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.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Division in the Nation’s Political Parties

by Walter Brasch

      Hillary Rodham Clinton limped into the Democratic National Convention with enough pledged delegates to claim the Democrats’ nomination for the presidency and enough hubris that forced her and her senior advisors to spend time and resources dealing with her own party rather than targeting Donald Trump.
      She had emerged from numerous Congressional hearings about Benghazi and the e-mail scandals with minimal or no culpability, but was sprayed by maximum venom by Trump, other Republican nominees for the presidency, and almost every conservative in the country who regularly watches Fox News and listens to partisan talk radio.
      Numerous polls had revealed about 58 percent of voters disliked both Clinton and Trump, with the numbers of voters favoring each of them trending downward.
      The Republican convention had been marked by a sharp division among Trump, Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and moderates who didn’t like either of the last two remaining Republicans for their party’s nomination. Many of Cruz’s both ardent supporters were thinking about voting for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party.
      The Democratic convention, which closed this past Thursday, was also marred by a major split. Clinton—a child and social justice advocate, First Lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state—is seen as more conservative and less trustworthy than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic Socialist who has led a major revolt against establishment politics and policies. During the primaries, he accumulated about 12 million votes and 1,894 delegates to Clinton’s 16 million votes and 2,807 delegates. For much of the campaign, while Sanders was drawing as many as 20,000 to his rallies, and was broadening his appeal to those who wanted to follow his leadership on liberal issues, the national media gave him significantly less coverage than they gave to the Tweeting Trump.
      Three days before the convention, Clinton, who would become the nation’s first female candidate from a major political party, announced that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who had been chair of the Democratic National Committee, 2009–2011, was her choice as vice-president, angering the Sanders’ supporters who saw Kaine as representing the established Democratic leadership.
      On the Sunday afternoon before the convention, a protest and a resignation furthered the division. The protest was carried out by more than 10,000 anti-fracking activists who marched a mile from City Hall to Independence Hall; the march was barely covered by the major national media. Clinton favors fracking as one part of an “all of the above” approach to energy exploration and delivery. Sanders is adamant there should be a ban on fracking and a greater push for renewable energy.
      The DNC platform committee closed some of the division between Sanders and Clinton’s supporters by accepting or modifying some of what Sanders and his 12 million voters were fighting for, including a federal minimum living wage of $15 an hour, plans to break up large Wall Street banks, free tuition for most students attending public colleges, and several policies that would protect the environment and enhance medical coverage for citizens.
      The resignation was from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the DNC chair who was caught in an e-mail scandal of her own. Among thousands of internal e-mails among Democratic politicians and senior staffers that were hacked, and then posted on Wikileaks, were those that had revealed a partisan campaign by DNC officials to discredit Sanders and to support Clinton. The release of the e-mails occurred three days earlier. The FBI said that cyber-tech experts hired by the DNC believed the hacking was done by Russians who preferred to deal with a Trump presidency.
      Trump, on the third night of the Democrats’ convention, grabbed the media spotlight by suggesting Russia could hack into DNC and Clinton e-mails and make them available to the American citizens. A senior campaign aide hours later said Trump was being sarcastic.
      Trump’s campaign staff had choreographed much of the Republican convention. Seeking to unify the party, they gave Cruz a speaking slot on the third night. Cruz, who was expected to endorse Trump, listened to his followers, spoke about Republican issues, did not endorse Trump, and told the 2,472 delegates they, and the nation’s Republican voters, should “vote your conscience.” There was only one day to counter the stinging rebuke by a large segment of the party that was divided before and during the convention, and is likely to remain divided for at least the next three months.
      The Democrats had learned a lesson. The liberal wing of a liberal party got prime-time speaking slots the first day of the convention. If there was any problem, it could be addressed the next three days and, hopefully, forgotten by Friday.
      Addressing the delegates during the prime-time first night, which carried the theme of “Unite Together,” were Michelle Obama, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.), all of whom enthusiastically praised Clinton, all of whom attacked Donald Trump, but didn’t mention his name. Sanders, who had previously endorsed Clinton and spoke on her behalf the first night of the convention, had angered many of his followers who wanted him to defect to an independent race or, at the least, support Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee.
      Nevertheless, the delegates pledged to Sanders were still largely loyal to the 74-year-old fiery politician who spoke of social justice and could be anyone’s nice Jewish crotchety grandfather. The delegates were still upset by party rules that favored Clinton, who Sanders’ supporters believed was too close to corporate interests and corporate money to earn their trust; many believed that Sanders, who enthusiastically endorsed Clinton and said he’d work for her, as a sell-out. When speakers mentioned her name, they booed. More important, they correctly perceived Sanders’ campaign as one of a bottoms-up political revolution, swelling from and empowering the grassroots masses, similar to the one carved out by Sen. Gene McCarthy against President Johnson in 1968; Clinton, they also knew, was a “top-down” politician. Their rebuke, and possible defection to the Green Party or staying at home for the general election, came not from the politicians, but from a comedian. Sarah Silverman, a strong supporter of Sanders, in one sentence on stage silenced many of them—“Can I just say to the Bernie or Bust people: You’re being ridiculous.”
      The Republicans paraded a couple of actors, Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr., to praise Trump. The Democrats countered with Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, Debbie Massing, Lena Dunham, America Ferrara, and the support of most of Hollywood’s “A-list.”
      Bill Clinton spent the first 25 minutes of his speech on the convention’s second day rambling about how he and Hillary Clinton met and were intertwined as a team, perhaps hoping to humanize the woman who constantly faced claims, by persons across a wide political spectrum, that she was cold, calculating, untrustworthy, and someone who was well-shielded by layers of gatekeepers who kept the public away from her except for photos.
      The stars on the third night of the Democratic convention were people the Republicans wished they had—the president and vice-president of the United States. The president told the delegates that “homegrown demagogues will always fail,” a blunt reference to Trump. He brought even more cheers when he talked about Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of a great leader being one who “strives valiantly, who errs, but who in the end knows the triumph of high achievement,” and said he knows Clinton is such a leader. But, even having Barack Obama and Joe Biden didn’t mend the Democrats’ division; the DNC revoked credentials of several dozen delegates who were pledged to Sanders, and walked out of the convention hall after the votes were recorded the day before.
      For three days, the TV cameras recorded a sea of delegates who reflected America—Christians, Jews, and Muslims; straight delegates and those who were part of the LGBTQ community; working class Americans who were supported by labor unions, and business executives who drew six-figure salaries; Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and persons whose parents came from Asia. No one had to say it, but the cameras showed a difference between Democratic and Republican issues and values.
      For much of the four-day convention, senior retired military officers, law enforcement officers, and the mothers of children killed by gun fire on America’s streets and mothers of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the delegates why they supported a Clinton presidency. For much of the convention, teachers, politicians, musicians, social workers, and middle-class union workers addressed the delegates. But, it was Hillary Clinton who brought the delegates to the feet, shouting and clapping and laughing in all the right places, and closing the last night of the last convention.
      Donald Trump has preached the doctrine of fear; Hillary Clinton has calmly explained her vision of strength and improvement. Trump, who egotistically proclaimed, “I, alone, can fix it,” was diminished by Clinton’s “It takes a village” approach to solving problems.
      And that’s just two of the major reasons the next president will be the first woman elected to the office—division or no division.
      [Dr. Brasch has covered politics and government for more than four decades. His current book, his 20th, is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lessons from the Trump-a-Thon

