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 30, 2016

A Large Problem for Circuses

By Walter Brasch

      By May, there will be no more elephants in the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus.
      The circus management had originally said it would cease using elephants by 2018, but revised its estimate by two years. Management said the cost to retire the elephants to the Ringling Brothers Center for Animal Conservation in Florida is less than it had first anticipated. The 13 Asian elephants on tour will join 30 others at the 200 acre facility, which has a $2.5 million annual budget.
      “Our family’s commitment to save the majestic Asian elephants will continue through our breeding program, research and conservation efforts at the Center,” said Alana Feld, executive vice-president of Feld Entertainment.
      P.T. Barnum first used an elephant in his circus in 1882, having purchased Jumbo from a London zoo. Since then, most circuses have toured with performing elephants, most of them Asian females because of the difficulty to train male elephants after they reach maturity. (Almost no circuses use the larger African elephants.)
Why Ringling Bros. is removing its elephants from the touring company is because of increasing public pressure and charges of animal cruelty, much of it leveled by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights groups.
      “We were very pleased that the elephants with Ringling Bros. will no longer suffer a miserable life on the road where they spend a great deal of time in boxcars and perform grueling circus tricks under the threat of punishment,” says Nicole Paquette, HSUS vice-president for wildlife protection. The circus, says Paquette, “had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal abuse, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.” 
       Thirty-one countries either restrict or ban animal performances in traveling circuses, citing cruelty in training the animals, according to Animal Defenders International.  For elephants in circuses in the United States, it means confinement in cages, chains on one of their legs to restrict their movement when not performing, and the use of bullhooks, which resemble fireplace pokers, to prod the elephants to follow directions.
Executives of circuses and entertainment companies that provide the animals to the entertainment industry, fairs, and carnivals, claim the use of bullhooks is humane. The HSUS disagrees.
      “There is no way to humanely use a bullhook,” says Paquette. “The hook is used to apply varying degrees of pressure to sensitive spots on an elephant’s body, causing the elephant to move away from the source of pain, often causing puncture wounds and lacerations,” she says, pointing out, “When the hooked end is held, the handle is used as a club, inflicting substantial pain when the elephant is struck in areas where little tissue separates skin and bone. Even when not in use, the bullhook is a constant reminder of the painful punishment that can be delivered at any time.”
      Even the presence of elephants at zoos, where handlers seldom use bullhooks, has been controversial because of limited room for the animals. The Detroit zoo was the first to eliminate the elephants; other zoos have followed, some because of space restrictions, some because of the cost to feed and maintain the largest land mammals.
      In the wild, elephants, an endangered species, face even more danger. Several companies, many of them based in the United States, sponsor hunting packages.  For $35,000–$60,000, guides lead trophy-hunting Americans and others to herds. The companies claim they are saving the elephants because there are too many for the grasslands, and that the people can then cut up and eat all parts of the animal. Other hunters poach in restricted areas, solely to get the 10-15 pound ivory tusks, which can bring $1,000–$2,000 a pound in the black market. Botswana and Kenya have banned big game hunting, but other countries have allowed limited hunting because of the income from fees and related costs of two- and three week hunts that help the local economy. There were about 10 million elephants on two continents in 1900, according to the World Wildlife Fund; today, there are about 400,000. About 40,000 are Asian elephants, about 160,000 fewer than in 2000.
      The decision by Ringling Brothers to retire its elephant acts isn’t just a victory for the Humane Society and animal activists, it’s a victory for the humane treatment of all animals. For those who want to see elephants, there are several sanctuaries where elephants are protected in near-wildlife environments.
Ringling Bros. and all circuses need to now retire the rest of their animal acts.
      Every other circus—big or little—every fair and carnival—big or little—needs to eliminate wild animals performing tricks or serving as rides for those who pay a few dollars to go around in circles. Circus animals are not needed as an attraction. Cirque du Soleil, for example, presents an exciting show to millions every year, and doesn’t use animals.
      Let other circuses and fairs follow that example, and let us hope that more countries ban trophy hunters from the slaughter of big game animals.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Healthand the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit. The book is available at amazon.com]

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sarah Palin’s Quixotic Quest for Relevance

