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Opinion

Opinion

U.S. not immune

The current situation in Wisconsin shows that financial protests that have rocked several European nations also can happen here.

February 19, 2011

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A few months ago, Americans watched television pictures of large riots and protests in countries such as Greece and Spain, where governments were facing severe, if not disastrous, fiscal crises. Leaders in these countries had proposed deep cuts and changes in government spending, which triggered the protests.

The reaction by Americans watching these pictures probably was something like, “Well, it couldn’t happen here.”

Move forward to this week, here in the United States, and look at what is happening in Madison, Wis. Members of Wisconsin’s public employees union have converged on the state Capitol. Teachers have refused to go to their classrooms, and city workers, firemen and others are protesting. Police were sent to locate Democratic state senators who refused to come to the legislative chamber to vote on the governor’s plan.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to close the state’s $3.6 billion shortfall by increasing the amount union members pay toward pensions and health benefits and taking away members’ collective bargaining rights.

The bill would force public workers to pay half the cost of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage. Consider what percentage of workers in private, non-government jobs pay for their health benefit packages.

President Obama jumped into the dispute saying the governor’s actions are an “assault on unions.”

Does the situation in Madison portend what might happen throughout the United States if and when our government leaders, whether in Topeka or Washington, D.C., call for major and deep cuts in federal or state spending to bring fiscal stability to the state or nation?

Have so many people become so tethered and dependent on the federal or state money teat that any reasonable attempt to bring about fiscal sanity will trigger protests and riots?

Is there any way to encourage austerity to staunch the runaway spending and ever-escalating national debt?

How many public officeholders, whether it’s the president, governors, state legislators or city and county officials have the courage to do what is right and in the best interests of their country, state, city or county, knowing that such actions could cause protests and riots and likely result in them being defeated in the next election by those who promise more federal and state spending to win voter approval?

What’s happened in Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and other countries certainly could happen here unless common sense and sanity enters the political picture.

How many other governors have the courage of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker?

Comments

George Lippencott 3 years, 1 month ago

jafs (anonymous) replies… Myths? LOL.

!. Building a car costs money. Huge expenses for tools, materials, capital. I stand by my data from Fed sources that suggests that autoworkers are spoiled rotten. 10% is probably too high for such an industry.

  1. Of course the unions claim they are ready to negotiate. They negotiated with Ford and they negotiated with General Motors. What is your point??

  2. I made a differential point between unions in the private sector - great - need more of them and unions in the public sector. I even believe in the latter but not with binding arbitration or union shops. The binding arbitration replaces the legislature as the determiner of my taxes. Not on my watch. The union shop denies individuals choice and forces them into a collective - that includes PAC's. Also - not on my watch.

  3. Please provide your authoritative reference that the US auto industry was brought low by making big cars? When the 2007 disaster hit the industry had already experienced almost two decades of decline in no small part because of non union foreign competition with cheaper and better cars. They were all big cars.

  4. We went to smaller cars in 2003 because of PC. WE abandoned smaller cars when the collective (city) failed to dig us out and my small car was not up to the task of negotiating 5 inches of rutted, frozen snow. Small cars were available and cheep. Why did people not buy them?? What possessed people to but "Hummers"?? Your small car issue is the myth I allude to.

My issue is about organized unions in government service with sweet heart contracts. Stop trying to blow smoke in support of the collective.

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llama726 3 years, 1 month ago

"How many other governors have the courage of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker?"

Let me get this straight. Going to school and earning a degree at a cost of many thousands (tens of thousands) of dollars, then teaching in a public school, sometimes with exceptionally poor kids, where your job security depends on how well these kids test (and often, you get next to no support from the parents who try to undercut you as often as possible when their child isn't performing as they expect) makes you a coward (based on the fact that your only real protection is from your union), despite the fact that your union has agreed to help offset some of the financial mess in the state as demanded.

To be courageous, you must be a career politician (at least a decade of working as a politician) who has a comfortable office and ready funding from some of the wealthiest people in the nation. To be courageous, you must balance your budget not by maintaining your state's income, but rather, cutting the income (cutting taxes on businesses and the wealthiest few in the state). To balance this, you have to ask teachers to take a pay reduction. And when they agree to this, you must not relent, and you must demand that their union be utterly destroyed. That's courage.

