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Introduction

Posted: 9:16 PM EDT Sep 02, 2014   Updated: 10:18 AM EDT Sep 03, 2014

The Think Tank is dedicated exclusively to thoughtful, civil discourse about the issues of our day. It is a forum for the genuine exchange of ideas. We encourage you to contribute or simply to read on for your own edification.

Submissions from local residents are evaluated and chosen by the editorial staff of 69 News Entries should be between 500 and 1000 words, and responses to editorials should be of similar length. Personal attacks will not be posted. Please email your submissions to thinktank@wfmz.com. A photograph of the author is requested for use on the Think Tank web page.

Why I changed on guns and why Congress should too

By Bob Casey, U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania

Posted: 9:17 PM EDT Jun 14, 2016

The massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 had a profound impact on how I would vote as a member of the U.S. Senate.

I was in Pittsburgh when the news broke on that awful Friday and later, as I traveled by car for over four hours between Pittsburgh and Scranton, the news from Connecticut worsened.

By the time I arrived home the world knew that 20 beautiful first graders and six adults had been murdered by a gunman carrying a high-powered military-style weapon that could fire bullets rapidly. During the weekend that followed, my wife, Terese, and our four daughters asked me a basic question: “How will you vote when gun bills come before the Senate?”

Up to that point in time, although the Senate had not voted on major gun bills in years, if asked, I would have said “passing new gun laws will not prevent mass shootings.” The indescribable horror of Newtown changed my view.

Shortly thereafter, I announced that I would support efforts to ban military-style weapons, limit the size of magazines and clips and support universal background checks on gun sales. In the spring of 2013, I voted in accordance with that point of view.

I have a newspaper clipping on my desk with stories of each of the children as a reminder of the work I believe our country needs to do in order to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings.

The story of one Newtown victim, six-year-old Caroline Previdi, has stayed with me. According to her obituary “Silly Caroline,” as she was nicknamed, “loved to draw and dance. Her smile brought happiness to everyone she touched.” She also took special care of a classmate, a boy named Logan, who was nervous about school. Caroline sat with Logan each day on the bus “so he wasn’t scared,” according to the boy’s mother.

This weekend, our nation awoke to news of yet another mass shooting and act of terror, this time in Orlando. We now know that this was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. We pray for the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the city of Orlando and the LGBT community.

Yet even as we take those appropriate steps, we must confront a difficult truth: these mass shootings have not abated.

We know that there’s no way to eliminate all instances of violence, but those of us in the Senate must ask: “Are there steps, consistent with the Second Amendment, that would substantially reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting?” I believe that the answer is “yes.”

The Senate should have a debate and a series of votes on several measures: a ban on military-style weapons; a limit on the size of magazines and clips; a measure to prevent those on the terror watch list from owning firearms; a proposal to stop those convicted of hate crimes from possessing guns; and universal background checks.

The availability of military-style weapons that can fire a large number of bullets in rapid succession makes shootings exponentially more deadly. How many lives might have been saved if the shooters in Newtown and Orlando weren’t able to fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of seconds? These are weapons that belong on the battlefield, not in our communities.

We must end the absurd loophole that allows for gun ownership by those deemed too dangerous to fly by law enforcement. I introduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act because if someone has proven they will commit criminal acts based on hate, even a misdemeanor, then that person absolutely should not have access to a gun. It’s common sense. And anyone seeking to purchase a weapon should undergo a background check so guns do not fall into the hands of those who have been convicted of violent crimes.

There are a substantial number of steps our nation needs to take to keep America safe. Some of those steps involve funding for law enforcement; upgrades to homeland security; and an intensification of efforts to identify, target and eliminate terrorists and the groups like ISIS that support them.

Despite considerable efforts by law enforcement, we can’t always identify a would-be terrorist before he or she acts. But we can make it significantly more difficult for someone committed to violence to unleash the weapons of war on our streets.

The scourge of gun violence from the daily shootings in our inner cities to the most widely reported instances, like Orlando, has taken a significant toll on our nation.

We can respect the rights of those who seek to own guns for hunting, sport and self-protection while making it more difficult for violent criminals to get their hands on them.

