Brasch Recognized By Pennsylvania Press Club

News about our colleague Walter Brasch:

Walter Brasch, whose weekly column appears in the Pennsylvania Progressive, recently won awards for both his column and his radio commentary.

Brasch won first place in commentary (general) and second place in commentary (humor) from the Pennsylvania Press Club, against statewide competition. During the past decade, he has also won multiple awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, National Federation of Press Women, Society of Professional Journalists, Pennsylvania Press Club, and the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association.

At the annual Pennsylvania Press Conference, held in State College this past weekend, he won his second consecutive first place for commentary, presented by the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

Dr. Brasch has been a journalist more than 40 years, specializing in social issues and investigative/public affairs reporting. He is also a multimedia writer-producer and the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, as well as the ties between politicians and the oil/gas industry throughout the country.

Congratulations Walter!

 

Jumping Aboard Fracking’s Fossil Fuel Carousel

by Walter Brasch

Two Pennsylvania legislators who have taken money from-and enthusiastically supported-the natural gas industry have teamed up to now praise coal.

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), chair of the Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, and Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Canonsburg, Pa.) are co-chairs of the newly-established Coal Caucus.

It’s a strange move on their part, since both have praised natural gas as the economic future of Pennsylvania.

Yaw, in his first run for the Senate in 2008 accepted only $3,700 in campaign contributions from energy companies; the largest were $1,000 donations from Anadarko Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy. In his first re-election campaign in 2012, he received no contributions from the shale gas industry. He didn’t need it.  Yaw leased 148 acres in Lycoming County to Anadarko, received a payment for signing the lease, and a contract that mandated royalty payments for gas produced from wells on his property. He has not yet received royalties, according to the Responsible Drilling Alliance of Williamsport.

In March 2013, now in his second term, Yaw introduced two bills to expand natural gas usage in the state. When asked by WNEP-TV about a possible conflict-of-interest, Yaw replied he had signed his lease with Anadarko in 2006 before he was elected to the Senate; but in 2011, he renewed that lease for an additional five years.

“Conflict of interest is the most easily-thrown-about concept when you can’t think of anything else to say,” said Yaw.  However, Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, a watchdog on state government, countered Yaw’s cavalier attitude. “You can not simultaneously promote and regulate an industry, if you have the ability to pass and sponsor legislation that will increase your quarterly dividend.”

A week later, outside a meeting closed to the public to discuss issues related to Anadarko’s request to drill in Loyalsock State Forest, Jim Hamill of WNEP-TV again asked Yaw to discuss his ties to the shale drilling industry and about his possible conflict of interest. “No, and I don’t know what part of N-O you don’t understand. Last week we talked and you turned it into a totally negative article, something that should have never been done,” Yaw testily replied.

Among Democrats, Solobay received the most money from Big Energy, $60,325, according to Common Cause.

Act 13, which pretends to regulate the natural gas industry and the recently-developed process of hydraulic horizontal fracturing, better known as fracking, was signed on Feb. 14, 2012, by an enthusiastic Gov. Tom Corbett. It was a Valentine’s Day gift to Big Energy. The law is largely based upon language created by the conservative lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), and supported by Big Energy, the Republican-controlled state legislature, Gov. Corbett (who had taken more than $1.8 million in campaign donations from Big Energy),  and the state’s conservative Chambers of Commerce. It was largely opposed by the Legislature’s Democrats, environmentalists, and persons in the health professions.

Fourteen months after Act 13 was passed, and with citizen protests increasing against fracking, Solobay declared he was frustrated “when people spin and challenge every bit of information and action out there with the sky-is-falling mentality.” He said the protestors “enjoy spreading fear and uneducated comments,” and erroneously stated, “A majority of the negative voices out there are paid activists [who] do nothing but spread false rumors and scare people.” He could easily have been talking about Big Energy, which has developed a massive public relations campaign that is adept at use of the mass media to spin the benefits of fracking while overlooking its health and environmental effects.

Some of those “false rumors” Solobay had claimed were spread by environmentalists might have come from the coal industry, which had been the primary provider of fuel for more than a century before being challenged first by nuclear energy and then by natural gas when horizontal fracking allowed gas extraction and distribution to became profitable in the Marcellus Shale.

Because of all the praise and attention state legislators were giving the gas industry and the attacks upon coal, coal executives had to believe they were now relegated to the role of an orphan in a Dickens novel. But they still had some influence, and that influence soon became apparent.

Never missing opportunities to seize votes and political contributions-and possibly realizing that the Marcellus Shale was becoming less profitable-Yaw and Solobay spun around and founded the Coal Caucus. First praising the gas drillers, Yaw then gushed, “Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has also fueled our economy having created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Collaboratively, we can change the dynamic of coal as an energy resource. . .  . This Coal Caucus will serve as a champion for increased investment in coal and coal-driven technology.”

