, his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, was an ardent believer in the institution of slavery, but also openly stated that the South should remain in the union. Despite these assurances, the middle could not hold, as Southern extremists opened fire on a union fort in South Carolina and the Civil War commenced. It would take over four long, bloody years of massive body counts, and bone-chilling atrocities committed by both sides, before the fighting was brought to a conclusion. Over six hundred thousand battlefield deaths were tallied during the fighting, the equivalent of over six million deaths with today’s population. Massive destruction existed everywhere, but especially in the South. Lincoln did live long enough, however, to see the enactment of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution which abolished the abominable institution of slavery, and gave full citizenship to blacks that were previously treated as possessions of white plantation owners, instead of as human beings.

After Lincoln’s death, however, the South quickly enacted a series of Jim Crow segregation laws that forced Southern blacks into a state of semi-slavery, which lasted another hundred years, before the walls of segregation finally began to crumble in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. During those hundred years of Jim Crow, life for the average black man or women in the South barely changed from the days of formal slavery. One reason was that among many whites, a firm belief in white supremacy had been formed in the minds, and had taken hold as a concept among large numbers of the U.S. citizenry. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan, among other white supremacist organizations, found fertile ground in both the North as well as the South. Which brings us to today’s landscape, and the events in Charlottesville last week.

As I wrote last time, Trump’s breathtakingly lame moral equivalence between the haters, and those opposing the various hate groups, was virtually unprecedented. But I think the calculus formed in Trump’s mind is as follows. While Trump himself might not be a white supremacist, he believes that a large chunk of the white Republican base is thus bigoted, and voted for him because he gave lip service to their cause. It was the white bigots in his base that put him over the top and he goes to great pains not to antagonize them. Thus all the Neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other various hate groups continue to believe they have a friend and ally in the White House. But those opposed to all forms of this bigotry are also hardening their stances leaving less people to occupy the middle.

From this vantage point, the center is slowly dissolving into hardened left wing/right wing extremist politics that will not bode well for this country. Unless Trump mends his political ways, which is highly unlikely, look for greater and greater polarization among the American public. And we all saw how well such polarization turned out for this country about 150 years ago.

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, politics | Leave a comment

TRUMP’S MORAL EQUIVALENCE

Picture the following scenario, if you will. It’s 1940, and Hitler’s Nazi troops have just overrun France. There’s been a formal declaration of surrender by the French government. The Nazi’s begin rounding up Jews and other perceived opponents of the regime and shipping them off to concentration camps. In response, young Frenchmen, at great risk to their lives, form an underground of partisans designed to attack and kill as many Germans as the opportunity presents itself. Suddenly, President Roosevelt goes on the airwaves and states that he deplores the ongoing violence in France that’s being perpetrated by “many sides.” He calls for the killing and general mayhem to cease, and for all parties to come together and unite in peace and brotherly love. “Ludicrous,” might be your response. Well, it’s not all that different than the initial reaction of our current president regarding the violence and deaths occurring in Charlottesville, VA this past Friday.

Friday in Charlottesville saw a planned demonstration called “Unite the Right”by the far right-wing lunatic-fringe of assorted Neo-Nazis, skinheads, the KKK, and other white supremacist looney-tuners become violent when counter-demonstraters got into the act.    Fights broke out between the two factions, and as the violence increased, one demonstrator took matters into his own hands. He got in his car and deliberately ran down the crowd of opposition protestors, killing one woman and injuring about 20 others. The police fortunately apprehended the killer and have him in custody. But what was the initial reaction of our current president who’s vacationing at his golf club while they renovate the White House? Nothing but pure moral equivalency. He deplored the violence emanating from “many sides” and said we must all come together and love one-another, with perhaps everyone singing Kum-Ba-Yah. Okay, that last part I threw in gratuitously. But that was the general tenor of his remarks.

