Republicans just couldn’t help themselves. They were doing well for nearly a week, as the self-styled conservatives expressed concern about the way Sanford, Fla., police handled the death of unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, which occurred on Feb. 26 but only got national attention in mid-March. Joan Walsh noted at Salon.com (3/26) that Florida’s Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott asked for an outside investigation, and another Tea Party favorite, Rep. Allen West, fumed, “This is an outrage.” Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “an incredible tragedy” and said, “I’m glad it’s being investigated and we’ll take a look at it as the investigation moves along.” Then President Obama made a cautious comment of sympathy with Martin’s parents, noting, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” and Walsh noted, “our Kumbaya moment predictably ended.”

The pushback started. “Two consummate race-baiters, Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan, blasted the president,” Walsh noted. “Gingrich called his remarks ‘disgraceful’ and suggested Obama’s comments meant he wouldn’t have been concerned about the murder had Martin been white. Buchanan said the president should stop siding with those who are ‘stirring up racial rage.’ An expert on stirring up racial rage, Buchanan is the last person to be giving Obama advice about race.”

Walsh noted that Zimmerman had claimed he was hurt in a scuffle with Martin, and news reports suggested he was bloody and bruised, with head lacerations that Zimmerman said came from Martin pounding his skull into the sidewalk. But there were no photos. Zimmerman was not taken to a hospital. An unarmed teenager was shot dead and the man who shot him faced no rigorous interrogation. But we learned (2/26) that Martin had been suspended from high school because officials found an empty baggie that apparently once held marijuana. Walsh noted, “This was a young man described as an A and B student who ‘majored in cheerfulness.’ He had no known arrest record. It’s not too much to say that Trayvon Martin would still be alive if he hadn’t been suspended; he only visited Sanford in the first place because he was out of school.”

Walsh concluded, “Whether or not Martin was wearing a hoodie, or had ever used marijuana; whether or not he and Zimmerman had an altercation that night: at minimum, the cops botched this investigation, and didn’t do anything like what should have been required in a case when an unarmed 17-year-old shows up dead. That’s the bottom line here. Trayvon Martin didn’t have to be a polo-and-khakis-wearing Boy Scout to have his rights respected. Did some of his family’s defenders go too far in depicting him as a fresh-faced child, as some on the right allege? We don’t know that. We only know that the family and their many supporters have cobbled together a movement to demand justice, and they’ve used the facts they had at their disposal. Had the cops done their job, they wouldn’t have had to.”

CONCEALED CARRY DEATH TOLL MOUNTS. At least 402 people have been killed by concealed weapons licensees since May 2007, the Violence Policy Center reports in its ongoing Concealed Carry Killers project (vpc.org/ccwkillers.htm). There is no comprehensive reporting of crimes — even murders — committed by concealed handgun permit holders, but VPC has documented 290 lethal incidents in 32 states that show:

• In more than three-quarters of the incidents (223) the concealed carry killer has already been convicted (83), committed suicide (134), or was killed in the incident (6).

• Of the 58 cases still pending, the vast majority (48) of concealed carry killers have been charged with criminal homicide, four were deemed incompetent to stand trial, and six incidents are still under investigation.

• Nine incidents were fatal unintentional shootings involving the gun of the concealed handgun permit holder.

• Eleven of the victims were law enforcement officers.

• Twenty of the incidents were mass shootings, resulting in the deaths of 89 victims.

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (3/22): “Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, the gun lobby is relentlessly pursuing federal legislation that would expand the ability of George Zimmerman — whose concealed carry permit is still valid — and all other concealed carry permit holders to carry their loaded handguns nationwide. The NRA-backed S. 2188 would force all states that issue concealed carry permits to recognize all out-of-state permits, even if the person could not qualify for a permit in that state.

“We call the bill the George Zimmerman Armed Vigilante Act.