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Paul R Getto 3 years, 1 month ago

"grammaddy (anonymous) says… The GOP has been working to destroy Unions for decades." ==== Good point, and The Family comes to mind. Muscular Sam has been well-trained by the C-Street Cult. http://www.yuricareport.com/PoliticalAnalysis/GodsSenatorBrownback.html

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Bob Harvey 3 years, 2 months ago

hear-me, nice post, thanks. I suppose that is one of the concerns that I have in this previously mentioned "pinball" situation. We elect one group to counter the last group we elected, who were elected to counter those obstinate, nere-do-wells that we hire the time before that.

I know I am sounding so blasted naive, but have we no one left who is somewhere, deep down inside, in it for all of us?

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Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Governor Walker boxed his way into a corner. His only way out is to follow through on his threats. Working with the unions to cut costs has been done before. Perhaps that would be too courageous for the governor to try.

Voters who voted conservatively did so for two reasons; 1) They thought that voting for the other side would eliminate the winner-takes-all attitude, and 2) Some actually think there is only one right way. The first group will change their votes next time.

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Bob Harvey 3 years, 2 months ago

I am completely comfortable in the knowledge that I don't understand all the complexities that are involved with the Wisconsin situation.

In fact I feel like a pinball in all of this. I recognize the importance of workers to organize, while at the same time I recognize managment's position of saying, "enough is enough".

So for those that know the answer, please explain to this old man how we bring these two parties into some sort of compromise. How can a government continue to bleed money? When do we realize that states simply cannot give and give? At what point does the law of economics finally come and say, "ok, enough already...you are broke and you can't pay your bills...you are now involvent?"

How easy it has been for all of us to blame the other side, all the while ignoring what we are doing to our children and grandchildren. Guess it doesn't matter....we'll be gone. Let the next generations deal with it. Yeah, that's the ticket.

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Liberty275 3 years, 2 months ago

Wisconsin serves a fine purpose. It is exposing the teachers in America for the frauds they are. They may mouth the words that they care about educating our children, but they will walk out and not teach them if they don't get their union bargained perks.

I've always thought of teaching as a calling, something you do because you want to further America by providing knowledge and challenge to our kids. Unfortunately, it appears most teachers are in it for the nine month's work for twelve month's pay.

It is sickening how unions have corrupted what should be our most noble profession. They have turned what should be our finest citizens into little more than greedy state sycophants more interested in lining their pockets than shaping our future.

Yes teachers, we loathe you. We loathe you because you shirked off your selfless desire to make America better in exchange for socialist mediocrity and petty cash.

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laaiken 3 years, 2 months ago

Kissinger once said, "I cannot bring third world's standard of living up to that of the USA, but I can bring the USA down to theirs." And by busting the unions, that is what will happen. Who will buy the cars, houses and TVs when we all make $5/hr.

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Bossa_Nova 3 years, 2 months ago

all of those benefits that the unions brought to us back in the day worked out just fine for everybody back before our government opened the floodgates to "free trade and competition" from low cost overseas factories. now we're all fu%#!d

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Darrell Lea 3 years, 2 months ago

The overuse of rhetorical questions in the editorial indicates that the same writer of the "Saturday Column" probably wrote this as well.

The single most non-sensical question asked had to be "How many other governors have the courage of Wisconsin’s Scott Walker?" What Walker is attempting with this manufactured "crisis" is possibly one of the more cowardly acts I've seen an elected official attempt in modern times. A more complete exposé of background information on this topic would have shown that, although facts do not support the conclusion the columnist is trying to draw.

It seems that the war on working people has moved from rhetoric to attempted action in Wisconsin, and will probably be going on for some time.

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camper 3 years, 2 months ago

This is more than public workers unions. In fact, we are continually asking our younger work force to compete against workers all over the globe. America has always had one of the highest standards of living, but it will be scaled down continually as the global market expands. This may be good for world peace and commerce, but may not be so good for american workers. It would be hard to explain to a kid that after spending 25k on education that he has to compete globally, and that it is likely that his/her job will be outsourced, that he/she may have to get further education and also be willing to relocate, and by the way, ten years later, you are back at square one.....you must learn a new skill to be competitive. How many of these cycles can one go thru in a lifetime? I'd say one or two, but going forward it might be once a decade that our workers must be willing to go thru extreme changeover.

