Sunday, July 14, 2013

Standing Your Ground...Against The Zimmerman Verdict

  To start, I'd like to carefully point out my nearly unilateral support for the concept behind Stand Your Ground laws nationwide. Too often we've heard of the victim of a break-in or an attack being charged and tried for acting their own defense. Many states have grown weary of having no legal recourse but to pursue the letter of the law, even when the spirit and intent of same are being stretched beyond the believable.

  It should be unquestionably true that people have an inborn right to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and possessions when necessary. Sometimes the force used may be excessive, but as terrible as it may sound to some...I have no empathy for a robber or rapist who unexpectedly winds up the victim of an ironic turn of circumstance. Crawling in a window or creeping up another person's stairwell pretty much clears the victim of the break-in of any obligation to be reasonable or merciful. It is safer to assume the ill-intent of an intruding stranger suddenly found in your home. If someone dislikes being shot at...then they should probably consider looking into a career that doesn't involve home invasion or assaulting strangers.

  Stand your ground laws came into being to prevent people who had survived a criminal assault or intrusion (by exercising the right to defend themselves) from being incarcerated or prosecuted  for an act of very clear self defense. Such laws have a worthwhile place in the world, and are founded on common sense...something too often lacking in our highly politicized legal system. It doesn't help that the act of creating a new precedent regarding an existing law is considered a career building exercise for lawyers and judges. This process actually lends itself to wild stretches of existing law.

  I support the right to own firearms, even a wide variety of firearms, since different purposes call for different firearms. I cannot accept any claim that standard shotguns, rifles or pistols should be banned for any reason. I do believe in registration...and tracking of manufacturers shipments...because what constitutes a genuine 'ban' begins when someone cannot gain access to a gun...not, as some would claim, when they had to sign for it so that, if they kill another person with it, they can be traced and arrested. If you kill someone with it, either you have a reason worth explaining and should report yourself...or you should be arrested period. Registration is actually a more powerful deterrent than death penalties...and is measurably less fatal.

  Having said all this, and having spelled out that I still support the concept of stand your ground laws, we must inevitably move toward the sad drama of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The basic facts, even the ones spelled out by Zimmerman in police reports, cry out for an arrest...not for a stand your ground claim. Zimmerman was making his rounds as neighborhood watch, which trains all participants to observe and report...not intervene, when he saw Trayvon hop a fence on the way home. Zimmerman observed a black youth in a hoodie walk down a street after dark. He did not observe a crime in progress. He still called the police as he followed by car, and was instructed to wait while police were dispatched and keep watching.

  Sometime during that conversation Trayvon seems to have noticed that a man in a car was slowly following him down the street, which is something most of us would find creepy even in daylight, much less at night. When Trayvon hurried to get to safety, Zimmerman appeared to become convinced that the 'suspect' (again...the suspect of nothing but walking) was 'getting away'. Having duly convinced himself that a criminal was clearly escaping, Zimmerman left the car and physically assaulted Trayvon Martin, resulting in a scuffle or brawl. Frankly speaking, Zimmerman was fortunate he didn't attack a legally armed adult...because assaulting a person pretty much at random as they hurry for home is pretty much grounds for a self defense claim.

  Trayvon seems to have defended himself well...assuming that Zimmerman, the only survivor, is being accurate and truthful about the injuries he sustained. We'll assume that he was honest about it, because it's still not relevant. This is because when attacked by a strange man at night, everyone has the right to defend themselves, perhaps even excessively, because the fault lies with the aggressor, not the victim. Zimmerman's role as the aggressor is unquestionable, because his own explanation of events very clearly spells out that he was in no danger when he chose to leave his car and 'detain' (read that as physically assault an innocent person) Trayvon Martin.

  Now we come to the ugliest parts. Zimmerman, apparently bleeding and bruised after losing a brawl with a frightened and angry teenager roughly less than 75% his own weight, breaks off the fight and flees to the car, claiming that he was in fear of his life. Again, frankly, he deserved to be in fear for his life, because he'd decided to attack a stranger without even marginally real justification, just his own questionable mental state guiding him to 'be a hero'...if being a hero means attacking strangers at the drop of a hat. Still threatened by the angry victim of his assault, Zimmerman gets his gun from the car...and his defense now includes the claim that Martin nearly took the gun from him. Once again, we return to the other perspective: Trayvon's. The crazed assailant that stalked and attacked you has drawn a weapon...and wrestling it away from him is an act of desperate self defense in an attempt to keep a madman from taking your life. These would be the acts of a person defending their life and person within the boundaries of the law.

  And then we come to the end of Trayvon's life. He fails to wrestle the gun away...and makes a break for it in a last ditch attempt to save his own life. He runs...and out of five shots three manage to hit him in the back as he flees for safety. By the time police arrive Zimmerman is the only survivor and witness to the entire ordeal, and we have only his word and the police reports to draw from, so the whole truth cannot be known. A 17 year old is dead and the police inexplicably invoke stand your ground laws immediately...suggesting that an unarmed teen who bought snacks after dark was so dangerous that he deserved to be stalked, harassed, assaulted and then fatally shot while fleeing his own attacker.

  The entire case only became national because family members saw the horrible flaw in the reasoning of the police: you cannot "stand your ground" against an innocent person you stalked and attacked, then shot after taking a well deserved beating. The police exercised 'stand your ground' completely out of its context, stretching its definition to include vigilantes who disobey clear police directives, because any loosening of stand your ground laws is so unacceptable that even terrible injustices somehow became unimportant.

  People have made much of the dead kid's internet life...a 17 year old who had occasionally used marijuana and profanity (and yet maintained a superb grade point average and avoided actual trouble). I cannot recall a male teenager in the course of my entire life whose image wouldn't be tarnished by a thorough search of every deed and spoken word, because teenage boys seek out every opportunity to show themselves off in front of peers, to act tough or cool, to seem confident when they aren't. Marijuana was suddenly treated as a violence-inducing drug...despite the fact that marijuana has only ever induced violence against snack foods...not people. There's been much made of the wearing of a hoodie, much the way trenchcoats were made suspect in the wake of Columbine...as if clothes determine or indicate criminal intent (they assuredly do not, or at least play so slender a role that no serious attention can be given to these claims, especially regarding trenchcoats and hoodies, which are ubiqitous.)

