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Election 2008

ChieFrom Chie:  Today is November 4, 2008 and I hope it is the day we elect the first African-American as President of the United States. Yes – I support Barack Obama. While I agree with many of his positions (not all of them), that is not the main reason I voted for him. I believe, perhaps naively, that he can be transformational to Washington politics. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you have to agree that our federal government has become completely dysfunctional. Perhaps it always has been, but it wasn’t obvious to me until the 1980s. Each side has adopted a “winner-take-all-no prisoners” attitude and it is now so partisan that people in Congress will vote for or against something, not on its merits, but just so the other side loses.

I want a leader who will try and bring both parties together so that we don’t have “sides” anymore. Someone who can take a vision of America the Great and acknowledge, even embrace, the different viewpoints it takes to get there. I want a cerebral leader. Someone who has thought with depth and intelligence on the issues facing our world today. I also want someone who has the temperment to deal with the egos and pettiness that pervade Washington. To be frank, I don’t want Joe Six-Pack in the White House with his finger on the red Button.

I think Obama has those qualities I’m looking for. He became the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, in large part because of support from conservative, federalist students. He was recommended to the University of Chicago as a law professor by federal judge Michael McConnell (nominated by President Bush and considered one of his Supreme Court nominees). As a Senator, he has shown that he can cross party lines to work with Republicans. For example, his work with Dick Lugar (R-IN) on a nuclear proliferation bill as well as with Tom Coburn (R-OK) on a bill regarding how government grants, loans and earmarks are awarded. I also think that because of his multi-cultural background, he will bring a much need perspective to discussions on race, poverty and entitlement programs in the U.S.

I do not doubt that John McCain has stood up to his party. I do not doubt that John McCain has crossed party lines. But John McCain lost his credibility with me when he chose Sarah Palin as his VP (see my Sept. 23, 2008 blog: Sarah Palin – The Last Straw.)

When I have asked McCain supporters why they are voting for him, they never respond that it is because of his “Jobs for America” or “Lexington Project” that are described on his website. Usually they respond with the following reasons: 1) Obama is a socialist and/or 2) our country is safer now. Since neither of those statements are true, I have to assume their reasoning is more faith-based than rational. And, much like religious faith, political faith is belief without evidence and not something that can be argued away with reason. However, for those of you who are still (unbelievably) undecided, I would like to address both of those issues.

Socialism is an economic theory where there is collective ownership in the production and distribution of goods and services to create an egalitarian society. Despite its resurgence in countries like Venezuela, its failure as an economic theory is well-documented with the fall of the Soviet Union. (It took the Russians 75 years – given enough time it will fail in Venezuela too.) Obama is not calling for the nationalization of what little industry we still have here in the United States, nor is he calling for an egalitarian society where failure is protected and merit goes unrewarded. (Ironically, the recent nationalization of our financial institutions and the protection of their CEOs was brought about by Hank Paulsen and George W. Bush – Republicans. Apparently, if you give money to rich guys it’s considered a rescue and not welfare.) However, what Obama does believe is that for big societal issues like poverty and universal health care, the federal government can be used as a tool to help those in need. Grass roots projects, community-based organizations and free markets can not solve these issues without government assistance. And, in order to pay for these programs, governments have to rely on taxes.

Now taxes, specifically graduated income taxes, are nothing new to the United States. In order to pay for the Civil War, Congress enacted the first income tax law in1862. It was a tiered tax structure where those earning more were taxed at a higher rate. Congress abolished and re-instated income taxes several times until 1913 when the 16th Amendment to the Constitution made income tax permanent. Tiered tax structures are not a new invention.

Also, the “spreading the wealth” phrase that has been used by the McCain campaign since the last debate is largely due to Obama’s plan to increase taxes on those making over $250,000/year. If you are making more than $250,000/year, then yes, your taxes are going to go up under an Obama presidency. However, Obama wants to restore the tax rate to no higher than the same level people were paying 8 years ago. These are the same tax rates that were in place under the Clinton administration and lower than the tax rates under the Reagan administration.

