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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

With the Deficit Soaring, the Bipartisan Congressional Practice of Wasteful Earmarks Continues with No End in Sight

Deficit spending is skyrocketing. In December, a report was issued under the auspices of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Committee for a Federal Budget, declaring that the U.S. is facing "a debt-driven crisis -- something previously viewed as almost unfathomable in the world's largest economy."

This past year, the federal government ran a deficit of $1.4 trillion. In 2009 alone, the public debt grew 31 percent from $5.8 to $7.6 trillion, rising from 41 percent to 53 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The report, prepared by among others, seven former directors of the White House Office of Management and Budget, two former comptroller generals of the United States, and seven former directors of the Congressional Budget Office, as well as former chairman of the Federal Reserve System Paul Volcker, declares that unless strong remedial steps are taken in the years ahead, the debt is projected to rise to 85 percent of GDP by 2018 and 100 percent four years later. By that time, they argue, the U.S. economy could be in ruins.

Alice Rivlin, formerly a director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, one of the authors of the report, noted that:

Previously, when we were worried about deficits, we could take comfort in the fact that the debt was not very high relative to the economy. But now the debt has shot up. The cushion is gone. If the same thing (a severe recession) happened again, we wouldn't be able to borrow to deal with it.

In the face of all of this, however, in the Congress -- among both Democrats and Republicans -- it is very much business as usual. In the last presidential campaign, both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed their opposition to congressional earmarks -- the pet projects members of Congress slip into spending bills that have become a symbol of how Washington works and of its worst excesses. Yet such earmarks remain alive and well in the current Congress.

In December, lawmakers set aside more than $4 billion in earmarks in the 2010 defense appropriations bill, and watered down efforts to curb the practice of targeting spending for programs in members' districts.

As usual, many of the top recipients of earmarks in the defense bill were high-ranking appropriators. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), got 37 earmarks, totaling $198.2 million. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) got 45 totaling $167 million. On the House side, defense subcommittee chairman John Murtha (D-PA) sponsored 23 earmarks totaling $76.5 million, while ranking Republican G. W. "Bill" Young got 36 totaling $83.7 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Consider the case of the software firm MobilVox. When MobilVox wanted to break into the lucrative world of defense contracting, it expanded operations from its Northern Virginia base in Rep. James Moran's (D-VA) congressional district to the southwestern Pennsylvania district of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA).

Working with two of the most powerful members of a House subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending, the company also hired lobbying firms that employed former top aides of the Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Murtha's brother. Company executives and their lobbyists donated thousands of dollars to the two congressmen. Soon, funds began to flow in the other direction.

Between 2003 and 2009, Murtha (recently deceased) and Moran helped deliver $12 million to MobilVox in earmarks. The latest House spending bill, introduced and pushed through by Murtha, includes an additional $2 million earmark for MobilVox requested by Moran. The Washington Times notes that:

MobilVox's success fits a pattern of doing business in Washington that ethics watchdogs deride as a "pay-to-play" system -- one that became infamous during Republican years and continues to operate under a Democratic leadership that had promised to change a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

In one case, a $100,000 earmark sponsored by rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic whip, to go to the library in Jamestown, South Carolina, ended up going instead to Jamestown, California -- 2,700 miles away and to a town that doesn't even have a library. "That figures for government, doesn't it?" said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, South Carolina, and who earlier in 2009 requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.

This library is just one of more than 5,000 earmark projects -- totaling $3.9 billion -- tucked away inside the catchall spending bill Congress sent to President Obama in December. Mr. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill -- which included such earmarks as $350,000 for the Appalachian Mountain Club to study global warming's effects on New Hampshire's White Mountains, $250,000 to replace bus shelters in Bal Harbour, Florida, $200,000 for outreach to and the study of elderly Irish immigrants in New York, and $180,000 to create a field class to train weather forecasters at San Jose State University in California.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) went to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives 48 times last year to offer amendments to strip pork-barrel spending projects from the annual spending bills. Each time he was defeated. Rep. Flake -- and other earmark opponents such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- failed to win a single anti-earmark vote in the House and Senate for the fiscal 2010 spending year.