  In the end, the diversions all come down to attempts to assassinate Trayvon Martin twice...once in life and again in death, to somehow make his death acceptable. The idea that 'stand your ground' laws might be jeopardized by a lone gunman vigilante who attacked an unarmed student walking home...is too much weight for minds to bear...and so they take the easy route to safer grounds...and blame the victim.

  To my mind, the only person who had a right to stand their ground, was Trayvon Martin, and despite making every attempt to get away first, he wound up forced into a confrontation and barely fought off his assailant...and paid for his courage and success with his life, only to have that life slandered in acts of naked partisan bigotry.

  Zimmerman's trial was so pathetic that I am forced to assume that the prosecution actually planned to fail...intentionally. It was a trial in name only, devoid of facts, full of theatrics, and empty of justice. Murder 2 was non-provable. In truth, Zimmerman was not guilty...because Murder in the second degree would have had to show planning instead of desperate reaction to a crisis (even a self created crisis.) The prosecution MUST have known this to be true...and so I presume that their overreaching was entirely deliberate. Manslaughter would have been an accurate charge, since it doesn't imply planning or intent to kill, just responsibility for the fatal ending of that encounter. Manslaughter could have proven beyond reasonable doubt, and yet it wasn't chosen as a charge, and the wildly improbably Murder 2 was chosen instead.

  Given the conduct of the officers on that initial night, and their rush to attribute the well-connected Zimmerman son's conduct to a stand your ground defense, it's actually safe to say that Sanford's law enforcement and judicial community are now suspect of not just incompetence, but actual conspiracy to obstruct justice. The appropriate act would be a federal intervention and investigation, to determine if the prosecutor, judge or any other local officials colluded to build a severely flawed case against Zimmerman, one which they were sure would fail in court and leave Zimmerman a free man.

  However much I like stand your ground laws, and I really do, I deeply despise unequal treatment under the law. The backbone of a free republic is a legal system that struggles constantly to avoid bias and prejudice. Our courts should let the actual events speak for themselves...not the pocketbooks or skin colors or accents of the defendants decide the outcomes. The fact that our legal system is such a shamble of patchwork local evasions and racially motivated exceptions should rightly be offensive to us all, because it stand in direct contradiction to everything that the earliest Americans were striving to prevent from recurring after the end of British rule and the imperious and unjust conduct of Crown courts. Knowing that a man or woman's life or freedom is at stake means that legal proceedings should be undertaken with great seriousness, and that innocence is assumed until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately for Trayvon, guilt was assumed on sight, the sentence was death, and there was no trial to clear him...just a fraudulent show of legal trickery to ensure the freedom of his killer, while for the killer no expense was spared, innocence was assumed despite a confession that contradicted even that generous assumtion, and no serious charges were filed against him...just a laughably inept attempt to press an improbable claim of Murder 2.

  My condolences go not just to the family of Trayvon Martin, but to the people of an entire country who watched their legal system fail, and watched crowds of violent, slanderous bigots cheer for a gross miscarriage of justice. Nearly as culpable as George Zimmerman is our culture of partisan obligations...which induces normally sane people to bend their minds in every possible way to avoid ugly truths. We encourage a culture of frightened sheep to clutch their firearms to the breasts and sleep lightly, ready to open fire at a moment's notice. This sad attitude has even penetrated police departments, until officers that once would have responded with calm assurance and minimal force, now open fire almost at random, or make use of tasers and tear gas when dealing with small children and elderly persons. The inherent cowardice in this is a reflection of a society losing its intestinal fortitude but unwilling to acknowledge that painful reality. If you live in fear, you will be ruled by it and act on it, and you do not have the 'right' to call those actions 'reason'. Cowardice is not courage, failure is not success, and feelings are not substitutes for facts. The world is a dangerous place...and it's made that way mostly by fear...so kidding ourselves about our own fears and their influence over us not only won't make us safer...it puts us all at greater risk than ever before. Let's hope Trayvon's legacy, if he can be said to have one despite a life cut short, is a wake up call to the fearful who let their fear give birth to the kind of madness that took a young man's life without cause.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Unraveling 40 Years Of Economic Failure: Part 1

There is a reason that economists often seem disassociated from reality...and the reason is that they, in many ways, are actually disassociated from human reality...the reality of everyday life. This isn't a unique condition, however, and can be equally applied to most people when discussing the mathematical reality of economics. There is a disconnect...because the subject too easily lends itself to emotional reactions based on personal experience or political philosophy. When the numbers are in the trillions, and the ebb and flow of wealth becomes divorced from anything we can connect to, we seek out meaning and connection...even imposing false meaning atop empirical evidence to the contrary. Reality, especially with regard to a mathematical absolute, is far less digestible than patented buzzwords and comforting slogans. The purpose of this exercise is to reacquaint at least some small number of people with fiscal realities that may have political ramifications...and may be philosophically repugnant...but remain absolutely true just the same, without regard for finer sentiments.

An economy is, at its core, the financial actions of millions upon millions of people, interacting on small scales and large, simultaneously and constantly. In addition to its classical origin, our new era of information transfer and high speed communication has lent itself to the swift movement and calculation of immeasurable wealth...with fewer human involvements than ever before. The dynamics of past eras cannot be said to have remained unchanged by this leap forward in technology. To postulate otherwise is the manifestation of desperate desire for a grounding in the familiar. The way in which our economy can be called 'managed' has changed radically in a very small number of decades...and the results have been measurable. The very wealthy have grown considerable more wealthy, with a corresponding increase in influence...while the more average worker has experience an increase only in hardship, a loss of opportunity, and a diminished relevance politically and socially, with corresponding stresses in other facets of their lives.

To begin in earnest, lets dismiss the concept of a 'free market'. The popular imagination has absorbed the two words with an attached meaning implying few or no interferences by government...an attempt to move back to a time when markets ebbed and flowed with little involvement by outside forces, which is ludicrous after even a short historical study of economics. There has never been a time when the choices of governments, be they theocracies, monarchies or democracies, have left markets theoretically untouched and allowed to flow freely. Government, in all its forms, is always a powerful mover of capital, shifting wealth from place to place, sometimes toward industrialization and modernization, sometimes toward military conquest, sometimes to art and science and faith. The degree of involvement may vary, but its impact has always (and will always) be massive. The only issue at stake is where its influence is most effective and generates the most positive overall effect. Some weigh 'positive effect' differently than others. For my purpose, I consider the most positive effect to be a broad involvement of as many people as possible in the economic system of a nation. More is better in my view. 350 million involved people generate greater results economically than 100 million involved people. The greater their level of involvement, the greater the corresponding gain on a national scale. This is not an unreasonable assumption.

