About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Divesting America of Ozone-Destroying Energy Sources

by Walter Brasch

    Long before the price of gas and oil began to plummet, socially conscious churches, universities, non-profit organizations, and local governments began to divest themselves of fossil fuel stock and shock the fossil fuel industry to understand the environmental and public health concerns.
    The World Council of Churches, which represents about 590 million Christians in 520,000 congregations, decided in July that to continue to hold fossil fuel stock would compromise its ethics, and recommended that the 349 member denominations consider divesting oil and gas stock.
     Six of the eight Anglican dioceses of New Zealand and Polynesia, and four dioceses in Australia divested their portfolios of fossil fuel stock.
     In the United States, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist churches became the first denominations to begin to divest themselves of fossil fuel stock. Both denominations have a long history of fighting for social justice.
     Also divesting are Quaker, Episcopal, and several other denominations. Several synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have passed resolutions asking the national board and local churches to divest themselves of fossil fuel stocks.
     The Union Theological seminary, with a $108.4 million endowment, became the nation’s first seminary to divest itself of fossil fuel stock. The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the seminary’s president, explained the decision: “It is ever clear that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels is death-dealing—or as Christians would say, profoundly sinful.”
     Several religious groups that have shares in Chevron asked the corporation in 2011 to go “above and beyond regulatory requirements” to protect the environment and public health. Chevron flippantly dismissed the request. The corporation claimed, it “is already committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable laws and regulations [and the suggestions] would merely duplicate Chevron’s current efforts and thus would be a waste of stockholder money.”
    College students, staff, and faculty have been active in pushing their institutions to eliminate fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios. The result has been an awareness of a social issue that was not seen since students pressured their colleges to divest funds in tobacco companies and in corporations that dealt with the apartheid government of South Africa.
    “If we don’t deal with climate change now, we consign our grandkids to an unlivable planet,” said Unity College president Dr. Stephen Mulkey. Unity, which became the nation’s first college to divest its endowment portfolio of fossil fuel stock, specializes in environmental and natural sciences.
    Among three dozen colleges and universities that have committed to divesting their portfolios of fossil fuel stock are Foothill–DeAnza Community College, Green Mountain College, Humboldt State University, San Francisco State University, the University of Dayton, and Hampshire College, which in 1977 in protest of apartheid policies, was the first U.S. college to eliminate all stocks related to South Africa.
    Pitzer College, a liberal arts college in Southern California, divested about $4.4 million of its $5.5 million in fossil fuel stock in December, and pledged to work to eliminate most of the rest of the stock in fossil fuel industries. The college has about a $124 million endowment.
    Stanford University announced in May it would no longer hold stock in the coal industry, but did not include divesting oil and gas stock in its $18.7 billion endowment fund. About 300 Stanford University professors published an open letter to the administration this month to request the university divest itself of all fossil fuel stock. Among the signers were Drs. Elizabeth A. Hadley, senior associate vice-president; Donald Kennedy, former Stanford president; Roger Komberg, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry; and Douglas Osheroff, Nobel Prize winner in physics.
    However, Harvard University, whose $32.7 billion endowment is the largest among educational institutions, doesn’t plan to eliminate fossil fuel stocks from its portfolio. Harvard President Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust told the New York Times that in spite of wide-scale student protests, eliminating fossil fuel stocks is not “warranted or wise,” and that the university’s portfolio is “a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”
    David Crane, CEO of NRG, one of the nation’s leading energy providers, said he didn’t “relish the idea that year after year we’re going to be educating a couple million kids from college, who are going to be American consumers for the next 60 or 70 years, that come out of college with a distaste or disdain for companies like mine.”
    The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, founded on income from oil exploration and development, declared in October it would divest fossil fuel stock. Stephen Heintz, president of the $860 million philanthropic foundation, said his executives had already divested its portfolio of coal and tar sands stocks. Heintz said the Foundation will invest in more renewable energy companies.
    Several dozen U.S. cities and counties, as early as 2012, have begun the process to divest themselves of fossil fuel stocks and to urge their independent pension boards to divest. San Francisco in April 2013 began divesting about $580 million of fossil fuel stock, and by 2019 will stop purchasing stock of any company associated with fossil fuel exploration and development. Seattle, Wash., Mayor Mike McGinn in December 2013, a month before leaving office, asked the city’s pension board, which oversees a portfolio of about $1.9 billion, to “begin exploring options for moving existing investments from fossil fuel companies.” The city had $17.6 million invested with ExxonMobil and Chevron.
    Investing in renewable energy, especially with the increase in jobs in those industries and the rapid decline in the costs of solar and wind energy to consumers, appears to be the better investment strategy—and one that sends a message that protection of public health and the environment, combined with stopping the destruction of the ozone layer, is far more important than destroying the Earth.
   [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social issues journalist, is author of 290 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the effects of high volume horizontal fracturing.]

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Fascist Socialist Kenyan Muslim Libtard President

