Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pope Francis’s Anti-Capitalism is No Misunderstanding

Pope Francis continues a long line of anti-capitalist Catholic popes. And he may be one of the most outspoken of them all. He has certainly been garnering attention with his anti-capitalist rhetoric.


Pro-capitalist pundits usually proclaim that Pope Francis is mistaken or misinformed about capitalism, accompanied by lengthy factual demonstrations about how free market capitalism enables people to not only rise from poverty, but to prosper. If only Francis will observe the facts.


An example of this is a piece by Kyle Smith. In a New York Post article titled Pope Francis should take a vow of silence on capitalism, Smith correctly lauds, for example, even partially initiated capitalism’s success at lifting “hundreds of millions out of abject poverty and into relative comfort” in China and India in recent decades. Yet, referring to Francis’s incessant harping against “the idolatry of money,” Smith concludes:


No one is arguing that capital should become an idol, but free markets produce wealth that puts food in people’s mouths and clothes on their backs. The Church has a historic commitment to battling poverty, and yet its earthly leader is profoundly ignorant of how history tells us to accomplish this. He shouldn’t flaunt his lack of understanding.


But does Pope Francis really not understand capitalism? After all, most people don’t fully understand it, which is why philosopher Ayn Rand called capitalism an “unknown ideal.”


But the pope is not just anybody. He is the leader of an institution, the venerable Catholic Church, with deep roots in history and scholarly study. Can the leader of an institution that reigned through the Dark and Middle Ages, witnessed the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution—which culminated in the transformation of the freest places of the Earth, over the past couple of centuries, into a much better place to live—truly not understand the cause of that explosion of wealth? I don’t think so.


Over the past 250 years, the Church had a front row seat to observe the rising prosperity, improving health, dramatically increased life longevity, and growing safety from environmental hazards achieved by human beings; a progress far beyond anything ancient people could have dreamed. And the Church could observe that all of it was enabled by free market capitalism, the only social system that liberates the individual to live his life for his own sake; to selfishly pursue personal economic gain and life sustaining values without coercive interference from his fellow man; to be protected from human predators who wish to deal with him in ways other than mutually beneficial, non-sacrificial voluntary association and trade; which protects his earned property—a system based on justice and facilitated by money.


No, it is not possible, in my view, that the pope doesn’t get capitalism. The Catholic Church and its popes have long been ideologically opposed to capitalism because it is a social organization based in ethical egoism. For a good examination of this observation, check out Craig Biddle’s post for The Objective Standard blog, Pope Francis, Religion, Capitalism, and Ayn Rand.


Francis knows full well what capitalism is. But he will never acknowledge capitalism’s virtue because it conflicts diametrically with Christian ethics. Francis fully endorses the totalitarian view of Pope Paul VI as laid out in the 1967 Encyclical Populorum Progressio. As I summarized for The Objective Standard:


In the world of Paul’s vision, the primary purpose of governments would be to carry out the principle that “created goods should flow fairly to all”. To ensure that “right,” the “public authorities” would be endowed with powers “to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used.” Paul was brutally clear: “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.”


It may also be that capitalism erodes the Catholic Church’s power base, the poor. Pope Francis is a self-described “pope of the poor.” Where does capitalism’s ability to shrink the ranks of the poor leave the Catholic Church?


But for definitive proof of Francis’s fundamental anti-capitalism, consider this from his address to Congress:


“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”


Government has a unique monopoly on physical force, which manifests in its laws. Politics is the field that determines the use, or abuse, of the government’s law-making power. The “particular interests” to be sacrificed obviously pertain to the private individual. The goods, interests, and social life obviously pertains to the collective, which owns those factors. When Francis calls on politics to be “an expression of our compelling need to live as one,” he calls on the state to abuse its powers to bring on forced collectivization; the antipode of capitalism’s government that protects our rights to live peaceably as sovereign individuals. The state is to be the final arbiter and enforcer of the individuals’ sacrificial offerings to the community.


