More Jokes From the Penn State Trustees

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Whenever I need a couple of laughs, I turn to the bumbling self-aggrandizing antics of the Republican wing of Congress.

However, in the past few months, the Penn State Board of Trustees has done the near-impossible; they have provided more laughs than the menagerie in the Capitol.

To call either the Legislators or the Trustees “clowns” would demean the hard work of the circus performers who spend significant time to develop and execute comedy routines. There is no evidence the Trustees even have a thought process before they make outrageous and just plain silly statements.

The latest Trustee joke is that the reason they really fired Joe Paterno abruptly on Nov. 9, 2011, is because of “a failure of leadership.” The Board released what it called a “report,” but which is nothing but a press release of rehashed statements. This “report” claims the Trustees fired Paterno after they read the Grand Jury report that outlined a series of allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, whose name is now known among more Americans than anyone who ever won a Nobel Prize.

Marianne Alexander, one of the trustees, told the media the Board’s intention “was to clarify, because everyone’s been asking for clarification.” This, of course, is the same Board of Trustees that, mouthing the prattling of the ethically-challenged Gov. Tom Corbett, had condemned Paterno for being “morally corrupt,” or “not doing enough,” or whatever phrase they could quickly find in a Thesaurus of Blame.

Even children barely able to read a newspaper know the basics of the issue. A graduate assistant had seen or heard (it’s still not completely clear) Jerry Sandusky, who was no longer employed by Penn State but who used the university fields and showers, possibly molested a child. The assistant told his supervisor, Joe Paterno. The legendary coach whose ethics and morals were never questioned in six decades as a coach and member of the faculty, followed university policy and procedure and told his superiors, one of whom oversaw the university police force. (Sandusky, of course, was later convicted on 45 counts that should keep him in prison for life.)

Some claim that Paterno was “morally wrong” not to “do more” and use his power at Penn State to have Sandusky immediately arrested. These Monday Morning Know-Nothings fail to understand that to “do more” would have been nothing less than interfering with a police investigation.

Corbett, attorney general at the time, could have conducted a thorough investigation, but allowed the latest accusations to simmer for more than two years while he campaigned for the governorship and take more than $200,000 in campaign funds from current and former board members of Sandusky’s Second Mile charity; he only stopped a $3 million grant to Second Mile after Centre County, the conduit for the funds, refused to continue to be a part of the funding.

The Trustees, clueless as most college trustees are, could have learned about the allegations and taken action to protect the university and children. They did not do so. They did not do so even after a Grand Jury was convened and reported about in the local newspaper. They apparently didn’t even have a crisis communications plan should anything happen about anything.

 

And so, when the festering sore of university ineptness became infected, they tried covering it up with band-aids. And then everything blew open, catching the Trustees by surprise—or at least that’s what they seemed to want us to believe.

In quick order, they continued to violate the state’s Sunshine Law—they never really obeyed it to begin with—had secret meetings, and violated their own policies and state requirements on personnel actions. When all the hand-wringing was completed, they decided the best way to deal with a child predator was to fire the best-known football coach in America—who was never under any suspicion of having committed any crime—and to do it during the middle of a football season after Paterno announced his retirement.

While the media, always hungry for salacious news content, and a few hundred thousand sanctimonious pretend-fans were yelling, “Joe Must Go!” millions supported Paterno. This, of course, caused more problems for the Board That Couldn’t Think Straight.

As individuals and blogs began condemning the Board for its actions—and especially for what it didn’t do—the Board (composed primarily of high-level business executives, farmers, and assorted professionals who should have known better) continued to come up with lame and mostly laughable excuses of why it did what it did. Several trustees even stupidly told the media that people should withhold judgment on the Board’s actions until all the evidence was available. The irony was lost on the Board but not upon millions who were rightfully indignant about why the Trustees could take abrupt and unexplained action against Paterno, but wanted everyone else to withhold judgment about its own reasons.

In an effort to placate the alumni and several million Americans still outraged at the Board’s incompetence, the Board (or whoever writes the Board’s public statements) issued its “report,” beginning with a trickle of crocodile tears about sharing “the grief of the entire Penn State family at the passing of Coach Paterno,” and then praising both his and former President Graham Spanier’s “lasting contributions.” The Board declared it “has always been” its intention to “to fulfill [Paterno’s] employment contract and to name him head coach emeritus.” Considering that the Trustees had fired Paterno illegally, they had no choice but to honor the contract. The title of “head coach emeritus” is window dressing. A more fitting title, although it would never assuage the pain the Board caused Joe Paterno and his family, would have been to name him “professor emeritus,” which does carry privileges and would recognize that Paterno, a member of the faculty, was far more than a coach. Almost as an after-thought, the Trustees in the latest statement casually tossed a one-liner that “other options” to honor Paterno “are also under consideration.”

Trustee Marianne Alexander said the latest “report” was made because “We’re trying to be responsible to our constituents.”

If the Board of Trustees really wants “to be responsible,” it would stop violating the state’s Sunshine Law, would agree to be included in the state’s Right-to-Know Law, would stop issuing silly statements to justify their own incompetence, reverse the firing of Joe Paterno (and possibly that of Dr. Spanier), and then resign.

