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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 06:39 PM
Number of posts: 17,379

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MEMO TO MATHEWS: "It's the only way change happens in America"

Bernie Sanders said that to Chris Mathews about Social Change Movements when Mathews fixated, during their interview, on the impossibility of winning 60 votes in the U.S. Senate next January for a progressive legislative agenda.

MEMO to Chris Mathews:

Not only is Bernie Sanders right (it doesn't just take a village, it takes a movement to bring about real change) but those of us who know radical change is essential in America won't be judging progress towards it by some Senate vote count in January.

The Republican opposition doesn't care how reasonable the next Democratic President may seem if we elect one this November - they will obstruct the same regardless. Any changes that Republicans in Congress may allow into law will by definition be insufficient, or they will not pass. Whether we have a President Sanders or a President Clinton, that is the reality.

At the end of the day, before the United States government enters permanent shut down during some prolonged budget crisis, some compromises will be reached and no one will be happy with them. There is no inherent conflict between being a visionary and being pragmatic, as Hillary Clinton likes to point out. After the forces on both sides are fully marshaled, after all the fiery speeches are made and the behind the scenes maneuvers executed, we will all do the math and take the best deal we can get for now. That will be the case whether it is Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton who is sitting in the oval office. If anything I would suggest that by asking for more to begin with we will end up with more at the finish, but even that difference won't be earth shattering.

Whoever we elect our next President will have the same intrinsic powers of the Executive Branch. They each will have a veto pen, they each can issue executive orders. They each will staff the executive branch with people who share their priorities for America. While a Republican opposition in Congress can make a show of resisting some high profile presidential appointments, there will be a Democratic administration put in place which will work to implement Democratic objectives through rules and regulations. And unless we elect a Democratic majority House and a Democratic super majority in the Senate in November, Republicans will retain their ability to obstruct.

Even if we accept that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each have the same ultimate goals for America, Hillary Clinton through the power of her being will not be able to implement a more positive program for America come next January than could Bernie Sanders, particularly in so far as legislation is involved; and vice versa.

With all due respect Chris you have fundamentally missed the point. We aren't playing a short game here, we are playing a very long one Your most basic miscalculation is apparent in how you framed your verbal challenge to Bernie Sanders. You asked him what he can possibly achieve as President next January when you can barely understand yourself how he got to the place where that concept is even conceivable. You point out that for Sanders to succeed his notion of a political revolution has to be more than just an idealistic slogan, there must be real evidence it can happen. Then you note that young people did not vote in high enough percentages for Sanders to even win in Nevada.

OK Chris, you have a point. Now turn it on its head. If your political world view holds up though the current election cycle, there won't be a President Sanders in office come January to propose any legislative agenda for Republicans to obstruct. But what will have to happen for Bernie Sanders to actually win the Presidency and then confront the congressional obstacles you envisioned? The answer is a political revolution that you couldn't see any hint of as recently as last summer, one that in your estimation is still insufficient to win Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party nomination for President let alone the Presidency itself. You may be right about that now Chris, but what if you are wrong, what would that say about America and the political power of a social movement for change? You are gaming a 2017 political battle map based on conventional 2015 political intelligence, so I'm not surprised by the conclusions you reach.

Like I said, you may be right. There is something happening in America that is upsetting all conventional political thinking, but it may not be advanced so far as to elect a President Sanders now after first having to defeat the most sophisticated and entrenched political machine in Democratic politics. The fact that Bernie has already gotten this far though should stop and give you pause. Sanders isn't just winning the classic "Rock the Vote" vote, his youth support isn't confined to students. America below 40 is looking like Sanders country, and not just among Democrats. Unlike Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders has done quite well with Independents too, and they are the largest voting bloc in America,

So no I don't expect a President Bernie Sanders to rapidly move a progressive agenda through Congress with strong Republican opposition. I expect him to continue to catalyze a social change movement that is rapidly growing in this nation while moving to the fore. Bernie has the power of a message whose time has come Chris, but someone had to pierce the cone of silence that was preventing it from being heard, and that is what his candidacy has now done. Sanders, with the help of a movement growing behind him, has already rewritten the political agenda in this county - he has changed the frame of reference. How far back do you have to go to find issues of burgeoning poverty and income inequality dominating a national election campaign like they are now? That's not Hillary Clinton's doing.

