PA Senate: Protect pigeons not people

Never let it be said that Harrisburg lacks a sense of irony:

“Pa. Senate votes to ban pigeon shoots” by PETER JACKSON, AP,, 10/15/14:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Guns were a hot topic Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Senate, which voted to back a ban on pigeon shoots and for a bill to give groups like the National Rifle Association legal standing to sue municipalities over local gun laws.

Senators favored outlawing pigeon shoots by a 3-1 margin and sent the measure back to the House for consideration.

The shoots, which involve launching the birds from spring-loaded boxes to be shot at close range, were derided by senators who called it inhumane and a throwback to “another age.”…

Photo from at philly.com091514-pigeon-shooting-600

That bill, HB 1750, passed the Senate on Oct. 15 by a vote of 36-12.

The same day, the Senate voted 32-16 to add the Alloway amendment, expanding HB 80 from a bill about sale of metals into one that penalizes municipalities for restricting the sale of guns and ammunition.

HB 80 by a passed the next day by a vote of 34-14. Henceforth, any local gun-restricting ordinance can be taken to court by organizations such as the NRA; a municipality will not only have to defend the case but also pay damages and the NRA’s or other plaintiff’s expenses. So much for the pretense that the conservatives who dominate in Harrisburg are against “big government.”

So the majority of the PA Senate put itself in the interesting position of prioritizing the protection of pigeons over the protection of people.

A week later, though, the PA House refused to take up the pigeon bill, thus letting it, like the pigeons, expire. See “NRA claims 11th hour victory in battle over live pigeon shoots” by Amy Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22/14. By then, though, the House had approved the Senate version of HB 80, which the current Governor will no doubt sign before his day of reckoning with the voters on Nov. 4.

So, chalk up two more for victories the NRA and its message: Pigeons, people, whatever.

photo from “151 Victims of Mass Shootings in 2012: Here Are Their Stories,” Mother Jones, 12/19/12





PS How did Senators representing Chesco vote?

HB 1750: Dinniman (D), Erickson (R), Pileggi (R), Rafferty (R) for

HB 80 Alloway amendment and final bill: Erickson (R), Pileggi (R), Rafferty (R) for; Dinniman (D) against

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Women candidates and the two parties

On 9/8/14 the Daily Local News published a letter from me under the title “More women would be good for state and country.”

Though I don’t doubt that that title is literally true, what I really said is that “a record number of women and supporters of women’s rights elected to office in Harrisburg and Washington this year would be good for Pennsylvania and the country.”

As it happens, it would be good for Democrats too, as they have more women running. I’m going to say more here.

On August 26, Women’s Equality Day, people across the country celebrated the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote.

As president Obama’s August 25 proclamation began by saying:

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was certified, securing for women the fundamental right to vote. The product of decades spent organizing, protesting, and agitating, it was a turning point on the long march toward equality for all, and it inspired generations of courageous women who took up this unfinished struggle in their own time. On the anniversary of this civil rights milestone, we honor the character and perseverance of America’s women and all those who work to make the same rights and opportunities possible for our daughters and sons….

As the president goes on to say, women deserve equal rights, treatment, pay, and opportunities. Shouldn’t that be obvious to every one of us?

So how are we Pennsylvanians doing in equality of women among our elected legislators? Not so well, unfortunately.

According to the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, there are 37 women (21 R’s and 16 D’s) in our State House, and 8 (3 R’s and 5 D’s) in our State Senate.

Doing the math: in the PA House 21/111 = 19% of the R’s are women and 16/92 = 17% of the D’s are women. In the PA Senate, women are 3/27 = 11% of the R’s and 5/23 = 22% of the D’s.

The total of 45/253 means that only 18% of our General Assembly are women.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (as of November 8, 2013, but figures should be about the same today), Colorado ranks first at 41% women and Pennsylvania ranks 35th. Put differently, only 15 states (most of them in the South) have less representation of women in the state legislature.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women comprise 18.5% of the US House and 20% of the US Senate. PA has just one woman representative (Allyson Schwartz) out of 18 House members, or 6%, and no female senators.

