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The Sounds of Silence — Political Style

7:31 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

A hush has fallen over our house.

It began late Tuesday night and, if we are fortunate, will last at least a week.

Drat these Robocalls!

Drat these Robocalls!

But it will return. We have no illusions that there will be continued quiet.

That’s because we are in the middle of yet another election cycle.

It’s not as bad as it was in 2008 or 2012 when we were getting five to ten robocalls every day from Democrats, Republicans, Friends of Democrats, Friends of Republicans, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.

During those years, almost every TV ad was someone praising his own political legacy or attacking her opponent for something that may or may not have been better placed in one of the supermarket tabloids that informed us about Elvis sightings and politicians influenced by aliens. At least by putting most of their ad budgets into television, they were able to keep ad salesmen from losing their lofty prestige and falling into the abyss of wages earned by news directors.

The candidates are using their money and public platform to express their opinions, no matter how absurd.

In Arizona, a rancher who thought he should become a member of Congress claimed, “If you look at the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people.”

In Florida, a state representative claimed those who support the concept of an educational common core have a not-so-hidden agenda—they want to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”

And in Pennsylvania, we learned that incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, running unopposed in his party, brought 150,000 jobs to the state; it was a remarkable feat considering that when he took office, the state was 13th in job growth and in less than four years, even with the “economic boom” in gas drilling, had plunged to 41st among all states. Corbett then added the spice—his administration made significant increases to the educational budget, a claim that even members of his own party had trouble not bursting out in uncontrollable waves of gagging laughter. Of course, Corbett had to do something since his popularity is about 17 points below that of a Nigerian scam artist.

The cost to convince us to vote for a particular candidate is in the range of the gross national product of a small industrialized nation. Already, Congressional candidates have spent about $330 million, while Senate candidates have spent about $175 million, according to Open Secrets.

In Pennsylvania’s District 13, in the southeastern part of the state, candidates for Congress have spent almost $4 million. And it’s only sixth among all 435 districts.

Leading the spending is Ohio’s 8th district where Speaker of the House John Boehner, first elected in 1991, is running for re-election. He won the primary this month with about 70 percent of the vote. Apparently, he’s looking at a vigorous general election, since he’s already raised about $12.9 million, the largest amount in the country for a House campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a distant second with $5.3 million; in third is House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with a paltry $5 million.

Leaders in the Senate campaigns, according to Open Secrets, are Ed Markey of Massachusetts ($16 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($14.5 million), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader ($12 million).

Open Secrets also reveals that in this election cycle special interests and lobbying groups have helped make sure the candidates are bathed in green ink. Contributions to Republicans have already come from securities and investment companies ($33.5 million), real estate ($21.4 million), the oil and gas industry ($16 million), the insurance industry ($13.8 million), manufacturing industries ($10.2 million), pharmacy and health care ($8.3 million), and commercial banks ($9 million).

The Democrats have already received funding from law firms ($36 million), the entertainment industry ($10 million), building trade unions ($6.8 million), public sector unions ($ 6.7 million), and environmental groups ($1.3 million). Hundreds of millions of dollars are coming to both the Democrats and Republicans for the general election; the third parties, no matter how strong their candidates and public policy positions, will be campaigning with spare change.

India, which provides much of America’s telemarketing and tech services, may be on track to out-America America. The cost of the Indian election is expected to be about $5 billion this year, second only to the $7 billion cost of the 2012 election in the United States.

Thanks to special interests and lobbies, and their generosity in promoting American’s version of democracy, if the past is the future, voters will experience non-stop robocalls and TV ads for the next six months, some of the calls outsourced to New Delhi, possibly by flag-waving All-American, Constitutionalist patriotic politicians whose loyalties are to the mother’s milk of politics rather than to the people who will elect them.

[Dr. Brasch has been covering politics and social issues more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which includes a chapter about the influence of the oil and gas lobby upon politicians.]
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by brasch

We Gather Together to Ask…

5:54 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

Segued into a 10-second afterthought, smothered by 60-second Christmas commercials, is the media acknowledgement of Thanksgiving, which nudges us into a realization of all we are thankful for.

