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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

Lettuce Look at Some Prices

8:44 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Lettuce growing during the winter in Yuma, Arizona

I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.

“The supermarket’s got lettuce for less than two bucks a head,” he said enthusiastically.

“What’s so unusual about that?”

“Because it’s going to be extinct in a few weeks.”

“You’re buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?” I sarcastically asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months.”

“What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?”

“Weren’t you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I’ll be selling them in two months. I’m buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures.”

“Your future looks like Chapter 11,” I said.

“California and the Southwest are in the worst drought in decades. Wiped out much of the agricultural land. Drought’s almost as good as winning the PowerBall. Prices have to rise.”

“But California and the Southwest got heavy doses of rain a couple of weeks ago,” I replied.

“I’m being patient with you since you are a city boy,” said Marshbaum, “Drought left the land barren. Rain wasn’t enough to solve the problem, and what there was of the rain destroyed what was left. Picking season is almost here, and there’s not a lot to pick.”

“Even if farmers have to raise their prices to four bucks a head to survive, they should be able to break even.”

“You think farmers get even a third of that? Wholesalers mark it up, then distributors, and then the supermarkets.”

“I hope the farmers survive,” I said.

“With the drought and heavy rains, the farmers are having trouble making their mortgages, and are selling what’s left of their crops at a loss.” Marshbaum thought a moment, and then brightly said, “They can always get food stamps.”

“Congress sliced and diced the food stamp program,” I reminded Marshbaum.

“There’s always welfare.”

“Governors have been cutting that to show they care about expenses—and because they don’t think people on welfare vote.”

“At least the farmers will make some money after the banks and corporations buy them out at a fair market value.”

“Banks? Corporations? Fair market? You must have been smoking some of that lettuce. Besides, what’s a bank going to do with a farm?”

“Turn it into a shopping mall. Better yet, they sell it to the some fancy-suited gold-chained MBA dudes who sneak in, undercut the family farmers, and in a year or so, they’re growing 15,000 acres of lettuce in Oklahoma.”

“Suits with business degrees aren’t going to pick lettuce. They have the farm workers to exploit,” I said. “If the banks and corporations take over, the bosses will sit back, order high quantities of everything from seed to tractors at bargain basement discounts, buy mountains of cheap pesticide to dump on the land, hire out a few dozen 18-wheelers to deliver the crop, and get an overpriced ad agency to promote new-and-improved lettuce.”

“You finally have it right,” said Marshbaum. Lettuce goes up. My profits increase. Corporate America will rule.”

“They’ll be ruling from a skyscraper in New York,” I said. “There will be board meetings, corporate expense accounts, bottom lines, cash-flow, liquidity, and stock options, with MBAs and lawyers worried more about puts and calls than fertilizer and seed. They’ll plan annual conferences on Bermuda beaches, eat salads with spiny lobster, and write off everything as business expenses. When they have taken over all the family farms, they’ll raise prices when there isn’t any drought or flood. They’ll charge whatever they want, whenever they want. Just like the oil companies.”

“And what’s so wrong with that?” asked Marshbaum. “God bless the U-S-of-A!”

“When do you think all this will happen?” I asked.

“It already has.”

Sadly, I asked Marshbaum if we could immediately go to the supermarket. “I think I’d just like to stand there and look at our future.” Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Let’s Phrase This Another Way

7:08 am in Uncategorized by brasch

O.K., all you loyal readers, I’d appreciate it if you would “Put your hands together” for today’s commentary. I want you to “give it up” for me. But, most of all, I want you to “show me some love.”

License plate: LOLZOMG

Dr. Brasch is upset about your language.

If you’d like to stand and applaud enthusiastically, that’d be waaaay cool.

At one time, TV audiences saw a flashing light that had the word, “applause.” That’s all that was needed, just in case no one wanted to cheer an oncoming actor or TV guest.

Now we have the host telling us in so many ways that we have to—well—put our hands together and give it up while showing some love.

I have no idea how those phrases became a part of the American language, but they are there. And they are annoying.

On almost every TV game show, the host will enthusiastically ask, “Are you ready!?” The contestant will respond, “I was born ready!” Maybe the genome project should be looking for the “ready gene,” instead of worrying about such mundane things as genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

“Brand new” is another phrase that is useless. TV hosts like to announce “You can win a brand new car!” Advertising agencies splash us with “brand new” products. And if you go to an obstetrics ward, you can see all those “brand new babies.”

