Monday, June 29, 2009

Dear Mr. President, Practice what you Preach

Dear President Obama,

You ran on a platform of hope and change. You had the audacity to tell us that you were going to bring something fresh and new to Washington. We have heard such promises before. We know that they are usually lies to dupe the public. But we believed in you sir; we needed to believe in you. After eight years of a criminal administration, we craved a leadership who understood us and who really cared. To many of us you seemed to be that leader. On election night we cheered, and after long years of hanging our heads we were finally able to raise them. We were, at last, proud to be Americans.

Perhaps, sir, you still are that man. I hope so. But I confess I have yet to see any real change, and sadly I have not seen much audacity or hope either. Your stimulus bill was too small - you crafted it to win Republican votes - as if bipartisanship is somehow intrinsically good. Despite your repeated claim to be a "fierce advocate" of gay rights, you have done nothing for gay people. Your bank regulations are appallingly weak, your so-called "sweeping" environmental bill is so below what scientists are calling for that it is practically useless, your foreign policy does not differ in substance from your predecessor's, and you have maintained numerous Bush policies regarding secrecy and executive unaccountability. I fail to see the change here sir. Many of us do.

Nevertheless, Mr. President, we all told ourselves that you could only do so much. We knew that you inherited a bad situation and we accepted that compromises had to be made - even as we did not like it. Many of us told ourselves that you would still come through on the most important domestic issue yet: Health Care reform.

Your ideas about how to fix health care have not disappointed. You correctly and cogently defend the logic of a public health care plan. The goal of private health insurance is profits; huge profits. To make huge profits in health insurance one must constantly raise premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, while in turn avoiding actually covering people whenever and however possible. A public plan will offer full coverage and a better price and force private insurance to do the same or perish. This is the only way to fix our broken and cruel health care system.

And now Mr. President we come to the heart of the matter. Both you and your people have now repeated several times the claim that, though you want a public option as part of health care reform, you "will not insist on it" and will "draw no lines in the sand." You have expressed your desire to make the reform pleasing to big insurance companies and Republicans - the very people that oppose any real reform of the system!

Mr. President, why have you done this? Why are you so committed to compromise at all costs? You know there is no way to fix health care without a public option! What you have done is let the vested interests and their vassals in congress know that you will accept a bill with no public option. In other words sir, you are open to stopping real health care reform. Would Martin Luther king Jr have refused to "draw a line in the sand" about civil rights? Would Lincoln "not insist" on preserving the union?

Over fifty million Americans are now without insurance. Many millions more are denied coverage left and right by the insurance they have, nearly two thirds of bankruptcies, and many home foreclosures are the direct result of medical bills. Private insurance companies are taking people's homes, their health, their savings, their very lives. If you wish to compromise Mr. President, remember this ... YOU ARE COMPROMISING PEOPLE'S LIVES!!! You are refusing to "draw a line" for the well-being of people who elected you and believe in you. You are "not insisting" that people live and prosper.

Mr. President please stop being "open" about this. Please - at least this time, on this issue - don't compromise.

In the name of justice, compassion, and basic human dignity: PLEASE MR. PRESIDENT DRAW A LINE AND STAND FIRMLY IN FRONT OF IT!

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm Mad as Hell and I'm not gonna take any more!

Finally - I've found the only proper response to Obama's cowardly refusal to "draw a line" about the Public Health Care Plan! And his inept Bank plan, lousy housing plan, miserably meager Stimulus, and constant pathetic "compromising" with special interests. Here is how we should all respond to Obama .. and Max Baucus ... and all the rest of the jackasses running this place!

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conservative Pastor Versus Liberal Professor: A Video Debate

One of the best friends I've had in my life, Isaiah Surbook, is a evangelical pastor in Kentucky. He is something of a fiscal and social conservative. As a fiscal and social liberal, I naturally have very different views from my friend.

Isaiah and I have been having a friendly debate on youtube about whether there should be a government funded health care plan - the so called "public option" that Obama favors. Rev. Surbrook is opposed to this idea; Professor Wion is for it.

Of course we are very good friends, who each greatly respect each other, and each owes to the other a great deal; therefore, this debate is very friendly, kind, and mutually respectful. With some modesty, I also think that both our views are intelligently presented and well thought out.

With all the bad blood between liberals and conservatives, all the shouting matches, I thought it might be worthwhile to post here a friendly and good-natured debate.