Trump stands victorious and perhaps historical

By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

Posted: 1:10 PM EDT May 04, 2016
Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

In 1860 the Republican Party, at a contested election, selected Lincoln as their nominee. They also established that the party supported the limitation of slavery to the south and opposed its expansion in the west. As Lincoln said during the campaign, slavery in the south was a snake in the bed that had to be limited. This decision by the party established its historical reputation as a party that supported the power of the national government and that the Constitution reigned over the states and not the other way around.

By 1960 the party was suffering from an identity crisis. World War Two, the New Deal, the rise of America as a world power, the dawn of the civil rights movement and the fall of Jim Crow, the rise of Kennedy, and southern resistance to the end of segregation all left the Republican Party with a need for ideological purpose. Then came Barry Goldwater and his book The Conscience of a Conservative. Goldwater established what American conservatism would mean for the remainder of the century and well into the next.

Goldwater wrote that the problem with the Republican Party was that it was little different than the Democratic Party. Both parties believed in big government, the primacy of the federal government, government intervention in the affairs of the states, regulation of business and private enterprise, and identity politics. The difference between the parties was the selection of beneficiaries of government favor.

Goldwater said conservatives believe in limited government, limited regulation of business, a flat tax, law and order in the streets, and no federal interference with the social and racial decisions of the states regarding its citizens. He opposed civil rights on the premise that the rights of blacks were a local matter and the federal government had no power, much less right, to address and oppose segregation. If the southern states wanted blacks as second class citizens that was for the states to decide, not the federal government.

The significance of 1960 is that it formed the basis for his takeover of the ideological base of the Republican Party in 1964. Between 1964 and 1972, along with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, Goldwater conservatism took hold and dominance of Republican Party identity. The fruition of this dominance occurred in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. Reagan was able to paper over differences between types of conservatives and was able to provide a victory in elections that eluded Goldwater.

Reagan conservatives from 1988 through 2012 have asserted that Reagan won because of his conservative purity and that subsequent Republican candidates have lost because they were weak conservatives ideologically, if they were conservatives at all. The American people, conservatives argued, would vote and elect a conservative if the candidate was a true conservative in the line of Reagan. Their dreams came true with the rise of Ted Cruz.

In 2016 Cruz, a Goldwater conservative offered an ideologically pure vision for the party and the nation. He was the heir of Goldwater, not Reagan, in his ideological beliefs. Goldwater, unlike Reagan, was an absolutist true believer. In 1960, Goldwater found no purpose for the federal government outside of military protection from invasion, law enforcement protection from street criminals, and little to no regulation of the private sector. Cruz in 2016 was in complete agreement. Conservatives in the party thought their time had come and that they would prove that all that was required for a Republican landslide victory was a ticket headed by a conservative purist, an heir to Goldwater absolutism.

Then came Trump. Trump is a pragmatic economic nationalist who has no ideological imperatives or absolutes. Trump says and does whatever is necessary to achieve his goals. The last three months was a direct battle for the party by these two philosophical approaches. On Tuesday, the dreams of the Goldwater/Reagan conservatives were lost when Trump laid waste to Cruz in Indiana – Cruz’s last stand. Trump beat Cruz by more than 15 points. Cruz bowed to his defeat and suspended his campaign. The republican voter, given a choice, chose the populist economic nationalist over the conservative states rights/limited government ideologue.

The significance of this defeat within the Republican Party may be the same as the liberal northern Republicans’ loss to Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater’s victory pushed liberal Republicans into exile and redefined the meaning and purpose of the party. Up until Tuesday, the party was known as the party of conservatives. With the victory of a non-ideological, pragmatic, economic nationalism, nativist immigration, strong federal government, non-neo-con foreign policy candidate over a Goldwater conservative, the party may be on the verge of a new identity.

The change in party identity does not need Trump to win in November, but the change needs to maintain support in subsequent elections and how those elections are won. Goldwater conservatism prevailed because in 1966 and 1968 the Republican Party won midterm and general elections advocating Goldwater’s ideas. Nixon and then Reagan won and infused their ideas into the next generation of young republicans.

What the future will bring is an answer to whether Trump is only a man of the 2016 republican primary election psychology or a man who will transform how America thinks about politics, and defines the purpose of government, and votes in November 2016, 2018 and 2020. If Trump is the latter he, not Cruz, is the true heir of Goldwater.
 

