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Philadelphia Freedom

By: Thomas P. Davis Thursday August 16, 2012 7:40 am

Fifty years after marching in Macon, Georgia with Dr. Martin Luther King to achieve the right to vote in the United States, Viviette Applewhite is reliving the fight to overcome discriminatory voting practices in her current home city of Philadelphia.

That march in 1963 with Dr. King was one harrowing episode of many that eventually led to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawing discriminatory voting practices, practices that were largely responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States.  The Voting Rights Act was signed into law precisely one century after the beginning of the American Reconstruction when President Lincoln took steps to counter the Radical Republicans and enfranchize the rights of the Freedmen (former slaves).

Ms. Applewhite was recently joined by 12 other petitioners in Pennsylvania state court challenging Pennsylvania’s Act 18, popularly known as the “Photo ID Law”.

The petitioners claim that

“Pennsylvania will not have their votes counted on November 6, 2012 because they will be unable to present acceptable photo identification (“ID”) as required by the Photo ID Law. The Commonwealth estimates that 80,000-90,000 Pennsylvanians will need to obtain a new photo ID to vote on November 6, 2012. Other estimates suggest the number may be far greater. Many otherwise qualified voters will face great difficulty or be unable to obtain the necessary ID and will therefore be disenfranchised in the upcoming general election and future elections. As a result, far from protecting the integrity of Pennsylvania elections, the Photo ID Law will lead to elections that are no longer free and equal.”

Despite nonexistent voter fraud and clear indications of partisan motivations in the intent of this law, Republican Judge Robert Simpson of Pennsylvania conceded in his ruling that there might be political motives underlying the legislation and it might even create a hardship for tens of thousands of voters.  However, his finding indicates that state and federal case law apparently give legislatures sufficient latitude to regulate voting unless done in a “clearly discriminatory or burdensome way.”

From across the Delaware, this seems to be symptomatic of a severe perception deficit disorder.

According to PoliticsPA.com Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) tellingly declared, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” at a recent Pennsylvania Republican State Committee meeting.  Apparently this is not sufficiently “clearly discriminatory”.

Pennsylvania is a critical swing state in the upcoming November election.   A Republican presidential candidate has not won the state in two decades.   Perhaps that could change in 2012.

The petitioners will now take their case to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. However, there’s still a big element of uncertainty at the state Supreme Court level. There’s an even 3-3 split between Democrats and Republicans on the Court because the 7th Justice, Republican Joan Orie Melvin, is currently being investigated on corruption charges. So this will mean that the petitioners will need one crossover vote to win a majority and strike down the law. Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a moderate Republican from Philadelphia, may be their huckleberry.

In addition to a state challenge, however, there may be a federal one.  The United States Justice Department is currently investigating the issue.   Under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, there isa general prohibition of any voting practice or procedure that results in discrimination. Actual “proof” of intentional discrimination is not required.  It focuses on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters.  This could eventually provide the relief sought by the petitioners if the challenge rises to this level but it’s uncertain whether it could even precede the November election.

Ms. Applewhite is an upstanding American citizen who has voted in nearly every election for the past 50 years.  She was born in 1919 in Philadelphia and worked as a welder during World War II in the Sun Shipyard in Chester, Pennsylvania. She marched to support civil rights for African-Americans with Dr. King, Jr and traveled hundreds of miles many times for his inspiring speeches in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ms. Applewhite doesn’t have and has been unable to obtain photo identification required by Pennsylvania’s voter photo ID law.   After voting for more than 50 years, she may likely unable to cast a ballot this November.

If any of the petitioners pay federal or state taxes, and they most certainly do, will this become an issue of taxation without representation?

Ms. Applewhite and every other American citizen living in Pennsylvania and the United States has the right, not the privilege, to file the votes of their choice on the November ballot without detriment.

Voter ID laws are akin to poll taxes and literacy tests, created to screen out African Americans and long outlawed by the Voting Rights Act. Although voting in the United States is a right and not a privilege, vast numbers of disenfranchised Americans have marched, sacrificed dearly and in some cases shed blood for this “right” half a century ago.   As Americans we don’t need to refight this legacy so basic to our democracy.

Romulus and Remus

By: Thomas P. Davis Saturday August 11, 2012 11:06 am
Romulus & Remus

(photo: Son of Groucho/flickr)

This morning as Mitt Romney emerged from the USS Wisconsin, docked in Norfolk among the waving stars, stripes, bunting and trumpets to announce his running mate, I couldn’t help getting choked up.

