Saturday, June 18, 2022

Editorial: Gun Safety Compromise

 A bipartisan group of senators on June 12 announced they had reached a deal on a narrow set of gun safety measures with sufficient support to move through the evenly divided chamber. The deal fell far short of a renewal of an assault weapons ban, or even raising the age from 18 to 21 before an individual can purchase an assault weapon, but it would be a step forward. 

The agreement reached by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and endorsed by President Biden, includes enhanced background checks for people under 21 who want to buy assault weapons, to give authorities time to check the juvenile and mental health records, and a provision that would, for the first time, extend to dating partners a prohibition on domestic abusers having guns.

It would also provide funding for states to enact so-called “red-flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous, as well as money for mental health resources and to bolster safety and mental health services at schools.

The reforms, if they had been in place a month ago, would not have stopped the 18-year-old Uvalde killer, who apparently did not have a juvenile record, from getting the AR-15 he used to massacre school children and their teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It’s also possible that Republicans will try to ditch the enhanced background checks for people under 21 and the “boyfriend loophole” to prevent gun sales to people convicted of domestic violence offenses when it comes to writing the bill..

“The details will be critical for Republicans, particularly the firearms-related provisions,” a Senate aide told the Washington Post. “One or more of these principles could be dropped if text is not agreed to.” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also made that pretty clear—he praised the negotiators but pointedly withheld an endorsement.

John Cornyn (R-Texas), who led the talks for the Republicans and has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, said he was interested in forging a compromise, but only if it preserves gun owners’ rights under the Second Amendment.

“This is not about creating new restrictions on law-abiding citizens,” he said. “It’s about ensuring that the system we already have in place works as intended.”

Preserving gun owners’ rights is an article of faith for the NRA, the foremost spokesman for the gun lobby, but it’s a relatively new feature of constitutional law. “A fraud on the American public” is how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. 

When Burger spoke those words in 1991, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum, Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and author of “The Second Amendment, a Biography,” noted in 2014,.

The Second Amendment was proposed in 1789 out of fear that the new government would establish a “standing army” of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. Every white man age 16 to 60 was required to own a musket or other weapon for military use.

James Madison—an ardent Federalist who pushed for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. The Second Amendment addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” The use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities, Waldman noted. There is no reference to an individual’s right to own a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. 

The NRA was founded after the Civil War by Union officers who wanted a way to sponsor shooting training and competitions. The group supported the first federal gun control law in 1934, which cracked down on the private use of machine guns used by bank robbers. The organization supported firearms safety education, marksmanship training and shooting for recreation.

Then, in 1977, activists from the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms showed up at the NRA’s annual convention and pushed their way into power. “The NRA’s new leadership was dramatic, dogmatic and overtly ideological. For the first time, the organization formally embraced the idea that the sacred Second Amendment was at the heart of its concerns,” Waldman wrote.

During President Bill Clinton’s first term, Congress enacted a ban on assault weapons and magazines that could carry 10 or more rounds. It was included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, an election-year package meant to show that Democrats were “tough on crime,” when then-Sen. Joe Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill’s sponsors put a 10-year “sunset provision” on the assault weapons ban, but it still only got 52 votes in the Senate. In the House, 77 Democrats – predominantly from rural, blue-collar and Southern districts – opposed the assault weapons ban, which narrowly passed the House 216 to 214. The House passed the overall measure on a 235-to-194 vote, with 46 Republicans joining the majority and 64 Democrats opposed.

But the ban on assault weapons provoked a backlash in rural areas, particularly in the South and West. In the following midterm election, Republicans gained 54 House seats, including 19 in the South, giving them more seats in the South than Democrats for the first time since Reconstruction, as Rs took control of the House for the first time in 42 years with a 230-204 majority and put Newt Gingrich in the Speaker’s Office in 1995. 

Many of those rural districts have been Republican ever since, as Democrats have come to rely on urban and suburban voters.

Democrats in 1994 also lost eight seats in the Senate, to make Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) majority leader with 52 votes. 

The US Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law that had effectively banned handguns in the home.

The House on June 9 passed a bill that would raise the legal age to buy certain semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old, establish new federal offenses for gun trafficking and for selling large-capacity magazines, and allow local governments to buy back magazines. There is speculation that the current court, with its three Trump justices, would reject an assault weapons ban. That doesn’t mean Congress shouldn’t try it. But it might explain why many Democrats in swing states aren’t itching to push it. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2022

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Copyright © 2022 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the July 1-15, 2022 Progressive Populist

 COVER/Thom Hartmann 

When Reagan’s racism saved lives: Armed Black men meant immediate gun control

Gun safety compromise

Let’s finally go solar


Rosemary Radford Reuther: Ecofeminist who stayed put

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Concentrated animals on land and sea

Republicans close ranks against accountabiity.
Republicans wield inflation fears to distract from Jan. 6 guilt. 
Bipartisan gun deal is a good start, like tying your shoes. 
Sanders, Warren target rich to expand Social Security. 
Mass shootings ‘something we have to live with,’ 44% of Republicans say.
Jan. 6 hearing reached more than 20 million.
South Dakotans crush GOP effort to sabotage Medicaid expansion.