So here is that debate via YouTube:

Isaiah may yet have another response ... feel free to follow on youtube and see.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zakaria's Capitalist Manifesto falls short

In the June 22nd edition of Newsweek, prominent contributor and political centrist Fareed Zakaria offered us The Capitalist Manifesto sub-titled Greed is Good (to a point). I'll let slide the all too common failure of free-market enthusiasts to confuse rational self-interest with greed, though it should be noted that classic capitalism was originally based on the later, not the former and that they ought not to be confused.

I wish to criticize Zakaria on a different point. For Zakaria there is absolutely nothing wrong with the system that brought about our current economic crisis. His argument is that we are just in a bad period and it will soon - in fact already is getting - be all better. After all, Zakaria assures us, every economy has ups and downs and the doomsayers always hail the downs as unprecedented failures, only to be shortly thereafter proved wrong by a boom.

Here are Zakaria's actual words on this matter

Capitalism means growth, but also instability. The system is dynamic and inherently prone to crashes that cause great damage along the way. For about 90 years, we have been trying to regulate the system to stabilize it while still preserving its energy. We are at the start of another set of these efforts. In undertaking them, it is important to keep in mind what exactly went wrong. What we are experiencing is not a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of finance, of democracy, of globalization and ultimately of ethics.

"Capitalism messed up," the British tycoon Martin Sorrell wrote recently, "or, to be more precise, capitalists did." Actually, that's not true. Finance screwed up, or to be more precise, financiers did. In June 2007, when the financial crisis began, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, IBM, Nike, Wal-Mart and Microsoft were all running their companies with strong balance sheets and sensible business models. Major American corporations were highly profitable, and they were spending prudently, holding on to cash to build a cushion for a downturn. For that reason, many of them have been able to weather the storm remarkably well. Finance and anything finance-related—like real estate—is another story.

Finance has a history of messing up, from the Dutch tulip bubble in 1637 to now. The proximate causes of these busts have been varied, but follow a strikingly similar path. In calm times, political stability, economic growth and technological innovation all encourage an atmosphere of easy money and new forms of credit. Cheap credit causes greed, miscalculation and eventually ruin.

There is, of course, some real truth here. But one already sees the problem: Zakaria reminds us that Capitalism is inherently unstable, busts and booms are common. Yes. We all know this. But, he seems to think, we should simply accept this as the inevitable by-product of all that wonderful growth we shall get in the long term.

Zakaria is not wrong about this. But he fails to ask himself and his readers two questions, questions that demand to be asked: 1) is there another system other than pure capitalism that can give us the growth we need, without the frequent busts and recessions? 2) Who profits from the growth? The more deregulated capitalism is, the greater the growth. That's empirically certain. But what Zakaria fails to mention is that fewer and fewer people actually get that growth, leading to a widening gap in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. unchecked capitalism leads to wealth and power finding their way into fewer and fewer hands. This also is empirically certain (cf. Paul Krugman The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008). Zakaria not only fails to address but fails even to mention these issues.

Of course, on Zakaria's behalf It is only fair to note that he does think a little more regulation is needed. Capitalism should not be totally unrestrained. I grant that the minimal regulations Zakaria - and the Obama Administration - call for are better than nothing. But they are far too little to make a real difference in the long run.

Zakaria - and again the Administration is on the same page - believes that the system of a market dominated by huge multi-national corporations is fundamentally sound. The problems with that system are seen to be the fault of a few greedy companies and individuals who need to be watched a little more closely. If this is done, Zakaria thinks, then everything will just be wonderful.

In Zakaria's own words

There's a need for greater self-regulation not simply on Wall Street but also on Pennsylvania Avenue. We get exercised about the immorality of politicians when they're caught in sex scandals. Meanwhile they triple the national debt, enrich their lobbyist friends and write tax loopholes for specific corporations—all perfectly legal—and we regard this as normal. The revolving door between Washington government offices and lobbying firms is so lucrative and so established that anyone pointing out that it is—at base—institutionalized corruption is seen as baying at the moon. Not everything is written down, and not everything that is legally permissible is ethical.

So the answer for Fareed Zakaria is that we should all be more responsible and more ethical people. Of course we should be. But will a few oversights and a call to conscience really solve the problem? The all too common corruption in the corporate world, the massive amount of exploitation and harm caused by the free market suggest that the problem may be far deeper than a few greedy executives (Cf. The Corporation)

There is ample empirical evidence that the widening gap between the rich and poor, the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, the exploitation of the working classes the world over, and the buying of our politicians by corporations is the direct result of giving too much freedom and power to the market, whose goal after all is profit (again see Krugman's work and also The Corporation)

Think about it this way: the modern corporation has one goal, to maximize profit. The way to do that is simple: overcharge, scam, cheat, exploit, underpay, rip-off, externalize costs, buy politicians, and otherwise scheme whenever and however you can. One may object to this claim, but on what grounds? If your goal is profit and you are given unimaginable power, very little oversight, and only minor penalties ... well, what do you think will happen? Corruption and deceit are inevitable in system that operates solely for profit, unless that system is very strongly restrained and checked.

