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Tuesday, November 22,2011

Thanksgiving bit this year is mainly thanks but no thanks

By Terry Smith

Something of a tradition hereabouts, here's my backhanded Thanksgiving column for 2011.

Just like everybody, I'm thankful for some things and not thankful for others. But since the "not thankful" stuff is more fun to write about, it usually gets most of the ink.

Thankful. That I have the honor and pleasure of editing a small-town newspaper with great group of colleagues and a kick-ass community of readers. The Athens NEWS belongs to a trade group of alternative media newspapers and websites, most of them geared toward a narrower demographic in bigger cities than Athens, in most cases much bigger. Unlike most of those papers, however, our readership covers a broad swath of ages, backgrounds, incomes, etc. We're just as likely to be read by a coal-miner as we are a university professor, or by a convenience store clerk as a college student (and this being a college town, sometimes that's the same person).

Not thankful. That Ohio University's student trustees are content to listen complacently to university business without having any voting power. This is despite proposed legislation in the Ohio House that would grant full voting rights to student public university trustees in Ohio, as is the case in 30 other states. Even Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee supports the legislation.

Ohio University's two student trustees are a rare thing indeed: Representatives of a huge interest group – 20,000 OU students – who'd just as soon not have the power to represent their constituents. And our student trustees' odd indifference to their lack of power comes at a time when college students across the nation are taking to the streets to protest high tuition rates and student debt loads.

Not thankful. That southeast Ohio is represented by two of the most reactionary, right-wing dinosaurs in the U.S. House, which is really saying something in a body that's more polarized than it's been in my lifetime.

Read on…

Not thankful: Chairing a congressional subcommittee hearing on proposed federal EPA regulation of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-18th District, declared that the EPA's potential involvement in regulating the hugely controversial energy technology "is just another attempt to pursue a radical, anti-drilling agenda… with more redundant, job-killing regulations."

He then uttered one of the stupidest and most outrageous declarations that I've ever heard from an elected official – and believe me, that's not setting the bar very high: "There have been 1.2 million fracking operations and not a single incident of water contamination."

There's ample anecdotal and statistical evidence online, from property owners who have witnessed contamination directly as well as reputable academic sources, that water contamination related to fracking is not uncommon. Granted, environmental opponents of fracking take it too far in the other direction by implying that water contamination is an unavoidable consequence of hydraulic fracturing. But to say that it's never happened at all? Rep. Gibbs needs to climb out of the rabbit hole where his head is stuck, or more likely, out of the silk pockets of powerful oil and gas lobbyists.

Gibbs is especially misleading when he cites the existence of 1.2 million fracking operations. What he should have added is that the huge majority of those wells involve vertical drilling, the sort of relatively non-controversial oil and gas development that's been occurring in Ohio and other states for many years. The difference between horizontal hydraulic fracturing and standard vertical drilling that uses hydraulic fracking is massive, with the latter carrying neither the great risks nor benefits of the former.

According to a report in Monday's Columbus Dispatch, "the process (horizontal hydraulic fracking) has been used in more than 3,800 natural-gas wells drilled into Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale since 2005" in a state that as of 2009 had more than 70,000 producing oil and gas wells. Pennsylvania is ground zero for the horizontal drilling technology in this country.

Not thankful. In an appearance recently on a national religious right talk show, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6th District, gave his assessment of President Barack Obama and Democrats in general:

"They're not only hostile to the Christian faith; they're hostile to America, period… [Obama] simply has a different view than any American that I know about what makes this country great. Instead of being about creating jobs and balancing the federal budget and holding Washington accountable, he's out slamming America every time he gets an opportunity."

When I see stuff like this, my blood starts boiling. Anything he's saying about Obama or the Democrats, he's basically saying about me, my family and most of my friends. Who the hell is this pompous, self-righteous politician to impugn my patriotism, much less my very citizenship? And don't get me started on people who would remove the Christian identity from anyone who doesn't subscribe to their own narrow and conservative outlook on religion.

A person can get very angry about a thing like this. After a few deep-breathing exercises, however, I'm able to acknowledge that a better strategy is to just patiently wait till voters have an opportunity to send these jumped-up ideologues back to obscurity.

Yes, I do realize that Reps. Gibbs and Johnson are just parroting the right-wing swill they hear on radio talk shows and conservative blogs, in effect playing to their willfully ignorant GOP base.

But it would be nice – something that I'd be truthful thankful for – if politicians on either side of the party divide could drum up the energy to be statesmen.

For example, the issue that got Rep. Johnson all wound up about Obama "slamming America" was actually the president's recent moves on his Asian trip to reassert America's influence in an area where China is expanding its hegemony. So rather than praise the president for doing something that most conservatives support – aggressively countering Chinese influence in Asia – Johnson picks a quote out of context and uses it to attack the president's religion and patriotism.

If you want to know why Congress no longer operates as an effective mechanism of government, this is a pretty good indicator – ideologically driven elected representatives who not only strongly disagree with the opposing party, but deny their opponents' status as Americans or Christians.

One blogger made a good point about Johnson's remarks on the religious right talk show, noting that "roughly 48 percent of Johnson's (6th District) constituents voted for the president in the last election." When a congressman basically states that half of his constituents are neither proper Americans nor proper Christians, his days should be numbered.

Not thankful. For sloppy poll-taking, as illustrated in a column by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker in the Nov. 21 Newsweek magazine. Parker was writing about a Newsweek poll on sexual harassment finding that 85 percent of respondents said they "think that people are unfairly accused in sexual-harassment cases some, most, or all of the time."

Let's examine what this response means. By lumping "some of the time" (which basically means at least once) with "all of the time" (which means, well, all of the time), Newsweek was able to ascertain that 85 percent of its poll respondents think that false accusations of sexual harassment have occurred at least once.

Another way of obtaining the same result would be to ask, "Do you think anyone has ever been falsely accused of sexual harassment?"

One can't help wondering what the other 15 percent think about this question.

• Thankful for family and friends, including the ones who get mad when I write columns like this one.


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