Ferguson

Michael Brown’s remains have been interred.  With him go any pretense that racism in America is past us.  Any sense that electing a Black President put a four century old record of slavery, segregation, lynching and racism behind us is blasphemy.  Michael Brown was shot dead while unarmed and holding his hands over his head by a racist Ferguson, Missouri cop.  He was summarily executed for walking while Black in the middle of a street.  Unfortunately there have been hundreds of Michael Browns and dozens of Fergusons in America.  This particular one set off an entire community and ignited a sense of outrage among African-Americans tired of being targets of over militarized, racist police.

It has also revealed the depth of racism in America’s right wing.  The cop who committed the murder has been the recipient of $250,000 contributed by white racists who think he did the right thing.  Fox News went so far as to broadcast a fake story trying to raise sympathy for the man and excuse his actions.  The Ferguson Police Department released a partial video purportedly showing Brown shoplifting cigars.  Watching the entire, unedited video shows him paying for the items.

Such is America post-Ferguson:  a nation awash in unmitigated racism and a right wing unashamed in illustrating its racial hatred.  Right wing media has fanned the flames and cops stating virulently racist things in videos gone viral have fueled weeks of protests by Blacks in the suburban St. Louis town.

Ferguson is a predominantly African-American town ruled by white racists.  Because only 12% of its residents turned out to vote in the last Mayoral election it has a racist Administration and police department.  Our silence at the polls translates to the type of community in which we reside.  When a Black American, a poor American, a Union card carrying American doesn’t vote they have no voice.  They have no rights to a representative government truly seeing to their needs and protecting their rights.

The Michael Browns of Ferguson dug their own graves by neglecting to vote, by deciding not to participate in the system.  This is what they get in return and no amount of looting, protests or cries of anguish and remorse will atone for their sin of not voting.  Democracy is a wonderful thing:  we get what we deserve and we deserve what we get,  When we opt not to vote we then cannot turn around and complain at the outcome.  Ferguson is simply the latest example.

Ryan Costello and the NRA: A Perfect Fit

A new school year has begun in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District.  Children and teachers across the Commonwealth arrived for the year excited with anticipation of a safe, nurturing educational environment.  This is all a charade however as no new gun safety legislation has passed since the Sandy Hook massacre December 14, 2012.  Since then I count 54 school shootings (not including suicides) on school or college campuses.  Will your child be next?  Will your spouse, sibling, cousin or neighbor be the next teacher, principal, counselor or administrator gunned down?

One thing that I know for sure:  this school year will see Americans gunned down while at school.  What will Ryan Costello do as a Member of Congress representing the Sixth should he be elected in November?  Would he support Sen. Toomey’s watered down proposal which died because of Tea Party opposition fueled by NRA money?  Even that weak legislation failed.

The NRA has given Costello $4950 thus far for his campaign.  Costello bragged about attending a gun rights rally in Harrisburg while at a taxpayer funded trip to the County Commissioners Association of PA meeting.  His record of giving generous contracts to Chester County firms supporting his campaigns tells us he has a serious penchant for pay to play.  With the NRA supporting his Congressional campaign so strongly the answer to the above is obvious:  you and your children are not safe at Pennsylvania campuses if Ryan Costello is in Washington.

The Second Amendment is clear:  unless one is a member of “a well regulated militia” (e.g. the national Guard) one has no gun rights.  There is nothing on Commissioner Costello’s bios, facebook pages or campaign literature showing he is a member of the National Guard.

Be fearful for our children and our educators should this man be elected to Congress.  How many more children must die before we do something?

The Trivedi campaign issued this statement this week about Costello’s pay to play record:

RYAN COSTELLO GIVES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN CONTRACTS TO HIS CAMPAIGN DONOR

WEST CHESTER, Pa – During a regularly scheduled meeting of the board of County Commissioners, Chairman Ryan Costello continued to reward his political donors with million dollar contracts.