After Super Tuesday 3: Looking deeper into the insurgency

By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

Posted: 5:49 PM EDT Mar 18, 2016   Updated: 6:06 PM EDT Mar 18, 2016
Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

After three Super Tuesdays, the final three in the Republican Party are Trump, Cruz, and Kasich. The insurgencies of Trump and Cruz have pushed out the vanity candidacies of Carly Fiorina and Christopher Christie, the never-had-a-chance candidacy of Ben Carson, and now the establishment candidate Marco Rubio has been dispatched.

It is undisputed that the two most likely candidates for the Republican Party nomination, especially after Trump laid waste on the Rubio campaign by winning Rubio’s home state of Florida (45.8% to 27%), is Trump and Cruz. Although both have decimated the party establishment candidates, they share almost nothing else. Each represents a different and distinct insurgency and an approach to winning control of the party.

Trump offers a positive slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Cruz offers that he will blow up the Washington political cartel. Both assert that America is weak, but they offer different answers to that weakness.

Trump offers masculinity and the ability to win in battle. Trump says, when attacked, fight back, and win the fight. Trump stands up for himself and he portrays that he will stand up for the American voter. Trump not only rejects political correctness, he does so by not being held to political correctness in campaigning against his opponents. His rejection of political correctness has a purpose; it’s not just a campaign tag line. Trump lets no attack go unanswered and he answers without political finesse. He responds to attacks by using common working class language. Trump publically takes victory laps over the bodies of his defeated political adversaries and promotes himself as a winner with a masculine force and tone demonstrating strength and the ability to win.

Cruz offers war with republicans in Washington and then war with Clinton. The Cruz campaign is built upon the conservative theology of Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. He represents the ideological wing of the Republican Party that resents the party establishment for its failure to stop the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He represents those who resent that the party did not resist and reverse the policies of Obama after gaining control of Congress in 2010 and 2014. Cruz asserts that the policies of Reagan are the only policies that can revitalize America. Cruz offers decades-old establishment social conservative solutions: reduce the influence of the federal government, states’ rights, tax cuts, deregulation, and free trade. Cruz offers pure Reagan rhetoric, that, “government is the problem.”

Trump defines America’s problems as the failure to make government function, a slow economy, tamped down working class wages, and the belief that America has no victories. Trump says the problem is not the size of the federal government, but the incompetence of the people in it. He wins with an apostasy on the Reagan dogma: Government is not the problem, the wrong people in government is the problem. With this apostasy in his mouth, Trump has won support of the Reagan coalition voters which should have been Cruz-exclusive voters.

Trump is winning because he is a populist who offers combative economic nationalism to disaffected, angry, out of work, under employed, evangelical, and low-skill working class voters across all other ideological political categories. Trump, unlike Cruz, represents a broad coalition of various wings of the Republican Party along with non-republican voters. Trump represents the Midwest and rust belt disaffected industrial voters who have lost jobs due to globalization and republican free trade policies.

As of Super Tuesday 3, Trump is leading in delegates and in the number of states won. To the dismay of ideological conservative true believers, Trump is winning by reaching beyond their narrow constituencies. Trump has gained the support of Christian conservatives who are more concerned about their economic success and the future of America than his ideological or religious authenticity.

Although the Republican establishment is organizing against him, Trump could win because he is winning non-conservative republicans and he is not ideologically opposed to working with both parties. Cruz is less likely to win because he has established that he is an absolutist who wants the presidency so he can rain down Armageddon on the political establishments of both parties and the ideological left.
 

What the battle is over

By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

Posted: 11:07 PM EST Mar 07, 2016
Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

Trump, Cruz, and Rubio are now in a nasty competition not only for the nomination of the Republican Party but, more importantly, for control of an insurgency reminiscent of 1964.

Trump, along with Cruz, represents an insurgency of a grass roots rejection of the economic internationalists, Wall Street bailout, deficit spending, neo-con foreign policy, free trade Washington leadership of the party that produced Dole, McCain, Romney, and the presidencies of Bush 41 and 43. This rejection includes a coalition of States Rights, balanced budget, anti-entitlement spending, limited government, social conservative, evangelical Christian, anti-neo-con foreign policy, isolationist voters who want America to focus on itself.

