In today's On the News segment: Seattle teachers boycott new standardized test, and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Internet trailblazer and activist Aaron Swartz is dead at age 26. Aaron, who often appeared on this show, was found dead in his apartment after an apparent suicide over the weekend. He had long battled depression. But friends, family, and supporters of Aaron are placing the blame for his death on the Department of Justice, which was currently prosecuting Aaron for an incident that happened back in 2011 on the campus of MIT. Aaron, an advocate for freedom of information on the Internet, was busted for tapping into MIT's network, and downloading millions of scholarly journals from the online database JSTOR. Despite it being a victimless crime, and JSTOR itself settling the matter with Aaron, the Department of Justice stepped in to make an example out of Aaron – charging him with multiple crimes and the possibility of serving more than 30 years in prison – which is more than killers, bank robbers, child pornographers, and terrorist sympathizers receive. The Secret Service even got involved in the matter. According to a statement – Aaron's family blamed his death on, "an exceptionally harsh array of charges." Our justice system is clearly broken. How is that banksters who steal billions, or corporate executives who are responsible for the deaths of workers on oil rigs and mines, never see a day in jail. But whistleblowers and freedom of information activists have the book thrown at them, and suffer the full might of the United States Justice Department? Over the weekend – online activists affiliated with Anonymous claimed responsibility for taking down the websites of MIT and the Department of Justice. One thing is for sure, the online community, which had joined together in the past for significant achievements, like the defeat of SOPA and PIPA, will not let Aaron die in vain. Like the suicide of the Tunisian street vendor, which kicked off the Arab Spring, Aaron's death just may be a spark to wake Americans up to this cancer in our justice system, this abuse of copyright laws, and this corporate domination of the internet, and our society. Let's hope.
In screwed news...gun-crazy America is arming up. While Vice President Biden and his gun taskforce think of ways to stem horrific gun violence in America – the shootings and the gun purchases keep piling up. According to the Children's Defense Fund, nearly 450 children and teenagers have been shot by a gun just since the 113th Congress was sworn in earlier this month. But the NRA is refusing to contribute anything meaningful to the debate, with the head of the NRA saying on Sunday that he opposes any sort of measure that will require background checks for ALL gun purchases. Currently, about 40% of gun purchases do not come with any sort of background check at all. And thanks to the fear mongering going on in the gun community, assault rifles are fling off the shelves around the nation. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there were 2.2 million gun background checks performed in December, which is more than a 58% increase over the same period in 2011. The longer our lawmakers wait to pass common sense gun safety measures, the more weapons of war will find their way onto our street corners, our shopping malls, and our schools. It's a dangerous game that the gun lobby is playing.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Teachers in Seattle are fed up with the corporate school reform agenda – and they are standing up against standardized testing. Nearly the entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School announced they will not teach, or administer, a new standardized test for 9th graders known as the MAP – the Measures of Academic Progress. The teachers say such standardized testing is a waste of time and money. A second school is even expected to join the boycott. In a statement about their decision, the teachers said, "After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again." Under George W. Bush, the use of standardized testing to judge progress in our schools exploded – despite little evidence that these tests are actually good measures of how well a student is learning. In reality – all these tests do is enrich corporate executives – like George W's brother Neil Bush – who sell these standardized tests to schools. Good on the Seattle teachers for fighting back against this education scam – and let's hope other teachers around the nation join this movement.
According to the White House – comprehensive immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship. As the New York Times reports – the White House will soon tackle immigration reform head-on, with a call to allow undocumented immigrants currently in the United States an opportunity to be citizens one day. This is certain to draw the ire of Republicans, who call any sort of pathway to citizenship, "amnesty." But expect party elders on the Right – who understand the changing demographics in America – to sign on to immigration reform, in a desperate attempt to not become an irrelevant party in a rapidly changing United States.
And finally...take the trillion-dollar platinum coin off the table. Just like the 14th Amendment solution, the Obama administration ruled out using a platinum coin to raise the debt ceiling, should Republicans in the House not act. A statement from the Treasury released on Saturday read, "Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit." And with that, the best chance Ronald Reagan had to put his face on a U.S. coin was lost. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there is no back-up plan, and it's up to Congress to raise the debt-limit. In other words – the fate of the entire global economy is in the hands of House Republicans. Be concerned. Be very concerned.
And that's the way it is today – Monday, January 14, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.