About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Why the State Needs to Increase Taxes



by Walter Brasch

   Pennsylvanians are justifiably angry at paying the highest gas prices in the nation. The average price per gallon is $2.65, 27 cents higher than the highest price in the other 49 states. An additional eight cent tax was added this month. Until 2019, Pennsylvanians will be paying an additional $2.3 billion a year in taxes and fees—$11.5 billion total—to improve the state’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased tax on gas at the pumps, Pennsylvania motorists will also be spending more for license registrations, renewals, and title certificates.
    The primary reason for the highest gas price is because of fracking.
    The Tom Corbett administration and Republican legislature had welcomed gas drillers to the state and gave them benefits to drill into the Marcellus shale, using a technology that sacrificed health and the environment for what has proved to be short-term benefits.
    Fracking requires as many as 200 truck trips per day—each truck bringing water, chemicals, or heavy equipment—to each developing well site. Those trips cause severe damage to roads that were not built to sustain such traffic.
    The secondary reason for the increased cost of gas is that for far too many years, the state’s politicians of both major parties, preaching fiscal austerity—and hoping to be re-elected by taxpayers upset with government spending—neglected the roads, bridges, and other critical problems.
        Although corporations drilling into Pennsylvania have agreed to fund repairs of roads they travel that have less than two inches depth of asphalt on them, the fees don’t cover the full cost of repair.  Had the state imposed an extraction tax on each well, instead of a much-lower impact tax, there would have been enough money to fund road and bridge repair without additional taxes for motorists. Every state with shale gas but Pennsylvania has an extraction tax.
    Gov. Wolf, while supporting fracking, wants stronger regulation of gas extraction and higher fees from the industry to cover damage to the state’s infrastructure. But in the circle of economics, both taxpayers and politicians want to “hold the line” on spending.  At some point, there is so much deterioration of the infrastructure that raising taxes is required, leading taxpayers to complain about higher taxes.
    That time is now.
    [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist who specializes in social issues. His latest book is Fracking America.]