“But even that bill is not extreme enough for Gun Owners of America, who have persuaded John Thune (R-S.D.) and David Vitter (R-La.) to introduce another version (S. 2213) which recognizes the “rights” of gun carriers from states that don’t require permits to carry.

“While Florida’s ‘Shoot First’ law is the reason that George Zimmerman has not been arrested, it’s Florida’s concealed carry law that enabled him to confront Trayvon Martin with a loaded handgun in the first place. Without Florida’s lax concealed carry law Trayvon Martin would be alive today. Across America, hundreds of innocent lives and families have been decimated, their communities shaken, by concealed carry killers who acted as judge, jury, and executioner.”

FIVE STATES DEBATE ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAWS. So far, 25 states have approved Florida-style “stand your ground” laws and the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchance Council (ALEC) is continuing to push for similar laws across the nation, Amanda Pearson Beadle reported at ThinkProgress.org (2/26). Legislators in five states are considering the self-defense bills. In Alaska, the House has approved the bill, which is now before the Senate, where James Fayette, an assistant district attorney from Anchorage, testified (3/16) that the bill was a bad idea. “It will do nothing to enhance the safety of law-abiding gun owners,” Fayette said. “What it will do is make it more difficult for me and my colleagues to convict violent criminals.” The bill reportedly had bipartisan support in the Senate.

In Iowa the House also passed the bill, but it likely will be blocked on procedural grounds in the Senate, but Rep. Matt Windschitl (R) plans to reintroduce it next year.

In Massachusetts, a legislator introduced a self-defense bill that would allow people to use “guns, knives, baseball bats or other deadly force if they feel threatened or think someone else is endangered.”

Lawmakers in New York and Nebraska have also introduced “stand your ground” bills that are stalled in both legislatures.

A “stand your ground” bill was passed and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett (R) in Pennsylvania while in New Hampshire Republicans overrode the veto of Gov. John Lynch (D) in the past year. A bill passed by the Minnesota legislature was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D).

In response to ALEC’s role, Beadle noted, a coalition is pressuring the group’s corporate sponsors to stop funding ALEC’s “reckless agenda” that harms communities. The group, which includes Republic Report, Color of Change, the Center for Media and Democracy and Van Jones’ organization, Rebuild the Dream, noted that companies such Wal-Mart, Kraft, AT&T, UPS, ExxonMobil and State Farm Insurance sit on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board and help fund its controversial efforts.

SENATE REPUBS TEASE, THEN PRESERVE OIL SUBSIDIES. Senate Republicans at first stepped aside (3/26) to let debate occur on a bill proceed that would end $20 bln in subsidies for the five largest oil companies over 10 years. The bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) would divert the money from oil subsidies to cut the deficit and invest in green energy technology. The bill cleared the Republican filibuster on a 92-4 vote, to allow the bill to get a regular debate (which Republicans could filibuster again). Then, on March 29, 43 Senate Republicans and four Democrats supported the filibuster to stop the bill from getting to a vote.

Michael McAuliff noted at HuffingtonPost.com (3/26) that the GOP answer to rising gas prices has been to push for more drilling and support building the Canada to Texas Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline faster, even though experts and outside analyses say such actions would have little or no impact on gas prices.

President Obama released a statement in support of Menendez’s bill. “The nation’s outdated tax laws currently provide the oil and gas industry billions of dollars per year in these subsidies, even though the industry is reporting outsized profits,” the statement said. “Furthermore, heads of the major oil companies have in the past made it clear that high oil prices provide more than enough profit motive to invest in domestic exploration and production without special tax breaks. In making the tough choices necessary for deficit reduction, the Nation simply cannot afford these wasteful subsidies.”

SENATORS WHO VOTED TO PROTECT OIL TAX BREAKS GOT $23M FROM BIG OIL. ThinkProgress noted (3/29) that the 43 Senate Republicans and four Democrats who filibustered to protect $24 billion in tax breaks for Big Oil have received $23.5 million in career contributions from oil and gas companies. The 51 senators voting to repeal oil tax breaks (a majority of the Senate, but not enough to clear the 60-vote filibuster hurdle) have received $5,873,600.

