Questions Remain in Government's Anti-Cigarette Campaign

 

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

The federal government has launched what may become one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.

Beginning September 2012, every cigarette manufacturer must display one of nine government-approved graphics on the top half, both front and back, of every cigarette pack. Among the warnings is a picture of a pair of healthy lungs next to a pair of cancerous lungs, with the notice: "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease." Another warning is equally definitive: "Cigarettes cause cancer," with a picture of rotting gums and teeth. A person with an oxygen mask is the graphic for the text, "Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease." Other pictures show smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole and a dead body with autopsy stitches on his chest. Other warnings, with appropriate graphics are: "Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby," "Tobacco smoke can harm your children," and "Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers." One graphic shows a man in a T-shirt with the message, "I quit." Cigarette manufacturers must include all nine warnings in rotation on their packs.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that one-fifth of every print ad must include the warnings.

The FDA directive is based upon Congressional action in 2009. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which received strong bipartisan support, also prohibited cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring sports and cultural events. It further restricted tobacco companies from advertising their products on T-shirts and other clothing items.

The first cigarette ad was in the New York National Daily in May 1789. By the Civil War, cigarette ads were appearing regularly in newspapers. The tobacco industry's own propaganda machine significantly increased full-page full-color ads in magazines during the 1930s and 1940s; a decade later, the industry was one of the first to recognize the influence of the emerging television medium. The ads not only extolled the advantages of smoking, they linked dozens of celebrities to their campaigns. Bob Hope pushed Chesterfields; Ronald Reagan wanted Americans to give Chesterfields as a Christmas gift. One popular ad even had Santa Claus enjoying a Lucky Strike. Marlboros became hugely successful with its Marlboro Man commercials that featured rugged cowboy individualism. To get the largely untapped female demographic into its sales net, cigarette companies went with what is now seen as sexist advertising. Lucky Strike wanted women to smoke its cigarettes "to keep a slender figure." Misty cigarettes emphasized its smoke, like its women, was "slim and sassy."  

Camel cigarettes, which would eventually develop Joe Camel as its cartoon spokesman to counter the Marlboro Man, tied health, opinion leaders, and tobacco smoke. Its survey of more than 100,000 physicians of every specialty said Camels was their preferred brand.

However, by the mid-1960s, physicians had begun backing away not just from Camels but all cigarettes. A Surgeon's General's report in 1964 concluded there was a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The following year, the Surgeon General required tobacco manufacturers to put onto every cigarette pack a warning, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health."

 In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the Fairness Doctrine required TV and radio stations to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. The message was clear to the financial departments—voluntarily eliminate cigarette advertising or lose five to ten minutes of sales time every broadcast day. In 1971, the FCC banned all cigarette advertising on radio and TV.

By 2003, cigarette advertising peaked at $15 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) To counter cigarette company advertising campaigns, government steadily raised cigarette taxes. State and local taxes accounted for $16.6 billion in 2008, according to the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Federal taxes, raised to $1.01 a pack in 2009, brought in about $8.5 billion. New York City residents pay the highest taxes per pack--$1.50 city tax, $4.35 state tax, $1.01 federal tax. The average combined tax nationwide is $5.51. Pennsylvanians pay $1.60 state and $1.101 federal taxes. Much of the money is used to develop anti-smoking campaigns. 

About 443,000 deaths each year are primarily from the effects of cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new campaign aims to cut that by half. The FDA estimates there are about 46 million smokers.

It's obvious that both tobacco manufacturer and government advertising campaigns have been effective. But there are several  questions that need to be asked.

If the federal government demands health warnings on cigarette packs, why doesn't it also demand similar warnings on other products that also carry known health risks, like liquor?

If there is so much evidence that cigarette smoke—with its tar, nicotine, and associated chemicals—poses such a high health risk, why doesn't the federal government ban it, like it does numerous products known to be unsafe?

Does the federal government's campaign violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech? This becomes an even more important question since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that with few exceptions corporations enjoy the same rights as individual citizens.

If there is evidence that tobacco smoke is unsafe and unhealthy, and the government levies excessive taxes, why did the federal government grant $194.4 million in agriculture subsidies in 2010 and about $1.1 billion in subsidies since 2000?

Finally, if the evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoke is dangerous, and the federal government taxes every pack but doesn't ban cigarettes, why has it been so adamant in refusing to decriminalize marijuana, which has significantly fewer health risks than what is in the average cigarette?

 [Dr. Brasch has never smoked, but respects the rights of those who do. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a literary journalism novel about the counterculture.]

 

 

 

Dozens of Father's days; Decades of Grief

 

by Walter Brasch

 

Christopher Kenneth Frison is seven months old.

He's too young to understand Father's Day.

And he's certainly far too young to be able to get an allowance or a job to buy a card and a nice gift.

He isn't too young to be able to hug his father.

But he won't ever be able to do that again. Not today. Not next year. Not ever.

His father, 1st Lt. Demetrius M. Frison, a parachutist and infantry officer, was killed in Khost province, Afghanistan, May 10. He was 26 years old.