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trumping the Environment



by Walter Brasch

      Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was elected, the environment is going to suffer.
      Both have supported horizontal fracking, the destruction of the earth to extract oil and gas. The use of fracking is so harmful to the environment and public health that numerous banks refuse to lend funds to individuals who wish to build or sell their houses near drilling operations. Numerous lenders have also refused to loan money to corporations that wish to drill.
      Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, promoted the use of natural gas within foreign countries. In 2010, she told a meeting of foreign ministers, “Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today.” One reason for the Obama/Clinton push for natural gas exploration and distribution in overseas countries is because geopolitics plays “a significant role in whether a number of gas projects are realized and come online and where pipelines are built. . . . Individual country decisions about natural gas resources can have dramatic impacts on responses in international discourse,” according to a research analysis published by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Amy Myers Jaffe and Dr. Meghan L. O’Sullivan, co-editors of the study, also pointed out, “The relative fortunes of the United States, Russia and China—and their ability to exert influence in the world—are tied in no small measure to global gas developments and vice versa.”
      In Romania, the Social–Democrats came to power in 2012 on a promise to ban shale gas drilling. However, following extensive lobbying by Clinton, the Romanian parliament voted against a proposed fracking moratorium. Thousands of Romanians, many of them farmers, later protested Chevron’s 30-year lease with the government  to resume drilling. The protests in Summer 2013 led the government to send in the national police to suppress the citizens’ rights of assembly and freedom of expression.
      Clinton does support stronger environmental laws and an increase in the budget for drinking and wastewater systems, and several other environmental measures, and now believes in a moratorium on fracking on federal land in the U.S. She still believes natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy.
      Trump wants to make desalination of ocean water more affordable and has presented some environmentally-friendly proposals, but his overall environmental policy diminishes in comparison to that of Clinton and most environmentalists. The incoming president’s environment record is “one of the most stridently anti-environment platforms of any recent major party nominee,” according to the 2.4 million member Natural Resources Development Council.
    The incoming president says he would approve the last segments of the 1,959 mile Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada is an Alberta-based corporation that is building the controversial pipeline that will carry bitumen—thicker, more corrosive and toxic than crude oil—through 36-inch diameter pipes from Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, almost all of it to be exported. The northern leg of the $7 billion pipeline was held up until President Obama either succumbed to corporate and business pressures or blocked the construction because of environmental and health issues. There will be only a couple of dozen permanent jobs for U.S. citizens if the pipeline is completed, and the President vetoed legislation from the Republican Congress to accelerate construction.
    The pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, according to Environment America. To complete the pipeline, the Canadian corporation used the right of eminent domain, which allows government to seize private property and pay a fair market share to the owner if it is in the public good, including building highways and bridges. The pipeline primarily benefits a foreign nation and a private corporation, does not benefit American workers, and has already caused significant disruption of the environment and animal biodiversity. Trump claims eminent domain is necessary but erroneously says that it’s because the government is paying as much as ten times the value of the property. He supports private industry being able to dictate the seizure of land.
    Trump announced he would rescind the Clean Power Plan and end a moratorium on leasing federal coal reserves to private enterprise. Thousands of signs—“Trump Digs Coal”—began appearing during the final two months of Trump’s march to the presidency. He claims that digging for coal will preserve jobs and is a source of energy. However, jobs in the renewable energy industry now exceed those in the fossil fuel industry, and coal miners can become renewable energy technicians. Numerous scientists have determined that mining and burning coal has been a contributing factor in the expansive hole in the earth’s ozone layers that protect the planet from deadly ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
    Trump claims wind farms and solar energy are unproven, although dozens of large scale operations have been developed over the past decade, with Iowa producing 20 percent of its energy needs solely from renewable energy, and other states escalating their renewable programs. He claims renewable energy is “very expensive,” but neglects facts that reveal renewable energy costs are now matching those of fossil fuel costs, and are continuing to plunge.
      Trump opposes increased environmental regulation and fracking, and believes the Dakota Pipeline, which is currently being protested by Native Americans, is necessary. Unlike 97 percent of climate scientists who believe climate change is the result of humans using fossil fuels, Trump believes climate change is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese,” and that the numbers fluctuate. Anthony Scaramucci, one of his senior advisors, in June declared climate change to be “irrefutable [and] tragic that some people think it’s a hoax,” but during this past week after being appointed to the transition team said he didn’t know if climate change is occurring.
      He wants to significantly cut back the Environmental Protection Agency. His choice to be EPA director, Scott Pruitt, opposes the EPA, has sued the EPA numerous times, believes global warming is a hoax,  disregards the finding of environmentalists and other scientists of a connection between fracking and water pollution, fracking and air pollution, and fracking and earthquakes.
      Trump’s choice of secretary of state is Rex Tillerson, multi-millionaire CEO of ExxonMobil, who believes in risk management practices that allow fracking and other dangerous oil/gas extraction to proceed if they are economical and don’t exceed projected pay-out costs for damage to the environment and for health care as a result of drilling. This is the same Rex Tillerson who protested a proposed 160-foot water tower that would be used for fracking operations. The reason why Tillerson opposed the tower was because it was near his home and, he says, would have obstructed his view. He has no problems with ten-story rigs, and noise and light pollution affecting residents by ExxonMobil carving up the environment, often using eminent domain as a way to bisect private property and public forests to open up drilling.
      Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic nomination to Clinton, and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee, want a moratorium placed on fracking and stricter enforcement of current regulation to preserve federal lands and to protect private property and owner rights. They and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson were the most environmentally-aware candidates for the presidency.
      Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, campaigned to assure “strict accountability, not government agency and arbitrary standards, should regulate pollution.” He opposes governments, which he calls “the biggest polluters of the environment” and corporations, which embed government fines within increased costs to the consumer. Companies, said Johnson, don’t have the incentives “to be stewards of the environment [and] instead are able to stagnate as long as profits are protected by limited liability laws.”
      Nevertheless, the protection that Sanders, Stein, and Johnson would have given to protect the environment will be subverted by policies preached by President Trump.
     [Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefits.]


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Music, Politics, and Hillary Clinton



by Walter Brasch
     
      Five years before the Civil War, Benjamin R. Hanby, a student at Otterbein College, composed “Darlin’ Nelly Gray,” an upbeat ballad from the perspective of runaway slave Joseph Selby whose wife was taken from him. Proceeds from the song would be used to try to buy Nelly Gray’s freedom, but Selby never saw her after she was forcibly returned to harsh labor in  Georgia.
Hanby, an abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad, would become pastor in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and compose about 60 more songs, the most famous being the Christmas jingle,  “Up on the House Top.” But it was “Nelly Gray” that had the most impact.

Chorus
Oh, my poor Nellie Gray, they have taken you away
And I’ll never see my darling anymore
I’m a-sittin’ by the river and I’m weeping all the day
For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore.

~~~~~~~~

      Almost a century later, Bob, John, and Billy Jack Wills modified the music slightly, stripped out the lyrics of “Nelly Gray” and replaced it with a similar and updated set of lyrics. “Faded Love” would become a foundation of western swing.

Chorus
I miss you darlin’, more and more every day
As heaven would miss the stars above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love.

