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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Campaign Contributions May Have Influenced Animal Cruelty Vote in Pennsylvania

Spectrum Features Syndicate

HARRISBURG—Three days before he blocked proposed animal cruelty legislation, Rep. Mike Turzai (R-McCandless), chair of Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, received a $3,000 campaign donation from the Flyers Victory Fund.  

The Fund is the lobbying and campaign contributions arm of the Pennsylvania Flyers Association (PFA). The PFA, according to its website, was “established by a group of shooting enthusiasts committed to promoting and protecting bird shooting for future generations.” Its primary mission, however, is to promote pigeon shoots.
While delivering $3,000 to Turzai, who is also House Majority leader and unopposed for re-election, it also delivered $1,000 to each of the 17 other Republican committee members, including House Speaker Samuel H. Smith (R-Punxsutawney). The Fund gave no campaign contributions to any of the 14 Democrats on the Committee, according to records filed by the Fund with the Pennsylvania Department of State. The Fund also made three donations totaling $1,150 to Republicans not on the Rules Committee.

The PFA delivered the campaign funds on Friday, Oct. 17. The vote to ban slaughtering and eating domestic dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, was scheduled for Monday, Oct. 20.

Pennsylvania is the only state where pigeon shoots, which hunters do not consider to be “fair chase hunting,” are common. At pigeon shoots, the birds are launched from cages and shot from 30 yards away. About 70 percent of the birds are wounded, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The birds, if they fall onto the shooting fields, are then strangled, stuffed alive into barrels, or have their heads cut off by “trapper boys” in their teens. Birds who manage to fly outside the fields are left to die long and lingering deaths. The bill addresses animal cruelty and not what the shooters mistake for “sport.” The NRA opposed the bill, claiming that to ban pigeon shoots would lead to a “slippery slope” to banning hunting and all guns.

Two days before receiving the funds, Turzai told former state Sen. Roy Afflerbach and retired Humane Society police officer Johnna Seeton he planned to bring the bill to the Rules Committee for an up-or-down vote. The Senate had previously passed the bill, 36–12. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) had said if the bill came to him, he would sign it.

However, Turzai did not bring up the bill in the first of two scheduled Rules Committee meetings. Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh), a member of the committee and Democratic caucus chair, says when HB 1750 didn’t come up, the committee members “believed it would come up in the second committee meeting,” especially since it had been on the agenda. However, Turzai cancelled that second meeting, effectively blocking the bill from being discussed and voted upon in both Committee and on the House floor on the last day of a two-year session.

In addition to Turzai and Smith, receiving funds before the vote in the Rules Committee were Republican representatives William F. Adolph (Springfield), Matthew E. Baker (Wellsboro), Jim Christiana (Monaca), Brian L. Ellis (Lyndora), Mauree Gingrich (Cleona), Robert W. Godshall (Hatfield), Seth M. Grove (York), Thomas H. Killion (Newtown Square), Ron Marisco (Harrisburg), Kurt A. Masser (Danville), Mark Mustio (Moon Twp.), Tina Pickett (Towanda), Mike Reese (Mount Pleasant), Stan Saylor (Red Lion), Mario M. Scavello (Tannersville), and Katherine M. Watson (Warrington).

Turzai had previously received three donations, totaling $1,600 from the Fund, according to the Department of State. Other members of the Rules committee who received Fund donations prior to 2014 were Reps. Baker (1 for $1,000), Christiana (2 for $450), Ellis (4 for $1,450), Godshall (2 for $3,460), Grove (1 for $250), Marisco (4 donations totaling $1,150), Masser (1 for $250), Reese (1 for $100), and Smith (1 for $500). Marisco was the only member of the Committee who received Flyers funding in 2012. The Flyers contributions in 2012, according to the Department of State, were $6,400. However, in the month directly preceding the pigeon shoot vote, the Fund tripled its entire 2012 contributions, donating $21,150, according to forms filed with the Department of State.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cowardice Plagues Pa. House of Representatives

