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by brasch

An Assault On Our Civility

6:04 am in Uncategorized by brasch

For a while, it appeared the NRA leadership committed an act of sanity. But, a few hours later, the pills wore off.

NRA Logo

“Everything’s now just hunky-dory between the NRA and the reactionary right-wing gun nuts.”

The story begins with a group called Open Carry Texas (OCT). This fringe group rubbed both its brain cells together, wrapped itself in what it erroneously believes is the Second Amendment, and decided it would be great theatre to bring semi-automatic carbines into family restaurants. Waving the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, a common sight at Tea Party rallies, OCT members handed out leaflets, proclaimed their rights to carry weapons and confronted citizens who had little desire to be in a place where civilians were carrying weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, any one of which could shred any one of their internal organs.

Openly carrying handguns in Texas is illegal, but the law permits anyone to openly carry long guns, from BB guns to semi-automatic military weapons. Almost all OCT members are white men, but there are a few white women who also believe in their “right-to-carry.” Among them was a woman in Dallas who openly carried her 10-month-old twins and a semi-automatic assault weapon.

When Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Starbucks, and other coffee shops, restaurants, and department stores told these thugs, who can even make the rural folk of “Deliverance” appear to be civilized, they were welcome to eat, shop, and browse—but leave the weapons at home—Open Carry Texas escalated its public demonstrations.

The Open Carry people are the same folk who believe in states’ rights and the rights of private enterprise to do what they want when they want to do it because—well, business is what-fer makes ’Merika GREAT and the gummint ain’t no good nohow.  Of course, when individuals and businesses exercise their own rights to refuse service to gun-toting menaces, then individual liberties and freedom don’t apply because these businesses, obviously, have been compromised by them lib’ral whackos who believe intimidation and fear should not be prevalent American cultural traits.

In an unsigned 1,400 word editorial, the NRA called Open Carry demonstrations “weird” and “scary.” That editorial also said such demonstrations were not “a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself.” It stated these outrageous demonstrations could cause open-minded folk to “feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

The editorial further stated that “using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That’s not the Texas way. And that’s certainly not the NRA way.”

That set off explosions of anger among the Open Carry Texas gaggle, who had apparently sprinkled an extra dose of steroids in their morning beer and cereal. They stomped their feet, held their breath, typed spurts of hatred onto Twitter and their Facebook page, tore up NRA membership cards, and said the group would stop supporting the NRA if it didn’t retract the editorial. Among the tweets, Open Carry Texas declared “The NRA has lost its relevance and side with #guncontrolextremists and their lapdog media.”

Within a couple of days, Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, posted a statement on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website. He said that the original editorial “was a mistake.” Cox said that the alert “shouldn’t have happened,” that calling Open Carry Texas “weird” and “scary” was “a poor word choice.” The retraction was clear—the NRA “unequivocally” is behind open carry laws. The chief lobbyist even said he had a “discussion” with the writer of the editorial and “explained” that the NRA doesn’t criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners.

Everything’s now just hunky-dory between the NRA and the reactionary right-wing gun nuts.

During the week of the NRA/Open Carry Texas dust-up, and the NRA’s sloppy retreat from sanity, about 200 Americans were killed by firearms, about 350 Americans used guns to commit suicide, and about 1,000 Americans who were shot were treated in hospital emergency rooms, according to statistics compiled by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and based upon reports from the Centers for Disease Control.

Perhaps the next action by Open Carry Texas will be to take their weapons into ERs and claim that guns in hospitals are necessary to protect the critically wounded from being further assaulted by nurses carrying sawed-off shotguns in their smocks.

Dr. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, health, and environmental effects of fracking throughout the country.

by brasch

Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters

10:54 am in Uncategorized by brasch

During this past week, in Scranton, Pa., a 16-year old put two bullets into the head of a taxi driver and then stole about $500 earned by the cabbie that evening.

The statue of liberty armed with a handgun, on an American flag background

Who are the truly mad ones?

The teen, who showed no remorse when arrested a few hours later, mumbled a few words about his reasons. He said he murdered the cabbie “’Cause that’s what I do to people that don’t listen.” The teen thought the cabbie was taking too long to get him to his destination. The driver was a 47-year-old man with a wife and two children. The gun was an unlicensed 9-mm.

A few days later, in Payson, Ariz., a three-year-old boy found a loaded semi-automatic gun in the apartment of family friend, began playing with it, and accidentally killed his 18-month-old brother. Police recovered several other weapons from the apartment.