In Francis’s statement, is there any stronger explication of his collectivism and statism? Is there a more explicit anti-capitalist statement? This, from a pope who claims to be anti-communist. This, from a pope that has the gall to speak of the “dignity” of the individual.


Is it any wonder that the self-described socialist, the Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, opens his gushing approval of the Pope’s speech to Congress with those words? Both Sanders and Francis embrace the same goals. Rather than the state being the protector of our political rights and economic freedom—which the pope claims makes the government “a slave to the economy and finance”—we as individuals should be slaves to the collective and thus to the state, which Francis calls putting politics “at the service of the human person.”


There is no misunderstanding.


The Pope condemns selfishness, money, the profit motive, private property, and proclaims the individual’s subordination to the will of the collective and the dictates of the collective’s representative, the state. The pope can not be ignorant of the fact that he is condemning the very essence of capitalism. The condemnation of the essence of capitalism is anti-capitalist just as surely as cutting out a man’s heart kills the man.


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Obama’s Not Anti-Fossil Fuel Enough for Hard-Core Environmentalists

President Obama’s recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approval of a Shell Oil drilling project in Arctic Alaska drew criticism from hard-core environmentalist enemies of fossil fuels.


One such critic, the writer of a New Jersey Star-Ledger letter, wrote in part:


The [New Jersey] Star-Ledger's September 4 [2015] editorial lauds President Obama's efforts at curbing carbon dioxide emissions, but backs his decision to allow oil drilling off the Alaska coast, claiming we would burn the same amount of oil if the drilling were halted. This flies in the face of common sense, [because] it would slow efforts at energy efficiency and transitioning to alternative energy.


Market forces affect energy use. If a steadily increasing fee were placed on fossil fuels at their source, and the money collected were returned to all American households equally, we could cut carbon dioxide emissions to half of 1990 levels in the next 20 years.


I left these comments:


There is no equivocation between a federally enforced carbon fee and market forces.


Market forces are based in voluntary choices. A carbon tax-and-redistribution scheme is aggressive government force; which means guns, since disobeying laws will result in armed government agents seizing you, your property, or your freedom. A carbon fee and redistribution scheme is not a market force. It is an anti-market force designed to override by government aggression Americans’ voluntary energy choices.


And for what reason? Precisely because, as Philippa Solomon readily acknowledges, continued oil exploration and drilling will “slow efforts at energy efficiency and transitioning to alternative energy.” Why will oil production slow the transition? Because, as implied in Solomon’s acknowledgement whether she chooses to see it or not, alternative energy—so-called green energy—is expensive, unreliable crap. Left free from government force like carbon fees, consumers will choose the best energy for their needs, which means fossil fuels.


Obama’s approval of Alaskan oil drilling—and the Star-Ledger’s stated support for that decision—may “fly in the face of common sense” to an environmentalist wedded to the anti-human standard of value that puts non-impact on nature above human well-being. But, despite his legacy-craving utopian crusade to manage the world’s climate at the expense of Americans’ economic and energy well-being, perhaps Obama is not so cruel as to disregard the reality that you can’t completely stifle fossil fuel development—the energy workhorse of modern industrial society and thus the driver of people’s flourishing lives—until so-called “renewable” energy proves its ability to carry the load. And that will not happen—if it can ever happen—until a fully free energy market is established so that innovators can compete on a level playing field; i.e., without government efforts to prop up green energy with subsidies and the like or government efforts to throttle fossil fuel energy.


Americans are currently enjoying much cheaper oil and gas prices, thanks to the heroic ingenuity of the oil and gas industry in generating a production renaissance right here at home. Only an anti-development, prosperity-hating climate witch doctor would want to strangle that renaissance with carbon fees.

[UPDATE: The Associated Press reported late on 9/28 that “Royal Dutch Shell is giving up on its expensive and controversial push to produce oil in Alaska's Arctic waters . . . ‘for the foreseeable future’ because it failed to find enough oil to make further drilling worthwhile.”]


