Category: Editorial


In Memoriam

It is a sad day for American intellectualism. The political writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens has died of pneumonia. His views on most topics ranged from literally communist (human rights – he would often address audiences as “comrades”) to neoconservative (the War in Iraq), and his well-formed arguments skewered and crushed many opponents live on TV. His exposés on Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa beamed bright, sharply focused sunlight on two forms of power that are infected with corruption. One challenged him to a debate at one’s peril.

His views on the Iraq War were motivated by freedom of speech and the need to protect the intellectual gains humans have made since the Enlightenment. I disagreed heavily with his views on this topic, but he was the only pro-war person whose argument was sound enough that it made me really think hard about my own anti-war views. That is a stark contrast to the apish, crayon-scrawled views that propagated through the neoconservative movement at the time.

Always challenging authority, as he aged he began expressing his views on atheism, or as he called it: Anti-theism. There is a significant difference and it highlights the way in which he often charged headlong into a debate. His esophageal cancer was not helped by his penchant for smoking and his replacement of alcohol for water. As he famously said himself, “I drink enough in the average day to kill or stun the average mule.” Yet even as he neared death, he redoubled his efforts to promote anti-theism, along with the other “Four Horsemen” (Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins). His performance along with Stephen Fry at an Intelligence Squared debate on the question of whether the Catholic Church is a source for good in the world is not to be missed. They argued that it was not and won the debate by a very large margin, convincing even initial supporters of the motion.

There are very few public voices in the US that are capable of simultaneously maintaining two or more thoughts in their head, and even fewer who can mold those thoughts into elegant prose. In these days of journalistic yes-men and corporatized intellectual poverty, the country is going to miss this sharp and articulate firebrand. He had a lot more to say.

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Nearly 100,000 people rallied in Madison Saturday (AP via Huffington Post)

The Events

A HUGE rally took place on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin as unions continue to fight against the elimination of their collective bargaining rights. It was the largest demonstration since Governor Walker initiated his proposal, with up to 100,000 protesters and no end in sight. Other protests continued across all 50 states as well Saturday in solidarity with the state employees in Wisconsin.

The Distraction

Despite the huge numbers of people involved in every state, the corporate media has seen fit to bury the lead by focusing on labor protests in other countries, Libya in particular, without mentioning that they are in fact being driven by labor. When was the last time that you have heard about demonstrations continuing in Egypt? They are still going on. Once the military junta took over, the American press essentially said, “Oh, look! They have democracy now and everything will be ok!” (Glenn Beck excepted, of course.) They ignore that now that the protesters have gotten some reforms and are working on a route to democracy, they are still in Tahrir Square arguing for better working conditions and wages and that is apparently making the Egyptian army a bit impatient.

But all eyes were on far off Libya Sunday, where it is easier now to declare the initially peaceful demonstrators as “opposition forces” because they have been forced to arm themselves to prevent their own extermination. After arming themselves, they have been pigeonholed into a different commonly used media meme: The old labor and democracy demonstrations are now an ‘uprising’.

Koch Strategy

Burying the lead is a tried and true anti-democratic tactic that is used by entrenched media in order to help diffuse trouble for authorities. Despite that 50,000 people protested across the country and that 100,000 people protested within Madison itself and countless thousands of others across Wisconsin this weekend, CNN, the New York Times, CBS, ABC and NBC are under-reporting the events. Fox News is mischaracterizing teachers and nurses as violent and greedy fat cats.

In order to understand why, just consider when was the last time that you saw either a Dixie Cup or a Georgia Pacific commercial on one of their stations. Sure, they will post Union ads, but when the crisis is over, they expect to continue getting ad revenue from Koch Industries. The Koch brothers have vowed to continue their fight, and the media is only one of their tactics in order to end the disagreement over their proposals for workers’ bargaining rights, health insurance and benefits.

The Koch brothers do have things roughly where they expected to be at the moment. The Governor submitted his ghost-written proposal, the Assembly has passed its version of the bill, sticking it to the guys who disagreed with it with the quick vote, but there is that nagging problem of those pesky Democratic Senators. You had better believe that the Koch brothers will buy a lot of ad time to pressure them into returning and Walker will ask the legislature to pass one piece of regressive legislation after another until they do. (However, Walker would do that even if the Dems were present in the Senate.)

The protests are a LOT larger than they expected, too.

The Tea Party, after all, was constructed just for this reason: A trojan horse, riding a wave of popular anger only to turn on the people who elected it in order to support the corporate interests of Koch Industries. The Kochs founded the Tea Party through its PACs and they have already used it to divide and conquer the public. Now, the public must try to divide and conquer the Koch minions like Walker and the Legislature. And the Koch brothers will do *anything* to get their way, so the strategy of the people must be broad-based as well.