How long did it take for segregationists to lose control of the United States Senate Chris? No it didn't happen one day after an election. But when JFK defeated Richard Nixon for president in 1960 few could foresee that, less than four years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would pass through the United States Senate. During those few intervening years an awful lot was going on outside the Halls of Congress. It's the only way change happens in America.

Standing With Invisible People

Our world is inhabited by invisible people. I am one of them and so probably are you. Andy Warhol once famously said "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes" but he was only off by a factor of several billion. Most of us only show up as an occasional blur. Fly a blimp over a football stadium, or a Civil Rights March on Washington, and we can be viewed en masse, individually indiscernible in a crowd. To the establishment we are as faceless as a sea of extras assembled for a film shoot. To them we primarily exist as demographics, grouped together by the tens of thousands when we are noticed at all.

Who is the establishment? For the most part they are the visible ones, known beyond their neighbors, families, friends and coworkers. Even when they move anonymously their reputations precede them. The rich and powerful are in the establishment, but they aren't alone there. Much like a college football dynasty, the cheerleaders are part of it to. At the state and national levels, America's major political parties are in the establishment as well, branches of Phi Beta Dogma irregardless of the ideologies each may express. In a seen and be seen world, membership is determined by the company you keep, who you know and how you know them. There is an in crowd, and then there's the rest of us. Hillary Clinton is imbedded in that in crowd, Bernie Sanders - not so much.

People still talk about a Washington bubble, but that bubble has grown until geography no longer matters. Washington now is a state of mind at the intersection of wealth and power. Always kissing cousins, the two have interbred, and the result is a bastardized democracy. Regardless of where they call their home, politicians spend less time now with people who elect them and more with those who fund elections. Inside of an establishment bubble it's hard to see outside it. Surrounded by its members, their routines define reality. It's less about distinguishing right from wrong, it's more about familiarity and what is viewed as normal, which truths are recognized and which aren't: Who is visible and who isn't. Living in a bubble good people get separated from their roots.

I believe that Hilary Clinton is a very good person, I honestly do. But though that is meaningful it's no longer the point. She is out of touch with the pain of most Americans. How powerful is the bubble she's in? Strong enough that Hillary literally couldn't intuit why earning $21,648,000.00 in speaking fees between 2013 and 2015 would cause political problems for a Democrat running for President in 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/05/politics/hillary-clinton-bill-clinton-paid-speeches/

When Bernie Sanders reminds the public that since the great recession 99% percent of all new income is going to the top 1%, he is describing Hillary Clinton – literally. How badly did she need that money? Even without those speaking fees the net worth of Bill and Hillary Clinton in 2015 would still have placed them in the top one tenth of one percent for all Americans. “The top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and almost the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.” http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-11-11/fed-won-americas-01-are-now-wealthier-bottom-90

I believe that Hillary Clinton is at her best right now, during the midst of a difficult primary contest for the Democratic nomination for President, when the bubble that surrounds her is at its thinnest, when some of the people standing outside of it become visible to her at Town Hall meetings, where they can personally gain her attention. But Bernie Sanders has stood with invisible people for his entire life in politics. That helps explain why Bernie was so dimly seen by the national establishment before his insurgent run for President. To them he has seemingly come out of nowhere. But that's where most of America lives.

When will Trump release copies of checks he wrote to the Clintons?

I'm betting during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention if he wins their nomination and it tuns out that Hillary is his opponent in the General Election. That is exactly Trump's style. Of course a typical Republican politician would want to bury any evidence of prior donations he made either to a Clinton campaign fund or to the Clinton Foundation, but that's just not The Donald.

Some of his Republican opponents have tried to make an issue out of Trump's prior support for Hillary, but he turned it to his own advantage. He made it part of his stump speech about how America's professional political class is owned by big business donors, people like himself who invest in politicians on both sides of the aisle in order to curry political favors. Except, Trump is always quick to add, now he is working for the American people and he owes no favors to anyone: He is self funded, doesn't need more money, and only wants to make America great again.