Solobay-who had received room and transportation from Consol Energy to the SuperBowl in 2011, not long after he had announced a grant to Consol for $529,156-was equally effusive in praising the coal industry: “Coal is critically important to our effort to reduce dependence on foreign fuels. In addition to being a major employer in Pennsylvania, the industry provides consumers with protection from energy shortages and price spikes.” Substitute “gas” for “coal” and you have almost a duplicate of Solobay’s views before he became the co-chair of the Coal Caucus.

It’s possible that Yaw and Solobay also figured out that, unlike the temporary workers in the gas fields whose families live in Oklahoma, Texas, and other states, most coal workers are permanent voting Pennsylvania residents.

Dory Hippauf, whose “Connecting the Dots” series details political and financial ties between politicians and the oil and gas industry, says Pennsylvanians have been shoved onto a Fossil Fuel Carousel and are now supposed to believe that the “dirty” coal energy that politicians said would be replaced by “clean” natural gas energy isn’t so dirty any more.

What is really dirty is the hypocrisy of politicians who fly like moths to the nearest financial light.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the economics, health, and environmental effects of fracking, and the connections between the oil/ gas industry and politicians.]

 

War Is Not Healthy For Children and Other Living Things

Yesterday’s protest songs as selected by Walter Brasch:

Today’s column:

It was a Saturday afternoon in November. My wife, Rosemary, and I were with a four or five dozen other people in front of a county courthouse to protest what all of us knew would be the upcoming war in Iraq.

It wasn’t the first time we were protesting; it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But this time, our bodies were a lot colder than comfortable; our tempers were a bit shorter than civil.

Many persons driving past honked their car horns in support. But, in this rural county in Pennsylvania there were also dozens who drove past and who gave us the finger or shouted obscenities.

We were called many names for having the audacity to exercise our First Amendment rights to protest the Bush-Cheney rush to war in Iraq. “Hippie Communists” was just one of the comments directed at us, apparently by people who never met a Hippie or a Communist.

Several called us “unchristian.” I guess they thought the Quakers, Brethren, and Church of Christ members, among others in the protest, were part of some alien religious sect. I, of course, didn’t mind being called “unChristian”-I’m a Jew.

Many, with bumper stickers and flag decals pasted onto their car bumpers or trunks, a couple of whom also had Confederate flag decals, and never saw the irony, called us unpatriotic, that we were traitors. Apparently, if you don’t agree with certain pretend-patriots you must be a traitor. In our small group were war veterans; no one was anti-American. Rosemary and I during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, were editors of Oasis, a newsletter sponsored by the Red Cross for families of combat troops. Now, as the nation again prepared for war, we resurrected the newspaper as Oasis II. Rosemary, had been a secretary many years and after earning her M.S. in labor studies continued as a strong supporter of labor; maybe someone thought working with the working class was unpatriotic. She was also a family services specialist for national disasters for the Red Cross; helping those still in shock from the disaster and who may have lost their houses may have also been unpatriotic. I was active in emergency management, and even on a Governor’s task force against counter-terrorism. But I guess protesting the government was somehow unAmerican, somehow unpatriotic. Our son, now on 80 percent disability, was a Marine who served during the first Gulf War. I guess since we didn’t want to see any more sons die or become disabled by what we thought was a senseless war, we were unAmerican.

The response by the mainstream media to protests throughout the country was as expected; they largely ignored the protests, no matter how large; when they did cover the them, it was more like tabloid coverage of any curiosity, expanded when a celebrity was involved. What they did do was to channel whatever lies were spewed by the Bush-Cheney administration. As a journalist, I was appalled but not surprised by the “super patriotism” of the media, nor the fact that many newspapers were killing my columns about the impending war.

The New York Times and Washington Post, both believed to be liberal newspapers, eventually apologized for their jingoistic coverage, for how they took the Administration’s handouts, with not much more than a superficial question or two.

Years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and it was proven how many lies the nation was told by politicians and pretend-patriots, Rosemary and I still haven’t heard one apology from anyone in any of dozens of rallies who called us unAmerican, unpatriotic, traitors and Communists. Not one reader who wrote scathing replies to some of my columns that did get published, some in print, many on the Internet, ever apologized. We don’t expect any apologies. But we do expect that at the very least people who proudly wave flags, declare they are patriots, support Tea Party and ultra-right calls to “take back our country” (apparently from that foreign-born half-Black Muslim who somehow got the most popular votes of anyone in history), might at least see a connection between unqualified support of a government that sends young men and women into battle and then has a 3-day weekend of picnics and politically-correct patriotic speeches to honor those who died in battle.

John Prine (1946 – ), born in Chicago, is an Army veteran who became a letter carrier after his discharge. He, like many on the ’60s went into the Greenwich Village part of New York City to develop his music skills. He was influenced by the music of Hank Williams; Johnny Cash was one of Prine’s fans. He had millions of others.