His widow, Mikki, told the Lancaster New Era that she and Demetrius first met in Middle School in Philadelphia, attended different high schools, and then went to Millersville University in 2003. Both graduated with degrees in psychology. They married in March 2009, a month before he joined the Army. Christopher was born November 17, 2010. At that time, Frison, who had trained at Fort Benning, Ga., was stationed at Fort Knox, Ky.

The last time Frison saw his son was shortly before his first deployment to Afghanistan in January. Four months later, he was dead.

Christopher Kenneth Frison isn't the only one who won't be able to celebrate Father's Day. There are thousands, a few who never had a chance to meet their fathers, many who are now young adults.

1st Lt. Demetrius M. Frison is one of 264 Pennsylvanians, one of 6,082 American troops killed in what are now America's longest wars. In Afghanistan and Iraq, 54,609 Americans have been wounded, thousands who have permanent physical injuries, all of whom are likely to develop levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Department of Defense estimates that 78,000 soldiers have developed PTSD in the past decade; the Veterans Administration believes the number is closer to 800,000. Those numbers don't even include the soldiers who served in dozens of wars and military actions since World War II.

 1st Lt. Frison, who had earned four service ribbons in his two years in the Army, received three more in May. The Army posthumously awarded him the NATO, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart medals.  But not one medal is worth the life of a soldier who never saw his first Father's Day with his son, nor the son who will have dozens of them without his father.

          

          [Contributing were Rosemary R. Brasch, the Fort Knox public affairs office, the Philadelphia Tribune, and the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal.]

 

 

 

 

U.S. Violating Constitutional Rights of Citizens and Undocumented Workers

 

By VALERIE BURCH

 

Mohammed Uddin lived in New York City for 15 out of his 41 years. Back in Bangladesh, he wouldn't be able to get the life-sustaining heart medication he takes daily for a rare form of severe hypertension called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. On the tarmac at Harrisburg International Airport on May 13, 2008, about to begin the arduous journey back to Bangladesh, his blood pressure soared and he lost consciousness.

 Tioti Tong was crewing the Cap San Augustin when it docked at Philadelphia in August 2008. Other crew had stowed narcotics aboard, and the Department of Homeland Security heard about it. When agents raided the ship, Tioti was arrested with the other Kiribatian crew. Long after the Cap San Augustin departed and Tioti was cleared of all charges, he sat in Lackawanna County Prison for another year, speaking only Kiribatian, with no way home, forgotten by the government that had arrested him.

 Abed Asie is a citizen of no country. He snuck into this one five years ago. Found out, he threw up his hands and acquiesced to deportation at the first opportunity. For more than a year he languished in Pennsylvania prisons, dressed in prison orange and never setting foot outdoors, writing letter after letter searching for a safe way home to a land with no airport, no agreed-upon name, and no official government. The son of a divided family in a divided land, (his father is Jewish, his mother Muslim) he longs to return home to Nablus. His return has proved impossible, and he continues to wait for freedom in a Pennsylvania prison.

 The logistics of our immigration system are painful, particularly for these ACLU-PA clients, but to many our immigration system is just that-logistics. Each year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains more than 300,000 people in "administrative custody" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Such custody is not accompanied by the procedural protections afforded convicted criminals. Immigrants arrested by DHS have no right to a lawyer. Often, no judge reviews their custody. They aren't given the same medical treatment as their cellmates-native criminals. They sometimes wait for years while the courts decide whether they may remain in the United States. They are assigned a number-an "Alien Registration Number" which they had best memorize, because it's likely that no one in the jails they'll visit will be able to pronounce their names.

 And, they will likely visit a lot of jails.

 DHS moves detainees any prison in the nation where it has "bedspace."  One woman, plucked from an Amtrak train during what was to be a brief station stop in Erie, struggled to recount the number and names of the Pennsylvania prisons through which she was transferred over the course of a 30-day period before she landed in front of an immigration judge at York County Prison. At each jail, she said, it was the same.

 "No one there could tell us why were being held, for how long or where we were going next. We were 'immigration,' and our jailors didn't know anything about that."

 Add to this the fact that friends and family of the detained person frantically phone government offices where no one answers in English, let alone Kiribati, and immeasurable, unnecessary suffering results.

 At least 11 Pennsylvania county prisons have contracts with DHS to hold immigration detainees: Allegheny County Jail, Berks County Family Shelter, Berks County Prison, Berks County Secure Juvenile Facility, Cambria County Prison, Clinton County Correctional Facility, Columbia County Prison, Erie County Prison, Lackawanna County Prison, Pike County Prison, and York County Prison.

 Most DHS detainees held in Pennsylvania have been arrested in greater New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia after residing in the U.S. for years. They often present complicated claims for relief from removal based on U.S. family ties, length of time here and fear of return to their home countries. These people, who present strong arguments to remain, find themselves in detention the longest. On January 25, 2009, 551 of 1,135 immigrants detained in PA had been detained longer than the 45 days. One of them had been detained for 5 years.

 The rate at which people detained by DHS move through the commonwealth is astounding. Most must travel through York County Prison which houses an immigration court. Over the course of a year 10,000 people are shuttled through York and off to everywhere in the world. But, this massive forced migration is invisible, unless you're looking. Pennsylvania's detained people are transported in unmarked buses (see photo on page 1). They are held in regular county jails that often bear no insignia of a federal government presence.