Now, is that fair? No, of course it’s not fair. In an ideal world there would be a flat tax rate or even no tax rate. Also, in an ideal world, there would be no need for child labor and OSHA laws because there would be no exploitation of labor. There would be no need for the SEC, FDA, EPA or NAFTA because markets would be open, honest and free of corruption. Poverty would simply mean that you didn’t make as much as the next guy – not that you were living in your car and your children were going hungry. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We don’t even live in a fair world. Only children believe life is fair- and that is because their world is incredibly small and self-contained. We don’t live in a fair world because evil, greed and corruption exist and without laws and regulations in place, scum rises to the surface. Human beings are horrible at self-policing. I can not think of one industry that has managed to avoid government intervention because they were sufficient at self-regulation. Given free rein, societies and/or organizations almost always end up with a Lord of the Flies scenario. Power corrupts.

But I digress. Let me state for the record that I do not want to pay higher taxes. However, I think I should because 1) I can and 2) because I have a vision for what this country can be. For those of you who disagree I offer the following analogy. The most successful people in the U.S. are much like the U.S. itself. For all its faults, the United States allows people to succeed and prosper like no other country in the world. The end result is that the U.S. is THE superpower country – the one with the most money and clout. Being a superpower means being a leader and leadership carries responsibilities. We give food and aid to countries that need help (due to war, corruption, natural disasters). We intervene, as a policeman, between other countries to stop genocide and oppression. We provide a tangible example of the success of capitalism and democracy. We do this because we understand that as the world prospers, so do we as a country. By helping and nurturing other countries we ensure our own success. The same is true on an individual level. With wealth and power come responsibility. People can not adopt a “let them eat cake” attitude towards those less fortunate around them. Not only is it morally bankrupt, but it will prove to be financially unwise in the long-run. If those of us with a bigger slice of the pie, can share some of our piece with people without pie, then hopefully those without pie will take that piece, learn to bake and we all end up with a bigger pie. (Sorry about that baked good metaphor). All I’m saying is that even if your tax rate is higher, we can all still make money when the country prospers. It happened under Clinton and it can happen again. The leap of faith is making sure our money is used wisely by Washington. That has not happened over the last 8 years.

With regards to the war, I do not believe our invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq has made us safer. Not only was Iraq not responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but they also did not have any weapons of mass destruction. In 2001, the estimate on al Qaeda was a few thousand members. Since then, the “war on terror” has become a recruiting ground for terrorists at a cost to the U.S. of about $10 billion/month. Is the region more stable? No. In fact, it is more unstable because besides Iraq, we’re losing in Afghanistan and our already stretched military is being asked to face yet another front in Pakistan. Are we viewed as liberators in a free and democratic Iraq? No. We’re viewed as occupational forces by most of the population and have, at best, a shaky relationship with its very tenuous and unenthusiastic government. George W. Bush’s decision to use a pre-emptive strike against Iraq was viewed as arrogant and unwarranted by our actual allies and our reputation and credibility in the world has been diminished. But perhaps most importantly, after seven years we still have not captured Osama bin Laden. If we had taken even half of what this war has cost us (about $500 billion) and devoted it solely to tracking down Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, he’d have been caught, stood trial and sentenced by now. Also, Osama bin Laden was Saudi Arabian. Why didn’t we go after Saudi Arabia? They’re one of the most conservative Arab countries in the Mid-East with one of the worst human rights records. George W. says they’re an ally. Have they helped us search/capture bin Laden? Have they given us a break on oil prices? Apparently Saudi Arabia is an ally only to those who own oil companies.

Withdrawal from Iraq will not be easy. We broke the country and we have an obligation to fix it. We also have an obligation to protect the Iraqi citizens who assisted us from retribution within their own country. Obama does not advocate for an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. Our military would work with the Iraqi government for a phased and responsible withdrawal. By setting up a targeted phase-out date we would be strongly encouraging (force) the Iraqi government to step-up and assume control of their own country. I understand John McCain’s stance. In Vietnam he saw first hand what happens when a war is mis-managed. But to stay in a country that doesn’t want us there, incurring a cost (both in dollars and lives) that can be better used elsewhere, to fight a war that isn’t making us any safer, does not make any sense to me. We have a $450 billion deficit. We have spent $45 billion on reconstruction in Iraq and it is costing us $10 billion/month to stay there. Iraq has a $25 billion budget surplus this year. They can afford to pay for their country’s security – we can not.

