Saturday, February 24, 2018
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Andy Schmookler


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.

Our Corrupt Supreme Court

The Supreme Court in our times is troubled with more that an "appearance of corruption." With its recent decisions gutting the regulation of campaign finance, the majority on the Roberts Court has shown itself a partisan combatant on the side of a most dangerously corrupt form of injustice.  

Justice should be understood as the antidote to the rule of power.
When there is no justice, then we fall into the kind of world described by the ancient Athenians as they sought to compel a weaker people to do their bidding--  or else:

"[Y]ou know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"

Our founders' great contribution to human history was to devise a government to solve that problem. Saying that "all men are created equal," they established a system to equalize power among the citizens. With each citizen given an equal voice in deciding the nation's destiny through the election process- that equality would eliminate the dichotomy between the strong and the weak.

That's the justice of our democracy.

But here comes John Roberts and his majority - Republican appointees every one of them - telling us with a straight face that there is no problem of corruption (or even its appearance) unless there's outright bribery. That kind of quid pro quo of selling favors is, of course, already against the law. But anyone with half a brain can see that government can be bought without such blatant transactions. And these justices are not stupid.

Can anyone honestly say, when we see presidential hopefuls trooping to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of a billionaire, that there is no appearance of corruption?

A Path to Democratic Victory this Fall

Do the 2014 elections look promising for the Democrats? Not so far as I can tell.

Do the Democrats have a bold plan to inspire the American people to turn the House back over to them? Not so far as I've heard.

Is there a solution available? I think there is.

We've got a Supreme Court that just doubled down on its disgraceful 2010 decision in Citizens United, continuing in the new case (McCutcheon vs. FEC) to pretend to believe that opening the floodgates still wider for big money to flow into our elections does not corrupt our political system.

And we've got poll data  that indicates that the overwhelming majority of the American people - across the political spectrum - believe there's too much money in our politics, and that the rich are getting too large a voice at the expense of average Americans. The people, it seems, understand that our "democracy" is being put up for auction. And they don't like it.

There's an opportunity there. It's an opportunity that not only could benefit the Democrats, but also would be right and noble to seize. It could help rescue this nation from its present descent into oligarchy, in betrayal of the democracy our founders had in mind.

Virgina GOP Refusal to Expand Medicaid: Continuing Assault on the System Our Founders Gave...

This piece appeared this morning as an op/ed in the Roanoke Times.

Imagine that the American people elect as president someone promising to institute an important reform to address an obviously major problem - a problem that every year costs the nation a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

Imagine further that, once elected, the president tries to fulfill his promise with a moderate solution based on ideas from the other party - more moderate than the policies of all the other major democracies on the same matter.

How do you think our nation's Founders would feel about an opposition party that responds to all this by going all-out to block enactment of these reforms, making the reform worse, trying to overturn the reform even before it's tried and hindering its proper implementation?

I think our Founders would be outraged. They'd say that once the people make a fundamental choice, the question then is, "What is the best way to implement what the people have chosen?"

Our Founders gave us a system combining two important virtues: giving the people ultimate power to make fundamental decisions about what kind of society we'll be and providing for thoughtful deliberation on the best way to realize the people's goals. That's representative democracy.

The health care reform that President Barack Obama promised in the election of 2008 bears on what kind of society we'll be. In electing Obama president, the American people decided we'd stop being a society in which 45,000 of our citizens die every year because they lack the reliable access to health care provided to the citizens in every other advanced democracy.

“We Billionaires Don’t Own America, and We Shouldn’t Be Able to Buy Its Government”


Several years ago, you did the nation a good service by declaring, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." Good for you for helping Americans see through the propaganda that seeks to disable us from protecting our democratic heritage.

I am sure you'll agree, however, that since then things have unfortunately grown worse in terms of the ability of the rich to substitute "one dollar, one vote" for "one person, one vote." Since then, for example, we've had the atrocious Citizens United decision, opening the floodgates wide for plutocracy to subvert our democracy.

And nowhere is this subversion more grotesquely on display than with the Koch Brothers' use of their riches to move our government in ways of their choosing. Using organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers are working systematically to take this country in directions contrary to our basic democratic values and (for example in the case of climate change) contrary to the long-term interests of the American people.

In view of this serious threat to rob the American people of their birthright, as members of a democratic society and inhabitants of a healthy planet, I would like to call upon you to make the following public announcement:

- Blue Virginia Sponsor -

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