Seizing Control of America's Financial Freefall

There are many ways the ggovernment can help Americans in the Recession. A $700 billion bailout isn't one of them. Un this provocative article, Rosemary and Wal;ter Brasch give one possibility that will work.

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Burning the First Amendment: Sarah Palin and the Bookburners

Sarah Palin may not have personally burned any books, but she didn't speak out against those who have. Her muted voice is a codnemntation of a life that has missed a part of the Constitution.

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No Wolf Whistles for Sarah Palin's Compassion

Sarah Palin claims to be pro-life. In this column, Walter Brasch shows that she isn't what she says she is.

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No News Is Bad News: TV and the Political Conventions

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

    During the time that Bill Clinton was rocking the Democratic convention, ABC, CBS, and Fox were showing re-runs, NBC was showing the second hour of "America's Got Talent," and the CW was showing the second season finale of "Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious."

    Less than two decades ago, the networks gave the conventions gavel-to-gavel coverage. This year, the networks are giving only four hours prime time coverage to each convention.

    The first televised conventions were in Philadelphia in 1948. At the time, only about 170,000 of the nation's 42.2 million households had televisions. The networks, desperate to fill their government-issued airwaves, begged the nation to believe that television was at the cutting edge of the future. TV needed politicians; politicians weren't so sure they needed TV. By 1960, more than 46 million of the nation's 58 million households had at least one TV set, and most stations were broadcasting at least 16 hours a day. If anyone doubted the potential and power of television, it was quashed that year during the televised Nixon-Kennedy debates which gave the Massachusetts senator a lead he never lost. Eight years later, the cameras recorded the Chicago riots, giving credibility to the antiwar movement and virtually destroying the Democrats' chance to defeat Richard Nixon, even though the liberal Hubert Humphrey deplored the police response and Mayor Richard Daley's iron fist tactics.

    Once, the parties' nominees for president were usually determined at the convention itself, not months earlier in the media-enhanced primary campaigns. On the floor of the convention, we at home, watching on 17-inch TV sets, looked forward to the roll call, as each state's chairman stood up, usually dressed in something red-white-and outrageous, and declared for all America to hear, something to the effect: "Mr. Chairman, the great and glorious state of  Globule Gulch, home of more than 50 hotdog stands per square mile and the most beautiful women on earth, the place where George Washington once slept and where cows peacefully graze on our healthy grass, proudly casts it 85 votes for its favorite son, Governor Lushpuppy Billings."

    By the late 1980s, TV demanded more and more, and the party leaders began to stage prime time shows to play to TV's prime-time necessities.

    Gone are the spontaneous floor events where delegates march, laugh, maybe argue with each other, and actually participate in helping shape the direction of their party, even when the nominee was an incumbent president. Does anyone hear about the party's platform and its planks now? Does anyone even care? The signs on the convention floor are cookie-cutter conformity. The delegates are nothing more than props. Their role is to go to the myriad lobbyist-prepared parties, have fun, and act as extras for the show unfolding before them, and then go home and rally the grassroots support.

    Last week, Barack Obama and his campaign staff controlled every aspect of the convention, including who would be the speakers, what and how they would say it, when each would appear and for how long. Only President Clinton's speech wasn't vetted. It won't be any different this week with the Republicans, but the Republicans may have to check President Bush's speech ahead of time, 'lest it become more comedic than planned.

    It was the television media that created the atmosphere that demanded "interesting visuals" and the seven-second sound bite; and now the media are upset that politicians, in their infomercial packaged conventions that play to the camera, have nothing to say. The networks, which created the monster, are crying there isn't any news--and they cut away from what is interesting, such as the speech by President Clinton--and turn the cameras onto themselves. The pontificating pundits with their semi-erudite commentaries and all-knowing blather that bores viewers more than any politician's 20-minute speech, now dominate the prime time coverage and pretend what they're saying actually matters. It's hard to believe that 16,000 members of the media credentialed to cover each convention couldn't find any news.

