Class Warfare Blog

October 27, 2016

Good Science, Bad Science

This link is to a blog post that shows one aspect of our public health science that went wrong and is still not fixed (The Calorie Debacle). “Public science” is science mixed with politics. A very obvious example of this is the so-called “food pyramids” (USDA Nutrition Guides) we were shown as children. These were basic guides as to what to eat to be healthy. They were also heavily politicized by food industry lobbies. So, a governmental committee of scientists would come up with guidelines and then during a “review” stage bureaucrats would be pushed and shoved by lobbies to make changes, often substantial ones. An easy example is “dairy products.” No mammal “needs” dairy products after they have been weaned. But these nutrition guides always contained a substantial recommendation regarding the consumption of dairy products. Why? Well, the dairy industry was very powerful and the science was weak.usda_-_basic_7_food_groups

“The truth of the matter is we do not know what should be eaten to maintain good health.”

The truth of the matter is we do not know what should be eaten to maintain good health other than food recently prepared from fresh ingredients is generally healthier than processed foods. We also know that a wide variety of foods tends to be healthier than a very narrow diet (Morgan Spurlock’s movie Super Size Me being an example of what happens to someone who confines their diet).

We are primed to learn from stories and those of us who are overweight (including me) are attracted to quick weight loss schemes because they are: a) easy, and b) fast. They are also ineffective. These “schemes” are sold through the telling of stories. I am bombarded by Internet ads for weight loss schemes and they are larded (a carefully chosen word) with “before and after” photos of real people who have lost weight under the scheme. But the same is true for all of the other schemes and if they all “work” why is there an obesity epidemic? If you answer that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” you are falling into the “blame the victim” trap. People were exercising more and eating according to the guidelines (less fat, more vegetables, etc.) like crazy as our body weights spiraled out of control. We are now starting to realize our errors and correct our mistakes, but standing in the way of more rapid progress are our “friends” in the food lobbies.

If you want a detailed source of what went wrong in the public health recommendations regarding diet, read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taube.

October 25, 2016

Look Out, Here Comes Single Payer!

According to the Associated Press ObamaCare premiums are expected to rise by double digits in 2017. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services forecast an average 25 percent rise for midlevel benchmark plans across the 39 states served by the federally run insurance marketplace. Major national insurance carriers have also scaled back their participation in the ObamaCare exchange, which could leave about 20 percent of consumers with only one option of insurer. The Obama administration is emphasizing that taxpayer-provided subsidies should offset the increases for most consumers.

Ah, heaven forbid that insurance companies reform their processes or take a little less in the way of profits, so up our rates go … fueling the demand for a Medicare-like single payer system.

The basic question still is “Why should insurance companies be paid so much for pushing paper?” All they do is take our money and pay our doctors, yet what they charge for this is way more than Medicare costs to do its paper work. Is great puzzlement.

It is to our advantage that they cannot just lay low for a while, they have to turn the screws to squeeze out better quarterly profits for their shareholders and so they do, undermining their very existence.


October 24, 2016

Is Scripture Divinely Inspired?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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I have been away on vacation for the last two weeks, which I hope explains my silence. While I was gone, I wrote the following. Steve

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Every religion with some sort of written record claims that their written records, or at least some of them, are divinely inspired. In many cases those words were claimed to have been delivered by revelation and others dictated by angels (Joseph Smith, Mohammad, etc.) so, are these actually divinely inspired? I will make some old and new arguments that they are not.

The simple and obvious reason that these texts cannot be divinely inspired comes from the fact that there is not any universal understanding of these texts. I would expect words chosen by a god to be perfectly clear and, even if translated into other languages, would remain perfectly clear. I would also expect a being who had the power to create a universe or world to be concise as to how he/she wanted his creations to behave. Instead, we are treated to irrelevant stories lacking moral messages we expect from even the simplest children’s stories. For example, in the Old Testament at one point King David gets on Yahweh’s bad side and to punish him Yahweh creates a plague that kills tens of thousands of David’s subjects. And the moral of the story is … what? Apparently Yahweh may kill your ass because he is pissed off with one of your associates. Many of the stories in the Jewish and Christian Bibles seem designed to convince the reader of the authenticity of the texts being read or to convince the reader to follow the precepts provided therein. A god’s words would carry that weight by themselves, no?

