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, July 26, 2014



Packing Heat in the Brothers’ ’Hood


by Walter Brasch

     A group of white gun-rights advocates plan to sling rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatic assault weapons onto their bodies, and walk through a Black neighborhood in Houston.
     What could possibly go wrong with that?!
     The march through Houston’s Fifth Ward is planned for August 16 to educate Texans about their rights to openly carry firearms.
     To deflect criticism that the march is racially-insensitive, the testosterone-enhanced group, apparently with straight faces to hide its freeze-dried minds, says all it wants is for racial equality.
     It says because the state charges $250 for a gun permit, it unfairly discriminates against Blacks who have twice the poverty rate as Whites, and that’s why the Whites are going to march in a Black neighborhood.
     Not only are these civil rights leaders going to “help” the Blacks, they even found a Black to march with them.
     That Black is Maurice Muhammad, who believes it’s acceptable to kill police officers, and who has openly called for a race war in the country.
     The leader of the march is C.J. Grisham, who won’t be carrying a concealed weapon. Whatever he carries will be out in the open. That’s because he has a criminal record that forbids him from carrying a concealed weapon. His conviction stems from an incident in 2013 when he carried an AR-15 on an urban hike with his teenage son—because, you never know when a herd of feral kittens will attack you. His hike occurred not far from Fort Hood where, in 2009, an Army officer launched an assault that left 13 dead and 30 wounded.
     A police officer stopped Grisham; he resisted. In Texas, it’s legal to openly carry semi-automatic assault weapons; it is not legal to resist arrest and attack police officers. Grisham was so upset that his most sacred of all rights—the right to openly be stupid—was violated that he created Open Carry Texas. A jury later found him guilty of interfering with the duties of a police officer. He was fined $2,000, the maximum penalty.
     Between arrest and conviction, he and his newly-formed posse decided that because Texas allows the open display of weapons of semi-mass destruction they would just go to a few department stores and restaurants, carrying their big boy toys. As expected, customers panicked, and store managers asked them not to take their guns to town. Naturally, CJ and his hole-in-the-head gang had to explain their rights under Texas law, leading to headlines and a PR disaster. A couple of months later, because sometimes it takes awhile to realize the implications of mental derangement, OCT announced it wouldn’t unleash its arsenal on Chuckie Cheese. Grisham told the Dallas News the reason was because “the gun-control extremists had hijacked our photos, and it was taking away from the focus of our mission.” Apparently, Grisham didn’t mind terrorizing Texas citizens; he did mind that liberals had pictures of what he was doing. Nevertheless, for those who miss being terrorized by nimrods showing off their phallic symbols, they can just show up at the Almeda or Galleria malls near Houston every Saturday morning.
     Grisham continued his somewhat uncivil protest at a Veteran’s Day celebration at the state capitol in Austin. The Texas legislature and the executive branch oppose all them gal-dang lib’ral gun control freaks who cite statistics like how the more than 330,000 Americans were killed in the first decade of the 21st century, more than 20 times greater than all the deaths in 22 countries that are closest to the U.S. in wealth and population. They dismiss statistics that reveal there is a 22 times greater possibility of death by firearms if a home has a gun as opposed to one that doesn’t have a gun. They sneer at the facts there are more pre-school children are killed by guns than police officers killed in the line of duty.
     These heavily-lobbied legislators believe everyone has a constitutional right to carry and shoot off their mouths or someone else’s legs. But, they also believe there shouldn’t be any guns in the Texas capitol. It’s a survival issue—if the press, visiting school children, and cantankerous legislators all had guns, within a few months there would have to be new elections to replace those who gave their lives for the cause of gun rights advocacy.
     The cost to taxpayers of interim elections is a problem for a state that has willingly accepted being under siege by the Tea Party whackadoodle brigade whose mantra of “no guvmint; no taxes” is its justification for whatever it’s trying to justify.
     Grisham was politely told three times by police to remove his handgun; three times he explained, in a way that family newspapers can’t reproduce exactly, how he had his rights. Grisham is now trying to convince the Texas legislature that openly carrying handguns, just like in the Wild West, is also the citizens’ rights.
     Would there be the same level of Second Amendment concern if a Black or Hispanic gang strapped on weapons and marched through white suburbia— just peaceful-like, y’know. Just to educate the folk about the right to carry guns.
     [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall view of the health, environmental, political, and economic issues.]


