Saturday, October 21, 2017
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Andy Schmookler

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“An Attack on the Governance and the Constitutional Order of the United States”

Andrew Sullivan writes:
How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case - as well as two Senate elections - think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way on universal healthcare now? I see no quid pro quo even. Just pure blackmail, resting on understandable and predictable public concern whenever a major reform is enacted. But what has to be resisted is any idea that this is government or politics as usual. It is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States.
Right on. But it should be recognized that this "attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States" -- with Republicans using blackmail to extort powers that the American people have given, in recent elections, to the other major political party-- is only the latest on a virtual war against the constitutional order of the United States that's been waged from the right for what is now more than a decade.

So how far back does this right-wing war against the American democracy go?

Thoughts on the Eve of the Latest GOP-Manufactured, Unnecessary Crisis


President Obama says: I won't negotiate over the debt ceiling.

John Boehner says: Won't negotiate? That's not how things work.

I say: No negotiation with terrorist blackmailers is long-established American policy.

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These Republicans are the same guys who have been banging the drum about how bad for the U.S. Economy "Uncertainty" is.

Do they give out awards for most blatant hypocrisy?

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People now see the crazy destructiveness, but something is strikingly still missing.

Why don't our national commentators spend more time on questions like:

"How did it come to pass that one of our two major political parties has become this monstrosity?"

Or: "How did the Republican Party break so bad?"

Fruit of the Same Tree: How to Understand the Tea Party

The Tea Party is not some alien thing grafted onto today's Republican Party.  True, there's a civil war of sorts going on within that Party.  So the Party isn't all of a piece.

But, more fundamentally, the nihilism and the craziness and the destructiveness that we see going on with the "extremists" within the Party represents a fuller flowering of what the Republican Party establishment sowed and cultivated.

The Tea Party didn't even exist before Barack Obama became president.  But by then we'd already had, thanks to this Republican Party, eight years of the most lawless and the most destructive presidency in history (with the possible exception of Buchanan's).

The Tea Party was not part of Congress until 2011.  But by then, we'd already had two years of Republicans in opposition taking the unprecedented step of making it their top priority to make the new president fail, to prevent anything good from being accomplished even if that meant voting against their own ideas.

The Tea Party should be understood, I believe, in two main ways:  

On Harrisonburg Radio Wednesday Morning; Virginia Elections on the Agenda

I will be on the radio Wednesday morning on the main AM station broadcasting out of Harrisonburg, Virginia:  WSVA, 55 on the AM dial.  

I will be paired with Joshua Huffman, who describes himself as a "Paleo-Conservative," discussing matters of our politics from 10:10 until 11:00 AM Wednesday morning.

Issues that Joshua and I are planning to discuss are:

1) The upcoming Virginia elections
2) The looming debt ceiling crisis, and
3) The issue of liberty, and what dimensions of liberty are most important.

I will have as my main agenda what I've had as my main agenda pretty much non-stop for the past nine years:  to try to help as many people as possible see the truth about the crisis that's besetting America in our times.

This will be the third such monthly show that Mr. Huffman and I have done together on WSVA.

Those outside the broadcast area can hear it at  www.wsvaonline.com/  where there's a "Listen Live" button in the upper right corner of the screen.

Truth is the Foundation of Liberty

Liberals like to say that the NRA is really about serving the gun industry, not gun owners.

True, I suppose. But that misses the bigger worse truth about what the NRA is about.

The NRA is a part of a larger (destructive) force, and it plays a deep and vital role in bringing power to that force. They do it by manipulating millions of people into being one issue gun-rights voters, thus surrendering their power to the very forces that are exploiting them on the many issues that really do affect their lives and liberties.

Compared to the that, the enrichment of a single industry is trivial.

Truth is the foundation of liberty.

People cannot navigate to the destination they choose if they've been given a false map.

The tragedy of the Republican voter is Othello's tragedy.

Othello is a powerful man who acts, by the end of the play, in bold fashion: he kills what he loves, the lovely Desdemona. Though he sees himself as deciding his course, he is not free. For his action is premised on a lie he's been told by the clever manipulator, Iago.

