Scratches on the Blackboard of Animal Cruelty

 

by Walter Brasch

 

          Take a pigeon.

          Now put that pigeon, along with thousands of others, into small coops that don't give the bird much freedom to move.

          Don't worry about food or water. It won't matter.

          Take some of the pigeons—who are already disoriented from hours, maybe days, of confinement—and place a couple of them each into spring-loaded box traps on a field.

          About 20 yards behind the traps have people with 12-gauge shotguns line up.

          Release the pigeons and watch juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults shoot these non-threatening birds. Most of the birds will be shot five to ten feet from the traps; many, dazed and confused, are shot while standing on the ground or on the tops of cages. Each shooter will have the opportunity to shoot at 25 birds, five birds each in five separate rounds.

          About a fourth of the birds will be killed outright. Most of the rest will be wounded. Teenagers will race onto the fields and grab most of the wounded birds. They will wring their necks or stuff them still alive into barrels to die from suffocation.

          Some birds will be able to fly outside the killing field, only to die a slow and painful death in nearby yards, roofs, or rivers. A few will live.

          Now, do it again. And again. And again. All day long. At the "state shoot" in Berks County, about 5,000 birds were launched from 27 boxes on three killing fields.

          And, just to make sure that you're a macho macho man, why not stuff a bird onto a plastic fork and parade around the grounds? How about wearing a T-shirt with language so nauseating that even Cable TV would have to blur the message.

          By the way, make sure you collect your bets. Illegal gambling, along with excessive drinking, is also a part of this charade that poses as sport. The shooters don't make much, but thousands of dollars will exchange hands.

These are the same psychopaths who probably twirled cats by their tails, and used birthday money to buy BB guns to pluck birds from fences and telephone wires. In their warped minds, they probably think they're Rambo, their shotguns are M-16s, the cages are bunkers, and the cooing birds are agents of Kaos, Maxwell Smart's long-time nemesis.

This is what the NRA is defending as Americans' Second Amendment rights. And why the Pennsylvania legislature has been afraid to pass a bill prohibiting pigeon shoots.

For more than three decades, Pennsylvanians have tried to get this practice banned. For three decades, they have failed. And when it looked as if there was even a remote chance that a slim majority of legislators might support a bill banning pigeon shoots, the House and Senate leadership, most of them from rural Pennsylvania, figured out numerous ways to lock up the bills in committees or keep them from reaching the floor for a vote. In 1994, the House did vote, 99–93, to ban pigeon shoots. But 102 votes were needed.

But now a bill to ban this form of animal cruelty may be headed for a vote in the full legislature. SB626, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Allentown), forbids the "use of live animals or fowl for targets at trap shoots or block shoot" gatherings. It specifically allows fair-chase hunting and protects Second Amendment rights.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally got a spine, and voted 11–3 to send legislation to the full Senate to ban this practice. Six Republicans and five Democrats voted for the vote; all three negative votes were from Republicans, including the Senate's president pro-tempore. Many of those voting for the ban are lifetime hunters; many are long-time NRA members. They all agree that this is not fair chase hunting but wanton animal cruelty.

But, the NRA, with its paranoid personality that believes banning animal cruelty would lead to banning guns, fired back. In a vicious letter to its members and the media, the NRA stated that national animal rights extremists, whom they have also called radicals, are trying to ban what they call a "longstanding traditional shooting sport."

          The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) disagree. In 1900, the IOC banned pigeon shoots as cruelty to animals and ruled it was not a sport. The PGC says that pigeon shoots "are not what we would classify as fair-chase hunting." Also opposed to pigeon shoots are dozens of apparently other radical extremists—like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. "Each pigeon shoot teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices," says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the HSUS.

The vote will be close in both chambers, mostly because of the financial power the NRA wields in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, and the NRA's fingernails-on-the-blackboard screeches to its members. On his blog, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia), a member of the Judiciary committee, wrote that when he supported a ban on pigeon shoots in previous Legislative sessions, he "got more hate mail on this than any other issue I've been involved with." He stated he "got e-mails from all over the state telling me that I obviously hated America and that God, who wanted the pigeons he created to be slaughtered as quickly as possible, was very disappointed in me."

          Failure to pass this bill into law will continue to make Pennsylvania, with a long-established hunting culture, the only state where pigeon shoots openly occur, and where animal cruelty is accepted.

 

 [Walter Brasch is an award-winning reporter who attended several pigeon shoots. 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]

 

 

 

 

 

Look for the Union Bunny

 

                                  by WALTER BRASCH

 

            Bullied, harassed, and lied to, District 1 of the Amalgamated Association of Easter Bunnies, AFB-CIO (American Federation of Bunnies–Cottontails International Organization) went on strike, forcing a halt to this year’s Easter egg hunts in Wisconsin.

            At Bunny Headquarters, Solomon P. Bunny, union executive secretary, and a militant corps of Easter bunnies were preparing picket signs. I walked in, notepad in hand.

