Vouchering an Educational Adventure

 

                      by WALTER BRASCH

 

I hadn’t talked with Marshbaum for a couple of years, ever since he left newspaper journalism for more lucrative work in the fast food industry. But here he was in my office to ask if I would publicize his new educational adventure.

“That’s great!” I said. “You’re finishing the last three years of college.”

“I own the school. CEO of Little Minds Charter and Voucher Corp. We’re on the leading edge of the trend to privatize schools.”

“How does mumbling into a broken speaker box make you qualified to run a school?” I asked.

“Interpersonal communication skills,” he replied. “That, and knowing how to count change and arrange work schedules for the three minimum-wage high school kids on my late night shift. It’s all administration and proper marketing.” He thrust a full-color three-panel promotional flyer at me. Buried in small print was the tuition cost.

“That’s a bit high, isn’t it?” I asked.

“With loans, grants, and governmental assistance, it’s almost affordable.”

“Governmental assistance?”

“We’d be bankrupt if we didn’t get it,” said Marshbaum. “Because the state wants to privatize everything, it gives families a yearly check to send their uncultured little cookie crumblers wherever they want. Family gives us the money, and we teach their children the importance of sexual abstinence and the free enterprise system.”

“I suppose you’re making radical changes in education,” I snickered. Marshbaum didn’t disappoint me.

“You bet your Number 2 we are. We’re on track to become the state’s most cost-effective school. Conservative politicians love us. Cutting expenses is where it’s at.”

“What did you cut?”

“First thing we did was order our classroom supplies from China. That saved us over 50 percent. Got a great deal on ugly desk-chairs.”

“You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘Buy American’,” I suggested.

“Not true, Ink Breath. We get our school uniforms from Wal-Mart. An all-American company.”

“You are aware,” I pointed out, “that most of the clothing in Big Box stores is made by exploited children and their impoverished parents in Third World Countries.”

“Exactly!” beamed Marshbaum. “Cheaper that way. Besides, we use the labels to teach about world geography. That’s a two-fer!”

“How else are you re-defining education?” I asked, knowing Marshbaum wouldn’t disappoint me.

“Downsized the faculty. All those rich college graduates were hurting our bottom line. Hated to downsize Greenblatt, though. Thirty years on the job. Twice recognized as the state’s best history teacher”

“You fired a tenured history teacher?”

“Had to. He was at the top of the salary schedule. Besides, he was teaching about the rise of the middle class and how unions helped get better wages and benefits for the masses. That’s just downright unpatriotic. He refused to be a team player.”

“What you did is probably illegal!” I said.

“We’re a corporation,” said Marshbaum smugly. “We can do anything we want. We’ll be dumping math next.”

“That’s absurd! Of the industrialized nations, the U.S. is already near the bottom in math and science.”

“No one gives a rotten apple’s core about when trains at different speeds leave their stations and pass each other in Wichita.”

“So you don’t have any faculty?” I asked incredulously.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We outsourced our teaching. There’s Bierschmaltz in Austria and Wang Lin in Laos and—”

“I suppose you have them lecturing by speaker phone,” I said sarcastically.

“Even better. They create the lessons, have some teenage videohead record them, and the students can see it on their own computers. Distance Education and Technology is where it’s at. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying live people who demand a lunch break after five classes, and call off sick just because they broke a hip or some other useless joint.”

“If you’re dumping courses, downsizing and outsourcing, how are you going to improve the scores?”

“Not a problem,” Marshbaum said, explaining that the state has specific questions to which the students must know the answers. “We just make sure we drill the students on what they’ll be tested upon.”

“That’s not education, that’s teaching to the test. Your students may get high scores, but they probably won’t get much knowledge.”

“So where’s the problem?”

And with that, Marshbaum grabbed his backpack and went out to recruit more voucher-laden students.

 [Walter Brasch spent 30 years as a university professor of mass communications, while continuing his work as a journalist. Now retired from teaching, he continues as a journalist/columnist. His latest of 17 books is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at critical social issues through the eyes of a ’60s self-described “hippie chick” teacher who is still protesting war, attacks upon the environment, due process issues, and fighting for the rights of all citizens to have adequate health care.]