by Walter Brasch
      The four day Trump-a-thon, sometimes noted as the Republican National Convention, ended this week in Cleveland, with the Republican party still divided and Donald Trump’s ego inflated larger than a Macy’s parade balloon. Trump was all over the convention hall, the hotels, and in the media, chatting, arguing, scowling, and boasting. It was Trump’s convention, and he knew it.
      Trump had begun his run for the nomination with a simple but powerful campaign theme, “Make America Great Again,” refusing to accept the reality that most countries see the United States as the world’s most powerful country and its president is one of the world’s most respected leaders. Slipping into the campaign, promoted by the Tea Party wing, is a plea to “Take Our Country Back.” Back to what? To the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunts of the 1950s? To the worst recession since the Great Depression that had begun in 1929? To the race riots of the late 1960s? The two slogans, appearing on almost every piece of campaign memorabilia, are part of what “communicologists” call “branding.”
      In his run to make America great, Trump used vulgar language to ridicule a Fox News female anchor, questioned the integrity of a judge who has Mexican parents, mocked a disabled reporter, declared he would build a wall on the U.S./Mexican border and require Mexico to pay for it, demanded that the U.S. block the entry of anyone who is a Muslim, declared if he was president he would abolish Obamacare, claimed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was no hero for enduring almost seven years in a Vietnamese prison camp, boldly stated he would be able to destroy ISIS, demanded that his potential vice-president candidates submit 10 years of tax returns while he refused to release any of his own financial reports, and juggled the facts worse than any circus clown with grease on his hands.
      State after state, Trump energized the disgruntled and disillusioned who believed they were ignored by the leadership of their party and who opposed just about anything the Obama administration tried to do. He got sustained applause when he attacked the “lyin’ lib’ral media,” but was adept at using the media to get his message to the conservative wing of the party. His speeches and constant Twitter messages established him not as a savior of Republican values, but as a populist demagogue. However, his greatest trick was to convince Republican voters that a billionaire real estate tycoon who had a small fleet of airplanes and boats, who once was a Democrat, and who once praised Hillary Clinton, was an outsider who could relate to them.
      In December, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) condemned Trump for his bigotry—which was embraced by several million Americans who had given him the nomination. “It’s not who we are as a people or a country,” said Ryan, who now in the convention gave Trump his endorsement. Ironically, while the conservative base refuses to accept LGBTQ individuals and condemns same-sex marriage, Trump has repeatedly said they have civil rights that must be acknowledged. There is just enough in Trump’s political beliefs to entice moderates and even liberals.
       On the first day of the convention, long after Trump had secured enough votes to be the party’s nominee, the Colorado delegation, which supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), walked out, showing disrespect for the leadership that wasn’t open to modifying party rules.
       Boycotting the convention were several prominent Republican leaders, including six governors and 21 senators, as well as former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Sen. McCain, the party’s nominee in 2008, and Mitt Romney, the party’s nominee in 2012, none of whom were pleased that Trump would be the 2016 standard bearer.
      Also missing was Ohio Gov. John Kasich. About one-fifth of the Ohio delegation told the Columbus Dispatch they would not vote for Trump under any condition; about two-fifths of the Ohio delegation said they would not campaign for him. About 85 percent said Trump—who has been married three times, who has committed adultery, whose profanity-laced rhetoric and outrageous comments about other Republicans in the primary race—was not the best choice to lead the self-proclaimed “family values” party into the November general election. To blunt those who wanted their candidate to reflect the family values that pervaded 1950s TV shows, Trump constantly praised his wife and children, something necessary to establish the nominee as a family member and keep any more delegates from defecting.
      The division became more hostile on the third night of the convention when Cruz, the last of a field of 17 major Republican candidates to seek the Republicans’ nomination, and a strong supporter of Tea Party politics, didn’t endorse Trump and asked the nation to “vote your conscience.” His declaration of separation was greeted by cheers, boos, and phrases that aren’t usually published or aired by establishment media.
      The prime-time speeches were short on substance and heavy with hyperbolic rhetoric, filled with fear-mongering and jingoistic appeals to a conservative base that is largely middle-class whites. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) summed up much of the Republican grassroots base when he claimed whites contributed more to civilization than any other group.