 

Not so much because a Mormon with no military experience was taking a starboard stand in announcing his first mate in battle against a sea of entitlements.  It was more because his announcement of the “next President of the United States would be Paul Ryan,” a Catholic from Wisconsin and Chairman of the House Budget Committee aiming to put more armed boats in the tub like the Wisconsin while drowning the government in that same tub.    And was he replacing Romney at the top of the ticket?  Now that’s talent.

 

Before Ryan could get into the standard “why we live in the greatest country in the world” sound bytes, Willard cut him off, saying the title “President” was a mistake but the choice of Ryan himself as Vice Presidential running mate was not.   Depends on who’s asking.

 

But regardless of one’s perspective, the canonization of St. Paul of Janesville, Wisconsin had been consummated among the secular cannons of a storied warship on this Saturday morning in Virginia where Mr. Jobs Creator-Personal Freedom-Governor Bob McDonnell had recently signed a controversial mandatory ultrasound bill into law in March, preempting the freedom of individual choice in women’s reproductive health and apparently the primacy of job creation.

 

Budget Chairman Paul Davis (no relation) Ryan is certainly an engaging 42 year old self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and patron saint of the right. After all, Governor Romney introduced him as exemplifying the clean, straightforward virtues of the (parched) Midwest, having integrity and the ability to increase our prosperity.

 

That, of course will be a tall order for this Wisconsin wonk whom 54 percent of Americans polled have said “Paul who”?

 

Not to worry.  We were reassured with the typical Romnian “veracity” that Mr. Ryan will “appeal to the better angels of our nature”.  Without betraying his trustworthy teleprompter, Mitt ceremoniously checked off a list of accolades about his junior acolyte that would have made even the stalwart Dick Cheney cry for the ground that Paul walks on.

 

The doubters asking for “Signs” were told that the Catholic Ryan will “increase the worth and dignity of every human being.”

 

When Ryan finally spoke, he said that “America is more than just a place – it’s an idea. Rights are from nature and God, not from governments”.   The comment was followed immediately by a chant from the crowd, “USA, USA, USA”.  The connection was unclear.  I thought that our rights come “from God, not the USA”.

 

By the way, would that be the same USA where seven states including Virginia have decided that big government should usurp women’s God-given reproductive health rights?  Or would it be that same USA that grants the right to bear arms against our would-be aggressors at mosques in Wisconsin under the Second Amendment.  And speaking of mosques, would that be the same USA where the result of the debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” apparently betrayed our cherished right of religious freedom to build a mosque (which wasn’t really a mosque)?

 

Living (and Dying) in Silos

By: Thomas P. Davis Thursday August 2, 2012 6:51 am

The Pew Research Center has released findings that indicate residential segregation by income has increased during the past three decades across the United States and in 27 of the nation’s 30 largest major metropolitan areas, according to a new analysis of census tract and household income date.    With the title “The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income,” it confirms what many Americans already know:  We live (and die) in cultural silos.

A young white boy and a young black girl play together.

Does income inequality create a new form of segregation? (Photo: Mike Baird / Flickr)

According to the study, “28% of lower-income households in 2010 were located in a majority lower-income census tract, up from 23% in 1980, and that 18% of upper- income households were located in a majority upper-income census tract, up from 9% in 1980.  This, of course, is related to the widespread rise in income inequality and shrinking of the middle class throughout society.  This structural change in demographics can actually be traced back some 40 years and has been aggravated by the recent economic downturn that we can’t seem to shake.

The trend seems to be more acute in some of our largest metropolitan areas.  For example, Pew finds that 41% of the lower-income households in the New York metropolitan live in mostly lower income neighborhoods. This compares to 26% of the lower-income households in the Atlanta area living among those with similar incomes.

Like oil and water, Americans are settling among matching density, at least when it comes to wallet mass, in some of the largest American cities.   In places like New York, it seems that oil and water just don’t mix, where 41% of the lower-income households live among a mostly low-income neighborhood.

On a scale with a maximum score of 200 known as the Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) that scores the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas, Houston and Dallas top the list, with scores of 61% and 60%, respectively.

Most of the metros whose RISI scores have had the largest increases have also experienced significant population growth fueled by in-migration.  Many of these cities are located in regions in the southwest that have experienced significant in-migration.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  Aren’t we entitled to live among like-minded friends?