Friday, July 11, 2014

Passing Gas to the Consumer



by Walter Brasch

      Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.
    Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it’s hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.
    “We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That’s long enough,” President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.
      For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.
      This year, the oil companies blamed ISIS, a recently-formed terroristic fringe group composed primarily of Sunni Muslims, who have opposed Shia Muslims for more than 14 centuries. Think of the Protestant–Catholic wars in Ireland. Because ISIS was laying a path of destruction through Iraq, the oil companies found it convenient to declare that oil shipments were threatened, and then raise prices, salivating at their good fortune that terrorists had come to their financial assistance during the Summer holidays.
      However, because the oil companies have laid a thick propaganda shield upon the America people to make them believe that fracking the environment and destroying public health, while yielding only temporary job growth, will lead to less dependence upon the Arab nations and lower costs to Americans, the Industry has to come up with some excuses to drill the taxpayers.
      Through deft journalistic intrigue and a lifetime of investigative reporting, I was able to obtain insider information from the ultra secret Gas and Oil Unified Greedy Excuse Maker sub-committee (GOUGEM). I have not been able to verify the transcript, but in the developing tradition of 21st century journalism, that doesn’t really matter.

      “We have a problem,” declared the GOUGEM Grand Caliph “We have run out of excuses. Last year, we had to find excuses not only for the Summer vacations, but also to justify our surreptitious funding of the Benghazi investigation.”
      “There must be a hundred different ways to nail Obama for this year’s increase,” declared the Sunoco representative.
      “What if we claim that Obamacare caused gas prices to go up for ambulances,” said a newly-appointed representative from the Hess Corp.
      “Tried it last year, but we couldn’t get much traction,” said the Grand Caliph. “Only Fox, Limbaugh, and some guy broadcasting through a tin cup from his room at Bellevue picked it up.”
      “Afghanistan!”  shouted the Marathon representative. “We’ve gotten good mileage from blaming the war for the cost of gas.”
      “Yeah,” said the Tesoro rep sarcastically, “while we’ve been reaping enough excessive profits to build a water park at every one of our executives’ McMansions. I’m afraid the American people after 13 years have finally caught on to that scam.”
      “If not Iraq and Afghanistan,” how about a new war? We invade Switzerland,” the ConocoPhillips rep suggested, “and claim we’re protecting the world from weapons of mass Swiss Army Knives. Every Republican and a few Democrats will back us on that.”
      “It only works if there’s oil in Switzerland,” said the Shell rep, “and since we haven’t developed the technology to frack the Matterhorn, we’ll have to find another reason to raise gas prices.”
      The BP rep suggested that the oil companies claim gas price increases were necessary because the price of Dawn detergent, used to clean oil-slicked marine mammals, went up.
      The Chevron  rep said they could blame the Treasury Department for their underhanded tactics in locating the companies’ tax-free stash in the Caymans.  “How could anyone complain about us needing more income to pay our lawyers?” she declared.
      The Valero rep wanted to blame the Veterans Administration. “We say we had to wait so long to get permission to raise gas prices that we had to do it ourselves,” he brightly said, and tagged that suggestion with the explanation that the companies could then claim they were being self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. “The conservatives will love us,” he righteously declared.
       After a few moments of idle chatter, something committees have perfected, the Exxon Mobil rep spoke up. “We don’t need an excuse.”
      “You been inhaling too many fumes?” the Shell rep asked.
      “Slip on a grease spot in one of your garages?” asked the Murphy Oil rep.
      “We’ve always had an excuse,” the Shell rep whined. “Without an excuse, the motorist might not buy our gas.”
      “Oh, they’ll buy,” said the Exxon Mobil rep confidently. “We’ve bought out and eliminated most of the alternative fuel sources, public transportation is in the pits, and no one walks. That leaves cars, and they all run on what we decide they run on.”
      “So what’s your point?” asked the BP representative.
      “It’s as simple as 1-2-3,” the Exxon representative stated. “One. We’re Big Business. Two. We’ve already bought the Republican-controlled Congress. Three. We don’t need to justify anything.”
      By unanimous agreement, the gas bag cartel declared there would be a 10-cent a gallon hike by the end of Summer—and no excuse.
      [Dr. Brasch’s latest books are the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel; and Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, environmental, economic, and political effects of horizontal fracturing.]



Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Post Office Isn’t a Dead Letter



