Class Warfare Blog

April 9, 2021

Now I See Where He Was Going (C.S. Lewis on Moral Laws)

I have been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and in my first post on that topic (The Moral Law of Right and Wrong) I addressed his claim that our sense of right and wrong was something other than a set of socially transmitted compact rules. Now that I have finished three chapters I see where he is going. In Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law) Lewis writes “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not do. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

Lewis, here, is using a bit of legerdemain as well as dishonest language, mixed in with a bit of ignorance. His statement “The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe.” confuses man-made laws (e.g. traffic laws,. tax laws, etc.) with natural laws which are indeed “the actual facts we do observe.” When people started looking for the “rules” behind natural behavior, they observed behaviors which were dependable without fail, for example, unsupported objects fall (straight down). These were and still are, only a set of dependable behaviors we can observe in nature and use to make predictions. It is not the case “that nature is governed by certain laws,” there is no governor, and the “laws” aren’t obeyed. Instead of the “laws” of nature, we might well have said the “behaviors” of nature.

Also Lewis’s use of the phrase “above and beyond” as a source for such laws is disingenuous. He is making a case for his god being the source of the law to which he refers and where does this god reside? Above and beyond our experience, is commonly used to describe his location (yet it is everywhere at the same time, hmm).

And why might dependable behaviors in nature “not be anything real”? In order to be observed, they have to be real, no? Again, language is being used to undermine natural laws as possibly not being real, a criticism used against Lewis’s god, but rarely about observable nature. If observations of nature are not real, then what is? Lewis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he went to great lengths to paint “The Law of Right and Wrong” as a “natural” law, yet he argues that the law comes not from nature. (Is great puzzlement.)

Lewis is contrasting physical laws (law of gravity, etc.) with the moral law of right and wrong. His argument is that a rock dropped from a height has no choice to “obey” the law of gravity, it just drops. But a man, contemplating an action can consider a rule such as “Do not steal other people’s things!” and can choose to follow the law or not. He is building the case that moral laws have an existence separate from whether or not people obey them, which means they weren’t constructed by nature or even those people, otherwise they would follow their own advice. Rocks are affected by gravity, always, no exceptions. They have no choice. But we do. Natural laws are always exhibited. If a “law” is not, then you know you are dealing with a man-made law, not a natural law.

I think there is a fundamental mistake Professor Lewis is making here and strangely enough, it involves language, which is his field of expertise. Professor Lewis is looking at only the short versions of these moral laws, which appear to be commands, and therefore like man-made laws (being full of “shalls” and “shalt nots”), rather than agreed upon observable behaviors.

When these moral “laws” were negotiated, they were in some sort of form like “we will all be better off if we, as individuals, all pledge to not steal the possessions of others.” (Imagine this stated by a wizened elder when a tribe was in convocation, with the heads of all of the others bobbing in agreement.) But for the simple-minded and the very young, longwinded rules don’t stick in their tiny brains, so we shorten the rules. “If I have told you once, I’ve told you twice, don’t steal!” Parents turn an agreed upon behavior into a command for their children to obey. Why? “Because I am the Mom, that’s why!”

To Lewis, moral laws sound like parentally-shortened rules. So, instead of “Don’t be late for supper, son, it really irritates me and makes extra work for me besides” they get “Don’t be late!” And since these moral laws are universal, which parent model is available to all? Why God, of course. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explain why all of the different gods provide very similar sets of rules, almost as if there were just one source, but there is not such a source. There is absolutely no reason Shiva would create the same moral laws as Huitzilopochtli. But human beings are quite the same the world around so the rules they would come up with would be similar, no? Same source: human beings, same result: common moral precepts.

And were Lewis to argue that there is only one set of rules because all of the others are false gods; there is only one true god, then he would have to explain the differences. The Aztecs tore out the beating hearts of human captives and allowed their blood to run down the sides of their temples as a form of worship, but the Hebrews were told (eventually) that human sacrifice was immoral. If there were only one god, why the variations?

Clearly, even sincere apologists use dishonest language and argumentations because of their beliefs. Assuming ones beliefs to prove ones beliefs is circular reasoning, but also a surefire way to get an outcome you desire. An axiom of argumentation is that the surest way to get a particular conclusion is to get its existence stated as one of the premises. Faith can lead one into making such errors.

April 7, 2021

The Moral Law of Right and Wong

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 11:15 am
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I am re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and now that I am better educated, it resonates differently from when I first read it. I just started but Professor Lewis, one of my all-time favorite authors, starts by advancing the idea of moral laws. (You can guess where he is going with this, but I haven’t re-read that far, so I will not comment on that.)