Yes, but.

A Call to Arms

By: Thomas P. Davis Sunday July 22, 2012 12:21 pm

Thursday night’s shooting in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado mall is the latest death by gunfire in a nation that’s becoming an increasingly freewheeling vigilante territory of individual “freedom.”

 

Around 12:30 A.M. a gunman wearing a gas mask and combat garb stood in the front of the screen and began firing at the crowd. According to witnesses, either pepper spray or tear gas was sprayed out into the crowd followed by the lethal gunfire.  We’re told that within 90 seconds a cadre of several ambulances and police rushed to a frenzied scene at the Century 16 movie complex showing the Batman series premier of “The Dark Knight Rises”.   Next, a police robot that might have been spawned by H.G. Wells meticulously inspected a white sedan in the parking lot, not with Wellsian death rays but, rather, for their source.

 

When the dust, noise, hysteria and spray settled it was clear that what had happened was in fact reality and certainly not the fiction of Bill Finger or even H.G. Wells.    Official reports indicate that at lease1 two people have been killed and as many as 58 others injured.

 

So in the latest deadly armed assault on American soil we have 24 year-old James Eagan Holmes entering a theatre in full riot gear, armed and opening fire about 25 minutes into the film in theater number 9 at the Century 16 in Aurora, Colorado.

 

Aurora Police Chief James Oates has reported that an AR-15 assault rifle, Remington 870, 12-gauge shotgun, and .40-caliber Glock handgun were found in Holmes’ car and a second Glock was found in the theater, saying that, “…many, many rounds” were fired.

 

Among the 12 victims was 6 year-old Veronica Moser.  Before dying, she drifted in and out of consciousness in a local ICU with a bullet lodged in her throat and a gunshot wound to her abdomen. Veronica’s 25 year-old mother, Ashley, kept calling for her 6-year-old daughter Veronica while Ashley herself was treated.  As reported by Gillian Flaccus and Kristen Wyatt, “Nobody had the heart to tell the 25-year-old mother that Veronica was already dead, the youngest victim killed at a Colorado movie theater in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history”.  Flaccus and Wyatt further write, “All she’s asking about, of course, is her daughter”.  Ashley’s aunt, Annie Dalton, said that Veronica was “a vibrant 6-year-old. She was excited, she’d just learned how to swim. She was a great little girl, excited about life – she should be at 6 years old”.

 

As I have written before, high capacity magazines like the ones allegedly used by Holmes dramatically boost a weapon’s firing power.  They were prohibited from 1994 until 2004 by the federal assault weapons ban. That law placed a prohibition on the sale of 19 different types of military style semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines until 2004 when Congress failed to renew the law.   Readers can follow that link for a brief historical review of incidents and related statistics.

 

The Gun Control Act of 1968  (GCA) was enacted on October 22, 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson. It’s a federal law regulating the firearms industry and firearms owners and administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  It focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.  Thanks to GCA, foreign made assault rifles and machine guns such as the AK-47, the FN FAL or the Heckler & Koch MP5  can no longer be imported into the United States for civilian ownership.  However, semi-automatic models of the same weapons are still permitted.

 

Since the lapse of the 1994 ban, high-capacity magazines have become commonplace in gun and sporting goods stores despite having any remote sporting or civilian value.    Several legislative proposals have been introduced since 2004 to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and paraphernalia but have not gained sufficient votes.  Last year’s Tucson shooting was less than a year after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made her state one of three in the nation to allow citizens over the age of 21 to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

 

To be sure, we cannot prevent every weapon related crime.  But in the very least, we need to reinstate the laws that helped keep assault weapons out of the hands of would-be criminals. Laws will not always prevent illegal acts but they at least give us a way to prosecute them and provide a means of restitution to the tenuous extent that there is a repayment for murder.

 

Other attempts have been made to close the gaps in gun regulations.  Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York has proposed a ban on the weapons themselves but also understands the political realities.  She sponsored the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2007.   It was a bill that would have ultimately reenacted the ban on assault weapons by the Clinton Administration in 1994 but the bill failed in committee.

 

We all know that unbridled gun ownership has its supporters.

 

The NRA has recently  announced  that, “There are well over 250 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S., including nearly 100 million handguns and tens of millions of “assault weapons In 2008, there were more than 337,000 new AR-15s configured for home defense, competition, training, recreational target practice and hunting.”