by Walter Brasch

      Unless your life is centered upon an iPhone, an iPad, and an iEverything else, there is a possibility you may have actually bought a postage stamp, written a letter, and mailed it.
      Contrary to popular opinion, snail-mail isn’t dead. Every day, except Sunday, the U.S. Postal Service handles about 660 million pieces of mail, and delivers them to about 150 million homes, businesses, and government offices.
      However, there are a lot of people who wish the Postal Service was a dead letter. Here’s some of their claims—and the truth.
      They claim the Postal Service is a burden upon us hard-working taxpayers.
      Here’s the truth. The Postal Service is a quasi-government agency that doesn’t take taxpayer funds.
      They claim the Postal Service is losing money.
      Here’s the truth. That’s only because Congress in 2006 made it pre-fund health and pension benefits for 75 years. No other government agency or private company is required to do that. As a result, the Postal Service spends about $5.5 billion a year to meet an unreasonable demand by Congress. Last year, the Postal Service lost about $5 billion. Do the math.
      Here’s another reality. The Postal Service has made innumerable changes to improve its financial situation. It laid off 28,000 workers—layoffs are something the right wing loves. But, the Postal Service also wanted to close 3,700 smaller offices to save even more money. That’s when Congress got its panties in a knot, and squelched any attempt to close and consolidate rural offices or have larger nearby offices absorb them. After all, you can’t close a rural local Postal Service in a Congressional district where the member of Congress has the need to get votes for re-election. That’s also why Congress had a collective stroke when the Postal Service adeptly outfoxed it by laying out a plan to cut about $2 billion of costs a year by cutting Saturday service, except for certain services, including delivery of medicines and express mail. Congress, which has spent most of the past six years gazing at their navels and then became blinded by staring into TV lights, didn’t want any of that nonsense and protested, forcing the Postal Service to reverse its proposed Saturday schedule.
      The Postal Service has also proposed saving about $4.5 billion a year by stopping door-to-door delivery to about 35 million homes, and replacing it with a more efficient delivery to curbside mail boxes or clusters, such as what exist in apartment buildings. While saving money, there would be a huge disconnect that goes well beyond finances. The average homeowner, even if complaining about the Postal Service or its managers for any of a few dozen valid reasons usually respects the individual letter carrier who stops by daily, has a brief chat, and moves on to another house. Letter carriers also provide a service few other public servants can—they notice things. If a door is wide open and no one is at home, they may call police; if the resident is always on the porch when the mail is delivered or if mail piles up for two days, the letter carrier might also call police, just in case the resident had a medical emergency. And, every year there are stories of bravery among letter carriers who help save lives of homeowners who experience medical emergencies. There can be no price too high for the vigilance and the camaraderie these unionized governmental employees provide.
      Nevertheless, the right-wing claims the entire Postal Service staff are overpaid, from your local letter carrier to the postmaster general, who earns about $276,840 a year, significantly below the salary of any CEO with similar responsibilities. The Tea Party—“Don’t Tread on Me Cuz We’re Rabid”—mob thinks everyone in government service is overpaid. Pick apart the scab that is the right-wing, and you learn they want to turn the Postal Service into a private enterprise without those pesky unions that help assure workers have fair wages, benefits, grievance rights and, most important, decent working conditions.
      Under a private enterprise system, it’s quite possible the cost would no longer be upon only those who buy postage and other Postal Service services, but also upon those who receive mail. Persons who live in isolated and rural areas may have to pay larger fees than those in urban areas to receive mail. A private enterprise might increase its profits by accepting advertising—do you want an ad smeared onto your first class letter?—and “donations” from corporations to expedite certain mail to certain individuals. A private corporation, such as what some of the right-wing propose, would probably be more concerned with shareholder dividends than customer service. To maximize profits, the executive staff might resort to another private enterprise way to maximize profits by outsourcing the mail delivery to exploited workers in a third world nation.
      Although the Constitution mandates a lower postal rate for publications, which the Founding Fathers believed was necessary to further the spread of information, the private corporation or corporations that slice up the delivery of mail might even go as far as to want to repeal that Constitutional clause; after all, second class media mail isn’t all that profitable and, far more important, the semi-literates who yell for privatization probably don’t think there’s a need for all them lib’ral left wing propaganda pieces, like Time and Forbes anyhow.
      The Whackadoodle Wing, which has a morbid fear of anything that wasn’t created in the previous century, ironically cackles that the Postal Service is behind the times, that it falls well behind the technology of FedEx, UPS, and Ma Hoggworth’s All You Can Eat Diner and Firearms Exchange. The truth is the Postal Service, after lagging behind private industry, has upgraded and modernized its technology, and is adapting to the loss of first class mail revenue, which has been declining for the past decade because mankind took a bite of the Apple.
      Nevertheless, no matter how much efficiency and technology the Postal Service implements in the next decade, it will never match what happened in 1775. That’s the year Ben Franklin became the first postmaster general and created what, at that time, was the most efficient system in the world for delivering mail.
      If Franklin could see the country today, he would make a few suggestions to improve the Postal Service that others may not have thought about, but would probably approve what his creation had become. He would also recall the pettiness and politically-based lies that enveloped the Dark Ages of the early 19th century American politics, and might shed a tear of how far political pettiness and hatred had developed in the past decade.