By Walter Brasch

      She’s back and tightly holding Donald Trump’s coattails.
      That’s right, Sarah Palin, having again found the media spotlight, is casting her shadow across the more thoughtful conservatives.
      This past week she declared her undying love and support of Trump’s attempt to seize the presidency from the more experienced and knowledgeable candidates in the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties, and is blathering her way throughout Iowa, New Hampshire, and several early primary states to stir up Trump’s far-right base.
      At a media circus press conference this past week in Ames, Iowa, Palin gave the far-right wing goose bumps of excitement with her opening declaration, “Looking around at all of you, you hard working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock and rollers and holy rollers!”  And then she asked the crowd, “Are you ready for the leader to make America great again?” Her question echoed that of Trump, and brought a flushed frenzy to the target audience. The question also had undertones of stating that the United States was not great, was not the world leader in numerous areas and, to the far-right’s belief, not a world leader in waging war, something the Republicans have become adept at and known for.
      Palin’s 20-minute endorsement, filled with a “you betcha” here and a “Hallelujah!” there, rambled on, attacking President Obama, who isn’t running, while avoiding anything about those who are climbing in the polls and about to catch the man who, until he declared his candidacy for president, liked being known as The Donald.
      Palin’s endorsement may have been because she was looking to cement an irrational possibility to be a part of a Trump administration. Several months earlier, she had declared, to the amusement of anyone who ever studied science and energy, “I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby, oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind’s use, instead of relying on unfriendly foreign nations for us to import their resource.”  Why she wanted to run the Department of Energy was clear—she wanted to be the one to ride it into extinction.
      But the Tea Party darling may have endorsed Trump not because of any ideological similarities, as both proclaimed, but because she needs media exposure. Sen. John McCain and some delusional advisors had plucked Palin out of Alaskan obscurity to be the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate in 2008. On a full-time campaign, she had become a part-time governor. After the McCain-Palin combination failed to land many blows on the Obama-Biden ticket, and was soundly defeated, Palin decided that Alaska wasn’t big enough for her. She resigned the governorship half-way through her first term, wrote a best-selling book that only the extreme right-wing thought was well-written, began commanding $100,000 for speaking fees, and was courted by, and signed by, Fox News as a commentator.
      However, even Fox News, which has corralled most of the conservative loons to be commentators, tired of having to deal with Palin’s errors, outrageous observations, and falling ratings. Palin’s and Fox’s PR machines claimed the divorce was amicable. 
With her popularity fading, her speaking engagements slowing down, and media coverage of her family’s problems rising, Palin needed a platform to restore her reality show road show. That media glow lays in the endorsement of the narcissistic and bombastic billionaire front runner whose three marriages and four bankruptcies haven’t reduced his appeal to the Republicans’ family values base.
      It’s important that Palin get off the stage so that the conservatives who actually know what they’re talking about can command some of the media attention that has been focused upon Trumpian rhetoric and not substance.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Major Catastrophe: Major Media Problem

by Walter Brasch

    On Oct. 23, Southern California Gas technicians discovered a leak of methane from a failed casing on one of the pipes in its Alisa Canyon storage facility, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
    The company estimates it will be the end of March until it can plug that leak from the pipe that is about 9,000 feet deep.
  About 77,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that can widen the ozone hole in the atmosphere, have already gone into the air.
    Residents in the area have complained of nausea, dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds from the sulfur-like odor that is put into natural gas to identify it. 
    Residents of about 3,000 households have been relocated. Hundreds are now living in hotel rooms, and will be there for at least two more months.
    The L.A. Unified School District closed two schools until March 2016.
    The Federal Aviation Administration banned flights under 2,000 feet from going within a half-mile of the leak.
    Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for the area.
    It is the worst methane leak in U.S. history, amounting to about 15 percent of all hourly greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
    A reminder:  The leak began almost three months ago.
This past week, the major TV networks reported it.
    Those of us who are in the anti-fracking movement have known about this leak almost from the day it first occurred. Many of us have written about it.
    There is one critical question. Why have the mainstream national media not reported this catastrophe much earlier?
    Here are two possible answers. First, the media have laid off thousands of reporters, especially those who cover the environment, in an attempt to raise corporate profits.
    And, second, they are too busy channeling what Donald Trump says to devote much time to domestic issues, especially ones that directly affect Americans.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist with 40 years experience in newspapers, magazines, and as a multimedia writer-producer. He is also the author of 20 books, the latest one is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blathering in Front of TV Cameras