Whereas most political figures who raise large sums of money on Wall Street, Hillary included, can argue that their votes were never for sale on any issue, Trump is in a position to make that argument ring hollow. He simply explains how it works, how it always has worked for him; spread enough money around and your needs will generally be accommodated. No specific promises need be asked for, no quid per pro demanded. As a successful businessman who has long invested in politicians, Trump can state that he usually gets his money's worth by doing so.

Hillary Clinton was a United States Senator from New York, and Donald Trump was a major real estate developer in New York while she served in the U.S. Senate. Frankly I believe that Hillary Clinton is too smart a politician, but of more importance too good a public servant, to have ever changed her position on an issue that she cared about in return for specific campaign contributions, Foundation donations, or corporate speaking fees. But someone like Donald Trump doesn't have to prove that she ever did. All he has to say is that at the end of the day, from a business perspective, he was satisfied that he made good investments when he wrote checks to politicians like Hillary. and he knows that he's not the only businessman who feels that way.

How can that be countered?

I will worry if these results carry over into November.

The potential presidential match up that worries me the most would be Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton. Trump is strongly perceived as an outsider in an anti-establishment year. Even though Hillary won a narrow but solid victory over Bernie tonight in Nevada, that doesn't negate the fact that there is a strong anti-establishment tide on the Democratic side as well. It is clear that virtually the entire national apparatus of the Democratic Party has united strongly behind Hillary. It is a meaningful accomplishment that she's won such strong loyalty from her peers. But considering that, the fact that Clinton has had to battle so hard to hold back a challenge from Bernie Sanders speaks louder than her victory tonight does against a surging insurgent - one who was virtually unknown six months ago and had miles of catching up to do without the support of virtually any key inside players.

I am not taking anything away from Bernie Sanders in saying this, but does anyone really doubt that Hillary would be in deeper political trouble now than she already is had Elizabeth Warren, who would have started out far better known than Sanders, had chosen to enter the race for President instead of Bernie (who remains the politician I most deeply believe in)?

Two candidates this election year have generated unexpected and historic levels of excitement on the stump; Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Two have significantly under performed earlier expectations in that regard; Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and both of them were pegged as the arch typical establishment politicians from their respective parties. Yes Hillary remains far more viable than Jeb does now, and clearly there is much stronger active support for Hillary Clinton than there is for Jeb Bush, but she has continually struggled to generate sustained grass roots passion at levels commiserate to either Sanders or Trump.

Trump prides himself on being spontaneous and coming across as refreshingly candid, whereas Clinton sometimes suffers from coming across as staged. There is troubling consistent polling data on the question of "telling it like it is" and being "truthful". Donald Trump, like Bernie Sanders, polls very well by that matrix. Hillary Clinton does not. Part of what makes an anti-establishment mood an anti-establishment mood is a loss of confidence and trust in the perceived system that the public believes runs our lives, and those who they associate with that system. Trump is better positioned to ride an anti-establishment wave than is Hillary Clinton.

If Hillary Clinton becomes our nominee she will be attacked from the right on many fronts by whoever the Republican nominate, as would Bernie Sanders. In addition though, as our former Secretary of State, she will be blamed by them personally for the continued existence of every threat out there in the world that may cause Americans to lose sleep. She can counter with experience, some significant nuanced accomplishments, a grasp of details, and overall superior judgment. Depending on the existing level of fear among the public during the election campaign that Republicans will seek to exploit, Clinton's foreign experience advantage could dissolve into her being made the scapegoat for everything that has not gone as well as people would have wished for. If there are ready made trust issues to exploit against Clinton on top of that, the latter scenario becomes easier for Republicans in general, and Donald Trump specifically, to sell.

If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee he would additionally be able to attack Hillary Clinton in ways that are considered highly unorthodox for most Republicans, from the left so to speak. That starts with the Iraq War where Trump would strongly attack Clinton for her pro Iraq War Resolution vote. Whereas Bernie Sanders has a long standing history of strenuously opposing international trade deals that many believe hurt working Americans, Hillary Clinton does not. She would be vulnerable to an attack by Trump there as well. Finally there is that matter of Hillary taking large sums of money from Wall Street to fuel her own election campaigns etc.

