Pennsylvania Legislators Shoot Down Pigeons—Again

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Arguments

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Newt's Legacy

John Sides links to a discussion on the breakdown of legislative norms, when debate in the House denigrates to a fight that has nothing to do with policy or problem solving or even reality.  Barry Pump traces the tactic (yes, tactic) back to Newt Gingrich and two hours of "schoolyard taunting and bullying" in 1984.

2. Gingrich prepares a massive speech attacking Democrats by name (such as former appropriations chairman Dave Obey of Wisconsin and former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums) and accusing them of spreading communist propaganda in the Speaker’s Lobby. He writes a letter notifying the Democrats that he was going to name check them, but the letter was not delivered in time for the Democrats to respond on the floor during Gingrich’s speech.

3. Gingrich gives the speech while most members have gone home for the weekend. Dellums says he was on a plane back to California when Gingrich was on the floor impugning his patriotism, and he didn’t find out about it until he landed.

Pump outlines in 10 steps how Gingrich attacks the patriotism of Democrats outside of legislative protocol "norms," elicits an angry response from Speaker Tip O'Neill -- who orders newly installed television cameras to pan, showing Gingrich speaking to an empty chamber, and calls Gingrich out of line -- and then plays the victim, claiming the speaker abused his position for criticizing him publicly.  Gingrich and his "young turks" brought the legislative process to a halt with hyperbolic antics.  The goal was no longer policy or ideological agenda, but simply majority status at any cost.  By the end of the 80's, the Republican Party was sold, and a 30 legislative strategy had begun.

By selecting the aggressive Gingrich over his mild-mannered rival, Illinois' Edward Madigan, House Republicans signaled that they want more lash in their whip. "We had a choice of being attack dogs or lapdogs," said a G.O.P. lawmaker. "We decided attack dogs are more useful."

Flash forward to the 112th Congress.

For all the hints at Boehner's lack of control as speaker after several unexpected failures, I wouldn't hold my breath.  This isn't an intra-party rebellion; this is just blip in party message control.  Leadership and the freshmen tea baggers won't part ways given a choice between governing or the perpetual campaign.  "Principles," half-baked or not, will be set aside faster than a Gingrich mistress when leadership reminds the newbies elections still happen, and even the slightest nod at actual problem solving is out the window when the newbies remind leadership they are all Newt spawn.

For Republicans, this hasn't been about governance or representation for a very, very long time.

From the poll tax to the literacy test, using the law to create a structure that systematically disenfranchises people unlikely to vote for you has a long tradition in America’s political warfare. The latest “anti-voter fraud” laws pushed by Republicans are hardly different. By taking away same-day registration and requiring photo IDs to vote, they are making it harder for traditionally Democratic-leaning groups — students, young people, the poor, and some minorities — to exercise their right to vote. The basic strategy is if you can’t win their vote, keep them from voting altogether. While these actions have gained publicity in Wisconsin, the same tactic is being pushed by the GOP in places like Kansas and New Hampshire.

To the GOP it's a decades long war to be won and the ends will justify any means.

How 'Un-American' are Peter King's Congressional Hearings?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponent of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

Obama's Ironic Legacy Might be That He Continued an Unconstitutional Act

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The U.S. House of Representatives this week did something it should have done years ago—it blocked the continuation of three of the more controversial parts of the PATRIOT Act. The vote was 277–148 to continue the Act, but a 2/3 majority (284 of those voting) was necessary for the bill to move forward. The PATRIOT Act sections are scheduled to expire Feb. 28 unless further action is taken by Congress.

            The Republican leadership had placed the bill on an expedited agenda, believing it had the necessary votes. It didn't count on a loose coalition of liberals and extreme conservatives to oppose the Act. Twenty-six Republicans, including seven who are allied with the Tea Party, voted against the bill. Had those seven Tea Party members voted for the continuation, the bill would have passed.