So it is with a great many of those voting Republican in these times in America. They act at the ballot box, boldly supporting a radical party. By so doing, they unknowingly help kill the nation they love. Though they believe themselves to be defending their liberty, they are not free. For their political action is premised on a whole tissue of lies they have been told by clever Republican propagandists.

Othello's tragedy, and today's manipulated Republican voter, demonstrate how "Truth is the Foundation of Liberty."

What Possible Justification Can a Good Capitalist Have for Opposing the Labeling of GMO...

Just got this in an email from Truthout, under the heading "Monsanto Spends Millions to Defeat Washington GMO Labeling Initiative":

Washington state will vote on a ballot initiative to label GMO food this fall. Monsanto, banking on repeating its California victory, has given $4.6 million to the campaign to defeat it. But while fundraising is 3-to-1 against it, the "Yes" campaign is confident savvy voters will stay strong in their 66 percent support during an an inevitable onslaught of advertising.

The whole premise of capitalism is that buyers have the information of interest to them pertinent to their decisions in the marketplace. It is nobody's business but their own, according to the market ideology of liberty, what criteria they wish to apply to their decisions. They have a right to know what they are buying.

Some people want to know if the food they are buying includes genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to the capitalist worldview, that should unquestionably be their right to know.

It's understandable that Monsanto would not want people to avoid products that utilize their GMO technology. So it's no mystery why they'd not want labeling to be required. But it's nonetheless unmitigated chuptzpah, not to mention capitalist hypocrisy, for them to seek to prevent buyers from knowing what they're getting.

Interpreting President Obama’s Bad Press on Syria: A Displaced and Distorted Truth


It's almost fifty years since I made the interpretation of the meaning of cultural expressions the focus of my explorations.  I spent the last two of my undergraduate years at Harvard interpreting the meanings of the paranoid fantasies of the radical right, the evolution of religious symbolism and, for my undergraduate thesis, "The Psychology of Heroic Tragedy."  I then went to begin graduate study with the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, having applied to pursue "the psychology and sociology of literature, religion, and politics."

The insight, from depth psychology, that we humans are often far from fully aware of where we're really coming from and what we're expressing in what we say and do seemed to me crucial to understanding the human world.

Life soon took me in other directions, but that perspective has remained one of my interests and one of my tools in the years since.  In this era in which a good share of America has lost touch with reality in the political sphere, that's been useful.  And it seems to me that the substantial erosion in our culture, in the past fifty years, of that depth-psychology insight - indeed in the whole concept of the unconscious - is quite likely related to a precipitous drop in our times in what might be called the "sanity" of American culture, in particular American political culture.

What occasions these thoughts is the spectacle this week of what seems to me a strangely misguided outpouring, from the American press, of disrespect onto President Obama for how he's dealt with Syria.  It is those expressions that don't make good objective sense that serve as clues to psychological forces operating beneath the surface.

Here's how I see what's going on.

To what I've already written about why "Obama's Syrian Moves Deserve More Respect than They're Getting," I'll just add that I see good decision-making as including, wherever practicable, adapting to new developments in a flexible way.  Better to be a guided missile, that can change course in mid-flight, than a bullet whose course is determined the second it leaves the barrel.  As my father, an economist used to say, "In times of uncertainty, maintain maximum flexibility."  I think President Obama has done this pretty well,  (And the outcome is likely to be a good deal better than the kind of arrogant, "I know everything I need to know" approach that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld followed as they created the disaster in Iraq.)

But much of the press has characterized Obama's flexibility - his unwillingness to act precipitously in a dangerous situation without clearly good options, his adaptation to changing circumstances -- as weakness.  Adapting to events is condemned as passivity.  Sharing the stage with another, not altogether friendly geo-political power, indispensable to any non-violent resolution of the crisis, is denigrated as a failure to lead.

The press speaks as if it sees all this clearly, of course.  But I think they're unaware of what they're really expressing.

I bet that the press would see these same Syria moves very differently if they were made by a president whom the press didn't already perceive as passive and weak and failing to lead.  I can imagine the press praising such a president for his being careful, thoughtful, able to seize and create opportunities, not so trigger-happy as some we've seen as commander-in-chief, aware of the big picture, etc.

But not Obama.  Why?