The insurgency was fostered and encouraged by the Republican establishment to be used as a weapon against Obama and a pathway to gain control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

This insurgency rejects any Republican that works with the Democratic Party and Obama on any level. It’s an insurgency of working class, non-college educated, low skill workers who believe that the policies of both parties over the past fifty years have taken away from them their country and their opportunities in a free nation. The insurgency is a reincarnation of the Nixon hard hats of 1972, the Reagan Democrats of 1980, the Buchannan voters of 1992, and those who opposed civil rights and affirmative action in the 1960s through the 1980s.

Trump joined the insurgency by questioning Obama’s birth and qualifications to attend law school and as a result he was elevated by Fox News to attack Obama. Trump has laid claim to the insurgency by attacking the record of Bush 43 regarding 9/11, his battle of words with the Pope, attacking the hero status of McCain, calling the voters of Iowa stupid for believing Carson, advocating for the exclusion of Muslims because they are Muslims, calling for the building of a wall on the Mexican border and bragging that he will make Mexico pay for it, blaming the turmoil in the Middle East on the Iraq war that Bush started, accusing Bush of lying about WMD in Iraq, and attacking Fox News and conservative commentators. Trump has tapped into the anger of the insurgency against both parties and the biased media, which includes Fox News.

Cruz is different. While Trump has built his reputation on being a businessman, an entertainer, and a manipulator of media attention for decades, Cruz has built his reputation on being despised by the entire Senate. Cruz offers the insurgency years of criticizing the Republican leadership and publically calling Senate Majority Leader McConnell, a boldfaced liar.

Cruz, unlike Trump, offers an aggressive ideologically pure conservatism for the Republican nomination. Trump is neither an ideological conservative or traditional Republican. He is an insurgency populist that energizes and reflects the insurgency. Cruz is a candidate that offers an uncompromised social conservative alternative to the establishment and the democrats, the fulfillment of decades old desires. Trump represents a threat to that desire.

Although the battle between Trump and Cruz is over legitimacy in the eyes of the insurgency, they also represent a battle within the insurgency; a battle between those who want to purify the meaning of conservatism and the party and those who want to win the presidency.

This is where Rubio enters the battle. His candidacy asserts that Trump is a conman attempting to commandeer the insurgency, the party, and the meaning of conservatism to the detriment of all three. But Rubio, unlike Cruz, has compromised credentials as a conservative and unlike Trump, does not have a presence that dominates media attention. What he offers to the insurgency is the assertion that he is more acceptable than Cruz. While Cruz and Trump are despised by the establishment, Rubio is not. Rubio offers himself as the best bridge between the insurgency and the establishment and as a candidate who is in compliance with the Buckley rule: chose the most conservative candidate that can win.

All three are making a claim to the insurgency and the winner, as did Goldwater in 1964, will define the meaning of conservatism and the party regardless of the results in November 2016.
 

Opioid usage

Posted: 1:06 PM EST Mar 01, 2016

Bob Mensch By Pa. Sen. Bob Mensch, (R) Pennsylvania's 24th District (Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties)

On Sun., Feb. 28, there was an article reporting eight suspected heroin overdoses since the past weekend in Lehigh County. Eight overdoses. Eight deaths. Eight tragedies. It was reported these deaths may be related to a "bad batch" of synthetic opioids containing fentanyl. A bad batch? Can someone define for me what is a good batch of opioids? We have quickly learned that use of opioids provides only tragedy, sorrow and often—death.

Of course our thoughts and sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of these eight victims. And yes, they’re victims, no matter whether they were addicted or casual users. Regardless, they all suffered from the same disease of drug usage. Of course, the suffering caused by opioids is not limited to Lehigh County, it’s just this particular article focused there. Truly, opioid abuse is endemic in each of our state’s 67 counties!

But what about the unmentioned people, the dealers who killed eight people with one “bad batch”? This is mass murder, not just the unfortunate deaths of eight individuals.

Opioid use/abuse/addiction (pick one, several or all three) is all around us—in our social circles, in schools (reportedly as young as grade school), at work, and so forth. You get it—it’s everywhere.

