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by brasch

NRA Liars and Congressional Cowards

8:09 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

President Obama cast off his “No Drama Obama” garb, and became the fiery leader of hope and change that Americans first elected in 2008. At a speech in Hartford, Conn., the President, frustrated by Republican obstructionism, demanded of his audience, “If you believe that the families of Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and Virginia Tech and the thousands of Americans who have been gunned down in the last four months deserve a vote, we all have to stand up.” He demand, “If you want the people you send to Washington to have just an iota of the courage that the educators at Sandy Hook showed when danger arrived on their doorstep, then we’re all going to have to stand up.”

He wanted the people to let Congress know it was “time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun.” He wanted the people to let Congress know, “It’s time to crack down on gun trafficking so that folks will think twice before buying a gun as part of a scheme to arm someone who won’t pass a background check.” He asked the people “to tell Congress it’s time to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines, to make it harder for a gunman to fire 154 bullets into his victims in less than five minutes.” He pleaded that the people “have to tell Congress it’s time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it’s too late.”

But, what he really wanted was a vote. A simple up-or-down vote. The people, said the President, at the very least “deserve a vote” not more obstructionism. 

Smirking with NRA drool slathering his five-term Senate body, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t about to let that happen. He didn’t want a vote, even a watered down version that would have all the ferocity of a baby canary.

McConnell said he would filibuster all proposed legislation.

The Senate Republicans, who believe they’re the “law and order party,” have rolled over and allowed the NRA to pet them on their pork-bellied tummies. For more than three decades, the NRA and explosives manufacturers successfully lobbied Congress the to prohibit the use of taggants in explosives. These taggants would identify bombs before detonation and enable agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and explosives (ATF) to trace manufacturer and sale of the explosives after explosion. For six years, the NRA blocked the appointment of any nominee to head the ATF. With NRA paranoia guiding their own actions, the Republicans have also forbidden the ATF from creating a computerized database to better analyze and evaluate applications for firearms, and have left the ATF underfunded and undermanned. This would be the same ATF that, with fewer resources, now plays a major role in the Boston Marathon murders.

Five weeks after the murders in Newtown, the McConnell for Senate campaign told the voters they were “literally surrounded” by those who want to take their guns away. In a robocall to his constituents, he parroted the NRA erroneous claim that, “President Obama and his team are doing everything in their power to restrict your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”  This would be the same senator who, in 1991, supported Joe Biden’s bill that led to a 10 year ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons. This is the same senator who, in 1998, voted to support Barbara Boxer’s bill that required trigger locks for the purchase of every hand gun. In less than a decade, McConnell turned to the extreme Right and became little more than an NRA lackey, willing to wrap himself in a faulty interpretation of the Second Amendment and block the will of 90 percent of the American people, including a majority of all NRA members and gun owners.

Republic political strategist Karl Rove told journalist FoxNews reporter Chris Wallace, “People want this issue to be discussed, they want it to be decided and we don’t need to block everything in the Senate.” By a 68–31 vote, with 16 Republicans joining 52 Democrats, the Senate agreed to allow discussion on proposed gun control bills.

The first of several Senate bills, Wednesday, resulted in a 54–46 vote to expand background checks for gun purchases to include all internet and gun show sales, strengthen penalties for gun trafficking, and help fund additional school security. The bill, known as a compromise proposal, was sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), both of whom carry “A” ratings by the NRA. Five Democrats voted against the bill; four Republicans voted for it.  However, because of the 60-vote rule invoked by the NRA-fed obstructionist Republicans, and agreed to by the Democrats, it failed. The NRA, exercising its usual fear-mongering tactics, spread a $500,000 robocall campaign the day of the vote, and claimed the bill would lead to a national gun registry; provisions in the bill specifically excluded that possibility. President Obama would later say that the “gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, representing more than 900 American cities, called out the 46 senators who voted against the bill. “Today’s vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington,” said Bloomberg. “More than 40 U.S. senators would rather turn their backs on the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks than buck the increasingly extremist wing of the gun lobby.” Gov. Dan Malloy (D-Conn.) said the minority “who voted against this proposal should be ashamed of themselves.” aid the Senate had “ignored the will of the American people,” adding that those senators who voted against the expanded background checks chose to “obey the leaders of the powerful corporate gun lobby, instead of their constituents.” Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who has spent two years in recovery from an attempted assassination, said the failure to pass meaningful legislation was “based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association.”

