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Should Michèle Flournoy Be Defense Secretary?

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A leading contender to be nominated by Joe Biden for Defense Secretary, Michèle Flournoy is facing opposition for her hawkish record and financial entanglements with the weapons industry.

MARCY WINOGRAD, winogradteach@gmail.com@marcywinograd
As a Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Winograd wrote “Open Letter to Biden: Hire New Foreign Policy Advisors,” which was signed by more than 450 delegates.

Winograd said this week: “Progressives may be tempted to trade truth for access to the powerful and privileged, thinking they can influence the course of events if they bite their tongue when Flournoy talks of fighting and prevailing in a war with China. But this sort of thinking is misguided. The power progressives hold must be wielded now before it’s too late, before Flournoy is crowned and the U.S. slips further into decline, mired in a high-stakes high-tech arms race — or worse, another endless war, this one with a nuclear-armed nation of over 1.3 billion people.”

The quote from Winograd appeared in the article “Some Liberals and Arms-Control Experts Are Cheering for War Profiteers to Be in Biden’s Cabinet,” written by Institute for Public Accuracy executive director Norman Solomon.

On Monday, five progressive organizations — CodePink, Our Revolution, Progressive Democrats of America, RootsAction.org and World Beyond War — released a statement opposing Flournoy as Defense Secretary. “The people of the United States need a Secretary of Defense who is untethered to the weapons industry and committed to ending the arms race,” the statement said. “Michèle Flournoy should not be put in charge of the Pentagon, and neither should anyone else failing to meet those qualifications. We are opposed to her being nominated, and we are prepared to launch a major nationwide grassroots campaign so that every senator will hear from large numbers of constituents demanding that she not be confirmed.”

Two weeks ago, the Project On Government Oversight issued an in-depth report, “Should Michèle Flournoy Be Secretary of Defense?

Biden’s OMB Nominee: Firestorm of Criticism 

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Joe Biden has just nominated Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, as his director of the Office of Management and Budget. This has produced a range of criticism online. See Twitter thread by Kevin Gosztola about issues such as her opposition to Medicare for All. Walker Bragman just wrote the piece “Biden Picks Budget Director Who Pushed Social Security Cuts.”

Early this year, Alex Burns of the New York Times wrote: “In 2015, Center for American Progress researchers wrote a report on U.S. Islamophobia, [with a] 4300-word chapter on the Bloomberg-era NYPD. When the report was published, the chapter was gone. By then, Bloomberg had given CAP ~$1.5mm. That number has grown.”

YASMINE TAEB, ytaeb@internationalpolicy.org@YasmineTaeb
Taeb is now senior fellow on Congress and foreign policy at the Center for International Policy. She was one of the researchers of the censored report while working at CAP. See her appearance on “Democracy Now!” earlier this year: “How Bloomberg-Funded Center for American Progress Censored a Report on NYPD Surveillance of Muslims.” Also see CommonDreams report: “‘Grotesque Corruption’: Emily’s List, Center for American Progress Sold Out to Michael Bloomberg.”

ZAID JILANI, areo64@gmail.com
Jilani also worked for CAP and wrote about some of his experiences there in the piece “Bernie Sanders v the Democratic establishment: what the battle is really about” for The Guardian.

As news of Tanden’s nomination spread, Joe Biden tweeted “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, and listen to each other again.” The New York Times in “The Rematch: Bernie Sanders vs. a Clinton Loyalist” describes how Tanden punched (according to a witness) or shoved (according to her) a staffer for asking Hillary Clinton about the Iraq invasion.

Glenn Greenwald just wrote the piece “Biden Appointee Neera Tanden Spread the Conspiracy That Russian Hackers Changed Hillary’s 2016 Votes to Trump.” In 2015, Greenwald wrote about CAP: “Leaked Emails From Pro-Clinton Group Reveal Censorship of Staff on Israel, AIPAC Pandering, Warped Militarism,” which revealed that  following the Libya intervention Tanden argued that “having oil rich countries partly pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me.” That is, as Greenwald wrote: “Libyans should be forced to turn over large portions of their oil revenues to repay the U.S. for the costs incurred in bombing Libya, on the grounds that Americans will support future wars only if they see that the countries attacked by the U.S. pay for the invasions.”

Biden Foreign Policy: Corporate, Pro-War, Secretive

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DANNY SJURSEN, dannysjursen@hotmail.com@SkepticalVet

Retired U.S. Army major, contributing editor at antiwar.com, and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, Sjursen recently wrote the piece “What President Biden Won’t Touch: Foreign Policy, Sacred Cows, and the U.S. Military” which notes:

• Jake Sullivan, expected to be National Security Advisor, is with “the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (‘peace,’ in this case, being funded by ten military agencies and [weapons] contractors) and Macro Advisory Partners, a strategic consultancy run by former British spy chiefs.”

