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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sanctimonious Hypocrites Can’t Diminish the Warmth for Joe Paterno

            Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) praised Joe Paterno and ordered flags on all state buildings to fly at half-staff for four days.
            That would be the same Tom Corbett who had said he was “personally disappointed” in Joe Paterno for not doing more to alert authorities in the Jerry Sandusky case, while acknowledging that Paterno did nothing illegal and followed university rules for conduct.
            That would be the same Tom Corbett who, as attorney general, assigned only one investigator to the case in 2009, while devoting almost innumerable personnel and financial resources to prosecute high-profile cases that could help lead him to the governor’s office.
            That would be the same Tom Corbett who had the authority to order the arrest of Jerry Sandusky as soon as the claims were made, but who allowed the investigation to drag two years.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

by Walter Brasch

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker.
“Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period.
“What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.”
“And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?”
“Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.”
Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off. “Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” I asked.
“Not just me,” he said. “Hospital’s laying off most of the staff, making the rest work overtime, and hiring outside contractors. They said it was hard to survive when the profit was down to only 20 or so million a year.”
“I didn’t realize it was that serious,” I said. “You planning to set up private practice to help the poor in Mexico?” I asked admiringly.
“Not a chance! Gonna get rich working for Megabucks!”
“You just said you were laid off.”
“Been laid off in the U.S.,” said Comstock while putting a frozen burrito into the microwave. “Megabucks/Mexico just hired me. There’s cheaper labor down there.”
“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re the cheaper labor.”
            “Obviously you don’t know American business,” said Comstock haughtily.
“Megabucks/U.S. closes its auxiliary operations, and then contracts with Mexican companies for a fifth of the cost in the U.S. They do the work, ship it back to the U.S., and Megabucks bills Blue Cross the full rate as if it was done locally.”
            “So where do you fit in?” I asked.
            “Just as before. Nose jobs. Breast augmentations. Tummy tucks. All the important medical procedures. But this time, I do it in Cancun.”
            “To rich Mexicans,” I said disgusted.
            “To rich Americans!” said Comstock. “If they want the best care, they’ll take their private jets to Mexico and then deduct the trip as a necessary business expense.”
            “And what about the impoverished and middle-class Americans?”
            “If they can sneak across the border, they can also get medical care.”
            “What about prescriptions?”
            “Megabucks contracted with some of the best drug dealers—I mean pharmacists and chemists—in Mexico. Quality is just as good and it’ll only be four or five times production costs. Unlike the U.S. there’s no TV advertising and six-figure MBAs and lawyers that require drugs to be 30 or 40 times production costs.”
            “With prices that low, how do you know there won’t be mass rushes by Americans to grab everything they can?”
            “Because there’s security! Every hospital and pharmacy has armed guards with the best automatic weapons smuggled through the God-fearing 2nd Amendment patriotic Southern states.”
            “Is Megabucks outsourcing all its operations?”
            “Keeping the ER. After tummy tucks and butt lifts, that’s the hospital’s ‘cash cow.’”
            “So, then, it’ll have to keep some services like X-Ray and the lab,” I said. “Maybe even a doctor or two.”
            “Too expensive,” said Comstock. “Megabucks will hire more residents and foreign-educated doctors, and work them 18 hours a day. More work, less time to complain. Residents will do anything to get experience to pass their boards. May even hire a couple of hospitalists. You know, the ones who graduated at the bottom of their class and can’t even get work in a Free Clinic.”
            “I suppose they’ll also do the lab work?” I asked.
            “Do you know some of those lab techs are making as much as $30,000 a year! Made sense to lay them off, too.”
            “So how will the ER know a victim’s blood chemistry, or if there’s internal injuries?”
            “Technology,” said Comstock. “They scan the blood here, and send digital X-Rays to Mexico. Mexican lab technicians—you know, the ones that don’t know about unions and will work for only a few bucks a day—will analyze everything, then text the results back to the U.S.”
            “This sounds like it’s not only a way to maximize profits, but also a way to avoid dealing with the President’s health care reform program.”
            “Obamacare!” spit out Comstock. “Nothing but socialized medicine.”
            “Most countries have forms of socialized medicine,” I countered, “and they not only have good health care but affordable prices to their citizens.”
            Comstock put his hands to his ears and began chanting, “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.”
            “Number 37,” I corrected him. “The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. just below Costa Rico.”
            “They’re all Commies,” replied Comstock. “Besides, that study is a decade old.”
            “Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund compared the nations of the United Kingdom against the U.S., and the U.S. ranked seventh of the seven.”
            “Yeah, like Americans will go to Canada? It’s covered by snow and run by a queen who can’t even speak English.”
            “You and Megabucks are crazy!”
            “Possibly,” said Marshbaum, “but outsourcing is the American way. By the way, do you put ketchup or mustard on a burrito?”
            [Dr. Walter Brasch isn’t licensed to practice medicine, but he goes to some excellent physicians who are—and they’re just as frustrated with the costs, corporate greed and incompetence, insurance companies and myriad forms as anyone else. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery novel, Before the First Snow]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Miss America: Auditioning for Center Stage

