Vladimir Putin’s religious, ethnic rhetoric gets a little scary in Russian state-of-the-union address

December 4, 2014

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Vladimir Putin lives in a scary world, where enemies plot tirelessly to undermine, trick, and destroy Russia. Containment wasn’t just a Cold War policy but a practice of Russia’s rivals for centuries. Even without a conflict in Ukraine, the United States and European Union would have come up with another pretext for imposing economic sanctions; they were an inevitable response to a rising Russia.

In his annual state-of-the-nation address on Thursday, the Russian president laid out his version of the year’s events in an effort to shore up support for his confrontation with the West amid growing economic troubles. The one-hour speech, held before 1,000 politicians and other public figures in the Kremlin, was defensive, strident, and formulaic. At moments, it was hard to tell whether Putin really believed everything he was saying — or if he had fallen prey to his own propaganda.

Putin’s main message was that despite the challenges Russia faces at home and abroad, the country is united and will prevail. He provided little grounds for optimism. Often Putin seemed to be trying to convince himself that the risks to which he had exposed Russia were worth it and beyond reproach.

The presidential address was split into two, with the first half dedicated to foreign affairs and the second to the economy, which is facing recession following the imposition of sanctions and a drop in oil prices. Putin tore into his speech with gusto, skewering the West for its hubris and hypocrisy since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

When he reached the section on domestic issues, Putin calmed down and droned through a list of bromides on boosting entrepreneurship and diversifying the economy that might as well have come from a speech he gave 10 years ago. “An opportunity in every crisis” is hardly a substitute for an economic recovery program. The president’s offer to amnesty any wealth hidden in offshore accounts only seemed to confirm how bad things had become.

The most troubling change in Putin’s rhetoric are ethno-religious references that have crept into his speech since the annexation of Crimea in March. The Crimean peninsula’s strategic value as the base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is understandable to anybody who consults a map. But Putin’s focus on Crimea as the “spiritual source” for Russians because Grand Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity there 1,000 years ago opens a Pandora’s box of competing historical claims not only in Europe but across Russia.

In his address, Putin declared that the ancient town of Chersonesus, outside Sevastopol, is as sacred to Russian Orthodox Christians as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Jews and Muslims. “This is how we will relate to it from now on and forever,” he said, as if to stake an indefinite claim on Crimea. Should Ukrainians be concerned that in March Putin called Kiev “the mother of all Russian cities?”

On Thursday, Putin continuously invoked a strong Russia, laying bare an inferiority complex that plays an outsized role in his decision-making.

“This year together we faced trials that only a mature, united nation — a truly sovereign and strong state — could withstand. Russia proved that she can defend her compatriots and honorably defend truth and justice,” Putin said in his opening remarks. “We believe in ourselves and that we can do a lot and achieve anything.” Later he complained that Russia had been treated by the international community — presumably the U.S. — as “poorly educated people who can’t read or write.”

The litany of offense and humiliation Russia supposedly had to endure is familiar. While it is undeniable that Western leaders have occasionally run roughshod over Russian sensibilities, Putin’s baggage is such a jumble of real slights and imagined insults that it’s almost impossible to pull them apart anymore.

To Putin, there apparently is no difference between Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, or between the United States and Europe. While Putin’s complaint about Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is fair enough, Obama approached Putin respectfully with his naive but well-intentioned “reset.” If there is any consistency in Russia policy between the U.S. administrations at all, it’s less ill will than an obliviousness to Kremlin thinking.

Putin likewise conflates the United States with Europe in assigning responsibility for the turn of events in Ukraine. It was the EU — and not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the United States — that was negotiating an association agreement with Kiev. If Obama can be blamed for anything, it was realizing too late that Putin considered the entire country of Ukraine to be his red line. Putin’s assertion that the West supported Chechen separatists in the 1990s in hopes of sending Russia to a fate like Yugoslavia’s is patently untrue. The break-up of nuclear-armed Russia remains a nightmare scenario in all major world capitals.

On Thursday, Putin worked himself up as he spilled his frustrations with the world in what at times resembled an attempt at self-therapy.