But the usual litany, even with the omnipresent pictures of the less fortunate being fed by the more fortunate, doesn’t list well this year. Our thanks seem to be at best half-hearted or at least insensitive and shallow.

All of us might be thankful for peace if America still hadn’t been involved in two recent wars. The Iraq war lasted almost nine years; the other, in Afghanistan, has lasted more than 12 years and is the nation’s longest war. And now it appears that we will be in Afghanistan for several more years.

When we first went there in 2001, it was to capture Osama bin Laden. We can be thankful that has been done. But why are we still there? And why should Americans still be getting wounded and killed? There were 4,486 killed and 32,000 wounded in Iraq, an unnecessary war that was launched with bravado and no long-range plans.  In Afghanistan, there have been 2,292 killed, almost 18,000 wounded.

American children who are 12 years old years and under have never been able to be thankful for peace! We used to say some Irish children never knew peace—now it’s us.

We know there are thousands of veterans who have committed suicide or are trying to overcome the aftermath of traumatic head injuries, loss of limbs, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The care has been so abysmal that combat veterans, who were given excellent care by combat medics in the field, are dying in VA hospitals while waiting for simple surgeries or treatment for more serious health issues.

We remember to say thanks for their service, and attempt to salve our collective conscience with charitable funds, flowery words, and flying flags. But it must be hard for those who served to be truly thankful to a nation that holds parades on Main Street without acknowledging that many of those honored sleep on that same street every night, with no affordable decent housing available to them.  And they hope for something warmer than an American flag to wrap themselves in. More than one-fourth of all adults who are homeless are veterans. Is our one line of thanks really enough?

In addition to our country’s homeless vets, whole families are also homeless—many direct victims of corrupt banks and semi-corrupt politicians, who never thought twice before foreclosing on the homes those families cherished, leaving them on the street, while not one executive had to give up his or her opulent office for a prison cell, despite the crimes they committed against the people.

For those foreclosed upon who managed to find a new way of life—to find shelter, to find work—their reward is a worthless credit rating despite having excellent credit before companies downsized and outsourced to “maximize their profits,” and banks foreclosed upon them. Unlike major financial institutions and corporations that squandered funds and went into bankruptcy and then were bailed out by the Congress, families can’t even get small loans to pay security deposits on their downsized apartments. Many families are living in one room in cheap motels—so many that schools have redirected bus routes for stops for the many school children living like this.  Those families would surely be thankful for a secure home. Who should we direct all our thanks to?

Many of the executives who sit on bank boards are heads of companies—the same companies that have chosen not to recycle their profits by expansion. That, of course, would provide new jobs, something so many Americans would be truly thankful for. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs are grateful as we gather around our holiday tables and give thanks for the bounty before us. Unless, of course, we’re the working poor. For them, the horn of plenty may be empty this close to the end of the month—and every month. Many, including those working minimum wage jobs, have to rely upon food stamps to help provide food; Congress, willing to spend fortunes on junkets, now plans to cut foodstamps.

There are those who earn upper-class incomes who decry the “welfare” recipients who they believe are predators of tax funds. There are some who are welfare cheats, but most just want a job and enough income to feed and clothe their families and have some left over for other basic necessities. If the politicians would hire more caseworkers, there would be better care for the nation’s underclass—and far fewer people scamming the system because there would be better oversight.

Many charitable organizations struggle mightily to get enough funds to feed more and more of our nation’s hungry as more and more workers are forced to accept part-time jobs at minimum wage. Full-time jobs could provide benefits, but Congress and our state legislatures, always willing to raise their own salaries, won’t raise the minimum wage to at least a few cents above poverty levels. The reason? The working poor have no lobbyists.

And yet both houses of Congress have dozens of committees, including ethics committees, that seem to be more of a way to showboat their politics than to meet the needs of the country. Maybe we need one more committee, this one made up of people who aren’t millionaires and aren’t able to parlay lobbyist money into November victories. This committee, made up of the working poor, will advise all of us of what the problems are, and what the solutions can be.