                by Walter Brasch

            Tucked between the New Hampshire primary and Ground Hog Day, and directly competing against an NFL playoff game, is tonight’s annual Miss America pageant.
            Although the headquarters is still near Atlantic City, where it originated in 1921, the pageant—don’t call it a beauty contest—has been a part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene for eight years. Apparently, the Las Vegas motto of “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” wrapped itself around the pageant as well, with TV viewership dropping lower almost every year.
            ABC-TV divorced Miss America in 2004, claiming irreconcilable differences. Viewership had fallen from a peak of 26.7 million in 1991 to an all-time low of 9.8 million, barely enough to keep a prime-time show on the air. The pageant’s CEO, trying to preserve what dignity was left, stated “We needed to find a better partner, one that better understands our values.”
            Apparently better understanding Miss America’s values was Country Music Television (CMT). However, that marriage didn’t last, and Miss America then hooked up with the The Learning Channel (TLC). By 2007, only 2.4 million viewers tuned in to watch who would be the next beauty queen to want world peace, save the whales, and “do her country proud.”
            Treating its demotion to the minor leagues as a chance for rehabilitation, the pageant made a few cosmetic changes, began playing with new ways of scoring, including viewer participation, and slowly brought its ratings back to about 4.5 million in 2010.
            That’s when ABC-TV and Miss America, after a six-year divorce, fell in love again. Apparently, CMT and TLC “values” (and money) weren’t as good as a major network’s. Promising eternal faithfulness—as long as the ratings increased—the two lovebirds were seen by about 7.8 million.
            Now, it may seem that only TV executives and advertisers should care about ratings, viewer demographics, and selling fluff. But the contestants are well-trained actors in the made-for-TV show, complete with celebrity judges, most of whom are there solely because they are—well—celebrities.
About one-third of all contestants say they want to go into communications. As in almost every pageant for the past four decades, several want to go into television. Miss Delaware and Miss Nevada both want to be talk show hosts. Miss Louisiana wants to anchor the “Today” show; to get to that lofty goal, she plans to first get a master’s in health communication. None of the contestants wanting to go into journalism have expressed any interest in first covering city council meetings, the courts, police, or Little League games. They plan to take their beauty and pageant poise, make up their hair and face, and stand in front of a camera to emphasize the reality that broadcast journalism has diminished to the point of style over substance.
            Miss New York wants to be the editor of a fashion magazine. Miss Idaho wants to write for a health and fitness magazine. Miss Hawaii wants to be a film director; to do that, she plans to first get an MBA. There is no evidence she plans first to be an actor, set designer, writer, cinematographer, or in any of several dozen crafts.
            Miss Utah says she wants to be an interpersonal communications presenter (whatever that is) and also a college dance team coach. Miss New Hampshire, who probably dressed Barbie dolls in corporate suits, says she wants to “own a large and prestigious advertising firm.” It’s doubtful she’ll want to modify the gibberish of the organization that, with all seriousness, says it “provides young women with a vehicle to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs.”
A few contestants say they want to be “event planners,” as if there already aren’t enough people wasting their own lives by planning the lives of others.
Not planning to go into communications is Miss Colorado who is earning a degree in something called “social enterprise.” That could be anything from learning how to use Facebook to mixing the drinks at upscale parties. Miss West Virginia says she wants to go into the military, and then become secretary of state. Perhaps one day she might work for the 2011 Miss America, whose goal is to become president.
 Several contestants plan to get MBAs, but almost everyone wants to use that degree to go into—prepare yourself!—a non-profit social service agency.  It sounds good, and maybe they all mean it. But, dangle a six-figure salary, stock options, extensive perks, and a “golden parachute,” and most of them will run over the Red Cross so fast it’ll need blood transfusions.
            Mixed into the career goals are some contestants who plan to be physicians, pharmacists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and others in the caring professions.  
            Miss America doesn’t have to worry about a job or college for a year. Along with a paid chaperone, she will tour the country to sign autographs and give inspirational speeches about whatever her platform is—and, of course, to promote the Miss America Organization.
            From the “toddlers and tiaras” stage to the stage at the Planet Hollywood Casino, beauty contestants are told how to look, act, and talk, even what to say or not say. The Miss America Organization—which makes the Mafia look like a second rate fraternity—doesn’t tell contestants they must attend college. But, every one of the state winners plans to be a college graduate.
            There is a definite bias against those who don’t think attending college is important at this stage of their lives. And so, we don’t see talented actors, singers, dancers, and musicians who are bypassing college to attend specialized non-degree-granting schools and enter their professions. We don’t see contestants who, although beautiful and talented, are planning to be plumbers, electricians, or firefighter/paramedics. We don’t see contestants who want to be gardeners, floral arrangers, or chefs. And, we most assuredly don’t see women who are bypassing college to be part of major social movements.
            [Walter Brasch, who attended several beauty pageants, although as a reporter and not as a contestant, is a social issues columnist and book author. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution, available at www.amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com]

