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Sunday, September 23, 2018
Home Authors Posts by Andy Schmookler

Andy Schmookler

528 POSTS 173 COMMENTS

One Thing I Know about Ferguson

I don't know enough about the facts of what happened that night in Ferguson to know with any certainty whether an indictment was called for or not. I've not explored the witness statements, and don't know who or what to believe about what happened between Darrell Wilson and Mike Brown.

But I do know that the authorities handled the legal process about it it quite wrongly.

Their priority should have been to conduct the process in such a way as to maximize the chance that everyone would have confidence in its integrity and fairness. They didn't even try.

That should have been their priority because taking care not to damage the larger society by exacerbating a major fault line is what has been most important all along.

Every effort should have been made to protect the society from further divisive wounding. The over-riding question for the county prosecutor, and for the Missouri governor, should have been: How can this be dealt with so that everyone feels assured that every good faith effort has been made to see that justice is done, whatever that may entail?

That would have meant bringing in a special prosecutor, of unquestioned integrity, in charge of the investigation and the grand jury process.

Even if the county prosecutor was indeed going to be fair, from the outset, he was not seen that way by the side most aggrieved. Leaving him in charge, pre-determined that, rightly or wrongly, a non-indictment would be seen as a failure of justice, and would unleash the pain and rage that we have seen.

Then this prosecutor -- with a personal history and set of allegiances that already seemed to stack the deck -- proceeded to conduct the grand jury process in a very unorthodox way, not seeking an indictment as prosecutors generally do, but leaving to the grand jury what prosecutors generally do. This alteration of the usual process clearly served the interest of the accused.

Letting Money Buy Power Corrupts Our Money System, Too

This piece appeared recently in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

In its opinion in Citizens United, the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority pretended it wasn't true. But every sane person knows otherwise: allowing unlimited money to flow into our election process corrupts our democracy. "One person, one vote" gets replaced by "one dollar, one vote," which means that the increasing inequalities of wealth in America subvert the democratic idea of equality of political voice among all citizens.

But less obviously, allowing money to buy political power corrupts not only the political system, but the money system as well.

I used to call out the Koch Brothers, for their campaign to misinform the public about climate change, as being not only immoral but also a kind of crazy. What kind of insanity is it, I asked, for billionaires who already have more money than they and their children and their grandchildren could spend in a lifetime, to damage the future for generations to come, and for life on earth generally, just to get still more money for themselves?

I was thinking of money as something that entitles the owner to get economic goods. And for billionaires like the Koch Brothers, the limit to the goodies they might benefit from consuming or owning has long since been passed.

But in a political system like the one being fashioned by things like the Citizens United  decision, money isn't about acquiring economic goods in the pursuit of happiness. It is about buying the government in the pursuit of power.

The Democrats Should Come Out Swinging

The Democrats lost not because they were wrong but because they were weak.

They were weak in their fighting. And they were weak in presenting the values and the kind of America they stand for.

How else but by Democratic weakness can we explain how raising the minimum wage keeps winning by large majorities with support from people who then go vote for Republicans who have fought to block such a raise?

How else can we explain that voters unhappy with the failures of Congress to take care of the people's business will vote for politicians who made it their priority to see to it that Congress could not take care of that business?

The people have bought a raft of lies, and the Democrats have been too weak to make the liars pay a political price.

Now the bullies of the right are coming forward to bully the Democrats some more. This we saw yesterday when the Republican Speaker of the House spoke contemptuously of the President of the United States in a way we Americans are not supposed to talk about a president.

Speaker Boehner warned President Obama against "poisoning the well" (by taking an executive action the Republicans don't like). No one would drink from it anyway after what the Republicans have thrown into it these past six years.

Will President Obama let himself be bullied? Will the Democrats in general respond to their rejection by the voters by acting deferential to the victors?

God, I hope not. That's the last thing we need for the Democrats to do.  

Shame on Us! (Giving Still More Power to Such a Party)

Shame on us, the American People.