So what can be done about Pennsylvania?

On August 26, eight Democratic women candidates for PA Senate and House from Chester County joined in the rally in Harrisburg, celebrating the record number of women running this year for the state Legislature. To be precise, in Chesco, 7 women are running out of 10 Dem candidates and 1 woman out of 11 R candidates.

As local Democratic candidate Susan Rzucidlo (158th House district) pointed out, “In order to have a truly representative government our Legislature should reflect the diversity of our state.”

Tom Houghton, Dem candidate for U.S. Congress PA-16, said that “It is unfortunate that in 2014, ‘women’s issues’ such as access to health care, equal pay and equal opportunities are still matters of political and policy debate.”

And where do elected Republicans stand? Among many other possible examples:

Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act when it passed Congress last year.

In April of this year, Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) voted to filibuster the Paycheck Fairness Act, which still hasn’t passed the Senate, though the House passed it in 2009. In fact, not a single R senator voted for it. According to “Senate Republicans Block Bill on Equal Pay,” New York Times, 4/9/14:

Supporters of the bill, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, say it would bring transparency to worker pay by making it illegal for employers to penalize employees who discuss their salaries and by requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay information from employers.

Rs v. equal pay for women













The D’s routinely accuse the R’s of waging a “war on women.” Maybe “war” is a bit strong? Putting it more genteelly: Too many elected R’s just don’t seem to care about what American women care about.

But I want to emphasize, these are not issues “for women.” Fairness in representation, fairness in pay and job access, fairness in legal protections are good for all Americans. And electing a record number of women and supporters of women’s rights to office in Harrisburg and Washington this year would be good for Pennsylvania and the country.

Wouldn’t it be great if this year’s PA Dem women candidates (pictured below with Katie McGinty, head of Tom Wolf’s Fresh Start Campaign, all got the chance to start changing the outmoded political culture in Harrisburg, as of January 2015?

Equality Day











So Chester County could help Pennsylvania along. How does the County, long under R domination, currently rate in terms of representation of women?

US Congress: 0/3
PA Senate: 0/4
PA House: 1/4
Chesco Commissioners: 1/3
Chesco row officers: 3/8
Chesco Court of Common Pleas: 4/17

Though these are very different categories, adding the figures does give us an idea of the underrepresentation of women: 9/39, or 23%. Isn’t this strange, when women comprise slightly over half of all who vote?

November 4, 2014, we can start doing something about it.

PS Summary of the % of women:

6% in the US Congress from PA
0% in the US Congress from Chesco
16% in the PA Senate
0% in the PA Senate from Chesco
18% in the PA House
11% in the PA House from Chesco
29% of Chesco countywide elected officials
0% of current Republican candidates for US Congress to represent Chesco
33% of current Democratic candidates for US Congress to represent Chesco
9% of current Republican candidates for PA Senate and House to represent Chesco
70% of current Democratic candidates for PA Senate and House to represent Chesco

Posted in PA politics, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Time to discuss public education funding, not “gang up on lawmakers””

I found the Daily Local News 10/5/14 editorial, “Homeowners, time to gang up on lawmakers,” very perplexing. (You can find the original version online in the Pottstown Mercury, 10/3/14.)

I actually favor state funding for public education, because I think it’s fairer than the current reliance on property taxes, but the details have to be considered carefully, and this editorial does not help at all. It doesn’t even mention that it is talking only about school taxes, not municipal and county property taxes.

“Property tax reform” has a nice ring to it but basically means transferring the financing of public education from local property owners to other types of tax.

As authorized by Senate Bill 76, does the editorial writer favor increasing state sales taxes from 6% to 7% and broadening the goods and services taxed (possibly including online sales)?

How about the proposed increase in state income tax from 3.07% to 4.34%?

And should school districts be able to levy personal income tax or earned income tax for new construction?

How would the proceeds be divided among school districts? If current district funding is locked in as the basis for future budgets, would that perpetuate the current unfairness?

