Friday, December 15, 2017
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Andy Schmookler


They Say the Establishment GOP is Beating the Tea Party. So What?

One hears the pundits saying, in the wake of the primaries this past Tuesday, that the Establishment wing of the Republican Party is wresting back power from the Tea Party wing. Could be. But those of us who are tired of the Spirit of the Lie wielding so much power in our nation's politics have no dog in that intra-party fight.

The Republican Party of today is extraordinary in how vanishingly little role the truth plays in their communications and in determining their policy positions. I would wager that never in the history of major American parties has there been any that has been so pervasively dishonest.

Here's how I see the battle.

The Party is united in dealing in lies, but it is divided between those who deliberately fabricate the lies, to manipulate the political process for their advantage, and those who buy the lies.

The big liars -- con artists like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Karl Rove -- have tended to be at the top of the Republican hierarchy. Most of the people they succeed in conning are in the base of the Party. But in time, some of the believers in the lies rose out of the base into positions of power.

Over time the crazy base the con artists created started to take on a life of its own. Like a Frankenstein monster, it began to threaten those who brought it forth. It began to elect people who actually believed the crazy picture of the world the manipulators were putting out.  

Future Generations Will Find It Hard to Understand, or Forgive, Climate Deniers

An op/ed of mine ran in the Richmond Times Dispatch this morning, and part of it involves my concern with how we're doing as a society in the face of the challenge of climate change. This elicited from a reader an email that read,
Pl. relax, the house in fact is NOT on fire.  In stead if getting your climate science from politicians like Al Gore, john Kerry and B. Obama, or the feeders at the gov. grant trough at AAAS, pl. talk to those real scientists that Obama has insultingly called "flat-earthers such as Freeman Dyson, considered the most brilliant scientist in the country, Nobelist physicists Ian Giaever, and Robert Laughlin plus Edward teller, Friedrich Sitz, and Robert Zastrow, not to mention the many, many prominent climate scientists incl. Singer, Christy, Curry, Spencer, Singer, Idso plus Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and thousands of others.

Then pl. write another op-ed

I replied to him thus:

Another Glaring Example of Failing to “Call It Out”

In Monday's Washington Post, there's an excellent op/ed about a threat to the integrity of our nation's judicial system. That is, the piece is excellent but for one glaring omission.

Entitled "Keep politics out of the courthouse," it is written by retired Chief Justices of two of our states' Supreme Courts, Ruth McGregor of Arizona and Robert D. Orr of Indiana. McGregor and Orr give three examples of how altogether inappropriate kinds of political pressure have lately been brought to bear upon our "independent" judiciary.  

The first of these comes from Oklahoma, where "political efforts to bully and weaken Oklahoma's courts" played an important role in the botched execution of a death-row inmate:

[T]he governor announced that she would disregard the court's ruling. A legislator introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who had voted for the stay, alleging "a willful neglect of duty and incompetence." The Supreme Court ultimately dissolved its stay and allowed Lockett's execution to proceed.

These two retired jurists rightly call this episode "profoundly disturbing."

Another example comes from Missouri where a "bill in the Missouri legislature would have permitted lawsuits against state officials, including judges, for enforcing federal gun laws." And finally there's Kansas, where, "In retaliation for court decisions, Kansas lawmakers removed the Supreme Court's authority to pick chief district court judges and weakened its authority over the judiciary's budget."

Leaderless America

Usually, the President of the United States is the leader of the nation. It is a hugely important position, a single person embodying the whole of one of our three branches of government. With hundreds of congresspeople and a hundred senators, the president is the one person whose voice gets heard.It is only the president who has the "bully pulpit." Particularly at times of national crisis, the president is the person to whom the nation turns for leadership.

I cannot recall a time -- and my close attention to American politics goes back to the middle of the Eisenhower years -- when America has been so lacking in leadership as now. When I say "lacking in leadership," I do not deny that President Obama is working hard to get the nation to move in the directions he's chosen.

But leadership is not just about the leader's intentions. It's also about getting people to follow, about the leader gaining the necessary standing with a followership. And, over the course of his years in the White House, President Obama has proceeded in a way that has undercut the standing that leadership requires.