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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Free Market Champions Must Defend Economic Inequality

Economic inequality—whether framed as income inequality, a wealth gap, or whatever—has become a defining political issue of our time, and will continue to be through the 2016 presidential election campaign and beyond. Almost everybody thinks it’s a problem that requires a “solution”—even leading Republicans.


As Catherine Rampell observes for the Washington Post:


Republicans have taken the Senate and expanded their fiefdom in the House, but the Democrats seem to have won the intellectual narrative nonetheless. The GOP, inexplicably, is having its Thomas Piketty moment.


Seriously, guys: Republicans have suddenly started caring about inequality.


Rampell quotes GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz:


“We’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,” he said.


Rampell follows up with similar quotes from Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul.


What are these Republicans thinking? The idea that economic inequality as such is a problem is consistent with an egalitarian statist agenda, not a free market, limited government vision—the very ideas that Republicans are supposed to stand for. Economic inequality is tailor made for the Democrats and the Left, so why are key Republicans raising a white flag on the issue?


By conceding the Democrats’ premises that economic inequality is fundamentally wrong, the GOP has opened the door to predictable, and justifiable, charges of hypocrisy. For example, the New Jersey Star-Ledger ridiculed the GOP:


[Republicans’] hypocrisy is staggering, even by the standards of American politics. This is the same party that is blocking an increase in the minimum wage, and fighting relentlessly to impose deep cuts in safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid, and even college scholarships.


On the other end of the spectrum, Republicans have fought to protect the most outrageous tax benefits for the wealthiest among us, to dismantle reasonable regulations of Wall Street, and to kill consumer protections in finances.


Likewise, Thomas Piketty—author of the anti-capitalist Capital in the Twenty-First Century that calls for a massive global redistribution of wealth to diminish income inequality—attacked Jeb Bush. Bush’s Right to Rise PAC states, “We believe the income gap is real, but that only conservative principles can solve it.” Among those principles; “transforming our education system through school choice . . .”


In an MSNBC interview covered by Salon’s Luke Brinker, Piketty slammed Jeb Bush’s school choice reforms. As Brinker observes, quoting Piketty:


“From what I can see, [Bush] doesn’t want to invest more resources into education. He just wants more competition…”


Conservatives’ proposals, Piketty concludes, are fundamentally at odds with the goal of creating a more egalitarian society.


“So I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in this conservative rhetoric about the skill gap and education gap [which Bush blames for economic inequality]. If they are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut tax on the rich,” he says.


“Invest” is the Left’s euphemism for higher taxes and more government spending on education. “Conservative”—rightly or wrongly—equates in peoples’ minds to free market policies and “smaller” government. Bush’s approach is to focus on school choice initiatives like charter schools, vouchers, and education tax credits, rather than tax-and-spend. While not all school choice reforms are good—i.e., advance toward individual rights in education longer term—the principle of parental school choice is consistent with free market reforms.


By framing his school choice reforms as a fix for economic inequality, rather than on the grounds of parents’ individual rights, Bush opened the door to Piketty’s attack. After all, if economic inequality is the problem, why not just “invest more resources into education” as Piketty suggests?


Piketty is right that conservative proposals—if by “conservative” one means free market—“are fundamentally at odds with the goal of creating a more egalitarian society.” Any agenda that moves the needle even a bit toward individual rights, freer markets, and less government, such as cutting taxes, regulations, and redistributionist spending, doesn't jibe with egalitarian handwringing over economic inequality. Why? Because economic inequality is a natural consequence of free markets.


But that’s not a flaw of free markets. Far from it. Economic inequality is a consequence of the moral virtue of free markets, because free markets are integral to a just society. A just society recognizes that humans are unequal in talent, ambition, personal value choices, life circumstances, and myriad other ways. It follows that, in a just society, the government protects equally the freedom of each individual to rise as far as one’s uniqueness will carry him—along with the right to keep and use whatever economic rewards one earns—regardless of how those rewards stack up against others’ economic standing. Consequently, individual achievement will vary widely in a free market. (This is why advocating free market reforms like school choice as a solution to economic inequality is unconvincing and counter-productive.)


