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Right-Wingers Using Public Employees as 21st-Century Welfare Queens

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  • Right-Wingers Using Public Employees as 21st-Century Welfare Queens

    http://www.alternet.org/story/148633...elfare_queens_

    Right-Wingers Using Public Employees as 21st-Century Welfare Queens
    The image of the overpaid public sector worker with fat retirement benefits offers a compelling storyline for the Right. But it's a complete fabrication.
    October 26, 2010 |




    The nation’s public employees educate our kids, fight our fires, make sure our food isn’t tainted with toxic crap, provide services to the neediest and perform a thousand other vital tasks the private sector has no incentive to do. They earn less, on average, than their private-sector counterparts with similar qualifications. None become billionaires.

    But the government doesn’t engage in the kind of ruthless and relentless union-busting that corporate America has employed to make it virtually impossible for private sector workers to organize. That explains, in part, why public workers toil in the last sector of the U.S. economy where employees enjoy some job security, decent health care and the prospect of a dignified retirement.

    Now, the corporate Right has public sector workers in its cross-hairs. A viral email making the rounds in Tea Party circles sums up the charge, describing a dark conspiracy among “stinking, filthy libs” to use masses of sallow government bureaucrats to undermine America’s “capitalistic, independent, rugged individualists and entrepreneurs”:

    [Government workers] are supported 100% by the American taxpayers employed in the private profit producing sector [sic]. None of the gov. offices produce one red cent in profit--they are all parasites. Every 100 gainfully employed American tax payers supports 6.5 gov. employees 100% [sic].

    Jonathan Cohn, writing in the New Republic, calls public employees, “the new welfare queens,” an easy target for the Right’s politics of resentment. And the comparison is apt. Just as there were no doubt a few welfare recipients gaming the system and living the high-life, a very small number of public sector employees -- mostly the cops and firefighters to whom politicos don’t dare say no -- have won lavish retirement packages. That small group of rather specialized workers is being held up as an example of both the perfidy of “big government” and the unbridled greed of public-sector unions.

    It’s a classic example of analysis-by-anecdote. The Sacramento Bee publishes a list of the highest paid state workers in California. It’s a source of great outrage, with some state Highway Patrol commanders making over a quarter million dollars per year, and it feeds into the simple-to-digest narrative that public employees in the Golden State are ridiculously overcompensated. But those senior Highway Patrol officers aren’t typical, and the narrative isn’t true; a recent study by the University of California’s Center on Wage and Employment dynamics found that California’s state workers make 7 percent less in wages than similar workers in the private sector, but their benefits are a bit better (PDF). The researchers concluded there is "no significant difference" between the two groups when both wages and benefits are factored in.

    Economist Dean Baker notes that the average pension for a public employee was $22,000 a year in 2007, and adds that because many aren’t eligible for Social Security, those pensions (and whatever employees may have socked away over the course of their careers) are the only thing standing between them and the breadline. According to Baker, “the idea that we have a whole class of public employees enjoying plush retirements is nonsense that can be readily dismissed with a quick look at the data.” He dismisses the Right’s latest attack as nothing more than “a sleazy case of scapegoating that is intended to divert people's attention from the real villains in this economy.”

    Here’s the kernel of truth on which that “sleazy case of scapegoating” is built: Federal employees make, on average, 20 percent more in wages than their private sector counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economist John Schmitt also found that state and local employees earn about 13 percent more. Both enjoy greater average retirement and health benefits than private sector workers.

    ut this is a comparison of apples and oranges. Public sector workers have, on average, more experience and higher levels of education than their counterparts in the private sector (they are twice as likely to have a college degree). Schmitt found that when one controls for those factors -- comparing apples to apples -- state and local employees earn almost 4 percent less than their brethren in corporate America. (Even accounting for their greater benefits, state and local employees still make less in total compensation than they would doing the same work in the private sector.) And according to National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley, federal employees take home 26 percent less than those doing comparable work in private companies.

    But that tells only part of the story. For federal workers, the (unadjusted) pay gap is growing. According to USA Today, they “have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade.”

