Pennsylvania Republicans have managed to take an imaginary problem — voter fraud — and fix it with a real solution — voter suppression.
Yes, suppression. If you think there’s anything more to the Voter ID bill — which last week passed the state Senate and is presently working its way through the House — than a conscious, deliberate effort to keep likely Democratic voters away from the polls, you’re sadly mistaken.
Seniors, Blacks, Latinos and college students — those least likely to possess a valid state photo ID — also just happen to constitute a significant portion of the Democratic Party base. And nothing, I mean nothing in this world, is more important to Republicans than (a) getting President Obama out of the White House, and (b) making sure no other dark-skinned heathen ever gets similar high and mighty ideas. Ever.
Their solution? Take America back — back to the 1950s.
The bill’s sponsor is our old enemy Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County. You remember Metcalfe. He’s the guy who featured life-sized Obama targets for his gun-toting pals to shoot at during a political fundraiser. He’s also the guy who seems determined to kick anyone who speaks Spanish out of the state. If there is ever a bill in Harrisburg calling for separate water fountains for “coloreds” and the criminalization of interracial marriage, look for Metcalfe’s name to be on it.
Also, you could expect Gov. Tom Corbett to sign such a bill into law without hesitation. He’s already promised to sign the Voter ID bill as soon as it gets to his desk.
What’s next? Fire hoses? Police dogs? Is there no limit to their tactics when it comes to keeping “you people” away from the polls? Now they’re just shamelessly taking their cues from Alabama’s George Wallace and Bull Connor, circa 1960.
Never forget what the heart of the Civil Rights Movement was all about — the sacred right to vote, to exercise the American franchise, to change our circumstances by becoming full partners in the process. That’s why they braved the fire hoses and the batons in Mississippi and Alabama. That’s why Medgar Evers was shot in the back in his own driveway by a cowardly white supremacist, murdered in front of his wife and children.
And now, the Republicans think your memory is so short, and your apathy so overwhelming, that you’ll just sit there and watch them roll back 60 years of struggle for human dignity without lifting a finger. They’re counting on you to do nothing while they spit on Medgar’s grave.
If that thought doesn’t spur you to action, nothing will. We need to look at this as a rallying cry — a chance to shake off the complacency that leads to the paltry 15 to 20 percent voter turnout in our communities. Every four years some politician tells us “this is the most important election in our lifetime.” Mostly it’s empty rhetoric, but this time it happens to be true.
This is the most important election in our lifetime — even more important than 2008. Because this time, we’re not just electing the first Black president — we’re making sure that the next Black president has a chance to compete on a level playing field. We’re fighting for more than one man’s ascension to high office, we’re fighting for the next generation’s chance to stand on his shoulders.
It may be too late to prevent state Republicans from passing the Voter ID bill, and too late to stop Corbett from signing it into law. But it’s not too late to take action.
From now until November, we here at The Philadelphia Tribune will make this a priority. We will publish details of the bill, and information on where to get your free state-issued ID before Election Day. We’ll do everything in our power to see that this voter suppression tactic fails miserably.
The “back of the bus” days are over — our civil rights have been fully paid for with buckets of blood and a river of tears. It’s high time someone informed Metcalfe, Corbett and their Republican colleagues of that.
And one more word about Evers. When he was assassinated in his driveway on that night in June 1963, he was on his way home from an NAACP meeting. As he crawled the 30 feet to his front door, bleeding to death, he was still clutching the armful of NAACP T-shirts he was carrying.
The T-shirts read, “Jim Crow Must Go.”
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
I’ve known state Rep. Rosita Youngblood for a number of years, and as a matter of full disclosure, I once did some writing for one of her re-election campaigns. She is a thoughtful, good-natured woman whose sweet exterior hides a tough-as-nails street politician who can take it — and dish it out — with the best of them.
Which is why I wasn’t surprised this week to find that she’s still doing battle with her colleagues in the legislature over a patch of rugged land on the Pennsylvania–Maryland border known officially as Negro Mountain.
If you’ve never heard of Negro Mountain, don’t feel bad — neither had Youngblood until her granddaughter showed it to her in a school textbook in 2007. The legislator was horrified, and swore then and there to do everything in her power to get the name changed. She’s been fighting that fight ever since. She keeps introducing the bill, and it keeps getting thrown back at her.
You’d think that particular piece of legislation would be a no-brainer. Who could possibly object to a more appropriate, less offensive name for the highest peak in Pennsylvania? Your fellow Pennsylvanians, that’s who. And their elected representatives have put up obstacles and roadblocks to Youngblood’s cause every step of the way.