by Walter Brasch

      The Institute for Legislative Action of the National Rifle Association (NRA-ILA) gives politicians Defender of Freedom awards. The award, accompanied by a glowing press release, has little to do with freedom; it has everything to do with legislators advancing the NRA agenda.
      Usually, the award goes to someone who managed, sometimes against great odds, to ramrod legislation that advances gun rights. However, for 2014 the award should go to someone who not only prostrated himself before the NRA lobby, but in a “two-fer” single-handedly blocked an animal cruelty bill.
      Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Turzai is the House Republican majority leader and chair of the Rules Committee. Both the House and Senate are Republican-controlled; Gov. Tom Corbett is a Republican.
    The bill (HB1750) had two parts. The first part would have forbidden slaughtering, butchering, and eating dogs and cats. The second part would have banned pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state where pigeon shoots are common. Organizers of this blood sport place the birds into cages, and place people with shotguns only about 30 yards away. The spring-loaded cages open, and the pretend sportsmen open fire. The pigeons, many of them stunned, often having been nearly starved, are then blown apart. But first they suffer. More than 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to data compiled by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). If they fall onto the shooting range, teenagers take the birds, wring their necks or use scissors to cut their heads off, and stuff them into barrels. Even if the birds survive strangulation, they will die from their wounds and from suffocation. If the wounded birds manage to fly outside the shooting range, most will die a lingering and painful death. The juveniles-disguised-as-adults consider the birds litter, and don’t pick them up if they fall outside the shooting range.
    Most hunters agree pigeon shoots are animal cruelty and not fair chase hunting. The International Olympic Committee in 1900 called them animal cruelty, declared they weren’t a sport, and banned it from all future Olympics. In 1998, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court called pigeon shoots cruel and “moronic,” and gave Humane Society police officers authority to investigate and cite organizers and participants for animal cruelty. The Hegins Labor Day Committee, which had previously rejected all assistance from the Humane Society to raise funds from alternative events, closed down the nation’s most notorious shoot, and did not appeal the decision. Its actions left the issue of animal cruelty in limbo. With certain politicized DAs not allowing police officers to pursue animal cruelty charges, and leaders of the House and Senate blocking all attempts to bring legislation to the floor, their actions effectively allowed pigeon shoots to continue. Until this month.
    Enter the NRA and a few other gun-rights organizations. Passing this bill, they claimed, in an increasing and unjustified paranoid concern, would lead to a “slippery slope” to banning guns. The opposition to pigeon shoots, they claimed, came from radical outside organizations. But, the only radical outside opposition appeared to be from the lunatic fringe of the NRA leadership, which mounted one of its fiercest lobbying campaigns in state history.
      On Oct. 15, against fierce NRA opposition, the Republican-led state senate voted, 36–12, to ban pigeon shoots. That threw the bill back to the House.
      Re-enter Mike Turzai, one of the most conservative House members. He opposed the bill, and all previous attempts to ban pigeon shoots. On that day, however, at the bottom of the escalator near the House cafeteria, he told former Sen. Roy Afflerbach and retired Humane Society police officer Johnna Seeton the bill would get an up-or-down vote in the rules committee. “He said he couldn’t promise we’d win,” says Seeton, “but we’d get a vote on the bill.” Gov. Corbett had already said if the bill passed the House, he would sign it. But that was not to be.
      On Monday, Oct. 20, the last voting day of the session, Turzai didn’t bring the bill to a vote in the Rules Committee. His official spokesman, Steve Miskin, claims nobody called for it, that it wasn’t on the agenda, and that’s why Turzai didn’t call for a vote. However, Rep. Sandra J. Major, Republican caucus chair, had sent a memo to fellow Republicans informing them that bill and several others was on the House agenda. A tweet that day also indicated the bill would come up for a vote.
      In the Republican caucus, Rep. John Maher, who had authored the bill and agreed to the amendment on pigeon bans, strongly argued the bill had absolutely no relation to any NRA concerns; it was solely a bill to prevent animal cruelty, Maher argued.
      In the subsequent Rules Committee meeting, Turzai announced four bills would be voted upon. He didn’t present HB1750. Miskin falsely claims any representative could have asked for that bill to be voted upon, but none did. Rep. Dan Frankel, a member of the committee and Democratic caucus chair, says Turzai didn’t allow the bill to be discussed in committee. In his 16 years in the Legislature, Frankel said it was common and acceptable practice for committee chairs to determine what did and did not come before the committee for discussion and a vote, and that individual members could not bring a bill for a vote. Some members who wished to vote on HB 1750 may not have pushed Turzai for the vote because they feared he would exercise the Legislature’s dictatorial powers to block their own subsequent legislation. But it was irrelevant; Turzai controlled the calendar.
      When HB 1750 didn’t come up, Frankel says the committee members “believed it would come up in the second committee meeting” scheduled later that day, especially since it was on the agenda. However, Turzai cancelled that second meeting, blocking the bill from being discussed and voted upon in both Committee and on the House floor.
      “I expected it to come up, and expected it would pass,” says Frankel. If so, there was a strong possibility the full House would have passed the bill. “A solid majority of Democrats supported it,” Frankel says; there were enough Republican votes to give the bill at least a slim victory.
      Steve Miskin, when pressed, insisted Turzai wasn’t going to run a bill “that was not vetted,” even though the bill was discussed extensively inside and outside of Republican caucus meetings. Miskin also claimed Turzai never discussed with his staff the bill or why he blocked members from voting on it.
      “Decent and compassionate legislators who wanted to do the right thing didn’t even get a chance to vote on this bill,” says Heidi Prescott, HSUS senior vice-president. For 25 years, Prescott has led the fight against pigeon shoots. It is a fight joined by the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, and numerous other groups. 