            “Excuse me, Mr. Bunny, why aren’t your members delivering eggs this week?”

            Bunny looked up from the papers on his desk, chomped harder on his cigar, looked at me, scowled, and answered harshly, “Don’t you know!?”

            “No, sir,” I replied apologetically. “I always thought you were happy and content delivering Easter eggs.”

            “We love it,” growled Bunny, “but the Wisconsin Legislature doesn’t love us.”

            “I will admit the newly-elected governor and the newly-elected conservatives in the Legislature were a bit authoritarian in what they did to the rights of the workers.”

            “Authoritarian, heck!” said Bunny, “they’re the models of a fascist government in how they took away our rights.”

            “But don’t the people have a right to balance their budget without excessive union demands?” I asked.

            “Listen, Ink Breath, Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus just three months ago. The deficit isn’t because the public employees’ pensions and wages but more than $140 million in tax breaks the Republicans gave businesses, and another $200 million it pays every year to Wall Street investors. Add in all the travel perks and legislator benefits and you have a pile of money to stack your lies upon.”

            “But I read that public sector employees make more than those in the private sector.”

            “You read it where? In newspapers?” When I didn’t answer him quickly, he continued. “Yeah, thought so. The Center for Economic Policy Research—that’s an independent think tank—independent, you get it?—Independent, as in not funded by FOX News or Progressive Democrats of America—said that public sector workers, when compared against the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less.”

            “Even with these facts, I doubt you’d have much support,” I said, noting that while most taxpayers want programs they don’t want to pay taxes and think union workers are greedy opportunists who deserve to be thrown on their tails, even if made of cotton.

            Bunny went into one of his files, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and slammed it on the desk. “Read it!” he commanded. Not wanting to further upset a furious bunny, I skimmed  the report that revealed about two-thirds of Americans support the rights of collective bargaining, even if they have serious problems with unions and how unions operate.”

  1.             “But those are polls,” I challenged. “Numbers can be manipulated to say anything.”           “How’s this for a number? In Madison one day, 100,000 citizens went to the capitol to explain things to their legislators. Even the cops and firefighters who had endorsed Republicans during the election were there as part of the working class.”

            “And the legislators heard their concerns?”

            “You crazy? Most snuck in and out of their offices, like the weasels they are. America is being mocked by other countries for what it’s doing to the workers.”

            “But we have the highest standards of living,” I countered.

            “Listen, Lead-type-for-brains, collective bargaining is one of humanity’s most fundamental rights. Says so in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by 48 countries in 1948.”

            “But the Wisconsin governor says he never planned to kill all collective bargaining, just the public sector ones. And only because it would help the people.”

            “You’ve got to be the dumbest piece of cow excrement walking around,” said Bunny. First you believe the newspapers, and then you believe some politician!”

            Humbled, I apologized. “I can see your point,” I said, feeling a little sorry for the bunnies, but I quickly recovered, reasserting my spine as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. “I assume you want everything. More wages, vacation days, sick days, larger pensions, no-pay medical benefits, shorter work weeks.”

            “You been sniffing newsprint? Haven’t you learned anything?! Sure, we want better work conditions. But, most of all, we want the right of collective bargaining negotiation. We ask for stuff. They don’t want to give us stuff. We negotiate. Just like unions have done for two centuries.”

            “There’s still the matter of the Easter eggs. Are you so self-centered that you would deny the people of Wisconsin the right to hunt and capture hard-boiled cholesterol?”

            “We don’t want to harm the decent people of Wisconsin, whether or not they’re in a union.”

            “So you will deliver Easter eggs this week!” I said, thrilled that the bunny union was relenting.

            “This is off-the-record, but everyone will get their eggs. It’s just that some people in Wisconsin may be getting 20-year-old eggs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to preparing for a demonstration.”

            As I left, Solomon P. Bunny was multi-tasking on three different phones and two computer screens. But, he warned if the rotten eggs of the Legislature and their buddies in corporate industry don’t stop pretending how religious and patriotic they are, while consistently violating the principles that Jesus stood for, “this will be the last Easter they will ever celebrate.”

 

[Walter Brasch is a social activist and 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]

 

 

 

A Crock Pot Tax-Exempt Idea

 

 

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            A wall of suffocating heat nearly vaporized me as I walked into Marshbaum's house. In the kitchen was a portable kiln spewing fiery venom that was curling the linoleum. In the den, wildly pumping a potter's wheel flinging clay all over the room, was Marshbaum.

            “Got a new hobby?” I asked from a puddle of water that I assumed was what was left of my body.

            “Hobby, nothing!” shouted Marshbaum over the noise. “This is my path to fame and fortune.”

            “Every one of your fame-and-fortune paths have ended in a cul-de-sac,” I reminded him. “You scamming the public into believing that slops of glazed clay dipped into leftover house paint are the last sculpture of a dying genius?”

            “They're cookie jars,” said Marshbaum wounded.

            “Still looks like schlock to me,” I suggested.

            “Work with me on this,” Marshbaum commanded, “it could result in a column for you.”