No market has ever been truly free. Once we accept this, we move unerringly to the understanding that what marks a healthy 'unfree' market from an unhealthy 'unfree' market is the degree of accessibility and level of accountability to legitimate civil authority. The worst examples of poorly regulated, ill managed economies have given us visions of hell on Earth. Pre-revolution France, pre-Soviet Russia, modern Haiti etc etc. These markets and nations suffered from both an excess and a shortage of freedom at the same time. Freedom became a limited commodity available only to those who could wrest it away from others...and with no civil authority strong enough to maintain a balance and no means to equitably involve a wide array of people in the economy, revolution, violence and chaos ensued.

Again, it is just my view, but as far as I am concerned Communism failed utterly in its attempts to create a more just system of governance that would level the playing field. In every case where it has been attempted, the system has always been subverted by a limited group of powerful players who diminished access for others and enriched themselves, recreating a new class struggle even while railing against it. We can assume safely that class will always be an issue, that some will have more and others less, but it is how we manage and balance that difference between classes that determines if we spiral into anarchy and bloodshed...or if we trundle along with comparative contentment.

By way of example, lets consider an automobile. Imagine a car with countless rules thrust upon it and its driver. Its every function is micromanaged and carefully controlled until minimal risk is achieved. It is utterly stagnant, slow, and nearly valueless as a means of transport or personal freedom of movement. Imagine a second car and driver, on which no controls of any kind are placed. It careens wildly from place to place with no nod toward safety or even survival, at speeds that would normally be considered suicidal in the hands of any but the most expert, and ultimately crashes spectacularly. Neither of these is a desirable outcome. Somewhere between the two exists a harmonious acceptance of limits that allows both modest usefulness and likely safety. Somewhere between the extremes lies a long term path to success. This is also true in economics.

My contention would be that, in part by design, and in part by accident, the United States briefly stumbled upon that happy medium. Even a cursory glance at its changes through the Twentieth Century would show a country that shifted gears from a largely rural, isolationist nation of modest means...to an economic powerhouse that unquestioningly dominated the global scene by any measurement that one cares to use. Note that this article isn't about the countless small inequities which have occurred along the way. Inequities arise...always...and can and have been dealt with in any number of ways for better or worse. What is being reviewed and examined here is the impact of economic policy on the United States...and what portions of those policies have resulted in great gain for many...and what portions have resulted in great gain for few at the expense of many.

Let's consider money supply in the most simple possible terms. There is money. The supply of same is not and has never been based solely on the basis of limited precious metals. For those who imagine a rosy era of gold standards absolutely determining the total amount of wealth a nation can possess...the bad news is that this is a modern fiction when weighed against the history of global economics. It had been a factor...not an absolute, and it remains a factor, not an absolute. The wealth of a nation is in part its goods and services, its productivity and the countless tiny exchanges of materials and services and wealth. The supply of money allotted is loosely based on the approximate total value of all that is transpiring at a given time...and this is both reasonable and true. What isn't reasonable is expanding the supply of money infinitely or excessively for mere convenience. In this, popular conservative views of economic policy are absolutely correct, even if they rarely apply this truth when it's inconvenient for them. It should be agreed upon that any increase in the theoretical supply of money based on anything other than actual value is essentially a devaluation of the existing currency, stretching and flattening dough until it becomes thinner and thinner...ultimately creating less value for all (especially for those who possess quite a bit already, and have no desire to see the real time value of a billion dollars become something more like 600 million.)

Having asserted that there is, and should be, a limited supply of money at any given time (with room for adjustment as the combined value of economic activity changes), let us move to how that total wealth is managed and measured, and what difference it makes. Government, be it elected or unelected, for better or worse, looms large in its ability to organize and accomplish large scale tasks. How trustworthy it is...that is another issue...but every monumentally large task undertaken throughout history has always returned to government. The Great Wall, the Pyramids, Hoover Dam etc...leaving aside the religious connotations and connections as inspiration, the actual work was organized and executed by act of government. Government rarely ever has managed all wealth in a nation, but has always been involved in the controlled movement of wealth...determining the means by which wealth is measured, the value of the available money, the terms under which the money is used and distributed and the taxation of property, goods, services and other forms of economic activity. In this era, where finance is crucial and goals incalculably more complicated than in the past, government finds itself with more on its plate than ever before. No highly successful or internationally relevant government is lax and divorced from the process of oversight.

Management and measurement of capital and wealth are, in fact, the primary task of government. In measurement, it is a matter of maintaining an accurate picture of the value and nature of the accumulated wealth and influence of a nation...and in management it is the determining of where that wealth is best directed or supported...and for what gain. With the measurement of gain being considered as a vibrant economy in which the widest possible number of people are included and involved (purchasing goods, services, property and making investments), it becomes obvious that government's ideal part in the process is furthering that goal and moving to include as many people as possible in the economic activity...which furthers gain for both government and business as a pleasant side effect.

Obviously (to most), the money cannot be simply gathered up and doled out perfectly equally. This is as abhorrent and pathetic a concept as its opposite (the money simply being piled at the top with zero accessibility to others). As soon as money begins to move, whenever value is allowed to change hands, it begins to accumulate in greater or lesser amounts that wildly vary from person to person. Capitalism, for all its faults, acknowledges this simple reality. No successful attempt has ever been made to equitably deal with this reality...only failed attempts that stifled opportunity and led to a gangsterish clique with near total control of the supply of wealth...a grotesque mirror parody of capitalism at its worst. The only realistic approach is to accept that money will accumulate in specific places as it changes hands...and then take action to force that money to continue moving. Whether this is ethical or not is irrelevant...it is still less horrifying than the consequences of letting money stagnate. Ask the Russian monarchy about it...if you can find any who are alive.

The movement of money is not unlike the movement of fluid...it flows fastest where a path is cut for it...or left to its own devices cuts a path for itself and then sticks to precisely that path unless diverted. Since it is untenable to leave money utterly to its own devices, or to assume control of all of it, it is both reasonable and right to make attempts to divert it and control its flow. Let us make for our example a small population of 10,000 people, because it is far more difficult to keep our minds on simple realities of the task when the numbers move into the hundreds of millions. Of that ten thousand people, all desire to live and prosper, and all must find sustenance and shelter in a modern economy. All have access to at least some small amount of money, and some few have access to quite a bit more than others. The ebb and flow of goods, services and property are already assumed to be in place, the presence of jobs and of government may likewise be assumed to be in place. Consider it a tiny, miniature America if you will, in proportion identical to the makeup of the United States. Assume an identical timeline politically and socially as well...and we begin.