 The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."  The promise of freedom made by our Constitution applies to every person in the United States, not just to citizens.

 The ACLU-PA works every day to keep this promise. Since 2008, the ACLU-PA, along with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, has won the release of eight people detained by DHS longer than one year in Pennsylvania's prisons. In one of these cases, filed as a class action with the help of Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Middle District of Pennsylvania acknowledged, "the growing consensus within this district and, indeed it appears throughout the federal courts, that prolonged detention of aliens . . . raises serious constitutional concerns." The case, Alli v Decker, is on its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we hope for a decision that will set free Pennsylvania's DHS detainees who have been held for more than a year absent any judicial review of the decision to detain.

 According to the government's interpretation of the law, people jailed for years by DHS are not even entitled to a hearing before a judge who has the power to set them free. DHS's "administrative detention" powers, it argues, are absolute. We believe that the Fifth Amendment applies to all people, and as such, we trudge onward through the courts.

 

[Valerie Burch is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the ACLU, she served as managing attorney of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, where she litigated immigration cases. She is a 2004 graduate of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law and a 2000 graduate of the University of Rochester.

 

 

New Hampshire or Bus: Sarah's No-Campaign Campaign Tour

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Speeding along city streets, going from somewhere to somewhere else, was the Sarah Palin "One Nation I'm Not Running for Anything But Follow Me Anyhow" bus chase.

 Following her were about two dozen reporters and photographers from the national news media, and now and then some local news teams, many of whom violated traffic laws in order to keep the Palin Convoy in sight.

 The news media told others how much they were suffering. Sarah wouldn't tell them where she was going. She didn't issue press releases. She wouldn't give them interviews when they wanted. The media had to call, text, and radio each other just to get information. They couldn't even get proper bathroom breaks because they had to chase that danged bus and the two Sarah SUV escorts. They believed their lives were more like those of combat correspondents under heavy incoming fire, and not the celebrity-chasing paparazzi they had become.

 What little information they got, they had to go to Facebook and Twitter, where Team Sarah posted nightly updates. And, oh yeah, if you have a few bucks, please contribute to Sarah PAC, which was funding the trip.

 On the second day, 10-year-old Piper Palin had sarcastically told a photographer, "Thanks for ruining our vacation." Of course, it wasn't the media who "ruined" what Piper thought was a family vacation. Sarah Palin's own website claimed the purpose of the tour was "part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America." To "promote" that education campaign, Piper's mother commissioned a luxury bus, and wrapped it in a professionally-created design, complete with a Sarah Palin signature larger than anything John Hancock could have written. Since Mother Sarah always emerged from the bus wearing ready-for-prime-time campaign makeup and conservative "glad-to-meet-ya-but-I'm-not-really-running" conservative suits, it was questionable just whose vacation it was.

 In Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, Sarah put on a helmet, black leather jacket and, still wearing high heels, jumped onto the back of a Harley, and seized the spotlight from thousands of Rolling Thunder bikers who were in the capital to honor POWs and MIAs. Sarah was in the capital to honor Sarah.

 In the nation's capital, she wore a large cross. In New York City, the fundamentalist half-governor whose church believes that Jews will never get to heaven unless they are baptized as Christians, wore a Star of David.

 At Fort McHenry, Mt. Vernon, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and several other historic sites on her six-day erratic trip up the eastern seaboard, she stopped for minutes here, minutes there, in an attention-deficit span of pseudo-patriotism, long enough to make sure the media saw her, that there was ample opportunity for photo-ops, and then moved on. Where? No one really knew. It was as freewheeling as her own political style.

 At Gettysburg, she stayed long enough to take advantage of numerous photo-ops. In New York, the media breathlessly told us about Sarah and newly-incarnated birther Donald Trump having pizza in a restaurant on Times Square.

 On I-90, near Worcester, Mass., her caravan rolled into a storm, just behind a tornado, not stopping for either their own safety or to help those affected by severe damage from the tornado.

 In New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney was announcing his campaign for the presidency, Sarah managed to have her own show about five miles away, drawing the national media to her star power, and then claimed she didn't mean to upstage Romney. It was just an accident, she said in the state where the nation's first primary for the 2012 presidential election will be held.

At Ellis Island, she misinterpreted potential immigration law. In an interview with Fox News reporter Greta van Susteren, the only reporter allowed on the bus, Sarah mangled the truth about Social Security, the Obama stimulus plan, and the foreign aid package to Egypt.

    In Boston, she reinvented history and complained about "gotcha" journalism. You know, like the "gotcha" question Katie Couric asked in 2008 about what she read. This "gotcha" had come from a Boston reporter who had thrown an even easier puff ball—"What did you learn in Massachusetts and what did you take away from it?" Apparently, she didn't learn much. Instead of spending enough time in Boston to learn about America's revolution, she informed the nation that a bell-clanging Paul Revere went out to warn the British not to mess with America's right to bear arms—or something to that effect. When historians politely disagreed with her curious interpretation of history, she steadfastly maintained she knew American history, and that everyone—including, apparently, Paul Revere's own notes and letters— was wrong. 