And all of the scriptures in the Abrahamic religions are rife with contradictions, obvious bad edits, etc. In the case of Islam as well as the others, the original transcriptions of the original texts have been lost. A god’s words couldn’t be obfuscated or lost or changed in any way if that god had any real power over his/her message. No?

And what are these messages? If they are a code of conduct, I would expect something closer to Hammurabi’s code, a set of laws and punishments for violating them. The “laws” that are to be found in Christian Bibles seem to be ignored by most Christians, converting those laws into recommendations or suggestions rather than requirements. Got an unruly teenager who gives you lip, stone him to death. The scripture couldn’t be more clear. Yet, teenagers getting stoned has an entirely different meaning today. If scriptures are not sets of instructions about how to behave toward one another, what are they for?

My second argument is based upon a fabulous book I am reading (The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch, a physicist). In this book the author argues for Karl Popper’s viewpoint that the only way new knowledge can be created is through “conjecture and criticism.” This is basically the scientific method (the actual one, not the bullshit one proffered in school science textbooks). A conjecture is an attempt at an explanation for why something is the way it is, in science we call this an hypothesis. Then such conjectures are exposed to criticisms, in science this is by word and experiment (If this were true, then if I do this, the response would be….). In reality all experiments are suggested by such conjectures. When such “tests” are “passed” repeatedly, scientists stop testing those hypotheses and they become settled science (settled, not “proven”).

Dr. Deutsch’s point (one of many) is that if you withhold criticism, you cannot generate new knowledge and without new knowledge you cannot solve new or even old problems. In most religions one is not allowed to criticize scripture. Scripture is defined as being correct and inviolable. If you do not understand something, then you are wrong, not the scripture.

A consequence of forbidding criticism is there will be no new knowledge. This is 2016. If we go back one hundred years to 1916 and count all of the advances made by science, a human endeavor that requires open communication and open criticism, with religion we find that science has provided: broadcast radio, broadcast TV, antibiotics, the Green Revolution, space travel, communications satellites, synthetic drugs, synthetic fabrics, robotic surgeries, medical imaging, amazing new construction materials (carbon fiber, etc.), and on and on. And religion? Nothing. No real, new, or helpful knowledge has been created and it seems much of the material has become dated, seeming to no longer apply (don’t eat shellfish or pork or meat on Fridays, for example).

Not all of the products of science over the least 100 years have been good: nuclear and chemical weapons, electronic spying, chemical waste products, air and water pollution, and climate change aren’t exactly benefits. But Dr. Deutsch’s position is that problems are inevitable and solutions to those problems generally come from new knowledge, and new knowledge cannot be predicted it can only be pursued and discovered. Imagine what would have happened if the Bubonic Plague hadn’t happened until after antibiotics were invented. Problems will always be with us and the only way through them is “conjecture and criticism” on a large scale. So, Republican politicians denial of climate change or any other scientific reality, for example, is just another form of shutting down discussion/criticism and is self-defeating. Certainly the widespread conservative opposition to the Enlightenment, which has given the world its first large dose of the ability to criticize, is at best anti-progress and worst suicidal.

Scripture is supposed to be above criticism, but is it? All of the evidence says it is not. There are theological seminaries devoted to figuring out what it means (shouldn’t it be obvious?). Christianity alone has tens of thousands of sects, each existing because of a perceived difference it has with all of the others (based upon what?). The others have similar segments. New “churches” such as prosperity churches are popping up all over the place making new arguments based upon old scripture. If this is not discussion/criticism producing “new knowledge” then what is it?

Basically this fact alone tells us that it is not divinely inspired. Scriptures are subject to interpretation by scholars and Imams and whoever wants to spin those words in a new direction. In other words, scripture is not above criticism, and new knowledge is being created (“God wants you to be prosperous!”), so “god’s words” are apparently insufficient, which makes them not a god’s words.

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Yes, this is a  blog focused on class warfare (and, boy, are we losing) but I also write on religion as it is a tool used in the war against the betterment of all human beings.


