Wednesday, January 23, 2019
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Andy Schmookler


Who Benefits? Thoughts on the Civilian Death Toll in Gaza

I would like to make just one point about the Israeli-Hamas conflict. It is difficult, I recognize, to isolate a single point, because people have such strong feelings on one side or the other that they tend to color judgments on all the relevant issues. But it's worth a try.

The single point I want to address is this: are we to believe that the Israelis are making a strenuous effort, given their military objectives, to minimize civilian deaths in Gaza? The Israelis claim that they are. Some others have called that into question.

To me, the answer seems clear on the face of it once one asks the question: Who benefits? Who advances toward their goals as a result of the civilian casualties?

Clearly, it is not the Israelis. Before the ground assault began, discussions of the potential costs to Israel focused on the international opprobrium and isolation that would likely punish Israel for the civilian deaths resulting from military operations in the densely-populated Gaza Strip. The carnage of civilians does nothing to achieve any Israeli purpose, while it does much to increase the political price of the military operation.

On the other side, what is costly to Israel is correspondingly beneficial to Hamas. The greater the international pressure on and isolation of Israel - exacerbated by these civilian deaths - the stronger the position of Hamas vis-à-vis their Israeli foe. Hamas can hope for no military gains against the far mightier IDF, but it can hope for a stronger hand in negotiations now and in achieving its long-term goal of the elimination of Israel from the region.

All of which is reflected in Hamas' position in the cease-fire negotiations. Although Israel agreed to a proposed cease-fire, Hamas has rejected it. And it is Hamas, not Israel, that is insisting on political concessions as a condition of a cease-fire. The inference to be drawn, it seems, is that Hamas believes can gain something from the continuation of the current hostilities, with its mounting Palestinian death toll.

So, regardless of whether one believes that Israel has a right to exist, or that any of the parties are interested in achieving the long-sought "two-state solution," or that this military incursion is justified or wise, to this one question the answer seems clear. Israel has every reason - for purely self-interested motives, whether supplemented by compassionate humanitarian concerns or not - to minimize civilian casualties. And for Hamas, it is the civilian casualties, and the international response to them, that are the chief means by which it can gain from this latest episode in this long-running, sad story from the Middle East.

The Fraudulence of the Republican Party, and the Adverse Shift in the Balance Between...

In recent years, I've been deeply troubled by an adverse shift in the balance of power between good and evil forces in America. The evidence for that shift is plain to see in the damage that's been done in recent years to so many of the dimensions of American civilization. Clearly, the forces of destruction have gained ground at the expense of those forces that work constructively to improve the nation.

An important factor in this shift is a stark mismatch between the generally fine values of people like many of my rural Virginia neighbors and the goals and practices of the political force to which they give their support.

Most of my neighbors believe in conservative, patriotic, and Christian values. The Republican Party gains their support by claiming to be a champion of those values. But in these times, those claims are false: what today's Republican Party is serving is the very opposite.

Genuine conservatives, like many of my neighbors, understand that traditions are there for a reason, and should be honored and respected. But today's Republican leaders, though claiming to be conservatives, trample America's political traditions. Meanwhile, they misdirect their followers' attention to a few issues of concern, like abortion and gay rights, that have one important characteristic: they don't get in the way of the Republicans' deeper agenda -- transferring wealth and power from average Americans to those who already have the most.

Our country has had an established way, for example, of dealing with the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling has been raised, as needed, more than 80 times without a crisis because both parties know the full faith and credit of the United States is too important to play politics with. But, today's congressional Republicans swept that tradition aside in 2011, as no real conservatives would, to extort concessions to advance their political goals, and in 2013 they tried the same kind of blackmail again.

Our Corrupt Supreme Court — Captured in a Tweet

Roberts said as Justice he'd just call balls and strikes. Turns out the strike zone depends on which team is at bat.

A few weeks ago, I posted a piece  here on Blue Virginia that bemoaned the corrupt state of the Supreme Court.

This is not the corruption of money under the table but the corruption of having Supreme Court justices serving another master besides than the law, or justice, or the task of making America a better place.