    But, there is news. There are stories. The networks, sitting on their plush assets, have failed to dig out these stories to better help Americans understand the issues that affect them. And so the celebrity-driven media spent more time percolating the story of the division between the Hillary and Obama forces than trying to help Americans better understand the issues. If the mainstream media were to leave their color-coordinated broadcast booths and hospitality suites, as the alternative media have done, and dig beneath the puffery and pageantry, they may find the greater social and political issues that need to be reported, as well as the delightful "slice of life" stories that help us better understand our own lives.

    The first TV conventions were the best of the emerging Reality TV programming before the medium sunk into who would eat what disgusting insect. America needs both the conventions and the media to be more real.

[Walter Brasch's latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]

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Americans Need to Tear Down THIS WAll

by Walter Brasch

           The "star" of the Olympics may not be multiple medalists but the Great Wall of China. Every TV network covering the Olympics took the world to see the Wall. It seemed as if almost every newspaper and magazine reporter also visited the Great Wall.

           But, the Great Wall, which was built and rebuilt many times over its 22 century history, eventually was a failure. Although formidable, and one of the world's greatest engineering feats, the wall by the 16th century could no longer protect China from neighboring armies.

           The Maginot Line, which France thought could protect it from Germany and Italy in the decade leading up to World War II, was largely a failure.

           The Berlin Wall, at first barbed wire and then concrete, was built not to keep others out but East Germans in. But, there were more than 5,000 escapes during its 28 year history before the wall finally came down in 1989.

           As we now know, poorly-constructed levees in New Orleans didn't keep the flood waters of Katrina from destroying the city.

           And now the U.S. is building its own wall. The Bush Administration is putting up about 700 miles of fencing and other barriers along the U.S./Mexico border by the end of the year. The cost just to build that barrier is about $2-$3 million per mile. But, in certain places, the cost far exceeds that. This week, the government began excavating an area near San Diego. When the three and one-half mile fence is finished, the cost will be about $57 million. That's about $16 million a mile.

           Most illegal immigrants pose no problems. They don't receive American benefits, contrary to a lot of Internet gossip. Most try to avoid getting into trouble, since their purpose of being in America isn't to get noticed by the police. And, for those who think putting up a wall will keep terrorists out of the country, reflect upon this: The 9/11 hijackers had American-issued visas to be in the U.S.

     Like the great Wall, the Maginot Line, the Berlin Wall, and the levees, this wall will also fail, as persons desperate to enter the U.S. will find many other ways to cross the border. But, Americans will have spent more than $2 billion for that lesson.

[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores. You may contact him at brasch@bloomu.edu, or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

 

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Downsizing Newspapers and Pretending to Improve Quality

Newspaper owners have already "maximized profits" by low salaries and minimal benefits, giving veteran reporters "involuntary terminations," significantly reduced employee education programs, cut the number of pages, reduced the page size, and increased the use of material provided by syndicates rather than local news staff. And now they wonder why no one wants to read their newspapers.

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'Medaling' With Free Speech at the Olympics

President Bush is a liberal. Yes, he sounded just like as liberal. Maybe he is a closet liberal. Read Walter Brasch's interesting commentary to find out the truth.

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Mining Racism and Murder in a Pennsylvania Coal Town

by Walter Brasch

On a street in Shenandoah, Pa., deep in the heart of the anthracite coal region, six White teens took their racial hatred to a higher level. They confronted 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, an undocumented worker, and beat him to death.

At first the police chief, the mayor, and borough manager refused to believe racism was involved. Although there was already racial and ethnic tension in the 5,000 population town, the town's political leaders were united in one belief--it was just another street fight gone bad. "I have reason to know the kids who were involved, the families who were involved, and I've never known them to harbor this type of feeling," said the borough manager.

It took police almost two weeks, even with several witnesses, to finally arrest four of the teens. The district attorney charged two of the teens with homicide, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation, and two others with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Unindicted co-conspirators are millions of Americans and the far-right mass media.