The central fact of American politics right now, as most Americans experience it, is that the system is not working.  This Congress is accomplishing less than any Congress in modern times.  We have challenges, and we're not meeting them.  Most Americans have been losing ground economically, and nothing is being done to remedy it (indeed, the gulf of economic inequality is reportedly still widening).  The government is paralyzed. (The main exception of its paralysis is in its apparent inclination to create altogether new problems with government shut-downs and defauting on the debt.)

The Democrats sit back, knowing that it's the Republicans who are to blame, and knowing that much of the public despises the Republicans for their obstructionism.  

But this isn't the whole of how Americans see  this paralysis and dysfunction.

If the political system is broken, what is the president doing to fix it?  "The buck stops here" is a general phenomenon in America politics:  the president is the one who's supposed to take responsibility to see that the ship of state sails to where it needs to get.  It's the president who is supposed to lead.

If the system is being crippled by enemies of the public interest, it's the president's job to go after them.

When the president sits back and seems to accept -- that is, does not actively and determinedly fight to alter -- a situation that the American people find Unacceptable, he will be seen as passive, as weak, as failing to lead.

So now, when the President pursues a policy that might have been praised under other circumstances, the press pounces on him, attributing to him in the Syrian situation the very qualities that he's been showing in an altogether different realm. (This is an example of the "halo effect."*)

The press is right that we need from Mr. Obama stronger, more active, more aggressive leadership.  They've just misidentified the area where it's been lacking.  (It is often the case in human groups that important messages get delivered indirectly, or in coded form.)

So what might this more active and stronger leadership look like?  President Obama could be actively pressing the battle against the obstructionism of the Republicans.  

If the Republicans in the House can vote to repeal Obamacare 40 times, why can't the President propose his jobs bill every week until it gets enacted?  That's the kind of measure the polls show the American people want.  Keep the spotlight on the problem that must be addressed, on his insistence on solving it, and on the Republicans' failure to serve the American people.

Why can't the President hold a press conference every week, beginning each with a statement that challenges the Republicans in the Congress to pass measures that clear majorities of the public want (some by overwhelming margins), like the universal background checks on guns, or immigration reform?

Why can't the President challenge the Republicans to a series of regular debates on a series of issues on which the public wants action, going on television with or without a Republican champion to come into the arena to defend the indefensible?

The more the president highlights what the Republicans are doing, and are failing to do, while he fights for what the public wants, the more he will be seen as a strong leader.  And the more the pressure will build on the Republicans.

That pressure on the Republicans is important.

Consider the issue du jour: the inability of Speaker of the House John Boehner to get his Republican caucus to fund the government.  Boehner is loath to disregard the infamous "Hastert Rule" and, with less than a majority of his obstreperous Republicans, to bring to the House floor a measure that, with the help of the Democrats, could get a majority of the total Congress to support it.  

The President, by pressing the battle, could change the field of forces on the Republicans. The more the public pressure on the Republicans to do the people's business, the more the incentive for sane Republicans to create a working majority that includes Democrats. For Boehner, that becomes less dangerous than trying to keep his Teahadist Republicans behind him.

President Obama has not used the power of his office nearly as effectively as it can be used.  It's not that he's been weak as commander-in-chief, but as the leader of the nation.  

His pulpit has not been nearly as bully as it can be.  He has not taken nearly as active a role in leading the political process as he could.  He's not been nearly as aggressive in going after a disgraceful opposition as the nation needs for him to be.

On all this, the press has been mostly mute.  But now this major unspoken truth is coming out but in displaced and distorted form, faulting the president in a different fight.  

I doubt the press is aware of just what they are expressing and why.

The nation would be best served, I believe, if the President would remain careful on Syria and become bolder in addressing his opponents in Congress.

• From Wikipedia: "The halo effect or halo error is a cognitive bias in which one's judgments of a person's character can be influenced by one's overall impression of him or her. It can be found in a range of situations from the courtroom to the classroom and in everyday interactions."

Interpreting Obama’s Bad Press on Syria — Part I: George Lakoff’s Interpretation


[ABS: The premise of this two-part series is that the press has been inappropriately, or at least excessively, dumping on Obama for the course he's taken on Syria. I believe Lakoff's ideas, below, provide one valid piece of the explanation. I'll soon be posting some of my own thoughts, which I think add another dimension to the picture.]