This loss of standing can be explained in "structural" terms: President Obama has failed to define his leadership in terms of the only available "us" that's willing to follow him. It's a matter of boundaries: President Obama has failed to take into account a boundary that formed in the body politic-- a boundary that required him to redefine and regroup his followership because, across that boundary, his enemies have been waging relentless war against his leadership.

When Traitors Think They’re Patriots

It's now a few weeks since some "conservative" leaders, like Sean Hannity, walked out on the weird plank of making heroes of the Cliven Bundy crowd for confronting federal officials and then had it sawed off behind them when Bundy, swollen with his folk-hero status, shared with the country his racist views.

I've always hated racism -- I mean always, even before the age of five -- and I'm glad that in America today, as the affair of the LA Clippers' owner also showed, racism cannot be exposed to the public light without condemnation. I'm glad that these "conservatives" felt compelled to distance themselves from Bundy and his racism.

But for someone who knows anything about American political history, there's something really new, something disturbing, something weird about the idea that these right-wingers had to repudiate the racism, but were happy until then to declare as heroic what Bundy and his armed supporters had been doing and saying.

For a century, American patriots -- especially on the right -- regarded the intention to "overthrow the government of the United States" as the complete opposite of patriotism. No greater enemies existed, in conservative America, than those -- whether they be anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or communists after the Russian Revolution -- who sought by deed or even word to undermine the American system of government.

But here is Cliven Bundy -- who declares out loud that he doesn't even recognize the existence of the federal government created by the U.S. Constitution, and here are his gun-toting followers calling for county sheriffs around the region to forcibly disarm the agents of the federal government -- described as patriots by a Republican U.S. Senator from Nevada, and called heroes by major spokesmen, like Hannity, for so-called "conservative" America.

How does this happen? How do things turn into their opposites?

Also disturbing to me is that the American media did not seem more disturbed by this strange contrast between the reaction to the treason vs. the reaction to the racism.

Supreme Court Justices Show Bias in Free Speech Cases– But Especially the “Conservative”...

A new study, reported in the New York Times, reports that, in cases involving free speech issues, the various justices on the Supreme Court are more likely to protect the speech of people who share their ideological orientation (liberal/conservative) than the speech of people on the other side.

Not a great surprise. I've got a talk I've given at various times in the past seven years called "The Challenge of Fair-mindedness" (or "The Challenge of Justice") which is about how difficult it is for people to embrace fairness over self-interest.

But the bias of these Supreme Court Justices is far from symmetrical. Take a look at the chart contained in the in the Times' article:

It shows that while the liberal justices are a bit biased toward protecting liberal speech, the "conservative" justices are dramatically more concerned to protect the speech on their side.

The New York Times article does mention this asymmetry, but in a very mild way:

"While liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices," the study found, "the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker."

Is this way of reporting it -- putting the asymmetry into a subordinate clause to be trumped by stress placed on the "both sides do it" piety -- more of that damnable liberal wishy-washiness? That tepid statement   hardly does justice to what the chart shows: While the likes of Breyer, Ginsburg, Stephens, and Souter have been about 5-25% more likely to defend liberal than conservative speech, the records of Thomas, Scalia, Alioto, and Roberts reveal them to have been THREE TO FOUR TIMES as likely to protect conservative than liberal speech.

Which raises a question: to what extent is this greater conservative bias the result of their UNCONSCIOUSLY favoring their own side, rather than applying the Constitution blindly, and to what extent is it because THEY DON'T CARE about being fair?

Whatever the source of the striking asymmetry, this is no time to be minimizing the extraordinary developments on the political right. For the important question, given the total picture of our national crisis, is this: What is going on that accounts for the striking contrast between the almost-fair liberals, and the grotesquely unfair conservatives?

Hence the motto of my campaign to focus the national conversation on the heart of our current political pathology:

See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle.

The “Cosmos” Series and the Battle for Truth in America

In America today, what might be called the "Spirit of Brokenness" has seized hold of one of our two major political parties, with the result that a battle of more than the usual urgency is being fought over the most fundamental of moral and spiritual issues:  constructiveness vs. destructiveness, justice vs. destructiveness, compassion vs. cruelty. And the truth vs. the lie.