What I will comment on is where we learned the vast majority of the moral and fairness rules that we abide by now. We learned them by interacting with others, almost always this was when we were young and playing a lot.

I remember playing touch football and arguing about something vehemently after every other play. I remember a playmate, named Peter, who was not a gifted athlete by a real asset to our team. Peter was Arguer in Chief. I can see him still, in my mind’s eye, bending forward from the waist, arms extended backward and screaming loudly, so much so that his face turned red. A fearsome sight was Peter in full throat and, I suspect, the reason we won many, many arguments when Peter was . . . deployed.

In schoolyard and community playgrounds, hordes of kids were left to work things out on their own. And we did. And we learned that many things are negotiable, few things are absolutes and our moralities reflect that. For example, if Christians really believed in Christian morality, why would one ever commit a crime? Either they thought they could negotiate their way out (get forgiveness by confessing, etc.) or they felt those rules didn’t apply to them, because a life sentence in the Lake of Fire seems like something to be avoided in the extreme.

Remember the book “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—Look.”
―Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Obviously for most of us, religious indoctrination has barely begun by the time we exit kindergarten (many evangelicals actually are at full throttle at this stage with children’s books, Noah’s Ark toys, etc. but they are in the minority in this).

Clearly, we learned much of this through interacting with other children. Teachers general teach “moral lessons” when there is a context, typically a dispute, that needs to be settled. Since the tykes are both upset, they soak up the lesson quite well, onlookers as well as they probably prefer not to get in the teacher’s crosshairs for doing something “wrong.”

So, Lewis’s “Natural Law of Right and Wrong” need no gods to prop it up. It is negotiated over and over by children in communities with some direction from adults who learned the same lessons, the same way.

This is also, by the way, why “remote learning” is not a good idea as a general method for educating youths. Education is a social process in which people learn how to work with, from, or just in the presence of others. The illusion that it is a process of acquiring factual knowledge needs to be buried, more than six feet deep. (It is, of course, a zombie idea that seems not to die.) This is exposed, if it really needs to be, by intellectuals who look down their noses at manual arts training courses (learning how to care for hair, weld, fix cars, build with wood, etc.) Those courses involve the actual transmission of knowledge and physical skills and, if one believed that education were a transmission of knowledge, should be held in higher esteem than those course that only provided abstract mental ideas, like mathematics.

March 21, 2021

Who’s a Humanitarian?

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm
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I have seen people called “humanitarians.” I know vegetarians are people who eat only vegetables, but I suspect that humanitarians are not people who only eat other people. We already have a name for them. So, what is a humanitarian? What are the qualifications? Can you get advanced degrees in . . . humanitarity?

This, I suspect, is one of those labels rich people apply to themselves as part of the gas lighting of the other 90+% of the population of this country who have the moral failing of not being rich, or even “well-to-do.”

Any rich person who does something generically “good” will have this label slapped on them by the marketing machine of the rich and famous. They will refer to their actions as “humanitarian gestures” and what they did as being in “the best tradition of philanthropy” and whatnot. On the other hand, if you aren’t rich, you have almost zero chance of acquiring this status. This last Christmas I saw an article saying that because of the pandemic, the food banks (Food banks in a rich country!) were struggling to keep their shelves stocked, so I went online and donated $100 to my local food bank. I did it anonymously, which rich people don’t do. If they are going to give away a chunk of change, they want visible credit for doing so. On a global scale I am a “rich American” but in America, I am a retired school teacher, so . . . middle middle-class. That $100 was a significant amount of money to me, being several percent of my monthly income (most of which is committed before I get paid, so a much larger part of my “disposable income”). How does that compare with Jeff Bezos, who apparently has added $637,000,000,000 to his net worth during the pandemic? If he were to give a million dollars to my food bank, that would constitute a significantly smaller fraction of his income that was my contribution. But Mr. Bezos, a twenty-first century Robber Baron, would be labeled a humanitarian and I will never be.

Putting on airs is a college course rich people take, I am convinced. They are better than us, just ask them. They are convinced that their riches are an indicator of their superiority. I think that when these people die, a wall should be put up where people can write what they really thought of those people when they were alive. They and their survivors should know what we really think. I would have to bring multiple pens to label Mr. Bezos.

March 20, 2021

The Massage Parlor Shootings

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 8:16 am
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It seems that everyone has some kind of opinion about why these killings were made. Waiting for the shooter to be interviewed and the investigation to be complete is apparently too much to ask. By the time we find out what his motivations were, we will have moved on to some new atrocity or other.

