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Thursday, June 21, 2018
Home Authors Posts by Andy Schmookler

Andy Schmookler


Koch Brothers Capitalism

This phrase came to me a few days ago. I thought it had some rhetorical potential, and I offer it here for anyone's use.

"Koch Brothers Capitalism," by labeling a kind of capitalism, implies that there are other kinds of capitalism. And that means that capitalism doesn't have to be the way people like the Koch Brothers are making it.

The Koch Brothers name quickly conjures up the monstrous nature of what too much of American capitalism has become in our time:

1)It is insatiable for wealth, as these billionaires show themselves to be with their relentless quest to prevent this nation from responding to the challenge of climate change, sacrificing our children's future for more profits for themselves and the rest of the world's richest industries.

2) It works relentlessly to demolish our democracy, turning it instead into a plutocracy, working to translate the widening gap in wealth between the super-rich and the rest into a corresponding gap in political power.

3) Koch Brothers Capitalism has no concern for the greater good, its relentless drive for wealth and power being an expression of unbridled selfishness.

4) It's political conduct debases our national discourse, subverting rational deliberation with its reliance on manipulating the public with lies and disinformation.

This kind of capitalism deserves a name that reeks upon the very mention of it. And the Koch Brothers provide that stench.

Down with Koch Brothers Capitalism, I say. And let's have the kind of capitalism that is willing to be structured so that it contributes to a healthy society rather than destroys it.

Challenges My New Campaign Must Meet, and How You Can Help

The goal of my campaign is to get our national conversation to focus on how destructive a force has taken over the Republican Party, and thereby to drain power away from that force.

Here's the main thing this campaign has going for it: I've got a message, like nothing that's out there now, that might well be able to achieve that. It is thought through, it is developed along many dimensions, it can be expressed simply or elaborately, and it can create a picture of the dangerous reality of our political crisis that America needs to see.

(I do not say that to boast; it is simply the reality that, because I see it, drives me relentlessly to bring that message out into the center of the political battlefield of our times.)

And it has the potential to light a fire first in liberal America, which is where this campaign must first get off the ground. I will be attempting at the outset to light that fire, to inspire the like-minded to join the campaign.  There are several means I'll be employing in this fire-lighting effort (including talks around the country, and media appearances as well), but one of the most important will be through a series of articles.

It is about that series I want to talk here, and about how I am inviting people to help me with that series.

I will be trying out - on my website, www.NoneSoBlind.org  -- various ways of beginning this series. And I will be inviting people to give their thoughts about how these articles should best be composed and disseminated and, quite important, in what sequence the various pieces should be played.

Here are some of the challenges this campaign faces:  

It’s a Mistake to Think of our Fellow Americans on the Right as “Stupid”...

I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.

Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."

A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.

With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm.  Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.

These propagandists have worked to get people to look at politics through a particular, warped lens. Feeding their fears and hatreds, and turning off their intelligence in the political realm.  Over the years, a module has been constructed in their minds for how to think and feel when the cross into the political world-- a module that gradually transferred a bunch of sane Republicans into a bunch of people who support the very opposite of what they think they're supporting.

Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.

Jesus or Ayn Rand: You Can’t Follow Both

If Jesus' view of the good is basically valid, then Ayn Rand's view pretty much has to be the viewpoint of evil, because it is pretty much the opposite.



And incidentally, the ethics of Jesus' Golden Rule seem to be not just a Christian insight, but a rather universally recognized as moral truth.

My Talk at JMU: Canceled for Tonight, to be Rescheduled

I just got a call from the JMU folks who have been setting up my talk scheduled for tonight. (This is the talk announced here earlier.) They've prevailed upon me to let them cancel and reschedule. So, though I am a "the show must go on" kind of a guy, I have deferred to them on this.

I'll announce when there's a new time and place. It's expected we'll have the event in the next several weeks.

In the meanwhile, I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you or anyone you may have informed of this talk.


Launching a New Campaign– Not for Elective Office, But to Light a Fire in...

For more than a year, since the 2012 election, I have been working to devise a new strategy to help turn America's dangerous political dynamic around. Now I've come up with a plan.

With the talk described below, I'm launching a new "campaign." This one is not for elective office, but it is at least as ambitious.

It's a campaign to have an impact on our national public discourse. More specifically, it is a campaign to bring to the center of our national conversation what I believe to be the central political reality of our times: the rise on the political right of an unprecedentedly destructive and dishonest force, and the weakness of Liberal America in calling out this force for what it is.

America desperately needs an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, and I believe this new campaign has a chance of helping to bring it about.

With the talk described below in Harrisonburg this coming Wednesday (February 12), and a similar public event I gave in Berkeley on January 29, and another talk to come in Washington, D.C. on March 24, I am launching this new campaign.

I invite you to come to Harrisonburg, if it is within your reach. And I would welcome the opportunity to speak in other venues.

Here is the flyer for the talk, with all the pertinent information about the time and date and nature of the event.

Divided We Fall: Stop the Corporate Takeover of Our Democracy

This piece ran as an op/ed in almost all the major newspapers of Virginia's 6th congressional district.

Oh how I wish the people of America - liberal and conservative - could join together to protect our common interests and shared values. While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright.

Power in America has shifted from the citizenry to the corporate system. The role of money in American politics - always a problem - has greatly expanded.  At the same time, wealth has been drained from the middle class and increasingly concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and the relatively few individuals who run them.  

As our democratic government becomes ever more an instrument of the corporate system, our nation's constitutional doctrine is being pried open ever wider to allow corporations the political rights of actual "persons."