At and during the period of its greatest power and influence, government had a heavy hand in taxation and distribution of wealth, as well as in the oversight of commercial activity. This heavy hand came into being after a period of increasing laxity that resulted in extreme losses and considerable harm to many people. The resulting firm hand and excessive involvement came about as a response intended to smooth the flow of wealth and prevent future crises...and to reassure the people that they were invested in the process and should not choose to destroy it in favor of some other political/financial system. Government had its hand in nearly everything...doling out money for education, infrastructure large and small, research, agriculture, defense, and even general employment and oversight of seemingly minute issues. Money was effectively moved from everyone...but most visibly from the very wealthy...and shuffled about in many ways and for many ends...but more important than where it moved...was THAT it moved.

We return to that example of 10,000 theoretical citizens...they have ample access to education and higher education at reasonable prices, sound infrastructure that enables development and transportation, subsidized utilities and a marketplace that remains competitive while keeping competition checked against excess. Legitimate means are available to seek redress of both economic and social grievances. In short...there is balance...certainly not perfect balance, but sufficient to engender an environment of affluence for more people than usual. A larger percentage of the average population can afford what other countries might consider luxuries...and we agree that this is good. Investment is at an all time high...and stability and peaceful transfer of power is more visible than elsewhere in the world.

Popular wisdom has become, largely by advertisement and think tank propaganda, that taxes are wholly onerous...doubly so when placed heavily upon corporations and the wealthy, and that taxes stifle investment and expansion. The conventional wisdom holds that if companies and wealthy individuals have more money...they have more to invest in innovation, expansion and hiring. Despite the fact that the greatest widespread economic growth took place while top tax rates were double or even near triple the current rates, and that considerable regulation and restriction and oversight were in place...the popular myth remains that low taxes lead to greater investment.

The opposite is true. I know its hard to believe after two generations of the same drumbeat...but the exact opposite is true. Taxes breed investment. In fact...they force it into being by default. Lower taxes promote hoarding of capital and flatly discourage any form of investment save for the most spurious and intangible. Why on earth would anyone...anyone at all...with enormous amounts of capital and imaginative ways to increase it with few taxes...turn around and squander that money on hiring, wages, safety, expansion or any other form of civic or civil investment? They logically shouldn't, and just as logically...now they don't. Onerous taxes...especially applied heavily to those individuals who build enormous amounts of capital through profit or inheritance, force investment because the money serves them better when invested and tax-free...even when spent on hiring, wages and charitable causes, than it does when withdrawn as profit and made subject to taxation. Who wouldn't choose to take home a 1 million dollar paycheck and lose half to taxes...rather than withdraw 100 million in profit and see 85% of it vanish instead? This is precisely why many of the great 'gifts', bequeaths, trusts and other foundations came into being. The money they were created with would have been devoured by taxes if not given away in a goodwill raising public relations gesture. Taxes built the greatest economic engine, with the soundest wages, and with the most productivity and shared wealth in the history of the planet. Taxes funded the largest public works programs and developed the most modern infrastructure ever conceived by humankind. Taxes developed a quality of life that set one nation apart from the entire world, a model of futuristic potential achievement that all others merely sought to copy.

And then we started slashing them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Assange Quandary: Wikileaks Under Fire

It's rapidly becoming the fight of our times, the crucial battle to define all future battles, the question that once answered will decide what future questions will be permitted. Is Wikileaks a terrorist organization with the purpose of harming world governments as its core mission? Or is Wikileaks a whistleblower's paradise, a large and well run website that funnels evidence of criminal wrongdoing into the public eye when no one else will touch it with a ten foot pole?

It may be easy enough to play devil's advocate and fight for the little guy (Assange) who is presently under attack by multiple governments and legal systems at the same time...not to mention the heretofore unheard of decision by various corporations to shut off routes for funding and donation for Wikileaks as well as Assange personally. My instincts always push me to root for the underdog, but the question of the hour is whether the underdog is worth rooting for.

More than personalities or state security, what is now at stake is decidedly larger than like or dislike of any one government or that governments actions. Much larger than the petty frauds of global corporations. Infinitely larger than the bruised egos of various players around the world. What is underway now is the fight to close off any future avenue by which information might move from the hands of the protected few, into the hands of the outraged many.

The ability to make an informed decision is the backbone of actual democracy. Take that away and all that is left is a gilded land of make believe where citizens make decisions they believe are right...never knowing that if the information they needed had been available to them...they might have chosen differently. Information is freedom, because it determines the faith one has in one's leaders, decides the course of action one sees as wise, and makes possible the best decisions when ignorance only breeds the worst.

Wikileaks, for all its faults, as well as Julian Assange, may be less than noble at heart and full of human errors and flaws...but the purpose they serve is larger than they are, more precious than they can ever hope to be. We are in the Information Age...and that name is no accident. The capacity to move data around the globe in seconds is the defining characteristic of our new era, and the debate over virtual rights and control of same has become the deciding question of our time.

We scoff at China's Great Firewall, or North Korea and Iran's attempts to clamp down on what is seen and heard and read and even spoken...but when the hard question is asked of us...how will we respond? Is transparency worth its risks and price? Are we really better than the nations we scorn? Does inconvenient truth have greater value to us than to others?

In Australia, attempts to blacklist the worst extremes of pornography passed and became law...and it was universally agreed to be a good thing except by the shrillest voices at the fringe. Of course, after the fact we all look at the inclusion of political and religious sites among the blocked...and consider that an overuse of power by the Australian government. The temptation was too great...once some small group of persons was entrusted with the choice over what Aussies might be allowed to see or read on the internet, the censoring immediately spun out of control and moved far beyond what was agreed to at the outset.

The United Kingdom has bandied about a new anti-porn system, intended to make it necessary for people to 'opt in' if they wish to view pornography...but this has been poo-pooed as unwieldy and too difficult to implement...and even without such a law the surveillance state of England has already intruded into the personal lives of every citizen in the proclaimed fight against terror...even resulting in the recent case of a 12 year old being questioned by local police and accused of 'terrorism related activities' in advance of the public protest he planned to save a local youth building.

