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Tragedy in the 24/7 News Media

By: brasch Sunday April 6, 2014 7:02 am

 

by Walter Brasch

CNN is the 24/7 media trumpet for news about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that is presumed to have crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean, southwest of Australia. On that flight were 227 passengers and 12 crew members.

CNN grabbed every iota of information, pumped it full of digital frequencies, and broadcast it to what it thought was a world salivating for every syllable of thought.
CNN Satellite News Truck - Atlanta
When there was news, CNN broadcast it. When there was no news, CNN broadcast it. When there were outrageous theories, CNN was the source to find out who was saying what. When there was a rumor, CNN broadcast that, only to have to retract it hours later. Through chatter and repetition, CNN kept the story alive.

This wasn’t the first time the media became fixated on a story. It certainly won’t be the last. There was non-stop coverage of the death of Princess Diana, the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials. Fox News grabbed onto Obamacare, President Obama’s alleged birth in Kenya, and the Benghazi story, even when the facts didn’t support its preconceived conclusions. More recently, MSNBC’s evening anchors have given non-stop wall-to-wall coverage of the Chris Christie “Bridgegate” story, another story that was hyped by constant repetition.

“All News-All Day” isn’t new. During the Yellow Journalism age and circulation wars in the late 19th century, media giants William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer often sent to press several editions a day. Hearst, whose jingoistic determination helped bring about the Spanish-American War in 1898, was not adverse to publishing as many as 30 editions a day to “update” his million subscribers and millions more readers of the New York Journal, all of whom were willing to pay three cents per edition to get even more news each day.

In the early 1960s, the radio medium developed all-news stations. However, the news package was often a prepackaged cycle that ran every seven, nine, 11, or 20 minutes, with new content every now and then.

The 24/7 news cycle, as we now know it, was initiated by CNN more than three decades ago, and became a necessary part of information dissemination during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. CNN had correspondents in Baghdad; the coverage was critical in keeping Americans, especially family members of combat troops, informed of the reasons for the war and numerous issues that developed from that war, as well as hour-by-hour coverage of the war itself.

Since then, the CNN concept of all-day coverage, which had been spoofed and held as an example of what not to do in news, has been successfully copied by MSNBC, Fox News, other cable news operations, and dozens of web-only news-commentary operations.

Newspapers, which have often lagged in innovation, began to go 24/7 by a combination of once-a-day print production and continuous updates in their web editions. Reporters at one time wrote a story, turned it in to the “desk,” forgot it and went to other stories. Copyeditors often improved the story, gave it a headline, put it onto the page, and sent it to the “back shop” where it became a part of pre-press composition and the “press run.” However, in the “we want news right now—and make it short because we don’t have the attention span” world, reporters are writing the story for the print edition, while also recording it on cell phones and digital cameras, sometimes narrating the footage, for the web edition. If anything changes during the day, the reporter then spends the rest of the day juggling other stories and updates on the original story.

But there is a major problem when the media—print or visual—become fixated upon one story, such as Flight 370. Other stories are swept aside. The mudslide near Oso, Wash., that killed 30, with at least a dozen still missing, is one of those stories that should have dominated the news media. The cascade of a 600-foot hillside is the most deadly landslide in U.S. history. Yet, it was often the second or third story on evening news, behind what still wasn’t known about Flight 370.

Dozens of stories, both breaking news and features, could have—and should have—been written and broadcast. While local media did exemplary work in keeping the story fresh, the national news media—apparently believing Washington state is only on the fringe of the continental United States—gave significantly less coverage to the mudslide than to the missing flight or the latest Hollywood gossip.

Among stories that should have been reported, but were either given minimal coverage or shoved aside for the airline story, were reasons why the hill collapsed and the ecological and environmental harm it caused. There should have been stories about why the hillside wasn’t protected and the political reasons why. There should have been stories directed to people in other parts of the nation on how to protect yourself against various kinds of natural disasters. There should have been stories about the emergency management agency and its responsibilities, about the first responders and the 400 search and rescue workers, including their training, what they were doing, how they were doing it, and how they overcame innumerable problems. There were dozens of unreported stories about the work of the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other social service agencies. There should have been extensive reporting about the psychological trauma affecting workers and residents. There should have been stories about the city itself, its businesses, and how they responded. There should have been stories about the effects of the mudslide upon the schools, and how the youth unselfishly helped. Yes, there were dozens of stories that could have, and should have, been reported to a national audience.