Giving more power to a Republican Party that has has been blatantly indifferent to the good of the nation.

Never in American history has there been a party so consistently destructive in its impact on America. Indeed, it is hard to find an instance these past six years when the Republicans have even tried to be constructive, tried to address our national problems.

Never in American history has there been a party so consistently dishonest in its communications to the people.

To know of this unprecedented  betrayal of the nation, we have no need of secret tapes or conspirators coming forward to testify. It has been there undisguised, right in front of our eyes.

Yet, yesterday, tens of millions of Americans who are unhappy with "Congress" for its record-setting failure to take care of the nation's business voted for the party that deliberately worked to make Congress fail.

Shame!

Why the Republicans Love the Abortion Issue

This piece ran in two Virginia newspapers this past week.

How many Americans fit this profile?

1) They are inclined to view politics in moral terms, and it is important to them to be one of the good people and not one of the bad people.

2) Their understanding of the workings of the larger systems in their world - e.g. the US government, and the American and world economies - is limited.

3) Having neither the time, interest, nor background to develop a complex picture of American politics, they welcome a simple way to exercise their duties as citizens. Finding a single issue that can define their political choices serves this purpose.

Millions, I would guess.

To lock in the support of such people, the issue of abortion is perfect.

The Right’s Urge to Kick Down: Doing Unto Others as Has Been Done Unto...

In "More on the O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha: The Right-Wing Urge to Kick Down," I offered one explanation of how non-rich white people can get motivated to kick down on those below them (especially blacks, but also any of those "takers" they like to contrast with the virtuous, hard-working people they like to see themselves as being).  It is an old con job, where the dominant class sells a phony picture to induce one group of people they are exploiting to take their anger and frustration out on those below them.

Kick downward at the suppopsdly lazy, good-for-nothing poor, rather than protest upward at the source of the real injustice.

But that explanation doesn't explain the impulse to kick down shown by the likes of Bill "What White Privilege?" O'Reilly, nor by the rich men with whom Mitt Romney sought to ingratiate himself with his "47%" comment.

Surely, part of the motivation for the distortion of reality is that the warped picture provides justification for the elite's lack of compassion for those who suffer under their domination.  

But something deeper is going on.

It is not only the poor who experience being the recipient of a downward kick. That template of the downward kick is so ingrained in the culture - at multiple levels, and especially in some parts of the culture - that even many who, in socio-economic terms, are in dominant positions have had profound experiences of that kick-down pain.

Ideas that Can Make Liberal America Stronger: Value is at the Heart of Our...

[10th entry in the "Press the Battle" series.]

Summary: From the perspective of the evolution of life, it can be seen how value is an emergent -- but none the less real -- dimension of the reality of creatures like us humans. Evolution operates on the principle that life is better than death. Operating on that basis, evolution brings into existence creatures who experience that fulfillment is better than misery. That is the foundation of value. and it makes value fully real in every way it could be.

Previously, I asserted that:

    1) the imbalance in intensity in the political battle raging in America is largely due to the deficiency of moral and spiritual passion in Liberal America,

    2) this deficiency is the by-product of the worldview that is strong in Liberal America, according to which "value" is considered a matter of subjective opinion, and thus not really real, and there can be no such thing in the human world as "the battle between good and evil," and

    3) it is a mistake to believe that intellectually responsible thinking about the evidence of our world requires that we reach those conclusions.

In order to regain its moral and spiritual passions, Liberal America does not have to to embrace the forms traditional religion has used to represent the issues of good and evil. That reconnection can be achieved, by moving further forward along the path of rational, empirically-based scientific knowledge.

In other words, the path of evidence and reason can provide us good answers to those vital questions of value -- answers that can connect us to those deep parts of our human core from which comes the passionate intensity required for this urgent battle.

When Bad Politics Are Supported by Good People

This piece has appeared this week in several of the newspapers in my conservative congressional District (VA-06).