President Obama persuaded lawmakers not to add funding earmarks to the $787 billion stimulus package that Congress approved early in 2009. Not long after that, however, Congress approved a $410 billion spending bill that was full of earmarks. The President avoided a fight at the time by saying that the legislation was a holdover from the previous session of Congress, when Republicans were in control. At the time, he said, the legislation should "mark an end to the old way of doing business." We will see, as 2010 proceeds, if he is serious about making any real changes.

Recent polls show that the country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are in disrepute and confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. Frank Newport of the Gallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, "Americans have less faith in their elected representatives than ever before." One important reason for this lack of faith is wasteful spending -- epitomized by the culture of earmarks.

Recent Acts of Violence Illustrate the Need for Repeat Criminals to Serve Their Full Sentences

Late in 2009, two violent acts of murder by repeat offenders who had been released from prison long before their terms were served illustrate the need to carefully review how our criminal justice system conducts its business.

In one case, in Maryland, an 11-year-old girl disappeared, and her body was found on Christmas Day. Sarah Haley Foxwell was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Salisbury and three days later found dead. Thomas J. Leggs, Jr., 30, a registered sex offender who had been acquainted with her family, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary.

The suspect has a lengthy arrest record in Maryland and is listed on both the Maryland and Delaware sex offender registries. The Maryland case dates to 1998, when he was convicted of a third-degree rape for having sex with a teenager who was not yet 18. He served one year in jail and was placed on probation for the remainder of the seven-year sentence. At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping of Sarah, Leggs was awaiting trial on charges of burglary and destruction of property in Ocean City, Maryland.

"What in the hell is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" is the question posed by Jerry Norton of Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that fights to toughen laws governing sex offenses.

Also late in 2009, four uniformed police officers in Washington state were killed, execution-style, as they sat in a coffee shop near Tacoma, Washington, writing reports. The killer was Maurice Clemmons, who was released from jail in Pierce County, Washington, just six days earlier, even though charges were pending for second-degree rape of a child, and he faced seven other felony charges in Washington for punching a police officer in the face.

Earlier, in Arkansas, he was serving 60-year and 48-year sentences for various violent crimes and faced another 95 years on other charges. However, after he had served just 11 years in prison and over vocal objections from county persecutors, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence in 2000. It was just one of the more than 1,000 clemencies issued by Mr. Huckabee during his term in office. At one point, the Arkansas Leader newspaper documented that Mr. Huckabee had given clemency to more convicts than all of the governors in the six states surrounding Arkansas combined.

Editorially, The Washington Times noted that:

The broader lesson here is that governors and presidents generally should leave clemency decisions for violent offenders to trained parole boards. Sure, there is good reason for giving chief clemency powers to chief executives. We know of cases that cry out for pardons, including people imprisoned by overzealous bureaucrats and prosecutors for such crimes as packing lobster tails in plastic instead of cardboard or of submitting the wrong paperwork for imported orchids. But murderers and rapists are a different matter. A single executive, with hundreds of other responsibilities, is unlikely to be familiar enough with each case and each personality to determine if an individual convict is a threat to strike again. If a judge and jury, upon due consideration, imposed a certain sentence on a violent criminal, and an expert parole board has not seen fit to reduce the sentence, a governor or president treads on thin ice in overruling them. It's an injustice that four officers of the law had to die to teach . . . that lesson.

Beyond the question of parole for violent offenders is the fact that we still have with us groups that continue to promote violence against law enforcement officers.

In the Washington state incident, the perpetrator, Maurice Clemmons, told numerous friends and family members to "watch the TV" before the massacre because he was going to "kill a bunch of cops." These individuals -- several of whom have been arrested for actively aiding and abetting Clemmons with shelter, food, money, and medical care aid -- were not offended by the idea of murdering police officers.