            So I played straightman while Marshbaum threw pots together. “Who,” I asked skeptically, “is going to buy ersatz cookie jars?”

            “Corporations,” he replied smugly.

            “For gifts?”

            “For receipts. Taxpayers keep their receipts in cookie jars,” Marshbaum explained, “so why not corporations? It’ll help them avoid paying any taxes. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s—”

            “Probably illegal.”

            “It’s in the Tax Code,” said Marshbaum. “Individuals pay; corporations don’t.”

            “I doubt the IRS Code says anything like that.”

            “There are four million words in the IRS Code,” said Marshbaum. “Lower-class and middle-class Americans get a few thousand of those words. The rest of the code is a roadmap to help the wealthy and their corporations avoid paying taxes.”

            “The IRS encourages corporations to cheat?”

            “No, Congress does that. It writes the code to give rebates, tax deferments, subsidies, and all kinds of tax shelters that only the wealthy and their corporations can take advantage of. It’s just a way to reward their friends.”

            “But, it’s the people who vote for their representatives,” I said naively.

            “You think some homeless vet can afford to donate to Sen. Sludgepump’s campaign? You think Rep. Bilgewater even listens to the opinions of the impoverished and disenfranchised? Why do you think the Republicans want to cut into Medicare and Medicaid?”

            “To balance the budget?”

            “Because, Ink Breath, the rich don’t need those programs. That’s also why they want to cut funding for public education. The rich can afford private schools. The poor can’t. Besides, you can’t have an educated population of middle-class citizens. They might do something un-American, like actually learn something about the issues.” The issue, said Marshbaum, slinging clay and getting high on pot fumes, is that Congress allows the rich to realize their dreams that greed is not only good, it’s encouraged.

            Marshbaum explained that a Government Accountability Office analysis showed that almost three-fifths of all American-based corporations pay no federal taxes. The GAO study didn’t identify individual companies. Marshbaum, with the help of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did.

            Pretending that the international crisis-of-the-week has led to the highest gas prices in years, the oil companies—smirks of greed tucked neatly into their wallets—made record profits, paid no taxes, and even received rebates and refunds from the IRS. Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009, paid no taxes, but received a $156 million rebate. Chevron made $10 billion, paid no taxes, and received a $19 million refund. ConocoPhillips during a three year period had a $16 billion profit, paid no taxes, and received a $451 million tax break. Valero Energy had $68 billion in sales, and a $157 million tax refund.

            General Electric had a $26 billion profit in five years, and a $4.1 billion refund. Boeing, tucked into bed with a $30 billion Defense Department contract, got a $124 million refund to sleep better

            Even those that received taxpayer-supported bailouts, after being a major cause of the sub-prime housing debacle, made profits, paid seven-figure executive bonuses, and received refunds. Bank of America scammed the people for a $1 trillion bailout, made a $4.4 billion profit, and received a $1.9 billion refund. CitiGroup, with a $2.5 trillion bailout, paid no taxes on a $4 billion profit. Goldman Sachs and Carnival Cruises were model corporate citizens by paying all of 1.1 percent taxes. Goldman Sachs had a $2.3 billion profit on an $800 billion bailout; Carnival, which took passengers and the taxpayers on a cruise, made $11 billion in profit over five years.

            “Assuming everything you say is true, how does your overpriced crock pot cookie jar allow the rich to cook the books to avoid paying taxes?”

            “Because it comes with extras,” said an enthusiastic Marshbaum. “With every 25 jars, you get a scanner and software that I created. All you have to do is scan the receipts, and my patent-pending pot ware zooms through the receipts to match the tax code and declare that the rich guy and his even richer corporation are tax-exempt.” The best part, said Marshbaum, is that corporations will be able to lay off thousands of six-figure income CPAs in order to maximize their profits.

            “But wouldn’t that just increase the problem we already have with unemployment?” I asked.

            “Not when the accountants and auditors—the ones who know all the corporate secrets—realize that the government pays 15 to 30 percent of all money it collects from whistleblower tips.  They may never have to work again.”

            “You’re brilliant,” I said commending my pot throwing friend. “Just brilliant.”

 

            [For decades, Walter Brasch has used cookie jars to collect his tax receipts, much to his wife’s and accountant’s annoyance. His next book is Before the First Snow, a work of journalistic fiction that explores war in the Gulf, the peace movements, and the effects of “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available from Amazon.com for pre-orders.]

 

 

 

 

Tax-Deductible Invasions

by Walter Brasch

 

          Millions of Americans gave George W. Bush unquestioned support when he diverted personnel and resources from the war against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to invade Iraq.

           Several million fewer opposed the invasion, stating that the primary mission was to destroy the enemy hiding in Afghanistan that destroyed a part of America and not to expand the war. At first, President Bush claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, capable of destroying Israel and, if placed aboard cargo vessels, could be launched at the east coast of the U.S. When that explanation fizzled, Bush said the invasion was to remove a dictator. Soon, “Regime Change” was the buzz phrase of the month.