Both Flight 370 and the mudslide are tragedies. But, CNN was fixated on a missing airline, taking a few hours off to cover the Fort Hood shootings; Fox was fixated upon attacking President Obama; and MSNBC was fixated upon a New Jersey scandal.

Although those stories may be important, not one of them matter as much as what happened in Oso, Wash.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and health and environmental effects of horizontal hydraulic fracturing to mine gas.]

Anti-Fracking Activist Can Now Go to the Hospital (update)

By: brasch Sunday March 30, 2014 6:10 am

by Walter Brasch

 

Vera Scroggins will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, rehabilitation therapy – even the recycling center.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, and the place where she goes for rehabilitation therapy. She can also go to the county’s recycling center, which is on 12.5 acres of land the county had leased to Cabot Gas & Oil Corp., one of the largest drillers in the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, Friday, revised a preliminary injunction he issued in October against the anti-fracking activist. That injunction had required the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where Cabot had leased mineral rights, even if that distance was on public property. Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wanted to be was a place she was not allowed to be. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction, says Scott Michelman of Public Citizen was “overbroad and violates her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.” Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represented her Monday when she sought to vacate the order. At that hearing, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn’t show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.

Seamans’ revised  order prohibits Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights. Land not being drilled, but which Cabot owns mineral rights, is no longer part of the injunction. That 100 feet separation is still far more than most injunctions call for; even abortion clinics typically have 15 feet exclusion zones to prevent violence, according to the brief filed in Scroggins’ behalf. Although Seamans agreed that his preliminary order may have been broad and violated Scroggins’ First Amendment rights, the revised injunction probably still violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

When Scroggins first appeared in court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. She had been served papers to appear in court only the Friday before the Monday hearing. That day, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot. She asked for a continuance, but Seamans refused to grant her one. Seamans told Scroggins that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

 

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to herself and to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, she has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But, with rare exceptions, she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and Seamans struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

The original injunction, and possibly the revised injunction, violated her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that violated both the public trust and the environment, according to citations filed by the state’s Department of Environmental Portection. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

The preliminary injunction also violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel; Scroggins couldn’t even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invited her. That’s because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what her attorneys presented in court, to show that “it had a right to exclude her from the surface of properties where it has leased only the subsurface mineral rights.”

Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing, known commonly as fracking. Many consider her to be a pest, someone trying to stop them from making money. Hundreds in the region have willingly given up their property rights in order to get signing bonuses and royalties from the extraction of natural gas. Their concern, in a county still feeling the effects of the great recession that had begun a decade earlier, is for their immediate financial well-being rather than the health and welfare of their neighbors, or the destruction of the environment.

The anti-fracking movement has grown from hundreds slightly more than a half-decade ago to millions. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to mount a multi-million dollar media campaign, the people who proudly call themselves “fractivists” have countered by effective use of the social media and low-budget but highly effective rallies. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians’ campaigns, the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth.
Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there. Cabot’s “take-no-prisoners” strategy in trying to shut her voice has led to even more people becoming aware of what fracking is—and the length that a mega-corporation will go to keep the facts from the people. No matter what Seamans did to reduce the sweeping impact of the original order, or what will happen May 1 when Scroggins and Cabot will again be in court, Cabot has lost this battle.

[Dr. Brasch’s current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of horizontal fracking, and the collusion between politicians and the oil and gas industry. The 466-page critically-acclaimed and fully-documented book is available from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores.]

An Injunction Against the First Amendment

By: brasch Friday March 21, 2014 6:48 am

Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will be in court, Monday morning.

This time, she will have lawyers and hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country. Representing Scroggins to vacate an injunction limiting her travel will be lawyers from the ACLU and Public Citizen, and a private attorney.