We live in one of those times, in other words, in which in our nation something appropriately called "the battle between good and evil" is especially central to the dynamics of the era.

But over the long haul, in human systems, much of the foundational work to advance Wholeness in the world does not partake in any obvious way of the ways of combat.  At the same time, when the battle does come - as has now in America - the long, slow, patient work of making the world a better place has a strong bearing upon the battle's outcome.

A quite lovely illustration of both the patient work of goodness, and the eventual relevance of that quiet work for future battles, can be found in the excellent current television series, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

Pay It Forward

This series is, of course, a kind of sequel to the famous series, "Cosmos," that was hosted by Carl Sagan more than 30 years ago. It is at the end of the first installment of the series that we learn that the new host, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, is not just the replacement for the late Professor Sagan but that the connection between the two men goes much deeper.
Here's how the story is told on one site:

Lincoln and Obama: Parallels and Differences Between our Two Presidents from Illinois

Lincoln was elected president of the United States, but suddenly found himself effectively president of only a part of it.

Obama was elected president of the United States, but suddenly found himself president of only a part of it.

Lincoln had just recently become president when Fort Sumter was fired upon.

Obama had just recently become president when the other major political party "fired" upon him, planting rumors that he was not constitutionally qualified to be president, trying to make him fail regardless of what he proposed.

The two presidents faced analogous challenges. But responded to them differently.

My Thoughts about Ukraine

I do not claim to be an expert on the Ukrainian situation, but I have been following the story. And this I believe to be one aspect of what's going on.

The Russians are already greatly impinging upon Ukraine in the eastern part, albeit in disguise. So it is a serious violation of another nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it is not the invasion of one country by another. Yet.

The Ukrainians have no choice, if they are to defend the integrity of their nation, but to use force to reestablish its control over its own integrity by turning back the covert, partial Russian takeover of the eastern region. If the Ukrainian government in Kiev were to acquiesce, the battle would be forfeited and Russia would take the East as it has already taken Crimea.

On the other hand, there is reason to think that the Russians might not choose to impose their will be force: doing so would impose a cost to the Russians were they to send in an explicitly Russian force in mass. (Such an invasion, I am supposing, is what they would need to do to overcome Ukraine's national forces after those forces had defeated the "insurgents" --including Russian agents and military.)

I myself would not bet on Putin being deterred by that cost in terms of international reputation. He is choosing to be seen as strong and tough. He is greatly pained by the loss of superpower status. Meanwhile, he's willing to cast aside whatever concern he might once have cared about being seen as a decent guy to include in the international system. With this old KGB thug, he'd rather be feared than loved.

So, I'm worried for the Ukrainians in making this bet.

A Day Without a Republican

In the very mediocre 2004 satirical movie, "A Day Without a Mexican," all the Latinos mysteriously disappear for a day from the Los Angeles area. The point is how dependent the people in that region are on the labor of Mexican workers. Nothing much can get accomplished, the movie indicates, without them.

It would be precisely the opposite if somehow, mysteriously, all the Republicans in the United States Congress were to disappear for a day. Just imagine all that could be achieved if they just disappeared.

1) Both Houses of Congress, without the Republicans present to obstruct the process, could pass the cap and trade bill that languished back in 2009. In one day, we could change the posture of America from head-in-the-sand to responsible actor on what is probably the most urgent crisis humankind has ever faced.

2) The long-festering sore of undocumented immigrants could finally get a reasonable cure -- one which even George W. Bush sought to implement when he was president. Instead of having millions of people kept hopelessly hostage in a limbo of second-class status, they and the nation could move forward in a responsible way.

3) At long last, the nation could have a strong jobs program-- solving many problems at once: rescuing many in the young generation from life-long damage to their prospects, funding much-needed repairs on America's crumbling infrastructure, restoring some economic vigor to an economy whose recovery has been stuck on tepid because of inadequate demand.

4) A decent minimum wage could be established nation-wide, bringing the compensation of millions of workers up to the level (in constant dollars) that it was more than forty years ago, lifting people who work hard at full-time jobs out of poverty, and easing to some degree the destructive and unjust widening of the gap between the rich and poor in this country.

Doubtless there are other important accomplishments that would become possible -- if the Republicans in Congress would just disappear for a single day.

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