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.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

‘NCIS’ Again Skunked—Except by the People




by Walter Brasch

      Once again, as expected, the people who give out Emmy nominations skunked NCIS.
      No nominations for acting. None for writing. Not one for directing or producing. Not even a nomination in what the industry calls the minor awards—sound editing, stunt coordination, and dozens of others.
      The one-hour drama, with light overtones, is the most-watched drama in television, but the Industry doesn’t think it’s worth any awards. And yet, every one of its primary actors, led by Mark Harmon, could give acting lessons to those who were nominated.
      It took years for TV Guide’s haughty editors to give major stories to NCIS or even highlight individual episodes. Perhaps it’s because NCIS appeals more to the people who don’t live in L.A. or New York.
      Also skunked were USA’s Royal Pains and TNT’s Major Crimes, both excellent light dramas that, like NCIS, are well-acted, well-written, and well-directed.
      Also overlooked by the Industry when they were in production were several outstanding light dramas, among them USA’s White Collar, Burn Notice, and Psych and TNT’s Leverage and The Closer.
      There may be several reasons why these shows, and others, aren’t nominated.
      First, the actors work on their craft, show up on time, rehearse, deliver excellent performances, and then go home to their families and friends. They don’t do a lot of TV guest appearances on the morning and late night shows. Most don’t go to the Hollywood parties, where they can schmooze and cuddle up with fellow performers who can cast just the right kind of votes. And, most important, the actors of NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans, and the USA and TNT shows generally don’t appear regularly in the tabloids.
      Writers and directors tend to stay in the background, melting into the scenery. None are asked to appear on talk shows; very few are even asked to appear in court. Nevertheless, the writing and directing of the overlooked shows is easily among the best that Hollywood has to offer.
      Another reason is that the studios and networks that these shows appear on don’t do much to promote them. CBS, which could have spent a few hundred thousand of its millions of profit promoting NCIS, CSI, and Criminal Minds, seems to think the money is better spent promoting Two Broke Girls and the last remains of Two and a Half Men. USA is owned by NBC/Universal, which pushes its NBC shows, paying premium rental prices for Sunset Blvd. billboards and for ads in major show-biz publications. And, of course, NBC shoves the actors onto the talk shows, especially the ones broadcast by NBC.
      Royal Pains is a drama of concierge medicine in the Hamptons. But, USA snuck the seventh season of the popular show onto the air with almost no promotion, and stuck it into a 10 p.m. slot, possibly hoping it would flatline and leave a vacancy for another one-hour drama.
      For some reason, the Industry doesn’t like light drama, a perception also emphasized in the Oscars. And, it doesn’t seem to like actors who don’t overact, but subject themselves to the quality of writing.
      Last week, when NCIS, about to begin its 13th season in September, was overlooked, it was 4th in the Nielsen ratings. And that was for a re-run.

      [Dr. Brasch is a journalist and multi-media writer/producer. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the process and effects of high-volume horizontal fracturing.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fired for Telling the Truth