~~~~~~~~
      It’s been a month since Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to become the president-elect. During this past month, he trampled upon foreign affairs by engaging in discussion with the president of Taiwan, engaged in domestic affairs by unilaterally cancelling construction of a new Boeing 747 for the president, made questionable nominations for most of his cabinet, danced around innumerable conflicts of interest, and continued to tweet caustic and generally irrelevant 140 character messages.
      During the next few months, Hillary Clinton will be seen less and less in public, while Trump and his ego will be tweeting, pronouncing, and declaring. Most of us within the year will probably declare that we miss Hillary Clinton and Lady Liberty “more and more every day.”
      [Dr. Brasch was once a rock musician who morphed into a journalist. His current book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-TermEconomic Benefit.]

To listen to “Nelly Gray,” click here
To listen to “Faded Love,” click here




      

Friday, December 2, 2016

Trump Nominee Will Politicize Dept. of Justice



by Walter Brasch
     
      In his successful run to the presidency, Donald Trump spent a lot of time talking about the Second Amendment and defending gun ownership. He spent very little time talking about the other amendments, other than to say he supported the Constitution. He knew his core support came from those who could effortlessly repeat a phrase, “Donald Trump supports my Second Amendment rights,” without knowing much more than that.
      There’s probably a reason why Trump wasn’t specific about the other rights—he doesn’t know much about the Constitution. That became apparent this past week when he said he would jail anyone who burned the flag. However, the Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson (1989), ruled that burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment right of free speech, no matter how hateful or unpatriotic it may seem. Trump’s tweet was soundly condemned by all media and civil rights organizations.
      Trump’s knowledge of the Constitution isn’t as important as his attorney general’s enforcement of Trump’s political beliefs. Most attorney generals have been apolitical; Trump’s nomination may not be.
      Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) will face significant questioning by most Democrats and a few Republican senators during confirmation hearings. Ronald Reagan withdrew his support for Sessions in 1986 after nominating him for a federal judgeship. The nomination had drawn heated opposition by numerous groups , individuals, and four Department of Justice lawyers over Sessions’ history of racially insensitive comments. Among comments that Sessions made was that the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the ACLU, and the National Conference of Churches were un-American.
      Sessions says he isn’t a racist. Perhaps that’s accurate, but let’s see what he said in 2014. In an uninformed opinion about the recruitment of not-naturalized immigrants into the military, Sessions stated, “I just think in terms of who’s going to be most likely to be a spy: somebody from Cullman, Alabama, or somebody from Kenya?” Elaborating, he stated, “We don’t have a difficulty getting American citizens to fill our military slots. That is unbelievable that in a time of high unemployment and we get a lot of calls — ‘Help my son get in the military. He’s been turned down, can he get in?’ So I just think this is not the right thing to do right now.” However, an investigation conducted by the Kansas City Star revealed the problem wasn’t that the military was turning down American citizens but that the reduction of ground troops led to increased requirements for recruits and about 80 percent of American citizens who applied were rejected as unfit for service.
      “Unfit” also applied to the Klan, which Session says “was OK until I found out they smoked pot.” He claims he was joking. But he wasn’t joking about his opinion of marijuana. In 2016, he incorrectly stated, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Again elaborating on his main theme, the four-term senator said, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.”  He opposes sentence reduction and believes in seizing the assets of those arrested for possession, even before those arrested are convicted, a distinct civil rights violation to the Constitutional guarantee that persons arrested are considered to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
      He opposes same-sex marriage, voted against repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and believes that the U.S. should be allowed to torture suspected terrorists.
      Sessions was an early supporter of Trump’s proposal to ban immigration of Muslims to the United States. He stated there was no vetting process for Syrian refugees, a claim that wilts in face of the reality that it takes 18 to 24 months of intensive investigation before immigrants are admitted to the U.S.
      Sessions also argued against the H-1B provision of the Immigration Act that allows persons who possess significant skills are allowed admission to the U.S. if there are not a sufficient number of Americans to fill those jobs. The H-1B provision has often been used to allow physicians and medical workers into the U.S. In the Senate’s Judicial Committee, Sessions delivered a 30 minute speech about why there needed to be a ban. “Many people are radicalized after they enter,” Sessions stated, again inaccurately, and then claimed, “How do we screen for that possibility, if we cannot even ask about an applicant’s views on religion? Would we forbid questions about politics? Or theology?” However, the Constitution and Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution are specific in stating that there can be no religious test for immigrants—before or after admission to the U.S.
      An attorney general has wide latitude on whom he or she prosecutes or doesn’t prosecute, or what terms are acceptable on plea bargains. With Jeff Sessions as attorney general, there is every probability that there will be an overhaul of career staff who are apolitical, of the prosecution of certain crimes at the expense of other crimes, and the refusal to pursue many civil rights violations.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues/investigative journalist who has covered government and politics for four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]