      Melania Trump’s first night speech was so well delivered that the speech writer resigned. The Trumps refused to accept her resignation, however, saying that all people make innocent mistakes. Her mistake, as reported by almost every reporter at the convention, was that she copied a few sentences from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. Trump spent almost two days denying plagiarism charges before acknowledging the problem.
      Most of the speakers, possibly lining up to get cabinet appointments and ambassadorships in a Trump presidency, reflected Trump’s views of society. They
touted his business acumen as an indicator he would be far superior than anyone else in dealing with the economy, even though most economists from all political perspectives have debunked Trump’s economic plan, which would add about $30–35 trillion to the national debt, and would rival the recession of the last two years of the George W. Bush presidency. The convention speakers didn’t mention anything about Trump’s four bankruptcies, his proposal to give additional tax breaks to millionaires and corporations, or lawsuits filed by individuals and the state of New York against Trump for illegal business practices and for defrauding students who enrolled in Trump University, which was neither accredited nor gave college credits.
      The speakers, facing TV audiences that varied from 20 to 30 million viewers, praised Trump’s philosophy that a livable wage of $15 an hour is too much for businesses to survive, and that a low minimum wage is desirable. They didn’t mention that during the primary campaign Trump pushed for American-made products while he outsourced much of his Trump-named products to countries where 12-hour working days, unsafe work places, and low wages are common. To thunderous applause, they did mention that Trump would curb the power of unions, something that the candidate has already done with many of his properties where workers don’t have unions to protect them.
      Conservatives emphasized that they, and they alone, are patriotic Americans. For those on the far-right of the political spectrum, being a patriot to conservatives means being willing to spend more than half of the nation’s budget on defense and having the power to send youth to fight wars half a hemisphere away. It doesn’t align with Dwight Eisenhower’s philosophy that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
      The conservative movement, represented by 2,472 delegates claimed they, and they alone, could be entrusted to defend the Constitution, although the part they know seems to be confined to nuzzling up to the NRA and the 2nd Amendment, and defending a non-existent right to own every kind of weapon short of a nuclear bomb, but were pleasantly secure within a gun-free zone that surrounded their convention.
      They frequently declared they, and they alone, would be the ones best able to lower crime, disregarding numerous studies that show a decline in crime during the the Obama administration.
      They also believe in creationism, question the theory of evolution, believe that merging religion and the state is acceptable, and Planned Parenthood isn’t. They oppose abortion, even if it’s to preserve a mother’s life, and then devote millions of dollars to oppose programs that help low-income families.
      Climate change is a liberal myth say a solid minority of delegates. Fracking is good and would make the U.S. energy-independent, they claim, skating around the facts that oil and gas corporations, which accept more than $20 billion in taxpayer subsidies a year, are exporting oil and natural gas. Fossil fuel is the past, present, and future, they claim, blindly ignoring the reality that there are more jobs in the renewable energy industry than in fossil fuels, and that most nations, especially those in the Middle East oil-exporting countries, are significantly increasing the use of solar and wind energy.
      They believe in private schools, private retirement plans, and want to sell off public land. They want to “reign in” the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which they see as having too much regulatory power, apparently believing that oil and gas and food and pharmaceutical corporations will do what’s best for the consumer and not what’s best for the stockholders.
      Throughout the convention, the delegates and speakers unleashed their venom on Hillary Rodham Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, calling her evil, corrupt, a liar, and someone who should be in prison. Many delegates compared her to Satan. Licking County (Ohio) Commissioner Duane Flowers said Clinton “should be hanging from a tree.” Clinton, said Al Baldasaro, a senior Trump advisor and a delegate from New Hampshire, “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Their statements reflected the far-right demeanor that has been guiding the party.
      Donald Trump, who can be charming, seldom smiles, his demeanor noted by his lips, which are constantly frowning or sneering, reflecting his party’s campaign strategy of bar-room profanity-laced anger rather than substance. He is the face of what the Republican party has become.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and university professor, has covered politics and government for more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]