     Some of the Sarah Zealots even tried to manipulate information in Wikipedia to parrot what Sarah believed was the reason for Paul Revere's ride, thus giving revisionist history an entirely new dimension.

     Although Sarah thought the media were into "gotcha journalism," the truth is that the wily politician, who tiptoed into broadcast journalism after college, now assisted by a media-savvy campaign staff, managed to do everything right to manipulate the mass media to give her more coverage than a Puritan in a clothing factory.

     Her handling of the media was the ultimate "gotcha."

     You betcha, Sarah.

     

     [Walter Brasch, a journalist for more than 40 years, has reported on almost every presidential campaign since 1968. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com]

    .

    The Last Dance: Prom Night in America

     

     

     

     

                                                       by Walter Brasch

             

              It isn't cheap to attend a high school prom. Emulating Miley Cyrus, Megan Fox, or any celebrity that People magazine naively believes is one of the 50 most beautiful people in the whole wide world, is an avalanche of expenses that could easily exceed the cost of a year's supply of beer for a college freshman.

               Americans spent about $6.6 billion on proms in 2008, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The cost is now closer to $7 billion as teens continue their quest to outspend, outshine, and out-bankrupt their peers.

               At the high end of individual costs are the tuxes. It's $100–$200 for a rented tux and mirror-shine shoes, or $100–$500 for a nice dress. About 98 percent of high school girls who attend their senior prom will buy a new dress, which will almost never be worn again, and then another $100–$400 for shoes, tiaras, earrings, shawls, and miscellaneous clothing attachments.

               In addition to clothing costs, add $10–$20 for the boys to have a haircut, and another $30–$100 for the girls to have their hair styled. The boys save about $100 by not having to add fake nails ($20–50), and a manicure ($10–$20) and pedicure ($20–$30), a combo now known by the cutesy appellation of a "mani-pedi." The boys also won't have to worry about lipstick, mascara, perfume, and new hose.

               Generally, the guys won't get fake tans; their dates will. Grab another $50 for spray tans or several "treatments" in a coin-operated tanning bed. (Charges for medicine and surgery for the developing melanoma are extra.)

               For that special splash of color, there's a $5 carnation boutonniere for the guy and a $20 orchid corsage for the girl.

               Some boys will rent new cars; almost half, says Your Prom, will get together with other couples to share costs of a $600–$1,200 a night limousine in vain attempts to impress whoever it is they believe they must impress. The rest apparently wash, wax, and vacuum their own cars, relatively recent pretend high performance red or black models which they park over four intersecting spaces so no one can hit their turtle-wax shine. To support the turtle, they work 20–30 hours a week at a minimum wage dead end job. When anyone asks why they don't just quit and spend the time studying, or getting involved with extracurricular activities, they say they need the job to support their car and stereo.

               Tickets run $40–$100 per couple, which might include light snacks, and prom pictures for about $20–100, depending upon the package.

               Sometime during the evening, in a country which says it doesn't believe in royalty, a king and queen, anointed by popularity, are announced. Like the monarchy in England, no one seems to know what it is they're supposed to do.

               Complain about the costs of a prom, and teens will wail that we old people (that is, anyone over 25 or who reads a newspaper) are trying to ruin their fun and a night of "earning" the end of the school year. We just don't understand, they moan, that proms cost money and it's important that, like the costs of $100 designer jeans and $150 sneaks, they must be just like everyone else, 'lest they are ostracized for being—and this is no exaggeration—poor and "not with it."

               Less than two generations ago, proms were still the "social highlight" at the end of the year. But they weren't as costly. High school juniors once decorated the gym for the prom. Now, it's held at the country club or the "Sweet Magnolia Room" of the high-rise hotel, with hundreds of schools sponsoring after-prom all-nighters to keep the teens from continuing a path into juvenile delinquency. The beer stores don't mind—they make enough from 21-year-old college students buying beer for frat parties that include recently-graduated high school seniors.

               Once, the boy's extended family worked on a special meal for the prom couple. For some, circumstances allowed a nice dinner at an inexpensive restaurant. Now there's often only one parent in the house, and dinner is about $20–$40 each.

               If boys couldn't afford suits, they wore a sports jacket or, maybe, a nice summer jacket with their white shirt and tie. Girls wore their Sunday finest dresses, which they could wear again a few weeks later.

               There was no need to hire a limousine and impress anyone; fake tans covering pasty white faces were rare. There were still costs, and teens and their families came up with the money, but the costs were nowhere near the debt limit of a small island nation.

               But our children, who are still a part of the extended "Me First Generation," are spending on a social event that, for some, may be a prelude to a $35,000 wedding in a year or two.

      

              [All costs were determined by contacting businesses in rural northeastern Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia. Costs may vary in other parts of the country. Walter Brasch's next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com]

     

    Memorial Day 2011: Two Names That Matter

     

    by Walter Brasch

     

    Unless you were in a coma the past few years, you probably know who Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton are.

    You heard about them on radio, saw them on television.

    You read about them in newspapers and magazines, on Facebook, Twitter, and every social medium known to mankind.

