‘Life and death crisis’ in Baltimore leads Hogan to push crime bills

By: Jeff Barnes

Baltimore City- A view of the city at night

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND — Calling it a “life and death crisis,” — particularly in Baltimore — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Thursday he will redesignate his violent crime package as emergency legislation.

The emergency designation would allow the legislation, a package of bills led by a measure to increase penalties for certain gun crimes, to take effect immediately upon Hogan’s approval. The bills would first need to pass each chamber of the General Assembly with a three-fifth’s majority.

During a State House press conference, Hogan voiced his frustration with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for focusing on a proposed multibillion-dollar overhaul of the state’s public schools — known as the Kirwan Commission plan — while failing to advance his violent crime package.

“We don’t want to hear any more excuses. There cannot be any more delays,” Hogan said.

Hogan’s bills — The Violent Firearm Offenders Act, The Judicial Transparency Act, The Witness Intimidation Act of 2020 and The Victims’ Right to Restitution Act of 2020 — have yet to advance out of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee since being heard on Feb. 6. The cross-filed bills were heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 4.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, took exception to Hogan’s claim that the legislature was not making crime a top priority.

“The bills have already been heard, I think it’s about making sure that they actually do something,” Ferguson said after the Senate session Thursday. “Not only have they gotten a fair hearing, they are a constant conversation of our leadership.”

During his press conference, the Republican governor scoffed at a comment made Monday by Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young during testimony for Kirwan-related legislation, in which the Democrat mayor called the schools plan “a matter of life and death.”

Since the 2020 General Assembly session began Jan. 8, Hogan said, 104 people have been shot and 39 people have been killed in Baltimore.

“The actual and the only life and death crisis is the people being shot and killed every single day on the streets of our largest city,” Hogan said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announcing the redesignation of his crime bills at a press conference in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Jeff Barnes/Capital News Service)

Hogan’s office has repeatedly cited a January Gonzales Maryland poll, which identified crime as the top issue among 31% of 838 registered voters, compared to 16% who deemed education the top issue. Hogan said during the news conference that the public overwhelmingly supports his proposed crime-prevention legislation.

“I don’t believe there have ever been bills on any subject that have ever had more enthusiastic and nearly unanimous support,” Hogan said. “The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature to take these actions.”

The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the Democrats were unlikely to pass the Violent Firearms Offender Act — Hogan’s signature crime bill — as they oppose the bill’s mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes. In that article, Hogan suggested that lawmakers who don’t support his legislation are out of touch with voters and should consider stepping down.

During the Senate floor session Thursday morning, Ferguson gave an impassioned defense of Sen. William “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, the chair of the Senate committee that heard Hogan’s bills. Smith, a lieutenant with the United States Navy Reserve, was deployed to Afghanistan before the conclusion of the 2019 session and was tapped this year to lead the committee. Ferguson said any calls for him to step down are “totally unacceptable.”

“There’s no question no one feels comfortable with where things are when it comes to the status of violence across the state,” Ferguson said. “The only solution will be when we come to the table together and solve it.”

After the session, Smith told Capital News Service he was grateful for Ferguson’s remarks and said Hogan was “engaging in hyperbole.”

“To wield tools of fear-mongering and shift the debate, you’re not helping anyone,” Smith said. “You’re not helping anyone in Baltimore.”

Smith said later Thursday he wanted more evidence that Hogan’s legislation would decrease gun violence and other crimes before he would support it.

Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County, who also serves on Smith’s committee, told Capital News Service the committee has doubled up on voting sessions this week. He said the committee is considering all ideas to help solve the crime issue.

“I don’t think any one bill is being held up more than any other,” he said.

During the press conference, Hogan also took aim at Democratic legislation introduced Thursday that would expand the state’s sales tax to help fund the Kirwan plan.

Under House bill 1628, the state’s sales tax would be reduced from 6% to 5%, while being expanded to include professional services that currently aren’t taxed.

