About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Republicans’ Rhetoric of Hate and Fear

by Walter Brasch

     Fear, laced with paranoia, is driving the American response against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
      President Obama has said he would accept 10,000 refugees, all of them subjected to intense scrutiny before being admitted to the country. France, with a population about one-fifth that of the United States, despite the worst attack on its soil since World War II, will accept 30,000 refugees.
      Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the Senate, “We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS because some politician doesn’t like their religion.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), a Jew, said the nation should “not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia,” and that when “thousands of people have lost everything—have nothing left but the shirts on their backs—we will not turn our backs on the refugees.”
      They are among a minority. Only 28 percent of Americans believe the nation should allow Syrian refugees into the United States, according to an independent Bloomberg poll. Fifty-three percent say absolutely deny any Syrian refugee, and apparently anyone who is a Muslim, a place in the United States; 11 percent say admit only Christians; 8 percent aren’t sure.
      The governors of 30 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have also said they don’t want Syrian refugees in their states. Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has even ordered his state agencies to deny residence to two Syrian families who had undergone extensive background checks by the FBI and other agencies and were scheduled to be relocated in Indianapolis. The governors’ opinion, fueled by politics not compassion, really doesn’t matter; the acceptance and relocation of refugees fleeing oppression is a federal not a state issue.
     Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), born in Canada but with dual American and Canadian citizenship, doesn’t want Syrian refugees in his adopted country. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents were Cuban refugees, doesn’t want Syrian refugees in the U.S. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), born in the United States three months after his parents left India, doesn’t want his adopted country to admit Syrian refugees.
        Donald Trump, with a northern European heritage and currently the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, had previously declared if he was the president he would build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and round up and deport 11 million undocumented aliens, actions clearly in the fairy-tale netherland of impossibility, but definitely in the land of rhetoric meant to pander to his extreme right-wing following. In response to the murders in France, he says he would require all Muslims to register, and would close mosques. However, not one terrorist attack in the United States was hatched and carried out in a mosque. More important, Trump’s actions would be a violation not only of the First Amendment but everything the Founding Fathers believed.
      Jeb Bush said the U.S. should admit only Syrian refugees who are Christians. It was a stupid comment when he said it; it was just as stupid when he later “clarified” it by saying if the U.S. admitted any Muslim, it should only be after extensive screening. As President Obama tried to explain to the fear-mongers, it takes up to two years for the U.S. to admit any refugee from any country, and only after extensive screening. Even more important than screening refugees, the Constitution clearly doesn’t allow either acceptance or rejection of those who seek U.S. residency because of their religion, something Bush and the conservatives should have known, especially if they wish to run for any office, from local constable to the presidency of the United States.
       Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) says he has an idea how to defeat ISIS. The proselytizing presidential candidate wants to create a government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values around the world. It’s doubtful that many conservatives will be promoting any “Judeo-” values, because American Jews tend to lean more to liberal beliefs than other religions.
      State Rep. Glen Casada, Republican caucus leader in Tennessee, wants the Tennessee National Guard to round up all Syrian refugees who are lawful residents of his state and to deport them—if not back to Syria, at least to some other state. State Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-R.I.) wants to create internment camps for any Syrian refugee admitted into her state. Most Pennsylvania republican legislators, spewing their caucus’s talking points, said they had “grave concerns” about Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to allow Syrian refugees to live in the state where the Declaration of Independence was written.
      Texas State Rep. Tony Dale, one of the nation’s most ardent defenders of the right to own guns, and who consistently receives grades of “A” from the NRA, added yet another reason to deny Syrian refugees admission to the United States. Without recognizing the irony and the hypocrisy, he said it would be too easy for refugees to buy guns.
      In the history of the United States, just the members of the white-hooded Protestant-professing fire-and-brimstone Klan killed and maimed more Americans than all the murders by non-Christian terrorists—and that includes 9/11. Add in the number of serial killers, the racists who killed children in churches, the zealots who killed health care personnel because they performed legal abortions, and the people like the Oklahoma City bombers and the Unabomber, and the number of pretend-Christians killing Americans rises to hundreds of times greater than any Muslim attack.
       Responding to the Islamophobia perpetuated by braggadocio-spewing politicians, an outraged President Obama said that the conservatives believe they could stand up against the leaders of any country, but “Apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States.” There are some conservatives who say the U.S. should take care of their own first before admitting any refugee. But, conservatives, true to their political ideology, consistently vote against social programs, including aid to combat veterans. When not resorting to inane arguments, the extreme right-wing says the way to destroy ISIS is for the U.S. to send a few hundred thousand soldiers into Syria. It’s jingoistic hysteria couched in fear. It’s also the same logic that didn’t work in Iraq, and isn’t working in Afghanistan.
      In 1939, more than 60 percent of Americans, according to a poll by the American Institute of Public Opinion, said the U.S. should not admit 10,000 European Jewish children. Later that year, the U.S. turned back the MS St. Louis, carrying 908 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees.
      During the early 1930s, there was a politician who blamed Jews for his nation’s problems, and who used the rhetoric of fear, hate, and paranoia to become the elected leader of his countrymen. None of the Republican presidential candidates or their right-wing followers rise to the level of that politician who became a dictator. But, their poisonous hate and Islamophobic rhetoric matches that of Hitler.
     [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, professor emeritus of mass communications, and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

