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, June 25, 2015

Whoopin’ and a-Hollerin’ for the Plantation Life

by Walter Brasch

      Judge A. Joseph Antanavage, with shotgun in hand, stood before a modified Confederate battle flag, and looked as if he had planned to defend whatever it is that the Confederate flag stands for.
      But, this wasn’t in the South. This was at a pigeon shoot near Hamburg, Pa. Pennsylvania is not only where the only legal organized pigeon shoots still exist, but where it’s not unusual to see shooters waving the Confederate flag or wearing clothing that features the flag.
      Pennsylvania is the Keystone state, the state where the Declaration of Independence was written, and the Articles of Confederation approved. It is where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, four months after the three-day battle led to 7,058 fatalities and 33,264 wounded, most with what would be life-long injuries. It is where the country heard that its Founding Fathers had believed, “all men are created equal.”
      The beliefs of the Founding Fathers, even the few who owned slaves, have not been accepted by hundreds of thousands of Americans who are willing to tell anyone within voice range there are inferior races in America.
      Those who defend that flag—the symbol of treason against the United States of America—say it is history, a part of the South’s heritage. But it is a symbol of defiance that should have died with the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865.
      But it didn’t die. It was invigorated by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Councils, and the declaration, “The South Shall Rise Again,” often spoken by men with guns and broken-down pick-ups.
      The original battle flag, with the stars-and-bars, was square, and there were several variations. The rectangular flag became popular in the Reconstruction era, so the heritage dates not to the Civil War but to the era of racism.
      The murder of nine Blacks at a church in Charleston, S.C., reignited the fires of hatred as well as a realization that the Confederate flag is a symbol of that racism. (Of course, while the nation is talking about a flag, they have conveniently overlooked critical issues of responsible gun control and civil rights.)
      Nevertheless, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), following the murders, changed her view about the Confederate flag, padlocked to its staff and flying proudly on the statehouse grounds. During the 1960s, it was flown from on top of the state house, a symbol of protest to racial integration. In 2000, it was moved to a staff on the statehouse grounds, the result of a compromise by the Republican-controlled legislature and civil rights groups. Gov. Haley wants the flag removed. But, she needs a two-thirds vote of her legislature to do that. There are still legislators who, for the cameras say they oppose segregation but that the flag is a respected symbol of the South’s history.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they will fight to keep the flag where it is, flapping in the wind, high above the heads of Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and all minorities. They say it is their heritage. But, there are other ways to preserve a heritage. There are articles, books, and documentaries. There are plaques, statues, and museums. Some say they wave the flag because, like them it is a symbol of society’s rebel. But, the only thing they rebel against appears to be the rights of all people. Their defiance may hopefully relegate them to insignificant obscurity.
      Georgia’s official flag, from 1956 to 2001, adopted as a defiant protest to civil rights, was dominated by the stars-and-bars before finally being replaced.
Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from the Confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) wants to ban the confederate flag from the vanity license plates of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. 
      The Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature has no plans to modify its state flag. That flag has a replica of the Confederate flag in the corner where the American white stars on a blue field would be, and a blue stripe, a white stripe, and a red stripe in the area where the U.S. flag’s alternating red and white stripes would be. As long as Mississippi and the South continue to fly the battle flag, some of the more legitimate reasons for the South’s secession will forever be obscured by the racism of slavery.
      Major retailers—including Walmart, Sears, Kmart, eBay, and Amazon—have banned the sale of flags and items with the Confederate stars-and-bars decorations. Apple has removed from its website and stores several games with the Confederate flag. Perhaps this should have been done decades ago, but for whatever reason they are doing it now, it is a good reason.
      There has been a strong brush-back by Confederate sympathizers. Sales of the flag and flag-related items have increased in the past week at retailers that have more of an interest in profits than a moral conscience.
      For southerners and other sympathizers who are offended that a symbol of racism and treason may not be available to them, there is an easy solution.
      They can take a trip to northeastern Pennsylvania, home of the Civil War Fishing Creek Confederacy, which actively opposed the Union. In Summer, they can attend one of the largest monster truck rallies in the nation; in Fall, they can attend the state’s largest fair. Vendors will sell them a variety of Confederate battle flag trinkets, toys, and clothing. They can buy flags from vendors, put them on their trucks, drive down Main Street, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ as if they were the ones who are entrusted with protecting white womenhood and the way of life that existed in ante-bellum America.
      Or, if they can’t attend the rally and the fair, they might be able to spend a weekend at one of a half-dozen pigeon shoots, where they can dress like hunters, hold a shotgun meant to kill caged pigeons, and proudly pose in front of the rebel flag.

