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, May 31, 2012

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

                         The deal was worked out with Sean Corr, attorney for the PGC. Corr, says Steve Hindi of SHARK, “was one of the biggest individual donors to the Bucks County Republican Committee [which had] heavily funded Heckler’s election campaign.” Heckler had been a state representative and senator and then a judge of the Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Corr, who was shooting pigeons at the PGC in December 2009, was convicted of harassment for shoving a camera into Hindi’s face; Hindi was not on PGC property at the time of the incident, according to the Doylestown Intelligencer. Corr is currently a part-time solicitor for the county.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

             Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.
But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 
            There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.
            Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 8

I once wanted to be a protest folksinger, going throughout the country to rally the people for social justice, but two things kept me from that. I couldn’t sing and there wasn’t much call for a protest clarinetist.

But there was journalism—which, I sometimes point out, became my profession because I wasn’t good at anything else. Nevertheless, many of the people at the forefront of social change have been journalists; the revolution of the 1960s, with journalists of an alternative media at the forefront, was built upon the base of a revolution two centuries earlier. Sam Adams, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, and dozens of newspaper editors and writers helped unify a minority of colonists to rise up and create a new nation, founded in liberty and justice. Journalism seemed like a good place to learn more about people, government, and different cultures, while also fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. After all, wasn’t Superman a journalist?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 7

It was a Saturday afternoon in November. My wife, Rosemary, and I were with a four or five dozen other people in front of a county courthouse to protest what all of us knew would be the upcoming war in Iraq.

It wasn’t the first time we were protesting; it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But this time, our bodies were a lot colder than comfortable; our tempers were a bit shorter than civil.

Many persons driving past honked their car horns in support. But, in this rural county in Pennsylvania there were also dozens who drove past and gave us the finger or shouted obscenities.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 6

“They had this amateur stage [at Woodstock] away from everything else, and anyone could perform. Bands and poets and jugglers and people who just wanted to have their say. Well, Joan Baez—can you believe it, Joan Baez!—well, she sees that there are people kinda just hangin’, so she does an hour! A whole hour on an amateur stage! Know what else? She didn’t just go up on that stage. She waited her turn. Must have waited an hour, two hours. No one knew she was waiting, I guess, but she waited her turn, just like everyone else. Was almost late for the main stage.”
—Joyce Katzman, Before the First Snow, by Walter M. Brasch

Today, the sixth day of Memorial Day Week, we honor two more of the important voices of the Movement—Joan Baez and Phil Ochs.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 5

A couple of months ago, a San Francisco newspaper asked my opinion about the differences between the protests during the 1960s and the protests of Occupy Wall Street.

I discussed many difference and similarities, but noted that there are two major differences. First, the protestors of the ’60s seemed to be more joyous, more sprite-like. Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krasner, and others knew the power of humor and satire, and how to use it to make the media and the people actually believe that the Yuppies might lace the Chicago fountains with LSD or, through mental willpower of thousands, levitate the Pentagon.

The other major difference was protest music, something that is missing from much of the current protests. At one time, music was an integral part of the Movement. At one time, writers and journalists, blocked by the walls of the mainstream media, could turn to an alternative press, one that sometimes was published on ditto masters, and to music as a powerful medium to help unite the people.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 4

On this, the fourth day of Memorial Day Week, we pay tribute to Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Peter, Paul and Mary—as well as to every person killed in war and to their families.

On April 24, 1971, more than 500,000 people marched onto the Capitol Mall to unite in opposition to the Viet Nam war. There had been several Peace Marches in the years prior to 1971; there would be dozens more in the next four decades, as the U.S. continued to enter into wars. But this one would be the most remembered.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 3

“Best of them all, the very best, that was Country Joe [McDonald]. Now, that’s one heavy dude, and that ain’t no shit. Y’know, man, like on Friday, they was havin’ trouble getting their shit together. Afraid there might be dead air on stage. But they find out Country Joe was there, and they asked him to do a set. Now, he ain’t on their program, and he was just hangin’. But, y’know Country, he just played just about every gig anyone asked him for. Lot of them were for nothing, just to help the Cause. Even wrote some good shit, too. Powerful political shit. That ‘Fixin’ to Die Rag’ gave America a conscience. At least some of America. Last couple of years, hardly anyone seen him. He’d been lying low, and he didn’t want to do this gig. Well, they told him they needed him. I mean they really needed him. So he gets out there and follows Richie Havens. Can you believe that?! Anyhow, there’s a whole mess of us out there. More’n Country’s seen in his whole freakin’ life! And he’s scared shitless. And we don’t know ’bout Country, him bein’ out of circulation so long. But he gave us the Fish Cheer, and everyone went wild, just a-yellin’ and a-hollerin’. And Country, he was just a whoppin’ up there, doin’ his thing. I mean, like he couldn’t do no wrong. He made it happen, man. But, wait, that’s not all of it! When the big rains came [Sunday], and there were electrical lines all over the place, and all of us were scared shitless ’cause we thought we might fry ’cause we didn’t think they’d ever turn off all that electricity fast enough, Country [and the Fish] gets up on the stage and they sang to us. Got our minds off things. None of us could hear him. But he was singing for all he was worth! Calmed us down. Sucker sure do know his shit!”
 — Aggie Silver in Before the First Snow, by Walter M. Brasch