    What they don’t tell you is the primary reason for the growing disparity: a much higher rate of union membership. Last year, more working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners. 37 percent of government workers belong to a union, compared with just 7 percent of private-sector employees.

    Whether in the public or private sector, union workers earn, on average, 20 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts. They also have richer retirement and health benefits -- the “union compensation premium” rises to almost 30 percent when you include those bennies.

    More workers bargaining collectively leads to a flatter pay scale. In the federal government, the top earners make about 10 times what the lowest paid workers get. In 1980, at the dawn of the Reagan era, when twice as many Americans belonged to a union as do today, the ratio of top- to bottom-earners in Fortune 500 companies stood at 41 to 1. By 2007, at the height of the new Gilded Age, it had risen to an obscene level, with Fortune 500 companies’ biggest earners making, on average, 411 times what their lowest paid employees were taking home.

    Again, that’s true of any group of workers with a higher unionization rate. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- the "rich countries' club" -- shows that "countries with high levels of union density or collective bargaining coverage are much more equal than countries with low union density.”

    The OECD finds that gaps between higher-paid and lower-paid workers are lowest where union density is high, and bargaining is either centralized or closely coordinated. For example, the top 10% of male full-time workers earn at least 4.6 times as much as the bottom 10% in the U.S., compared to 3.7 times as much in Canada, 2.9 times as much in Germany, and just 2.3 times as much in Sweden. High union density also narrows pay gaps between women and men, and between younger and older workers. By narrowing pay gaps, unions counter poverty and make family incomes much more equal than would otherwise be the case.

    According to economist Lawrence Mishel, “traditionally, the public sector has less gender and race discrimination than the private sector.” Mishel added that comparisons of the public and private workforces that control for race and gender differences “are essentially blessing whatever discrimination there is in the private sector and assuming the public sector should match that."

    So the real “problem” with public sector employees, according to conservative economic beliefs, is that they can't be fired at will, they bargain collectively, and they have decent benefits and a more equitable distribution of income between the top earners and those toiling at the bottom. They also have smaller pay gaps between men and women and white workers and people of color and haven’t lost the guaranteed pensions that all but a handful of workers in the private sector have seen vanish over the past 30 years.

    The Right has made great political progress getting Americans to ask the question: "How come that guy’s getting what I don’t have?" It’s the crux of the politics of grievance. Progressives need to get Americans to ask a different question: "What’s keeping me from getting what that guy has?" At least part of the answer is the Right’s decades-long assault on private sector workers’ ability to organize.

    Privatization as Union-Busting

    While the federal workforce has been relatively stable, even increasing in size slightly in the past year, state and local workers have been getting creamed in this recession. Fed Reserve Chairmen Ben Bernanke estimated that states and localities had laid off a quarter million workers since 2007. According to a Labor Department report, state and local governments beat every sector in terms of the number of workers laid off this summer. And, as the conservative Washington Times noted, “the troubles at the state and local levels promise to be a fixture for some time to come.”

    With states and localities feeling an unprecedented budget crunch, the New York Times business section enthusiastically reported that a “class war” is breaking out over government pensions. “The haves,” wrote Ron Lieber, “are retirees who were once state or municipal workers” and now enjoy guaranteed pensions.

    The have-nots are taxpayers who don’t have generous pensions. Their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts have taken a real beating in recent years and are not guaranteed. And soon, many of those people will be paying higher taxes or getting fewer state services as their states put more money aside to cover those pension checks.

    As economist Paul Krugman notes, state and local employees’ pensions represent just 6 percent of non-federal public sector spending (and when combined with wages, their take still represents only around a third of state and local budgets). Krugman, like Dean Baker, concluded that the public pensions-scare is little more than “a phony issue.”

    And there’s another aspect to the story that’s rarely analyzed in news reports of budget shortfalls: while local governments are slashing their payrolls, they’re also outsourcing many of the functions they once performed to private contractors. In some instances, the same employees get hired to work the same gigs for the contractors, but without the job security, health care and retirement benefits they once enjoyed, and without the union representation.