In Homestead, Fla., a 28-year-old man, who admitted he was drinking and using cocaine, was showing off an AK-47 at a picnic. His six-year-old nephew picked up the gun when no one was watching, played with it, and accidentally killed his own grandfather.

In Isla Vista, Calif., a 22-year-old man with a history of mental problems, stabbed his three roommates, and then drove near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In about 10 minutes, he murdered three more students and wounded 13 more before committing suicide.  Police say the killer had three 9 mm. weapons and about 400 rounds of ammunition, all of it purchased legally.

The father of one of those killed, to a standing cheering crowd of 20,000 at a memorial service, called for an end of gun violence. “How many more people are going to have to die in this situation before the problem gets solved?” he demanded.  He accused politicians of having “done nothing” to stop the mass murders. He had previously told journalist Anderson Cooper that politicians had called him to express their sympathies.  But the father said he told the politicians, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry about my son’s death until you do something.” At the football stadium, the father, who had carefully prepared his speech, declared his son’s murder, and those of five other students, and those of thousands a year who were killed by gunfire, “died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” The grieving father said, “Too many people have died, and there should be not one more.” The crowd picked up on his words, and began chanting, “Not one more!”

More than 2,300 miles to the East, Samuel Wurzelbacher, forever known as “Joe the Plumber” after he became the darling of the extreme right wing during the 2008 presidential campaign, again crawled out of a hole to defend what he believed was his God-given right to defend gun rights. In an open letter, he pretended to be sympathetic to the families of those murdered, but declared, “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” With mangled grammar, he then told a grieving nation, “The proliferation of guns, lobbyists, politicians, etc.; will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.”

After the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, that left 26 dead, including 20 children between the ages of six and eight, America seemed determined to finally act against irresponsible purchase and ownership of guns. But, politicians with spines of Jello went into the fetal position before the financially-lucrative NRA support, and refused to improve laws about background checks for gun sales, whether from a dealer, at a gun show, from companies that advertise in any of several dozen gun magazines, or on the Internet; they refused to ban assault weapons; and they refused to restrict the size of gun magazines.

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by brasch

Delayed Deliveries Are Not a Crisis

9:26 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

It’s been about two weeks since the news media began smothering the nation with stories about UPS and FedEx delivering packages late during the holiday season.

A short shopping season of less than 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, combined with extraordinary numbers of deliveries and extreme weather problems caused thousands of packages not to be delivered by Christmas. For some media, this was the top story.

FedEx says it delivered more than 275 million packages in that one month period. UPS doesn’t say how many it delivered or how many were late. But it does say that if customers sent their packages by ground and hoped they would arrive by Christmas, the cut-off date was December 11. For air service, UPS temporarily added 29 planes to its fleet.

Understandably, there are several hundred thousand senders and receivers who are unhappy their packages were not delivered by Christmas. However, people got their gifts, even if a day or two late.

It doesn’t require myriad news stories, many of which led the nation’s TV news. It doesn’t require a U.S. senator to be indignant and demand that UPS and FedEx refund all costs for all packages.

A crisis is that more than 125,000 people in Michigan, New England, and parts of Canada suffered more than a week without electricity after a major storm took down power lines. Electric company employees, emergency management staffs, the Red Cross and other social service agencies worked with little sleep to help the people. A second storm this past weekend added to the myriad problems.

A crisis is that 25 have already died from effects of the storm.

A crisis is that more than a million are homeless, many of whom are still on the streets in bitter cold.

A crisis is that almost 50 million Americans, almost 17 million of them children, live in poverty.

A crisis is that Congress increased the federal minimum wage by only $2.10 an hour in the past 15 years, but in the past decade found enough tax funds to increase its own salaries $20,000 a year to its current $174,000 minimum plus expenses.

A crisis is that Congress abandoned its job and went home early without passing legislation to continue unemployment benefits for more than a million Americans who, even in an economy that is in recovery, still haven’t been able to find work.

A crisis is that this may be the least productive Congress in history—and that includes the “Do-Nothing Congress” that had infuriated Harry Truman in the late 1940s. By comparison, that Congress passed more than twice the number of bills than the current Congress, including legislation to create the Department of Defense and initiate the Marshall Plan to stimulate economic recovery to Europe after World War II.

