The Politics of Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians can still butcher, braise, and broil their pet cats and dogs because a murky mixture of politics has left a critical bill on the table in the state senate.

Residents may also continue to use cats, dogs, and other animals as targets for what some erroneously call “sporting events.”

Although there are no documented cases of cats and dogs being thrown into the air at these shoots, there is a long history in Pennsylvania of pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state where such shoots occur legally. The remaining shoots are in the southeastern part of the state, in Berks and Bucks counties near Philadelphia. However, this past week, an undercover investigator for SHARK, an animal rights group, documented a pigeon shoot in Oklahoma to provide campaign funds for Sen. James Inhofe (R). About 1,000 pigeons, according to SHARK, were thrown into the air a few yards from the shooters.

In Pennsylvania, scared and undernourished birds are placed into cages, and then launched about 30 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. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who for 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. 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. Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission says pigeon shoots are not “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shoots aren’t a sport, and banned it after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals.

But, the Pennsylvania Senate still hasn’t taken HB1750 off the table for discussion. Any senator may request the Senate to suspend the rules to allow a bill come off the table; none have.

The House passed the original bill, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R), 201-0, in November 2013.

It was amended in the Senate, with Maher’s approval, to ban pigeon shoots under Title 18, which includes animal cruelty statutes.  Although butchering and selling cats and dogs would be a first degree misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years, pigeon shoot violations would be only a summary offense, carrying a maximum $300 fine and/or three months jail sentence, and only for those operating the shoot. That bill was approved in the Republican-led Judiciary Committee, 10-4, on June 26. In the next two days, it passed two of the required three readings in the full Senate, but was tabled, July 8, when the Senate recessed for more than two months. The bill was not placed on the voting calendar when the Senate reconvened for five days between Sept. 15 and Sept. 24. The Senate is again in recess and will reconvene for two to four days, beginning Oct. 6 before going on recess until after the Nov. 4 election.

One of the four who voted against the bill in the judiciary committee was Joseph B. Scarnati III (R), the Senate president pro tempore. In his past two elections, Scranati received $5,275 from the NRA PAC, and $1,000 from the Flyers Victory Fund; the Victory Fund was established to support pigeon shoots. However, Scarnati didn’t influence if the bill was to be voted upon by the full Senate, says Kate Eckhart, Scarnati’s communications and legislative affairs assistant. The senator who does influence what bills go on the calendar is Dominic Pileggi (R), the majority leader. Pileggi had voted for the bill when it was in Judiciary Committee. However, Pileggi doesn’t put a bill on the calendar until the Republican caucus discusses it.

Republican caucus leader is Sen. John Gordner (R), who also voted against the bill in committee. However, Gorder says he voted against the bill on procedural grounds. The amendment, says Todd Roup, Gordner’s chief of staff, “was slipped onto the committee’s calendar at the last minute without required notice.”

Gregg Warner, the Judiciary Committee’s legal counsel, disagrees. “We notify members of the committee what bills will be on the agenda on Thursdays or Fridays the week before [a Tuesday meeting],” says Warner, “and then distribute summaries of the bills a day before.” Amendments are often distributed on Mondays before scheduled Tuesday meetings.

“Once there is enough support in the caucus,” says Roup, the bill will go back to Pileggi. The person responsible for counting votes is Sen. Patrick Browne, Republican minority whip. Because caucus discussions are secret, neither Browne nor Gordner will reveal if the bill was discussed. Gordner, however, will vote for the bill if it gets to the floor for a third reading, says Roup.

Josh Funk, deputy general counsel of the Senate Republican caucus, says there are two tests as to whether a bill is placed onto the calendar to be voted upon by the full Senate. The first test is if a majority in the caucus wants it. The second test, says Funk, is that, “It is not Sen. Pileggi’s policy to put bills up for a vote if the end result will be that they fail to receive 26 votes,” a Senate majority.” However, in the final two days before the Senate recessed this past week, Pileggi did place two bills onto the calendar that failed, by wide margins, to get 26 votes. Nevertheless, a policy that severely restricts open debate, with most discussions and decisions made in secret, significantly reduces the rights of the public to learn how their elected representatives think about a particular issue; the policy could violate Section 702 of the state’s Sunshine Act that declares, “The General Assembly finds that the right  of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.”

