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by brasch

AIDS Advances May Be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

9:34 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

 

AIDS Life Cycle

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure—there still has to be several years of clinical trials— but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates. Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Passing Gas to the Consumer

9:42 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.Untitled

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it’s hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

“We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That’s long enough,” President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

This year, the oil companies blamed ISIS, a recently-formed terroristic fringe group composed primarily of Sunni Muslims, who have opposed Shia Muslims for more than 14 centuries. Think of the Protestant–Catholic wars in Ireland. Because ISIS was laying a path of destruction through Iraq, the oil companies found it convenient to declare that oil shipments were threatened, and then raise prices, salivating at their good fortune that terrorists had come to their financial assistance during the Summer holidays.

However, because the oil companies have laid a thick propaganda shield upon the America people to make them believe that fracking the environment and destroying public health, while yielding only temporary job growth, will lead to less dependence upon the Arab nations and lower costs to Americans, the Industry has to come up with some excuses to drill the taxpayers.

Through deft journalistic intrigue and a lifetime of investigative reporting, I was able to obtain insider information from the ultra secret Gas and Oil Unified Greedy Excuse Maker sub-committee (GOUGEM). I have not been able to verify the transcript, but in the developing tradition of 21st century journalism, that doesn’t really matter.

“We have a problem,” declared the GOUGEM Grand Caliph “We have run out of excuses. Last year, we had to find excuses not only for the Summer vacations, but also to justify our surreptitious funding of the Benghazi investigation.”

“There must be a hundred different ways to nail Obama for this year’s increase,” declared the Sunoco representative.

“What if we claim that Obamacare caused gas prices to go up for ambulances,” said a newly-appointed representative from the Hess Corp.

“Tried it last year, but we couldn’t get much traction,” said the Grand Caliph. “Only Fox, Limbaugh, and some guy broadcasting through a tin cup from his room at Bellevue picked it up.”

“Afghanistan!”  shouted the Marathon representative. “We’ve gotten good mileage from blaming the war for the cost of gas.”

“Yeah,” said the Tesoro rep sarcastically, “while we’ve been reaping enough excessive profits to build a water park at every one of our executives’ McMansions. I’m afraid the American people after 13 years have finally caught on to that scam.”

“If not Iraq and Afghanistan,” how about a new war? We invade Switzerland,” the ConocoPhillips rep suggested, “and claim we’re protecting the world from weapons of mass Swiss Army Knives. Every Republican and a few Democrats will back us on that.”

“It only works if there’s oil in Switzerland,” said the Shell rep, “and since we haven’t developed the technology to frack the Matterhorn, we’ll have to find another reason to raise gas prices.”

The BP rep suggested that the oil companies claim gas price increases were necessary because the price of Dawn detergent, used to clean oil-slicked marine mammals, went up.

The Chevron  rep said they could blame the Treasury Department for their underhanded tactics in locating the companies’ tax-free stash in the Caymans.  “How could anyone complain about us needing more income to pay our lawyers?” she declared.

The Valero rep wanted to blame the Veterans Administration. “We say we had to wait so long to get permission to raise gas prices that we had to do it ourselves,” he brightly said, and tagged that suggestion with the explanation that the companies could then claim they were being self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. “The conservatives will love us,” he righteously declared.

After a few moments of idle chatter, something committees have perfected, the Exxon Mobil rep spoke up. “We don’t need an excuse.”

“You been inhaling too many fumes?” the Shell rep asked.

“Slip on a grease spot in one of your garages?” asked the Murphy Oil rep.

“We’ve always had an excuse,” the Shell rep whined. “Without an excuse, the motorist might not buy our gas.”

“Oh, they’ll buy,” said the Exxon Mobil rep confidently. “We’ve bought out and eliminated most of the alternative fuel sources, public transportation is in the pits, and no one walks. That leaves cars, and they all run on what we decide they run on.”

“So what’s your point?” asked the BP representative.

“It’s as simple as 1-2-3,” the Exxon representative stated. “One. We’re Big Business. Two. We’ve already bought the Republican-controlled Congress. Three. We don’t need to justify anything.”

By unanimous agreement, the gas bag cartel declared there would be a 10-cent a gallon hike by the end of Summer—and no excuse.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest books are the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel; and Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, environmental, economic, and political effects of horizontal fracturing.]
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by brasch

Delayed Deliveries Are Not a Crisis

9:26 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

It’s been about two weeks since the news media began smothering the nation with stories about UPS and FedEx delivering packages late during the holiday season.