There was an immediate outcry, even from several Republican senators, that Trump hadn’t specifically identified and condemned the assorted fascists, racists and overall bigots as being the primary instigators of the violence that ensued from the events in Charlottesville. When far right-wing Senator Ted Cruz criticizes you for a lack of moral clarity, you know you’re in hot water. So, with criticism coming from all directions,  Trump was essentially forced to go on the air today and specifically denounce the KKK, and all the other fascist groups that that took part in the Charlottesville mayhem, but, who, nonetheless, still form the basic core of his support. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Trump’s “Chief Strategist” Steve Bannon, former head of the Alt-Right news outlet known as Brietbart News, to watch Trump trash the base core of his true believers. It was as if the few adults inside the Trump Administration had finally prevailed in the common sense department.

But I’m sure that Trump’s solid base of white supremacists will give Trump a pass on today’s pronouncements. One should remember that during the presidential campaign last year, David Duke, former “Grand Dragon” of the KKK formally endorsed Trump for president, saying that The Donald was his kind of guy. That the KKK would finally have someone in sync with their beliefs sitting in the White House. Duke, by the way, ran for the Senate in in the state of Louisiana on the Republican ticket about a decade ago, and lost by only an eyelash. The “Bikers of America,” another white supremacist organization, also formally endorsed Trump for president and sent its members to Cleveland during the Republican Convention, to assure that Trump was not, in any sense, put in harm’s way by political opponents. In other words, they were spoiling for a fight with anyone protesting Trump’s ascendency to the throne.

During the campaign, Trump said many times that he was sick and tired of “political correctness.” That line usually drew a standing ovation from the mob-filled arenas where he gave his speeches. Trouble is, that phrase was code for being able to use the N-word out in public without being vilified. Another reason why a Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right individual like Richard Spencer, who publishes a daily paper in Montana that viciously attacks Jews, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, still claims to be among Trump’s strongest supporters.

Trump won the election because his strategy of appealing to white supremacists narrowly paid off. He lost big among minorities and college-educated women. But not enough of them turned out to vote. If they had had turned out in the same numbers they did twice for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton would have been the one sitting in the Oval Office today. But it was basically the vote of the blue-collar, non-college educated white male that put Trump over the top. These voters believed they had been marginalized during the eight Obama years. That too much emphasis had been placed on minority benefits and assistance, to white people’s detriment. They believed that Trump was the guy that would rectify this situation and restore white people back to the front of the line-where they should be. A classic belief in white supremacy.

Meanwhile, the neo-fascists in our society are becoming more bold as they come out into the open. They feel that with Trump in the White House, they can emerge from the shadows out into the glaring sun light. Look for more openly fascist events and riots like the one in Charlottesville to take place in the ensuing months.

 

 

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

EVOLUTION OR DEVOLUTION

One of my less guilty pleasures in life is occasionally watching old movies run in their entirety on the Turner Movie Channel. No commercials or interruptions; it’s almost like having HBO without the user fee. So the other night I watched a film produced in 1960 called “Inherit The Wind” about an actual trial in Tennessee in 1925 concerning the teaching of “evolution” in the Tennessee public school system. At that time it was actually illegal to to teach such heresy as Darwin’s theory of evolution to impressionable, young school children. Why they might have actually learn something that wasn’t sanctioned by the “New Testament.” They might even question where all those people on the outside came from when Adam, Eve and Cain were evicted from the Garden of Eden because their mortgage went under water. But I digress.

The movie, shot in black and white, contained big name Hollywood stars, such as Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly, all of whom acquired word-wide acting fame during the 1930s, often considered the golden age of Hollywood. Movies were ultra popular during that period because people could lose themselves in a darkened theater and forget their heartache and pain caused by the Great Depression for maybe 5-6 hours. For the price of a nickel or dime, one received two feature films, a cartoon, a serial, newsreels, coming attractions, and more. What’s not to like. I remember spending hours in air-conditioned local movie theaters in my misspent youth during the 1940s in order to escape the ugly poverty of my surroundings and the smothering heat in an un-airconditioned apartment during humid New York summers. Of course, by the late 1940s the price of all this entertainment had risen to the shocking level of a quarter.