by Walter Brasch

      Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), like many Americans, was upset that President Obama did not go to Paris to personally show his solidarity with France, and publicly mourn the 12 journalists and the four French citizens killed in terrorist attacks.
      Like many Americans, both liberal and conservative, Rep. Weber made his views publicly known. However, he crossed the line of decency when he tweeted, “Even Adolph Hitler thought it more important than Obama to get to Paris. (For all the wrong reasons.) Obama couldn’t do it for the right reasons.”
      The response to the tweet led Weber to issue a retraction and apology. “I now realize that the use of Hitler invokes pain and emotional trauma for those affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust and victims of anti-Semitism and hate,” he said in his official apology.
      As comparison attacks go, Weber’s was not the most offensive. Six years into Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency, others have directly linked him to Hitler. In Tea Party rallies, it isn’t unusual to find pictures of the President with a Hitler-like mustache. On uncountable messages and rants posted in social media or written for online and print media, the reactionary right wing call the President a dictator, a fascist, and a Nazi.
      When they’re not comparing the President to Hitler, they say he isn’t a citizen. Apparently, they believe Hawaii is a foreign country. They fail to recognize that his mother was a U.S. citizen, making Obama an American. They called for his birth certificate. And so he showed a birth announcement from a Hawaiian newspaper and a long-form birth certificate—which they promptly dismissed as fraudulent. But, the only fabrication was a fake Kenyan birth certificate, widely accepted by the right-wing but easily proven to be a fraud. Nevertheless, with flimsy evidence, they filed suits to get his election victories thrown out, claiming he was really born in Kenya. However, every court has thrown out the suits filed by the “birthers.”
      When not challenging his birth, they have called him a Muslim, stressing his middle name “Hussein” as evidence and slyly trying to tie him to the now-deceased Iraqi dictator. But, the right-wing, clinging to the flag and the Constitution, desecrate the former by not understanding the latter. Even if President Obama is a Muslim, he could be president. He could also be a Jew, a Hindi, a Heathen, or an atheist. The Constitution specifically allows anyone who is an American citizen, over the age of 35, and who lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years to be president. A person’s religion—or lack of one—has no basis to deny a person the Constitutional right of the presidency.
      Many, with no proof other than what they hear on right-wing talk radio, have called him an Arab, stupidly believing that the worst thing is to be an Arab Muslim born in Kenya. Believing that also deflects criticism that they are attacking the President for being Black.
      Even being an Arab Muslim Kenyan dictator isn’t good enough. And so, they dig into the Cold War era, toss in “Commie” and “Pinko,” and then sprinkle it with “socialist.” Of course, that would make him the only Muslim socialist in the world, a distinction so ludicrous that would bring tears of laughter to the terrorists of al-Qaeda and ISIS.
      When not attacking the President, the right-wing attacks liberals, who are believed to be the earthly incarnation of the Devil. To the extreme right-wing, liberals are DemocRATS, DIMocrats, and libtards. The left-wing merely shakes their heads at such juvenile terminology.
      President Obama and his party aren’t the only ones who have been attacked in history.
      During the first decades after the Revolutionary War, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists were vicious in their attacks upon each other. “If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington,” wrote Benjamin Franklin Bache editor of the widely-read Aurora. In retaliation, Federalists destroyed the Aurora office and beat Bache, Franklin’s grandson. The Federalists, uniting behind Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, and the Anti-Federalists, uniting behind Thomas Jefferson, spewed lies and hate, often through newspapers.
      The 1828 presidential election put incumbent John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson.  Mudslinging by supporters of each candidate continued to drag the four-decade old country into a deeper campaign war of name-calling and personalities rather than ideas.
      Abraham Lincoln—another tall skinny president—was called a monkey, and portrayed in numerous editorial cartoons as an ape. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born into a WASP culture, was demonized as a “secret Jew,” with his critics emphasizing his name as “Roo-sevelt.” Protestant candidates vilified Catholic opponents; Catholics maligned Protestants. And everyone despised the Jews and other minorities.
      The hatred and disrespect shown by the Tea Party wing of the Republican party may not be unique or unusual. But it emphasizes that when you can’t argue on principles and policies, you resort to name calling.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the effects of horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]


Friday, January 9, 2015

A Textbook Case of Willful Distortion

by Walter Brasch

      HarperCollins says it’s sorry. It says it regrets not including Israel on a map of the Middle East in an atlas it published and distributed in the Middle East. It says all remaining copies of the atlas will be pulped.
      The Collins Primary Geography Atlas for the Middle East with a map that omitted Israel was described by the publisher in sales information as “an ideal school atlas for primary school geographers.” A fact checker, says a security officer for HarperCollins—the company refused to allow anyone from its Editorial, Marketing, or Media Relations offices talk to reporters—was “disciplined.” But, this was not a case of a bumbling fact checker who didn’t check the facts. This was a willful and deliberate decision by executives of the HarperCollins subsidiary, Collins Bartholomew, which concentrates on maps, to wipe Israel off the map—literally.
      The reason, said the company, was because of “local preferences.” In this case, “local preferences” means, said a representative for Collins Bartholomew, to include Israel on a Middle East map would be “unacceptable” to certain Middle East countries. “Unacceptable” translates solely as a loss of sales.
      The omission was discovered by Bishop Declan Lang and reported in The Tablet, a Catholic news weekly published in England. Lang told the Tablet that the publication of the atlas with Jordan and Syria covering the space of Israel “will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists a hostility towards their country from parts of the Arab world [and] will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful coexistence.” Dr. Jane Clements, director of the Council of Christians and Jews, told the Tablet, “Maps can be a very powerful tool in terms of de-legitimising ‘the other’ and can lead to confusion rather than clarity.”
      Only after the Tablet’s news story was published—and HarperCollins subsequently received extensive condemnation from throughout the world—did the company issue a one-paragraph apology, which it posted on Facebook, and remove the atlas from sale.
      In 2001, HarperCollins stopped distribution of a book by Michael Moore, although there were 50,000 copies in its warehouse about to be released to bookstores. The company demanded that Moore kill three chapters of the book and pay the company $100,000 for print costs of the revised book. The chapters attacked President George W. Bush and raised questions about corporations and the government. HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which also owns Fox News.
      These aren’t isolated instances of a publisher using the power of the press to change facts and suppress truth. Ever since 1948, when Israel was declared a country, publishers in countries hostile to Israel have not only refused to acknowledge Israel but have excluded it from maps and travel routes.
      Majority cultures write the histories, and their texts often reflect their biases and political agenda. During the twentieth century, Japanese texts overlooked the slaughter of thousands of Chinese civilians; Soviet texts under the Stalin regime failed to include the work of Leon Trotsky or mention America’s massive economic and humanitarian assistance to that country; and the texts of all countries reported little about the Holocaust.
      Publishers in America, trying to reap the widest possible financial benefit by not offending anyone, especially school boards, often force authors to overlook significant historical and social trends. For more than a century, books which targeted buyers in the North consistently overlooked or minimized Southern views about the Civil War; other books, which targeted a Southern readership, discussed the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States.
      Almost all media overlooked significant issues about slavery, the genocide against Native Americans, the real reasons for the Mexican-American War, the seizure of personal property and subsequent incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, the reasons why the United States went to war in Vietnam, the first Gulf War and, more recent, the war in Iraq.
      Textbook publishers, choosing profits over truth, often glossed over, or completely ignored until years or decades later, the major social movements, including the civil rights, anti-war and peace movements of the 1960s and the emerging environmental movement of the 1970s. It was the underground and alternative press that presented the truth that the establishment press under-reported or refused to acknowledge, timidly accepting the “official sources.”
      To establish standards for the study of history in the public schools and to correct some of the nation’s textbook wrongs, the National Endowment for the Humanities, under Congressional mandate, gave $1.75 million to UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools to bring together a wide range of academics to study the problems and to recommend a model text that would present history as it was, rather than what we hoped it was. The concept was good; the execution was abysmal.
      The Center rightly determined that texts were “sugar-coating” and distorting American history, that there was an over emphasis upon a recitation of facts and in recounting the deeds of a few people, mostly white males, but far too little discussion about major trends and social issues that defined the American republic.
      But, the Center did exactly what it condemned. In a 271-page document at the end of 1994, it presented a distorted overview that the formation of the United States was a convergence of Islamic, African, and European influence, and discounted western European influence. It claimed the nation’s history is little more than struggle, conflict, and the abuse of the rights of people. It barely discussed the historic role of a free press and of free speech, mentioned the Gettysburg Address only briefly, and relegated the complexities of the “cold war” as merely a “quarrel” among imperialistic nations.
      The Committee’s proposed guidelines, although rightly adding many civil rights leaders, left out Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers among many other scientists; it overlooked Daniel Webster and other major diplomats and politicians; and it gave few lines to innumerable creative artists. However, the emperor of an ancient African civilization was praised, as were numerous individuals, often female or of minority cultures, who were merely footnotes in America’s 300-year history.
      Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels correctly argued that if someone tells a lie long enough and with enough intensity, it becomes the truth. But, poet John Milton gave a greater truth three centuries earlier. “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” he rhetorically asked.
      Publishers may whitewash certain facts or movements. They may even eliminate certain truths in order to increase sales. But, eventually, truth will emerge.
      [Dr. Brasch is the author of 20 books, all of which were fact-checked. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, health, and environmental effects of horizontal fracking throughout the country. He is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications.]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Setting America’s Priorities for 2015