As a civil society, we can no longer sit by and pretend that opioids aren’t everywhere in our society. Of course, opioids are everywhere, or these eight people would not have died. And this is just one example over one weekend. Hundreds will die in our state, and thousands in our nation, this year due to opioid use.

If there has ever been a clarion call for civic action, it must be this scourge of opioids. It is time for parents, teachers, civic leaders, law enforcement, government, church—everyone to stand up collectively and say enough is enough.

The solution starts with each of us, all of us, not just one of us or a few of us. Lock your medicine cabinets, control your prescription drugs. It is time for all of us to join together and fight back, and education about the problem is a great place to start--talk to your loved ones about the dangers of opioid use

Gov. Tom Wolf to people of Pennsylvania: We have a choice

Posted: 12:27 PM EST Feb 08, 2016

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf official portrait By Gov. Tom Wolf, D-Pennsylvania

To the People of Pennsylvania:

We have a very tough set of choices to make with this year’s budget. Our commonwealth is in crisis and we stand at a crossroad.

My proposed budget provides a clear path for a promising future for our state. It assumes the bipartisan budget agreement that proved elusive in December is ultimately enacted this year. It provides a spending plan for 2016-17 that builds upon that agreement. It invests in our schools, meets critical human service needs, fully funds our pension and debt obligations, and eliminates the structural budget deficit that has plagued us since the Great Recession of 2008. My proposed budget lays out the path we must follow if we want to pursue financial responsibility and a hopeful future. It proposes that the state take its rightful share of the responsibility for funding our schools; it proposes that this investment include a reasonable share for early childhood education and higher education; and it proposes that we actually fund these investments with real sources of revenue. It includes key government consolidations along with targeted investments that build upon the bipartisan budget agreement. It faces up to reality and does the difficult things we need to do to bring it into balance. It will allow us a foundation to achieve a more hopeful future for Pennsylvania.

There is another path. For far too long our commonwealth has spent in excess of revenues. The gap was always made up with one-time patches and wildly optimistic assumptions. We can choose a path that continues to ignore financial reality and pretends the commonwealth’s budget is in balance when it clearly is not. That path abandons any bipartisan compromise. That path will result in a deficit of more than $500 million by the close of this fiscal year, and would balloon to more than $2 billion by July of 2017. All funds for our state-related universities and any other non-preferred appropriations would be eliminated. Another $1 billion would be cut from education doubling down on the deep cuts of the past. Human service funding for counties, intellectual disabilities and autism, home- and community-based services, and child care would be reduced by $600 million or more. This path will lead us into a dismal future of shuttered schools, higher property taxes, and lower bond ratings that lead to higher borrowing costs for state and local governments. The consequences of such action are grim. These consequences cannot be ignored.

We have a choice. We must choose a path that funds our schools, eliminates our deficit, and puts Pennsylvania back on track. It is time for us to finish the job and restore Pennsylvanians’ shaken faith in their government. It is time to fund our schools. It is time to face financial reality. It is time to give Pennsylvania the bright future it deserves.

Sincerely,

Tom Wolf

Trump: 50 years in the making

Posted: 12:09 PM EST Feb 01, 2016   Updated: 12:23 PM EST Feb 01, 2016

Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

The Republican Party for more than 50 years has cultivated a narrative to attract and hold the working class, high school-educated, anti-intellectual white male voter who feels politically and economically emasculated in his own country. The party has sought to attract and hold the modern Republican voter who resents and fears the disappearance of the 1940s Ozzie and Harriet American society he grew up in. The party began recruitment of this type of voter when it welcomed defecting southern Democratic voters after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Over the years, the party has promoted a narrative that made clear who was at fault and to blame for the cultural and economic changes in America. In the 1960s and 1970s, the party focused on the rise of Blacks, women, homosexuals, the poor, Hispanics, people of color immigration, and liberals of all stripes who were changing the American social and political culture.

In the 1980s, beginning with Reagan, the party focused blame on the federal government and asserted that it was incompetent, untrustworthy, violent to middle class values, and an impediment to individual success. In the 1990s, the party encouraged voters to believe that the blame for the lack of social, economic, and political success of middle class white males was affirmative action (Blacks, Hispanics, and women) and liberals masquerading as Republicans. In the 1990s, the assertion that only conservative ideological purity would restore America began to take root within the party. The culmination of these narratives and perspectives was the formation of the tea party within the party after the election of Obama in 2008.