Bottom line: Vote Obama.

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November 4, 2008 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

Sarah Palin – The Last Straw

Chie From Chie:  I wanted to like John McCain. I really did. When you hear him tell his story as a POW and see his tired, broken body, it is very compelling. I watched his acceptance speech at the Republican convention and almost believed him when he talked about wanting to set a new standard for transparency and accountability in government. I almost believed him when he talked about reaching out across the aisle to share ideas – no matter who gets the credit. And at the end of his speech, when he asked us to stand up and fight for decency, faith, justice and goodness – I almost believed him.

I said almost. For despite what I saw at the convention, that John McCain is not the one who is running for President. The John McCain who apologized for not taking a stance against the Confederate flag is not the John McCain running for President. The John McCain who sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill is not the John McCain running for President. The John McCain who called the Swift Boat ads “dishonest and dishonorable” is not the John McCain who is running for President. Instead, what we have seen over the last 18 months is the John McCain from the Keating 5 scandal. We have seen a John McCain who runs campaign ads that are completely untrue.  We see a John McCain who ignores his own first choice and picks an unqualified, polarizing vice presidential running mate in order to pacify his own political party. We see a John McCain who sent a cadre of lawyers to Alaska in order to obstruct an investigation into Sarah Palin – an investigation that was initiated by Republicans.

My fight for transparency and accountability in government begins by voting Democratic in November. Any conservative views that I hold have been completely offset by my distaste of what has happened to the Republican Party and the people they have chosen to lead it.

The Republican Party has been taken over by the so-called “conservative” hypocritical Right. You know who I mean. They hate judicial activism – unless it’s for school prayer. They hate big government – unless it’s for creating an ineffective Department of Homeland Security. They espouse fiscal conservatism – unless it’s for big guns and a war that somehow manages to profit those who started/ran/supplied the war (Halliburton, blind trusts, chummy Saudi princes, etc.) They call themselves “federalists” who believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution and then either ignore its precepts or ignore our laws. Pre-emptive strikes and torture have become part of our foreign policy. The Geneva Convention is thrown out the window, as are civil liberties, due process and the rule of law.

When asked what makes America great most people will say Freedom. WE THE PEOPLE have the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. We have the freedom to worship God as we choose or not worship at all. We have the freedom to speak our mind, even if it’s against our government. These freedoms are what define America and what make it rich and strong. We also have made mistakes along the way – slavery, McCarthyism, internment camps. But we have acknowledged those mistakes and hopefully learned from them.

The Republican Party however, seems to have learned nothing. Over the last 8 years George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove (our own internal axis of evil) have operated on the basis that civil liberties are an inconvenience that have to be worked around and they have expanded the powers of the executive branch far beyond its original scope. For me, the protection of these rights and the re-establishment of checks and balances in our government are far more important than whether the capital gains tax is 15% or 28%.

I found this quote: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

Sounds like any of our current leaders? It was said by Hermann Goering, Nazi Reich Marshall during the Nuremberg Trials.

Now, some of you may feel that John McCain is not George W. Bush and that McCain will bring our government back from the edge. I might have believed it until he picked Sarah Palin as his Vice President. By picking her to pacify the evangelical conservatives in his party, John McCain indicated to America that he put his campaign first, not his country. 

Even if you can forget the fact that she believes the earth was created 5-6000 years ago (ignoring the Egyptian and Chinese civilizations that were in existence back then), or if you can ignore her belief that certain books should be banned from our libraries (First Amendment) or a women’s right to chose (Fourteenth Amendment), or if you can ignore her pattern of behavior in abusing her power as an elected official, how can you ignore her current actions regarding the Troopergate investigation? Once promising full cooperation and claiming she had nothing to hide, Sarah Palin and the national Republican Party are stonewalling the investigation (if not permanently, at least until after the election). Her husband has actually refused to respond to a court subpoena. How’s that for transparency and accountability in government?