Trump positions himself as incorruptible, he would probably characterize Hillary as hopelessly compromised by big money interests, and do so in a manner far more viscous than anything that Bernie Sanders has said against her. I expect Trump would claim, true or not, first hand knowledge of ways in which Clinton is bought by Wall Street special interests that he himself is so familiar with.

In a normal election year I would still say that Hillary Clinton would enter a fall campaign holding most of the cards. I still think that's true, more likely than not, but I also know that this is far from being a normal election year. And that is why I will worry if the Presidential election ends up being between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Running Against An Opponent Who Makes Loyalty to Our First Black President An Issue

That could be fraught with the potential for some old fashioned racial divisiveness, or at the very least things could devolve quickly into an ugly rehash of the 2008 presidential election campaign when accusations flew daily over who was or was not playing the race card. I was doing a lot of political blogging back in 2008. In fact for most of that primary season I was backing Hillary Clinton. I remember well how bitter things became. At the time I thought the accusations made against both Bill and Hillary Clinton for being or behaving racist were way overblown. I felt the same about some counter charges against the Obama campaign over their supposedly playing the race card also. But it was a pretty big deal at the time nonetheless. It still is for some people today, but I have no interest in going back to re-litigate any of that. What's more interesting to me though, is that neither does Bernie Sanders.

With the success of his presidential campaign probably resting on the number of African American voters he can win over from those currently supporting Hillary Clinton, Bernie shows no interest in going there; back to when charges of race baiting hung thick in the political air. Regardless of how well or ill founded those charges ultimately were – they obviously exposed raw feelings at the time and contributed to shifting fortunes during that 2008 contest. A more typical candidate would have had a team of opposition research experts pouring over old transcripts and video tapes from the 2008 campaign, looking for material to exploit to unravel the ties of loyalty many African Americans now feel toward Hillary Clinton. The furthest Bernie Sanders will go however, when his own degree of loyalty to Barack Obama is attacked, is to remind people that he never personally ran against Obama. Bernie never raises doubts over how that race was run, although obviously he could.

So the next time anyone even hints at suggesting that Bernie Sanders has or is going negative against Hillary Clinton, an appropriate response might be to laugh in their face.

Cart/Horse = Democratic Party/Policies

Which should be placed before the other? I support a political party when it advocates for policies that benefit most of America. I do not support policies backed by a political party's leadership out of allegiance to that party.

The Democratic Party far far more often than the Republican Party advocates policies that I believe benefit most of America. Hence I am a Democrat, but it still makes no sense to put the cart before the horse.

The Naivety of Millennials in Politics

Naivety. It's a theme usually slipped in between the lines by surrogates for Hillary Clinton trying to explain why millennial voters so strongly back Senator Bernie Sanders over the former Secretary of State. At least one of her high profile supporters though, Democratic Rep. George Butterfield, chose to go there boldly. Rep. Butterfield is a Hillary Clinton ally from North Carolina who is also the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Speaking at an event announcing an endorsement for Clinton by the CBC PAC, Butterfield, as reported by The Hill, made these comments:

“I hope the students would understand the big picture, and that is, Sen. Sanders’s message might be appealing, but is it realistic?” Butterfield said Wednesday.

Butterfield attributed Sanders’s success with millennials to the “inexperience” of those young voters.

“Many of these are first-time voters, and Sen. Sanders’s message resonates with a younger generation because of the promises that he’s making,” Butterfield said. “It’s not a disparagement on the new voters. It’s the fact that many of them are inexperienced and have not gone through an election cycle before.

