In this week's On the News Segment: House of Representatives agreed with the Senate last night and passed legislation to avert half of the so-called "fiscal cliff"; Republicans in the House went back on vacation without giving victims of Hurricane Sandy some much-needed relief; researchers found that tens of thousands of votes for President Obama in the last election were suppressed by Republican Governor Rick Scott; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. The House of Representatives needed overtime – but late Tuesday night, they agreed with the Senate and passed legislation to avert half of the so-called "fiscal cliff." And despite President Obama and some Democrats declaring victory after Republicans were forced to sign on to a small tax increase for the wealthiest Americans, this fiscal cliff deal is actually a dream come true for billionaires and banksters. Not only does it keep in place most of the Bush tax cuts FOREVER – it also gives massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and transnational corporations – while giving Americans who earn less than $100,000 a year a tax increase. Since the payroll tax cut wasn't extended – most working Americans will see their taxes go up by as much as $2200 a year, but corporations like Goldman Sachs, GE, and big Japanese-owned Hollywood movie studios will get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax loopholes thanks to the Republicans they own. On top of that, taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires - like estate taxes, capital gains, and dividend taxes - were all drastically and permanently cut – meaning the Mitt Romneys and Koch Brothers will pay much lower taxes thanks to this deal. Forget the sales pitch – this deal is a tax hike on working people – and a tax cut for the top 1%. And it's a last parting "screw you" to the middle class, courtesy of the billionaires who elected the 112th Congress in 2010 – the first election after Citizens United.
In screwed news...After giving billionaires a tax cut in the fiscal cliff deal, Republicans in the House went back on vacation without giving victims of Hurricane Sandy some much-needed relief. Last Tuesday night – Republicans in the House were supposed to vote on an aid package for victims of Sandy, but the legislation was inexplicably pulled at the last minute – meaning Republicans will wrap up this session of Congress without funding more disaster relief. Republican Congressman Peter King called the decision to scrap the vote, "absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible." Democrats in the Senate already approved $60 billion in relief to those affected by the storm, and were waiting for Republicans in the House to do the same. But instead, Speaker of the House John Boehner told Republicans to go back on vacation. Unless you have more than six zeros in your bank account, don't even bother asking for help from today's Republican Party.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Environmentalists in the Arctic are saying, "I told you so." On Monday night, an oil rig being used by Royal Dutch Shell ran aground, threatening to dump 150,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Alaska. So far – Shell has spent 6 years and more than 4 billion dollars trying to extract oil from the Arctic region, despite warnings from environmentalists that drilling in the area is "high-risk", and that it could have a "catastrophic impact on one of the most pristine, unique and beautiful landscapes on Earth." Now that Shell is scrambling to control their crippled oil rig, the world can see that the environmentalists were right. But the bigger picture here is – Big Oil's insatiable thirst for more oil profits is leading the industry to search for oil in some of the riskiest places on the planet, at a time when we should be reducing our dependence on oil to combat global climate change.
In Republican election-rigging news...in Florida, tens of thousands of votes for President Obama in the last election were suppressed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, according to a new study out of Ohio State University. Researchers found that as many as 50,000 additional voters in Central Florida were "discouraged from voting because of long lines on Election Day." Virtually all of those voters were in counties that went for President Obama – and researchers estimate that the President lost an additional 11,000 votes because of Florida Republicans' restrictions on early voting.
Corporations are throwing around their newly-won personhood - claiming as a "person" they can have religious convictions - and use that to cut contraceptive coverage out of their employee healthcare plans. The craft store chain, Hobby Lobby, is defying the Obamacare requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans for female employees – even after their appeal to the Supreme Court was tossed out. In doing so, Hobby Lobby faces as much as a $1.3 million fine per day. But now a lower court has ruled that the company can have religion - and force it on their employees. The Seventh Circuit Appeals Court ruled last Friday that requiring a for-profit corporation to provide contraceptive coverage violates that corporation's First Amendment right of religious liberty...since, as the high court said in Citizens United, corporations are people. Now that two lower courts are at odds on this issue, the Supreme Court will take it up – meaning tens of millions of women across the country might have their rights to equal healthcare treatment with men overturned by a corporation's right to religious freedom. This is insanity.
Tomorrow, the new 113th Congress will be sworn in – and shortly thereafter – a heated gun debate will start. As Sandy Hook elementary students return to class, Senator Dianne Feinstein is promising to introduce a new assault weapons ban, which will forbid the future sale, transfer, importation, and possession of certain types of assault weapons and high capacity ammo clips. Democrats in the House, led by Representatives Carolyn McCarthy and Diana DeGette, will introduce similar legislation in the House. And later in the month, Vice President Joe Biden will present recommendations to President Obama on what can be done to curb mass shootings in America. This will be vicious fight on Capitol Hill – with a lot of gun industry money flowing into the pockets of lawmakers from the NRA and gun makers. But ultimately, it should be up to "we the people" to determine whether or not weapons of war should be on our streets. This will be a battle of organized money versus organized people, and for the sake of our kids – let's hope organized people win.
And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, January 02, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.