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Making Sport of Our Future

by Walter Brasch

            One of the fun things sports writers do is try to predict the winners and scores of upcoming games, from high school through the pros. For special “look-at-us-we’re important” bonus points, they create lists of “Top” teams and rank them, both pre-season and weekly.
Sports writers have some kind of genetic mutation that leads them to believe they know more about sports than the average schlump who spends almost $200 a year for a newspaper subscription and as much as $500 a year for all-access all-games everywhere cable coverage. However, the reality is that even the best prognosticators—sports writers love big words when they can pronounce them—have a record about as accurate as the horoscope on the comics page.
            Nevertheless, the guesses and rankings by sportswriters are usually innocuous. Readers and viewers usually forget in a couple of days who says what, and go about their own lives trying to make a mediocre paycheck stretch until the end of the month.
            Joining the “guess how bright I am” journalists are some reporters who cover national political races. Instead of researching and explaining candidate positions on numerous issues, and giving readers and viewers a greater understanding of how those positions could impact their own lives, these pompous scribblers have made politics another sports contest.
            The national news media, secure in their perches in New York and Washington, D.C., several months ago began chirping about who will win the Iowa caucus. For the final few days, they parachuted into Iowa to let their readers and viewers think they were toughened field reporters with as difficult a job as combat correspondents in Iraq or Afghanistan. Like hungry puppies, they stayed close to the candidates, hoping for a morsel or two, digested it, passed it out of their system as wisdom, and haughtily predicted the winner would be Mitt Romney—no, wait—it’s Michele Bachman—no, we’re calling for a surprising victory by Herman Cain—stop-the-presses, Cain petered out—Newt Gingrich is definitely going to take Iowa—Rick Perry is our prediction— we predict Ron Paul might be ahead—the race is going to be tough, but based upon our superior knowledge because we’re the national news media and we’re infallible, and from projections we picked out of our butts we believe—.
            The one candidate they discounted for almost all but the last week of the Iowa primary race was Rick Santorum. Not a chance, they declared. Weak campaign. Lack of funds. No charismatic razzle-dazzle. No vital signs. Dead as a 2-by-4 about to be sawed and covered by wallboard.
            Santorum, of course, came within eight votes of taking the Iowa caucus. The news media then spent the next day telling us all about that campaign, much in the same way that a bubbly TV weather girl, who a week earlier predicted bright sunny skies for a week, tells us we had snow the past three days.
            The national news media jetted out of Iowa faster than a gigolo leaving a plain rich girl for a plain richer one, and descended upon New Hampshire. In the granite state, they have been repeating their performance from Iowa. They have predicted who the “real” winners and losers are. They have tried to convince us they can actually talk to us common folk, so they are grabbing whoever they find to answer in less than ten seconds, “Who do you think will win?” After the New Hampshire primary concludes, Tuesday, the media will happily discard their snow coats for windbreakers and descend into South Carolina, where they will continue to treat a presidential race as little more than a sporting contest.
            There’s a difference, however. Generally, whoever wins or loses a game doesn’t have much impact upon the rest of us, so we smile at the sportswriters’ attempts to predict outcomes and pretend they can analyze the impact of a reserve left tackle’s hangnail. Those who are elected to our city councils, state legislatures, Congress, and the Presidency do have an impact upon us. And we deserve a lot better than the arrogance of the news clan reporting the contests as if they were sporting events.

            [Walter Brasch was a sportswriter and sports editor before becoming an award-winning public affairs/investigative reporter and columnist, who has covered several presidential campaigns. He was once a reporter for an Iowa newspaper. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery-thriller, Before the First Snow.]

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Stories We Will Still Have to Write in 2012