Friday, July 15, 2016

Bathrooms are the New Battlefields for Politicians

by Walter Brasch

      When I was a junior at San Diego State, I had a sudden urge to need a restroom. The closest one was clearly marked, “Faculty Men Only.” The nearest one for male students was on the other side of the building.
      I did what any rational person would do—I used the faculty restroom.
      One of the professors, who was using a urinal a couple spaces away, told me the restroom was for professors only. (I assumed there were separate restrooms for staff.) “What department are you in,” asked the prof.
      In my deeper voice, I responded I was with sociology, hoping he knew little about the sociology faculty.
      “Just out of grad school?” he asked.
      “Yeah,” I replied, hoping that I looked much older than my 19 years. I wasn’t lying. I was “with sociology”—as a student, though. And, since I had no plans to go to grad school, I was truly “out of grad school.”
      The prof. said nothing more, apparently finished with emptying his bladder and, hopefully, needing to rush to the sink and then a class.
      That brief encounter burnished a memory into my mind.
      San Diego State no longer separates students from staff or faculty, but states do discriminate.
      Twenty-two states have filed suits in federal courts to block a federal government regulation requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms of whichever sex they identify with.
      The Department of Justice says the new regulation conforms to the will of the Civil Rights Act. The attorneys general of the states that filed the suit claim the government’s regulation is an over-reach that violates the authority of local school districts while also violating student, staff, and faculty privacy. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the regulation is enforceable. Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the Michigan ACLU, told the AP the suits are not only a waste of taxpayer funds but also “an assault on the dignity of transgender youth.” Perhaps society is best served by separating politicians from the public—straight male Democratic politician; lesbian female Republican politician; there could be 10 or so such restricted restrooms to identify most sexual and genetic orientation.
      Unlike gays and lesbians (who identify with persons of the same sex), transgender individuals—unlike actors and entertainers (many known as drag queens or drag queens) who portray persons of the opposite sex—are those whose fetal brains and gene structure, rather than external anatomy, identify them by gender rather than sexual orientations. Transitioning requires more than surgery; the anatomy and genetics are just a part of who an individual is.
      Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the mid-1970s determined that LGBT individuals did not suffer from psychological disorders or mental illness and had to be “cured.”
About 6 percent of Americans (1.4 million) identify as transgender, with California, Florida, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas, having the highest proportion of transgender individuals, according to a study from UCLA.
Like gays and lesbians, most transgender individuals hide their identities until at least when they become adults because of the fear of discrimination. A study by Angela Dallaria for GLAAD revealed about 90 percent of all transgender individuals believe they are discriminated at work and in receiving health care. They are not protected under civil rights laws of most states. However, in 2010, New York extended equal rights to the LGBT individuals.
Numerous scientific and criminal justice studies have discredited the belief that LGBT individuals have any tendency toward bestiality, child abuse, incest, or pedophilia. “Such claims, innuendoes, and associations,” according to GLAAD, “often are used to insinuate that LGBT people pose a threat to society, to families, and to children in particular.”
      Discrimination against LGBT individuals because of dictates in the Bible or Koran are easily dismissed. As their societies have become enlightened, there are numerous verses and requirements of daily living that are no longer practiced by Christians and Muslims, nor any other religion. Both Jews and Christians, using the same Old Testament, have different interpretations of their religious literature. Most Jews, as well as several Protestant denominations, tend to be more tolerant and accepting of the LGBT community; most evangelical Christians tend to be more discriminatory. Pope Francis urged Catholics to be more tolerant and accepting of non-heterosexual individuals, writing, “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws . . .  as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.”
      And yet, 22 U.S. states have filed suits to force those who honestly believe they are a different gender than their external anatomy to use “gender-appropriate” restrooms.
      Pre-pubescent children of all sexual and gender identities play together—and accept each other. Discrimination later in life comes from parents, relatives, the media, and general society. Most children, probably from fears of bullying and harassment, will still use restrooms that are marked the same as their external anatomy.
      It is time to have teachers and school boards retrained, using psychological and medical studies, and for the federal rules to be implemented for those who identify as LGBT individuals. Perhaps in another generation or two, public restrooms for all individuals will be acceptable, unlike the classrooms that were once common and accepted at my undergraduate university, and are still accepted throughout the country. In the meantime, politicians should be focusing more on greater issues than who uses a bathroom.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]





