Gabby, Ryan, and Home Opportunity for All

Even Olympians are, alas, not immune from America’s homeownership crisis. The Associated Press reported this week that the parents of U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte are facing foreclosure in Florida, while the mother of gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last year, she said, “to protect my home.”

I don’t know the circumstances of these families’ financial challenges. But the fact that families who had the discipline, commitment, and drive to raise Olympic gold medalists did not have the systems or information needed to remain successful homeowners reaffirms that the promise of American opportunity is at grave risk.

Roughly four million American families lost their homes to foreclosure between the beginning of 2007 and early 2012. Some 11 million are struggling with “underwater” mortgages, meaning that they owe more than their home is worth. That’s just under a quarter of all U.S. homes with a mortgage. For most, a perfect storm of financial industry misconduct, inadequate consumer protections, falling home prices, and record unemployment are at the core of the problem.

The Lochte and Douglas families are fortunate. Their kids are now stars who will soon be paid millions in endorsement proceeds—Gabby’s already on the cover of a cornflake box.

But for most Americans, the solutions require broader action. An alliance of consumer protection, fair lending, and housing experts have developed a Compact for Home Opportunity, with over two dozen practical, tested solutions for preventing needless foreclosures, restoring neighborhoods, and rebuilding the American dream. The Compact is powered by Home for Good, a national campaign driven by people concerned about the enduring foreclosure and housing crisis.

The Compact’s solutions range from increased access to housing counseling, to reducing loan principal to fair market value, to increased fair housing and lending protections. Some states, notably California, have adopted important elements of the Compact. But a more robust, national approach is needed. Home for Good is pushing housing issues back into the presidential contest, and onto the national agenda, demanding that candidates and policymakers take a stand on the causes and solutions to the crisis. With foreclosures and bankruptcy intruding even into the Olympic games, their call is increasingly hard to ignore.

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Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg




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 and issues.]


Copenhagen, Now and Then

Copenhagen, Now
The fact the President Obama's presence in Copenhagen did not sway the IOC to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago in the long run matters not one iota. While the President should not have gone largely because of the potential for a minor political embarrassment, now realized, he also met with General McChrystal, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan. It was the President's first meeting in person with General McChrystal since he assumed command in June. The fact that Mr. Obama had not talked with General McChrystal since his report, now leaked, was submitted at the end of August had generated criticism especially in conservative quarters. The President's visit with General McChrystal not only truncates that criticism but also allowed the President to presumely ask hard questions directly of the General. More from the New York Times.

Copenhagen, Then
The President will be returning to Copenhagen in December to attend the Global Conference on Climate. The urgency to act on this matter cannot be overstated. To this end, Carol Browner, the former chief of the EPA and now Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, has been making the case that the United States must act now to limit greenhouse-gas emissions; that sweeping change is necessary and piecemeal fixes are insufficient; and that enacting new regulations would establish the conditions for businesses to pioneer new technologies. The Atlantic has more including video clips of Carol Browner's call to action on climate. Elections have consequences, as they say. Thanks to the election of President Obama, we have competence and scientific rigor in the Administration.

There's more...

Obama peacenikking (_and_ no Olympics)

Despite his two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you gotta say Obama looks good peacenik-wise in reference to Iran and Russia.

First, he pulls back on the offensive missile 'shield' whose intent was to threaten Russia. The intent, according to the Beltway pundits, was to get Russia to back crippling sanctions against Iran. But was it? I don't know. Maybe Obama is a peacenik on this issue. Anyway, the you scratch my back I scratch yours doesn't seem to be working, cuz,

Second, Obama and Iran seem to be working things out on their own. Peacenikky! Iran has apparently agreed to export some of its nuclear fuel enrichment to Russia, and, so, no crippling sanctions? Another wait and see, but things look good today on the peace front.

And who knows, mebbe Obama told story about Daley to the Olympic selection committee. Spectacular fail by the Mayor's city, but a definite win for Chicago. We're busted, and we gotta focus on getting rid of some crime and poverty, and fixing the many horrific schools (a screw you to one of Daley's flunkies, former Chicago schools chief and clueless do-nothing Daley stooge Arnie Duncan, Obama's Education Secretary).

And, is it "I told you so" time yet? Gotta say, this -- Sorry Israel, no Iran war or crippling sanctions 4U -- looks like some damn good predicting right now. Shout out to my man, M K Bhadrakumar, he pointed me in the right direction.   . . .

There's more...

Where Were Michael Steele and John Boehner In 2003?

A number of right-wing pundits and Republican leaders are criticizing the President for heading to Copehnagen tonight to make a push for holding the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. Even though the trip will take less than 24 hours, there are those who say he's taking his eye off the ball and not focusing on the most important issues. From Politico:

House Minority Leader John Boehner torched President Barack Obama Wednesday for his European trip to pitch the Chicago Olympics bid, criticizing the president for "going to go off to Copenhagen when we've got serious issues here at home that need to be debated."

Obama's trip has been maligned by most Republicans as the health care overhaul remains in a continued state of flux in Congress and the top general in Afghanistan awaits word on a troop increase....

"Listen I think it's a great idea to promote Chicago but he's the president of the United States, not the mayor of Chicago," Boehner said. "And the problems we have here at home affect all Americans and that's where his attention ought to be."

In his eight years as president, George W. Bush spent 490 days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas and 487 days at Camp David, Maryland. That's 977 to one.

Here's what I want to know: Where was John Boehner during the last administration? When Bush took off for Crawford with Katrina on the way, did Boehner point at the Gulf and say "That's where his attention ought to be"? When Bush hosted guests at Camp David with two wars on, did Michael Steele say that, "The first lady should have been the lead here"?

Of course not. The President of the United States doesn't leave his brain or even his staff at the White House when he travels. The Bushies were able to use computers, telephones, and airplanes from remote locations, and Obama can do the same. Boehner and Steele, putting politics before policy and partisanship before country.

There's more...


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