’Twixt the Cobwebs of Halloween and the Lights of Christmas

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

      At one time, people placed carved pumpkins with a candle inside on their front porches to announce the beginning of the Halloween season.
And then it became a contest. First, best Halloween pumpkin. And then who could decorate their trees and hedges with the best fake cobwebs, followed by fake witches in trees.
      Next came Pumpkin Chunkin’, where teams make catapults and launch pumpkins.
      The beneficiaries of all this, of course, are the candy companies—which have steadily decreased the number of miniature candies and increased the price of them in giant bags—the card industry that began marketing their products not long after Labor Day, and just about every company that has figured out how to produce their products in orange and black.
      After Halloween comes Christmas decorations, bypassing anything for Veterans Day. At one time, homeowners and businesses set up Christmas displays after Thanksgiving, but it takes more than a month to replace pumpkins with lights, displays, and inflatable snowmen.
For Thanksgiving, wedged between Halloween and Christmas, we get supermarket ads shoving turkeys, cranberries, and sweet potato pies down our wallets.
      Overlooked in national celebrations, and shoved out of the decorating frenzy of the other holidays, is what is probably the most important day of the year—Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Last year, 87 million Americans bought more than $50 billion in merchandise in the four-day period after Thanksgiving. This is definitely not enough. We consumers must push that number even higher.  
      There are no home displays to commemorate what is the busiest buying day of the season.
      We have an idea.
      Instead of replacing the cobwebs of Halloween with the Lights of Christmas, why not decorate our homes and yards with the spirit of commercialism? It’s definitely the American Spirit.
      Because plastic pumpkins are replacing organic ones, and artificial Christmas trees are replacing those pesky biodegradable real ones, we can make sure that Black Friday becomes a truly plastic holiday. Indeed, plastic pumpkins will never go away, much like our plastic credit card debt incurred on that one special day.
      In front of our houses we can decorate trees with maxed-out and cancelled credit cards. Special blacklights can shine upon the new silver data chips in the cards to create a ghoulish effect of avarice and conspicuous consumption. Batteries not included.
      Every season needs its own special clothes. In October, we wear Halloween costumes and orange sweatshirts; in December, it’s Christmas sweaters. For Black Friday, store clerks could wear black hoodies, reminding all of us about the mugging our bank accounts are receiving.
      Black Friday sales allow the human species to determine the survival of the fittest. That leads to thousands injured in car accidents while speeding to 30 sales in one day, and to the survivors of Mall Trampling exercises to reach those elusive 20 percent discount on whatever it is that the retailers think will attract the most customers this year. The benefit, of course, is to hospitals.
      In front of our houses, we can replace inflatable pumpkins with an inflatable ER, complete with an overworked inflatable nurse who automatically deflates after a 12-hour shift.
      On our doors, we can replace Christmas wreaths with Sheriff’s Sale signs or, at the least, “late notices” from the utilities companies.
      With proper merchandising, corporate America and fraggled homeowners can spend the last four months of the year, from Labor Day onward, in one long holiday. We can call it The Months of Con. Or, maybe, Months of Fusion. Or, perhaps, The Season of Debt and Con-Fusion.
      [Rosemary Brasch is a retired secretary, Red Cross family services disaster specialist, and labor studies college instructor; Walter Brasch is a journalist/author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Snuggling Up to Celebrities Not Part of Journalism Training