Economic sanctions were a “nervous reaction” by the United States and its allies to Russia’s position on the change of government in Ukraine and had nothing to do with the “Crimean Spring,” Putin said, adding that they would have found a different pretext to thwart Russia’s rise.

“The policy of containment wasn’t invented yesterday,” he said. “It’s being used against our country for many years, decades, if not centuries. In short, every time that somebody believes Russia has become too strong and independent, these instruments are put into use immediately.”

Russia is the victim, Putin seemed to be saying, though robust and defiant. It was strange that the very sins he accused the West of committing — the cynical exploitation of human rights, disregard for international law, and trampling on another country’s sovereignty — exactly mirrored Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continuing involvement in eastern Ukraine. It was especially strange to hear Putin say: “The lawful interests of all members of the international community must be treated with respect. Only then will legal norms secure the world from bloody conflicts — and not cannons, missiles and warplanes.”

Putin, who has been leading Russia for 15 years, shared no vision of where the country is heading. Instead he looked back, portraying Russia as a besieged fortress since time immemorial. Putin’s only goal now is the perpetuation of his own power. His term runs out in 2018, when he will be eligible for another six years.

“We will never go the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion, and the search for enemies,” Putin said. “That would be a sign of weakness, and we’re strong and sure of ourselves.”

 

PHOTO: Employees and residents of the retirement home watch a TV broadcast showing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivering his annual state of the union speech to members of parliament and other top officials in the Kremlin, in Stavropol, December 4, 2014. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko

83 comments

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perhaps new speechwriters?

Posted by Steven3 | Report as abusive

I sense a hint of desperation in the writers analysis of Putin’ state of mind.

Probably well founded based on events.

But not something you want on a guy’s psyche who controls the atomic might he does. The west should be careful about backing this guy into a corner.

Dont forget his KGB roots. Negotiation is an elective at their academy.

Posted by DaveinKL | Report as abusive

Glory to Russia and Vladimir The Righteous !!!

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

I wonder how a small Ukraine became overnight a devoted friend of so many countries and US.Is Ukraine is a pretext for some big plan? Certainly with a tug of war between big countries a small countries become a playground to lose.
Leaders of small countries usually proved novice to get lost in big currents of the world and world history.Look at Ukraine.Whose countrymen are dead in the game of big countries?As such Ukraine was a promising country for good future but now no more!

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Diagnosis: paranoia.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.” Plato

Posted by eyeroll | Report as abusive

Tell me that photo of retired people listening to Putin has no pretext… Anti-russian rhetoric in every word…

Strong Russia!

Posted by AlexfromArmenia | Report as abusive

Sacred and spiritual references in Putin’s speech were typical political liturgy, the closest source on which this was modelled are US presidents talking about the “finest nation on Earth”, “American exceptionalism” and “God blessing America”.

In turn references to the policy of containment of Russia with the objective of its breakup were right on the spot. Billions of dollars pumped in Ukraine and Georgia for “supporting democracy” become clear after looking at at a map and seeing strategic pliers they create.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

What could anyone, Russian or purely a spectator, expect of an ex-KGB agent who insinuated himself into the power-structure of a dissolute Russia (upon Yeltsin’s departure) and then assured that the nation’s natural resources (once the property of all Russians) were shared amongst his KGB-cohorts who became wealthy beyond their most extravagant dreams.

Putin is running a KGB-state the sole purpose of which is to protect the interests of the only people he was trained to trust. It’s as if, somehow after the collapse of the US (its presidency and congress), power over the state and parliament was assumed by the CIA …

Posted by deLafayette | Report as abusive

The thing is, the United States invaded Iraq over bogus “Weapons of Mass Destruction” which were not even there. There were no sanctions imposed over this. All Russia did was facilitate the democratic process in Crimea, so the people themselves can choose where they want to go. For this, Russia gets sanctions? That does not seem very fair to me.

Posted by RussianYank | Report as abusive

If I were Putin… I’d be paranoid too. I’m not sure he said anything that wasn’t true.