A short shopping season of less than 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, combined with extraordinary numbers of deliveries and extreme weather problems caused thousands of packages not to be delivered by Christmas. For some media, this was the top story.

FedEx says it delivered more than 275 million packages in that one month period. UPS doesn’t say how many it delivered or how many were late. But it does say that if customers sent their packages by ground and hoped they would arrive by Christmas, the cut-off date was December 11. For air service, UPS temporarily added 29 planes to its fleet.

Understandably, there are several hundred thousand senders and receivers who are unhappy their packages were not delivered by Christmas. However, people got their gifts, even if a day or two late.

It doesn’t require myriad news stories, many of which led the nation’s TV news. It doesn’t require a U.S. senator to be indignant and demand that UPS and FedEx refund all costs for all packages.

A crisis is that more than 125,000 people in Michigan, New England, and parts of Canada suffered more than a week without electricity after a major storm took down power lines. Electric company employees, emergency management staffs, the Red Cross and other social service agencies worked with little sleep to help the people. A second storm this past weekend added to the myriad problems.

A crisis is that 25 have already died from effects of the storm.

A crisis is that more than a million are homeless, many of whom are still on the streets in bitter cold.

A crisis is that almost 50 million Americans, almost 17 million of them children, live in poverty.

A crisis is that Congress increased the federal minimum wage by only $2.10 an hour in the past 15 years, but in the past decade found enough tax funds to increase its own salaries $20,000 a year to its current $174,000 minimum plus expenses.

A crisis is that Congress abandoned its job and went home early without passing legislation to continue unemployment benefits for more than a million Americans who, even in an economy that is in recovery, still haven’t been able to find work.

A crisis is that this may be the least productive Congress in history—and that includes the “Do-Nothing Congress” that had infuriated Harry Truman in the late 1940s. By comparison, that Congress passed more than twice the number of bills than the current Congress, including legislation to create the Department of Defense and initiate the Marshall Plan to stimulate economic recovery to Europe after World War II.

A crisis is that this Congress, led by a minority of the minority party, succeeded in shutting down government, blocked critical judicial appointments, spent much of its time whining about the Affordable Care Act and brought up more than 40 votes, all of which failed, to repeal the Act. This is the same Act that had been passed by a previous Congress and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

A crisis is that more than a year after the murders in Newtown, Conn., there have been more than 12,000 deaths by guns—and politicians are still swayed more by an affluent special interest lobby than by the people who elected them.

A crisis is that the nation’s infrastructure has deteriorated to a point that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave it a D+. More specifically, the ASCE gave grades of D-, D, or D+ to the nation’s dams and levees, inland waterways, drinking water quality, hazardous waste systems, roads, transit systems, airports, school facilities, electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems. Only bridges, ports, and railroads received C ratings.

The only bright spot is solid waste recycling improved to a B-. If anyone is to blame for the nation’s below-average performance it’s the elected politicians who decided they didn’t want to raise taxes to take care of the nation in order to appear to be fiscal conservatives, but spend lavishly on junkets and pet projects that only special interests that dribble campaign funds care about.

These are crises.

A late Christmas gift, while annoying, isn’t. Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

The No-News Media Cover a Royal Birth

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

Long after the American colonials broke away from the British monarchy, long after George Washington refused to take the title of “king,” Americans are still fascinated by anything British and royal.

The media incessantly pumped out news and features about the royal birth. TV networks gave us several “special reports” when Kate Middleton checked into the hospital, and then even more reports when the birth was announced, and then when Middleton, Prince William, and their baby went home.  The 30-minute network evening news devoted as much as half of its time to the royal birth.

There was live coverage. There was taped coverage.

Radio gave us near-instant updates.

Just about anyone in London with a cell phone camera sent visuals to TV or YouTube. Twitter was all a-flutter with messages of 140 characters or less; instant messaging swamped almost every known hand-held device. FaceBook lit up with pre-announcements and announcements. Newspapers and magazines opened up full pages for pictures. All of this media coverage is for an infant who is three generations from being king.

Speculation about the unannounced royal name briefly dominated headlines. The royal couple had nine months to determine a name, but still needed an additional two days—fast by past royal naming practices—to come up with a royal monicker, something that would be dignified yet carry on British tradition.