The addition of professional services, which would include things like legal services, daycare and landscaping, is expected to bring in an additional $2.6 billion a year.

Hogan said the tax increase is “not ever going to happen” during his term as governor.

“This will destroy everything we’ve done for five years,” he said. “It will destroy our economy.”

Honoring Emmett Till, House passes bill making lynching a federal hate crime

By: Bryan Gallion and Anna Hovey, Capital News Service

Rep. Bobby Bush, D-Illinois, discussing the Emmet Till Antilynching Act at a press conference – WASHINGTON
Picture Credit: Bryan Gallion, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Wednesday to make lynching a federal hate crime. The measure was named after Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. 

The final vote was 410-4. Three Republicans and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who switched his affiliation from Republican to independent in July, opposed the legislation.

“This bill is too late coming, but it is never too late to do the right thing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a press conference before the vote. 

Till’s story is personal for some members of Congress like Rep. Bobby Bush, D-Illinois, who authored the bill. He represents the Chicago district where Till lived. 

The youth was visiting Mississippi when he was accused of offending a white woman in a store. Till later was seized by the woman’s husband and his half-brother. Till was tortured and murdered. His body was tied to a fan with barbed wire and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. 

The two men accused of the murder were found innocent by an all-white jury, a verdict that outraged much of the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement.  

Rush said he remembers his mother gathering his four siblings to show them the photo of Till laying in his open casket. The Rush family had moved from Georgia a year and a half before the murder.

“I’ll never forget this moment…she said, ‘This is the reason why I would not allow my boys to be raised in the South,’” Rush told reporters ahead of the vote.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said he was emotional while considering the bill because he knew Till’s mother. 

“We have to commit ourselves to make this country a better country, to try not to let it happen again,” Thompson said on the House floor.

Lynching — a “widely acknowledged practice in the United States until the middle of the 20th century,” according to the bill — was documented in all but four states. Over 4,700 people were reportedly lynched between 1882 and 1968, the bill says. Ninety-nine percent of the perpetrators weren’t punished.

“Lynching is a blot on the history of America, but the even greater blot is the silence that for too long maintained in the context of what people knew was happening,” Hoyer said.

Past acts of racism and violence can’t be erased by passing this legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said, but calling them out will help the nation heal. 

“As members of Congress and as Americans, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the horrors of the past so that they can never happen or occur again,” Pelosi said on the House floor.

The latest House bill is far from the first anti-lynching legislation that Congress has considered. Almost 200 were introduced during the first half of the 20th century, and three were passed by the House between 1920 and 1940. 

Rep. George Henry White, a Democrat from North Carolina and the only black member of Congress at the time, proposed the first antilynching bill in 1900.

“I am proud of House leadership and Representative Rush…but I do have to say that we must admit it is a bit of a travesty that it has taken 120 years for the U.S. government to address this crime,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said in the same press conference where Hoyer and Rush spoke.

The Senate has considered such legislation before but hasn’t enacted any despite requests from civil rights groups, previous presidents and the House, the bill says. 

In 2018, the GOP-run Senate passed a bipartisan bill to make lynching a civil rights violation — proposed by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina — but it failed to pass in the then-Republican controlled House. It passed in the Senate again last year. 

“Lynchings were horrendous, racist acts of violence,” Harris said in a statement. “For far too long Congress has failed to take a moral stand and pass a bill to finally make lynching a federal crime…This justice is long overdue.” 

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill by Friday, before the end of Black History Month. When asked if President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law, Bass asked, “How could he not?”

Cardin and Van Hollen aim for net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050

By: Anna Hovey, Capital News Service

Tailpipe emissions are major contributors to greenhouse gases. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are proposing a bill to get the United States to “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Photo Credit: Anna Hovey/Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — A bill aimed at achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by no later than 2050 has been introduced by Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

The United States produced 16% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2016, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That is second only to China, the world’s most populous country, which accounted for 29%.  