Also annoying is TV news people talking about icons or something that is iconic. When Justin Bieber is called a pop music icon, isn’t it time to stop and think about what an icon is? I’m sure there’s an admonition somewhere about worshipping false biebers?

Speaking about false things, far too many politicians, business executives, and other news sources will say, kind of confidential-like, “Let me be honest with you,” and then say something that was probably rehearsed to make the reporter think she or he is getting an exclusive. Shouldn’t the reporter then question everything else that source ever said? Far too often, reporters let their sources skate past any embarrassing follow-up questions.

The language of business is also annoying. While most of us fall asleep after the first two sentences of an annual report, most of us also know that when a corporation announces it plans to “rightsize,” “downsize,” and “outsource,” it really means Management is planning to “maximize its profits” and get rid of the lower-paid workers who were responsible for any profits the company ever did have.

“That was then, this is now” and “To the best of my recollection, at that point in time” are two phrases we should put into a concrete time vault and keep from appearing for at least another eon or so. By then, there will be no point and the now will be a then—or something like it.

I’m also getting annoyed with hearing sportscasters tell us that a team that is doing better than the odds-makers believed, “came to play,” What else would the teams be doing? They have contracts. They have schedules. Does anyone think they came to seed the field or take an afternoon nap? Of course they came to play. That’s why it’s called a game!

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by brasch

Shuffling Federal Paperwork

7:04 am in Uncategorized by brasch

The right-wing part of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, with John Boehner in the role of spineless lackey rather than courageous Speaker, has shut down much of the federal government.

A government form

Did you fill out the right form?

Eighty Republicans had signed a letter expressing their intent to shut down the government. It was a political act of defiance against government by people who themselves were government. The millionaire representatives have grabbed the media, which they publicly say they hate—except for one TV network and a few loud-mouth blowhards on radio—to proclaim their demands.

They demand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, be defunded. To these ultra-conservatives, the most important health care insurance protection in the nation’s history is a socialist trap, just like Social Security, Medicare, and VA benefits. The Republicans tried more than 40 times to abolish Obamacare; more than 40 times they failed. The law was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President (who was re-elected by a majority of the people who fully knew where he stood on the ACA), found to be constitutional by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and has the support of a majority of the American people.

And so they develop slogans, and have plastered the media with the words “negotiate” and “fairness.” It is the President’s responsibility, they declare, to negotiate and to be fair.

Apparently, political gesturing plays well in their newly-gerrymandered districts.

What doesn’t play well is the crass overt politics. In numerous polls, more than half of Americans place the blame for the shut-down not on the Democrats or President Obama, but to the Republican minority that has regressed to their lives as two-year-olds when they could scream, cry, kick, and hope to get their way.

But, the minority of the Republicans do have one point when they say government (but not the Defense Department) is too big and too unwieldy—although what they don’t say is that President Obama has already significantly trimmed the federal government to make it much more efficient at representing the people’s needs and concerns.

We now take you back to 1975, when government began trimming itself.

In 1975, Congress had created a Federal Paperwork Commission which recommended a cabinet-level Department of Administration, “to promote more efficient, effective and responsive administration of the federal government.” These transcripts may, or may not, have been recordings of the newly-formed department almost four decades ago.

Deep in an obscure federal building is Wilson P. Throckmorton, the first secretary of the Department of Administration. With him are his two key assistants, career administrators Samuel J. Stonewall and Waldo P. Rockbottom.

“Excuse me, sir,” says Stonewall, “but I notice that you have only the American flag behind your desk. You also need a cabinet flag.”

“Alright, make it blue with the Department’s gold seal in the middle.”

“Before you can get the flag, you have to fill out form DA-504 in quintuplicate. According to regulation 42, as explained in executive memo 11-07, as amended by executive memo 15-11 section 4, subsection b, all requests for executive-level flags must be approved by the Department of Administration. I don’t see any problem, though. I’m sure that the Department of Administration will give its approval.”

“But we are the Department of Administration.”

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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

A Father’s Day Barbecue—Washington-Style

5:57 am in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

It’s Father’s Day, and that means the Great White Republican Hierarchy in Washington smells burnt charcoal and is ready to barbecue some Democrats.

Because Father’s Day is special, the Republican-proposed Sequester is waived, and there is no budget limit for the day’s food and frivolity.

