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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Slow-Learning Retired Admiral with a Ph.D.


     Joe Sestak, a liberal Democrat with a commitment to social and economic justice, is a slow learner.
     It’s isn’t because he’s dumb—he graduated second in his class of 900 midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, one of the most rigorous colleges in the country; a decade later, he earned a Ph.D. in political economics from Harvard.
     It isn’t because he doesn’t have reasoning ability—as a Naval captain, he was director of defense on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton; as a rear admiral, he commanded a carrier battle group; as vice-admiral, he was the deputy chief of naval operations, with a specialty in warfare strategy.
     No, Joe Sestak certainly isn’t a slow learner when it comes to knowledge, reasoning ability, fighting for social justice, and helping people.
     The reason Joe Sestak is a slow learner is because he hasn’t learned to accept the floating rules of the political machine. He believes people in power should be able to justify their decisions, and he has a healthy attitude that dictates he should question authority when necessary. As a three-star flag officer, he listened to his staff and supported the thousands of enlisted personnel under his command, but he challenged those entombed within their own tunnel vision. Adm. Mike Mullen, the new chief of naval operations (CNO), with deep allegiance to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush, didn’t like his deputy chief suggesting that it was possible to tighten the budget without affecting naval efficiency and preparedness. Adm. Vern Clark, the previous CNO, explained why Sestak was quickly reassigned: “[He] challenged people who did not want to be challenged. The guy is courageous, a patriot’s patriot.” When Sestak’s daughter developed a brain tumor, he retired from the Navy to help care for her—and to fight for better health care for all people, not just those privileged to have as good a health plan as he did.
     When Sestak first decided to run for Congress in 2006, hoping to give better representation than the 10-term incumbent Republican to a Philadelphia suburban district, the Democratic party establishment said he needed the approval of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a group he didn’t even know existed. Rahn Emmanuel, the head of the DCCC, who would become Barack Obama’s chief of staff, explained that the retired vice-admiral with a Ph.D. wasn’t ready for such a run, and that he had no chance to win in a heavily conservative suburban district. Sestak didn’t listen, infuriated the establishment, and won the election with a 56 percent majority against an incumbent. Two years later, he won re-election with 59.6 percent of the vote.
     In the first of his two terms as a congressman from a Philadelphia suburb, Sestak sponsored more significant legislation than any other member. Unlike many members of Congress, Sestak read and responded to all communications from his constituents, dealing with more than 10,000 items, about four times more than the average member of Congress.
     While in Congress, he burnished his concern for social justice and liberal issues. He was a strong supporter of health care reform, the environment, and labor. He pushed for a better tax code that would help the middle class and close holes that benefitted corporations and the wealthy. He spoke out for improvements in public education, preservation of the environment, and reasonable gun control. A Catholic, Sestak spoke against evangelical and Catholic dogma by defending a woman’s right to choose, and for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. He opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, and had previously upset many in the military by opposing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that modified but still extended the ban on gays and lesbians from openly acknowledging and practicing their sexual preferences. He was also at the forefront of an investigation of anti-gay hazing within the military. He had a higher-than-average staff turnover because he pushed them hard and gave them little free time. But, he pushed himself even harder, not because of political ambition but because he wanted to help his constituents.
     Near the end of his first term in Congress, Sestak appeared on “The Colbert Report,” infuriating the party’s leaders who had decreed that no freshmen Democrats in Congress should appear on the late-night satire.
     In 2009, Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who had served 30 years in the Senate, frustrated at the takeover of the party by right-wing extremists, and the probability he would lose to the far-right conservative Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, became a Democrat. The Democratic establishment embraced the popular senator. Joe Sestak didn’t listen to the party elders and entered the primary. The establishment, represented by Gov. Ed Rendell, President Obama, and the Democratic National Committee, raised money for Specter and tried to lure Sestak from running by extending alternative possibilities. Sestak didn’t listen, won the primary, and alienated the party’s political leaders, many of whom did little to help him in the general election. Corporations and PACs gave Toomey a 3-to-1 spending edge over Sestak, who lost by only 80,000 votes out of about four million cast.
     Less than six years later, the slow-learning Sestak thought he had a chance to take the Democratic nomination and defeat Toomey in the general election. For more than a year, Sestak maintained an all-out campaign for the nomination. As in his previous Senatorial race, he went to every one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, spoke to Democratic clubs, visited political gatherings, and filled most of his days listening to the people and discussing the critical issues that affected them. When it appeared that Sestak could again become the party’s nominee, the establishment panicked, and desperately tried to find someone—anyone—who could defeat the man who wouldn’t play the game by the rules the “good ole boys” wanted.
     The machine selected Katie McGinty, who had run for—and lost—the election for governor in 2014, and then became the new governor’s chief of staff. Her beliefs and views were not as liberal as Sestak’s but, more important, she was loyal to the party’s functionaries, especially Ed Rendell, for whom she had been secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. Unlike Sestak who opposed fracking, McGinty, who was now working with energy companies, didn’t want a moratorium on a practice that had been proven to cause health and environmental problems.
     The establishment put its support and its money behind McGinty, and the Sestak campaign began to falter in the last two months of the race, unable to compete against a candidate endorsed by Tom Wolfe, the state’s popular new governor; Rendell, the former governor who now represented oil and gas companies; numerous Democratic politicians; Vice-President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama. McGinty, in her eight-month campaign, had received more than $4 million in campaign contributions, about $1 million more than Sestak’s two year campaign receipts. In addition, The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent about $2.5 million, most of it in the month before the election, April 26, in support of McGinty. However, the most damage to Sestak’s campaign was by Women Vote, a political action committee of Emily’s List, which spent about $815,000 for a TV ad that falsely claimed Sestak wanted to cut Social Security funds, increase out-of-pocket costs for those on Medicare, and raise the retirement age. Sestak contacted Pennsylvania TV stations, advising them the ad had numerous false statements; the stations refused to pull the ad or to run corrections. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires stations to run ads provided by candidates, even those with false information. However, the FCC also requires radio and TV stations to suspend or refuse to air commercial ads from PACs and other outside groups if the stations are aware those ads contain deceptive or false information. The Washington Post, the day after the election, fact-checked the ad and declared it to be full of lies, half-truths, and distortions, declaring it to be a “depressing example of how random statements can be twisted into sharp-edged attacks [and] a sleazy way to win a campaign.” Women Vote also spent almost $200,000 for a TV ad that specifically promoted McGinty’s candidacy.
     McGinty, who had trailed Sestak most of the campaign, won the primary, defeating not just Sestak but also Braddock, Pa., Mayor John Fetterman, a liberal and community activist who, like Sestak, was unafraid to speak out for social justice and protection of the environment.
     McGinty, who will receive massive financial and staff support from the Democratic National Committee, may not be able to defeat Toomey in the general election. However, one reality emerged from this primary race: Joe Sestak, the retired admiral with a Ph.D. and a strong social conscience, is a slow learner. Once again, he didn’t do what the political machine said he should do and, once again, he lost.
     Maybe, it’s time for more politicians to be “slow learners” and not bow to the dictates of a machine greased by money from special interests.
     [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, multi-media writer-producer, and professor emeritus of mass communications from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His latest book is Fracking America:  Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Disenfranchising Large Segments of Americans