“As the climate crisis, which threatens the health and well-being of my constituents in Maryland and Americans across the nation, becomes increasingly apparent, people are rightfully demanding action from their federal government,” Cardin said in a statement.

The senators’ Clean Economy Act was introduced in the wake of last month’s United Nations annual Emissions Gap Report, which revealed that current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally are not yet sizable enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic increase in the global temperature. 

The new measure also follows a series of environmental law rollbacks under President Donald Trump. Some 95 air pollution and emissions laws have been eased in the last three years, according to The New York Times.

Trump has also announced his intention to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, a decision that will not take effect until November 2020. 

Prospects for the bill are uncertain in the GOP-controlled Senate, which has not been receptive to major environmental legislation. 

Besides Cardin and Van Hollen, the legislation is co-sponsored by a total of 30 other senators – 29 Democrats and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.

The senators’ bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set emissions targets for 2025, 2030 and 2040. 

“This legislation provides EPA with important tools to confront carbon pollution change while promoting economic growth,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

“The Clean Economy Act recognizes that the EPA lies at the center of America’s climate future and empowers it to address climate change proactively,” Cardin said. “Making the necessary investments to reach net-zero will strengthen our economy, create good-paying jobs, and protect public health and national security.”

“It’s past time we get serious about addressing climate change,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrats’ 2016 vice presidential nominee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“The success of our economy is directly linked to our ability to develop innovative clean energy technologies and avoid the escalating costs of climate change,” Van Hollen said. 

Among the bill’s supporters are the United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Environment America.

Andrea McGimsey, senior director for Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions Campaign, said in a statement that it was essential that the federal government follow the many states that have made addressing climate change a top priority. 

“By cosponsoring and supporting the Clean Economy Act, senators will put the American government’s might behind the great work that’s being done in states across the country,” McGimsey said. “Record-breaking extreme weather is devastating families and communities… Before it’s too late, members of Congress who haven’t already done so must step up and counter the existential threat of climate change.”

Presidential candidate and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, are among the bill’s other co-sponsors.

“In California, we’re ahead of schedule to meet the ambitious goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, “ Feinstein said. “At the same time, our economy has grown to be the fifth-largest in the world. That’s proof positive that fighting climate change supports a strong economy.”

Do Air Strikes Actually Stop Terrorism?

Last month, a Pentagon official confirmed that ISIS’ Minister of Information was killed in an air strike. Earlier this year, other ISIS leaders were also killed in air strikes, including regional leader Hafid Saeez Khan and ISIS’ former number two in command, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Although several alleged terrorists have been killed with air strikes, ISIS has still been functioning well and terrorism in the west has not shown any signs of slowing down. So are the air strikes really stopping terrorism?

The air strikes are hurting ISIS’ oil supply, but they may also be creating unintended problems, such as helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations in recruiting more members and increasing the amount of lone wolf terrorist attacks. There are several reasons these air strikes may be leading to these unintended consequences. One reason is that many terrorist organizations recruit people by claiming that the West hates Muslims. US air strikes on Muslims certainly does not refute this assumption and could actually promote this accusation. Additionally, being killed in an air strike could be perceived as martyrdom. This perception of martyrdom could send a distorted message to individuals that terrorists are actually activists fighting against western oppression and are dying for a great cause. In effect, motivating individuals to support ISIS and other extremist groups by either going to Syria or carrying out lone wolf terrorist attacks.

There’s also nearly no way air strikes could deter terrorist behavior. Similarly to there not being any evidence that a death penalty stops crime, creating deterrence by killing terrorists doesn’t even make sense, since many modern day terrorists are willing to commit suicide. If a terrorist is willing to commit suicide, then how would an air strike deter the individual from engaging in terrorist behavior. Additionally, some terrorists believe that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for carrying out terrorist attacks. If the individual truly believes that they will be rewarded for their terrorist behavior, then threatening to kill the person would not stop the person from committing terrorist acts.

