Bombs, Bullets, and Bellicosity Instead of Brains
In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I parse the meaning of America’s latest National Defense Strategy. Hint: It’s not about defense.
More than two millennia ago, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounted a disastrous conflict Athens waged against Sparta. A masterwork on strategy and war, the book is still taught at the U.S. Army War College and many other military institutions across the world. A passage from it describing an ultimatum Athens gave a weaker power has stayed with me all these years. And here it is, loosely translated from the Greek: “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.”
Recently, I read the latest National Defense Strategy, or NDS, issued in October 2022 by the Pentagon, and Thucydides’s ancient message, a warning as clear as it was undeniable, came to mind again. It summarized for me the true essence of that NDS: being strong, the United States does what it wants and weaker powers, of course, suffer as they must. Such a description runs contrary to the mythology of this country in which we invariably wage war not for our own imperial ends but to defend ourselves while advancing freedom and democracy. Recall that Athens, too, thought of itself as an enlightened democracy even as it waged its imperial war of dominance on the Peloponnesus. Athens lost that war, calamitously, but at least it did produce Thucydides, a military leader who became a historian and wrote all too bluntly about his country’s hubristic, ultimately fatal pursuit of hegemony.
Imperial military ambitions contributed disastrously to Athens’s exhaustion and ultimate collapse, a lesson completely foreign to U.S. strategists. Not surprisingly, then, you’ll find no such Thucydidean clarity in the latest NDS approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In place of that Greek historian’s probity and timeless lessons, the NDS represents an assault not just on the English language but on our very future. In it, a policy of failing imperial dominance is eternally disguised as democratic deterrence, while the greatest “strategic” effort of all goes (remarkably successfully) into justifying massive Pentagon budget increases. Given the sustained record of failures in this century for what still passes as the greatest military power on the planet — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, of course, but don’t forget Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and indeed the entire $8 trillion Global War on Terror in all its brutality — consider the NDS a rare recent “mission accomplished” moment. The 2023 baseline “defense” budget now sits at $858 billion, $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.
With that yearly budget climbing toward a trillion dollars (or more) annually, it’s easy to conclude that, at least when it comes to our military, nothing succeeds like failure. And, by the way, that not only applies to wars lost at a staggering cost but also financial audits blown without penalty. After all, the Pentagon only recently failed its fifth audit in a row. With money always overflowing, no matter how it may be spent, one thing seems guaranteed: some future American Thucydides will have the material to produce a volume or volumes beyond compare. Of course, whether this country goes the way of Athens — defeat driven by military exhaustion exacerbated by the betrayal of its supposedly deepest ideals leading to an ultimate collapse — remains to be seen. Still, given that America’s war colleges continue to assign Thucydides, no one can say that our military and future NDS writers didn’t get fair warning when it comes to what likely awaits them.
Bludgeoning America with Bureaucratese
If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.
That’s a saying I learned early in my career as an Air Force officer, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that it’s the NDS’s guiding philosophy. The document has an almost Alice in Wonderland-like quality to it as words and phrases take on new meanings. China, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a “pacing challenge” to U.S. security concerns; Russia, an “acute threat” to America due to its “unprovoked, unjust, and reckless invasion of Ukraine” and other forms of “irresponsible behavior”; and building “combat-credible forces” within a “defense ecosystem” is a major Pentagon goal, along with continuing “investments in mature, high-value assets” (like defective aircraft carriers, ultra-expensive bombers and fighter jets, and doomsday-promising new ICBMs).
Much talk is included about “leveraging” those “assets,” “risk mitigation,” and even “cost imposition,” a strange euphemism for bombing, killing, or otherwise inflicting pain on our enemies. Worse yet, there’s so much financial- and business-speak in the document that it’s hard not to wonder whether its authors don’t already have at least one foot in the revolving door that could, on their retirement from the military, swing them onto the corporate boards of major defense contractors like Boeing and Raytheon.
Perhaps my favorite redefined concept in that NDS lurks in the word “campaigning.” In the old days, armies fought campaigns in the field and generals like Frederick the Great or Napoleon truly came to know the price of them in blood and treasure. Unlike U.S. generals since 1945, they also knew the meaning of victory, as well as defeat. Perish the thought of that kind of campaigning now. The NDS redefines it, almost satirically, not to say incomprehensibly, as “the conduct and sequencing of logically-linked military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities over time.” Huh?
Campaigning, explains the cover letter signed by Secretary of Defense Austin (who won’t be mistaken for Frederick II in his bluntness or Napoleon in his military acuity), “is not business as usual — it is the deliberate effort to synchronize the [Defense] Department’s activities and investments to aggregate focus and resources to shift conditions in our favor.”