      

Friday, November 25, 2016

President Trump: The Name Should Be Endorsed By All Americans



by Walter Brasch

      When Sen. Barack Obama was running for the presidency and for most of his two terms, the Tea Party right-wing claimed he was born in Kenya, that he was a radicalized Muslim, and was unfit to be president. The rise of the Tea Party led to a rise of racist ideology and an increase of violence during political rallies.
      After Sen. Obama’s election, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, said the Republicans’ primary direction was solely to block whatever the new President wanted to do. Other Republicans chimed in that President Obama was out to destroy the country. The country did not destruct under the Obama Administration.
      Among the many policies that were enacted during President Obama’s two terms were a significant improvement of the economy, an expansion of wilderness areas, increased nutrition programs for public schools, a bail-out of the auto industry, an elimination of the torture policies of the Bush–Cheney administration, and a reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq. Equally as important as dozens of programs to benefit Americans in the lower- and middle-classes, and improve health care and the environment, was that he avoided any scandal.
      During the primaries and general election, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton engaged in the most vicious and poisonous campaign in recent history, while dealing with scandals and dancing around facts. President-elect Trump now calls for unity. It has little to do with unifying a divided nation and more of a call to support Trump himself. During President Obama’s first campaign and his two terms, the conservative hard core declared, “Not our president.” Hopefully the liberals will not similarly respond and support the President.
      The Obama administration was staffed with civility and diversity. The Trump campaign was marked by a profanity-spewing fear-mongering leader and a staff of largely rich white males. Trump was usually seen as an angry demagogue, often with a smirk; in contrast, President Obama was serious when he needed to be, and playful , humorous, and joyful at other times. Trump’s mostly outrageous declarations played to the Tea Party extremists, most of whom had lost any sense of humor they may have once had. Trump’s public persona helped get him the nomination and the election. It is a sad and discouraging look at what America has slid into.
      However, Trump has reversed some of his more extreme declarations. During the campaign he proclaimed he would re-institute torture to suspected terrorists, would jail Hillary Clinton, stated that people don’t contribute to climate change, and that President Obama was probably a Muslim who co-founded Isis. With the emerging presidency, he denounced support from the alt-right extreme White Rights groups, has heaped praise upon both Clinton and Obama, and tacked slightly more to the center on other issues. He now says the U.S. cannot use torture and won’t be calling to deport all illegal immigrants. He even softened his pronouncements about the “lyin’ liberal media.”
      Trump has publically acknowledged that he was far more radical during his campaign in order to get the presidency but that was no longer necessary now that he will be taking the oath of office in less than three months.  His constant flip-flopping does raise the issue of integrity.
      Contrary to his opinion of himself, Trump will not be one of the greatest presidents, but he could be a good one if he listens to his advisors, and realizes that although he won the electoral college victory, Hillary Clinton had almost two million more voters than he did.
      If President Trump continues a slow move to the Republican center, the alt-Right hate movement will continue to disgorge filth and hatred. But there are still Trump’s social graces. Hopefully, Vice-President Mike Pence, a civil and intelligent conservative, and some of the Trump advisors might be able to shut down Trump’s Twitter account and scrub America’s Tasmanian Devil of the anger and hate he currently expounds.
      Whatever happens in the next four years will not result in the deterioration of the country. Just as all Americans needed to refer to Barack Obama as President Obama, so should liberals respect the office and refer to Donald Trump as President Trump.
      [Dr. Brasch has covered government and politics for more than four decades. His latest of 20 books is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]