The last time Scroggins appeared in the Common Pleas Court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. That’s because Judge Kenneth W. Seamans refused to grant her a continuance.

When she was served papers to appear in court, it was a Friday. On Monday, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., one of the nation’s largest drillers. Seamans told the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, Scroggins has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

But now, Cabot executives decided to launch a mega-attack, throwing against her the full power of a company that grosses more than $1 billion a year and is the largest driller in the region.

In court, Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and the judge struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins, one that would forbid her from ever going anywhere that Cabot has a lease. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

Four days after the hearing, Seamans issued the temporary injunction that Cabot wanted. It forbid Scroggins from going onto any property that Cabot owned, was drilling, or had mineral rights, even if there was no drilling. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction violates her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that may be violating both the public trust and the environment. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

Lettuce Look at Some Prices

By: brasch Sunday March 16, 2014 8:44 am

Lettuce growing during the winter in Yuma, Arizona

I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.

“The supermarket’s got lettuce for less than two bucks a head,” he said enthusiastically.

“What’s so unusual about that?”

“Because it’s going to be extinct in a few weeks.”

“You’re buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?” I sarcastically asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months.”

“What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?”

“Weren’t you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I’ll be selling them in two months. I’m buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures.”

“Your future looks like Chapter 11,” I said.

“California and the Southwest are in the worst drought in decades. Wiped out much of the agricultural land. Drought’s almost as good as winning the PowerBall. Prices have to rise.”

“But California and the Southwest got heavy doses of rain a couple of weeks ago,” I replied.

“I’m being patient with you since you are a city boy,” said Marshbaum, “Drought left the land barren. Rain wasn’t enough to solve the problem, and what there was of the rain destroyed what was left. Picking season is almost here, and there’s not a lot to pick.”

“Even if farmers have to raise their prices to four bucks a head to survive, they should be able to break even.”

“You think farmers get even a third of that? Wholesalers mark it up, then distributors, and then the supermarkets.”

“I hope the farmers survive,” I said.

“With the drought and heavy rains, the farmers are having trouble making their mortgages, and are selling what’s left of their crops at a loss.” Marshbaum thought a moment, and then brightly said, “They can always get food stamps.”

“Congress sliced and diced the food stamp program,” I reminded Marshbaum.

“There’s always welfare.”

“Governors have been cutting that to show they care about expenses—and because they don’t think people on welfare vote.”

“At least the farmers will make some money after the banks and corporations buy them out at a fair market value.”

“Banks? Corporations? Fair market? You must have been smoking some of that lettuce. Besides, what’s a bank going to do with a farm?”

“Turn it into a shopping mall. Better yet, they sell it to the some fancy-suited gold-chained MBA dudes who sneak in, undercut the family farmers, and in a year or so, they’re growing 15,000 acres of lettuce in Oklahoma.”

“Suits with business degrees aren’t going to pick lettuce. They have the farm workers to exploit,” I said. “If the banks and corporations take over, the bosses will sit back, order high quantities of everything from seed to tractors at bargain basement discounts, buy mountains of cheap pesticide to dump on the land, hire out a few dozen 18-wheelers to deliver the crop, and get an overpriced ad agency to promote new-and-improved lettuce.”

“You finally have it right,” said Marshbaum. Lettuce goes up. My profits increase. Corporate America will rule.”

“They’ll be ruling from a skyscraper in New York,” I said. “There will be board meetings, corporate expense accounts, bottom lines, cash-flow, liquidity, and stock options, with MBAs and lawyers worried more about puts and calls than fertilizer and seed. They’ll plan annual conferences on Bermuda beaches, eat salads with spiny lobster, and write off everything as business expenses. When they have taken over all the family farms, they’ll raise prices when there isn’t any drought or flood. They’ll charge whatever they want, whenever they want. Just like the oil companies.”

“And what’s so wrong with that?” asked Marshbaum. “God bless the U-S-of-A!”

“When do you think all this will happen?” I asked.

“It already has.”

Sadly, I asked Marshbaum if we could immediately go to the supermarket. “I think I’d just like to stand there and look at our future.”