For this reason, I believe America is suspect to having some discontent. I'm 43, but many of my colleagues are getting out pencils and calculating how it is that we will safely get to retirement.....let alone worrying about the younger generation who has much farther to go and will be presented with great challenges.

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seriouscat 3 years, 2 months ago

There are some valid critisisms of unions both public and private. If there were no seed of truth contained in the anti-union propaganda it wouldn't be so effective would it?

But once again the debate is being couched in black and white rhetoric and the absoute worst examples of union corruption are held up as the effigy for the rest of us plebs to burn to make ourselves feel better.

All these people really want is to retain the collective bargaining that is the only protection they have left from the cost saving race-to-the-bottom practices the rest of us have been enjoying for the last few years.

How many people reading this are folks who got fired from a job right before retirement, or part-time workers who are only given enough hours to ensure no benefits? Higher paid workers are routinely fired regardless of performance, benefits are slashed... we are sliding backwards!

Walker is the opposite of courageuos. Getting rid of unions' bargaining power is throwing the baby out with the bath water and will not help the systemic problems in governance that lead to the budget crises.

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Brent Garner 3 years, 2 months ago

This is basically a hissy fit over who's ox gets butchered in order to balance the state budget. Wisconsin is facing a $3.6 Billion dollar shortfall in its budget. Therefore, the state must either increase revenues--this usually means a tax increase, or cut expenses--this usually means either layoffs or wage reductions. Those are the simple choices. The single largest expense in any state is personnel. So, it follows that if one elects to close the budget gap via the trimming of expenses route, one cannot avoid trimming personnel costs. To act otherwise is to show a lack of grip on reality.

Of course, certain parties seem to think that the only solution to a budget shortfall is a tax increase. Those suggesting this seem to be subscribers to the static model rather than the dynamic model. In the static model it is assumed that the change proposed will only have the outcome desired. The dynamic model says that for any change there could be multiple outcomes. One clear outcome when taxes are raised is the potential for employer flight from the state. If you want proof of that merely look at Wisconsin's neighbors Michigan--specifically Detroit--and Illinois. Or, you can look at California. New York City is also experiencing the flight of capital due to high taxation.

In the Wisconsin case, the governor and the legislature, both elected by the majority of voters remember, ran on a cut the budget/no taxes platform. It should not be surprising that the elected representatives are delivering on that campaign position. (Or maybe it should be surprising given that so very few politicians actually carry through on their campaign promises.)

What I find alarming is that the protesters, many of them teachers, are engaged in potentially illegal activity--fraud--by staging a "sick out" and then going to the capitol to protest. The tax paying public should be most unhappy about this.

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voevoda 3 years, 2 months ago

The unionized public employees in Wisconsin are ready to negotiate changes in the health insurance and pension provisions of their contracts. What they are not willing to do is give up collective bargaining, which is what Gov. Walker is demanding.
Collective bargaining is a right that was established in the US many decades ago. It is responsible for raising the working class out of poverty and providing with skilled workers (such as police, firefighters, secretaries, and accountants) with middle-class wages. Unions protect public employees from politically-motivated attacks on their jobs and compensation. That is why the Wisconsin union members refuse to give theirs up. Unions do not protect incompetent workers. It's bosses who protect incompetent workers.

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George Lippencott 3 years, 2 months ago

How about we unionize the military? How about seniors. Both could negotiate for more from the taxpayers.

I happen to support unions in the traditional role as voluntarily chosen representatives of the rank and file in labor negotiations with private employers.

I have severe reservation when public employees are involved. I can afford to have the local widget company close. I can not afford to have the police on strike. How to protect the public employees from the tyranny of the rest of us (want everything want to pay for nothing) is a conundrum. I have no good answers.

It appears to me that at least some of the public employees up there are already violating the law as what some of them appear to be doing is a job action prohibited by Wisconsin law. Further stokes my fears. Whatever, civility is required.