A crisis is that this Congress, led by a minority of the minority party, succeeded in shutting down government, blocked critical judicial appointments, spent much of its time whining about the Affordable Care Act and brought up more than 40 votes, all of which failed, to repeal the Act. This is the same Act that had been passed by a previous Congress and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

A crisis is that more than a year after the murders in Newtown, Conn., there have been more than 12,000 deaths by guns—and politicians are still swayed more by an affluent special interest lobby than by the people who elected them.

A crisis is that the nation’s infrastructure has deteriorated to a point that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave it a D+. More specifically, the ASCE gave grades of D-, D, or D+ to the nation’s dams and levees, inland waterways, drinking water quality, hazardous waste systems, roads, transit systems, airports, school facilities, electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems. Only bridges, ports, and railroads received C ratings.

The only bright spot is solid waste recycling improved to a B-. If anyone is to blame for the nation’s below-average performance it’s the elected politicians who decided they didn’t want to raise taxes to take care of the nation in order to appear to be fiscal conservatives, but spend lavishly on junkets and pet projects that only special interests that dribble campaign funds care about.

These are crises.

A late Christmas gift, while annoying, isn’t. Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Pennsylvanians Support Pigeon Shoot Ban

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

Three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to live pigeon shoots.

A statewide survey by the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Company reveals not only do 75 percent of Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots but only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban.

Here’s another figure from that independent survey. Eighty-three percent—that’s more than four of every five Pennsylvanians—say live pigeon shoots are an unnecessary form of animal cruelty.

Here’s why.

Organizers of this blood sport place the birds into cages, and place people with shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded cages open, and the pretend hunters open fire. The pigeons, many of them stunned, often having been nearly starved, are then blown apart.

But first they suffer. More than 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to data compiled by the Humane Society of the United States. If they fall onto the shooting range, teenagers take the birds, wring their necks or use scissors to cut their heads off, and stuff them into barrels. Even if the birds survive strangulation, they will die from their wounds and from suffocation. If the wounded birds manage to fly outside the shooting range, most will die a lingering and painful death. The juveniles-disguised-as-adults consider the birds litter, and don’t pick them up if they fall outside the shooting range.

Most hunters agree live pigeon shoots is cruelty. Most hunters rightfully say this is not fair chase hunting. Most hunters want to see this practice come to an end. And they have every right to want this to happen—pigeon shoots make a mockery of everything legitimate hunting stands for, and gives anti-hunting activists a huge target.

None of the birds can be used for food. Nor is there any way to make fur coats from their feathers.

Pennsylvania’s trap and skeet shoots attract many of the best shooters from around the country, and are a justifiably family-friendly sport. In contrast, pigeon shoots attract an assortment of barely-mediocre shooters, most of whom mix shooting and drinking, and openly violate the state’s gambling laws. Ted Nugent, who justifiably lives up to his “Motor City Madman” label, actively promotes pigeon shoots.

More than a century ago, the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shooting as cruel, and declared it wasn’t a sport. Almost no country allows pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that officially condones this practice.

So, if three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see a ban on pigeon shoots, who doesn’t?

The Pennsylvania legislature doesn’t. In almost three decades, the leaders have blocked almost every attempt to put legislation up for a vote. The last time there was a free-standing bill was in 1989.

And why has Pennsylvania’s often-dysfunctional legislature not followed the will of the people and banned this cruelty?

It’s an easy answer. Politicians are ruled not by the people who elect them but by who spreads money and fear onto their souls. In this case, the NRA executives—not the membership, almost all of whom believe in fair chase hunting, but the executives—don’t want to see the end of pigeon shooting. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon shooting violates the Second Amendment. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon slaughter is a slippery slope to the overthrow of gun rights.

Pennsylvania’s part-time legislators who receive full-time pay buy into this because they have been bought by the NRA—and they are afraid if they get even a grade of “B” from the NRA it might affect their chances of re-election.

This legislative session, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Allentown), the Senate’s majority whip, sponsored a bill (SB 510) to ban pigeon shoots. He has 22 co-sponsors; among them are Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Glen Mills, Pa.), the majority leader; Sen. Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), the minority floor leader; and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the minority caucus chair. Browne also has the support of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, the vote in the House will be contentious—its leaders have been the primary blocks to keep the bill from a vote.