      [When Dr. Brasch began his column more than 25 years ago, his syndicate mailed or faxed it to newspapers. Now, it’s sent electronically to both print and electronic newspapers. Dr. Brasch’s latest book, which his publisher can mail at the media rate, is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pennsylvania May Finally Ban Pigeon Shoots


by Walter Brasch

      HARRISBURG, Pa.--The Pennsylvania State senate may vote on a bill this week that will make it a first degree misdemeanor to kill a cat or dog “for the purpose of human consumption.” The penalty is a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum imprisonment of five years. Attached to the bill is an amendment proposed by Rep. John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair) to finally end the decades-old practice of organized live pigeon shoots. The amendment was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Willow Grove), the committee chair; and Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Chambersburg).
      Following a second reading on Friday, the bill was scheduled for a vote, Sunday evening, but was delayed because the Senate is still grappling with the 2014-2015 budget bills, due by July 1.
      The Judiciary committee, Thursday, had voted 9-5 for the amendment, and 10-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Voting against the bill to ban killing and eating dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, were Sens. John H. Eichelberger Jr. (R-Hollidaysburg ), John R. Gordner (R-Berwick), Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), and Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Brockway), the Senate president pro tempore. Gordner later claimed he voted against the bill because he objected to how the amendment was added at the “last minute.” However, the amendment, following long-time Senate rules that have applied to legislation for decades, had been circulated to members at least 24 hours before the vote. In the committee meeting, Gordner did not speak out about what he considered to be a problem with “last minute” amendments, and quietly voted “no” on a voice vote. Sen. John C. Rafferty (R-Collegeville) had voted against the pigeon shoot amendment, but voted to send the full bill, with amendment, to the Senate. Also voting to send the bill to the Senate were all five Democrats and five of the nine Republicans.
      The vote to advance the bill came following a furious last-minute lobbying effort by the NRA, which has consistently supported pigeon shoots. The leadership, as opposed to most of the membership, wrongly believes that banning animal cruelty by guns is a “slippery slope” that not only violates the Second Amendment but will lead to gun control bans. Pennsylvania is the last state where pigeon shoots are legally held.
      “The Judiciary committee took the first step to ending this horrifying and cruel practice,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who has been campaigning to end this practice for almost three decades. “The public favors replacing live pigeons as targets with clay pigeons,” says Prescott, who does not oppose trap or skeet shoots.
      More than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to pigeon shoots, according to a statewide survey by the independent Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Co. About four-fifth of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.
Organizers of this blood sport place pigeons—many of them emaciated—into small cages, and place people with 12-gauge shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded traps open, and the shooters open fire. Most of the birds are shot standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from those who pretend they are sportsmen.
      Even at close range, the shooters don’t kill the birds. About three-fourths of them suffer a lingering death, according to data compiled by the HSUS. If the birds fall within the shooting range, teenagers will get the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, and usually stuff them into a barrel; some of the birds will slowly die from asphyxiation in the barrel.
      The teenagers and the clubs that sponsor the shoots consider the birds to be litter. Birds that do not fall on the shooting fields will fly into rivers, streams, and private property, to die a lingering and painful death. Most cannot be saved by HSUS animal rescue staff.
      At some of the shoots, as many as 5,000 birds will be killed or wounded. The remaining shoots, all in southeastern Pennsylvania, are also marked by an excess of drinking and illegal gambling, none of which is enforced by state police.
      Shoot organizers have also been accused, but never brought to trial, for assault and threats against civil protestors from SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), humane societies, and others. DAs in Berks and Bucks counties, adjacent to Philadelphia, have refused to pursue citations filed by humane police officers, who have charged individuals with animal cruelty.
      Pigeon shooting, despite what the NRA and the shoot organizers claim, is not a sport. The only time it was considered a sport was in the 1900 Olympics. Following that competition, the International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shooting was animal cruelty, and banned it from the Olympics.
      Most hunters agree that organized pigeon shoots are a scar upon legitimate hunting. The Pennsylvania Game Commission declared pigeon shoots not to be fair- chase hunting. The birds cannot be used for meat, nor are their feather useful for any commercial enterprise.
      For more than three decades, leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature, most of whom have received funds from the NRA political action committee, have blocked passage of previous bills to ban pigeon shoots. Tom Corbett, in his successful campaign for governor in 2010, received $4,500 in direct contributions and almost $390,000 in in-kind contributions from the NRA Political Victory Fund. The last time a free-standing vote came up was in the House in 1989.
      In addition to the Humane Society of the United States and SHARK, both of which the NRA calls radical extremist organizations, supporting the end of pigeon shoots are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
            [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books, the most recent, Fracking Pennsylvania.]