It’s warm this Father’s Day, but the Republicans aren’t complaining about all the fracking heat from their propane grill or the sweat they’re putting into making a nice dinner. They’re sure that it’ll be ice-age cool next year because the destruction of the ozone layer and Climate Change don’t exist.

First onto their searing grill is a slice of prime Benghazi. The meat has been marinating for nine months and is ready to pop. The Republican fathers see a conspiracy and cover-up that four Americans died in an embassy fire caused by terrorists. Protecting the Republican eyes from all the heat being stirred up are rose-colored glasses that have kept them safe from acknowledging they have been responsible for massive funding cuts for State Department security. The glasses also protect them from remembering they weren’t outraged and didn’t demand impeachment when terrorists attacked seven diplomatic compounds and killed more than 30 people during the George W. Bush administration.

Next onto the grill is a nice cut of IRS rump. The Palefaces of Power claim the IRS targeted Tea Party applications for non-profit status, and even got President Obama to apologize and declare he was going to investigate and get rid of that problem. The Republicans plan to char this delicacy, but this rump won’t roast. Tea Party and conservative applications represented only about one-third of all applications that were investigated—and every application was approved for 501(c )(4) tax-exempt status, even though none of the applicants met the criteria of being a social welfare organization, or a private and educational association, or even a SuperPAC. Rejected, however, were some liberal organizations, including Emerge America, a Maine group that trains Democratic women to run for political office.

On this special day, the Republicans have their raw meat brought to them, but as a special treat, the macho macho men  unholstered their legal AR15s and blasted a flock of peace doves, taking the bits of shredded meat and feathers to make a squab glaze for the rump roast.

The Verizon delicacy, with freshly-minted leaks, has the Righteous Republicans salivating. They’re outraged that the Obama government has been collecting phone and email records of millions of Americans as part of a National Security Agency database. Content is not collected, just data about who called whom, when and for how long. Now, this data mining might seem to be an invasion of privacy, and something that should be a matter of public outrage—if it was illegal, which it isn’t. That might be why the Republicans didn’t seem outraged when the same problem emerged in 2006 during the Bush–Cheney administration. They claimed that secret courts dealing with secret warrants to secretly snoop upon Americans were morally justified. In fact, almost every Bill of Rights violation that came up during the Bush–Cheney administration was dismissed by the Republicans as necessary for national security. They were the ones who pushed the PATRIOT Act, and got spineless Democratic cowards to sign onto their scheme to scam Americans of their civil liberties. But, there may be some delight in seeing the party that believes fathers have a right to dictate the lives of their children, even if they are unrelated adults, into eating their own telephone cords.

Now, every barbecue and picnic has pesky insects. And this Father’s Day celebration is no exception. It would be messy if the Republicans had to grill, eat, and bat away insects at the same time. Fortunately, they spotted some 18-year-olds walking down the street and drafted them into the war against bugs. Problem solved.

Republicans on a daily basis lambaste the lyin’ lib’ral left-wing establishment media. Of course, it’s on establishment media that they do all this ranting. But, when the U.S. attorney general went after the phone records of about 100 establishment AP reporters, the Republicans saw fresh meat. This time, they indignantly stood up for the freedom of the establishment press, and declared that because AP reporters weren’t Kosher, they were uneatable. So, they fried up a Holder Sausage.

Obamacare Oysters are always nice for a special day. But, for some reason, the slippery-fingered Republicans can’t seem to keep the oysters on the grill. They tried 37 separate times to grill the oysters, and 37 separate times, it fell off. But, these are persistent little buggers and there’s no doubt they’ll try a 38th time, although Mother Court has already told them their effort to grill health care is futile.

Because the Republican Fathers are so busy gorging themselves with Benghazi, IRS, Verizon, AP, and Obamacare cuts of meat and vegetables, they didn’t get a chance to lay out the side dishes known as jobs, economy, social welfare, and the environment.

At the end of the day, tired from charring and making a huge mess, the Republicans will take yet another long nap—while their underpaid undocumented maids and gardeners will take out the trash.

[Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which examines the health and environmental effects of fracking; the book also explores the collusion between politicians and Big Energy.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Vouchering an Educational Adventure

6:58 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER BRASCH

CCDHS Classroom, Miles City

(Photo: dave_mcmt/flickr)

I hadn’t talked with Marshbaum for a couple of years, ever since he left newspaper journalism for more lucrative work in the fast food industry. But here he was in my office to ask if I would publicize his new educational adventure.