      The last free-standing vote in the House to ban pigeon shoots occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99–93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties, most of them afraid of the suspected wrath of the NRA.
       Turzai, by his action, says Prescott, “proves he continues to support barbaric practices and not humane legislation.”
      Turzai refuses to say why he didn’t bring the bill for a vote. There are some possibilities.
      Speaker of the House Sam Smith had written a constituent he had “heard from many across the state [who felt] that the amendment on pigeon shoots could be used as a gateway to ban all forms of hunting.” This, of course, is the NRA voice that Smith heard. 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-fifths of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.
      Turzai, Smith, and certain members of the House probably didn’t want to see the bill come up for a vote because if the Rules Committee and the House agreed with the NRA and voted against the bill, with its two parts, they could be accused of voting for continued animal cruelty. If they voted for the bill, they would receive retribution from the gun-rights lobby two weeks before the election. Turzai has no fear of losing the election. For the second consecutive election he is running unopposed. However, for Turzai and many others, not voting on the bill wasn’t a matter of conscience but a reality of trying to maintain an “A” rating from the NRA.
      Smith had said a vote on the bill “is not likely to be acted on before the end of the current legislative session.” Thus, even if Turzai wanted to bring the bill to a vote in the Rules Committee, Smith, with almost absolute power in the House, would have kept it from being voted upon by the full House.
      The Rules committee and the House had no problem approving at least one controversial bill. HB 80 was originally a bill that would penalize those who steal secondary metals (including copper) from construction sites. Late in the last day of the session, the House approved vague language in the amended bill to allow the NRA and any other organization to sue local municipalities that enact ordinances that establish greater restrictions upon firearms background checks and ownership than that of the state. The new law also restricts local municipalities from creating and enforcing ordinances that require residents to report lost or stolen firearms.
      The day after HB 1750 didn’t come up for a vote, Turzai apparently recanted. In his office, Seeton says he now told her and Sen. Afflerbach he never promised it would get a vote, but that “I’ll help you to get the vote to the House floor.” The House reconvenes for one day, Nov. 12; it’s the last day of the two-year session; no votes are expected.
      Turzai is one of the Republican leaders who during the 2012 election year pushed for Voter ID in Pennsylvania. He forcefully declared several times there was significant voter fraud  and that the new rules would prevent voter fraud. In court, however, Republican state officials reluctantly denied there was a history of voter fraud or that the absence of voter ID would allow fraud to occur. An additional truth came out at a Republican State Committee meeting, Turzai had said that Voter ID requirements would “allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” thus acknowledging that the strict requirements would disenfranchise primarily the poor and some minorities, who typically vote for Democrats, and the elderly, giving Romney an edge in the presidential election and Corbett an edge in the gubernatorial election. Commonwealth Court judge Robert Simpson, in his ruling against forced Voter ID,  called Turzai's comments ”disturbing” and partisan.
       Turzai boasts an “A+” rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund, and high ratings from numerous far-right conservative organizations. His record on the environment, social justice, and human rights has earned him grades of “F.” His report card should also show grades of “F” for truth, credibility, courage, and ability to recognize and prevent animal cruelty. But at least he’ll be qualified to get the NRA-ILA award for defending animal cruelty.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist who has covered politics and government more than 40 years. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor; multimedia writer-producer, and author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pennsylvania’s Politics of Virtue