Got it? Good!
Of course, who knows what such impenetrable jargon really means to our military in 2023? This former military officer certainly prefers the plain and honest language of Thucydides. In his terms, America, the strong, intends to do what it will in the world to preserve and extend “conditions in our favor,” as the NDS puts it — a measure by which this country has failed dismally in this century. Weaker countries, especially those that are “irresponsible,” must simply suffer. If they resist, they must be prepared for some “cost imposition” events exercised by our “combat-credible forces.” Included in those are America’s “ultimate backstop” of cost imposition… gulp, its nuclear forces.
Again, the NDS is worthy of close reading (however pain-inducing that may be) precisely because the secretary of defense does claim that it’s his “preeminent guidance document.” I assume he’s not kidding about that, though I wish he were. To me, that document is to guidance as nuclear missiles are to “backstops.” If that last comparison is jarring, I challenge you to read it and then try to think or write clearly.
Bringing Clarity to America’s Military Strategy
To save you the trauma of even paging through the NDS, let me try to summarize it quickly in my version — if not the Pentagon’s — of English:
- China is the major threat to America on this planet.
- Russia, however, is a serious threat in Europe.
- The War on Terror continues to hum along successfully, even if at a significantly lower level.
- North Korea and Iran remain threats, mainly due to the first’s growing nuclear arsenal and the second’s supposed nuclear aspirations.
- Climate change, pandemics, and cyberwar must also be factored in as “transboundary challenges.”
“Deterrence” is frequently used as a cloak for the planetary dominance the Pentagon continues to dream of. Our military must remain beyond super-strong (and wildly overfunded) to deter nations and entities from striking “the homeland.” There’s also lots of talk about global challenges to be met, risks to be managed, “gray zone” methods to be employed, and references aplenty to “kinetic action” (combat, in case your translator isn’t working) and what’s known as “exploitable asymmetries.”
Count on one thing: whatever our disasters in the real world, nobody is going to beat America in the jargon war.
Missing in the NDS — and no surprise here — is any sense that war is humanity’s worst pastime. Even the mass murder implicit in nuclear weapons is glossed over. The harshest realities of conflict, nuclear war included, and the need to do anything in our power to prevent them, naturally go unmentioned. The very banality of the document serves to mask a key reality of our world: that Americans fund nothing as religiously as war, that most withering of evils.
Perhaps it’s not quite the banality of evil, to cite the telling phrase political philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the thoughts of the deskbound mass-murderers of the Holocaust, but it does have all of war’s brutality expunged from it. As we stare into the abyss, the NDS replies with mind-numbing phrases and terms that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate report on rising profits and market dominance.
Yet as the military-industrial complex maneuvers and plots to become ever bigger, ever better funded, and ever more powerful, abetted by a Congress seemingly lustful for ever more military spending and weapons exports, hope for international cooperation, productive diplomacy, and democracy withers. Here, for instance, are a few of the things you’ll never see mentioned in this NDS:
- Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
- Any suggestion that the U.S. military’s mission or “footprint” should be downsized in any way at all.
- Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than “pacing challengers” like China or “acute threats” like Russia.
- Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon’s budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
- Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
- Any serious talk of peace.
In brief, in that document and thanks to the staggering congressional funding that goes with it, America is being eternally spun back into an age of great-power rivalry, with Xi Jinping’s China taking the place of the old Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s Russia that of Mao Zedong’s China. Consistent with that retro-vision is the true end goal of the NDS: to eternally maximize the Pentagon budget and so the power and authority of the military-industrial-congressional complex.
Basically, any power that seeks to push back against the Pentagon’s vision of security through dominance is defined as a threat to be “deterred,” often in the most “kinetic” way. And the greatest threat of all, requiring the most “deterrence,” is, of course, China.
In a textbook case of strategic mirror-imaging, the Pentagon’s NDS sees that country and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as acting almost exactly like the U.S. military. And that simply cannot be allowed.
Here’s the relevant NDS passage:
“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and information warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare. The PLA seeks to target the ability of the [U.S.] Joint Force to project power to defend vital U.S. interests and aid our Allies in a crisis or conflict. The PRC [China] is also expanding the PLA’s global footprint and working to establish a more robust overseas and basing infrastructure to allow it to project military power at greater distances. In parallel, the PRC is accelerating the modernization and expansion of its nuclear capabilities.”