If on this Thanksgiving Day our thanks seem hollow, perhaps it’s the hollow victory of our veterans surviving combat only to be subjected to problems at home, or the hollow sound of an empty house that has been foreclosed upon, or the hollow growling of a worker’s empty stomach, or maybe the hollow pain of those who should seek medical assistance but can’t because there are some among us who want to destroy federal law, which allows those who are less fortunate to have adequate medical attention.

Most Americans want to help others; there are some politicians who mouth the words but say nothing.

May we all remember that when the basic needs are filled for all Americans, only then can we be truly thankful for the day.

[Rosemary R. Brasch is retired, after a career as a secretary for state and federal agencies, as a labor studies instructor at UMass and Penn State/Hazleton, and as a family services specialist for the Red Cross disaster Services. She and her husband, Walter, the author of 18 books, were editors of Oasis, a Red Cross-sponsored newsletter for families of combat troops.) Read the rest of this entry →

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Pennsylvanians Support Pigeon Shoot Ban

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

Three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to live pigeon shoots.

A statewide survey by the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Company reveals not only do 75 percent of Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots but only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban.

Here’s another figure from that independent survey. Eighty-three percent—that’s more than four of every five Pennsylvanians—say live pigeon shoots are an unnecessary form of animal cruelty.

Here’s why.

Organizers of this blood sport place the birds into cages, and place people with shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded cages open, and the pretend hunters open fire. The pigeons, many of them stunned, often having been nearly starved, are then blown apart.

But first they suffer. More than 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to data compiled by the Humane Society of the United States. If they fall onto the shooting range, teenagers take the birds, wring their necks or use scissors to cut their heads off, and stuff them into barrels. Even if the birds survive strangulation, they will die from their wounds and from suffocation. If the wounded birds manage to fly outside the shooting range, most will die a lingering and painful death. The juveniles-disguised-as-adults consider the birds litter, and don’t pick them up if they fall outside the shooting range.

Most hunters agree live pigeon shoots is cruelty. Most hunters rightfully say this is not fair chase hunting. Most hunters want to see this practice come to an end. And they have every right to want this to happen—pigeon shoots make a mockery of everything legitimate hunting stands for, and gives anti-hunting activists a huge target.

None of the birds can be used for food. Nor is there any way to make fur coats from their feathers.

Pennsylvania’s trap and skeet shoots attract many of the best shooters from around the country, and are a justifiably family-friendly sport. In contrast, pigeon shoots attract an assortment of barely-mediocre shooters, most of whom mix shooting and drinking, and openly violate the state’s gambling laws. Ted Nugent, who justifiably lives up to his “Motor City Madman” label, actively promotes pigeon shoots.

More than a century ago, the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shooting as cruel, and declared it wasn’t a sport. Almost no country allows pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that officially condones this practice.

So, if three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see a ban on pigeon shoots, who doesn’t?

The Pennsylvania legislature doesn’t. In almost three decades, the leaders have blocked almost every attempt to put legislation up for a vote. The last time there was a free-standing bill was in 1989.

And why has Pennsylvania’s often-dysfunctional legislature not followed the will of the people and banned this cruelty?

It’s an easy answer. Politicians are ruled not by the people who elect them but by who spreads money and fear onto their souls. In this case, the NRA executives—not the membership, almost all of whom believe in fair chase hunting, but the executives—don’t want to see the end of pigeon shooting. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon shooting violates the Second Amendment. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon slaughter is a slippery slope to the overthrow of gun rights.

Pennsylvania’s part-time legislators who receive full-time pay buy into this because they have been bought by the NRA—and they are afraid if they get even a grade of “B” from the NRA it might affect their chances of re-election.

This legislative session, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Allentown), the Senate’s majority whip, sponsored a bill (SB 510) to ban pigeon shoots. He has 22 co-sponsors; among them are Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Glen Mills, Pa.), the majority leader; Sen. Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), the minority floor leader; and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the minority caucus chair. Browne also has the support of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, the vote in the House will be contentious—its leaders have been the primary blocks to keep the bill from a vote.