The author, however, lives in a fantasy land of denial in some sort of “pre-snowden” universe.

That the US is out to actively destroy competing powers (and turn America into a vast surveillance state) is not paranoid… but self-evident.

Posted by RoyTyrell | Report as abusive

why so many articles about Putin, how about rigged judicial system in USA and protests?

Posted by skyapprentice | Report as abusive

Change the name of President Putin to President Harry S. Truman and you have doppelgangers. In 1945 Truman initiated the Cold War with his hysterical fear of communism. He changed the nature of the USA from being a military prepared one to a national security one, in his National Security Act and the Truman Doctrine. It has bedeviled this country ever since; Democrats and Republicans alike cannot change the present course of American foreign and domestic policies.

Now that the US has revived the Cold War, which expired in 1991, crunching the Russian economy with sanctions, the only people to suffer as always are the man in the street. Already the life expectancy of the Russian male is dropping below 59 years of age.

Posted by expat75 | Report as abusive

Bad man

Posted by Shanpat | Report as abusive

Vladimir Putin will continue to be portrayed as a ‘bad-guy’ in the Western media as long as he is an obstacle to the new-world-order’s overt ambition to control the world’s wealth and own Earth’s natural resources… It’s amazing to ME that so few see that.

Posted by Heimdallr | Report as abusive

Russia has more troops occupying other countries land than any other nation on Earth. Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine…. Just because people want you to respect international borders doesn’t mean we are trying to “constrain” you. Just get out of other people’s countries!

Posted by DennisMyers | Report as abusive

It’s true. The *real* enemies are the faceless world banking families, and Putin is demonized for not supporting their agenda.

Posted by realtruejohn | Report as abusive

I just wonder why Russia is such a prominent topic in the Western media. What do you guys care about Russia. Better you look at the US justice system with its major flaws or the Eurozone that is more and more dominated by racist politicians.

It does not matter whether you go on Le Monde, Guardian, NY Times etc…all full of negative articles about Russia.

Posted by Fidelio | Report as abusive

@expat75: your stating point of “Change the name of President Putin to President Harry S. Truman…” is flawed, for Putin is not really a “president”, unless you truly believe that Medvedev was.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Putin is crying 1. Lebensraum, and 2. Russia for Russians. Does this sound familiar? This is a dangerous person!

Posted by Humf9581 | Report as abusive

This is a man who thought the women of Pussy Riot were dangerous. He runs from mice. If you doubt that Putin is petty and cowardly, consider that his only conquest to date includes a nuclear meltdown site around Chernobyl that no one wants anyway. He has blown his wad and country’s fortune…. over re-taking Chernobyl. A bright man he is not :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

It is interesting to note that the majority of Russian wars or battles are being waged on their very border, while every military engagement the U.S. currently pursuing are in numerous nations half the globe away.

There are some contemporaneous explanations for the current foreign policy morass, others more deep rooted and intractable.
The comment above regarding the Truman administration might not be that far off the mark.
This was an era of cold war hysteria that was championed by notable war hawks such as the Air Force’s Gen. Curtis Lemay, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and a nascent group of policy advisers and analysts comprised of virulent anti-communist and pro-Israeli academics, some from eastern bloc countries, that brought about some of our most sweeping national security changes, the vestiges of which remain today in current policy group think, policy institutes, and their fellowships.

There’s quite a bit to be said here, but the comments section has recently become ever more discriminating in what they’ll allow.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Loony tune!

Posted by usa.wi.vet.4q | Report as abusive

@Laster – I think you got it right.

This US driven NATO confrontation with Russia is not only reckless in putting US public at harms-way but has set back the relations by a couple of decades.

Looks like the folks that fomented this conflict and continue driving this seems to have gone mental on this including the ones from the current administration.

Above all, these actions were supported and driven by the one that recently received Nobel peace prize.

What a shame!

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

Given Mr. Putin’s propensity for violence and dissociated world view, Mr. Bush’s withdrawal from the ABM treaty not only appears justified, but also well advised.