A ThinkProgress Green analysis showed how oil and gas companies have funneled cash to the senators who protected its handouts: The senators who voted for Big OilÕs handouts received on average over four times as much career oil cash as those who voted to end them.

Overall, Senate Republicans have taken $23.2 million in oil and gas contributions. Democrats received $6.66 million.

Since 2011, Senate Republicans have voted seven times for pro-Big Oil interests and against clean energy three times.
Democrats who joined the Republicans in defeating the bill include Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Jim Webb (D-VA). Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) broke ranks and voted to cut the tax breaks. Two senators, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) didnÕt vote.

Republicans have taken an overwhelming 88 percent of oil and gas contributions this election cycle. While showering politicans with cash, the oil industry also spent over $146,000,000 on lobbying last year.

Although 55 percent of Americans want to see Big Oil welfare end, the GOP once again largely acted in-line with their Big Oil donors.

EXXON PROFITS UP, TAXES DOWN. Exxon Mobil, the most profitable of the big five oil companies, made $41.1 bln in profits in the US last year. But while the corporation made 35% more profits since 2010, its estimated effective tax rate dropped to 13% in 2011, down from 17.6% in 2010, Reuters reported. Exxon paid zero taxes to the federal government in 2009.

Exxon claims it paid more than 45% of its 2011 income in taxes, because it counts foreign taxes and deferred taxes, while Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), a progressive group, does not, and Exxon and CTJ disagree in what amounts to profits, Reuters noted.

The American Petroleum Institute has claimed the industry pays a tax rate at more than 40%. But as Reuters explains, the oil industry uses a different methodology to claim it pays an artificially higher tax rate to the public. The industry “lumps together US and foreign taxes. It includes taxes that are deferred and thus not paid yet. US companies must pay taxes on profits earned abroad, but they can defer these taxes until they bring the cash into the country.”

CTJ considers US profits and US taxes paid only. By that measure, Exxon Mobil paid 13% of its US income in taxes after deductions and benefits in 2011, according to a Reuters calculation of securities filings. Chevron, which made $26.9 bln profit in 2011, paid about 19% by that method, near CTJ’s average for all industries. The top corporate tax rate in the US is 35%.

Still, the three-year average for telecom companies is 8%; for information technology services companies, it is 2.5%, according to CTJ (ThinkProgress 3/26).

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ORDERS STRONG CARBON RULES. In a significant reversal of Bush-era policy, the Obama administration issued greenhouse pollution limits for new power plants, a major step in the fight against global warming. The new rule, which will go into effect in 2013, requires new coal-fired power plant to reduce carbon pollution levels 43% lower than current plants, which would most likely require some sort of carbon capture and storage technology. The typical new natural gas fired power plant could meet the standard without additional controls.

Daniel J. Weiss noted at ThinkProgress.org (3/26) that this is the third major executive action launched by the Obama administration to reduce carbon pollution. The first two established two rounds of carbon pollution reductions from vehicle tailpipes, and will “eliminate 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.”  With this proposal, the administration is tackling power plant pollution, the other major source of climate change pollution in the US.

5 BANKS CONTROL 52% OF US ASSETS. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas recently reported that only 5 banks control more than half of all the industry's assets (actually 52%). Thom Hartmann blogged at ThomHartmann.com (3/22), “To put that in perspective — in 1970 — the top 5 banks controlled only 17% of the industry’s assets. Not only that — the total wealth owned by the top 10 banks in the nation now equals half of America's total GDP. These startling numbers have prompted the President of the Dallas Fed — Richard Fisher — to call for the breaking up of the big banks — warning that they’ve become so large they not only threaten the Federal Reserve's ability to conduct monetary policy — but also ‘erode faith in American capitalism.’ Fisher also called for tough new financial reforms to strengthen the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

“Thanks to three decades of Reaganomic deregulation of Wall Street, we've all become slaves to the banksters,” Hartmann wrote. “As President Grover Cleveland said in his 1888 State of the Union address to a nation then under the control of the Robber Barons, ‘Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.’ Here we are again. It’s time to break up Wall Street before they crash our economy for a second time in just a few years.”