Even though Chairman Costello has only served as a county commissioner for a little over 2 1/2 years, up until today he has awarded $15.3 million in county contracts to his political donors. But then in his largest demonstration of a pay-to-play operation, during today’s meeting Mr. Costello awarded a contract in excess of $14 million to one of the largest contributors to his congressional campaign.

The congressional campaign of Manan Trivedi pointed to this type of political payback system as one of the highest forms of unethical governance.

“It is clear that in a very short amount of time as commissioner, Ryan Costello has played politics as usual by doling out millions upon millions of dollars in contracts to his political donors,” said Trivedi spokesperson, Daren Berringer. “With the culture of corruption being what it is in Washington these days, Ryan Costello would fit in nicely, but voters in the 6th District deserve better from their next representative. Manan Trivedi has pledged to fight for stronger restrictions on lobbying because he believes members of Congress should serve their constituents, not the deep pocketed donors that fund their campaigns.”

To mark today’s meeting, the Chester County Democratic Party held an event outside of the County Courthouse in order to present Costello with a giant check. The check was to symbolize the amount in which Mr. Costello was selling out Chester County taxpayers for his own political gain.

To date, Mr. Costello has awarded close to $29.6 million in contracts to those who have helped to line his political coffers.

With this record of corruption towards his contributors it is safe to assume he’ll vote the NRA line while in Congress.

Travelogue 2014 Part 1

We left Pennsylvania July 27th on an odyssey.  Going to Santa Fe the longer way we spent seven days traversing Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas before crossing into New Mexico.  It was only about a hundred miles longer than taking I-70 but much more scenic.  The first day was strictly driving between Reading and Asheville, North Carolina.  Monday was spent touring the Biltmore estate, the lavish mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II, scion of the great Robber Baron Cornelius Vanderbilt.  At 250 rooms and 65 fireplaces it is an ode to excess.  This is how the 1% spend the wealth produced by the sweat of your labor.

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The next day we drove to Nashville and toured President Andrew Jackson’s old cotton plantation The Hermitage.  This sprawling land was worked by slaves whose labor enriched the early President and his family.  These two days were an object lesson in how the 1% exploits the 99%.

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That evening was one of the highlights of the entire trip:  a visit to the Grand Ole Opry.  I’m not a country music fan but I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Numerous singers and bands played three songs apiece including The Charlie Daniels Band doing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”  Then Little Big Town took the stage and brought down the house.  Afterwards we had a backstage tour and I got my picture taken standing on the Circle.

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Music Row:

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We drove down Music Row listening to the music emanating from all the nightspots and saw young people milling all about.  The following morning we went to Nashville’s full size rendition of The Parthenon and then had lunch at the famous Loveless Cafe.  Frequently featured on both the Food and Travel Channels they’re famous for their biscuits.  I can’t say they were much better than the ones we had for free at out hotel breakfasts.  By far the best biscuits we had were at Brother Junipers in Memphis.  Their barbecue was delicious however.

The Parthenon replica in Nashville:

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We did drive to Memphis and stayed at the worst hotel ever.  This Comfort Inn near the airport has owners who don’t believe in either cleanliness or maintenance.  After three tries we finally found a somewhat acceptable room.  The second one had a sofa bed which not only hadn’t been stripped of its dirty sheets someone’s under garments were still in it.  Relatives of the owner were living in the room across the hall.

One room (of two) filled with gold and platinum record awards:

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Afraid to eat anything in a facility whose public areas were a disgrace we had breakfast at Brother Junipers.  Best meal we had on the trip.  Graceland exceeded my expectations.  Folks had warned me it wasn’t grand like the Biltmore or The hermitage (for its time) but I really enjoyed the tour.  The home and grounds are still as they were when Elvis died in August 1977.

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We then drove to western Arkansas on the Oklahoma border but not before a brief stop at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  Built to simulate a bridge (the Bridge tot he 21st Century) next to the Arkansas River, it is filled with documents and memorabilia of the Nineties.  I met a woman in the gift shop who has known Bill Clinton for 39 years.  I met the President when he was in Reading campaigning for Hillary in 2008.

