Monday, March 25, 2019
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Andy Schmookler


When Events Amaze

This past week has been one of those special times that prove how unpredictable the flow of events can be. It is an important realization, in our dark era in America, to recognize that our sense of what's possible is likely way too constricted. It tells us that it is never appropriate to yield entirely to despair because we "know" that there's no way things can turn around and get better.

I'm talking about the amazing speed with which, in the past several days, America - most definitely including many leaders on the American right - has been turning away from some of the long-celebrated emblems of the Confederate States of America.

The Confederate Battle Flag is being rejected in some places that have long held out for this supposedly guiltless icon of that American region that was willing to fight a Civil War to defend the rights of white people to own and exploit black people and that, two generations ago, resisted with defiant passion being compelled to abandon the regime of Jim Crow by which the descendants of those black slaves were terrorized and oppressed.

The Republican governor of South Carolina says it's time that the Stars and Bars cease flying over the South Carolina state house. The governor of Tennessee has called for the removal from his state house of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Disgrace of Virginia Republicans’ Blocking of Medicaid Expansion

[The following is running in newspapers in the heavily Republican VA-06 congressional district.]

As the American public recognizes, our political system has become dysfunctional. A big component of the problem is that disgraceful political conduct has become acceptable, and is often even rewarded.

The rejection of Medicaid expansion by the Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly is a case in point.  

It is hard - perhaps impossible - to find a way that this rejection is good for Virginia or its people.

Many will not be swayed by the most obvious factor-that it leaves a couple of hundred thousand Virginians without the kind of health care security that every citizen gets in other advanced democracies. Some people will not be moved by the human cost of the failure to extend Medicaid, just as some applauded at a 2012 Republican presidential debate when one of the candidates said we should let the uninsured die.

But the rest of us are hurt, too.  

Signs of a Movement, and a Challenge for Hillary Clinton

Bernie Taps into a Something Deep in America

The news people have noticed that Bernie Sanders is attracting crowds bigger and more enthusiastic than they'd have predicted. What's happening here, they've wondered?

My hypothesis is that Bernie Sanders is tapping into something deep and strong in the American electorate: a desire to fight back against the Big Money power that's been stealing wealth and power from the American people.

Bernie Sanders is speaking truth about several profound issues about which growing numbers of Americans are unhappily aware.

That the middle class is being hollowed out, while the rich get richer, is something they experience in their daily lives.

This is what Bernie Sanders has called the great moral, economic, and political issue of our times.

That money has become too powerful in our politics is something that, according to a poll just out from the New York Times and CBS, some 84% of the American people recognize.

Bernie Sanders has declared his intention to deal with the corruption of our democracy by money, including overturning the Supremes' disgraceful Citizens United decision.

That climate change constitutes a crisis we are morally obliged to deal with responsibly is something that growing numbers of people - including a small majority of Republicans (according to a recent national poll) - acknowledge.

Bernie Sanders is speaking plainly about this, too.

Bernie Sanders’ Fine Choice of Battlefield

Bernie Sanders writes:
"Congress is now debating fast track legislation that will pave the way for the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) unfettered free trade agreement. At a time when our middle class is disappearing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, this anti-worker legislation must be defeated. Here are four reasons why."

I think Sanders has chosen wisely in making himself the champion of the anti-Trade Pact sentiment in the Democratic Party, and beyond that in the country more broadly. This is a fine battlefield for him to fight his fight, which is our fight as well: for the TPP appears to be one more place where the Big Money Power is working its will at the expense of the people.

This "trade" agreement seems to be less about bringing down trade barriers than about shifting power away from governments and onto the corporate system.  From various reliable witnesses, it seems that TPP would allow corporations to by-pass the court system and to have a system largely of its own creation adjudicate matters that rightly should be decided by the judicial component of our American democracy.

The TPP would give corporations new ways of fighting against efforts by governments to protect the greater good against the "unfettered" global corporate system. Corporations, it seems, would be able to enforce, as their "right," being compensated for whatever they might lose by being regulated in the public interest.

The TPP appears to be one more way Big Money is attempting to control government rather than be limited by government's efforts to take into account the needs and rights of the American people. One more step in the ongoing hostile corporate takeover of our nation and its destiny.

ALEC’s Threatened SLAPP Suit Against the LCV: Another Part of the Assault on Our...

Some thoughts about the press release that my wife, April Moore, put out earlier this week. In it, she challenged her opponent - Virginia State Senator (and apparent would-be-Virginia's Scott Walker), Mark Obenshain - to condemn the suit threatened by corporate powerhouse ALEC against the League of Conservation Voters.  

ALEC's attempt to intimidate the LCV represents should be understood as part of the larger picture of how the Big Money Power is subverting American democracy.

This particular abuse of money power is not directly connected with the electoral process. Rather it is an attempt of Big Money to strangle the public discourse on which a healthy democracy depends, the flow of information and ideas that helps the American people give informed consent to their government.

Bringing such a suit - or even just threatening it - represents a serious abuse of the legal system to silence those people who are doing for the nation precisely what our founders had in mind when they constructed the American system of liberty: telling the public the truth about what's going on.

This kind of abuse of the legal system has a name: SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

Although America's founders set up the court system as a means for achieving justice, in suits like this, that purpose is turned on its head. "Justice for all" is what is implied by the blindfold that Lady Justice wears. When Justice weighs the facts and the law in its scales, it is blind to who is powerful and who is weak. Thus the Courts are supposed to be the one place - besides also the ballot box - where the weak have equal standing.

Undoing Our Founders’ Achievement

This piece appeared as an op/ed in newspapers in Virginia's 6th congressional district.