            The PATRIOT Act was passed about six weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The 342-page bill was drafted in secret by the Bush Administration, had minimal discussion, and most members of Congress hadn't even read it when they voted for it. Only one of 100 senators and 66 of 435 representatives voted against it, claiming that it sacrificed Constitutional protections in order to give Americans a false sense of security. Most of the Act is non-controversial, an umbrella for previous federal law; the controversial parts taint the entire document.

            The PATRIOT Act's "sunset" clause required 16 of the most controversial parts to expire unless Congress renewed them before December 31, 2005. However, in July 2005, Congress voted to extend the entire law.

            The PATRIOT Act butts against the protections of six Constitutional amendments: the 1st (freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances), 4th (freedom from unreasonable searches), 5th (right against self-incrimination and due process), 6th (due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury), 8th (reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th (equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens).

            The PATRIOT Act also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion.” Congress did not suspend this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9/11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

            Among the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which 277 House members apparently believe is necessary for American security, is Section 215, which allows the government to seize all library records of any individual. Apparently, the government believes that reading is just another part of a wide terrorist conspiracy. A white-haired grandmother who checks out murder mysteries from the library could be a serial killer, according to the government's logic.

            Several federal court cases, including decisions by the Supreme Court, with most of its members politically conservative, ruled that provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional. Implementation of those rulings are slow or under appeal.

              Among organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the ACLU, American Bar Association, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, and the National Council of Churches.  Among liberals who have led opposition to the Act are Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Among conservatives opposing the Act are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who had been a U.S. attorney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Among conservative organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the American Conservative Union, Free Congress Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

            Some of society's denser citizens have claimed that not only must the nation sacrifice some of its civil liberties in order to defeat terrorism, but that they personally have never had their own rights suppressed. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of cases of persons whose civil liberties have been threatened. In only the first three years after the PATRIOT Act was placed into law, there were about 360 arrests, with only 39 convictions, half resulting in jail sentences of less than 11 months, indicating minor infractions. Reports from the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed that the government had consistently exceeded its authority to investigate and prosecute civilians under guise of the PATRIOT Act. Numerous arrests for non-terrorist activity include a couple aboard a flight who were charged as terrorists for having engaged in "overt sexual activity," and a woman who was jailed three months in 2007 as a terrorist for raising her voice to a flight attendant.

            In March 2010, President Obama signed a one-year extension on the Act, and now says he wants the Act to continue through 2013.

            And that may be the worst part of the President's legacy. The constitutional law scholar and professor, who has strong beliefs for human rights but who has not been forceful in speaking out against the Act's most heinous sections, is now a leading proponent to extend the very document that conflicts with his principles and the nation's Bill of Rights.

 

[Dr. Brasch is author of the critically-acclaimed America's Unpatriotic Acts, the first book to look in-depth at the PATRIOT Act and its effect upon American citizens. The book is available through amazon.com, as are his 15 other books, most on history and contemporary social issues.]

 

 

Tell your Senators to support the DREAM Act

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In a historic bipartisan vote, the U.S House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act on December 8th, bringing the hopes of thousands of young people that have built their lives in America, one step closer to being realized. Soon the Senate will bring the House-approved version of the bill to the floor for a vote, and we need you to make sure that your Senators will vote to make the DREAM Act a reality.

If passed, legislation would provide a clear legal pathway for immigrant youth, who have been raised in the United States and who will pursue higher education or serve the United States Armed Forces, to become U.S. citizens and live the American dream.

We need to flood the Senate with phone calls and ensure that we get the 60 votes needed to pass the DREAM Act.

1.  Dial the switchboard 1-866-587-3023
2.

2. Ask the operator for a Senator from the target list

3. When the receptionist picks up leave a message urging the Senator to vote yes on the DREAM Act.

Follow up your phone call with a letter to your Senators telling them why they need to get behind the DREAM Act. Their vote could make the difference between granting or breaking the dreams of thousands. Take action now.

For the first time in history we were able to pass the DREAM Act in the House. Let’s not stop now.

Photo courtesy of dreamactivist.org

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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