Posted by branchltd | Report as abusive

The only people who seem worried over Putin now, are the 1%ers. And well they should be I suppose, since this is the end their era….. :-)

Posted by DeSwiss | Report as abusive

The Missile Gap hysteria – which never materialized – was another notable contribution of the national security and policy folks of the day. It eventually became a nail in the coffin of then President Eisenhower’s re-election bid.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

The sad truth of it all is Russians seems oblivious to the tyranny that runs their country whilst at the same time Ukraine fights for democracy on the west’s behalf and the west is still unable to bring it self to call this power play an invasion. A glum future awaits us all

Posted by ms666 | Report as abusive

Laster,

Great post with a very insightful opening paragraph.

As for the article, it was wildly biased again Putin. I challenged the editors to let me cite each bias, cite the reality, and let the author comment. Won’t happen. The author is likely one of the many who work closely with “the Company.”

Anyway, your opening paragraph was worth the whole experience, even reading the Hopeless writings of the “author.”

Posted by truthlover2014 | Report as abusive

No mention of the Sino-Russian alliance – why not? Money (China) and Military (Russia) – not a good combination for the neighboring countries or, for that matter, the world.

Russians are used to sacrifice – they seem to overcome it, no matter what. Will sanctions work against this alliance with China?

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

Sounds like Bill O’Reilly and his religious vibe…

Posted by michaelryan | Report as abusive

Putin isnt a bad guy. The media lapdogs for the bankers are the truely evil ones.

Posted by BCMugger | Report as abusive

This “journalist” has got to be a US gov’t asset, what with his repeated denials of the obvious war that the West is waging on Russia.

Posted by CoFunkin | Report as abusive

I wonder if this speech would have been made if NATO and the EU had not attempted to force it’s will on all countries in the “near abroad?” What would we, the U.S. say if Russia and China tried to establish bases and economic hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. Remember 1963 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Remember the Bay of Pigs. Remember Nicaragua and our fears and actions. Think about the Chilean coup and the fear of Allende. Three decades of fear in the U.S. Then think about the psyche of Russia.Not too different.

Posted by Kahnie | Report as abusive

@laster: The Missile Gap was the words of JFK. He won. Eisenhower ran and was elected to two terms. He never lost. He was the first “two term” President as provided by the U.S. Constitution. Know your history and then write.

Posted by Kahnie | Report as abusive

Each country has its hot button issues. How about the right-wingers in the U.S. who think that every Muslim in the world is out to get them? And I seem to recall that the U.S. took some offense in 1962 when Russia put missiles in Cuba, though there was nothing illegal about it. So it is not surprising that Vladimir views the western actions in Ukraine, including support for the armed ouster of its president with suspicion. What else is he going to think?

Vladimir is the reality in Russia, with broad support of the people, and whatever we think of his views we need to treat him with some respect.

Posted by Jim1648 | Report as abusive

It has been my experience, that the US controlled media is the advanced guard of a US attack. The character assassination is always followed by an invasion, or coup.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

This is a US/EU fomented regional instability for trade reasons.

Putin means business and the efforts of this article to undermine his tact and leadership lacks any substance.

It’s much of facing measure for US that didn’t expect the loss of land and life at such magnitude in such a short time.

Hope they cool it rather continue the fall that they can neither resolve not win with the potent and capable that won’t hesitate to bring MAD.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Every time I read an article by Mr Kim I laugh more and more. Yet he still treats readers as if we are unaware of the truth. I am no apologist for Putin but I also can see the US behind every action as can the rest of the world. The scary bit is politicians and reporters don’t care what you think or what the truth is. Would Mr Kim like to write an article about the reasons why the US are so concerned about Ukraine and maybe linger on the potential loss of US financial hegemony as a reason for its intrusion into other nation states issues. At the same time add up the dead bodies that the US leaves behind every were it go’s. I wont hold my breath. The man is obviously to rapt up in his Russian phobia to see the truth.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

“The lawful interests of all members of the international community must be treated with respect. Only then will legal norms secure the world from bloody conflicts, and not cannons, missiles and warplanes. We will never go the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion, and the search for enemies. That would be a sign of weakness,” said Vladimir Putin, who has been leading Russia for 15 years, yet has no vision of where Russia is heading.

