You need to know this. Yesterday, one shocking statement spurred audible gasps in the Supreme Court. During oral arguments about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discriminating against black voters get federal approval before changing their voting laws, Justice Antonin Scalia described the key provision as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." Maybe Justice Scalia is unaware that racial inequality still exists in our nation. Perhaps Scalia doesn't realize voters in many minority districts waited up to nine hours to vote in the last election. Maybe it doesn't matter to him that African Americans still face an unemployment rate that's twice as high as whites. Or perhaps Justice Scalia isn't concerned about the income disparity between whites and people of color that a new study from Brandeis University recently pointed out. Despite all the evidence of racial inequality, Jusitce Scalia instead made a racist comment about entitlements. Maybe all those statistics just don't matter to Antonin Scalia. His racist statement alone shows why the Voting Rights Act, and efforts like it, should be strengthened, not eliminated. Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, of The African American Ministers Leadership Council, spoke out against Scalia's statement, saying, "Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act doesn't represent the 'perpetuation of racial entitlement,' ... Rather, it is one of the more important tools we have for confronting the entitlement of those who believe some people's votes and voices should matter more than others." Justice Scalia was right about one thing – we are all entitled to the right to vote. It's time our leaders fight to make every vote and every voice equal in our nation. They can do so by continuing to fight for equality and by expanding the Voting Rights Act to protect the vote of everyone in our nation.
In screwed news... During a House Financial Services Committee hearing yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said our national unemployment rate won't be coming down any time soon. According to Bernanke, it's unlikely we'll see the jobless rate fall below 6% before 2016. And instead of Congress stepping in to help improve the job situation for millions of Americans, they're only a day away from allowing Republican austerity measures to wreak havoc on our economy, and implementing cuts that will result in the loss of more than 700,000 American jobs. During his testimony yesterday, Bernanke was outspoken about the dangers of further fiscal contraction, and he repeatedly explained that these drastic budget cuts could damage economic recovery. But Republicans in Congress simply don't care. They see the looming sequester as just another political tool to attack President Obama. There are only hours left for Congress to prevent painful austerity measures from hitting Americans. Call Congress now and tell them stop the sequester, or they can expect to join the unemployment rolls with their fellow Americans.
In the best of the rest of the news...
It may only be temporary, but environmentalists in Alaska just got a big win. After several blundered attempts to drill for oil off that states shores, Royal Dutch Shell has announced they're suspending their drilling operations in Alaskan waters for the remainder of 2013. Margaret Williams, of The World Wildlife Fund, called Shell's decision wise, saying, "throughout the 2012 season, Shell's experience proved time and time again the inherent difficulties in meeting challenging Arctic conditions, and the safety standards required by the federal government." That's because the company botched two different drilling operations off Alaskan shores between September and December of last year. A corporate statement issued Wednesday said, "Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future." So, for now, it looks like environmentalists have at least 10 months to petition the federal government to increase safety standards in the region, or perhaps even prevent the company from drilling in the sensitive environment at all . For the future of Alaska, and of our entire planet, let's hope environmentalist groups succeed.
Proponents of sensible gun regulations are not going away. Just yesterday, Captain Mark Kelly, former astronaut and the husband of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, wrote a stunning op-ed about closing the gun show loophole. And the police chief of Milwaukee, Edward Flynn, turned up the heat in a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on gun regulations. Addressing the on-going NRA deception about background checks, Capt. Kelly wrote, "it's clear that for reasons of their own, the NRA leadership has decided to dig in and – against all evidence and common sense – preserve a system that makes it easier for criminals to get guns." In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chief Edward Flynn refused to let Senator Lindsey Graham perpetuate the lie background checks fail to deter criminals from acquiring a gun. Flynn interrupted Sen. Gram's pro-gun talking points, saying, "We're trying to prevent the wrong people from buying guns. That's why we do background checks." It looks like the gun-nuts in our nation may finally have to back down. With strong gun control advocates like Mark Kelly and Edward Flynn, the movement for some common sense gun regulations may be within reach.
And finally... Millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito wants to send a married couple to Mars. The couple would embark on a 501-day flight that zooms past the Red Planet, and swings back to Earth. And a couple has already volunteered for the adventure. Taber MacCullum and his wife, Jane Poynter, worked together during a two-year isolation experiment, and currently run a company specializing in life-support systems for spacecraft. So, why does Tito want a married couple to make the journey? During Wednesday's briefing about the proposed space flight, Tito said "when you're out that far, and Earth is a tiny, blue pinpoint, you're going to need someone you can hug," and he envisioned Dr. Phil giving the couple "marital advice" during the trip. If all goes as planned, the journey will take place in January of 2018. Let's hope the flight path is well planned, as we wouldn't want to witness the first in-space argument about whether to stop for directions.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, February 28, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.