[Walter Brasch was recently named the Pennsylvania Press Club’s Communicator of Achievement, a lifetime honor for excellence in journalism and community service; it was the first time in 10 years the Club issued the CoA honor. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the 1960s counterculture as being relevant to today’s American culture.]

 

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

 Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

 Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

 

 

 

Splitting Hairs in a Multi-Cultural School

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Sasha Rivera is a 15-year-old sophomore at the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School (MACS) in Philadelphia.

She’s an honors student who never got into trouble at school, and volunteers at Motivos, a national magazine for Hispanic youth.

She also has blue bangs in her dark brown hair. For that reason, she isn’t attending class.

Sasha and her principal, James Higgins, agree that Sasha came to school on Thursday, May 24, and had blue in her hair.

“In the hallway, he turned to me and said my hair color has to go,” says Sasha. She says that Higgins told her that unnatural hair color is against school rules. “He said it was in the [student] handbook,” she says.

MACS has a uniform policy, mandating specific clothes students must wear to class, what kind of jewelry and makeup, and even the only two colors of nail polish allowed. The only statement about hair is that it “should be neatly groomed.” However, there is an ambiguous sentence, “Any appearance deemed by the school staff to be inappropriate in an educational setting is not allowed.” That sentence deliberately leads to arbitrary, discretionary, and capricious interpretation that can pose legal challenges. “The whim of an administrator on one particular day does not constitute a rule or regulation,” Jenée Chizick, Motivos publisher, wrote in Sasha’s defense to the chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Higgins says that students can only have “natural hair color.” He has no objections if students wish to dye their hair honey blonde or raven, since he considers those to be natural hair colors. Apparently, highlights and lowlights in female hair are also acceptable. By that logic, there can’t be any objection to teens having white or gray hair, since they are “natural” colors. But, blue or green streaks, highlights, and bangs are not acceptable.

Higgins says he made the decision to exclude Sasha from classes the first day he noticed she had “unnatural” hair color.

However, Sasha has a different story. In her freshman year, she says she had streaks of orange, green, blue, and even blonde in her hair. “I was just experimenting,” she says. For several months in her sophomore year, she had semi-permanent green streaks, but she says no one confronted her. About a week before she was told to get rid of the color or not attend class, she had the blue highlights on her bangs.

“Every day I come to school I go in the front door,” says Sasha, “and he’s always there to greet us and check our uniforms.” Even if he missed all those days, he might have seen her, with green bangs on the cover of Motivos. Sasha had proudly brought the magazine to school to share with her teachers and guidance counselor. The photograph was taken March 22, so it had been two months that the principal and the teachers either didn’t notice or care about the color of her hair. Her FaceBook picture shows her with the blue color. She doesn’t know why her principal picked that one particular day to tell her she could not attend class because of her hair color.

Sasha was selected to participate as a Youth Media Ambassador to Colombia, with Motivos for 12 days in late June. She didn’t have trouble getting a passport, complete with a picture of her and her blue-streaked hair. Apparently, her hair color posed no threat to the American image abroad.

Higgins claims he told Sasha she was not dismissed from school. “She can come back any time she has natural hair,” he says. He says he even told her that teachers would give her packets of homework, and she could work in the school office and she could take finals there. But she couldn’t attend class. Sasha and her father, Jaime, wonder why having blue color bangs is somehow acceptable if the student can sit in an office, with students, staff, and faculty walking in all the time, but not acceptable for class.

Jaime Rivera, who supports his daughter and vigorously protested the decision, says he told the administration, ‘You’re denying her an education.” He says he tries “to show my daughter what is right and what its wrong, and to stand up for herself.”

Sasha says other students never complained or made fun of her, nor has her grades slipped because of her appearance. But, Higgins and a strict school policy places appearance as a primary condition in education.

“We are a very strict school, and decorum is very important,” he says. He emphasizes that clothes and appearance are important for success. He says the school, which sends almost every one of its graduates to college, must prepare the students for college-level work. But, when told that college students often have hair colors and styles that he may not think “natural,” he changes first to emphasize the quality of the academic program and then to emphasize that students need to get jobs—and “unnatural” hair color “is not appropriate for job interviews.”

Apparently, under his and the school board’s belief, Marilyn Monroe, Pink, and several hundred thousand white-haired ladies with light blue washes are unemployable. Also unemployable, in this administrator’s thinking, could be Marines who wear their hair “high and tight.” Students who wish to emulate Albert Einstein, Kenny G., Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Steve Jobs would be told those hair styles are not appropriate, certainly not the kind that some corporate executive and staff at MACS would wear.

Because MACS, a charter school, receives significant public funds it falls within Constitutional jurisdiction on freedom of expression issues. Most student rights issues date to 1969 in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Tinker v. Des Moines case, which decided that students and faculty do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, notes that courts often rule “Speech and dress is a communicative right to transmit that message” as long as it isn’t disruptive. Higgins acknowledges Sasha’s appearance wasn’t disruptive to the educational process.

