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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Questions Remain in Government's Anti-Cigarette Campaign

by Walter Brasch

            The federal government has launched what may become one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.
            Beginning September 2012, every cigarette manufacturer must display one of nine government-approved graphics on the top half, both front and back, of every cigarette pack. Among the warnings is a picture of a pair of healthy lungs next to a pair of cancerous lungs, with the notice: "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease." Another warning is equally definitive: "Cigarettes cause cancer," with a picture of rotting gums and teeth. A person with an oxygen mask is the graphic for the text, "Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease." Other pictures show smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole and a dead body with autopsy stitches on his chest. Other warnings, with appropriate graphics are: "Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby," "Tobacco smoke can harm your children," and "Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers." One graphic shows a man in a T-shirt with the message, "I quit." Cigarette manufacturers must include all nine warnings in rotation on their packs.
            In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that one-fifth of every print ad must include the warnings.
            The FDA directive is based upon Congressional action in 2009. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which received strong bipartisan support, also prohibited cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring sports and cultural events. It further restricted tobacco companies from advertising their products on T-shirts and other clothing items.
            The first cigarette ad was in the New York National Daily in May 1789. By the Civil War, cigarette ads were appearing regularly in newspapers. The tobacco industry's own propaganda machine significantly increased full-page full-color ads in magazines during the 1930s and 1940s; a decade later, the industry was one of the first to recognize the influence of the emerging television medium. The ads not only extolled the advantages of smoking, they linked dozens of celebrities to their campaigns. Bob Hope pushed Chesterfields; Ronald Reagan wanted Americans to give Chesterfields as a Christmas gift. One popular ad even had Santa Claus enjoying a Lucky Strike. Marlboros became hugely successful with its Marlboro Man commercials that featured rugged cowboy individualism. To get the largely untapped female demographic into its sales net, cigarette companies went with what is now seen as sexist advertising. Lucky Strike wanted women to smoke its cigarettes "to keep a slender figure." Misty cigarettes emphasized its smoke, like its women, was "slim and sassy."  
Camel cigarettes, which would eventually develop Joe Camel as its cartoon spokesman to counter the Marlboro Man, tied health, opinion leaders, and tobacco smoke. Its survey of more than 100,000 physicians of every specialty said Camels was their preferred brand.
            However, by the mid-1960s, physicians had begun backing away not just from Camels but all cigarettes. A Surgeon's General's report in 1964 concluded there was a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The following year, the Surgeon General required tobacco manufacturers to put onto every cigarette pack a warning, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health."
 In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the Fairness Doctrine required TV and radio stations to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. The message was clear to the financial departments—voluntarily eliminate cigarette advertising or lose five to ten minutes of sales time every broadcast day. In 1971, the FCC banned all cigarette advertising on radio and TV.
            By 2003, cigarette advertising peaked at $15 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) To counter cigarette company advertising campaigns, government steadily raised cigarette taxes. State and local taxes accounted for $16.6 billion in 2008, according to the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Federal taxes, raised to $1.01 a pack in 2009, brought in about $8.5 billion. New York City residents pay the highest taxes per pack--$1.50 city tax, $4.35 state tax, $1.01 federal tax. The average combined tax nationwide is $5.51. Pennsylvanians pay $1.60 state and $1.101 federal taxes. Much of the money is used to develop anti-smoking campaigns. 
            About 443,000 deaths each year are primarily from the effects of cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new campaign aims to cut that by half. The FDA estimates there are about 46 million smokers.
            It's obvious that both tobacco manufacturer and government advertising campaigns have been effective. But there are several  questions that need to be asked.
If the federal government demands health warnings on cigarette packs, why doesn't it also demand similar warnings on other products that also carry known health risks, like liquor?
If there is so much evidence that cigarette smoke—with its tar, nicotine, and associated chemicals—poses such a high health risk, why doesn't the federal government ban it, like it does numerous products known to be unsafe?
            Does the federal government's campaign violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech? This becomes an even more important question since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that with few exceptions corporations enjoy the same rights as individual citizens.
            If there is evidence that tobacco smoke is unsafe and unhealthy, and the government levies excessive taxes, why did the federal government grant $194.4 million in agriculture subsidies in 2010 and about $1.1 billion in subsidies since 2000?
            Finally, if the evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoke is dangerous, and the federal government taxes every pack but doesn't ban cigarettes, why has it been so adamant in refusing to decriminalize marijuana, which has significantly fewer health risks than what is in the average cigarette?

[Assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Dr. Brasch has never smoked, but respects the rights of those who do. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a literary journalism novel about the counterculture.]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dozens of Father's days; Decades of Grief. Father's Day 2011

by Walter Brasch

            Christopher Kenneth Frison is seven months old.
            He's too young to understand Father's Day.
            And he's certainly far too young to be able to get an allowance or a job to buy a card and a nice gift.
            He isn't too young to be able to hug his father.
            But he won't ever be able to do that again. Not today. Not next year. Not ever.
            His father, 1st Lt. Demetrius M. Frison, a parachutist and infantry officer, was killed in Khost province, Afghanistan, May 10. He was 26 years old.
            His widow, Mikki, told the Lancaster New Era that she and Demetrius first met in Middle School in Philadelphia, attended different high schools, and then went to Millersville University in 2003. Both graduated with degrees in psychology. They married in March 2009, a month before he joined the Army. Christopher was born November 17, 2010. At that time, Frison, who had trained at Fort Benning, Ga., was stationed at Fort Knox, Ky.
            The last time Frison saw his son was shortly before his first deployment to Afghanistan in January. Four months later, he was dead.
            Christopher Kenneth Frison isn't the only one who won't be able to celebrate Father's Day. There are thousands, a few who never had a chance to meet their fathers, many who are now young adults.
            1st Lt. Demetrius M. Frison is one of 264 Pennsylvanians, one of 6,082 American troops killed in what are now America's longest wars. In Afghanistan and Iraq, 54,609 Americans have been wounded, thousands who have permanent physical injuries, all of whom are likely to develop levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Department of Defense estimates that 78,000 soldiers have developed PTSD in the past decade; the Veterans Administration believes the number is closer to 800,000. Those numbers don't even include the soldiers who served in dozens of wars and military actions since World War II.
1st Lt. Frison, who had earned four service ribbons in his two years in the Army, received three more in May. The Army posthumously awarded him the NATO, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart medals.  But not one medal is worth the life of a soldier who never saw his first Father's Day with his son, nor the son who will have dozens of them without his father.
            [Contributing were Rosemary R. Brasch, the Fort Knox public affairs office, the Philadelphia Tribune, and the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal.]

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Hampshire or Bus: Sarah's No-Campaign Campaign Tour

By Walter Brasch

            Speeding along city streets, going from somewhere to somewhere else, was the Sarah Palin "One Nation I'm Not Running for Anything But Follow Me Anyhow" bus chase.
            Following her were about two dozen reporters and photographers from the national news media, and now and then some local news teams, many of whom violated traffic laws in order to keep the Palin Convoy in sight.
The news media told others how much they were suffering. Sarah wouldn't tell them where she was going. She didn't issue press releases. She wouldn't give them interviews when they wanted. The media had to call, text, and radio each other just to get information. They couldn't even get proper bathroom breaks because they had to chase that danged bus and the two Sarah SUV escorts. They believed their lives were more like those of combat correspondents under heavy incoming fire, and not the celebrity-chasing paparazzi they had become.
What little information they got, they had to go to Facebook and Twitter, where Team Sarah posted nightly updates. And, oh yeah, if you have a few bucks, please contribute to Sarah PAC, which was funding the trip.
            On the second day, 10-year-old Piper Palin had sarcastically told a photographer, "Thanks for ruining our vacation." Of course, it wasn't the media who "ruined" what Piper thought was a family vacation. Sarah Palin's own website claimed the purpose of the tour was "part of our new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America." To "promote" that education campaign, Piper's mother commissioned a luxury bus, and wrapped it in a professionally-created design, complete with a Sarah Palin signature larger than anything John Hancock could have written. Since Mother Sarah always emerged from the bus wearing ready-for-prime-time campaign makeup and "glad-to-meet-ya-but-I'm-not-really-running" conservative suits, it was questionable just whose vacation it was.
              In Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, Sarah put on a helmet, black leather jacket and, still wearing high heels, jumped onto the back of a Harley, and seized the spotlight from thousands of Rolling Thunder bikers who were in the capital to honor POWs and MIAs. Sarah was in the capital to honor Sarah.
            In the nation's capital, she wore a large cross. In New York City, the fundamentalist half-governor whose church believes that Jews will never get to heaven unless they are baptized as Christians, wore a Star of David.
            At Fort McHenry, Mt. Vernon, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and several other historic sites on her six-day erratic trip up the eastern seaboard, she stopped for minutes here, minutes there, in an attention-deficit span of pseudo-patriotism, long enough to make sure the media saw her, that there was ample opportunity for photo-ops, and then moved on. Where? No one really knew. It was as freewheeling as her own political style.
At Gettysburg, she stayed long enough to take advantage of numerous photo-ops. In New York, the media breathlessly told us about Sarah and newly-incarnated birther Donald Trump having pizza in a restaurant on Times Square.
            On I-90, near Worcester, Mass., her caravan rolled into a storm, just behind a tornado, not stopping for either their own safety or to help those affected by severe damage from the tornado.
            In New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney was announcing his campaign for the presidency, Sarah managed to have her own show about five miles away, drawing the national media to her star power, and then claimed she didn't mean to upstage Romney. It was just an accident, she said in the state where the nation's first primary for the 2012 presidential election will be held.
            At Ellis Island, she misinterpreted potential immigration law. In an interview with Fox News reporter Greta van Susteren, the only reporter allowed on the bus, Sarah mangled the truth about Social Security, the Obama stimulus plan, and the foreign aid package to Egypt.   
In Boston, she reinvented history and complained about "gotcha" journalism. You know, like the "gotcha" question Katie Couric asked in 2008 about what she read. This "gotcha" had come from a Boston reporter who had thrown an even easier puff ball—"What did you learn in Massachusetts and what did you take away from it?" Apparently, she didn't learn much. Instead of spending enough time in Boston to learn about America's revolution, she informed the nation that a bell-clanging Paul Revere went out to warn the British not to mess with America's right to bear arms—or something to that effect. When historians politely disagreed with her curious interpretation of history, she steadfastly maintained she knew American history, and that everyone—including, apparently, Paul Revere's own notes and letters— was wrong. 
Some of the Sarah Zealots even tried to manipulate information in Wikipedia to parrot what Sarah believed was the reason for Paul Revere's ride, thus giving revisionist history an entirely new dimension.
            Although Sarah thought the media were into "gotcha journalism," the truth is that the wily politician, who tiptoed into broadcast journalism after college, now assisted by a media-savvy campaign staff, managed to do everything right to manipulate the mass media to give her more coverage than a Puritan in a clothing factory.
Her handling of the media was the ultimate "gotcha."
You betcha, Sarah.
            [Walter Brasch, a journalist for more than 40 years, has reported on almost every presidential campaign since 1968. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Last Dance: Prom Night in America