Saturday, November 12, 2016

Donald Trump’s March to the Presidency


by Walter Brasch

      The near-impossible has happened, and Donald Trump is three months from being President Trump. From local elections to the presidency, this general election may have been the most vicious since Thomas Jefferson challenged John Adams in 1800. Both major candidates turned to attack ads to enhance their own campaigns.
      Donald Trump flourished on the seeds of hate planted by the Tea Party, and then played out the dictum of Joseph Goebbels that if you keep telling lies long enough and blend them with propaganda, they will turn into truth. From the moment he entered the presidential race until his final triumph, he kept hammering on two themes. The first strategy was to push the premise that under President Obama the United States had lost its greatness and only Donald Trump could restore it. To this concoction he then brilliantly added fear to the mixture. Name a fear—any fear—and and it was probably in Trump’s campaign rhetoric. The first part of that fear was immigrants bringing drugs and guns from Mexico and central America; the second part was that Radical Islamic terrorists were coming to America from the Middle East. He also instilled the fear that Hillary Clinton would take away the Second Amendment right if she became president, something no president could do under the Constitution. Finally he coated his campaign against Hillary Clinton’s with constant Benghazi and e-mail scandals and kept repeating it at every rally, and he had a product he force fed to a gullible public.
      Hillary Clinton improved her communication with voters near the end of the campaign, but for much of the campaign she was protected by a phalanx of assistants who kept her unapproachable except for photo ops. She should have shut down the e-mail and Benghazi scandals much earlier than she did; several Congressional hearings had already proved she was not at fault. The flip-flop press conferences by FBI director James Comey also led the voters to believe she may or may not have been at fault in both scandals.
       The Libertarian party cut into Trump’s base, and the Green Party cut into Clinton’s base, but neither was strong enough to cost either candidate the election.
      The Establishment Media at first dismissed Trump’s politics as just another sideshow. But, Trump kept making outrageous comments, and the media kept acting as his personal mouthpiece without doing much fact checking any of his rhetoric. Trump boosted his candidacy by using the media to attack what he continually called the lyin’ liberal media. He gained momentum with each tweet and every rally, proving he didn’t need the establishment media to arouse a fan base.
      The Voters allowed themselves to be led by Trump who appealed to their frustration with establishment politics and their alienation from government. Trump emphasized he was an outsider, even though he and the SuperPACs were more inside the beltway politics than most candidates. Trump’s core was white alienated males who didn’t have college degrees; Clinton’s core was college-educated men and women.
      Each candidate relied on the power of outside organizations to further gain traction in the race to the presidency. For Clinton, it was primarily organized labor; for Trump, it was the Chamber of Commerce and the NRA.
      By Nov. 8, almost all polls had predicted Clinton would win the presidency. There was one problem—they were wrong. They underestimated the strength of rural America and overestimated the weakness of urban America.
      At the end of the day Clinton had had more individual voters, but Trump had more electoral voters and the presidency.
      The next campaign began Nov. 9.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Please Make It Stop


by Walter Brasch

      Pennsylvania, which had been a no-contest state in presidential primaries because of its late balloting, is a now a swing state with less than a week until the election. Just about every voter by now has received dozens of robocalls, e-mails, letters, postcards, and exposure to almost-uncountable TV, digital, satellite, and social media ads. Most are attack ads, with similar messages.
      The ads focus upon homeland security, taxes, immigration, pro-life/pro-choice, and bringing jobs back to America. The conservatives have thrown in the phrase “liberal extremists” in many of their ads in an effort to shock all America to believe that liberals are somehow tied to Muslim extremists. The liberals are pushing an agenda that defines the conservatives as greedy plutocrats who have little thought for the middle class. This election, from local offices to the presidency may be the dirtiest since 1800 when Thomas Jefferson challenged John Adams.
      Donald Trump, who has outsourced much of his clothing line and construction materials, now says if president he will bring jobs back to America, stop illegal immigration, defeat Isis, repeal Obamacare, lower taxes for families while miraculously raising the budget for defense, and perform myriad miracle acts that are not part of a president’s constitutional responsibility.
      On his march to the presidency, Trump has focused upon Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, a scandal that isn’t one. Congressional hearings and the FBI have cleared her; innumerable times, Trump has continued to attack her. Clinton has already apologized for using a personal e-mail server during her four years as secretary of state. What turned up among more than 30,000 e-mails is about 55 e-mails that received a “confidential” tag, the lowest of three classifications, with another 55 receiving “secret” or “top secret” classification. As a cabinet officer, and fourth in line of succession, she had the right to classify any message. A few of the messages came from other agencies. About 2,100 messages were classified retroactively.
      Clinton, still ahead in numerous polls, has attacked Trump for his crude behavior. One of her TV ads, which penetrates
 almost every TV show, is a fast-paced collage of his many comments; among them, Trump mocks a disabled reporter, uses obscene language, and treats women as chattel.
      Both candidates call each other unfit to be president, with Clinton asking voters if they really want Trump to be the person in charge of unleashing the nuclear arsenal, and Trump asking voters if they want a corrupt liar in the White House. Trump has also played upon Clinton’s 30 years of public service, linking her as an insider and him as an outsider to Washington, D.C. politics. The “outsider” label has been resonating with voters at all levels of the election campaigns as voters believe they are outsiders, alienated to government, and are willing to be led by insiders who claim to be outsiders.
      The cost of airing ads by both candidates for the presidency and members of Congress is more than $4 billion, and that doesn’t include the cost of producing them. More than $600 million, spread among all major Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency, has been spent on broadcast TV ads, according to Borrell Associates.  During the past 21 weeks, Clinton has spent about $211 million on broadcast TV ads; Trump has spent about $74 million, according to data compiled by BloombergPolitics. However, Trump has used both Twitter and free TV time, due to outrageous statements, to equal Clinton’s campaign. During the final week prior to the election, Trump will spend $25 million in broadcast TV ads. Clinton and Trump have each secured $5 million in ad time for Pennsylvania TV stations during the final week. The Trump totals don’t include a $3 million TV ad buy from the NRA, which stokes the fire of fear that Clinton, if elected president, will violate the Second Amendment and take guns away from civilians.
      By Tuesday’s election, it will be doubtful that either Clinton or Trump will know how many ads were placed by their campaigns or by SuperPACs on their behalf that aired on broadcast television.
      In the race for senate from Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty have each attacked the other for being millionaires.
      With McGinty it’s a case of benefitting from going from business to government, where she was the Department of Environment Protection administrator, back to the energy business, back to government where she was Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff, and then to membership on the boards of energy firms she had previously regulated. Toomey also attacked her for tossing about $2.8 million of state funds to two non-profit organizations that her husband is an advisor.
      With Toomey, the attacks are because he was a stock broker who went into politics, favors Wall Street, and owned a bank that foreclosed on numerous customers. McGinty’s ads stress her blue-collar family of 12, emphasizing that her mother was a restaurant hostess and her father was a police officer.
      The two candidates’ campaign committees and their SuperPACs have spent more than $55 million to be elected to the Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics; it’s a job that pays $174,000 a year.
      There is one reality in all the advertising— negative ads generally don’t work, and exist only to reinforce a candidate’s base of support.
      [Dr. Brasch, who has covered politics and government for four decades, is author of Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]