 

Fine.  It’s not about how many weapons have not been used in crimes.  I don’t know anyone who uses one of those 337,000 AR-15s for “home defense, competition, training, recreational target practice and hunting,” and I certainly don’t want to.

 

According to the Brady Center, almost 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by police intervention annually.   Three thousand sixty two are children.  A simple international comparison can provide perspective on America’s culture of gun violence.  Together, Japan, Germany, England, Wales and Canada are home to 305 million people.  Guns kill about 450 people in those countries in an average year. By contrast, the United States, home to over 300 million people, witnesses an average of 9,500 gun murders in one year.  About 5,900 American troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past 10 years.

 

The word absolutism can been used to describe the NRA’s position on legislation and even discussions that approach the idea of reform gun laws to limit the circulation of assault weapons, related paraphernalia or accessibility to them.   Their claim has been consistent, saying that any compromise will only lead to further concessions that they’re unwilling to make.   Their refusal to compromise negates any right to gun ownership.

 

In a reaffirmation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, on June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that American citizens have an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller . In that case the Court stated that an absolute firearm ban was unconstitutional.  The Court further determined that its decision in Heller does not impinge upon all existing statutes and regulations, such as those that prohibit felons and the mentally ill from owning or possessing firearms.

 

Certainly, existing laws and their current implementation need to be examined and improved to guard the public against the possibility of dangerous individuals from purchasing guns and any lethal weapons.  This can be done without threatening the integrity of the 2nd Amendment.

 

But beyond the statistics and details of individual incidents including this latest tragedy in Colorado, I want to issue a call to arms for our elected leaders but especially to those who so vehemently claim the right to bear arms.

 

Gun violence can and must be prevented.

 

If there is a silver lining in this profoundly sad event it’s a wake-up call and opportunity for both sides of the gun debate to revisit sensible gun regulation without losing face. It’s an opportunity, and indeed, a responsibility for gun proponents to stand their ground.  They need to own up to the responsibility that their so-called freedom to bear arms requires.

 

I personally call on Wayne La Pierre to straighten his spine a little.  I ask him and his constituents in the NRA to show a little citizenship and respect for the American people and their social contract to look out for one another.  We’re not interested, Mr. La Pierre, in the bogus claim that we need an AR-15 automatic weapon or 100 round capacity magazine to protect us from an overreaching government or cat burglar caught in the act of robbing our home.   And we certainly don’t need to hear that any revisiting of gun control, no matter how slight, is a direct affront to the rights of gun owners.  Mano-a-mano, I ask you put down your guns long enough to hear our call to disarm America of its deadly assault weapons.

 

Any gun owner worth his or her weight in lead will have the courage and presence of mind to back up their personal freedom with the responsibility that comes with that freedom.  It’s a responsibility that says that in the wake of the latest tragedy like the one still fresh in our minds, gun owners worthy of the title of ownership will share in our common obligation to compromise.  They need to compromise when it means that gun ownership does not automatically entitle one to own an assault weapon and certainly not several.  It means that compromise will give in to the reality that gun proponents are not automatically entitled to multiple purchases or the ownership of an AK-47.  In civilized America we compromise.

 

I call on David Nason Frizzell, Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), to stand your ground if you want the respect of the American people and our state legislatures. I ask you to help us to prevent future gun violence.  You can begin by taking steps to rescind the Stand Your Ground Laws which led to the killing of Trayvon Martin earlier this year in Florida.  Part of deserving to “stand your ground,” Mr. Frizzell, is earning our respect.   You can do that by showing us that you are a legitimately and defensibly reasonable person.  Earn your chairmanship Mr. Frizzell, by showing us that you have the interest of the American people at heart.  You obviously have an enormous influence on state legislatures.  Use that leadership and this unique opportunity to help us prevent further tragedy.

 

For his part, New York Mayor and member of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), Michael Bloomberg has issued a renewed call for our elected officials to take action.   MAIG Group Chairman Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino states, “The fixes are easy and they are common sense. It’s about enforcing existing Federal laws and making sure we don’t let criminals buy weapons. We need to put a background check on all sales and require states to step up their reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to make sure we have a check that works.

 

Gun violence can be prevented.