    The New York Times reported this week that a Maryland software company that has expanded into managing libraries in Tennessee, California, Texas and Oregon, has grown “into the country’s fifth-largest library system.” Frank Pezzanite, a co-founder of the company, LSSI, was straightforward about the private company’s “advantage,” saying, “Pensions crushed General Motors, and it is crushing the governments in California.” According to the Times, “While the company says it rehires many of the municipal librarians, they must be content with a 401(k) retirement fund and no pension.”

    Another article that appeared in the Times business section in July was even more exuberant in reporting that the town of Maywood, California, had fired all of the city’s employees and outsourced their jobs.

    The school crossing guards were let go. Parking enforcement was contracted out, City Hall workers dismissed, street maintenance workers made redundant. The public safety duties of the Police Department were handed over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

    The Times noted that despite the vaguely iterated concern of “critics,” the “sky [didn’t] fall.” But that’s a bit deceiving. Half of the city’s salaries went to law enforcement, which was “outsourced” to another municipal government. Of the "general enthusiasm” city residents supposedly displayed for the move, the Times noted “many of the nonpolice workers have been rehired on contract, so in some cases the faces encountered by the public remain the same. In other words, no one has noticed much going wrong because there was not much to notice in the first place…The five crossing guards, for instance, are doing the same work but are paid by a security company.” What the Times didn’t mention is that all of the city’s nonpolice workers are doing their usual jobs without the same security or retirement benefits -- it’s union-busting through the back door.

    It’s also yet another example of class-warfare being waged from above. Americans working in the private sector have a choice: they can fall for the Right’s latest anecdotally driven welfare queens narrative and seethe in resentment as we run a footrace to the bottom, or they can ignore the distractions and fight to reverse the “Great Risk Shift.” They can push back against an increasingly savage elite that’s undermining their own economic security, or drag another group of workers down to join them on their perilous perch.

    Only time will tell whether they’ll be sufficiently distracted by the Right’s images of city filing clerks driving Mercedes and drinking champagne to ignore their own economic interests yet again.

  • #2
    Important read for those employed as law enforcement officers. I first saw this article in the PORAC newsletter (PORAC is an organization that provides legal representation to LEOs in California and elsewhere).

    Comment


    • #3
      Another article.....

      http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-coh...er-pension-you

      Why Public Employees Are the New Welfare Queens

      *
      Jonathan Cohn
      Jonathan Cohn
      Senior Editor
      view bio
      o
      Return of the Salmonella Republicans
      o
      The Unreasonable v. the Uninfluential
      o
      Republicans Like Rationing, the Dumb Kind
      * August 8, 2010 | 11:56 pm
      * 61 comments
      *
      |More
      * PrintPrint
      *

      More From this Author
      Cohn: Could GOP Budget Cuts Make Your Grocery Store a Public Health Risk?
      The Unreasonable v. the Uninfluential
      Republicans Like Rationing, the Dumb Kind

      This is an item about why your local fireman or teacher has such a nice retirement package, why you probably don’t, and the way conservatives are using that contrast to advance their broader economic agenda.

      Friday’s New York Times had a column about the “coming class war,” focusing on the fact that retirement packages for public employees seem to be a lot more generous than the ones for private employees. This is not a new discussion. Experts and think-tanks have been churning out research on the topic for years. But, thanks in part to the recession, the pension gap has become a major political controversy.

      Conservatives say that excessive public employee pensions exemplify the greed of unions (which sought these generous benefits for public employees) and inefficiency of government (which agreed to pay them). If local and state governments are struggling financially, these conservatives say, they should figure out some way to reduce or revoke those promised benefits, rather than come to Washington and beg for help from the taxpayers.

      The Senate Republican Policy Committee sums up the right’s mantra succinctly: “No state bailouts should be contemplated until the wages and pensions of public sector employees are brought into line.” Translation: You shouldn't have to give up another cent of your taxes until government stops paying its bureaucrats so damn much.