In rapid succession, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity gun magazines and a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun purchasers all failed to get the 60 votes needed. Even a bipartisan amendment to impose stiff penalties on gun traffickers was defeated, receiving 58 votes.

New York, Colorado, and Maryland have all recently passed common-sense gun safety reforms without violating anyone’s Second Amendment rights. The people of this democracy demand better controls over who can own guns. But until the members of Congress develop that one iota of courage that President Obama asked for, the United States will continue to have the highest number of guns per population of 178 countries—and also rank among the world’s top 10 countries in the rate of deaths per population from guns.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health environmental, worker safety, and economic impact of fracking.]

 

by brasch

The Paul Ryan Magical Mystery Chop, Dice, and Slice Budget

7:19 am in Uncategorized by brasch

In 2011, before he was the Republican nominee for vice-president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) proposed a federal budget. He called it, “The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise.”

Portrait of Paul Ryan

"Paul Ryan’s proposal, endorsed enthusiastically by the Congressional Republicans and their Tea party base, is a disaster."

Two years later, now in his second year as chair of the House budget committee, he dusted off and polished his old proposal. He calls this one: “The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible Balanced Budget.” His plan is to cut the federal deficit by $4.6 trillion in four years, reducing the deficit to about $12.1 trillion.

While the Republicans blame President Obama and the Democrats for wild tax-and-spend policies that led to the huge deficit, they conveniently overlook the reality that Bill Clinton left George W. Bush a budget surplus of about $230 billion. By the time President Bush completed his eight years, there was no longer a balanced budget, and the deficit soared another $5 trillion.

Much of the additional deficit created under President Obama was a result of being forced to continue many of the Bush policies that included massive tax cuts and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that cost more than $1.4 trillion and are expected to cost Americans $600 billion–$1 trillion over the next three decades to provide health care and disability benefits for combat soldiers.

President Obama’s stimulus plan was a largely successful program to bring the nation out of a corporate-created, government-neglected Recession that was greater than anything since the 1929 stock market crash that led to the great Depression. This year, because of Obama policies, the stock market is at a record high, and the unemployment rate is now below 8 percent and dropping, with almost all states having lower unemployment rates than a year ago.

It’s been four years since President Bush left office, and the Congressional Republicans who fully embraced the Bush–Cheney policies still haven’t learned anything.

If you’re living comfortably in your upper class lifestyle, you’re going to love Ryan’s proposed budget.

The budget eliminates the graduated income tax—that’s the one with several brackets, increasing the tax upon those with more money. Under this budget proposal, there will be only two brackets—10 percent and 25 percent. The top rate of 39.6 percent, which multi-millionaires pay, is cut to the 25 percent level.

But if you’re among the rest of us,

Under the cover of saying he’s going to balance the budget, Ryan cuts retirement and health benefits for veterans and federal employees. He cuts disaster relief, and the federal role in education and scientific research. He cuts funding for the nation’s infrastructure, leaving our already-neglected highways and bridges to undergo even more deterioration.

He cuts Medicare costs by issuing vouchers—individuals would receive a set amount to buy retirement benefits. This, of course, is on every insurance goliath’s wish list.

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by brasch

Holding the American People Hostage

8:29 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ’lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2–$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it—although he praised it a year ago—and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions—or, rather, its failure to act— has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

by brasch

The No News News Media

8:55 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

There was a lot of news this past week.

Ostli News

News

Some of it was even reported by the news media.

First, there was a football player from Notre Dame who either did or didn’t know that his girlfriend was or wasn’t real, but died sometime during the season. Six column headlines for several days announced the fraud. Network news and talk show hosts rehashed it almost daily.