by Walter Brasch

      Marci Rosenberg, a senior speech language pathologist at the University of Michigan, earns about $73,000 a year.       
      Desmond Patton, who studies the problems of gang violence, is a professor at the University of Michigan. He earns about $80,000 a year.
      Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, who works with cerebral palsy children, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $136,000 a year.
      Ursula Jakob, a molecular biologist who is working on proteins to unlock new disease cures, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $112,000 a year
      Dan Habib works with children who have disabilities; Martha Bailey is doing research on the correlations between living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and criminal behavior; Jason DeBord, a musician, was an orchestra conductor for several Broadway plays. All are faculty members at the University of Michigan. They, like most of their colleagues, earn between $75,000 and $150,000. Several, most of whom teach in the schools of law and medicine, earn as much as two and three times the average wage of a University of Michigan professor.
      Among the faculty are 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 27 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and 76 members of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the arts, several have won Grammys and Emmys. Their salaries, justifiably, are more than the average wage in the country.
      Jim Harbaugh, the newly-anointed head football coach at the University of Michigan, got a $2 million signing bonus, and will be paid $5 million a year for the first three years of a five-year contract. In the fourth and fifth years, he will receive $5.5 million; after the fifth year, he will earn another 10 percent salary boost, giving him about $6 million a year. In addition to his base salary and benefits, he will receive incentive bonuses. If his team becomes a Big 10 champion, he will earn an additional $250,000. A national championship guarantees him $500,000. He will probably earn at least several hundred thousand dollars more from endorsements.
      Most faculty have doctorates; Harbaugh has a B.A. in communications from the University of Michigan. But, he has something no other faculty member has—he was a top college and NFL quarterback; when his playing years ended, he became one of the NFL’s most successful coaches. That, according to the administrators of one of the nation’s finest universities, assures him of a salary greater than any earned by a professor or university research scientist—at Michigan or anywhere else in the country.
      But, even with his $5 million base salary, Harbaugh is still not as well-compensated as Nick Saban, head coach at the University of Alabama, who earned about $7.2 million last year or Mark Dantonio, head coach at Michigan State, who earned $5.6 million. Harbaugh’s $5 million base pay puts him in a tie for third place with coaches for the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas and Texas A & M, according to data compiled by USA Today. The lowest salary of any of the 128 Division I football teams goes to Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield who earned a paltry $225,000 this season, about three times the average salary of all the nation’s professors.
      Penn State’s James Franklin earned $4.3 million base salary this year, eighth highest in the NCAA. It was about nine times greater than the final salary of legendary coach Joe Paterno, who thought $500,000 a year was about right for a Division I coach whose teams were often in bowl games, many which were in the Top 10 by the end of the season, and who had one of the highest graduation rates of any college coach.
      Collegiate football players don’t receive salaries. They can earn money from work-study jobs, usually in the recreation or athletics departments, that average about 10 hours a week and pay about minimum wage. But, few first- and second-string players work during the Fall semester; their hours are filled with football and, sometimes, classes.
      Almost every Division I player is on a scholarship. Tuition at the University of Michigan is $13,486–$18,000 a year for undergraduates, depending upon which school the student attends. Room and board, if living on campus, ranges from $16,928 to $27,116, depending upon accommodations. Add in a couple of thousand dollars more for books and study/research materials. The average debt of a graduate is about $26,000, according to the university.
      The salaries of football coaches pale by comparison to what professional athletes and megacorporation executives earn. Basketballer Kobe Bryant earned $23 million last year. Of 412 pro basketball players, 340 earned more than $1 million a year. The minimum salary of a major league baseball player is $500,000; the average salary is $3.4 million, more than 15 times the average wages of board-certified family physicians. Zack Grienke, a pitcher, topped the charts with a $24 million salary. In pro football, eight quarterbacks each earned at least $18 million last season, with Aaron Rogers topping the NFL charts with a $22 million salary.
      But even the sports stars’ salaries don’t match those of the Scrooge McDuck CEOs. The average CEO salary is about 380 times that of the average worker’s salary, according to data compiled by CNNMoney. This is the greatest wage gap in the world.
      At least 80 CEOs each earned at least $20 million in wages and compensation last year, with the CEO of Cheniere Energy earning $141.9 million.
      The average salary of a firefighter is about $43,000; for teachers, it’s about $45,000; for licensed clinical social workers, it’s about $51,000; for registered nurses, it’s about $56,000. For physical therapists, it’s about $65,000. For child care workers, it’s about $18,000, according to payscale.com.
      What we pay our workers reflects what we, as a nation, consider to be our priorities. And our priorities certainly aren’t in the categories of helping or teaching others.
     [Dr. Brasch is professor emeritus of mass communications from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. He is a syndicated columnist and radio commentator, and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the effects of high volume horizontal fracturing.]