In the absence of a specific school policy and the disruption of the normal school day, “There is no basis for the administration’s decision,” says Dr. Robert E. Gates, chair of the Department of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Bloomsburg University.

“There’s strong legal support for the student who wants to color her hair, since in most places the courts place the burden on the public school official who wants to claim the speech/symbolic expression would disrupt the school,” says Dr. Tom Eveslage, professor of journalism at Temple University, and a specialist in First Amendment law.

About half of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals “are receptive to students’ claims of free-expression rights concerning their hair,” according to the First Amendment Center. The other half, including the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, have not been as receptive. Nevertheless, according to the First Amendment Center, “Generally, courts that have found a constitutional issue have ruled . . . that a student’s choice of hair color and style represents either a First Amendment free-expression issue or a 14th Amendment liberty or equal protection issue.”

Adam Goldstein notes that schools could regulate hair color and appearance if “people don’t understand the message.” If Sasha Rivera had a T-shirt with a message that declared blue highlights is a protest against an illogical dress code, “that would be protected speech,” says Goldstein. If she handed out flyers to protest the policies of the school, “that would also be protected” by all courts, he says.

Goldstein suggests that the principal’s demand for “natural” hair color “is monumentally dishonest in that [he believes] students somehow can’t function within presence of someone who has blue in her hair.” The school board and its administrators, says Goldstein, “should be asking, ‘Does this rule make any sense?’ and ‘What is the best way to learn?’ not ‘what is the best way to appear?’”

A letter from Frank L. Mannino, dean of students, on June 4 advised Jaime Rivera that Sasha was subject to administrative failure. Because of previous unexcused absences—some to deal with her mother’s extended illness, the others because of not being allowed in class—Sasha had exceeded the 25 absences the school allows and, thus, according to Mannino, results in “failure to accumulate our minimum credit hours in the classroom.”

MACS, defending its hair color policy and “decorum” issues, suggested she could take finals under special circumstances. However, Sasha now says she doesn’t wish to return to MACS, is willing to accept a school-imposed failure, and would take her entire sophomore year over again at another school, one that supports diversity in all of its forms.

Among the principles the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School claims to have are “Celebrating and embracing diversity in cultures and individuals  . . .” and “Viewing each student as an individual while educating and mentoring the whole child . . . ”

Apparently, those principles apply only if the students agree with what the school administration believes a student should look like.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. For 31 years, he was professor of mass communications and says he didn’t think student free expression in hair color or appearance detracted from their education. He says he did advise students going into establishment journalism they might wish to consider the modes of the profession, but also advised them that there were many jobs in mass communications and other industries where intelligence, a strong work ethic, and enthusiasm were more important than conforming to a strict dress code. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel whose heroine wears “funky green-and-white high-top checkered sneaks with rainbow-colored laces.”]

 

 

The Snipers of Jersey Shore

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

Garder54 calls Kevin June “a real scum.”

LadyDawg4 calls him a “sleazeball.”

Proud2bMom calls him a “liar and a thief.”

Kevin June is the reluctant leader for the 37 families of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Jersey Shore, Pa., who were evicted from their homes, most of which they owned and paid a monthly lot fee. Some of the residents lived there for more than three decades. Most of the residents are elderly, disabled, or living slightly above the poverty line. Several are employed; all are struggling to survive in a bad economy.

In late February, Aqua–PVR, a joint operation of Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners, bought the 12-acre trailer park for $550,000. It plans to build a pumping station to withdraw up to three million gallons of water a day from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and send that water through a newly-constructed pipeline system to natural gas companies that use fracking. The controversial practice involves forcing as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens deep into the earth to withdraw natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, primarily in Pennsylvania and parts of four surrounding states, is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas.  Health and environmental pollution problems are widespread near the wells.

Aqua–PVR had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it a month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation incentive in its eviction. However, the cost to move each trailer is between $6,000 and $11,000 plus any sheds and ramps.

Most regional trailer parks are either at capacity or won’t accept the older trailers. Getting an apartment is also difficult. Because of the natural gas boom, with thousands of out-of-state workers moving into the area, there are few vacancies, and rents have doubled and tripled. Senior citizen housing isn’t a viable option—waiting lists are as long as a year or two in most areas.

Some have been forced to sell or throw out many of their possessions and move into studio apartments or rooms with relatives. Seven families remain at the trailer park.

But the harpies who have written several hundred posts that appear on the online site of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette have been relentless in their condemnation of the residents. Hiding behind anonymous screen names, the writers, who sound like drunks in a bar fight or callers to an afternoon talk show, could be among the thousands of gas company employees who have moved into the area. They could be those who have leased part of their land to the oil companies. They could also be the business owners who have profited because of selling products to the workers. But almost all of them condemn the residents.

Linhk48, who posted several dozen times, believes “the new owner’s only obligation is to give you notice to vacate. He is under absolutely no obligation to subsidize your move, allow you to live rent free until you move, or hire professionals to help you with relocation. Anything he does is a generosity and SHOULD be appreciated!” Linhk48, like many, called them “rabble-rousers/troublemakers/trespassers.” Czkb217 thought the police or National Guard could move in, and advised the residents, “SO just pack your stuff and MOVE, you are now breaking the law.”