September 29, 2016

Ted Cruz, the Internet, and Republican Consistency

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 am
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The Obama administration plans to transfer its oversight of Internet domain name registrations to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a multinational private organization based in Los Angeles. This is unconscionable to, of all people, Ted Cruz, bizarro senator from Texas.

Wait, a Republican is insisting that something is better done by government than by a private organization? WTF?

Apparently Republicans are out to prove the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Kudos to ESPN

Filed under: Business,Culture,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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Not only has ESPN hired a female, Lindsay Czarniak, to anchor their flagship program SportsCenter but she recently went through a pregnancy and the birth of her first child and now is pregnant with her second child. Not only has there been a “no big deal” attitude regarding Ms. Czarniak’s pregnancies but she also hasn’t been made to cover up the fact that she was pregnant. When I was a youngin’, back in the middle of the last century, women were expected to don garb that masked their pregnancies. Certainly they wouldn’t do anything so outlandish as to wear something formfitting that would let everyone know that she had, you know, done what people do to get pregnant.

Ms. Czarniak wears stylish clothes, clearly showing the state of her pregnancy, and which also surely would have probably gotten her shamed and/or arrested in the 1950’s.

Kudos to Ms. Czarniak and kudos to ESPN for integrating women into their programs, and not stylized, Barbie-esque women, but women with opinions and knowledge and the ability to share that.

PS After I wrote this, the ESPN show Around the Horn, a sports roundtable discussion show conducted in the style of a panel game, had women as three of its four panelists (Kate Fagan, Ramona Shelburne, and Jackie MacMullen, a basketball hall of fame sportswriter). This was not a gimmick show, with cute questions surrounding women’s’ participation in professional sports, the questions were of the ordinary type and the interplay between opinion givers vigorous. Just another sign that the times, they are a changin’.

September 27, 2016

Wha . . . ?

According to Politico “TPP supporters also released a report today attempting to debunk or at least address some of the key criticisms of the trade deal. A new briefing from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation lays out a number of arguments ranging from why the pact’s provisions on investor-state disputes don’t undermine sovereignty to how technical protection measures for copyrighted material are not an attack on innovation.

“‘The lion’s share of the criticism raised by opponents represents an attempt to kill the deal by a thousand cuts, for these opponents fundamentally oppose what the TPP represents: the next step in deep global economic integration and trade liberalization,’ the report states. ‘In sifting through this, policymakers must not lose sight of the bigger picture and ultimate goal: a truly integrated global economy.’”

WTF? An “ultimate goal: a truly integrated global economy?” Have these idiots noticed what is happening in Europe in which but a small handful of contiguous and culturally linked countries are trying this and not doing well at all and they want to do this for the whole world? So, China and Tonga and everybody else on the same currency, all using the same trade rules?

This is insane!

This is why the TPP needs to fail as much as anything else. It is the camel’s nose under the tent, an attempt to disempower the governments of the countries involved so that businesses can operate free from all of that completely unnecessary oversight (companies like Wells Fargo Bank, Big Pharma, the company that was dumping radioactive waste in Colorado in massive quantities, the companies using rail cars to ship oil that are exploding and burning all across the U.S., yes, those companies).

The TPP is not a trade pact! It is a corporation empowerment act in sheep’s clothing! Oppose it now or we all will suffer.

September 22, 2016

Early Christian History

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:46 am
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I have been enjoying Tim Stepping Out’s posts on his theories regarding early Christian history. This lead me to the book “When Jesus Became God” by Richard E. Rubenstein. This book covers the tumultuous fourth century CE when Christianity made the transition from a back water religion, affecting just a few Roman citizens (including women and slaves, oh my!) to the state sanctioned religion which slowly morphed into the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

You remember the Romans, no? The people who so oppressed the Jews that they prayed to be delivered from them by a messiah, a warrior king who would overthrow the oppressing Romans and establish a kingdom that would be heaven on Earth? Yeah, those Romans. Christianity became Roman!