     

      

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lies and Voter Rigging




by Walter Brasch

      Donald Trump, losing to Hillary Clinton in every major national poll, long ago brilliantly figured out how to continue to rally his base. Instead of dealing with issues, he attacks Clinton, the mass media, and calls the election rigged.
      The campaign rhetoric has been one not of issues but of personalities. Hillary Clinton calls Trump unfit to be president, so Trump retaliates by accusing her of being unfit. Most of their television ads are attack ads. In personal appearances, their speeches focus upon what’s wrong with the other candidate not what their own presidency will be about. The last time a presidential race was this vicious may have been in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson was challenging President John Adams.
      The Trump strategy is to make outrageous statements, talk over his opponent or anyone who questions his pseudo-facts, and then quickly change the topic to avoid having to present any evidence. That strategy was apparent during the three televised debates when he bobbed and weaved around questions. His entire campaign the past year has been loaded with lies, innuendoes, and attacks not only upon Clinton but also upon his fellow Republicans. Analysis by the independent Politifacts shows that that during the campaign, only 15 percent of Trump’s statements were true or mostly true. Politifacts determined that 51 percent of Clinton’s statements while campaigning were true or mostly true.
      Several top Republican leaders, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, refused to go to the Republican National Convention after it was obvious Trump had enough votes to be the party’s nominee.
      Between the convention and the last of three debates with Clinton, evidence began piling up that Trump, while married, groped and fondled women; evidence also exists that he committed adultery during his first two marriages. A videotape has him using foul and obscene language about women, and then claiming it was “locker room talk.” But when he tried to defend himself, the best he could do was to state that one of his accusers was too ugly for him to fondle. And yet he believes that no one respects women more than he does.
      One of the reasons he is behind in the polls, says Trump, is because of a corrupt media. As with everything in his campaign, he presents no evidence to back up his claim. But it is the media that helped propel him to the Republican nomination by giving him significant more air time and newspaper ink than any other candidate, and by not questioning or digging deep into the truth of his public statements.
      In the third debate, Trump said there is widespread voter fraud, which benefits the Democrats.  A data analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reveals not widespread election fraud but that such allegations are highly exaggerated. The numbers are in the hundreds not the millions that Trump alleges.
      Trump claims he knows—absolutely knows—that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign have conspired to deprive him of the presidency.  He bloviates, gestures, and hopes to blow down the brick house of elections, but has provided no evidence. To expand his conspiracy claims, he says he will not concede the election—or, maybe, he will concede the election—if he loses. But, then again, he is keeping that decision a secret.
      He claims rigged elections were used during the primaries to throw his Republican rivals off their strategy. He claims Ted Cruz stole the election in Iowa. He claims the election in Wisconsin was rigged. The further the separation from likely voters casting the ballots for Clinton instead of Trump—or even Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party or Jill Stein of the Green party—the more animated Trump becomes.
      His hyperbole and paranoia extend beyond his political life. Trump previously declared that balloting for the Emmys is rigged, and that his show, “The Apprentice,” should have won an Emmy several times. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and its 20,000 members, disagreed with Trump’s opinion.
      Trump’s tactic is resonating with his hard-core base that see conspiracy and deception in every corner—in workplaces, in government, and under their beds. They are willing to be led by a demagogue who identified the many seeds of alienation and dissatisfaction, and watered and nurtured those seeds of discontent to amplify the people’s problems. In following Trump they have placed blinders upon themselves and see a reality and an explanation that Trump throws right back at them.
      [Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has covered government and politics for four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]