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Fracking Boom is a Fracking Bubble

by Walter Brasch

    Gas prices have plunged to the low $2 range—except in Pennsylvania.
    In Pennsylvania, the prices at the pump are in the mid-$2 range.
    That’s because Gov. Tom Corbett and the legislature imposed a 28-cent per gallon surcharge tax. Until 2019, Pennsylvanians will be paying an additional $2.3 billion a year in taxes and fees—$11.5 billion total—to improve the state’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased tax on gas at the pumps, Pennsylvania motorists will also be spending more for license registrations, renewals, and title certificates.
    For far too many years, the state’s politicians of both major parties, preaching fiscal austerity—and hoping to be re-elected by taxpayers upset with government spending—neglected the roads, bridges, and other critical problems.
    What the state government doesn’t readily acknowledge is that much of the damage to roads and bridges has come from increased truck traffic from the fracking industry.  
    The state roads, especially the section of I-80 that bisects the northern and southern halves of the state, were already in disrepair, as any long-haul trucker can attest. The addition of 40-ton fracking trucks on two-lane roads, highways and the Interstates, has added to the problem.
    “The damage caused by this additional truck traffic rapidly deteriorates from minor surface damage to completely undermining the roadway base [and] caused deterioration of several of our weaker bridge structures,” Scott Christie, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, told a legislative committee in 2010. Since then, the damage has increased in proportion to the number of wells drilled into the state.  There are about 7,100 active gas wells in the state, with the cost of road repair estimated at about $13,000 to $25,000 per well.  The fracking truck traffic to each well is the equivalent of about 3.5 million cars on the road, says Christie.
    Although corporations drilling into Pennsylvania have agreed to fund repairs of roads they travel that have less than two inches depth of asphalt on them, the fees don’t cover the full cost of repair.  Had the state imposed an extraction tax on each well, instead of a much-lower impact tax, there would have been enough money to fund road and bridge repair without additional taxes for motorists. Every state with shale oil but Pennsylvania has an extraction tax.
    Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who supports fracking, says he wants the state to begin to impose those extraction taxes. The politicians, who benefitted from campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, claim the industry—and all its jobs—will leave the state if the taxes are too high.
    There are several realities the oil/gas industry knows, but the politicians, chambers of commerce, and those who believe everything politicians and corporations tell them don’t know or won’t publicly admit knowing.
    First—as long as it’s economical to mine the gas, the industry won’t leave the state, even if they have to pay a 5 percent extraction tax, which is at the low end of taxes charged by other states.
    Second—the expected $1 billion in extraction tax per year, even if the legislature approves, should not be expected. The industry has already found most of the “sweet spots,” and production will likely fall off in 2015, leading to less income to the state and to leaseholders.
    Third—like a five-year-old in a candy shop, the industry salivated at the newly-found technology and gas availability and overdrilled the past four years, leading to a glut and falling prices. End of the year prices are about $3.17 per million cubic feet, down almost 30 percent from November.
    Fourth—falling prices have led to drilling not being as profitable as it could be.
    Fifth—the OPEC countries have not lowered their own production of oil, and the reason for the lower  gas prices at the pumps is not because of the shale gas boom, but because of the plunging price of oil per barrel, which has declined by about 40 percent since Summer. Once oil prices fell beneath about $70–73 per barrel, American shale frackers found themselves unable to compete economically. 
    Sixth—To compensate for lower prices in the United States, the megacorporate drilling corporations have begun to find alternative ways to make money. One way is to build a massive maze of pipelines, and send natural gas to refineries in Philadelphia and the Gulf Coast, changing the gas into the extremely volatile liquefied natural gas (LNG), putting it onto ships, and exporting it to countries that are willing to pay more than three times what Americans are paying for natural gas. However, there is an unexpected twist. The OPEC low-cost oil has led to a severe drop in Russia’s economy and value of the ruble. Gazprom, the Russian-owned world’s largest gas supplier, is now forced to drop its own prices to be competitive, and has been developing plans to provide gas to Europe and Asia, especially China where American gas is headed, at a price that makes it uneconomical to do long-term contracts.
    Seventh—the banks and investment lenders are getting testy. Because of overdrilling, combined with inflated estimates of how much gas really is in the Marcellus Shale, corporations have found themselves in trouble. Many corporations have begun cutting their drilling operations; others have already left the state, burdened by debt to the lending institutions; some corporations have sold parts of their operations or declared bankruptcy.
    Eighth—The jobs promised by the politicians, the various chambers of commerce, and the industry never met the expectations. Gov. Tom Corbett claimed 240,000 additional jobs. The reality is the increase in jobs is about one-tenth of that; more important, most of the full-time jobs on the rigs and well pads are taken by workers  from Texas and Oklahoma who have extensive experience in drilling; most of the other jobs are temporary, and layoffs have already begun.
    Ninth—The fracking boom for Pennsylvania is more like the housing bubble.  At first, the availability of mortgages looked like a boom. However, a combination of greedy investors and lending institutions with almost no governmental oversight, combined by a client base of ordinary people who were lured into buying houses with inflated prices they couldn’t afford, led to the Great Recession.  Those who didn’t learn from the housing bubble guaranteed the fracking boom would become a fracking bubble.
    Tenth—The continued push for fossil fuel development, and more than $4 billion in governmental subsidies, slows the development of renewable energy, while escalating the problems associated with climate change and brings the world closer to a time when global warming is irreversible.
    Finally, but most important—The fracking industry doesn’t acknowledge that this newer process to extract gas, which has been viable less than a decade, is destroying the environment, leading to increased climate change, and putting public health at risk, something that dozens of independent scientific studies are starting to reveal. It was a 154-page analysis of public health implications, conducted by the New York Department of Health, and based upon scientific and medical studies, that led New York this month to ban all drilling—and infuriate many politicians and some landowners who were expecting to make extraordinary wealth by leasing mineral rights beneath their land to the gas companies. Of course, they didn’t look to their neighbor to the south to learn the wealth promised was never as much as the royalties delivered and that many landowners now say they should never have given up their mineral rights and the destruction of the land and farms that came with it.
    Until prices stabilize, Americans are paying lower prices for gas at the pump; Pennsylvanians are also paying lower prices, but not as low as the rest of the country.
    And the politicians and industry front groups continue to foolishly claim there are no environmental or health effects from horizontal fracking, only blue sky and rainbows of riches.
    [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and the author of 20 books, is a national specialist on the effects of fracking. His critically-acclaimed book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is now in its second edition.]