I am not finished with the book and I do recommend it to you if you find this topic interesting, but boy, oh boy, oh boy. Once the Roman emperor, Constantine, endorses Christianity, the rats came out of the woodwork. Every “bishop” (who was in effect just the head priest in any area big enough that the head priest would take on the title), every last one of them became an imperial politician. And the Ten Commandments? Apparently they no longer applied, especially when it came to bearing false witness.

To see what was really going on, you have to take into account what the Roman Emperor Constantine and his heirs wanted from Christianity; they wanted a force for cohesion in the empire, a religion that would help people stick together, and to be subservient to the demands of the emperor and his administration. To have Christianity play this role, though, there had to be cohesion within the ranks of the bishops and, well, getting there was to prove harder than Constantine thought.

Constantine started by gathering a large conclave of bishops together at one of his pleasure estates, housing and feeding them lavishly. The purpose of the conclave was to bring together dissenting theologians and bind them together on their common ground. This was largely to deal with what later became the Arian Heresy. Arias and his followers believed that Jesus was indeed God’s son, as scripture said, and that he wasn’t God Himself. Others thought differently, saying that Jesus was God. Even though Arias’ position is supported by scripture and is rational, it didn’t agree with the ideas of many of the others. Arias lost this debate, not based upon a contest of ideas. If that had been waged, Arias would have won and in fact Arias’ ideas did win out in the Eastern part of the Roman empire (making the Eastern Orthodox Church). Arias’ problem was that he was a mere priest and how could exalted Bishops follow his lead (Sniff, sniff!) and he quit the field early by, well, dying.

The other prelates spent enormous amounts of time and energy battling each other and this included forming bands of armed thugs to beat opponent’s parishioners, kidnapping important opposing players, murdering people, and lots and lots of bearing false witness.

Apparently Constantine offloaded all of the childrearing onto his spouses because he allowed endless end runs on processes he himself set up.

Constantine started the conclaves and called quite a number of them . He even attended the first in person and made a few “suggestions” that the bishops present fell all over themselves agreeing to, at least until the meeting was over. These conclaves were expressly to create structures and administration to make Christianity more orderly and supportive of the empire. If the Romans were good at anything, it was administration. But the Christians were not organized at all. Each Christian center was its own little fiefdom with its own standards, its own processes, its own rituals, and its own scripture. There was no administration that wasn’t local and this is what Constantine wanted to change. He thought a little attention and a little doled out authority and some basic administrative structure (he suggested having a pope!) would be all it took and, boy, was he wrong.

Every time a conclave condemned somebody or some theology, whoever’s ox was gored, sped off to Rome and got Constantine’s ear and got those decisions set aside. Heretics were recalled to the loving bosom of the church, murderers were absolved, and so forth.

And how was all of this managed? Well, in an era in which it took months for a letter to be delivered, it was normally done face-to-face and usually by massively bearing false witness.

Consider Athanasius, who was at one point Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, a major Christian community. He was aggressive, amoral, and ambitious and anti-Arian. At one point he was exiled for murder but eventually freed when Constantine died (banishments are like presidential executive orders, they only last the length of the presidency). But while he was away, the Arians took over in his absence, so he fomented up a great deal of violence and disorder and then hied off to Rome and circulated a letter blaming his opponents for the riots and mayhem. His letter described the violence against his supporters as unilateral, unmerited and dreadful beyond endurance. He charged his opponents for inciting pagans, Jews, and other disreputables to attack his faithful, set churches on fire, strip and rape holy virgins, murder monks, desecrate holy places, and plunder church treasures. Jews were claimed to be cavorting naked in the church’s baptismal waters. This was bearing false witness to new levels because Athanasius hadn’t been back to Alexandria to observe anything. These descriptions were quite easy for Athanasius to come up with because he had caused, at one time or another, all of these things to happen. (Well, maybe not the Jews bathing in the baptismal founts.)

The reason I mention all of this is most Christians have this Disneyfied version of Church history in which all Christians are displayed as being persecuted and suffering gladly for their religion and that the ideas of scripture were so powerful, that people were converted in droves when they heard those holy words.