by Walter Brasch

     Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, a hydrogeologist, didn’t plan to be an expert witness for law firms. But, that’s the way it turned out shortly before he planned to retire.
     He had spent most of his career working in the oil/gas industry and then in academics. He didn’t have problems when he worked for ARCO for seven years after getting an M.S. in oceanography from the University of South Florida. However, he did have problems in academics when he tried to tell the truth.
     After five years as an assistant professor at California State University at Bakersfield, in the heart of the state’s rich oil industry, he left to become associate professor/researcher at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), a public university with a strong reputation in engineering and applied sciences. For 10 years, he taught and did research. But in 2006, as horizontal fracking began to be the way the industry was headed, he learned that research is compromised by politics.
     That’s the year he was asked by the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) to evaluate an EPA study about horizontal fracking. The EPA study, conducted during the Bush–Cheney administration, had claimed there were no problems with horizontal fracking, one that used millions of gallons of water, dozens of toxic chemicals, and a new procedure to extract trapped gas in narrow shales.
     “I wasn’t aware of the study, or much about fracking,” says Dr. Thyne, “but I looked at the document and said it appeared to be political.” He did say there was no data to lead to the EPA conclusions, which would eventually be used to help justify the Halliburton Loophole, which exempted the industry from numerous environmental laws. But, it was Dr. Thyne’s observation about the validity of the EPA report that upset the university’s administration.
     Research about fracking apparently upset some in the administration, one of whom was Dr. Myles W. Scoggins who had worked for Mobil and ExxonMobil for more than three decades, eventually becoming president of the International Exploration & Production and Global Exploration division and then executive vice president of ExxonMobil Production Co. before becoming CSM president in 2006. In 2014, the last year of his presidency, Dr. Scoggins received $380,000 in salary and, according to the Public Affairs Institute, about $800,000 from being on the boards of three oil and energy companies.
     A meeting with a low-level administrator resulted in an agreement that Dr. Thyne should not say that there was insufficient data in the EPA study and that he could not identify himself as from CSM in public and written statements.
     But, there was more. Dr. Thyne soon began advocating for more university research about fracking and its effects.
     This time, instead of a department head telling him never to use his university affiliation in his research and public statements, it was a university vice-president. Dr. Nigel T. Middleton, vice-president of academic affairs, told Dr. Thyne the university was dropping him to half-time employment and ordered him not to discuss fracking. Dr. Middleton also has a long history of work with the oil and gas industry.
     Dr. Thyne believes the initial protest this time came from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). The university president for four years (2007–2011) was  on the board of directors of COGA.
     In an official public relations statement, CSM denied terminating Dr. Thyne’s employment. The university claimed Dr. Thyne left CSM solely because he had another job. However, that was a carefully-couched distortion of truth. CSM did not renew his contract after he did an interview with National Public Radio, and reiterated his position that there was insufficient data to justify EPA conclusions.
     The American Association of University Professors had wanted to take up Dr. Thyne’s case as a violation of academic freedom—“but I declined because by that time, it really seemed to be a no-win situation.”
     The next year, he became a researcher at the University of Wyoming, from where he received a Ph.D. in geology in 1991. This time, six years after he began working at the university, a comment made to a local newspaper led to his termination. The Cheyenne Tribune–Eagle had published a five-part series about fracking and water usage. He says he had told the reporter each well could use two to ten million gallons of water, but for certain wells the water used could be 350,000 to one million gallons per stage, and that there could be as many as 40 stages of drilling. The reporter took the maximum per stage, and the maximum number of stages, and noted there could be more than 40 million gallons of water used. The source of the highest possible number of gallons was unattributed. However, representatives of the industry demanded to know the source, which the newspaper’s editor revealed.
     That eventually led to Dr. Thyne being called before the university’s vice-president of government affairs and a representative from Noble Energy, who demanded he retract the highest number, a number Dr. Thyne had never given the newspaper. Like CSM, the University of Wyoming also demanded that Dr. Thyne deny that any of his comments represented the views of the University of Wyoming. Shortly after that meeting, Dr. Thyne was told, “Your services are no longer needed.” He was never told why his employment was terminated. Because Wyoming is a “right-to-work” state, there was no grievance procedure. The university could easily claim, without having to prove the truth, that there were no more research funds to justify Dr Thyne’s continued employment. David Mohrbacher, director of the university’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, told the Boulder (Colo.) Weekly
the reason for not renewing Dr. Thyne’s was because, “We chose a different way to go, and really that’s all I can say.”
     Dr. Thyne’s last academic employment was in 2012. “With fracking booming, I thought there would be a lot of jobs,” he says but no one in academia had wanted him. A couple of years later, he found out why. “A friend told me to check out YouTube.” On that social network, he found a one-minute video, which he recorded in 2011, that stated human error in the fracking process can cause water pollution.
     “I’m not naive, I understand politics,” says Dr. Thyne, who acknowledges, “It’s been a difficult transition,” but one he accepts because he will not sacrifice his academic integrity for political convenience.


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Grin of a Fool: Gun Control and the NRA