So if air strikes don’t deter terrorism, lower morale, or stop ISIS’ ability to function, then what is the point of using the extra judicial tactic of air strikes? I don’t know. Maybe the US government believes that air strikes are a good tactic in the war against terrorism. But, I’m not sure if air strikes are really that effective, or even ethical.

Read more of Wes’ articles and research about terrorism, economics, and international relations at thepoliticist.org

Sanders and Trump: Voices for American dissension in a time of dissatisfaction

By Sammie Lane, Contributor

The commercialization of American politics has become an interesting trend to observe in contemporary American culture. Watching presidential candidates sling verbal jabs at each other has become commonplace in televised debates. During this election season, two candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, have progressed from relative political obscurity, to the political media limelight.  Both candidates come into direct opposition with the status quo involving politics in the United States.

The United States has long been considered a melting pot for cultures. This country was founded on the ideas of freedom and equality. However, growing inequality has led to tensions among separate communities. Josh Zubran, of The Wall Street Journal, noted in his article “Tracking Inequality in America” how the median income for whites and non-Hispanics was $123,000 greater than the median income for non-whites and Hispanics in 2013. The emergence of the “Black Lives Matter” movement over the last couple years, has led to protests across the United States. Uncertainty has settled in the air as the economy, military conflicts, education, and other issues weigh down the American conscience. In these times of turmoil, people who were once burdened by conformity have disregarded the consent of their peers. Adopting radical ideas to combat increasingly complex problems. As a result an influx of radical ideas have entered the political spectrum.

The ideological contrast between Democrats and Republicans reflect a nation that is becoming more divided. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both believe they are capable of improving the United States, but their versions of the ideal America are vastly different. These candidates are unorthodox in their approach to politics, yet they still represent sectors of society that want to bring about drastic change in America. The fact that their campaigns have garnered considerable support shows that there are people in America who believe in their bold ideas.

According to a poll conducted by Tim Malloy of Quinnipiac University, Donald Trump possesses 24% of Republican votes for presidential nomination. Trump has a lead of 1% over second place vote getter Dr. Ben Carson, for Republican presidential nomination, as of November 4th 2015. Malloy’s poll displayed that 63% of Republicans had a favorable opinion of Trump. His supporters are primarily male, as 44% of males had a favorable opinion of Trump, while only 31% of female voters had a favorable opinion of Trump. Also, Trump supporters tended to be middle aged or older. Only 22% of voters between the ages of 18-34 had a favorable opinion of Trump. That percentage rose to 38% – 43% among voters who were 50+. Trump supporters are distinct between race as well as age. Only 11% of black voters had a favorable opinion of Trump compared to 41% of white voters.

In terms of his political outlook, Bernie Sanders can be described as a Democratic Socialist. He has pushed for sweeping financial reform in the United States. Senator Sanders advocates breaking up large financial institutions that consolidate wealth. Sanders campaign has also amassed a youth following. According to the  “McClatchy-Marist Poll” Sanders possesses 58% of votes from democrats and democrat leaning independents between the ages of 18-29. That figure dips to 45% for the 30-44 age range. Support for Sanders drops rapidly as the demographic age increases, since Sanders garnered approximately 21% – 26% of votes from democrats 45+.

Donald Trump has alienated millions of voters because of his controversial statements, something that would have ruined a presidential campaign in times past. Ironically his controversial statements seem to be fueling his campaign as conservative voters admire his firm demeanor, emphasis on the white middle class, and refusal to censor himself in a politically correct society. Bernie Sanders has captivated the minds of disgruntled youth who want to revolutionize their parents’ America. He has risen in democratic polls despite the fact that he has revealed his acceptance to forms of socialism. Which has been taboo in American politics for decades.

On the surface both of these candidates appear to be complete opposites. Senator Sanders is a utopian socialist, and Trump is a financial kingpin. But they are actually quite similar.  Both are agents of change, who wield their social relevance as a tool to represent American citizens, who want their voice to be heard. Possessing the courage or audacity to proclaim radical ideas. Ideas that isolated groups of citizens believe, but individuals dare to speak.