Well, that is all stuff and nonsense. The fact that there were so many heresies is an indication that there were many, many disagreements as to how to interpret scripture (and as to what scripture was). The eventual winners of these religion wars wouldn’t bother claiming something to be heretical if it were not popular in the first place. So many “heresies” means many reasonable differences of opinion. But wasn’t there a war of ideas, with the true, Yahweh-inspired meanings triumphant? Uh, not even close. These disputes were bare-knuckled power contests that were won by the meanest, and most ruthless, masterful politicians involved. The ideas had almost nothing to do with the outcome. And the disputes involved lying, cheating, stealing, mayhem, murder, and much, much more in mass quantities.

The more Christian history one reads, the more one comes to the realization that what we have now, however it began, is the result of humans squabbling over power and authority and almost nothing to do with the truth, whatever that may be.

Addendum Most people have heard of the deathbed converstion of Constantine to Christianity and some even have speculated it was done when Constantine had not the strength to resist. The author, on the other hand, offers the opinion that Constantine himself held off of his baptism into the church because as Emperor he knew that he would have to “sin” as part of the job. So, the opt-into Heaven card being played on one’s deathbed, if this story is to be believed, by getting baptised and absolved of all sins while knocking on Heaven’s door got a very early start.

Sure, We Can Trust Big Oil!

Last night I saw a TV commercial that, I presume, ran locally that was made by an Illinois-based petroleum industry organization. It started with acknowledging the ever louder call to “leave fossil fuels in the ground,” and tried to counter that with pointing to all of the good things petroleum is converted into: fertilizers, life saving pharmaceuticals, plastics and fibers, fire retardants, etc. Then of course, the plea pivoted on to “you wouldn’t want to put all of those things at risk would you?”

Apparently, these sort of “those are nice kneecaps you got there; it’d be a shame if sumpin’ were to happen to them” threats are considered common and effective now. This is also a straw man argument. The call to leave fossil fuels “in the ground” is due to the wholesale burning of those fuels to power moving vehicles and to be converted into electricity, the primary uses that result in carbon dioxide being injected into the atmosphere far faster than nature can deal with it, thus causing the conditions leading to climate change/global warming. No one is criticizing any of the wonderful things that can be manufactured from fossil fuels.

Of course, the commercial has calming music and pictures of farm machines reaping golden grain, smiling children and parents, etc. for the same reason factory farms still use bucolic pictures of Amish farms in their advertising, so I guess we shouldn’t hold that against them.

If one were to look critically at the, say, petrochemical industry, the industry that converts petroleum from out of the ground into “petrochemicals” other than gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, I guarantee you that there is much to find that we would dislike in the way of pollution, but these are small potatoes compared to the impact of the wide-spread, large scale combustion of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) in our motors and stationary engines. This is not only causing global climate changes faster that we can adjust for them, but is also wasteful in that petroleum burnt can’t be converted into all of the wonderful things the commercial commented on.

Their argument will boomerang if that is the only one they have and it is the only valid one, even though they will mention all of the jobs in their industry that will be “lost” if a “leave it in the ground” policy were to be implemented. But, just like all of the other U.S. workers who have been “displaced” by corporate and government actions, those people will have to find other things to do. Whining about the loss of good paying jobs when the job description is “destroying the biosphere your children will need to survive” is a bit disingenuous, especially when so many other U.S. workers have been gleefully thrown under the corporate bus, just for a better bottom line.

Like the Wells Fargo accounts scandal, these continuing issues completely undermine the Conservatives’ campaign to “remove burdensome government regulations to unleash the power of U.S. corporations.” Clearly that is the last thing we want to do for the segment of our society which willingly does things on a daily basis to poison our environment, disrupt our financial systems catastrophically, and cheat their own customers, all governed by a need to “improve the bottom line.”

September 20, 2016

A Origins of Monotheism

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:30 am
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I have been writing about sporting equipment lately. Too often athletes using a piece of equipment and liking it offer opinions that are unfounded. They say “My whatzit is the best” and “This is the best whozewhatsit on the market.” These enthusiastic and uniformed opinions are apparently human nature. Various forms are used to create such “endorsements.” Some say that their thingie is as good as the “best thingie available.,” as in “It is as good as a Mercedes but much cheaper.” Others start with how good their piece of gear is and then switch to deriding the comparable items: “Oh, they’re good but way overpriced.” or “Those are overrated.”