If our Jello-spined legislators will look at the will of the people, they will stand up to the NRA executives, vote for Sen. Browne’s bill to ban pigeon shoots, and bring Pennsylvania into line with all other states that can make a distinction between Second Amendment rights and animal cruelty.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, for more than two decades has been covering the controversy surrounding pigeon shoots. Dr. Brasch is also the author of 18 books; his latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the financial and political connections between state politicians and the gas and oil industry.] Read the rest of this entry →

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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 →

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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.]

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Truckin’ to Treason: The Hot Air of Secession

10:20 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Reynolds - Gettysburg

General John Reynolds monument at Gettysburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky, of Peoria, Ill., ordered all parish priests in his diocese to read a letter to their congregations condemning Barack Obama. The letter, to be read the weekend before the election, declared that Obama and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate had launched an “assault upon our religious freedom.”

He wasn’t the only priest who used the pulpit to attack the President. Bishop David Lauren of Green Bay, Wisc., told his congregations that voting for Obama and other candidates who were pro-choice or who believed in embryonic stem cell research or gay marriage could put their “soul in jeopardy.” Others, primarily from evangelical Protestant faiths, were even more adamant in their religious intolerance, declaring that voting for Obama would definitely condemn their souls to Hell.

Southern Baptist evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said President Obama was “waving his fist before God” by supporting same-sex marriage and women’s abortion rights. In full-page newspaper ads, shortly before the election, the 94-year-old Billy Graham, whose words may have been written by his son, declared that Americans should vote for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles.” Those principles, according to the ad, include opposition to same-sex marriage. A spokesman for the Grahams said that neither person endorses candidates. However, Billy Graham reportedly told Romney he would do “all I can to help you,” and removed Mormonism from a list of cults on one of their web pages. In February, Franklin Graham, who earns about $600,000 a year as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared that Obama had plans to create “a new nation without God or perhaps under many gods.”

The re-election of President Obama didn’t stop the attacks. The Rev. Jerry Priscano, a Catholic priest from Erie, Pa., said Obama was the anti-Christ. On his Facebook page, he declared, “It will only be a matter of time before our nation is completely destroyed,” and that Hurricane Sandy, apparently a sign from God to the liberal northeast, “was only the beginning.”

A Pew Forum study of the 2012 vote showed that white Catholics favored Romney (59%–40%), Hispanic Catholics overwhelming supported Obama (75–21). Romney also had the evangelical Christians (79–20), and other Protestants (57–42). Although Romney pandered to Jewish voters, claiming he would be Israel’s best friend, and that Obama couldn’t be trusted, Jews went for Obama (69–30). The Pew exit poll measured only persons who identified themselves as Jews or Christians.

Factoring into the vote against Barack Obama is religious bigotry that drips with the hatred of anything not Christian. About one-fourth of all White evangelical Protestants believe he is a Muslim, although the President goes to a Protestant church and has never held Muslim values or beliefs. In one of the great leaps of faith, evangelicals also believe Obama is a “godless socialist Muslim,” something much rarer than a Klan leader voting for a Black Jew for president. Overall, about one-sixth of Americans believe he is Muslim, according to a poll by Public Religion Research Institute. Ironically, most evangelical Protestants also believe Mormonism is a non-Christian cult and refused to support Mitt Romney in the primaries. Faced by a “Muslim” and a Mormon in the general election, the evangelicals supported the Mormon, who had flip-flopped from moderate to conservative to get the nomination and then tried tacking slightly to the center for the general election.

The right-wing believe that America is a Christian nation and should elect only like-minded Christians to office. Even many Christian religions, such as Unitarianism, are suspect in the eyes of those who absolutely believe they absolutely know God’s intent, and everyone else is wrong. They support Israel, far closer to being a socialist nation than the U.S. ever will be, as a Biblical necessity, but would be conflicted if a Jew should ever become a major party candidate for president.