The light will come back on

New signs of apocalypse: War, famine and Davos Man

Low-wage American taxpayers spent billions inflating CEO pay through stock buybacks

Big lie hearings will make memories

Slaughterhouse America

Settlement over troubled private border wall won’t stop flooding or erosion of Rio Grande shoreline, experts say

Will Jan. 6 hearings sway minds and help save democracy?

Trump’s direct involvement in a coup plotting session and other big takeaways from the first Jan. 6 hearing

There are better ways for societies to address inflation than by hiking interest rates

Our country is trading children’s lives for guns

Gun culture as part of a political and religious crusade

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
A Monkey Pox on the house of Abbott

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
A nation of the mentally ill

Abortion has a long history

American oligarchs

US foreign and trade policy must reflect reality

Everything is broken: 5 interventions

Which side are you on?

A name by any other name

The toughest work

BOOK REVIEW/Ken Winkes  
The Farmer’s Lawyer goes to the head of the class action

How can you refuse ‘the offer’?

FILM REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky 
Fire Island

BOOK REVIEW/Ed Rampell  
From Puritans to Trump, Harvey Wasserman analyzes the spiral of the far right in his new book

America needs to see the reality of assault rifle murders

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Editorial: Stop Pandemic Price Gouging

 American families have been alarmed by surging prices of food and fuel as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, and of course Republicans have been piling the blame on President Joe Biden, even as they sabotage attempts to bring inflation under control. 

After the stimulus of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act in March 2021 spurred the US economy to grow 5.7% in 2021, the fastest annual clip since 1984, Republicans managed to block any further assistance for working families of the US, and the economy shrank 1.4% in the first three months of 2022, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

European economies were estimated to have grown 5.2% last year, but surging energy prices are posing a growing problem for Europeans economies, as new figures showed on May 20 that inflation in the euro zone increased to 7.5% in May, the highest level on record, while economic growth weakened to 0.2%.

In the US, the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers increased 0.3% in April, an improvement from the 1.2% increase in March, but it still left an 8.3% increase over the previous 12 months.

Most of the inflated costs can be attributed to the break in supply chains as the economy emerged from the pandemic.

Food prices are up 9.4% over the past year but gasoline prices spiked 43.6%, blowing well past the $4-a-gallon barrier, However, the US still ranks in the middle among nations in gasoline costs.

When Biden placed a ban on imports of Russian oil, gas and coal March 8 as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the average gas price at US pumps hit $4.17 and he predicted the ban would cause gas prices to rise further. By May 22, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $4.593, according to AAA, but the US ranked 85th out of 170 countries tracked by Gas prices range from the least expensive (Venezuela at 8.4 cents a gallon) to the most expensive (Hong Kong at $10.966 a gallon). The average price of mid-grade (95 octane) gas was $7.04, while the average price for mid-grade in the US was $4.664..

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., replied, “Democrats want to blame surging prices on Russia. But the truth is, their out-of-touch policies are why we are here in the first place. Remember what happened on Day 1 with one-party rule? The president canceled the Keystone pipeline, and then he stopped new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned, “This administration wants to ramp up energy imports from Iran and Venezuela. That is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and a thuggish South America dictator, respectively. They would rather buy from these people than buy from Texas, Alaska and Pennsylvania.”

First, we think if Saudi Arabia is an acceptable trading partner, the US can risk importing Venezuelan oil at reasonable prices and encourage Iran to supply our European allies.

In the early months of 2020, when the virus took hold, demand for gas dried up and prices plummeted. The benchmark price for crude oil in the US fell to negative $37.63 that April, so producers in the US and around the world began cutting their output. The average price of gas in April 2020 fell to $1.938.

As pandemic restrictions loosened and economies recovered, demand outpaced supply. OPEC Plus, an alliance of oil-producing countries that controls about half the world’s supply, chose to limit increases in production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Domestic production also has remained below pre-pandemic levels, as oil companies have taken advantage of the increased demand for fuel, which has increased the prices at the pump.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would have expanded an existing system transporting heavy tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, has been a political and environmental battleground since it was proposed in 2008. The Obama administration denied a construction permit for the company behind it, TransCanada, in 2015. The Trump administration approved the permit in 2017, but the project stalled in the courts. By the time Biden rescinded the permit on his first day in office, just 8% of it had been built.