How the public can win against the billionaires

Even though the media is beginning to side with the Kochs, their ad revenue would drop remarkably if their viewer/readership were to decrease. People who support the protesters can not expect to have their voices heard on the airwaves, but they should demand that it is. A lot of news today can be found on the internet and there are certainly a good number of places that ARE reporting the labor protests. The places that are supporting the labor movement include, but are not limited to:

The Madison Capitol Times
The Appleton Post Crescent
Harpers
Mother Jones
MSNBC (Rachel Maddow is awesome!)
The Real News Network
The Daily Kos
The Huffington Post
Truth Out
Buzzflash
…and others that I have not listed here, though you can find the links in my blogs. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have really good fact-checking as well. All of the above news sources should be supported because without them, it would be much harder to get the word out.

The mainstream, mass-market media are not quite so helpful. This includes:
ABC News
CBS News
CNN
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (has published quite a few negative editorials)
The New York Times
The Washington Post
…and most of all:
Fox News who have portrayed the protesters as violent.

I have also heard anecdotally that a number of TV stations and local papers have been characterizing the demonstrations negatively. Remember, local news sources need to compete for thin resources and ad-buys are very important. This means that they can be swayed by big money, and the Kochs have plenty of it.

BUT…

All of that ad money will useless if people no longer watch their channels or read their papers. The people can have a lot of influence over programming when they organize. You will be surprised!

People who are marching are doing their part of the job. They are putting pressure on the Government and they are making their voices heard. To help them out, everyone who supports the protesters should do whatever they can to assist. Here are a few things that will take just a few minutes a day:

1. Call on the State Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, (608) 266-1221, to begin investigations into ethics violations by Governor Walker regarding the phone call, his tendency to give friends fat pay raises and his handling of the proposal. Call for investigations into the Republicans in the Legislature as well. Are they working with the Kochs too?

The Attorney General is a Republican as well, and the Governor has asked him to find ways to get the Democratic Senators to return. You should not expect the State Attorney General to do something right away, but if people call him, write letters to local newspapers and sign petitions calling for investigations, AND KEEP UP THE PRESSURE, then we may see either Hollen or Walker crack under that pressure and make more mistakes. Then they may accidentally reveal more corruption and links to the Kochs like the phone call did. If more information about either person is exposed, then they may be forced to part ties to defend themselves and then they may turn on each other. That is the goal: The Kochs know that pressure helps people make mistakes. Let’s use it on them.

2. Call for Federal Elections Commission investigations into the political operations of the Koch brothers. Are they donating money to their political organizations legally? We should know. Let us force the Koch brothers to spend their money to defend themselves legally. That means they will funnel less money to their own groups to mess with public elections.

3. Call or write your local Television Stations to ask for fair reporting of the protests. This is VERY important, as important as the protests themselves! Be sure to mention that you will migrate to other news sources if they do not begin treating teachers and care givers favorably. This link to Wikipedia has a list of all of Wisconsin’s TV Stations. Click on the station call sign and you will go to a Wikipedia page on that station that will have an address to the actual station website. You can find all appropriate contact information there.

4. If the media is not reporting, then you have to spread the word. Be fair, be accurate, and if you are not sure on details, describe what you know and what you do not. No one has all of the information, but we all try to do our best and we ask questions when we are uncertain about something. Spread the word via texting, Facebook, Twitter, email, telephone, smoke signals or even two paper cups on a string (not Dixie cups!). Form groups, networks and call lists have dinners, lunches and get togethers and let people know when you find something out.

5. Boycott companies and news sources that support the Tea Party, Scott Walker and the Budget “Repair” bill. I have already posted a partial list of companies with links (it is my most popular article so far) and I also have a post on Koch Industries and their related products for more information. The Kochs love the idea of free markets with no regulations. Let us use a market-based approach to show them what happens when they try to take away rights in ‘free markets’! They count on us to buy their products, so if they support taking away benefits and wage-bargaining rights, let us have an impact on their pocketbooks too.

6. Remember who supports the Budget ‘Repair’ Bill for the next elections! AND NEVER, EVER VOTE TEA PARTY AGAIN! That will be soon. Put this on your calendar: There is a State Supreme Court Election April 5th. Prosser is a part of the Court’s conservative majority. Vote Kloppenburg to reduce the power of the Tea Party in the court. VOTE!

7. RECALL Current Legislators and (eventually Governor Walker). The Daily Kos has provided links and information regarding the Republican Senators who can be recalled this year.

8. Discuss this with everyone – even your conservative relatives. This is a civil rights issue and billionaires are trying to take rights away from workers.

9. Wash, rinse, and repeat. This is a waiting game. It will take a while because billionaires have deep pockets. We essentially need to make it very expensive for them to meddle in the political system so that they stop doing it. You have two choices: Stick it out for the long haul and win OR the Kochs get their way and everyone will eventually have an impact to their livelihoods (especially the Tea Partiers themselves).

Remember, the more organized the public is, the easier it will be to get rid of Walker, the Kochs and their cronies. Everyone who supports the state employees should help because once the Kochs take care of them, they will come after the next group. They are all about power and they are working hard to take it all for themselves, so you have to work hard as well to keep your rights.

There are more of us than them. Public opinion strongly favors the workers. Tell other people you know about how they can help. We can do this and we are all in it together.

If you can read this sign, thank a teacher. (mjs538 at Buzzfeed)

An article in the Madison Capitol Times explains that there is a bit of controversy as competing groups utilize various facts and figures to support their cause regarding the benefits of unions on students. The Republicans such as State Senator Glenn Grothman argue that Wisconsin’s state 4th-grade reading scores are below the national average and that this is the result of strengthening unions over the past ten years. But this belies the fact that the state is actually above average in nearly all other standardized tests.

The Unions claim that Wisconsin is number 2 in SAT/ACT scores. First, that is an older result and now the number is more like #3 on SAT scores, but with only 4% representation. This is not a great statistic, because it selects only the very top students in a state where ACT scores are taken and compares their scores with the wider sample of students in states (including average ones) that accept the SAT exam.

An article in the Harvard Educational Review did find that students in pro-union states do a statistically significant 50 points better on the SAT. The problem still remains that we are comparing the best and the brightest between states and those students often do well even with poor teaching. We rather need some assessment that more fully describes the full distribution of students, including average and poor students.

It is here that Angus Johnson, a historian of student activism makes some very good arguments. Wisconsin is actually above average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams in eight grade math and reading and fourth grade math. One reason for a lower score in reading is the large influx on non-english speaking students Wisconsin has received during the past ten years, and another would be state budget cuts to education during that period as well.

Mr. Johnson continues by comparing Wisconsin results with non-union teaching states such as Virginia, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. These are by and large not states known for excellent education and Johnson’s statistics confirm this:

Of the ten states in the US without teachers’ unions, only one — Virginia — had NAEP results above the national average, and four — Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — were in the bottom quintile.

That is right, of the 10 states without unionized teachers, 4 of those states rank in the bottom 10 states, 9 of 10 non-union states are in the bottom 25, and only one state, Virginia, ranks in the top 25 states in the nation regarding education – well behind Wisconsin.

This makes perfect sense. Using the Tea Party’s own market-based principles, it seems reasonable to assume that talented teachers would gravitate toward states with higher, union-supported salaries. One would think that a market-based Tea Party Governor, interested in the quality of education in his state might recognize this point. One would also think that Governor Walker would understand that the state’s most vital resource is education.

Wisconsin can not afford the brain-drain that occurs in states like Iowa. People stay in Wisconsin because of the quality of education and standards of living that are in part supported by unionized teachers. Sadly, Governor Walker does not seem to agree. So that leaves the rest of the state to make a choice: Squander one of your state’s most competitive assets, or relegate your standard of living to that of Mississippi.

Hello world!

We are inundated by images every day that are intended to cause us to act in ways we otherwise would not.  We are told to lower expectations when leaders do not have the political will to make difficult decisions and we are told to lift expectations when their opponents walk toward the podium.  Ads on TV command us:  Buy this!  Buy more!  More is not enough! Major news sources praise their advertising clients while burying the lead that mention the true environmental and societal consequences of their advertisers’ products.  reality-based world intends to cut through the imagery in order to find discernible facts regarding a number of issues to help people to find the information they need in order to act as conscientious citizens of the world.

Democracies are only as strong as the knowledge base on which their citizens rely.  Unfortunately, the chasm between the goals and aspirations of the public and the profit motivation of the corporate media has widened to the degree that many major news sources have assumed their roles of obfuscation and confusion wherever human concerns may impact advertising revenues.  The nature of this erosion of the Fourth Estate is antithetical to the very definition of the word ‘democracy’. Sadly, it can be readily observed that corporate interests are increasingly taking precedence over human well-being in the halls of government.

In a world with increasing demands placed upon diminishing resources, something will have to give way.  Either corporate control over the regulatory and planning bodies will be placed back into the hands of conscientious people who have a concern for human welfare, or the world may reach a point at which it becomes unlivable for most or all of us.  At rbw, we make the first steps back to real democracy by cutting through the marketing façades and political posturing in order to help people understand the world in which they live.  It is the only way we humans will be able to make the appropriate choices to ensure a prosperous and peaceful future for human beings everywhere.

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