The infant is George Alexander Louis, to be formally known as His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. The “George” carries on a tradition of six previous British kings, including George VI, Queen Elizabeth’s father, who ably and courageously led his nation during the darkest part of World War II. “Louis” is for Lord Louis Mountbatten, admiral of the British fleet, a war hero who later became a diplomat. Lord Mountbatten was a mentor and close friend of Prince Charles, the infant’s grandfather.

As for “Alexander,” it could be for Alexander the Great who didn’t invade England. It could also be for British poet Alexander Pope; for Alexander Graham Bell, a Scot whose invention of the telephone led to the iPadization of world communications or for Alexander Fleming, a Scot who discovered penicillin. It’s even possible that the Infant Royal was named for Alex(ander) Trebeck, who always manages to get a question about Canada into every “Jeopardy” show.

It’s doubtful that the future king would be named for any of the seven popes named Alexander, since Henry VIII, an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II, separated England from the Catholic church.

But let’s think about all of this coverage and speculation a bit longer.

While the media are fixated upon the birth of a future monarch, they have cut back their incessant incoherently babbling about the lives and misfortunes of American celebrities. Because of time constraints, they aren’t broadcasting or printing as many of the latest fashions, work-out plans, celebrity diets, and food crazes.

They aren’t devoting as much air time or column inches to whatever it is that New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is or isn’t doing with his Twitter.

They aren’t splashing multiple-column headlines across every fender-bender or marijuana arrest story. They aren’t repeating, without verification, incessant lies and half-truths told by politicians and the corporate PR cartels.

They aren’t the vehicle for the endless spreading the nonsense and rants about the George Zimmerman verdict or trying to give us pseudo-sociological explanations about race issues in America. They aren’t reminding us that the federal government is bugging us—in so many ways. They aren’t making fools of themselves trying to find where Edward Snowden is or where he’s planning to go, or even if he’s a hero or traitor.

Because it’s August, Congress is on vacation. Media coverage shouldn’t change—they’ve been reporting that Congress, hamstrung by the obstructionist minority, hasn’t done anything for the past four years.

So, for a few days, coverage of a royal birth is a welcome relief to what now passes as news.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at health, environmental, economic, agricultural, and political issues.]

 

by brasch

Practicing Un-Medicine

7:18 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

  by Walter Brasch

 

Clutching a sheaf of newspaper clippings in one hand and a medical bag in the other, Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, knocking down pregnant ladies, students, the elderly, and even two burly construction workers who were waiting for a bus, rushed past me, leaving me in a close and personal encounter with the concrete. Since he had given up medicine to invest in a string of service stations and an oil distributorship, I assumed what was in his medical bag was the morning’s take from obscene profits.

“Medical emergency!” Comstock cried out. “Gang way!”

“You’ve returned to medicine?” I shouted after him.

“I’m going into un-medicine!” he shouted back. “I’m getting the big bucks not to operate!” This was a story too good to let by, so I gave up any hope of the 7:11 “D”-line bus arriving by 7:30, and chased after him.

“Slow down!” I panted. “You’ll kill yourself!”

“No time to slow down,” he said widening the distance, leaving a trail of broken bodies. “There’s money to be gotten!”

“If you kill yourself before you get there—” I didn’t know where, I just knew it was somewhere—“you’ll never see a cent of it!” That stopped him, giving me time to catch up, catch my breath, and catch Comstock’s latest scam. “Now, Comstock,” I said, the air returning to my lungs, “if you’re not going to operate, why the medical bag?”

“That’s so I can get money from the Department of Agriculture,” he replied.

“You’re going to hold up an Ag Stabilization office?”

“In a way,” he said, shoving a sheaf  of the newspaper clippings at me. Some said that when doctors didn’t operate, the death rate dropped.”

“O.K., so surgeons kill patients. Tell me how that’ll help you make a mint.”

“Don’t be so impatient,” said Comstock. “Here! Read this!” This was a newspaper article that reported a study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that of 35 million people hospitalized last year, almost two million got worse because of exposure to unsanitary hospital procedures. “See! Even if we get them through surgery,” said Comstock, “They’ll die in the hospitals anyhow! Isn’t that wonderful!” Wonderful wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind.

“Aren’t doctors supposed to make people healthier?” I brazenly asked.