Among Prine’s songs was a country classic, “You Never Even Called by Name,” co-written with Steve Goodman and recorded by David Alan Coe; and antiwar songs, “The Great Compromise” and “Saigon,” about a soldier with PTSD.

John Prine wrote “The Flag Decal” in 1971, an upbeat song about phony patriotism during the Viet Nam War. Like all good music, it didn’t die that first year. It has been brought out again and again to counter the Super-Patriots who absolutely positively know that anyone who disagrees with a conservative government (apparently it’s acceptable to disagree with liberals) must be unpatriotic traitors.

Please take a few moments on this, the seventh day of Memorial Day Week, to hear a song that exposes the phony patriotism of some Americans.

FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians

(Part 1 of 3)

A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant jobs in a depressed economy, and will help the U.S. reduce its oil dependence upon foreign nations. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States. If all of it is successfully mined, it could not only replace coal and oil but serve as a transition to wind, solar, and water as primary energy sources, releasing the United States from dependency upon fossil fuel energy and allowing it to be more self-sufficient.

The Marcellus Shale-which extends beneath the Allegheny Plateau, through southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, east Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia-is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas mining, containing as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and could produce, within a decade, as much as one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas demand.  Each of Pennsylvania’s 5,255 wells, as of the beginning of March 2012, with dozens being added each week, takes up about nine acres, including all access roads and pipe.

Over the expected lifetime of each well, companies may use as many as nine million gallons of water and 100,000 gallons of chemicals and radioactive isotopes within a four to six week period. The additives “are used to prevent pipe corrosion, kill bacteria, and assist in forcing the water and sand down-hole to fracture the targeted formation,” explains Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. However, about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, known as Act 13, an amendment to Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”

Psychologists are also concerned about the effects of fracking and the law’s gag order. “We won’t know the extent of patients becoming anxious or depressed because of a lack of information about the fracking process and the chemicals used,” says Kathryn Vennie of Hawley, Pa., a clinical psychologist for 30 years. She says she is already seeing patients “who are seeking support because of the disruption to their environment.” Anxiety in the absence of information, she says, “can produce both mental and physical problems.”

The law is not only “unprecedented,” but will “complicate the ability of health department to collect information that would reveal trends that could help us to protect the public health,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  Dr. Paulson, also professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, calls the law “detrimental to the delivery of personal health care and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.” Physicians, he says, “have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of the public, and this law precludes us from doing all we can to protect the public.” He has called for a moratorium on all drilling until the health effects can be analyzed.

Pennsylvania requires physicians to report to the state instances of 73 specific diseases, most of which are infectious diseases. However, the list also includes cancer, which may have origins not only from chemicals used to create the fissures that yield natural gas, but also in the blow-back of elements, including arsenic, present within the fissures. Thus, physicians are faced by conflicting legal and professional considerations.

“The confidentiality agreements are worrisome,” says Peter Scheer, a journalist/lawyer who is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreements and then disclose the possible risks to protect the community can be sued for breech of contract, and the companies can seek both injunctions and damages, says Scheer.

In pre-trial discovery motions, a company might be required to reveal to the court what it claims are trade secrets and proprietary information, with the court determining if the chemical and gas combinations really are trade secrets or not. The court could also rule that the contract is unenforceable because it is contrary to public policy, which places the health of the public over the rights of an individual company to protect its trade secrets, says Scheer. However, the legal and financial resources of the natural gas corporations are far greater than those of individuals, and they can stall and outspend most legal challenges.

Although Pennsylvania is determined to protect the natural gas industry, not everyone in the industry agrees with the need for secrecy.  Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, says he supports disclosing the contents included in fracturing fluids. In an opinion column published in the Denver Post, McCurdy further argued, “We need to do more as an industry to engage in a transparent and fact-based public dialogue on shale gas development.”

The Natural Gas committee of the U.S. Department of Energy agrees. “Our most important recommendations were for more transparency and dissemination of information about shale gas operations, including full disclosure of chemicals and additives that are being used,” said Dr. Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University and a Board member.

Both McCurdy’s statement and the Department of Energy’s strong recommendation about full disclosure were known to the Pennsylvania General Assembly when it created the law that restricted health care professionals from disseminating certain information that could help reduce significant health and environmental problems from fracking operations.

Part 2 looks at the health issues and research studies. Part 3 looks at the truth behind why Pennsylvania has given advantages to the natural gas industry. Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Walter Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and through the publisher’s website, http://www.greeleyandstone.com

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

Star Gazing: Comets, Actors, and Angelina’s Right Leg

by Walter Brasch

           In 1973, some friends and I went to the rooftop of our apartment building to watch Comet Kahoutek, touted by astronomers and the media as the comet of all comets. We were sure we’d see it since we had the requisite equipment-binoculars and beer.

           But we didn’t see the comet. Not that night nor the next night. What we did see was a lot of universe. And while we talked about the ungrateful comet that barely shone against a perfect sky, we explored a lot of questions about life, relationships, and our place in the universe. And we realized that no matter how egocentric we were, or how many kudos we earned from our peers, the universe must have a greater mission or reason for being than just to provide support for a few college students.