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 2

Today, the second day of the Memorial Day series, let’s take a look at Pete Seeger (1919- ), and then watch one of his lesser known, but more important songs. In addition to literally hundreds of songs, Pete wrote and first performed the anti-war/social justice songs “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and If I Had a Hammer” (with Lee Hayes).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 1

(Day 1 of Memorial Day Week 2012)

For many, Memorial Day means a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer.

Memorial Day is celebrated Monday, May 28, this year. The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teacher held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eliminating the ‘99%’ Can Lead to a Better Message for Social Justice

by Walter Brasch

            It’s time to retire the 99 percent.
            Not the people, but the slogan that identifies the Occupy Movement.
            “We’re the 99 percent” slogan focused upon two completely different groups of people. The 99 percent are the masses, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the middle class; the 1 percent refers to the concentration of wealth in the top one percent of the population and in the dominance of large corporate and global financial systems.  
The Movement, following the Arab Spring, began in the late summer of 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street protest. Central to the Movement, which quickly expanded into more than 500 American cities and 82 countries, was a call for social and economic justice.
During the 2007 Great Recession, the accumulated wealth of the 1 percent decreased significantly less than the wealth of the 99 percent, large numbers of whom first became unemployed and then homeless because of the tactics of greed led by the financial empires.
            Within the 1 percent are CEOs and executives of the banking industry that willingly took government bailout funds, and then used some of that money to give six and seven figure bonuses.
            The 1 percent includes Ina R. Drew, chief investment officer for JPMorgan Chase, which lost $2 billion in funds through misguided investment policies. Drew, one of Wall Street’s power players—and widely recognized as one of the more brilliant financial managers—earned about $14 million in salary. Jamie Dimon, in a stockholder meeting this past week, humbled by the huge loss, told stockholders, “This should never have happened. I can’t justify it. Unfortunately, these mistakes were self-inflicted.” But, Dimon, both the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board, kept his job and its $23 million salary.
             The 1 percent also includes Mitt Romney, who earned about $21 million in 2010, and has a net worth of about $230 million, according to Forbes, but hasn’t filed his 2011 taxes. Somehow, he wants the people to believe he will bring the nation out of the depths of the Great Recession, but needs an extension to file his own taxes.
            The 1 percent also includes right-wing celebrity mouth Rush Limbaugh, who is in the middle of an eight year $400 million contract that allows him to spew lies, hate, and venom at anyone who doesn’t agree with his ultra-conservative philosophy, which includes Occupiers and just about anyone with a social, environmental, and economic conscience.
            The 1 percent includes Sarah Palin, once an obscure politician who now has a net worth of about $14 million, most of it the result of her participation in the mainstream media, which she claims she despises. 
            The 1 percent includes the Kardashian Sisters whose souls are wrapped in self-adulation, and who are worshipped by millions who have enhanced their importance by watching reality shows and reading vapid celebrity “tell-all” newspapers and magazines.
But the 1 percent also includes billionaire Warren Buffet, who is leading a movement to reduce tax loopholes and increase taxes on the rich, while improving the tax structure for the 99 percent.
            The 1 percent includes Bill and Melissa Gates who are spending most of their fortune to improve the education and health of people throughout the world.
            The 1 percent includes George Clooney, who has been at the forefront of the fight for justice in Darfur, whose citizens have been the victims of genocide by the Sudanese government.
            The 1 percent includes Angelina Jolie who is Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and who has put her money and time into helping the world’s children.
            The 1 percent includes Ed Asner, Bono, Mike Farrell, Bette Midler, Sean Penn, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, and thousands of other millionaire celebrities who have willingly put their reputations and money on the line to fight for the important social, economic, and political causes that should be the ones that define America as a land of freedom and opportunity, and which would be supported by most of the nation’s Founding Fathers. 
            In contrast, the 99 percent isn’t composed solely of the victims of the 1 percent. Millions are as uncaring, as greedy, as self-centered as some of those in the 1 percent. Millions are racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Millions follow Tea Party philosophies that selfishly place the health and welfare of the people secondary to a belief that cutting spending, except for the military, will solve all problems. It is a philosophy that, if left unchallenged, would force even greater misery to the American Middle Class and underclass, and lead to destroying the balance of nature and the environment.
            “We are the 99 percent” slogan, coupled with non-violent protest in the face of several violent police incidents, had served the Movement well, but its time is over. The Movement can no longer be an “us versus them” philosophy that has become divisive. It must now migrate to one that includes all people who are willing to fight for social, political, and economic justice in the Army of Conscience.
            [Walter Brasch—as writer and activist—has been a part of the movement for social, political, and economic justice for more than four decades. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, the story of an activist and her relationship with a journalist over a 25 year period from 1964 to 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mission Impossible: Finding a Minivan Made in America by Union Workers

