Donald Trump — a “Con Artist”

Finally, Donald Trump is being identified in the main ring of the 2016 Republican Party political circus in the United States as being a “con artist,” as Senator Marco Rubio called him last week.

“It’s time to pull his mask off so people can see what we’re dealing with here,” Rubio said at campaign rally in Dallas Friday. That followed Rubio repeatedly describing Trump as a “con artist” the evening before in the last TV debate between GOP rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, and in later media appearances.

“You all have friends that are thinking about voting for Donald Trump,” Rubio went on at the rally. “Friends do not let friends vote for con artists.”

Being a con artist is not a disqualifying factor for a politician. In the U.S.—and elsewhere—there have been plenty of con artists running for political office.

But that Trump has gotten so far without being fully called out in a bid for what is widely considered the most powerful office in the world has been remarkable—and outrageous.

There has been some investigative journalism pointing to this aspect of Trump.

Especially noteworthy, an extensive article in November in Time magazine headlined: “TRUMP U. What the litigation over Trump University reveals about the man who would be President.”

Written by Steven Brill, journalist, attorney and founder of Brill’s Content, a media watch publication, it compared to snake oil what was named Trump University, “a series of adult-education classes offering Donald’s Trump’s real estate investing methods.”

“Trump and his university—which operated from 2005 through 2010, when it was shut down as…[law]suits and multiple state attorneys general investigations were beginning—lured approximately 7,000 consumers into paying $1,495 to $34,995 for courses,” Brill relates.  “Trump ‘created, funded, implemented and benefited from a scam that cost them…thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars each,’ the lawyers suing him have argued.”

“I mean this is a guy,” said Rubio at the rally,” that’s taken Trump Airlines bankrupt, Trump Vodka, nobody wanted it, Trump Mortgage, was a disaster, Trump University was a fraud.”

Rubio also claimed, as he hit hard at Trump at the rally, that: “He’s being treated with kid gloves by many in the media in the hope that he’s the nominee. Some of them are biased, they’d love to see a liberal like Donald Trump take over the Republican Party and others know he is easy to beat once he gets there.”

As a journalism professor, I disagree with this analysis.

Trump has succeeded in manipulating media by, for starters, using his bombastic style to fiercely attack the press for doing its job of asking tough questions. His public assault on Megyn Kelly of Fox News after she had the nerve as a debate moderator to throw hardball questions at Trump was typical of how he has used intimidation on media people and institutions.

Then there’s his sense of what inflames—which media cover like any big fire.

As Howard Fineman, former Newsweek chief political correspondent and now global editorial director at the Huffington Post, has written, based on an interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: “Trump deploys fame for fame’s sake, taps into populist expressions of fear, hatred and resentment and shows a knack for picking fights and a braggart’s focus on the horse race. All of which allow him to play into—and exploit—every media weakness and bad habit in a chase for audience and numbers.”

Fineman in his article last month—headed “Epic Media Fail: How And Why Trump Trumped The Press”—quoted Goodwin as noting how the media “are the key purveyors of the qualities of the candidates and of telling people who they are what they stand for.”

But Goodwin concludes that in in covering the fiery Trump, the press “preempted serious scrutiny of his past, character, record in business and suitability—if any—for the office of president.”

Then there’s Trump’s media savvy.

Sean Illing on Salon wrote a piece taking off from an article on Politico, both of which ran at the start of this month. The Politico story—“How Trump Did It”—revealed how in 2013 Trump told a group of “New York political operatives [who] had come to ask him to run for governor” that his plan was to run for president instead. He told them, “I’m going to get in and all the polls are going to go crazy. I’m going to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off me.”

Said Illing: “Trump knew all along that his celebrity and media savvy were sufficient to support his campaign.” Trump was aware that the “ability to control the narrative, to dominate the coverage, is all it takes. Trump’s amorality coupled with his gift for self-promotion has turned the Republican presidential race on its head.”

Illing said that the “biggest takeaway” from the Politico expose “is that Trump is indeed a professional huckster. And whatever else he is, he’s not stupid. He doesn’t believe half the absurdities he utters on the campaign trail either. As the [Politico] report makes clear, everything he’s done and said was designed to dupe the media into funding his marketing strategy. Trump’s a TV man; he understands the landscape.” Illling’s article was headed: “Donald Trump is a fraud: Report confirms the billionaire’s presidential bid is a long and calculated con job.”

No small thing is involved.

“The moment of truth: we must stop Trump,” was the headline of a piece last week in The Washington Post by Dr. Danielle Allen, director of the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and professor in Harvard’s Department of Government and also Graduate School of Education.

“Like any number of us raised in the last 20th Century,” she wrote, “I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.”

As to media coverage, she told of how “journalists cover every crude and cruel thing that comes out of Trump’s mouth and therefore acculturate all of us to what we are hearing. Are they not just doing their jobs, they will ask, in covering the Republican front-runner? Have we not already been acculturated by 30 years of popular culture to offensive and inciting comments? Yes, both of these things are true. But that doesn’t mean journalists ought to be Trump’s megaphone.” She asks “why not let Trump pay for his own ads when he wants to broadcast foul and incendiary ideas? He’ll still have plenty of access to freedom of expression.”

The Washington Post itself, in an editorial last week titled “GOP leaders, you must do everything in your power to stop Trump,” declared that “history will not look kindly on GOP leaders who fail to do everything in their power to prevent a bullying demagogue from becoming their standard-bearer.”