If John McCain chose her because he really believes she is the best possible candidate to be vice president (and potentially president), then you have to question his judgement. Of course, if you really believe she is the best possible candidate, then I have to question your judgement.

September 23, 2008 at 10:37 am 5 comments

She said, She said…

DeeTee  DeeTee:   Hello, everyone… Chie and I are sitting in a Caribou Coffee shop, opining and wining (actually, tea-ing) and we thought we’d share our words of wisdom.  Firstly, we apologize to all three of you for not writing lately… 😉 Sometimes  real life gets in the way of ruling the world.  But in these troubled times, we must make time to advise…

Chie  Chie: Advise? Hardly. Dee Tee is walking too softly. We must make time to CHANGE the world. Most advice, no matter how diplomatically given, or desperately needed, is rarely taken and sometimes a brick to the head is more effective. Of course I’m speaking metaphorically. (Or am I?)

DeeTee:  OK, let’s talk about CHANGE, since that seems to be the catchword of the hour.  Obama is for change, and now, so (allegedly) is McCain.

And we, the people, say  we want change, but in reality we fear the unknown.  It’s safer to stay the same and just bitch about everything.  BUT:  what if the only thing holding us back is our lack of belief?  People fear Obama because they believe he really CAN change things.   

Chie:  Well as much as I hate to disagree with DeeTee, I do not think that people fear Obama because they think he can change things. I think they fear/don’t like/won’t vote for him for lots of other reasons. He’s not black enough, he’s not white enough, he’s a Democrat, he’s a man, he’s from Hawaii, he’s from Illinois, he’s from Harvard, he’s…….whatever. This is going to be a highly adversarial election which has nothing to do with actual issues. Especially lately. It’s all emotion. And I also think that’s why Obama has stirred such passion in people (on both sides) because he touches something innate inside. He is the change. The very fact of him is what scares people.

DeeTee:  I think Chie and I are saying the same thing.  She’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I think she’s saying that Obama being who he is — the sudden celebrity!  The new Messiah!  He came out of nowhere to a meteoric rise; will he now come crashing down like a falling star? 

Most importantly:  Is he real?  And how could  he be real when he’s so sudden?  So, he’s emblematic of our desire to change, but scary because the change could really happen… and what then? 

There’s an old joke, one of my favorites: 
[1st guy]:  Doctor, doctor, ya gotta help me, my brother thinks he’s a chicken! 
[2nd guy]:  Well, bring him in and I’ll cure him! 
[1st guy]:  Can’t right now, Doc, I still need the eggs!

Chie: While I think his meteoric rise makes a lot of people nervous, I am uncomfortable with using words like messiah and prophet. I know DeeTee is being facetious, but I can already hear our critics, if any exist, accusing us of “annoiting” Obama. For the record, we mean no such thing.

One thing I think is obvious: Whether you are pro-Obama or just anti-Bush, something’s gotta give. But first, let me clarify what I mean by change.

More than just a personnel change is needed in Washington. We need a cultural change.  Away from a government that looks for ways around the Constitution and back to a government that understands the importance of the Bill of Rights and our system of checks and balances. Away from a government that passes rules to allow torture as a policy and back to a government that follows the rule of law and Geneva Convention. Away from the attitude that  God is on “our” side and back to an understanding that God is not a Republican or a Democrat or white or black. Away from a petty partisan Congress that looks like 2nd graders at recess (I apologize to 2nd graders everywhere) and back to civil, respectful debate on the issues (I know I’m really reaching here).  And from what I have seen so far, a McCain/Palin ticket is not going to bring about that kind of cultural change.

Some people believe change can happen through the top-down theory that begins with leaders with vision. Others believe that change can happen via grass-root movements brought about by the masses. I believe that given the scope of partisan politics and the inertia that permeates government bureacracy, both methods will be needed to effect any substantial change. We need leaders with vision and a citizenry that’s invested.  Going back to something DeeTee said earlier, what if the only thing holding us back is belief. Maybe that belief extends not only to a Presidential candidate but also belief in ourselves. Belief in the power that WE THE PEOPLE can bring about change. Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  Let’s start by making sure everyone gets out to vote.