I am placing my bet right now, however. I am betting that that young man’s training occurred at the toxic intersection of white privilege and evangelical Christianity. Both “communities” prey on young men, distorting whatever values that might have had. One pushes hard on white supremacy, the other on male supremacy. Both blame others for any problems they experience. Both demonize “others” matter-of-factly.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves and then protect the right to do so as something near sacred?

March 9, 2021

Reparations

Filed under: History,Morality,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:55 am
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It is called America’s original sin: slavery. People in this country created a market for human slaves. We paid others to steal people and ruin their lives. We bought people and then stripped them of their families, their family ties, their cultures, their history, and any chance of getting an education.

Recently I have seen a documentary or two lauding Black churches and I wondered if people knew that white people used Christianity as an excuse for slavery, that by giving Black people the Baby Jesus, it was a gift so great that they had to give back their lives in recompense. I am glad many people found some joy in those churches but at the same time, I view them as a manifestation of white oppression.

So, today, the question is “should we make reparations for all of the pain, misery, and stolen labor.” Some argue that the people who deserve the reparations are all dead and the people who created the problem are all dead, so we should just move on. This attitude neglects the repercussions of slavery in this country. Even when slavery was abolished, the misery continued. We had innumerable laws to prevent Black people from living as whites were living. These Jim Crow laws eventually became illegal and were replaced by the New Jim Crow in which we demonize Black people, especially young Black men so much that we filled prisons with them and frightened police officers still gun them down for holding a toy gun in a toy store while talking on a phone (Any real threat there . . . I don’t think so). Police officers are indemnified from killing Black people so they never have to suffer consequences from doing so. In other words, the effects of slavery and the attitudes of the people that created that system exist still.

Reparations are not only warranted, but necessary.

The form of the reparations is debatable. A straight cash payout for anyone today who is a descendant of slaves is one possibility, but I suspect that is merely a symbolic “throwing of money at a problem.” It would probably only assuage the egos of white people.

A better solution is to attempt to undo the damage. We could start by repairing the damage done to primarily Black schools from underfunding and neglect. We could provide scholarships for descendants of slaves who wish to go to college, a la the GI Bill. We could invest in Black communities to repair their infrastructures, which have suffered from neglect and abuse, e.g. Flint, Michigan’s water system. We could provide Black communities with Wi-Fi service. We could create jobs in Black communities with the expectation that Black people would be majority hires, either through government service delivery or, better, incentives for private investment. We could eliminate food deserts in primarily Black communities. We could make small business loans more available to Black entrepreneurs who will invest in their communities.

It is payback time and how could we not do this in ways that benefit Black communities more than a single check might do.

I coach athletes and one of the wisest things I have ever been taught was from Lanny Bassham, a World and Olympic Champion rifle shooter. He said that to achieve such a level of performance there must be sacrifices made . . . by one’s family and loved ones. These are not small sacrifices as the athlete is spending so much time on training, they can’t be at family gatherings, meals, holidays, and even hold a job while training for a major event. Lanny said “There must be payback.” There must be payback for all that one’s “support team” does for them. Athletes who neglect this payback, end up with bad relationships, broken marriages, and bitter feelings.

If this is true for an athlete’s family, how much more true is it for people whose lives we stole and then ruined?

It is payback time now. We need to make it effective for the descendants of those we wronged. If you don’t think that you were a beneficiary of slavery, think again. Every white person in this country benefitted greatly from slavery. Our entire economy for the first almost 100 years of our existence as a country was a slavery economy.

February 25, 2021

The China Hustle

If you needed more ammunition to support the belief that the stock markets need to be shut down, do watch the documentary “The China Hustle” on various streaming services.

What this hustle comes down to is some “investors” saw that China recovered from the 2008 Great Recession very quickly and investing in Chinese companies might be a way to offset losses from the stock market crash. The only problem was most Chinese companies were not traded on American stock markets. So, a workaround was devised. They arranged for small Chinese companies to be merged with now defunct U.S. companies that had one crucial characteristic: they were already approved for trading of “their” stock on the U.S. exchanges.

So as to not spoil the documentary, let it be pointed out that lying to foreigners is not a crime in China. The upshot is that hundreds of billions of dollars were extracted from “investors” which then flowed into China through fraudulent descriptions of these “companies.” And, apparently, none of the usual “checks and balances and regulations” apply.

And it is still going on, because those who are making money off of the process don’t want “the problem” to be solved.