Friday, October 14, 2016

Pushing Politics to Extract Payments


by Walter Brasch
     

      My wife, Rosemary, a registered Republican, received a black and white poll in the mail. Plastered across the top of the sheet in bold black letters was the title: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” I wonder who that could be.
      On to the questions. All she had to do was to check the appropriate box and return the ballot. The survey indicated name, survey number, and a processing code, all with a bar code for identification.  She just had to check the appropriate box beneath a picture of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or “no opinion.” Seemed simple enough.
      First question: “Hillary Clinton is working hard to win the White House so she can carry forward Barack Obama’s disastrous policies—including increased taxes—which have been so harmful to our nation’s economy. Donald Trump is dedicated to lowering taxes and instituting responsible reforms that will create jobs, strengthen free enterprise and boost economic growth. Which candidate do you trust more to put America on a secure and prosperous economic path.”
      Gee, this is a hard one. Let’s think about it awhile. OK, time’s up. I guess, based upon the question, the demon Clinton wasn’t the right answer. Rosemary needed to check Trump as the one to keep the country moving forward.
      There were nine questions, all similar to the first one. The other questions had to do with the federal debt, foreign policy, the nomination of federal judges, immigration, environment, and ObamaCare. The ninth one asked the most vital question: “Are you willing to financially help the Trump Make America Great Again Committee in making sure our nation finally leaves behind the ruinous policies of the past eight years and elects a Republican president who will Make America Great Again?”
      Below that question was a form to fill out to donate. All my wife had to do was to check one of the boxes of suggested donations, starting with $35 and increasing to $5,000; fill in the boxes with her occupation, employer, phone number, email address, and credit card information, and mail it back in a postage-paid envelope. She could also call a campaign number and give them her personal information and make that donation. She chose an alternate procedure. She didn’t fill out the poll, which was a not-so-subtle way to withdraw money from her wallet, and sent them a bookmark for my latest book. (I do that for all junk mail that includes a self-addressed stamped envelope, especially one that wants money. I doubt anyone is really tabulating the results—or even cares about the answers.)
      What came in the mail was a “push poll.” The questions were designed to “push” the recipient to vote for the preferred answers, to make the politician’s supporters believe they matter, and to energize the base of the support. Most push polls are designed to attack an opponent in a political race. A legitimate poll is drawn from a random sample of voters, has no identification of whom the recipient is, has neutral questions, and doesn’t want money. The results are tabulated, analyzed, and published. But why analyze and publish the results when more than 90 percent of the recipients of the poll are going to be pushed in the direction that the not-so-independent campaign committee wants. The only real analysis of those who send out push polls is who gave what amount and is there a correlation to determine how many more attempts—by email,  by phone—the campaign committee should devote to getting even more money. Rosemary usually just trashes the myriad requests for money to help Republican candidates.
      Unfortunately, the Trump committee isn’t alone in using this tactic. The first push poll was in 1946 when Richard Nixon ran for Congress and used the technique by direct mail and phone “interviews” to drop fear that the sitting congressman, Jerry Voohis, who represented a southern California district, was a communist. Nixon began his political career; Voorhis, who wasn’t a communist, lost his. George W. Bush used push polls extensively in his first race for the governorship of Texas and again in his campaign for the presidency.
      The Democrats use it continuously, also sliding in huge globules of fear in each question, to solicit funds. The Democrats usually have space to enter comments. Usually, I don’t answer the poll. With Democrats, I will often write a note about the unfairness of the poll, ask them to contact me when they want my real opinions, and put a bookmark into the return envelope. So far, no one from the Hillary Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee has called to solicit my professional opinion or assistance—and to my knowledge, no one has bought any books.
      [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist who has covered politics/government and social issues for more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]

     

     

      