Now if only Putin would listen, to himself.

Posted by 111Dave111 | Report as abusive

It’s pure Cold War thinking: refusing to engage with western countries’ actual motives, but projecting onto them an intention to do to Russia what Russia is actually doing to its unfortunate smaller neighbours.

Posted by PeterKitson | Report as abusive

My fault…I clicked on this article before realizing the writer was the ridiculous CIA shill Lucian Kim. I can’t believe Reuters allows him to publish on their site.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

He needs to throw up as many shiny objects as possible to divert attention away from the dropping price of oil. He came in on the wave of economic chaos and now he may go out on the same wave. It is more interesting to read the paid pro-Putin propaganda in these comments.They sound just as delusional and desperate. And we can recognize who is behind them:)

Posted by guest2014 | Report as abusive

It does not really matter what Putin does. He has made Russia insignificant in the world. Petty squabbles with neighbors cutting into any real global influence Russia could have had. Putin has become the short-man laughing stock of the developed world. And capital is bleeding from Russia. No billionaire will put their money there now.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Putin will probably go down in history as more significant than any leader in the opening quarter of the twenty-first century. I respect him for that.

Posted by militantis | Report as abusive

The anti Putin petty bile on here is quite scary. Do these people not see the truth. I am not an apologist for Putin, but I can see how regardless of whom ran Russia the US led west would discredit and attempt to remove them unless they conformed to American dominance on the world stage. This writer is aware of this but as a previous post stated he is a mouth piece for the US. One last point its very easy and petty to call someone a coward from the safety of you home on line. And only show a lack of maturity and understanding of not just the world but basic society

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

This article is a joke. My uncle works for the AP and he portrayed Reuters as basically their equivalent and their largest competitor.

However I thought Reuters, like the AP, faced an ethical obligation to remain impartial.

This article is anything but impartial. The first two paragraphs are taken from someone’s anti-Putin manifesto. I want to objectively learn about Putin’s speech, the challenges facing Russia and his proposed solutions, but there is absolutely no way I can sort through this propagandist article to find the answers to my questions.

Way to fail at objective reporting and falling incredibly short of journalistic standards. This type of rhetoric I’d expect out of CNN and Fox News, not an organization like Reuters.

Posted by mst | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, Putin is right on every count. There is no such thing as “friends” in politics and throughout the entire history the West tried to destroy or subjugate Russia. Napoleo and Hitler say hello… Apparently, Reuter’s pen-pushers did learn history well.

Posted by whocaresss | Report as abusive

@Kahnie wrote:
@laster: The Missile Gap was the words of JFK. He won. Eisenhower ran and was elected to two terms. He never lost. He was the first “two term” President as provided by the U.S. Constitution. Know your history and then write.

You are quite correct, that should have read President Eisenhower’s party lost the reelection bid. So you win some you lose some.
The point i was attempting to illustrate was the whipped up hysteria for political and economic gain.
Though the circumstances were somewhat different in that era – our current situation may be more difficult structurally – the dynamics play out the same.
President Kennedy was a noted author, but his campaign stumping on the nation’s military preparedness was likely cribbed from an article in the Foreign Affairs journal “The Delicate Balance of Terror” written by the Rand corp.’s Albert Wohlstetter.
Briefly, The national intelligence estimates at the time had morphed what was an alleged bomber gap into a missile gap, with the air force claiming the Soviets had roughly five hundred ICBMs ready to launch, while CIA analysts – who would later be proven correct – placed the number at around fifty.

The launch of Sputnik in ’57 changed everything. It caught the world by surprise and the idea that the Soviet Union had five hundred ICBMs ready to launch became an easy sell amid the hysteria. This made for great political hay, and a windfall for the military industrial complex.
The top secret Gaither report, and it’s recommendations for a near $50 billion dollar (roughly four hundred billion today) were rejected by the Eisnehower administration at a time when government had actually succeeded in paying down some of the the national debt.
The Gaither report was leaked to the press in a Washington Post article and the arms race began to shift gears.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

militantis swoons: “Putin will probably go down in history as more significant than any leader in the opening quarter of the twenty-first century. I respect him for that.”