How dare China become more like the United States! Only this country is allowed to aspire to “full-spectrum dominance” and global power, as manifested by its 750 military bases scattered around the world and its second-to-none, blue-water navy. Get back to thy place, China! Only “a free people devoted to democracy and the rule of law” can “sustain and strengthen an international system under threat.” China, you’ve been warned. Better not dare to keep pace with the U.S. of A. (And heaven forfend that, in a world overheating in a devastating way, the planet’s two greatestgreenhouse gas emitters should work together to prevent true catastrophe!)
Revisiting the Oath of Office
Being a retired U.S. military officer, I always come back to the oath of office I once swore to uphold: “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Naturally, if China, Russia, or any other country or entity attacks or otherwise directly menaces the U.S., I expect our military to defend this country with all due vigor.
That said, I don’t see China, Russia, or weaker countries like Iran or North Korea risking attacks against America proper, despite breathless talk of world “flashpoints.” Why would they, when any such attack would incur a devastating counterattack, possibly including America’s trusty “backstop,” its nuclear weapons?
In truth, the NDS is all about the further expansion of the U.S. global military mission. Contraction is a concept never to be heard. Yet reducing our military’s presence abroad isn’t synonymous with isolationism, nor, as has become ever more obvious in recent years, is an expansive military structure a fail-safe guarantor of freedom and democracy at home. Quite the opposite, constant warfare and preparations for more of it overseas have led not only to costly defeats, most recently in Afghanistan, but also to the increasing militarization of our society, a phenomenon reflected, for instance, in the more heavily armed and armored police forces across America.
The Pentagon’s NDS is a classic case of threat inflation cloaked in bureaucratese where the “facts” are fixed around a policy that encourages the incessant and inflationary growth of the military-industrial complex. In turn, that complex empowers and drives a “rules-based international order” in which America, as hegemon, makes the rules. Again, as Thucydides put it, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.
Yet, to paraphrase another old book, what does it profit a people to gain the whole world yet lose their very soul? Like Athens before it, America was once a flawed democracy that nevertheless served as an inspiration to many because militarism, authoritarianism, and imperial pretense didn’t drive it. Today, this country is much like Thucydides’s Athens, projecting power ever-outwards in a misbegotten exercise to attain mastery through military supremacy.
It didn’t end well for Athens, nor will it for the United States.
12 thoughts on “The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy”
Bill, I think it all over PRIDE & POWER, MONEY & THINGS
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Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay .
Based on the performance of the American military over the last 77+ years since the end of World War II, this nation’s National “Defense” Strategy consists of finding [or creating] “Threats” and “Enemies,” and then starting and having [as opposed to winning] Wars, keeping them going as long as possible, and then using the latest defeat in the last War as the basis for getting ready for the next War by increasing the National “Security” State budget, and giving it more control and authority over what Americans can know about all this Bullshit. And what they can do about it.
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An old friend, an AF captain, taught me: you wage war long, you wage it wrong.
But for the MIC, a long war is the right kind of war, especially for power and profit. It’s just wrong for the rest of us.
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Martin J. Sherwin Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (Vintage Paperback Edition 2022).
The development and the deployment of nuclear weapons are usually based on the assumption that they enhance national security. But, in fact, as this powerful study of nuclear policy convincingly demonstrates, nuclear weapons move nations toward the brink of destruction.
The basis for this conclusion is the post-World War II nuclear arms race and, especially, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. At the height of the crisis, top officials from the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union narrowly avoided annihilating a substantial portion of the human race by what former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, an important participant in the events, called “plain dumb luck.”
‘What Price “Defense”?’
America’s Costly, Dysfunctional Approach to Security Is Making Us Ever Less Safe
Late last month, President Biden signed a bill that clears the way for $858 billion in Pentagon spending and nuclear weapons work at the Department of Energy in 2023. That’s far more than Washington anted up for military purposes at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars or even during the peak years of the Cold War. In fact, the $80 billion increase from the 2022 Pentagon budget is in itself more than the military budgets of any country other than China. Meanwhile, a full accounting of all spending justified in the name of national security, including for homeland security, veterans’ care, and more, will certainly exceed $1.4 trillion. And mind you, those figures don’t even include the more than $50 billion in military aid Washington has already dispatched to Ukraine, as well as to frontline NATO allies, in response to the Russian invasion of that country.
The assumption is that when it comes to spending on the military and related activities, more is always better.
There’s certainly no question that one group will benefit in a major way from the new spending surge: the weapons industry. If recent experience is any guide, more than half of that $858 billion will likely go to private firms. The top five contractors alone — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman — will split between $150 billion and $200 billion in Pentagon contracts. Meanwhile, they’ll pay their CEOs, on average, more than $20 million a year and engage in billions of dollars in stock buybacks designed to boost their share prices.
