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 and issues.]

 

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.]

 

 

 

Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

Polls Show Declining Power of Gun Lobby

Gun Lobby's Declining Pull
By Glenn Hurowitz

Even in the wake of a shooting as horrific as the Virginia Tech massacre, the gun lobby still looms very large in Washington. Neither the congressional leadership nor any of the leading presidential candidates have indicated that they're going to bring up gun control legislation that could prevent guns from getting into the hands of people like Cho Seung-Hui - or the criminals who used guns to kill 11,624 Americans in 2004 alone. "I hope there's not a rush to do anything," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
It's not that most Democrats think that common sense gun control measures don't make sense. It's that they've bought into the notion (peddled aggressively by the National Rifle Association) that any support at all for gun control is political suicide.  
It's an old Washington trick: if you can't win a policy debate on the merits, convince politicians that a certain policy will help them get elected. And the NRA has been a master at this gambit. During the 12 years in which Republicans controlled Congress, lots of pro-gun candidates won big with the NRA's vocal support.
But are those victories actually attributable to the gun issue - or were there other factors at work as well?
Public opinion data suggests that the gun lobby has played only a very small role in determining election outcomes; indeed, there's a strong indication that support for reasonable gun control measures actually boosts performance at the polls, even in relatively conservative districts.

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