by Walter Brasch

      The Pennsylvania Senate, possibly for the first time in its history, stood up against the NRA leadership and extreme gun-rights groups, and voted to ban pigeon shoots. The senators correctly called the ban a matter not of gun rights but of eliminating animal cruelty.
      The International Olympic Committee in 1900 banned pigeon shoots because of their cruelty and never again listed it as a sport. Most hunters and the state’s Fish and Game Commission says that pigeon shoots are not “fair chase hunting.” Pennsylvania is the only state where there are active pigeon shoots.
      The vote in the Senate was 36–12. Voting for the bill were 21 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Before the Senate could vote on the bill, it had to vote down two NRA-sponsored “compromise” amendments to legislate pigeon shoots and place them under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
      The bill had originated in the House, sponsored by John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair), where it had unanimous approval as a ban upon slaughtering, selling, and eating cat and dog meat. Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Chambersburg), an avid hunter, amended the bill in the Senate to include pigeon shoots, and received the backing of Sens. Stuart Greenleaf (R-Willow Grove), chair of the judiciary committee; and Dominic Pileggi (R-Glen Mills), the majority leader.
      That bill, with the amendment, was approved in the Judiciary Committee, 10–4, on June 26. In the next two days, it passed two of the required three readings in the full Senate, but was tabled, July 8, when the Senate recessed for more than two months. The bill was finally placed on the calendar for a third vote, which occurred late at night, Oct. 15, the day before the Senate would again recess until a week after the November election. 
      The Senate passed the bill only after an intense lobbying effort by the Institute for Legislative Action, NRA’s lobbying arm, which sent several “alerts” to its members. Allied with the ILA-NRA is the Pennsylvania Flyers Association (PAFA), a political gun-rights group, which, like the ILA-NRA, has a PAC that contributes campaign funds to members of the state legislature. PAFA had boasted it was responsible for keeping the bill off the Senate calendar. Both groups argue banning pigeon shoots is the first step to a “slippery slope” to banning guns, both have threatened members of the legislature with retribution if they voted to ban the bill, both claim support for banning pigeon shoots comes from radical “outside activists.”
      Those radical “outside activists” are the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies, the ASCPA, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
      SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), which has video-documented the brutality of the pigeon shoots, often in secret, for several years, blanketed major market TV the past month with commercials featuring narration by Bob Barker and video of animal cruelty. The HSUS has maintained a 25-year activist campaign, which included intensive discussions with members of the legislature, numerous information packets, a strong social media campaign that organized supporters, and thousands Pennsylvanians calling their representatives and senators.
      The last free-standing vote in the House to ban pigeon shoots occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99–93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties, most of them afraid of the suspected wrath of the NRA.
      Four years after the House failed to pass legislation to ban pigeon shoots, the state Supreme Court ruled the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, the most notorious of the shoots, and one which drew national attention to the state, was not only cruel “but moronic.” The organizers grudgingly disbanded the annual Labor Day event, held from 1934 to 1998. The Hegins shoot was held on public land; the Court’s opinion did not extend to shoots at private clubs, all of which draw many of the participants and spectators from New Jersey, and are held in secret. The passage of HB 1750 will end pigeon shoots at private clubs.
       The House reconvenes for one day, Monday, Oct. 20, before it again recesses, its members returning for only one day, Nov. 12, before the session ends.  
      Heidi Prescott, HSUS senior vice-president, spent many years on the shooting fields rescuing wounded birds, while leading protests and education campaigns. Exhausted from consecutive 15-hour days of intense discussions with legislators—and more than two decades of hope and disappointment—she mixes the joy of the present with tears of remembrance when she recalls why she first committed to eliminating what has become known as “Pennsylvania’s Disgrace”: “This is a day I personally looked forward to for many years, from the day I first held an injured pigeon in my hands and watched her die—all for no reason other than someone wanted to use her for target practice.”
      If the House passes the bill, and Gov. Tom Corbett signs it, Prescott, who was born in Pennsylvania and received her B.A. and MFA from the state-owned Edinboro University, will no longer have to drive a four-hour round trip almost every Tuesday when the Legislature is in session from her office in Maryland to explain to legislators why animal cruelty never was and never will be protected by the Second Amendment, and why the courage to stand up for what is right may be the greatest virtue.