Control of internet access and the way in which it may be employed is a planet wide battle, a patchwork quilt of corporate lobbied notions and rights groups insistences, shifting to and fro depending on who wins the debate in what country. The U.S. Congress will likely be reviewing the FCC's latest compromise on net neutrality...if such a thing can be called neutrality when it surrenders most of the power to decide content to the largest players in the game.

Everywhere the battle is being fought, but depending on the information available to you, your position is subject to change. Imagine for the briefest of moments a world where someone wrote a script to be read in front of you, and that script was called your news, and that person who wrote it decided on your behalf what sides would be taken, what questions asked, what information revealed. That script constitutes all that you know of the world beyond your doors and your town and your political choices hinge on what that script tells you. That imagined world is entirely possible...that world is China, Iran, and North Korea.

So in the end, whether the underdog of the moment is an unworthy individual or group like Assange or Wikileaks as a whole, and whether I find fault with them personally, I stand absolutely and resolutely on the side of both genuine net neutrality and transparency by questionable means when necessary (since any legitimate means to achieve transparency are thwarted easily). It may be ugly, but it must be done, because the concept of an informed citizenry was and is rightly seen as necessary for the maintenance of a truly free society. Whether Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine would have agreed, I cannot say...but to me their principles apply just as well in an era of cathode ray tubes as they did in an era of hand printed pamphlets.

Hate them or love them, Assange and Wikileaks are the voice of future freedom, with all its entailed costs and curses. There is one other voice...and that voice is an droning Orwellian recording, repeating endless praises for the State and constant assurances that all is well. That is the voice that should be silenced, muffled, gagged and cut off once and for all. That is the voice of a future that no one would choose...if they were allowed to know they were choosing it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Vote

I know that ultimately this is just a whisper being fired into a tornado...but it's my whisper and I'll do with it what I please. Vote.

Technically it may invest you in the process that gets us into this mess we're neck deep in...and I know it doesn't feel good to know that whomever you voted for didn't achieve what you'd hoped. Vote anyway.

I know it's a fuss and a bother and involves standing in a line with a bunch of people that you have nothing in common with...except that you do...voting. Vote.

It really is a great deal like a lottery...there is very little chance that you'll hit the perfect combination and get what you want...but there is no chance of any kind if you don't get up and get out and join in. Vote.

The choices are like most choices in life, no better or worse. It's usually a range of compromises that aren't always fun to make...but that's life. Get over it and vote.

Vote because you can, because others paid a bitter price to give you that freedom. Vote because it is something that exists in many other places...but which still escapes many countries. Vote.

The national scene has comparatively little impact on your daily life, but the city, county, and state electorate is directly tied to your vote...and has an enormous impact on how you live every day. Vote.

Vote not because you agree with me, but because it is an expression of your beliefs, whatever they may be. In this we are true equals. Vote.

You have a voice. It is a very small voice. One among a din of millions. Not everyone will hear you...but you will be heard. Vote.

Vote because it is the one truly momentous thing you share with every nearby neighbor and with every far flung citizen...people as far away as geographically possible...Americans one and all. We all have one thing in common...we can vote, and let that tiny voice be heard, take that tiny chance at getting what we want or believe in, express that freedom that was bought so dearly by others and given to us as a gift...with only one string attached...we have to use it to keep it.

So vote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Beast With A Thousand Heads: Why is the Tea Party so hard to pin down?

Like the Lernaean Hydra of old, the Tea Party presents the media, and average people everywhere with a political bent to their nature, with a tantalizing conundrum. It came into being quickly, gelling as a national force, albeit a smaller one than many would like to admit, and devouring as much media attention as groups many hundreds of times their size. Despite this, when the topic of the Tea Party comes up there are as many definitions as there are people in the room. It is all things to all people, a ghost in the machine that cannot be explained away, a different mask on each of a hundred different faces. What the hell is the Tea Party?...and more importantly, if we're defining it inaccurately, how can we honestly oppose it when we aren't genuinely sure of what it is?

And therein lies the truth of the problem. We can't easily define it, because in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the vast coalition of smaller groups that dominated the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party Movement is everything and none of the above. It is comprised of widely varying groups as well as lone citizens joining others for the first time. It is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-white, pro-Christian, anti-Federal reserve, and pro or anti ALMOST anything you can imagine...plus a few more things besides.

You can't easily lump them all as bigots or racists...because a vast many of them are not racist at all. One of the heads of the hydra bellows the N-word...and the other heads disagree and drown it out, sheepishly embarrassed by one of their own number. Another head shouts out for the belief that America is a purely Christian nation chosen by God to dominate the world...and the other heads roll their eyes and facepalm themselves while trying to quiet things back down. Likewise the conspiracy theorists, the Birthers, the 9/11 Truthers and more more more.

For every diverse little face in the crowd, there is someone outside of the Tea Party who equates that person with the totality of the movement itself. If a person hates Fundamentalist Christians, then Fundamentalists become the aspect of the Tea Party that he despises most and perceives as the dominant characteristic of the Tea Party. If a person despises racism, then the fringe of white power activists in the Tea Party becomes the powerhouse of the movement, defining it utterly as a racist organization.

This is neither truthful or productive...and by micro focusing an attack against a tiny portion of the Tea Party (even if you believe that its not tiny) it becomes like struggling in quicksand. The tiny grains cannot be dealt with...but the whole is the greater problem. Insulting a large number of people who may be very genuinely opposed to the taxes they pay and the general corruption of federal government isn't the answer. Being clear and concise in criticism of the worst elements is more effective than attempting to brand the whole with a label that won't stick...because people, despite their faults and foibles, generally trust personal experience over simple labeling.

I've been as guilty as others...sometimes venting my frustration at the general ignorance of Tea enthusiasts by blasting them with broad strokes...and I have to admit that after giving due consideration to the matter, I was wrong. I may have been right about the individual I was dealing with, but I was wrong about their relevance to the whole movement. In the future, I will try to aim my criticism with precision, because I would appreciate and admire the same courtesy being shown by others, and even if they don't do this it would still set my mind at ease and prevent hypocrisy on my part.

What do I see the Tea Party as now? They're new, largely white and Christian, fast forming into a national brand, and concerned with a wide variety of different issues...but focusing broadly on the reduction of taxes and the curtailing of federal authority.