Two weeks ago, Lance Armstrong admitted he was a dope. Or maybe he just took dope. The news media kept sending urgent flashes all week of what he was going to tell Oprah. And then he told Oprah, and now we’ll be reading stories about it until Schwinn adds a jet engine to a 3-speed.

Subway is accused of making foot-long hoagies that are 11 inches, a problem that the executives wisely didn’t say was due to shrinkage in cold weather. The media seized this major fraud and, ignoring anything Congress or Wall Street was doing, slathered layers of hype on a story that should have died with three paragraphs in one day.

Of course, there was the inauguration. That became another way for bloviators and pretend-journalists to push their own agendas. They told us how unpopular this President is—attendance was way down from the first inauguration. Only 500,000 attended.  They didn’t tell us that second inaugurations always have much fewer people watching them in person than first inaugurations. And, that figure of 500,000? A little short of the actual number of one million. They said the inauguration was over-long and overpriced, although most of it was paid for by private donations. Something they didn’t mention was that the costs and day’s activities were about the same as for the previous president, and most presidents of the latter 20th century—Democrat or Republican.

Some of these pundits suggested that the President didn’t have a mandate, although he easily won by more than five million votes, and a near landslide in the Electoral College. A few of the more extreme even suggested he had stolen the election—how else could he have won over the nice businessman who bought and sold companies and helped improve the economy of Switzerland and the Canary Islands?

For the rest of the networks, the focus was on a constant blather of what would Michelle Obama be wearing. Whose dress? Whose gloves? This, of course, was mixed into all kinds of gushes and comments about her new ’do. You know, the one that had bangs. The day after the inauguration, the media was all over the story of the Beyoncé kerfuffle. Did she or didn’t she lip synch the National Anthem? Truly great news coverage there.

Hillary Clinton testified before the Congressional Inquisition of Televised Republicans trying to make their bones to either enhance their own chances for re-election or to block what they think may be her plan to run for the presidency in 2016. This would be some of the same people who thought she was faking a concussion to avoid testifying in the first place.

The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, scheduled for Harrisburg, Pa., Feb. 2–10 was cancelled this past week. The Expo is the largest in North America, but the organizers decided that in the wake of the Newtown murders, they would put a temporary moratorium on the sale of military-style assault weapons because they believed “the presence of MSRs [military style rifles] would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests.” Only a dozen or so of the 1,200 vendors were affected; most were selling clothes, rifles, turkey calls, tents, and anything related to outdoor sports. But, one by one vendors, the media, and dozens of celebrities—all with NRA encouragement and support—decided not to attend, somehow believing that a hunting and fishing exhibition that didn’t allow the purchase of assault weapons was somehow anti-American and gave a message that those who did attend were opposed to the Second Amendment. The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that the cancellation led to a loss of $43 million in the local economy.

More than 32,000 will die from gun violence by the end of the year, according to the Brady Center. This past week, 78 Americans, including four pre-teens, died from gun violence. And, during this past week, as has been the case for hundreds of previous weeks, the NRA leadership, with the egos of a gang of schoolboys who overdosed on testosterone, continue to defy all attempts to reach sensible solutions to allow the purchase of guns, yet reduce the violence.

A 38-year-old sergeant died from wounds received near Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, but he became a lower priority less than a year later. The Bush–Cheney administration almost abandoned the war in Afghanistan and turned to Iraq. More than 7,600 American and allied soldiers were killed, and more than 50,000 wounded in both wars. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, ended the war in Iraq and is months from ending the one in Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who numerous times promised to reign in the abuse of the filibuster that blocked any meaningful legislation or presidential appointments, turned wimp this past week. He and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who once vowed his top priority was solely to prevent Barack Obama from serving a second term, may have been last seen hugging, kissing, and preparing to be married in Massachusetts.

This past week, the stock market hit new records, and it looks President Obama may receive some of the credit for helping to stop the Great Recession, something that upsets Republicans, delights Democrats, and has no meaning to anyone homeless or unemployed.