 

Never mind the statistics.  Our collective response will be based on a profound philosophical issue that cuts to the very foundation of our nation.    Our society is not based on individual absolutism.   We may be a republic of individuals but we’re in that republic together which necessitates a social contract as enacted through the constitutionally based democratic rule.   Our nation and our society can and must make a choice about the kind of country we want to live in.  Do we choose to live in a nonviolent society?  If we cannot make that choice and act on it we don’t deserve our legacy of independence inherited from an American Revolution that claimed independence from tyranny. An inability to stop gun violence in America would be an acceptance of tyranny imposed by a gun lobby that refuses to be a part of the solution.

 

This is a call to arms, a call that requires our leaders and all Americans to decide whether frequent gun violence is simply beyond our control or whether we can still call on the courage and the resolve that once transformed a colony into a great nation because we refused to accept the (violent) status quo.

Farm Bill: Snapping Food from the Mouths of the Poor

By: Thomas P. Davis Sunday July 15, 2012 12:44 pm

As you might have heard by now, it’s time to renew the Farm Bill.   Thanks President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every 5 years this legislation to ensure that America’s farmers produce food and that Americans can afford to purchase has been reauthorized for nearly 8 decades.

 

The first farm bill was named The Agricultural Adjustment Act and was enacted May 12, 1933 as an integral part of the New Deal 79 years ago. It restricted agricultural production by paying farmers subsidies not to plant on part of their land. This was intended to reduce crop surplus, consequently boosting the market value of crops.

The current Farm Bill is a large multi-aspect omnibus agricultural and food policy legislative instrument administered by the Department of Agriculture.

 

Much of the controversy regarding the successive iterations of the farm bills has focused on the “subsidization” of large corporate farming operations in the mid-western American “breadbasket” at the expense of smaller farmers like the ones where I grew up.    But it’s actually a misnomer to call these policies crop subsidies.  Especially since 1953, farm bill funding has been based on the size of the farm and household income of a particular farm and is structured proportionally as household income.

 

According to the New York Times, “Farmers who grow corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and other crops receive about $5 billion in direct payments. These payments have become harder to justify as farm income has risen to historic levels — a record $101 billion last year”.

 

Other complaints have focused on spending money on sparsely populated rural regions of America at the expense of urban areas with presumably greater needs.   Many on both sides of the aisle have also questioned the wisdom of “agricultural welfare”.

 

I’d like to focus on the nutritional assistance aspect of the bill and how it demonstrates a set of priorities in what is effectively a redistribution of wealth from poor American to large corporate interests.

 

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), as it has come to be called, provides financial assistance for food purchasing to low income people and families and is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture. It’s popularly known as the Food Stamp Program. In the 2011 fiscal year, $76.7 billion in food stamps were distributed. As of March 2012[update], 46.4 million Americans were receiving on average $133.14 monthly.

 

This will look (and taste) much different in 2013.

 

The Senate version would cut $4.5 billion in Food Stamps. It proposes a total cost of nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years. It would fund dozens of price support and crop insurance programs for farmers and food assistance for low-income families.

Various food and nutrition groups have objected.  While they said the bill provided incentives for low-income families to buy more fruits and vegetables due to new guidelines, they argue that the cuts will have a devastating effect on low-income families during a time of high unemployment.

 

In an effort to safeguard the opportunity for all Americans to have access to healthy, nutritious food, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made an impassioned plea to restore proposed cuts of $4.5 billion in food assistance, part of the bill.   She was ultimately unsuccessful.

According to Gillibrand, a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP funding would affect nearly 300,000 New York families in her home state alone.  These Americans needing help would stand to lose approximately $90 a month, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

 

This past Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee had their turn at the nutritional fillet knife.  It voted to gut even more from the program.   Their version of the bill would cut 16 ½ billion from this critical program that low-income Americans rely on.  To be clear, more than 2 million Americans will lose benefits under the farm bill devised by the committee’s leaders, Representatives Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Collin Peterson Minnesota.

 

 

Like the Senate bill, the House version would end direct cash payments to farms, 26 of which received $20 million dollars each.  Although those cuts could have covered the money cut to maintain current levels in the food stamp program.  The House Committee however, has sent 70 % of those savings back into farming interests for crop insurance and new price support programs, covering the gap between sale price and predicted market value.  This certainly belies the “free market” philosophy and spending cut rhetoric we have been inundated with.

 

Chris Hayes ran a very good summary discussion of this latest debate on Saturday.  Hayes has captured the point well.  He points out that “On the same day they vote to repeal the ACA they come up with new price support programs and subsized crop insurance for farmers that are large, industrial interests.”   This is certainly not smaller government, but rather a redistribution of resources from disadvantaged to corporate agricultural interests.  The legislation stipulates that the bigger the farms are, the more money they get from the government. It’s actually based on household income, not crop volume.