And unfortunately, despite the degree to which I agree with those two concepts, they are massively underwritten by powerful conservative groups who are channeling that general dissatisfaction into a movement that will vote alongside the neo-conservative bloc of the GOP. There is no question in my mind on this single issue. Despite some bucking at the reins and complaints from within, the Tea Party as a whole is completely co-opted at the national level, and is being manipulated to help coalesce support for the party and policies that treat government's task as the facilitation of ease for business interests...not service to the people of the nation that elected them. This is worse in principle than even "big government liberalism" at its most onerous.

Government's role is not to facilitate the creation of an atmosphere conducive to easy money for the top percent of citizens. Government may serve best when it serves least, but it should be a duly elected body that serves all of its people, equally, not just a few...and its ability to act should be supreme when necessary. If you want an example of weak central authority and free markets...look no further than Haiti. It isn't pretty, but it's an honest picture of how those principles fare in the real world. Government is a necessary evil...but one which should be kept in check by various balances of power...and if I could encourage Tea Party enthusiasts to adopt one single platform it would be the restoration of the checks and balances originally framed in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights of the United States.

One helpful side note for them as well...if you undertake anything as radical as a call for real and effective change to make the government the servant of citizens and not vice versa...neither FreedomWorks nor the Koch Bros. will be there for you with free buses and pickets...there will be no website developers leaping to your aid on the house, and there will be no media firestorm beating its path to your office doors...because the minute you no longer serve the interests of the supremely wealthy individuals who are footing the bill and seem so sympathetic now, you will be on your own. If power welcomes you to speak truth and hands you a microphone to do it...it must not be dangerous to them...and if it doesn't meet that criteria, you are just an quiet ally to entrenched power and a fart in the wind tunnel of public discourse.

But if they should need advice on how to cope with that sudden loss of support and the distance suddenly placed between them and access to media and influence...they can always talk to the real Left. The genuine Left (which is to be distinguished from the DNC...a completely separate being with nearly no relationship, political, philosophical or otherwise to the political Left) have been experiencing exactly that for generations now, and they already know its the price they pay for threatening the flow of money between powerful people with interruption and expecting government to serve rather than represent those who expect service from all.

In the end, even if the Tea Party's members can't acknowledge that every single member doesn't share their personal branch's beliefs...and that some of those members' beliefs are so radical as to be horrifying and even downright evil, they will splinter and fragment, remaining a vocal new minority...but they'll never have national relevance as they collapse in on themselves.

At some point the 'big house' times must come to an end, and an honest appraisal of what they expect from members will have to come. At that point, honesty about the fringes in their ranks will take hold and the worst elements will have to be chased off. The militant Christian brigades, the Aryan Nation spin offs, and others will have to be toned down or ejected. In all likelihood, as this happens, they will also form a coherent platform that pretty much represents the best interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, and vote as one alongside the bought and paid for politicians they despise, and with the same results...stagnant corruption in our leadership and financial duress for most Americans. It isn't really going out on a limb to predict this, since they're lined up eagerly, with representatives who have spelled out most of what they support, ready for election time in just a few weeks...and I don't see that trend changing until after the November dust settles.

I hope that, in the aftermath of this time of chaos and uncertainty, the rancor isn't so great that common ground is impossible to find. There are core principles in the Tea Party that I find admirable...in principle...but I see a great rush to apply them in a way that will only diminish both our personal rights and prosperity. I actually feel great regret that a movement that emerged partly as a response to genuine frustration with corrupt government has become the fighting arm of that which it theoretically opposed. If the Kool Aid wears off and the desire to fight for justice and the rule of law over corporations and people alike ever kicks in, I will welcome them with open arms as brothers and sisters in the fight to leave something better for our children, but for now, however much sympathy I may have for the principles, they are effectively little more than well meaning dupes for the enemies of all who value freedom and democracy.

And lest anyone think I am painting with too broad a brush stroke: they are not all racists, they are not all Fundamentalists, and they are not all crazy or stupid...but they're still just working for the wrong side, and because that's a terrible thing to understand and live with, they just don't want to know it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Death By Convenience

America is clamoring for change...some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it downright ridiculous, but most of it is wishful thinking or the essence of a pipe dream at best. Much of it is powered by good intentions and emotionally charged visions of a better America...but all of it stands to face an uphill battle against the status quo...and the status quo is more powerful than ever before.

What makes even the smallest changes such an uphill struggle? Corruption, negligence, crony-ism and more reasons roll off the tongue easily, but there is a hidden poison that has added to the problem at every level, altering the mechanisms that would bring about changes for any party interested in making them.

What separates this era from any other? What marks this time and place as unique in history? What impedes the normal process of flux and change from progressing as it normally would?

Given the title of the article, it's clear that I think the problem is convenience, so let me outline why I believe this to be true.

First and foremost, just since the advent of television as a medium for entertainment and advertising, the culture of consumerism and the sedentary nature of leisure activities is a fact so well documented and evident that it literally requires no evidence to back it up...beyond asking people to examine the contents of their homes and assess for themselves the nature of their entertainment/leisure pursuits.

The hallmark of American life is the vast variety of creature comforts that are available to us. In fact, it's even the way we advertise our superiority to the world, advocating that they too could someday be as comfortable as we. Our food is price fixed to stay affordable so that chain restaurants can keep those cheap meals flowing fast. Even households not blessed with great income have DVD players, CD players, radio, wireless, cellphones with internet access and more more more.

We are a convenience culture, with stores on every corner, food that comes ready made or can be prepared and consumed in minutes, and entertainment that can soothe the restless mind always ready at hand...and this is not all bad...but there are side effects that may not have been given the consideration they were due.

In a world where one struggles for little, what value does patience or determination really have? Thinking cautiously and planning for the future are reflections of an ethos that was necessary a few generations ago...but is no longer relevant the way it once was. A person prepared to endure adversity...to go without what they desire in the short term so that they may have what they prioritize in the long term...is a person well prepared for survival in ANY era...but that person is rarer than ever.

As clear as in our personal lives, our politics also darkly reflect an intemperate, hasty, slapdash sort of thinking...a hunger for immediate satisfaction that can quickly turn into outraged frustration... more-so now than ever before. The overwhelming and sudden success of the Tea Party is a mirror held up to our own nature as a society. Where once people rose up and faced violence to fight for labor conditions that weren't terrifying or downright routinely lethal...or for civil rights so that each individual citizen might have the same access to the benefits of citizenship in a free society as any other...now we are treated to the spectacle of people rising up on behalf of the well funded pundits and think tanks that answer the question in their souls: Why am I not happier?