           Flash forward eight years. Different president. Different country. Same kind of dictatorship. This time, the conservatives have loudly cried that Barack Obama should not have launched missiles at Libya. And many liberals, while protesting expansion of war, were now facing other liberals who supported President Obama’s mini-war of helping oppressed people. The Iraq war has now cost American taxpayers more than $ 780 billion. The two-week (so far) war against Libya has now cost almost $750 million, most of it for Tomahawk missiles.

           What’s a president to do? The president’s party spends millions of dollars on polls, none of which are reliable. The president is then forced to put his finger into the wind to see what the voters want—and then does what he wants to do anyway.

          Whatever he does will be met by hostility on one side and near-blind support on the other. However, there is a solution. Tax checkoff.

          No, that’s not like a distant cousin of the Russian short story writer. It’s a way for the President and the taxpayers to get the biggest bang for their buck.

           Let’s say that a president decides he wants to invade some hostile foreign country—Canada, for example. Instead of going into the War Room with his military leadership and plotting how best to meet the strategic, tactical, and political goals of an invasion, he stops for two weeks.

           During the first week, all Americans would be sent an email, asking them if they support the invasion of the country that sends Arctic Clippers to the U.S. during Spring. At the end of that week, voting stops. Now, let’s say that 40 percent of Americans think invading Canada is important and the prudent thing to do, but 43 percent oppose it. (The other 17 percent would still be trying to find out why their computers crashed.)

           Normally, the president would say that most Americans don’t want to invade Canada and might listen to them. But, the 40 percent are vigorous in their beliefs. No problem.

           On the next paycheck will be a question. “Do you support committing American troops to invade Canada, and stopping Arctic Clippers?” Those who answer “yes” will then be assessed a proportion for the costs of that invasion, putting their wallets and purses where their mouths are. If 60 million Americans want war, and the cost is a mere $300 million a week, then each supporter would have about $5 per week deducted from his or her paycheck. It’d hardly be noticeable. Of course, there might be a $5 surcharge for the cost of burying the dead, treating the wounded, and long-term physical and mental rehabilitation. But, hey, even at $10 a week, war is rather cheap. And, most important, all of it is tax-deductible.

           Those who don’t support the war wouldn’t have the money deducted. They could decide to support another war later, or pay a “fair share” for more vigorous environmental regulation and enforcement, or even a few dollars a month to allow members of Congress to have junkets. Whatever is raised for junkets would be the total pool available, and would have to be split equally among the 535 members and several thousand critical staffers who, we all know, are the ones who do the work anyhow.

           The Tax Checkoff System has one final advantage. With Americans deciding what to support and committing their personal fortunes or anemic savings accounts to the cause, we could wipe out the national debt and war at the same time.

  

          [Walter Brasch probably won’t be deciding to have deductions for war taken from his pay check. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel that looks at the integration of war, peace, oil, and nuclear energy, all within the context of social justice. The book is available, on pre-order, from amazon.com.]

 

         

 

 

Charlie and the CBS Factory (and other news)

 

by Walter Brasch

 

          There has been a lot in the news this past week.

          Most important, if measured by getting most of the ink and air time, is the continuing soap opera, “Charlie and the CBS Factory.”

          The latest in a seemingly never-ending story is that after Charlie Sheen melted down, was fired, and spread himself to every known television talk show, declaring himself to be a winner and announcing a $100 million forthcoming law suit against CBS for breech of contract, the president of CBS announced he wanted Sheen back in “Two and a Half Men.”

          Details are to be worked out. CBS said it would work with creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre and producing studio Warner Brothers, The relationship among Sheen, Warner Bros., Lorre, and most of the cast and crew may be a bit more difficult since Sheen’s warm-and-friendly on-air persona didn’t match his vitriolic attacks upon his co-stars and anti-Semitic remarks about Lorre.

          CBS probably wouldn’t be as eager to bring Sheen back if the show wasn’t the best-rated comedy on the schedule. The SitCom brings in about $2.89 million in advertising revenue per show, about $63 million per season. A ninth and possibly final season also makes it even more lucrative for all the parties when the show goes into full syndication.

          The boozing, possibly drug-induced self-destructive Sheen earns about $1.8 million an episode. In contrast, Mark Harmon, star of “NCIS,” the top-rated scripted show on TV, and also broadcast by CBS, is paid about $400,000 per episode, the same as any of the “Desperate Housewives,” according to TV Guide. In contrast to Sheen, Harmon is happily married, and his professional and personal lives have been devoid of scandal.

          Also devoid of scandal, except for an adulterous affair and subsequent marriage to Richard Burton, was Elizabeth Taylor, one of the greatest film actresses, who died at 79 from congestive heart failure. Unlike Sheen and dozens of sub-par actresses, Taylor set the standard for both acting and a social conscience, being one of the first major celebrities to support not only AIDS education but the victims of the disease at a time when it could have been career-damaging to do so. She won numerous awards, including two Oscars for her acting. But, her most important honor may have been a special Oscar for her humanitarian work, proving her beauty was far more than skin deep.