by Walter Brasch
      Several hundred thousand American citizens won’t be voting in presidential primary elections—and it’s not their fault.
      In Pennsylvania, for example, a registered voter who needed an absentee ballot had to submit the request at least one full week before the election, and then return the ballot no less than four days before the election.
      But, what if circumstances changed? What if that person became injured or had to leave the state after April 19, but before the election, Tuesday? If it was April 20, you could not receive an absentee ballot. You could still vote in person, but if you couldn’t get to the polls, you would be disenfranchised. There’s nothing you could do. In one week, you lost the right to vote because bureaucratic rules blocked you from receiving a ballot—even if you could get that ballot to your county registrar of voters by the end of the day of the election.
      Let’s say you were injured a day after the deadline to request a ballot, and want to vote in person on Election Day. If you’re now temporarily in a wheelchair, can’t drive, walk, or get into a regular car, you’ll have to use a medical transport. That’s a minimum of $150 round trip from your home to the polls.
      Politicians and their political parties say they want all American citizens to register and vote. There are voter registration campaigns at colleges, in bars, at fire halls, and street fairs. But, the politicians really don’t care about your vote.
      In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to allow felons who completed their sentences to be again given the right to vote. This affects more than 200,000 persons. But, the Republicans are crying “foul.” They say that felons might vote for Democrats, and on that basis alone they want to keep felons from voting rights. Of course, the Republican establishment has no basis for its assumption—especially since there are a lot of Republican politicians who have been convicted of felonies.
      Currently, only two states—Maine and Vermont—allow incarcerated prisoners the right to vote by absentee ballot. Twenty-four states allow felons the right to vote after they complete their incarceration and end of parole. Fourteen states allow felons on parole, but who completed their incarceration, to vote. In 10 states, anyone convicted of a felony permanently loses all right to vote, even if it’s decades after completing their sentences, even if they are now model citizens.
      Giving the vote to Hispanics also annoys the Republican right wing. They believe people with dark skin and black hair must be illegal aliens and, thus, shouldn’t vote. Even those with legal status who are serving in the U.S. military should be banned from citizenship and voting, say the extreme right wing. Like the Republicans in Virginia, the Republicans in the Southwest vigorously object to citizenship and voting rights for anyone who might vote for those who aren’t Republicans.
      It’s the same Republicans who have gone to great lengths to require all forms of identification in order to register and vote. They claim it’s to prevent voter fraud. But, the number of cases of voter fraud in the past two election cycles is about the same as the chance of being hit by a torpedo while rowing in the lake in New York’s Central Park.
      It has become obvious in the past few years that voting is no longer a constitutional right—but a political football.
      [Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking America, the only comprehensive overview of the history, process, and effects of high volume horizontal fracturing. The book also looks at numerous social, economic, and political issues, including the relationship between the oil/gas industry and politicians.]