• “Avril Haines, a top contender for CIA director or director of national intelligence: CNAS [Center for a New American Security and] the Brookings Institution; WestExec [see below]; and Palantir Technologies, a controversial, CIA-seeded, NSA-linked data-mining firm.”

MARIAMNE EVERETT, [in France], mariamne.everett@mycit.ie@EverettMariamne
Everett recently wrote the piece “Biden: A War Cabinet?” She is an intern at the Institute for Public Accuracy and radio presenter with World Radio Paris where she hosts the podcast “Hidden Paris.”

She wrote earlier this month: “It is extremely important to note that Flournoy and Blinken co-founded the strategic consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, where the two use their large database of governmental, military, venture capitalist and corporate leader contacts to help companies win big Pentagon contracts. One such client is Jigsaw, a technology incubator created by Google that describes itself on its website as ‘a unit within Google that forecasts and confronts emerging threats, creating future-defining research and technology to keep our world safer.’ Their partnership on the AI initiative entitled Project Maven led to a rebellion by Google workers who opposed their technology being used by military and police operations.

“Furthermore, Flournoy and Blinken, in their jobs at WestExec Advisors, co-chaired the biannual meeting of the liberal organization Foreign Policy for America. Over 50 representatives of national-security groups were in attendance. Most of the attendees supported ‘ask(ing) Congress to halt U.S. military involvement in the (Yemen) conflict.’ Flournoy did not. She said that the weapons should be sold under certain conditions and that Saudi Arabia needed these advanced Patriot missiles to defend itself.” See latest Politico piece on WestExec: “The secretive consulting firm that’s become Biden’s Cabinet in waiting.”

STEPHEN ZUNES, zunes@usfca.edu
Zunes is professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and was just on an accuracy.org news release: “Tony Blinken: Iraq War Propagandist?” He said today: “As an effort to undermine anti-war Democrats and promote Bush’s plans to invade Iraq, Flournoy claimed that the U.S. needed to ‘strike preemptively before a crisis erupts to destroy an adversary’s weapons stockpile’ before it “could erect defenses to protect those weapons, or simply disperse them.” That Iraq had long since rid itself of such weapons was no matter to her. The oil would still be there. Iraq’s strategic position at the head of the Persian Gulf bordering other oil-rich nations — Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia — was still there.”

KEVIN GOSZTOLA, kevin@shadowproof.com@kgosztola
Managing editor of Shadowproof, Gosztola recently wrote the piece “Biden’s transition team is filled with war profiteers, Beltway chickenhawks, and corporate consultants” for The Grayzone. See his latest Twitter thread on the most recent appointments.

Korea specialist Tim Shorrock tweeted: “Tony Blinken in 2018 sounding more hawkish on North Korea than John Bolton and, like Bolton, completely dissing South Korean President Moon Jae-in as a dupe of Kim Jong Un. These are the kinds of comments feared by Moon’s people and Korean progressives.”

Blinken: AIPAC is Pleased

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Several media outlets are reporting that Joe Biden will announce Tuesday that Tony Blinken is his nominee for Secretary of State.

ZAREFAH BAROUD, zarefahbaroud@gmail.com@ZarefahBaroud
Baroud is with American Muslims for Palestine. She recently wrote the piece “The Leahy Laws: Why Biden’s Promise to Israel is Illegal,” which states: “Biden and [Kamala] Harris are pledging to break U.S. law for Israel. … Essentially, the [Leahy laws state] that foreign military assistance must be suspended or discontinued if there exists credible information that the recipient foreign security force unit has committed a gross human rights violation. … According to Tony Blinken, Joe Biden’s senior advisor, ‘He [Biden] would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Period. Full stop. He said it; he’s committed to it.'”

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, richards1052@gmail.com@richards1052
Silverstein at Tikun Olam just wrote the piece: “Biden Names Blinken Secretary of State, Israel Lobby Pleased,” which notes: “During the campaign, Blinken’s most notable comments were made in a conference call to pro-Israel leaders hosted by the Democratic Majority for Israel. DMI is a hawkish group which is the Democratic Party version of AIPAC. Though the latter claims it is bipartisan, it’s common knowledge that the vast majority of its membership, donors and leaders are Republican. Thus, DMI was manufactured to ensure that Democrats would not stray too far from the pro-Israel party line. The group has regularly acted as an enforcer within the party when candidates espouse positions considered anti-Israel.