Yes, there was a lot of news this past week. Some of it may some day actually be reported.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster. It is available from www.greeleyandstone.com at a pre-publication discount.]
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by brasch

Truckin’ to Treason: The Hot Air of Secession

10:20 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Reynolds - Gettysburg

General John Reynolds monument at Gettysburg

A white Ford F-250 pick-up rumbled through town, a Confederate rebel flag on a pole behind the cab; on the rear bumper were a pro-life and three Anti-Obama stickers, two of which could not be revealed in a family newspaper.

It wasn’t a lone wolf protest; several cars, trucks, and homes in the area sport similar flags and messages. During the summer, when a 4-wheel Jamboree and a Monster Truck rally are held at the local fairgrounds, attracting thousands from a multi-state area, many trucks fly rebel flags, insignia, and political statements. During the annual eight-day fair at the end of September, vendors sell all kinds of items with the Confederate battle flag, most of them made overseas.

The rebels say they are fierce independents. But, being a “rebel” doesn’t mean you can complain about paying taxes, while also denying climate change and evolution. Nevertheless, those flying rebel flags, although they may be disenchanted and alienated from the mainstream, are still part of traditional mainstream America.

They may claim they oppose “Government” (also known as “gummint”) intruding upon their lives, but think it’s perfectly acceptable for government to make rules about the people’s sexual practices and to invade women’s bodies.

They also believe government has the duty to create laws to require national identification for every citizen and establish restrictive measures that weaken the rights of all people to vote, especially those who aren’t White establishment Republicans. When the U.S. invaded Iraq for reasons that were questionable at best, chest-thumping jingoistic “rebels” were the strongest supporters of military action. But, they remained largely silent when liberals and social activists spoke out about soldiers not being given adequate body armor, and military hospitals not giving the wounded adequate treatment. They have also remained largely silent about the one-fourth of America’s homeless who were combat veterans.

These pretend-rebels gave standing ovations to the PATRIOT Act that established numerous ways the government could violate citizen rights granted by the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments. When the federal courts ruled parts of the Act to be unconstitutional, the “patriotic rebels” complained about activist judges.

They listen to conservative talk radio and Fox News, all of which bash the mainstream media, but don’t recognize that the very sources they turn to for information are also mainstream media, owned by establishment multi-millionaires.

They willingly agree with Mitt Romney, even in defeat, that 47 percent of Americans are takers who “want stuff,” but don’t recognize that one of the biggest takers who wanted more “stuff” was Romney himself, who ran a venture capital company that existed to take over other companies. Even fellow Republicans during the primaries called Romney not a venture capitalist but a vulture capitalist.
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by brasch

Romney v. Obama: The Debate That Wasn’t

3:56 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

The first of three presidential debates, Wednesday evening, focused on domestic policy. There were supposed to be six segments of 15 minutes each. Moderator Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of the nightly “PBS NewsHour,” was supposed to have asked one question in each segment; each candidate had two minutes to respond. The rest of the time in the 15 minute segment was supposed to be for “discussion.”

However, Lehrer, who had moderated 12 previous debates, didn’t control the candidates or the debate; the time limits were shattered on the first question. What passed as debate was nothing more than a series of carefully-rehearsed, often rambling, mini-speeches that talked more in generalities than in specifics. Each candidate, an experienced debater and strong orator, threw out several points at once, hoping a few would stick; the other just responded by a counter-speech, most of which didn’t address the points at all. They talked over one another, and both talked over the moderator. Even more important, numerous critical domestic issues were never discussed.

Even the most pro-Obama supporter would have to acknowledge that Gov. Mitt Romney had exceeded expectations and was able to dominate the President, who was not as sharp as he needed to be. Romney was strong and skillful, perhaps surprising even his own campaign staff; Barack Obama’s closing two-minute speech was, at best, lame and not indicative of either his presidency or his oratorical ability. This was not a time for the professorial “No Drama Obama” personality to dominate. Indeed, this debate was nothing like the much-remembered Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858 or even the quality of the average debate by college teams in hundreds of tournaments each year.

