Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters

by Walter 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 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.

A CBS poll revealed about 85 percent of all Americans, including gun owners, support federal legislation to require thorough background checks on all persons planning to buy a gun. Apparently, the NRA leadership, far more reactionary than most of its members, believes hunters and those protecting their houses from burglars or the “jack-booted thugs” the NRA leadership once called federal law enforcement agents, need military-style assault weapons with a 100-round magazines.

Just as politicians crave NRA money, the NRA knows it has millions of dollars of funding from gun manufacturers. Last year, American gun manufacturers earned about $12.6 billion from the sale of more than 5.5 million firearms, about half of them handguns. About 60 percent of the sales went to civilians, according to the Department of Justice. Another three million guns were imported. There are more than 310 million firearms in civilian possession, according to the FBI. The United States has one of the highest rates for gun violence in the world.

Joe the Plumber and NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre, significant blemishes upon the Constitution and the principles of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, will continue to get media exposure. Their names will continue to be known. Their paranoid rants will continue to draw praise from hundreds of thousands who don’t know much about the Constitution, and believe President Obama-whom they know to be a Kenyan socialist Muslim-is secretly plotting to seize every one of their guns and turn the United States into a dictatorship.

Within a few weeks, as other murders are committed, we will forget the names of those killed this past week.  Their names will no longer be important; how they were killed will no longer matter. But before we develop mass amnesia, and begin to believe that murder is just a part of the American culture, let’s take a few moments to remember. In Scranton, the 47-year-old cabbie, a mechanic who had slightly more than a month earlier changed jobs, is Vincent Darbenzio. The grandfather in Florida is Juan Manuel Martinez Sr. In Isla Vista, the students killed were George Chen, 19 years old; Cheng Hong, 20; Katerine Cooper, 22; Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and Veronika Weiss, 19. (Chris’s father, Richard, is the one who publicly called out politicians and the NRA.)

During the week they and the 18-month-old in Arizona died, there were about 200 more deaths from firearms, according to the FBI. Few of those deaths made anything more than a two-column newspaper headline, the story usually confined just to local news. During this year, more than 32,000 will be killed by firearms; about 2,000 will be children.

The NRA leadership and the few extremists it protects mouth the mantra of the gun culture-“guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They screech the paranoid fear that all guns will be registered and then confiscated. These juveniles trapped in the bodies of adults ignorantly bleat that if they or their children had been armed, the only one killed would be the person who committed the mass shootings. What they don’t acknowledge is that even the better-trained, better-armed police were unable to kill the shooter. They say there needs to be better laws against those with mental illnesses having guns. That part is true.

But also true is that the lack of sane gun laws, which protect all people-including gun owners-is because the insanity is not just those who commit murder, but many who wrap themselves in the Second Amendment, ignorantly proclaiming, with no legal knowledge, they have a right to keep whatever arms and ammunition they want, and any gun law violates whatever they think is their ego-inflated divine inspiration.

[Dr. Brasch is author of 20 books; the latest ones are Fracking Pennsylvania and Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale. He is also a semi-active trap shooter.]


Rep. Fleck Dethroned From GOP, Takes Dem Nomination

State Rep. Mike Fleck, who came out even though he represents a conservative House District in the Altoona area (Pennsylvania’s “T”) was upset in the Republican primary by a write-in candidate.  He did, however, win the Democratic side in a write-in effort.  This is the most unusual result of last week’s primary election.  The moderate Republican has a reputation in Harrisburg for working across the aisle to accomplish things like last year’s desperately needed transportation bill.  Coming out as gay in such a conservative area was a risk.  This was courageous and Fleck became the first openly gay legislator in state history.  Soon afterwards Brian Sims became the first openly gay man to be elected to the legislature.

Sen. Eichelberger, long known for his extreme bigotry and insensitive comments lamented that had Fleck just stayed in the closet everything would have been fine.  The Senator, whose District includes Fleck’s, seems to think living in the closet is fine.  It isn’t, closets are lonely, desperate places to live and the Representative had every choice to move out of his.  This was just one more example of Sen. Eichelberger’s bigotry.  There have been many.