“It just shows the mindset of many Pennsylvanians,” a frustrated Youngblood told me this week. “They’re just resistant to change of any kind.”
Particularly galling to Youngblood is their excuse for resistance to changing the name: that it was already changed to Negro Mountain years ago, replacing the far more offensive original name. (I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.)
Negro Mountain was named for a man named Nemesis, a Black frontiersman who saved white settlers from attack at the cost of his own life in 1756 during the French and Indian War. If the original intention was to honor the man and his sacrifice, Youngblood argues, then what’s wrong with renaming it Nemesis Mountain?
If the name Negro Mountain alarms you, get ready for a real shock: In the U.S. today, there are 757 places with Negro in the name, many of which, like Negro Mountain, were changed to the more acceptable “Negro” from you-know-what. There are also 35 “Spooks,” 30 “Spades,” 14 “Sambos,” at least seven “Darkeys,” and according to the U.S. Geological Service, too many “Coons” to count. There’s a Darkey Springs, Tennessee; a Pickaninny Buttes, California; a Dead Negro Draw in Texas — and just for diversity, a Jewtown, Georgia.
I rattled off those names and numbers to Youngblood, and I could hear her anger rising over the phone.
“This is ridiculous,” she growled. “What century are we living in? In my mind, there’s no justification for this blatant disrespect — none. They always fall back on ‘tradition’ when you call them out on it, but any tradition that disrespects and demeans an entire group of people is not a tradition worth holding on to.”
Her uphill battle against her rural colleagues over this is made even steeper by circumstance: The chair of the house committee overseeing any possible name change is Butler County Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a man so vile I’m ashamed to share a first name with him.
You may recall a couple of years back when Metcalfe held a fundraising carnival for his redneck contributors and supplied life-size targets of President Obama for the toothless yahoos to shoot at with live ammunition. Yeah, that Daryl Metcalfe. How sensitive do you think he’ll be to the cause of changing the name of Negro Mountain? Heck, we’ll be lucky if he doesn’t try to change it back to the original name — you know, for the sake of tradition.
None of that, though, deters Rosita Youngblood. She keeps advancing the bills, and advocating for the name change — through six years, two governors and a house divided against her, she keeps pushing. For her, honoring Nemesis the man is equally important as changing the name of the mountain. Lately, she said, the state is simply not acknowledging the name at all — as if ignoring a mountain could make the controversy go away.
“I’m going to stay on top of this, no matter what,” she said. “We should honor Nemesis, an important figure in our state’s history. That mountain should bear his name, not his skin color.”
She’s right, and the reason — the only reason — to object to changing the name to Nemesis Mountain is obvious, and has nothing to do with tradition.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
I got an angry letter from Governor Corbett last week, or at least from one of his minions — chastising me for a column I wrote the week before calling for Corbett’s impeachment.
Click this link to see the letter in its entirety, and you can read it for yourself. I’m not going to refute its content point by point, but there are a couple of highlights that beg further review.
Dennis Roddy, special assistant to the governor, attempts to take me to task for saying Corbett’s been bending over backwards to accommodate his Big Oil and Big Energy friends and contributors tearing up Marcellus Shale and its surrounding communities by reminding readers that Corbett “laid down more than $1 million in penalties on a Marcellus driller for environmental failures.”
Well, Dennis, I took your suggestion and googled “Chesapeake, record fine,” and guess what? The $1 million fine is there, along with the fact that Chesapeake Energy, the company in question, owns 519 well permits in Pennsylvania and has been reporting annual revenues between $7.6 billion and $11.3 billion a year for the past four years. Chesapeake also pays its CEO $116.89 million per year, making him the third highest paid executive in the country. I seriously doubt that the $1 million in fines, however unprecedented, made much of a dent in their $11 billion profit margin. I also doubt that a drop-in-the-bucket fine is much of an incentive to make those corporations accountable for the devastated communities they’ll leave behind, or to discontinue thumbing their noses at environmental regulations.
Also notable is the boast that, “The governor crafted and implemented an impact fee in addition to this, meaning that a fully productive well will pay $310,000 to its host community over a10-year period.”
Wait a second, let me get this straight. A fully productive well, pumping millions of dollars worth of natural gas, will pay the host community — an entire township or borough — a whopping $31,000 per year for ten years. That should be of great comfort to the folks who’ll be able to light their tap water on fire, or find themselves dying of a host of environmentally based illnesses. $31,000 won’t even pay for the water they’ll have to truck in from out of town just to take a shower.
What is most telling, however, about Roddy’s tersely worded retort, is not what it says, but what it doesn’t say.
