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FDR’s Unfinished “Second Bill of Rights” – and Why We Need it Now

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Dec-02-06 10:10 PM
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FDR’s Unfinished “Second Bill of Rights” – and Why We Need it Now
Franklin Delano Roosevelt first began speaking about our country’s need for economic and social rights to compliment the political rights granted to us in our original Bill of Rights during his first campaign for President, in 1932. Though his whole twelve year Presidency and four presidential campaigns centered largely on advocating for and implementing those rights, it wasn’t until his January 11th, 1944, State of the Union address to Congress that he fully enumerated his conception of those rights in what he referred to as a “Second Bill of Rights”. The elements of that conception fall into two major categories – opportunity and security. Here is a partial introduction to and list of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, as enumerated in his 1944 State of the Union address:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all – regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:

Opportunity
 The right to a useful and remunerative job…
 The right to a good education.
 The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies…

Security
 The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
 The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
 The right of every family to a decent home.
 The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

Unfortunately, as discussed by Cass R. Sunstein, Professor of Jurisprudence at Chicago School of Law, in his book, “The Second Bill of Rights – FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need it More Than Ever”, FDR’s Second Bill of Rights has to this day only been partially implemented in the United States. Sunstein discusses in his book the history of the Second Bill of Rights (pre-FDR, FDR, and post-FDR), why he believes that it has not yet been fully implemented in the United States (despite the fact that many other countries have implemented it to a much greater degree), and why we need it:


Attitudes of our Founding Fathers towards economic and social rights

Though economic and social rights were included neither in our original Constitution nor in subsequent amendments to our Constitution, Sunstein points out that our Founding Fathers nevertheless considered the importance of these rights to a democracy. For example, James Madison recommended the following as being important to the preservation of democracy:

… By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited accumulation of riches; by the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the laws of property, reduce extreme wealth to a state of mediocrity, and raise indigence toward a state of comfort.

And Thomas Jefferson saw the situation in similar terms:

The consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislatures cannot invest too many devices for subdividing property… Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on.


FDR and the Second Bill of Rights

Nonetheless, the concept of economic and social rights did not gain much traction in the United States until the election of a President (FDR) who fervently believed in them coincided with circumstances (The Great Depression) that made their need glaringly apparent to a large proportion of American citizens.

Sunstein points out that new “rights” need not take the form of amendments to our Constitution. They also occur through reinterpretation of our Constitution by our courts or when a general consensus develops among large majorities of our citizens as to what constitutes a “right”. Roosevelt’s preferred method for establishing a Second Bill of Rights was the latter, and he accomplished this through more than twelve years of advocating for these rights and putting them into practice through executive orders and pushing Congress to enact legislation.

Some of the most concrete results of FDR’s efforts were the Social Security Act of 1935, the creation of several agencies that produced greatly needed jobs, labor protection laws that created the right for workers to organize into unions and a federal minimum wage, antitrust policies, the GI bill of rights, and to help pay for some of those programs, record tax rates on wealthy corporations and individuals. But perhaps more important than these concrete accomplishments, by the end of FDR’s Presidency large segments of the American population accepted many aspects of his Second Bill of Rights as legitimate rights – for example, the right to a good education.


International acceptance of economic and social rights

Following FDR’s death in 1945, his wife, Eleanor, led the effort towards international acceptance of numerous elements of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. These rights were then expanded further by The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which was ratified by 142 nations as of 2003. Paradoxically, the United States, where the Second Bill of Rights originated, has not yet signed that Covenant.

Furthermore, the commitment to economic and social rights throughout the world is manifested by their inclusion in the constitutions of numerous countries. And the European Social Charter, signed by 24 European countries, establishes such rights as the right to work for fair remuneration, health care and social security.


Why does the United States lag so far behind other nations in establishing economic and social rights for its citizens?