Monday, April 4, 2016

What Lies and is Orange All Over? The Republican Finalists, of Course

By Walter Brasch

Donald Trump, whose ego is larger than Trump Towers, called  Sen. Marco Rubio “Little Rubio,” a derogatory reference to the Florida senator’s height.

Rubio responded by saying that Trump’s hands were too small for the size of his body. “And you know what they say about guys with small hands,” Rubio counterpunched, adding that Trump “doesn't sweat because his pores are clogged from the spray tan.” Trump, said Rubio, “isn't gonna make America great, he's gonna make America orange.” The pro-Rubio crowd in Salem, Va., loved it. Unfortunately, Rubio wouldn’t be able to zing Trump much more, dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination less than a month later.

During the past two weeks, just when the people didn’t think politics could sink lower, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proved the people wrong.

Lyin’ Ted was behind the latest attack, said Trump.

“Was not.”

“Was so.”       

“Was not!”

The media circus had left Rubio in the Everglades and rolled onto the elementary school playground where Trump and Cruz, now the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, were squabbling and jabbing at air over pictures of their wives.

A photo of Trump’s wife, nude and alluring, first appeared in a 2000 GQ photo spread, and was widely spread by social media 16 years later, challenging voters to decide if that’s what they wanted in a First Lady. Later evidence revealed that a Cruz SuperPAC, officially unaffiliated with the campaign, was probably behind planting the salacious photo in front of the voters.

Retaliating, Trump tweeted side-by-side pictures of his wife and Cruz’s wife; the glam-photo of Melania Trump, a former model, was something that models send to agents to get photo shoots; Heidi Cruz was seen in a photo that made her look to be too ugly to even be a stand-in for the Hansel-and-Gretel witch.  When Cruz called Trump “classless,” the man once known as The Donald threatened to “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife. The beans, coated with the ink of the National Enquirer, sprung the news upon a public that salivates at every sordid allegation in the presidential race, that Cruz had multiple extramarital affairs. Cruz, as expected, denied the allegation and claimed Trump and his “henchmen” had planted the story. Trump denied it.  

About the same time the national media and every blogger in America had published the 75th rerun of the same story and were looking for something else to amuse themselves when ISIS terrorists killed three dozen and injured more than 150 persons in Belgium. The “Barnum & Bailey It Can’t Get Any Worse” political media circus took center stage, and the elephants began talking. President Obama was in Cuba on a diplomatic mission when the terrorists attacked. After the obligatory comments by the Tea Party wing of how the U.S. needs to turn the desert into glass and attach a monitor to the back of every Muslim who survives the genocide, even those who are U.S. citizens, they attacked President Obama, condemning him for being in Cuba when he should be in the White House leading the destruction of ISIS.

The right-wing, more concerned about TV lights and sound levels than reality, is unaware that the president of the United States doesn’t make policy and defense decisions for Belgium or that the president has full communications and dozens of civilian and military aides wherever he is, not just in an office in a building in the nation’s capital. It really doesn’t matter what the candidates and their own staffs believe, the reality is that the blathering was recorded by the media and then channeled to the public who are waiting to hear every syllable of every word that Trump, Cruz, and fellow politicians are spewing. The voices also follow the dictate that whatever President Obama or any Democrat says or does is wrong. Jimmy Carter stayed at the White House for six months during the Iran hostage crisis, and the Republicans said he was wrong to do so. George H.W. Bush vacationed in Maine during the beginning of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the Republicans backed the one-term Republican president for not being in the White House, knowing he had just as much capability to function in Maine as he did in Washington, D.C.

But, Obama is different. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell so decreed in 2008 that the primary function of the Republicans would be to block whatever Obama wants, even if it is good for the country.

So the past two weeks, the clowns were juggling attacks not only on a sitting president who isn’t eligible to run for any more terms, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two leading Democrats for the presidential nomination, but also on their own leading candidates, who are daily proving that hype will always trump the truth in a presidential election.

In Wisconsin, Trump demanded that Ohio Gov. Kasich drop out of the race, arguing that Kasich couldn’t get the nomination, even if he won every one of the remaining primaries. Kasich, a conservative who appears to be a moderate in a party that has been skunk-sprayed irrational by its Tea Party wing, declined Trump’s offer.  

So far, Clinton and Sanders have focused primarily upon policy issues and not resorted to bar room politics. If either expects to win the election, they now need to focus upon the greater issues of a campaign—their opponent’s appearance.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist who has covered politics at all levels for more than 40 years, is also the author of 21 books. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]