      I'm sure that argument resonates with a lot of Americans, particularly those who are struggling themselves. But is the premise of the overpaid public employee valid? That's not so clear.

      While raw statistics show that public employees get more compensation than private employees doing comparable work, research that adjusts for variables like education has suggested otherwise. Earlier this year, a study with such adjustments by economists Keith Bender and John Heywood concluded that compensation for local and state workers was, on average, 6.8 to 7.4 percent lower than compensation for comparable private sector workers.

      Also, as Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, many public employees don’t get Social Security. Overall, he says, “most public sector pensions do not provide retirees with an especially high standard of living.” Exceptions to this rule frequently include firefighters and police, particularly in New York. Then again, they risk their lives to protect the rest of us from lethal threats, which is more than you can say for CEOs like the former telecom executive who in 2007 retired with a $159 million benefit package.

      To be clear, I can't vouch independently for the calculations or the conclusions in all of this research. (Among other things, Andrew Biggs, of the American Enterprise Institute, suggests public employees really do fare better once you account for retiree health benefits.) If nothing else, the fact that so many public employees still have traditional pensions is increasingly an anachronism. The majority of private sector retirees don't have retirement plans from their employers. Those that do increasingly have private investment accounts (like 401Ks) that don't guarantee fixed benefits.

      And to the extent this gap exists, conservatives are surely right when they say that unions and government accommodation of them are the main reason. Unions represent around 37 percent of public sector workers, compared to 7 percent of private sector workers. Note that one of the few exceptions to the public-private compensation differential seems to be unionized industrial laborers, like the auto workers--and that, during last year’s debate over what to do with the auto industry, we were having a very similar conversation about the relatively rich benefits that members of the United Auto Workers were getting.

      But ask yourself the same question you should have been asking then: To what extent is the problem that the retirement benefits for unionized public sector workers have become too generous? And to what extent is the problem that retirement benefits for everybody else have become too stingy?

      I would suggest it's more the latter than the former. The promise of stable retirement--one not overly dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market--used to be part of the social contract. If you got an education and worked a steady job, then you got to live out the rest of your life comfortably. You might not be rich, but you wouldn't be poor, either.

      Unions, whatever their flaws, have delivered on that for their members. (In theory, retirement was supposed to rest on a "three-legged stool" of Social Security, pensions, and private benefits.) But unions have not been able to secure similar benefits for everybody else. That's why the gap exists, although perhaps not for long.

      The fact is that local and state goverments have promised a lot more than they can deliver financially, in part because people love public services but hate to pay the taxes for them. In the short term, then, budget cuts are probably inevitable. And, in this political universe, the likely alternative to reducing public employee compensation is cutting essential services for people who are just as worthy and quite likely more needy.

      In the long term, though, it seems like we should be looking for ways make sure that all workers have a decent living and a stable retirement, rather than taking away the security that some, albeit too few, have already. But that's a conversation about shared vulnerability and shared prosperity--a conversation we don't seem to be having right now.
      More Articles On: New York, Washington, New York Times, Andrew Biggs, Dean Baker, John Heywood, Keith Bender

      Comment


      • #4
        What some right wing pundits think of us law enforcement officers......

        http://news.yahoo.com/s/ucac/2011030.../uncivilunions

        About The Author:

        Political analyst and attorney Ann Coulter is the author of “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism,” and other works.
        By Ann Coulter Ann Coulter – Thu Mar 3, 6:06 pm ET

        As Obama rakes in historic campaign contributions from Wall Street money, liberals claim Republicans are beholden to "the rich." However that may be, it is far more true, and far less remarked upon, that the Democratic Party is the party of public sector unions.

        And now, the nation watches helplessly as public sector unions and their Democratic allies say to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Nice state you got there, governor. Be a shame if something bad happened to it.

        For Democrats, the purpose of government is to generously provide jobs for people who otherwise couldn't be hired -- because their skills, attitude or sense of entitlement are considered undesirable in the private sector. And no, I'm not just talking about Barack Obama.