Sunstein considers several answers to this crucial question, and dismisses them as incomplete explanations. Incomplete explanations include: The United States created its constitution at a time long before economic and social rights were recognized; the United states has a cultural aversion to economic and social rights; and, the constitution of the United States is enforced through its courts, which would find it very difficult to enforce economic rights. Sunstein points out that the date of origin of our constitution has limited relevance to rights that we recognize today, since rights can and do evolve over time. He notes that, though economic rights may be difficult to enforce, that doesn’t disqualify them from being recognized as rights. And most important, he notes that the U.S. Supreme Court was well on its way to recognizing a large number of economic and social rights until Richard Nixon’s election in 1968, with his subsequent appointment of four conservative Supreme Court justices, who sharply reversed that trend.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions that pointed towards implementation of a Second Bill of Rights included: the right to defense counsel in criminal cases (Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963); the abolishment of poll taxes for voting in 1964 and 1966; the striking down of a California law that required a one year waiting period for new arrivals attempting to obtain welfare benefits (Shapiro v. Thompson); the striking down of an Arizona law requiring a one year’s residence in a county prior to being eligible for receiving free non-emergency medical care (Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County); and, a finding that welfare recipients could not be removed from welfare roles without a hearing (Goldberg v. Kelly, 1970).

Though Nixon’s Burger Court did not reverse most of the above mentioned decisions, it nevertheless made several decisions which indicated a sharp change in direction, culminating in San Antonio School district v. Rodriquez in 1973. That decision allowed to stand a Texas policy which allocated substantially more money to wealthy than to poor school districts. And according to Sunstein, that decision “was the death knell for the idea that the Constitution protects social and economic rights”. Thus, his conclusion is that Richard Nixon’s very close election victory in 1968 is the main reason why the U.S. lags so far behind other countries in recognizing economic and social rights, and if less than one additional percent of the U.S. electorate in 1968 had voted for Hubert Humphrey instead of Nixon, our Constitution today would be much further along than it is towards recognizing those rights.

I have one important disagreement with Sunstein on that score. 1968 was 38 years ago, and with the recent death of William Rehnquist, no Nixon appointees remain on our Supreme Court. Furthermore, twelve years of Reagan/Bush presidencies, followed eight years later by six years of George W. Bush have also substantially impeded acceptance in the United States of FDR’s goals for a Second Bill of Rights – and not just because of their Supreme Court appointees. Since Reagan’s election in 1980, our country has acquired several severely anti-democratic tendencies, including the increasingly obscene role of money in our elections, a corporate national news media with little sense of responsibility to the American citizenry, an obscenely widening wealth gap, and a great capacity for election fraud via electronic voting machines that count our votes in secret.

One good example is Bill Clinton’s attempt to enact universal health insurance in our country. Sunstein says that the rejection of Clinton’s health care plan indicated that Americans are not yet ready to consider health care as a “right”. But that conclusion fails to take into account the vast amounts of special interest money arraigned against the Clinton health care plan. Most important, a barrage of false and misleading messages led Americans to believe, incorrectly, many bad things about the plan, most importantly that it would abolish the right of Americans to choose their own physician.

Sunstein’s larger point is that the United States could have accepted FDR’s Second Bill of Rights by now. Whereas I agree with him on that point, I also think that it would have required more than Hubert Humphrey’s election in 1968. It also would have required that somehow the so-called “Reagan revolution” would have been prevented.


Why should we have a Second Bill of Rights?

There are three reasons why we need FDR’s Second Bill of Rights – which may be subsumed under the following headings: Maintenance and furtherance of democracy; humanity; and, fairness.

Maintenance and furtherance of democracy
As FDR said many times, “Necessitous men are not free men”. Nor are they capable of participating in a democracy. Illiterate or otherwise uneducated people have very limited capacity to make political decisions (which undoubtedly largely explains the inverse correlation between education and voting for George W. Bush). A person who is unsure if and when she will receive her next paycheck has little time to engage in political activities. And what is the meaning of democracy when our elected officials are more concerned about pleasing one wealthy constituent than a hundred poor constituents, simply because of the potential for campaign donations from the former?