While Pennsylvania finally became the last state in the Northeast to legalize gay marriage last week this is a definitive step backwards.  Mike Fleck deserves re-election and progressives, liberals and Democrats across the Commonwealth should rally behind his run on the Dem side this November.

On another note Montgomery County, ironically, became the final one of our 67 counties to begin issuing same sex marriage licenses.  The State Supreme Court had issued an injunction against MontCo Register of Wills Bruce Haines barring him from issuing them after he did so last year following the SCOTUS Windsor decision.  Since he was still under that injunction gay couples in one of our most populous counties couldn’t get licenses even after Federal Judge John Jones III overturned the state’s ban last week.  The injunction has now been revoked.

Rep Daryl Metcalfe Corruption Documented

Thanks to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for the research for this article.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is a corrupt member of the Pennsylvania House.  he has taken direct action on behalf of both of his biggest campaign donors since 2008.  During that time Don Rodgers, owner of Creative Real Estate and John Stilley, CEO of Amerikohl have given Metcalfe $23,546 and $36,750 respectively in return for bills sponsored by their Representative directly benefiting their companies.  This quid pro quo is corruption.

Since 2008 Stilley is the single largest contributor to Metcalfe and Rodgers is second.  Creative Real Estate wanted to build a mixed use development which was to include restaurants.  Rodgers complained in a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article about the scarcity of liquor licenses available in the area and that this was affecting his proposed development.

Coincidentally (!!!) about that time Daryl Metcalf introduced a bill in Harrisburg which sought to create a new category for liquor licenses, a bill which would have solved his donor’s problem.

A similar situation happened with his largest donor Mr. Stilley.  Amerikohl is a coal mining company which wound up having problems with the EPA over water discharge permits.  National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in particular.  The EPA required its own review after any state permit approval (PA’s DEP is infamously industry friendly) and this was an obstacle for Stilley.  Amerikohl was awaiting a permit approval under this system so Stilley testified on July 14, 2011 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight, and Government Spending about his process.

On February 23, 2011 Rep. Metcalfe sponsored a bill urging EPA to stop reviewing these permits.  It passed by a 148-49 vote.  Amerikohl got its permit in December 2012.

Stilley can thank his State Representative for getting a bill passed which directly benefited his business.  The fact he was Metcalfe’s largest campaign contributor during that period means that Daryl Metcalfe is bought lock, stock and barrel.

The Sounds of Silence-Political Style

by Walter Brasch

A hush has fallen over our house.

It began late Tuesday night and, if we are fortunate, will last at least a week.

But it will return. We have no illusions that there will be continued quiet.

That’s because we are in the middle of yet another election cycle.

It’s not as bad as it was in 2008 or 2012 when we were getting five to ten robocalls every day from Democrats, Republicans, Friends of Democrats, Friends of Republicans, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.

During those years, almost every TV ad was someone praising his own political legacy or attacking her opponent for something that may or may not have been better placed in one of the supermarket tabloids that informed us about Elvis sightings and politicians influenced by aliens. At least by putting most of their ad budgets into television, they were able to keep ad salesmen from losing their lofty prestige and falling into the abyss of wages earned by news directors.

The candidates are using their money and public platform to express their opinions, no matter how absurd.

In Arizona, a rancher who thought he should become a member of Congress claimed, “If you look at the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people.”

In Florida, a state representative claimed those who support the concept of an educational common core have a not-so-hidden agenda-they want to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”

And in Pennsylvania, we learned that incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, running unopposed in his party, brought 150,000 jobs to the state; it was a remarkable feat considering that when he took office, the state was 13th in job growth and in less than four years, even with the “economic boom” in gas drilling, had plunged to 41st among all states. Corbett then added the spice-his administration made significant increases to the educational budget, a claim that even members of his own party had trouble not bursting out in uncontrollable waves of gagging laughter. Of course, Corbett had to do something since his popularity is about 17 points below that of a Nigerian scam artist.

The cost to convince us to vote for a particular candidate is in the range of the gross national product of a small industrialized nation. Already, Congressional candidates have spent about $330 million, while Senate candidates have spent about $175 million, according to Open Secrets.