The stock market has no real purpose other than to be a giant casino where people gamble their money. That there are “losers” in the game is acknowledged, but only the winners are celebrated and because the “house” skims its fees off of the top, there is no impetus to close the casino.

This is a well-made documentary and well worth watching. If you wonder whether our democracy is strong enough to withstand all forces, you need to think again. If we fall, it will because of greed being our most serious failing.

 

February 20, 2021

Should We Treat Texas’s Self-Inflicted Wound?

In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said. These changes were not required of energy producers, merely recommended.

Other states can buy power from surrounding states to meet spiking demands. That’s because the continental US is powered by two big, highly connected grids: the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection. Texas, however, has insisted on having its own grid with little connection to the other two grids. It’s a point of pride for politicians there, who claim the state has “energy independence.”

So, even after seeing what can happen and being warned that extreme weather events are going to be more common dues to climate change, Texas took no action. Texas is also a conservative state that hammers home the principle of individual responsibility.

So . . .

So . . . the question is, should we, in the form of the federal government, bail out the state of Texas for their own bad behavior or should we insist upon individual responsibility of the state as a whole. This is a classic case, often used by conservatives, of a moral hazard. If we bail them out, we are rewarding their bad behavior. Heads they win, tails we lose.

This is compounded by the fact that the same thing happened ten years ago and all of the solutions to the problems then exposed were and are available and not particularly expensive.

Conservatives often say that we can “trust corporations as they would never do anything that would harm their reputations.” Apparently not.

February 11, 2021

Context Matters, Right? Right?

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 12:13 pm
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I want you to consider this photograph:

How about this one?

Indoctrination of the worst sort, no? Vile. Despicable. Teaching young minds to blindly obey authority is not acceptable. The second example is especially despicable when you realize that the children in the second photo are children of German Jews.

So, scroll down, now. You will see another photo.

Keep going . . .

A bit further . . .

Just a tad more . . .

Do you see the flags? These were American kids. Were American Nazi sympathizers indoctrinating their children? Nope. This is how children were taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance . . . until 1942.

Teaching children to say the Pledge of Allegiance and then requiring them to say it over and over and over and over (almost 4,000 times in ten school years) is an indoctrination tactic and all it really teaches is that a solemn pledge wears off in as little as 24 hours.

September 9, 2020

Trickle Down Economics . . . and What to Do About It

I begin with an interesting quote:

Williams Jennings Bryan said: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

He said this in 1896. Eighteen effing ninety-six!

Trickle down economics was not a new invention during the Reagan presidency, it is the tried and true instrument of the rich to retain and expand their wealth and also, they believe, their status in society.

We are in yet another Gilded Age of wealth accumulation. The filthy rich have bought the courts, the governments, and the news media and now those instruments of our society only bleat what they are told to bleat. And what they bleat is support for the position of the plutocrats, the wealthy elites.

Those elites have sold the idea that how much wealth you have is a measure of your social status, your worth as a person, so much so that religions have cropped up to support just that, e.g. featuring prosperity gospel preachers of the like of Joel Osteen and the perfectly named Creflo Dollar.

If we are to ever have a chance at real democracy, on in which “you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it,” then we need to take action. One thing under our control is to socially ostracize the very wealthy.

Is there any good reason that Jeff Bezos should have $200+ billion dollars of wealth? Could that degree of wealth be accumulated without the rules being bent to allow it? Think about this. If Mr. Bezos were to give you one billion dollars . . . if . . . if you could spend it in one calendar year, do you think you could do it? To do this, you would have to spend an average amount per hour of every eight-hour day, five days a week, fifty weeks in that year. (You’d get two weeks vacation, after all what good is being rich if you don’t get to enjoy it?) Do you know what that amount would be? It is $532,000 per hour! Think about how hard you’d have to work to spend just $532,000! Sure, you could go out and buy a house. So, now you have a house and you need to spend 532,000 more dollars in the next hour, and the next, and the next.

And Mr. Bezos has accumulated over two hundred billion dollars for himself.

Do you think Mr. Bezos thinks this is enough, that from now on he will take whatever he earns and share it with all of the Amazon workers who work so hard under trying conditions? Gratitude is important, right? Plus Mr. Bezos could spend $532,000 per hour of every working day for the next 200 years and not spend all of his accumulated wealth . . . not making one more penny.

Do you think he thinks enough is enough? No?

I do not, either.