DeeTee:  Yeah, get out and vote… for Obama!  ;0

Complete agreement for what you just said, Chie!  What worries me is the “we the people” part… so many people seem more concerned with the personalities than the issues you just mentioned.  Apprearance of change is not really change.  Example:  People say it’s time we have a woman in the White House.  Sure!  But:  how about a qualified woman?  Why do people think that just any woman will do… why do some women seem to believe this?  I wish everyone would read this great article by Gloria Steinem, “Palin: Wrong woman, wrong message”  (thanks for the link, Chie).  Other than gender, what difference is there between Palin… and Bush?  So it may appear  to be change (gender) but it’s really not (policy the same, ignorance of issues the same, mis-pronounciation of “nuclear” the same).

I agree that WE need to be the agents of change… to elect the persons best qualified to lead that change.  We all know a change is needed, but we decry it at the same time we demand it.  To trust a leader who we don’t truly know — who seems intelligent and thoughtful but is not a proven commodity — takes a leap of faith.  I think that will be required of us, that leap, that belief, if we truly are to make a change in our government… in our own lives.

Chie: Leap of faith? Crap – now we gotta talk about religion. Or not. Why don’t we just leave this right now and see what kind of comments we get.

DeeTee:  OK, over & out… for now.  Chie, are you really letting me have the last word? 

Chie: No.

September 17, 2008 at 11:09 am Leave a comment

Playing Nice

Chie From Chie: Have you noticed how many rude people there are today? People cut in lines, steal your taxi, talk loudly on cell phones, flip you off, honk their horns and generally walk around oblivious to the rest of the world. As you nod your head in agreement – “Yes, yes, people have gotten very rude” – consider this. You might be part of the problem. I know, I know, it’s usually those 20-year olds, or senior citizens, or baby boomers, or people with kids, or men, or women, or teenagers, or somebody else, right??? Wrong! It’s you. And, as much as I hate to admit it – it’s me. We are all guilty of bad behavior at some time. Many people can’t acknowledge it because they are truly oblivious to other people around them. More often than not, however, people know when they’re being rude. They just rationalize their behavior by saying “I’m late”, or “I’m busy”, or “My job is more important.” For whatever reason, we feel justified in parking in the handicapped zone or going through the express lane with 25 items or not acknowledging the pregnant woman standing in front of us as we sit on the bus with our eyes lowered to our paper.

What’s the big deal? People are rude. It’s not the end of the world. Or, in the immortal words of some bathroom philosopher: “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff.” But, I would submit to you that now, more than ever, civility is needed in our society. Rudeness is a downward spiral that ends with an L.A. road rage shooting. Maybe, if we started acknowledging other human beings with a Good Morning to our neighbor, or a Thank you to the coffee clerk, people wouldn’t be so faceless and easy to dismiss (and shoot at). In these contentious times, if we can’t be kind to one another, can’t we at least strive to be polite?

On a recent WBEZ Eight Forty Eight show called “Hold the Happiness”, Al Gini (a professor at Loyola) talked about how we feel we are entitled to be happy all the time (www.chicagopublicradio.org). Ignore global warming and ignore soaring gas prices – I want to drive a Hummer!  As a result we have become a society of narcissists. Not the “I’m drowning in my reflection” kind of narcissism, but a society of selfish, self-absorbed people. He felt that instead of being entitled to be happy we should be entitled to be melancholy. Melancholy meaning reflective. Melancholy as a Muse. He felt that if we were more contemplative then perhaps we would think about our place in the world and have some consideration for the other beings that inhabit it.

Two examples illustrate how far from a civilized society we have become. Several years ago a famous Chicago talk show host talked about something called the “gratitude” or “blessing” journal she kept. As I recall (I could be wrong – I am making no warranties or representations, please don’t sue me), she tried to write in it the things that she was grateful for during the day. She said sometimes it was only something as simple as someone holding the door open for her. Her audience cheered and clapped but my reaction was “Huh?” Is that really what we’ve come down to? Common, every day courtesies are now so rare that we have to write them down in a journal. How sad is that?

The second example happened just yesterday. I watched a woman cross in the middle of a very busy street while her friend stood on the curb. As the cars hit their brakes around her, she encouraged her friend to join her with the words and I quote “C’mon, they can’t hit you or you can sue them!”