“Among those who’ve been taken to the woodshed are Bernie Sanders, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The group sunk over $1 million in ads in the Iowa primary attacking Bernie Sanders … the ads didn’t mention Sanders’ views on Israel.”

Tony Blinken: Iraq War Propagandist?

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Bloomberg reports Tony Blinken will be Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State.

SAM HUSSEINI, samhusseini@gmail.com@samhusseini
Senior analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy, Husseini said today: “During the runup to the invasion of Iraq, Biden — with Blinken’s critical help — oversaw hearings many criticized for effectively propagandizing on behalf of the planned invasion. In 2007, I questioned Biden about his record and he responded that he ‘did ask the necessary questions’ and cut off further questioning. Blinken then effectively ran interference and claimed that ‘every hard question was answered.’ Blinken also claimed without evidence: ‘He [presumably Biden] said there was no yellowcake. … He said there was no aluminum tubes.'” Earlier this year, Husseini wrote the piece “Joe Biden won’t tell the truth about his Iraq war record — and he hasn’t for years” for Salon. He is currently writing a piece about Blinken.

STEPHEN ZUNES, zunes@usfca.edu
Zunes is professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and wrote a piece on Biden’s Iraq record for The ProgressiveHe said today: “Tony Blinken served as Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Chairman Biden during the critical months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Under their leadership, the Committee limited hearings to only a day and a half and stacked the witness list with war supporters, refusing to call leading Mideast scholars and former UN inspectors who would have testified that Iraq had already disarmed and that an invasion would have disastrous consequences. This refusal to listen to experts or allow for the airing of diverse opinions, and the willingness to push for an illegal, unnecessary, and predictably disastrous war is not the kind of leadership we need at the Department of State.” Zunes was featured in the mini-doc “Worth the Price? Joe Biden and the Launch of the Iraq War.”

MARIAMNE EVERETT, [in France], mariamne.everett@mycit.ie@EverettMariamne
Everett recently wrote the piece “Biden: A War Cabinet?” She is an intern at the Institute for Public Accuracy and radio presenter with World Radio Paris where she hosts the podcast “Hidden Paris.” Her piece includes quotes from Blinken, noting he has “had immense influence over Biden in his role as Deputy National Security Advisor, helping formulate Biden’s approach and support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blinken seems to be of the view that it is up to the U.S., and only the U.S., to take charge of world affairs.”

Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health

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CHUCK COLLINS, via Olivia Alperstein, olivia@ips-dc.org, @inequalityorg; or Sara Myklebust as liaison to connect workers for interviews, Sara.Myklebust@georgetown.edu

Collins is director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the new report “Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health.”

It finds that essential workers continue to suffer as U.S. billionaires gain almost $1 trillion during the pandemic, stating that “A handful of billionaires and corporations have seen their wealth surge to record levels, in part as a result of their monopoly status and opportunism during the pandemic.

“For example, Walmart, Target, and Amazon benefited from their monopoly positions in the economy, with these three retailers considered ‘essential’ while their retail competitors were shut down. But the success of these businesses hasn’t translated into better pay or safer working conditions for the employees showing up to work in a pandemic.

“Meanwhile, private equity firms have bought up essential businesses in the health care, grocery, and pet care industries, only to aggressively cut costs, skimp on worker safety, and load companies up with debt to boost their own profits.

“Hundreds of thousands of essential workers employed by these companies have remained vulnerable and exposed. These frontline workers risk their lives every day to do the work that increases already obscene corporate wealth.”

This report focuses on a list of 12 emblematic bad actors. Here are the first six:

1. Walmart: Three owners of Walmart — Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton — have seen their combined personal wealth increase over $48 billion. In 2018, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillion made 1,118 times the pay of Walmart’s median worker. Yet Walmart refuses to provide hazard pay to its workers.

2. Amazon: The wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has increased by 62 percent since mid-March, totaling $188.3 billion as of November 17. Bezos is now the richest person on earth. Meanwhile an estimated 20,000 Amazon workers have been infected with COVID-19.

3. Instacart: CEO and founder Apoorva Mehta became an instant billionaire in June 2020. Yet Instacart has over-hired 300,000 new workers and failed to provide sufficient protections.

4. Tyson Foods: John H. Tyson, the billionaire owner of Tyson Foods, has seen his personal wealth increase over $600 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile an estimated 11,000 Tyson workers have been infected with COVID-19. [See: “Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19.”]

5. Target: Target CEO Brian Cornell is paid 821 times the median worker at Target. The company has enjoyed a protected status as its competition was shut down during the pandemic as “nonessential.” The company enacted an already promised $2 increase in its starting wage, but also cut the pay of its Target-owned Shipt delivery workers.

6. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (BlackRock Investment): Dollar Tree CEO Gary Philbin is paid 690 times his median paid worker. Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos is paid 824 times his median paid worker. The companies have profited tremendously during the pandemic, but understaffed stores and skimpy security pose some of the many risks to workers — including an increase in assaults when Dollar Store workers were attacked for asking customers to wear masks. The investment fund giant BlackRock has a large ownership stake in both companies.”

 

IPS published additional recommendations to reduce extreme wealth and power in its April report, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes and Pandemic Profiteers.”

Biden Can Have a Progressive Cabinet

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MAX MORAN,  moran@cepr.net
MIRANDA LITWAK, litwak@therevolvingdoorproject.org@revolvingdoorDC
Moran and Litwak are researchers at the Revolving Door Project. They just wrote the piece “Biden’s cabinet could do a lot – if he resists the urge to fill it with ‘consensus’ picks” for The Guardian.

They write that “by a staggering 2 to 1 margin, voters of all stripes — including Republicans — say that Biden should not hire big business executives to run his government.”

They note that Biden has a series of options so that he doesn’t have to appease [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, such as using the Vacancies Act, “which lets the president temporarily make a senior staffer at a given agency the secretary, or bring a different Senate-confirmed individual (like the many Democratic commissioners at independent agencies like the Federal Trade Commission) into the cabinet job temporarily. He can also make appointments while the Senate is in recess, as presidents of both parties do all the time. Biden could even force the Senate into recess by playing a bit of constitutional hardball – the kind of hardball McConnell plays constantly.

“Biden’s treasury department can implement financial regulations to impede investments in the fossil fuel industry and reallocate funds to tackle Covid-19 and provide support to the most harmed Americans. Biden’s justice department can prosecute Big Oil companies or seek breakups of corporate monopolies. Biden’s labor department can enforce OSHA rules and crack down on wage theft like never before, making sure people’s hard-earned wages actually make it into their pockets. His IRS can focus on ensuring the rich pay their fair share, instead of auditing poor Americans making mistakes on their taxes. He can even, with one directive to his acting education secretary, cancel 95 percent of student loan debt. There are at least 277 actions broadly popular within both wings of the Democratic party which Biden could take on day one of his administration. And he needn’t even walk near a McConnell-controlled Senate to do them.

“Yet all of these actions depend on Biden appointing committed soldiers for the public good — not corporate allies. A treasury secretary Gina Raimondo would prioritize slashing aid to struggling cities in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, as she has in her home state. If ex-Googlers like Roger Ferguson or Eric Schmidt pepper the executive branch, it will undercut the authority of the most important antitrust suit in a generation. Appointing Seth Harris to labor secretary will give the intellectual architect of California’s Prop 22 an insider’s angle to spread pain for gig-economy workers.

“Stopping these people must be a priority for the Democratic base. Activists can and should make clear to Biden that their repayment for hard work should be a highly-motivated and public interest-minded executive branch.”

Biden: More Humane Cages for Immigrants?

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ADRIENNE PINE, pine@american.edu@adriennepine
Pine is associate professor of anthropology at American University and co-editor of the just-published book Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry.

She just wrote the piece “More Humane Cages? Prospects for Immigration Justice Under Biden Appear Dim,” which scrutinizes new Biden appointees including “Obama’s former top immigration adviser Cecilia Muñoz to [Biden’s] transition team, who brushed off NPR interviewer Maria Hinojosa’s question about family separation, responding that ‘Some of these things are going to happen.’

“While much has been made of the gendered diversity of Biden’s transition team (including Muñoz) and potential cabinet picks, it will be little comfort to the women of Central America, or any other region subject to U.S. interference, to know that the new U.S. #GirlBosses may include Susan Rice as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as UN ambassador, or Michele Flournoy as Secretary of Defense. [See “Biden: A War Cabinet?“]

“Many of Biden’s DHS transition team selections show his platform will differ (if at all) only in form, not in substance, from that of Trump. None of his team members hail from the ranks of BIPOC [black, Indigenous and people of color] organizers who delivered him his victories in key states like Arizona, and for whom immigration is a major issue. …

“Biden’s DHS transition team members range from billionaire-funded think tank pundits to corporate lawyers, with a smattering of left-liberal ACLU types, none of whom fundamentally question the overarching logic of border security. Take Blas Nuñez-Neto, for example, DHS transition team member and RAND analyst who accuses migrants of ‘taking advantage of incentives created by the U.S. asylum process’ and has advocated that asylum seekers be made to seek asylum from U.S. embassies while still living in their countries (a non-starter for people fleeing deadly violence) and building more private prisons to detain entire families indefinitely, as humane alternatives to family separation.”