Although there may not be enough votes in the Republican caucus, there are more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. In addition to 24 co-sponsors, an informal tally shows at least a half-dozen other senators will support the bill.

This is also bill the public supports. A statewide survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research a year ago revealed not only do more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots, only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban. More than four-fifths of all Pennsylvanians say live pigeon shoots are animal cruelty. The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies. Most Pennsylvania newspapers have editorialized against pigeon shoots.

So, why wasn’t the bill brought up for a third reading before the Senate adjourned in July? And why is it still on the table?

The answer is enmeshed in a web of politics. Fearing an NRA backlash, and perhaps not wishing to alienate any voters less than six weeks before an election, the Senate may have stalled the vote because of an intense lobbying effort by the NRA. On the day before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear the bill for the first time, the Institute for Legislative Action, NRA’s lobbying arm, sent urgent alerts to Pennsylvania members and the legislature. The NRA leadership opposes bans on pigeon shoots, believing that to ban animal cruelty is the “slippery slope” to banning guns.

“That’s completely nonsense,” says Roy Afflerbach, a lifelong hunter, and former state senator and Allentown mayor.

Many in the Legislature cower in fear at receiving less than an “A+” rating from the NRA. In the Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Richard Alloway (R), a long-time hunter and a vigorous gun-rights advocate, called pigeon shooting a “blood sport.” After an attack by the NRA, he said, “I find it laughable that my friends [at the NRA] would somehow label me anti-Second Amendment.” Sen. Daylin Leach (D), vice-chair of the judiciary committee, doesn’t worry about the NRA rating. “Pigeon shoots, says Leach, “are a barbaric relic of a long-ago past. Hunters are ashamed of it, and it’s time to stop the gratuitous cruelty that pigeon shoots represent.”

The NRA alert called pigeon shooters “law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts.” However, undercover investigators have observed a large part of the lure of pigeon shoots is illegal gambling on how many birds each shooter will wound or kill. The alert also told legislators that opposition “does not come from within the Commonwealth, but from the outside,” targeting the Humane Society of the United States as the leader of the “animal ‘rights’ extremist groups.” However, the NRA is as much an “outside organization as HSUS; its headquarters is in Fairfax, Va.. Both NRA and HSUS have Pennsylvania field offices. All Pennsylvania humane organizations support HB1750. Humane PA PAC, which opposes the pigeon shoot, has 32,000 members, most of them Pennsylvanians.

There is another political land mine for the bill. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the House of Representatives, which had passed the bill without the pigeon shoot amendment, is a far more conservative body, and could likely hold up passage of the bill.

The last free-standing vote in the House occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99-93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties.

Four years after the House failed to pass legislation to ban pigeon shoots, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, held on public property, was not only cruel “but moronic.” The organizers grudgingly disbanded the annual Labor Day event, held from 1934 to 1998. The Court’s opinion did not extend to shoots at private clubs, all of which draw many of the participants and spectators from New Jersey, and are held in secret.

“The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have contacted their legislators, year after year, for decades, deserve a vote,” says Heidi Prescott. If the bill is brought to a vote, “it will pass,” she says.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has been covering Pennsylvania pigeon shoots for more than 20 years. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the politics and economics behind fracking, and its impact on health, agriculture, and the environment. The book also investigates fracking’s effects upon animals.]

 

Pigeon Shoots: Pennsylvania’s Shame

As the state legislature reconvened today for a final eleven day wrap-up to the two year session several matters remain to be resolved.  Banning pigeon shoots and making the consumption of cats and dogs illegal aren’t at the top of most lists but the Humane Society brought it to their attention this morning.  At a rally in the Capital Rotunda six speakers decried the fact Pennsylvania is the only state still allowing these barbaric exercises in “sport.”

There is nothing sporting about shooting dazed and confused birds as they are released from crates onto the ground.  This isn’t hunting, it is target shooting and is cruel treatment of birds, many of which are left to die for days after these events.  Wing Pointe in Berks County is the last place still conducting these shoots.  Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has deemed these as animal cruelty Berks DA John Adams refuses to enforce the law and bring charges.  Is that because Berks County Common Pleas Court Judge Adolph Antanavage has been filmed attending one of these events and caught shooting birds under a Confederate flag?