Such “investments” are perfectly designed to line the pockets of arms-industry executives and their shareholders. However, they do little or nothing to help defend this country or its allies……………………………
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The Washington Post reports TODAY An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky resigned after suggesting that Ukrainian air defense systems may have been responsible for the deadly damage in Dnipro to an apartment building, which was devastated Saturday as Russian missiles rained down across Ukraine.
The adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, later distanced himself from the suggestion, but it was used by the Kremlin to cast doubt on who was to blame. Arestovych apologized on Ukrainian television and said in a letter announcing his resignation that he had made a “fundamental error.”
Did the Ukrainian NAZI Azov People force him to recant? We don’t know as the US/NATO MSM, propagandists for the US War never question anything Ukraine/Pentagon says, publishing everything without proof..
The Pentagon and the US ARMS Industries, who reaped $2,000,000,000 TAXPAYER DOLLARS in the 20 year WAR waged by the US with the most expensive Military Force in the History of Nations, against one of the poorest Countries on Earth claiming to be winning, like they are in Ukraine, until the Truth could no longer be hidden. Americans saw nothing wrong with that picture until the lie was exposed.
Ukraine missiles aimed at the East to hit incoming Russian missiles, accidentally made a 180 degree turnaround hitting Poland.
Russia did it, Zelensky shouted as he desperately tried to have US dominated NATO face Russia directly in the WAR, instead of using Ukrainians as the sacrificial lambs & cannon fodder in this US PROXY WAR with Russia, pretending it’s only between Ukraine and Russia. Americans have been brainwashed not to see the Reality as it is.
If there is no Truce to begin GOOD FAITH negotiations without the absurd unattainable preconditions the US/NATO/Ukraine demands, that demand will lead to only one one END, a Nuclear END, never possible before OUR GENERATIONS.
I watched President Biden say many times yesterday marking MLK DAY, SILENCE IS CONSENT. This Blog records me saying that in many articles.
“Friendly fire’ in the Fog of WAR in not new. More and more US/NATO WAR reporting tells us the Ukrainians are not well trained in using the US/NATO WAR equipment, and it is entirely possible it was Ukraine who accidentally or deliberately did it, like they fired a missile into Poland, to demonize Russia and provoke WWIII/Armageddon.
Will the CONSENT of SILENCE ensure this World continues on the Path to Nuclear Holocaust, version II?
In addition to listening to and reading Dr Martin Luther King’s speech on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York, “Beyond Vietnam ~ A Time to Break Silence,” three additional ways for every American old enough to think for her or himself to honor Dr King this week after the federal holiday are to:
~ 1. Read this review of William Pepper’s THE PLOT TO KILL KING by Edward Curtin, “ORDERS TO KILL” DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: THE GOVERNMENT THAT HONORS MLK WITH A NATIONAL HOLIDAY KILLED HIM
Very few Americans are aware of the truth behind the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Few books have been written about it, unlike other significant assassinations, especially JFK’s. For almost fifty years there has been a media blackout supported by government deception to hide the truth.
And few people, in a massive act of self-deception, have chosen to question the absurd official explanation, choosing, rather, to embrace a mythic fabrication intended to sugarcoat the bitter fruit that has resulted from the murder of the one man capable of leading a mass movement for revolutionary change in the United States. Today we are eating the fruit of our denial.
In order to comprehend the significance of this extraordinary book, it is first necessary to dispel a widely accepted falsehood about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. William Pepper does that on the first page:
“To understand his death, it is essential to realize that although he is popularly depicted and perceived as a civil rights leader, he was much more than that. A non-violent revolutionary, he personified the most powerful force for the long-overdue social, political, and economic reconstruction of the nation.”
In other words, Martin Luther King was a transmitter of a non-violent spiritual and political energy so plenipotent that HIS VERY EXISTENCE WAS A THREAT TO AN ESTABLISHED ORDER BASED ON VIOLENCE, RACISM, AND ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION. HE WAS A VERY DANGEROUS MAN.
Continued at https://www.globalresearch.ca/orders-to-kill-martin-luther-king-the-government-that-honors-mlk-with-a-national-holiday-killed-him/5559300 [EMPHASIS added.]
[Note: The audio of King’s speech is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQr_e_P-nBA ; and the transcript is at https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm .]