        Democrats use taxpayer money to fund a government jobs program, impoverishing the middle class and harming the people allegedly helped by the programs -- but creating a vast class of voters who owe their jobs to the Democrats.

        This is a system designed to ratchet up costs. Look at the history of every entity where public employees have unionized, and you will find that not only are government workers paid more, but there are also a lot more of them doing a lot less useful work.

        There could be two students per class, and the Democrats would still be campaigning for "smaller class size," so that the government would be required to hire more public school teachers to staff classes with one student. For Democrats, the purpose of public education in this country is not to teach children; it's to create jobs for "educators."

        Forget the nonsense about working men with dirt under their fingernails, slugging it out at dangerous jobs with a heartless management riding them to get more production at lower wages -- those guys are what liberal journalist Harold Meyerson calls "dead weight."

        We're talking about government employees, most of whom -- when they show up to work at all -- sit in comfortable, air-conditioned offices, kick off at 3 p.m., are entitled to endless sick days, personal days and holidays, whose performance can never be evaluated and who retire at age 50. (Again, I'm not focusing just on Barack Obama here.)


        Government employees are even worse than welfare layabouts. In a triple-whammy for the taxpayer, they are: (1) hideously expensive, (2) impossible to fire, and (3) doing things you don't want done at any price.

        Hey, guess what? I'm from the government, and I can burn down your garage for $300!

        NO! I'M NOT INTERESTED!

        OK, fine, I'll do it for you for $20.

        BUT I DON'T WANT MY GARAGE BURNED DOWN AT ANY PRICE!

        OK, the guys with the matches and gasoline will be by sometime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. one day next week.

        As with so many other things, such as vegan restaurants and the crack epidemic, California leads the country in destruction by government unions.

        California's civil service unions have employed all the usual thug techniques -- regular strikes (illegal until the California Supreme Court approved them in 1985), rolling strikes, the "blue flu" (cops and other public-safety workers calling in "sick") -- all of which are almost as harmful to the state as when they actually show up for work.

        While taxpayers groan under their tax burdens, one group of voters is constantly lobbying for higher taxes: government employees, who are paid by the taxpayer.

        When California voters approved Proposition 13 back in 1978, cutting astronomical property taxes 57 percent, the public sector unions went ballistic.

        Union bigwig Ron Coleman said, "We're not going to just lie back and take it."

        John Seferian, vice president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said the union should have told politicians: "Hey, we'll bring the roof down on you." (Which you have to be a member of the roofers' union to do.)

        Jerry Wurf, president of AFSCME, warned that the union was "prepared for confrontation."

        His solution to the ballooning cost of government employees was ... guess? That's right, it was the same as it always is: Tax the rich.

        "Let the big shots pay!" Wurf said. Embodying the hopes and dreams of our Founding Fathers, Wurf said organizing government employees was part of his goal to "remake the economic and political system" in line with the vision of socialist Norman Thomas and the Young People's Socialist League.

        Members of public sector unions see their pensions and benefits the way the Mafia views its "partnership" with a restaurant, as described in the movie "Goodfellas": "Business bad? F--k you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F--k you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? F--k you, pay me."

        Spoiler alert: When the restaurant owner is unable to pay his mob tribute, they burn the place to the ground.

        But government employees aren't exactly like the mob. At least the Mafia guys have a strong work ethic.
        Last edited by BigPat; 03-14-2011, 07:07 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          While raw statistics show that public employees get more compensation than private employees doing comparable work
          What is "comparable work" to being a cop or a firefighter?

          There's plenty of deadweight in town and city management (My town of 3000 has 4 different "Planners" and there has not been a nail pounded in the area for two years) But there are not any comparable jobs to on call emergency services.

          M-11
          “All men dream...... But not equally..
          Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it is vanity;
          but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
          for they act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.....”

          TE Lawrence

          Comment


          • #6
            Wrong. I think right wing or conservatives folks understand exactly what cops and firemen do for a living. Most of them don't consider cops and firemen welfare recipients. We know who the welfare recipients are.
            "Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince" - Unknown Author
            ______________________________________________

            "That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." - Thomas Jefferson
            ______________________________________________

            “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” - John Adams

            Comment


            • #7
              The situation varies by state.