Friday, December 26, 2014

Reel Violence

by Walter Brasch

      It was yet another stop on the book promotion trail, this time in Philadelphia on a “big-time” talk show with a “big-name” star. The host was friendly, and discussed my background and the book, a history of animated cartoons, although like most hosts she hadn’t had a chance to read any of it.
      “Let’s get started by finding out what your favorite cartoon show is,” she asked.
      “I’m partial to the Roadrunner and Coyote series,” I said, then briefly explained how the cartoons, with brilliant writing by Mike Maltese and directing by Chuck Jones, were classic throwbacks to some of the best silent physical comedies of the 1910s and 1920s. I expected an equally soft follow-up question. It came loaded with an explosive not even the Acme Co., the Coyote’s supplier, could produce.
      “There really is too much violence in cartoons, isn’t there?” she rhetorically stated, and then spent three minutes explaining her views.
      “Actually,” I said when she finally had to breathe, “the physical violence in cartoons is completely different from what you see in live-action or even in cartoons with human subjects.” I got a couple of more sentences in when she came back, expounding the belief that cartoon violence directly leads to violence in real life, and that the studios and networks needed to be more responsible. Perhaps the Industry should establish a commission to review films, she suggested.
      Keeping my composure, I politely explained that the basis of all literature is conflict, and that most three-year-olds know the difference between cartoon violence and “real” violence, and if they didn’t, then parents should learn how to change the channels. Later, I was able to sneak in my opinion that it was absurd when network television, scared by lobbyists, had temporarily pulled Bugs Bunny cartoons from the air because they didn’t think Elmer Fudd should be blasting rabbits and ducks. She came right back at me by pretentiously quoting a research study to support her views, took a triumphant breath, and awaited what she thought would be my feeble response. Fifteen minutes into what I thought was a mugging—I had wanted to talk about bunnies and tweety birds—I fired back. “I’m well aware of that study,” I said, then began to cite other studies that revealed either a slightly negative correlation or no correlation at all between cartoon violence and human action.
      “Let’s go to the phones,” she said. For the most part, the audience asked interesting questions, with the host usually spending more time in presenting her views than I did in answering audience questions. Then, abruptly, she mellowed. “You certainly have a wealth of knowledge,” she cooed. “I was wondering, do you have a favorite cartoon show?” Apparently, since I didn’t answer correctly the first time, I got another chance.
      “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” I replied, explaining that Jay Ward’s creation probably had the sharpest satire of all television shows. I was going to elaborate when she again explained that the plotting done by Boris and Natasha to the Moose and Squirrel couldn’t be very healthy for impressionable minds.
      “I believe that some studies show that cartoons may affect persons already prone to violence,” I said, “but have no effect on persons who are not themselves violent.” Commercials saved me from her response.
      Back on air, she again introduced me and cited the book I was huckstering. “Let’s go to the phones,” she said again, and again the audience was more interested in the origin of cartoons, and some insight into the making of them. Five minutes before the hour, it was time to close it up, but not before one more question.
      “By the way, one other thing before you leave,” she asked, “what’s your favorite cartoon show?”
      This time I was determined to get it right. “I love SpongeBob and the Animaniacs and—oh, yeah—I love the Simpsons.” When she said nothing, I briefly said that I love the puns, the double entendres, and the brilliant satire of the classic cartoons. I awaited her response that cartoons were responsible for the moral breakdown of the American family, and that the world was at risk because of the conflict between Homer and Bart. All she said was, “That’s nice,” thanked me for showing up, again mentioned the book, and went to another set of commercials.
      I left the studio convinced that like most guests, I was yet another batch of chum for talk-show sharks—and wondering if I would ever get my favorite cartoon show right.
      [Dr. Brasch is the author of 20 books, one of which is Cartoon Monickers, a history of animated cartoons.]