Rather than frame the issue according to the Left’s narrative, Republicans should stand up for economic inequality. In doing so, however, there is one aspect of economic inequality that Republicans must address. We don’t have a free market. We have a mixed economy. A mixed economy features a volatile conglomeration of economic freedom and government interference and control. The result: Not all income is created equal, and so not all economic inequality is just.


In our mixed economy, some people get rich through political connections and government favors, such as subsidies, special tax provisions not enjoyed by others, or regulations that hamper competitors. Today, a major source of unjust wealth inequality is the Federal Reserve, which, through its monetary policy, has engineered a huge wealth transfer from the lower to the upper income scale.


Defending economic inequality must carry the qualifier that not all income or wealth gains are just, and that the cause of that injustice is government. Only market-based income—income earned through private production and voluntary trade—is just. Republicans can and must oppose economic advancement gained through political cronyism. Such a stand integrates seamlessly into a pro-free market agenda, because free market policies reduce political cronyism by reducing government favoritism and interference into the economy.


Once Republicans draw the sharp moral distinction between market-earned income and wealth (the good) and politically-appropriated income and wealth (the bad), Republicans can and should argue that economic inequality is good because it is a natural consequence of a just society.


With economic inequality properly defined and understood, Republicans can non-contradictorily advocate free market-leaning policies that remove the political impediments to economic success and upward mobility. For example, Bush’s “Right to Rise” values “celebrate success and risk-taking, protect liberty, [and] cherish free enterprise.” Examples of reforms that could fulfil those values could include—but not be limited to—eliminating employment-stifling mandates (minimum wage and paid sick leave laws), reigning in occupational licensure, breaking down the domineering public school establishment through policies like properly structured school choice reforms, instituting a flat tax, lowering the overall tax burden across the board, reducing income redistribution and government spending generally, and reductions in regulations on business and trade.


Confronted with charges that such policies would not “work” to reduce economic inequality, Republicans could counter that, well, that’s the point. Though there is no actual right to rise—prosper economically—there is a right to the freedom to rise by one’s own efforts; or, as Bush says, “to move up the income ladder based on merit, hard work and earned success [as] the central moral promise of American economic life.” Since one person’s success is not achieved at the expense of others but by mutually advantageous voluntary trade, the only relevant factor is that you are free to succeed and keep the rewards of your success, not how your success measures up against others.


Proponents of free markets, individual achievement, and such have no justification and no political need to grovel for votes by playing the Left’s egalitarian politics of envy and class warfare. They can and must challenge the Left’s narrative. The issue for individual Americans is not how much more the next guy is making, nor how much government should take from high achievers and give to lower achievers. The issue is the freedom of the individual to make the most of his own economic life. Proponents of free markets must get their message right, which is, essentially: Economic inequality as such is not the problem; statist government policies that restrict the economic freedom to succeed are the problem.


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sanders Links His Socialist Economic Politics to Christian Ethics

Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist, spoke to Christian conservatives at Liberty University. That speech would require an entire essay to analyze and refute. But the key takeaway was Sanders’s appeal to Christian ethics to support his attack on economic inequality, a cover for hatred of individual achievement.

As the New Jersey Star-Ledger aptly observed, Bernie Sanders finds common ground with religious right. The Star-Ledger writes:


Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a fired-up speech this week at what some might consider enemy territory: Liberty University, the evangelical, Jerry Falwell-founded conservative Christian school.


He didn't pander or soft-pedal his views on abortion or same sex marriage. But as he spoke before the crowd of thousands, he met the students where they live. He challenged them to re-think their political allegiances by invoking the Bible's golden rule.


"Do to others what you would have them do to you," said Sanders, who is Jewish. Then he wanted to know: Do their Christian principles compel them to act on economic inequality?