Here is what a pigeon shoot is like:

The only thing which should be dazed and confused are the members of the NRA who are opposing this bill.  For some crazy reason the NRA seems to think banning animal cruelty is an assault on gun rights.  Call your State Senator and State Representative and insist they vote to end this practice.  Bill 1750 has already passed the House as a bill to end the consumption of dogs and cats.  The Senate amended it to ban pigeon shoots so after it passes there it has to return tot he House for another vote.

For some reason Pennsylvania has never passed a law protecting cats and dogs from being used for human consumption.  At this morning’s event the Humane Society brought three kittens and a dog along for emphasis.  Perhaps the cats could have been used to hunt down the rats in the Capitol who would oppose this bill.

Today’s event:

Ryan Costello and the NRA: A Perfect Fit

A new school year has begun in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District.  Children and teachers across the Commonwealth arrived for the year excited with anticipation of a safe, nurturing educational environment.  This is all a charade however as no new gun safety legislation has passed since the Sandy Hook massacre December 14, 2012.  Since then I count 54 school shootings (not including suicides) on school or college campuses.  Will your child be next?  Will your spouse, sibling, cousin or neighbor be the next teacher, principal, counselor or administrator gunned down?

One thing that I know for sure:  this school year will see Americans gunned down while at school.  What will Ryan Costello do as a Member of Congress representing the Sixth should he be elected in November?  Would he support Sen. Toomey’s watered down proposal which died because of Tea Party opposition fueled by NRA money?  Even that weak legislation failed.

The NRA has given Costello $4950 thus far for his campaign.  Costello bragged about attending a gun rights rally in Harrisburg while at a taxpayer funded trip to the County Commissioners Association of PA meeting.  His record of giving generous contracts to Chester County firms supporting his campaigns tells us he has a serious penchant for pay to play.  With the NRA supporting his Congressional campaign so strongly the answer to the above is obvious:  you and your children are not safe at Pennsylvania campuses if Ryan Costello is in Washington.

The Second Amendment is clear:  unless one is a member of “a well regulated militia” (e.g. the national Guard) one has no gun rights.  There is nothing on Commissioner Costello’s bios, facebook pages or campaign literature showing he is a member of the National Guard.

Be fearful for our children and our educators should this man be elected to Congress.  How many more children must die before we do something?

The Trivedi campaign issued this statement this week about Costello’s pay to play record:

RYAN COSTELLO GIVES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN CONTRACTS TO HIS CAMPAIGN DONOR

WEST CHESTER, Pa – During a regularly scheduled meeting of the board of County Commissioners, Chairman Ryan Costello continued to reward his political donors with million dollar contracts.

Even though Chairman Costello has only served as a county commissioner for a little over 2 1/2 years, up until today he has awarded $15.3 million in county contracts to his political donors. But then in his largest demonstration of a pay-to-play operation, during today’s meeting Mr. Costello awarded a contract in excess of $14 million to one of the largest contributors to his congressional campaign.

The congressional campaign of Manan Trivedi pointed to this type of political payback system as one of the highest forms of unethical governance.

“It is clear that in a very short amount of time as commissioner, Ryan Costello has played politics as usual by doling out millions upon millions of dollars in contracts to his political donors,” said Trivedi spokesperson, Daren Berringer. “With the culture of corruption being what it is in Washington these days, Ryan Costello would fit in nicely, but voters in the 6th District deserve better from their next representative. Manan Trivedi has pledged to fight for stronger restrictions on lobbying because he believes members of Congress should serve their constituents, not the deep pocketed donors that fund their campaigns.”

To mark today’s meeting, the Chester County Democratic Party held an event outside of the County Courthouse in order to present Costello with a giant check. The check was to symbolize the amount in which Mr. Costello was selling out Chester County taxpayers for his own political gain.

To date, Mr. Costello has awarded close to $29.6 million in contracts to those who have helped to line his political coffers.

With this record of corruption towards his contributors it is safe to assume he’ll vote the NRA line while in Congress.

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.]