Friday, July 8, 2016

Clinton Drops Baggage; Conservatives looking for Another Scandal

by Walter Brasch

      Three weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Hillary Rodham Clinton unloaded heavy baggage.
      In an extremely rare news conference, FBI director James Comey summarized the conclusions of a seven month FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email rather than more secure governmental servers during her four years as secretary of state.
      Clinton’s role in the attack upon the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four dead in September 2012, had been a major campaign issue. Conservatives and 16 major Republican candidates for the Republican nomination for president had used what they said was her slow defense of the consulate to attack her. However, several investigations by Congressional committees, chaired by Republicans, found no culpability on Clinton’s part. The cost is about $7 million.
      Unable to gain significant traction, the conservatives looked for another possible scandal, and found it with her use of personal email to conduct government business. For more than a year, they have hammered on this scandal. Their hope had been to pull votes from Clinton to Bernie Sanders, believing that Sanders, if nominated, was the weaker opposition to the final few Republican candidates. What has resulted is a debt incurred by taxpayers that is at least $20 million for the investigation, according to the Fiscal Times.
      Clinton hurt her campaign by delayed response to the allegations she compromised national security and then by dodging and weaving on her public comments, allowing the scandal to fester and explode. The conservatives got additional ammunition when a meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Lynch fell into their laps. Both claim the meeting in Phoenix was accidental, and the main topic was grandchildren. The conservatives pounced on that; even liberals, moderates, and independents thought it was inappropriate for the attorney general who might become the prosecutor to be chatting with the husband of the presumptive nominee for president who was the target of a federal investigation.  Both Lynch and the 42nd president, who met on the attorney general’s government aircraft, later acknowledged they should not have met, even if the only conversation was social.
      In front of news cameras and the press, Comey revealed that from more than 30,000 emails the FBI read, sorted, and analyzed, “110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” Eight chains, said Comey, contained top secret information; 36 contained secret information; and eight contain confidential information. About 2,000 e-mails were later “up-classified.” The FBI also interrogated numerous individuals who had knowledge of, and access to, the e-mails. There was no hacking of Clinton’s server, no leaks of e-mail content, and no evidence of any deletion of the e-mails by Clinton or anyone else, said Comey. Based upon federal laws, the FBI determined, “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case [into court].” This past week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Department of Justice would not pursue felony charges against Clinton.
      However, Clinton didn’t skate free. Comey pointed out that Clinton and the Department of State were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” that  “there is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,”  and  that “none of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”
      House Speaker Paul Ryan said the FBI recommendation not to prosecute Clinton “defies explanation.”
      Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Comey’s integrity, although Cruz had voted to confirm him in 2013 to be FBI director. Comey, a Republican, was first appointed U.S. Attorney and then deputy attorney general during the Bush–Cheney administration.
      Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee who had spent much of the primaries calling Ted Cruz a liar, after Cruz dropped out of the race now threw venom on Clinton, innumerous times calling her a liar and a crook. Following the press conference, Trump said “the system is rigged .  . . very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.” He then launched an attack upon Lynch, stating, without evidence, “It’s a bribe. . . The Attorney General is sitting there saying, ‘If I get Hillary off the hook, I’m going to have four more years or eight more years. But if she loses, I’m out of a job.’ It’s a bribe. It’s a disgrace.” Trump also bellowed, continuing his campaign of shoving misinformation in front of the voters, that President Obama was part of a conspiracy to drop charges against Clinton.
      The FBI’s recommendation, said Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, was “a glaring indictment of Hillary Clinton’s complete lack of judgment, honesty, and preparedness to be our next commander-in-chief, and they confirm what we’ve long known: Hillary Clinton has spent the last 16 months looking into cameras deliberately lying to the American people.”
      The conservatives, especially Trump, will continue to push Benghazi and e-mails, no matter what the evidence shows, and will be looking for anything they can find that may lead to another scandal—and several million dollars to investigate it. They who have lied to be elected and continue to chop apart truth will push to have a hearing they hope will result in Clinton being held in contempt of Congress for lying.
      As far as Clinton is concerned, there have been many lessons from the Benghazi and e-mail scandals, but the major one is that a candidate can’t allow the opposition to control the message, but must be open and, if wrong, apologize and correct a problem before it explodes.
     [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has covered government/politics for more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking America.]



Monday, June 27, 2016

What Does the U.S. Care About

by Walter Brasch

      Compared to their inaction on other agenda items, the U.S. Senate is brilliant.
      The one issue it had success was to block President Obama’s immigration plans by not allowing a hearing or a vote for the ninth Supreme Court justice.
      President Obama by an executive order had allowed children born in the U.S. of undocumented parents and their parents to remain the U.S. The reasoning was that the children were born in the U.S., but the parents were still undocumented—some call it the children “anchor” babies—and by returning the parents to their native country, it would impact their children’s lives.
      Refusing to discuss the ninth justice left eight justices. The 4–4 vote, liberals v. conservatives, essentially defeated the President’s executive order. The tie vote lets stand rulings by federal appeals courts. The vacancy was created with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in April.
      If Donald Trump were to be elected, he would nominate a right-wing justice who would undo much of President Obama’s policies, tilting the Court to a 5–4­­ conservative; all actions would probably be supported by the Republican majority of the Senate.
      If Hillary Clinton were to be elected, she would nominate a justice who would tilt the Court liberal. However, with that 5–4 Supreme Court majority and the conservative majority in the Senate, the president’s action would still be blocked or reversed.
      Those who would be immediately affected in Pennsylvania would be about 136,000; about 19,000 undocumented children 16 years or younger when they came to the U.S. and 32,000 parents would also be affected, according to the Migrant Policy Institute (MPI). Most of the rest are undocumented workers without children and children born in the U.S., who are legal citizens.
      In New Jersey are about 510,000 undocumented individuals, about 200,000 of them children under 16 and their parents.
      The President’s order affects about half of the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. About 60 percent of undocumented immigrants live in six states: California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and Texas. Most of all undocumented workers, 5 percent of the U,S. population, are employed and pay taxes.
      The President’s executive order directly affects those who have not entered the U.S. For the next seven months, those in the country would not be deported. However, the President’s powers do include those who come to the U.S., and he has broad discretionary powers, all of which related to immigration would be reversed by Trump.
      “In November,” said the President, “Americans are going to have to make a decision about what we care about and who we are.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Donald Trump v. The First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