However, even if Biden had greenlighted XL and TransCanada, now known as TC Energy, won its court battles, the pipeline wouldn’t be operational today. The company estimated in March 2020 that it might enter service in 2023. And even if the pipeline were completed, most of the oil likely would be shipped overseas.

Claims about the Biden administration stopping oil and gas leases also are Republican disinformation.

Biden temporarily halted new drilling leases on federal lands in January 2021, but a federal judge blocked that move last June. In its first year, the Biden administration actually approved 34% more permits than the Trump administration did in its first year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. (And environmental defenders didn’t like it.) But those permits could take years to actually result in oil or gas production. 

Democrats in Congress, with the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act (HR 7688), have proposed to give the Federal Trade Commission the power to penalize oil companies if the government can prove they are inflating the price of gasoline. House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone, D-N.J., noted that Shell PLC made a record $9 billion in profits during the first quarter of 2022 and Exxon Mobil Corp. saw profits increase by $5.4 billion. “They are purposely keeping production low in order to keep prices and their profits high,” Pallone said.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., circulated talking points describing the bill as a “socialist price fixing act.”

“This bill is an attempt by the Democrats to distract and shift blame from the administration’s self-inflicted energy and inflation crisis and blame energy producers, despite no evidence of price gouging,” the talking points said, regardless of actual evidence.

The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act passed the House 217-207 May 19 without any Republican support.

Another bill to check price-gouging is the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act (HR 7061), sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., which has yet to come up for a vote. Under Khanna’s bill, which is a companion to a similar bill introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., “large oil companies that produce or import at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day (or did so in 2019) will owe a per-barrel tax equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the pre-pandemic average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019,” according to a press release.

Under the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act, consumers who’ve missed the chance to benefit from Big Oil’s financial gains would be issued quarterly rebates generated from the taxes levied on fossil fuel companies. The rebates would apply to individuals making up to $75,000 annually or up to $150,000 for joint filers.

Both bills likely will be blocked by Republicans in the Senate, as the fascists hope unrest caused by inflation will put them back in control of the House and Senate after the midterm elections in November. Until then, any attempt by Democrats to control inflation will be condemned by Republicans as socialism. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2022

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Copyright © 2022 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the June 15, 2022 issue of The Progressive Populist

 COVER/Mark Olalde 

The Southwest’s drought and fires are a window to our climate change future

Stop pandemic price gouging

Democrats’ midterm messaging


Cuba: Another Democrat, another try

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Men are needed to protect women’s rights at risk

Republican senator: Louisiana’s maternal mortality rate isn’t bad if you exclude Black mothers. 
Republican brought partisan attacks to formula crisis; Biden brought a cargo plane with 35 tons of formula. 
Nearly 90,000 small businesses in US are at risk of closing after Republicans kill Main Street relief bill. 
Supreme Court rolls back right to competent counsel. 
Millions more kids going hungry since GOP, Manchin killed expanded tax credit.
Biden finally has majority on USPS board.
Red states open second front against California waivers.
House Jan. 6 committee plans 6 public hearings in June ...

Important signals

Meatpackers needed ‘to see some results!’

It’s time to stop

To serve his country, not a conniving president

The stock market’s slow collapse

Pennsylvania, birthplace of democracy, could elect America’s first fascist governor. Thanks, Republicans. 

Plenty of food, but not for all farmworkers

Stopping attacks on health care workers

Time to replace deadly ‘Wile E. Coyote healthcare’ with lifesaving Medicare for All

ICE probably spied on you

Why Democracy’s most relentless enemies always try to destroy trust first

As the planet warms, let’s be clear: We are sacrificing lives for profits

Fighting for democracy in a time of war

The GOP’s ‘pro-life’ victory will mean more dead mothers

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
The trifecta: Abortion, contraception, and sex education

Transitions in the public will

Onward, Christian soldiers

Sean Hannity, lyin’ Ted, and Lindsey Graham in the Fox News multiverse of madness

Turmoil in Sri Lanka

Ukraine: Putin backs down

Malcolm Nance battles on

If you watch TV or use the internet, you want a functional FCC

In Buffalo, a familiar tune

Dig into the veteran richness of Steve Forbert

Reflections on the ‘great replacement’ theory

Making waves with Pacific cinewaves: South Seas Cinema surges at LAAPFF

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
Brett Kavanaugh, hopping mad