“That’s great!” I said. “You’re finishing the last three years of college.”

“I own the school. CEO of Little Minds Charter and Voucher Corp. We’re on the leading edge of the trend to privatize schools.”

“How does mumbling into a broken speaker box make you qualified to run a school?” I asked.

“Interpersonal communication skills,” he replied. “That, and knowing how to count change and arrange work schedules for the three minimum-wage high school kids on my late night shift. It’s all administration and proper marketing.” He thrust a full-color three-panel promotional flyer at me. Buried in small print was the tuition cost.

“That’s a bit high, isn’t it?” I asked.

“With loans, grants, and governmental assistance, it’s almost affordable.”

“Governmental assistance?”

“We’d be bankrupt if we didn’t get it,” said Marshbaum. “Because the state wants to privatize everything, it gives families a yearly check to send their uncultured little cookie crumblers wherever they want. Family gives us the money, and we teach their children the importance of sexual abstinence and the free enterprise system.”

“I suppose you’re making radical changes in education,” I snickered. Marshbaum didn’t disappoint me.

“You bet your Number 2 we are. We’re on track to become the state’s most cost-effective school. Conservative politicians love us. Cutting expenses is where it’s at.”

“What did you cut?”

“First thing we did was order our classroom supplies from China. That saved us over 50 percent. Got a great deal on ugly desk-chairs.”

“You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘Buy American’,” I suggested.

“Not true, Ink Breath. We get our school uniforms from Wal-Mart. An all-American company.”

“You are aware,” I pointed out, “that most of the clothing in Big Box stores is made by exploited children and their impoverished parents in Third World Countries.”

“Exactly!” beamed Marshbaum. “Cheaper that way. Besides, we use the labels to teach about world geography. That’s a two-fer!”

“How else are you re-defining education?” I asked, knowing Marshbaum wouldn’t disappoint me.

“Downsized the faculty. All those rich college graduates were hurting our bottom line. Hated to downsize Greenblatt, though. Thirty years on the job. Twice recognized as the state’s best history teacher”

“You fired a tenured history teacher?”

“Had to. He was at the top of the salary schedule. Besides, he was teaching about the rise of the middle class and how unions helped get better wages and benefits for the masses. That’s just downright unpatriotic. He refused to be a team player.”

“What you did is probably illegal!” I said.

“We’re a corporation,” said Marshbaum smugly. “We can do anything we want. We’ll be dumping math next.”

“That’s absurd! Of the industrialized nations, the U.S. is already near the bottom in math and science.”

“No one gives a rotten apple’s core about when trains at different speeds leave their stations and pass each other in Wichita.”

“So you don’t have any faculty?” I asked incredulously.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We outsourced our teaching. There’s Bierschmaltz in Austria and Wang Lin in Laos and—”

“I suppose you have them lecturing by speaker phone,” I said sarcastically.

“Even better. They create the lessons, have some teenage videohead record them, and the students can see it on their own computers. Distance Education and Technology is where it’s at. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying live people who demand a lunch break after five classes, and call off sick just because they broke a hip or some other useless joint.”

“If you’re dumping courses, downsizing and outsourcing, how are you going to improve the scores?”

“Not a problem,” Marshbaum said, explaining that the state has specific questions to which the students must know the answers. “We just make sure we drill the students on what they’ll be tested upon.”

“That’s not education, that’s teaching to the test. Your students may get high scores, but they probably won’t get much knowledge.”

“So where’s the problem?”

And with that, Marshbaum grabbed his backpack and went out to recruit more voucher-laden students.

[Walter Brasch spent 30 years as a university professor of mass communications, while continuing his work as a journalist. Now retired from teaching, he continues as a journalist/columnist. His latest of 17 books is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at critical social issues through the eyes of a ’60s self-described “hippie chick” teacher who is still protesting war, attacks upon the environment, due process issues, and fighting for the rights of all citizens to have adequate health care.]

 

by brasch

Labor Pains: A Fable for Our Times

7:02 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

                                                           by Walter Brasch

 Once, many years ago, in a land far away between two oceans, with fruited plains, amber waves of grain, and potholes on its highways, there lived a young man named Sam.

Now, Sam was a bright young man who wanted to work and save money so he could go to school and become an electrician. But the only job open in his small community was at the gas station. So, for two years, Sam pumped gas, washed windshields, checked dipsticks and tire pressure, smiled and chatted with all the customers, gave them free drinking glasses when they ordered a fill-up, and was soon known as the best service station attendant in town.