In Pennsylvania’s District 13, in the southeastern part of the state, candidates for Congress have spent almost $4 million. And it’s only sixth among all 435 districts.

Leading the spending is Ohio’s 8th district where Speaker of the House John Boehner, first elected in 1991, is running for re-election. He won the primary this month with about 70 percent of the vote. Apparently, he’s looking at a vigorous general election, since he’s already raised about $12.9 million, the largest amount in the country for a House campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a distant second with $5.3 million; in third is House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with a paltry $5 million.

Leaders in the Senate campaigns, according to Open Secrets, are Ed Markey of Massachusetts ($16 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($14.5 million), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader ($12 million).

Open Secrets also reveals that in this election cycle special interests and lobbying groups have helped make sure the candidates are bathed in green ink. Contributions to Republicans have already come from securities and investment companies ($33.5 million), real estate ($21.4 million), the oil and gas industry ($16 million), the insurance industry ($13.8 million), manufacturing industries ($10.2 million), pharmacy and health care ($8.3 million), and commercial banks ($9 million).

The Democrats have already received funding from law firms ($36 million), the entertainment industry ($10 million), building trade unions ($6.8 million), public sector unions ($ 6.7 million), and environmental groups ($1.3 million). Hundreds of millions of dollars are coming to both the Democrats and Republicans for the general election; the third parties, no matter how strong their candidates and public policy positions, will be campaigning with spare change.

India, which provides much of America’s telemarketing and tech services, may be on track to out-America America. The cost of the Indian election is expected to be about $5 billion this year, second only to the $7 billion cost of the 2012 elections in the United States.

Thanks to special interests and lobbies, and their generosity in promoting American’s version of democracy, if the past is the future, voters will experience non-stop robocalls and TV ads for the next six months, some of the calls outsourced to New Delhi, possibly by flag-waving All-American, Constitutionalist patriotic politicians whose loyalties are to the mother’s milk of politics rather than to the people who will elect them.

[Dr. Brasch has been covering politics and social issues more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which includes a chapter about the influence of the oil and gas lobby upon politicians.]


Corbett Is Denying Veterans Health Care Under ACA

Gov. Gasbag’s refusal to adopt Medicaid Expansion under the ACA is denying Pennsylvania veterans with needed health care.  An estimated 500-600,000 residents of our Commonwealth could be covered if the Governor accepted the federal funds for two years to fully fund the expansion.  This Memorial Day we should focus on how conservative ideology is costing people their lives.

We’ve already see the awful effects of sequestration cuts on the VA and how that agency is failing veterans.  Republicans and many Democrats were all too eager to go to war over lies they knew to be so but then refused to allocate the funds to properly treat our wounded and ill veterans.  One solution was to expand Medicaid for those vets too poor to pay for their own insurance.  Gov. Corbett continues to have the authority to do so but refuses because his ideology is in the way.  That’s peculiar for someone who professes to be “pro life.”

Pennsylvania Gay Couples Getting Married…Finally

Same sex couples across the Commonwealth began getting marriage licenses following Judge John Jones III ruling yesterday throwing out the state’s marriage ban as unconstitutional.  I was at the Berks County Services Center this morning as a couple from Morgantown arrived promptly at 8AM for their license.  Unwilling to state their names or go on the record because one of the female couple is unemployed and seeking work, they were joyous that after eight years together they can make their relationship legal and equal in the eyes of the law.  One of the women said she has serious health issues and being able to provide for her health, their assets and property in case of the worst case happening is a comfort.  Being legally married means her soon to be wife cannot be denied hospital visitation  and is ensured of survivor rights and inheritance.

There are 1,039 federal rights which come with marriage, everything from being able to file joint tax returns to eligibility for Social Security survivor benefits.  These have been denied to gay couples in Pennsylvania until yesterday.

Kurt German and Todd Gimbi were the second couple to arrive this morning.  Both work in retail and heard the news from co-workers.  They have been together for 25 years after meeting at an under 21 club in Wilkes-Barre.  Todd said they fell in love at first sight and were ecstatic at being able to marry.  He is originally from Hazleton and German from Wilkes-Barre.  Both now live ad work in Reading.