But back to “Inherit the Wind.” As I said, it was actually against the law in Tennessee in the 1920s to teach evolution in the public school system, and breaking that law was punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. One brave teacher in a small town decided to challenge that law and openly taught Darwinism in his classes. Predictably, he was was arrested and put on trial. The whole affair might have been ignored by the press or what was considered the media back then, had it not been for the fame of the attorney’s who became involved in the case. Representing the defendant free of charge was world renowned  lawyer Clarence Darrow, who in his later years, often fought for unpopular causes. And representing the prosecution was famed politician William Jennings Bryan, who twice ran unsuccessfully for the presidency on the Democratic ticket, of course. Although Bryan considered himself a populist and champion of the “little guy,” he was also a dyed-in-the-wool religious fundamentalist who believed in the literal interpretation of the New Testament. So it became a clash of these huge legal titans and was thus heavily covered by the press and radio commentators.

Since this was small town Tennessee in the 1920s, the vast majority of its people were also religious fundamentalists, and as depicted by the movie, paraded about town during the trial chanting: “Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” It became known as the “monkey trial” and the notion that man evolved from apes was considered beyond absurdity by the townspeople. During the trial, Darrow called Bryan to the witness stand to question his dis-belief in evolution. No matter what the question, Bryan stubbornly stuck to his religious fundamentalism. When Darrow held a rock in his hand and stated that scientists believed that rock was millions of years old, Bryan made the now famous exclamation that he “was not interested in the age of rocks, but only in the Rock of Ages.” It was a given that the hapless school teacher would be convicted of the crime of teaching Darwinism, but a reasonably smart judge handed down the mildest of sentences to finally bring that fiasco of a trial to its conclusion.

But the movie got me to thinking whether humankind has evolved to any significant degree in the century since that infamous trial, or wether there has actually been a process of on-going devolution. Fourteen years after the end of the “monkey trial” the world became involved in the most horrific war that had ever been witnessed until that point. Nazi and Imperial Japanese death camps exterminated tens of millions of innocent victims during WWII. In a world history replete with most heinous acts throughout the centuries, the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews and millions of others were gassed to death, will probably stand out as the crown jewel of absolute, unadulterated, pure evil. Nuclear bombs developed by scientists and were used on two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands. Today, nuclear bomb technology has come into the hands of at least two rogue, tyrannical states, North Korea and Iran, who threaten their use against western democracies. Islamic Jihadist terrorism has sprung up out of the desert heat of the Mid-East, and like the barbarism of old, threatens virtually all of civilized societies. Several on-going wars in the cauldron of all that Mid-East turmoil that the United States has become involved in, show no signs of being brought to a successful conclusion. Is this progress? Is man evolving to a higher state, or actually devolving to a state of death, destruction and misery?

And speaking of evolution, a recent poll in the U.S. still shows that a majority of Americans still do not believe in Darwinism. Despite the fact that a visit to any museum of natural history in any major city will show incontrovertible evidence otherwise. But I guess non-believers in evolution are not big on going to museums. Nor on wisdom or advanced thinking that would normally be signs of the evolutionary process. That was undisputedly proven by the results of the 2016 election held in the U.S. and the Brexit vote held in England, also last year. So instead, perhaps we should welcome one and all to the the age of devolution.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Economics, Huey Long, Franklin Roosevelt, Great Depression, The Kingfish,Donald Trump, human affairs, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE BIBLE-THUMPER’S CHOICE

According to exit polls taken after the 2016 election, the overwhelming favorite for president among those people describing themselves as Christian “born-again” or “evangelical” or just plain fanatically religious believers, was Donald Trump. According to pollsters, Trump garnered nearly 80% of the evangelical vote. Now one might ask why people who are supposedly so heavily invested in the teachings of Christ, would choose a man who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing a woman’s “pussy,” who bragged about having numerous affairs, who has been married 3 times, and who had made the comment that TV news anchor Megyn Kelly “had blood coming out of her whatever” when she made him upset during a TV presidential debate. At first blush it would appear counter-intuitive that Trump should be such a huge favorite among these religious extremists, if you will. But on second thought, it was perfectly rational that the bible-thumpers supported such a candidate.