           Growing up and working in Southern California, stars have been a part of my life. I could go to the Griffith Park and Mt. Palomar observatories; I could also hang around places where stars, near-stars, and pretend-stars walked, shopped, and ate.

           Probably, that’s why I have a number of concerns about stars that are light years away and stars that are as far away as a TV or movie screen.

           I’m concerned about our planet’s own star. Astrophysicists-the kind who actually know what warp speed means and why Scotty can’t give Capt. Kirk any more power-have determined that the sun is five billion years old, and will burn out in another five billion years. I’m concerned that no one knows how to treat a star for mid-life crises.

           And speaking of stars with mid-life crises, I wish the media would stop wasting ink and airtime about every 50s- or 60s-year-old male actor who dates a 20-something female? If they want to date someone who scratches her head when the name Paul McCartney comes up, and then, as if two brain cells connected, suddenly asks if McCartney wasn’t that old guy in some band named Wings-well, that’s their own business.

           I’m concerned that weeks before the Academy Awards, entertainment media know-it-alls tell us their predictions, encapsulated by a “who should win/who will will” story of erudite nonsense. Minutes after the ceremony, they trumpet their few correct predictions and mute their pomposity by telling us that such-and-such Oscar was a major upset, as if some magical fairy changed the votes without telling them.

           I’m concerned that TV reporters parade their “intimacy” with the stars by calling them by their “close-friend-only” names. We all know about “Sly” Stallone, “Bob” Redford, and “Bobby” Duvall. The media called Elizabeth Taylor “Liz,” possibly because they had trouble pronouncing a four-syllable word; Taylor hated to be called Liz, but that made little difference. Maybe some of the stars should call reporters by their nicknames. Maybe we’ll learn about “Speed Bump,” “Jerkface,” and “Cuddles.”

           The pre-Oscar runway special focuses not upon the art and craft of acting or movie making, but upon fashion. This year, ABC-TV sent five co-anchors (three of them fashion experts) onto the red carpet to interview the A-list. There was so much they could ask, and so much that the stars would have preferred to have been asked, but most of the questions revolved around, “Who are you wearing?” Clad in $10,000 one-of-a-kind dresses donated by designers in exchange for the free publicity, the stars gave names and tried to look excited rather than incredulous when asked, “So are you excited?” When not asking about the who, the co-anchors asked questions that focused upon looks. Frankly, it was nauseating to hear Tim Gunn twice tell Melissa Rivers that she had buns of steel, and Rivers saying that women who don’t squeeze their own buns won’t attract men who will squeeze them.

           Finally, a few days after the ceremony there aren’t many who remember the dresses or the winners, especially who won the Oscars for writing the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Adapted Screenplay. But, probably everyone remembers Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Jolie, who announced the award, wore a split dress, and brazenly showed her right leg. By the end of the awards show, there was a Twitter account (@angiesrightleg). Within two days, the leg had more than 35,000 followers, and was the subject of thousands of stories, parodies, and comedy monologues. For awhile, the skinny knock-kneed leg on one of the most beautiful actors and humanitarians allowed people to temporarily forget rising gas prices, layoffs, and a vicious presidential political campaign. It did for the people what movies and the other mass media do-it provided an enjoyable and temporary escape from reality.

           [For those who care, the winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. The winners of the Best Adapted Screenplay were Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants. In other news, Dr. Brasch was recently named a finalist in the USA Book News competition for Before the First Snow, and is a nominee for both the Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin awards for literary excellence.]

 

The War On Tolerance

The War on Christmas is really a war against tolerance.  As I read Walter’s poignant column below I’m reminded that America was never founded as a christian nation, something Fox News has drummed into the minds of countless brainless souls over the years.  Anyone who knows history understands this nation was here for thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived.  Native Americans, each tribe, has their own belief system based on their origin stories.  The Pilgrims and other early European settlers braved dangerous conditions to escape religious intolerance.  

Our Founding Fathers intentionally created a secular republic in which everyone’s religion was tolerated and even protects those who wish to be free from religion.  We are a nation of atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccan, Taoists, Christians and many other belief systems.  Our Native American friends and neighbors continue holding their ancient beliefs.  The idea that this is a “christian nation” is intolerant, bigoted and wrong.  It is wrong to force your belief system on someone else.  It is intolerant to claim a “war on Christmas” simply because others have other beliefs.

The ancient pagan winter solstice holiday was actually absconded by the Roman Catholic Church as Christmas.  Easter, with its rabbits and eggs was stolen from the pagan spring solstice fertility festival.  These aren’t holy or sacred holidays though some have chosen to make them so.  Don’t, please, choose to force your interpretation down the throats of those who are Wiccan, Jewish, Muslim, or Pagan.  Tolerance is a Christian virtue, one which has been thrown away by some who purport to be of that faith.  That’s the real “war on Christmas.”