The tea party bore fruit in the 2010 and 2012 elections and the party took control of the House and Senate. The tea party base expected that decades-old promises made by the party would be fulfilled and the policies of Obama would be turned back. Here is the problem – nothing changed. "Obamacare" was not repealed. In fact, it was fully funded. Abortion funding through Planned Parenthood was continued, not ended. Homosexual marriage became the law of the land by a Supreme Court decree written by Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee!

Middle class wages remained stagnant under the Republican domination of Congress. Rather than restoring middle class, high wage, blue collar, low skill jobs; the loss of these of jobs continued. The size of the federal government and the budget deficit increased under the republican Congress without any serious resistance. The Republican base voter felt it had been lied too and they resented it. To make things worse, the political influence of tea party activists was actively resented by the party establishment. The tea party base resentment of the party establishment selection of Romney was further compounded by the fact that he lost.

Donald Trump 2 Into this decades-old resentment, steps Trump. When he declared his candidacy for the presidency, he instantly took primary control of the long standing issue of immigration from the party establishment by asserting that Mexico was sending rapists, murderers, and other criminals into America and that is why the wall must be built. While in politics some level of civility is required, Trump rejected political correctness because, "political correctness is killing us" and we don't have time for it because America is going down the tubes. He stated that there needed to be a ban on all Muslims entering America until the incompetent federal government, "figures out what the hell is going on."

Trump established his anti-political correctness bona fides when he said John McCain was not a real hero because all he did was get captured. Trump said, "I like people who were not captured." Trump has made clear to the press, especially FOX news, you, "can't toy with me like they toy with everyone else." With his bone fides as the leading birther during the 2008 election, upon entering the race he broke the presidential hopes of long time social conservatives like Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker with little more than his physical presence. He has made the Christian conservative bona fides of Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee irrelevant. With nothing more than his bluster and presence, he neutralized the exclusive command of the tea party credentials of Ted Cruz.

Trump is the beneficiary of the creation of the confrontational, anti-establishment politics created by the party in 1968, 1980, and 2008. Trump is popular not only because he has tapped into the politics of government resentment that the party has nurtured since 1980, he has also tapped into the base republican voter who resents the party itself. Trump has taken advantage of the party establishment disdain for the tea party.

Trump, in the end, is a populist who is masculine in running for president. He has his own plane, which arrives like it's Air Force One. Trump examples confrontation and independence. After fifty years of party weakness, to his supporters, Trump is someone who will fight both the left and the ineffective Republican establishment. When attacked by opponents or by the media he demands public apologies and gets them. He needs no funding from Wall Street or the Republican political donor class. He commands the attention of the media by the force of his personality. He does not need to poll nor is he beholden to conservative media (FOX and conservative talk radio) to connect with voters. Trump has not been humbled by the party and media presidential system; it's been the other way around.

Trump has not only commandeered the party social conservative narrative without being a social conservative, Trump has commandeered the entire conservative movement of the past fifty years without being beholden to any of those who created it or to all of its canons. The tables are now turned. Trump's campaign says this is my house now.

Saving you money

Posted: 9:23 AM EST Jan 29, 2016   Updated: 9:37 AM EST Jan 29, 2016

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts official portrait By U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, (R) Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District

There are two ways of looking at federal spending. Either money is essentially government property, and government grants economic privileges to the people, or money is essentially the property of the people, and government simply uses a part of it for the common good of all.

I believe strongly in the latter view.

When considered in the abstract, the difference is clear, and few would defend the former view. But, in practice, the former view perniciously sneaks into the background of many popular ideas today. For example, Nancy Pelosi famously said that "tax cuts are spending." Barack Obama, in his 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, said that tax cuts are "giving money" to people. It might sound academic, but this idea has dramatic consequences for governing. It’s the difference between a government who must prove its stewardship to the people and a government to whom the people have to prove their stewardship. The fundamental attitude you bring to matters of spending affects every legislative decision that Congress must make.

