In today's On the News segment: The Senate tackled the issue of gun control today; Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada filed a series of SLAPP suits against organizations and 19 individual protesters that stand in its way of building the pipeline; Republicans in Mississippi want to re-fight the Civil War; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. For the first time since 2009, the U.S. economy shrank last quarter. New numbers out of the Commerce Department, show that the economy shrank in the fourth quarter of 2012 by point-1 percent. That's a complete reversal from the robust 3.1% growth rate, which we saw in the third quarter of 2012. What's behind the sudden drop? Conservative austerity spending cuts. Federal spending was down 15% in the fourth quarter, after rising 9.5% in the third quarter. And as we're seeing in the UK, which is on the verge of entering a triple-dip recession – Greece, which is on the verge of total collapse – and Spain, which has the highest unemployment rate in Europe – austerity kills economies. But thanks to Republican hostage-taking, and demands for more and more spending cuts – the United States is about to enter this same austerity death spiral in 2013. Already – the US is scheduled to enact austerity measures totaling 2.1% of GDP – which is more austerity than the U.K., France, and Spain have enacted thus far. And with even bigger spending cuts looming in a few months, it's only going to get worse. We need pro-growth policies, that put money back in the hands of working people. Spending cuts don't do that. And no nation, in the history of the world, has ever cut its way to prosperity.
In screwed news...a foreign corporation is building a toxic pipeline across our country – and also has threatened to ruin the lives of anyone who stands in opposition to the project. Numerous organizations and demonstrations have confronted the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being built by the Canadian company TransCanada. In response, TransCanada filed a series of SLAPP suits against these organizations and 19 individual protesters who, according to Tar Sands Blockade, "were threatened with losing their homes and life's savings if the lawsuit went forward." One of those targeted with a SLAPP suit, Ramsey Sprague, responded by saying, "TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots, civil-disobedience movement...This is nothing more than another example, of TransCanada repressing dissent, and bullying Texans who are defending their homes, and futures from toxic tar sands." However, TransCanada did succeed in getting a settlement in the lawsuit, which stipulates that activists can no longer trespass on, or cause damage to, Keystone XL property. But they can still let their voices be heard – and so can all of us. Getting people organized is the only way to defeat this toxic, ticking time-bomb for our environment.
In the best of the rest of the news...
The Senate tackled the issue of gun control today. In the first Senate judiciary Committee hearing of the 113th Congress, the issue was new gun control legislation, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein last week. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, gave an opening statement at the hearing calling on Senators to take action to reduce gun violence. Also at the hearing, was the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, who's been a very loud critic of any new gun control legislation, including universal background checks for all gun purchases. At the hearing, LaPierre again bashed the idea of background checks, saying they won't work. But as the ThinkProgress blog points out – the NRA's stance on this issue is wildly unpopular. In fact – according to a new Gallup poll – only 8% of the nation agrees with the NRA on opposing universal background checks. To put that in perspective, more people approve of Congress, polygamy, and human cloning than agree with the NRA on this issue. It's time to stop being afraid of how powerful the NRA is. It's an organization that's been taken over by out-of-touch, radical gun industry shills, who lost nearly every election they invested in, back in 2012.
The Republicans' election rigging schemes have hit another setback. On Tuesday, the Virginia state Senate's Privileges and Elections Committee voted down a bill, which would have changed how the state awards its Electoral College votes. All Democrats on the committee voted against the bill – as did four of eight Republicans – officially putting an end to the election rigging effort in that state. Meanwhile in Michigan, where Republicans were considering a similar scheme, Governor Rick Snyder slammed the idea saying he doesn't think it's "the appropriate time to look at it." He also said, "I'm very skeptical of the idea...I really view it as a question of you don't want to change the playing field so it's an unfair advantage to someone." Then again, Snyder was the same Governor who said he wasn't interested in passing Right-to-Work-for-less legislation in Michigan last year – and then immediately turned around and passed a Right-to-Work-for-less law anyway. But at least for now, it appears the Republican election rigging effort is on hold. Now it's time for progressives to get active, and push for a national popular vote, to make sure Republicans can't get away with these antics in the future.
And finally...Republicans in Mississippi want to re-fight the Civil War. After President Obama unveiled new gun control executive orders – a group of Tea Party lawmakers in Mississippi introduced legislation to create a permanent committee in the state, which would be dedicated to nullifying – or overturning – federal laws that Mississippi Tea Partiers don't like. The Constitution is very clear on this issue – the federal government has supremacy over the states. But several red states disagree – and are using the same tactics today, that proponents of Jim Crow segregation used after the Civil War. Tea Party lawmakers are not the ones to determine if federal laws are unconstitutional. That's the job of the courts – which is another problem in itself. But the point is – we've seen what happens when states think they can ignore basic federal laws to improve the lives of people in those states. It's basically why the Civil War was fought. Clearly, the Tea Party has not learned the lessons of history.
And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, January 30, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.