The third presidential debate, Oct. 22, will focus upon foreign policy. The format is the same.

In between will be a town meeting debate, Oct. 16. Non-committed citizens, chosen from a Gallup poll, will ask questions. A candidate has two minutes to answer the question; the other candidate has two minutes to respond.

The vice-presidential debate is Oct. 11, with nine segments of 10 minutes each.

Eight TV and cable networks are carrying the debates live; in the relatively new world of social media, the debates are also live streamed, with millions of opinions and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

The Democratic and Republican teams argue for months about format and direction. In two of the three debates they know the topics well ahead of time. For the third, the “town meeting” debate, they can pretty much guess what the questions will be. Each campaign staff has been preparing for weeks to answer and spin the prepared questions.  As a result, what passes as debates is little more than rehearsed political monologues between nominees for two political parties.

There is no reason why only Democratic and Republican nominees are allowed to debate. This essentially reaffirms the belief that the U.S. has a two-party system, approved by the mass media, and leaves out significant candidates whose ideas and opinions need to be heard. While a debate with more than a hundred declared candidates is unreasonable, it isn’t unreasonable for the debates to include Libertarian party candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Both are on the ballots of most states. Both have good views that should be heard. And, both are the only minority party candidates who can get the 270 electoral votes for elections. Rocky Anderson, whose views are important enough to be heard on a national stage, isn’t on enough state ballots to be mathematically eligible to receive a majority of the electoral college.

The first televised debate was in September 1960 between Vice-President Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy. Independent polls, and those who only heard the debate on radio, had suggested that Nixon was the winner, but those who watched it on television overwhelming believed it was Kennedy. Nixon, underweight because of an extended hospital stay, appeared sickly; he refused makeup to cover a 5 o’clock shadow. Kennedy, however, was tan, handsome, and charming. Two more televised debates followed, but it was the first one that mattered. From then on, candidates knew that image mattered over substance.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan scored points with a famous, “There you go, again” zinger casually tossed at President Jimmy Carter. In 2000, Al Gore, who appeared to be defeating George W. Bush, lost any advantage when the TV cameras, and subsequent clips, showed Gore sighing over and over.

Nevertheless, no matter how much we wish to believe that debates matter, numerous polls over the past five decades have shown that voters pretty much have their minds already made up, and the debates serve only to reinforce voter intent. As far as the facts? Moderators don’t challenge the nominees, and if the opponent is too busy preparing his next statement and doesn’t immediately respond, the facts are little more than the first casualty of this war of words.

Certainly, with a campaign buy of more than one billion dollars just in TV advertising, the voters have already been subjected to enough of what PR people call “messaging.” The debates are just more of that packaged and sanitized “messaging.”

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist who has covered political campaigns and politics for four decades. He is also the author of 17 books; his latest is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

 

by brasch

Stories We Will Still Have to Write in 2012

8:22 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER and ROSEMARY BRASCH

 In January 2009, with a new president about to be inaugurated, we wrote a column about the stories we preferred not having to write, but knew we would. Three years later, we are still writing about those problems; three years from now, we’ll still be writing about them.

We had wanted the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the government-approved slaughter of wild horses and burros in the southwest, but were disappointed that the cattle industry used its money and influence to shelter politicians from Americans who asked for compassion and understanding of  breeds that roamed freely long before the nation’s “Manifest Destiny.”

We wanted to see the federal government protect wolves, foxes, and coyotes, none of whom attack humans, have no food or commercial value, but are major players in environmental balance. But, we knew that the hunting industry would prevail since they see these canines only as competition.

We wanted to see the Pennsylvania legislature stand up for what is right and courageously end the cruelty of pigeon shoots. But, a pack of cowards left Pennsylvania as the only state where pigeon shoots, with their illegal gambling, are actively held.

For what seems to be decades, we have written against racism and bigotry. But many politicians still believe that gays deserve few, if any, rights; that all Muslims are enemy terrorists; and publicly lie that Voter ID is a way to protect the integrity of the electoral process, while knowing it would disenfranchise thousands of poor and minority citizens.