     [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. The latest of his 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the environmental and health issues of horizontal fracturing, as well as the history, economics, and politics.]

Friday, June 19, 2015

Religion and Science vs. Greed and Politics

by Walter Brasch

      Rick Santorum, who is back in the race to be the Republican nominee for president after finishing second to Mitt Romney in 2012, is a devout Catholic.
      So devout that he often makes bishops and cardinals appear to be tools of a liberal conspiracy.
      This time, the liberal conspiracy is headed by Pope Francis.
      Whatever could the pope do or say that would upset millions of evangelical Christians?
        The pope asked Christians to become “custodians of creation,” boldly stating that a threat to peace “arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources.” He said, “Even if nature is at our disposition, all too often we do not respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.”
      The pope also said mankind “too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.” He believes there is global warming, that mankind is mostly responsible, and that mankind must take steps to stop the problem to preserve what God has given.
      Obviously, sacrilegious! Heresy of the highest order. Words spoken that do not align with the divine inspiration of Rick Santorum and the far-right.
      God, so these conservatives believe, gave us fossil fuels to exploit. They wrongly interpret Genesis 1:28 as God giving mankind dominance over all life and the Earth, instead of stewardship. For many corporations and politicians, this means mankind has the right to drill and use Earth’s resources however they see fit, that fracking is God’s gift to humanity. To heat our homes. To drive our cars. To allow multi-billion dollar corporations to make gross and obscene profits. 
      But they are in a minority.
     Every major religion has a basic tenet to protect and preserve the environment.
     Many of the major Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, and Buddhism consider all life as interdependent. The responsibility of government, according to Buddhism’s Kutadanta Sutta, is to actively protect the environment, and all its flora and fauna. The Koran of Islam warns, “And do not corrupt in the earth after being tilled.” Saudi Arabia in 1994, long before much of the world began to understand the long-term effects of uncontrolled gas emissions, cautioned, “Human activities over the last century have so affected natural processes that the very atmosphere upon which life depends has been altered.”
     All indigenous people, from the aborigines of Australia to the Native Americans of North America, have shown respect for the land, which most believe is not theirs to own, but only to enjoy until passed to their children.
     The World Council of Churches, which represents about 590 million Christians in 520,000 congregations, decided in July 2014 that to continue to hold fossil fuel stock would compromise its ethics, and recommended the 349 member denominations consider divesting oil and gas stock.
In the United States, the Eco-Justice Programs of the National Council of Churches, a coalition of about 100,000 congregations with 45 million members, declared fossil fuel extraction, “when used to generate electricity or power machinery, also pollute our air, land, and water.” The Council also determined, “In order to extract the oil from oceans or land we often put the needs of ourselves over the health and well-being of the whole of Creation and in many cases before the needs of future generations.”
The Unitarian-Universalist Association told us, “Oil and other fossil fuels are making the planet uninhabitable. We must work urgently to switch to cleaner alternatives and to convince our leaders to work toward that end as well.”
The Upper Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, noting that climate change could be human-caused, called for a repeal of all environmental and health exemptions that benefitted the oil and gas industry.
       In their 6,000 year covenant with God, the Jews have considered themselves as stewards of the Earth. In Genesis 2:15 is the requirement to care for the Earth. In Ecclesiastes 7:13, the Jews are told by God, “See to it that you don’t spoil or destroy my world—because if you spoil it, there is nobody after you to fix it.” In the 14th century, Talmudic scholar Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet added strength to the command to care for the Earth. Based upon the writings of the Torah and subsequent discussions by Jewish leaders, he observed that mankind is forbidden “from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.” The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism notes that Jews are “increasingly aware of the potentially negative environmental impact of extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels,” and its effect upon advancing the problems of climate change.
      U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, basing his comments upon both science and theological perspectives, declared: “Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.” He said, “Climate change is occurring—now—and human activities are the principal cause.”
     Nevertheless, even faced by theological and scientific evidence, Rick Santorum and the flock who believe as he does, claim that even if there is climate change, human activity is not responsible, and whatever the U.S. does would have no impact on climate change. He further believes the pope, representing 1.2 billion Catholics, should not comment upon climate change, especially if it differs from his views. Mr. Santorum believes only scientists should comment. Of course, Santorum, a politician who has commented on climate change, isn’t a scientist.
      Here’s what scientists say. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” About 97 percent of all scientists studying climate change attribute global warming to human activities.
     One of those scientists is Pope Francis, who studied chemistry, understands scientific principles, and once taught in Argentine high schools.