Friday, June 20, 2014

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Northeast


by Walter Brasch

      Persons living in the Mid-Atlantic and New Englanbd states will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.
      Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895—when recordings were first made—to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says.  The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.
      Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.
      Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.
      Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.
      Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.
      Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.
    Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3–5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.
    In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.
    Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
    A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.
    Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.
    Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.
    Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.
      A primary reason for increased rainfall (as well as increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, ocean water rises, and other long-term weather phenomenon) is because of man-made climate change, the result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuel extraction and burning. It’s not a myth. It’s not a far-fetched liberal hoax invented by Al Gore. About 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree we are experiencing climate change, and that the world is at a critical change; if the steady and predictable increase in climate change, which affects the protection of the ozone layer, is not reduced within two decades, it will not be reversible. Increased rainfall and pollution will be only a part of the global meltdown.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and emeritus professor. He is a syndicated columnist, radio commentator, and the author of 20 books, the latest of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the effects of horizontal fracturing. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and multimedia writer-producer.]



Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Phillies Are Not Phigments of Imagination




by Walter Brasch

     Newspapers are often a “court of last resort” for our readers whose problems can’t be dealt with elsewhere.
      Thus, it was no great surprise to receive a letter from a young girl who was confused about the Philadelphia Phillies. In her short life, she had never seen the Phillies.
      Her little friends, so she wrote me, said that the Phillies were a figment of her imagination, a team that was made up so that there would be something to anchor the National League basement. She says she was told that sportswriters went along with it because they always wanted to write fiction and needed something to do between calls from irate Little League parents.
      Well, Virginia, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the cynicism of reporters and the skepticism of a nation with no direction. They think nothing can be that bad unless it was made up. But, Virginia, the truth is that there are Phillies and, unfortunately, they are that bad. But, it wasn’t always that way.
       The first game ever played in the National League was played in 1876 in Philadelphia. Of course, the Philadelphia team didn’t last a season, but if it did, it would have been a great team. In 1883, the Phillies showed up and never left—even if it seems that way now and then. In fact, since 1900, the Phillies have earned six of the top 20 spots of the worst records of any baseball team. That may or may not be why the Phillies tried to disguise themselves under aliases—the Philadelphia Quakers (1883-1889) and the Philadelphia Blue Jays (1943-1949). The Quakers, of course, are a peaceful people who don’t believe in battle; blue jays can be vicious. Neither name helped the team.
       Your little friends may tell you the only reason the Philadelphia A’s and Connie Mack of the American League eventually left the City of Brotherly Love, whoich has the most rabid sports fans in the nation, was because they were tired of competing for tickets against a team that sold about as many tickets for losing as did the A’s for winning. But, you must believe that even in losing, the Phillies are real.
       Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in their seven league championships, in the Whiz Kids of’ ’50, or the great collapse of ’64 when they were leading the league by six games with just two weeks to go, and then finished in a tie for 2nd. Only a Philly could pull that off. You might as well not believe in the Phillies of ’80 who won the World Series, the only time in a century that happened. 
       Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe in Mike Schmidt, maybe the greatest third baseman ever; you’d have to forget Garry Maddox, the “secretary of de-fence” who covered the outfield better than snow in February. You’d have to give up believing in Ed Delahanty, the first Philly to enter the Hall of Fame, or Chuck Klein who entered the Hall with a .326 average and statistics that would choke even the Nielsen ratings.
       If there were no Phillies, there would have been no Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, who was sold because the owner needed the money. You’d not hear about Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts or Tug McGraw, no Richie Ashburn, Bob Boone or Del Ennis, no Larry Bowa, Granny Hamner, Jim Konstanty, or even “Puddin’ Head” Jones. Not believe in the Phillies? You might as well not believe in John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling, and Lenny Dykstra.
       If there were no Phillies, there’d be nowhere for Jimmy Foxx, Pete Rose, and Dale Murphy to have gone at the end of their careers.
       You’d have to forget about managers Dallas Green and Paul Owens. And, you’d have to not believe in Charlie Manuel, the manager with the most wins for the Phillies and who led the team in 2008—the year after it racked up its 10,000th loss in its history—to its second World Series title, only to be fired three years later.
       Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to not believe that owners are poor judges of talent who can take great teams and trade them away, and then spend millions for a pitching staff that proved it could be competitive at the Little League World Series.
      Not believe in the Phillies? You’d have to suspend your disbelief that a beer and hotdog can cost $11.50, and the cheapest seat, with a view of—well, actually, nothing—is $20. 
      Your little friends with their little minds can’t comprehend the vastness of a team that is again about a decade or so out of 1st. In this great playing field of ours, we are but mere synthetic fibers on the Astroturf of life, unable to grasp the universe, let alone the origin of the Phanatic.
      Yes, Virginia, there really is a Phillies. It exists as certainly as injuries, dropped balls, and parking lot jams. No Phillies? Thank God it exists, and will exist forever. A decade from now they may even again win a championship, and continue to make glad the heart of frustrated fans everywhere.
      Somewhere, Virginia, the sun is shining bright. But, there is no joy in Citizens Bank Park, for the anemic Phillies have once again struck out.
      [Assisting on this column was Francis Church of the New York Sun. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigative analysis of the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of fracking throughout the country.]