Humanity
Today, 46 million Americans are without health insurance, which results in thousands of premature deaths every year, including thousands of infants; at least 8 million Americans who want jobs are unemployed; 12% of Americans household lack adequate food; approximately 3 million Americans are homeless in any given year; and 37 million Americans are in poverty, while the poverty rate continues to rise under George W. Bush’s administration.

Sunstein describes what was perhaps the main stimulus for FDR’s great desire for and pursuit of a Second Bill of Rights:

To Roosevelt, human distress could no longer be taken as an inevitable by-product of life, society, or “nature”; it was an artifact of social policies and choices. Much human misery is preventable. The only question is whether a government is determined to prevent it…. Foremost was the idea that poverty is preventable, that poverty is destructive, wasteful, demoralizing, and that poverty is morally unacceptable in a Christian and democratic society.

Fairness
The issue of fairness is perhaps the most important issue that we liberals and moderates need to be able to argue to opponents of economic and social rights. Many Americans are against the establishment of these rights because they believe that they will entail “taking” wealth from those who have it in order to give it to those who need it. Thus they see these “rights” as involving a sort of theft by government.

In the first place, FDR’s emphasis in advocating his Second Bill of Rights was on opportunity. Without an education, one cannot reasonably hope to successfully compete in our society. In the presence of monopolies, small businesspersons and farmers cannot reasonably hope to compete to earn a decent living. And who could argue that it is fair to deny a person an opportunity to work for pay? With regard to “rights” to health care, housing, clothing, etc., FDR considered those rights to apply only as a last resort, to those who are unable to work and earn enough money to pay for those things, not to those who are able to work but who choose not to.

Secondly, those who say “it is unfair to disproportionately tax the wealthy because it’s their money” need to understand some fundamental issues. Wealthy people are wealthy largely or mostly because of government actions, including: protection of “private property”; maintenance of contract laws through government legal systems, etc; government charters to operate as corporations; use of government infrastructure; government subsidies to corporations; and many others. The point is not to say that the wealthy do not “earn” their wealth. Perhaps some of them do, and perhaps some of them don’t. But the point is that their wealth is accumulated and maintained only with the active assistance of government. And for that reason, when government sees the need to tax that wealth in order to carry out critical government functions, it cannot be automatically assumed that those actions are not fair. Indeed, it is frequently those who benefit the most from government actions who bitterly complain when government intervenes to help other people.

The average CEO today “earns” 431 times the annual salary as the average worker who works for those CEOs. Is that because CEOs, such as “Kenny Boy” Lay, produce 431 times as much value as the average worker, and free market principles operate to ensure that they are fairly compensated for what they produce? Or, is it because they have been given the power to determine their own salaries and compensation? If you believe the former, I think you’re living in some sort of fantasy land.

Monopolies ensure that rich and powerful corporations become ever more rich and powerful, at the expense of everyone else, including workers and consumers. Under our current system, millions of dollars in campaign “donations” allow those corporations to establish those monopolies, to receive millions in subsidies from our government, to destroy our environment without having to pay for it (“deregulation), and to avoid costly civil suits (“tort reform”).

And those who receive billions of dollars in inheritance without having to lift a finger whine about having to pay a so-called “death tax” on that money, while millions of children who are born into poverty have no opportunity to receive needed health care or a decent education.

Sunstein (who is obviously a moderate, and who strongly believes in our capitalistic free enterprise system) sums up our current situation on the last page of his book:

In a society that purports to prize opportunity for all, too many citizens lack a minimally fair chance. In the past decades, we have disregarded some of our deepest ideals, with roots not merely in the new Deal but in the Civil War and the founding period itself. The second bill of rights is largely unknown…. The second bill of rights should be reclaimed in its nation of origin.

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GoneOffShore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Dec-02-06 10:18 PM
Response to Original message
1. An excellent analysis and call to action
We need to make the implementation of FDR's 'Second Bill of Rights' a priority for the next six years.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 11:38 AM
Response to Reply #1
9. I agree -- A succession of Republican presidents, including
Reagan and two Bushes, will much help from Congress, have governed as if the sole purpose of governing is to enhance the power and wealth of the already wealthy and powerful. It is time for we the people to take back our country.
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MannyGoldstein Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Dec-02-06 10:33 PM
Response to Original message
2. Well Done, Thank You
Unfortunately, today's craven triangulators (with a few exceptions) that call themselves "Democrats" would sooner send other people's kids off to die in an optional and ill-conceived war, than to run afoul of their patrons in the Predator Class.