Robert Heinlein, a wonderful social commentator, wrote in his book Friday, about what marks a sick culture. Symptoms: 1) When the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a separate group (racial, religious, red state, blue state) 2) The population has lost its faith in both the police and the courts (Civil rights vs. Patriot Act) 3) There is an increase in violence and terrorism (no explanation necessary) and the most telling sign is 4) When personal rudeness and lack of consideration for others is viewed as a sign of strength not ill health (current U.S. foreign policy). If his observations are true, and it appears that they are, then the U.S. is in decline that will make the fall of the Roman Empire look like a mere stumble.

Can we fight the decline? I’d like to think our society is not beyond saving. But it’s going to take a concerted effort by a large group of people. Tomorrow (and every day there after) I’m asking you to hold the door open for someone. Acknowledge the doorman. Say thank you. Let’s see how far we can take just basic courtesy and Pay It Forward. After all, what can be more important than how we treat each other?

For the record, following is a short list of my least favorite bad behaviors. I vow to try and avoid doing them. I hope you will too. Feel free to add to the list. Thank you for your consideration and I hope you have a nice, melancholy day.

Bad Behaviors To Avoid:
Car Drivers: Driving slowly in the pass lane. Stopping your car in the pedestrian crosswalk. Talking on the cell phone while trying (and not succeeding) to steer. Listening to music so loudly that people walking down the street feel the bass.

Bicyclers, skateboarders and rollerbladers: Riding down the middle of the road with a “dare you to hit me” attitude.

Parents: Refusing to remove crying/whining/out of control children from restaurants, movies, churches, etc.

Everyone: Walking 10 feet in front of someone waiting for a cab and taking their next taxi. Not offering your seat on the bus to a pregnant or disabled person. Listening to music on the bus/train so loudly that even with headphones on everyone around hears the song. Snapping your jaws while chewing gum. Spitting on the street. Cutting in front of someone in line. Not saying thank you when someone holds the door open for you.

April 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm 1 comment

Why You Should Read This Blog

ChieFrom Chie: Ego is a powerful thing. It’s what makes people run for political office and it’s what makes writers write books (or bloggers blogs). Their stated motivation may be “public service” or “creative inspiration” but deep down it’s all about the “I”. My “I” is better/different/smarter than your “I” and, as such, my abilities and thoughts should be shared with the world.

I fully admit that one of the reasons I’m writing this blog is to satisfy my own ego. I believe others will enjoy what I have to say and how I say it. But this is also part therapy and part social service. Consider how Opine ‘N Wine came into existence.

Did you ever have one of those nights when the wine poured out of the bottle as fast the words poured out of your mouth and you were able to solve all the world’s problems – if only people would listen!!!! That happened to DeeTee and me on several occasions. We talked about how different life would be if we ruled the world. We called them our Queen meetings. Convinced we were on the verge of something brilliant and that we could change the world if enough people read us, Opine ‘N Wine was born.

An egomaniac I might be, but there is also some truth to the above. If enough people agree with what I write and act on that, then maybe change can happen. Consider this site a grass roots push to a kinder, gentler society. A MoveOn.org type of thing – but not just for political change – for an actual shift in social behavior. Some of what I may write will seem like bitch, bitch, bitch, but that is only me venting my frustration on a world turned stupid. (If something in the news provokes me, writing a response to whatever the issue is let’s me feel as if I have some control. Blogging as therapy.) Overall, I hope my writings will be articulate social commentary (no manifestos, please) and so thought provoking that once you read it you will be converted to my cause and want to send me a check – “Chie For Queen”, a for-profit institution. (That may be a bit ambitious. Perhaps I should just shoot for spelling correckly.) Anyway, all subjects will be fair game. This being an election year, politics will probably dominate. However, I’m eclectic when it comes to my soapboxes. Percolating for future blogs are thoughts on Happiness, Racism, Chaos Theory, Religion, and the Environment. (Nothing to controversial.) If you have an issue, I encourage you to share it with us. I may disagree with everything you say and call you an ignorant fool, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

Later,

Chie. 

March 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm 1 comment


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