It’s doubtful any of the commentators know Pennsylvania state law, but there are legal processes that must be met to evict persons from their homes. One of the issues lawyers for Riverdale will be pursuing is whether those mandated processes were met.

CitizenQ, who opposes helping the residents and who posted several times, claimed, “some of the residents have been seen stealing from others.” However, the facts are that residents who left the trailer park took what they could from their own trailers, many of which could not safely be moved or which would cost too much to move, and specifically told other residents they could take whatever was left.

Linhk48 thought Aqua–PVR should take the residents to court “for leaving the property with trailer shells and trash all over and ask for clean-up costs—and punitive damages after they were so generous.”

Several repeatedly questioned where the donations to Riverdale went. Some specifically accused Kevin June of theft and fraud, apparently not having the time or intelligence to learn about the controls and regulations to release money from a bank-held account that is a registered 501(c) charity. “The residents know exactly where the money went and why,” says June.

When those writing into the Sun-Gazette later learned some of the money was used to buy phone cards, a camera, lawnmower, and weed whacker, they increased their assault. Had they taken the time to think or ask questions—something those who type and pound “SEND” often don’t do—they would have learned that June used the phone cards to cover his expenses in numerous calls to and from attorneys, the media, and others who had an interest in the problems of the residents. They would have learned that the lawyers specifically required June to document the appearance of the village and the residents’ activities. They would have learned that both the previous and new owners had no intention of mowing the lawns or killing the weeds. With pride in their community, the residents took care of the grounds. Cutting grass and eliminating weeds also served to help protect their health; living near the river, with the warm seasons approaching, the residents knew there would be increased black fly and mosquito infestations.

Woolrich haughtily wants to know, “Why on earth would you not have saved money for when you eventually had to move your MOBILE home???” Perhaps, Woolrich, it’s because when you have poverty-level income, it’s hard to save anything.

Czkb217 thought the residents should have just gotten together and bought the park. Possibly, Czkb217, since most of the families live slightly above the poverty line, they didn’t have an extra $550,000 plus lawyer fees and closing costs laying around. Nevertheless, Czkb217 believes the residents should “Just man up and put your big boy panties on and MOVE.” He objects that his taxes are supporting some of the residents who are using Legal Aid, which receives state and federal funds to assist the impoverished. In addition to North Penn Legal Services, the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh and the Williamsport law firm of Murphy, Butterfield and Holland are assisting pro bono.

Justin1 wants the residents to “Get out of the way of progress already.”  

On Friday, June 1, the final day of eviction and the day Aqua–PVR said it would start construction, about 50 persons showed up to blockade the entrance to the park. “We are here to fight against the exploitation and abandonment by a society of the economically vulnerable,” says Dr. Wendy Lee, one of the organizers. The protestors are often identified as “out-of-town activists” or, more specifically, “environmental activists.” Bobbie2 called the scene a “liberal zoo . . . a veritable microcosm of the liberal social system.” Joe123 called the protestors “unorganized morons,” and decided the residents “are on display by ‘Fame Seekers’, like trick-monkeys in a circus.” Proud2bMom, with no facts, something that never stymied any of the others who wrote into the online site, claimed “the residents left that are trying to get out are more or less being held prisoner in their own homes because of the few who feel they need to block the roads.”

Many of those who attacked the residents and defended corporations probably believe they are good Christians; they go to church regularly and, in one of the more conservative and highly Christian parts of the state, undoubtedly praise God publically.

However, the Rev. Leah Schade doesn’t see them as good Christians. “It is a craven, cowardly way to snipe at people,” she says. Those criticizing the residents “are profiting from the way things are or they are so insulated from the pain and suffering the people are undergoing that they are unable to respond with compassion,” says Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in nearby Lewisburg. Schade has been to the trailer park several times to minister to the residents. “As a Christian,” she says, “I make a decision to do what Jesus calls us to do—to minister to those most vulnerable and resist the powers and the principalities that seek their own self perpetuation and their own profit.” Schade, who is completing a Ph.D. in theology, points out, “The church has a long history of offering a prophetic voice to persons who are oppressed and made vulnerable by powerful systems, and who need advocates to speak for and alongside of them in the public arena. The teachings of Jesus would tell us that what is happening to these families isn’t right. He would ask, ‘Who controls the resources; who does not?’ The residents and the surrounding ecosystem are the disempowered ones.”

A meeting between attorneys for residents at Riverdale and Aqua-PVR was held June 5 to discuss improving the incentives and settlement for the residents. Aqua-PVR, at that time, said it has no immediate intention to remove the residents.

            [To assist the residents, go to http://www.saveriverdale.com/

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist/columnist and the author of 17 books, most fusing history with contemporary social issues. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales From the Revolution.]

 

 

 

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

A national animal welfare organization has filed ethics charges against a Pennsylvania district attorney.

SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) charges Bucks County DA David Heckler with conflict-of-interest, favoritism, and failure to fulfill his professional responsibilities. The ethics charges were filed with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

SHARK, an Illinois-based charity, has been more active in Pennsylvania following a $1 million donation by Bob Barker to stop pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that has open and regularly occurring pigeon shoots.

The conflict-of-interest charges date from 2010 when Heckler refused to allow Johnna Seeton, a humane officer, to have an attorney and then blocked her from filing summary citations of animal cruelty against the Philadelphia Gun Club of Bensalem, Pa. “I showed him the evidence, and that’s the last I heard from him,” says Seeton. But it wasn’t the last of the case. “The next thing I know is that I read in the paper that Mr. Heckler had brokered a deal with the gun club,” she says. That deal was for the club to pay court costs and make a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA. Seeton was never consulted. Heckler, however, prior to working out a deal had gone to the media to denounce Seeton’s citations as nothing more than “hot air.”

The deal was worked out with Sean Corr, attorney for the PGC. Corr, says Steve Hindi of SHARK, “was one of the biggest individual donors to the Bucks County Republican Committee [which had] heavily funded Heckler’s election campaign.” Heckler had been a state representative and senator and then a judge of the Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Corr, who was shooting pigeons at the PGC in December 2009, was convicted of harassment for shoving a camera into Hindi’s face; Hindi was not on PGC property at the time of the incident, according to the Doylestown Intelligencer. Corr is currently a part-time solicitor for the county.

On April 30 of this year, Seeton filed five summary citations of animal cruelty against the PGC for violations during pigeon shoots on March 17 and 31. State law gives DAs the discretion to deny the presence of attorneys for plaintiffs. However, Heckler’s actions are the only time any DA denied Seeton, a humane officer since 1998, the right to have an attorney. Seeton says that a private attorney representing the Pennsylvania Legislature Animal Network (PLAN) would incur no public costs. As was the case in 2010, Heckler refused to tell Seeton the reason for his denial of legal representation.

“There is a reasonableness standard that a DA in denying attorney representation will have a bona fide reason to do so,” says Elissa Katz, an attorney and president of Humane PA PAC, “but in this case there appears to be no reasonable basis for denying representation.” The PGC, however, could be represented by an attorney in the court of District Magistrate Leonard Brown. Heckler’s action “places the parties on an unfair playing field from the beginning,” says Katz.

Heckler numerous times stated that although he isn’t a pigeon shooter, he is reluctant to pursue charges against pigeon shooting because it isn’t a crime in Pennsylvania. Tom Logan, a Bucks County assistant district attorney, says the reason the DA’s office is denying Seeton legal representation is because “a review of the law [indicates] it is not a crime. If it’s not a crime, we don’t want to turn it into a crime.”

However in Bensalem Twp., where the PGC is located, pigeon shooting is illegal. In May 2002, the township determined that “live pigeon shoots do, in fact, violate the Pennsylvania Animal Cruelty Statue . . . as well as Township Ordinance No. 71,” and issued a cease and desist order. The PGC briefly suspended the shoots. Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, says pigeon shoots, contrary to public perception and political gesturing, are already illegal. The shoots, says Minor, aren’t protected “under any statute, law or code.” Further, he says, “Because they aren’t exempt from animal cruelty law, they are subject to them by definition.” 

However, the problem is enforcement. “As long as DAs aren’t allowing humane society police officers to enforce existing law, the legislature is going to have to stop avoiding the issue and clarify that this practice is illegal,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Leaders of the state legislature, cowered by a heavy NRA lobbying campaign that irrationally equates an end of the cruelty of pigeon shooting with a violation of Second Amendment rights, have numerous times blocked legislation from a full vote. The only time the bill was voted on as a free-standing bill was in the 1980s. Several attempts to amend it have been made over the past 20 years, the closest vote taking place in 1994, when the House voted 99–93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

Most of the 20–25 pigeon shoots are in suburban Philadelphia, specifically Bucks and Berks counties, with a combined population of more than one million. Individual shoots are also held in Dauphin and Northumberland counties. The Hegins pigeon shoot in Schuylkill County was finally cancelled in 2000 after the state Supreme Court ruled that animal cruelty charges could be filed against the organizers. That shoot, begun in 1935, had attracted national attention during its last 12 years when animal rights protestors tried to rescue wounded birds and used several tactics as they confronted shooters and their supporters, including large numbers of skinheads and fringe groups from the extreme right.

Pigeon shoot organizers put as many as 5,000 birds, often scared and undernourished, into small cages and then release them about 30 yards in front of pretend-hunters with 12-gauge shotguns. Most of the birds are hit by the shot within five to 10 feet of the cages, with many shot while standing on the ground. About three-fourths of all birds are wounded, not killed outright, says Prescott. If shot within the gun club’s property, trapper boys, often in their teens will take the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off, or stuff them alive into barrels to suffocate. If the birds survive long enough to fly outside the gun club’s property, most will die lingering and painful deaths; at the PGC, many will fall into the Delaware River and slowly drown as they struggle to swim to shore, says Prescott.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t call pigeon shoots a sport nor does the International Olympic Committee, which banned it after the 1900 Olympics. Most hunters and sportsmen oppose pigeon shoots because they aren’t considered to be fair chase hunting.