Perhaps this evidence can be explained. Perhaps, these charges can be answered. Perhaps a case can be made for capitalism as against other alternatives. Perhaps Zakaria is right to tell us - as he does directly - that capitalism is the best possible system. But he does not discuss any other options. He does not consider the claim that the system itself is irredeemable a serious suggestion.

And this is the core problem with Zakaria's defense of Capitalism: the real possibility that the entire capitalist system - at least corporate capitalism in which multinational corporations run the system - is a serious one, but Zakaria fails to treat it as such.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Baseball Honors Father's Day

Interesting story from The San Diego Padres Web page for Father's Day, on Tony Gwynns Sr & Jr. Check it out here

To see how Major League Baseball honors Father's Day, click here
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Tony Benn and Richard Dawkins debate the value of religion

This is rather interesting: A militant and rude atheist - or so these hosts seem to think of him - versus a very generous, kind and unorhtodox religous man. My kind of debate! Though I agree more with Benn, I think he could have made a better case for some of it. Benn does, it seems to me, make some good points about ethics and religion as a "culture." Sadly, however, Benn misses the point of the discussion. And the hosts of the show are very unfair and not too polite to Dawkins.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees!

For those who wish to "compromise" with corporate greed and vested interests. For those who will water down or erase the proposals for public health care, while the victims of privatized insurance suffer and die. For those who put political expediency above morality and conscience and simple humanity. For these, I have no words.

But many of them profess to follow a man who had sharp words for the elites - the "haves" - of his day. For those who would exploit the poor for their own benefit, for those who sided with the forces of oppression and empire, this man had no words of praise, but many of condemnation.

Here are those words, courtesy Pasolini's Gospel according to Matthew (the words come straight from the text):

President Obama and ladies and gentleman of the house and the senate: with whom do you stand? The elites who defend the power structure? The corrupt who exploit the poor for personal gain? Or do you dare to stand with that social revolutionary critic of all systems of domination and exploitation that you profess allegiance to?

Your actions regarding health care reform this summer will let us know where you really stand ... which side you really fight for.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Russ Feingold makes the case for a Public Health Care Plan

I tip my hat to our Senator from Wisconsin! Good form Feingold!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bill Moyers Joural connects Right Wing hatered with Violence

This is very telling, it's from September 2008. Listen particularly to Michael Savage - the filth! I think it even more relevant now:

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wionisms: Anticipating objections to Public Health Insurance

I figured that certain objections would naturally arise in response to my previous Vlogs on Health Care. This video is my anticipatory reply to such objections:

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Monday, June 15, 2009

If Jesus were a Health Insurance CEO

Just imagine if Jesus operated the same way the health Insurance industry does. The gospel story would read like this:

Once when they were passing through Capernaum, a blind man cried out to Jesus. And the blind man said to him, "Lord, help me!" And Jesus said unto him, "what would you have me do for you?" And the blind man said "Lord, help me to see again." And Jesus sat down and wrote with his finger on the ground and would not answer. But the crowd pressed Jesus for an answer. So Jesus got up and said unto the blind man; "I am sorry but I cannot heal you. I'm afraid that you have a pre-existing condition. Health care is not a human right and you have no right to expect the state to take care of you when you cannot afford to pay." And Jesus left the blind man for another village.
One need only read the gospels to realize that Jesus never did or would refuse to heal anyone. The health insurance industry, on the other hand, makes massive profits precisely in collecting premiums while denying care. Som
ething is clearly wrong with this!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wionisms: Compromise is not always a good thing

For more information on how Washington is currently handling health care reform, check out the June 15 issue of Time Magazine

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Bill Maher calls Obama out

Let me be quite clear, I think Bill Maher is an arrogant, smug, and condescending asshole. But in this video clip he calls out Obama and is pretty much right on the money:

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Sister makes Major League Baseball News!

So my sister won a contest that the San Diego Padres offered. Contestants were asked to share their favorite Padres memory, the winner was invited on the field, met the players, got memorabilia, and was featured on the scoreboard during the game and also on the team's web page.