But then the Grand Caliphs of Oil said that Megamania Oil Empire, of which they all had partial ownership, caused them to raise the price of gas.

“We’re paying 39 cents a gallon now,” they cried, “how can you justify tripling our costs?” they demanded.

“That’s business,” said the Chief Grand Caliph flippantly. But, to calm the customer fury, he had a plan. “We will allow you the privilege of pumping your own gas, washing your own windows, checking your car’s dipsticks and tire pressure, and chatting amiably with yourselves,” said the Caliph. “If you do that, we will hold the price to only a buck or two a gallon.”

And the people were happy. All except Sam, of course, who was unemployed.

But, times were good, and Sam went to the local supermarket, which was advertising for a minimum wage checkout clerk. For three years, he worked hard, scanning all groceries and chatting amiably with the customers. And then one day his manager called him into the office.

“Sam,” said the boss, “we’re very pleased with your work. You’re fired.” From corporate headquarters had come a decision by the chain’s chief bean counter that there weren’t enough beans for their executives to go to Europe to search for more beans.

“But,” asked Sam, “Who will scan the groceries?”

“The customers will,” said the boss. “We’ll even have a no-hassle machine that will take their money and maybe even give change.”

“But won’t they object to buying the groceries, scanning them, bagging them, and shoving their money into a faceless machine?”

“Not if we tell them that by doing all the work, the cost will be less,” said the manager.

“But it won’t,” said Sam.

The manager thought a moment, and then brightly pointed out, “We’ll just say that the cost of groceries won’t go up significantly if labor costs were less. Besides, we even programmed Canmella the Circuit-enhanced Clerk to tell customers to have a nice day.”

Now, others may have sworn, cried, or punched out their supervisor, but this is a G-rated fairy tale, and it wouldn’t be right to leave Sam to flounder among the food. By cutting back on luxuries, like food and clothes, Sam saved a few dollars from his unemployment checks, and finally had enough to go to a community college to learn to become an electrician. After graduating at the top of his class, an emaciated and homeless Sam got a job at Acme Industries.

For nine years, he was a great electrician, often making suggestions that led to his company becoming one of the largest electrical supplies manufacturers in the country. And then one day one of the company’s 18 assistant vice-presidents called Sam into a small dingy office, which the company used for such a day. “You’re the best worker we have,” the AVP joyfully told Sam, “but all that repetitive stress has cut your efficiency and increased our medical costs. In the interest of maximizing profits, we have to replace you.”

“But who can do my job?” asked Sam.

“Not who,” said the manager, “but what. We’re bringing in robots. They’re faster and don’t need breaks, vacations, or sick days. Better yet, they don’t have union contracts.”

“So you are firing me,” said Sam.

“Not at all. We had to let a few dozen other workers go so there would be room for the robots, and we won’t be hiring any new workers, but because of your hard work, we’re reassigning you to oil the robots. At least until we design robots that can oil the other robots.”

For three years, Sam oiled, polished, and cleaned up after the robots. Sometimes, he even had to rewire them. And then the deputy assistant senior director of Human Resources called him into her office.

“No one can oil and polish as well as you can,” she said, but the robots are getting very expensive and we still have several hundred workers who are taking lobster and truffles from the mouths of our corporate executives, “so we’re sending all of our work to somewhere in Asia. Or maybe it’s Mexico. Whatever. The workers there will gladly design and assemble our products for less than a tenth what we have to pay our citizens.”

“You mean I’m fired?!” said a rather incredulous Sam.

“Not fired. That’s so pre-NAFTA. You’ve been downsized.”

Downsized?!”

“If you want, we can also say you’ve been outsourced. How about right-sized. That’s a nicer word. Would you prefer to be right-sized?”

By now, Sam was no longer meek. He no longer was willing to accept whatever he was told. “The work will be shoddier,” said Sam. “There will be problems.”

“Of course there will be,” said the lady from HR. “That’s why we hired three Pakistani goat herders to solve customer complaints.”

“Our citizens won’t stand for this,” said a defiant Sam.

“As long as the product is cheaper, our people will gladly go to large non-union stores and buy whatever it is that we tell them to buy.”