     [Dr. Brasch studied science as an undergraduate, and was, for a time, a science/health reporter. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Politics of Disaster Relief

by Walter Brasch

      More than 150,000 Texans sent a petition to the White House, demanding the union allow Texas to secede.
      This was not 1861 when Texans wanted out of the union. This was two years ago.
      Among those who threw around the idea of secession was conservative Republican governor Rick Perry, who has re-entered the race for president—not of the Confederate States of America, but of the United States of America.
      About a month ago, the U.S. military announced a two-month long large-scale drill, known as Jade Helm 15, to begin July 15. The training exercise will spread over Texas and four other states.
      But that’s not what a large chunk of Texans—and especially a chunk of rabid patriotic right-wing talk show pundits and almost all of the Tea Party believe. They put on their tin foil caps—apparently to stimulate their two brain cells—and determined the military training exercise is a prelude to the U.S. seizing Texas and stripping its citizens of their guns and their Constitutional rights. Not that many of them ever read the Constitution. And, certainly, not federal and Supreme Court decisions.
      They said the military, in civilian clothes, would be blending into the local populations of more than 15 cities in preparation to imposing martial law.
      Normally, when you have paranoia this deep, it’s time to allow open admissions to the psychiatric wings of major hospitals. But, the new governor, Greg Abbott, a conservative Republican, like the governor before him—and the governor before him—ordered the Texas National Guard to monitor the exercises to make sure that the damn Yankees didn’t emasculate Texas statehood. No one knows how much that decision to mobilize the National Guard will cost Texas taxpayers.
      While complaining about the Invasion, Texas suffered from heavy rains and floods. Almost three dozen died. Hundreds have lost their homes. The Red Cross and numerous disaster relief organizations are in Texas to help. They don’t care what the victims’ social, religious, or political beliefs are. They care about helping people who need help.
      Gov. Abbot and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz—Texans, Republicans, and on the far right side of conservative politics—have begged for federal assistance, including a large dose of federal funds. Both Cornyn and Cruz had previously voted against giving federal assistance to New Jersey and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
      President Obama responded quickly, and ordered humanitarian assistance for the people of Texas. That assistance includes significant manpower and federal funds. The President didn’t say—like Cornyn and Cruz had once said about New Jersey—there wasn’t enough money to help Texas. The President didn’t say—like Cornyn and Cruz had once said—that even if there was enough money, they wouldn’t vote for assistance until the President yielded to them on a completely unrelated political matter. The President didn’t even worry about whether Texans liked him or not, even though a majority of that state’s politicians think of him as incompetent, evil, and—horrors!—a firebreathing Muslim who is the anti-Christ deploying forces to take their guns and all their rights. He made sure the people got the help they needed.
      When the people of another state experience tragedy, like the people of New Jersey and Texas did, perhaps Sens. Cornyn and Cruz will remember this is, still, a United States of America, and will not make inane political speeches and block federal disaster funds.

      [Dr. Brasch covered numerous disasters when he was a reporter; after leaving newspapers, he was involved with emergency preparedness and emergency management. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed best-seller Fracking Pennsylvania]