 

 

 

Spearing a Tax Deduction

 

 

                                         by WALTER BRASCH 

 

On a bright Monday morning, a day before tax returns were due, I bumped into my ersatz friend Marshbaum who was placing a change container at the Gas-High Mini-mart on Low Octane and Greed avenues.

“March of Dimes?” I asked.

“Dimes. Quarters. Ten-dollar bills. Whatever.”

Since he misunderstood my question, I tried it another way.

“What charity? Humane Society? MS? Veterans Relief?”

“Even better. A museum.”

“Science museum for kids? Art museum?”

“Not even close.”

“I’m not playing 20 Questions. Put the danged label on your change can.” From a tattered vinyl briefcase, Marshbaum took out a peelable label proclaiming donations for the “Marshbaum Museum of American Culture.”

“You can drop your spare change into it now.”

“What’s the scam?” I asked suspiciously.

“No scam. Legitimate museum. Just like the Historic Voodoo Museum, the International Toaster Museum, and Britney Spears’ one.”

“Britney Spears has a museum?”

“Not really a museum, but four rooms in a museum in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana. Been there more than a decade. Even has a scale model replica of the stage of her HBO concert and a full-scale replica of her pre-teen bedroom.”

“Just because she can dance, flash skin, and lip sync at the same time doesn’t warrant a museum. And in your case, even if you do build a monument, it will remain as empty as your own life.”

“I shall build it, and they will come.”

“They will come and be taken.”

“I got credibility,” Marshbaum said, wounded by my skepticism. “I took first place in Air Guitar at the county fair. If I had a gaggle of marketing geniuses and choreographers, I’d be bumping and grinding before every teen, making millions, and creating designer labels.”

“I doubt you’d have even enough to fill a small case.”

“I think I’ll have three sections. Just like the Queen of Bubblegum Pop. Teething years. Mouseketeer years. Pop star--”

“Marshbaum! You weren’t ever a Mouseketeer.”

“I watched them. I’m donating my TV set. It’s the same age as Britney.”

“And how do you justify your pop star section?” I asked sarcastically.

“I eat Pop Tarts all the time. I should have a used box somewhere.”

“Mold has no value outside a lab.”

“IRS doesn’t think so.”

“The IRS may be moldy, but I doubt--” I didn’t even have to finish the sentence. Revelation and french horns played all at once. “It is a scam, isn’t it! Most people have yard sales. You’re donating junk to a bogus museum and taking tax deductions.”

“And you think Miss Oops-I-Did-It-Again isn’t? She’s a one percenter who have found loopholes in loopholes to tax cheat the people. Probably pays less tax than the person who stuffs her into her costumes. Their whole philosophy is Gimme More. And why should we hold it against her till the end of time? She’s probably getting tax deductions for her traffic tickets and marriage certificates. Probably a half-fortune for her clothes. She has more costumes than an elementary school at Halloween. I mean where else would she put all that drek and get paid for it?”

“Are you really serious about this scam?”

“From the bottom of my broken heart.”

 [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues comedy, Before the First Snow, available in hardcover or as an ebook through http://www.greeleyandstone.com or amazon.]

 

 

 

 

Labor Pains: A Fable for Our Times

 

                             by Walter Brasch

 

Once, many years ago, in a land far away between two oceans, with fruited plains, amber waves of grain, and potholes on its highways, there lived a young man named Sam.

Now, Sam was a bright young man who wanted to work and save money so he could go to school and become an electrician. But the only job open in his small community was at the gas station. So, for two years, Sam pumped gas, washed windshields, checked dipsticks and tire pressure, smiled and chatted with all the customers, gave them free drinking glasses when they ordered a fill-up, and was soon known as the best service station attendant in town.

But then the Grand Caliphs of Oil said that Megamania Oil Empire, of which they all had partial ownership, caused them to raise the price of gas.

“We’re paying 39 cents a gallon now,” they cried, “how can you justify tripling our costs?” they demanded.

“That’s business,” said the Chief Grand Caliph flippantly. But, to calm the customer fury, he had a plan. “We will allow you the privilege of pumping your own gas, washing your own windows, checking your car’s dipsticks and tire pressure, and chatting amiably with yourselves,” said the Caliph. “If you do that, we will hold the price to only a buck or two a gallon.”