     Because of extensive media coverage, you also know who dozens of singers and professional athletes are.

    Here are two names you probably never heard of. Sergeant First Class Clifford E. Beattie and Private First Class Ramon Mora Jr.

    They didn't get into drug and alcohol scandals. They didn't become pop singers or make their careers from hitting baseballs or throwing footballs. They were soldiers.

    Both died together this past week from roadside bombs near Baghdad.

    Sgt. 1st Class Beattie, from the small rural suburb of Medical Lake, Wash., spent 17 years in the Army, and was in his third tour of duty in Iraq. On the day he was killed, according to the Spokane Spokesman–Review, he had participated in a run to honor fallen soldiers. Sgt. Beattie was 37 years old. He leaves two children, one of whom was three weeks from graduating from high school; four sisters, a brother, and his parents.

    PFC Mora, from Ontario, Calif., a city of about 170,000 near Los Angeles, was in his first tour in combat. He was 19 years old. "He was a very serious student, and education was important to him," Carole Hodnick, Mora's English teacher and advisor, told the Ontario Daily Bulletin. Hodnick also remembers him as having "a charisma about him, and the students just fell in line with him."

    Clifford E. Beatttie and Ramon Mora Jr. were just two of the 6,049 Americans killed and 43,418 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan in war the past decade, the longest wars in American history.

    You can't know or remember all of their names. But you can remember two.

    Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr. 

    Two Americans. One near the end of his Army career. One not long out of Basic Training. A White Caucasian and a Hispanic. Two different lives. Two different cultures. Two Americans.

    Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr. Killed together more than 7,000 miles from their homes.

    As you prepare for Memorial Day barbeques, surrounded by celebrity-laden news, remember the names of Clifford E. Beattie and Ramon Mora Jr., and all they stood for. Theirs are the names that matter.

     

    [Walter Brasch is a social issues columnist and author. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. For more details, see YouTube.]

     

     

    The Audacity of Hate: Birthers, Deathers, Deniers, and Barack Obama

     

     

    by Walter Brasch

     

     The latest garbage spewing hate as it circles the Internet in a viral state of panic continues a three year smear against Barack Obama.

    The attacks had begun with the extreme right wing spitting out Obama's full name—Barack HUSSEIN Obama, as if somehow he wasn't an American but connected to the Iraqi dictator who, despite the Bush Administration's best efforts, had no connections to 9/11.

                When the right-wingers and Tea Party Pack get tired of their "cutesy" attempts to link Obama to militant Muslims, they launch half-truths and lies to claim he wasn't born in the United States. Like Jaws, Jason, or Freddy Krueger, "birther" propaganda keeps returning, even when independent state officials and analysts proved the claims false.

                The issue simmered on Fox TV and talk radio until Donald Trump, the man with the planet-sized ego and the bacteria-sized brain, inserted his persona into the issue, while pontificating about becoming the next president. The media, exhausted from having to cover the antics of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, turned their news columns over to the man who would be God—if only it paid better.

    The Wing Nut Cotillion, with Trump getting the headlines, then demanded Obama produce a long-form birth certificate—which he did while leading a combined White House-CIA-Pentagon effort to find and destroy Osama bin Laden. The truth still hasn't quieted the conspiracy nuts.

    Not willing to accept truth and logic, the extreme right wing, grasping for anything they could find, have attacked the raid that killed bin Laden. Among their screeches are that bin Laden isn't dead . . . that he was killed a week earlier or even years earlier . . . that Obama had hidden the death until there was a more political time to reveal it . . . that it was George W. Bush (who publicly said six months after 9/11 that he didn't care about bin Laden) who deserves all the credit . . . and that while Navy SEALS should get credit, Obama is too weak to have overseen any part of the mission.

    And now from the caves of ignorance and hatred comes a much-forwarded letter, which the anonymous author says "shouldn't surprise anyone." Written as fact, the letter informs us Barack Obama: "never held a 'real' job, never owned a business and as far as we know, never really attended Harvard or Columbia since those transcripts have never been released and no one remembers him from their time at either school."

    The email of hate further "enlightens" us that "Being a community activist only gives someone insite [sic] on how to assist the less fortunate and dregs of society on how to acquire government housing and government benefits without ever contributing one penny in taxes."

    That's right. The Whackadoodles Wearing Tinfoil Caps crowd has escaped again.  

    Among those community activists who worked with the "dregs of society," apparently on ways to scam the government, are St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), founder of the Franciscan order and patron saint of animals and the environment; Jacob Riis (1849–1914), a journalist and photographer who exposed the squalor of slums and tenement buildings; Dorothy Day (1897–1980), a journalist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement that advocated nonviolent action to help the poor and homeless, and who the archdiocese of New York, at the direction of Pope John Paul II, began a process leading to beatification; and Jane Addams (1860–1935), who fought for better conditions for children and mothers, was active in the progressive campaigns of Teddy Roosevelt and who, like Roosevelt, earned a Nobel Peace Prize. Those who rail against community activists for not having "real" jobs would also oppose Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), who tirelessly established the nation's most effective organizational structure to help the poor and disenfranchised to gain a voice against political, economic, and social oppression; Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903–1998), America's foremost pediatrician, for leading antiwar campaigns; Cesar Chavez (1927–1993), who helped get farm workers respectable pay and decent working conditions; Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) who, with hundreds of thousands of others, forced a nation to finally confront its racism; and innumerable leaders of the feminist and gay rights communities who got America to confront their other prejudices. All were community activists.