If our Jello-spined legislators will look at the will of the people, they will stand up to the NRA executives, vote for Sen. Browne’s bill to ban pigeon shoots, and bring Pennsylvania into line with all other states that can make a distinction between Second Amendment rights and animal cruelty.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, for more than two decades has been covering the controversy surrounding pigeon shoots. Dr. Brasch is also the author of 18 books; his latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the financial and political connections between state politicians and the gas and oil industry.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

NRA Liars and Congressional Cowards

8:09 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

President Obama cast off his “No Drama Obama” garb, and became the fiery leader of hope and change that Americans first elected in 2008. At a speech in Hartford, Conn., the President, frustrated by Republican obstructionism, demanded of his audience, “If you believe that the families of Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and Virginia Tech and the thousands of Americans who have been gunned down in the last four months deserve a vote, we all have to stand up.” He demand, “If you want the people you send to Washington to have just an iota of the courage that the educators at Sandy Hook showed when danger arrived on their doorstep, then we’re all going to have to stand up.”

He wanted the people to let Congress know it was “time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun.” He wanted the people to let Congress know, “It’s time to crack down on gun trafficking so that folks will think twice before buying a gun as part of a scheme to arm someone who won’t pass a background check.” He asked the people “to tell Congress it’s time to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines, to make it harder for a gunman to fire 154 bullets into his victims in less than five minutes.” He pleaded that the people “have to tell Congress it’s time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it’s too late.”

But, what he really wanted was a vote. A simple up-or-down vote. The people, said the President, at the very least “deserve a vote” not more obstructionism. 

Smirking with NRA drool slathering his five-term Senate body, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t about to let that happen. He didn’t want a vote, even a watered down version that would have all the ferocity of a baby canary.

McConnell said he would filibuster all proposed legislation.

The Senate Republicans, who believe they’re the “law and order party,” have rolled over and allowed the NRA to pet them on their pork-bellied tummies. For more than three decades, the NRA and explosives manufacturers successfully lobbied Congress the to prohibit the use of taggants in explosives. These taggants would identify bombs before detonation and enable agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and explosives (ATF) to trace manufacturer and sale of the explosives after explosion. For six years, the NRA blocked the appointment of any nominee to head the ATF. With NRA paranoia guiding their own actions, the Republicans have also forbidden the ATF from creating a computerized database to better analyze and evaluate applications for firearms, and have left the ATF underfunded and undermanned. This would be the same ATF that, with fewer resources, now plays a major role in the Boston Marathon murders.

Five weeks after the murders in Newtown, the McConnell for Senate campaign told the voters they were “literally surrounded” by those who want to take their guns away. In a robocall to his constituents, he parroted the NRA erroneous claim that, “President Obama and his team are doing everything in their power to restrict your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”  This would be the same senator who, in 1991, supported Joe Biden’s bill that led to a 10 year ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons. This is the same senator who, in 1998, voted to support Barbara Boxer’s bill that required trigger locks for the purchase of every hand gun. In less than a decade, McConnell turned to the extreme Right and became little more than an NRA lackey, willing to wrap himself in a faulty interpretation of the Second Amendment and block the will of 90 percent of the American people, including a majority of all NRA members and gun owners.

Republic political strategist Karl Rove told journalist FoxNews reporter Chris Wallace, “People want this issue to be discussed, they want it to be decided and we don’t need to block everything in the Senate.” By a 68–31 vote, with 16 Republicans joining 52 Democrats, the Senate agreed to allow discussion on proposed gun control bills.

The first of several Senate bills, Wednesday, resulted in a 54–46 vote to expand background checks for gun purchases to include all internet and gun show sales, strengthen penalties for gun trafficking, and help fund additional school security. The bill, known as a compromise proposal, was sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), both of whom carry “A” ratings by the NRA. Five Democrats voted against the bill; four Republicans voted for it.  However, because of the 60-vote rule invoked by the NRA-fed obstructionist Republicans, and agreed to by the Democrats, it failed. The NRA, exercising its usual fear-mongering tactics, spread a $500,000 robocall campaign the day of the vote, and claimed the bill would lead to a national gun registry; provisions in the bill specifically excluded that possibility. President Obama would later say that the “gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, representing more than 900 American cities, called out the 46 senators who voted against the bill. “Today’s vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington,” said Bloomberg. “More than 40 U.S. senators would rather turn their backs on the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks than buck the increasingly extremist wing of the gun lobby.” Gov. Dan Malloy (D-Conn.) said the minority “who voted against this proposal should be ashamed of themselves.” aid the Senate had “ignored the will of the American people,” adding that those senators who voted against the expanded background checks chose to “obey the leaders of the powerful corporate gun lobby, instead of their constituents.” Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who has spent two years in recovery from an attempted assassination, said the failure to pass meaningful legislation was “based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association.”