By Rosemary and Walter Brasch

      A white racist with strong sympathies for the Confederacy and segregation walks into a black church in Charleston, S.C., talks with a welcoming congregation for about an hour, and then murders nine of them. The response by the nation is to discuss the Confederate battle flag, and why it should be removed from society.
      An undocumented citizen who was deported five times gets a stolen handgun from a federal officer and murders a 32-year-old woman, whom he did not know, in San Francisco. The response is to discuss immigration laws and practices.
      In Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, seven people were murdered, and 41 injured in 34 shooting incidents. In Baltimore, two unidentified men killed three people in a residential area near the University of Maryland; a fourth gunshot victim survived. In the first half of the year, there were 154 murders in Baltimore. In Allentown and Easton, Pa., three people were murdered; police believe the suspect, now in custody, may also have attempted to kill someone in New Jersey the week before. The response by the public is to escalate the discussion about gang violence.
      Racism. Immigration. Gang violence.
      What’s missing in the discussion—the most obvious issue, the common thread— is the use of guns.
      Hate and fear supply the ammunition; people with guns carry out the execution of peace.
      President Obama, in addressing the nation shortly after the murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, alluded to the issue of guns. In a subsequent interview with radio host/comedian Marc Maron, he was more specific—“The grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong. I don’t foresee any legislative action being taken in this Congress.” The president also explained why there is almost no movement on responsible gun control legislation is because manufacturers—who donate millions to the NRA—“make out like bandits, partly because of this fear that's churned up that the federal government and the black helicopters are all coming to get your guns.”
      Conservatives attacked the President’s comments; liberals proved the president’s points by their cowardly silence.
      The Democratic leadership and members of Congress could have said there is a high correlation between the amount of money the NRA pays to legislators and the stranglehold on allowing responsible gun ownership laws to emerge. But they didn’t.
      They could have said the NRA leadership and a minority of its members, paranoid and waving conspiracy theories as if they were confederate battle flags, have their hands firmly around the testicles of the law makers. But they didn’t.
      They could have said that in Mr. Obama’s six years as president, not once did he or the government ever say the government should confiscate guns, but wanted sensible regulation at a level even less than required to get a driver’s license. But they didn’t say that, either.
      If the Democratic leadership and elected legislators didn’t wish to attack the stranglehold of the NRA, they could just have cited facts.
      They could have said that 91 percent of all Americans believe there should be at least some restrictions, including mandatory gun locks to help prevent at least 1,500 injuries to children each year. But they didn’t.
      They could have spoken out about the necessity for background checks for all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows. But they didn’t.
      They could have said that the United States, with civilians owning about 30 percent of all handguns in the world, has the world’s highest civilian rate of ownership of guns. But they didn’t.
      They could have said that only two countries in the world—the United States and Yemen, home to a major branch of al-Qaeda—see gun ownership as a basic right, and almost every other country sees ownership as a privilege. They could have said that, but they didn’t.
      They could have said that over 100,000 people are shot every year in the United States; the rate is higher than almost every other country in the world, including several countries where there is active terrorism.
      They could have stated there are numerous research studies that show a high correlation between gun ownership and both suicides and homicides. But they didn’t.
      They could have flooded the media with outrage after the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee, days after the Charleston murders, continued the ban against the Centers for Disease Control to conduct scientific research about gun violence. But they didn’t.
      They could have talked about the ease in acquiring guns, the kind that killed 12 people and wounded 58 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and killed 26 at a school in Newtown, Conn. But they didn’t.
They could have directly attacked the argument that the Second Amendment gives everyone the right to own guns, without restriction. They could have cited U.S. v. Miller that permits states and the federal government to ban certain guns. But they didn’t.
      They could have cited court decisions that every one of the Bill of Rights has exceptions, but the NRA erroneously claims the Second Amendment is absolute.
      They could have cited other Supreme Court cases that gives Congress the authority to place restrictions on gun ownership. But they didn’t.
      They could have discussed the principle of use of deadly force in “stand your ground” laws against the “obligation to retreat” when possible. But they didn’t.
      They could have discussed recent legislation in Maine, happily signed by the governor, which permits anyone to carry a hidden handgun without having to get a permit or take any training in the use of firearms. The NRA leadership and lobbyists are ecstatic about that law. Perhaps, as Maine’s murder and accidental shooting rate rises, they will lose the grin of a fool.
      [Rosemary Brasch is a retired secretary, labor grievance officer, and college instructor of labor studies. Walter Brasch is a journalist. The latest of his 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the economics, politics, and health and environmental effects of horizontal fracturing.]