“I guess we can do that too while we’re making money,” said Comstock, thoughtfully stringing out his scheme. “But making people healthy isn’t as financially productive as not growing crops.” He thrust yet another newspaper article at me. During the past decade, the Department of Agriculture paid more than $200 billion in subsidies to farmers, about three-fourths of them agricorporations; about $2 billion of that was for subsidies to individuals and corporations not to do any farming. Farmers and agricorporations merely had to prove they once farmed the land. They could even sell 40 acres to a sub-developer to build houses, and entice future homeowners with seemingly eternal payments for not having race paddies in their basements. Comstock even showed me governmental data that revealed that dozens of members of Congress were getting annual six-figure subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Tea Party Republican from Tennessee, even took more than $3.3 million in farm subsidies, while calling for a significant decrease in the food stamp program for the poor.

“So, that’s the scam,” I said. “You’re not going to grow rice so you can make more money?”

“You fall off the turnip truck?” he asked. “I’m not doing surgery!”

“That’s good news,” I sighed.

“Darn right!” he patriotically exclaimed. “With every doctor wanting to get the big bucks from surgery, there’s a glut of surgeons. Because of competition, us surgeons can’t make as much from one surgery as before, so we have to do more surgeries just to stay even. That’s more work for us. More time in hospitals. More deaths from surgery. More deaths from hospital care. Higher insurance rates. That forces us to do even more surgeries to keep up. That’s definitely not in the nation’s interest.” I agreed.

“But the government can fix it!” said a beaming Comstock, former surgeon-turned-oil-entrepreneur. “All the government has to do is pay us not to perform surgery, and you’ll see happier doctors. There might even be a few lives that are saved in the process.”

A noble thought, I agreed. A very noble thought.

[Dr. Brasch isn’t a physician or a farmer, but he has asked his editor to pay him for not writing his weekly column. He claims there are already too many people who think they’re columnists, and overproduction diminishes his value—so a subsidy is the best solution. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, available at local bookstores, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com]

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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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.]

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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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A Brief Review of 2012: The Gun Culture of America

8:03 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 Jan. 8, 2011, Tuscon, Ariz.:  A man had gone to a political town meeting at a supermarket, with the intent to murder Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He killed six and wounded 14, including Giffords, who was shot in the head. On Jan. 25, 2012, Giffords, still in recovery from the shooting, walked onto the House floor to a standing ovation. Congress and the President have no plans to restore the assault weapons ban that expired under the Bush–Cheney Administration or to tighten gun laws.

April 2, 2012, Oakland, Calif.: A 43-year-old former nursing student entered a classroom at Oikos University, killed seven and wounded three. The suspect used a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun. There are more than 310 million weapons in civilian hands in the U.S. That is about one-half of all weapons in the world owned by civilians. There have already been more than 17 million applications for gun ownership this year. The NRA claims the Second Amendment allows unlimited gun ownership, and viciously attacks any form of licensing. It doesn’t see the reality that there are hundreds of restrictive laws, all meant to protect the public health. At the annual meeting this  month, the executive director claims the NRA is the “human engine of freedom,” and that his organization “represents the very best of America’s character and strength.”

July 8, Dover, Del.: Three persons walked onto a soccer field, killed the tournament organizer, the father of six children, and a 16-year-old player who was a straight-A student. Two persons were injured by random gunfire. There were 15,953 murders in the U.S. last year; 11,901 were from firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 60,000 were wounded, according to the Brady Center. The NRA says “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” What it refuses to recognize is that people with guns kill people. According to data compiled by the Brady Center, a “gun in the home is [22 times] more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.” The U.S. has a rate of 2.8 murders by gun per 100,000 individuals. This is the highest rate of the G12 industrialized nations. It is also almost seven times higher than the next 22 countries combined. The lowest rate is that of the United Kingdom, which has a death by gun rate one one-hundredth that of the U.S. The UK has gun controls.

July 17, Tuscaloosa, Ala.: A gunman with a military-style assault rifle went to the house of a man who he believed knew someone else, shouted a racial slur, and shot that man, and then walked into a crowded bar and began shooting. Seventeen were wounded from gun fire, shrapnel, and shattered glass. The suspect had a history of violence. Several states permit persons to carry concealed weapons into bars, unless specifically prohibited by that particular business. The NRA says students should be allowed to carry weapons on college campuses. Five states currently permit college students to carry weapons onto campus. Mixing alcohol and guns, as anyone who watches movie westerns knows, has never been a good idea. About 700,000 assaults a year are committed by college students who have been drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports at least 40 percent of all college students binge drink at least once a month.