We Americans should be asking, "What kind of 'persons' are these corporate giants whose rights and powers in our political system are expanding so dramatically?"

The answer is not comforting.

Are the Misdeeds of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie Connected with Their Republicanness?

First, it is of course true that misconduct by elected leaders happens among Democrats as well as Republicans. One can recall Dan Rostenkowski, then Speaker of the House, with his Post Office problems that put him behind bars. And Senator John Edwards, one-time Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, fathering a child with another woman while his wife struggled with the cancer that soon killed her.

So politicians, and people generally, of all stripes have been known to behave badly. But perhaps there is something more specifically Republican about the bad conduct (and perhaps crimes) of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie.

Bob McDonnell -- or, to be more accurate, the McDonnells -- went wrong, it seems, because of a felt necessity to partake in the trappings of great wealth. The infatuation with wealth as a source of self worth has deep roots in American culture. But clearly in America today, it is the Republican Party that seems particularly prone to worshiping at the altar of Mammon.

So perhaps it is not just by chance that the gubernatorial couple that's run afoul of the law over Rolex watches and expensive dresses, fancy vacation homes, and the like, was a Republican gubernatorial couple?

As for Chris Christie, we are of course still learning about the apparently petty and corrupt strong-arm tactics involved in the developing scandals in New Jersey-- the lane closings at Fort Lee, and the Hurricane Sandy funds being funneled in some directions and not others, etc.

But what emerges from what's known so far is a picture of government by bullying. Chris Christie, that is, appears to throw his weight around -- so to speak -- in the manner of bullies everywhere.

And what could be more Republican, in our times, than bullying?

The Republicans-- the party of George W. Bush and his 2002 bullying of Congress to get an authorization for the use of force; the party of congressional extortion over the debt ceiling; the party of across-the-board power-plays to obstruct; the party of a Fox interviewer who disrespectfully interrupts the President dozens of times in a matter of minutes; the party that's intimidated the press into being balanced between the truth and the lie; the party for which threat and attack are the two main modes of political interaction.

So I think the answer is yes, these two scandal-laden governors are not just politicians who behaved badly, but politicians who have behaved badly in specifically Republican ways.

Not Liberalism’s Weakness, But Its Strength

On my website, a long-time reader who is a conservative Christian (but one who no longer has any regard for the Republicans and who sticks with my website, and even contributed to my campaign, though his disdain for liberals is frequently expressed) conjectured earlier today about"some weakness in the spirit make-up that creates the 'liberals' seeming need for a more than natural protective society."

To him I replied:

"More than natural protective society." "Weakness." What rubbish?  

It's Liberalism doing what every actor should do: work to make America the best society it can be.  Is it not clear that the ideal America is a society and nation that creates certain degrees of community feeling, and a certain commitment to the well-being of all, and not some hostile rejection of things being done to help the LOSERS. It is not just the Ayn Rand part of the right that seems to place no value on a sense of community in our approach to national problems.

Lacking, too, is a respect for those things that can't be accomplished separately - and also for purposes that go beyond selfishness - but can be achieved only through the system we created to enable us to act together:  i.e, the government.

The problem isn't any liberal "weakness":  The liberals at their best at least are working creatively to create a society that serves the good as best it can, with wise trade-offs one hopes, and with an inevitable mixture of success and failure.

But we sure are a whole lot better a society than we would have been without Social Security, and Medicare and Medicate, and environmental regulation, and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

All of those are expressions of the liberal spirit, and the net result of them is that this country is a far better place in a great many ways because these were accomplished.

It is very good for America and for all of us that this spirit had so much sway in the shaping of America's destiny that it did in the most critical years of 1933 up until maybe 1981.  

I see the problem as being more on the right, as with every other issue we face in America today that I can think of.  

Where Obama Has Failed, and Why It Is Not Too Late for Him to...

This piece appeared in Thursday's edition of the Roanoke Times. While the piece is framed, for strategic reasons, as a critique of President Obama -- a valid critique in my view -- the true main points of the argument are 1) the abominable conduct of the Republicans (which I continue to believe is, and has been over the past decade and more, one of the major stories in all of American history), and 2) the opportunity their conduct presents -- to President Obama and to all Democrats -- to attack and, it is hoped, to defeat them.

Five years into his presidency, we can say that in many respects Barack Obama has been a good president.  He has addressed genuine national problems. The solutions he has proposed have been constructive. And his communications to the American people have mostly been sensible and honest.

But President Obama has failed in one important area (and it is not in the highly embarrassing, but essentially temporary, botch of the roll-out of the Obamacare website). Where Obama has failed is in not fighting harder against an opposition party whose obstructiveness - and destructiveness - have been extraordinary by the standards of the American political tradition.

It's easy to demonstrate Obama's failure. He wanted the politics of his era to be, "The Republicans and I together can get good things done." The Republicans have striven for a politics of, "We're going to keep you from accomplishing anything." Which side would you say has prevailed?

Some say that no one can force cooperation from politicians. I say, "Nonsense." Only the president has the bully pulpit, and great presidents have used it to dominate the politics of their times.  President Obama has been in a position, all along, to compel the Republicans to clean up their act or be driven into oblivion.

All it takes is focusing the public's attention on the ugly things the Republicans have been up to. Take the one time President Obama took a strong position and stood his ground -- the crisis in late September and early October over the government shutdown and the GOP threat to push the nation into default.  The Republicans sunk so low in public esteem during that destructive display that they were compelled to give in.

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