We need new Democrats, not New Democrats.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 01:28 PM
Response to Reply #2
10. Thank you Manny -- I agree that we need our elected Democratic leaders
to have the courage to stand up for what is right.

I have been very heartened by the large numbers of Dems talking about their intentions to do thorough investigations of the Bush administration crimes.

But also, I feel that Democrats today find themselves in a very difficult situation, with the national corporate news media aligned against them for the most part. It takes a good deal of courage today to do what is right, when one knows that s/he will get lambasted by the corporate media for doing so:

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...
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DeepModem Mom Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Dec-02-06 11:01 PM
Response to Original message
3. K&R
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TroubleMan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 12:26 AM
Response to Original message
4. This reminds me of the business leaders that tried to overthrow him in a coup.
Good thing Smedley Butler stopped them, but too bad FDR couldn't have gotten his 2nd Bill of Rights.

I wish that could have been a constitutional amendment.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 07:02 PM
Response to Reply #4
14. Yeah, too bad Smedley Butler wasn't around when JFK was killed
Sunstein, in his book, says that it is probably just as wel l that we develop a committment to the 2nd bill of rights in the cultural sense as making a new constitutional ammendment. And he says that that is also what FDR was trying for.

I'm not sure if he says that only because amendments are so difficult to obtain, or if he really believes that a cultural committment is just as good. It seems to me that it would be better to have a constitutional amendment, but I don't pretend to know.
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eridani Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 01:48 AM
Response to Original message
5. Re Clinton's so-called "universal" health care
One good example is Bill Clinton’s attempt to enact universal health insurance in our country. Sunstein says that the rejection of Clinton’s health care plan indicated that Americans are not yet ready to consider health care as a “right”. But that conclusion fails to take into account the vast amounts of special interest money arraigned against the Clinton health care plan. Most important, a barrage of false and misleading messages led Americans to believe, incorrectly, many bad things about the plan, most importantly that it would abolish the right of Americans to choose their own physician.

It wasn't really universal--it would have enriched large insurers by heavily subsidizing them for offering HMO-style medicine for more people, leaving intact all the bureaucratic waste and profit-taking. Its strongest advocates estimated that with this very expensive bribery we'd get 95% coverage at best, and 95% DOES NOT equal 100%. Its major opponents were smaller insurers who would have been forced out of business--these were the folks responsible for the Harry and Louise ads. Also, the plan had no real popular advocates, because just about all really motivated health care activists favor single payer. Therefore, there was no counterweight to all the negative advertising, as the very people who might have done this were sitting on their hands.

And yes, by subsidizing the HMO option, physician choice would indeed have been restricted--unlike under single payer with 100% free choice of provider.

California is showing us the way forward. The state legislature came within TWO LOUSY FRIGGIN' VOTES of being able to override the Governator's veto of single payer this year. This is the closest yet anybody has ever gotten to implementing real universal health care, and it is the culmination of a 10+ year effort. The core of the strategy was mobilizing and educating almost every single organized group that Health Care for All--California could contact. And that's just the strategy that Clinton blew off in favor of closed-door negotiations with only those elite players who now benefit from our current non-system.

(Just an aside here--otherwise a very good post.)
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rman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 05:19 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. Was there not "universal health care" before it got privitized?
If so, that undermines the whole "Americans not yet ready" -argument.
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SoCalDem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 03:22 PM
Response to Reply #6
12. Not really, BUT the average family could afford medical care
and most hospitals were "non-profits" . They were part of the "service community".

Towns used to OWN their power planrts, water delivery systems, clinics etc.