The state has a problem and the taxpayers hired the governor and legialature to solve it. They may be putting too much on the backs of the public employees or maybe the latter have excessive expectations. They do work for the public.

One caution I would offer as a public employee is that if your pot gets too big in the eyes of the great majority of the states citizens they will turn on you in a NY minute and you may end up really hurt when that happens. Careful what you wish for!

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yourworstnightmare 3 years, 2 months ago

Governor Walker is a hypocrite of the first order, given the fact that he spared the unions that supported him.

The GOP are not interested in lowering the deficit for which they themselves share most of the blame.

If they were truly interested in deficit reduction, they would focus on Defense, Social Security, and Medicare, which account for over half of government spending.

No, instead they are interested in using the deficit as a cudgel to dismantle government programs that they do not support for ideological reasons (e.g. arts, education, unions).

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

Gee, lookie there. Dolph is cheering on class warfare, and cheering for his side to win.

Whooda thunk it?

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frazzled 3 years, 2 months ago

Governor Scott Walker is not "courageous". He is a politician who got elected to office, spent a bunch of money on his friends (i.e., big business), did as much as anyone to CREATE Wisconsin's budget problems, and is now trying to use a crisis of his own making to engage in union-busting:

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/wisconsin-gov-walker-ginned-up-budget-shortfall-to-undercut-worker-rights.php

That ain't courage in my book.

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scott3460 3 years, 2 months ago

"Does the situation in Madison portend what might happen throughout the United States if and when our government leaders, whether in Topeka or Washington, D.C., call for major and deep cuts in federal or state spending to bring fiscal stability to the state or nation?"

Yes.

Emphatically, YES!

The wrath of a great giant has been awakened.

The right wingers may care to remember the ultimate authority in this country rests with the will of the majority. They continue to screw the middle and working classes over at their own peril.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 2 months ago

And now TIME in paying kind homage to young Muslims as "the generation changing the world".......the same ones who sexually assualted a U.S. female news correspondent and beat the tar out of a Fox News corresponent and his cameraman, and a few other journalists were assualted or beaten. Real gentle people. Just 'cause they were sick of Mubarek does not mean they are necessarily peaceful.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

Unions brought:

40 hour work weeks instead of 80 hour work weeks

Paid Vacation

Better wages

Protection from discrimination

Heath Insurance benefits

Paid holidays

Improved Working Conditions

Safer working conditions

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 2 months ago

In other WI news: "...With no end to the standoff in sight, Gov. Walker said that if the Democratic senators do not return, he'd consider cutting the funding that pays for their staff. "If they're not here, it begs the question whether or not they need to have staff," he said. "They're not performing their functions."..." http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704900004576152320132834818.html?mod=rss_Politics_And_Policy

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 2 months ago

"Police were sent to locate Democratic state senators who refused to come to the legislative chamber to vote on the governor’s plan."

This has not become the "story", but certainly a side-show. This shows the true colors of Dems---remember Texas several years ago?

http://amarillo.com/blog-post/john-kanelis/2011-02-18/doing-it-texas-way

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 2 months ago

I'll say it again, 'cause it's almost become cliche', but unions have outlived their usefulness. A good idea gone bad.......sorry that's just the way it is.

If a guy came up to me and asked, "I'm generally lazy, will not follow a company's rules nor do I give a fig about the success about who I'm working for, yet do not want to ever be fired, and do not care about being promoted but want to get a big paycheck followed by a fat retirement check, what do I do?"

....I'd say "Join a union".

This is not to say there are not some dedicated and hard working union members--there certainly are, but compared to a non-union company, I can assure you that you will find a very disproportionate number of knuckle-draggers in the unionized company vs. the non-unionized company. And then there is the corrupt union at the top levels. Not only are they corrupt, they are constantly feeding anti-employer propaganda to their members and trying to whip them up into a mad frenzy, most especially when contract negotiations loom on the near horizon. I've seen it first-hand.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

On May 5, 1955, labor delegates gathered in NY on behalf of 16 million workers, to witness and support the merger of The American Federation of Labor and The Congress of Industrial Organization. The merger is a result of 20 years of effort put forth by both the AFL and CIO presidents, George Meany and Walter Reuther. The gathered delegates applauded loudly when the time came to nominate officers for the new AFL-CIO. Reuther who was named one of the 37 vice presidents of the union, nominated Meany for President. After Meany’s retirement in 1979, Lane Kirkland took over his position.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected in 1952, was the first to publicly address and congratulate the new union, which was now the largest in the world.