And the people were happy. All except Sam, of course, who was unemployed.

But, times were good, and Sam went to the local supermarket, which was advertising for a minimum wage checkout clerk. For three years, he worked hard, scanning all groceries and chatting amiably with the customers. And then one day his manager called him into the office.

“Sam,” said the boss, “we’re very pleased with your work. You’re fired.” From corporate headquarters had come a decision by the chain’s chief bean counter that there weren’t enough beans for their executives to go to Europe to search for more beans.

“But,” asked Sam, “Who will scan the groceries?”

“The customers will,” said the boss. “We’ll even have a no-hassle machine that will take their money and maybe even give change.”

“But won’t they object to buying the groceries, scanning them, bagging them, and shoving their money into a faceless machine?”

“Not if we tell them that by doing all the work, the cost will be less,” said the manager.

“But it won’t,” said Sam.

The manager thought a moment, and then brightly pointed out, “We’ll just say that the cost of groceries won’t go up significantly if labor costs were less. Besides, we even programmed Canmella the Circuit-enhanced Clerk to tell customers to have a nice day.”

Now, others may have sworn, cried, or punched out their supervisor, but this is a G-rated fairy tale, and it wouldn’t be right to leave Sam to flounder among the food. By cutting back on luxuries, like food and clothes, Sam saved a few dollars from his unemployment checks, and finally had enough to go to a community college to learn to become an electrician. After graduating at the top of his class, an emaciated and homeless Sam got a job at Acme Industries.

For nine years, he was a great electrician, often making suggestions that led to his company becoming one of the largest electrical supplies manufacturers in the country. And then one day one of the company’s 18 assistant vice-presidents called Sam into a small dingy office, which the company used for such a day. “You’re the best worker we have,” the AVP joyfully told Sam, “but all that repetitive stress has cut your efficiency and increased our medical costs. In the interest of maximizing profits, we have to replace you.”

“But who can do my job?” asked Sam.

“Not who,” said the manager, “but what. We’re bringing in robots. They’re faster and don’t need breaks, vacations, or sick days. Better yet, they don’t have union contracts.”

“So you are firing me,” said Sam.

“Not at all. We had to let a few dozen other workers go so there would be room for the robots, and we won’t be hiring any new workers, but because of your hard work, we’re reassigning you to oil the robots. At least until we design robots that can oil the other robots.”

For three years, Sam oiled, polished, and cleaned up after the robots. Sometimes, he even had to rewire them. And then the deputy assistant senior director of Human Resources called him into her office.

“No one can oil and polish as well as you can,” she said, but the robots are getting very expensive and we still have several hundred workers who are taking lobster and truffles from the mouths of our corporate executives, “so we’re sending all of our work to somewhere in Asia. Or maybe it’s Mexico. Whatever. The workers there will gladly design and assemble our products for less than a tenth what we have to pay our citizens.”

“You mean I’m fired?!” said a rather incredulous Sam.

“Not fired. That’s so pre-NAFTA. You’ve been downsized.”

Downsized?!”

“If you want, we can also say you’ve been outsourced. How about right-sized. That’s a nicer word. Would you prefer to be right-sized?”

By now, Sam was no longer meek. He no longer was willing to accept whatever he was told. “The work will be shoddier,” said Sam. “There will be problems.”

“Of course there will be,” said the lady from HR. “That’s why we hired three Pakistani goat herders to solve customer complaints.”

“Our citizens won’t stand for this,” said a defiant Sam.

“As long as the product is cheaper, our people will gladly go to large non-union stores and buy whatever it is that we tell them to buy.”

And she was right.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and former university professor. His latest book is the social issues mystery novel, Before the First Snow, available at amazon and other book dealers.]

 

 

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker.

“Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period.

“What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.”

“And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?”

“Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.”

Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off. “Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” I asked.

“Not just me,” he said. “Hospital’s laying off most of the staff, making the rest work overtime, and hiring outside contractors. They said it was hard to survive when the profit was down to only 20 or so million a year.”