He doesn’t include one word about the voter ID law, about which I had the most to say in that column, and many columns previous. He doesn’t think its “odd,” “astonishing,” or “alarming” that I called Corbett’s law “the most insidious violation of citizens’ basic rights and dignity since “Colored Only” water fountains.” I compared it to the fire hose and police dog voter suppression tactics of the 1960s, and even headlined one column, “Tom Corbett, meet Jim Crow.”
I mean, if there were ever an opening to defend a policy you strongly believe in, that would have been it right there.
While vigorously defending Marcellus Shale drillers and Corbett’s handling of the Penn State scandal while he was Attorney General, when it comes to defending the most egregious piece of legislation in the state affecting the elderly, the poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities — silence. You can almost hear the crickets.
No attempt to convince Tribune readers that the voter ID law is free of racism, or even partisanship. No defense of voter ID law sponsor state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who once featured life-size targets of President Obama for his gun-toting contributors to shoot live rounds at one of his fundraising hoedowns. No acknowledgement of the accidental slip of the truth from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who bragged to a partisan crowd in June that the voter ID law would insure a Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania.
Could it be that Roddy simply forgot about all that when crafting the carefully worded defense of his boss? Or could it be that Corbett knows only too well that the voter ID law — and particularly the sinister motivation behind it — is as shamelessly partisan and nakedly racist as anything to come out of Harrisburg in years?
There’s even talk among Republicans nationally of repealing the Voting Rights Act altogether. Women, gays, minorities, senior citizens and immigrants are all in the GOP cross hairs this election season. Vote like your life depends upon it, because it just might.
Then, impeach Corbett.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
The eyes of the nation are on Pennsylvania this week as court hearings opposing the state’s controversial Voter ID law opened on Wednesday.
The law, which opponents say was nothing more than an attempt by Republican lawmakers to hand the commonwealth over to Mitt Romney in the presidential elections under the guise of fighting voter fraud, is being challenged on the grounds that it violates the state constitution. But that’s just one front on which the legislation is being attacked. This week the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped into the ring and has ordered the state to prove the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits voting requirements that would disproportionately impact minorities, which opponents of the law say it was designed to do.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes during a rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol building. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple — and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law is about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Governor Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
From the very beginning the law, which was supposed to be a firewall against voter fraud, came under fire from Democratic leaders who maintained that the legislation was always meant to stack the upcoming November elections in favor of the Republicans. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler and Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed off on it once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the state one of 16 to have such a law. The vote in the House was split exactly on party lines with three Republicans, Reps. Christopher Ross, Marguerite Quinn and Kurt Masser stepping across the aisle to join the Democratic opposition.
The law requires that a registered voter produce either a valid state driver’s license or non-driver’s license identification card. Other acceptable forms of identification would be a valid student’s ID, passport or military identification. One of the problems, opponents say, is many elderly voters don’t have and cannot produce documentation of their birth — a requirement for obtaining the state identification card. Many of those individuals have been registered voters for years and would be turned away from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Many female voters could also be adversely affected since their married names aren’t the names on their birth certificates.
Hughes said that attorneys for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allege there have been no known cases of voter fraud committed in the state. He also said that when Corbett was state attorney general he never prosecuted one single case of voter fraud.
ACLU attorneys think they have a strong enough case to block the law. In May, shortly after Corbett signed the bill into law, the ACLU, the Public Interest Law Center, the Advancement Project and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a law suit against it. The case, Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, argues that the law violated the state constitution, and in their brief, outline several points that will be expounded upon during proceedings:
• The commonwealth now admits that it cannot identify even a single instance in which a person voted improperly in Pennsylvania because they were able to impersonate someone else at the polling place.
• The commonwealth's new estimates of voters without acceptable ID — about three quarters of a million people — are understated based on the commonwealth's own records and based on survey evidence gathered by petitioners, and that the actual number is that one million or more eligible voters do not have the necessary ID to vote in November.
• The commonwealth has not adequately informed the public that they need to undertake a time consuming task simply in order to vote as they have in years past. An estimated 37 percent of residents are not even aware of the voter ID law or believe there is no photo ID law. More importantly, the vast majority of people who do not have valid ID under the law mistakenly believe that they have acceptable ID (13.1 percent of total eligible voters and 11.8 percent of people who voted for president in 2008).
"George Washington didn't need a voter ID card,” said State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams during the Harrisburg rally. “John Adams didn't need a voter ID card. Ronald Reagan didn't need a voter ID card. If it wasn't good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's not good enough for me."
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania - and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also states that Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.” Neither Governor Corbett nor the state attorney general will testify during the hearings, per the agreement.