Evidently because Clemmons was black and the police officers were white, a militant online group called the National Black Foot Soldier Network, celebrated Clemmons as a "Crowned BOW (black on white) Martyr" and dubbed the Washington ambush "a preemptive strike on terrorists."

Just three weeks before the massacre of the four police officers, the region saw another police attack. Suspect Christopher Monfort was arrested in the targeted shooting death of Seattle Police officer Timothy Brenton and the wounding of his partner Britt Sweeney. Monfort had written diatribes against law enforcement, particularly white policemen.

The leader of a Seattle hip-hop punk band commemorated the assassination with a T-shirt depicting Monfort's face splattered with blood and overlaid with a Seattle PD badge under the slogan "Deliver Us from Evil." The other side of the shirt read, "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps."

We have witnessed many years of cop-bashing rap from NWA's "F___ tha Police" and Ice-T's "Cop Killer" to Dave Pre's "Police State" ("I throw a Molotov Cocktail at the precinct") and The Game's "911 Is a Joke" ("I ought to shoot 51 officers for the 51 times that boy was shot in New York"). Clearly, such music has had its effect.

Overall, the past decade has seen a decline in violent crime. In the case of homicide, murders were down 29.8 percent in Los Angeles, 14 percent in Atlanta, 10 percent in Boston. New York, in 2009, may have had the lowest number of murders since comprehensive record keeping began in 1963. A key reason for this decline are policies that put more brave and educated police officers on the street, with better technology and smarter tactics.

Violent criminal acts -- such as the recent murders in Maryland and Washington state -- could have been avoided if the career criminals who were the perpetrators had been serving their jail sentences. It is high time that repeat violent offenders be kept off the streets. Sentences should mean something. This is an important lesson we should have learned long ago.

It Is Not "Racism" but Far More Complex Factors Which Account for the Gap in Achievement Rates for Black Students

There is a growing gap in our schools in the achievement rate of students of different races.

As a group, black students in the twelfth grade score lower on reading tests than eighth grade whites.The same is true in math, history, and geography. Overall, more than 40 percent of black high school seniors tested below the basic skill level in reading, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Nearly 70 percent of black seniors scored below the basic level in math, and nearly 80 percent in science. That is a stark contrast to the 75 percent of whites scoring above the basic level in math and 63 percent of whites above basic level in the sciences.

This year, community groups in St. Louis, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, issued reports decrying the racial gap in schools. After a recent state report on test scores in California schools, Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of instruction, said the gap is "the biggest civil rights issue of this generation" -- a popular phrase in educational circles.

In Alexandria, Virginia, a majority-minority school system, white students, who represent 25 percent of the total enrollment, are 58 percent of those labeled "gifted." Hispanics and African Americans, 25 and 40 percent of enrollment, respectively, account for about 10 and 20 percent of those in gifted classes. School Superintendent Morton Sherman is bringing attention to what he calls "equity issues." He is looking to expand minority enrollment in gifted programs. In 2006, Alexandria rolled out a nonverbal text to reach children who might encounter language barriers or other cultural biases. Governor Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia announced that the Virginia Education Department will examine the low enrollment of black and Hispanic students in gifted programs throughout the state.

All of this may miss the point of what is really going on. Patrick Welsh, who teaches English at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and writes on education for The Washington Point, declares that:

Focusing on a "racial achievement gap" is too simple: it's a gap in familial support and involvement too. Administrators focused solely on race are stigmatizing black students. At the same time, they are encouraging the easy excuse that the kids who are not excelling are victims, as well as the idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom.

Last year, Welsh reports:

Two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school -- one in science and one in math -- tried to move students who were failing in their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by an administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations.

Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides pre-school and other services for low-income families, says that:

The real problem is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap.

He says that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income, and class, things superintendents have little control over.

Even with the best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problems. They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close.

The fact is that only 37 percent of black children live with a mother and father in two-parent families. Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, makes clear that many low-performing students are not going to be helped by programs designed to end the racial gap in performance. She calls these children "school-dependent learners" and notes that:

These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes.

To her the gap everyone is talking about is not a question "of black and white but of the difference between children's potential and their performance."