 

Will the end of direct payments switching to crop insurance model – change the way that these benefits work?

 

Apparently not.

 

George Naylor, former President National Family Farm Coalition, claims that the system will continue to perpetuate “cheap food cheap corn, cheap soybeans so they can keep feed animals in inhumane corporate feedlots owned and controlled by the large packing companies that are putting out lousy meat and bring (us) our food from all over the world from thousands of miles away and focusing our attention on the issue of welfare when we should be asking what’s happening to the commons, what’s happening to the farmlands”.

 

One of the results we’re getting is mile after mile of mono-crops. This means an inventory of strictly corn or soybeans with extensive soil erosion.   With the use of more and more use of pesticides we end up with extensive problems with pests that develop immunity to the tried and not so true farming practices.  No farm bill since 1953 have has addressed any of these issues.  This is a bipartisan policy on behalf of corporate agribusiness.

 

Reliance on monocultures and vast tracts of single crops sold in international commodities markets will happen independently of any farm bill.  The real sound alternative to raising corn and soybeans would be hay, pasture and small grains in a crop rotation where the livestock are being raised on family farms instead of large inhumane factory farms.

 

At the same time the House version would give farmers a big raise in income, expand crop insurance by $9.5 billion and cut conservation programs by $6 billion.

 

In this time of high unemployment, an average of ¼ of American children falling into poverty and severe income disparity we are due for a cut in nutrition assistance to the families who need it most.

 

So in effect what we’re getting is a redistribution of resources that is producing grossly inefficient economic rent and use of valuable land while millions of Americans will be forced into even worse hardship in an effort to eat.

Since 2009, one million more children in America have fallen into poverty.  This brings the total to an estimated 15.7 million poor children in 2010, an increase of 2.6 million since the recession began in 2007, according to researchers from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.  According to the nonprofit group Feed the Children, 12 million children are in danger of going hungry.

 

The need to cut the deficit and debt is all we seem to hear from those members of Congress who portray themselves as our guardians to protect us from the impending fiscal cliff.  But redistributing federal money from family nutrition to large corporate agricultural enterprises certainly betrays the “smaller government” mantra so popular among fiscal conservatives.    This is a clear matter of powerful voices usurping attention and resources from those with least power and a desperate need for help, a familiar tale.

 

Senator Gillibrand has said it well: “….families who are living in poverty, who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table, they did not spend this nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs. … We should be helping the most needy among us. Our children, our seniors, a family at risk.

 

     The most poignant remark by the Senator invoked scripture: “In Matthew 25, the first question Christ asks on Judgment Day is, ‘Did you feed the poor?’”  She went to say, “It’s unacceptable that we have Republican advocates who are saying it’s immoral to support food stamps.”

 

We certainly don’t have a bumper crop of morality in 21st Century America nor do we seem to know what it would even look like. We can only hope that the final bill that emerges from the bicameral conference will have some regard for Americans who need help feeding themselves and their families.

 

 

 

Freedom

By: Thomas P. Davis Tuesday July 3, 2012 12:27 pm

On Wednesday lots of Americans will be making lots of noise with firecrackers,  eating 85 percent fat free hamburgers, drinking draught beer  from a pressurized keg.  For many it will be followed by a parade  and a late trip to the park for a grand display of fireworks. Many Americans  take the opportunity to wave flags even more vehemently in honor of our breaking  away from British rule over 200 years ago and still others will be reminded to  chant over the noise of fireworks, “I want to take my country  back.”

Fireworks explode in the sky.

Photo: bayasaa / flickr

Freedom is realized through a set of rights.  No one needs to remind Americans of this, whether members of the Tea Party in defense of a  perceived threat to their rights or an innocent convict on death row subsisting  within the complete deprivation of any rights whatsoever.

While independence from the colonialism of Great Britain signifies the  immediate meaning behind this most cherished holiday among American patriots,  it’s only fitting that we revisit precisely what our freedom means and how it  applies to the United States on the Fourth of July.

Thanks to the American Revolution those rebellious thirteen colonies  broke themselves off from the imperialism of the British Empire in July of 1776,  joining together in an armed conflict against the British in the American War of Independence. The war ended with effective American  victory in October 1781. Our relationship with the British Empire was severed  United States Declaration of Independence.