4 VOTER FRAUD CASES DISENFRANCHISE 800,000 TEXANS. The US Department of Justice in March blocked a new Texas state law that would require voters to show photo IDs, which could require 800,000 Texans who don’t have driver licenses or concealed weapons permits to apply for a special voter ID. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has said Texas has suffered from “multiple cases of voter fraud” and argued that the DOJ had no valid reason to reject the law, which supporters said was necessary to combat voter fraud. But the San Antonio Express-News reported (3/25) that the only four “illegal voting” complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas attorney general from the 2008 and 2010 elections. And the attorney general would not disclose the results of those cases.

ThinkProgress.org noted that at least nine people already have been denied their voting rights because they lacked the proper voter ID. One is Ricky Tyrone Lewis, a 58-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Milwaukee who has an honorable discharge but no record of his birth that he needs to obtain a voter ID card. Another is Ruthelle Frank, 84, a former elected official who voted in every election for the last 63 years but was unable to obtain a voter ID because the physician at her birth misspelled her name on her birth certificate, so she needs to pay hundreds of dollars to get a corrected birth certificate. Another is Dorothy Cooper, 96, an African American in Tennessee who has voted in every election but one since she became eligible to vote, but was turned away in her attempt to obtain a voter ID because she did not have a copy of her marriage license. She said she didn’t have problems voting in Tennessee during “Jim Crow days” — only now under voter ID. Thelma Mitchell, 93, cleaned the Tennessee Capitol for 30 years and had an old state ID from that job, but was denied a voter ID because she was delivered by a midwife in Alabama in 1918 and there was no official record of her birth. The clerk who turned her away suggested she could be an illegal immigrant.

VOTER RESTRICTIONS BLOCK ELECTORAL VOTE. The Brennan Center for Justice noted that the 13 states that have passed, or are on the verge of passing, restrictive voting laws in effect this fall will account for 189 electoral votes, or 70% of the number needed to win the presidency. The states are Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Three more states — Alabama, Ohio, and Rhode Island — passed restrictive laws that will not be in effect in 2012. Ohioans will vote in November on a referendum to repeal their state’s law.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee noted that several of those are swing states, where restrictive voting laws could mean the difference in the presidential election, though the Department of Justice can block the restrictions in Southern states with a history of voting discrimination under the Voting Rights Act.

HOUSE REPUBS ACCIDENTALLY ENDORSE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. House Republicans had to scramble to strip language from their own health care bill after realizing that it could undermine their argument that the Democrats’ 2010 health care reform law abused the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Pete Kasperowicz reported in The Hill (3/22). A section of the bill, which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board and impose limits on medical malpractice damages, said, “Congress finds that the health care and insurance industries are industries affecting interstate commerce and the health care liability litigation systems existing throughout the United States are activities that affect interstate commerce by contributing to the high costs of health care and premiums for health care liability insurance purchased by health care system providers.” Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) offered an amendment to strip that language in the “findings” section of the bill. “Clearly, the House does not subscribe to the notion that the Commerce Clause bestows almost unlimited powers on Congress,” he said. “By eliminating the ‘findings,’ we eliminate any confusion.”

But even with the last minute change, Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress.org noted (3/23), the final version of the bill still includes language that resembles the administration’s claim that Congress can regulate the purchase of health care under the Constitution’s Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses:

In Sec. 30, under “Constitutional Authority,” the bill states: “The constitutional authority upon which this title rests is the power of the Congress to provide for the general welfare, to regulate commerce, and to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution Federal powers, as enumerated in section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States.”