Disposable Assets in the Fracking Industry

By: brasch Saturday March 8, 2014 11:45 am

by Walter Brasch

 

The oil and gas industry, the nation’s chambers of commerce, and politicians who are dependent upon campaign contributions from the industry and the chambers, claim fracking is safe.

First, close your mind to the myriad scientific studies that show the health effects from fracking.

Close your mind to the well-documented evidence of the environmental impact.
Fracking
Focus just upon the effects upon the workers.

The oil and gas industry has a fatality rate seven times higher than for all other workers, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control. (CDC). According to the CDC, the death rate in the oil and gas industry is 27.1; the U.S. collective death rate is 3.8.

“Job gains in oil and gas construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable,” said John E. Perez, secretary of labor.

Not included in the data, because it doesn’t include the past three years, when the oil/gas industry significantly increased fracking in the Marcellus and other shales, is a 27-year-old worker who was cremated in a gas well explosion in late February in Greene County, Pa. One other worker was injured. Because of extensive heat and fire, emergency management officials couldn’t get closer than 1,500 feet of the wells. Pennsylvania’s Act 13, largely written by the oil and gas industry, allows only a 300 foot set-back from wells to homes. In Greene County, it took more than a week to cap three wells on the pad where the explosion occurred.

The gas drilling industry, for the most part, is non-union or dependent upon independent contractors who often provide little or no benefits to their workers. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. That means there are no worker safety committees and no workplace regulations monitored by workers. The workers have no bargaining or grievance rights; health and workplace benefits for workers who aren’t executives or professionals are often minimal or non-existent.

It may be months or years before most workers learn the extent of possible injury or diseases caused by industry neglect.

“Almost every one of the injuries and deaths you will happen upon, it will have something to do with cutting a corner, to save time, to save money,” attorney Tim Bailey told EnergyWire.

“Multiple pressures weigh on the people who work in this high-risk, high-reward industry, including the need to produce on schedule and keep the costs down,” reports Gayathri Vaidyanathan of EnergyWire.

Tom Bean, a former gas field worker from Williamsport, Pa., says he doesn’t know what he and his co-workers were exposed to. He does know it affected his health:

“You’d constantly have cracked hands, red hands, sore throat, sneezing. All kinds of stuff. Headaches. My biggest one was a nauseating dizzy headache . . .  People were sick all the time . . . and then they’d get into trouble for calling off sick. You’re in muck and dirt and mud and oil and grease and diesel and chemicals. And you have no idea [what they are] . . . It can be anything. You have no idea, but they [Management] don’t care . .  . It’s like, ‘Get the job done.’ . .  . You’d be asked to work 15, 18 hour days and you could be so tired that you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore, but it was ‘Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.’”

Workers are exposed to more than 1,000 chemicals, most of them known carcinogens. They are exposed to radioactive waste, brought up from more than a mile in the earth. They are exposed to the effects from inhaling silica sand; they are exposed to protective casings that fail, and to explosions that are a part of building and maintaining a fossil fuel system that has explosive methane as its primary ingredient.

In July, two storage tanks exploded in New Milton, W.Va., injuring five persons. One of the injured, Charlie Arbogast, a rigger and trucker, suffered third degree burns on his hands and face. “You come to the rigs, you do what you do and you don’t ask questions,” Diana Arbogast, his wife, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“In Pennsylvania, workers have reported contact with chemicals without appropriate protective equipment, inhalation of sand without masks, and repeated emergency visits for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, yet many of the medical encounters go unreported,” says Dr. Pouné Saberi, a public health physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The oil/gas industry, the Chambers of Commerce, politicians, and some in the media, even against significant and substantial health and environmental evidence, erroneously claim there are economic benefits to fracking. Disregard the evidence that the 100-year claim for natural gas is exaggerated by 10 times, or that the number of jobs created by the boom in the Marcellus Shale is inflated by another 10 times. Focus on Greene County, Pa.

Apparently, included in the “economic boom” is a small pizza shop that was contracted by Chevron to provide large pizzas and sodas to about 100 families living near the gas well explosion that cost one man his life.