by Walter Brasch
     One of the basic tenets of journalism ethics and practices is that reporters must keep their distance from news sources.
     They’re allowed to be friendly. They’re even allowed to share a meal with a news source. But, they must be independent. It’s a “Caesar’s wife” thing—they must be above suspicion.
     This past week, Lara Spencer, co-anchor of ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America,” snuggled up to Donald Trump.
     In a photo posted to Instagram, she is seen with her left arm around Trump’s shoulder, her right hand across his stomach. Both are looking at each other and smiling. Spencer posted the following message to the photo: “Can’t beat having the REAL DonaldJTrump on.” She added the emoticon of a smiley face.
     When Spencer was anchoring “Inside Edition,” a news-and-gossip half-hour syndicated show that focuses on celebrities, she was mostly deferential to the celebrities. That was expected. Hosts of those shows gain access to their sources not by asking tough questions or raising critical social issues.     But, “Good Morning America” is in ABC’s news division, not its entertainment division.
     Unfortunately, Spencer isn’t the only one to get close to her news sources. Reporters on the local police beat or who regularly cover local government often have a closer working relationship with their sources than they do with their editors and public. In the nation’s capital, reporters who should know better often attend parties and receptions with our elected officials and various members of the governing establishment. Some have been known to play tennis or go to the same social clubs with news sources. Some even enjoy taking all-expense-paid trips, set up by PR agencies for their clients who are hoping for a good story. The explanation by reporters is that it helps them get closer to their sources to get more information, which they pass onto their readers, listeners, and viewers.
     This is plainly bull.
     Reporters who get socially close to their sources do so because they enjoy the closeness to celebrities, politicians, business executives, and even PR hacks more than they enjoy talking to the homeless, to the marginally-poor, to those who are citizens with no financial or political power. Reporters assigned to the White House didn’t dig into the facts and challenge Richard Nixon about allegations of a burglary at the Watergate or of a cover-up; that was left to two general assignment reporters, who were mocked and scorned by the nation’s “elite” reporters. Failure of reporters to challenge George W. Bush about reasons for the invasion of Iraq led to the nation becoming involved in a war that cost the lives of 4,425 Americans, and injuries, some life-threatening and permanent, to about 32,000.
     Lara Spencer is a broadcast journalism graduate from Penn State. Cuddling up to sources for a photo-op is not what is taught at Penn State. Spencer should have known better.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

These Judges Don’t Put Criminals into Prison

by Walter Brasch
       By Tuesday’s election, the seven candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have spent about $10 million.
      Their expenditures can be seen in lawn signs decorating almost every part of the state’s landscape, in millions of full color postcards, some as large as 8-1/2 x 11, mailed to almost every voter in the state, and in TV ads.
      They have already spent about $4 million for TV ads, many promoting each one’s own qualifications, most of the ads attacking the other candidates.
      There are three vacancies on the Court because two of the justices had to resign over scandals. One justice used her staff to do personal work for her. One justice was implicated in a sex scandal. The other reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
      In most elections, the voters barely know who the candidates are and randomly select one. Because of a massive publicity campaign—largely funded by outside organizations—we have had as much exposure to the judicial candidates as we are enduring from the presidential candidates.
      The judicial candidates are primarily focusing on how tough and how fair they are as judges who will put the bad guys and gals into prison, and how they will be able to bring integrity back to the Supreme Court.
      But, bringing integrity to the court and putting away the guilty is not the role of the state Supreme Court.
      Supreme Court justices review appeals in both civil and criminal cases to see if there were judicial improprieties or if there were defendant’s rights violations. The Supreme Court also looks at cases, which may be an individual suing government, to determine if there were constitutional violations. The Supreme Court also oversees the conduct and business operations of the lower courts.
      The Supreme Court, at least in theory, is non-partisan. But, with this campaign looking more like a political contest, and with the Republican slate of 3 candidates and the Democratic slate of three candidates viciously attacking each other, the voters should be more concerned with why does this race seem to be more important than any other, and what will be the direction this branch of government will be taking, and not if a candidate is tough on crime.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The 24/7 Election and Media Carousel