SHARK also claims Heckler repeatedly refused to file charges against the PGC for actions that specifically violate Pennsylvania law. It claims Heckler refused to file charges against PGC members for deliberately firing shotgun shells at protesters in boats on the Delaware River. The PGC had initially filed requests with the Coast Guard to establish temporary exclusion zones on the river during pigeon shoots, but withdrew the requests. SHARK believes the reason is because the PGC didn’t wish to file an environmental impact statement that would reveal more than a century of shotgun shells and dead pigeons polluting the river.

The SHARK petition also claims that in two separate incidents PGC members recklessly drove their vehicles at female protestors. Both actions were captured on videotape. In one case, the local police and the DA’s office refused to press charges. In the second incident, a PGC member who is an attorney yelled sexist obscenities at a Marianne Bessey, an animal rights activist, “as he recklessly drove his SUV past her.” Later, in media interviews, the PGC member acknowledged his actions. However, when Bessey, an attorney, tried to file a private complaint for disorderly conduct and harassment, Heckler denied it. Bessey says Heckler claimed there was “insufficient evidence” and that her complaint lacked “prosecutorial merit.”

Heckler also refused to file charges against an individual who, SHARK claims, assaulted Hindi and brandished a pistol, threatening him for protesting. According to the petition, Robert Olsen, operations manager of Carlton Pools, owned by Joseph Solana who holds live pigeon shoots on his property, twice drove his SUV directly at a vehicle driven by Hindi on the company’s parking lot. The third time, according to the petition, on a public street, Olsen “grabbed at and assaulted” SHARK investigator Janet Enoch. When Hindi tried to intervene, Olsen pointed a loaded pistol at Hindi, swore at him, and ordered him to “get down on the ground,” according to the complaint. Although the assault was videotaped, Heckler filed only two charges—reckless driving and fighting. In contrast, according to SHARK, Heckler prosecuted a resident who “pulled a handgun on a snow plow operator who had just buried his car in the snow.” That charge led to a three month jail term.

Pigeon shoots, like cockfighting and dog fighting, “are contests scored by hurting and killing live animals while gambling on the outcome, representing the worst of humanity,” says Prescott.  

Although Pennsylvania legislators, police, and DAs may publically say how much they detest animal cruelty, they have shown their cowardice to do what is right by their failure to prosecute cruelty charges against pigeon shoots.

            [Walter Brasch, an award-winning syndicated columnist, has shot at many clay pigeons but never at a live pigeon. He attended his first pigeon shoot as a reporter more than 20 years ago, and has been writing about the cruelty of pigeons shoots since then. He is the author of 17 books; his latest is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow.]

 

 

Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

Eliminating the ‘99%’ Can Lead to a Better Message for Social Justice

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s time to retire the 99 percent.

Not the people, but the slogan that identifies the Occupy Movement.

“We’re the 99 percent” slogan focused upon two completely different groups of people. The 99 percent are the masses, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the middle class; the 1 percent refers to the concentration of wealth in the top one percent of the population and in the dominance of large corporate and global financial systems.  

The Movement, following the Arab Spring, began in the late summer of 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street protest. Central to the Movement, which quickly expanded into more than 500 American cities and 82 countries, was a call for social and economic justice.

During the 2007 Great Recession, the accumulated wealth of the 1 percent decreased significantly less than the wealth of the 99 percent, large numbers of whom first became unemployed and then homeless because of the tactics of greed led by the financial empires.

Within the 1 percent are CEOs and executives of the banking industry that willingly took government bailout funds, and then used some of that money to give six and seven figure bonuses.

The 1 percent includes Ina R. Drew, chief investment officer for JPMorgan Chase, which lost $2 billion in funds through misguided investment policies. Drew, one of Wall Street’s power players—and widely recognized as one of the more brilliant financial managers—earned about $14 million in salary. Jamie Dimon, in a stockholder meeting this past week, humbled by the huge loss, told stockholders, “This should never have happened. I can’t justify it. Unfortunately, these mistakes were self-inflicted.” But, Dimon, both the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board, kept his job and its $23 million salary.

The 1 percent also includes Mitt Romney, who earned about $21 million in 2010, and has a net worth of about $230 million, according to Forbes, but hasn’t filed his 2011 taxes. Somehow, he wants the people to believe he will bring the nation out of the depths of the Great Recession, but needs an extension to file his own taxes.

The 1 percent also includes right-wing celebrity mouth Rush Limbaugh, who is in the middle of an eight year $400 million contract that allows him to spew lies, hate, and venom at anyone who doesn’t agree with his ultra-conservative philosophy, which includes Occupiers and just about anyone with a social, environmental, and economic conscience.

The 1 percent includes Sarah Palin, once an obscure politician who now has a net worth of about $14 million, most of it the result of her participation in the mainstream media, which she claims she despises. 