Workers, like pizza boxes, are just disposable items to the oil and gas industry.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist of more than four decades. His latest of 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth documented exploration of the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, with an underlying theme of the connection between politicians and campaign funds provided by the oil/gas lobby.]

No Merit Badge for This Scout

By: brasch Saturday March 1, 2014 7:41 am

by Walter Brasch

tillerson

Rex W. Tillerson

Rex W. Tillerson, a resident of Bartonville, Texas, like many of his neighbors was upset with his city council. That’s not unusual. Many residents get upset at their local governing boards. And so they went to a city council meeting to express their concerns that the council was about to award a construction permit.

The residents were upset that the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corp. planned to build a 160-foot tall water tower. That tower would be adjacent to an 83-acre horse farm Tillerson and his wife owned, and not far from their residence. The residents protested, and then filed suit to stop construction. The tower would store water to be sold to companies that needed it for high-volume horizontal fracturing of oil and gas wells, the process known as fracking. Each well requires three to nine million gallons of water, up to 10,000 tons of silica sand, and 100,000 gallons of toxic, often carcinogen, chemicals. The process of horizontal fracking, about a decade old, to extract oil and gas from the earth presents severe health and environmental problems; although it is touted as “clean energy,” it still contributes to global warming.

But, the residents of Bartonville weren’t concerned about the health or environmental impact, or that the protective casings that surround the pipes that go more than a mile underground have a documented failure rate of more than six percent. They weren’t concerned that the pressure of the toxic water that fractures the underground shale can cause earthquakes. They didn’t seem to be concerned that the fluids then brought up from deep in the earth contain radioactive elements, that the storage of these fluids in open-air pits can itself lead to ground and air pollution. They didn’t care that trucks that carry the toxic waste fluids can leak, or that there have been increased derailments, with explosions and fires, in the past year of trains that carry crude oil and natural gas from the fields to processing plants.

The residents, all of whom are in the visual distance to the water tower, said that construction of the water tower would impact their views. They argued that during construction and after the tower was built, there would be excessive traffic and noise.Michael Whitten, who represents Tillerson, told the Wall Street Journal his client was primarily concerned about the impact the tower would have upon property values.

Rex W. Tillerson isn’t your typical resident. He’s the CEO and the chairman of the board of ExxonMobil, the third largest corporation in the world, and the company that leads all others in exploring, drilling, extracting, and selling oil and gas. It’s also a company that has had more than its share of political, social, and environmental problems. Tillerson was an engineer when the Exxon Valdez fouled the western shore of the United States in 1989. By 2004, he was the company’s president.

In 2012, Tillerson earned $40.3 million in compensation, including salary, bonus, and stock options, according to Bloomberg News. His company that year had $453 billion in revenue, and a net income of about $45 billion, according to Bloomberg.

When you have that much money, every million or so dollars matters, especially if a large ugly tower impacts not just your view but your quality of life and the value of your property.

Large ugly rigs, the kind that go up when ExxonMobil and other companies begin fracking the earth, also affect the people. The well pads average about eight acres, all of which have to be cut mostly from forests and agricultural areas. Access roads, some of which upset or destroy the ecological balance of nature, need to be built. Other roads receive heavier-than-anticipated damage because of the number of trucks, often more than 200 a day, that travel to each well site. As early as 2010, a PennDOT official told the Pennsylvania state legislature that the cost, at that time, to fix the roads was over $260 million. Increased diesel emissions, concentrated in agricultural areas, also affect the health and safety of the people.

The noise from the traffic and from around-the-clock drilling affect the people, causing stress and numerous health issues, according to psychologists Diane Siegmund and Kathryn Vennie, both of whom live in the Marcellus Shale part of Pennsylvania.

Communicating the Atomic Fart

By: brasch Saturday February 22, 2014 8:56 am

by Walter Brasch

 

My son’s best friend bought an iPhone shortly after they were first released in 2007.

Original iPhone + iPhone 3G + iPhone 4

Original iPhone + iPhone 3G + iPhone 4

Not long after my son’s friend got his Apple iPhone, he got an app—the Atomic fart. It appealed to his—and millions’ of others’—junior high school sense of humor, although by the time they could digitally play a series of farts, they were long past puberty.