The United States Department of Justice has also jumped into the legal battle, ordering Commonwealth officials to prove that the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; a law forbidding any voting requirements that would disproportionately affect minority voters. In a letter sent this past Monday to acting secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, the DOJ requested the state turnover the complete voter registration list, including voter history and race of registered voters and the current Pennsylvania driver license and ID list.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts states that: No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
The Justice Department also wants any documents supporting Gov. Tom Corbett's March 2012 statement that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID. The state has 30 days to comply. Similar laws in South Carolina and Texas were successfully blocked by the Justice Department.
“The stipulation says that the state is ‘not aware of’ any incidents of voter impersonation, which the Voter ID law is allegedly designed to address, and that the state is not prepared to present any evidence in support of the existence of such fraud. This should end the argument that the Voter ID law would prevent any voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said State Senator Daylin Leach in a press release. Leach also said that since there is no evidence of voter fraud, Republican State Representative Mike Turzai told the truth when he said at a recent partisan event that the law would help Romney win Pennsylvania.
“Also, filings indicate the Commonwealth will argue that the court should adopt a rational-basis standard for reviewing the law's Constitutionality,” Leach continued. “Anyone who has completed a semester of law school will know this means the administration, incredibly, believes that voting is not a fundamental right. The only remaining justification for the law is to prevent future incidents of fraud, of which there is also no evidence. That’s quite a thin argument to justify a law that disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, and this proves that Representative Turzai was telling the truth. This law is about nothing more than helping Republicans win the election this November.”
Last week’s ruling by Pa. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, which approved the legality of a voting rights robbing law, passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year, sets another discriminatory standard for 21st-century America.
However, Judge Simpson’s ruling isn’t a singular example of a jurist providing legality to a political party’s illegal/prejudicial effort to achieve an electoral advantage.
Simpson’s ruling simply continues a little known legacy of some Pennsylvania judges disrespecting the voting rights of Blacks in Pennsylvania — the state that hosted the birth of American democracy.
In 1837, Pennsylvania, a predominately white political party got a white judge in Bucks County to invalidate a local election it lost, ruling it was illegal for Blacks to vote despite existing state law stating otherwise.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling further robbing voting rights from Free Blacks in Pennsylvania followed that 1837 Bucks County ruling.
And, those twin judicial rulings — based more on social custom than law — provided validation for Pennsylvania’s 1838 state constitution explicitly limiting voting rights to ‘white’ men only.
“This voter ID law is a part of a concerted and continuous voter suppression effort against Blacks that started in the 1830s,” renowned expert on Pennsylvania’s Black history Charles Blockson said during an interview last week.
Blockson is an author and founder of the internationally lauded Charles L. Blockson African-American Collection at Temple University, one of the most unique collections of its kind.
Pennsylvania, rightfully perceived as an anti-slavery state during the racially contentious pre-Civil War era, experienced numerous racist assaults and insults against its free Black population — discriminatory deprivations that many argue persist today, albeit in less blatant forms than in bygone eras.
“We forget our history,” Blockson stressed.
“A lawyer from my hometown of Norristown, John Sterigere, inserted that white-male-only clause into Pennsylvania’s 1838 constitution,” Blockson said noting how last week’s court ruling and that 1838 constitutional convention “both took place in Harrisburg” the state capital.
Lawyer Sterigere and Judge Simpson both employed similar rationales to support their positions.
Sterigere swayed 1838 constitutional convention delegates with his argument that restricting voting to white-males-only was consistent with identical restrictions in other states, irrespective of the racism explicit in those restrictions.
Simpson justified his upholding of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law by citing court rulings in other states that upheld similar measures requiring government issued identification to vote, irrespective of the democracy-destroying wrongness of such laws.
The rulings of Judge Simpson, 1830s Bucks County Judge John Fox and 1830s Pa. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Bannister Gibson all employed application of a duplicitous ‘law-doesn’t-mean-what-it-says’ illogic.
Although Pennsylvania’s constitution, operative before 1838, granted voting rights to all tax-paying ‘Freemen’ over age 21 with two years of Pennsylvania residency, both Fox and Gibson ruled against eligible Black voters contending that free Blacks were not Freemen for electoral purposes.
Gibson, seizing Fox’s reasoning, proclaimed their ancestors settled Pennsylvania “as a community of white men” and since an “unconquerable prejudice” existed against all Blacks (slave and Free) the word freeman in Pennsylvania’s Constitution was “not potent enough to admit a free negro to suffrage … ”
Those 1837 judicial rulings plus that 1838 constitutional convention left Pennsylvania’s free Black population in the perverse posture of taxation-without-representation, the deprivation that spurred America’s War of Independence from England.