In rapid succession, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity gun magazines and a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun purchasers all failed to get the 60 votes needed. Even a bipartisan amendment to impose stiff penalties on gun traffickers was defeated, receiving 58 votes.

New York, Colorado, and Maryland have all recently passed common-sense gun safety reforms without violating anyone’s Second Amendment rights. The people of this democracy demand better controls over who can own guns. But until the members of Congress develop that one iota of courage that President Obama asked for, the United States will continue to have the highest number of guns per population of 178 countries—and also rank among the world’s top 10 countries in the rate of deaths per population from guns.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health environmental, worker safety, and economic impact of fracking.]

 

by brasch

The No News News Media

8:55 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

There was a lot of news this past week.

Ostli News

News

Some of it was even reported by the news media.

First, there was a football player from Notre Dame who either did or didn’t know that his girlfriend was or wasn’t real, but died sometime during the season. Six column headlines for several days announced the fraud. Network news and talk show hosts rehashed it almost daily.

Two weeks ago, Lance Armstrong admitted he was a dope. Or maybe he just took dope. The news media kept sending urgent flashes all week of what he was going to tell Oprah. And then he told Oprah, and now we’ll be reading stories about it until Schwinn adds a jet engine to a 3-speed.

Subway is accused of making foot-long hoagies that are 11 inches, a problem that the executives wisely didn’t say was due to shrinkage in cold weather. The media seized this major fraud and, ignoring anything Congress or Wall Street was doing, slathered layers of hype on a story that should have died with three paragraphs in one day.

Of course, there was the inauguration. That became another way for bloviators and pretend-journalists to push their own agendas. They told us how unpopular this President is—attendance was way down from the first inauguration. Only 500,000 attended.  They didn’t tell us that second inaugurations always have much fewer people watching them in person than first inaugurations. And, that figure of 500,000? A little short of the actual number of one million. They said the inauguration was over-long and overpriced, although most of it was paid for by private donations. Something they didn’t mention was that the costs and day’s activities were about the same as for the previous president, and most presidents of the latter 20th century—Democrat or Republican.

Some of these pundits suggested that the President didn’t have a mandate, although he easily won by more than five million votes, and a near landslide in the Electoral College. A few of the more extreme even suggested he had stolen the election—how else could he have won over the nice businessman who bought and sold companies and helped improve the economy of Switzerland and the Canary Islands?

For the rest of the networks, the focus was on a constant blather of what would Michelle Obama be wearing. Whose dress? Whose gloves? This, of course, was mixed into all kinds of gushes and comments about her new ’do. You know, the one that had bangs. The day after the inauguration, the media was all over the story of the Beyoncé kerfuffle. Did she or didn’t she lip synch the National Anthem? Truly great news coverage there.

Hillary Clinton testified before the Congressional Inquisition of Televised Republicans trying to make their bones to either enhance their own chances for re-election or to block what they think may be her plan to run for the presidency in 2016. This would be some of the same people who thought she was faking a concussion to avoid testifying in the first place.

The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, scheduled for Harrisburg, Pa., Feb. 2–10 was cancelled this past week. The Expo is the largest in North America, but the organizers decided that in the wake of the Newtown murders, they would put a temporary moratorium on the sale of military-style assault weapons because they believed “the presence of MSRs [military style rifles] would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests.” Only a dozen or so of the 1,200 vendors were affected; most were selling clothes, rifles, turkey calls, tents, and anything related to outdoor sports. But, one by one vendors, the media, and dozens of celebrities—all with NRA encouragement and support—decided not to attend, somehow believing that a hunting and fishing exhibition that didn’t allow the purchase of assault weapons was somehow anti-American and gave a message that those who did attend were opposed to the Second Amendment. The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that the cancellation led to a loss of $43 million in the local economy.

More than 32,000 will die from gun violence by the end of the year, according to the Brady Center. This past week, 78 Americans, including four pre-teens, died from gun violence. And, during this past week, as has been the case for hundreds of previous weeks, the NRA leadership, with the egos of a gang of schoolboys who overdosed on testosterone, continue to defy all attempts to reach sensible solutions to allow the purchase of guns, yet reduce the violence.