We will continue to write about the destruction of the environment and of ways people are trying to save it. Environmental concern is greater than a decade ago, but so is the ignorant prattling of those who believe global warming is a hoax, and mistakenly believe that the benefits of natural gas fracking, with well-paying jobs in a depressed economy, far outweigh the environmental, health, and safety problems they cause.

We will continue to write against government corruption, bailouts, tax advantages for the rich and their corporations, governmental waste, and corporate greed. They will continue to exist because millionaire legislators will continue to protect those who contribute to political campaigns. Nevertheless, we will continue to speak out against politicians who have sacrificed the lower- and middle-classes in order to protect the one percent.

We will continue to write about the effects of laying off long-time employees and of outsourcing jobs to “maximize profits.” Until Americans realize that “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” we’ll continue to explain why exploitation knows no geographical boundaries.

The working class successfully launched major counter-attacks against seemingly-entrenched anti-labor politicians in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. But these battles will be as long and as bitter as the politicians who deny the rights of workers. We will continue to speak out for worker rights, better working conditions, and benefits at least equal to their managers. We don’t expect anything to change in 2012, but we are still hopeful that a minority of business owners who already respect the worker will influence the rest.

There are still those who believe education is best served by programs manacled by teaching-to-the-test mentality, and are more than willing to sacrifice quality for numbers. We will continue to write about problems in the nation’s educational system, especially the failure to encourage intellectual curiosity and respect for the tenets of academic integrity.

Against great opposition, the President and Congress passed sweeping health care reform. But, certain members of Congress, all of whom have better health care than most Americans, have proclaimed they will dismantle the program they derisively call “Obamacare.”

During this new year, we will still be writing about the unemployed, the homeless, those without adequate health coverage—and against the political lunatics who continue to deny Americans the basics of human life, essentials that most civilized countries already give their citizens.

We had written forcefully against the previous president and vice-president when they strapped on their six-shooters and sent the nation into war in a country that posed no threat to us, while failing to adequately attack a country that housed the core of the al-Qaeda movement. We wrote about the Administration’s failure to provide adequate protection for the soldiers they sent into war or adequate and sustained mental and medical care when they returned home. The War in Iraq is now over, but the war in Afghanistan continues. The reminder of these wars will last as long as there are hospitals and cemeteries.

We had written dozens of stories against the Bush–Cheney Administration’s belief in the use of torture and why it thought it was necessary to shred parts of the Constitution. We had hoped that a new president, a professor of Constitutional law, would stop the attack upon our freedoms and rights. But the PATRIOT Act was extended, and new legislation was enacted that reduces the rights and freedoms of all citizens. At all levels of government, Constitutional violations still exist, and a new year won’t change our determination to bring to light these violations wherever and whenever they occur.

The hope we and this nation had for change we could believe in, and which we still hope will not die, has been minced by the reality of petty politics, with the “Party of No” and its raucous Teabagger mutation blocking social change for America’s improvement. We can hope that the man we elected will realize that compromise works only when the opposition isn’t entrenched in a never-ending priority not of improving the country, but of keeping him from a second term. Perhaps now, three years after his inauguration, President Obama will disregard the disloyal opposition and unleash the fire and truth we saw in the year before his election, and will speak out even more forcefully for the principles we believed when we, as a nation, gave him the largest vote total of any president in history.

We really want to be able to write columns about Americans who take care of each other, about leaders who concentrate upon fixing the social problems. But we know that’s only an ethereal ideal.  So, we’ll just have to hope that the waters of social justice wear down, however slowly, the jagged rocks of haughty resistance.

 

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper investigative reporter and editor, and journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Rosemary Brasch is a former secretary, Red Cross national disaster family services specialist, labor activist, and university instructor of labor studies.]

 

by brasch

One Jew’s Christmas

11:22 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

byWALTER BRASCH 

I am a Jew.