                     by Walter Brasch
            It isn't cheap to attend a high school prom. Emulating Miley Cyrus, Megan Fox, or any celebrity that People magazine naively believes is one of the 50 most beautiful people in the whole wide world, is an avalanche of expenses that could easily exceed the cost of a year's supply of beer for a college freshman.
            Americans spent about $6.6 billion on proms in 2008, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The cost is now closer to $7 billion as teens continue their quest to outspend, outshine, and out-bankrupt their peers.
            At the high end of individual costs are the tuxes. It's $100–$200 for a rented tux and mirror-shine shoes, or $100–$500 for a nice dress. About 98 percent of high school girls who attend their senior prom will buy a new dress, which will almost never be worn again, and then another $100–$400 for shoes, tiaras, earrings, shawls, and miscellaneous clothing attachments.
            In addition to clothing costs, add $10–$20 for the boys to have a haircut, and another $30–$100 for the girls to have their hair styled. The boys save about $100 by not having to add fake nails ($20–50), and a manicure ($10–$20) and pedicure ($20–$30), a combo now known by the cutesy appellation of a "mani-pedi." The boys also won't have to worry about lipstick, mascara, perfume, and new hose.
            Generally, the guys won't get fake tans; their dates will. Grab another $50 for spray tans or several "treatments" in a coin-operated tanning bed. (Charges for medicine and surgery for the developing melanoma are extra.)
            For that special splash of color, there's a $5 carnation boutonniere for the guy and a $20 orchid corsage for the girl.
            Some boys will rent new cars; almost half, says Your Prom, will get together with other couples to share costs of a $600–$1,200 a night limousine in vain attempts to impress whoever it is they believe they must impress. The rest apparently wash, wax, and vacuum their own cars, relatively recent pretend high performance red or black models which they park over four intersecting spaces so no one can hit their turtle-wax shine. To support the turtle, they work 20–30 hours a week at a minimum wage dead end job. When anyone asks why they don't just quit and spend the time studying, or getting involved with extracurricular activities, they say they need the job to support their car and stereo.
            Tickets run $40–$100 per couple, which might include light snacks, and prom pictures for about $20–100, depending upon the package.
            Sometime during the evening, in a country which says it doesn't believe in royalty, a king and queen, anointed by popularity, are announced. Like the monarchy in England, no one seems to know what it is they're supposed to do.
            Complain about the costs of a prom, and teens will wail that we old people (that is, anyone over 25 or who reads a newspaper) are trying to ruin their fun and a night of "earning" the end of the school year. We just don't understand, they moan, that proms cost money and it's important that, like the costs of $100 designer jeans and $150 sneaks, they must be just like everyone else, 'lest they are ostracized for being—and this is no exaggeration—poor and "not with it."
            Less than two generations ago, proms were still the "social highlight" at the end of the year. But they weren't as costly. High school juniors once decorated the gym for the prom. Now, it's held at the country club or the "Sweet Magnolia Room" of the high-rise hotel, with hundreds of schools sponsoring after-prom all-nighters to keep the teens from
continuing a path into juvenile delinquency. The beer stores don't mind—they make enough from 21-year-old college students buying beer for frat parties that include recently-graduated high school seniors.
            Once, the boy's extended family worked on a special meal for the prom couple. For some, circumstances allowed a nice dinner at an inexpensive restaurant. Now there's often only one parent in the house, and dinner is about $20–$40 each.
            If boys couldn't afford suits, they wore a sports jacket or, maybe, a nice summer jacket with their white shirt and tie. Girls wore their Sunday finest dresses, which they could wear again a few weeks later.
            There was no need to hire a limousine and impress anyone; fake tans covering pasty white faces were rare. There were still costs, and teens and their families came up with the money, but the costs were nowhere near the debt limit of a small island nation.
            But our children, who are still a part of the extended "Me First Generation," are spending on a social event that, for some, may be a prelude to a $35,000 wedding in a year or two.

            [All costs were determined by contacting businesses in rural northeastern Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia. Costs may vary in other parts of the country.]