A 38-year-old sergeant died from wounds received near Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, but he became a lower priority less than a year later. The Bush–Cheney administration almost abandoned the war in Afghanistan and turned to Iraq. More than 7,600 American and allied soldiers were killed, and more than 50,000 wounded in both wars. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, ended the war in Iraq and is months from ending the one in Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who numerous times promised to reign in the abuse of the filibuster that blocked any meaningful legislation or presidential appointments, turned wimp this past week. He and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who once vowed his top priority was solely to prevent Barack Obama from serving a second term, may have been last seen hugging, kissing, and preparing to be married in Massachusetts.

This past week, the stock market hit new records, and it looks President Obama may receive some of the credit for helping to stop the Great Recession, something that upsets Republicans, delights Democrats, and has no meaning to anyone homeless or unemployed.

Yes, there was a lot of news this past week. Some of it may some day actually be reported.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster. It is available from www.greeleyandstone.com at a pre-publication discount.]
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by brasch

A Brief Review of 2012: The Gun Culture of America

8:03 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 Jan. 8, 2011, Tuscon, Ariz.:  A man had gone to a political town meeting at a supermarket, with the intent to murder Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He killed six and wounded 14, including Giffords, who was shot in the head. On Jan. 25, 2012, Giffords, still in recovery from the shooting, walked onto the House floor to a standing ovation. Congress and the President have no plans to restore the assault weapons ban that expired under the Bush–Cheney Administration or to tighten gun laws.

April 2, 2012, Oakland, Calif.: A 43-year-old former nursing student entered a classroom at Oikos University, killed seven and wounded three. The suspect used a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun. There are more than 310 million weapons in civilian hands in the U.S. That is about one-half of all weapons in the world owned by civilians. There have already been more than 17 million applications for gun ownership this year. The NRA claims the Second Amendment allows unlimited gun ownership, and viciously attacks any form of licensing. It doesn’t see the reality that there are hundreds of restrictive laws, all meant to protect the public health. At the annual meeting this  month, the executive director claims the NRA is the “human engine of freedom,” and that his organization “represents the very best of America’s character and strength.”

July 8, Dover, Del.: Three persons walked onto a soccer field, killed the tournament organizer, the father of six children, and a 16-year-old player who was a straight-A student. Two persons were injured by random gunfire. There were 15,953 murders in the U.S. last year; 11,901 were from firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 60,000 were wounded, according to the Brady Center. The NRA says “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” What it refuses to recognize is that people with guns kill people. According to data compiled by the Brady Center, a “gun in the home is [22 times] more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.” The U.S. has a rate of 2.8 murders by gun per 100,000 individuals. This is the highest rate of the G12 industrialized nations. It is also almost seven times higher than the next 22 countries combined. The lowest rate is that of the United Kingdom, which has a death by gun rate one one-hundredth that of the U.S. The UK has gun controls.

July 17, Tuscaloosa, Ala.: A gunman with a military-style assault rifle went to the house of a man who he believed knew someone else, shouted a racial slur, and shot that man, and then walked into a crowded bar and began shooting. Seventeen were wounded from gun fire, shrapnel, and shattered glass. The suspect had a history of violence. Several states permit persons to carry concealed weapons into bars, unless specifically prohibited by that particular business. The NRA says students should be allowed to carry weapons on college campuses. Five states currently permit college students to carry weapons onto campus. Mixing alcohol and guns, as anyone who watches movie westerns knows, has never been a good idea. About 700,000 assaults a year are committed by college students who have been drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports at least 40 percent of all college students binge drink at least once a month.

July 20, Aurora, Colo: A man with full body armament entered the Century Movie Theater, killed 12 and injured 58. He used a 12-gauge tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-round semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum, and a Glock .22 pistol. Within the previous two months, he had bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition. “Gun-rights” advocates claim if even a few people in the theater were armed the tragedy could have been averted. Apparently, they naively believe that a concealed handgun would stop an attack by a maniac in full-body armor, carrying assault weapons. They also must have believed there would not be additional panic, and the killing of innocent bystanders by those with the guns who might be see flashes elsewhere in the theater and fire back. Of the previous 62 mass shootings, not one was stopped by a civilian with a gun.

Aug. 5, Oak Creek, Wisc.: A white supremacist entered the Sikh temple and killed seven people. He used a 9-mm. semi-automatic pistol. By fear and intimidation, the NRA has blocked federal legislation, and has used money as its weapon of choice. This year, the NRA contributed about $17.6 million to campaigns, most to Republican candidates or for ads opposing Democratic candidates who believed in reasonable legislation. The NRA refuses to even acknowledge that there can be sensible laws that meet the requirements of the Second Amendment.