Now, because an improved version of this piece has been published in a prominent place, I felt I should make the most of it -- spread the word -- and announced the piece with a Tweet.

This is how I summed up the piece -- how I sought to paint the picture of our corrupt Supreme Court that is serving another master, a corporatist master -- in 140 characters.

Roberts said as Justice he'd just call balls and strikes. Turns out the strike zone depends on which team is at bat.

The Politics of Hostility

This piece will be appearing -- probably this week -- in a couple of the newspapers in my very conservative 6h congressional district.

How did it come to this? How did our political life in America get to be so drenched in hostility?

While reading an article about how "anti-environmentalists" are spending thousands of dollars to alter their vehicles to increase the smoke they produce, I came across this statement from one of that group, who call themselves "coal rollers": "If [Obama's] into the environment, if he's into this or that, we're not." And it's not just the president they're hostile to, it's also those Prius-driving "librels" who, according to the article, might be specially targeted with a blast of smoke and soot.

How did "if they're for it, I'm agin it" get to poison our politics. That is, after all, what's happening in Congress in the past few years, isn't it?

Just as the "coal rollers" would rather express their hostility than have clean air and less cancer, so also the Republicans in Congress would rather reject whatever the president proposes than work to get anything accomplished for America. That's how this Congress is the least productive in living memory. Much less. And anyone who thinks a do-nothing Congress is good for America has no idea of how it is this nation became the great country that we were born into.

I've got a question for the conservatives who support this politics of hostility and spite: What's so terrible about the liberal half of America?  Has the role of liberalism been so hideous as to warrant only contempt?

Would you prefer an America where our older citizens had to get by without Social Security or Medicare? Would you prefer an America in which the air and water were getting ever more foul?  Would you prefer an America in which one race of our citizens would be allowed to subjugate another race through law and intimidation? Would you prefer an America in which children still worked in the mines?

You Can’t Tell Time by a Stopped Clock

It was good news a few months ago when the Los Angeles Times decreed that it would no longer print material advancing the denial of climate change. Good news in itself, and good news in signaling that at least a piece of our big-time media world is recognizing that balance does not mean treating truth and falsehood the same.

The L.A. Times rule should become general in the American media.

Let me propose another rule that would mark an improvement of the press's coverage of the political scene in our benighted times: The media should stop treating "GOP disapproves of what Obama just did" as news worth reporting.

After all, what have they not disapproved of? Who would ever bet money that something that President Obama does would get praise, or even acceptance, or even a refraining from attack, from the congressional Republicans? Indeed, from the evidence it seems reasonable to suppose that frequently, when the president has faced a decision in which he must choose between course A and course B, the Republicans simply wait to see which way he goes and then announce to the world that he should have gone the other way.

So there's no news value whatsoever in a report of Republican attacks on anything the president does-- any more than a person wanting to know the time would look to get it from a stopped clock.

The press would do the nation a service to stop reporting the stopped-clock attacks on the president. The message, "We've got your number, and we're not interested anymore" -- to the reflexive Republican critics of the president, like to the oil companies' lackeys with their climate change denial -- could have a salutary effect on our political process.

Battles Forfeited

Part III of "Dispirited Liberal America"

This series is about the role of Liberal America in creating America's current dangerous political dynamic. The thesis is that it is the weakness of Liberal America that has allowed a destructive force to become to powerful, and that this weakness is due to a disconnection from the power of "the spirit."

The previous installment ended with this statement: "One side is serving the dark spirit. The other side is impotent to rise to the defense of all that's sacred that's being destroyed." The essay now continues thus:

But the sacred is something that Liberal America, by and large, has not been tapping into. That was not always true.

One can sense the sacred in the words of FDR, for example, engraved in the granite in that memorial on the National Mall. (And FDR was not shy about going toe to toe against his enemies, whether it be to help make the nation a better place or to stop the predations of the fascist powers against much of the world.)

That was then. But if one listens to the voice of Liberal America in these times, one does not get that same sense of being on not just a constructive effort but a sacred mission.

Lacking connection with the spirit and the power it confers, Liberal America has been consistently weak as this crisis has grown. For the spirit not only gives hope, but strength as well.