by Walter Brasch

      The national news media—and their sidekicks, the cackling pundits—had been asking the same questions the past six months. “Will he? Won’t he? Should he? Shouldn’t he? Can he? Can’t he?”
      The “he” is Joe Biden. The vice-president said numerous times he was still thinking about running for president, but hadn’t made up his mind. The Biden question kept the media busy speculating about an issue that even Mr. Biden couldn’t answer, nor should he have been forced to make a commitment in the media’s time frame.
      This past week, he decided not to run for the presidency.
      Although Biden explained his reasons, the media can now spend a few weeks asking the question, “But what if he had decided to run?” It passes as what the media now think is a deep and probing issue.
      The general election is still more than a year away, and we’re seeing, hearing, and reading about the campaign. There is little in-depth reporting about policies and issues, and a lot of superficial reporting about personalities. The 24/7 news cycle has become constant repetition with minimal information.
      It is this journalistic ineptness that has kept Donald Trump in the media’s spotlight. Whatever the issue, the media breathlessly rush to Trump for a comment. He is getting more TV air time than A-list actors and the rest of the Republican field combined. It’s difficult to find stories that quote anyone other than Trump or Ben Carson, Trump’s main competition at this point in the election cycle.
      It is this also this journalistic ineptness that has also focused upon Hillary Clinton, who may be the Democrats’ heir-apparent to the White House. While the media focus upon Clinton, they keep believing that Bernie Sanders is just a campaign distraction, and have given him little thought, even though he is bringing as many as 20,000 voters to his rallies, and making major speeches, all of which have substance. The voices of the other two major Democratic candidates are muted by the media that have made decisions for the rest of us.
      It’s nearly impossible to find stories about similarities and differences among the candidates of both parties. It’s even rarer that the mainstream media are challenging the statements of the major candidates, pointing out errors, semi-truths, and outright lies. For many, the attempt to be “fair” means allowing the subjects to have a megaphone; the search for the truth has been fumbled, with the media role apparently being that of Charlie Brown falling down after Lucy pulls the football away at the last moment.  
      From Iowa, where the candidates and media will congregate in December for the Feb. 1 election, we’ll learn that all of the candidates say they love pork and corn, the farm life, and the spirit of those in one of the flattest states in the country. In New Hampshire, which has its primary a week later, we’ll learn the candidates think granite is the best kind of rock, and support the quiet rural life, and the spirit of those in New England. In South Carolina, the media will report that the candidates have each declared they believe whatever it is that South Carolina believes. What’s left of the candidates will make their way into Pennsylvania for the primary on April 26, near the end of the campaign season. In the Keystone State, we’ll hear them say they love cheese steaks. When the candidates are in the eastern part of the state, they  will proclaim their love for the Phillies;  when in the western half, they’ll root for the Pirates. Everywhere else, they’ll praise the rural life. The media, of course, will report all this—unless a Kardashian sneezes, in which case the media will run shove aside political coverage for the more important late-breaking news.
      While focusing upon the Democrats and Republicans, the media will ignore candidates for the other political parties, perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of ignorance that they don’t have a chance to be president—and therefore their views are meaningless.
      During the coming year, we will be subjugated to dozens of robo-calls from celebrities, politicians, friends of politicians, union and business leaders. We will be exposed to hundreds of TV ads. We will receive several dozen flyers and postcards. Our e-mail will be jammed with junk, much of them asking for donations. Our landscape will be overrun by campaign signs and billboards. We will see, hear, and read the comments of pundits who know little about government and a lot about show business. The campaign media cost for just the two emerging Democratic and Republican nominees will be over $1 billion each. Television stations will embrace the race for the primaries; newspapers will settle for advertising for local candidates.
      In slightly more than two weeks, Americans will vote for candidates for city and county offices, and for judges. These candidates have immediate and direct affect upon the people. We must learn more about them, their beliefs and principles. We must force the media to do in-depth coverage.
      And, most important, we must vote in this election—even if the presidential candidates aren’t on the ballot.
[Dr. Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor who covered politics and government for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Friday, October 16, 2015

Iran Boycotts World’s Largest Book Fair

By Walter Brasch

      Iran is boycotting the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade convention for publishers and vendors.
      The six-day convention, which ends Sunday, brought more than 7,400 exhibitors from 100 countries. Attendance is more than 300,000.
      The reason for the boycott?
      Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, was the keynote speaker.
      In 1989, a year after its publication, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s religious and political leader, banned the book and issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death because the Ayatollah and millions of Muslims believe no one should insult Muslims, the religion Islam, or write against the prophet Mohammed. Although a new government a decade later cancelled the death threat, the fatwa still exists.
      Militant Muslims aren’t the only ones who believe in suppressing literature and thought.
      Nazi Germany banned books by Jews, and created fires where the people could throw their books. At the same time the Nazis were burning books, Hollywood was bowing to the self-imposed “film standards” of the Hays Commission, which was vigorously keeping American film “pure” of evil thoughts and sexual depictions.
      A decade after World War II ended, and with Hollywood censorship still restricting script content, Americans threw rock and roll records, which they called the Devil’s Tool, into bonfires.
      Two weeks before the Frankfurt Book Fair was Banned Book Week in the United States. The annual information campaign is sponsored by the American Library Association to highlight the problem with censorship. Most of the reasons why school boards and others want to ban books is because they challenge authority or present social and political issues that certain people don’t want to hear—and don’t want others to hear.
      Among classics that Americans have banned have been The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Catch-22, Gone With the Wind, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
      Most book bans are led by conservatives who know—absolutely know—that they are the custodians of some kind of moral code, and that their own religion is the one true religion. But, conservatives aren’t the only ones who want to ban books.
      A base of the liberal philosophy is that all views should be heard, but some liberals have tried to ban Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered by literature scholars as the best novel in American literature. These misguided liberals wrongly believe that Twain, a fierce abolitionist, was a racist because his novel used words, common at that time, that no one should hear or read. Some liberals, like some conservatives, have often led campaigns to ban speakers who don’t agree with their views from college campuses. But, holocaust deniers, those who claim 9/11 was a Jewish plot, or that Afro-Americans are mentally inferior also deserve to have their views be heard, even if those views are odious and those who believe it are obnoxious.
      In 1644, before the English parliament, John Milton boldly spoke out against censorship, arguing that those who destroy books destroy reason itself, and that mankind is best served when there is a “free and open encounter” of all ideas. It was a revolutionary concept in an empire that required printers to get a license and be subjected to the whims not only of a monarch but the government as well. In the 18th century, Lord Blackstone, one of the kingdom’s most distinguished jurists, spoke out against prior restraint of free speech and of the press. The views of Milton and Blackstone became a basis of The First Amendment in the United States, one of the most liberal parts of the Constitution. It was this amendment that assured freedom of the press, speech, and religion; that amendment allows people to peacefully assemble and, if they wish, to protest government actions; it gives the people the right to petition the government for a “redress of grievances.” During the next two centuries, others cemented this belief into American law and culture. In the mid-19th century, philosopher John Stuart Mill stated, “We can never be sure that the opinion new are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” At the beginning of the 20th century, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that democracy is best served in “a marketplace of ideas.”
      The theme of this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair was Tolerance Through Literature. Let’s hope that all people, no matter their religion, culture, or political views, will embrace that belief.
      [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books, is a strong First Amendment advocate who frequently speaks out against government abuse of free speech and due process. His book, America’s Unpatriotic Acts (2002), was a major call to eliminate the unconstitutional parts of the PATRIOT Act. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mass Murders are Good for Business