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters



by Walter Brasch

      During this past week, in Scranton, Pa., a 16-year old put two bullets into the head of a taxi driver and then stole about $500 earned by the cabbie that evening.
      The teen, who showed no remorse when arrested a few hours later, mumbled a few words about his reasons. He said he murdered the cabbie “’Cause that’s what I do to people that don’t listen.” The teen thought the cabbie was taking too long to get him to his destination. The driver was a 47-year-old man with a wife and two children. The gun was an unlicensed 9-mm.
      A few days later, in Payson, Ariz., a three-year-old boy found a loaded semi-automatic gun in the apartment of family friend, began playing with it, and accidentally killed his 18-month-old brother. Police recovered several other weapons from the apartment.
      In Homestead, Fla., a 28-year-old man, who admitted he was drinking and using cocaine, was showing off an AK-47 at a picnic. His six-year-old nephew picked up the gun when no one was watching, played with it, and accidentally killed his own grandfather.
      In Logan County, Okla., a Sheriff’s deputy killed a family dog. The homeowner says she had politely asked the deputy not to come onto her property because she didn’t know how her two dogs would react. The deputy, who had no warrant, opened the gate and was met by one of the two dogs, who began sniffing the deputy. Witnesses say the deputy then pulled his gun, waved it at two children, and then killed the dog.
      In Isla Vista, Calif., a 22-year-old man with a history of mental problems, stabbed his three roommates, and then drove near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In about 10 minutes, he murdered three more students and wounded 13 more before committing suicide.  Police say the killer had three 9 mm. weapons and about 400 rounds of ammunition, all of it purchased legally.
      The father of one of those killed, to a standing cheering crowd of 20,000 at a memorial service, called for an end of gun violence. “How many more people are going to have to die in this situation before the problem gets solved?” he demanded.  He accused politicians of having “done nothing” to stop the mass murders. He had previously told journalist Anderson Cooper that politicians had called him to express their sympathies.  But the father said he told the politicians, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry about my son’s death until you do something.” At the football stadium, the father, who had carefully prepared his speech, declared his son’s murder, and those of five other students, and those of thousands a year who were killed by gunfire, “died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” The grieving father said, “Too many people have died, and there should be not one more.” The crowd picked up on his words, and began chanting, “Not one more!”
      More than 2,300 miles to the East, Samuel Wurzelbacher, forever known as “Joe the Plumber” after he became the darling of the extreme right wing during the 2008 presidential campaign, again crawled out of a hole to defend what he believed was his God-given right to defend gun rights. In an open letter, he pretended to be sympathetic to the families of those murdered, but declared, “Your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights.” With mangled grammar, he then told a grieving nation, “The proliferation of guns, lobbyists, politicians, etc.; will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.”
      After the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, that left 26 dead, including 20 children between the ages of six and eight, America seemed determined to finally act against irresponsible purchase and ownership of guns. But, politicians with spines of Jello went into the fetal position before the financially-lucrative NRA support, and refused to improve laws about background checks for gun sales, whether from a dealer, at a gun show, from companies that advertise in any of several dozen gun magazines, or on the Internet; they refused to ban assault weapons; and they refused to restrict the size of gun magazines.
      The Georgia legislature is the latest to flex its steroid-driven brain, and pass a law that allows people to carry guns wherever they want. That would include bars. (Whatever could go wrong in a roomful of liquor, booze, and firearms?) Colleges. (Imagine 18-year-olds upset with their roommates or the profs who just gave them lower grades than they thought they deserved?)  And churches. (Obviously, no one thought to ask ‘What Would Jesus Do?' It shouldn’t take anyone with even one point of an IQ to figure out what the man Christians know as the Prince of Peace would think about firearms in houses of worship.)
      Gun-toting extremists picketed several private-enterprise restaurant chains that restrict patrons from carrying weapons. These whackadoodles are the same ones who claim that private enterprise is more important than government, but acknowledge private rights only if it agrees with their own distorted logic. 
       A CBS poll revealed about 85 percent of all Americans, including gun owners, support federal legislation to require thorough background checks on all persons planning to buy a gun. Apparently, the NRA leadership, far more reactionary than most of its members, believes hunters and those protecting their houses from burglars or the “jack-booted thugs” the NRA leadership once called federal law enforcement agents, need military-style assault weapons with a 100-round magazines.
      Just as politicians crave NRA money, the NRA knows it has millions of dollars of funding from gun manufacturers. Last year, American gun manufacturers earned about $12.6 billion from the sale of more than 5.5 million firearms, about half of them handguns. About 60 percent of the sales went to civilians, according to the Department of Justice. Another three million guns were imported. There are more than 310 million firearms in civilian possession, according to the FBI. The United States has one of the highest rates for gun violence in the world.
       Joe the Plumber and NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre, significant blemishes upon the Constitution and the principles of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, will continue to get media exposure. Their names will continue to be known. Their paranoid rants will continue to draw praise from hundreds of thousands who don’t know much about the Constitution, and believe President Obama—whom they know to be a Kenyan socialist Muslim—is secretly plotting to seize every one of their guns and turn the United States into a dictatorship.
      Within a few weeks, as other murders are committed, we will forget the names of those killed this past week.  Their names will no longer be important; how they were killed will no longer matter. But before we develop mass amnesia, and begin to believe that murder is just a part of the American culture, let’s take a few moments to remember. In Scranton, the 47-year-old cabbie, a mechanic who had slightly more than a month earlier changed jobs, is Vincent Darbenzio. The grandfather in Florida is Juan Manuel Martinez Sr. The dog was named Charlie. In Isla Vista, the students killed were George Chen, 19 years old; Cheng Hong, 20; Katerine Cooper, 22; Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and Veronika Weiss, 19. (Chris’s father, Richard, is the one who publicly called out politicians and the NRA.)
      During the week they and the 18-month-old in Arizona died, there were about 200 more deaths from firearms, according to the FBI. Few of those deaths made anything more than a two-column newspaper headline, the story usually confined just to local news. During this year, more than 32,000 will be killed by firearms; about 2,000 will be children.
      The NRA leadership and the few extremists it protects mouth the motto of the gun culture—“guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They screech the paranoid fear that all guns will be registered and then confiscated. These juveniles trapped in the bodies of adults ignorantly bleat that if they or their children had been armed, the only one killed would be the person who committed the mass shootings. What they don’t acknowledge is that even the better-trained, better-armed police were unable to kill the shooter. They say there needs to be better laws against those with mental illnesses having guns. That part is true. But also true is that the lack of sane gun laws, which protect all people—including gun owners—is because the insanity is not just those who commit murder, but many who wrap themselves in the Second Amendment, ignorantly proclaiming, with no legal knowledge, they have a right to keep whatever arms and ammunition they want, and any gun law violates whatever they think is their ego-inflated divine inspiration.