Are you content, he asked, that 20 percent of the children in this country are living in poverty? That almost all the income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent? Do you think it's moral?


I left these comments:


It makes perfect sense for Bernie Sanders to seek validation for his political agenda in Christian ethics. This does not mean Sanders is right, but that Christian ethics is wrong.


Christian ethics—the ethics of altruism—teaches that self-sacrifice for the needs of others is the essence of personal morality. If someone has a need, those who have more are morally obligated to sacrifice for those needy—without judgement, without principles, without ideology, without limits, and regardless of personal loss to the giver. Is this any different from “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need?”


This ethics fits perfectly with the Left’s egalitarianism. Egalitarians hold that every one of us must sacrifice not just for the needy but for anyone who has less, for the sake of eliminating economic inequality. While Sanders rails against “the 1%,” there is no way to avoid the logical consequence of egalitarianism; that every productive person owes his earned property, whether his income is $1 million or $50,000, to anyone who has less, because anyone who has less, or has unfulfilled needs, has an automatic moral claim—a mortgage—on the lives and wealth of anyone who has more. Once you’ve leveled down “the 1%,” then the next economic group becomes the new 1%, and the process continues and continues. If inequality is bad, then a steady downward pull toward universal poverty and dependence on government is the only path that can result. As proof, I give you the $trillions already spent on the War on Poverty, which has given us even more poverty and needy, coupled with calls for an even bigger welfare state. Egalitarianism creates poverty, not as an unfortunate, unforeseen consequence, but by ideological and moral design.


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The Star-Ledger noted that “One student later argued that poverty should be solved through church charity, not government action.” I continued:


It is ineffective to argue, as that Liberty student did, that charity should be private and voluntary, rather than government enforced. It’s true that there is a fundamental difference between voluntarism and physical force, but not fundamental enough—no fundamental moral difference. Once you’ve accepted the principle that others’ needs morally trump any claim to your own property, there is no way to argue that others’ needs shouldn’t legally trump any claim to your own property, and become the basis of law. A society’s political system, after all, is the application of morality to social organization. If the principle of the primacy of need and economic equality is right, then Sanders is right, and government should do whatever it takes to fix it. As Pope Paul VI sternly commanded in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio addressing this very subject, “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.” With allies like Pope Paul VI, is it any wonder why Sanders seeks to tie his politics to Christian ethics? If self-sacrifice for the needy is a virtue, then your rights must logically be the first thing to be sacrificed.


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The Star-Ledger offered, as Leftists typically do, that private charity isn’t enough:


What matters most is results -- that old people don't die penniless, that people can go to the doctor when they're sick, that millions of children don't go to bed hungry. If church charity were enough to ensure that didn't happen, fine.


The problem is, it's not. Without Social Security, the poverty rate among the elderly would be 50 percent today. Without Medicare, millions of them would die without adequate medical care. That's why the government has stepped in, with these hugely successful safety net programs.


But at the end of the day, what matters most is who can get the job done. The truth is our economy, as Pope Francis recently said, needs to be fundamentally restructured to deliver more justice for common people. We're a long way from that, and charity is not enough to ensure that all people can live in dignity.


I continued:


It’s time to ask: Even if true that, without Social Security, 50% of seniors would live in poverty, is it right to sacrifice the other 50%—those responsible enough to plan for their own old age—to those who don’t? This is the essence of Social Security and Medicare—the sacrifice of the responsible to the irresponsible, and the sacrifice of struggling young people to seniors—based on the principle that need is a moral claim on the property of others; which means that to the extent that you have earned wealth, is the extent that you are chained to those who have earned less or nothing at all—without judgement, without principles, without ideology, without limits, and without the individual’s consent.


In fact, there has never [been] a time when people “died in the streets,” as the Star-Ledger claims. Prior to the welfare state, the vast majority successfully took care of themselves and, in times of need, each other. For those few who couldn’t, charity was plentiful in myriad ways, as rising general standards of living in the first 150 years of this republic created more and more surplus time and wealth for people to donate or pool together to meet unforeseen emergencies. The myth of widespread destitution as the norm before the welfare state is peddled by the Left to advance their state supremacist agenda.