The High Cost of Freedom from Fossil Fuels

Wanderings

by Walter Brasch

For a few hours on the afternoon of Nov. 1, the people of southern California were scared by initial reports of an alert at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. An “alert” is the second of four warning levels.

Workers first detected an ammonia leak in a water purification system about 3 p.m. Ammonia, when mixed into air, is toxic. The 30 gallons of ammonia were caught in a holding tank and posed no health risk, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC).  

During the 1970s and 1980s, at the peak of the nuclear reactor construction, organized groups of protestors mounted dozens of anti-nuke campaigns. They were called Chicken Littles, the establishment media generally ignored their concerns, and the nuclear industry trotted out numerous scientists and engineers from their payrolls to declare nuclear energy to be safe, clean, and inexpensive energy that could reduce America’s dependence upon foreign oil.

Workers at nuclear plants are highly trained, probably far more than workers in any other industry; operating systems are closely regulated and monitored. However, problems caused by human negligence, manufacturing defects, and natural disasters have plagued the nuclear power industry for its six decades.

It isn’t alerts like what happened at San Onofre that are the problem; it’s the level 3 (site area emergencies) and level 4 (general site emergencies) disasters. There have been 99 major disasters, 56 of them in the U.S., since 1952, according to a study conducted by Benjamin K. Sovacool Director of the Energy Justice Program at Institute for Energy and Environment  One-third of all Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.

At Windscale in northwest England, fire destroyed the core, releasing significant amounts of Iodine-131. At Rocky Flats near Denver, radioactive plutonium and tritium leaked into the environment several times over a two decade period. At Church Rock, New Mexico, more than 90 million gallons of radioactive waste poured into the Rio Puerco, directly affecting the Navajo nation.

In the grounds of central and northeastern Pennsylvania, in addition to the release of radioactive Cesium-137 and Iodine-121, an excessive level of Strontium-90 was released during the Three Mile Island (TMI) meltdown in 1979, the same year as the Church Rock disaster. To keep waste tanks from overflowing with radioactive waste, the plant’s operator dumped several thousand gallons of radioactive waste into the Susquehanna River. An independent study by Dr. Steven Wing of the University of North Carolina revealed the incidence of lung cancer and leukemia downwind of the TMI meltdown within six years of the meltdown was two to ten times that of the rest of the region.

At the Chernobyl meltdown in April 1986, about 50 workers and firefighters died lingering and horrible deaths from radiation poisoning. Because of wind patterns, about 27,000 persons in the northern hemisphere are expected to die of cancer, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. An area of about 18 miles is uninhabitable. The nuclear reactor core is now protected by a crumbling sarcophagus; a replacement is not complete. Even then, the new shield is expected to crumble within a century. The current director at Chernobyl says it could be 20,000 years until the area again becomes habitable.

In March, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale and the ensuing 50-foot high tsunami wave led to a meltdown of three of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency reported that 31 radioactive isotopes were released. In contrast, 16 radioactive isotopes were released from the A-bomb that hit Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945.  The agency also reported that radioactive cesium released was almost 170 times the amount of the A-bomb, and that the release of radioactive Iodine-131 and Strontium-90 was about two to three times the level of the A-bomb. The release into the air, water, and ground included about 60,000 tons of contaminated water. The half lives of Sr-90 and Cs-137 are about 30 years each. Full effects may not be known for at least two generations. Twenty-three nuclear reactors in the U.S. have the same design-and same design flaws-as the Daiichi reactor.

About five months after the Daiichi disaster, the North Anna plant in northeastern Virginia declared an alert, following a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt throughout the mid-Atlantic and lower New England states. The earthquake caused building cracks and spent fuel cells in canisters to shift. The North Anna plant was designed to withstand an earthquake of only 5.9-6.2 on the Richter scale. More than 1.9 million persons live within a 50-mile radius of North Anna, according to 2010 census data.

Although nuclear plant security is designed to protect against significant and extended forms of terrorism, the NRC believes as many as one-fourth of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants may need upgrades to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, according to an Associated Press investigation. About 20 percent of the world’s 442 nuclear plants are built in earthquake zones, according to data compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The NRC has determined that the leading U.S. plants in the Eastern Coast in danger of being compromised by an earthquake are in the extended metropolitan areas of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chattanooga. Tenn. The highest risk, however, may be California’s San Onofre and Diablo Canyon plants, both built near major fault lines. Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo, was even built by workers who misinterpreted the blueprints.  

Every nuclear spill affects not just those in the immediate evacuation zone but people throughout the world, as prevailing winds can carry air-borne radiation thousands of miles from the source, and the world’s water systems can put radioactive materials into the drinking supply and agriculture systems of most nations. At every nuclear disaster, the governments eventually declare the immediate area safe. But, animals take far longer than humans to return to the area. If they could figure out that radioactivity released into the water, air, and ground are health hazards, certainly humans could also figure it out.  