By Walter Brasch

      Shortly after the mass murders at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Ore., President Obama predicted the extreme right wing would crank out press releases declaring the nation needs fewer gun control laws and more guns.
      The pro-gun lobby didn’t disappoint him.
      Shortly after the mass murders in a Charleston, S.C., church in June, NRA board member Charles Cotton, an attorney who fired his first shot when he was four years old, had claimed if the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senatorhad voted to allow gun owners to carry their own weapons [into churches], eight of his church members  . . . might be alive.”
       After the shootings in Oregon, Cotton said had the students been carrying guns, there would have been no mass murder. “How carefree do you have to be with all of the mass shootings that are going on throughout America to not have something as simple and convenient as a small knife when you go to class, let alone a gun with which to protect yourself?” Cotton asked.
      The Republican presidential herd called for even more guns in a culture that has made Americans inured to violence. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, “Stuff happens.”
      The absurdity of arming all of America is that there are no requirements that anyone with a gun needs to know how to use that gun. The possibility of any one person with a hand gun being able to react faster than the shooter, be more accurate than the shooter, or not accidentally wounding or killing others is high. Heavily armed police, better trained in weapons than most Americans, did not kill the shooter, who wore body armor; the shooter killed himself.
      The shooter’s mother, who said she got all her knowledge about guns from her son, acknowledged he was autistic and a head-banger. In their house were 20 guns, including semi-automatic assault rifles; the killer used six of those guns at the college.
      Those who believe in no gun regulation say the solution is better mental health counseling. That may be a small part of the solution, but there are numerous questions. If a mother recognizes there may be a problem with her son but does nothing, who is responsible for compelling someone to see a counselor? Should the government step in to order counseling? Could this violate certain Constitutional rights? If the gun-proponents want the government to intercede, how do they reconcile their conflicting belief of limited government intervention in all matters against mandatory mental health counseling? Equally important, if they believe in more mental health counseling, why have they refused to vote for or approve funds for more mental health clinics? One fact is not accepted by the gun-rights absolutists.  “Only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and those with mental illnesses “are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”
      There are more than 310 million guns in civilians’ possession in the United States. That’s one for every person from birth to death, and the highest per capita gun ownership rate in the world. During the past decade, there have been about 301,000 Americans killed by guns; that is about 4,250 times greater than all deaths from terrorists in the United States.
      In 1996, Congress blocked funding for the Centers for Disease Control to collect and analyze data about gun violence; it extended that ban this past July. In 2013, Congress had refused to pass common sense proposals to reduce gun violence. About 85 percent of all Americans want universal background checks, according to a non-partisan Pew Research poll in July. A majority of Americans want a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and bans on assault weapons and civilians owning armor-piercing bullets. The politicians’ greed and loyalty to gun manufacturers is greater than their responsibility to their constituents and, more important, to discovering the truth
      The gun manufacturers, which receive about $6 billion in income each year, help fund the NRA and other pro-gun organizations. It’s simply a business decision. Nothing more.
Last year, the NRA spent $37 million on campaign donations and lobbying. In 2012, the NRA spent about $14 million trying to defeat President Obama in his successful run for a second term, according to The New York Times. Failing to stop the President from a second term led to even more gun sales. “It’s been off the chart, Gary Jessup of UT Arms in Kansas, told the Kansas City Star. About 4.7 million background checks were recorded in November and December 2012, according to the FBI, as the extreme right-wing descended into a cavern of fear, swathed by delusional paranoia.
       The NRA isn’t protecting the legitimate hunters and target shooters. Several former NRA presidents and board members in a delusional descent into paranoia, have said the NRA and gun-toting Americans are what keep the federal government from invading the states and seizing authority. Former NRA president David Keene told the Daily Caller that the Second Amendment “was not written to protect squirrel hunters.” Fred Romero, an NRA field representative, said the Second Amendment, which NRA and gun-rights organizations cling to as if it was Linus’s baby blanket, “is not there to protect the interests of hunters, sports shooters and casual plinkers [but] as a balance of power. [It is] a loaded gun in the hands of the people held to the heads of government.” Former NRA president Sandy Froman believes, “We are at war” within America and “my fellow NRA members are at the heart of national defense.” Most of the NRA staff and members of the board believe the president of the United States is a tyrant—some compare him to Hitler—who wants to disarm all Americans. It is this kind of thinking that forced former president George H.W. Bush to renounce his life membership in the NRA when the leadership declared federal agents to be “jack-booted thugs.”  It is this paranoid fear that allows gun manufacturers to create more guns, where every shooting spurs profits at local gun stores, and which helps the NRA and similar organizations to throw money at politicians to assure that fear, re-elections, and profits are what matter, not lives.
      Instilling fear into the people is what sells guns and buys politicians. Candi Kinney, owner of a gun store near Umpqua Community College, said the murders helped spur sales of guns, and ordered even more AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles. “There’s always a rush on them after a big shooting,” she told the Guardian.  
      As World War II was coming to an end, and as the Allies began liberating the concentration camps where the Nazis murdered and tortured more than six million Jews, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered his troops to bring the civilians from nearby villages to the camps. He wanted the villagers to see those who lived, whose possessions and gold teeth were torn from them, and whose flesh now barely hung on their bones. He wanted the civilians—most who falsely claimed they didn’t know about the genocide—to see the crematoriums, whose smoke they had to have seen, whose odors they had to have smelled.  He wanted the civilians to go to the edge of forests, where Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews, and where the nearby villagers gleefully watched their soldiers and collaborators shoot pistols and automatic weapons that would end the lives of infants and grandparents, shopkeepers and mill workers, and some of the world’s most brilliant artists, writers, musicians, and scientists. Decades later, extreme right-wing militant Americans foolishly claim if the Jews had guns, the holocaust would never have occurred.  
      Let’s now require all politicians, and all those who believe fewer gun laws and more guns will solve the murder problem, to go to the crime scene. Let every politician and gun-rights advocate within 25 miles of a mass murder walk where the victims once walked. Let them see the blood and bodies shredded by copper, steel, and lead. Let them witness the police and medical personnel trying to do their jobs, while doing their best to hide their own tears and rage. Let them hear the cries of the families and friends. Make them go to the morgue and watch autopsies on bodies that can talk only to medical examiners. Make them go to the funerals, to again hear the crying of the families and friends, who talk about lives lost decades too early.  
      The only thing most politicians want to do after every mass shooting is to say their thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and wounded. But, their words are as hollow as their logic. Let the truth ring true, that the politicians were bought and paid for by the gun industry, and that is why common-sense gun reform was voted down, and the violence continues.
      [Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch. Walter Brasch is an award-winning author/journalist, whose latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the health, environmental, political, and economic issues affecting the American population.]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