The religious bigots claim the U.S. was founded by Christians and is a Christian nation—or, reluctantly, say it is a Judeo-Christian nation. But, no matter how much they screech, the facts don’t support their beliefs. George Washington declared, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams and the Senate later ratified a treaty with those exact words.

Most of the Founding Fathers were primarily deists, not Christians, and specifically rejected many Christian beliefs, including the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and that the Bible was written by God. They also believed that God, having given mankind the power of reason, then stayed out of the lives of His people. Among the deists were Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe. But they and the other Founding Fathers were explicit in their declaration, embedded into the First Amendment that established the principle that all people had a right to their own religious beliefs.

Several distinguished historians (including Drs. James McGregor Burns and Richard Hofstadter, each of whom won the Pulitzer Prize for history) have pointed out that in 1776 and much of the 19th century, as much as 90 percent of the population did not identify with the Christian church.

There is another aspect to the First Amendment, often overlooked by those who don’t know history or Constitutional law, yet believe they do. Jefferson, in his first year as president, in a letter to a Baptist congregation, referred to the intent of one of the five parts of the First Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” Numerous times, the Founding Fathers had reaffirmed this separation, creating what became known as the “establishment clause” in 1787. Several rulings by the Supreme Court reaffirmed this doctrine.

However, 28 percent of Americans, according to a Nate Silver poll in February, don’t believe there is a Constitutional separation of church and state. The Constitutionally-ignorant have established religious tests for persons seeking political office. It should make no difference if Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It should also make no difference if Barack Obama is or is not a Muslim, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Vodun, Vodouist, or even an atheist.

But it may be a Hindu, Gandhi, who has last the last word. Discussing his experience with missionaries in South Africa, he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He was specific in his dislike for some, but not all, Christians. He had never met the extreme right-wing.

 [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which looks at religion, history, and social issues.]

           

 

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BREAKING NEWS: AP, Media Fumble News Story

5:48 am in Uncategorized by brasch

On the Sunday before the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney and some of his senior staffers played a flag football game with members of the Press Corps on Delray Beach, Fla.

A football

Photo: Anderson Mancini / Flickr

Ashley Parker of the Associated Press, apparently mistaking fashion reporting for news, reported that Mitt Romney was “wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt and gray sneakers.” Romney’s team, composed of senior campaign staff whom Parker identified, was “clad in red T-shirts.” She didn’t report what the members of the press wore, their names, or how many were on a team, but did acknowledge she “also played, winning the coin toss for her team, but doing little else by way of yardage accrual.” Yardage accrual? If this was Newswriting 101, and she put that phrase into a news story, there wouldn’t be one college prof anywhere in the country who wouldn’t have red-marked it, and suggested she stop trying to be cute.

Romney was a starter—we don’t know which position he played—made a “brief beach appearance” and left when “the game was in full swing,” possibly not wanting to get too mussed up by having to interact with commoners. There is so much a reporter could have done with Romney’s failure to finish the game, but didn’t. Parker, however, did tell readers breathlessly awaiting the next “factoid” that Ann Romney “made a brief appearance . . . after cheerleading from the sidelines.” She was protected by the Secret Service who served as the offensive line, undeniably allowing her to take enough time to do her nails, brush her hair, put on another coat of makeup for the AP camera, and then throw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 7–7. At 14–14, the game was called because, reported Parker, “Mr. Romney’s aides needed to get to debate prep, and the reporters had stories to file.” Obviously, stories about a beach flag football game on a Sunday afternoon was critical enough breaking news to stop the game and breathlessly inform the nation.

Amidst the sand, Parker reported, “There is a long history of candidates and their staff members occasionally interacting with reporters on a social level.” She referred to a couple events during the 2008 campaign; Sen. Barack Obama played Taboo with reporters; Sen. John McCain hosted a barbeque for the media. Those facts alone should have kept any alert comedy writer, satirist, or political pundit in material for the next four years.

A beach football game between politician and press may seem innocent enough—a couple of hours of fun to break the stress of a long, and usually annoying, political campaign. But there’s far more than flags pulled from shorts.