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Todd Gimbi (left) and Kurt German hold their newly received marriage license.

Tom Wolf Versus Tom Corbett in November

Tom Wolf cruised to an easy victory today in the Democratic primary for Governor.  With incumbent Tom Corbett seeing the lowest approval ratings of any Governor in the nation this appears that Mr. Wolf of York will be the Commonwealth’s next Chief Executive.  He began a run for Governor four years ago then withdrew in order to save the family firm as the recession hit it hard.  He bought The Wolf Organization back and expanded it into kitchen cabinets.  He found skilled Amish craftsmen in Indiana to manufacture them and coupled them with the established line of high end stoves and ranges which made Wold famous.

Pouring $10 million of his own and borrowed funds he went on TV early and often and quickly buried his team of rivals.  Getting well over %0% in a four way race is impressive.

State Sen. Mike Stack has a wide lead in the race to share the ticket with Wolf.  Rep. Brendan Boyle has been declared the winner of the 13th CD race.  I’m deeply disappointed that Sen. Daylin Leach ran poorly in this election but the fact he lives outside the District (even if it’s only across the street) probably hurt his chances.  53% of the 13th lies in Northeast Philly, Boyle’s home turf.

PA Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

I can now legally marry in Pennsylvania.  Of course that would require having a partner but, theoretically, I now have equal marriage rights with straight Pennsylvanians thanks to Federal Judge John Jones.  The state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriages was declared a violation of the U.S. constitution’s Equal Protection clause and struck down.  The ACLU of PA led this fight and must be congratulated.

After the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling I predicted it would cause a cascade of individual state rulings and that’s exactly what has been happening.  No Federal judge can ignore the findings of that case and uphold these discriminatory laws.  Is there any news out of Butler County yet about Rep. Daryl Metcalf’s head exploding?

Pending a stay on appeal marriages should begin immediately and all those couples in the state who have wed elsewhere now have those marriages recognized under Pennsylvania law.  The case essentially wasn’t defended and Judge Jones granted a summary judgement based on the case briefs filed in his court.  Also, recall that this is a Republican Federal Judge.  Because there was no essential legal case made defending the old law the likelihood of a stay pending appeal is small.

It is a great day for equality in the Keystone State.

Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature issued this statement:

“I join millions of Pennsylvanians today in supporting the federal court’s decision,” Sims said. “When Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery, and I introduced the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act last fall, we recognized that numerous legal challenges throughout the Commonwealth had the potential to bring marriage equality much faster to the state, while our legislators sat on the sidelines. Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love.”

“I’m thankful for all of the hard work that has gotten us to this point. I’m proud to live in a state where I am one step closer to being an equal citizen. And I am empowered to ensure that we continue the effort to bring equality in the form of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law to the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Erin Molchany issued this:

“Today is a great day for equality.”

“Today’s decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional ban on marriage is a celebration of  human dignity and another step toward greater equality for all. Our friends and neighbors should not be denied basic rights because of who they love, and this decision is a great step forward for our commonwealth.”

The One Percent

This is a guest column by Admiral Joe Sestak.

The One Percent

by Joe Sestak

Today, I am commemorating Armed Forces Day inside Pennsylvania’s Graterford Penitentiary with the veterans our nation left behind.  It’s the 25th anniversary of the prison’s Vietnam Veterans Chapter, and I’m with fellow veterans I’ve come to know over the years, although not all are from Vietnam. Too many are imprisoned there from the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s a long walk to the auditorium down the center corridor of the prison among the inmates.  But I can only imagine how tough the walks were for these men when they went “outside the wire” in a foreign land every day for twelve months, not knowing if the loud sound they suddenly heard was a nearby exploding car or a suicide bomber bent on their destruction.  Or how it felt when your next step in a minefield might set off a buried booby-trap, taking off a part of you – or apart all of you.  Then these men went back to do it again the next year, and then the next, doing it all over again and again, with every footstep, on every day.