“You listen to the message, and then you make a second evaluation about whether it’s realistic.” http://thehill.com/homenews/house/269037-black-lawmakers-sprint-to-clintons-aid

Embedded inside that “friendly” critique regarding the “inexperience” of youthful voters was another even sharper one contained in this phrase; “Sen. Sanders’s message resonates with a younger generation because of the promises that he’s making.” That's code talk for all of that so called “free stuff”. The Hillary Clinton campaign has to be artful in the way they make the charge that young folk really only support Sanders because he is offering them the promise of “free stuff” because a) directly saying that would exasperate their current problem with millennial voters and b) they are counting on the support of millennial voters in the General Election race against the Republicans if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination. But someone like Rand Paul, when he was still in the Republican race, was freer to spell it out clearly, in comments like this one made at a Heritage Action for America presidential forum:

“Alright, Bernie Sanders is offering you free stuff. He wants to give you free healthcare. He’d give you a free car. He’d give you a free house. But guess what. There is no free lunch.” Rand left out Bernie's position on tuition free public higher education and threw in instead a colorful hallucination concerning free cars and houses instead, but you get the idea. Free stuff is unrealistic, got that? Even if the lure of lots of free stuff is downright exciting. And that of course leads right into another classic excuse made by the Clinton campaign to explain why Hillary is getting trounced by millennial voters. Campaigning for his wife in Florida, Bill Clinton recently said the following:

“...both primaries have been dominated by very emotional campaigns that I think are the product of people’s doubt about whether they can claim that future.” He also said this; “We are too politically polarized and we keep rewarding people who tell us things they know they can’t do because it pushes our hot button.” In regard to the Democratic primaries Bill Clinton was addressing the hot button of unrealistic free stuff no doubt, which makes young folk get so highly emotional.

So in summary then, millennial are responding with their hearts, not their heads, when they flock to Bernie Sanders (you've heard that line before too, haven't you?) Because of their inexperience and youthful emotions, they truly believe that getting all of that exciting free stuff is actually possible, despite all evidence to the contrary. Just because most of them graduated from public high schools after twelve years of public education, without incurring any personal debt in the process, or that most other advanced nations offer 16 years of tuition free public education to their citizens, is no good reason to believe that America is capable of pulling something like that off here. And our unique American system of health care would no longer be so exceptionally American if we started guarantee free health care to all of our citizens the way that other advanced democracies do.

Bill and Hillary Clinton both know personally how unrealistic the expectations of youth tend to be before they mature and learn to be pragmatic about what is really feasible. A millennial, as defied by Merriam Webster, is “a person born in the 1980s or 1990s —usually plural. ” Using that definition everyone with an age between 17 and 36 today is now a millennial. When Bill Clinton was himself mere 30 he became the Attorney General of Arkansas. When Hillary Clinton was herself a mere 26 she was a member of the impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C., advising the House Committee on the Judiciary during the Watergate scandal.

When Martin Luther King Jr was 26 he led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. By the time he was 28 he had helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. When John Lewis was 23 he was the Chairman of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Bobby Kennedy would be considered the equivalent to an older millennial today at 36, when he became the Attorney General of the United States and the closest Advisory to his brother the American President. Bill Gates was 20 when he co-founded Microsoft, and Steve Jobs was 21 when he co-founded Apple.

One could argue that passion got the best of all of the people mentioned above, before they could internalize what was deemed possible to achieve by the establishment of their youth. You could say the same about much of a whole generation that engaged in the struggle to end Segregation in America, to end the war in Vietnam, to move feminist concerns into the foreground of public debate, to instill environmental consciousness into a disposable society and more. Young people by and large, all too naive to understand what couldn't be accomplished. All too impatient to change the world to accept that it couldn't be done, except incrementally, through a realistic pragmatic approach.

The GOP will savagely attack our candidate PERIOD.

That's simply what they do. Bill Clinton was a moderate white male Governor from the South who they accused of ripping off their policies WHILE they savagely attacked and ultimately impeached him. Barack Obama came to prominence with a stirring call to transcend partisan divides. He gave praise to Ronald Reagan and embraced Republican pioneered solutions to problems that faced America, such as Cap and Trade to limit greenhouse gases and Romney Care to insure the uninsured. From day one they plotted to thwart his every move, and employed the ugliest tactics they could muster.