    Not dregs because they have "real" jobs are the bankers and Wall Street investors who brought about the housing crisis that led to the worst depression in the past seven decades. Also exempt from contempt are the business owners who downsized, right-sized, and shipped their production overseas, throwing millions of Americans out of work.

    Barack Obama, castigated for not having a "real job," worked more than a year as research associate and editor at the Business International Corp., three years as director of Developing Community Projects, a church-based group for eight Catholic parishes, and summer jobs at law firms. Other "not real" jobs include being an author, civil rights lawyer, and a professor of Constitutional law at one of the nation's more prestigious colleges. Frankly, it's rather nice to have a president who actually understands the Constitution—as opposed to the rabble who misquote, misstate, and misappropriate it all the time.  

    Those propagating the email of hate believe Obama couldn't earn degrees from Ivy League colleges; the subtext is as clear as their refusal to believe in an integrated nation. So, I contacted the registrars at Columbia and Harvard. In less than 10 minutes, the registrar at Columbia confirmed that Barack Obama received a B.A. in political science, and the registrar at Harvard Law School confirmed Obama received a J.D. These are public records. Anyone can ask the same questions, and get the same answer. Logic alone should have shot down these accusations. Obama was editor of the Harvard Law Review, something as easy to verify as his graduation, and he passed the Illinois bar exam—which requires graduation from college and law school, and a personal character test—also a matter of public record.

    Even if Obama provided official transcripts, which are confidential, the wing nuts of society will claim that, like the birth certificate and the death of bin Laden, the transcripts were faked.

    The truth is that the politics of hate, combined with media complicity and Internet access, has led not to a discussion of issues but to character assassination, with racism and bigotry as its pillars.

     

    [Walter Brasch's latest book is Before the First Snow, literary historical fiction that explores the counterculture between 1964 and 1991. The book, to be published June 20, is available at amazon.com]

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Promises, Promises; OR, Why It's legal to Lie to Voters

     

     

                                      by Walter Brasch

     

    With less than a week before the election, Marshbaum has been campaigning furiously.

     "A chicken in every pot! Natural gas drilling will save the universe. Free health care for everyone!"

     "Marshbaum!" I commanded, "you can't make those kinds of promises."

     "You're right. I don't want to offend the health care industry. There's a lot of campaign money there. I'll just make up something else."

     "You just can't make up campaign promises."

     "Sure I can. It's easy. How about 'Vote for Marshbaum and win a date with Bette Midler?'"

     "You don't even know Bette Midler."

      "I like her movies," he said casually.

     "It has nothing to do with her movies," I said.

     "Think someone doesn't like her singing? I sure don't want to offend anyone. I could make it a date with Angelina Jolie. How about Brad Pitt for the women? Justin Bieber for teens?"

     "MARSHBAUM!" I screamed. "Get reasonable!"

     He thought a moment. "You're right. Angelina and Brad are probably out wasting their time doing some kind of charity work. How about 'Elect Marshbaum and you'll never pay taxes again!'"

     "That's ridiculous," I said. "No one will believe you."

     "Doesn't matter if they do or don't as long as they vote for me."

     "But you'd be lying to the people," I said.

     "Look at campaign posters," Marshbaum commanded. "They all say the same thing. You can just change the candidates' names and faces and no one will even notice."

    "People don't vote for someone based upon posters," I said.

     "You think voters actually read those newspaper articles or go to debates? It's all name recognition. You have more posters and ads than the next guy, and you win. You get three words on a poster. Try 'fair,' 'tough,' and 'experienced' Add a picture of the family for newspaper and TV ads, and mix it in with campaign promise not to raise taxes, and you have election assured."

     "There's probably some law that prevents politicians from lying."

     "Even for being a journalist, you're rather dense," said Marshbaum. "The FCC says it's OK to lie."

     "The Federal Communications Commission gives its approval?" I asked skeptically.

     "The FCC says that radio and TV stations can't refuse to run political ads even if the station management knows the ads are outright lies. Law says if a station takes even one ad from one candidate for federal office, it has to take all ads from all candidates for that office, even if the ad is highly offensive."

     "I'm sure when Congress wakes up they'll change this insane law." Marshbaum just laughed. "Most people don't believe most of what they see on TV anyhow," I sniffed.

     "Don't like the FCC and Congress? The Supreme Court said it was OK to lie," said Marshbaum.

     "The Supremes said lying to the people is acceptable?" I scoffed.

     "OK, not the U. ­­S­. Supreme Court, but A Supreme Court."

     "Which one? In Kabul?"

     "Albany. The New York Supreme Court."

     "Marshbaum, not even New York's court could be that incompetent."

     "Got it right here," he said, taking a wadded paper from his pocket. Case of O'Reilly v. Mitchell. Guy named O'Reilly sued a politician named Mitchell in 1912 and charged him with making promises that weren't kept."