          But, there were still other stories this past week.

          ● Barry Bonds is in trial, charged with lying about taking steroids. He acknowledges taking steroids but was never told what they were by his trainers. Don’t Congress and the federal judiciary system have far more important things to worry about than baseball players who do or don’t take steroids? How much money has already been spent by Congressional investigations and the subsequent trial that could very well, according to several impartial legal experts, result in a minimal sentence or no sentence at all?

          ● Because of the disaster in Japan, a few hundred million Americans are now concerned about problems of nuclear energy. When America’s nukes were being planted throughout the country in the ’70s and ’80s, these were the same Americans who bought into all the propaganda about how “clean” and how “safe” nuclear power is. More important, these were some of the same people who not only disregarded but mocked those who, with facts, disputed the claims of the power companies.

          ● Two passenger jetliners landed at Reagan National Airport without air traffic controller assistance. The lone controller may have been asleep. That, alone, is bad enough, but there are greater issues not being discussed in the media. In one of the busiest airports, one located in the nation’s capital, and with the government well aware that air traffic control is one of the most stressful jobs, why was there only one controller on duty?

          ● The U.S. launched about $175 million worth of Tomahawk missiles into Lybia this past week. Perhaps another $100–$300 million was spent on tactical operations. President Obama told us the reason for the attack, supported by the UN, was because dictator Muammar Khadafi was attacking civilians in his country. If that’s the reason for the attack, why has the U.S. military been silent on the ethnic slaughter in Darfur/the Sudan? Why have there been no attacks on Iran, North Korea, or other dictatorships that suppress the rights of people? Is it because Libya has more strategic importance, and oil, for the U.S. than Darfur? A more important question is why are we attacking a country in a civil war? Khadafi’s attacks upon rebels may be harsh, but he’s protecting his country. Apparently we learned nothing from the war in Viet Nam. What if England invaded the U.S. on behalf of the Confederates or France provided military assistance to President Lincoln during our own Civil War?

          ● Finally, labor has come under intense attacks the past couple of months. Wisconsin has eliminated collective bargaining, against the largest protests since the Viet Nam war. Other Republican-controlled states are in full battle gear. And, in Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has proven that he cares nothing about the working class when he ordered murals of workers taken down from the halls of the Department of Labor. He claimed, without providing any proof, that some businessmen said the panels, which have no political theme, just depictions of workers, was anti-business. But, no matter what radical conservatives believe, about two-thirds of Americans still believe in collective bargaining, even if they aren’t in unions, according to several recent national polls.

 

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist and editor for 40 years, covering everything from PTA meetings to the White House and federal court system. His forthcoming book, Before the First Snow, looks at the problems of the nuclear power industry. The book is available for pre-order at amazon.com ]

 

 

 

 

Gov. Tom Corbett: Pennsylvania’s Savior

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett may be the most adept politician in America.

            With the nation focused upon the union-busting Tea Party-backed Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Corbett has snuck in a plan to mine the state's resources, increase employment, reduce educational problems, and whack unions upside the head at the same time. Miraculously, the public sector unions, so happy they wouldn't lose collective bargaining, have even said they don't mind being whacked.

            In his first budget address, Corbett said he wants to freeze wages for all state employees, almost every one of them part of the middle class. Although the average wage is about $35,000 a year, according to AFSCME, the state’s primary union for public sector workers, families of four should easily be able to still afford the same luxuries as the governor who is paid $165,000 a year and has a mansion, expense account, and house staff.

            As a bonus, Corbett plans to freeze wages of all public school teachers. Those are the people whom Laura Bush numerous times while in Washington said were grossly underpaid. But, since she was a teacher and not a Wall Street banker—you know, the kind who make money the old-fashioned way, by stealing from the poor—it's obvious she was a tax-sucking Big Government, Commie-loving, knee-jerk liberal who worked only a six-hour day for only a half a year, and gorged herself at the public trough. Thus, her views should be dismissed as nothing less than self-aggrandizement at the public's expense.

            Cutting an additional $1 billion from public education is bringing Corbett cheers from the tax-burdened masses who have yet to figure out that the cuts will force local school boards to raise taxes to cover essential educational expenses. But, the brilliance of Tom Corbett is that by freezing teacher salaries, he also spares local school boards the sweat of trying to explain why they have to raise taxes, drop programs, and close schools.

            Now, let's look at the State System of Higher Education (SSHE). Corbett plans to reduce the $465 million appropriation to a lean $232 million, roughly what it was in 1983 when the state system was created. That's the true spirit of conservatism in America—bringing back the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president.

            The 14 state-owned universities enroll about 120,000 students. Some classes have only 40 students. That's highly inefficient. By cutting funding, Corbett helps assure fewer high-paid professors who inflame students with the ideas of left-wing radicals like Socrates, St. Augustine, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. There's hardly any difference between 40 and 200 students in a class. The prof still has to prepare only one syllabus, one lesson plan, and talks into only one microphone. Besides, testing is more efficient when it's computer-scored multiple choice questions. If students want to chat with their prof, all they have to do is take a number and wait their turn for their allocated five minutes face time each semester.