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Republicans Lie About ‘Support Our Troops’

4:47 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 
 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

For a decade, Republicans have been screaming at Americans to “support our troops.”

But, they don’t really support our troops. Their constant chanting was originally code to support the Republican administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the Republicans truly wanted to support the troops, they would have demanded—early in the wars—better armament and vehicles for the troops. Troops in Iraq had to “up-armor” their Humvees with their own ingenuity and money because Congress failed to appropriate enough protection.

The Republicans should have been outraged that after field medics performed extraordinary service to keep wounded from dying that the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was negligent in providing health care. It took a Washington Post investigative series and actions by the Obama administration, not the Bush–Cheney administration, to straighten out that mess.

American civilians sent millions of packages of everything from soap to towels to shaving lotion for the troops because Congress didn’t provide many of the basic necessities.

 And now the Republicans have blocked the Veterans Job Corps bill in the Senate. That bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 recent veterans by giving them priority in jobs as first responders. It would also have provided career advisers for the veterans. That bill would have helped not just veterans, but all Americans by strengthening fire, police, and first aid/paramedic assistance.

The vote in the senate was 58–40 to pass that bill. But, typical of Republican obstructionism, it failed. Although there was a clear majority, the bill failed because the Republicans used a technicality in Senate rules to force a higher standard–requiring 60 votes, not a simple majority, to pass the appropriation.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) led the opposition to the bill because he claimed it was reckless spending and he didn’t want to spend any more of the taxpayer money on something apparently as outrageous as helping veterans.

However, the bill was fully funded solely by increasing tax collections from Medicare providers who were delinquent in paying taxes, and by requiring persons applying for passports to be current in paying taxes. Pay the delinquent taxes and be eligible for further Medicare payments and passports. Seemed simple enough.

But, Tom Coburn and the Republicans stuck to their mantra of no more spending, even at the expense of combat veterans. The veterans just want some assistance to get a job and not to be a burden on unemployment and welfare rolls.

One billion dollars. Fully funded. That’s what the bill called for. A billion dollars to help combat veterans. You know, the ones the Republicans sent into war in Iraq that we later learned was a war built upon lies.

Here’s another statistic. The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has already cost Americans $2.3–$2.7 trillion, according to a Brown University analysis of war spending. That’s not even the total cost. The analysts believe the war will exceed $4 trillion by the time all costs, including $1 trillion in interest payments, are figured in. That total expense is more than 4,000 times more than the Democrats asked for to help returning veterans. And, that $4 trillion, generously pushed by a war-mongering Congress, never met even the barest of financial constraints the Republicans put upon a bill to help the veterans they sent into battle.

But, the real reason the Republicans killed the veterans job bill has nothing to do with their public claims they are trying to cut government costs or to reduce what they believe is Big Government. It has everything to do with petty politics. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate minority leader, had said “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He could have said the Republicans wanted to move the country forward, to help rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, help those who became unemployed and then homeless because of the recession, establish stronger regulations to prevent fraud, improve medical care for all Americans, assure the success of small business, increase the security of Americans both at home and overseas, or to help combat veterans readjust to civilian life. But he didn’t say those were his party’s top priority. The top priority was to defeat President Obama.

And so the Republicans blocked more than 80 percent of all bills submitted in the Senate, including legislation to provide health care for 9/11 first responders, end tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs, stop price gouging at the gas pumps, require oil companies to use some of their profits to develop clean alternative energy, and end a $4 billion a year subsidy to the oil companies—the top 5 had more than $137 billion profit in 2011. (The Republicans did manage to introduce more than 250 bills about abortion, family relationships, marriage, and religion, but not one for jobs creation.)

Because of their selfish hubris, the Republicans not only created gridlock in Congress, they refused to allow a bill that had the support of a majority of the Senate to go forward to help combat veterans. After all, that might be seen as supporting the President and not doing the Republicans’ Number 1 job—to stop a second term.

[Walter Brasch and his wife, Rosemary, were editors of The Oasis, a newspaper sponsored by the Red Cross for families of combat troops. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]