How do we know that an across-the-board inflation-calibrated increase will meet students’ needs?

How would districts with growing or shrinking school populations be affected?

Could state funding become contingent on adopting certain state-approved policies and procedures?

Would the measure help public schools or further disadvantage them against charter and private schools?

Would funding in wealthier areas like Chester County be less than what the local population wishes to pay?

Would businesses and renters gain or lose from the shift in taxes?

Should revenue from any future natural gas extraction tax feed into public school funding?

I can understand that, considering a far-reaching bill, many PA legislators want to wait till next year to finish dealing with such questions, which the editorial writer does not discuss.

Instead, the editorial complains about attention given to issues like same sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. But there is a difference. Those are issues of human rights and freedoms, which should concern us all, not just those affected most directly. But I have not heard about any right not to pay property tax.

What particularly surprises me is the remark “Did you hear more about any other single issue [than same-sex marriage] in 2014?” It seems to me we’ve heard quite a lot about terrorism, Iraq and Syria, and ebola lately.

But oddly, the editorial does not seem to accept that the Daily Local chooses what to put in its pages. In the 10/5/14 issue, the main headline is “Beloved pig shot at animal sanctuary.” It could have been “Public school financing off Harrisburg agenda.” But it wasn’t.

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Ebola and MRSA

When an epidemic starts far away, we tend to be in denial. It couldn’t happen here because we have such an advanced medical system, right?

No man is an island and no country is a gated community.

Do you remember the scary arrival of AIDS in this country 30+ years ago? That also came to us from Africa, while people weren’t paying enough attention here. Doesn’t it make one think that the international community — with mainly the wealthy countries footing the bill — ought to be more active in helping improve health conditions around the world? The World Health Organization is doing what it can, but unfortunately their budget has declined recently.

And now ebola has reached Texas after all and the victim was initially turned away from a hospital. Whatever science can do, it can’t rule out human error.

And in one of the ironies of globalization, the Texas patient boarded his pane in Monrovia, named after our 5th president James Monroe, since Liberia was founded as a country by African Americans from the US in the first half of the 19th century.

The widening circle of ebola victims is to the world community as the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to the US population.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t a fringe group worry. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:

…these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

We often hear about hospital infections and deaths due to MRSA. According to the Mayo Clinic,

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.

Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers….

And why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? In part because of the overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat production. So much has been written about that, and so little improves because the meant lobby has such a stranglehold on Congress.

Here’s just one recent tidbit: “Taking a Health Hazard Home” by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, 9/15/14

A new study of a small group of workers at industrial hog farms in North Carolina has found that they continued to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria over several days, raising new questions for public health officials struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens….

If those workers know what’s good for them, they won’t eat the pork there — but they can’t avoid breathing.

The spread of ebola and MRSA has several lessons, in my view:

The US can’t keep out diseases from other countries (by the way, dengue fever is here too) and global warming isn’t going to help at all.

We and the other wealthy countries need to support third-world countries’ health care more, for their sake and our own.

We need a truly national health care system, so that no one who might have serious symptoms will hesitate to see a doctor immediately — or have to wait in line for hours either. A single-payer health care system for Pennsylvania, as proposed by Health Care for All PA, would be a good start.

Disruptions of populations, as by warfare — think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Middle East now –, spread disease. Read “1918 flu pandemic” in Wikipedia. Brought on by World War I, the so-called (and wrongly named) Spanish flu “infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”

The world needs to get its priorities straight: less money for war, more for health!

PS: More on the budget: the entire 2014 budget for the CDC, which through the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases is leading US ebola help to West Africa, is $11.3 billion.

Meanwhile, according to the National Priorities Project, the US has spent over $1.5 trillion on wars since 2001, and so far just in 2014 over $18 billion on nuclear weapons.

See also: “Budget Cuts ‘Eroded Our Ability to Respond’ to Ebola, Says Top Health Official” by Gabrielle Canon, Mother Jones, 10/1/14.

In terms of national security, isn’t protection against epidemics a more beneficial expenditure than nuclear weapons?