 

Pennsylvanians Support Pigeon Shoot Ban

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.]

           

The No News News Media

by Walter Brasch

There was a lot of news this past week.

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 BeyoncĂ© 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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Time For Action

It’s time for massacre prevention policies.  Twenty young children gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, the school principal, psychologist and several teachers, gunned down in a brutal massacre yesterday demand action.  Don’t waste your time praying for those already lost, your time is better spent doing something.  Contact all of your lawmakers, state and federal, demanding action.  How many more children have to be executed with guns before we decide that our kids are more important than our guns?

We must renew the ban on assault rifles, large “banana” style clips and certain ammunition.  Trigger locks and other common sense gun safety regulations must be implemented.  The most important step is to close the gun show loophole.  40% of all guns are now bought without a background check.

Let us not forget the importance of mental health programs.  We don’t take mental health seriously and we don’t fund it adequately.  When will we finally provide equal coverage for mental illness with physical illnesses?  

How many more tragedies must we endure?  How many people must die?  Please give me a precise number so when we reach it we can finally do something.  I would think we passed that figure yesterday.

Without guns Adam Lanza wouldn’t have shot his into Sandy Hook yesterday.  Without guns he couldn’t have massacred 26 people and terrorized an entire town.  Guns are the problem.

As People Die From Gun Violence We Aren’t to Speak About Gun Violence

Sunday’s mass shooting at a Sikh Temple by a white supremacist follows the James Holmes shooting in Aurora, Colorado and urgings by mainstream media to not discuss the epidemic of gun violence striking our nation.  Don Lemon of CNN kept saying Sunday that this isn’t the time to discuss these issues.  If not now when Mr. Lemon?  How many more men, women and children have to be mowed down before you accept the fact we need to discuss what is happening?  Please tell me, how many?  Ten, twenty, a hundred or how many more thousands?  Thousands of Americans are murdered each year by guns.  We allowed the assault weapons ban to cease and then James Holmes uses one to mow down 70 people inside a movie theater.  He also used what used be an illegal 100 bullet ammo canister to insure he wouldn’t need to stop and reload.

We went to war in two countries because 3000 Americans were killed on 9/11 yet we ignore the war on our citizens with arms.  Where’s the outrage and why aren’t people like Lemon using their pulpits to preach about gun violence and the necessity of dealing with it in a mature, common sense manner?

Perhaps if we made buying a gun as difficult as getting an abortion we could reduce this level of violence.  Nations which ban or seriously restrict gun ownership don’t have this level of violence so don’t sit there pontificating that guns don’t kill people, people do.  People with guns kill people.  People without them don’t on any comparable level of frequency.  Guns are the problem.

Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

by WALTER BRASCH

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. 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, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

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, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. 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. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

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. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society-which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”-carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy-and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

[For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights, ant-war, the base for the anti-fracking protests, and other issues.]

           

News & Notes July 23, 2012

Is climate change convincing you yet that it’s real?  How much more extreme weather is necessary to convince the deniers?  Farmers in the Midwest are now culling their herds because there won’t be enough corn and soybeans to feed them.  A rise in meat prices will inevitably be blamed on Obama instead of the culprits who have fought policy changes to forestall the effects of global climate change.  Conservatives never accept personal responsibility for their failures.  Isn’t that interesting?

Cronyism in Reading City Hall continues.  One Term Vaughn hasn’t learned his lessons.  Cronyism almost always leads to corruption.

State Rep. Kevin Murphy was arrested in a domestic beating incident.  The rap sheets for our lawmakers gets longer and longer.

Former Speaker Bill DeWeese, his hubris never ending, even from prison, remains on the ballot.  As a convicted felon he cannot serve even if he won the election from his prison cell.  PA Dems are now going to court to get him off the ballot so they have some hope of keeping the seat.  

Someone explain to me how what the mob did in this case is different from what Mitt Romney did at Bain?

I felt I was in a parallel universe this morning watching the NCAA sanctions against Penn State.  Never in my life did I expect to see my alma mater penalized so harshly for the sins of its football team.  We still haven’t gotten answers from Tom Corbett about why he allowed just one Trooper to investigate the case for 18 months.  Even then the two OAG investigators were narcs and had no experience in child abuse cases.  He refuses to answer questions.  Maybe someone needs to investigate him.  He’d better start answering soon or his chances for a second term go the way of Penn State football.