      [Dr. Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and state legislation for more than two decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the health, environmental, and economic effects, and the fusion of corporate greed and politics in the state.]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Swift Boat Load of Lies

by Walter Brasch

      “Gov. Tom Corbett, who claims he opposes legalization of marijuana, was seen behind a barn smoking weed. Just a-puffin’ and a-grinnin’.”
      “Tom Wolfe was speeding and driving drunk through the streets of York. If he can’t obey traffic laws, why would we think he’d obey the Constitution if elected Pennsylvania governor?”
      “That commie socialist fascist Kenyan Muslim in the White House brought Ebola into the country to get rid of White opposition.”
      The first two campaign ads are completely false. No one—yet—has sent out those messages. The third one, also false, in various forms is now circulating on the Internet and in bars.
      It really makes no difference if it’s true or false. It’s on the Internet, where lies, half-truths, and hyperbole compete with bloviating pundits on radio and TV pretend-news shows.
      But now, paid ads—in every medium—may also be completely false, and protected by the Constitution.
      The Supreme Court, in a 9–0 decision, extremely unusual for this Court that often decides cases by a 5–4 margin, determined that political ads are protected by the First Amendment.
      The case began in Ohio in 2010, when the Susan B. Anthony List, a right-wing anti-abortion group, planned to rent a billboard and place a sign on it falsely proclaiming that Rep. Steve Driehaus, an anti-abortion Democrat, supported taxpayer-funded abortion because he had supported the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The ACA doesn’t allow taxpayer-funded abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies. The billboard company refused to place the ad, fearing it was violating Ohio law against false political speech.
       Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission to protest the SBA List intent, but withdrew his complaint after losing re-election. The SBA List, however, didn’t celebrate; it demanded court rulings.
      Both district and appeals courts ruled the issue moot because Driehaus had lost the election and, therefore, was not facing imminent injury. The List pushed forward, claiming the issue was a First Amendment matter.
      The Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court, citing the List had the right to challenge the Ohio law’s constitutionality. In his ruling supporting the List, District Judge Timothy Black this past month, reiterated a philosophy advanced by John Milton in the 17th century that became a basis for the First Amendment. Judge Black determined, “The answer to false statements in politics is not to force silence [of lies] but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the Government, decide what the political truth is.” The fear is that government would intercede and ban ads, stifling free speech; this would be prior restraint, a definite First Amendment violation.
      Pleased with the ruling, but still loosely playing with the facts, List president Marjorie Dannenfelser issued a statement that any member of Congress who voted for the ACA had voted for taxpayer-funded abortion. The List now plans to pay for a billboard condemning Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a liberal anti-abortion Democrat, who voted for the ACA and is running for a 17th term. 
      Citizens of many countries don’t have the protections of our First Amendment—free speech, free press, free religion and the separation of church and state, and the rights of peaceful assembly, and to petition government for a redress of grievances. Some countries allow certain freedoms, as long as no one attacks the state or its head of state, even if the accusations are true; this was how it was in Colonial America. And some countries have severe restrictions upon false statements in political ads.
      Most European countries severely restrict the use ads on radio and TV, correctly arguing that the wealthy and their even wealthier donors would dominate public discussion, thus not allowing a level playing field for all candidates. The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Switzerland ban candidates and their organizations from placing political ads on the broadcast media.
      In the United States, a few rules apply to political ads. Among those rules are that candidates not in office must use the word “for,” as in “Vote for John Jones for State Senator,” as opposed to “John Jones, State Senator.” Another regulation is that all ads, print or broadcast, must include a disclosure statement, something to identify who pays for the ad, even if it’s a front group for an anonymous “benefactor.”
      But, unlike a labyrinth of rules established by the Federal Trade Commission that regulate product advertising—“Our shining silver gadget, when applied correctly, can cure skin cancer”—political advertising is given a wide range, with minimal oversight.
      With state-wide and federal candidates spending most of their media budgets on television advertising, and less on grassroots campaigning, the primary beneficiary of the money appears to be television stations.
      With three weeks left before the biennial midterm elections, Americans can expect to continue to be carpet-bombed by print and electronic advertising, much of it deceptive or outright lies, all of it protected by the First Amendment.
      [Dr. Brasch, a First Amendment scholar and award-winning journalist, is the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overview of the economic, environmental, agricultural, and health effects of fracking; his book also looks at the influence of corporate lobbying upon the political process.]