Pennsylvania’s current constitution states elections “shall be free and equal” barring the imposition of “additional qualifications on the right to vote.”
Judge Simpson did acknowledge “the inconvenience” created by the ID law especially for the elderly, the infirm, the homeless and persons unable to access the state’s offices issuing proper ID cards.
But Simpson asserted that inconvenience “does not qualify as substantially burdensome” for the majority of registered Pennsylvania voters.
Thus, according to Simpson, the state’s constitutional mandate for fair elections free of additional qualifications doesn’t really mean what it says.
The law also creates ID hurdles for eligible voters released from prison, an impediment not referenced in Simpson’s ruling.
Judge Simpson disingenuously brushed off a damning declaration made in June 2012 by the Pa. House Majority Leader who proudly confessed during a Republican Party meeting that the true intention behind the voter ID law was to help the GOP’s presidential candidate win Pennsylvania.
House Leader Mike Turzai, when listing 2012 GOP legislative accomplishments like corporate tax cuts during that June meeting, said, “Voter ID — which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania — done!”
While Judge Simpson termed Turzai’s “tendentious statements” disturbing, Simpson speciously declined to “infer” that other Republican Pa. legislators “shared the boastful views” of Turzai — refusing to invalidate the law for its now acknowledged rights robbing intent.
Simpson’s ruling ignored obvious context that Turzai made his boast during a Republican Party meeting attended by some fellow GOP legislators.
Further, other Pennsylvania GOP legislators do share Turzai’s support for the law as evidenced by the law’s originator Republican Daryl Metcalfe and 49 other GOP legislators filing an amicus brief in Simpson’s court backing the law.
“We know the reason for this law,” Charles Blockson said. “We have a Black president!”
One week before Judge Simpson’s ruling claiming the controversial voter ID law was “nondiscriminatory,” critics of that law released a disturbing study documenting that law’s discriminatory impact in Philadelphia.
A conclusion of that study stated “African-American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the voter ID law …”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship program.
So, what does floundering GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Pennsylvania voter disenfranchisement proponent Rep. Daryl Metcalfe and a box of popular corn muffin mix all have in common?
Each is deceptive!
Romney, in yet another foot-in-mouth moment, pontificated his feeling that 47 percent of the American voting public believes they are “victims.”
Those people, in Mitt’s mindset, hold the “government” responsible to “care for them” by providing health care, food, housing and everything else …“you name-it.”
Never mind that nearly half of America’s voting public doesn’t view themselves as victims and don’t depend on government to provide their basic needs.
In the mind of Mitt, too many in America have an entitlement mindset.
This is the deceptive mindset of an ungratefully wealthy man who sees no entitlement in his paying a much lower tax rate on his fortune than the tax rates paid by 47,000 average, hard-working Americans earning far less collectively.
Metcalfe, in his own foot-in-mouth moment, embraced Mitt’s 47 percent slam to defend his Pa. voter ID law proclaiming the controversial measure now back before Commonwealth Court will only disenfranchise “lazy” people.
Metcalfe, a Republican legislator from outside Pittsburgh, popped off during a radio interview last week that similar to Mitt’s comment about 47 percent of people “living off the public dole” he believes that people in Pa., who don’t have proper voter ID, “are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need.”
Never mind that people across Pennsylvania are encountering difficulties with just physically getting to the few state offices issuing the ID cards — and once there, encounter long delays due to too few staff at those offices and/or staff who are uneducated on what they need to do with Metcalfe’s ID law.
In the deceptive mindset of Metcalfe, robbing people of their constitutional right to vote with a measure based on an allegation of in-person voting fraud — which facts show doesn’t exist in Pennsylvania — is no big deal because if people are too lazy to get ID cards, “the state can’t fix that.”
So, how does that corn muffin mix fit with the warped mindsets of Mitt and Metcalfe?
Surprisingly (and deceptively) the main ingredient in one of the most popular corn muffin mixes is wheat flour.
Never mind that people with allergies to wheat often turn to corn muffins to satisfy their bread itch without knowing that the key ingredient in the muffin mix is wheat flour — the substance they are trying to avoid.
And never mind that the fourth ingredient in that popular corn muffin mix is lard — yes, the material made from pig fat … hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated lard (pig fat).
Pig fat in corn muffin mix presents a small problem for people who don’t eat pork still consuming pork without their knowledge.
Now, to the Daryl Metcalfes of the legislative world, the problem is not unexpected or unhealthy ingredients in food but the fact that people don’t read the labels on food packages to see what’s in the food they buy.
Never mind that the printing on most food package labels is so small that most people need glasses (or magnifying glasses) to read.