Aug. 13, College Station, Texas: A 35-year-old man, who proudly proclaimed himself to be a gun enthusiast, killed a constable and a passerby, and wounded four others, before police killed him. Mitt Romney says there should be no changes in current gun laws.

Oct. 9, northern Mexico: The Mexican Navy captured the leader of the notorious Zetas drug cartel, believed to have killed an innocent American two years earlier. Mexico’s drug cartels provide about 90 percent of all illegal drugs to the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of their weapons of choice, according to data compiled by the Latin America Herald-Tribune, are guns from the U.S, bought online, by gun-runners, or at gun shows. The “gun show loophole” allows unlicensed dealers to sell guns to whomever they want, without background checks. The ATF says between 25 and 70 percent of all dealers at gun shows are unlicensed. There are more than 4,000 gun shows a year, where “lie and buy,” mixed with a heavy dose of greed, is more common than good sense.

Oct. 21, Brookfield, Wisc.: A man walked into a spa, killed his wife and two other women, and wounded four before killing himself six hours later. The NRA says the U.S. should just enforce existing laws, but has actively opposed giving higher budgets or personnel authorization to police and federal agencies. The NRA is on record as having called the ATF a “jack-booted group of fascists,” and that police are “agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.” The extreme right-wing, with survivalist delusions, believe civilian possession of assault weapons will “protect” them against an “invasion” by the U.S. military (or, perhaps, space aliens) against homeowners.

Nov. 22, Black Friday: A shrill paranoid NRA had declared that if Barack Obama is re-elected, “Every freedom we cherish as Americans is endangered.” More guns were sold on this day than any day in U.S. history. Virginia, which had a one handgun per month limit, repealed its law in July, although the Virginia State Crime Commission concluded, “law-abiding gun purchasers in Virginia are not unduly burdened by Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law.” More than 40 percent of all guns used in murders in New York City came from Virginia, according to ATF data. The I-95 corridor along the east coast may be the most open channel for drug and gun traffic. The NRA wants open sales and to eliminate the Brady Law database on background checks.

 Dec. 14, Newtown, Conn.: A 20-year-old man kills his mother, breaks into a school, and murders 20 six-and seven-year-old children, and six adults defending them, and then commits suicide. The killer had a 10mm Glock handgun, a 9mm SIG Sauer handgun, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which can fire 45 rounds a minute. Three other guns were at his home. All guns were legally purchased by his mother. More than three-fourths of all weapons used in murders were legally purchased. President Obama said on the day of the massacre, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” The NRA remains silent.

There were 12 mass murders so far this year. There will be 33 more deaths from gunshot wounds today. There will be 33 more tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that. And there will be 33 murders by guns on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The man known as the “Prince of Peace” probably doesn’t care what the NRA believes.

[Walter Brasch, who shoots trap, believes in responsible gun ownership and, more important, responsible laws. His latest book, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, looks at violence in America.]

by brasch

Pennsylvania Legislators Shoot Down Pigeons—Again

7:53 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER BRASCH

If the first year gross anatomy class at the Penn State Hershey medical school needs spare body parts to study, they can visit the cloak room of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That’s where most of the legislators left their spines.

The House voted 124–69, Dec. 13, to send an animal welfare bill back to committee, in this case the Gaming Oversight Committee. The bill, SB 71, would have banned simulcasting of greyhound races from other states. Pennsylvania had banned greyhound racing in 2004. Among several of the current bill’s amendments were ones that would also have banned the sale of cat and dog meat, increased penalties for releasing exotic animals, and stopped the cruelty of live pigeon shoots.

It’s the pigeon shoot amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), that caused legislators to hide beneath their desks, apparently in fear of the poop from the NRA, which lobbied extensively against ending pigeon shoots. The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claimed that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns. The NRA even called the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) a radical animal rights group. The House action leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, to come to Pennsylvania and kill caged birds launched in front of spectators and the shooters.

Most pigeon shoots are held in Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania, with one in the nearby suburban Philadelphia area. Scared and undernourished birds are placed into small cages, and then released about 20 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, HSUS senior vice-president, who for about 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to finally end pigeon shoots in the state.

 Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots, in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment, is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police.

The International Olympic Committee banned the so-called sport after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty.