The First Fart was a simple recreation. There were several upgrades, each of which added numerous possibilities. The current app has 30 possibilities, including a whoopee cushion fart, a fireworks fart, a drum solo fart, and the “1812 Overture Fart.” It was only less annoying than dogs barking “Jingle Bells” at Christmas time.

For the complete prankster, high-tech programmers have given fun-seekers an app that has a time delay; anyone can secretly place the iPhone near an unsuspecting nebbish, quickly move to the other side of the room, and then wait.

Far Apps has now sold more than 10 million Atomic Farts, most going for 99 cents. The return-on-investment for the iPhone is even better. Within seven years of the phone’s release, Apple would sell more than 250 million units, about one-fourth of all smart phones sold worldwide.

The first iPhones sold for $499–$599. The fifth generation iPhone lists for $600–$650. Production costs—all are made in China by workers paid less than $2 an hour—are about $12–30 a unit, according to business analyst and former Nokia executive Horace Dediu.

Loaded with programs and third-party apps, smart phones aren’t just a phone, but an instant way to send and receive text messages, get email, connect to facebook, Linked-in, Instagram, and dozens of other ways to “communicate” without ever having to look at the other person. It can also tell you where in the world you are, how to get to any part of the world, and even turn on the lights and coffee pot in your home from half a world away. It can’t yet bring you the coffee, however.

Millions of smart phone owners can take pictures or short videos. Those who yawned through their friends’ slide shows of vacation trips can now yawn through hundreds of selfies, photos of bar scene escapades, and their friend’s two-year-old nephew, all stored on a phone.

With smart phones hermetically sealed to their ears and their senses otherwise occupied, millions of people can now walk into doors, walls, and ponds while concentrating on staying in touch.

People with smart phones tend to think of everyone else having instant communication. A business associate of mine was upset when I didn’t immediately return his email. That’s because the email went to my desk computer and not to a smart phone, which I don’t have.

I do have a cell phone. It has an external antenna. When I took it into the Verizon store a few months ago to have it fixed, the 20-something techs gathered around to admire something they considered to be ancient archeology.

I can’t text. I don’t have access to the Internet or Facebook to out find out what some distant acquaintance is having for lunch. I can just make phone calls. (I never leave it “on,” so calling me on the phone is useless.) I get 30 minutes a month and unlimited time on evenings and weekends. I seldom use up the 30 minutes. That’s because I have a phone at home and at work. I don’t need to be babbling incoherently while walking or driving. Nor do I, unlike most Americans who pay more than $100 a month for iPhone service, think I’m not important enough to wait for a never-to-be-received call from the President who needs instant advice on a world situation—or some buddy who texts me, “R U there? Wanna do something?”

A year or so ago, a friend said she admired how productive I was. That happens because I don’t have a smart phone—and no need to check every quarter hour how my paltry stock portfolio is doing, or if Angry Birds are upset with me.

Yes, I don’t have an iPhone. And I don’t have an Atomic Fart. There’s no need for artificial farts in my life.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into fracking, with emphasis on political, economic, health, and environmental issues throughout the country.]

No Honor in Killing God’s Dog

By: brasch Saturday February 15, 2014 1:28 pm

by Walter Brasch

A week before the opening of the Olympics, 759 Pennsylvanians paid $25 each to participate in a sport that would never be a part of any international competition.

These Pennsylvanians carried shotguns, whistles, and electronic calls; most also used dogs to search out their prey.

The prey was coyotes. A “reward” of $100 was paid for each coyote killed; whoever killed the biggest coyote in each of the three-day hunt received $250. Most of the coyotes killed weighed 30–40 pounds, about the size of a Brittany Spaniel; the largest weighed 51 pounds.

This hunt was organized by District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which covers seven counties in the north-central part of the state. Other hunts are organized by community organizations and volunteer fire companies in several states. January and February, the months when most organized hunts take place, is when the coyotes breed; gestation period is about two months.