Boycott any company which is financing right wing attack ads.  Voting with your dollars sends a distinct message.  Look at all the negative attention being targeted at Chick Fil-A for example.  Here’s a guide to some of the worst corporate offenders.

School districts are now facing another huge financial hurdle:  funding their pensions.  The state keeps putting off making these payments and soon the shit will hit the fan.  As Corbett keeps strangling their budgets schools may need to use their nuclear option:  renege on their long term debt bonds.  Since these are backed by the state the legislature would be on the hook for the billions in long term debt used to build and renovate school buildings.  Serves them right if it happens.

Rachel Maddow devoted a program last week to Sheldon Adelson and the corrupt methods he used to build his gambling mecca in Macao.  He could be convicted of a felony for bribing Chinese interests to make his fortune.  That’s a serious crime.

More evidence that privatization leads to corruption.  The FBI is investigating Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.  Its web of corruption is interesting.  These are your tax dollars at work funding corruption.

A friend recently lamented that she didn’t have employment benefits and said union members shouldn’t either.  Her logic was that since she didn’t have a pension no one else should either.  I just looked at her and said that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that her workplace wasn’t union and she should fight for those same benefits instead of condemning those who have for themselves.  Union bashing seems to be a favorite pasttime for some people who forget what unions have done for everyone.  This letter in the Bucks Courier Times reminds us:

First, instead of condemning unions, we should extol their historical accomplishments. Unions have brought us laws against child labor. Unions have brought us the 8-hour work day and overtime pay. Unions have brought us safer workplaces, so that getting sick or maimed was no longer “just part of the job.” Unions have brought us pensions, employer-paid health care, vacation pay, sick leave, etc. Though currently under attack, these same benefits are enjoyed by nearly all full-time, nonunion employees, too.

Second, as so many Vent writers have rejoiced, union membership is in substantial decline as powerful companies and now Republican-controlled governments attempt to break any semblance of union power. But such union critics also should notice and acknowledge that as unions have declined over the last 30-plus years, the income of the entire bottom 90 percent of all Americans has stagnated. Notice that I didn’t say that just the income of blue-collar Americans has stagnated; instead, even as the top 10 percent (and even more so, the top 1 percent) has flourished, EVERYBODY ELSE has stagnated or declined. Instead of consistently raising the bar for labor compensation, so that the benefits of increased technology and productivity are shared between labor and management/capital, unchecked corporate power is keeping virtually ALL of these benefits for shareholders and top management.

The NRA has been curiously silent following the latest gun massacre.  It’s Tweet last Friday morning was frighteningly tragic:  “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” James Holmes did.  Isn’t it time we banned assault weapons and 100 bullet clips for them?  SCOTUS says we cannot infringe gun rights but there’s nothing in the Second Amendment about ammunition.  If bullets cost $1000 apiece Holmes wouldn’t have bought 6,000 of them.  Right wing morons keep talking about infringing the rights of gun owners but what about the rights of those they kill?

A judge says disrobing as a protest of TSA regulations is protected free speech.  A movement is underway for a mass stripping protest at airports.  I may need to apply to work at an airport, this could be interesting.  My camera is all charged up.

The Vice Chair of the PA GOP admitted she lied about President Obama last week.  The only thing unusual about this is the fact she fessed up.  Republicans are so used to lying they’re shocked when they’re exposed.  This moron, someone named Renee Amoore and she didn’t even know her company’s layoffs were overseas.  Some boss.

Mitt wants to take away your internet porn.  Yea, that’ll get him a lot of votes…

Dan Miller, the openly gay Controller in Harrisburg, is marrying his partner.  Of course he has to leave Pennsylvania in order to make a commitment to his lifetime lover.

One constant mantra of the right wing noise machine is that government doesn’t create jobs.  This is yet another of the myths with which they use to brainwash people.  Now that defense spending is on the table as part of Taxaggeddon they’re suddenly changing their tune.  The potential loss of jobs from  Pentagon cuts is exposing this lie.

Michele Bachmann is channeling Joe McCarthy.