It continued: “This is a front-runner with no credible agenda and no suitable experience. He wants the United States to commit war crimes, including torture…He admires Russian dictator Vladimir Putin… He would round up and deport 11 million people, a forced movement on a scale not attempted since Stalin or perhaps Pol Pot. He has, during the course of his campaign, denigrated women, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities and many more. He routinely trades wild falsehoods and doubles down when his lies are exposed.”

The new host of TV’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah, said this month, “For me, as an African, there’s just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home.” He compared Trump to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and said that in this way Trump “is presidential.”

The stakes are enormous—and it’s no joke.

Unless he is rejected, we easily could be on the cusp of a media-knowing, veteran “reality show” host with a long record as a huckster becoming president of the United States.



Deepwater Wind — An Energy Revolution

An energy revolution is happening east of Long Island.

In the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Deepwater Wind is constructing the nation’s first offshore wind farm—five wind turbines off Block Island, Rhode Island.

Deepwater Wind has emerged as the leading offshore wind company in the United States.

It is seeking to follow its Block Island project, to be in operation this year, with what it calls Deepwater ONE, 30 miles southeast of Montauk, Long Island. Deepwater ONE would initially involve 15 turbines but the goal is for eventually 200—and their generating a significant portion of electricity for Long Island and southern New England.

And Deepwater Wind is working to follow that up with Garden State Offshore Energy—a joint venture with the New Jersey utility PSEG—with ultimately 200 wind turbines off Cape May, New Jersey. They would produce electricity for New Jersey.

A key innovation made by Deepwater Wind is figuring out how wind turbines can be placed in deep water—as reflected in its name—over the horizon and out of sight.

This eliminates the complaints heard on Long Island 15 years ago when the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) proposed a wind farm off Jones Beach which also were  raised on Martha’s Vineyard when the Cape Wind company sought to build a wind farm off that Massachusetts island.

The need to place wind turbines in relatively shallow water and close to shore in was a result of “old technology,” says Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind. However, Providence, Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind has drawn from technology established in offshore gas and oil drilling and the European experience with offshore wind to develop wind turbines that can be placed way out to sea. Also, he notes, the wind is stronger there.

“Our focus is to avoid the controversy entirely by locating wind turbines over the horizon,” says Mr. Plummer.

The U.S. has been exceedingly slow in moving ahead on offshore wind—a  technology that’s been booming in Europe, notably in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany. There are now 3,000 wind turbines off Europe. “Offshore wind is a vitally important resource for densely populated coastal areas,” says Mr. Plummer. “The European recognized that…The first offshore wind farm in the world was built off the coast of Denmark in 1991” and is “still operating.”

Some $20 billion a year is being invested in offshore wind, he says, and 85,000 people employed.  “It has become a massive global industry.”

“It’s a big industry producing big results,” says Mr. Plummer. “We have a real opportunity here in the United States particularly in the Northeast—Long Island, New England, the Mid-Atlantic States.”

This part of the U.S. relies on old power plants and there’ll be a need for a “massive change-over.”  Offshore wind “can be a big part,” he says, in “replacing the old, retiring, dirty and expensive fossil fuel plants” as well as “retiring nuclear facilities.”

For a cost the same or less as building conventional power plants, there could be offshore wind farms, he says. “We can do it cost-effectively. We can do it without controversy by installing wind turbines far enough offshore so they are over the horizon, and out of conflicted areas–shipping lanes and productive fishing areas.”

For its Deepwater ONE project, Deepwater Wind also seeks to combine energy storage with production. It is proposing two battery energy storage facilities on industrially zoned sites in Montauk and Wainscott on Long Island to hold power for when the wind lightens up.

Offshore wind, he says, also has a big advantage over onshore wind in that the components for on land turbines have “real sizing constraints”—they must be transported “over roads and bridges and around corners.” Offshore wind turbines can be assembled at coastal sites and then “taken by barge off-shore.” That’s why, he said, the average size of a wind turbine on land is two to three megawatts while offshore turbines are six to eight megawatts.  And the larger wind turbines are, “the more energy they are able to harvest out of the air.”

There has been worry among fishing interests on eastern Long Island, but Mr. Plummer says that Deepwater Wind’s turbines will be a mile apart providing plenty of room for fishing.  He says Deepwater Wind wants to “work closely” with the fishing community.

As for the concern of birds getting killed, he said Deepwater Wind conducted a two-year study using “avian radar” and found that birds in migration hug the coast and are not out where the Deepwater Wind turbines would be.

Although LIPA has not been bullish on offshore wind since its chairman Richard Kessel, a great advocate, left, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is highly enthusiastic. In January in his “State of the State” address he announced an initiative involving government “at all levels” and the citizenry.  He described offshore wind as an enormous opportunity. The National Wildlife Federation applauded Mr. Cuomo’s “commitment to clean energy.” Said its Northeast Regional Director Curtis Fisher: “For the first time today, a New York governor highlighted the important role offshore wind power must play in its energy future.”




Brookhhaven National Laboratory and (Shhh…!) Radioactive Contamination

A class action lawsuit begun 20 years ago charging Brookhaven National Laboratory, an offshoot of America’s atomic bomb-building Manhattan Project, with contaminating communities adjacent to it will be moving ahead this month.

After World War II there was a push in the United States to build upon the secret government laboratories involved in the Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. A drive was on to develop other uses of nuclear technology and perpetuating the atomic establishment created during the war on which $2 billion was spent and 125,000 employed. .

Also, elite Northeast U.S. universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, were not involved during the war in the Manhattan Project. Concerned about coastal invasion, the U.S.kept Manhattan Project facilities inland. A key facility, Los Alamos Laboratory with the University of California its manager, rose in New Mexico, for example.

Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) was set up on Long Island, New York in 1947 by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), an entity the Manhattan Project morphed into. Its missions were atomic research and developing nuclear technology for civilian purposes—particularly nuclear power plants. It would be managed by Harvard, Yale and Princeton, among other universities, on a former Army base, Camp Upton, 67 miles east of Manhattan.

As BNL literature states: “At the end of World War II, the need was seen to continue the teamwork of Government and scientific institutions that had proven effective in wartime work in order to ensure the continued progress of nuclear science in peacetime. The wartime programs under the Manhattan [Project] District had given rise to centers of research and nuclear science that continue to be active…but no similar center had been developed in the Northeast…The establishment of a new laboratory near New York City was therefore proposed. As a result, Brookhaven National Laboratory was founded.”

This happened despite Long Island being one of the few well-populated areas of the U.S. dependent on an underground water for potable water. Thus, BNL nuclear facilities would be built on this sole-source aquifer. And, it was done despite the surrounding population.

The result: a radioactive mess at BNL involving Long Island water and serious health impacts on people in the communities near BNL.

The class action lawsuit charges the “actions of the defendant were grossly, recklessly and wantonly negligent and done with an utter disregard for the health, safety, well-being and rights of the plaintiffs.” It accuses BNL of “failure to observe accepted industry standards in the use, storage and disposal of hazardous and toxic substances” and BNL itself of being “improperly located on top of an underground aquifer which supplies drinking water to [a] large number of persons.”\

The defendant is Associated Universities, Inc. which managed BNL first for the AEC and then for the agency that succeeded it, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Associated Universities—which continues with other U.S. government contracts—is composed of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins Universities, University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Its management of BNL ended in 1998 when it was fired by the DOE because of widespread contamination at BNL and DOE’s determination that Associated Universities was a bad overseer of BNL operations. Two nuclear reactors at BNL were found to have been leaking radioactive tritium into Long Island’s underground water table for many years. BNL management was then switched to a partnership of Long Island’s Stony Brook University and Battelle Memorial Institute of Ohio.

Radioactive contamination caused by BNL is documented in the 2008 book “Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town” and an award-winning 2012 documentary “The Atomic States of America.”

Since it was first brought in 1996, the lawsuit has gone back and forth between the New York State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, the judicial panel over the Supreme Court in York.

BNL lawyers have used delaying tactics—apparently in the hope that the “class” of those suing as victims, originally 21 families, would be reduced. But only one person has died and now the “class” has grown to 180 persons suing.

In July the Appellate Division ruled the case can move towards trial. It declared that “the causes of action of the proposed intervenors are all based upon common theories of liability.”

But, outrageously, the four Appellate Division judges ruled that radioactive contamination caused by BNL can no longer be part of the case. They accepted the argument of lawyers for BNL that, as they put it in their July decision, “the nuclear radiation emitted by BNL did not exceed guidelines promulgated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” Thus the plaintiffs will now only be able to sue for other forms of BNL pollution, mainly chemical.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was the other agency in addition to the DOE that the AEC was split into after the U.S. Congress in 1974 eliminated the AEC for having a conflict of interest in being as both a promoter and regulator of nuclear power. The promotion role was given to the DOE, the regulatory role to the NRC. However, the NRC has continued to boost nuclear power. It, like the AEC, for instance, has never denied a construction or operating license for any nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S.

Moreover, the BNL radioactive pollution will not be allowed to be considered despite the U.S. government in recent years paying out millions of dollars to BNL employees in compensation for their getting cancer after exposure to radioactivity at BNL. Also, families of BNL workers who died from cancer after exposure to radioactivity have been paid. The pay-outs to former workers and their families for cancer from BNL radioactive exposure—what neighbors of the lab are now being barred from litigating about—come under the U.S. government’s “Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.”

It covers not only BNL but the other U.S. national nuclear laboratories including Los Alamos, Livermore, Oak Ridge labs, as well as other U.S. government nuclear facilities among them its Savannah River Plant and Hanford Site.

According to a Power Point presentation given at BNL in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Labor, some $8.2 billion has been set aside under the program for pay-outs, with $111.7 million of that for exposure to radioactivity at BNL and consequent cancer.

Joseph B. Frowiss, Sr., based in Rancho Santa Fe, California has been handling many of the cases involving former workers at BNL—and other U.S. government nuclear facilities—and their families. As he says on his website—http://www/—“in the past seven years 1,800 of my clients have received over $300 million and hundreds more are in the pipeline…A diagnosis of one of 23 ‘specified’ cancers and typically 250 work days in a specified timeframe are the basic requirements.”

An “independent claims advocate,” Mr. Frowiss has run full-page advertisements in Long Island newspapers: “Brookhaven National Lab Employees With Cancer,” they are headed. They note that “BNL employees…are likely now eligible for lump sum tax free base awards of $150,000, possibly to $400,000, plus medical benefits.”

The class action suit originally included damages caused by BNL radioactivity. It is titled Ozarczuk v. Associated Universities, Inc. for Barbara Osarczuk who lived just outside the BNL boundary in North Shirley and developed breast and thyroid cancer which she attributes to BNL.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs are led by two prominent lawyers, A. Craig Purcell of Stony Brook, Long Island, a former president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, and Richard J. Lippes of Buffalo who represented Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association in landmark U.S. litigation. That lawsuit took on the massive contamination in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls caused by the Hooker Chemical Company which resulted in widespread health impacts to residents of the area. It led in 1980 to the creation of the federal Superfund program to try clean up high-pollution sites in the United States.

