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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Look for the Union Bunny

                 by Walter Brasch

Bullied, harassed, and lied to, District 1 of the Amalgamated Association of Easter Bunnies, AFB-CIO (American Federation of Bunnies–Cottontails International Organization) went on strike, forcing a halt to this year’s Easter egg hunts.
At Bunny Headquarters, Solomon P. Bunny, union executive secretary, and a militant corps of Easter bunnies were preparing picket signs. I walked in, notepad in hand.
“Excuse me, Mr. Bunny, but why aren’t your members delivering eggs this week?”
Bunny looked up from the papers on his desk, chomped harder on his cigar, looked at me, scowled, and answered harshly, “Don’t you know!?”
“No, sir,” I replied apologetically. “I always thought you were happy and content passing out your Easter eggs.”
“We love it,” growled Bunny, “but the reactionary governments of several states don’t love us. They claim unionized bunnies are anti-American and a drain upon the limited budgets.”
“Don’t the people have a right to balance their budget without excessive union demands?” I asked.
“Listen, Ink Breath, if these bobbleheads didn’t roll over and let the corporations rub their fat little behinds and expel corporate welfare, there would be enough money to deal with reasonable worker demands and the social services these granite brains are cutting.”
“Even with these facts, I doubt you’d have much support,” I said, noting that most taxpayers don’t want to pay more taxes, and think union workers are greedy opportunists who deserve to be thrown on their tails, even if made of cotton.
“Listen, Lead-type-for-brains, collective bargaining is one of humanity’s most fundamental rights. Says so in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by 48 countries in 1948.” Bunny then went into one of his files, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and slammed it on the desk. “Read it!” he commanded. Not wanting to further upset a furious bunny, I skimmed the report that revealed about two-thirds of Americans support the rights of collective bargaining.
“What are your main grievances?” I asked.
“For one lousy week, we prepare and distribute colored eggs. That leaves 51 other weeks when all we’re doing is multiplying. You can’t make any money that way.”
“But don’t you get paid extraordinarily well on Easter Sunday?”
“Hey, man, ever try to tell the carrotman that all you have is some moldy lettuce to pay the month’s food bill?”
“I see your point,” I said, feeling a little sorry for the bunnies. “What are your other demands?”
“A decent living wage and a hutch of our own,” said the executive secretary. “No more of this lettuce stuff. We want cold hard cash. Just like what those religious folks put in the collection plates once a year.”
“That seems fair,” I responded. “Are there other demands?”
“You bet your union card there are,” said Bunny. “We want a 50-week work year, with two weeks vacation; that’s still fewer vacation days than in most civilized countries. We want nine paid holidays, reasonable sick leave, maternity and day care benefits, medical and dental insurance—do you realize dentists charge us double because of the size of our incisors?—and a prohibition against using us for cosmetic testing.”
“But Easter is only one day a year,” I said. “Certainly you can’t expect Easter every day.”
“What’s so bad about that? Look what it’ll do for the egg, Peeps, and clothing industries. If Easter was every day we’d soon have full employment.”

“What about religion? Wouldn’t the Church have objections?”
“Why should it? Look at all those people who’d be going to church and putting all that money in the collection plate.”
“You certainly have a point,” I said, admiring Bunny’s determination. “Are there other demands?”
“Other than membership in the Bunny Club, rigorous enforcement of safety standards, and a better employee grievance procedure—no.”
“You’re willing to disappoint all the children just because some adults are insensitive to worker needs?”
“We don’t want to harm the children. They haven’t learned how to be bought off to be effective politicians.”
“So you will deliver Easter eggs this week!” I said, thrilled that the bunny union was relenting.
“This is off-the-record, but this year everyone will get their eggs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to preparing for a demonstration.”
As I left, Solomon P. Bunny was slashing through contracts, and multi-tasking on three different phones and two computer screens. But, he warned if the rotten eggs of some of the state legislatures and their buddies in corporate industry don’t stop pretending how religious and patriotic they are, while consistently violating the principles that Jesus stood for, “this will be the last Easter they will ever celebrate.”
[Walter Brasch is a social activist and award-winning journalist who has been a member of unions for four decades. His current book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the health, environmental, economic, political, and worker safety issues of hydraulic horizontal fracturing.]