Friday, July 3, 2015

Three Commandments for Every State Capitol


by Walter Brasch

      The Oklahoma Supreme Court this past week ordered the legislature and the executive branch to remove a six-foot tall Ten Commandments granite monument from the front of the state house.
      The monument was placed there in January and is a direct violation of the First Amendment.
      The response by dozens of legislators, most of whom may be illiterate about the Constitution, was to call for the impeachment of the justices. The state’s attorney general who, presumably, took Constitutional Law in college, said he would appeal the decision. He, and many legislators, are also thinking of repealing the part of the state constitution that prohibits the use of public funds for religious purposes. The only question here is—how much taxpayer money will the state waste in the appeals and an action to rewrite the state constitution before the Supreme Court of the United States officially declares Oklahoma to be in need of long-term mental health assistance.
      Over in Alabama, Ray Moore, the state’s chief justice, thinks the Ten Commandments should be in front of the court house. The other eight justices disagreed with him, and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him in 2003 from office for violating both the Constitution and a federal court order to remove the 5,200 pound granite block he had commissioned.
      After several failed attempts to become the state’s governor, Moore again ran for the office of chief justice, and was elected in 2012, still pledging to violate state and federal law.
       I have no objections to the Ten Commandments being placed in public spaces, especially court houses and state capital lawns.
      But, there are a few requirements I have.
      First, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and entered into a covenant with the Jews more than 1,200 years before the seeds of Christianity were planted. God didn’t give the Ten Commandments to the Southern Baptists, Muslims, Hindis, or even the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So, if the legislatures and other politicians want a Ten Commandments monument in public places, they must first become Jews.
      It makes no difference if it’s Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. I don’t care if they become Chassidic, Reconstructionist, or even secular Jews. But, they must become Jews. This would be God’s will.
      Second, because Jews tend to be more liberal in social issues than the rest of the population, the politicians would be expected to embrace universal health care, civil rights for all people—including the right of same-sex marriage, improved working conditions and wages, a strong commitment to those who are of the underclass of society, a tolerance and understanding of others’ faiths, and activism for environmental and animal rights issues.
      Third, they must follow all of the commandments, especially the one about not committing adultery.
      They can choose which day of the week they could hold as holy. If they choose Saturday, the Jews’ day of Sabbath, they would be forbidden from playing golf or working on their broken-down pick-up trucks. If they choose Sunday as the day of Sabbath, they wouldn’t be allowed to watch NFL football.
      It’s not much to ask them to do. Become Jews. Embrace liberal social issues. And follow the commandments.
      When they agree to these terms, I might be able to support them wanting to place the Ten Commandments on the lawns of their state houses—but only after they write a new Constitution, and reform the United States as a Jewish state, not unlike the socialist Israeli state.

      [Dr. Brasch is a social issues journalist, retired university professor of mass communications, and author of 20 books. His latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, a definitive look at the economics, politics, and health, and environmental; effects surrounding fracking in the country.]

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whoopin’ and a-Hollerin’ for the Plantation Life




by Walter Brasch

      Judge A. Joseph Antanavage, with shotgun in hand, stood before a modified Confederate battle flag, and looked as if he had planned to defend whatever it is that the Confederate flag stands for.
      But, this wasn’t in the South. This was at a pigeon shoot near Hamburg, Pa. Pennsylvania is not only where the only legal organized pigeon shoots still exist, but where it’s not unusual to see shooters waving the Confederate flag or wearing clothing that features the flag.
      Pennsylvania is the Keystone state, the state where the Declaration of Independence was written, and the Articles of Confederation approved. It is where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, four months after the three-day battle led to 7,058 fatalities and 33,264 wounded, most with what would be life-long injuries. It is where the country heard that its Founding Fathers had believed, “all men are created equal.”
      The beliefs of the Founding Fathers, even the few who owned slaves, have not been accepted by hundreds of thousands of Americans who are willing to tell anyone within voice range there are inferior races in America.
      Those who defend that flag—the symbol of treason against the United States of America—say it is history, a part of the South’s heritage. But it is a symbol of defiance that should have died with the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865.
      But it didn’t die. It was invigorated by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Councils, and the declaration, “The South Shall Rise Again,” often spoken by men with guns and broken-down pick-ups.
      The original battle flag, with the stars-and-bars, was square, and there were several variations. The rectangular flag became popular in the Reconstruction era, so the heritage dates not to the Civil War but to the era of racism.
      The murder of nine Blacks at a church in Charleston, S.C., reignited the fires of hatred as well as a realization that the Confederate flag is a symbol of that racism. (Of course, while the nation is talking about a flag, they have conveniently overlooked critical issues of responsible gun control and civil rights.)
      Nevertheless, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), following the murders, changed her view about the Confederate flag, padlocked to its staff and flying proudly on the statehouse grounds. During the 1960s, it was flown from on top of the state house, a symbol of protest to racial integration. In 2000, it was moved to a staff on the statehouse grounds, the result of a compromise by the Republican-controlled legislature and civil rights groups. Gov. Haley wants the flag removed. But, she needs a two-thirds vote of her legislature to do that. There are still legislators who, for the cameras say they oppose segregation but that the flag is a respected symbol of the South’s history.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they will fight to keep the flag where it is, flapping in the wind, high above the heads of Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and all minorities. They say it is their heritage. But, there are other ways to preserve a heritage. There are articles, books, and documentaries. There are plaques, statues, and museums. Some say they wave the flag because, like them it is a symbol of society’s rebel. But, the only thing they rebel against appears to be the rights of all people. Their defiance may hopefully relegate them to insignificant obscurity.
      Georgia’s official flag, from 1956 to 2001, adopted as a defiant protest to civil rights, was dominated by the stars-and-bars before finally being replaced.
Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from the Confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) wants to ban the confederate flag from the vanity license plates of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. 
      The Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature has no plans to modify its state flag. That flag has a replica of the Confederate flag in the corner where the American white stars on a blue field would be, and a blue stripe, a white stripe, and a red stripe in the area where the U.S. flag’s alternating red and white stripes would be. As long as Mississippi and the South continue to fly the battle flag, some of the more legitimate reasons for the South’s secession will forever be obscured by the racism of slavery.
      Major retailers—including Walmart, Sears, Kmart, eBay, and Amazon—have banned the sale of flags and items with the Confederate stars-and-bars decorations. Apple has removed from its website and stores several games with the Confederate flag. Perhaps this should have been done decades ago, but for whatever reason they are doing it now, it is a good reason.
      There has been a strong brush-back by Confederate sympathizers. Sales of the flag and flag-related items have increased in the past week at retailers that have more of an interest in profits than a moral conscience.
      For southerners and other sympathizers who are offended that a symbol of racism and treason may not be available to them, there is an easy solution.
      They can take a trip to northeastern Pennsylvania, home of the Civil War Fishing Creek Confederacy, which actively opposed the Union. In Summer, they can attend one of the largest monster truck rallies in the nation; in Fall, they can attend the state’s largest fair. Vendors will sell them a variety of Confederate battle flag trinkets, toys, and clothing. They can buy flags from vendors, put them on their trucks, drive down Main Street, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ as if they were the ones who are entrusted with protecting white womenhood and the way of life that existed in ante-bellum America.
      Or, if they can’t attend the rally and the fair, they might be able to spend a weekend at one of a half-dozen pigeon shoots, where they can dress like hunters, hold a shotgun meant to kill caged pigeons, and proudly pose in front of the rebel flag.

