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Words matter: Welcome to Newspeak

Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

Two days ago the First Amendment was strengthened and reality in political discourse was thrown out the window.  In an 8 to 1, bi-partisan (isn’t it funny that we need to say that about the Supreme Court?) decision, the US Supreme Court upheld the right of that repulsive church pastor to “protest” at military funerals.  The Court reaffirmed that our First Amendment is only relevant when we uphold it against the speech we hate, and we don’t get to pick and choose which speech is protected just because we find some of it loathsome.

Unfortunately, some people view the First Amendment a bit like miscegenation.  They’re all for it unless it involves their daughter.  But the most conservative and the most liberal on the court recognized that allowing restrictions in this case, as it did in the animal abuse videos case in equally lopsided fashion, would open the gates to other restrictions.  We have already seen increasing efforts to make everything from filming factory farm abuses to police making arrests in public illegal.  Oprah Winfrey was famously sued for simply giving her opinion on hamburger.  Silencing this nasty little man might feel good to us, but suing or arresting me for calling a specific commercial breeder a puppy mill might just make someone else feel good, too.  Whether we like them or not, words and opinions are our own, they matter, and they must be protected except in the most extreme cases of direct and profound harm.

However, someone (everyone) once said, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.  As this Supreme Court decision was being handed down, legislators in Harrisburg began a new attempt to divert the rapid public outcry over House Resolution 89 which calls for a study of the impact of 2008′s Puppy Mill law.  This “study”, sponsored by six Representatives of a single party, including several who actively worked kill the bill so it would never become law in the first place, presupposes a wide variety of unsupported facts.  When this unsubstantiation is brought up, it is used as the very reason to justify the study.  “Mr. Jones, just how long have you been beating your wife…?”  One would hope an honest call for a study would simply say, “We’d like to study the impact of the Dog Law”.  It would also be nice if there was actually even one co-sponsor who supported the original law if it was truly intended by the sponsors to be an open minded study.  Further, the law, passed by 96.6% of House and Senate legislators, Republican and Democrat, still has not gone into full effect.  Isn’t that like a critic reviewing a movie which they walked out on at the intermission?  But these are minor points.

The slip into Orwellian Newspeak comes when these sponsors say, as did Representative Denlinger, prime sponsor of HR 89, “Please understand that HR89 does not represent any effort by me to re-open [my bold] the PA Dog Law statute, or to weaken dog treatment standards in any way.”  Even if we could get past the nagging concerns I previously listed, a simple read of the long list of unsubstantiated “Whereases” in HR 89 turns up two explicit lines:  ”amendments to the Dog Law which might be desirable refinements” and “amendments to the commercial kennel canine health regulatory standards adopted under the act of October 9, 2008 (P.L.1450, No.119), which might be desirable refinements”.

If HR 89 is not an effort to re-open the Dog Law or regulations, why does it state clearly that this is the intent of HR 89?  Twice!

Unfortunately, despite the public outcry, HR 89 passed 19 to 5.  Rumors then began to swirl that it would be brought to the House floor for a vote almost immediately.  Berks County Representative Caltagirone couldn’t get a bill he sponsored which said you couldn’t drive a pipe down a dog’s throat to debark it for two years, but this could go from introduction to committee vote to House vote in a week? We can probably thank all those who contacted House Speaker Mike Turzai for his subsequent statement through a spokesmen that there were no immediate plans to bring it up for a vote.

To be fair, some who supported HR 89 believe a study into the impact of the Puppy Mill law will make a case for the success and need of the law and dismiss the language that has originated the call for the study.  In fact, the new Majority Chair of the Ag Committee, John Maher, was among the strongest supporters of the Puppy Mill bill and worked within his own party when they were in the minority to ensure passage by an overwhelming majority.  He speaks passionately about his concerns for animal welfare and pride in what this law did to improve the quality of life in commercial kennels.  I have the sense that he believes that an impartial study will only shine a light on how much good the new law has done and will do if allowed to be fully implemented and I’m not sure I don’t agree with him on that.  He also strikes me as someone who would allow a weakening of the dog law over his dead body.

Unfortunately, those of us in animal welfare have been witness to the corpses of great politicians who opened the door a crack for the right reasons and were trampled under the weight of less their less principled colleagues and political expediency.

That is why we must go back to the words on paper, the words that define HR 89.  The words that clearly intend that this study support a pre-determined outcome, one which has already determined a guilty verdict by judges who never liked the defendant in the first place.  An honest jury can’t function in a rigged court.  That is why I respectfully continue to call for HR 89 to be allowed to die on the vine, never reaching a house vote, and if it should, be voted down soundly.  If there is truly a need for a study, wait until after the law has been fully implemented and start from a place of intellectual honesty that does not require a dismissal of the actual words written into this resolution.

Ignorance is not freedom.  War is not peace.  Opinion is not fact.  And calling for amendments to the Dog Law while denying that’s what you are doing is not truthful.


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