Mr. Purcell said that after the many years of back-and-forth court rulings, the plaintiffs have the judicial go-ahead to sue for “loss of enjoyment of life, diminution of property values and the cost of hooking up to public water.”

Mr. Lippes said that “the lab was supposed to monitor anything escaping from it—and didn’t do it.” The attitude of BNL, he said, was that “every dollar spent for safety or on environmental issues was taking away from research.” The lawsuit “should have been resolved years ago, but there has been intransigence of lab administrators not wanting to be held responsible.”

BNL was designated a high-pollution Superfund site in 1989. In 1997, the large amounts of radioactive tritium—H30 or radioactive water—were found to have been leaking from BNL’s High Flux Beam Reactor. That reactor was closed by the DOE and then a smaller reactor was found to have also been leaking tritium and shut down.

There are now no operating nuclear reactors at BNL. But BNL remains closely connected to nuclear technology. In 2010, BNL set up a new Department of Nuclear Science and Technology with a multi-million dollar yearly budget.

BNL’s announcement at the time quoted Gerald Stokes, its associate director for Global and Regional Solutions, as saying: “BNL’s long involvement and considerable experience in nuclear energy make it a natural place to create such an organization.” On BNL’s website currently is a page headed, “Exploring Nuclear Technologies for Our Energy Future” which discusses the department.

Long Island environmental educator and activist Peter Maniscalco says: “The Brookhaven scientific culture still doesn’t understand the interrelationship between humans and the natural world and the lethal consequences their work in nuclear technology imposes on the population and environment of the world. They still don’t understand that nuclear power is a polluting, deadly technology,”

BNL’s involvement in promoting nuclear power has included its joining with the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) in a plan advanced between the 1960s and 1980s to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants on Long Island. BNL scientists worked hand-in-hand with LILCO attorneys at federal hearings on the scheme. One plant was completed, Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1, but blocked from going into commercial operation by opposition by people on Long Island and local and state governments. Meanwhile, for many of those years, Phyllis Vineyard, the wife of BNL’s director, George Vineyard, was a paid member of the LILCO board, and William Catacosinos, a former BNL assistant director, CEO and chairman of LILCO.

The book “Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town” by Kelly McMasters links widespread cancer in neighboring Shirley to radioactive releases from BNL. She is an assistant professor and director of publishing studies at Hofstra University on Long Island.

The book was short-listed by Oprah Winfrey. Her magazine, O, said of it: “A loving, affecting memoir of an American Eden turned toxic.”

“The Atomic States of America,” based on the book, received among its honors a special showing at the Sundance Film Festival. Its reviews included Variety noting that Shirley “was in unhappy proximity” to BNL “around which skyrocketing cancer rates were written off as coincidence or an aberrant gene pool.” The review cited the appearance in “The Atomic States of America” of Alec Baldwin, “a lifelong Long Islander,” who in the documentary calls BNL scientists “liars and worse.” It said “in following McMasters’ work, the film builds a convincing case about cancer and nukes,”

In the first book I wrote about nuclear technology, “Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power,” published in 1980, I reprinted pages from BNL’s safety manual as an example of dangers of radioactivity not being taken seriously at BNL.

The manual advised that people “can live with radiation.”

“Is Radiation Dangerous To You?” it starts. It tells BNL employees: “It can be; but need not be.” It states: “If you wear protective clothing, wash with soap and check your hands and feet with instruments, you are perfectly safe.”

Why $2 a Gallon Gas? OPEC and the Frackers

Wondering why the price of gasoline has plummeted to around $2 a gallon?
It is largely an attempt to quash one of the most odious of energy processes—fracking—by a most odious of energy organizations, OPEC.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking has in recent years caused a revolution in petroleum extraction. Using a new technique to split underground shale formations, it has vastly expanded gas and oil output in the United States. But it is a messy and polluting process.

Massive amounts of water and 600 chemicals are shot into the ground under high pressure to release the gas and oil. But gas from fracking wells leaks into underground water tables causing serious contamination and also the phenomenon of what comes out of a water faucet bursting into flames when touched with a lit match.

The 2010 Oscar-nominated film “Gasland”: and subsequent “Gasland Part II,” both written and directed by Josh Fox, document this fiery aspect of fracking, along with the many instances of water pollution and impacts on people’s health caused by the contamination of water.

Another major problem involves fracking setting off earthquakes.

A new fracking technique—horizontal fracking—was first developed with federal government support in the U.S. in the 1980s. It has enabled the U.S. to again become a global giant in petroleum production.

The International Energy Agency has projected that in 2015, because of fracking, the U.S. would displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

Fracking, however, is a relatively expensive process—about ten times more costly than the $5 to $6 per barrel cost of drilling oil from conventional wells in Saudi Arabia.
By letting the price of oil drop, OPEC, in which Saudi Arabia is the key partner, has been applying financial pressure on the fracking industry.

Oil in much of 2015 went down to $60 a barrel making fracking a problematic undertaking economically. And consequently there have been reductions in and cancellations of numerous fracking operations.

Still, the fracking industry cut costs in seeking to survive.

And that has resulted in even greater OPEC pressure—the drop in price of a barrel of oil to less than $40—as low as $37—in recent weeks. Thus $2 a gallon gasoline in the U.S.

Manipulation of the petroleum market is not new. John D. Rockefeller with his Standard Oil Trust mastered it between the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century. Rockefeller and his trust succeeded in controlling virtually all the oil industry in the U.S. and also dominated the international market. The Standard Oil Trust fixed prices, set production quotas and ruthlessly forced out competitors.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1911, in the wake of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s investigative articles and book on the Standard Oil Trust, utilized the Sherman Antitrust Act to break the trust up into 34 pieces. ”For the safety of the Republic,” the court declared, “we now decree that this dangerous conspiracy must be ended.”