And she was right.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and former university professor. His latest book is the social issues mystery novel, Before the First Snow, available at amazon and other book dealers.]

by brasch

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

8:40 am in Uncategorized by brasch

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker.

“Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period.

“What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.”

“And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?”

“Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.”

Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off. “Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” I asked.

“Not just me,” he said. “Hospital’s laying off most of the staff, making the rest work overtime, and hiring outside contractors. They said it was hard to survive when the profit was down to only 20 or so million a year.”

“I didn’t realize it was that serious,” I said. “You planning to set up private practice to help the poor in Mexico?” I asked admiringly.

“Not a chance! Gonna get rich working for Megabucks!”

“You just said you were laid off.”

“Been laid off in the U.S.,” said Comstock while putting a frozen burrito into the microwave. “Megabucks/Mexico just hired me. There’s cheaper labor down there.”

“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re the cheaper labor.”

“Obviously you don’t know American business,” said Comstock haughtily.

“Megabucks/U.S. closes its auxiliary operations, and then contracts with Mexican companies for a fifth of the cost in the U.S. They do the work, ship it back to the U.S., and Megabucks bills Blue Cross the full rate as if it was done locally.”

“So where do you fit in?” I asked.

“Just as before. Nose jobs. Breast augmentations. Tummy tucks. All the important medical procedures. But this time, I do it in Cancun.”

“To rich Mexicans,” I said disgusted.

“To rich Americans!” said Comstock. “If they want the best care, they’ll take their private jets to Mexico and then deduct the trip as a necessary business expense.”

“And what about the impoverished and middle-class Americans?”

“If they can sneak across the border, they can also get medical care.”

“What about prescriptions?”

“Megabucks contracted with some of the best drug dealers—I mean pharmacists and chemists—in Mexico. Quality is just as good and it’ll only be four or five times production costs. Unlike the U.S. there’s no TV advertising and six-figure MBAs and lawyers that require drugs to be 30 or 40 times production costs.”

“With prices that low, how do you know there won’t be mass rushes by Americans to grab everything they can?”

“Because there’s security! Every hospital and pharmacy has armed guards with the best automatic weapons smuggled through the God-fearing 2nd Amendment patriotic Southern states.”

“Is Megabucks outsourcing all its operations?”

“Keeping the ER. After tummy tucks and butt lifts, that’s the hospital’s ‘cash cow.’”

“So, then, it’ll have to keep some services like X-Ray and the lab,” I said. “Maybe even a doctor or two.”

“Too expensive,” said Comstock. “Megabucks will hire more residents and foreign-educated doctors, and work them 18 hours a day. More work, less time to complain. Residents will do anything to get experience to pass their boards. May even hire a couple of hospitalists. You know, the ones who graduated at the bottom of their class and can’t even get work in a Free Clinic.”

“I suppose they’ll also do the lab work?” I asked.

“Do you know some of those lab techs are making as much as $30,000 a year! Made sense to lay them off, too.”

“So how will the ER know a victim’s blood chemistry, or if there’s internal injuries?”

“Technology,” said Comstock. “They scan the blood here, and send digital X-Rays to Mexico. Mexican lab technicians—you know, the ones that don’t know about unions and will work for only a few bucks a day—will analyze everything, then text the results back to the U.S.”

“This sounds like it’s not only a way to maximize profits, but also a way to avoid dealing with the President’s health care reform program.”

“Obamacare!” spit out Comstock. “Nothing but socialized medicine.”

“Most countries have forms of socialized medicine,” I countered, “and they not only have good health care but affordable prices to their citizens.”

Comstock put his hands to his ears and began chanting, “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.”

“Number 37,” I corrected him. “The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. just below Costa Rico.”

“They’re all Commies,” replied Comstock. “Besides, that study is a decade old.”

“Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund compared the nations of the United Kingdom against the U.S., and the U.S. ranked seventh of the seven.”

“Yeah, like Americans will go to Canada? It’s covered by snow and run by a queen who can’t even speak English.”

“You and Megabucks are crazy!”

“Possibly,” said Comstock, “but outsourcing is the American way. By the way, do you put ketchup or mustard on a burrito?”

[Dr. Walter Brasch isn’t licensed to practice medicine, but he goes to some excellent physicians who are—and they’re just as frustrated with the costs, insurance companies and myriad forms as anyone else. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery novel, Before the First Snow]

by brasch

The Personhood of a Mississippi Zygote

6:10 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

“O.K., class, we have a few minutes at the end of today’s lecture about how the godless Communists created evolution to try to destroy the decent loyal patriotic capitalist society of America. Any questions? Yes, Billy Bob.”