That got me thinking about the progression of the Hebrews in the Bible from being a polytheistic bunch to being monotheistic. Even using the chronology of the Bible, much of the Bible wasn’t written down until very late in their history and that which was was kept away from the hoi polloi (many of whom couldn’t read in any case). But you can see the progression in the Bible itself, what with the Hebrews starting to drift away from Yahweh worship the minute Moses takes a walk up a mountain. Even well later Temple leaders struggled to get the people to accept that there was only one god worth their worship, to the point of enforcing it with regulation and Temple soldiers. Even through that period, there were still comments about people building little shrines to other gods up in the hills and it took quite a long time to root them out.

So, what we see, in the scriptures of all three “major” monotheistic religions is a people who were quite comfortable worshiping a multitude of gods. Then there are religious authorities working over time to get them to only worship one god. (This didn’t happen in Greece and Rome. In those traditions the religious leaders simply decided to “go along to get along.”)

So, if you were a religious leader and trying everything you could to convince people to worship just one god, what would you say? You would say things about how good our god was and how many good things were given to us, god’s chosen people. Here scripture has a very mixed record because Yahweh doesn’t treat His chosen people well at all. Any time the Hebrews got their asses kicked by an opponent, the religious leaders claimed that their god, Yahweh, made it happen to punish them for their transgressions against Yahweh. When King David incurs Yahweh’s wrath, He punishes the King by killing several tens of thousands of David’s subjects. (David, being part of the 1% gets special treatment.) If I were one of the “chosen people” so treated I would not look on that as being especially worthy of worship.

“(Your gods) are weak and puny and can’t do squats until they pass out …”

Usually you blame bad stuff on the other guy’s god, but that would introduce the question “How come their god kicked our god’s ass?” and that just wouldn’t do. So, you say wonderful stuff about your god (he loves you, he gave you the entire Earth to do with as you will, he gives you slaves to work and virgins to bed as you like, he is a really cool god), then at the same time, you denigrate the other gods. They are weak and puny and can’t do squats until they pass out … (Sorry, I slipped into Arnold Swartzenegger there.). They are false gods, they are evil, they vote Roman, whatever they could come up with. And there is only a small next step between those “other gods” being “false gods” to being “nonexistent gods” … “There is no god but Allah.”

It is not at all strange that the big push for monotheism came when Jews were allowed back into Palestine from Babylon and allowed to rebuild the temple that was destroyed. They could convince themselves that they had been “punished” because they hadn’t done Yahweh right and that they were now back in His good graces, so they better not eff up again. There was more than a little pressure to toe the party line. (And they did create this story line, pretty much out of whole cloth, that too, can be found in scripture.)

This very human tendency to ratchet up the criticism of “others,” and exaggerate the praise of what is ours can be seen in our current campaigns for political office, in fan behaviors at sporting contests, and in general discourse, even with regard to selecting what sporting equipment to buy.

So, monotheism, in my mind, most probably evolved from polytheism due to overzealous religious officials trying to tout their god and denigrate the gods of others. You can see how it happened by reading scripture.

September 19, 2016

NRA Identifies New Challenges

Wayne LaPierre, the spokesman for the National Rifle Association, in a blistering speech yesterday took on one of the most dangerous challenges to freedom in the USA. Mr. LaPierre noted that gun ownership had expanded substantially over the last twenty years and finally there is now in circulation more than one gun per adult in this country. “Make no mistake about it,” said LaPierre, “this is a major milestone on the path to freedom.

“But,” he continued, “Americans aren’t free yet, because it seems that 130,000,000 of the 265,000,000 million guns in the U.S. are in the hands of just 3% of the populace.

“We must be vigilant in our efforts to ensure freedom in America, he said, and we will overcome this new threat, the threat of gun hoarders.

“If these people weren’t so selfish and weren’t stockpiling so many of our guns, we would have that state in which each law-abiding American, and yes, each criminal would have their own gun and disputes would get settled right where they happen. We would need far fewer police, fewer judges, and prisons if this were to come about, so the NRA is putting up $2,000,00 to study the problem of gun hoarding in the hopes to find a solution and hopes that every red-blooded American will support that effort.”

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