Recently my wife and I attended a reunion of her first cousins (and their spouses). These cousins are the children of the children of a couple of Swedish immigrants who settled in Iowa to farm in the late 19th century.

What a wonderful family event! Just enough people to fill all the seats around a table not so big we couldn't all converse together. In all our time together, there wasn't a single hurtful word. Even the spouses, like me, were embraced in the family feeling, all glad to be together.

All these cousins -- except for the two children of those Iowa farmers' youngest child (which includes my wife) -- are Republicans.

We know each other's political orientations, and like a lot of other families in recent years, we know not to talk politics. (Even so, at a previous reunion two years ago, when I was running for Congress as the Democratic nominee, I was touched at how excited, even supportive, about my run they all seemed to be - family feeling seemingly trumping politics.)

But as we drove off afterwards, I thought of the troubling contrast I saw.

In the gathering of the cousins, our togetherness was imbued with a spirit of cooperation. There was a "barn-raising" spirit, as everyone just naturally pitched in together to get things done--things like feeding us all and cleaning things up.

But has there ever been a political party in America that was so little imbued with a cooperative spirit as the party they support? Never has "compromise" been treated as such a dirty word as by today's Republican Party. Never has a party been less interested in working together to do the people's business.

More on the O’Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha: The Right-Wing Urge to Kick Down

In my previous piece on "The O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha," I said that it's unclear whether conservatives like Bill O'Reilly really want to help foster a culture of responsibility among people at the lower end of the economic spectrum -- in particular, in black culture -- or whether they just "enjoy the excuse to beat up on an oppressed people, as their kind have been doing in America for centuries."

It looks a lot like it's the latter.  We can infer this eagerness to kick down on those at the bottom from how much conservatives of this kind are willing to distort reality to justify their attitude of blame and attack.

Remember Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" comment in the 2012 presidential election? However much that comment reflected Romney's own beliefs, he surely had reason to believe that this condemnation of half the country as "takers" suited the beliefs of the Republican fat-cats to whom he was speaking.

After that 47% remark was made public, many came forward to expose how distorted was the notion that all these millions of Americans were somehow parasitic on the American bounty the fat-cats prided themselves on creating. This 47%, it was pointed out, included not only people who had retired after years of hard work, but also people supporting families, sometimes needing to work more than one job to make ends meet. Hardly parasites.

Somehow, it served a purpose for these rich Republicans to imagine that the bottom half of America were leeches on the body of the American economy.

But on the right, it's not only the rich who seem drawn to this distorted fantasy. This I know from years discussing politics with a conservative radui audience in my part of Virginia.  

Concerned About Where Our Nation Is Heading?


Summary: Americans think the nation is heading in the wrong direction. My biggest worries are 1) that our democracy is increasingly being transformed by the influence of big money into a plutocracy, and 2) we are failing to act vigorously to address the pressing emergency of global climate change. On both issues, the Republicans are playing a darkly destructive role, while the Democrats are failing to press the battle with the necessary vigor. That pattern reveals the essential core of America's national crisis. (This piece ran as an op/ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch this spring.)

Are you, like me, unhappy about where you sense our nation is heading? Do you, like me, fear that the prospects for our children and grandchildren will be darker than what we have known?

For years, the polls show, a substantial majority of Americans have been unhappy about where our nation is headed. But we don't all see the same dangers or agree on what to do about them. For example, the fear of millions that Obamacare is another step toward a socialist tyranny has little to do with reality. This distraction is indeed just one more symptom of what's gone wrong.

Here are my two most important areas of concern:

** The accelerating replacement of government by and for the people by government by and for big money.

** The disruption of the earth's climate system, on which our lives depend, is gaining momentum, while our nation remains incapable of responding appropriately.

Both crises reveal a pathological political dynamic darkening the prospects for our nation and its people.

The plutocratic threat to our democracy has long been visible, but not in living memory has our descent into the rule of the money system gone so deep.

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