            Cutting resources also helps the socialization of the students. On at least one campus, all two-student dorm rooms now have three students in them. This is a 50 percent increase in student interaction, allowing for more academic discussions about a wide range of topics, such as ceramics (the proper way to smoke pot), nutrition (light vs. dark brews), and psychology (improving the effect of hazing techniques on freshmen.)

            And speaking of psychology, why do all the colleges have to have psych programs? Times are tough, and the luxury of a psych major at all the colleges doesn't fit into Corbett’s education plan. It would be more cost efficient for only six or seven colleges to teach psych courses, thus cutting excess faculty and resources, while filtering students into the more efficient large sections at fewer colleges.

            We also don't need geography courses at any of the colleges. How many Americans knew where Korea or Viet Nam were before we went to war? Grenada, Iraq, and Afghanistan? All we have to do is keep bombing countries, and Americans learn about them. No wasteful expenses like full-color maps, globes, or professors. End of that problem.

            The state can save money by dumping all foreign language programs. This is America, after all, and students should be speaking English.

            Music, art, and theatre programs can also be eliminated since anyone in the creative arts is a liberal hippie who doesn’t earn enough to contribute to Republican political campaigns but can cause trouble, nevertheless. For the same reason, social work programs should be cut. That would result in fewer social workers to record poverty, homelessness, and disabilities, making it seem that the Commonwealth is just chock full of rich people with no problems.

            Corbett has also brilliantly solved unemployment. The state appropriation, which will be only about 16 percent of the cost to run the colleges, will force higher tuition. This will yield one of two possibilities. First, it will separate the scum—the students who come from lower- and middle-class households—from the "true" scholars, the “preppies” who will be able to contribute to Republicans’ political campaigns. Second, if the masses wish to receive a college education, they will have to increase their work hours; their parents will have to work four jobs instead of three to afford tuition and the already extraordinarily outrageous fees. But there is light at the end of this tunnel of despair. Box stores and fast food restaurants always have openings. Not only will students not waste time by doing menial chores like studying, they and their families will help reduce the unemployment rate. And, remember, the family that works together for minimum wage suffers together, a true family value.

            Students not fortunate enough to afford college would be able to look forward to expelling a lot of gas. By pushing for even more drilling and by not taxing the gas extractors, Corbett, the industry’s mascot, creates even more jobs. Like the coal, steel, and timber industries, all of which once were unionized, the non-unionized natural gas industry will have to hire thousands. Since we know that the owners believe in social justice and the rights of their workers, they may even build company towns, complete with match-stick houses, stores selling overpriced merchandise, and company-paid doctors who may or may not treat green-mulch lung disease, depending upon the company’s cost-to-benefits ratio. If the owners become rich enough in the Commonwealth of No Tax Gassy Pennsylvania, they may even hire a recent lit grad to be the industry’s hazardous materials inspector.

            After 20 or 30 years, when the gas is mined out, and the companies move to other states to strip their resources and exploit their workers, Pennsylvanians will be able to proudly say they once worked for a fracking company—all thanks to the vision of Gov. Tom Corbett.

 

            [Walter Brasch is an award-winning columnist, and the author of 16 books. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Big Business Paid For Their Beds, Now Republicans Have to Lie in Them

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Historian and satirist Thomas Carlyle said "a lie cannot live." However, Mark Twain casually remarked, "It shows that he did not know how to tell them."

            More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be "quick studies," having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

 

            LIE: The public workers' pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, "We're broke . . . We don't have any money."

            FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus when Walker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as "corporate welfare") to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

             Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board.

            Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now," correctly points out, "the population in the United States is angry, frustrated, full of fear and irrational hatreds. And the folks not far from you on Wall Street are just doing fine. They’re the ones who created the current crisis." The Great Recession has cost states revenue, not because of the workers' salaries and pensions but because the values went down because of lax oversight primarily during a Republican administration. Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

            Columnist Robert Greenwald says the "shortfall" would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald's analysis.

 

            LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

            TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5–4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker's gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans' reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

 

            LIE: The unions are greedy and won't budge.

            FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they'd be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, "I don't have anything to negotiate."

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker's proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

            TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn't count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker says he's just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the "dues check-off," saying the workers would have more disposable income.

            TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

            TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he'd receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they'd vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker's lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin—more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day—and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn't have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

 

            LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

            TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, and then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors—a "dirty trick" that dates back to the '60s.

 

            LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.  

            TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are "older and substantially better educated than private sector workers," according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. "The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year," says author/journalist Bill Press, "and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year."

 

            LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

            TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shaiken of the University of California, because there are not only better work conditions, but also a better-educated workforce, less turnover, and better communication between management and labor.

 

            [Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He can be contacted at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

ABC-TV: Oscar-Worthy, But Journalistically Unsound

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The last segment on every Friday's broadcast of ABC-TV's "World News," with Diane Sawyer, is a "Person of the Week."