With discoveries of oil in the Middle East in the 1930s and with Standard Oil offshoots deeply involved, the Arabian American Oil Company—Aramco—was created in Saudi Arabia in 1944. In the 1970s, the Saudi government began acquiring more and more of a stake in Aramco, taking over full control in 1980 of what is now called Saudi Aramco.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries—OPEC—was formed in 1960 to “coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry.”

Saudi Arabia is the key partner in the 12-nation OPEC cartel because it has the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves at more than 260 billion barrels.
OPEC sets production targets for its member countries and its method for lowering the price of petroleum is by keeping production high.

So the price of a barrel of oil is less than half of what it was as recently as midway last year.

As Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has explained: “At the root of the price collapse was the development in the U.S. of technologies for extracting tight oil, mostly from shale deposits, by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This reversed the decline in U.S. oil production.”

“After the oil embargo of the 1970s,” Greenspan said, “OPEC wrested oil pricing power from the U.S.” But now, there’s been a “shale technology breakthrough.”
“As a result, the gap between global production and consumption has widened, precipitating a rise in U.S. and world inventories, and a fall in prices. Saudi Arabia, confronted with an oil supply glut but not wishing to lose market share, abandoned its leadership role as global swing producer and refused to cut production to support prices.”

Says Jamie Webster, an oil market analyst at HIS Energy in Washington, D.C.: “The faster you bring the price down, the quicker you will have a response from U.S. [fracking] production—that is the expectation and the hope. I cannot recall a time when several [OPEC] members were actively pushing the price down in both word and deed.”

There are other factors, too.

The descending price of oil has severely impacted on Russia causing some analysts to see collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to hurt the Putin regime in Russia—and some have extended this to seeing such a conspiracy also being aimed at major oil producers Iran and Venezuela, too.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has raised this prospect declaring: “We all see the lowering of the oil price. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be the agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”

Martin Katusa, chief energy investment strategist at Casey Research in Vermont, says, “It’s a three-way oil war between OPEC, Russia and North American shale.”

Is a Saudi Arabian assault on the clean-energy movement a factor, too?
“Now energy experts are seeing evidence that the oil bust is helping Saudi Arabia achieve another long-term goal: undermining global efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” wrote Joby Warrick who has written on energy and environmental issues for The Washington Post.

Indeed, with the sharp decrease in the price of gasoline, sales of SUVs and other low-efficiency vehicles has been rising.

There’s the big question of whether oil—from fracking or conventional drilling in the Middle East—can compete with with renewable energy technologies.

A report done for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi by the University of Cambridge and Price WaterhouseCoopers, titled “Financing the Future of Energy,” declared: “The energy system of the past will not be the same as the energy system of the future. It is clear that renewables will be an established and significant part of the future energy mix, in the region and globally.”

Solar photovoltaic power and wind energy have “already a track record of successful deployment,” the report noted. “Prices have fallen dramatically in the past few years: solar PV falling by 80 per cent in six years, and on-shore wind by 40 per cent. The speed of this shift towards grid parity with fossil fuels means that, in many instances, perceptions of the role of renewables in the energy mix have not caught up with reality.”

The report noted the bid of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority to build a 200 megawatt solar photovoltaic facility in Dubai “set a new world benchmark for utility scale solar PV costs, showing that photovoltaic technologies are competitive today with oil at US$10/barrel.”

How far down will the price of oil go?

“Oil producers prepare for prices to halve to $20 a barrel,” was the headline in The Guardian this month.

The article in the British publication by Larry Elliot, its economics editor, stated: “The fall from a recent peak of $115 a barrel in August 2014 has left all OPEC members in fina ncial difficult, but Saudi Arabia has refused to relent on the strategy of using a low crude price to knock out U.S. shale producers. Hopes that OPEC would announce production curbs to push up prices were dashed when the cartel met in Vienna last Friday, triggering the latest downward lurch in the cost of oil.”

At this rate will it be a bit over $1 a gallon for gasoline soon?

And how long will low oil prices last as OPEC tries to smite the frackers?

The history of oil industry market manipulation says not that long.

As the secretary-general of OPEC, Abdulla al-Badri, said this year, with prices “around $45-$55 [a barrel], I think maybe they [have] reached the bottom and we [will] see some rebound very soon.” Indeed, he ventured that oil prices might skyrocket back up as they had plummeted down, to “more than $200” a barrel, although he wouldn’t give a time frame.

My First Big Story

(This ran as my column in the Fire Island News on May 29, 2015.)

A year-long 50th anniversary celebration—extending through this summer—is underway to commemorate a great event: the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore. In a David-versus-Goliath saga, a most extraordinary place—Fire Island—was saved.

It was my first big story as a reporter on Long Island. It was 1962 and I had just started at the Babylon Town Leader, a newspaper which for decades had criticized projects of New York State public works czar Robert Moses, a Babylon resident. Moses had just announced his plan to build a four-lane highway on Fire Island. It would, claimed Moses, “anchor” Fire Island and protect it from storms.

I was assigned to go to Fire Island to do an article about the impacts of the highway on the island’s nature and communities. I was a 20-year-old from New York City but I knew something about nature having been an Eagle Scout and coming from a family that went camping every summer.

A walk in exquisite Sunken Forest made the environmental significance of Fire Island clear to me immediately on the visit, arranged with the help of George Biderman of the Fire Island Association. I lucked out in learning about its magical communities by connecting with articulate Fire Islanders such as TV journalist Charles Collingwood and writer Reginald Rose who, with others, explained how these communities — and the island’s nature — would be largely paved over by the Moses road.