The first point to understand is that organized religions have nothing to do with God. They are totally man-made inventions for the acquisition of power by those supposedly assuming the mantle of God’s spokespersons. Whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other current ism, they all have the same tenets in common. The leaders of those religions pretend to speak for God, and thereby issue proclamations as to what is acceptable or unacceptable human behavior in the eyes of “the invisible man” as comedian George Carlin once expressed it. Unacceptable behavior according to one’s religious leaders can lead to big trouble since these clergy often hold the power of life or death over virtually all individuals in the populace. In the Muslim religion, not obeying Allah as Imams dictate, can lead to to hands or arms being chopped off, or whippings, or finally, beheadings. And its not just Islamic terrorist organizations performing such atrocities. Ruling governments in many Moslem countries also sanction such penalties to those considered as being non-believers. Such is the power of organized religion.

In Europe, once Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, A.D., the Christian religious hierarchy assumed the same powers and control over peoples lives as had the secular royalty that ruled most countries. Unbelievers were considered heretics to be burned at the stake. Jews that had been driven out of their homeland by Roman legions, and who had thus fled to Europe, were called “Christ killers” by Catholic popes in the Vatican, and subject to enormous persecution throughout the centuries. The Spanish Inquisition in the 16th and 17th centuries burned Jews at the stake for not believing that Jesus was God. But Inquisition leaders claimed it was for their own good. After being thus murdered, these unfortunates could then enter heaven with their disbelief purified from their souls. And it wasn’t just Catholic Jew-hating. Martin Luther, who was the founder of Protestantism, was notoriously anti-semitic, and printed tract after tract that hung on church portals,  denouncing Jews as Christ killers. Thus, through the centuries, virtually all of Europe was infected with the virus of Christian anti-semitism. One could even make a cogent argument that the Holocaust could never have taken place if the disease of anti-semitism was not allowed to spread so virulently throughout all of Europe, century after century. Even today in Europe, it’s emerging from the shadows it retreated to 70 years ago, back into the sunlight.

It’s with that background that it’s understandable as to why the bible thumpers in this country supported Trump so vigorously in 2016. The see him as a man who could bring their long-held dream to fruition of turing the United States into a Christian theocracy. The way many Mid-East countries are Moslem theocracies. The holy grail of the bible thumpers would be the abolition of legalized abortion and gay rights in the U.S. The election of Trump is already paying them dividends since he has put the overturning of Roe V. Wade almost within their grasp. Trump’s nomination of antiabortion Justice Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was approved by the Senate, and, thus, Trump needs to replace only one more Justice before a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy becomes history in most states. It shouldn’t take very much longer since Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her 80s and obviously can’t hang on forever. Along the way the bible thumpers also fervently pray that a Trump remodeled Supreme Court will overturn previous edicts allowing the existence of gay marriage and other gay rights, thereby effectively shoving homosexuals back into the closet. Way back in the closet. If those two scenarios transpire, the U.S. is more that half there toward establishing a Christian theocracy. Fun times ahead for all you no-goodnik non-believers.

So, as you can see, it really didn’t matter to the bible thumpers that Trump has led an unholy, lewd, and profane private life. As long as he could deliver them their long held dream of an American Christian theocracy, he was jake with them. When Trump made a campaign stop at Liberty University, which is a fundamentalist Baptist college in Virginia, and pretended to be a religious extremist like them, the bible thumpers knew they had their man. And, so far, life in the U.S. appears to be unfolding in that context.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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