     "A promise is a verbal contract," I said. "I'm sure you read it wrong. The Court undoubtedly upheld O'Reilly's claims."

     "Wrong, Newsprint Breath," said Marshbaum arrogantly. "Court said that politicians lie all the time, that promises in a campaign are just that. Promises. Verdict for the politician. Case closed."

     "But that occurred before World War I," I said. "Undoubtedly, some court overturned it."

    "It's precedent," Marshbaum said. "It's on the books. And the ruling was based upon the First Amendment rights of free expression. Just like the FCC ruling. How about 'Vote for Marshbaum and he'll wash all your dirty laundry?'"

     "Marshbaum," I said disgustedly, "there's already too much dirty laundry in the legislature and Congress."

     "Problem solved," said a smug Marshbaum, "when the voters see my plan to give everyone a free clothes washer and dryer, they'll overwhelmingly vote for me."

    "You can do whatever you want, but just remember that some politicians actually tell the truth."

     "Name one who did and got elected!" he demanded.

     "Honest Abe," I replied.

     

    (For the legal scholars out there, the case of O'Reilly v. Mitchell is cited as 85MISC176, 148NYS, 88 SUP, 1914. For those who aren't lawyers, reflect upon Hitler's belief that "the victor will never be asked if he told the truth." Walter Brasch's next book is Before the First Snow, available in pre-orders at amazon.com)

     

     

    The News, It Is a-changin': bin Laden and the Mass Media


     

    by Walter Brasch

     

    It was a little before 9 a.m.

     I was chatting with two students.

     Another student came in, and asked if we had heard a plane had hit a building in New York City.

     We hadn't, but I assumed it was a light private plane, and the pilot had mechanical difficulty or problems with wind turbulence.  

     A minute or so later, another student came in. It was a passenger jet, she said.

     The first student had read the information in a text from a friend, who had received it from another friend, who may have heard it somewhere else. The second student had read it while surfing a news site on the Internet. In a few moments I became aware of how news dissemination had changed, and it was the youth who were going to lead the information revolution.

     A half-hour later, in an upper division journalism class, we were flipping between TV channels, and students were texting with friends on campus and in other states.

     By 12:30 p.m., the beginning time for my popular culture and the media class, every one of the 240 students heard about the murders and terrorism that would become known as 9/11. Most had not seen it on TV nor heard about it from radio. There was no way I was going to give that day's prepared lecture. The students needed to talk, to tell others what they heard, to listen to what others had heard. To cry; to express rage. And, most of all, they needed to hear the conflicting information, and learn the facts.

     For the first century of colonial America, news was transmitted at the pace of a fast horse and rider. But even then, most citizens read the news only when they wandered into a local coffee shop or tavern and saw the information posted on a wall. The first newspaper, Boston's Publick Occurrences, lasted but one issue, dying in 1690. The next newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, wasn't published until 14 years later. Fifteen years passed before there was another newspaper. By the Revolution, the major cities along the eastern seaboard had weekly newspapers, with news from England taking up to three months to reach the American shores and be printed. News from one colony to another might take a couple of weeks or more. All of it was subject to censorship by the colonial governors.

     By the Civil War, reporters in the field could transmit news by telegraph—assuming that competitors or the other side didn't cut the wires. Even the most efficient operation took at least a day to gather, write, transmit, and then print the news.

     Radio brought World Wars I and II closer to Americans. Photojournalists—with film, innumerable developing chemicals, and restricted by the speed of couriers, the mail service, and publication delays—gave Americans both photos and newsreel images of war.

     Television gave us better access to learning about wars in Korea and Vietnam.

     And then came the Persian Gulf War, and the full use of satellite communication. Although CNN, the first 24-hour news operation, was the only network to record the destruction of the Challenger in January 1986, it was still seen as a minor network, with audiences of thousands not millions. The Persian Gulf War changed that, along with the nature of the news industry. CNN built an audience during Operation Desert Shield, from late Summer 1990 to Jan. 16, 1991. On that evening, the beginning of Desert Storm, CNN was the only American-based news operation in Iraq. From the al-Rashid Hotel, its three correspondents and their teams transmitted news and video as the U.S. sent missiles into Baghdad.

     Two decades later, individual media have almost replaced mass media as sources for first information. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and innumerable ways to text message now link individuals and groups. Individuals can also transmit photos and video from cell phones to You Tube and dozens of other hosts, making everyone with a cell phone a temporary reporter or photojournalist. It also leads to extensive problems in discerning the facts from rumors and propaganda. The media—individual and mass—have united a world's people.

     In Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, it was Facebook and Twitter, not state-run mass media, that gave the people communication to launch their protests that would lead to the fall of two authoritarian governments.

     On May 1, in a nine-minute television address beginning at 11:35 p.m., EST, President Obama t old the world that Navy SEALs had successfully completed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Those not at their radio or TV sets learned about it from messages and video on their cell phones or computers.

     It is still be the responsibility of the mass media--of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines--to give in-depth coverage and analysis of the events. But, for millions worldwide, it is no longer the mass media that establishes the first alerts.

     

    [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, the author of 17 books, and a retired university journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow.]