Following the disaster at Daiichi, Germany announced it was closing its 17 nuclear power plants and would expand development of solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources. About the same time, Siemens abandoned financing and building nuclear power plants, leaving only American-based Westinghouse and General Electric, which own or have constructed about four-fifths of the world’s nuclear plants, and the French-based Areva.

The life of the first nuclear plants was about 30-40 years; the newer plants have a 40-60 year life. After that time, they become so radioactive that the risk of radiation poison outweighs the benefits of continuing the operation. So, the operators seal the plant and abandon it, carefully explaining to the public the myriad safety procedures in place and the federal regulations. The cooling and decommissioning takes 50-100 years until the plant is safe enough for individuals to walk through it without protection. More critical, there still is no safe technology of how to handle spent control rods.

The United States has no plans to abandon nuclear energy. The Obama administration has proposed financial assistance to build the first nuclear plant in three decades, and a $36 billion loan guarantee for the nuclear industry. However, the Congressional Budget Office believes there can be as much as 50 percent default.  Each plant already receives $1-1.3 billion in tax rebates and subsidies. However, in the past three years, plans to build nuclear generators have been abandoned in nine states, mostly because of what the major financiers believe to be a less than desired return on investment and higher than expected construction and maintenance costs.

A Department of Energy analysis revealed the budget for 75 of the first plants was about $45 billion, but cost overruns ran that to $145 billion. The last nuclear power plant completed was the Watts Bar plant in eastern Tennessee. Construction began in 1973 and was completed in 1996. Part of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the Watts Bar plant cost about $8 billion to produce 1,170 mw of energy from its only reactor. Work on a second reactor was suspended in 1988 because of a lack of need for additional electricity. However, construction was resumed in 2007, with completion expected in 2013. Cost to complete the reactor, which was about 80 percent complete when work was suspended, is estimated to cost an additional $2.5 billion.

The cost to build new power plants is well over $10 billion each, with a proposed cost of about $14 billion to expand the Vogtle plant near Augusta, Ga. The first two units had cost about $9 billion.

Added to the cost of every plant is decommissioning costs, averaging about $300 million to over $1 billion, depending upon the amount of energy the plant is designed to produce. The nuclear industry proudly points to studies that show the cost to produce energy from nuclear reactors is still less expensive than the costs from coal, gas, and oil. The industry also rightly points out that nukes produce about one-fifth all energy, with no emissions, such as those from the fossil fuels.

For more than six decades, this nation essentially sold its soul for what it thought was cheap energy that may not be so cheap, and clean energy that is not so clean.

It is necessary to ask the critical question. Even if there were no human, design, and manufacturing errors; even if there could be assurance there would be no accidental leaks and spills of radioactivity; even if there became a way to safely and efficiently dispose of long-term radioactive waste; even if all of this was possible, can the nation, struggling in a recession while giving subsidies to the nuclear industry, afford to build more nuclear generating plants at the expense of solar, wind, and geothermal energy?

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, a fact-based novel that looks at the nuclear industry during its critical building boom in the 1970s and 1980s.]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

A Patch of Pumpkin Heads

by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

                In a few days, millions of children will put on costumes, go door to door, and shout “trick or treat.” By Nov. 1, it’ll be over.

           But, it won’t be over for Americans who will face presidential candidates for the next year. The candidates will continue to try to mask their true selves, while luring us with treats that disguise tricks. Let’s see what each of the candidates might be wearing for the coming year.

            President Obama could dress as a stable boy. Since his first day on the job, he’s had to shovel whatever it is that was left for him in the stable. His opponents, however, think he should dress up as Pinocchio, with an exceptionally long wooden nose, and carrying a hammer and sickle.

           Rick Santorum had begun fading away after he was trounced in a Senate re-election campaign in Pennsylvania, too reactionary even for the Republicans. Wrap him in bandages as the Invisible Candidate.

           The other Rick in the race is Perry. For awhile, he was the leader of the pack until the other candidates ganged up on him. Moderates thought he was too reactionary; the extreme right-wing thought he was too liberal. Dress him in a helmet, black leather jacket, and jeans, etch a few tattoos onto his body, and have him encased by a sandwich board. For a few brief shiny moments, he was everything that Camelot wasn’t.

The current front-runner is Herman Cain, whose mask is a cloth pizza slice, cut to the 9’s. But since he’ll be a passing pizza, as the Republican voters love and unlove their front runners, perhaps he could also wear a half-eaten slice with a red bull’s eye on his back.

           Michele Bachmann has become one-with-a-teapot. Every voting citizen is likely to see her during the coming year spewing scalding steam, but unable to make quality tea.

Dr. Ron Paul could wear a surgeon’s scrubs, with a lot of fringe, able to leap onto any patient to cut fat and some muscle.