“I didn’t realize it was that serious,” I said. “You planning to set up private practice to help the poor in Mexico?” I asked admiringly.

“Not a chance! Gonna get rich working for Megabucks!”

“You just said you were laid off.”

“Been laid off in the U.S.,” said Comstock while putting a frozen burrito into the microwave. “Megabucks/Mexico just hired me. There’s cheaper labor down there.”

“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re the cheaper labor.”

“Obviously you don’t know American business,” said Comstock haughtily.

“Megabucks/U.S. closes its auxiliary operations, and then contracts with Mexican companies for a fifth of the cost in the U.S. They do the work, ship it back to the U.S., and Megabucks bills Blue Cross the full rate as if it was done locally.”

“So where do you fit in?” I asked.

“Just as before. Nose jobs. Breast augmentations. Tummy tucks. All the important medical procedures. But this time, I do it in Cancun.”

“To rich Mexicans,” I said disgusted.

“To rich Americans!” said Comstock. “If they want the best care, they’ll take their private jets to Mexico and then deduct the trip as a necessary business expense.”

“And what about the impoverished and middle-class Americans?”

“If they can sneak across the border, they can also get medical care.”

“What about prescriptions?”

“Megabucks contracted with some of the best drug dealers—I mean pharmacists and chemists—in Mexico. Quality is just as good and it’ll only be four or five times production costs. Unlike the U.S. there’s no TV advertising and six-figure MBAs and lawyers that require drugs to be 30 or 40 times production costs.”

“With prices that low, how do you know there won’t be mass rushes by Americans to grab everything they can?”

“Because there’s security! Every hospital and pharmacy has armed guards with the best automatic weapons smuggled through the God-fearing 2nd Amendment patriotic Southern states.”

“Is Megabucks outsourcing all its operations?”

“Keeping the ER. After tummy tucks and butt lifts, that’s the hospital’s ‘cash cow.’”

“So, then, it’ll have to keep some services like X-Ray and the lab,” I said. “Maybe even a doctor or two.”

“Too expensive,” said Comstock. “Megabucks will hire more residents and foreign-educated doctors, and work them 18 hours a day. More work, less time to complain. Residents will do anything to get experience to pass their boards. May even hire a couple of hospitalists. You know, the ones who graduated at the bottom of their class and can’t even get work in a Free Clinic.”

“I suppose they’ll also do the lab work?” I asked.

“Do you know some of those lab techs are making as much as $30,000 a year! Made sense to lay them off, too.”

“So how will the ER know a victim’s blood chemistry, or if there’s internal injuries?”

“Technology,” said Comstock. “They scan the blood here, and send digital X-Rays to Mexico. Mexican lab technicians—you know, the ones that don’t know about unions and will work for only a few bucks a day—will analyze everything, then text the results back to the U.S.”

“This sounds like it’s not only a way to maximize profits, but also a way to avoid dealing with the President’s health care reform program.”

“Obamacare!” spit out Comstock. “Nothing but socialized medicine.”

“Most countries have forms of socialized medicine,” I countered, “and they not only have good health care but affordable prices to their citizens.”

Comstock put his hands to his ears and began chanting, “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.”

“Number 37,” I corrected him. “The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. just below Costa Rico.”

“They’re all Commies,” replied Comstock. “Besides, that study is a decade old.”

“Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund compared the nations of the United Kingdom against the U.S., and the U.S. ranked seventh of the seven.”

“Yeah, like Americans will go to Canada? It’s covered by snow and run by a queen who can’t even speak English.”

“You and Megabucks are crazy!”

“Possibly,” said Comstock, “but outsourcing is the American way. By the way, do you put ketchup or mustard on a burrito?”

[Dr. Walter Brasch isn’t licensed to practice medicine, but he goes to some excellent physicians who are—and they’re just as frustrated with the costs, insurance companies and myriad forms as anyone else. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery novel, Before the First Snow]

 

 

The Personhood of a Mississippi Zygote

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

“O.K., class, we have a few minutes at the end of today’s lecture about how the godless Communists created evolution to try to destroy the decent loyal patriotic capitalist society of America. Any questions? Yes, Billy Bob.”

“Mr. Jim Bob, I heard about this thing called a person. What is that?”