      [Dr. Brasch is author of 20 books; the latest ones are Fracking Pennsylvania and Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale. He is also a semi-active trap shooter.]

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Memorial Day Truth

      It’s the third and final day of the Memorial Day weekend.
      Millions of Americans are visiting friends and relatives, perhaps taking a three- or four-day mini-vacation. They may be at pool parties and grilling burgers, hotdogs, veggies, and whatever else appeals to them.
      The nation’s politicians are going to Memorial Day rallies. There will be speeches and music. American flags and bunting will drape the stages. The politicians will tell us about the “ultimate sacrifices” American servicemen and women made. They will tell us how wonderful America is, how we are the best country in the world, how we defend freedom and remember those who put their lives on the line to do so. The crowds, whether a few or thousands, will applaud vigorously.
      Some will even say that the VA hospitals need a complete overhaul, that Gen. Eric Shinseki--who was wounded and earned three Bronze Stars for bravery--should be fired. These are some of the same politicians who had attacked Shinseki when he was Army chief of staff who warned that it would take hundreds of thousands of Americans, not thousands as the Bush-Cheney cabal had claimed, to successfully invade and control Iraq. For his military knowledge, he was forced into an early retirement. These are the politicians who are outraged that America is treating veterans poorly.
       Here’s what the politicians also won’t say. They won’t tell us that 41 Republican senators blocked legislation this past year to provide necessary funding for veterans health. They won’t tell us that during the first years of the Iraq War, the quality of American-based hospitals had deteriorated to the point that it took a major newspaper series to expose what had happened and, finally, with politicians forced to look at despicable conditions, and shamed by their ignorance, there were some measures to improve the care for wounded soldiers after their lives were saved by courageous battlefield medics.
      They won’t tell us that members of Congress blocked significant increases in the foodstamp program or that governors and legislatures have not done what they should to care for the homeless. After all, the impoverished and homeless don’t contribute to political campaigns. Of course, the politicians won’t tell us that one-fourth of all adult homeless are veterans.
      They won’t tell us about veterans who came home from war, and then lost their jobs or homes during the Great Recession that followed the fraud and greed committed by the bankers and industrial giants who were able to become rich because government did little to protect the people.
      With crocodile tears and shallow words, recorded by the news media, the politicians will tell us how much they mourn—but they won’t tell us they are part of the problem, for proudly claiming they voted time after time to block necessary funding and for demanding government not intrude upon the free enterprise system.
      The politicians will wave flags and say how much they believe in America and our veterans, and how much they mourn the loss of our soldiers. The crowds will enthusiastically agree—and then go to their barbeques and picnics.
      No, they won’t tell us that if we want to reduce these problem—DON’T THUMP YOUR CHESTS, UNFURL YOUR FEATHERS, AND SEND THE YOUTH TO WARS THAT SHOULD NEVER BE FOUGHT.
      During the Vietnam War, John Prine recorded “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” It was true then. It is still true. Please listen.