The resulting American Enlightenment brought with it a  period in American history of a new intellectual freedom of spirit in the  mid-to-late 18th century. It celebrated liberty, democracy, republicanism and  religious tolerance. A new bridging of science and religion  resulted in a rejection of fundamentalism in favor of a more reasoned view of  our higher collective being.

John Locke is considered to have a major influence in the crafting of the  Declaration of Independence.   His  thinking is grounded in social contract theory, holding that the individual  surrenders in part to the authority of government in exchange for protection of  natural rights.   Individuals  are then bound morally, by the Law of Nature, not to harm each other in their  lives or possession, mutually agreeing that without government to defend them  against those seeking to injure or enslave them, people would have no security in those rights.

In The Declaration of Independence,  Thomas Jefferson writes, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men  are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain  unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of  Happiness.”

If these rights are distributed by a Creator based on equal creation,  it’s government, then, that safeguards these rights, ensuring an equal  distribution and its maintenance. So  how well have we sustained this legacy?  Here are several key indicators of those unalienable rights.

Health Care Ruling: No Country for Old Men

By: Thomas P. Davis Thursday June 28, 2012 9:11 am

Today I have the pleasure of reporting that I’ve revised the post I had prepared in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision striking down all or part of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act.

Protest signs: Healthcare not Warfare

Code Pink Pro-Healthcare Rally (Photo: CODEPINK Women For Peace / Flickr)

Early word on this is that the individual mandate’s constitutionality has been struck down but the provision of the tax penalty that creates the incentive to purchase insurance has been upheld.  The other major piece in this is the constitutionality of the State’s requirement to expand Medicaid.  They now have the option to reject that requirement without federal Medicaid funding withheld as a penalty, essentially upholding States’ Rights. We’ll have to see how this all plays out on the ground.

 

In a big surprise move, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion that upholds ACA.   Roberts writes, “Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use.”

This was a standard 5 to 4 right v. left ruling but not the type we would expect. Today the United States Supreme Court has ruled unpredictably in support of the constitutionality of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act.   The two surprise opinions here were Chief Justice Roberts siding with the majority and Kennedy joining the dissenting opinion which apparently holds that health care is a privilege and not the right that the rest of the world believes it is.

In their dissent, four old men in black stuck in 1950 American exceptionalism attempted to strike down access to health care coverage for 14million seniors and 6 million citizens under the age of 26, and another 30 some million Americans previously without coverage.  As a result, based on a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, health coverage for a potential 46.3 million persons of all ages is now uncertain.  That’s nearly one in five Americans.

Clearly, a 21st century forward looking progressive America is no country for old men.

Fast and Spurious

By: Thomas P. Davis Saturday June 23, 2012 8:41 am

This week’s partisan keystone cop passion play captured the nation’s
attention Wednesday when Republicans on the House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee, led by Congressman Darryl Issa, voted 23 to 17 along party
lines to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over
subpoenaed documents related to the Fast and
Furious
gun walking operation.

This panel investigation was originally triggered in part by the killing of border patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2011 where weapons at the scene were traced to Operation Fast and Furious, part of the larger Project Gunrunner operations, the 2006 brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Before this latest flap in this situation grows even longer legs and begins to walk, let’s review a little background.

In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, federal law enforcement officials in all their brilliance, decided to allow thousands of semi-automatic AK-variant assault weapons and other powerful firearms purchased in the United States to “walk” across the Mexican border, where, in theory, the weapons could be traced to drug lords who could be apprehended along with the “straw buyers” who buy and supply guns to the notorious Mexican drug cartels.

To put this whole scheme into play, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran a series of “gunwalking” sting operations ]between 2006 and 2011.  Labeled “Project Gunrunner”, the overall project was intended to somehow stem the flow of firearms into Mexico by intercepting weapons purchasers and gun traffickers within the United States. The technique was called “gunwalking”.  It was an approach used by the ATF to allow thousands of guns to be bought by suspected arms traffickers (“gunrunners”) working through straw purchasers on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.

Ostensibly, the goal of allowing these purchases was to continue to track the firearms as they were transferred to higher-level traffickers and key figures in Mexican cartels, in theory, leading to their arrests and the dismantling of the cartels. It is no surprise that most of the weapons promptly disappeared.

