In today's On the News segment: What do Uganda, the Ivory Coast, and the United States have in common? Extreme wealth inequality; A week before BP's civil trial for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, a district judge in New Orleans just reduced the company's liability by $3.4 billion; One million low-income Floridians will have health insurance soon; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. What do Uganda, the Ivory Coast, and the United States have in common? Extreme wealth inequality. And according to a new paper from Thomas Hungerford at the Congressional Research Service, capital gains and carried interest tax loopholes are responsible for our nation's unequal income divide. Capital gains and investment income used to be taxed like regular income, but they were lowered once in 1996, and again by the Bush tax cuts. Over the last decade, those tax loopholes allowed the rich to gain massive amounts of wealth, and led to an extreme increase of income inequality in our nation. According to Mr. Hungerford's report, changes in wages between 1986 and 1996 had an equalizing effect, and most of the equalization occurred after a 1993 tax hike. However, after the Bush-era tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, Hungerford says, "most of the equalizing effect was reversed." And this isn't the first time Thomas Hungerford researched the the income divide in our nation. In a 2011 study he prepared for the Congressional Research Service, he found that between 1996 and 2006, income grew at 25% for all Americans, but the top 1% saw a 74% growth rate on their wealth. So, thanks to big tax breaks, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It's time to make the rich pay their fair share. Restore the pre-1996 capital gains tax rate for the sake of wealth fairness. Let's stop helping the people who make money with money and reward the real job creators in our country – the working people.
In screwed news... A week before BP's civil trial for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, a district judge in New Orleans just reduced the company's liability by $3.4 billion. That means BP won't be liable for the full $21 billion in fines for dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, and now the company faces a maximum liability of $17.6 billion. That's less than the oil giant made in 2012 alone – when they raked in profits of over $25 billion. According to District Judge Carl Barbier, the 800,000 barrels of oil captured at the site of the broken well "never came into contact with any ambient sea water, and was not released into the environment in any way." BP's also fighting the federal government's oil spill estimate, saying the number of barrels released is 20% too high. It's hard to understand how BP will dispute the government's estimate of oil released, given that toxic dispersants were used to dilute oil spewing from the undersea well. The fact is, the dollar amount of BP's fines is irrelevant. No amount of money can cover the monumental damage done to the Gulf. There's no dollar amount that brings back the 11 workers killed on the Deep Water Horizon. We should give BP the corporate death penalty and revoke their right to do business in our nation.
In the best of the rest of the news...
One million low-income Floridians will have health insurance soon. In a complete reversal of his opposition, Republican Governor Rick Scott announced yesterday that he'll accept Obamacare funding to expand Medicaid in his state. Previously, he tried to block Medicad expansion, citing figures that inflated the cost of the program by 2500%. While the expansion is great news for low-income residents in the state, it's also a huge give-away to the for-profit insurance companies. Gov. Scott only accepted the plan after securing a waiver to hand over control of the program to private insurers. Remember, this is the same Rick Scott who ran Columbia/HCA when that company was found guilty of the largest Medicare fraud scam in US history. And now we're letting him hand Medicaid over to his corporate buddies? Hopefully, the Department of Justice will be keeping a close eye on this program.
When you hear "biology class", you'd think kids would be learning about science, right? Well, not if they're in school in Oklahoma. A new, ALEC-sponsored "academic freedom" bill in that state would ban teachers from penalizing students who turn in papers that attempt to debunk evolution or climate change. And ALEC is behind similar legislation being considered in Colorado and Arizona as well. According to Mother Jones, Oklahoma's "HB 1674 is the latest in an ongoing series of "academic freedom" bills aimed at watering down the teaching of science on highly charged topics." Republican State Representative Gus Blackwell, who spent 20 years working for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, says he introduced the bill because, "there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks." The American Legislative Exchange Council bill proposes that students and teachers should be able to question the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics like evolution, global warming, and human cloning. It's no wonder that our nation is 17th in education among developed countries. Perhaps Mr. Blackwell should go back to working in religious organizations, and let teachers decide what constitutes actual education.
And finally... When did Mitch McConnell start caring about Gitmo prisoners? When he fell for a report from satirical site "The Duffel Blog" - a military-focused site similar to The Onion. Wired Magazine reports the Senate Minority Leader's office asked the Pentagon why the Obama Administration was preparing to give GI Bill benefits to Guantanamo Bay detainees – a question McConnell received in a letter from one of his constituents. The satirical post quoted a fake Pentagon spokesman saying, "By allowing the detainees to use the Department of Veteran Affairs, we home to completely crush their souls with bureaucracy." Apparently someone in Kentucky didn't get the joke. With Senators like Mitch McConnell, it's not hard to imagine how someone could consider the Senate's bureaucracy a form of torture.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, February 21, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.