      If Donald Trump should become president, don’t expect his administration to be a transparent one or one that tolerates dissent and believes in the First Amendment.
      At his campaign rallies, even those held at public venues, he forbids, according to his press advisories, “homemade signs, banners, professional cameras with a detachable lens, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, back packs or large bags.”
      The restriction on “professional cameras” is targeted to the media. Apparently, he doesn’t want unflattering pictures of him and his extra large baggage mouth to get to the public, although he is adept at positioning himself in front of the media for every possible story angle. If he were president, he would not have a choice of who can and cannot photograph him, because the First Amendment guarantees that public officials cannot invoke a “prior restraint,” which is what a restriction on photography would be.
      Why he doesn’t want “back packs or large bags” is probably because he fears weapons at his rallies. Of course, he has said numerous times that he believes in the Second Amendment right to own and carry weapons, even assault weapons like the handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles that were used to kill 26 at the Sandy Hook elementary school, the 14 killed in San Bernardino, and the 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub.
      Not allowing the public to make signs and banners is such a huge violation of the First Amendment that even the most rabid conservatives, and every judge—no matter what their judicial or political philosophy is—would laugh themselves silly at Trump’s belief that as a president he could control the message, like he is doing as a candidate.
      Trump also revoked the press credentials of several newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register, solely because he and his combed-over ego believe the publications didn’t treat him fairly or that they were inaccurate in coverage. If he were to become president, such restriction would also be unconstitutional because having a thin skin is not a reason to deny press credentials.
      Access to a president is critical for White House reporters. Legally, Trump may decide not to grant interviews or to allow certain reporters to accompany him on Air Force One, placing those he believes are unfriendly to him to a trailing press plane. To gain access, reporters may compromise their reporting.
      Trump follows the practices of Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
      Nixon not only had an enemies list, but he also unleashed numerous unconstitutional First Amendment violations against dissenters and the media, including numerous “dirty tricks” against those opposing the war in Vietnam.
      The Bush–Cheney administration established “free speech zones” as far as a mile from where either Bush or Cheney were speaking. These zones were to keep dissenters and their signs and banners away from the media, most of which followed the president and vice-president, and ran stories and photos of friendly audiences, while not venturing off to write about and photograph the large crowds that disagreed with the administration’s policies.
      Trump will figure out how to skirt the First Amendment at his public speeches while crossing ethics guidelines.
      In 1789, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
      The First Amendment protects not just freedom of the press and speech, but also the freedom of religion, the right of people to peacefully assemble and support or dissent from government policy, and the right to petition government to address grievances. Most public officials, while running for office demand adherence to the First Amendment, but once in office try to suppress some of the rights of the First Amendment. If elected, Trump would probably be among the top five of 45 presidents to try to control the media and violate the First Amendment.
      [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist is also a First Amendment scholar and advocate who taught media law while a university professor. As a reporter, he wrote about Nixon illegally reviewing IRS returns of other reporters and those on his enemies list; the following year, “coincidentally,” his own IRS return was audited. He was also thrown out of a Dick Cheney re-election rally at a public university, although he had press credentials issued by the Republican National Committee. The latest of his 20 books, Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Welfare for Short-Term Economic Benefit, includes numerous case studies of government violating the First Amendment.]


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Senators Embedded Within a Brain Fog