           Jon Huntsman, perhaps the most intelligent and most civil of the candidates, could dress in a three-piece striped pants suit of the diplomat he once was. But, since civility isn’t a trait among this year’s Republican crop, the other candidates will probably throw a potato sack over him and bury him in the dirt.

           The cast from The Wizard of Oz always presents good costume possibilities.

           Mitt Romney, once standing straight, is now leaning so far right that he is likely to be kissing the floor soon. Perhaps he could dress as the Cowardly Lion and hope to find some courage.

           It’s too obvious to dress Newt Gingrich as a salamander, none of whom have monogamous relationships. But, it is possible that this incarnation of the former House speaker could wear the mask as Dick Cheney, the man without a heart, who dresses as the Tin Man.

Dorothy, the sweet Innocent with intelligence and compassion, isn’t in the running for the Republican nomination. Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snow, and Lisa Murkowski are all possible Dorothies but have no reason to dress up since the Republican party doesn’t like anything sweet and moderate.

           The Wizard manipulating everyone might be Roger Ailes, the brilliant president of Fox News. But, since we are writing the story, we’ll make this wizard evil, blustery, and dense. Cerberus, the three-headed vicious dog who prevents souls condemned to Hell from ever escaping, could be the disguise that best identifies Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

           And, of course that leaves just one main character from the Oz saga, the Scarecrow without a brain. Need anyone look farther than the Alaskan Tundra for the one most likely to seize all the treats she can and still trick the people?

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, a look at America between 1964 and 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War. Rosemary Brasch is a retired labor grievance officer and Red Cross family services specialist.]

Iraq: Just Another War Without an End

by Walter Brasch

We know the names of every one of the 4,479 Americans who were killed and the 32,200 who were wounded, both civilian and military, between March 20, 2003 and Oct. 21, 2011, the day President Barack Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, declared the last American soldier would leave Iraq before the end of the year.

We know Second Lieutenant Therrel Shane Childers was the first American soldier killed by hostile fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 21, 2003, less than a day after the U.S.-led invasion, Childers was shot in the stomach by hostile forces while leading a Marine platoon to secure an oil field in southern Iraq.  His father, Joseph, told NPR that it was his dream to lead Marines into combat.

Childers, from Gulfport, Miss., had enlisted in the Marines 12 years earlier, was a security guard at the Geneva consulate and the Nairobi embassy, fought in the Persian Gulf War, and then attended the Citadel on a special program that allows enlisted personnel to be commissioned upon graduation. He was a French major and on the Dean’s List. Childers, who had wanted to be a horse trainer when he retired from the Marines, was 30 years old when he died. The Marines promoted him to first lieutenant posthumously.

On the day Childers was killed, 12 men-seven from the United Kingdom, one from South Africa, and four from the U.S.-were killed in a helicopter crash near Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. At the time, the Marine Corps called the crash of the CH-46E Sea Knight accidental, but didn’t elaborate.

About the time the helicopter crashed, Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Marine, was killed by what is euphemistically known as “friendly fire.” He was an orphan from Guatemala who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico, lived on the streets of San Diego and Los Angeles, was granted a temporary visa, lived with a series of foster families, graduated from high school, and began attending college, hoping to become an architect. The U.S. granted him citizenship posthumously.

On the second day of the war, three more Americans and six from England were killed. On the third day, 30 more Americans and four British were killed. By the end of March, 92 were killed.

One month before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had declared the upcoming war, which he warned would be a “shock and awe” strategy, might last “six days, maybe six weeks; I doubt six months.”

On May 1, 2003, aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, President George W. Bush, decorated in flight gear, declared “Mission Accomplished.” Official military records show that when President Bush made his announcement, 172 Coalition troops had been killed. More than 4,600 American and allied soldiers would die in Iraq after that declaration; more than 31,500 Americans would be wounded, many permanently disabled, after that bravado proclamation.

We know the oldest American soldier to die in combat was 60; the youngest was 18, of which there were 34. We know that 476 of those killed were from California; Pennsylvania and Florida each had 176 deaths by the time the President announced full withdrawal from Iraq.

There are names we don’t know. We don’t know the names and life stories of the 4.7 million refugees, nor the two million Iraqis who fled the violence caused by the Coalition invasion. We don’t know the names of the orphaned children, one-third of all of Iraq’s youth. We don’t know the names of the 100,000-150,000 civilians killed. We don’t have accurate records of more than a million who were wounded. It no longer matters who killed or wounded them, who destroyed their lives and property-American, allied, Shia, Sunni, insurgent, criminal, or al-Qaeda. It doesn’t matter if they died from IEDs, suicide bombers, gunshots, artillery, bombs, or missiles. In war, they’re simply known as “collateral damage.”

In Afghanistan, 2,769 Coalition troops have been killed, 1,815 of them American, by the day that President Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq. There are already 14,343 wounded among the Coalition forces. Between 36,000 and 75,000 Afghani civilians have been killed by insurgents and Coalition troops during the past decade, according to the United Nations. President Obama told the world that the war in Afghanistan would continue at least two more years.