It's common for people in a nation that is in a Recession to complain. They're frustrated with their lives, with bad working conditions, dead end jobs, and low incomes. They're frustrated by skyrocketing prices, obscene corporate profits, and do-nothing legislators. The problem isn't "us," they believe, but "them." Others. Outsiders who "invaded" America.

A century ago in the coal region, good ole boy Americans complained about the Irish and Poles who took "our" jobs in the mines. For decades, Whites kept Blacks out of almost all but the most menial jobs, and then lynched those who they found to be too "uppity." During the 1920s and 1930s, the masses of Germans, trying to rationalize their own economic distress, decided the problem was the Jews--and  Americans went along with that ethnic racism. We blame Asians. Africans. Muslims. Anyone who's different.

In today's America, it's the "Illegals," the code-name for undocumented Mexicans. Of course, undocumented Swedes or Canadians or anyone with White skin pass under the radar. Anyone with dark skin doesn't.
However, politicians and pundits together yell that "illegal" means just that. "What's not to understand about `illegal'," they screech. They claim they aren't after any one race or people. Just get rid of illegals. You know, the ones who take "our" jobs. Take "our" welfare. Take "our" education. Take "our" health care. For free! And, while they're taking, say the forces of righteousness and purity, these illegals become criminals. Some do. But most don't.

You can't reason with people in their own crises. You can't tell them that our prisons are filled not with undocumented workers but with American citizens. You can't explain that most undocumented workers don't want hand-outs because they don't want to be known to the authorities. Volumes of data won't convince some of the masses that undocumented workers, the illegals, often live in near-poverty and don't get welfare. They don't even go to the ER when necessary, and so their illness or injury "runs its course" while destroying other body systems because these undocumented workers, already exploited by American business, are afraid of being identified and deported.

In our schools, hatred festers and breeds. Jokes about race, ethnicity, religion, women, gays, and anyone not "us" are told and retold by students--and by teachers and principals who should know better.

Two decades ago, the hatreds would have been somewhat isolated, confined to the corner saloon or social club. But now, self-aggrandizing politicians and media talk show hosts and pundits, who erroneously believe they are populists, spew hate-filled torrents of bigotry and fear-mongering.

I don't know if the six teens who murdered Luis Ramirez listen to talk radio, watch Fox News, or read web blogs and anonymous call-ins and letters to the local newspaper. They don't have to. Their community does.

[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores.]

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It's Still the Economy, Stupid

by Walter Brasch

    George W. Bush looked into the TV camera, Tuesday morning [July 15] and tried to assuage the fears of about 300 million Americans who believed they were in the middle of a Recession.

    "The economy is growing," said the President. "Productivity is high," he told us. "Trade's up. People are working," he said. In the Bush White House, the "R Word" is just a myth. Of course, the man who once wanted to be known as the Compassionate Conservative did say he knew "It's been a difficult time for many American families."

    "Difficult" doesn't even begin to describe what has happened to Americans the past seven years.

    Within hours of the President's speech, a less optimistic Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, told the Senate Banking Committee that inflation is high and "seems likely to move temporarily higher in the near term." In sworn testimony, he told the senators that "Many financial markets and institutions remain under considerable stress, in part because of the outlook for the economy and thus for credit quality, remains uncertain." Market Watch reports that over the past year, "inflation at the wholesale level gained 9.2%-- the largest year-over-year gain since June 1981."

    On the day that the President assuaged and the Federal Reserve chairman testified, General Motors announced it would freeze job hirings in several areas, lay off salaried workers, suspend shareholder dividends, and borrow up to $3 billion. Six weeks earlier, GM announced it was closing four plants; on the day the President spoke, GM announced four more plant closings. The nation's largest corporation, which saw a 16 percent sales decline in the first half of the year, announced that it was giving retired workers a slight pension increase but was cutting health care benefits.

    About 8.5 million Americans actively seeking work are unemployed, an increase of about 21.4 percent over one year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is up from 4.6 percent a year ago. More important, about 1.5 million of the 8.5 million unemployed have been unemployed at least six months, a 37 percent increase over the past year, according to the BLS. Not included in the numbers are the "1.6 million people who are `marginally attached' to the workforce, who had looked for work in the previous 12 months, but not in the last month," according to Andre Damon of Global Research. Damon also reports that the BLS data does not include about 420,000 "`discouraged workers', who had given up looking for work because they think that there is no work available."