In a previous column, I declared that historians will judge that the most important political battle of our times was not over the issues that most people focus on - immigration, abortion, guns, etc. - but on something far more fundamental. The vital battle now is over whether the American people will be able to preserve the gift our founders gave us, or whether a new kind of Big Money will fully succeed in transforming our nation into a society in which the powerful few dominate the many.

To understand how revolutionary our founders' vision was, we need to remember the old order in the European civilization from which they came. In Europe, for centuries, the ruling one percent of the population controlled nearly all wealth. Power ran only from the top down. Feudal fiefdoms established by the sword dominated those who worked the land; and eventually all became the "subjects" of kings who claimed "divine right" and were answerable to no one.

The founding of the United States was a cure for this injustice.

No longer, in Jefferson's words, would it be supposed that the mass of mankind be "born with saddles on their backs" while a "favored few" were "booted and spurred, ready to ride." America's fundamental principle would be that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

No longer would the few dominate and exploit the many for, in America, the government would derive its powers from "the consent of the governed."

This great achievement is being dismantled right before our eyes.  

The GOP’s “Religious Freedom” Fiasco: What Is, and Is Not, the Good News

It has been a remarkable turn of events in the story of these two states -- first Indiana, then Arkansas -- passing these so-called "Religious Freedom" measures.

It's a story that has been heartening for liberals/progressives -- and for good reason. The Republicans made their usual effort to make hay out of the bigotries they have encouraged in their base. And lo and behold, these craven tactics have blown up in their faces because the whole nation is watching and the national culture has moved far and fast away from that bigotry.

Why not enjoy that spectacle!

But it is also important to note what the story does not demonstrate: these events do not contradict the story that our politics are increasingly under the control of Big Money.

Rachel Maddow last night explained the powerful role that "business" -- including giants like Apple and Walmart -- has played in pushing both Governor Pence in Indiana to "fix" a measure he'd just signed, and Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas to announce his intention to veto a measure he'd advocated only days before.

It is true that "the people" have played a role in this: popular support of a non-discriminatory culture -- particularly among the workers ( the technology fields) many powerful business want to be attract -- has made this kind of bigotry "bad for business."

But still, it is very thanks to the power of Big Money that these GOP panderers to the worst in their base have had to back down.

Big Money vs. The People: The Main Political Battle of Our Times

This piece has run as an op/ed in newspapers in my very red congressional district.

Here's what I bet that historians will say was the No. 1 political battle in the America of our times.

Not the national debt, or abortion, or Obamacare, or immigration, or gun rights.

Instead, historians will say the most important fight was over whether the government of the United States would be the democracy our founders gave us, or whether Big Money would succeed in changing us into a different kind of society altogether.

Most of us are aware that our politics are awash in money like never before. The cost of our campaigns - from state legislatures to the presidency - has vastly increased. This avalanche of money - especially since the Citizens United decision - comes mostly not from ordinary citizens but from billionaires and giant corporations.

As a result, more and more of the decisions made - in Congress, in the White House, at the Supreme Court - favor the rich and powerful at the expense of average Americans.

Right before our eyes, our government - which is supposed to be by and for the people - is being stolen from us.

We need to look at this battle in strategic terms, asking: How is Big Money going about its effort to take over?

It is clear, for example, that it serves the interests of the plutocrats to divide the people against each other.  

The Deterioration of the U.S.- Israeli Relationship: A Major Test for Hillary Clinton

Under normal circumstances, Hillary Clinton's position on Israel would be a no-brainer. She would take the usual position of a Democratic candidate: strong in alliance with Israel, and expressing support for a peace process working toward a two-state solution.

These, however, are not normal circumstances.

The way the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sought re-election, and succeeded in that quest -- by an unprecedented slap at an American president in speaking as he did to Congress, in alliance with the president's enemies; and by the ugly way he drew upon fear and bigotry in the final days when he faced possible defeat -- have made the usual position impossible.

Hillary must now --that is, whenever she enters the presidential race -- find a way to solve some difficult simultaneous equations. How does she 1) support Israel in ways that satisfy those who care about Israel and generally support the Democrats, 2) take into account the blow that Netanyahu inflicted on any notion of a peace process, and 3) stand with the president of her Party-- a president who, being full up to here with Netanyahu, has deliberately (and in my view, quite rightly) affirmed the serious breach in the normal constellation of relations between the two countries.

Whether she finds a way to do so will demonstrate a good deal about her political skills. And about what she's made of.

Thou Art the Man: A Message to the Republican Base

This piece has been appearing this week in the newspapers of my very conservative congressional district (VA-06). It embodies the strategy I think we in Liberal America should be pursuing: See the evil. Call it out. Press the Battle.

A story from the Bible comes to mind: King David has taken for himself Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. The prophet Nathan comes to him and tells a story of similar wrong-doing. Not recognizing himself in the story, King David becomes righteously outraged.  At this point, Nathan springs the trap and declares: "Thou art the man!"

David accepts his own behavior, because it serves his own interests. When he sees it from the outside, he is so indignant that he says the sinner should die.

In the spirit of that biblical story, I would like to ask the conservatives reading this column what you would have thought, not long ago, if you had heard about political conduct like this:

1) An American president is elected after promising to solve a long-standing problem that costs thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars every year. His proposal is so moderate that its roots are actually in the other party. But that party does everything it can to prevent passage. Then it tries to overturn the law. When that fails, it tries sabotage.

All this - including voting more than 50 times to repeal a law, knowing it won't be repealed - is a spectacle unprecedented in American history.

2) This is part of a pattern in which this opposition party has made it a priority to prevent that president from accomplishing anything. It opposes even ideas that were once its own, even measures that are clearly supported by an overwhelming majority of the people.

Although the president proposes nothing outside the American mainstream - he is more moderate than a great many in his own party's base - the opposition paints him as an extremist.

No party in American history has ever before made the president's failure its top priority.

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