By Walter Brasch

      Several TV networks covered the Rose Parade. ABC, NBC, RFD, the Hallmark network, and Univision had frequent interruptions to unleash commercials on us. The Home and Garden network ran the two hour parade uninterrupted—except for endless on-air self-promotion about HGTV and its programs.
      The networks had commentators who chatted with each other and seemed to spend more time enjoying being on air than in reporting the parade.
      They aren’t unusual.
      TV news—including parade coverage—has become more of a personality-based medium than a news medium. The Happy News TV anchors chat with each other. A few seconds here. A few seconds there.
      “With Tonight’s weather forecast is Susan Brown” has been replaced by: “Hey, Suze, so what’s up with the weather?” To which the forecaster responds, “Well, Jimbo, looks like you’ll be driving to work tomorrow in a bit of snow.” Jimbo, of course, responds with some inane happy talk about wishing he had an SUV, and then Suze mentions she likes the snow because she enjoys skiing. Then, she discusses the weather forecast, which is usually accurate for what happened 10 years ago but often is partially or completely wrong about the week-long projections.
      At the end of every segment filed by a field reporter, the anchor says something profound like, “Thanks Megan, for that very interesting and informative report about the supermarket opening.”
      TV management long ago brought in high-priced news consultants who think that the babbling patter between the field reporters and talking heads makes them more likeable—more human. Gives us insight into their personalities.
The news consultants—and the news directors—and the TV personalities are wrong.
      We don’t care about what they ate for dinner, their predication of who will win the bowl game, or how tough they had it driving to the studio. TV news should not be a modified Facebook posting. Just give us the news, weather, and sports. More important, please try to give us at least as much news as sports—and, perhaps, as much in-depth information about government as you do about weather. Frankly, we don’t care that much about what the temperatures were 10 years ago, what caused a thermal inversion, or how you’ll be cheering for your alma mater in the Sand Dust Bowl. We do need to know why there is a budget impasse and how it affects each of us.
      And, please, when hosting parades, give us facts about the floats and bands, and some behind-the-scenes news—and let us hear and see the parade, and not your ceaseless blathering.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Violating the Constitution is Not a Public Right

by Walter Brasch

      For at least 17 years, the officials of Monroeville, Pa., a 30,000 population Pittsburgh suburb, have recited the Lord’s Prayer before every council meeting.
      This violates the First Amendment. And it’s not even a gray area. Finally, the ACLU sent the council a letter, threatening to file a lawsuit.
      The response by Bruce Dice, the city solicitor, was that the council will try its best to abide by the Constitution, and will make changes. Dice, who has been solicitor since 1998, says government “should not be sponsoring prayer or direct residents about religion.”
      At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Council will consider an ordinance to have different members of the clergy, representing different religions, deliver prayers at each meeting. The decision of who will lead the council and residents in prayer will be on a “first come, first served” basis, says Dice. There are 25 Christian churches—21 Protestant, two Roman Catholic, two Serbian Catholic—and two synagogues in Monroeville. Thus, it is entirely possible that 12 Protestant ministers will be the “first come, first served” clergy to lead prayer services. The proposed ordinance does not address religious diversity, but is specific there will be a prayer at the beginning of every meeting, thus continuing to fuse government and religion.
      When the ACLU sent its letter to the Council, many residents stood firm in their beliefs about Christianity and prayer at council meetings.
      One resident claimed he was offended not by the Christian prayer, but by the ACLU. A minister claimed, “We’re all tired of losing rights.”
      No one is losing any rights. The right to violate the Constitution does not exist.
      One council member said he wouldn’t be quiet and would continue the practice, much to the applause of many residents, few of whom read or understand the Constitution.
      Mayor Greg Erosenko, who led the prayers, added his voice. Using the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, he said, “It’s very sad that we have come to this, taking what happened in California. Not just Monroeville, but I think our whole country needs a lot of prayer.” He said he was a devout Christian, and that the nation was founded on the Christian faith.
      He’s also wrong. The Founding Fathers were specific in stating that the nation was not founded on the Christian faith, that people have a right to their own beliefs, and that there must be a separation of church and state. Many of the Founding Fathers—including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was one of the most important works of journalism that led the charge to independence—were deists, not Christians.
      The Monroeville Council recognizes reality. A continued violation would have resulted in a federal lawsuit. It would cost the taxpayers a lot of money—and they would lose.
      If the seven-member Council supports the proposed ordinance of having a rotation of prayers and religions, the issue is back into a gray area of separation of church and state, but it does reduce the dominance of a municipal government supporting one religion.
      The only major question is why did it take a threat from the ACLU for the solicitor and Council to make the change to abide by the First Amendment to the Constitution?
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist who is also professor emeritus of mass communications from Bloomsburg University, where he taught First Amendment issues, as well as public affairs reporting, feature writing, and media editing and production courses. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]