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The Eye of the Fire, 9/11

The Eye of the Fire

The sky blue

Dresden London Manhattan

the firebrands the airplanes wayward

rise in the sky crazy suns fall

twisting and burning the planets the blue

skin of the buildings the churches

the towers the temples of trade

the people running innocent

the ones burning and fleeing always are innocent

fleeing the flames in the road in the alley the overfilled staircases

innocence always quicker to burn jumping and falling

not understanding the violent hand hasty to act but

trying to undo the image so many have seen and seen and rerun

the gash in the smooth face well-remembered well-photographed

the melting of steel the downfall of stone

that image fought back by the vision of eyes

needing no understanding

the gaze of humanity surpassing the warmth

of the eye of the fire of the sky.

Posted in Peace and War | Tagged , | Leave a comment

2010 advice to the President and structural problems

In my files I came across a piece of writing from January 2010 that I don’t seem to have ever posted. I’m going to paste it farther below, because it just shows how slowly things change in our country.

Actually, we’re still trying to sort out some of the issues bequeathed to us by our esteemed Founders: large states vs. small states, executive vs. legislative vs. judicial branches, liberty vs. equality, security vs. freedom from unreasonable searches, the aftermath of slavery, economic injustice, access to education, who controls the military, and much more.

I did post, on 3/27/10, a different set of ideas in “My advice to Obama, 11/30/08,” which you can read here.

Do we still remember those days in early 2010 when the current administration was just a year old, it still wasn’t clear whether or when the country would recover from the great crash of 2008, the Tea Party was just taking shape, the Affordable Care Act was not yet signed into law (3/23/10), the disastrous (for Democrats and in some ways mainstream Republicans and the country) 2010 election had not yet occurred, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (1/10) was just about to lead to the huge influx of political money into Super PACs and “social welfare” organizations?

Despite all that, I still think things move slowly around here.

The piece I just found, dated 1/29/10, shows that structurally nothing much has changed. Even Obamacare, if it stays with us, does not change the basic system of people purchasing insurance health care from private profit-making organizations (except for special groups like veterans and seniors). And that “hands-off dance the administration and Congress have been doing for the last year” has now stretched on to almost 6 years, with no end in sight.

So here are my thoughts, just as written 4+ years ago [plus a few comments added in brackets]:

After the November 2008 election, president-elect Obama asked for advice from the public, and I planned to set out mine in some detail. I know he was quite busy, but someone somewhere might have had time to read it. What I did get around to sending was a brief note that 25% of Americans would always oppose and detest him and that he should proceed to try to listen to and please the other 75%. It doesn’t seem that that advice, which certainly must have come from many quarters, registered on him till this month [meaning January 2010].

What I would have said more fully, according to the page of notes I’ve found, was that it was high time for the government to try to solve some really serious structural problems that are making this country almost non-functional in its domestic policies, and that threaten the people’s future well-being. I’m not talking about tweaks and adjustments, but these critical areas:

1) Economics: too much inequality of wealth, insecurity of families and communities, loss of income, jobs, and homes; too much dependence on consumer spending and imports, not enough on producing needed goods and services; lack of sufficient rewards for hard work; imbalance of expenditures between the military and all other areas [I should have specified discretionary]; corporate overpowering of small businesses.

2) Education: insufficient opportunities for children who need the most help; over-reliance on property tax to fund public schools; decline of public universities.

3) Health care: lack of a fair national health care program; millions with no insurance who are therefore cared for minimally and at public expense anyhow; inadequate care of veterans; poor performance with regard to cost and in comparison to other developed countries.

4) Transportation and energy: over-reliance on cars and trucks; weak mass transportation in most regions; poor progress on alternative energy sources; dependence on foreign sources of oil necessitating expensive military operations [actually, has that changed? I'm doubtful, as long as we are both importing and exporting gas and oil].

5) Political life: need to inspire voters to turn out in the relatively good numbers of Nov. 2008; counteract excessive lobbying influence, corruption, gerrymandering, apathy.