The Metcalfes and Romneys favor increased deregulation that allows corporations to do what corporations deem best for the respective corporate profits even if that “best” includes, for example, deleting that small type on packages listing ingredients if a corporations claims it costs too much to print that small type on a package.
Many food manufacturing corporations now utilize food stuffs from plants genetically modified by other corporations.
Corporations say genetically modified plants are not dangerous to human health — although GMO products can cause ugly tumors and other bad stuff in lab rats.
Many genetically modified plants (including corn and soybeans) are those that are chemically altered in seed form to produce resistance to weed killer poisons enabling the spraying of weed killers without damaging the cash crop.
It’s a proven fact that weed killers pollute the environment — however some contend the solid medical evidence on adverse health impacts from GMO remains inconclusive.
Some claim climate change/global warming is fake despite damning changes in weather that evidence proves is caused by carbon pollution from humans.
Last week alarms were raised about dangers from American-grown rice having hi-levels of arsenic in it — arsenic arising from weed killers poured on the land where the rice is grown when that land was used to grow cotton decades ago. Apparently the weed killers don’t wash away in the rain but stick in the soil.
There is a political battle in California where some folks want food manufacturers to put a notice on food products containing GMO.
Major food manufacturers are opposing the GMO notice that many European countries require.
Major food manufacturers and their supporters, including GMO seed manufacturer Monsanto, have dumped over $32 million into defeating the California labeling referendum known as Proposition 37.
This labeling battle over GMOs and use of the word “natural” (no “natural” on unnatural products) is another one of the battlegrounds where wealth (individual and corporate) is seeking to bash the public in the interest of corporate profits.
No surprise that some wealth (individual/corporate) supports voter suppression measures like Metcalfe pushes and tax breaks for the rich that Romney wants.
This presidential race extends far beyond Democrats or Republicans occupying the White House.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Asset tests still too stringent, city leaders say
City officials are keeping the pressure on Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration — even as it loosens proposed eligibility standards for the food stamp program.
City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution urging the state Department of Public Welfare to reconsider plans to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients.
“I’m encouraged,” said Councilman Curtis Jones, who introduced the resolution just one day after Corbett announced the revised standards. “That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not far enough.”
Under the administration’s latest proposal, a household with more than $5,500 in eligible assets for the typical family, or $9,000 for a household with an elderly or disabled member, would be barred from receiving food stamps.
Those numbers were an increase from an earlier proposal, in which people under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings or other assets — including an automobile — would have been barred from receiving food stamps. For people over 60, that threshold would have been set at $3,250.
“Seniors are at the most financially vulnerable point in their lives, and they have to make a decision on whether to heat or eat, whether to accept food stamps or do away with their burial savings — $5,000 just doesn’t cut it,” said Jones.
The idea of asset testing — long on the books but not enforced — has riled Philadelphia area lawmakers.
Last week, a group that included Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Vincent Hughes urged the administration to drop its plan to implement asset testing.
Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander defended the concept this week.
“The asset test ensures every public dollar we have goes directly to those who need it most,” he said in a statement.
The new standards would go into effect May 1.
According to department estimates, 1,448 households currently receiving food stamps have assets at or above $5,500, while 2,575 elderly or disabled households have assets at or above $9,000.
That’s about 0.5 percent of the 1.8 million people, or 880,000 households, currently receiving the federally paid benefit in Pennsylvania. The food stamp program feeds 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, including 439, 245 in Philadelphia.
In other news, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a resolution urging the state House Judiciary Committee to reject a bill that would restrict the city’s authority to regulate guns.
“It’s imperative that we still advocate as a city,” Johnson said. “And, let those in Harrisburg who do not have our best interests at heart know that we will not stand for it.”
State lawmakers are looking at a bill that would invoke financial penalties for any municipality that enacts gun laws more stringent than the state’s. Philadelphia is one of 48 municipalities across the state that has implemented its own gun laws. In Philadelphia, gun-owners are required to report lost or stolen guns, in an effort to curtail the number of illegal guns on the street.
The gun lobby has campaigned vigorously against Philadelphia’s law and similar measures. Last May, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced the bill that is now in front of the Judiciary Committee. The committee may vote on the proposal as early as Monday.
Proposed asset testing, the gun control bill and a host of other initiatives now in front of the state legislature provoked Councilman Jim Kenney to chastise state lawmakers.
“I don’t understand, if you’re not going to help us, could you just leave us alone?” he asked. “From voter ID to modest gun control for gun violence, immigration and the attack on poor people, this SNAP [food stamp] thing. If you’re not going to help, I understand you don’t want to help us. You don’t care about us. But, just leave us alone,” he said, to round of applause from the audience.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced legislation that would create a city land bank, which is intended to streamline the way city acquires and disposes of vacant properties.