In a moment of exasperation, high school teacher Patrick Welsh asked this question of his virtually all-black class of twelfth graders who had performed very poorly on a test: "Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" One student who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- responded: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study." Another student challenged Welsh: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When he did, not one hand went up. "It hit me," he declares, "that these kids understood what I know too well. The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education."

The racial gap is also to be found between black and white students from middle-class, often intact families. Black researcher John Ogbu was invited by black parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to help them understand why their children, black students in the school district's middle-class, integrated suburban schools still lagged behind white students on every measure of academic progress. Black students in Shaker Heights had a 1.9 grade point average as compared with 3.45 for white students.

Ogbu and a research team from the University of California at Berkeley spent nine months looking at test scores and interviewing parents, teachers, and students. One of Oghby's findings is that middle-class black parents spend less time than middle-class white parents in helping their children with homework and staying in touch with teachers. By his measure, middle-class black parents put as little effort into tracking their children's school work as did the poorest white parents. As a result, Ogbu found that from kindergarten to high school, black students put relatively little effort into their school work.

In response, the National Urban League put out a statement charging the professor with blaming "the victims of racism."

In fact, the reasons for the gap in achievement rates for black students are far more complex than "racism," and it is to these reasons that we should turn our attention. Dr. Ogbu said that:

What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents: they don't know how their parents made it. They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models. . . . The parents work two, three jobs to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children.

The Largely Untold Story: Rescuing Jews in Mussolini's Italy

During World War II, Fascist Italy under Mussolini was allied with Nazi Germany. In Italy, Jews were persecuted first by Fascism and then by Nazism. Yet, next to Denmark, Italy had the highest survival rate for Jews in any Nazi-occupied country -- much less a country allied with Hitler. Eighty percent of Italian Jews survived the war -- as did thousands of foreign Jews who found refuge in Italy. The story of their survival is one that has been largely untold.

"Jews have been a part of Italian history and the history of Rome for over two thousand years," writes Ida Garibaldi in Issues. "Indeed, the first Jews arrived on the Italian peninsula in 586 B.C., and Jews have been living in Rome continuously since the Second Century B.C."

An important new book, It Happened in Italy (publisher Thomas Nelson), tells the story of how many Italians -- from all walks of life -- helped to save Jews. Author Elizabeth Bettina is an Italian-American who, as a child, visited her family's village of Campagna in southern Italy. After she met Holocaust survivors in New York who told her stories of surviving World War II in Campagna and surrounding villages, she began to study the story of the heroism of many Italians as they confronted the Nazi goal of elimination Europe's Jews.

In the early 1930s, Hitler was prepared to let Jews emigrate, but other countries were unwilling to receive them. Only Italy -- with Mussolini in power -- permitted German and Austrian Jews to enter the country without visas. They lived peacefully until, as a result of Italy's alliance with Germany, foreign Jews were to be interred.

Elizabeth Bettina tells the story of Giovanni Palatucci, "the Italian Schindler." An Italian police officer in the early 1940s, he actively defied orders to implement Hitler's Final Solution. For his heroism, Palatucci was killed at Dachau. In 2002, he was recognized for his efforts and was beatified -- a step before sainthood -- by the Vatican.

Bettina writes:

His role in Fiume was Questore, which can best be described as part police chief, part immigration officer, and part census officer. All foreign residents of Italy were required to register . . . and this give Palaucci access to their documents and personal information, including their religion. . . . Palatucci hid this list from the Nazis, because he knew that . . . it was a map that led directly to almost certain death for the Jews on the lists. He enabled people to leave Italy by supplying false documents, and if they couldn't leave Italy, Palatucci arranged to send them to an official Italian government internment camp in Campagna, the former Convent of San Bartolomeo, where his uncle Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, was the bishop. . . . Once the Nazis figured out what Giovanni Palatucci was doing, they sent him to Dachau, where on February 10, 1945, he died the death from which he saved thousands of Jews (some estimates are as high as 5,000). Just two months later, on April 29, 1945, Dachau was liberated.