Friday, December 12, 2014

Practicing Subsidized Un-Medicine

by Walter Brasch

     Clutching newspaper clippings in one hand and a medical bag loaded with seeds in the other, my ersatz friend Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, knocking down pregnant ladies, students, the elderly, and two burly construction workers who were waiting for a bus, rushed past me, leaving me in a close and personal encounter with the concrete.
     “Medical emergency!” Comstock cried out. “Gang way!”
     “You’ve returned to medicine?” I shouted after him.
     “I’m going into un-medicine!” he shouted back. “I’m getting the big bucks not to operate!” This was a story too good to let by, so I gave up any hope of the 7:11 “D”-line bus arriving by 7:30, and chased after him.
     “Slow down!” I panted. “You’ll kill yourself!”
     “No time to slow down,” he said, leaving a trail of broken bodies. “There’s money to be had!”
     “If you kill yourself before you get to the hospital, you’ll never see a cent from the insurance company.” That stopped him, giving me time to catch up and catch my breath.
     “I’m not operating,” said Comstock.
     “If you’re not operating, what’s the medical bag?”
     “That’s so I can get money from the Department of Agriculture,” he replied. I’m planting lots of stuff on lots of non-productive acres, and I’m waiting for the market to drop.”
     “You want the market to drop?” I asked suspiciously.
     “That way I can take advantage of crop insurance. Here! Read!”
     A newspaper clipping revealed that Congress approved $90 billion over the next decade to assist farmers whose crops didn’t yield previous production quotas. It was a sleight-of-hand change from a program that gave farmers subsidies not to grow certain crops. However, in this case, the crop insurance program primarily benefitted large corporate agribusiness industry. About 10,000 corporations are receiving more than $100,000 each, with some receiving over $1 million, according to the Environmental Working Group. Local farmers, however, are receiving less than $5,000 a year, and mostly when their crops are wiped out by floods. Also in the budget is more than $1 billion to insurance companies for “administrative” expenses.
     “When the public finds out which corporations are getting all this tax-funded bonuses, they’ll be outraged!” I said.
     “That’s the juicy part,” said Comstock. “Congress slipped in a non-disclosure clause in the bill, and who gets the bucks is secret.”
     “So, you’re entire income will be from not being a successful farmer?” I said, outraged.
     “Absolutely not! I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. I’m also going to get money for not operating.”
     “You mean, like the farmers got for not planting crops?”
     “Exactly. And you can thank a congressman for this brilliant stroke of fortune.” With that, he handed me another newspaper article. In this article, Rep. Mike Kennedy, a Republican from Utah, in opposition to Obamacare, said, “Access to health care can be damaging and dangerous.” Elaborating, he claimed that as many as 1.5 million people die in hospitals, “and it’s access to hospitals that’s killing these people.”
     “That’s even dumber than subsidizing corporate farmers,” I said.
     “Not dumb. Just helping the medical profession earn a reasonably high six-figure wage. Even if we get them through surgery, they’ll die in the hospitals anyhow! Isn’t that wonderful!” Wonderful wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind.
     “Doctors are supposed to make people healthier,” I brazenly said.
     “I guess we can do that while we’re making money,” said Comstock, thoughtfully stringing out his scheme. “In the old days, we surgeons knew there was more money to be made in surgery than in pushing pills, so we rushed everyone into X-Ray, MRI, and CT scans—got a nice chunk of kick-back change for that—then into  surgery, and finally into the recovery ward where they sometimes actually recovered.” He paused a moment, grinning. “But, that congressman thinks access to hospitals is dangerous, so that means fewer patients. Fewer patients means we need to have subsidies. Just like the farmers.”
     “You’re going to demand Congress, which has already wasted millions of dollars and tried more than 50 times to wipe out Obamacare, pay doctors for not having enough patients?”
     “Doctors deserve no less than the MBAs running corporate farms,” he patriotically declared.
     “Most doctors aren’t as greedy as you,” I explained.
     “Most doctors aren’t as rich as me either,” he retorted. “Besides, it makes no difference. I’m sure the AMA would be thrilled I’m not doing surgery.” I had to agree with him, but I had another question.
     “What happened to your franchised Doc’s Gas self-service stations? I thought you became a multi-millionaire because of that.”
     “Lost a ton of money. It’s all Obama’s fault.”
     I knew Comstock blamed the President for everything wrong in the country—and a few things that were just made up by Fox News commentators who had too much air time and not enough time to do any fact checking. “How is it President Obama’s fault?” I asked.
     “Gas prices plummeted this year,” said Comstock. “Cost me a lot of money. But that Black socialist Muslim Kenyan dictator refuses to give me a subsidy for having too much gas in my system.”
     Yes,” I said sarcastically, “that does seem to be a problem. But, at least you’ll be getting tax-dollars for running an unproductive farm and may get money for not operating.”
     “Not enough,” said Comstock. “It’s always not enough.”
     And, with that, I thought I had enough, and ran after the 7:11 D-line bus, which, on time, showed up at 7:32.
     [Walter Brasch, an award-winning social issues columnist and satirist, is the author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, economic, and environmental effects of fracking throughout the country.]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Deck the Malls