The 1 percent includes the Kardashian Sisters whose souls are wrapped in self-adulation, and who are worshipped by millions who have enhanced their importance by watching reality shows and reading vapid celebrity “tell-all” newspapers and magazines.

But the 1 percent also includes billionaire Warren Buffet, who is leading a movement to reduce tax loopholes and increase taxes on the rich, while improving the tax structure for the 99 percent.

The 1 percent includes Bill and Melissa Gates who are spending most of their fortune to improve the education and health of people throughout the world.

The 1 percent includes George Clooney, who has been at the forefront of the fight for justice in Darfur, whose citizens have been the victims of genocide by the Sudanese government.

The 1 percent includes Angelina Jolie who is Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and who has put her money and time into helping the world’s children.

The 1 percent includes Ed Asner, Bono, Mike Farrell, Bette Midler, Sean Penn, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, and thousands of other millionaire celebrities who have willingly put their reputations and money on the line to fight for the important social, economic, and political causes that should be the ones that define America as a land of freedom and opportunity, and which would be supported by most of the nation’s Founding Fathers. 

In contrast, the 99 percent isn’t composed solely of the victims of the 1 percent. Millions are as uncaring, as greedy, as self-centered as some of those in the 1 percent. Millions are racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Millions follow Tea Party philosophies that selfishly place the health and welfare of the people secondary to a belief that cutting spending, except for the military, will solve all problems. It is a philosophy that, if left unchallenged, would force even greater misery to the American Middle Class and underclass, and lead to destroying the balance of nature and the environment.

“We are the 99 percent” slogan, coupled with non-violent protest in the face of several violent police incidents, had served the Movement well, but its time is over. The Movement can no longer be an “us versus them” philosophy that has become divisive. It must now migrate to one that includes all people who are willing to fight for social, political, and economic justice in the Army of Conscience.

[Walter Brasch—as writer and activist—has been a part of the movement for social, political, and economic justice for more than four decades. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, the story of an activist and her relationship with a journalist over a 25 year period from 1964 to 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]

 

 

 

 

Mission Impossible: Finding a Mini-Van Made in America by Union Workers

 

 by WALTER BRASCH

 

Last year, not one of the 491,687 new minivans sold in the United States was made in America by unionized workers.

Some were manufactured overseas by companies owned by non-American manufacturers. The Kia Sedona, with 24,047 sales, was built in South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. The MAZDA5, with 19,155 sales, was built in China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Some minivans from Japanese companies were built in the U.S., but by non-unionized workers. Honda sold 107,068 Odysseys built in Alabama. Toyota Siennas, built in Indiana, went to 111,429 persons. The Nissan Quest, built in Ohio, had 12,199 sales.

Only three minivans were built by unionized workers, but they were made in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. The Dodge Grand Caravan, with 110,996 sales; Chrysler Town & Country, with 94,320 sales; and the VW Routan, with 12,473 sales, all share the same basic body; most differences are cosmetic. GM and Ford no longer produce minivans.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) suggests that members who wish to buy minivans buy one of the three Chrysler products because much of the parts are manufactured in the United States by UAW members.

All cars, trucks, and vans from GM, Ford, and Chrysler are produced by union workers in the U.S. or Canada. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Eclipse, Spyder, and Galant, and the Mazda6 are produced in the U.S. under UAW contracts; neither company makes minivans. All vehicles produced in the U.S. have the first Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a 1, 4, or 5; vehicles produced in Canada have a 2 as the first VIN number.

Founded in 1935, the UAW quickly established a reputation for creating the first cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and employer-paid health care programs. It helped pioneer pensions, supplementary unemployment benefits, and paid vacations.

It has been at the forefront of social and economic justice issues; Walter Reuther, its legendary president between 1946 and his death in 1970, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and helped assure that the UAW was one of the first unions to allow minorities into membership and to integrate the workforce. Bob King, its current president, a lawyer, was arrested for civil disobedience, carrying on the tradition of the social conscience that has identified the union and its leadership.

The UAW doesn’t mind that corporations make profits; it does care when some of the profit is at the expense of the worker, for without a competent and secure work force, there would be no profit. When the economy failed under the Bush–Cheney administration, and the auto manufacturers were struggling, the UAW recognized it was necessary for the workers to take pay cuts and make other concessions for the companies to survive.

But not all corporations have the social conscience that the UAW and the “Big 3” auto manufacturers developed. For decades, American corporations have learned that to “maximize profits,” “improve the bottom line,” and “give strength to shareholder stakes” they could downsize their workforce and ship manufacturing throughout the world. Our companies have outsourced almost every form of tech support, as well as credit card assistance, to vendors whose employees speak varying degrees of English, but tell us their names are George, Barry, or Miriam. Clothing, toys, and just about anything bought by Americans could be made overseas by children working in abject conditions; their parents might make a few cents more, and in certain countries would be thrilled to earn less than half the U.S. minimum wage.

Americans go along with this because they think they are getting their products cheaper. What they don’t want to see is the working conditions of those who are employed by companies that are sub-contractors to the mega-conglomerates of American enterprise. These would be the same companies whose executives earn seven and eight-figure salaries and benefits, while millions are unemployed.