On the floor of the House, Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D-Philadelphia), usually a supporter of animal rights issues, spoke out against voting on the bill, and asked other Democrats to go along with her. Youngblood is minority chair of the Gaming Oversight committee.

Youngblood’s chief of staff, Bill Thomas, emphasizes that Youngblood’s only concern was to protect the integrity of the legislative process. Although some members truly believed they voted to recommit the bill for procedural reasons, most members were just simply afraid to vote on the bill. Voting to recommit the bill were 52 Democrats, many of them opposed to pigeon shoots; 35 voted to keep it on the floor for debate. Among Republicans, the vote was 72–34 to send the bill to committee.

The Arguments

Germaneness: The Republican leadership had determined that all amendments to bills  in the current legislative session must be germane to the bill. “You can’t hijack a bill,” many in the House, including key Democrats, claimed as the major reason they voted against SB71.

However, the Republicans, with a majority in the House and able to block any bill in committee that didn’t meet their strict political agenda, raised “germaneness” to a level never before seen in the House. For decades, Democrats and Republicans attached completely unrelated amendments to bills. Even during this session, the Republicans, in violation of their own “rules,” attached amendments to allow school vouchers onto several bills, many that had nothing to do with education. But, the Greyhound racing bill was considered under both gambling and animal cruelty concerns. Thus, the amendment to ban pigeon shoots could also be considered to be an animal cruelty amendment and not subject to the Judiciary Committee, where it was likely to die.

 

Separate bill. Several legislators believed the attempt to stop pigeon shoots should have been its own bill, not tacked onto another bill.

However, only twice have bills about pigeon shoots come to the floor of the House. Most proposed legislation had been buried in committees or blocked by House leadership, both Democrat and Republican, most of whom received support and funding from the NRA, gun owner groups, and their political action committees (PACs). In 1989, the Pennsylvania House had defeated a bill to ban pigeon shoots, 66–126. By 1994, three years after the first large scale protest, the House voted 99–93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

 

The bill would duplicate or repeal a recently-signed law:

 Rep. Curt Schroeder (R-Chester Co.), chair of the Gaming Oversight committee, sponsored the House version of the Senate’s bill. If it was truly an unnecessary bill, he or the leadership could have previously sent it to committee for reworking or killed it. According to sources close to the leadership, despite his concern for animal welfare, Schroeder was not pleased about the amendments tacked onto his bill.

 

Short time to accomplish much: Several Democrats believed that by spending extraordinary time on the bill, necessary legislation would not be brought to the floor and the Republicans could then blame the Democrats for blocking key legislation.

However, both parties already knew how they would vote for redistricting (the Republicans had gerrymandered the state to protect certain districts), school vouchers, and other proposed legislation.  Further, the Republican leadership could have blocked putting the Greyhound bill into the agenda or placed it at the end of other bills. Even on the floor of the House, the leadership could have shut down debate at any time. Thus, the Democrats’ argument about “only four days left” is blunted by the Republicans’ own actions. During 2011, the House met only 54 days when the vote on SB 71 was taken. If the House was so concerned about having only four days left in the year to discuss and vote upon critical issues, it could have added days to the work week or increased hours while in session. Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), to his credit, wanted a vote, although he personally opposed the pigeon shoot amendment. “Let’s put this issue to rest,” he told the members. Taking the time to debate the bill, says Bill Thomas, “wasted taxpayer money and time.” However, “the amount of time spent avoiding the bill,” counters Prescott, “wastes far more time and resources than voting on it.”

Nevertheless, no matter what the arguments, sending the bill to committee was a good way to avoid having to deal with a highly controversial issue. It allowed many legislators to pretend to their constituents that they still believe in animal welfare, while avoiding getting blow-back from the NRA or its supporters. Conversely, it allowed many of those who wanted to keep pigeon shoots to avoid a debate and subsequent vote, allowing continued support from pro-gun constituents who accept the NRA non-logic, while not offending constituents who believe in animal welfare.

Whatever their reasons, the failure of the many of the state’s representatives to stand up for their convictions probably caused legislation to ban this form of animal cruelty to be as dead during this session as the pigeons whose necks are wrung by teenagers who finish the kill by people who think they’re sportsmen but are little more than juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults.

            [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues columnist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, whose specialties included public affairs/investigative reporting. He is professor emeritus of journalism. Dr. Brasch’s latest novel is Before the First Snow, a story of the counterculture and set in rural Pennsylvania.]