“Mr. Jim Bob, I heard about this thing called a person. What is that?”

“Good question. With all the distortions by the lyin’ liberal left-wing, it can get confusing. But, it’s really simple. A person is an egg that has just been fertilized by a sperm. We call this young person a Zygote.”

“Does it have to be a goat? Can it be anything else?”

“Well, Susie Bob, if you nurture it, that fertilized egg can grow up to be anything it wants to be, because this is the United States of America. And no one has the right to tell us white folks what to do.”

“Are there advantages of being a single-celled person?”

“Definitely. Their parents don’t have to wait until they emerge from the birth canal to claim them as an IRS deduction. Also, with more persons in Mississippi, we can get more single-cell congresspersons to represent us.”

“Then why did our parents vote against the constitutional amendment?”

“It was a close defeat. While those abortion activists voted against the measure, most of the opposition was because us conservatives were worried that the way the proposed amendment was written would allow them liberal types to go to Washington and overturn our states’ rights.”

“You mean Congress can do that?”

“No, Junie Bob, the Supreme Court can do that. It was a craps roll. You see, there are four decent Americans on the Supreme Court. And there are four who are women, or Jews, or both. And they were likely to say something stupid, like the state isn’t allowed to use religious dogma to justify new laws. That would mean there would be a 4–4 tie. We couldn’t trust the other judge to do what’s right, because he changes what side he’s on all the time. Even our illustrious governor said he had doubts about how broad that amendment was, and what the courts would do.”

“But he voted for it anyway.”

“He’s a politician, Kenny Bob. That’s what they do. Next question.”

“My mommy says that abortion and wearing condoms is murder, and to protect persons she plans to run down baby-killer doctors when she sees them on the streets.”

“Your mommy is looking out for the best interests of the fertilized egg. In that case, the courts will rule that what your mother does is justified homicide. Just like them lynchings your pappies and grandpappies might have done for fun on some hot weekend. It sent a message that we don’t tolerate uppity colored people doing dumb things like voting or demanding constitutional rights. Those were meant only for the white people.”

“Is slavery still legal?

“No, Bertie Bob, Mississippi outlawed it in 1995 when we ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”

“Why did it take so long?”

“Well, Martha Bob, you have to understand that decent conservatives just don’t go rushing into making important decisions. It takes time to figure out all the issues and their implications. Thirteen decades seemed about the right time.”

“I’m still confused Mr. Jim Bob. My pappy says that we got to keep the gummint out of our lives, like not allowing revenooers on our property. Don’t all of them laws intrude on our rights?”

“Sometimes, you have to intrude for the good of society. That’s why we have laws about who you can and can’t marry?”

“You mean, me and—?”

“Yes, Jenny Bob, I was planning to talk to you about you and your brother. Marriage has to be between a man and a woman who aren’t siblings.”

“So, it’s OK for me and Calvin Bob to marry?

“Since you’re first cousins that’s OK, just as long as marriage is between a man and a woman, as God intended.”

“Is that why we don’t like the coloreds and the Asians to marry us? I heard that half the state doesn’t want intermarriages and the rest are the colored people.”

“What people don’t understand, Beauford Bob, is that we made those laws to help the colored people. Before the War Between the States—Praise Jeff Davis and Jesus, Hallelujah!—we allowed white slave owners to have sex with anyone they wanted, as long as they were women. But, then we realized that wasn’t fair to the African people, because it diluted their purity. So, to protect the darkies, we didn’t have any choice but to forbid whites from marrying anyone with even one-eighth dark blood.”

“I heard about this thing called sodomy, which them homosexual and lesbian ladies practice. That’s just yucky.”

“Indeed it is. That’s why sodomy is a felony, and homosexuals can get 10 years in prison, where they can practice deviant. After that, they have to register as sex offenders. That’s another reason why the government is allowed into our bedrooms, so they can protect respectable voyeurs from having to participate in such immoral activity. Time for just one more question. Yes, Horatio Bob.”

“Mr. Jim Bob, how did you become so wise?”

“I’m a graduate of the Mississippi school system.”

 [Walter Brasch’s latest book is the mystery/thriller, Before the First Snow, set in rural Pennsylvania. The book is available through www.greeleyandstone.com, amazon.com, and other bookstores.]