Yeah ok. The guy who re-took Chernobyl… is really important to the world. Give me a break. Putin has driven Russia into the toilet. The only Russia exports any more is herpes and babies.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Putin may have became paranoid, but the policies of the USA and some of Western European nations did everything to push him to this point. Containment of Russia, and exploitation of its vast resources are the prime targets. A stronger Russia (or any other country refusing to be a puppet state) is naturally an anwanted partner for USA and some major EU countries. Let’s remember how a praised country was Russia 20 years ago, under Yeltsin, when their economy stumbled and military power diminished. Russia was not in a condition to counter any political or military intervention by the USA in any country, and at the meantime, tens of billions of dollars have started to flow to London or elsewhere, drained by the oligarchs who partnered western companies. When Putin started to crush down many of those oligarchs, he became the dictator, and the opposing oligarchs-champions of democracy.
In every instance, the main issue is exploitation of resources by the businesses and banks. Look at Iran, Iraq, Lybia, Syria. All these were called “rogue” states, because their oppressive leaders refused to take orders from Washington, and look at Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, all of whom are utterly democratic, because their kings fulfill all the requests made by the USA, and also are by far the most important markets for the US made weapons. For Iran, it’s crystally clear that if weren’t the Russian support for them, probably they would have turned to the latest “democraticized” nation with rich oil and gas deposits, which is engulfed in an endless civil war and unrest, becoming a major reliable energy supplier and military equipment importer. Ukraine is an important country with vast resources, but neglected infrastructure and crumbling economy, but that country is a major opportunity for many European companies to do “business”, i.e, to invest something, and to take back much more in return.
I’ve supported the Kosovo’s unilateral independence, and I think that the Crimean situation is nothing different, except that Russia didn’t launched an official military intervention in Ukraine as NATO did in Serbia.
I really pity for the poor Ukrainians, their leadership have proved to be very weak and impotent, only capable of receiving orders form Washington or Brussels. They didn’t realized, that the best option for the prosperity of Ukraine was to retain much closer ties with Russia (but not to receive every order from Moscow), and at the same time to build closer economic relations with the EU. They look to Poland, Czech rep. and other prospering former communist countries and dream of a brighter future with EU, but they should look closer to Bulgaria, Romania, and should keep in mind that they will not match even them in prosperity, when they will get more involved with the EU on economy.

Posted by Levko | Report as abusive

” Putin has driven Russia into the toilet. The only Russia exports any more is herpes and babies.”

..great, and i have my comments sensored ??

Maybe the reason we have to contract Russia to launch our larger payloads into space is the fact the majority of our finest rocket scientists appear to be spending their days commenting on the Reuters news site.

I owned up to the mistake in a previous post on the Eisenhower re-election and think i offered a fair explanation of the Missile Gap – which I can cite my sources – but it didn’t seem to make the cut. pity

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

At one time there was a Cold war between atheists and mostly secular agnostic countries. Both sides were armed with weapons that can end the life on earth. The MAD doctrine worked fine because the rulers of both sides new that there is no life after death.
However some politicians decided it’s a good idea to court religious fanatics for their self interest.
Now we are having a world ruled by politicians who are elected to be God worthy. Many of them believing that if they serve God by destroying other “heretics” they will be rewarded with afterlife in paradise. And we are on a brink of a second Cold war with players that do not fear MAD.
If this does not chill the blood of any rational human being I don’t know what could.

Posted by TomTom1234 | Report as abusive

Go comrad Putin. Oh yeah what about the $50 Billion of assets you have squirreled away for yourself how about sharing with the restof the commrads. The Ruskies are a bunch of pigeons supporting this goon. Get to your senses Ruskies.

Posted by AndrewStafford | Report as abusive

Hail to the BEAR!

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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