I don’t mind receiving Christmas cards or being wished a “Merry Christmas” from friends, clerks, or even in junk mail trying to sell me something no sane person should ever buy. My wife and I even send Christmas cards, with messages of peace and joy, to our friends who are Christians or who we don’t know their religion.

I like Christmas music and Christmas carolers, even if some have voices that crack now and then, perhaps from the cold.

At home, from as early as I could remember, my family bought and decorated a Christmas tree, and gave gifts to each other and our friends. Usually we put a Star of David on the tree, undoubtedly an act of heresy for many Jews and Christians. We learned about Christmas—and about Chanukah, the “feast of lights,” an eight day celebration of joy and remembrance of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem at a time when it seemed as if a miracle had saved the Jews from darkness during the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE.

This year, my wife and I have a two-foot tall cypress tree, decorated with angels and small LED lights, a gift from a devout Christian. We weren’t offended by the gift; we accepted it and displayed it on a table in our dining room in the spirit of friendship. In Spring, we’ll plant the tree in our backyard and hope it grows strong and tall, giving us shade and oxygen, perhaps serving as a sanctuary for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife.

What I do mind is the pomposity of some of the religious right who deliberately accost me, often with an arrogant sneer on their lips, to order me to accept their “well wishes” of  a “Merry Christmas.” Their implication is “Merry Christmas—or else!” It’s their way of saying their religion is the one correct religion, that all others are wrong.

 The problem is that although I am secure in my beliefs and try to understand and tolerate other beliefs, the extreme right is neither secure nor does it tolerate difference or dissent.

Right wing commentators at Fox News are in their final week of what has become a holiday tradition of claiming there is a “War on Christmas.” The lies and distortions told by these Shepherds of Deceit, and parroted by their unchallenging flock of followers, proves that at least in this manufactured war, truth is the first victim.

 The Far-Right-But-Usually-Wrong claim that godless liberals are out to destroy Christmas, and point to numerous examples, giving some facts but never the truth.  

They are furious that many stores wish their customers a “Happy Holiday” and not a “Merry Christmas,” unable to understand that sensitivity to all persons’ religions isn’t some kind of heresy. The ultra-right American Family Association even posts lists of stores that are open on Christmas, have their clerks wish customers a “Happy Holiday,” and don’t celebrate Christmas the way they believe it should be celebrated. (Of course, the AFA doesn’t attack its close ally, the NRA, which on its website wishes everyone “Happy Holidays.”)

Because of their own ignorance, they have no concept of why public schools may teach about Christmas or even have students sing carols but can’t put manger scenes on the front lawn. Nevertheless, the Extremists of Ignorance and Intolerance parade the Constitution as their own personal shield, without having read the document and its analyses, commentaries, and judicial opinions that define it, and can’t understand there is a strict separation of church and state. The Founding Fathers, especially Franklin and Jefferson, were clear about that. They were also clear that this is a nation where a majority of its people professes to be Christians, but it is not a “Christian nation.” There is a distinct difference.

The ultra-right—some of whom stanchly believe Barack Obama is not only a Muslim but wasn’t even born in the U.S—follow the guiding star of Fox to wrongly claim that the President Obama hates Christianity so much that he won’t even put up a Christmas tree but calls it a “holiday tree.” Perhaps they were too busy imbibing the bigotry in their mugs to know that the President and his family helped light the National Christmas Tree near the White House, wished Americans a “Merry Christmas,” and even told a bit about what Christians believe is a divine birth.

When confronted by facts, these fundamentalists point out that the Puritans, the ones who fled England for religious freedom, demanded adherence to a strict code of Protestant principles—and if it was good enough for the first American “citizens,” it’s good enough for the rest of us. What they never learned, obviously, is that the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations, declaring them to be pagan festivals.

If the Fox pundits, leading their sheep into the abyss of ignorance in a counter-attack in a war that doesn’t exist, would take a few moments to think before blathering inanities, they might realize that the man they worship was called “the Prince of Peace” not the “General of War.”

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and multimedia producer. His latest book is the mystery novel, Before the First Snow.]