              Before the economic downturn, consultants for the City of Los Angeles did a fairly thorough study that showed that some employee groups were overpaid but others were not. It did not cover police and firefighters.

              During the recession, private sector compensation declined, whereas LA City salaries increased. The cost of the health-insurance and pension benefits that public employees receive increased substantially.
              Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
              Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

              Comment


              • #8
                I'm all for LE, EMTs, Firemen and anyone putting their lives on the line unionizing if they want to, in order to take every option available for safety but it's a horrible idea for any other public sector employee to take the people's money and then work against their interests. It isn't the same as the private sector where the business can fail if the union demands are too much and another business can take up the slack.

                The fact is that unions have lost significant ground in the private sector, they are often redundant since safety laws are already in place and add too much overhead to a competitive global marketplace. So the public sector is sacred ground for unions, it's do or die for them. It helps that they support a particular political party and are largely responsible for its' success and in turn they help them out so it isn't just a worker "rights" issue, although the media will sure paint it that way.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by JasperST View Post
                  IIt helps that they support a particular political party and are largely responsible for its' success and in turn they help them out so it isn't just a worker "rights" issue, although the media will sure paint it that way.
                  If unions did the same in the private sector, it would be illegal, and both union leaders and management would be prosecuted. Furthermore, there would be shareholder derivative suits against management for breach of fiduciary duty.
                  Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
                  Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Let's see, you quote a site that essential the left's version of Infowars and expect us to take it at face value. Aren't you the same guy who becomes completely unhinged if someone so much as whispers the name Alex Jones?

                    Then you follow that up by linking a Jonathan Cohn blog. The same guy that used to be the executive editor of The American Prospect which was a super leftist rag. Cohn is so liberal that he makes Obama look like a centrist.

                    Great sources, as usual, Pat.

                    I guess its all good when the radical sources back up your point of view....
                    Originally posted by kontemplerande
                    Without Germany, you would not have won World War 2.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by SRT936 View Post
                      Let's see, you quote a site that essential the left's version of Infowars and expect us to take it at face value. Aren't you the same guy who becomes completely unhinged if someone so much as whispers the name Alex Jones?

                      Then you follow that up by linking a Jonathan Cohn blog. The same guy that used to be the executive editor of The American Prospect which was a super leftist rag. Cohn is so liberal that he makes Obama look like a centrist.

                      Great sources, as usual, Pat.

                      I guess its all good when the radical sources back up your point of view....
                      I don't know if you can deny the disrespect towards the public employees from their own government leaders. There was an officer shot multiple times in my area (thankfully survived) and, while this officer was in the hospital, our governor went there but never even visited the injured officer. He was in the same hospital, didn't even give a hello. Not that any cop would even want to see him, but still it's disrespect. Not only are benefits being taken away by the leaders, but we are being made into public enemy #1 by them as well. They say we provide a great public service at our funerals, but then call us greedy free loaders at their next town hall meeting. I don't understand how we aren't united on this issue.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by PoliceProspect View Post
                        I don't know if you can deny the disrespect towards the public employees from their own government leaders. There was an officer shot multiple times in my area (thankfully survived) and, while this officer was in the hospital, our governor went there but never even visited the injured officer. He was in the same hospital, didn't even give a hello. Not that any cop would even want to see him, but still it's disrespect. Not only are benefits being taken away by the leaders, but we are being made into public enemy #1 by them as well. They say we provide a great public service at our funerals, but then call us greedy free loaders at their next town hall meeting. I don't understand how we aren't united on this issue.
                        "Leaders" have shown us disrespect for decades. I've known of officer's hurt in the line of duty that the Chief never even checked on. In one case, the chief didn't even know the officer had been off-duty for six months. That is nothing new.
                        Originally posted by kontemplerande
                        Without Germany, you would not have won World War 2.

                        Comment

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