Here's the essence of Lakoff's article, which appears in Huffington Post:

Every language in the world has a way in its grammar to express direct causation: a local application of force that has a local effect in place and time...

No language in the world has a way in its grammar to express systemic causation. You drill a lot more oil, burn a lot more gas, put a lot more CO2 in the air, the earth's atmosphere heats up, more moisture evaporates from the oceans yielding bigger storms in certain places and more droughts and fires in other places: systemic causation.

... Systemic causation cannot be experienced directly. It has to be learned, its cases studied, and repeated communication is necessary before it can be widely understood.

To President Obama, "Syria" is not primarily about direct causation. It is about systemic causation as it affects the world as a whole. It is about preventing the proliferation of poison gas use and nuclear weapons. It is about the keeping and enforcement of treaties on these matters....But the president has not made this clear, and he could not possibly do it in one speech, given that most people don't viscerally react to systemic causation, and many don't understand it at all.

As a result, the president's logic of limited bombing is not understood: he wants to bomb to prevent the systemic effect of the use of poison gas, not to stop the direct killing via other means, which we cannot stop.

Lakoff's interpretation makes good use of cognitive psychology.  I think he captures part of the problem. I will offer, shortly, an additional interpretation which will seek to illuminate another dimension of President Obama's bad press, drawing on the kind of psychology that deals with emotions and symbolic communication that are the province of clinical psychology.

If We Had Our Act Together to Fight the GOP Wrecking Crew, Here’s a...

A number of the most extreme, most obstructionist, most destructive Republicans are planning to try to repeat their atrocious behavior from 2011,  abusing the need to raise the debt ceiling in order to extort concessions from the President -- particularly their demand that Obamacare be defunded.

President Obama badly misplayed that debt ceiling crisis back in 2011, but apparently learned from that mistake.  He's declared that there will be no negotiation over the debt ceiling.

This approaching showdown creates an opportunity that could be seized by a movement with the ability to put people into the streets and the goal of taking power away from the destructive force that's arisen on the political right and taken over the Republican Party.

It would rally people to demonstrate -- in Washington, and in major media areas around the country -- around the theme:  "Tell President Obama to Stand Fast on the Debt Ceiling, and Not Give an Inch to Republican Blackmailers"

This could help accomplish two tasks important for winning the central battle of our times, which is to take power away from this force on the right that's so systematically damaging our nation.

1) It would strengthen the president's resolve (and his position in being resolved).  This is important because, as disappointing as President Obama has been at fighting that battle, the president is by necessity our champion in the fight, the one in far and away the best position to fight it, and Barack Obama is the only  president we're going to have until 2017.

Obama’s Syrian Moves Deserve More Respect than They’re Getting

I'm not saying that President Obama has played it masterfully. I'm not even claiming that his judgments have necessarily been basically right. Maybe they were, or maybe they weren't. But his big decisions have been at least defensible, reasonable, plausible.

Yet, as this whole Syrian story has unfolded, Obama has gotten little respect, as if he did not measure up to the American standard for commanders-in-chief.  

The right --like John McCain-- has been pounding Obama for many months for being a wuss for not jumping into the Syrian civil war in some way that would get us enmeshed and incur responsibility in a situation over which our control is dubious.  Maybe McCain and Co. are right, but after our experience with their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe the ability of these Republican hawks to fully foresee the consequences of involvement should not be assumed.

Maybe Obama's restraint is wiser --better for the nation-- than the path of action the Republicans have castigated him for not acting. That is as plausible as their case.

Maybe it was not best that the President drew that "red line" about the use of chemical weapons.  My guess is that he did it because the Republicans put him in a position where he felt the need to refute their "Obama's a wuss on Syria" attack by showing that he's ready to flex American muscle, but there's got to be more of our interests involved than there were then.  Hence a red line beyond which...

Once that line got drawn --whether or not Obama should or shouldn't have drawn it (and whether or not the Republicans basically pushed him into it with their latest version of the old Republican theme of only WE are manly enough to protect Americans and be the exceptional big guy in the world)-- it created a reality that must be taken into account when, as has now happened, the Syrian regime so brazenly crossed it.  

Whether we like it or not, the failure of the President of the United States to back up his threat can have serious repercussions in terms of world stability.

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