These are issues that need to be solved by total rethinking and recasting, not by little adjustments and compromises. I’d love to think that the public, or the free market, or generous philanthropists, could solve any of this, but honestly, I think these are federal and/or state government questions.

So, how is the government doing? It’s hard to apportion blame in the hands-off dance the administration and Congress have been doing for the last year, but between the two of them, though a few individuals have been trying, the results so far are terrible. We’ll see if any of the energy of the State of the Union message gets spread around, but since the president made some of the same promises before and after his election, I’m not optimistic. We’ve had gridlock, we have gridlock, and things continue to degrade in the five challenge areas listed above.

I’ve been saying for a year that Obama should give up on true health care reform [I meant, table it until later, rather than fighting it through without features than many thought were essential, like the "public option"] and make the 2010 congressional election a sort of referendum on what the public wants. Elections should be referendums, but that works out only if the public is paying attention. It is said that Americans get the government they deserve. If they don’t pay attention, they get terrible government. With the decline in voting from November 2008 to November 2009, what might encourage us to expect sudden improvement after November 2010?

Posted in Politics, President & candidates, US House, US Senate | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Responsibility in the country, responsibility in the world

How is President Obama like the United States?

Answer: both get blamed whatever they do.

In the continuing antics of the US House of Representatives, the Boehner team wants President Obama to wait for their permission to do anything. After they’ve played about with the federal law-making system till it’s completely broken, they want the President to just leave it lying broken and bleeding in the halls of the Capitol.

So, if the President tries to make the Affordable Health Care Act, which Congress passed in 2010, phase in more smoothly, they sue him.

But they expect him to act when they don’t know what they want. Then it’s the President’s fault for not doing enough. Why isn’t he acting faster to solve the child immigration crisis brought on by a law passed by Congress and signed by his predecessor in 2008?

On the international scene, similarly, other countries sit around waiting for the U.S. to solve the latest problem, and then everyone blames us for whatever we do or don’t do.

We broke Iraq, in Colin Powell’s term, so we own it. and of course we and we alone are responsible for saving people being massacred there.

According to an AP story today,

This is going to be a long-term project” that won’t end and can’t succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad capable of keeping the country from breaking apart, Obama said at the White House….

“We can conduct air strikes, but, ultimately, there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support,” he said.

In other words, the country that Western powers artificially carved out after World War I will be broken till the U.S. finally lets its pieces go their separate ways. Till then, while everyone else watches, we’ll be sending in bombing missions and advisors and security forces to protect our security forces.

Afghanistan–we also broke it, and it’s still broken too. Western Europe broke Ukraine by trying to tear it out of the Russian orbit, and Russia’s Putin rushed in and picked up a prime chunk of it.

And then there’s the 70-year piece of tragic theater playing out between Israel and Palestine. The cooped-up people who have been killed in large numbers recently are inhabitants of Gaza, which is part of Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was broken up by the Western powers after World War I. Even their next-door neighbor Egypt won’t let needed supplies in over the border. Everyone’s waiting for the US to fix that disaster too. 

If we do anything (other than give both sides money and equipment) it’s our fault, and if we don’t, it’s our fault too. Over generations, the US has created a culture of dependency, and now we can’t break the cycle. I don’t mean just the culture of dependency of Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan; I mean the dependency of the world, waiting for us to do something.

It makes you think the people in power better not keep breaking things, doesn’t it? Except the culture of dependency on the US, that is.

When legislators and countries won’t do their job, there is gridlock. Gridlock isn’t good for anyone, at least anyone who believes in democracy.

In the US House of Representatives, the people in power aren’t taking the responsibility to do their job, which is to pass laws for the benefit of the country. If Americans are paying attention, they will go to the polls in November to say what they think about irresponsible legislators.

And the countries of the world aren’t taking the responsibility to do their job, which is to advance their own citizens’ interests while trying for good relations among countries, which is also in the interest of their own citizens and all citizens of the world.

Posted in International, President & candidates, US House | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments