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Dale Schultz

Wisconsin Republican Dale Schultz

Any politician who votes against the party line deserves credit.  Even if we don’t agree with their actual vote, we should least appreciate that by defying their own party they’ve taken a political risk, usually because their principles manage to survive their selfish interests.

Former Rhode Island Republican US Senator Lincoln Chafee’s opposition to the Iraq War comes to mind as one of the best examples of this in recent years.

Now, so too does Wisconsin State Sen. Dale Schultz’s lone dissenting vote the other night when his fellow-Republican colleagues successfully carried out a sneak attack on the middle class.

“Ultimately, I voted my conscience which I feel reflects the core beliefs of the majority of voters who sent me here to represent them,” Schultz said.

Protesters gathered in the state capitol in Madison chanting “Shame, shame, shame” after Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate used a procedural loophole–and, some argue, broke the open meetings law–to pass a standalone bill restricting collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions.

The fourteen Democrats in the state’s Senate were absent, having fled Wisconsin three weeks ago to prevent a vote on legislation proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.  On its surface, Walker claimed the legislation was aimed at addressing the state’s $137 million budget deficit.  Even though it also contained provisions restricting collective bargaining, which many of the Governor’s critics saw as a direct attack on labor, Walker swore publicly that the impetus behind the legislation was budgetary.  As a budgetary matter, it required a quorum which Democrats blocked by leaving the state.

But, all the budgetary justifications turned out to be just a front after all.  The new version of the bill that the Republicans passed on Wednesday night separated the union provisions from any measures that spend money, thus eliminating the need for a quorum while achieving the legislation’s true intent—to punish Democrat-backing unions.

The legislation quickly moved out of committee and onto the floor of the Senate, where Republicans voted 18-1 to approve it, with only Schultz daring to push back against it on behalf of the working people of Wisconsin.

Mark Miller, the Democrats’ leader, said:

“In 30 minutes, 18 state Senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.. Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people.”

Another Democrat, State Sen. Chris Larson, added:

“This is on the Republicans’ heads right now. If they decide to kill the middle class, it’s on them… This is a travesty is what it is…. I can’t sit by and let them kill the middle class.”

Wisconsin Protests of 2011
Wisconsin Protests of 2011

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new_sheepLast night I was trying to find the latest news on Barack Obama’s cabinet appointments, when I ventured to the front page of the CNNPolitics.com, and was thoroughly annoyed by the headline they’d placed atop all the others: “Is Romney the Man to Save GOP in 2012?”

This is not news now, and might not even be news later. Something that may or may not happen four years from now is not a current event. Yet, there it is, the top story at CNN.

Presidential elections in this country now last for over half the length of a sitting president’s term. The 2008 elections are barely a week behind us, and already we’re blitzed with speculation and hearsay about what’s in store for 2012. Perhaps Americans wouldn’t be so economically screwed today if, back in 2004, when the mortgage crisis was still avoidable, our citizens been less concerned about when Hillary would officially announce her future plans to run for President?

As unprofessional as our friends in the mainstream media have been, the “dumbing down” of the news is as much our fault as it is theirs. They are, after all, in the business of making money. The higher their ratings soar, the easier it is to find sponsors willing to pay to advertise during their programs. That means what we see on the so-called “news” is a function of what we most desire to see—and not a reflection of what is important. If, collectively, we were more informed, we’d be outraged over the fact that this bullshit passes as newsworthy. We’d cry out for details about Blackwater shadiness, or about the growing U.S.-Pakistan conflict. Were we an engaged citizenry, our sneaky Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wouldn’t have gotten away with his $140 billion gift to banks, courtesy of taxpayers.

In fact, fuck it; I’m deleting CNN.com from my Mozilla bookmark icons. For too long I’ve let that network remain my “most trusted source” of Internet news every morning, the site I check when time only permits me to check one. As MSNBC leans Leftward and Fox News bends unapologetically back toward the Right, many viewers remain convinced (as I was until recently) of CNN’s fairness and neutrality. Is that because they dump on all U.S. presidential candidates equally? Of course, nearly all my early assumptions about media bias were misguided or wrong, starting with the premise that “news” should be considered “objective” and “fair” so long as it doesn’t clearly favor one major political party over the other. That might have made sense; but only if all possible worldviews and political stances were covered by one major political party or the other.

But another imbalance exists, taking the form of an apparent consensus, by all mainstream news channels, to over-report on the presidential race and under-report on everything else. That’s where the real bias lives. They do it because they’re lazy and self-absorbed; they get away with it because, so are we.  Far from being fed up with these overblown non-stories, we rather prefer to read trumped up rumors about John McCain’s mental health fluctuations or Barack Obama’s scandalous adolescent acquaintanceships—while American wars persist on multiple fronts and our economy continues to crumble.

I don’t mean to imply that election outcomes are not important. But the day-to-day gossip mill that churned out pages of useless trivia about different spats among presidential hopefuls is not (as CNN would have you assume) the most pressing news event on any given day.

ashley-dupre-spitzers-prostitute2So engrossed were we in our own insular political sideshows that it barely registered when noteworthy events occurred outside of U.S. borders. So, if you’re from one of those countries that are having a crappy decade, please pardon our outward indifference to your plight. We have no idea what’s happened in the world these last two years. We missed it all, or tried to. Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute’s sucky MySpace songs got more play than genocide in Sudan, the Cyclone Nargis, and the Sichuan Earthquake combined.

The hyping and overmarketing of presidential campaigns lets the media to ignore the crucial or controversial news stories. This is good for the media because it can refrain from reporting real-life news that might aggravate their sponsors. And while this is problematic on their part, we viewers give them an excuse by reinforcing the notion that we care more about the presidential race than we do about other important happenings in the world today. That we care more and more about the presidential rumor mill means we care less—or not at all—about Congress passing some obscure, quickly buried bill that will allow domestic spying or torture. We care more about which presidential candidate’s religious affiliates offended which rich white person today.

Rather than solely condemn CNN and Fox News for the stories they choose or refuse to supply, one might blame the American citizens for our own spoiled ignorance and the information we do or do not demand.

As a result of the media’s failure to cover stories outside the soap opera, any sly scumbag with aspirations to cheat, swindle or manipulate large majorities of people knows to wait until election season to do it. Alas, perhaps that’s why the next campaign season is starting before our wet-behind-the-ear President Elect even knows who his Secretary of State is.

Still, there are some who saw and see nothing wrong with the saturation of Election ’08 coverage. They believe they need to mull over the vibes they get from the candidates, and that requires constant surveillance. As long as we crave that overconsumption, CNN will happily pour provide it; see which comes up with the goofiest Freudian slip; inspect their medical records; condemn the drugs they did in high school; make sure the male candidates don’t act too flamboyant; make sure the women are both feminine and sufficiently masculine; evaluate their acquaintances; insist they ditch the ones we deem too rude.

It’s a tough job—being an American citizen, juggling so many pertinent subplots at once. But we’re happy to do it, because we are “the American people”, whose honorable character is exceptional in every respect. All we ask is that there are no distractions as we’re diligently scrutinizing our candidates; our mainstream media must never burden us with trivial headlines, like:

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Countless times we’ve been reminded that “the world changed on 9/11.”

In both parties’ National Conventions, we heard it again.

Everything changed.

This durable one-liner isn’t just a limp platitude anymore. Nowadays, it’s the alibi when politicians tinker with democracy, and the rationale when citizens lower their standards of what it means to be American and Free.

Tragedy and fear have ushered in a new politics—a blueprint for how to be corrupt without appearing evil. Usually “the change” is mentioned in order to legitimize some aspect of the shady shift that’s now occurring—whether in business, politics, ideology, world policy, military strategy, civil liberties, or the advent of barefaced media propaganda.

Everything changed; thus, we govern in a new way now—for your safety.

With crooked leaders come docile followers who believe it’s patriotic to be scared and vulnerable but not to participate in democracy. In time new catchphrases emerge, and are even more effective.

The Republicans put “Country First.”

The Democrats are all about “Securing America’s Future.”

A population trusts and complies, convinced that things have fundamentally changed and must change again, ASAP.

While surface references to things changing are ample, clarity about what exactly changed (and why it had to) is hard to pin down.

Concretely, many things did change on September 11th, 2001. Jumbo jets disappeared into towers; towers toppled like tiny wooden blocks in a “Jenga” game. Thousands of Americans never came home, and thousands more will never come home the same.

But while airplanes vaporize on impact, empires disintegrate gradually, over time. The lasting casualty of that fateful morning may be the loss of a great nation, one that remains unable to function as it did in its glory. Great nations do not collapse violently, as do great buildings made of steel, but softly, a little more each day, one parcel at time.

Nations die lingering deaths.

If ours crumbles, it will do so in slow-motion, with no loud explosions to mark the moment when at last we finish our fall. This second, slower death will be the enduring legacy of 9/11, the important ending heard not with the bang but only inside the relative whimper that follows.

The changes history shall remember aren’t necessarily about the people who died on 9/11. It may be that our most profound changes have yet to occur.

This newly updated, wounded America is one the victims never knew. It belongs now to the three-hundred-million of us who weren’t murdered that morning–Americans from other regions of the country; New Yorkers who worked in other parts of Manhattan; WTC employees who called in sick or were running late that morning; those who raced out of the buildings moments before they fell.

We are the survivors, and 9/11’s ramifications matter to us.

Yes, our hearts are with the victims. But must our minds fixate solely on the dead as we ask what should come next in life?

“Everything changed” is one version of 9/11, the favored myth in our national monologue and, for some, a therapeutic way to cope with loss. But change is not fait accompli; it is just one possibility among many from which to choose.   That is a choice that we as citizens were never given, and one that’s still rightfully ours to make, together.

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Once a week in London, Gordon Brown squares off against his political opponents. As British Prime Minister, the Labour Party leader must personally appear before Parliament each Wednesday. This isn’t the same as memorizing speeches written by some third person or sending proxies to field softball questions from a tame press corps. (more…)

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Cross-posted at Jonestown:

tiptoeThere appears to be this edgy sense of tiptoeing around on the part of Obama’s “rainbow people” and the inwardly frantic disciples of the Clinton Dynasty. Each camp is desperate for unflattering sound bites about the other, but not the kind so devastating that voters will remember them in November. While both sides continue to fire shots, but it’s getting to where they’re only aiming to wound. not kill.

The Billary fan club seems increasingly stiff and confused these days, as does Billary him/herself. (more…)

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Superman 2

While covering the presidential horse race, CNN and other mainstream news outlets keeps showing “delegate counts” without explaining their significance, as if there’s no real distinction between “superdelegates” and the apparently not-so-super ones.

But there is a distinction, an important one. Regular delegates, or “pledged” delegates, correspond to actual votes. Superdelegate votes reflect the arbitrary whims and fancies of powerful individuals. (more…)

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