Decades ago, hunters killed off the wolf population. Ever resourceful, coyotes filled the void. In Pennsylvania, as in most states that have coyotes, every day is open season. Last year, more than 40,000 coyotes were killed in Pennsylvania, about half of all coyotes killed throughout the country. However, eliminating coyotes is impossible. When threatened by predators, including humans, coyotes will breed and overproduce. When not threatened, they maintain the size of their packs.

In literature, the coyote is the trickster, not unlike Br’er Rabbit who could out-think (and scam) any other animal. Among Native Americans in the southwest, the coyote was revered as “God’s Dog.”

Those who trap rather than shoot coyotes use leg-hold traps and neck snares, which causes severe injuries, pain, and suffering,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Another problem with traps is they often capture domestic animals. But there is even a greater problem than the traps.

“Because coyotes are nocturnal animals, and look like dogs at night, people hunting coyotes will kill domestic pets,” says Sarah Speed of the HSUS. She says there are “thousands of cases” of what is dismissed as “mistaken identity.”

Coyotes pose no threat to humans, and will avoid human contact when possible.  Contrary to hunter claims, coyotes usually avoid killing deer and elk, except in extreme winter when food is scarce. To the coyotes, size does matter, and scoring dinner of mice and berries is far easier than taking down an eight-point buck.

Those who kill coyotes claim coyotes, one of the most intelligent and resourceful of all animals, kill fawns, causing severe stress to the deer families. So, like the true humanitarians they are, these citizens of a state founded by a man opposed to killing, spin the fiction they are not only preventing an overpopulation of coyotes, but are also saving fawns, cottontails, mice and, apparently, fruits and berries, coyote favorites in the summer, from the coyote population. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is no evidence coyotes have any significant impact upon the deer population.

Farmers say they don’t like coyotes because they kill hens, which produce eggs and then are slaughtered. Coyotes deprive not only Colonel Sanders from income but also sports fans from the thrill of slobbering barbecue sauce over their hands and mouths during “Wing Nite Mondays.”

Most hunters who kill deer say they do so to provide their families with meat; they say the skin provides for warmth. They don’t say why they have a testosterone-fueled need to stuff a buck’s head, complete with antlers, and display it like a trophy. Nevertheless, coyotes have no meat value. Although their fur can yield a maximum of $40 a pelt, women aren’t salivating for a Valentine’s Day gift of a coyote stole.

Hunters whose intelligence and ability to survive in the woods aren’t as good as a coyote’s can still kill them. Several game farms offer special hunts. For $399 a day, pretend-hunters can sign up with Kansas Predator Hunts for “guided and all-inclusive” hunts that includes lodging, food, and a guide to do everything except to take the actual shot.

Many hunters refuse to kill coyotes. Mark Giesen of Northumberland, Pa., a hunter for 40 years, refuses to hunt coyotes or anything that does not have meat value. He says he believes incentivized killing, where people are paid to kill animals, “whether it’s coyotes or pigeons, is wrong and very unsportsmanlike.”

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, composed of part-timers who earn a minimum of $82,026 a year plus as much as $159 a day when they are actually in Harrisburg, passed a bill, 111-78 in December, which would pay a $25 bounty for every coyote killed. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation. Because there is open season on coyotes, more than 40,000 a year are killed, and numerous wildlife officers are on record as saying that bounties are not effective in controlling the coyote population, the bill appears to be little more than a special welfare program to benefit hunters and trappers. The cost to the state, which is already in financial distress, will be up to $700,000 a year for the bounties, plus additional administrative costs to process a program that adds another layer of bureaucracy and still not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Camilla Fox of Project Coyote told The Wildlife News that “Killing coyotes and wolves for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, and ecologically indefensible. Such contests demean the immense ecological and economic value of predators, perpetuating a culture of violence and sending a message to children that life has little value.”

For whatever reason people say they kill coyotes, it has nothing to do with sport or ecological necessity, and everything to do with the sheer joy of killing.

[Dr. Brasch has been an award-winning journalist for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the effects of the shale gas industry upon economics, health, and environment.]

Photo by Jim Nix, used under Creative Commons license