It doesn't matter if we nominate Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, the Republicans will savagely attack. It doesn't matter how moderate or progressive our candidate ultimately is, the Republicans will savagely attack. It won't matter if their line of attack contains a grain of truth or is totally bogus, their attacks will be savage. John Kerry faked his heroism in Vietnam, Barack Obama is a Muslim, Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, Bernie Sanders is a Communist.

If we let fear of the Republican Attack machine steer our choice of a Presidential nominee, they will have thoroughly out psyched us before the campaign even begins.

Settling for what is currently passable rather than what is ultimately possible is defeatism

If the horizon of political debate inside America remains defined by what can be gotten past Republican obstructionists in a current session of Congress, then they are the ones controlling the political agenda not just for this year, but for decades to come. The Right has been playing the long game since 1968.

Since when do we let Repubican politicians decide what is and is not possible for America?

Social change has never been about having realistic goals in the short term. It has never been about negotiating compromises that can win the support of those who embody the status quo now. When that is the benchmark used to calibrate fundamental justice we end up with agreements like a written Constitution that defined resident African American slaves as 3/5ths persons when it came to drawing up Congressional districts.

Negotiation and compromise concerning justice in any form represent at best a temporary stage in an ongoing larger battle; an argument that half a loaf is better than none. Some times it may be, other times not, but never is a half loaf reason to disavow the need for a full one if that in fact is what is truly needed.

Republican politicians seem to grasp that fact more clearly than do most of our Democratic leaders. No compromise resolves virtually any issue for them. As far as many of them are concerned, the American Civil War didn't even define the limitations on States Rights. Conservatives will never convincingly repudiate their vision for privatizing Social Security no matter how often Democrats beat them back on it. They just kick it back to one of their movement think tanks for repackaging before they trot it out once again.

The Republican Right never used the fact that Democrats held a decades long near institutional lock on majorities in the House of Representatives as a reason to abandon their own extreme vision for America. They continued to fight hard, weathered setbacks when the winds blew against them, and negotiated for the best deals they could manage when full victory seemed temporarily beyond their reach. But they never disowned their vision of what they believed would be best for America.

Republicans began fighting to privatize public education at a time when even the concept of that seemed foreign to most Americans - when there seemed to be no way in hell that governments controlled by Democrats would ever go one inch down that road. That didn't matter to them, they just kept advancing the notion until they gained some foot holds they could build on. Tuition free public colleges and universities may sound pie in the sky now, but they once were well established in many places, including California. That was at odds with the vision though of Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement behind him. Here is one summary of what happened to those tuition free public institutions:

"California’s public-university system, still the largest in the nation, abolished tuition three months after it was founded in 1868, implementing instead a fee for additional services, such as health care, that at first was tiny.

The era of free tuition ended, ironically, with the student movement of the 1960s, just as campuses were getting more populous, diverse, and democratic. Ronald Reagan made the University of California a major punching bag of his 1966 campaign for governor of California, with the encouragement of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who saw campus peace activists as dangerous subversives. Upon taking office, Reagan managed to have UC president Clark Kerr fired—he had been the architect of mass higher education not just in California, but across the country—and hiked fees at the UC colleges to the approximate levels of tuition charged elsewhere."
http://college.monster.com/news/articles/1064-whatever-happened-to-when-college-was-free

Democrats have learned to check their visions at the door of a Republican led Congress. It is one thing to mobilize your forces for some Congressional battle on an issue you believe in, only to then fall short of fully prevailing. The more extensive your mobilization, the better compromise you are likely to achieve regardless. It is another thing to fall to mobilize and fight for what you believe in because you can not clearly identify a sure path forward to certain victory. Even worse is a basic lack of faith that what may be indeed be impossible today can in fact become possible tomorrow if the battle is fully joined.

It's not that Bernie Sanders can't do the math - he can count seats in Congress same as anyone else. It's just that he can see the folly in unilaterally disarming our dreams. Pardon my French but Bernie is right. Fuck that shit. We would all be working 60 hour weeks today if a bunch of Wobblie organizers looked at the strength of the Mill Owners who opposed them and said "You better go home to your families boys" rather than "Which side are you on?"

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