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by brasch

Delayed Deliveries Are Not a Crisis

9:26 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are crises.

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

by brasch

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 →

by brasch

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

7:32 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Flags at Pentagon City

(Photo: Mike Licht/flickr)

by WALTER BRASCH

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]