            Usually, those persons have gone out of their way to do something good for people, or have lived a long and distinguished life, or by their example give inspiration to others.

            Recent "persons of the week" have included a very special caregiver, a wheelchair-bound teen who does wheelchair tricks, and a homeless man who returned $3,300 he had found.

            However, this past Friday, the "Persons of the Week" were two actors. There's nothing wrong with honoring actors and others in the creative arts. They bring us joy and, often, intellectual stimulation. But, the reason ABC News honored Anne Hathaway and James Franco had little to do with acting—and everything to do with advertising.

            ABC is broadcasting the Oscars, Sunday, and Hathaway and Franco are the hosts. To justify their inclusion, Sawyer led off the segment by telling us: "The torch will be passed to a new generation. The baby boomers no longer hosting the Oscars."

            But, for two and a half minutes, we learned about Hathaway and Franco, and not the story of a change in the Industry. We even learned about what each would like to know about the other.

            In television, ratings, mixed with some demographic analyses, determine the price of advertising. The range for 30 second ads for scripted prime time shows is about $50,000–$250,000. For the Super Bowl, with the largest audience, 30-second ads this year went for about $3 million. ABC, which sold all ad time for the primetime Oscars telecast, charged about $1.7 million for 30 seconds advertising. ABC pays about $65 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the broadcast rights. The Disney-owned company expects about $80 million revenue and is hoping for at least 43 million viewers for the telecast. And that doesn't include the advertising for the pre-Oscar "red carpet" show, or the on-air promotions for Disney-owned productions.

            By Industry standards, if the ratings tank, ABC would have an obligation to return money to advertisers, something it definitely doesn't want to do.

            So, in addition to running numerous Oscar-related commercials during ad time in the two weeks leading to the Sunday night broadcast, ABC-TV made its "Person of the Week" nothing more than another Oscar promotion to guarantee the network a strong "return on investment."

            That decision alone damages a news operation's credibility.

 

[Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch is a journalist/columnist, the author of 16 books, including Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture (3rd ed.). He is a retired professor of mass communications and journalismYou may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Ironically, Anti-Union Republicans Need Unions

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            There are a lot of ironies in the Wisconsin fight between the Republican-dominated legislature and the working class.

            On Tuesday, Feb. 22, the State Senate unanimously passed a resolution to honor the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl. Every one of the players is a member of a union.

            Of course, only the 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for the resolution; the 14 Democratic senators, co-sponsors of the resolution, were in Illinois. They were in the neighboring state because newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker, supported by Big Business, the Tea Party, and far-right conservatives, had ordered the unionized state police to bring every Democratic senator into the capitol in order to assure a quorum. Needing one more member, the Senate couldn't pass any fiscal legislation.

            Walker and the legislature thought they could ram through a union-busting measure, disguising it under a cloak of balancing the state budget. All they needed were 20 senators—19 Republicans and, for that elusive quorum, one Democrat, even if he or she voted against the bill. The only reason the state had a deficit, they lied, was because of union wages and benefits.

            The unions had already said they would accept what amounts to an 8 percent cut. But, Walker, acting more like a caricature of a Fat Cat Boss, refused to negotiate. His demands, if put into law, would essentially "gut" public worker unions.

            For two weeks, beginning Feb. 14, thousands of government workers and their supporters came to Madison to defend unions and collective bargaining. At its peak, more than 70,000 were in the streets of the state's larger cities. One of those protestors was all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson, the Packers' co-captain, one of those honored by the Legislature. Woodson, strong in his condemnation of the governor and Legislature, said he was honored "to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor [who were] under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work."

            There are more ironies.

            Thousands of anti-union voices have cried out that they don't need unions. However, even the most rabid anti-union reactionary has benefitted from labor's push for a 40 hour work week, overtime, better working conditions, the enactment of rigorous child labor laws, and basic benefits, including vacation time and sick leave.

            Unions also led the push to create the National Labor Relations Board, which gives further worker protections, while restricting excesses, both by unions and employers; and the Davis–Bacon Act, which requires all private contractors on federal projects to pay wages equivalent to what union workers would earn, even if their own companies are not unionized. The "prevailing doctrine" has led to better wages and employee training in the construction industry, according to labor historian Rosemary Brasch.

            Unions were primarily responsible for creating the rise of the middle class, thus elevating the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. With weaker unions, says economist Richard Freeman, "the U.S. will be slower in developing policies to help the disadvantaged and poor . . . and to protect consumers, workers, and shareholders from business crime and dishonesty." All social programs, according to writer/activist Harvey Wasserman "can trace their roots to union activism, as can the protection of our civil liberties." Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is "less turnover, better worker communication, better working conditions, and a better-educated workforce."  Further, merely the threat of unionization at a company usually leads to improved work conditions as employers, using extraordinary means to impose anti-union bias into their companies, nevertheless, will improve the lives of their workers solely to avoid collective bargaining and union benefits.