“It establishes comprehensive city policy. It will give Philadelphia another tool in being able to get a handle on the more than 30,000 vacant structures that we have that are in private hands,” she said. “And, an opportunity for us to come with a comprehensive plan about when we acquire these properties and quickly turning them around and making them taxpaying properties.”
Sanchez said the city spends about $20 million a year to maintain vacant properties and loses about $70 million in tax revenue.
Under the plan, land acquisition and disposition will be handled by one agency instead of the several that have that authority now.
Sanchez said she didn’t anticipate opposition from the administration.
Finally, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill that would allow the sides of city school buses to be used for advertising in an effort to raise revenue for the district.
“Property tax owners have made it clear to City Council over the last two budget cycles that they are tapped out,” said Brown. “To the extent that we can find new additional dollars for our schools without raising property taxes, I believe we owe it to our students and taxpayers to have that conversation.”
The proposal would bar ads that promote, alcohol, tobacco, anything with sexual content or political campaign ads.
Lawmaker says Republicans abuse House procedures
Republicans in the state House are abusing a rarely used rule to stifle debate in the House, said Philadelphia state Rep. Curtis Thomas, a Democrat — a charge hotly refuted by Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County.
Thomas met with the editorial board of the Philadelphia Tribune this week to express his concern over the use of House Rule 61, a rule in the House bylaws used to immediately stop any debate, bar further amendment and force a vote.
Rule 61 has been invoked nine times between January and October 2011. It was used just 30 times in the 50 years between 1961 and 2010.
“It’s used with a lot of troubling issues,” said Thomas. “For instance, it was used to get the voter ID bill over to the Senate. It was used on the expanded Castle Doctrine, and a number of other issues.”
Hot-button issues trigger more debate, more emotion and more obstruction, said Metcalfe, majority chair of the state government committee, which he said makes the use of Rule 61 necessary.
“When you’re having more substantive debates, and having more substantive issues considered and brought before members, you’re going to have more debate,” he said. “You’re going to have more emotions involved, and you’re going to have more obstruction involved from the minority party. At times, to move on … you have to end debate.”
The rule allows one member to “call for the previous question”; 20 members must then second the motion and finally, if the motion passes with a simple majority, the House votes.
Metcalfe said Republicans used the rule sparingly, “not even once a month,” and charged some members with wanting to drag on debate to paralyze the House.
“At some point in time, when a debate has played itself out and positions have been made known, you reach a point where certain individuals might just continue to try and filibuster to obstruct actually moving forward,” he said. “That’s why you have the rule — so that at some point in time you have the ability to move forward and actually conduct business.”
By silencing opposing lawmakers, Republican leaders were effectively silencing the voice of the people, said Thomas.
“In Pennsylvania, like in most other states, you speak through your representative,” he said. “So, when you ask 20 people to shut down the debate, you’re actually shutting down debate for a sizeable number of people in Pennsylvania. There should be an opportunity to hear it.”
Both sides are given plenty of time to air their opinions, Metcalfe said, and pressing for further debate is often a stalling tactic.
“There is a time during any debate where it’s clear that the debate has played itself out, and it’s very clear that what’s being continued is just to obstruct and try and keep action from occurring on particular legislation,” he said.
Metcalfe said the legislative record showed the success of invoking the rule.
“As far as the number of bills we’ve considered and passed to the Senate, we’ve conducted a lot more business on the floor than the Democrats did,” he said. “We’ve actually been doing legislative work more often.”
Thomas argued that work could have been done without cutting short debate.
Republicans control the chamber with a 113 to 89 majority.
Having a majority already, use of the rule is unnecessary, argued Thomas, because the Republicans have enough votes to move whatever legislation they want. So, he’s been left to conclude that the only reason to push for an immediate vote is a desire to quell honest debate.
“You have a majority of members, so you shouldn’t need a nuclear bomb in order to move your agenda,” said Thomas.
It’s just a matter of getting some work done, Metcalfe said.
“If we were using it once a day, I think you could say we were using it quite often,” he said. “I think we’ve [used it] in a very deliberate and responsible manner. We could have used it more often.”
Nothing can be done to change he rule for the current session. The procedural code is adopted every two years at the beginning of each session. That means House rules can be changed in January 2013, and not before.
Thomas said he would move to change the rule, making sure that it includes provisions on when it can be used. He hoped that by raising public awareness on the matter, constituents will urge their legislators to oppose the overuse of Rule 61, which Thomas said is used too frequently.