Friday, March 29, 2013

No Merit Badge for Courage for Boy Scouts


by Walter Brasch

Sometime in May, the Boy Scouts of America will decide whether they will allow gays to be members, volunteer leaders, or be employed on the professional staff.
The decision may have more to do with funding than with any other policy.
Contributions from individuals, major corporations, and at least 50 United Way agencies stopped because of the Scouts’ anti-gay policy. Among corporations that have not made annual six-figure donations are Intel, Merck, CVS, Chase Manhattan Bank, Verizon, Google, UPS, and Levi Straus. Stephen Spielberg, an Eagle Scout, in protest of the policy against gays dropped off the national advisory council.
The national council was also losing funds because of a drop of about 22 percent in membership the past 13 years.
So, the Scouts sent out a trial balloon a few months ago that it was considering whether or not to remove its anti-gay policy, and allow local units to determine their own policies.
That led to a vicious backlash by the nation’s right-wing, with talk show commentators, media pundits and blowhards, conservative politicians, and equally conservative businessmen backing the Scouts’ right not to allow gays to become members. The right wing formed their own associations and threatened to pull their own funding if the Scouts allowed gay members, volunteer leaders, and professional staff.
Never willing to lead, the Scout executives decided there needed to be another  reconsideration.”
The last “reconsideration” occurred in 1974 when the Scouts ended segregation—a few decades late.
In 1978, the national council issued a policy memorandum to deny gays membership or employment. By 1991, with the rise of the conservative movement in America, the Scouts issued a formal position statement that declared, “[H]omosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” The right wing picks “morally straight” as its justification for condemning gays in Scouting. The reality is that in 1910, when the Boy Scouts of America was formed, “straight” was not a synonym for heterosexual, but a word more closely associated with “righteous” or “honorable.”
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, by a 5–4 vote largely along political ideology lines, declared that as a private organization the Boy Scouts could discriminate because of the First Amendment rights to associate—or not associate—with anyone. [Boy Scouts v. Dale.]
Two years later, the national executive board passed a binding resolution opposing membership of gays, atheists, or agnostics.
About 70 percent of all Scout packs, troops, and posts are sponsored by churches or faith-based organizations. However, in one of the great ironies affecting the Scouts, most of those churches, citing fundamental Christian theology, condemn homosexuality but allow gays to be church members; most, however, do not allow gays to be ordained.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, both Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Barack Obama, baptized as a member of the United Church of Christ, spoke against the Scouts excluding gays from membership. The Mormons sponsor almost 38,000 units with about 430,000 boys, the largest faith-based sponsor in Scouting. The Mormons late last year, although still refusing to ordain gays, slightly modified its stance, and now claims, “The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.”
The United Methodist Church—which sponsors 364,000 Scouts—has no restrictions against gays as members or as ministers. The Roman Catholic Church, which sponsors about 274,000 Scouts, condemns homosexuality as both a divine and natural sin, but allows them to be church members. However, several religions, including the fundamental Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsors almost 4,000 units with about 108,000 boys, has threatened to drop out of the Scouting movement if the national council allows gays to be members.
Most Scout organizations in countries not controlled by autocratic fundamentalist leaders have no restrictions upon gays and lesbians becoming members. The 2.5 million member Girl Scouts have no restrictions against lesbians, bisexuals, or trans-sexuals becoming members or leaders, although the Catholic News Agency has attacked the Girl Scouts leadership for being “driven by a liberal ideology far out of step with the families and churches that support them.”
Gays are part of every business, trade, profession, and even the military. Only the most paranoid, homophobic, and ignorant see any problem. The U.S. military—first with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” partial acknowledgement and now with rules than ban discrimination against any gay soldier—found it could still meet the demands of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with gays serving side-by-side to straights. Of course, most of the world’s finest military forces, including Israel and England, found out decades ago that soldiers and officers, no matter their sexual orientation, would serve honorably.
One of those gay officers was an English lieutenant general who was a much-decorated combat veteran. His name is Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.
[Walter Brasch was an Eagle Scout with the silver palm, a brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow, and an assistant Explorer Post leader. An award-winning social issues journalist, Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an investigation into the health and environmental effects of fracking, and the collusion between energy companies and politicians.]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Holding the American People Hostage

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.
Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.
The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ’lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.
In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2–$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.
But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.
Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it—although he praised it a year ago—and blames President Obama.
President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)
The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.
The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.
And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.
It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions—or, rather, its failure to act— has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.
[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Universal Neglect: A Failure to Protect Americans’ Health

by Walter Brasch

I received a letter from a friend this past week.
It was a letter he should never have had to write, yet did so out of desperation.
He is 80 years old, living off occasional writings and Social Security.
He has Medicare, but no dental insurance, and that’s the problem. He needs dental work. A lot of dental work. $10,000 worth of dental work.
Many dental insurance plans for individuals are so expensive, and give relatively few benefits, that many dentists suggest the premiums just aren’t worth it.
Without the dental work, my friend, like many people in the country, will suffer significant additional problems. Infection is one. Poor nutrition is another. There are even links to diabetes and thickening arteries.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

America’s Culture is Signing on the Dotted Line

 by Walter Brasch

The signing season has begun.
Look through your local newspaper for the next few weeks, and you’ll see a lot of posed pictures of high school athletes.
Everyone will be at a desk or table.
Around each one will be their parents and their coach. In some cases, add in an athletic director, a principal, and someone representing a college the young athlete is planning to attend.
It makes no difference if it’s a Division I or Division II school; sometimes it’s even a Division III school. Star athletes at the end of their high school careers get photos and applause. They can even get special financial aid and scholarships just for being able to play a sport well. At Division I universities, they also receive special academic tutoring to make sure they stay eligible.
Excel on an athletic field, and the local media will take your picture and write stories about you. If you’re good enough, the sportswriters might name you “Athlete of the Week” and present you with a certificate or small plaque.