Here is what my sister wrote to win the contest (click here for the story on the web page) :

I've been lucky enough to grow up a Padre fan. I've been there for many memories, like Trevor Hoffman's 500th save and Greg Maddux's 350th career win. But since I was about two years old I have wanted nothing more than to meet Tony Gwynn. If his amazing achievements on the field weren't enough to keep him my number one favorite player, Tony's 2000th and 3000th hits were on August 6th, his mother's birthday which is also my birthday. I've always boasted about sharing a birthday with Tony Gwynn's Mom!

So practically all my life I've wanted to meet Tony Gwynn, but I've always seemed to come so close and then miss the opportunity. If I'd arrive early enough for batting practice, Tony wouldn't be out. If there was an autograph signing, I would find out about it after the fact. It just seemed impossible to meet him.

Finally I heard about a signing at El Cajon Ford, and even though I was there early and Tony signed well past the allotted time, they stopped the signing when I was about ten people away from him. For years it has been a joke in my family how I never get to meet him. I honestly thought that the closest I'd ever get to Tony Gwynn was his statue at Petco Park.

But last year at the 1998 celebration game I was early enough to get in line to meet some of the 1998 players. The lines weren't marked at the time so I just got in the one that was closest to me. After standing around for a while an usher informed me I was in fact in the line for Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn. Well I just about fainted! And then I really started to freak out. I waited and waited and waited. It was only about an hour wait but it felt a lot longer and I was sure I'd be next in line and they would say it was too late. But thankfully I finally got to the autograph table and the usher told me to step up to the table. It was a quick exchange, like most autograph appearances are, but it was the most amazing experience I've had as a Padre fan. After 20 years, I had finally met Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre!

I returned to my seat and called everyone in my family to tell them the great news. The ball that Tony signed is by far one of my most precious possessions. The only question I have left now that I've met him is: what do I do now?
- Caitlin Wion, 40 Years of Padres Memories Contest Winner

That is a fine memory! And I'm proud to say that my sister has good writing skills as well!

Congrats Caitlin!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sex without Love?

The following is an article I wrote for Huliq News

"A growing trend among college students and other young singles is to have sexual or slightly less than sexual encounters with no commitment and no strings attached. NPR has recently studied the trend.

The Program can be found here.

The basic ideas are found on the NPR web sight:

The hookup — that meeting and mating ritual that started among high school and college students — is becoming a trend among young people who have entered the workaday world. For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.

It is a major shift in the culture over the past few decades, says Kathleen Bogle, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University.

Young people during one of the most sexually active periods of their lives aren't necessarily looking for a mate. What used to be a mate-seeking ritual has shifted to hookups: sexual encounters with no strings attached.

"The idea used to be you are going to date someone that is going to lead to something sexual happening," Bogle says. "In the hookup era, something sexual happens, even though it may be less than sexual intercourse, that may or may not ever lead to dating."

Young people from high school on are so preoccupied with friends, getting an education and establishing themselves, they don't make time for relationships.

This is an interesting trend.... I have no real interest in "moralizing" about it. I think, however, that from the standpoint of someone who thinks life is about building deep and abiding personal relationships (romantic AND otherwise) ... I'm not convinced that there is anything particularly fulfilling or rewarding here. But then again ... Perhaps others feel differently?

I find one thing most troubling about the whole matter. One young woman interviewed was extremely comfortable talking about her "sexual partners," but was embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about love. Much of the program revealed the lack of personal connection in these "hooks ups." Can such a lack and discomfort be in any way good?"

Don't get me wrong, if people wish to engage in such behavior I have no criticism of them. But I am alarmed at how the young people interviewed seemed to see love and relationships. They seemed radically afraid of, confused by, and unable to relate to love itself.

Or perhaps I am misjudging the situation? Perhaps this is just what a liberated attitude to sexuality looks like? I am sceptical of that position. I am, however, open to arguments.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

The "helpful" Health Insurance Industry

Good political cartoon via dcagle on twitter. I think this pretty much sums up the situation.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday: God is love

Today various branches of the Christian faith reflect upon the central theological doctrine of The Holy Trinity.

I am not personally interested in abstract jargon about the trinity. Nor do I believe that the trinity is a literal description of the divine ontology. The Trinity is a religious symbol and all such symbols are poetry not prose; metaphor, not factual declaration. The Trinity is a symbol about our experience of the divine, and not a literal/factual description of the deity.

This particular metaphor is multifaceted, it means a number of things. But what I want to focus on is the claim that "God is love." C. S. Lewis once wrote that The Trinity allows us to say that God is love. This is because, Lewis argued, the Triune God is NOT a person, but a set of relationships. Lewis took this too literally for my taste, but his point stands, love is a relationship and it is in love that we find the divine.