     [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. The latest of his 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the environmental and health issues of horizontal fracturing, as well as the history, economics, and politics.]

Friday, June 19, 2015

Religion and Science vs. Greed and Politics



by Walter Brasch

      Rick Santorum, who is back in the race to be the Republican nominee for president after finishing second to Mitt Romney in 2012, is a devout Catholic.
      So devout that he often makes bishops and cardinals appear to be tools of a liberal conspiracy.
      This time, the liberal conspiracy is headed by Pope Francis.
      Whatever could the pope do or say that would upset millions of evangelical Christians?
        The pope asked Christians to become “custodians of creation,” boldly stating that a threat to peace “arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources.” He said, “Even if nature is at our disposition, all too often we do not respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.”
      The pope also said mankind “too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.” He believes there is global warming, that mankind is mostly responsible, and that mankind must take steps to stop the problem to preserve what God has given.
      Obviously, sacrilegious! Heresy of the highest order. Words spoken that do not align with the divine inspiration of Rick Santorum and the far-right.
      God, so these conservatives believe, gave us fossil fuels to exploit. They wrongly interpret Genesis 1:28 as God giving mankind dominance over all life and the Earth, instead of stewardship. For many corporations and politicians, this means mankind has the right to drill and use Earth’s resources however they see fit, that fracking is God’s gift to humanity. To heat our homes. To drive our cars. To allow multi-billion dollar corporations to make gross and obscene profits. 
      But they are in a minority.
     Every major religion has a basic tenet to protect and preserve the environment.
     Many of the major Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, and Buddhism consider all life as interdependent. The responsibility of government, according to Buddhism’s Kutadanta Sutta, is to actively protect the environment, and all its flora and fauna. The Koran of Islam warns, “And do not corrupt in the earth after being tilled.” Saudi Arabia in 1994, long before much of the world began to understand the long-term effects of uncontrolled gas emissions, cautioned, “Human activities over the last century have so affected natural processes that the very atmosphere upon which life depends has been altered.”
     All indigenous people, from the aborigines of Australia to the Native Americans of North America, have shown respect for the land, which most believe is not theirs to own, but only to enjoy until passed to their children.
     The World Council of Churches, which represents about 590 million Christians in 520,000 congregations, decided in July 2014 that to continue to hold fossil fuel stock would compromise its ethics, and recommended the 349 member denominations consider divesting oil and gas stock.
In the United States, the Eco-Justice Programs of the National Council of Churches, a coalition of about 100,000 congregations with 45 million members, declared fossil fuel extraction, “when used to generate electricity or power machinery, also pollute our air, land, and water.” The Council also determined, “In order to extract the oil from oceans or land we often put the needs of ourselves over the health and well-being of the whole of Creation and in many cases before the needs of future generations.”
The Unitarian-Universalist Association told us, “Oil and other fossil fuels are making the planet uninhabitable. We must work urgently to switch to cleaner alternatives and to convince our leaders to work toward that end as well.”
The Upper Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, noting that climate change could be human-caused, called for a repeal of all environmental and health exemptions that benefitted the oil and gas industry.
       In their 6,000 year covenant with God, the Jews have considered themselves as stewards of the Earth. In Genesis 2:15 is the requirement to care for the Earth. In Ecclesiastes 7:13, the Jews are told by God, “See to it that you don’t spoil or destroy my world—because if you spoil it, there is nobody after you to fix it.” In the 14th century, Talmudic scholar Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet added strength to the command to care for the Earth. Based upon the writings of the Torah and subsequent discussions by Jewish leaders, he observed that mankind is forbidden “from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.” The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism notes that Jews are “increasingly aware of the potentially negative environmental impact of extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels,” and its effect upon advancing the problems of climate change.
      U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, basing his comments upon both science and theological perspectives, declared: “Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.” He said, “Climate change is occurring—now—and human activities are the principal cause.”
     Nevertheless, even faced by theological and scientific evidence, Rick Santorum and the flock who believe as he does, claim that even if there is climate change, human activity is not responsible, and whatever the U.S. does would have no impact on climate change. He further believes the pope, representing 1.2 billion Catholics, should not comment upon climate change, especially if it differs from his views. Mr. Santorum believes only scientists should comment. Of course, Santorum, a politician who has commented on climate change, isn’t a scientist.
      Here’s what scientists say. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” About 97 percent of all scientists studying climate change attribute global warming to human activities.
     One of those scientists is Pope Francis, who studied chemistry, understands scientific principles, and once taught in Argentine high schools.