“Good question. With all the distortions by the lyin’ liberal left-wing, it can get confusing. But, it’s really simple. A person is an egg that has just been fertilized by a sperm. We call this young person a Zygote.”

“Does it have to be a goat? Can it be anything else?”

“Well, Susie Bob, if you nurture it, that fertilized egg can grow up to be anything it wants to be, because this is the United States of America. And no one has the right to tell us white folks what to do.”

“Are there advantages of being a single-celled person?”

“Definitely. Their parents don’t have to wait until they emerge from the birth canal to claim them as an IRS deduction. Also, with more persons in Mississippi, we can get more single-cell congresspersons to represent us.”

“Then why did our parents vote against the constitutional amendment?”

“It was a close defeat. While those abortion activists voted against the measure, most of the opposition was because us conservatives were worried that the way the proposed amendment was written would allow them liberal types to go to Washington and overturn our states’ rights.”

“You mean Congress can do that?”

“No, Junie Bob, the Supreme Court can do that. It was a craps roll. You see, there are four decent Americans on the Supreme Court. And there are four who are women, or Jews, or both. And they were likely to say something stupid, like the state isn’t allowed to use religious dogma to justify new laws. That would mean there would be a 4–4 tie. We couldn’t trust the other judge to do what’s right, because he changes what side he’s on all the time. Even our illustrious governor said he had doubts about how broad that amendment was, and what the courts would do.”

“But he voted for it anyway.”

“He’s a politician, Kenny Bob. That’s what they do. Next question.”

“My mommy says that abortion and wearing condoms is murder, and to protect persons she plans to run down baby-killer doctors when she sees them on the streets.”

“Your mommy is looking out for the best interests of the fertilized egg. In that case, the courts will rule that what your mother does is justified homicide. Just like them lynchings your pappies and grandpappies might have done for fun on some hot weekend. It sent a message that we don’t tolerate uppity colored people doing dumb things like voting or demanding constitutional rights. Those were meant only for the white people.”

“Is slavery still legal?

“No, Bertie Bob, Mississippi outlawed it in 1995 when we ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”

“Why did it take so long?”

“Well, Martha Bob, you have to understand that decent conservatives just don’t go rushing into making important decisions. It takes time to figure out all the issues and their implications. Thirteen decades seemed about the right time.”

“I’m still confused Mr. Jim Bob. My pappy says that we got to keep the gummint out of our lives, like not allowing revenooers on our property. Don’t all of them laws intrude on our rights?”

“Sometimes, you have to intrude for the good of society. That’s why we have laws about who you can and can’t marry?”

“You mean, me and—?”

“Yes, Jenny Bob, I was planning to talk to you about you and your brother. Marriage has to be between a man and a woman who aren’t siblings.”

“So, it’s OK for me and Calvin Bob to marry?

“Since you’re first cousins that’s OK, just as long as marriage is between a man and a woman, as God intended.”

“Is that why we don’t like the coloreds and the Asians to marry us? I heard that half the state doesn’t want intermarriages and the rest are the colored people.”

“What people don’t understand, Beauford Bob, is that we made those laws to help the colored people. Before the War Between the States—Praise Jeff Davis and Jesus, Hallelujah!—we allowed white slave owners to have sex with anyone they wanted, as long as they were women. But, then we realized that wasn’t fair to the African people, because it diluted their purity. So, to protect the darkies, we didn’t have any choice but to forbid whites from marrying anyone with even one-eighth dark blood.”

“I heard about this thing called sodomy, which them homosexual and lesbian ladies practice. That’s just yucky.”

“Indeed it is. That’s why sodomy is a felony, and homosexuals can get 10 years in prison, where they can practice deviant. After that, they have to register as sex offenders. That’s another reason why the government is allowed into our bedrooms, so they can protect respectable voyeurs from having to participate in such immoral activity. Time for just one more question. Yes, Horatio Bob.”

“Mr. Jim Bob, how did you become so wise?”

“I’m a graduate of the Mississippi school system.”

 

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the mystery/thriller, Before the First Snow, set in rural Pennsylvania. The book is available through www.greeleyandstone.com, amazon.com, and other bookstores.]

 

 

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