But, Americans don’t care. After all, we’re getting less expensive products, even if what we buy is cheaply made because overseas managers, encouraged by American corporate executives, lower the quality of materials and demand even more work from their employees.

Walk into almost every department store and Big Box store, and it’s a struggle to find clothes, house supplies, and entertainment media made in America. If you do find American-made products, they are probably produced in “right-to-work” states that think unionized labor is a Communist-conspiracy to destroy the free enterprise system of the right to make obscene profits at the expense of the working class.

We can wave flags and tell everyone how much more patriotic we are than them, but we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers—even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.

[Sales figures of minivans is from Edmunds.com. Also assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which looks at the mass media, social justice, and the labor movement. The book is available from amazon, local bookstores, and http://www.greeleyandstone.com in both hard copy or an ebook.]

 

The Trayvon Martin Case: A Lesson Still to be Learned

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

For years, my father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol.

My father had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue- eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife. Once back home, he faced discrimination because neighbors thought he was Mexican; the ones who knew better discriminated because he was a Jew.

When I was 11 years old, we moved about 120 miles north to a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents bought a house in a new tract of about 150 houses, all owned by Whites and a few Hispanics. Three or four years later, a Realtor came by, plastering flyers on all the houses, announcing he had a special real good, one-time only deal. A few wouldn’t sell their houses at any price if it was a Black who was planning to move into the area. Someone in the tract finally took up the offer, and a Black family—he was a mechanical engineer—moved in. It didn’t take long before other White families began putting their houses up for sale. Only this time, they weren’t getting as much as the first family that sold out. Soon, the prices began tumbling as other Blacks and Hispanics moved in.

Eventually, the first Black family moved out. But my parents refused to sell their house. They had no intention of becoming involved with what was now known as “block busting.” A few of our Hispanic and Black neighbors wondered why we stayed; some even said we were crazy. But, until my father died in 1983, he owned that house in a neighborhood that went from almost 100 percent White to almost 100 percent Black, Hispanic, and lower-class White, refusing to be sucked in by racism.

  1. At a synagogue in Sunbury, Pa., someone painted a swastika. In New York City, unidentified individuals threw several Molotov cocktails against a rabbi’s residence. These weren’t isolated incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,239 reported incidents in 2010. (The 2011 number is still being tallied.)

Several American communities and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted oppressive anti-immigration laws. On the surface, it appears they want to rid their areas of illegal immigrants, acting only to protect law-and-order. But, the deeper structure is that they fear Hispanics, more of them legal immigrants or citizens of the U.S. than undocumented workers, will get political, educational, and financial power and would reduce the influence of the ultra-conservative White population.

At the University of California at San Diego, a fraternity of Whites sent out invitations to a “ghetto-themed” party, which it called the “Compton Cookout.” The invitation noted that “ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes.” At that same school last year, a Klan hood was placed on a statue of Dr. Seuss.

In Kentucky, two men shouting anti-gay slurs kidnapped and beat a gay man. In Tulsa, Okla., an 18-year-old was beaten unconscious by men shouting slurs.

Several firebombs were thrown at an Islamic cultural center and a Hindu house of worship in New York City. Throughout the country, local government and citizens, in defiance of the First Amendment, are trying to prohibit the building of mosques and cultural centers.

At innumerable local schools, where the teachers had “cultural diversity” classes in college and on-the-job “diversity training,” it’s not unusual to hear a few teachers telling racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes, not just among themselves in a faculty lounge but also with students. 

White supremacists shout for “White Pride!” and Black militants call for “Black Power!” Each claims they aren’t planning to destroy any other race--although myriad Klan and Skinhead actions prove otherwise--but merely to strengthen their own. Add into the mix, a few who will shout “racism” when no racism occurs and, thus, make it difficult for those with true compassion for justice to separate the truth from the fiction. Peel the rhetoric, and the core is still fear.

And that may be why the death of Trayvon Martin is so important. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., killed Martin, Feb. 26. Zimmerman acknowledges he killed Martin, but claims it was in self-defense. Under Florida’s reactionary “stand your ground” law, borne from fear rather than logic, people who feel threatened can take whatever action they think necessary, even shooting Black teenagers who are armed only with a pack of Skittles.

There are numerous versions of what happened, all of them advanced by myriad people with social and political agendas rather than a search for justice, no matter what they claim. But, fear is at the core of the rhetoric.  Mistrust and distrust, often fueled by the mass media with their own agendas, may lead some to irrationally believe that entire demographics of people—White, Black, Hispanic, gay, Jew, Muslim—may pose threats to their own safety, leading them to react as if the threats were real rather than imagined.

The reasons no longer matter to Trayvon Martin. The lesson however, should matter to the rest of us.

[Walter Brasch is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished service award. His latest book is Before the First Snow; a major theme of the book looks at issues of racism and bigotry. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers or amazon, in both hardcover and ebook formats.]

 

 

 

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.]

 

 

 

 

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