In Eisenhower’s telephone broadcast to the United States he acknowledged the impact union members had made to better the nation and one of these impacts was “the development of the American philosophy of labor.”

Eisenhower states three principles which he feels apply to the philosophy of labor. The first principles states that: “the ultimate values of mankind are spiritual; these values include liberty, human dignity, opportunity and equal rights and justice.”

Eisenhower was stating that every individual deserves a job with decent compensation, practical hours, and good working conditions that leave them feeling fulfilled. His second principle speaks of the economic interest of the employer and employee being a mutual prosperity.

The employers and employees must work together in order for there to be the greatest amount of wealth for all. Workers have a right to strike when they feel their boundaries are being crossed and the best way for the employer to fix the employees unhappiness is to come to a mutual agreement.

His last principle which he preached stated: “labor relations will be managed best when worked out in honest negotiation between employers and unions, without Government’s unwarranted interference.”

Eisenhower was saying that when both parties cooperate and act in mature fashion, it will be easier to work out situations and a better outcome will result because of it. Once he was done delivering the speech, everyone across the U.S. knew of the new AFL-CIO whose “mission was to bring social and economic justice to our nation by enabling working people to have a voice on the job, in government, in a changing global economy and in their communities.

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jmadison 3 years, 2 months ago

FDR's thoughts on public unions:

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15445

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grammaddy 3 years, 2 months ago

The GOP has been working to destroy Unions for decades.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

The primary purpose of a union is to negotiate a contract. The most key features of a contract are wages, hours and working conditions. When negotiating a contract, both sides usually have to make concessions in order to reach a deal. The threat of a strike is an important negotiating tool, but the vast majority of contracts are reached without a strike.

If the two sides reach a deal, the bargaining agent takes the contract back to the membership for a vote. A majority of workers in the “bargaining unit” must vote to accept the contract.

Let’s say the Ace workforce comprises Local 101 of the Thingamabob, Doohickey, and Whatzit Fabricators Union (TDWFU). The local is the smallest organizational unit of a union. There are different ways of dividing up a union’s workers into locals: a local might be all the workers at one plant, or all the TDWFU members in town. (A local can include one or more bargaining units.)

All unions are (in theory, at least) democratic organizations, although their internal governance structures can vary. But all unions work roughly like this: The members of Local 101 elect officers to run the local. Each local collects dues from its members. Union members typically pay about 1 percent of their income in dues.

The local keeps some of the money and passes the rest along to the national union. The dues cover operating expenses, strike insurance, organizing new workers, and political activities. The members elect delegates to represent them at the union’s national convention.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

By Lindsay Beyerstein

The entire labor movement is based on one simple idea. It’s so simple that maybe we don’t spell it out as often as we should: With a union, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. When workers organize, the group has more power than each member would have their own.

An employer will always have much more power than a lone worker. If Sandy the widget-press operator asks her boss for a raise, the boss can easily turn her down. What’s she going to do? Quit? Threatening to quit won’t give Sandy the leverage she needs to get a good deal.

Look at it from the boss’s perspective: It costs him something to say yes, and almost nothing to say no. Chances are, he’ll say no, not because he’s a bad person but because Sandy hasn’t given him a reason to say yes.

But if everyone at the Ace Widget Factory asks for a raise, and threatens to stop working until they get it, the workers suddenly have some leverage over the boss. Suddenly, saying no will cost him. So, he has an incentive to cut a deal.

How does the boss know that his entire staff will walk out if he doesn’t give them a raise? Does every single person have to stop by his office and tell him?

No. That’s where the union comes in. If the workers at Ace Widget Factory have a union, that means that they have chosen to let that union speak for them at the bargaining table. The workers are the members, also known as the “rank and file.”

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deec 3 years, 2 months ago

"so tethered and dependent on the federal or state money teat..." Sounds a little kinky

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