     [Dr. Brasch studied science as an undergraduate, and was, for a time, a science/health reporter. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Politics of Disaster Relief




by Walter Brasch

      More than 150,000 Texans sent a petition to the White House, demanding the union allow Texas to secede.
      This was not 1861 when Texans wanted out of the union. This was two years ago.
      Among those who threw around the idea of secession was conservative Republican governor Rick Perry, who has re-entered the race for president—not of the Confederate States of America, but of the United States of America.
      About a month ago, the U.S. military announced a two-month long large-scale drill, known as Jade Helm 15, to begin July 15. The training exercise will spread over Texas and four other states.
      But that’s not what a large chunk of Texans—and especially a chunk of rabid patriotic right-wing talk show pundits and almost all of the Tea Party believe. They put on their tin foil caps—apparently to stimulate their two brain cells—and determined the military training exercise is a prelude to the U.S. seizing Texas and stripping its citizens of their guns and their Constitutional rights. Not that many of them ever read the Constitution. And, certainly, not federal and Supreme Court decisions.
      They said the military, in civilian clothes, would be blending into the local populations of more than 15 cities in preparation to imposing martial law.
      Normally, when you have paranoia this deep, it’s time to allow open admissions to the psychiatric wings of major hospitals. But, the new governor, Greg Abbott, a conservative Republican, like the governor before him—and the governor before him—ordered the Texas National Guard to monitor the exercises to make sure that the damn Yankees didn’t emasculate Texas statehood. No one knows how much that decision to mobilize the National Guard will cost Texas taxpayers.
      While complaining about the Invasion, Texas suffered from heavy rains and floods. Almost three dozen died. Hundreds have lost their homes. The Red Cross and numerous disaster relief organizations are in Texas to help. They don’t care what the victims’ social, religious, or political beliefs are. They care about helping people who need help.
      Gov. Abbot and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz—Texans, Republicans, and on the far right side of conservative politics—have begged for federal assistance, including a large dose of federal funds. Both Cornyn and Cruz had previously voted against giving federal assistance to New Jersey and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
      President Obama responded quickly, and ordered humanitarian assistance for the people of Texas. That assistance includes significant manpower and federal funds. The President didn’t say—like Cornyn and Cruz had once said about New Jersey—there wasn’t enough money to help Texas. The President didn’t say—like Cornyn and Cruz had once said—that even if there was enough money, they wouldn’t vote for assistance until the President yielded to them on a completely unrelated political matter. The President didn’t even worry about whether Texans liked him or not, even though a majority of that state’s politicians think of him as incompetent, evil, and—horrors!—a firebreathing Muslim who is the anti-Christ deploying forces to take their guns and all their rights. He made sure the people got the help they needed.
      When the people of another state experience tragedy, like the people of New Jersey and Texas did, perhaps Sens. Cornyn and Cruz will remember this is, still, a United States of America, and will not make inane political speeches and block federal disaster funds.