Start the shame campaign. Impugn the patriotism of the uber-rich. Impugn their commitment to democracy. Shame them for their Greed. Unleash the Lash of the Mortal Sin of Greed upon their backsides.

Being wealthy is fine. Being filthy rich no longer is. Stop looking up to them, admiring them. Stop thinking of the Mitt Romneys and Donald Trumps of the world as “self-made men” when their fathers gave them millions of dollars of seed money. (I worked almost forty years as a college professor and earned about two million dollars of salary. Donald Trump was given five million dollars to “get started.”)

Repeat after me: Boo! Hiss! Every time one of the uber-rich appears in public, let them know their true social status: as greedy bastards who will grind armies of ordinary people under their heels to make themselves richer than Croesus.

Need Ammunition?
So, Bill Gates is a nice guy, right? Personally I think this is correct. Professionally not so much. Consider all of the lawsuits over shady business practices that Microsoft lost. The Internet Explorer scandals. The European anti-trust prosecutions, in essence, etc.

Jeff Bezos created and owns a large part of Amazon.com and all of its spin-offs. Amazon has been running commercials lately, highlighting employees who think working for Amazon is just swell. Have you seen these?

Have you seen similar commercials for Costco? No? That’s because they don’t exist. All you need to know what working for Costco is like you can see on the badges of its workers. many say “Employee since 1997,” others show 10 and five years served. People don’t stay with an employer unless they are treated . . . and paid . . . fairly. Costco has a reputation of being a good, even a very good employer. People stay with them. (And no, they are not perfect, just good.)

Amazon runs commercials to offset the bad press they have gotten from mal-treated and disgruntled employees. You, know, for canceling the health insurance of part-time employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, things like that. The amount of money saved doing that to be put in Jeff Bezo’s pocket wouldn’t make a rounding error in his net worth. That’s how Mr. Bezos thinks wealth is created.

Do your research. Every time you feel yourself slipping into admiration for a very wealthy plutocrat, do some research and find out how they got all of that money. If they appear on a radio show, call in and tell them what you really think. If they appear on a TV show, change channels, so their ratings will go down. If a local news program shows a gushing puff piece for one of these bastards, call in and give them a piece of your mind.

I hope that booking an uber-rich asshole in the future will be about as popular as booking an avowed racist is now. Make ‘em bleed.

June 2, 2020

I Repeat . . .

Filed under: Culture,Morality,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:22 am
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A simple rule change is all that is needed to proscribe the actions of police officers. As I have suggested before, the actions of police need to be limited to the penalty were one convicted of the crime alleged. So, if someone is accused of passing counterfeit money, the most that infraction of the law can impose is a short stay in prison. If a police officer uses lethal force, it should be clear to everyone that that is not allowed and must be prosecuted. If someone is being arrested for the crime of passing counterfeit currency and they resist arrest, what is the penalty for resisting arrest? A short stay in jail. Anything imposed by police in excess of the punishment were the person being arrested convicted of the crime, is a violation of the law and must be prosecuted.

Using lethal force to arrest someone for jaywalking, or an equipment violation on a car is ludicrous and needs to be addressed and this way makes the police and prosecutors accountable for their decisions.

That someone is killed because he was selling cigarettes one at a time illegally, is ludicrous and no prosecutor should be given the option to “file charges against the officers involved or not.”

This is simple, easy to learn. If an officer is ignorant of the law, a quick call to dispatch can inform them of the amount of force that can be applied. (Come on, they do not have to memorize all of the penalties of all of the crimes, they just need to know which qualify for the death penalty. Any other infractions are covered by excessive force regulations.) When someone is arrested for selling single cigarettes, a scratch on the wrist from when handcuffs were applied is an acceptable amount of force. Remember these are the people who protect a detainee’s head when getting into a patrol car to be taken in to be booked. When they show extreme neglect of such care must be prosecuted.

Okay, if someone holds up a gun and seems to be going to shoot, can cops shoot back? Considering the police’s track records at shooting kids with BB guns, even an adult in a store shopping for Christmas and holding a BB gun, I think the police need to be trained to take cover and be authorized to return fire, not shoot “because I was afraid.” Being afraid and doing a good job is part of the qualifications for the job. It should not include the current “if you feel fear, open fire” dictates so often employed.

Interestingly police in other countries, some of whom are not armed with firearms, seem to do a better job at this than our police, so we know it can be done.

And, yes, all of the other recommendations about psychological testing, more training, and a national registry of police officers fired for cause being kept are all good, but I think the limits of the behavior of our police are good ones. And hiring police departments should be required to search that database before hiring.

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