In occupied Europe, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population was executed. Yet in Italy, approximately 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish population survived.

Bettina interviewed many Jews who survived the war in Italy. One was Walter Wolff, arrested by the Germans and sent to Dachau on November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. His brother Bruno was sent to Buchenwald. Their only crime was being Jewish.

Walter and Bruno found their way to Italy, and in June 1940 Walter was arrested in Genoa. His crime was being Jewish. Walter said more than 65 years later:

Now I was back in the same boat, except the Italian camps were nothing like the German camps. There was no forced labor in the Italian camps. We could do whatever we wanted during the day. . . . to pass time, we played cards, took walks around the little village, read books, or played soccer at a field just outside town. We even had our own orchestra and performed for the local residents.

It Happened in Italy is filled with such stories. An earlier book, The Assisi Underground: The Priest Who Rescued Jews by Alexander Ramati as told by Padre Rufini Niccacci, tells how 300 Jews were sheltered and protected by a peasant turned priest, Father Ruffino Niccacci. He dressed many of them as monks and nuns, taught them Catholic rituals, and hid them in monasteries. The town printing press, which during the day printed posters and greeting cards, at night clandestinely printed false documents for Jews all over Italy.

Addressing the nuns of a cloistered order, Father Niccacci said:

Once more we live in the Dark Ages. The men and women who have come to you today to seek refuge and protection are the lepers of the modern world. They are Jews who are being persecuted by the Germans and the Fascists, sent to concentration camps, then tortured and put to death. We are God's sons and daughters and we, brothers and sisters, have much more to answer for than ordinary people. We must take these lepers in our arms, offer them our protection, and hide them from our oppressors.

Father Nicccacci asked Cardinal della Costa, Archbishop of Florence, why Pope Pius XII had not made a statement condemning the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The Cardinal replied:

Instead of making meaningless declarations that would only antagonize the Germans, and perhaps even make them occupy the Vatican itself, he issued orders to save Jewish lives. The Pontiff could not issue an express order. But we received his message loud and clear. How would Pietro Boetto in Genoa, Niccolini in Assisi, I here, and so many other archbishops and bishops all over Italy, provide a sanctuary for the Jews, if we did not feel that this was what His Holiness would wish us to do? . . . In his own diocese . . . and don't forget the Pope is also Bishop of Rome -- over a hundred convents and over fifty churches and theological seminaries are hiding 4,000 Jews, half of the Jews of Rome.

The role of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II will continue to be a subject of debate. What cannot be debated, however, are the stories told by Elizabeth Bettina in her book. While some Italians acted badly, participating in the Nazi assault upon Jews, others acted well -- and bravely. It is from these that all of us can learn lessons for the future.

Recently, this writer participated in an event in Boston, "Italy and the Holocaust: the Calabria Connection," hosted by Robert Trifiletti, director of the Italian Center of New York City's Boston office.

This event included the performance of the play Margherita, by playwright Anthony E. Gallo (a classmate of mine at the College of William and Mary), about the relationship between Margherita Sarfatti, who was Jewish, and Benito Mussolini. In the play, the former lovers meet after a three-year separation in 1939, at a time when Italy's anti-Jewish "racial" laws were being implemented.

Following the play was a seminar about the fate of Jews in Italy in which this writer participated together with Dr. Maria Lombardo, a native of Calabria, Italy and former Education Director of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Lombardo is the author of an important book, A Camp Without Walls, about her father, Salvatore Lombardo, and the rest of her family's struggle to survive World War II. It is a remarkable story of a former Italian soldier, and tells of his imprisonment by the Nazis, together with 254 other Italians in a labor camp in Yugoslavia in subhuman conditions.

As we move further away from World War II, it is important to remember that in the face of evil, many brave men and women did the right thing, often sheltering Jews at risk of their own lives and those of their families. The Italian Center of New York City and its affiliate in Boston is doing important work in telling this story. *

"Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve." --Benjamin Franklin

Read 1506 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 November 2015 09:39
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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