Like snake oil salesman, the pitch is delivered fluently, sympathetically and skillfully...aimed at people who in the midst of overwhelming plenty, still are not content, and who need somewhere...someone on whom to lay the blame. The secret of advertising is to know your target audience...to understand what moves their hearts. Insecurity? Fear? Anger? Loneliness? Whatever your emotions may be, an appeal is being made to them, calculated to have an impact that isn't thought about...but which is responded to quickly.

The great peril in a free society where advertising and convenient entertainment is an everyday experience is that the people so exposed to that culture of convenience may become less conscious of their own responses, simply reacting from the gut without any understanding of how they can be manipulated. Our society has been built on the back of self determination and self management...principles that in theory are quite conservative...and very agreeable to me in principle.

But what becomes of such a society if it allows the minds and spirits to degrade into a state of pure, animalistic reaction? How then will a people, supposedly the masters of their own destinies, manage themselves well in a democracy? The answer is that they don't. It ceases to be a democracy in anything but name, and the gifted will simply manipulate vast herds people into believing, with righteous indignation, that they are enacting their own will...rather than echoing what has been spoon fed to them as the latest cure-all for their ills.

And here we are...nearing the eve of mid-term elections with a new and thundering voice being heard...clamoring not for freedom, but for the right to reduce inconvenient freedoms. Sounding off, not for the rights of people...but for the rights of corporations. Crying out not for equality...but for a limited superiority for certain classes of citizens.

How low have we fallen from the ideals that brought us into being as a country? How much lower can we fall? We'll find out in our lifetimes...and we should have a fairly clear vision of what that fall will be like...just a few weeks from now. An electorate driven by emotional responses to carefully selected buzzwords cannot prevail and choose a wise course, or wise leaders...and in due time we'll see where a life no longer built on patience and self determination, but instead crafted of convenience, has led us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's Not My Grandfather's GOP Anymore

It was hard for me to watch the past 30 years, as the GOP of my childhood morphed and warped into a twisted caricature of the party it had once been, and as classical conservatism slowly faded away only to be transformed into neo-conservatism, the political force now stronger than ever today. This was hard to watch not because of the harm that has been done to political discourse in general and to millions of Americans through misguided policy, but because I still hold a deep affection for the old principles that once guided the conservatism of a bygone era, and because those principles have been cast to the wayside as a consequence of the past several decades of political wrangling.

Conservatism once offered up an ideal counterbalance to the excesses of hurried idealism that fueled liberal changes to law, government and life, mostly by virtue of applying caution and a respect for fiscal sanity (in principle if not always in practice) into the debate. The two extremes functioned like Yin and Yang, each grinding away the roughest and worst edges of the other. That balance is entirely lost to us now.

Many remember the more recent struggles for the 'soul of the party', but the battle has been going on much longer than that. So long, in fact, that most have forgotten what Republicans and conservatives were like prior to the 1980's and the Reagan administration, which swept into power an enormous number of early neo-conservatives and entrenched them in both our political system and public political dialog.

From Christine Whitman of New Jersey, whose brief stint as head of the EPA was ended by an apparent hesitance to routinely lie and creatively edit scientific studies that didn't jibe with the administration's platform, to General Colin Powell and former prosecutor David Iglesias, conservatives who display moderation and unflinching fairness without regard to party interests are removed from power and replaced with persons who share the new party zeal for strict neo-conservative orthodoxy.

Locally, for those of us in this part of Michigan, we watched the removal of Joe Schwartz from the party ticket, against the will of his many supporters, so that a radical neo-conservative preacher could campaign in his stead. Two years later, the position was in Democratic hands, since no one really felt comfortable with a radical weirdo and support shifted to a Democrat who at least gave the impression of being sane.

A few notes regarding Joe Schwartz should be included to understand why he didn't pass the neo-con litmus test. As a military veteran and former intelligence officer, he was a firm supporter of veteran's rights, which is inconvenient in an era where more veterans than ever are being mishandled and abused by a system intent on reducing their financial impact on the federal government. As a doctor, he opposed excessive restrictions on abortion access and gag rules that limit a doctor's ability to give sound medical advice. In the new orthodoxy this is akin to heresy, and Joe Schwartz paid the price for bucking at the reins. He was proof that a conservative Republican could support efforts to reduce abortion by reducing its causes in a sensible fashion, without falling back on draconian attacks on the individual liberty of women. That kind of thinking is unwelcome at GOP meetings these days.

But how did it come to this? What was different about the GOP prior to its radicalization? Does anyone even remember? I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak from first and second hand experience by referring to my grandfather, a man I admired enormously and loved without condition.

He was comfortably middle class, in part because he often treated people when payment was an unresolved issue. He didn't always make the 'right' financial choice, but he tried very hard to never make the wrong ethical choice. When it came to health, the town was his flock, and the needs of the flock sometimes outweighed the needs of the shepherd. It's almost impossible for people today to imagine a doctor in wintertime in the 1940's hitching a sleigh with bells and riding a circuit through the area so that people stuck in distant farms could wave for help if anyone was sick and couldn't get to town...but that was the town doctor that he was. It was his badge of honor and he served it, not vice-versa.

My grandfather was a practicing doctor, and his wife was a practicing RN. They were ardent Catholics, stolid lifetime Republicans, active in charities and in personal hobbies, local politics and schools, and an integral part of the community the lived in throughout their lives. They were both extremely literate, not merely in necessary sciences for their jobs, but in poetry, classical literature and popular fiction. They enjoyed travel, photography, piloting small aircraft, hunting and fishing, bird watching and nature conservation.

They were never racist, being firmly in the camp of meritocrats, believing that deeds measured a person's worth far more accurately than skin color or faith. Being well educated and well read, as well as having traveled broadly, they did not subscribe to generalities about other cultures. When you've met people in their native country, it's hard to be fooled by cheap punditry, and they had seen Egypt, Germany, Ireland, Japan and endless others up close and personal. Also, when you've examined thousands and thousands of people medically and seen all races and creeds naked and sick and hoping for their health back or praying for a family member's recovery it's hard to view them as truly different from each other in any meaningful way.

Their conservatism was a quiet prudence...a belief that changes should be made with great caution, that public purse strings should be opened only when appropriate, and that honesty and forthrightness should always win over deceit and charlatanism. On my grandfather's desk were two signs. One read "Illegitami Non Carborundum"...Latin for "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down." The other was "All Men Are Self Made...Only The Successful Ones Like To Admit It." In essence, they encapsulated most of what he'd learned about life. Earn what you receive and you won't be ashamed of it. Your mistakes are just as much yours to own as your victories are. Never surrender to the pressure to be less than what you can be.