            Anti-union rhetoric also leads people to believe that the generous health benefits that governments give to unionized workers has led to the current financial problems, all of which are absorbed by the taxpayers. But, the truth reveals another irony. Better health benefits actually result in lower costs to the taxpayers. Most of the 50 million uninsured are members of working families, and have lower incomes, making them eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), funded by taxpayers. Unable to pay even the co-insurance costs, low-income workers usually use medical facilities only when there are critical problems, thus jeopardizing their own health, and resulting in less productivity and more long term care, all paid by public programs. Uninsured patients also pay more for health care, and are more likely to stay impoverished because of health costs, according to recent studies by the Kaiser Foundation on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Medicaid payments in 2008 were about $204 billion.

            And in the ultimate irony, Rush Limbaugh, who called union workers "bottom-feeding freeloaders," Glenn Beck, who miraculously linked trade unionism with Communists, socialists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United Nations, and numerous other conservative commentators are all members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), an AFL-CIO union.

 

[Next Week: Lies and the truth in Wisconsin. Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He has been a member of several unions, including The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America, International Association of Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Association of State College and University Faculty, and three in the entertainment industry. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Sexual Assault Coverage by Media Shows Double Standard, Paternalism, and Sexism

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Lara Logan, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent, was beaten and sexually assaulted, Feb. 11, while on assignment in Cairo to report on the revolution that concluded that day with Hosni Mubarak resigning as president.

            Logan, according to an official CBS announcement, was attacked by a group of about 200 Egyptians and "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers." The mob, probably pro-Mubarak supporters, but never identified by CBS—had separated Logan from her camera crew.

            About a week earlier, Mubarak's army detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, interrogated, and then released Logan and some of her crew after several hours. The government ordered her expelled from the country, probably for her on-air comments about the government intimidating and harassing foreign journalists. Logan returned to Cairo shortly before Mubarak resigned. She returned to the United States the day after the assault, and spent the next four days recovering in a hospital.

            The Mubarak administration at the beginning of the protests had expelled the al-Jazeera news network, and began a random campaign against all journalists, the result of the government believing that the media inflamed the call for revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak. There were about 140 cases of assault and harassment of journalists during the 18-day protest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Ahmad Mohamad Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was killed by sniper fire, probably by pro-Mubarak supporters.  Among American reporters physically assaulted were CNN's Anderson Cooper and photojournalist Dana Smillie, who was seriously wounded by what appeared to be a dozen BB-size pellets. Journalists displayed "admirable levels of courage as they—initially as individuals and small groups, and eventually in droves—made statements and took actions that exposed them to immense personal and professional risk," according to the CPJ.

            There can be no justification for the rogue gangs of thugs who attacked Logan, dozens of journalists, and hundreds of citizens. But, from the story of reporter and citizen courage against a 30-year dictatorship, no matter how benevolent it may have appeared, there emerged another story, one not as dramatic, nor as compelling, nor as important. But it is a story, nevertheless.

            Because of deadlines and a sense of having to get the story at any cost, news organizations sometimes become in-your-face inquisitors. Privacy isn't usually something the more aggressive news organizations give to those they want on air or in print. It's still common to see microphones stuck inches from faces of people who have suffered tragedies

            But when it comes to one of their own, news organizations seem to have a different set of standards. The brutal attack upon Logan occurred Feb. 11, but it was four days until CBS released any statement. After a brief review of the facts, CBS refused to make further comment or to respond to reporter inquiries. "Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time," the network said. A four day delay to give a basic statement is inexcusable by CBS; a statement that it did not give more information about the attack in order to protect the correspondent's privacy is hypocritical, and trumpets a double standard that the news media are somehow exempt from the reporting practices it demands of news sources.

            There is another factor in this mini-story. Judith Matloff, a journalism professor at Columbia University, told the L.A. Times, "Generally, female correspondents do not come out and talk about it [sexual assaults] because they worry that they won't get sent on assignments again."

            Paternalism in the news profession often has editors and news directors, most of whom are male, "protecting" their female reporters and correspondents. Journalists and news crews who go into dangerous situations, including riots, demonstrations, and war must be trained to deal with violence—and must be given every assistance by their organizations when they have been harassed or attacked. But, for news executives to discriminate on who to send because of the "fear" that women may be subjected to sexual assault, and for women not to report it to their bosses, is to acknowledge that they, and probably society, haven't come far in eliminating sexism within the profession.

            There is a further reality. The news media often don't identify adults who have been raped or sexually assaulted, a belief that somehow these crimes are more personal and more traumatic than any other kind of assault. However, sexual assaults and rapes are always brutal and vicious crimes of power and control. For the news media to continue to adhere to some puritanical belief that they are protecting womanhood by not reporting names and details perpetuates the myth that rape is purely a sexual intrusion, and not the brutal attack it truly is.

 

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist about 40 years. During that time, he has covered everything from city council meetings and music festivals to demonstrations and riots. He is the author of 15 books, most focusing upon history and contemporary social issues. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

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