by Walter Brasch
     It’s now been about a week after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.
     During the four-day spree, about 133.7 million shoppers spent about $50.9 billion, according to AP and TIME magazine. 
     The psychological necessity to push, shove, and trample strangers while fighting for the right to purchase overpriced merchandize made in China has just begun. Thanksgiving—a day when Americans give thanks the Native Americans didn’t have immigration quotas—begins a 30-day frenzy to buy whatever corporate America is selling. It’s an American tradition to give presents to relatives, friends, business associates, and mistresses, all of whom will also give you presents, which will be opened, sometimes enjoyed, and often returned within a week for something better. Each shopper will spend about $781, according to Statista Research, while boasting about the great bargains they are getting, and how the government spends too much and takes too much of our hard-earned income for unnecessary expenses, like road repair, health care, environmental protection, and food stamps for the impoverished.  
     To assuage our spirit of greed—and the need to feel loved because we bought someone something—we will drop change into Salvation Army kettles, while disgustingly stepping around the homeless.
     We say how much we support the troops, while we go to Christmas parties, get drunk, and then forget those who come home damaged.
     It makes no difference what our faith or culture is, we enjoy the lights and inflatable snowmen, but sometimes wonder if extravagant displays are nothing more than neighborhood contests to show our pride of affluence.
     At department stores, grocery stores, and every kind of business known to mankind—and a few that no one wants to claim to know about—minimum wage clerks will wish customers a happy holiday. As expected, the lunatic fringe (known as Tea Party Republicans and Fox News commentators) will declare there is a war on Christmas, and demand everything with at least a dozen carbon atoms in its system wish only, “Merry Christmas.” To prove how good Christians they think they are, they will also expect the greeting to be shouted if the customer didn’t hear it the first time—“I said ‘Merry Christmas’!” Wishing someone “Happy Chanukah,” of course, is seen not only as un-American, but treason. It’s war, say Hannity, Limbaugh, and the whackadoodle horde who don’t realize how funny they truly are.
     It’s possible these religious zealots, with a political ideology of hate that dominates their soul, don’t realize that Jesus might have preferred to be greeted with “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Chanukah.” Even if he was trying to get through the wall of souls to find a pair of on-sale sandals or a doll from Frozen, he would probably smile, and wish his fellow shoppers joy, love, kindness, and respect.

    [Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, professor emeritus of mass communications, and the author of 20 books. His most recent book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]    

Friday, November 28, 2014

Perceptions of Reality— And a Failure to Indict

by Walter Brasch

      She quietly walked into the classroom and stood there, just inside the door, against a wall.
      The professor, his back to her, continued his lecture, unaware of her presence until his students’ eyes began focusing upon her rather than him.
      “Yes?” he asked, turning to her. Just “Yes.” Nothing more.
      “You shouldn’t have done it,” she said peacefully. He was confused. So she said it again, this time a little louder.
      “Ma’am,” he began, but she cut him off. He tried to defuse the situation, but couldn’t reason with her. She pulled a gun from her purse and shot him, and then quickly left. He recovered immediately.
      It took less than a minute.
      The scene was yet another exercise in the professor’s newswriting class, this one unannounced but highly planned. His assignment was for the students to quickly write down everything they could about the incident. What happened. What was said. What she looked like. What she was wearing. Just the facts. Nothing more.
      Everyone got some of the information right, but no one got all the facts, even the ones they were absolutely positively sure they saw or heard correctly. And, most interestingly, the “gun” the visitor used and which the students either couldn’t identify or misidentified was in reality a . . . banana; a painted black banana, but a banana nevertheless. The actual gunshot was on tape on a hidden recorder activated by the professor.
      It was a lesson in observation and truth.
      Witnesses often get the facts wrong, unable to distinguish events happening on top of each other. Sometimes they even want to “help” the reporter and say what they think the reporter wants to hear.
      Reporters are society’s witnesses who record history by interviewing other witnesses, and they all make mistakes, not because they want to, but because everyone’s life experiences and perceptions fog reality. Put 10 reporters into a PTA meeting or court trial, and there will be 10 different stories.
      Of the infinite number of facts and observations that occur, reporters must select a few. Which few they select, which thousands they deliberately don’t select—and, more important—which parts they don’t even know exist—all make up news, usually written under deadline pressure. Thus, it isn’t unusual for readers to wonder how reporters could have been in the same meeting as they were since the published stories didn’t seem to reflect the reality of that meeting.
      It’s no different with witnesses to a shooting on a public street.
      Put 10 witnesses in the same area. All may get some common facts accurately. But, each witness sees the same scene different. It may be because they see it from different locations, from different perspectives, from different backgrounds.
      Now, place a police officer into the scene. And let’s assume the officer shot and killed an unarmed suspect, one he may have believed was posing an imminent threat to his life.  Now, let’s have the police officer testify before a grand jury as to what happened.
      What happened at the scene, and what the police officer later remembered may be different. The police officer may not have lied to the grand jury; he may have embedded into his own memory something different from what had happened—or why it happened—or how it happened. Time continually changes our perceptions of reality.
      Add in a prosecutor, because prosecutors are the ones who control grand juries. They are the ones who present evidence, call witnesses, and create the narrative the grand jury follows. There are no defense attorneys. There are no cross-examinations.
      In one city in America, a prosecutor chose his witnesses and how to question them.
      In one city in America, a 12-member grand jury—each with his or her own backgrounds and perceptions—listened to what was presented to them. They struggled to determine the facts, to try to reach a just verdict. And, after the prosecutor presented what he chose to present, that grand jury decided not to indict a police officer who shot and killed a suspect.
      A maxim of the way the law is practiced, not how it is written, is that if they wanted to, prosecutors could get grand juries to indict a ham sandwich.
      A maxim of life is that truth will eventually emerge—no matter how long it takes.
      [Walter Brasch has been a journalist more than four decades, covering everything from local service club luncheons to the Congress and the White House. For many of those years, he was also a professor of journalism. Dr. Brasch is the author of 20 books; his most recent one is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the effects of horizontal fracturing upon health and the environment, with special investigation of the relationships between politics and corporate business.]