      [Dr. Brasch covered numerous disasters when he was a reporter; after leaving newspapers, he was involved with emergency preparedness and emergency management. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed best-seller Fracking Pennsylvania]

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Nation of Millennial Entitlements



by Walter Brasch

      A student sued Misericordia College because she failed a nursing class. Twice.
      She said she suffered psychological problems. Those problems included anxiety, depression, and poor concentration skills.
      The college had agreed to allow her to retake the final examination last summer.
      It set her up in a stress-free room, gave her extra time to complete the test, and did not provide a proctor. The professor said the student could call her by cell phone. That professor was in another building monitoring another test.
      The student again failed the required course.
      So now she’s suing. She claims the professor didn’t answer her numerous cell phone calls. She claims this made it more stressful. She claims it wasn’t her fault she failed. It was the professor’s fault. The college president’s fault. And several others’ fault.
      So she sued, claiming the college violated her rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
      That lawsuit acknowledges she had average to below average grades.
      Let’s pretend that a federal court agrees with her, and she gets so many accommodations that she now passes that course and somehow earns her nursing degree.
      Let’s also pretend that when she takes her nursing boards, the state gives her extra time, in a room by herself, without a proctor, makes one available by cell phone to answer questions–and, perhaps, allows her to have whatever notes and textbooks and learning aids she needs to pass that exam.
      Assume all this. Now, here’s the next question. Would you be comfortable having a nurse who can’t handle stress? Who admits she can’t concentrate? Who barely passed her college courses and requirements for a license?
      Society should make accommodations for persons with disabilities—as long as those disabilities don’t directly affect others and reduce the quality of care. Perhaps the student could be a nurse-educator, helping others better understand the need for vaccinations or how to care for young children. If that’s the case, why even test for state boards and get the R.N. added to the B.S.N. degree? Perhaps, with psychological help, the student might be able one day to handle the stress of testing and clinical nursing.
      Perhaps, the student could become an administrator. But, would nurses be willing to work for someone who suffers stress attacks and has never worked in patient care? Would teachers be willing to work for principals who never taught a class? Would firefighters be willing to take orders from a battalion chief who was never on a fire line or who rescued victims?
      There are persons in the health care professions who are blind or deaf or who are paraplegics, and who perform their tasks as well as anyone else. But, almost all of those with physical disabilities probably studied hard, may have even exceeded the expectations and abilities of others who don’t have physical disabilities, and are working in areas that don’t impact patient care. A neurosurgeon with epilepsy, for example, would be rare, but a medical researcher, psychiatrist, or rheumatologist with epilepsy or mental or physical issues might be highly functional and, possibly, contribute far more than any neurosurgeon.
      John Nash, who probably had far more psychological problems than the nursing student, still managed to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton, become a tenured professor at M.I.T., and earn the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory. His story, told in A Beautiful Mind, has a subtle underlying theme—even with his mental issues, he didn’t expect society to grant him extraordinary accommodations.
      The sense of entitlement—and providing rewards for the smallest of achievements—goes back to almost a neonatal stage. We now have kindergarten graduations, complete with caps, gowns, and diplomas. For the next 12 years, our children will receive sparkling peel-off stars on their homework papers, medals and trophies for being one of the top 3 or 5 or 7 winners in athletic competitions. Even if they don’t get the hardware, they get embossed ribbons just for participating.
      In college, many students, forced to leave boxes of rewards at home, resort to excuses to demand special treatment and rewards for not achieving what they and their parents believe is their destiny. They complain about the amount of writing required. They complain the professor distracts them because she is too beautiful or too ugly or that she wears dated clothes. Black students complain that their White teachers are racist; White students complain that their Black teachers are racist. They claim to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gobble adderall as if it were M&Ms, taking away time that teachers, counselors, and physicians can work with those who truly have ADHD and who, for the most part, don’t use that diagnosis as an excuse.
      In a grade-inflated environment, where a “B” is now the “new average,” propped up by many professors not holding to rigorous academic standards and the college more interested in pleasing parents, who pay the tuition and fees than in enforcing rigorous academic standards, the student graduates. Perhaps we need to ask who might be more valuable to society—a plumber, an electrician, or a farmer, against an unemployed English major who can write compositions about ethereal subjects or a lawyer whose goal is to amass thousands of billable hours and a country club membership on the way to a partnership.
      Our society is saturated with people with college degrees who complain they didn’t get the “A” they wanted, and now whine it isn’t their fault they have so much debt and no job.
      Many of our millennial children believe they are entitled to have what they believe their needs are. After all, the media skewer them with ads, photos, and stories of people who “have it all.” Isn’t it just logical for teens and those in their 20s to hear the siren call from the media and want the bling that others have?
      When all the ephemera are stripped away, we are left with a college generation that believes they are entitled to that high grade, that job, that upscale lifestyle.        Somewhere, there might even be a clinical nurse whose own problems, or perceived problems, affect someone’s health.
      [Dr. Brasch was an advocate for the mentally and physically disabled, long before he had to use a handicapped parking placard. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]



Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Life That Mattered



by Walter Brasch

       Michael Blake died last week.
      You probably don’t know the name.
      You probably don’t know about his life.
      You probably don’t know most of what he wrote. That’s probably because he didn’t write diet and exercise books. Or cookbooks. Or “feel good” books. Or books about celebrities. Or books that advanced junk science or conspiracy theories.
      Michael Blake fused history and social issues, writing about social justice. Writing books that mattered. Writing screenplays that were never produced and then discarded.
      He was born in Fort Bragg, N.C.; his father was in the Army, and later became a telephone executive. But it was his mother, Sally, who dominated his life. It was her last name, “Blake,” that he adopted as his own, pushing aside his father’s name, “Webb.”
      Michael Blake studied journalism at the University of New Mexico, dropping out in his senior year; he would later study film at the Berkeley Film Institute.
      His semi-autobiographical novel, Airman Mortensen, talked about life in the Air Force. His autobiography, Like a Running Dog, revealed his life in the 1970s, sometimes homeless and hungry, living in cars, living on friends’ and acquaintances’ sofas, hanging out with musicians, writers, actors, and others in the creative arts, working at odd jobs, sometimes selling features and investigative stories to the alternative press, which were publishing stories of importance in the 1960s, stories the mainstream media would never touch. Eventually, he would be hired full-time at the L.A. Free Press, one of the most important alternative newspapers of the era. Even with a steady paycheck, albeit it not a large one, he usually ate only one meal a day, often a sandwich from a Jewish deli near the newspaper’s office.
      His screenplay, Stacy’s Knights, written while he was in his late ’30s, starred his friend, a little-known actor, Kevin Costner. It gave both of them temporary financial security.
      Blake would continue to write about social issues, many of the stories and books not bringing in significant income. But he wrote and spoke out about issues that mattered—the slaughter of wild horses and burros, the problems that developed from racial conflict, the lack of social justice. He was honored with the Environmental Media award, the Animal Protection Institute’s humanitarian of the year honor, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for work with minorities and the ministry.
      On the day he died, two men shared $300 million by appearing at a Las Vegas casino and tried to beat the life out of each other. Michael Blake, in his lifetime, never earned what the loser earned in that fight. The royalties from all of his writings never even equaled the salary for one year for a major league pitcher or a celebrity with a paid entourage.
      With one exception, his writing brought him a modest lifestyle.
      That one exception began as a screenplay, but Kevin Costner wanted him to rewrite it as a novel, believing that a book would have more impact. About three dozen publishers rejected it, most of them concerned more about marketability and profits than editorial quality and social issues, before Fawcett published it but gave it little promotion. The novel, published only in paperback, sold a few thousand copies.
      And so, Blake took the basis of the novel, and rewrote the original screenplay—but studios didn’t want to take a chance on the project. Costner, fresh from a starring roles in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, along with his friends Blake and producer Jim Wilson, produced the film themselves, staying true to the writer’s intent, something rare in the film industry.
      Dances With Wolves, starring Kevin Costner, is the story of race hatred and the attempts to destroy a culture that had existed thousands of years before the pilgrims came to the place that became known as the United States of America. The film earned seven Oscars, including Best Film; one of those Oscars went to Michael Blake for best screen adaptation.
      It was only after the film became a mega-hit, eventually earning more than $400 million, more than 20 times the production costs, did the book become popular. That book, now published in two dozen languages and in hardcover, has sold about 3.5 million copies since 1988. It helped give Michael Blake financial stability; it helped assure that he could write what he wanted, now from Tucson where he bought a ranch and devoted much of the last quarter-century of his life to the environment, to protecting animals, to fighting for social justice.
      It was in Tucson where he and his wife, Marianne Mortensen, an artist who, like her husband, became an advocate for the preservation of wild horses and burros, settled. It was in Tucson where they raised three children—each with a Native American first name and a middle name in honor of Marianne’s Danish heritage.
      In those last decades of his life, his health deteriorated. He had multiple sclerosis. He needed a heart bypass. Cancer spread through his body. Once robust, he was now gaunt. But, he would summon what strength he had left to write and to travel the country, speaking out about issues that mattered. He died as he had lived much of his life—without much money and with a conscience to bring truth and justice to the people and animals whose own voices weren’t heard by those who should have been there to help them.
      Michael Blake and I were born in the same year and shared some of the same experiences in the ’60s and ’70s in southern California. He was my friend and an inspiration of what it means to be a writer, to use words and imagery to try to help people better understand their lives and their cultures.
      You may know only his one now-famous work. You need to read the rest.
      [Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]