July 20, Aurora, Colo: A man with full body armament entered the Century Movie Theater, killed 12 and injured 58. He used a 12-gauge tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-round semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum, and a Glock .22 pistol. Within the previous two months, he had bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition. “Gun-rights” advocates claim if even a few people in the theater were armed the tragedy could have been averted. Apparently, they naively believe that a concealed handgun would stop an attack by a maniac in full-body armor, carrying assault weapons. They also must have believed there would not be additional panic, and the killing of innocent bystanders by those with the guns who might be see flashes elsewhere in the theater and fire back. Of the previous 62 mass shootings, not one was stopped by a civilian with a gun.

Aug. 5, Oak Creek, Wisc.: A white supremacist entered the Sikh temple and killed seven people. He used a 9-mm. semi-automatic pistol. By fear and intimidation, the NRA has blocked federal legislation, and has used money as its weapon of choice. This year, the NRA contributed about $17.6 million to campaigns, most to Republican candidates or for ads opposing Democratic candidates who believed in reasonable legislation. The NRA refuses to even acknowledge that there can be sensible laws that meet the requirements of the Second Amendment.

Aug. 13, College Station, Texas: A 35-year-old man, who proudly proclaimed himself to be a gun enthusiast, killed a constable and a passerby, and wounded four others, before police killed him. Mitt Romney says there should be no changes in current gun laws.

Oct. 9, northern Mexico: The Mexican Navy captured the leader of the notorious Zetas drug cartel, believed to have killed an innocent American two years earlier. Mexico’s drug cartels provide about 90 percent of all illegal drugs to the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of their weapons of choice, according to data compiled by the Latin America Herald-Tribune, are guns from the U.S, bought online, by gun-runners, or at gun shows. The “gun show loophole” allows unlicensed dealers to sell guns to whomever they want, without background checks. The ATF says between 25 and 70 percent of all dealers at gun shows are unlicensed. There are more than 4,000 gun shows a year, where “lie and buy,” mixed with a heavy dose of greed, is more common than good sense.

Oct. 21, Brookfield, Wisc.: A man walked into a spa, killed his wife and two other women, and wounded four before killing himself six hours later. The NRA says the U.S. should just enforce existing laws, but has actively opposed giving higher budgets or personnel authorization to police and federal agencies. The NRA is on record as having called the ATF a “jack-booted group of fascists,” and that police are “agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.” The extreme right-wing, with survivalist delusions, believe civilian possession of assault weapons will “protect” them against an “invasion” by the U.S. military (or, perhaps, space aliens) against homeowners.

Nov. 22, Black Friday: A shrill paranoid NRA had declared that if Barack Obama is re-elected, “Every freedom we cherish as Americans is endangered.” More guns were sold on this day than any day in U.S. history. Virginia, which had a one handgun per month limit, repealed its law in July, although the Virginia State Crime Commission concluded, “law-abiding gun purchasers in Virginia are not unduly burdened by Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law.” More than 40 percent of all guns used in murders in New York City came from Virginia, according to ATF data. The I-95 corridor along the east coast may be the most open channel for drug and gun traffic. The NRA wants open sales and to eliminate the Brady Law database on background checks.

 Dec. 14, Newtown, Conn.: A 20-year-old man kills his mother, breaks into a school, and murders 20 six-and seven-year-old children, and six adults defending them, and then commits suicide. The killer had a 10mm Glock handgun, a 9mm SIG Sauer handgun, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which can fire 45 rounds a minute. Three other guns were at his home. All guns were legally purchased by his mother. More than three-fourths of all weapons used in murders were legally purchased. President Obama said on the day of the massacre, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” The NRA remains silent.

There were 12 mass murders so far this year. There will be 33 more deaths from gunshot wounds today. There will be 33 more tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that. And there will be 33 murders by guns on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The man known as the “Prince of Peace” probably doesn’t care what the NRA believes.

[Walter Brasch, who shoots trap, believes in responsible gun ownership and, more important, responsible laws. His latest book, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, looks at violence in America.]