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 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


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 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 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 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 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 go without what they desire in the short term so that they may have what they prioritize in the long 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 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 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 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.