by Walter Brasch

      The U.S. Senate—under the leadership of Mitch McConnell who once said his primary mission was to see that the Senate didn’t agree with anything President Obama said or did, and to limit him to one term—continues to be one of the nation’s leading obstructionists. This time, the Senate isn’t meeting to advise or consent to the President’s nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
      Garland was valedictorian in his class at Harvard College and a magna cum laude graduate from the Harvard law school. He worked in the Department of Justice before becoming the chief judge on the D,C. Court of Appeals, having been confirmed by the Senate, March 1997.
      The reason for the judicial committee not to meet to even discuss the nomination to the Supreme Court, according to the Republican members, is not because of the judge’s qualifications—he is widely praised by plaintiffs and defendants, Democrats, Republicans, and most third parties—but because they don’t believe a president in his last year of office should nominate Supreme Court justices, even though six justices were confirmed by the Senate since 1900 in a president’s last year of office. The reality is that the Republicans by violating their constitutional responsibility for more than a year are hoping a Republican president will appoint a less qualified but very conservative individual to the Supreme Court.
      The following scene reflects what the Republicans apparently want in a Supreme Court justice.
      Facing the Senate Sub-Committee on Obstruction of American Life was President Obama’s latest choice for Supreme Court justice.
      “Have you now or have you ever led anything and did you ever have any opinions?” asked the committee chair, Sen. Porkbelly Pineapple.
     “I once led Boy Scout Troop 7 on a Wilderness hike,” said the nominee. “But I never told them they must be led or that they should follow my example or that they couldn’t have any opinions about the hike.”
      “That’s very good,” said Sen. Pineapple. “What is your value system?”
      “I believe in Rush Limbaugh, God, motherhood, the American flag, and apple pie,” said the nominee.
      “Did you say apple pie?” asked Sen. Harry Hazelnut.
      “No, no!” said a sweating nominee. “I meant to say cherry pie. Yeah, that’s it. I believe in cherry pie. It was George Washington’s favorite pie, and whatever was good enough for the father of our country is good enough for me. Unless he later disowned cherry pie. And if he did, then so do I.”
      Are you now or have you ever been a member of a left-wing Commie pinko organization like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or the Democratic party?” asked Sen. Lizzie Catscratch.
      “No, ma’am,” replied the nominee. “I believe in whatever it is that you believe in. I’m real loyal to anyone who votes for me.”
      “That’s very commendable of you,” said Sen. Catscratch,  “Do have some views about the Bill of Rights?”
      “I believe in the Bill of Rights,” said the nominee, “but not that persons who don’t believe in it shouldn’t be allowed not to believe in it. If they want to believe in the Bill of Rights, that’s fine, but no one should make anyone believe in anything they don’t believe in.”
      “Not even about the government’s role in the First Amendment?” asked Sen. Salamander Peachpit, “and those lying scumbags who spend a lifetime defending all that free speech nonsense?”
      “Oh, those people,” said the nominee. “I say if they can’t buy their own newspaper or TV station, they shouldn’t be talking about anything, except how great it is to own guns. Lots of guns. Pistols and rifles and assault weapons and even a few mortars.”
      “A fine philosophy,” said Sen. Oiltanker Oldsludge. “Do you have any views about the environment?”
      “None.” When no one said anything, and several senators began writing furiously on their Post-it notepads, the nominee quickly retreated. “What I meant was that I have no negative views of what has happened to the environment. As a Supreme justice, it would be my responsibility to make sure that the environment didn’t adversely affect the rights of corporations to make money and take all the loopholes in the IRS forms it can find, thus strengthening the economy and our American way of life.”
      “Excellent. What about pornography?” asked Sen. Backwood Grimweed.
      “I’m opposed to obscenity and pornography,” the nominee firmly responded. “Unless, of course, it can clearly be shown that paying for pornographic films or books was done solely as an investment in American business or a relative’s desire to make a few bucks, and not just to look at dirty pictures.”
       “I assume you also oppose that obscenity known as abortion,” stated Sen. Philip Fullterm.
      “Abortion?” asked the nominee. “I’m afraid I don’t know what that is. And, even if I did know what it is, which I assure you I don’t, I’d argue that abortion is an evil curse given to us by the Devil himself. Unless, of course, you gentlemen believe in abortion, or ever had an abortion, or ever had a mistress have an abortion, in which case I’d say it was acceptable, but only for senators.”
      “Do you hate anyone or any religion or any ethnic goup?” asked Sen. Roger Wilco.
      “No, sir. I don’t hate anyone or anything.”
      Again there was a silence, soon to be filled by the future justice. “What I meant to say is that I love to hate. Muslims. Jews. Anyone whose religion isn’t mine. And I should elaborate that there are many ethnics who need to be kept behind walls in order to secure America as a safe place for all Americans with white pasty skin or suntan parlor orange and blonde hair. Yeah, that’s what I really meant.”
      The silence was filled by applause from a majority of the committee.
      After another hour of questioning, Sen. Pineapple told the nominee the panel was unanimously impressed with his qualifications but, most important, his lack of any ethics and policy views. “One other thing,” he asked, “It’s not really all that important, and certainly won’t affect our decisions, but did you ever attend law school?”
      [Dr. Brasch is or is not a professor emeritus from Bloomsburg University. His views and opinions, if he had any, which he denies having, may or may not reflect the views and opinions of anyone else, including his university. He is also the author of Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit, which may or may not support the oil/gas industry or those who oppose the oil/gas industry or just about anyone who has a conviction of his or her beliefs.]


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Chewbacca and the World of Semi-Reality News Media