    Work is available in dozens of other countries, where American companies seeking to "maximize the bottom line" have been outsourcing jobs for years. About 14 million American jobs are going to be outsourced in the next four years, according to a report issued by the University of California at Berkeley. Short-sighted and greedy, these CEOs and their boards believe child labor and wages that can dip below $1 an hour is just another acceptable business practice. The "Made in America" label is now becoming as extinct as corporate morality.

    Americans who have been using credit cards to survive the Recession and have now reached their credit limit can raise their limit or sometimes reduce their payments or rate. All they have to do is call a credit card agency's toll-free number, which is answered by someone at a call center in India. Those same call centers are also telemarketing Americans to get into even more debt by getting credit cards.

    In a true "global economy," as many now euphemistically refer to outsourcing, persons having trouble with their computers assembled from parts made in Mexico and several Asian countries can now call technicians in India for assistance.

    Book and magazine publishers have been outsourcing art, design, editing, and printing overseas. Even newspapers have figured out how to cut even more costs while driving up profits. The Orange County (Calif.) Register, which laid off 90 persons in 2007, outsourced copyediting and page design to journalists in India. The Modesto (Calif.) Bee and Sacramento Bee have outsourced most of their advertising design departments to India.

    For Americans who have jobs, getting to them is more expensive. It makes no difference if the worker drives or takes public transportation, the rising cost of oil has pushed Americans into a crisis. Gas prices rose more than 25 percent in the past year, to more than $4 by July 1; diesel prices are up more than 30 percent to more than $5. The higher fuel costs affect almost every service and industry from home heating to food production and road repair.

    Flushed with an inflated housing boom, banks and mortgage companies had begun issuing mortgages, usually with excessive fees and high interest rates, to just about anyone with a pulse. The weaker the credit rating, the higher the fees and interest. Even if the economy was healthy, there would have been several hundred thousand defaults. By the end of 2007, about 2.5 million mortgages were in default, almost 40 percent higher than one year earlier. Attached to the problem is that many new homeowners bought houses at inflated prices, assured by lending companies that housing prices would continue to rise, are making monthly payments that put them at financial risk, and are now watching the value of their houses decline.

    Foreclosures and the Recession have driven down housing prices throughout the country. In 20 major American cities, house prices declined about 15 percent, according to the Case-Shiller index of housing prices. Prices declined by 25 percent in Las Vegas, Miami, and Phoenix, according to Case-Shiller. In California, the median price of houses declined by 35 percent over last year, according to the California Association of Realtors.

    Monday morning, the day before the President's speech, hundreds of Americans stood in line at the 33 Southern California branches of IndyMac Bank, now renamed Indymac Federal Bank, to withdraw what they hoped was all of their money. Over 11 days, customers had withdrawn about $1.3 billion, amid rumors that the bank was failing. The previous Friday, federal regulators seized the bank, once one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders. Last year, the bank lost $615 million; the books bled red another $184 million the first three months of this year. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.(FDIC) guarantees each individual account to $100,000, joint accounts to $200,000, and retirement accounts to $250,000. Those with less knew they would get all of their money. For those with more, some were just hoping to recover 50 cents on the dollar. The cost to the FDIC is expected to be $4-8 billion. IndyMac was the fifth bank to fail in the previous six months.

    Also failing were the Federal National Mortgage Association (better known as Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (better known as Freddie Mac). The quasi-governmental agencies either own the loans or guarantee loans for almost half of the nation's $11 trillion in mortgages. But, with more homeowners buying houses they couldn't afford and now being subjected to rising costs in almost every area, combined with higher unemployment, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac faced collapse, their stock value freefalling about 90 percent in the past year. To keep the two agencies from failing, which would undoubtedly throw the nation into a deeper Recession that could dive into a Depression, the Federal Reserve announced it would issue low-cost loans of up to $15 billion.