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Path to the White House is Paved by Billions of Dollars



by Walter Brasch

      With a month left before the November general election, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are trash-talking each other in a financial race to the White House.
      According to the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Clinton has raised about $516.8 million for her campaign. Total spending by outside groups and SuperPacs supporting her was an additional $31.7 million; the total spent opposing her was about $40.2 million.
      Trump has raised about $205.9 million. About 45 percent of his income is from individual contributors; one-third is from Trump himself. Total spending by outside groups and superPACs supporting Trump is about $69 million; opposition spending is about $139.7 million.
      Both Clinton and Trump are spending heavy on TV ads. Clinton and pro-Clinton outside groups have spent about $190 million, and Trump and pro-Trump outside groups have spent about $50 million, according to data compiled by Advertising Analytics. However, Trump has mitigated the difference by a barrage of Tweets to 12 million followers, and by constant calls to TV stations. In Pennsylvania, one of nine “swing states,” Clinton has outspent Trump, $17 million to $6 million.
      Trump’s problem isn’t a case of having less income than Clinton. Every time he opens his mouth, network TV and cable news stations are more than willing to air whatever he utters. His problem is a malignant case of braggadocio.  He brags about how great a businessman he is, and says he is smart because he doesn’t pay taxes but he uses every tax code loophole he, his attorneys, and accountants can find. This past week, the New York Times disclosed he took a $917 million loss in 1995, and could easily have written off income for every year since then. In a twisting logic that baffles even those who never studied philosophy, Trump blames Clinton because, he says, “Why didn’t she ever try to change those laws so I couldn’t use them?” His four bankruptcies helped assure his companies would have losses. However, because he refuses to release copies of his taxes, unlike every major party candidate in the past four decades, it’s difficult to determine if Trump is a great and experienced businessman or just a great and experienced juggler.
      Also within this past week, the New York attorney general issued a cease and desist order against the Trump Foundation for not registering with the state’s Charities Bureau and for violating state rules by making several donations from the Fund to politicians and political groups. The Washington Post reported that the Foundation probably violated IRS regulations by spending $20,000 for a portrait of Trump, and $12,000 for a jersey and a football helmet autographed by Tim Tebow. The newspaper previously reported that the Foundation has spent about $250,000 to settle lawsuits. His problems won’t end with New York. The Foundation wasn’t registered in the 40 states that require registration. It is possible that Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois, three of the states that are rigorous in enforcing rules for charities may file against the Foundation.
      A third problem that surfaced this past week is an Associated Press story, based upon statements by about two dozen crew members and contestants of Trump’s “The Apprentice USA” TV reality show. According to the AP, citing the sources, “Trump repeatedly demeaned women with sexist language,” including rating “female contestants by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he’d like to have sex with.” The cast and crew of his show also told the AP that Trump wanted his female celebrity contestants to show more cleavage and wear shorter dresses. Hope Hicks, speaking on behalf of Trump, called the statements “outlandish, unsubstantiated, and totally false claims fabricated by publicity hungry, opportunistic, disgruntled former employees [and they] have no merit whatsoever.” However, the AP’s story confirms that Trump has a history of demeaning women, something the Clinton campaign has seized upon in its TV ad campaign that has a series of comments by Trump who calls women pigs, fat, bimbo, ugly, and other names not suitable for a family-based newspaper. That and his frequent use of obscenity and disregard for civility alone makes him unsuitable for the presidency, according to the ad campaign.
      Trump has attacked Clinton for her e-mail scandal, something she should have acknowledged months before her public apology. In response to her attacks upon him not being suitable for office, Trump charges Clinton as unfit for office, and adds crook and liar to his definition of who she is.
      The independent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB) analyzed each candidate’s economic plans and concluded that Clinton’s proposed budget would increase the debt during the next decade by $200 billion, and Trump’s business model proposal would increase the debt by $5.3 trillion. The CFRB noted, “Neither candidate has presented a proposal to address our growing national debt and put it on a more sustainable path, nor have they offered a proposal for shoring up the Social Security, Medicare, or Highway trust funds.
      By the election, each candidate, their SuperPacs, and outside groups will have spent more $1 billion to be elected to an office that pays $400,000 a year.
      By contrast, the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson raised about $8.5 million, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein raised about $1.9 million. Both have solid platforms and strong ideas that might benefit all Americans, but Americans don’t hear them. Neither candidate has the financial income the Democratic and Republican candidates have; they don’t receive the funds from numerous lobbyists; they don’t get the attention of the mainstream media. Just as important, Congress, made up of Democrats and Republicans, with Bernie Sanders as the only independent, are reluctant to pass campaign finance reform.
      And that is why a third party candidacy can’t survive at this time.
     [Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]