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Finally, the Star-Ledger, perhaps sensing that someone may attempt a moral counter-argument, said, “[T]his shouldn't be about ideology.” Very convenient. I continued:


It’s disingenuous for the Star-Ledger to demand that “this shouldn't be about ideology.” If so, then why does the Star-Ledger cling so dogmatically to its ideology of egalitarianism, and laud the Christian moral ideology of altruism and self-sacrifice that supports it? Because the two go hand-in-hand, and the opposite ideology that the Star-Ledger wants not to be named is the moral principles implicit in the Declaration of Independence; the rationally egoistic principles that people have inalienable rights to their own life, their own liberty, and thus to their own property in pursuit of their own personal well-being—and a right to expect a government that protects your property, rather than a government that is your enemy and takes your property to satisfy whatever the Bernie Sanderses of the world decide are someone else's—or society’s—needs. The issue is not whether you should or shouldn’t help others. The issue is whether you do or do not have a moral right to say no, and put your own goals, needs, and values first.


---------------------------


The Star-Ledger concluded, in part:


The truth is our economy, as Pope Francis recently said, needs to be fundamentally restructured to deliver more justice for common people. We're a long way from that, and charity is not enough to ensure that all people can live in dignity.


Today, as millions of Americans struggle to feed their families at a paltry minimum wage, the richest of the rich — the top one-tenth of one percent — own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. What would Jesus say to that?


Even if Sanders doesn't pick up a single vote from evangelicals, he was right to engage them in real dialogue, right to question their moral priorities. Instead of writing off religious people, progressives should be reaching out to them.


. . . Ultimately, this is about the direction of our country. We must make it harder for those who quote the Bible to ignore its calls for justice.


Francis’s “fundamental restructuring” means omnipotent government that crushes freedom and controls all wealth and wealth producers. It can mean nothing other, as the only way to achieve economic equality is to destroy political equality. Remember that when the Left rails against the rich, it is any productive person living above poverty who is their ultimate target. What would Jesus say if he could see the today's world? Given the lack of economic knowledge of his time and given that the subsequent capitalism-enabled widespread rise of prosperity among “common people” was a long way off, it’s hard to say. The standard of living we enjoy today, thanks to the system of mutually beneficial, mutually selfishly-inspired trade, would have been unimaginable in Jesus’s time. But one thing is certain: Regardless of what Jesus would think of socialism, his ethics enable totalitarian socialism. I ended my comments:


I suggest a new interpretation to the Christian commandment, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Rather than viewing this principle as a requirement to sacrifice for others so you could then be free to prey on the sacrifices of others—a predatory moral principle of man-eat-man that leads to socialism—I suggest instead the following fundamental transformation of its meaning: Respect the lives and property of others, as you would have them respect your right to your own property and your life—and demand the same of our politicians. This leads to political and economic liberty and limited, constitutional government—the original American system.


But first we must reject the ethics of altruism and self-sacrifice, lest we hand Bernie Sanders and his ilk the moral high ground, a sure path toward the Left’s destructive ideals; “ideals” that drip with the dreariness and blood of the socialist systems of the past century. This is Bernie Sanders; a prosperity-hating, poverty-worshipping demagogue whose agenda aims at leveling everyone down to the lowest level of grinding need; needs to be satisfied by an omnipotent government that controls our wealth, and thus our lives. A chain gang of poverty, dominated by a totalitarian state. This is the fundamental economic restructuring that Sanders, echoing Pope Francis regarding the world, seeks—a socialist equality-of-destitution America, not right away, but ultimately down the road.


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The leveling down of everyone to the status of equally poor is peddled as “economic justice” by people who preach, in Sanders’s words, “treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity.” It’s time to recognize the utter fraud of the people who are attempting to smuggle in their poison under cover of those noble words.


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