by Walter Brasch

Last year, not one of the 491,687 new minivans sold in the United States was made in America by unionized workers.
            Some were manufactured overseas by companies owned by non-American manufacturers. The Kia Sedona, with 24,047 sales, was built in South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. The MAZDA5, with 19,155 sales, was built in China, Japan, and Taiwan.
            Some minivans from Japanese companies were built in the U.S., but by non-unionized workers. Honda sold 107,068 Odysseys built in Alabama. Toyota Siennas, built in Indiana, went to 111,429 persons. The Nissan Quest, built in Ohio, had 12,199 sales.
            Only three minivans were built by unionized workers, but they were made in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. The Dodge Grand Caravan, with 110,996 sales; Chrysler Town & Country, with 94,320 sales; and the VW Routan, with 12,473 sales, all share the same basic body; most differences are cosmetic. GM and Ford no longer produce minivans.
            The United Auto Workers (UAW) suggests that members who wish to buy minivans buy one of the three Chrysler products because much of the parts are manufactured in the United States by UAW members.
At one time, all cars, trucks, and vans from GM, Ford, and Chrysler were produced by union workers in the U.S. or Canada. The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 Sedan both have about 80 percent of all parts produced in the U.S. For many cars built in the U.S., the number of parts produced in North America may be only 50-75 percent. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Eclipse, Spyder, and Galant, and the Mazda6 are produced in the U.S. under UAW contracts; neither company makes minivans. However, the “Big 3” have been building cars in other countries. Ford, which had strong profits the past year, has closed U.S. manufacturing plants, and cut its U.S. workforce by about half in the past five years. Only about 40 percent of its worldwide workforce is now in the U.S. Many of the cars and the F-series pick-up trucks are being built in Mexico. GM is building cars in South Korea and Brazil, with wages nearly comparable to those in the U.S. However, wages are significantly lower for its workers in China, Mexico, India, and Russia. About 300,000 Chryslers and 200,000 Dodge trucks are built in Mexico.
All vehicles produced in the U.S. have the first Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a 1, 4, or 5; vehicles produced in Canada have a 2 as the first VIN number.
            Founded in 1935, the UAW quickly established a reputation for creating the first cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and employer-paid health care programs. It helped pioneer pensions, supplementary unemployment benefits, and paid vacations.
It has been at the forefront of social and economic justice issues; Walter Reuther, its legendary president between 1946 and his death in 1970, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and helped assure that the UAW was one of the first unions to allow minorities into membership and to integrate the workforce. Bob King, its current president, a lawyer, was arrested for civil disobedience, carrying on the tradition of the social conscience that has identified the union and its leadership.
.           The UAW doesn’t mind that corporations make profits; it does care when some of the profit is at the expense of the worker, for without a competent and secure work force, there would be no profit. When the economy failed under the Bush–Cheney administration, and the auto manufacturers were struggling, the UAW recognized it was necessary for the workers to take pay cuts and make other concessions for the companies to survive.
But not all corporations have the social conscience that the UAW and the “Big 3” auto manufacturers developed. For decades, American corporations have learned that to “maximize profits,” “improve the bottom line,” and “give strength to shareholder stakes” they could downsize their workforce and ship manufacturing throughout the world. Our companies have outsourced almost every form of tech support, as well as credit card assistance, to vendors whose employees speak varying degrees of English, but tell us their names are George, Barry, or Miriam. Clothing, toys, and just about anything bought by Americans could be made overseas by children working in abject conditions; their parents might make a few cents more, and in certain countries would be thrilled to earn less than half the U.S. minimum wage.
Americans go along with this because they think they are getting their products cheaper. What they don’t want to see is the working conditions of those who are employed by companies that are sub-contractors to the mega-conglomerates of American enterprise. These would be the same companies whose executives earn seven and eight-figure salaries and benefits, while millions are unemployed.
But, Americans don’t care. After all, we’re getting less expensive products, even if what we buy is cheaply made because overseas managers, encouraged by American corporate executives, lower the quality of materials and demand even more work from their employees.
            Walk into almost every department store and Big Box store, and it’s a struggle to find clothes, house supplies, and entertainment media made in America. If you do find American-made products, they are probably produced in “right-to-work” states that think unionized labor is a Communist-conspiracy to destroy the free enterprise system of the right to make obscene profits at the expense of the working class.
            We can wave flags and tell everyone how much more patriotic we are than them, but we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers—even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.

            [Sales figures of minivans is from Edmunds.com. Also assisting were Rosemary Brasch and Michael Fox. Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which looks at the mass media, social justice, and the labor movement. The book is available from amazon, local bookstores, and http://www.greeleyandstone.com in both hard copy or an ebook.]