~ 2. Watch the official trailer for “MLK/FBI” ~ a documentary released this month that examines, details, and exposes J Edgar Hoover’s personal and professional war thru his FBI against Dr King at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvfxzht9KUA&t=157s
And read Robert Sheer’s interview with the film’s Director, Sam Pollard, in THE FBI’S CRUSADE AGAINST MLK WAS DARKER THAN YOU THINK:
“You are done. There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
That’s the shocking ending to the infamous letter Civil Rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received in 1964 essentially urging him to commit suicide. The letter and accompanying package containing blackmail were sent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as King quickly caught on. While the full, unredacted letter was finally published by the New York Times in 2014, THE AUDIO RECORDINGS OF AN EXTENSIVE FBI WIRETAPPING OPERATION TARGETING KING HAVE BEEN SEALED UNTIL 2027. With just a few years left before they come to light, director Sam Pollard did a deep dive into the FBI’s surveillance of MLK under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover in his documentary “MLK / FBI,” released by IFC Films earlier this month.
Continued at https://scheerpost.com/2023/01/15/rewind-sam-pollard-the-fbis-crusade-against-mlk-was-darker-than-you-think/ [EMPHASIS added.]
~ 3. Read and reflect upon THE LIBERAL CONTEMPT FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING’S FINAL YEAR by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon [originally published on April 4, 2021]
The MLK tributes are sure to pour on the anniversary of the civil rights hero’s death, but don’t expect them to acknowledge his anti-militarist ideals.
The anniversary of his assassination always brings a flood of tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., and this Sunday will surely be no exception. But those tributes — including from countless organizations calling themselves progressive — are routinely evasive about the anti-militarist ideals that King passionately expressed during the final year of his life.
You could call it evasion by omission.
The standard liberal canon waxes fondly nostalgic about King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963 and his efforts against racial segregation. But in memory lane, the Dr. King who lived his last year is persona non grata.
The pattern is positively Orwellian. King explicitly condemned what he called “the madness of militarism.” And by any reasonable standard, that madness can be diagnosed as pervading U.S. foreign policy in 2021. But TODAY, ALMOST ALL POLITICIANS AND MAINSTREAM MEDIA COMMENTATORS ACT AS THOUGH KING NEVER SAID SUCH THINGS, OR IF HE DID THEN THOSE OBSERVATIONS HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH TODAY.
BUT THEY HAVE EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE USA NOW IN ITS TWENTIETH YEAR OF CONTINUOUS WARFARE. THE PENTAGON’S CONSTANT BOMBING IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND ELSEWHERE IS THE SCARCELY NOTICED WALLPAPER IN THE U.S. MEDIA’S ECHO CHAMBER.
What compounds the madness of militarism in the present day is the silence that stretches eerily and lethally across almost the entire U.S. political spectrum, including the bulk of progressive organizations doing excellent work to challenge economic injustice and institutionalized racism here at home.
But AS FOR THE INSTITUTIONALIZED MILITARISM THAT TERRORIZES, WOUNDS AND KILLS PEOPLE OVERSEAS — OVERWHELMINGLY PEOPLE OF COLOR — A SAD TRUTH IS THAT MOST PROGRESSIVE U.S. ORGANIZATIONS HAVE LITTLE TO SAY ABOUT IT. At the same time, they eagerly and selectively laud King as a visionary and role model.
King didn’t simply oppose the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967 speech at New York’s Riverside Church delivered exactly a year before he was assassinated — titled “Beyond Vietnam” — he REFERRED TO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT AS “THE GREATEST PURVEYOR OF VIOLENCE IN THE WORLD TODAY” AND BROADLY DENOUNCED THE RACIST AND IMPERIAL UNDERPINNINGS OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY. From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, our country was on the “wrong side of a world revolution” — suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Global South, instead of supporting them.
Mainstream media today pretend that King’s anti-militarism pronouncements were never uttered, but that was not the case in 1967. Condemnation was swift, emphatic and widespread. Life magazine denounced the “Beyond Vietnam” speech as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The New York Times and Washington Post both published harsh and patronizing editorials…
Cohen and Solomon conclude: “It challenges the imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing,” Dr. King said as the Vietnam War raged. The massive U.S. military budget still functions the way King described it — “some demonic, destructive suction tube.” Yet the silences across so much of the U.S. political spectrum, including the liberal establishment and a great many progressive groups, persist in contempt of what Martin Luther King stood for during the final year of his life.
Full article at https://scheerpost.com/2023/01/15/the-liberal-contempt-for-martin-luther-kings-final-year/ [EMPHASES added.]
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div dir=”ltr”>Bill – Two things I’d like to point to: The first is your excellent list of criteria to follow
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