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The Oklahoma City Memorial is a testament to the 168 people killed in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.  Tastefully done, it is a very moving tribute.

Cadillac Ranch:

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After brief stops at the Cadillac Ranch and Tucumcari NM ( a town still rich in lore from old Route 66) we rolled into Santa Fe.  The second leg of the trip took us into Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

Tucumcari:

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A few selfies and a game:  where am I?

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House Committee: No Benghazi Scandal

by Walter Brasch

The House Select Committee on Intelligence, following almost a two-year intense investigation, unanimously determined there is no basis for what has become known as the Benghazi Scandal.

The Committee consists of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

The pretend-scandal began Sept. 11, 2012, when terrorists raided the U.S. consulate, and killed the ambassador and three others.

Although there was confusion, and the Obama administration didn’t have all the facts when it began to inform the American people about the events and the causes, there was no evidence of anything even remotely linked to a scandal. However, as expected, the blathering mouths of the Extreme Right Wing media pundits and politicians, and those who blindly parrot their “talking points” in bars, on front porches, and hunting lodges, kept caterwauling about scandal.

Among the findings of the House Committee, all of which conflict with the manufactured propaganda by the Extreme Right Wing:

     –There was no stand-down order given to any personnel-military or civilian-who tried to assist. This information is consistent with testimony provided to the House Armed Services Committee.  In contrast, immediate response by the United States prevented additional injuries and deaths.

     –Although Intelligence agencies were warned about a possible threat, there was no advance knowledge of what was planned.

     — The Extreme Right Wing attacked Ambassador Susan Rice for her initial reports, possibly worried that President Obama would nominate her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was planning to leave the Administration after more than four years.

     –Although there was a lack of coordination between the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the White House, the Obama Administration did not deliberately mislead the American people. Committee Member Adam Schiff said evidence suggests, “The initial talking points provided by the Intelligence Community were flawed because of conflicting assessments, not an intention to deceive.” As new information became available, the Administration informed the people.

–All activities by the CIA were legal and authorized.

     –There was no illegal activity or illegal arms trading that allowed any weapons provided by the U.S. to get into the hands of the terrorists.

Now, here is also what is known.

     –In contrast to Extreme Right Wing allegations that the Obama Administration has done nothing to find those who killed the four Americans, the person believed to have been the leader of the attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, is in federal custody, awaiting trial. The United States has identified and is conducting operations to bring other terrorists to trial.

     –Ambassador Christopher Stevens five months before the attack had requested additional military security. However, his request was denied. The reason? The Republican-led obstructionist Congress had earlier refused to fund additional personnel and budget for embassy and consulate security.

     –During the George W. Bush administration, terrorists killed 60 personnel in 10 separate attacks at U.S. consulates and embassies. There were no outraged Republicans.

Within a week of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, terrorists killed 16 at the U.S. embassy in Yemen. Americans grieved but did not launch a barrage of lies and half-truths, nor try to politicize the deaths of the 60 Americans.

     –The Extreme Right Wing, apparently worried that Hillary Clinton would become the leading candidate for president, has willfully and maliciously attacked her leadership during this crisis, hoping to tarnish her reputation and reduce the possibility she will become the nation’s first female president.

Given the reality that a thorough investigation by a Republican-led House committee shows there is no scandal, you’d expect the rest of the House to drop its $3.3 million investigation that they increased for political purposes months before the November mid-term elections.

You’d also expect Fox News empty heads who have been screeching “scandal!” almost 24/7 for two years to either admit they were wrong or to just shut up.

You’d expect that. But, you won’t get it in an atmosphere fueled by hate and prejudice.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the health, environmental, economic, and political issues of horizontal fracturing .]

 

AIDS Advances May be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

by Walter Brasch

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure-there still has to be several years of clinical trials- but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates.

Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.]