     

     

    Down for the Count: America's Fascination With Royalty

     

     

    By Walter Brasch

     

               In case you're in a funk because you think the reason you didn't receive an invitation to the royal wedding is because the Brits are still ticked off about that silly little skirmish back in 1776, the American media have a solution for you.

               The media had been pumping out news, features, and gossip about the wedding for more than three months. Almost every radio, TV, and cable network, except for maybe the Cartoon Channel, will be covering the wedding on Friday. All. Day. Long.

               Coverage begins at 3 a.m. EDT (8 a.m., British Standard Time) and finally ends before the bars close. In addition to extensive live coverage of the procession and wedding itself, ABC, CBS, and NBC are devoting five hours in evening prime time to reviews of the wedding.

               WE TV has four one-hour documentaries: "Prince William," "Kate: The New Diana?", "Will + Kate Forever," and "William & Kate: Wedding of the Century." Apparently, the cable network that brands itself as "the women’s network devoted to the wild ride of relationships during life’s defining moments," believes there won't be a royal divorce, and that the marriages of Charles and Diana (which did end in divorce), Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Elizabeth II and Philip, and Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson in the 20th century were only preliminaries. Lifetime, which bills itself as the cable network that "celebrates, entertains and supports women," has several one-hour documentaries, including "A Tale of Two Princesses," "William and Kate: A Love Story," and "Kate's Gown of Renown." The network is also cablecasting two two-hour docudramas, "Prince William" and "William & Kate."

               If you don't have access to a TV set, You Tube is transmitting the events live to computers and every handheld device known to technology. Add in all the newspaper and magazine coverage—look for multi-page photo spreads in all major entertainment magazines in the next week—plus a million or so blogs, and there's no reason why anyone shouldn't know important details, including how many canapés were ordered for the after-wedding reception.

               Americans have always had a fascination with royalty. Although we organized a revolution to overthrow a monarchy, and created a president not a king as head of State, we have spent more than two centuries trying to regain a royal image.

              Our fast food restaurants are called Burger King and Dairy Queen.

               Somewhere at any moment during the year, American girls (infants through senior citizens) are practicing their wave so they can become a beauty queen. Schools have prom queens and homecoming queens, each with their court of princesses. Every college football bowl game parade has a Miss Something and her Court. And, every winner wears a tiara.

               The media and the public dub almost every new celebrity singer a "pop princess." Just about any young ice skating star is known as an "ice princess," but the media in 1989 derogatorily dubbed Deborah Norville an "ice princess" when she took over for popular Jane Pauley on NBC-TV's "Today Show."

               Princess Cruises has the "Love Boat," but there was no love lost when Donald Trump sold his 282-foot Trump Princess for about $40 million in 1991 after he, mistress Marla, and wife Ivana had formed a Ménage a Tabloid.

               Among googobs of literary and movie princesses have been Cinderella, Snow White, and Leia who helped Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and that giant furry thing make the world safe for high-tech special effects. And, of course, there's the Lion King that made the Disney company rich enough to devour all other media companies, and take on the corporate shape of Jabba the Hut.

               The greatest baron, pursued by ace aviator Snoopy, was the Red Baron. However, for some reason the media prefer to use the title "baron" to refer to evil "kingpins"--as in "drug baron," "robber baron" and, understandably, "media baron."

               The music industry abounds with royalty. Bessie Smith was the Empress of the Blues; Roger Miller was King of the Road. Among other kings are those of Ragtime (Scott Joplin), Blues (W.C. Handy), Swing (Benny Goodman), Waltz (composer Richard Strauss or bandleader Wayne King), Pop (Michael Jackson), and, of course, Elvis, the king of rock and roll. One of the best singers was Nat "King" Cole. 

               Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul. Rap singer Queen Latifah may think she's royalty, but British rock group Queen truly has a better shot at sitting in Buckingham Palace than she does.

               Among singing princes are the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, who doesn't do much singing or rapping any more, and Prince Rogers Nelson, who became known simply as Prince, and then the singer-with-the-unpronounceable symbol, who later regained a pronounceable moniker, and has the ability to predict purple rain.

               The most famous duke is the "Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Earl, Earl, Duke of Earl" who proved in the late 1950s that anyone can grow up and write song lyrics.

               Other less royal dukes have been baseball great Duke Snider and musical genius Duke Ellington who, had he gone to baseball games, would have had to sit in segregated seating in most ball parks. Sitting with him would be the Dukes of Dixieland. Upset there are no more segregated "colored" seats, drinking fountains, and rest rooms is David Duke who once cornered the market on pointy white hats and dull-witted Whites.

               Babe Ruth was the Sultan of Swat. But no royal monikers were attached to Roger Maris who broke Ruth's single season record or to Hank Aaron, who broke Ruth's lifetime record, and had to put up with numerous racist comments. So far, no one has given royal titles to Barry Bonds, the current leader in single season homeruns, lifetime homeruns, and steroid usage accusations.

               Nevertheless, the only royalty that matters are the Counts--Tolstoy, Dracula, and Basie.

     

    [Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and "clean" nuclear energy. The book is available at amazon.com]

     

     

     

     

     

    Diaries

    Advertise Blogads