US APPEALS LABELING SMACKDOWN. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson applauded the decision by US Trade Rep. Ron Kirk to appeal the ruling of the World Trade Organization against the US implementation of the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. The law was passed as a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and amended in 2008. COOL requires retailers to notify their customers of the source of certain foods. Canada and Mexico filed a complaint against the US law, which led to the recent ruling. “US family farmers and ranchers work each day to provide a safe, abundant food supply to our country and the world,” said Johnson. “Not only are we proud of what we do, but consumers have made it clear they want to know where their food comes from. We should not deny them that right.”

PUBLIC DOESN'T LIKE GOP MEDICARE PLAN. House Republicans thought they had a new strategy to gut Medicare in a way that would not make the plan devastatingly unpopular, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (3/27). But a new United Technologies/National Journal poll found that just 26% agreed with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan to change Medicare to a system where the government provides seniors with a fixed sum of money that they could use either to purchase private insurance or to remain in the current Medicare program. Fully 64% said "Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government ... paying doctors and hospitals directly for the services they provide to seniors." Even a solid 56% to 30% majority of Republicans preferred the current system.

OBAMA GETS WORLD’S VOTE. The rest of the world does not get a vote in the US presidential elections (except of course for multinational corporations whose US subsidiaries can anonymously fund super PAC attack ads) but Philip Stephens noted in Financial Times (3/22) that conservative leaders across the globe are lining up behind Barack Obama. On his recent trip to Washington, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron all but endorsed Obama’s claim to a second term and declined to meet with Republican leaders. Center-right parties hold office just about everywhere in Europe, Stephens noted. “Yet it is a struggle to find leaders who would admit, even privately, to be crossing their fingers for Mitt Romney. Mention Mr Santorum or Newt Gingrich and they wince.”

Obama is still popular in Europe, where the 2011 Global Attitudes Survey from the Pew Research center showed that 88% of Angela Merkel’s German voters still expressed confidence in Obama. The figure for France was 84%, for Britain 75% and for Spain 67%.

“Republican leadership is not shedding many tears,” Stephens noted. “Plaudits from Europeans do not fire up the party’s base. To the contrary. As Mr Romney limps a little faster towards the Republican nomination, he accuses Mr Obama of turning the US into a ‘European-style entitlement society.’ Little wonder that a recent survey by the polling company YouGov showed that nearly three-quarters of voters in welfare-friendly Sweden backed Mr Obama.

“On the other side of the world, Mr Romney might have expected cheers from America’s Asian allies. Japan, South Korea and Singapore have traditionally favored Republicans. So too has India. Republicans have been identified as pro-business and pro-trade and, in a dangerous neighborhood, ready to maintain a powerful US presence. Mr Obama was marked down for an early attempt to frame a conciliatory approach to China.

“Like Europeans, however, these allies worry about the rightward shift of today’s Republicans. They struggle to make the connection between the party of Eisenhower, Reagan and George H.W. Bush and the evangelical conservatism of the Tea Party. They have grown used to Mr Obama, and appreciate a toughening of his stance against China. The present US administration, you hear Asian diplomats say, is ‘predictable.’

“Oddly enough, China would also be expected to start with a bias in favor of the Republicans. Richard Nixon, after all, gave the Communist regime its opening to the world. Beijing prefers rightwing realpolitik over liberal hand-wringing about human rights. The Republicans are judged to be on the side of open markets; the Democrats as reflex protectionists.”

In Latin America, where the last President Bush built good relations with leaders in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, Stephens noted, “Mr Romney has seemed intent on alienating them by joining the Republican bidding race for much tougher immigration controls.”

Republicans have at least one stalwart ally in Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, whose support Romney won by stepping up the military threat to Iran and promising to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Both moves are opposed by other US allies, Stephens noted.

Of course, none of this much matters in the election as Americans will make their own choice, but Stephens concluded, “What is striking, though, is just how far the Republicans have strayed from the center-right mainstream of western politics. Something odd is happening when the world’s conservatives vote Democrat.”

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2012


News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2012 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652