“I don’t mind fighting,” said Thomas “And, I don’t mind losing after we’ve put up a good fight, but I don’t want you taking away the opportunity to fight.”
While it’s largely been Republicans who have used Rule 61 in this session, Thomas added that some Democrats have supported its use, and said that constituents with Democratic lawmakers should voice their concerns.
“People can encourage leadership both on the Democrat and Republican side to use this motion the way in which it was intended — as a last resort,” he said.
He said he was confident that once House members knew their constituents were watching they would change their behavior.
“People need to realize that part of the situation they’re in is because they haven’t been paying attention to the way folks are making decisions. Once you connect the two, then I think (lawmakers’) positions will be different,” Thomas said.
Republicans in the state House control the chamber with a 113 to 89 majority.
With those numbers in their favor it should not be that difficult for Republican state legislators to get bills passed
So why are Republicans in the state House using — or should we say abusing — a rarely used rule to stifle debate and ram through legislation?
When Philadelphia state Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, a Democrat, met with the editorial board of the Philadelphia Tribune recently, he expressed his concern with the use of House Rule 61, a rule in the House bylaws used to immediately stop any debate, bar further amendments and force a vote.
We share his concern.
Thomas said Rule 61 has been invoked nine times between January and October 2011. He acknowledges that Democrats also invoked Rule 61 when they were in power but not nearly as frequently.
However Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County sees nothing wrong with the increased use of Rule 61.
Metcalfe said Republicans used the rule sparingly, “not even once a month,” and charged some members with wanting to drag on debate to paralyze the House.
This is an incredible claim. Metcalfe is saying the rule is not being abused simply because it has been used “not even once a month.” It is clear to see the abuse when you consider that it was only used 30 times in the 50 years between 1961 and 2010.
As far as debate dragging, the attempt to limit any debate on hot-button issue is the crux of what’s wrong with the state Republicans abuse of Rule 61.
Rule 61 has been used on some “troubling issues,” said Thomas including using it to get the voter ID bid to the Senate and to expand the Castle Doctrine allowing homeowners to shoot intruders.
Metcalfe said hot-button issues trigger more debate which he said make the use of Rule 61 necessary.
“When you’re having more substantive debates, and having more substantive issues considered and brought before members, you’re going to have more debates,” he said.
Metcalfe and his fellow Republicans in the state House should remember that debate is essential to democracy.
One day after a Republican judge issued a ruling in support of the state’s controversial and hotly contested voter ID law, attorneys for the petitioners filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
The law, which opponents said was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett to sign, requires voters to produce a valid state-issued identification card at the polls and was challenged in court. On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson issued a ruling stating that the petitioners didn’t present convincing proof that the law violated the state constitution or would cause undue hardship to the elderly, the poor and student voters in the upcoming November presidential elections. Simpson said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support issuing an injunction.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters could be effectively shut out of the election process under the guise of voter fraud,” said Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes. “Without any evidence of this so-called fraud, this law is nothing more than another way to tip the odds in favor of the Republican presidential candidate this November. This is an extremely partisan law that Pennsylvania is ill-prepared to implement. It is my plan to continue to fight this voter suppression law, and assist the public with obtaining the necessary documentation to vote in November.”
Democratic legislators said the law tramples on the constitutional rights of voters and amounts to nothing more than a re-formulated poll tax or literacy test that was once used to discriminate against Black and other minority voters. Opponents say the law is nothing less than voter suppression.
“We should not make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote,” said state Senator Mike Stack. “The passage of the voter ID measure into law and subsequent court ruling are extremely disappointing because this law was crafted for partisan advantage, rather than voter protection. When laws are crafted for partisan political gain, we lose the public’s trust.”
House Bill 934, now Act 18, was passed on March 14, 2012. Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was to prevent voter fraud, but legal experts on the state and federal level could find no reports of voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers warned from the initial introduction of the measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Butler, that its purpose was voter suppression and its real purpose was to stack the odds in favor of Mitt Romney in November. Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed Act 18 into law once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the Commonwealth one of 16 Republican-controlled states to have such a law.
Votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Judge Simpson’s ruling. At present the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended following allegations of corruption.
“We’re going to need four of the six justices to vote in our favor if we’re to get an injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “Our legal posture was to block enforcement of the law to basically give all parties a chance to review its legality and merits. We’re still analyzing Judge Simpson’s decision. We filed a motion to expedite everything and while there may be an oral argument, we’re expecting a decision by September 10. If the justices rule in favor of the law, it’s going to be a sad day for democracy and we’ll see exactly what that means in November. Hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to vote and we’re not just talking about poor minorities; what about poor whites in rural counties? This law applies across the board.”