by Walter and Rosemary Brasch

            In January 2009, with a new president about to be inaugurated, we wrote a column about the stories we preferred not having to write, but knew we would. Three years later, we are still writing about those problems; three years from now, we’ll still be writing about them.
We had wanted the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the government-approved slaughter of wild horses and burros in the southwest, but were disappointed that the cattle industry used its money and influence to shelter politicians from Americans who asked for compassion and understanding of  breeds that roamed freely long before the nation’s “Manifest Destiny.”
We wanted to see the federal government protect wolves, foxes, and coyotes, none of whom attack humans, have no food or commercial value, but are major players in environmental balance. But, we knew that the hunting industry would prevail since they see these canines only as competition.
              We have written against the brutality of clubbing more than 300,000 baby seals each year, of cutting the fins off of more than 50 million sharks a year and letting them die lingering deaths, and of killing whales, even though there is no longer much use for whale oil.
We wrote against the use of inhumane traps, and of trappers who don’t seem to care what torture their traps can do before the animal dies.
We spoke against the killing and skinning of animals for their fur, especially since there are innumerable ways to efficiently and inexpensively clothe humans.
We wrote against current laws that treat pets as chattel, to be bought and sold at will, with values as property not as life. Because of these archaic laws, those who abuse animals usually pay only a small fine and usually serve no prison time.
We wanted to see the Pennsylvania legislature stand up for what is right and courageously end the cruelty of pigeon shoots. But, a pack of legislative cowards left Pennsylvania as the only state where pigeon shoots, with their illegal gambling, are actively held.
For what seems to be decades, we have written against racism and bigotry. But many politicians still believe that gays deserve few, if any, rights; that all Muslims are enemy terrorists; and publicly lie that Voter ID is a way to protect the integrity of the electoral process, while knowing it would disenfranchise thousands of poor and minority citizens.
We will continue to write about the destruction of the environment and of ways people are trying to save it. Environmental concern is greater than a decade ago, but so is the ignorant prattling of those who believe global warming is a hoax, and mistakenly believe that the benefits of natural gas fracking, with well-paying jobs in a depressed economy, far outweigh the environmental, health, and safety problems they cause.
We will continue to write against government corruption, bailouts, tax advantages for the rich and their corporations, governmental waste, and corporate greed. They will continue to exist because millionaire legislators will continue to protect those who contribute to political campaigns. Nevertheless, we will continue to speak out against politicians who have sacrificed the lower- and middle-classes in order to protect the one percent.
We will continue to write about the effects of laying off long-time employees and of outsourcing jobs to “maximize profits.” Until Americans realize that “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” we’ll continue to explain why exploitation knows no geographical boundaries.
The working class successfully launched major counter-attacks against seemingly-entrenched anti-labor politicians in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. But these battles will be as long and as bitter as the politicians who deny the rights of workers. We will continue to speak out for worker rights, better working conditions, and benefits at least equal to their managers. We don’t expect anything to change in 2012, but we are still hopeful that a minority of business owners who already respect the worker will influence the rest.
There are still those who believe education is best served by programs manacled by teaching-to-the-test mentality, and are more than willing to sacrifice quality for numbers. We will continue to write about problems in the nation’s educational system, especially the failure to encourage intellectual curiosity and respect for the tenets of academic integrity.
Against great opposition, the President and Congress passed sweeping health care reform. But, certain members of Congress, all of whom have better health care than most Americans, have proclaimed they will dismantle the program they derisively call “Obamacare.”
During this new year, we will still be writing about the unemployed, the homeless, those without adequate health coverage—and against the political lunatics who continue to deny Americans the basics of human life, essentials that most civilized countries already give their citizens.
We had written forcefully against the previous president and vice-president when they strapped on their six-shooters and sent the nation into war in a country that posed no threat to us, while failing to adequately attack a country that housed the core of the al-Qaeda movement. We wrote about the Administration’s failure to provide adequate protection for the soldiers they sent into war or adequate and sustained mental and medical care when they returned home. The War in Iraq is now over, but the war in Afghanistan continues. The reminder of these wars will last as long as there are hospitals and cemeteries.
We had written dozens of stories against the Bush–Cheney Administration’s belief in the use of torture and why it thought it was necessary to shred parts of the Constitution. We had hoped that a new president, a professor of Constitutional law, would stop the attack upon our freedoms and rights. But the PATRIOT Act was extended, and new legislation was enacted that reduces the rights and freedoms of all citizens. At all levels of government, Constitutional violations still exist, and a new year won’t change our determination to bring to light these violations wherever and whenever they occur.
The hope we and this nation had for change we could believe in, and which we still hope will not die, has been minced by the reality of petty politics, with the “Party of No” and its raucous Teabagger mutation blocking social change for America’s improvement. We can hope that the man we elected will realize that compromise works only when the opposition isn’t entrenched in a never-ending priority not of improving the country, but of keeping him from a second term. Perhaps now, three years after his inauguration, President Obama will disregard the disloyal opposition and unleash the fire and truth we saw in the year before his election, and will speak out even more forcefully for the principles we believed when we, as a nation, gave him the largest vote total of any president in history.
We really want to be able to write columns about Americans who take care of each other, about leaders who concentrate upon fixing the social problems. But we know that’s only an ethereal ideal.  So, we’ll just have to hope that the waters of social justice wear down, however slowly, the jagged rocks of haughty resistance.
[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper investigative reporter and editor, and journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Rosemary Brasch is a former secretary, Red Cross national disaster family services specialist, labor activist, and university instructor of labor studies.]