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Fracking Good Letter

by Walter Brasch

    The oil and gas industry has retreated from its entrenched position to have the public delete the “k” in “fracking,” and write it as “frac’ing” or “fracing.” Those who have been the strongest advocates for fracking scorned and mocked those who place the “k” in the word. The problem is that without the “k,” the word sounds like “frasing.” However, the first use of the word “fracking” can be traced to an oil and gas journal article in 1953.
    As hydraulic horizontal fracturing became a standard to extract gas and oil about 2008, anti-fracking activists began using the word—with the “k”—in advertising, social media, and public protest campaigns that slyly bordered on the obscene—“Frack off!” and “No Fracking Way!”
    The oil and gas industry, faced with being the brunt of a series of near-obscene jokes, dug in and demanded that “unconventional drilling” or just “horizontal fracturing” were the “proper” terms. But, if “fracking” had to be used in print, the preference was for “frac’ing” or “fracing.” Most dictionaries—including the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster—use the word “fracking”–with the “k”—as the preferred and acceptable term.
    In September, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), a front group for the oil and gas industry became proactive with a series of newspaper, radio, TV, and YouTube ads. The ads, scheduled to run through the beginning of 2015, were revealed at the annual Shale Insight conference, sponsored by the MSC in Pittsburgh.
    The fractivists “tried to hijack that word and paint it as something negative,” David J. Spigelmyer, MSC president, said, pointing out it was the industry’s intention “to take that word back.” Randy Cleveland, XTO Energy president, told the conference where people said “frac’ing,” the industry thrived, but where they said “ ‘fracking,’ we have difficulty.” The PR and advertising campaign, said Cleveland, is “to regain the high ground.”
    Stephen Moore, chief economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the conference, “The disinformation and propaganda machine against what you do is frightening,” adding that the campaign against fracking “may have been instigated by outside agitators.” It was a claim echoed by thousands in the industry.
    With absolutely no proof, Moore was referring to the possibility that Russia and the oil-rich oil countries, and not millions of Americans, were behind the anti-fracking campaign. Russia’s Gazprom is the world’s largest natural gas distribution company, and many in the U.S. oil/gas industry believe Gazprom or Vladimir Putin wanted to increase Russia’s share and domination of the natural gas industry by closing down American natural gas production. The same gaseous windbags blamed the Arab countries for being anti-fracking because they were making money off oil and didn’t want competition. None acknowledged that the Arab countries have been far ahead of the United States in the development of renewable energy, knowing that fossil fuel contributes to global warming, is not infinite, and there are no more dinosaurs willing to die to allow greedy corporations to make outrageous profits.
    Nevertheless, the industry is digging in and defending not only its destruction of the environment and public health—which it doesn’t acknowledge, even though dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies indicate otherwise—but to recapture “fracking”— with a “k”—as good and pure.
    In the newspaper ad, the word “fracking” is used five times; the largest word in the ad is “JOBS”—the ad emphasized job creation, using the inflated and discredited number of 240,000. (The Pennsylvania Fiscal Office reports only about 17,500 new jobs were created since 2007. Dr. Tim Kelsey, Penn State professor of agricultural economics, reports that at most there were fewer than 35,000 jobs, only about half in the core industry. No matter what the critical number is, Pennsylvania was 49th in the nation in jobs creation in 2012, two years after it was ranked seventh in the nation.)
    Anchoring the ad is a new aphorism: “FRACKING: ROCK SOLID FOR PA.” In radio and TV ads, a girl says, “Fracking rocks! My dad does it.” At the conclusion of a three-minute YouTube video, in which a series of rumors was replaced by a series of half-truth “facts,” one of the narrators tells the audience, “Fracking, a good word,” and concludes with the newly-created motto. One of those many half-truths is that fracking has been around for more than six decades and has been proven to be safe. That part is relatively accurate—but it is “vertical” fracking, an entire different process than the recently-developed “horizontal” fracking, that has been around since shortly after World War II. Horizontal fracking uses significantly more water, sand, and toxic chemicals, and has significantly more methane leaks than vertical fracking.
    No matter how well the industry tries to shine up its 120-foot phallic-like rigs and spew prattling absurdity, the reality is that fracking has not added much to the economy or many new jobs. As in every other energy development, when mining the gas becomes unprofitable, possibly within five years in the Marcellus Shale, the industry will move elsewhere and continue the “boom and bust” economy. What it has done is to cause additional problems leading to increases in air, water, and ground pollution. It has caused documented health problems. And, it has, despite all the PR about “clean energy,” contributed to global warming.
    [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and former reporter and editor, is the author of 20 books. The most recent book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overall look at the health, environmental, agricultural, and economic effects of fracking, combined with an investigation into the connections between politics and the oil/gas industry.]