I wrote a story, the first of many. Two other weekly newspapers joined with us in the journalistic crusade including running our articles: the Suffolk County News and the Long Island Commercial Review.

What an uphill battle. Hardly any elected officials would say or do anything in opposition to Moses. He also seemed to have some big daily newspapers in his pocket. The New York Times and Newsday pushed hard for the road.

But we kept pushing, too. We found, for example, how the four-lane highway Moses built to the west, along Jones Beach, rather than being an “anchor” needed to be regularly bolstered with sand pushed along its edges by bulldozers working at night.

The first call I received the morning my first story ran was from Murray Barbash, an environmentally attuned builder from Brightwaters. Murray (who passed away in 2013) and his brother-in-law, Babylon attorney Irving Like (thankfully, very much with us and still a Long Island environmental champion) organized a Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore. The view was that Moses could not be stopped on the state level because of the enormous power he wielded in New York. If Fire Island were to be saved, it would have to be through the federal government. Also, the Seashore initiative offered a positive goal.

A national seashore was then a relatively new idea. The first, Cape Hatteras, was created nine years earlier, in 1953. But U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall paid a visit and embraced the Fire Island National Seashore vision. Also, conservation-oriented Laurance Rockefeller, the brother of then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, became chairman of the state Council of Parks in 1963 and liked the Fire Island National Seashore concept, too.

Moses was furious at what was happening. He confronted Nelson Rockefeller. Moses had run for governor himself, in 1934, and suffered a then record two-to-one defeat, so he amassed power by running state commissions and authorities instead.

According to the Leader’s source—a person at Moses’ Long Island State Park Commission—at the climactic meeting with Rockefeller, Moses insisted the highway would happen and that the governor put a lid on his brother. If Rockefeller wouldn’t, Moses threatened he would resign from his many commission and authority posts. He seemingly thought the state would fall apart without him. In the collision, Nelson wouldn’t be steamrolled.

Moses quit his government posts. And the bill establishing a Fire Island National Seashore was passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 11, 1964, the date now the kickoff for the all-year 50th anniversary celebration.

Murray and Irv, it should be noted, went on to flip the Fire Island strategy a few years later when Long Island was faced with the Long Island Lighting Company’s plan to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants—the first at Shoreham. They understood that there would be no way at the federal level to stop this. The U.S. nuclear agencies—the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—never denied a construction or operating license for any nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime (to this date).

So here the strategy was to utilize state power. Citizens to Replace LILCO, created by Murray and Irv, pressed for passage of the Long Island Power Act and use of the state’s power of eminent domain to eliminate LILCO if it persisted with its nuclear scheme. This was the key that caused the closure of a completed Shoreham plant and no other nuclear plants being built on Long Island.

The Babylon Town Leader was sold in 1964. At the newspaper I also covered the early civil rights struggle on Long Island. And I went to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair opening day to report on activists from Long Island protesting racism in hiring by the World’s Fair. Moses had held on to being in charge of the World’s Fair.

The chain that bought the Leader ran my article as a front-page story with the headline: “Jail Pavilion for Suffolk CORE.” But no longer was I protected by Moses-critical management.

I was called in to see the associate publisher, Wilson Stringer, who declared: “Mr. Moses called and is very upset with you. You’re fired.”

I would end up at the daily Long Island Press and after its closure in 1977, writing books—I’ve authored six—and anchoring the nightly news on Long Island TV station WSNL. For the past nearly 25 years, I’ve hosted the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up. I’m chief investigative reporter at Long Island TV station WVVH.

And I’m a full professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury. I teach Investigative Reporting and Environmental Journalism—and continue to practice both.

So I’ve done fine, despite Moses. As has Fire Island.

Whenever I head out to Fire Island and see it come into view, a good feeling comes over me about my part in helping save this national treasure.

“Fire Island Was Paradise, Truly Paradise”

(This ran as my column in the Fire Island News on June 21, 2015)

“Fire Island was paradise, truly paradise,” Phyllis Italiano was saying. “The life we had there for that period of years—for 35 years—was idyllic. “

Phyllis was blissfully reminiscing the other day about the decades she spent on Fire Island with a couple whose celebrated marriage was charmed and happy—her older sister, actress Anne Bancroft and comic genius Mel Brooks. Often, her second sister, Joanne, joined them. “For us, it’s always been about family,” she noted. The three daughters’ parents were Millie (nee DiNapoli) and Michael Italiano, born in New York City of Italian immigrants. The three girls and their folks lived in The Bronx.

Phyllis said the link between her family and Fire Island was sparked by Anne in 1960 staying for a weekend at the Fair Harbor home of fellow actress Enid Markey. “Anne absolutely fell in love with Fire Island,” recalled Phyllis.

“She said, ‘Look, I would like to rent there next year. If I rent it would you and Joanne run it while I’m working on Broadway?’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” said Phyllis. “My kid [the first of her four children] was one year old. I loved the beach.”

So, in 1961, she and Anne rented actor Martin Balsam’s house in Fair Harbor—“he had headed out to Hollywood to make movies.” She was immediately impressed finding that first Memorial Day weekend that “this is a family place.”

The next year, 1962, Anne and Mel had gotten together and all were back at Fair Harbor. In 1963 Anne bought a house in Lonelyville. “It was a big rectangle, way up on stilts, overlooking the ocean. Anne bought that house for $28,000.” Designed by Richard Meier, it was on No Name Walk.