The men I visit today are paying for having served our country, and physically surviving.  During Vietnam, this nation couldn’t spell Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), never mind provide treatment for our veterans that bore it when they returned home.  Is there any wonder why addiction to a substance that eased their pained memories became their safe harbor when our countrymen didn’t provide one?

And it should surprise no one that we have a similar challenge today when our government approved psychotropic drugs for over 100,000 warriors as they repeatedly re-deployed to our two recent wars, even though the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved many of these drugs for either PTSD or for those under the age of 25.  Nor when both Veteran and active military hospitals delay and purposely non-diagnose their needed mental treatment.  Just scan the news of claims backlogs, hidden waiting lists and indolent VA health care employees.  Justice?  Not from the Justice Department that would not prosecute the $2 trillion-dollar HSBC Bank for laundering Iranian terrorist funds because of the possible “collateral consequences” of bank withdrawals. But “justice” did prosecute a young veteran for carrying thousands in drug money as he dealt with the mental “collateral damage” of the war – alone.  What an ironic message for our military recruiters:  the cost for someone fighting the war of terror is greater than the cost for supporting terror.

I’m concerned about how to keep our returned veterans from going into prison; but what about those who might later get out?  President George W. Bush had it right when he launched a $300 million re-entry initiative because, “America is the land of the second chances, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”  But the initiative failed, for the same reason the VA has failed its men and women.  Rather than pursuing evidence-based programs, with accountable benchmarks and measurable results, too much of the program’s funding was put into the willing hands of those who were less than accountable to those who came out the gates of prison.

Those that serve our country are its real 1% — because less than 1% of our American families had a loved one serve in our recent conflicts overseas.  And while everyone seems to call for “taking care of our vets,” our nation has failed that plea – or else I would not be visiting Graterford Prison, today.  Are we veterans perfect?  No, but it’s hard to imagine many others better.

This, then, is a request to acknowledge that our nation has left our veterans behind – something no veteran would ever do in combat. And yet, would our veterans do it – service — again?  In answer, I’ll watch with deep respect today as each of the incarcerated veterans is called up by name as several other inmates softly hum the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Then I’ll watch as a silent prison population rises as one to clap thunderously as the last prisoner strides up and turns, pride on his sorrowful face.  The answer is “yes;” it’s just a shame that our citizens take advantage of that selflessness.

Wolf Woos Them In Allentown

With a week left in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary races it appears the fall campaign will pit incumbent, embattled Gov. Tom Corbett versus Tom Wolf.  Polls have shown the York businessman with a commanding lead for months.  I chatted briefly with him Friday night at an event in Allentown and he said their internal polling has him over 40%.  I asked how he thought the undecideds would break out and he said their polling also shows that most of these people aren’t off year primary voters so he doesn’t feel they’ll affect the race.

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That’s interesting because he means he’s likely to go over 50% in a four way race, three if you discount Katie McGinty who is polling just 2%.  Allyson Schwartz ran a pitiful race in which she barely left southeastern Pennsylvania and was last to be on television.  By the time she woke up and started serious campaigning the race was over.  Rob McCord’s ads are backfiring tremendously and are actually hurting him more than they’re hurting Wolf.  The Wolf campaign has deftly and effectively countered all of the attacks against them.  McCord appears to be a desperate candidate making desperate claims in an attempt to win at the close of the race.   It isn’t working.

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On the GOP side Corbett, recognized as the most vulnerable Governor in the country, will soundly defeat challenger Bob Guzzardi.  His ads are extremely fact challenged and I expect the Wolf team to dissect them once Labor Day rolls around.  Corbett cannot escape some simple facts:  $2.5 billion has been siphoned or cut from K12 public education and the state ranks near the bottom in job creation under his leadership.  He claims to have created 150,000 private sector jobs but neglects to mention the 20,000 teachers he threw out of work and the fact those job numbers lag behind almost every other state.  His inability to work even with members of his own Party in the House and Senate, his infamous “just close your eyes” statement on mandatory ultrasounds and other famous quotes will all come back to haunt him in the fall.  He is Dead Governor Walking.

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