Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

TaxpDeductible 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]

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Federal right-to-work legislation supported by Senator Pat Toomey


APRIL 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Federal right-to-work legislation supported by Senator Pat Toomey


LEHIGH VALLEY, March 18th- Lehigh Valley resident, and former House of Representative Pat Toomey (Republican-15th Legislative District), who was elected in 2010 as one of the two United States Senators from Pennsylvania, supports anti-union legislation that would ban “security clauses” in union bargaining agreements.

The legislation would prohibit contract language that makes joining a union a condition of employment. Often, after an employee serves a probationary period of employment, usually between 30 and 90 days, the employee must join the union or be dismissed.

There are 22 states, mostly in the southern United States, that prohibit any contract language that forces union membership as a condition of employment. Such legislation is called, “right-to-work.” Pennsylvania currently allows union contract negotiators to propose language making joining the union a condition of employment.

Since the Republicans success in the 2010 election, conservative groups such as the United States Chamber of Commerce have lobbied them to seek an anti-union agenda.

In Pennsylvania, both branches of the General Assembly are control by the Republicans and Republican Governor Tom Corbett supports anti-union legislation such as privitizing Pennsylvania’s Wine and Spirits Shoppes, allowing private school vouchers, banning the signing of Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s), and stated he would sign right-to-work legislation if it reached his desk.

Recently in Washington, DC, a House of Representatives Republican-led effort to defund the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) failed but the agency remains a target for spending cuts that would slash its annual budget by $50 million, or nearly one-fifth.

NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman said that the cuts would amount to 18 percent of the agency’s annual budget, requiring it to furlough all staff members for 55 days.

The legislative effort to defund the NLRB failed by the vote of 250-176, with 60 Republicans joining 190 Democrats in opposition.

The bill that Mr. Toomey supports would create a national right-to-work law, which would ensure that joining a union is not a condition of employment throughout the United States.

The newspaper contacted the local office of Democratic Senator Robert Casey Jr., who along with Mr. Toomey represents Pennsylvania in Washington, DC, to determine if he supports Mr. Toomey’s right-to-work legislation. The newspaper was given Mr. Casey’s Washington, DC office and a member of his staff in Washington indicated on March 16th she did not know what Mr. Casey’s position was on the legislation and someone would return the newspapers call. However, as of presstime, March 21st, the newspapers call had not yet been returned.

Governor Corbett’s budget cuts funding for public education


APRIL 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Governor Corbett’s budget cuts funding for public education


REGION, March 17th- Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett presented his State Budget Proposal on March 8th and it included slashing funding for programs for children in classrooms across the state.

Mr. Corbett’s $27 billion spending plan cuts more than $1 billion from public education at all levels, reduces state support for some public
colleges and universities by 50 percent and calls for a freeze on compensation for school district employees.

According to Ted Kirsch, President of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (AFT) Union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington DC, Governor Tom Corbett has made it clear that his vision for Pennsylvania is a sharp departure from the values and priorities that most Pennsylvanians embrace and his plan to cut basic education aid to school districts will result in many educators being laid-off and the raising of property taxes. “The governor is merely shifting a state tax burden onto local governments and school districts,” stated Mr. Kirsch.

Mr. Kirsch added after taking more than $1 billion away from public education, Governor Corbett did not stop with those cuts. He also supports expansion of vouchers that could drain another billion dollars a year from the state’s neighborhood public schools. Local school districts will lose control and funding, which instead will be given to unaccountable private schools and the corporations that operate many of them.

“The teachers and staff who work in Pennsylvania’s schools understand that our state faces severe budget iusses, including an extimated $4 billion revenue shortfall in the coming year as federal funding that helped us survive the recession comes to an end. But necessary sacrifices should be shared sacrifices. Through its cuts to education and other essential services, the budget presented asks much from those who are least able to shoulder more burdens, and it asks very little from the wealthy and corporate interests, shifting corporate tax obligations to residents across the state who will be asked to pay more to send their kids to college as well as more in local
property taxes,” Mr. Kirsch told the newspaper.

Legislation introduced in 2011 would allow parents to not pay their local school taxes that fund local public school system and receive an voucher that will allow their children to be enrolled in private and religious schools.

The legislation, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1, will allow vouchers and take funding from the local public school system.

“Senate Bill 1 lacks basic accountability measures to protect the taxpayers’ investment and to measure student achievement. The legislation contains no provisions to require private schools receiving taxpayer dollars to account for the funds,” stated Sharon Kletzien, education specialist of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, which believes the school choice plans have shortcomings.

Group: Unemployment System needs expanded federal role


APRIL 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Group: Unemployment System needs expanded federal role


REGION, March 2nd- According to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning economic research and educational institute in Washington, DC., there is a need to expand the Unemployment Insurance System. The purpose of the unemployment insurance system, as Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt noted upon signing the legislation into law, is both to alleviate hardships for the unemployed and to counter recessions.

The rules are that to receive unemployment benefits, a worker must have lost their job through no fault of their own and be actively seeking re-employment. In the wake of the Great Recession, the unemployment insurance system has been effective in helping families hardest hit by unemployment. In 2009 alone, unemployment benefits lifted 3.3 million families out of poverty.

The second purpose of the unemployment insurance system affects everyone, whether unemployed or not.

The system is designed to act as an “automatic stabilizer” for the economy. The unemployment insurance system acts “countercyclically” pumping money into the economy when unemployment is high by paying benefits that replace lost wages to those involuntarily unemployed while they search for work. This boost economic growth just when the economy needs it most.

Some economists have estimated that during the Great Recession, unemployment benefits closed about one-fifth of the recession-caused gap in total economic output. The unemployment benefits are paid for through federal and state taxes on employers, which are highest when unemployment is high and thus not inorrdinately pulling down employment during recessions.

In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, however, the nation’s unemployment insurance system is in a crisis that threatens both its hardship-alleviating and automatic stabilizer functions.

Most state unemployment insurance systems are now insolvent, including Pennsylvania’s, due to the lack of adequate payments into the system in the nonrecession years preceding the Great Recession and the subsequent tepid jobs recovery that has required many states to continue to pay benefits for an extended period of time. As a result, most states (32) have taken out loans from the federal government for this unemployment trust funds to the tune of over $43 billion.

The Center for American Progress laid out the key elements of a plan to accomplish the goal of shoring up the unemployment insurance system’s role as an effective automatic stabilizer, while addressing the solvency crisis in the states.

The first step is to clear the deck by forgiving the trust loans of insolvent states and rewarding states that maintained position trust-fund balances.

The state of Wisconsin enacted the first unemployment compensation law and established the nation’s first program in 1936.

The organization propose a set of conditions for what they called “deck clearing” that will improve the core functions of the unemployment insurance system by:

• Clearly delineating and separating the federal and state roles by increasing the role of the federal trust fund during times of high unemployment;

• Reducing the wide disparity in eligibility rules and benefits across states.

The Center for American Progress stated their proposal will reduce cost for states as their labor markets struggle to emerge from the Great Recession, improve benefits for the unemployed, and better stabilize the economy in future recessions.