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

      A Facebook video of a woman wearing a Chewbacca mask and laughing almost hysterically in her car has drawn more than 140 million hits from numerous sources in the past two weeks.
      Candace Payne, a 37-year-old mother of two from Grand Prairie, Texas, has had to hire a publicist to help field the numerous calls from the media—and, perhaps, wookies who want to have an affair.
      Why so many people have been intrigued by the three-minute video may be because people just need to laugh in a year in which political hate and the media have come together to annoy anyone with a temperature. It may also be because the people realize that the media have been abysmal purveyors of information, and the political conventions and what passes as TV news have become circuses of mediocrity.
      The presidential primaries are filled with candidates attacking each other, with lies and half-truths fogging the political debate, all of which are faithfully recorded, published and aired but seldom evaluated and challenged by the media.
      The mass media, especially television, have devolved from in-depth reporting to entertainment news, erroneously believing that’s what the public wants and needs. And so, TV leads off with whoever makes the most outrageous statements, with the opposition countering with even more outrageous statements. The media focus upon Trump’s outrageous statements and the protests by Hispanics and liberals at his rallies; for the Democrats, the media focus upon Hillary Clinton’s scandals, all of which are trumped-up exaggerations without facts.
      Only in the past few months has Sen. Bernie Sanders received any acknowledgement from the media. Still far behind in media coverage are Dr. Jill Stein (Green Party), Gary Johnson (Libertarian party), Bob Whitaker (American Freedom party), Darrell Castle (Constitution party), Gloria LaRiva (Party of Socialism and Liberalism), Jim Hedges (Prohibition party), Mimi Soltysik (Socialist party), and dozens of other candidates who have ideas that America should at least have a chance to hear, but are placed into a black hole by the media, which believe they have no chance to win the presidency.
      Because the media have become the megaphones for outrageous behavior rather than communicators of information, Donald Trump has spent very little for print or electronic media advertising.  As long as Trump puts on a big enough dog-and-pony show, he gets coverage, forcing his rivals to spend ad dollars to match the free TV time he wallows in. But, after Trump and Clinton finally secure their parties’ nominations, their campaigns, the Republican and Democratic National committees, and dozens of Super PACs, all proclaiming they want to cut governmental programs and spending, by the November 8 general election will have spent more than $2 billion on political advertising in the mass media.
      The pretend-journalists who cover the campaign lean to insipid “objectivity,” afraid to challenge the candidates and terrified of delving into substantive issues. Many just don’t have the intellectual depth to know enough to challenge the lies and half-truths, so they lob easy questions at the candidates and then believe that by tossing bland questions to the public, they are getting “the pulse of the people” who fulfill the media expectations by responding with equally useless answers—“Uh, like, I kinda like him [or her] because he [or she] says what I believe and what I, y’know, want to hear.”
      For most reporters and their editors, there is the fear that if they get too intellectual, if they challenge the candidates, those candidates will not grant them access while their audience tunes them out, preferring the reality entertainment that now passes as political coverage. It is a reality where a woman in a Chewbacca mask makes more sense than the political candidates and the news media that cover them.
      [Rosemary Brasch is a former secretary, labor union grievance officer, and instructor of labor studies at Penn State and UMass. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, professor emeritus from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and author of 20 books; his latest one is Fracking America.]


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day Crocodile Tears from Those Who Create Wars


by Walter Brasch

      A few million Americans may be thinking about it, but won’t be celebrating Memorial Day. For them, there’s not much to celebrate or to remember.
      They’re the low-wage employees who may have to work all three days, without overtime; about three million workers earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Many work 30 to 35 hours a week, just low enough that their employers don’t have to pay for insurance, holidays, or sick leave. The corporate CEOs, of course, will be enjoying the long weekend at their alternate vacation homes in the mountains, or along the coasts, or at off-shore islands where they have found banks willing to hide their money and avoid U.S. taxes.
      Almost 600,000 persons are homeless on any given night. They are homeless for any number of reasons, but whatever reason, the reality is they are homeless—and the wealthiest nation in the world cheers $10 million a year pro athletes, but discounts social workers who have graduate degrees and are paid an average of about $46,000 a year.
      The homeless live beneath bridges, in subway tunnels, on the streets, or if the shelters aren’t filled, in protected areas with cots for beds, and grocery carts for what few possessions they have. In Atlantic City, the homeless live beneath the boardwalk, unseen by hundreds of thousands who go into casinos, buy expensive dinners, and think nothing of dropping a few hundred or a few thousand dollars at gaming tables and slot machines. In urban cities, those with jobs and families walk by the homeless, as if they are invisible, sometimes erroneously thinking that even if the homeless get a dollar or two, they’d rush off to buy beer, liquor, or more drugs.
      About 50,000 of the homeless on any given night are veterans, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Overall, more than 150,000 veterans are homeless during the year. The reasons for veterans being homeless are because of “extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care . . . lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks,” according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Under the Obama administration, which has focused upon assisting veterans, the number of homeless veterans on any given night has come down from about 80,000 six years ago, but even a few dozen homeless veterans are far too many.
      Hundreds of thousands of veterans won’t be able to march in Memorial Day parades, or stand and salute the flag. They don’t have limbs, their muscles have atrophied because of extensive bed confinement, or they have other debilitating illnesses. About 2.2 million American veterans were injured during their service; about 1.7 million of them were wounded in combat, according to a Pew Research Center summary and analysis. About 200,000 military personnel who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder of have major depression, according to a study done by the Rand Corp. About 285,000 of the veterans of America’s most recent wars have suffered from traumatic brain injury. Among other injuries, according to the VA are chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia, hearing difficulties, hepatitis, malaria, memory loss, migraines, sleep disorders and tuberculosis.
      More than 120,000 Americans won’t celebrate Memorial Day; they died in combat during the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq/Afghanistan wars.
      During this three-day weekend, Americans will grill steaks, burgers, and hot dogs; they will travel to relatives’ or friends’ houses, or take mini-vacations. The nation’s politicians—from small town council members to presidential candidates—will go from picnic to picnic, from rally to rally, and deliver poignant speeches about how much they care about the veterans who were injured or died for their country, and how much veterans mean to the country, while delivering the underlying message to vote for them in the coming election.
      But, it is these politicians who, without hesitation, will quickly send American youth into war, and claim that killing people a half-world away somehow protects American citizens. And once Americans are in combat, these same politicians will complain about the cost of war, and vote against providing adequate funds for decent medical and psychological treatment for those who come home damaged.

      [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and the author of 20 books, is co-founder of the Northeast Pennsylvania Coalition for the Homeless.]