Likewise, they were firm believers in capitalism as a way of life, but with the caveat that people should regulate and manage capitalism to ensure that businesses act in an ethical and transparent fashion. It was not "Socialist" to suggest that oversight might be necessary when a company or even an industry has a long track record of criminal acts with repercussions for the public...it was just common sense. If he held any opposition to modern unions (circa 1960's and 1970's) it was largely because the nature of their demands had shifted from fair compensation and safety to excessive compensation and luxuries for leadership.

They were both studied naturalists, my grandfather having been a Boy Scout since Lord Baden-Powell toured the U.S. forming troops, and when it came to environmental matters they viewed the role of each generation as custodial...keeping and preserving our nation's beautiful parks, waterways and landscapes in trust for the children to come after them. It was about responsibility...accepting a burden and understanding that it was a solemn duty...not a privilege of rank to be sold off at auction for pennies on the dollar.

I can remember my grandfather's deep distrust of televised advertising for new pharmaceuticals. To tell a patient the symptoms before they seek diagnosis? Madness! His desks were littered with unwanted gifts from drug manufacturers that had piled up over decades of practice, but his solitary concern was always the patient. He knew with perfect clarity that such a move would lead to people fudging their symptoms to receive treatment, and to the over-prescription of drugs that might not be as necessary as people imagined.

The interference of politics in medicine was anathema to him. A physician, sworn to a Hippocratic oath that transcends party lines, should never be obliged to alter his diagnosis or the treatment for same because of outside factors. Only what the patient required to become healthy and whole had merit. As an elected county coroner, the county jail doctor, and a private practicing family physician, politics touched on his work regularly, but his commitment to being a good doctor never swayed.

So deep was his commitment to that principle that only once did he knowingly and willfully violate the law, keeping the secret until very late in life, confessing it to his son near the end of his days. When civilian medical supplies were rationed during wartime, and antibiotics became hard to obtain, a flurry of whooping cough cases struck the area and susceptible patients were dying of related but treatable lung infections like pneumonia.

There was a black market for antibiotics, and once he knew it existed he was placed in the worst moral dilemma of his (then) comparatively young life. If you know of a means by which to treat a patient with a high probability of recovery, but the means would include violating the law of the land, did the Hippocratic Oath supersede his belief in ethical conduct and good citizenship? In the end, the treatment of patients to the maximum of his ability was more important than obedience to law, but he accepted without reservation that what he had done was illegal and a crime during wartime. There was no attempt by him to dress it up as heroism, which some of us may feel is a better description, and a certain humility is evident in his character because of this.

His personal faith survived in the face of hard questions about God and His relationship with humanity, but was never intrusive or evangelical in nature. They were Catholics in Ohio in a community with very few other Catholics, and during a time when KKK members would still spread the suspicion that as a Papist, he would secretly plot to baptize the children of others on the Pope's behalf. It sounds foolish now, but it isn't much wilder than the theories put forward by neo-conservatives regarding Muslims today. This did not change his faith, but it did make him a tireless advocate for people doing their job without intertwining it with their faith, and over time even the most suspicious residents finally warmed to 'The Doc', eventually refusing to be treated by anyone else but the town doctor they knew and trusted most.

I ask myself today if my grandfather would fit in with the GOP we see before us now, and the answer is no. Like Whitman or Schwartz or Iglesias, he would have been drummed out for having displayed even a shred of real principle. He would be politically homeless, a conservative of the classical era of American prosperity and good sense, chased away by zealots frothing at the mouth with neo-conservative pscyho-babble spilling from their tongues.

I don't share all of my grandfather's views, politically, socially, religiously or otherwise. I rejected Confirmation as a Catholic when I was a pre-teen, because I couldn't accept the notion of making an oath to God affirming myself as a Catholic for life and accepting all accompanying dogma...when I had deep and abiding questions about church dogma that would make such an oath a lie. The moral question was whether a lie before God was acceptable compared to abandoning a family tradition and refusing a sacrament. At a moment like that, I like to think that I showed a shred of my grandfather's character before I even knew his thoughts on deeper subjects.

When I was old enough to first vote in '88, I voted Democratic primarily to oppose the neo-conservatives of the Reagan administration. I fell into the familiar pattern of imagining that the 'other party' MUST be better, because the GOP had behaved in so patently immoral a fashion. That notion was quickly disabused by the election of the Democrats to power in '92. Despite my high hopes for a swift change in the way government conducted itself I was treated to the spectacle of the Clinton era, and any blind faith I had in two party politics quickly died an ugly death.

I began to judge politicians with a jaundiced, but experienced, eye...weighing them as individuals without regard to party affiliation. I would be considered broadly socially liberal today, since I hold a deep and unshakable conviction that all people should be treated equally under the law, that transparency and accountability are essential to the ethical operation of both government and private business alike, that all faiths must be free and separate from government so that they might remain free, and that the first order of government is to serve the people...not the unelected minority of business leaders whose solitary goal is to reduce obstacles on the way to profit without regard for the health or well being of the population with whom they share this country.

But I never forget that I learned most of those principled beliefs I hold so dear...from lifetime Republicans and conservative people of faith. If the GOP still had room for people like them, that's where I'd probably be, but alas, we live in different times. The changes that have taken place in just 30 years are so great and so pervasive that there is no resemblance between the party of yesteryear and the GOP of today, and only when we look back at the panorama of the last century are the differences suddenly so stark and obvious.

In 2008, after a battering at the polls and losses that even penetrated traditionally red states, I held my breath for just a moment, wondering if the fight for the soul of the party would finally bring better results. It was as clear as day...eight years of fiscal irresponsibility, regulatory laxity, intelligence mangling, data fixing, vote rigging, war mongering and visible tolerance of corruption inside the GOP had come home to roost. Here was the chance to purge the hateful clique of neo-con maniacs out of the party and return to a saner era of principles over personalities.

And we all know how that turned out. Oh well...maybe some other century will see the GOP clean its own house instead of slowly sliding into a pit of lunacy and blind reactionary hate...but I won't be holding my breath for it. I'll be weighing politicians on an individual basis, voting locally to smite corruption wherever it's found, and pushing for a return to sound principles wherever ears are listening...and I hope, despite our many differences, that my grandfather would be proud.