You can try to sanitize the wars by giving them patriotic names-Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom. But that doesn’t change the reality that millions of every demographic have been affected. War doesn’t discriminate. The dead on all sides are physicians and religious leaders; trades people, farmers, clerks, merchants, teachers, and mothers.  And they are babies and students. We don’t know what they might have become had they been allowed to grow up and live a life of peace, one without war.

We also don’t yet know who will be the last American soldier to be killed in Iraq. We don’t know how Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) will affect the one million soldiers who were called for as many as seven tours of duty, nor when the last Iraq War veteran will die from permanent injuries. And we will never know how this war will affect the children and grandchildren of the veterans.

But there is one more thing we do know. A year before José Antonio Gutierrez was killed, he had written a “Letter to God” in Spanish. Translated, it read: “Thank you for permitting me to live another year, thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don’t die. . . . May the firearms be silent and the teachings of love flourish.”

[Walter Brasch first began writing about war in 1966. He wishes he didn’t have to. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a novel that focuses upon America between 1964 and 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]

 

Banning the First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

Parents demanded it be banned.

School superintendents placed it in restricted sections of their libraries.

It is the most challenged book four of the past five years, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

“It” is a 32-page illustrated children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, with illustrations by Henry Cole. The book is based upon the real story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins, who had formed a six-year bond at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, and who “adopted” a fertilized egg and raised the chick until she could be on her own.

Gays saw the story as a positive reinforcement of their lifestyle. Riding to rescue America from homosexuality were the biddies against perversion. Gay love is against the Bible, they wailed; the book isn’t suitable for the delicate minds of children, they cried as they pushed libraries and schools to remove it from their shelves or at the very least make it restricted.

The penguins may have been gay-or maybe they weren’t. It’s not unusual for animals to form close bonds with others of their same sex. But the issue is far greater than whether or not the penguins were gay or if the book promoted homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. People have an inherent need to defend their own values, lifestyles, and worldviews by attacking others who have a different set of beliefs. Banning or destroying free speech and the freedom to publish is one of the ways people believe they can protect their own lifestyles.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the most challenged books, according to the ALA, were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, apparently because some people believe fictionalized witchcraft is a dagger into the soul of organized religion. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was the 10th most challenged in 2010. Perhaps some parents weren’t comfortable with their adolescents having to make a choice between werewolves and vampires.

Among the most challenged books is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the vicious satire about firemen burning books to save humanity. Other books that are consistently among the ALA’s list of most challenged are Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Chocolate War (Robert Cormier), Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou), Forever (Judy Blume), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), regarded by most major literary scholars as the finest American novel.

Name a classic, and it’s probably on the list of the most challenged books. Conservatives, especially fundamental religious conservatives, tend to challenge more books. But, challenges aren’t confined to any one political ideology. Liberals are frequently at the forefront of challenging books that may not agree with their own social philosophies. The feminist movement, while giving the nation a better awareness of the rights of women, wanted to ban Playboy and all works that depicted what they believed were unflattering images if women. Liberals have also attacked the works of Joel Chandler Harris (the Br’er Rabbit series), without understanding history, folklore, or the intent of the journalist-author, who was well-regarded as liberal for his era.

Although there are dozens of reasons why people say they want to restrict or ban a book, the one reason that threads its way through all of them is that the book challenges conventional authority or features a character who is perceived to be “different,” who may give readers ideas that many see as “dangerous.”

The belief there are works that are “dangerous” is why governments create and enforce laws that restrict publication. In colonial America, as in almost all countries and territories at that time, the monarchy required every book to be licensed, to be read by a government official or committee to determine if the book was suitable for the people. If so, it received a royal license. If not, it could not be printed.

In 1644, two decades before his epic poem Paradise Lost was published, John Milton wrote a pamphlet, to be distributed to members of Parliament, against a recently-enacted licensing law. In defiance of the law, the pamphlet was published without license. Using Biblical references and pointing out that the Greek and Roman civilizations didn’t license books, Milton argued, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable create [in] God’s image,” he told Parliament, “but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God.” He concluded his pamphlet with a plea, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

A century later, Sir William Blackstone, one of England’s foremost jurists and legal scholars, argued against prior restraint, the right of governments to block publication of any work they found offensive for any reason.

The arguments of Milton and Blackstone became the basis of the foundation of a new country, to be known as the United States of America, and the establishment of the First Amendment.

Every year, at the end of September, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Book Week, and publishes a summary of book challenges. And every year, it is made more obvious that those who want to ban books, sometimes building bonfires and throwing books upon them as did Nazi Germany, fail to understand the principles of why this nation was created.

[Walter Brasch was a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor before becoming a professor of mass communications, with specialties in First Amendment and contemporary social issues. His current book is the mystery novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the 1960s, and how issues unresolved during those years are affecting today’s society.]