Biden Transition: War Profiteers, Beltway Chickenhawks and Corporate Consultants

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KEVIN GOSZTOLA, kevin@shadowproof.com@kgosztola
Managing editor of Shadowproof, Gosztola just wrote the piece “Biden’s transition team is filled with war profiteers, Beltway chickenhawks, and corporate consultants” for The Grayzone.

Writes Gosztola: “An eye-popping array of corporate consultants, war profiteers, and national security hawks have been appointed by President-elect Joe Biden to agency review teams that will set the agenda for his administration. …

“A prime example of the interventionist-minded establishment-oriented figures filling the Biden-Harris Defense Department agency team is Lisa Sawyer. She served as director for NATO and European strategic affairs for the National Security Council from 2014 to 2015, and worked for Wall Street’s JPMorgan Chase as a foreign policy adviser. Sawyer was part of the Center for a New American Security’s ‘Task Force on the Future of U.S. Coercive Economic Statecraft,’ which essentially means she participated in meetings that focused on methods of economic warfare that could be used to destabilize countries that refused to bow to American empire. …

“Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada noted that Farooq Mitha, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, has been appointed to Biden’s Pentagon transition team. Mitha was a board member of Emgage, a Muslim American PAC which has fostered ties to the Israel lobby, provoking angry condemnation from Palestine solidarity advocates. Mitha has reportedly attended AIPAC conferences. …

“Kelly Magsamen, the vice president of national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress and a former Pentagon and State Department official, is on the Biden-Harris NSC team. When Representative Ilhan Omar grilled Elliott Abrams, the special envoy to Venezuela, Magsamen rushed to the defense of her former boss, calling Abrams a ‘fierce advocate for human rights.’ (Abrams supported death squads in Central America in the 1980s.) …

“The Biden-Harris intelligence team features Greg Vogle, the former CIA head of station in Afghanistan and a former partner at the McChrystal Group consulting firm founded by former commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Stanley McChrystal. Both JSOC and the CIA, as well as the paramilitary forces they trained, have committed war crimes in Afghanistan. …

“Matt Olsen, the former National Counterterrorism Center director for Obama and briefly, the general counsel for the National Security Agency … is a defender of backdoor searches of Americans’ internet communications, having argued that the Fourth Amendment right to privacy is too cumbersome for the FBI to follow. He spent the months after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed mass surveillance programs working to discredit Snowden by accusing the whistleblower of aiding terrorists. …

“Half dozen or so of the appointees have links to Big Tech companies. Perhaps the most significant figure is Seth Harris, a lobbyist and former Obama Labor Department official who wrote a policy paper for the neoliberal Hamilton Project.

“This paper provided the framework for the passage of Proposition 22 in California. Uber, Doordash, and Lyft spent around $200 million to campaign for the passage of this bill, which exempted them and other corporations from paying their employees benefits and blocked Uber and Lyft drivers from organizing a union. … And like the interventionists that dominate the foreign policy review teams, Moran embodies Biden’s pledge to big money donors: ‘Nothing will fundamentally change.'”

“When Centrists Lose, Corporate Media Blame the Left”

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JULIE HOLLAR, jhollar@fair.org@FAIRmediawatch

Senior analyst for FAIR’s Election Focus 2020 project, Hollar is available for a limited number of interviews and just wrote the piece “When Centrists Lose, Corporate Media Blame the Left.” It analyzes several major media articles and notes: “Though all of these pieces offered plenty of suggestions that the left wing’s vocal support for things like socialism, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and defunding the police cost the party seats in 2020, they failed to provide any actual data that might have helped readers evaluate the veracity of those statements.

“It’s an important point, because understanding Democrats’ lackluster performance should help guide their platform and messaging moving forward. But these articles aren’t shedding light on the data — perhaps because it would thoroughly undermine the anti-progressive framing.

“As the New York Times’ Jim Tankersley (10/14/20) reported just last month in an unusually frank assessment of the popularity of left-wing ideas, the right’s wall-to-wall attempts to bring down Democrats with the ‘socialist’ label haven’t been very effective, despite  [CNN’s Chris] Cillizza’s suggestion to the contrary. That’s in part because Biden and other centrists deny them so forcefully, but in part because ‘many of the plans favored by the most liberal wing of Democratic leaders remain popular with wide groups of voters, polling shows.’ Tankersley pointed to a recent Times poll that found 2 in 3 respondents support a wealth tax, 3 in 5 favor Medicare for All (including 2 of 3 independent voters), and even higher numbers support free college tuition.”

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