    While 15 billion taxpayer dollars may seem significant, it is only about 9 percent of the $168 billion Congress appropriated for the war this year. President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and their advisors were vigorous in demanding the U.S. go to war in Iraq and vigorous in demanding massive funding for that war, which may now cost more than $1 trillion.

    President Bush did acknowledge that the economy wasn't "as good as we'd like, and to the extent that we'll find weaknesses, we'll move." As domestic problems piled up the past few years, much caused by a diversion of the budget and assets to Iraq, it seemed that the Bush-Cheney Administration moved on domestic policies at the speed of a glacier.

    Not receiving much help are the 47 million Americans who don't have medical insurance, mostly because they can't afford the premiums, and the 3.5 million homeless, most of whom once had homes and jobs but are now living in their cars or makeshift shelters. About one-fourth of the homeless are veterans; slightly more than one-third of the homeless are children.

    In 1992, Bill Clinton and Al Gore campaigned against President George H.W. Bush on the slogan, "It's the economy, Stupid." The politics of that election came down to asking Americans if they were better off under that President Bush after four years than they were when his presidency began. Four presidential terms later, after eight years of a rising economy under President Clinton, it's the economy--not the war, the attack upon civil liberties, the destruction of the environment, or any of a few dozen other destructive policies--that may be what finally scuttles this Bush's legacy.

    [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning syndicated columnist, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and president of the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.]

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Is Barack Obama Patriotic? Is Any Politician?


by Walter Brasch

    Barack Obama spent the Fourth of July in Montana.  A Red State. A state that few think he can win. A state that gave huge margins to George Bush the past two elections.

    But here he was. On Independence Day. Marching in a parade. Hosting a picnic for hundreds. Trying to rally support for his Presidential run. Trying to show that he can appeal to voters of every political, social, and economic demographic. His web site tells us he "shook hands, kissed babies, signed autographs and posed for pictures." Patriotism just oozed out of his every pore.

    Barack Obama is now as patriotic as the electorate wants him to be. During most of the primaries, he didn't wear a flag pin on his lapel. He didn't think wearing pins makes one patriotic, or not wearing one makes someone unpatriotic. But, the right-wing lambasted him for that. Now he wears a flag pin.

    And every speech he makes, he is now flanked by several American flags. Just in case anyone thinks he isn't patriotic. Or is a foreigner. Or worse, a Muslim.

    Barack Obama has changed in other ways. Once he said he would pull the U.S. out of Iraq. End that war. Now, he's calling for a phased withdrawal.

    Once, he opposed innumerable pieces of legislation sent to the Senate by the Bush-Cheney Administration--and which a Republican Congress rubber stamped. Now, as the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, he voted a bill that granted immunity to telephone companies that violated both established federal law and the 4th Amendment to the Constitution when they voluntarily gave personal data about subscribers to the government.

    Once, he said he would accept government restrictions and decline the excessive private contributions that have muddied politics. Now, with a campaign war chest at least two or three times greater than John McCain's, he changed his mind and is taking whatever he can get--and doesn't have to report who gave what.

    Barack Obama isn't the only politician to forsake some of his principles for the greater principle--do whatever it takes to get elected. Hillary Clinton moved more to the center when she began to think she could be the next president, and even voted for the renewal of the unconstitutional PATRIOT Act. John McCain, by any standards a conservative, began playing even more to the right-wing when the evangelical Christians challenged some of his beliefs and voting record. Every politician, even the most maverick ones, say they need to get elected to do whatever it is they want to do. But, once in office they continue to do whatever is necessary to stay in office and get re-elected.

    Barack Obama, like every other politician, needs to reflect upon the principles of what the Founding Fathers wanted. And maybe every politician should decide that on this Independence Day weekend, it is time to declare that once and forever they will follow their convictions, their beliefs, and declare themselves to be independent, now and forever, not only of special interests, but also of pandering for votes.

    [Walter Brasch has covered politics and presidential campaigns more than 40 years. He is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores.]

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