Two New Testament teachings explain this: The first is Jesus' declaration in Mark 12 (and Parallels) that the greatest commandment is "to love God with all one's heart mind and soul," which, for Jesus, is done by "loving one's neighbor (everyone) as one loves oneself." For Jesus - this is abundantly clear in the gospels - one loves God by loving one's fellow human beings.

The Second passage is 1 John 4:16. "God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him." Again, to touch the divine, love your fellow human beings.

Never mind whether you believe in some god or other. Atheist, agnostic, theist, or whatever ... surely it is true that in loving each other, in caring for one another, in working for peace, reconciliation, and understanding we come into touch with that which is sacred, holy, divine. Nothing more need be said than that.

And it is this that we celebrate this Trinity Sunday: The healing and empowering force of love.

I've always found the following hymn a powerful presentation of this theme:

Here are the Lyrics:

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us reverence and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other.

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.

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Wionisms: Why we need Public Health Insurance

This is the first post in which I will present via web cam. I won't do that often, but It won't be the last. I shall call these posts "Wionisms"

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Desmond Tutu offers wisdom and advice to this year's graduates

From the commencement speech at North Carolina's Chapel Hill - May 10, 2009:

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jiminy Cricket contrasts wisdom and folly

My first and greatest teacher Mr. Jiminy Cricket here explains how to avoid foolishness. Perhaps the GOP should consult the worthy Insect?

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Olbermann on murder as the product of right wing hate

Olbermann exresses the same view that I put forward in my previous post:

I stress that Olbermann is far more emphatically pro-choice than I am - and he is also more negative regarding conservatives than I think is appropriate - but I share much of his sentiment on this.

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Pro-Life? "Abortion Doctor" murdered.

I seldom post anything about abortion. The reason for this is that, though I support the legal option of abortion, I respect and have sympathies with those who think abortion should be illegal. I understand where they are coming from. I think the issue is incredibly complicated and difficult and can see why people can believe what they do.

So please do not take the following as an attack on all those who think abortion should be illegal. It is not. What I am about to say is not about all or even most of those who think abortion should be illegal and would call themselves "Pro-life." Taking the stand that abortion is never morally permissible is not a stand I take, but it is - in itself - a respectable and comprehensible position.

What I am concerned with is the use of "Pro-life," as some kind of cloak for a general world-view brimming with hatred and violence.

First, there is the murder of a doctor known for performing late term abortions. The following video provides the details (note carefully what the last man interviewed says):

Of course there are very few people who actually shoot such doctors (though this is hardly comforting knowledge for the bereaved). But, importantly, there are many more that feel such men deserve this. And that is the issue. A large segment of our population holds that those who perform abortions - and those who support the legal choice of abortion - are evil baby killers who should be "done away with." Most would not do it themselves, but they are not necessarily sorry to see it done.

This is a serious problem. So-called "Pro-choice" people are seen here as evil and vile; not as people who have made a decision on a very difficult and complex moral issue.

And let there be no mistake. Reflect a moment on the facts of embryology, the tragedy of rape and incest, threats to the life of the mother, the kind of life a child will be born into, the squalor of poverty and the impossibility of feeding another mouth in much of the world ... you may take in these complexities and issues and still oppose abortion, but you cannot consider these facts and think the matter is easy or obvious or that there is no room for honest disagreement.

The second concern was the reaction of certain groups to President Obama's speaking at Notre Dame. He was called a "baby killer," and a "bloodthirsty man." Alan Keyes insisted that Christ would never vote for Obama. These groups had no problem with Bush speaking at Notre Dame. Bush killed thousands in illegal wars, had prisoners tortured, held policies that - unless rapidly altered - will destroy the environment, and put more people to death as Governor of Texas than any other State leader (also against Christian beliefs!). All that was just fine for these folks, but abortion is just "beyond the pale."

Here is the bottom line: These groups are not motivated by compassion for the unborn. Their lack of compassion for the thousands of Iraqi people (including babies and the unborn!) killed by our invasion shows this clearly enough. They hate and despise what they decry as the "liberal" world-view and way of life. They are reactionary conservatives who cling to the decadent past of sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism, imperialism, and narrow-minded exclusivism of all types.

Just read some right wing blogs and web pages, you'll see just how much of the motivation here is hate and not compassion.

What this is all about is hatred. These groups hate progressive forces, hate change, detest emancipation ... and, lacking any sound arguments for their blind and narrow ideology, they pick out the most damning charge they can find .... "you liberal, feminists, gay-loving hippies .... you . ... you KILL BABIES!."

This is what it all comes down to.

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