Operation Fast and Furious, by far the largest “gunwalking” sting operation of the larger Project Gunrunner, has led to the sale of over 2,000 firearms, of which only 700 have been recovered.
Although several straw purchasers have been arrested and indicted, none of the
targeted high-level cartel figures has been arrested.   The tragic result is that drug cartels have now become well armed while no drug lords have been arrested.

Needless to say, our relations with Mexico have been seriously damaged.  Mexican Senator Arturo Escobar stated, “We can no longer tolerate what is occurring. There must be condemnation from the state.” The Mexican Senate has officially condemned the actions of the ATF.

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) still went back to the “gun-walking” technique again the following year — and used it once more in 2009, after President Obama had taken office, in the tragic fiasco known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

Issa has often referred to the death of Brian Terry, the Border Patrol agent who was
killed in December 2010. According to Issa, this investigation, triggered in part by Terry’s death, would identify the government’s responsibility for this tragedy. In testimony before the committee, ATF agent John Dodson, critical of the operation, testified saying, “I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest.”  Agreed.

 

Mr. Holder has openly and on record acknowledged that Fast and Furious was a mistake. He has turned over more than 7,600 documents relating to this tragic and failed operation affecting human lives and the relations of several countries including the United States, Mexico, and several others throughout the Caribbean, and South America.  He has personally testified on Capitol Hill about the matter no less than nine occasions.  And yet Issa is not satisfied with the obvious.

 

It’s not a “cover up” involving straw buyers that Issa is actually investigating, but a straw issue, filling the role of “straw piñata” for what’s really the “contempt” in this
situation.  In reality, it’s a contempt or Mr. Holder’s investigation of voter suppression in Florida and Arizona’s S.B. 1070 immigration statute that has stirred up the hornet’s nest on the right that has motivated Issa and his 23 colleagues voting to invoke the contempt charge.  Issa is wasting time investigating what Mr. Holder might be covering up from an operation that he has already surrendered documentation for, which he has identified as a mistaken enterprise and which he has promptly ended.
Since character seems to be an underlying theme here, perhaps we should put the Chairman’s character above board and on the table.  By some accounts, Daryl “Don Draper” Issa has reportedly not always adhered to the persona of strict moral ethics he likes to portray.  According to Jillian Barclay, Issa “has a checkered past, with multiple arrests for auto theft and weapons charges, was also suspected of arson for a fire that destroyed one of the buildings he owned.”  So this is who we may have leading the investigation that has just issued a contempt charge against
Attorney General Holder when he has already produced documentation for an
operation he has ended and openly called a failure?

It wouldn’t take much of a leap of faith to link at least part of this investigation to the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre’s  paranoid conspiracy theories about 2nd Amendment rights.   Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association has
joined this “walking” parade and characterized it as a devious plot by the Justice Department to eventually confiscate all guns and maybe even abolish the 2nd Amendment (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea).  LaPierre recently stated to Ginny Simone, NRA News Host, ”Well,my thoughts are that this was an attack on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. That that’s what Fast and Furious really was about.”

The Fast and Furious weapons were just a small part of a much larger problem. Mexican officials have complained for years that lax U.S. gun laws have aggravated drug-related violence along the shared border. The profound harm inflicted by cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine smuggled north of the border is in effect facilitated directly by the guns smuggled south that are in turn facilitated by
the NRA’s advocacy of maintaining the “laxness” of those very laws.

If Issa really wants to save U.S. and Mexican lives, he should convene hearings on banning the sale of high-powered weapons.  LaPierre should be the lead witness.  LaPierre should be interrogated at length about exactly where in his twisted mind the halting of Fast and Furious and the official classification of it as a failure, it can be an assault on the Second Amendment.   Through his gun advocacy and resulting facilitation, almost 100,000  people in America alone are shot in murders, assaults,
suicides, accidents, or by police intervention annually.  How, Mr. LaPierre, do you plead in your egregious facilitation of this genocide?

Adding to the parade of lunacy is Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who dedicated great efforts in his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide. One of those offices attacked was that of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a rally in a Tucson supermarket.

So, is this whole spurious panel investigation actually one of a pursuit of truth or a political hit job?   And how much cue-card-fuel has La Pierre’s conspiracy-with-a-motive given this spurious witch hunt directly to Issa?
This much is certain: When all is said and done, the most important thing is that according to the Justice Department all gun walking operations have now been stopped.  But don’t expect Chairman Don Draper to acknowledge the obvious.