On the people-based or society-based model, which is called conservatism, saving government money is about saving people money. Ultimately, whatever the government spends must be paid for by people: the real tax rate is the spending rate. When the government borrows money, it is just making a promise to tax people later. The money must be repaid either now or at some other time. This is also why left-wing politicians tend to emphasize the annual budget deficit, whereas conservatives emphasize the overall spending level.

U.S. Capitol building.jpg I have worked throughout my time in Congress to bring down spending because it's the people's money, not the government's money. The people not only deserve to keep their own money, but they know far better what to do with it than do bureaucrats in Washington.

Last year, President Obama signed into law legislation that was developed in the subcommittee I chair that makes sure that seniors on Medicare can count on their doctors being there, and reduces government spending by $3 trillion in the long run. This was one of Congress’ most important achievements all year.

If you stacked three trillion single dollar bills on top of one another, it would reach over two-thirds of the way to the moon. To anyone but the federal government, that’s a lot of money. But our government owes over $18.4 trillion already—money that has already been spent, is gone, and must be paid back. That's an $18.4 trillion tax hike hanging over the American people.

This is not even to mention the amount of money that, under current law, will be automatically spent. Social Security and Medicare alone are set to cost the government—and, ultimately, the people—about $90 trillion. Considering that the total global economy is currently estimated to be worth between $78 and $108 trillion, the people will have a heavy burden to carry in paying for all of this spending.

$100 bills Maybe if the government could reasonably defend its spending practices, then it wouldn’t be so frustrating that it spends so much. But some waste is just inexcusable. The federal government knows of at least $124 billion in mistaken federal payments in 2014. About one out of every 8 dollars spent by Medicare is spent erroneously.

For another example, right now, it is illegal for states to dis-enroll many people from Medicaid—government health insurance for the poor—who have won the lottery. If you receive a lump sum lottery winning, then, under current law, you can go right back on Medicaid the next month.

I've introduced legislation to fix this. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that it will save the government—ultimately, the people—about half a billion dollars over the next decade. That's money that people can spend on products they like (not that politicians like), save for college or retirement, invest in companies that create jobs, or donate to charities that are a lot more effective than the government.

With a record-high number of Pennsylvanians going without heat this winter, it’s simply unacceptable to have government waste money. It's downright immoral, because it’s not the government’s money—it's yours.

Police use of force, race, and the Constitution: The Fourth Amendment is part of the problem

Posted: 7:19 PM EST Jan 05, 2016

Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

On November 22, 2014, two Cleveland, Ohio, police officers were called to investigate a "man with a gun" in the park.

The caller told the dispatch that there was a juvenile in the park flashing a toy gun. The juvenile was later identified as 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The police were only told by dispatch that there was an active shooter in the park.

The police officers arrived at the park and as they stopped, opened their car doors, Tamir was shot and killed.

The film of the shooting showed that the police arrived at the scene, and Timothy Loehmann fired his weapon within two seconds.

On December 28, 2015, the grand jury impaneled by Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty, following his recommendation, determined that the two police officers should not be charged with the death of Rice.

In his statement, McGinty said, "to charge police... the State must be able to show that the officers acted outside the constitutional boundaries set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States. Simply put... human error, mistakes and miscommunication... did not indicate criminal conduct by police." Here is the problem, McGinty is totally correct!

Police accountability in use of force is not governed or defined by mistake, incompetence, or stupidity.

Police use of force is governed, as far as criminal and civil liability is concerned, by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...”

The operative word in the phrase is unreasonable.

Think of reasonable as acting normally or as expected under the circumstances.

The Supreme Court held in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) and Graham v. Connor (1989) that police use of deadly and non-deadly use of force is a seizure and thus only governed under the Fourth Amendment.

The Court held that police only violate the Fourth Amendment if they act unreasonably.

In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court has held that the legal question is “Was the level of force used, under the totality of the circumstances and facts known to the officer at the time, viewed from the perspective of the officer, reasonable?”

The Court has also made clear that Fourth Amendment analysis is not subject to hindsight and does not consider whether the officer was in fact right or wrong in assessing the situation. In cases of ambiguity, the officer gets the benefit of the doubt.

Tamir Rice, no indictment In his statement, McGinty said, "On close examination... recent enhancement of the surveillance video... it is now indisputable that Tamir was drawing his gun from his waist as the police car slid toward him and Officer Loehmann exited the vehicle... [I]t is likely that Tamir... either intended to hand it to the officers or to show them it wasn't a real gun. But there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective."