--WALTER M. BRASCH


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sounds of Silence—Political Style




by Walter Brasch

      A hush has fallen over our house.
      It began late Tuesday night and, if we are fortunate, will last at least a week.
      But it will return. We have no illusions that there will be continued quiet.
      That’s because we are in the middle of yet another election cycle.
      It’s not as bad as it was in 2008 or 2012 when we were getting five to ten robocalls every day from Democrats, Republicans, Friends of Democrats, Friends of Republicans, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.
      During those years, almost every TV ad was someone praising his own political legacy or attacking her opponent for something that may or may not have been better placed in one of the supermarket tabloids that informed us about Elvis sightings and politicians influenced by aliens. At least by putting most of their ad budgets into television, they were able to keep ad salesmen from losing their lofty prestige and falling into the abyss of wages earned by news directors.
      The candidates are using their money and public platform to express their opinions, no matter how absurd.
      In Arizona, a rancher who thought he should become a member of Congress claimed, “If you look at the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people.”
      In Florida, a state representative claimed those who support the concept of an educational common core have a not-so-hidden agenda—they want to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”
      And in Pennsylvania, we learned that incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, running unopposed in his party, brought 150,000 jobs to the state; it was a remarkable feat considering that when he took office, the state was 13th in job growth and in less than four years, even with the “economic boom” in gas drilling, had plunged to 41st among all states. Corbett then added the spice—his administration made significant increases to the educational budget, a claim that even members of his own party had trouble not bursting out in uncontrollable waves of gagging laughter. Of course, Corbett had to do something since his popularity is about 17 points below that of a Nigerian scam artist.
      The cost to convince us to vote for a particular candidate is in the range of the gross national product of a small industrialized nation. Already, Congressional candidates have spent about $330 million, while Senate candidates have spent about $175 million, according to Open Secrets.
      In Pennsylvania’s District 13, in the southeastern part of the state, candidates for Congress have spent almost $4 million. And it’s only sixth among all 435 districts.
      Leading the spending is Ohio’s 8th district where Speaker of the House John Boehner, first elected in 1991, is running for re-election. He won the primary this month with about 70 percent of the vote. Apparently, he’s looking at a vigorous general election, since he’s already raised about $12.9 million, the largest amount in the country for a House campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a distant second with $5.3 million; in third is House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with a paltry $5 million.
      Leaders in the Senate campaigns, according to Open Secrets, are Ed Markey of Massachusetts ($16 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($14.5 million), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader ($12 million).
      Open Secrets also reveals that in this election cycle special interests and lobbying groups have helped make sure the candidates are bathed in green ink. Contributions to Republicans have already come from securities and investment companies ($33.5 million), real estate ($21.4 million), the oil and gas industry ($16 million), the insurance industry ($13.8 million), manufacturing industries ($10.2 million), pharmacy and health care ($8.3 million), and commercial banks ($9 million).
The Democrats have already received funding from law firms ($36 million), the entertainment industry ($10 million), building trade unions ($6.8 million), public sector unions ($ 6.7 million), and environmental groups ($1.3 million). Hundreds of millions of dollars are coming to both the Democrats and Republicans for the general election; the third parties, no matter how strong their candidates and public policy positions, will be campaigning with spare change.
      India, which provides much of America’s telemarketing and tech services, may be on track to out-America America. The cost of the Indian election may be about $5 billion this year, second only to the $7 billion cost of the 2012 election in the United States.
      Thanks to special interests and lobbies, and their generosity in promoting American’s version of democracy, if the past is the future, voters will experience non-stop robocalls and TV ads for the next six months, some of the calls outsourced to New Delhi, possibly by flag-waving All-American, Constitutionalist patriotic politicians whose loyalties are to the mother’s milk of politics rather than to the people who will elect them.
      [Dr. Brasch has been covering politics and social issues more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which includes a chapter about the influence of the oil and gas lobby upon politicians.]