‘Paging Dr. Doctivity’: Medicine Evolves Into a Business Model

By Walter Brasch

      Beneath a three-column headline in my local newspaper was a barely-edited press release.
      That’s not unusual. With the downsizing of newsrooms, there’s more room for wire service soft features and press releases. But this one caught my attention.
      SystemCare Health in New Jersey promoted a graduate of a college in my town to the lofty position of Senior Director of Doctivity.
      I checked the dictionary—“Doctivity” didn’t exist. I checked WebMD, the website for amateurs to learn the meaning of unpronounceable medical terms—and how to recognize their symptoms and treatments. Nothing there.
      That left SystemCare Health’s website, which spewed a barrage of buzzwords and useless gibberish, the kind that people in marketing and business think will impress those who speak fluent English.
      The company says it works with major health systems and medical colleges, giving them insight and “strategic brand platforms, service line business building programs, and breakthrough creative ideas so our clients experience real market-moving results [to] increase physician productivity, streamline operations and strategically acquire new patients.” I assume there is little difference between strategically acquiring new patients and an Army sniper strategically acquiring his target in combat.
      After wading through the mission of the company, I plunged into the swamp of Doctivity, which the company claims is “woven into a health system’s culture to create a repeatable process that provides visibility and accountability for the time it takes a new physician to break even [and] eliminates functional silos.” Since “functional silos” are probably what exist in field of cow manure, I was able to reaffirm my initial impressions about the company, and moved forward.
      Forward led me to learn that the company “delivers a personalized business plan for every new physician so they can reach their financial goals faster,” and that “Physician productivity is at the forefront of most profitability discussions.” Unfortunately, somewhere in those left-over functional silos, “It can take 18-24 months or more for a new physician to reach a break-even point (where they are covering their salaries).” But, with layers of Doctivity, which SystemCare Health says is an “innovative business approach that improves physician productivity,” physicians “are hitting their financial goals faster.”
      The psycho-marketing babble splashes website visitors with explanations— “Internal processes sometimes are burdened with lack of resources as well as market and operational constraints to successfully improve new physician productivity and strengthen retention,” and because of Doctivity, “Physicians reach their financial goals much sooner and better understand their new organization, their business and how the organization intends to market them to build a successful practice. Happy doctor = happy patients.” That last sentence, surgically cut out of a fortune cookie, could mean that SystemCare Health brings clowns and comics into physicians’ offices and operating suites. Physicians who are laughing at uterine cancer, multiple sclerosis, and aortic aneurysms will lead to patients who are so happy about their conditions they are willing to pay their physicians even more so everyone is happy. It could also mean that SystemCare  Health might apply “synergy” with pharmaceutical companies to assure they bring plenty of happy food to meetings with physicians. It could also mean productivity increases with the better use of computers and software, which requires physicians to look at screens more than they look at patients. Possibly, happiness is that SystemCare Health has someone on its staff whose job is to make sure that physicians, who can get depressed at workloads and corporate demands, are able to get the proper mood elevators to improve their happiness quotient.
      Under the Doctrine of Doctivity, health care has evolved from care and compassion to the surgical sterility of a business model, where liquidity, maximizing profits, and return on investment become the fabric and glue of health care practices.
      It’s a model where doctors in corporate health care systems are just like factory workers who help provide their corporate bosses better returns on investment that are contiguous with raising the bottom line. Like some workers who are paid by how many widgets they create every hour, or how many bushels of fruit they pick, these health care workers increase their own productivity by seeing more patients every shift. To increase their own productivity, physicians become more “efficient,” seeing patients every 10 minutes; maybe 30 to 40 a day. It’s not unusual for physicians to have a 5,000 patient case load. Spend too much time with a patient, and you lose that productivity. Take time to research a patient’s symptoms and consult with other physicians and you lose income. But, if you refer your patient to a specialist or order more tests, both you and the system will be happy with additional income. Get those patients into your exam room; move ’em in; move ’em out.