McGinty is totally correct!

Assuming McGinty is correct regarding what the video shows; the shooting was clearly self-defense.

Self-defense is allowed if the use of deadly force was reasonable, under the totality of the circumstances, to prevent death or great injury.

The legal issue is assessed from the shooters perspective. The legal question is whether a reasonable person in that situation (1) would have perceived the danger as life threatening and (2) would have used the deadly force used by the shooter.

In regard to police shootings, the Court has held that it does not matter if in fact there was a danger or police incompetence helped create the danger.

The Fourth Amendment only requires that at the moment deadly force was used, the perception of danger and the reaction to it was reasonable.

In his statement, McGinty said, "Minutes before, they had been assigned to respond to a Code One report of a guy pointing a gun at people... [T]he police were prepared to face a possible active shooter in a neighborhood with history of violence... Officer Loehmann had just seen Tamir put an object into his waist... A moment later, as the car slid toward him, Tamir drew the replica gun from his waist and the officer fired. Believing he was about to be shot was a mistaken — yet reasonable— belief given the high-stress circumstances and his police training. He had reason to fear for his life."

Again, McGinty is totally correct!

Christ, the pope and what Christianity says about those in prisons

Posted: 1:28 PM EDT Sep 28, 2015   Updated: 1:18 PM EDT Sep 28, 2015

Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University By Arthur H. Garrison, assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University

In the Book of Isaiah 42 and 61, two things are said of prison. It is written that it is the will of God "to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house." The Prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus, that God sent Him "to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

As beautiful as these words are, what do they mean in the modern day of high incarceration rates across the industrialized nations of the world, much less the less developed nations of the world?

Pope Francis provided an answer. He is long known for washing the feet of prisoners and others who are considered "less than" in society, but on Sept. 27, the pope, while visiting Philadelphia, went to a local prison and explained the meaning of the words of Isaiah.

The pope visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, which is a medium security prison within the Philadelphia Prison System. When the pope arrived, he was presented with a wooden chair that the prisoners made for his visit. The chair was a replica of the chair that the pope sits in as Bishop of the Church in Rome.

After thanking the inmates for the chair, the pope began his speech by identifying with the prisoners as human beings who, along with their families, do indeed suffer for their behavior. He said, "Thank you for receiving me and giving me the opportunity to be here with you and to share this time in your lives. It is a difficult time, one full of struggles. I know it is a painful time not only for you, but also for your families and for all of society. . . . I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own."

Note that the pope did not say they did not deserve to be in prison. He made clear that, "This time in your life can only have one purpose . . . . enable your rehabilitation." In noting that "confinement is not the same thing as exclusion," the pope made clear that Christ has provided a way for all men to rehabilitate themselves. He said Jesus made a way through the act of washing his disciple's feet. The pontiff explained that Jesus, "wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from traveling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn't ask us where we have been, he doesn't question us what about we have done. Rather, he tells us: 'Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me.' Unless I wash your feet, I will not be able to give you the life which the Father always dreamed of, the life for which he created you. Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust. He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission . . . . [H]e washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited."

Pope blesses Philadelphia inmate - small The pope explained that all of society has a part in this process of redemption and rehabilitation. In defending the value of rehabilitation and those who are to be rehabilitated, he said, "rehabilitation . . . benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community and society." He bemoaned that, "It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society." Moreover, he warned that the pain of the incarcerated matters and, "Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society 'condemned' to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain."

Pope Francis ended his speech with a simple prayer, "Let us look to Jesus, who washes our feet. He is 'the way, and the truth, and the life.' He comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change. From the lie that says no one can change. . . . May God bless you and protect you and His face shine upon you and may He grant you peace. Thank you."

From the early 1980s banishment and physical control have replaced rehabilitation as the stated primary purpose for the operation of prisons in America. But Jesus said, "you visited Me in prison . . . when you did this for the least of these." The pope reminds us that it is the will of God that those in prison are not to be abandoned but rather to be cared about and helped. As it is written in the scriptures, "to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison. . . . to heal the brokenhearted . . . .[and] to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

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