In 1964, Anne and Mel were married. And the following year they purchased a house behind that rectangular one—“we called it the second house”—and that’s where Phyllis and Joanne and kids (Joanne, too, is a mother of four) lived.

“The ocean was the king of our lives,” said Phyllis. “We had breakfast together and we started every day the same way. Anne and I would go for long swims.” They would swim in the bay and the ocean, although sometimes ocean-swimming was tricky. She spoke of one day Anne swimming in a sea that was roiling, and how Anne glanced at her with a “look on her face: ‘Give my love to Mamma.’ I had to get the lifeguard to get her out.”

“We had just unbelievable times. We would walk to Ocean Beach to go out to dinner. We loved reading,” she said. “We played games at night.”

Mel’s comedy-writing for Sid Ceasar’s Show of Shows “had ended,” he had started his The 2000 Year Old Man routine with Carl Reiner which skyrocketed in popularity on records and TV. He was working on other projects. “I remember on Fire Island,” said Phyllis, “reading the script of Blazing Saddles and thought, ‘My God, this is going to be terrific!’ I read the script there of The Producers, the first film in his film career.”

Anne had, meanwhile, become a star in films and on stage. She won an Oscar for her acting in The Miracle Worker and became a world-renowned sex symbol as the seductive Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. She wrote, directed and acted in the hilarious movie Fatso. She won Tonys for her performance in Two for the Seesaw and also the Broadway production of The Miracle Worker. She might have to travel—but she made sure she got back to Fire Island. .

“It was so safe for children, so secure,” noted Phyllis, her former married name Wetzel. Phyllis is now retired after 27 years as a teacher and also was an assistant principal in the Yonkers public school system.

The absence of cars on Fire Island, Phyllis said, and the warm community life made Fire Island “a safe, wonderful place” for youngsters. “The kids bonded together. They’d go out in the morning and you’d see them at dinner.” As the years went by, son Michael Wetzel worked at Kismet Inn and daughter Paula Wetzel at Maguire’s restaurant.

“All the girls in the family did baby-sitting during their early teens. Once my daughter, Joanne, my oldest, had a job at about age 13 raking the bay beach in Fair Harbor of seaweed. She would be out at 8 in the morning cleaning the beach before breakfast. That was how Fire Island was—a real community—everyone helped everyone else.”

Meanwhile, “every day Mel would wash the front windows of the house,” she said. “And he would go down to the ocean and surf-cast and catch fish.” Mel also thoroughly enjoyed “sitting on the back deck in a great chair Anne had bought. And he’d fall asleep.”

They liked going for shellfish. Then there was the time, Phyllis recalled, when “we went out with flashlights at 1 a.m. in the morning crabbing and caught a load of crabs. I said to Mel, ‘We don’t want to kill them by putting them in the refrigerator,’” Better, she thought, would be putting the crabs in the kitchen sink until it was time to cook them. “But they crawled out of the sink—16 or 17 crabs—and they were all over the place and we had to scurry around at 3 a.m. to catch them. And, you know, crabs bite.”

A son, Max, was born to Anne and Mel in 1972. He would go on to be a writer for Saturday Night Live and author. His initial book: The Zombie Survival Guide.
In 1996, Phyllis, Anne and Mel left Fire Island for the Hamptons. Anne thought they could “buy a very big house for all the family.”

Anne and Mel initially rented in Westhampton and then settled in Water Mill. Phyllis purchased a house in The Springs, a hamlet north of East Hampton.

“The Hamptons are lovely. I’m not going to say I don’t love the Hamptons,” said Phyllis, who is deeply involved in East Hampton Town Democratic affairs, has a program on the Wainscott-based TV operation LTV, and is active in civic and educational affairs. “But being on Fire Island, it was the happiest time of our lives.”

She has just returned to Fire Island once since 1996 only “because I’ve been so busy.” But she intends to “go back to Fire Island this year. I’d love to see it again.”
Anne, married to Mel for four decades, died 10 years ago this month, Phyllis noted sadly.

The Renewable Energy Revolution — And Push to Suppress It

We’ve had solar power energizing our house in Sag Harbor on Long Island in New York for six years now—and it’s a bonanza!

Once the photovoltaic panels are up on your roof, nothing more needs to be done. They harvest electricity from the sun even on cloudy days. Never in the half-dozen years have the 38 panels on our roof needed any care. And frequently, looking at the Long Island Power Authority meter attached to the house, I see the numbers going backwards—we’re producing electricity for LIPA for which LIPA reimburses us.

Then there are the two thermal solar panels heating up water and sending it—very well-heated—into the house. The other day, it was 64-degrees outside but the thermometer on the hot water tank in the basement showed water from the thermal panels coming down at 130-degrees. Amazing! And these panels are also care-free.

Meanwhile, the price of solar panels have plummeted since the panels were installed at our house—and efficiencies have gone up, Dean Hapshe of Harvest Power was saying the other day on a visit to check our installation.

Mr. Hapshe of Patchogue, New York is a master teacher of solar installers on Long Island. He entered the solar energy field in 1980 and with his decades of experience has served as an instructor of others in the industry.

When he and his crew put our system in, the cost of the photovoltaic panels, which produce 7,500 watts—an average-size system—was $6 a watt. “Now it’s down to $3.65,” Mr. Hapshe was saying. The efficiency rate has risen to 21%—getting close to the 25% efficiency of solar panels on space systems such as satellites and the International Space Station. That means more electricity is generated for every ray of sunlight.

The thing about solar power is that the sun sends no bills.

And that has been vexing for electric utilities around the nation.

Indeed, the motto of Harvest Power, which is based in Bay Shore, New York is: “Let The Sun Pay Your Electric Bill.”

“Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar,” was the headline of an article in March in The Washington Post. The story, by Joby Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who often writes on energy issues, begins: “Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.”

“If demand for residential solar continued to rise, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems from ‘declining retail sales’ and a ‘loss of customers’ to ‘potential obsolescence,’ according to a presentation prepared for the group. “’Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,’ it said. “The warning, delivered to a private meeting of the utility industry’s main trade association, became a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation.” The article continued, “Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency…”

The New York Times, in an editorial last year titled, “The Koch Attack on Solar Energy,” noted how “the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.”

The Times told of how the Koch brothers, their Koch Industries based on oil refining, “have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panel to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities.”

On Long Island, support for solar power by LIPA—created with a mission to advance the development of solar and other forms of renewable energy on the island—has gone down and down. The once hefty rebate LIPA provided for solar installations has now descended to a paltry 20 cents a watt.

New York State, however, still provides up to $5,000 in support for an installation, and the federal government offers a tax credit of 30% of the cost of a solar system. But this program needs to be extended at the end of next year.

The capacity and economics of renewable energy are simply wonderful. The New York Times recently ran a front-page story headlined: “In Texas. Night Winds Blow in Free Electricity.” It told of how in Texas “wind farms are generating so much electricity” that it is now being “given away.”

There are those who seek to profit from expensive electricity generated by oil, gas, coal and nuclear power—and they would try to suppress the renewable energy revolution now underway. They must be stopped, and the windfall of safe, green, inexpensive electricity be allowed to flow.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Montauk Shore

“Save Montauk” “No More Army Corps”

These were some of the signs as widespread opposition arrived—at long last—to the Army Corps of Engineers project to put “geotubes” at a taxpayer expense of $8.9 million on the beach at Montauk. With the start of the Montauk work, there was civil disobedience—protesters seeking to stop bulldozers—and arrests. And there was a multitude of complaints at an East Hampton Town Board meeting drawing 250 people.

The situation sends an important message about the Army Corps’ yet bigger shoreline project—reactivation of its more than 50-year-old scheme, now with a taxpayer cost of $600 to $800 million, to try to “fortify” the south shore between Fire Island Inlet and Montauk.

Kevin McAllister, founder of the Sag Harbor-based group Defend H20, has been tirelessly challenging the Montauk project. Defend H20 is a key plaintiff in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to stop the placement of what he describes as 14,000 “concrete-like building blocks that weigh 1.7 tons each.”

As heavy equipment under Army Corps contract began excavating gaping holes in the Montauk shoreline last week in preparation for dumping of the “geotubes,” the basis of the project became obvious to many people.

“I think everybody got a major dose of reality when they saw the primary dune being carved out,” Thomas Muse, environmental director of the eastern Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and also a plaintiff in the Defend H20-led lawsuit, told the packed East Hampton Town Board gathering two weeks ago. “Let’s please pause the project.”

It should be cancelled—and promptly.

It and the larger Army Corps scheme were pushed through in a big hurry in the wake of super-storm Sandy. The larger Army Corps scheme was one I began writing about when I came in as a journalist on Long Island in 1962. It was stopped as knowledge was gained regionally and nationally on the science of coastal geology. The plan called for massive sand-dumping along the south shore and construction of rock jetties or “groins” —a concept of “hard” coastal structures determined to be highly damaging to the shore beyond them. The Army Corps scheme underwent a “reformulation” but still wasn’t getting far until Sandy struck and massive amounts of federal money became available for various post-Sandy projects.

The putting of “geotubes” on the Montauk shore is “explicitly prohibited” by East Hampton Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, declared Mr. McAllister in a formal “declaration” to the court as part of the pending lawsuit.

He blasted the Army Corps’ contention that the tubes would serve as a “dune.” He said this “ignores” the “common sense, and facts…This is excavation and construction of a geobag wall.” And like “groins,” the bags of hardened sand would cause “adjacent property” along the shore to suffer from “accelerated erosion.” Moreover, the beach at Montauk itself will end up drastically narrowed—and not be a sand beach at all but a huge pile of sandbags.

Suffolk politicians at all levels—from East Hampton to Suffolk County to state to federal—have boosted the Montauk project with one exception: Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski of Cutchogue. He refused to join his 17 colleagues last year in a measure to have county taxpayers join with those in East Hampton in paying for “operation and maintenance” of the field of “geotubes.” .

Thus all Suffolk County residents will be paying towards the Montauk sandbags.
“I am very familiar with the processes of coastal erosion and the dynamics of the shoreline,” said Mr. Krupski in a letter to fellow legislators. For 20 years he was a member, 14 years president, of the Southold Town Board of Trustees which oversees the shores and adjoining waters of Southold Town. “I believe Suffolk County should not endorse a project that hardens the shoreline,” he said. “This is a project that, one, is sure to fail and cause accelerated erosion to adjacent properties, and two, puts the maintenance on the shoulders of the entire county.”

“The Corps and the Shore” is a landmark book by coastal geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and Katharine Dixon about the Army Corps. It explains how with roots in the Revolutionary War it became an entity to build military fortifications—but through the years its power has been widened to include civilian work. It details how with “arrogance” the Army Corps has pursued highly destructive shoreline projects—work in flat contradiction to coastal science. And there is a big follow-the-money aspect, too. The Army Corps district offices “receive funding based on the cost of their projects,” the book notes.

It’s high time that civilian work be taken from the Army Corps and given to a new agency with respect for the environment and a commitment to comply with science.
The agency also should not profit, as does the Army Corps, from the work it orders.