      Physicians in some systems who take too much time with patients get reminders about being focused. They don’t get reminders that spending more time with patients, sometimes just chatting about hobbies, the latest films, or the family, can help a physician better understand a patient’s issues and problems. Trapped by those 10- and 15-minute blocks of time, physicians rely upon templates and superficial questions to determine their diagnoses. They may know, but don't have the time to follow through on the most basic part of research--if you ask enough questions, and if you ask the right question, you'll get the right answer. And since it’s been decades since physicians made house calls—too inefficient—they don’t see or understand how a patient’s home or lifestyle might affect that patient’s illness.
      Most physicians, even those who take lessons from a Doctivity specialist, care about people. Most didn’t go into medicine to be part of the country club set. But when corporations set up Doctivity-induced programs, even the best physicians reluctantly sacrifice the art and science of medicine, possibly forsaking the principles of the Hippocratic Oath, to the business of medicine.
     [Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist whose undergraduate degree was social work with a minor in health sciences. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which has major sections about business decisions made by the oil and gas industry that may be more important to some companies than the health and environmental effects.]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Questionable Calls in the Sports Department

by Walter Brasch

      With the opening of the high school football season, local newspapers and TV stations have again been running lists of what they believe are the top teams.
      Most lists rank teams in the “top 10.” One Pennsylvania TV station, whose on-air number is 16, runs the “Top 16.”
      There are several problems with these lists. First, we don’t know how they got those rankings. We don’t know who makes up those lists or what criteria were used. It could be a sports editor and her grandfather. It could be a bunch of station personnel sitting at a bar, throwing back vodka slammers and team names.
      Even if we know how the lists are compiled, a second major question arises. Why? Yes, why? Why does it matter? Aren’t won-loss records good enough? Shouldn’t the only rankings that matter be who enters and wins in the playoffs?
      Some newspapers have a half-dozen staffers and a couple of subscribers make predictions of the upcoming high school, college, and pro football games. Winners get prestige and, sometimes, gift cards from local advertisers.
      Some newspapers run the odds on upcoming games, apparently so their subscribers have basic, although seldom accurate, information to assist them with bets. While betting on college and pro games is fairly common, and mostly illegal, should anyone be betting on high school games?
      Several sites rank teams from throughout the country. USAToday runs a pre-season ranking of the Top 25 football teams. With one million boys playing football on 14,000 teams, does anyone think anyone, even those with access to a super-Cray computer, can accurately define the “top 25.” USAToday during mid-summer also does a composite score of four national sites which determine the “Top High School Prospects.” These are, supposedly, the “top 100” high school players, and top recruits for a college football scholarship.
      The rankings don’t stop with football. USAToday also ranks the “top 25” teams in almost every sport, including girls lacrosse and boys soccer.
      Do these rankings and predictions give the sports departments something to fill time and space? Do they make the sports editor appear to be powerful or intelligent? Are the lists something to allow fans to believe their team is good enough to be ranked? Or to complain that their team was cheated and should be ranked No. 3, instead of No. 17?
      Related to rankings are the persistent countdowns of the “Best Play of the Week” and “Athlete of the Week.” These TV clips are loaded in favor of quarterbacks throwing balls to receivers or running backs sidestepping two tackles to score from 20 yards out. Usually overlooked is a great block that springs the running back loose. Or, maybe a quarterback sack that stops the other team’s momentum. But, every week there’s some play that someone—we don’t know who—and we certainly don’t know the criteria—decides for the rest of us.
      On Saturdays, we shouldn’t care who was ranked or what the best play was from the night before. We should care that the teenage boys did their best, played hard, and enjoyed their time on the field.
      After all, it’s only a game.
     [Dr. Brasch began his journalism career as a sports writer and then as a sports editor before turning to public affairs/investigative reporting and in-depth feature writing. He is the author of 20 books. His latest is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Boss Who Fought 
for the Working Class

by Walter Brasch

         He was born into poverty in New Hampshire in 1811.
      His father was a struggling farmer. His mother did most of the other chores.
      He was a brilliant student, but the family often moved, looking for a better life—a couple of times so the father could avoid being put into debtor’s prison.
      At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and became a printer’s apprentice, sending much of his wages to help his family.
      For several years, he worked as an apprentice and then as a printer, his hands covered by ink, his body ingesting the chemicals of that ink.
      He worked hard, saved money, helped others achieve their political dreams, became the editor of newspapers, and soon became an owner.
      In the two decades leading to the Civil War, Horace Greeley had become one of the most powerful and influential men in America. His newspaper, the New York Tribune, was the nation’s largest circulation newspaper.
      But instead of becoming even richer, he used his newspaper as a call for social action. For social justice.
      In 1848, as a congressman fulfilling the last three months of the term of an incumbent who was removed from office, Greeley introduced legislation to end flogging in the Navy, argued for a transcontinental railroad, and introduced legislation to allow citizens to purchase at a reduced price land in unsettled territories as long as they weren’t speculators and promised to develop the land. The Homestead Act, which Congress finally passed 13 years later, helped the indigent, unemployed, and others to help settle the American west and Midwest. But in his three months in office he also became universally hated by almost everyone elected to Congress. The social reformer in his soul had pointed out numerous ethical and criminal abuses by members of Congress; his party didn’t ask him to run for a full term.
      He called for all American citizens—Blacks and women included—to be given the rights of the vote.
      In 1854, Greeley became one of the founders of the Republican party. For more than two decades, he had been a strong abolitionist and now the new political party would make the end of slavery one of its founding principles. He was one of the main reasons why his friend, Abraham Lincoln, whom he helped become president, finally relented and two years after the civil war began, finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
      More than 225,000 Americans (of a nation of about 35 million) bought his relatively objective and powerful history of the civil war, making the book one of the best-sellers in the nation’s nine decade history. In today’s sales, that would be about two million copies.
      Unlike some editors who pandered to the readers and advertisers, he maintained a separation of editorial and advertising departments, and demanded the best writers and reporters, no matter what their personal opinions were. Among those he hired were Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Karl Marx. And at a time when newsrooms were restricted to men, he hired Margaret Fuller to be his literary editor.
      He believed in a utopian socialism, where all people helped each other, and where even the most unskilled were given the opportunity to earn a living wage.
      He demanded that all workers be treated fairly and with respect. In 1851, he founded a union for printers.
      When his employees said they didn’t need a union because their boss paid them well and treated them fairly, he told them that only in a union could the workers continue to be treated decently, that they had no assurances that some day he might not be as decent and generous as he was that day. The union was for their benefit, the benefit of their families, and their profession, he told them.
      In 1872, Horace Greeley ran for the presidency, nominated on both the Democrat and Liberal Republican tickets. But, his opposition was U.S. Grant, the war hero running for re-election on an establishment Republican ticket.
      Weeks before the electoral college met, Horace Greeley, who lost the popular vote, died, not long after his wife.
      The printers, the working class, erected monuments in his honor.
      And everyone knew that the man with a slight limp, who usually dressed not as a rich man but as a farmer coming into town to buy goods, who greeted everyone as a friend, who could have interesting conversations with everyone from the illiterate to the elite, was a man worthy of respect, even if they disagreed with his views. For most, Horace Greeley was just a bit too eccentric, his ideas just too many decades ahead of their time.
      On this Labor Day weekend, when not one Republican candidate for president believes in unions, when CEOs often make more than 100 times what their workers earn, when millionaires and billionaires running for office pretend they are populists, when even many in the working class seem more comfortable supporting the policies and political beliefs of the elite, the nation needs to reflect upon the man who knew that without the workers, there would be no capitalism.
      [Dr. Brasch has been a member of several crafts, arts, and trade labor unions. He proudly sees himself not as among the elite but as a part of the working class.]