Evil Spirit v. No Spirit = Triumph of Destructiveness

Part II of "Dispirited Liberal America"

Part I discussed how hopelessness is a sign of loss of contact with what might be called "the spirit," because the spirit infuses a sense of possibility. History shows, too, that when the spirit enters in, "the apparently impossible can happen."

Liberal America's disconnection from the power of the spiritual dimension is not only manifested in this hopelessness I've heard from people. The costs of this condition go a lot deeper. Indeed, it is through Liberal America's "dispirited" state that this side of America's political divide has played an important role in letting destructive forces wield so much power in our political system.  

The whole of the American body politic is exposed as defective by our current political pathology.

A famous line from the poet Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."

Here is what I see as the two-part central truth regarding our current national crisis.

  • The once-respectable Republican Party has become the instrument of something that warrants being called an "evil force"; and the response from Liberal America to this threat has been woefully weak in ways that reveal important defects in much of Liberal America in relation to the spirit.

Wondering About Hillary

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on some ways in which Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama, as she tries to convey to the electorate that a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn't be a "de facto third Obama term."

At one point, the article says: "In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress."

At that point in the article, I inwardly screamed, "Oh, no!"

Let me put it this way. I can understand the politics of such a statement. It's probably smart to say. But if that's what she really thinks, she's not the president we need.

Not courting the Republicans in Congress could hardly be further from President Obama's error. They have made war on him from Day One, and his repeated attempts to "court" -- and appease -- them has brought him to his present pass: a president who can achieve virtually nothing legislatively.

(And now the Republicans are taking him to court to stop his accomplishing things by executive order. Next year, they quite possibly will try impeachment.)

Again and again, Obama reached out to the Republicans in Congress, only to get his hand bitten again and again. This president's giving up on the idea that the Republicans had any interest in accomplishing anything for the good of the nation was an important step forward.

A Democratic president dealing with this congressional Republican Party has no business "courting" them. But I'd agree with Hillary's statement (assuming the WSJ reported it rightly) to this extent: there's something better to do with this Congress -- i.e. with the obstructionist Republicans who control (by strangling) the legislative process -- than merely ignore it.

Dispirited Liberal America — Part I: Hopelessness and the Spirit

This is the first of four installments of this essay.

Some of my liberal friends say they have lost all hope for American democracy (and a great many others act as if they had).

They see that the Money Power is wresting power from the American people and, with the help of the Supreme Court, making it ever harder for the people to retrieve what's been taken from them.  

They see that one of our two major political parties is systematically blocking the Congress from implementing solutions to our nation's considerable problems, yet rewarded by the people with enough power to inflict terrible damage on our country.

And they see that in our public discourse the truth no longer prevails over the lie.

Game over, they conclude hopelessly.

I, too, see that darkness. These are indeed frightening times. But such hopelessness is not wisdom. It is a sign of disconnection from the power of the spirit. I say that on the basis of my own experience, in my own effort to address our national crisis of moving back and forth between a mundane framework and one inflamed by what I can only call a spiritual energy.

From the mundane perspective, it is only too clear how improbable it is that what I do can have the impact I'm seeking. But when I am in touch with that spiritual energy that drives me, I find my attention directed only toward that scenario that best serves the sacred. The spirit drives me on a mission.

We See Now More Clearly All that The Supreme Court Stole from the People...

The decision in Bush v. Gore was so disgraceful on the face of it that the Court itself warned against using its "reasoning" in other cases. The five conservative justices elected Bush president.

After eight years -- after, that is, a couple of botched wars, and after the dismantling of financial regulation combined with the mishandling of monetary policy in the face of a hugely inflated housing bubble wrecking the American economy, and after the degradation of our political system -- we managed to get rid of the man the Supremes appointed president.

But this week reminded us, if any reminder were needed, that the impact of presidents outlive their terms in office. Because of Bush v. Gore, we now have Roberts and Alito on the Court. The Court that gave us Bush v. Gore was bad enough, but their decision ushered in a Court still worse.

And now, too, it becomes more visible what has been the essential purpose of the right's long and determined campaign to create this Court: to shift power from the American people to the Corporate system.

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