Doctors have always been at the top of the local income scale, and they are not the problem. HMOs came along and at first they were fine, but somewhere along the line they became a vehicle to transfer huge amounts of money up the chain to the corporate HQ, while delivering as little as possible..

and heaven help the person who did not have insurance..or who worked for an employer who did not offer it..

The problem with universal coverage is that eventually, someone will still have to make decisions about who gets care, how much care, and what kind of care..

The rich will always have more options than the rest of us, because they can pay out of pocket..
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eridani Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 11:31 PM
Response to Reply #12
17. And the heath care they could afford was useless for many things--
--that were not treatable in the "good old days."
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SoCalDem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-04-06 01:23 AM
Response to Reply #17
18. Whether they were "good old days" or not, we have more
medical procedures these days and of course they are more expensive too, but if you are "middle class" without insurance in the US, you are still in trouble.

A kid falling off his bike these days could mean several thousand dollars for that broken arm, by the time you add in emergency room, orthopedic doctors, xrays and follow up care.

And being "able to cure or treat" more ailments does not necessarily guarantee that treatment will be within everyones reach.

Such is privatized medicine in the US.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 09:18 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. Here is an article on the Clinton Health Plan from the Annals of Internal Medicine
Edited on Sun Dec-03-06 09:18 AM by Time for change
http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/119/9/945

The article is in general quite favorable of the plan, as indicated in this summary statement:

"These cautions aside, the unveiling of the Health Security Plan appears to be the best chance yet for Americans finally to achieve universal health care coverage."

It's true that there were a large number of compromises in the plan, probably needed in order to lessen political opposition. But my main point is that there were powerful interests, especially the insurance industry, who threw their weight and millions of dollars against the plan, and I believe that's what defeated it, not the fact that the American people weren't ready for a plan like that.
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Greyhound Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 10:07 AM
Response to Original message
8. Read this excellent piece. Study the sources. Use the deafening truth
of it to fight the darkness and its adherents.
:kick: & R
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 09:10 PM
Response to Reply #8
16. Thank you greyhound
I think it's somewhat strange that, though FDR continues to be rated consistently among the top three U.S. presidents of all time, yet the term "liberal" has such bad connotations today that politicians almost uniformally run away from being labeled as such.

I think we've got to get away from that mind set and talk proudly about the kinds of principles advocated by great leaders like FDR.
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Greyhound Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-04-06 08:58 AM
Response to Reply #16
20. You're welcome. Thanks to almost 40 years of a corporate re-education
campaign and the utter absence of any opposition have combined to form the mush of the average amerikan mind into the irrational form that we see today. Where, for example, this thread sinks while we read 400 pointless "HRC or Obama?" threads. :banghead:
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-04-06 11:01 AM
Response to Reply #20
21. Well, I have some good news though
I just received a pm requesting permission (which of course I gave) to reprint the article in "American Politics Journal", which distributes by e-mail to 12,000 and receives 20,000 views a day on their site.
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Greyhound Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-04-06 11:57 AM
Response to Reply #8
22. Kicking this excellent piece.
again... ;)
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annabanana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 02:17 PM
Response to Original message
11. Loving Thomas Jefferson.
"legislatures cannot invest too many devices for subdividing property"

Talk about your "sure to be taken out of context" quotes! It is clear above that legislatures could invest hundreds and hundreds of devices for subdividing property, and it would still not be enough!
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #11
13. Yeah, that could be open to being taken out of context
I'm sure that all he was trying to say was that too great of a wealth gap is very detrimental to democracy. He was certainly right about that IMO, and that's where our country is heading, unless our new Congress acts to do something about it.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-03-06 08:15 PM
Response to Original message
15. FDR on the responsibility of government to for economic security
"Government has a final responsibility for the well-being of its citizenship. If private co-operative endeavor fails to provide work for willing hands and relief for the unfortunate, those suffering hardship from no fault of their own have a right to call upon the Government for aid; and a government worthy of its name must make fitting response."
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HCE SuiGeneris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-04-06 01:31 AM
Response to Original message
19. Too late to recommend... but definitely have some
:kick: :kick: :kick: left in me. Great post!
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