Friday, November 21, 2014

How Americans Came to Oppose Fracking

by Walter Brasch

      For the first time since high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as nonconventional fracking, was developed, more Americans oppose it than support it.
      According to a national survey conducted by the independent non-partisan Pew Research Center, 47 percent of Americans oppose fracking, while 41 percent support it. This is a 7 percent decline in support from March 2013, and a 9 percent increase in opposition.
      The poll also reveals those who support fracking tend to be conservative men over 50 years old with only a high school education, and living in the South. However, support for fracking has decreased in all categories, while opposition has increased.
Fracking is the controversial method of drilling a bore hole into the earth’s crust as deep as 12,000 feet. The company sends fracking tubing, which has small explosive charges in it, to create a perforated lateral borehole, about 90 degrees from the vertical bore hole, which fractures the shale for up to about 6,000 feet to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. A mixture of proppants, toxic chemical additives, radioactive isotopes, and as much as 10 million gallons of fresh water are put into the tubes at a pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch. About 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011.
        Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown environmental and public health dangers; other research reveals dangers because of the exploration, drilling, storage, wastewater disposal, and transportation parts related to fracking.
    According to the Pew survey, about 52 percent of men favor fracking; 40 percent oppose it. However, only 31 percent of women support fracking, while 54 percent oppose it. The remaining percentages are “don’t know” or “no opinion.”
    In geographical distribution, those opposed to fracking live in the Northeast (48 percent opposed; 37 percent in favor), Midwest (47–39 percent opposed), and West (54–38 percent opposed.) In the South, 45 percent favor fracking; 42 percent oppose it. The biggest shift from the March 2013 survey is in the Midwest. In that previous survey, 55 percent favored fracking, with a 16 percent drop in support in only 20 months.
    Among all Republicans, 62 percent favor fracking, a drop of 4 percent from the earlier survey. However, among Republicans, 68 percent of those who identify themselves as conservatives favor fracking, while only 52 percent of those who identify themselves as moderate or liberal Republicans support fracking.
    Among Democrats, 29 percent support fracking; 59 percent oppose it. About 33 percent of conservative and moderate Democrats support fracking; 54 percent oppose it. Among liberal Democrats, 67 percent oppose it, while only 25 percent support it.
    Support for fracking in all age groups has also fallen in the past two years; about half of all those under 50 oppose it, while only about 38 percent under age 50 support fracking. Even opposition to fracking among those 50+ has increased. By November of this year, 43 percent of those 50-64 (7 percent more than in 2013) and 40 percent of those 65+ (6 percent more than in 2013) oppose fracking.
    The biggest drops in support are among those who attended college. In March 2013, 45 percent of college graduates supported fracking; 20 months later, only 38 percent of college graduates support it. About 52 percent of all those with some college education supported fracking in March 2013; by November 2014, only 40 percent support it.
    To understand why there has been a shift in public attitudes about horizontal fracking, it’s important to understand the nature of the mass media.
    The mainstream establishment media are not in the forefront of society, but follow it—sometimes years behind emerging issues. In the past decade, the media at first didn’t cover fracking, perhaps because it was too complicated for reporters who weren’t trained in the sciences, perhaps because significant downsizing by publishers left fewer reporters to cover critical issues, perhaps because the media didn’t think fracking affected their own circulation and viewership areas.
    The first stories came from the oil and gas industry, and the establishment media accepted what was handed out to them. Thus, public perception was mostly from pro-fracking information.
    But, the people knew. They could see their roads being torn up by gas-industry trucks, sometimes more than 200 a day on rural roads. They could see acres of agricultural and forest land leveled for the access roads and well pads. They could hear around-the-clock noise from the trucks, well pads, and compressor stations. They could empathize with neighbors whose land was condemned by eminent domain so that pipes could be laid across and beneath private land.
    They learned about politicians who took campaign funds from the oil and gas industry and many front groups, and then crafted industry-friendly regulations to benefit those who fracked the land.
    They heard about the economic benefits of fracking, of how fracking would help the local unemployed find work in the deepest recession in decades; but, the high-paying technical jobs went to those from out of state who had experience on the rigs and well pads, did their jobs, and moved onto other out-of-state sites. 
    They were told about how natural gas was inexpensive, how it was better for the environment,  and how renewable energy was unproven and far too expensive for the average homeowner. But, they learned that it was the investors and fossil fuel executives who benefited, and how the process to capture the natural gas, with the flaring of methane, may be more dangerous to global warming than even coal emissions.
    At first, the few individuals cried into the winds. But, they came together to form small groups, and then larger groups. They read the environmental and public health studies. They heard from the people about the problems associated with fracking.
    They didn’t have the millions of dollars the industry had. They couldn’t afford full-page newspaper ads, radio and TV ad time, or the costs to design and produce 4-color flyers, innumerable mailers, and billboards.
    Theirs was a grassroots campaign. They went door-to-door, to their neighbors. They called their friends and strangers who might be affected by fracking.
    They attended flea markets, farmers’ markets, and community events. They went to city council meetings.
    They became adept at the use of social media. They produced black-and-white flyers and PowerPoint presentations. Some, using inexpensive digital technology, created micro- and mini-documentaries and posted them on YouTube. Others wrote letters to the editor, letters to their legislators, and articles and opinion columns for the alternative media. A few wrote articles for the establishment media; one developed a 107-minute documentary; others produced a feature-length film; several developed shorter films; one wrote a book.
    And, when they had to, they blocked and marched, non-violent acts they knew would attract some media attention. And they were willing to be arrested, charged with trespassing, and jailed o protect the people against an invasion of their environment.
    A few groups of a few residents became larger, now with memberships of environmentalists, scientists, physicians, social rights activists, landowners, and people whose lives and health were directly affected by fracking.
    Those who leased mineral rights to the gas companies, hoping to get some income to help survive the recession, soon realized the royalties were not as much as they were led to believe, and the land was not being restored to its previous condition, as was promised.
    Against heavy opposition from politicians and the fossil fuel industry, the people succeeded in getting more than 300 towns to enact moratoriums on fracking until, at least, the health and environmental effects were fully known. They had the passion for truth and not the lust for greed.
    Eventually, the establishment mass media caught up, running some syndicated stories about fracking, sometimes a local story, always careful to make sure the industry—with its carefully manicured PR staff and hordes of money—got a chance to respond to the masses of people.
    In March 2013, 48 percent of Americans favored fracking, 38 percent opposed it.
    In November 2014, only 41 percent favored fracking, and 47 percent opposed it.
    A social movement to protect the people’s health and their environment has begun to show the effectiveness of grassroots determination and the dissemination of truth, and not the propaganda of deceit.
     [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist more than four decades, is the author of 20 books. His latest book, Fracking Pennsylvania, was the first book to explore fracking and its effects upon public health and the environment, as well as to discuss the truth of the economic impact and connections between politicians and the fossil fuel industry.]