In today's On the News segment: County District Judge in Wyoming ruled against environmental groups fighting to make public the list of toxic ingredients used in hydraulic fracking fluid public; Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is under investigation; IRS spent 60,000 tax payer dollars to produce a "Star Trek" video parody under the guise of employee training; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry. The case concerns California's discriminatory law, which bars same-sex couples from being married in that state. Already, both the California District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have concluded that Prop 8 violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. However, Dennis Hollingsworth – of the anti-gay-marriage group ProtectMarriage.com – is pressing on with the fight to uphold Prop 8. The law was passed in 2008 by a slim majority of California voters, and it has been tied up in the courts for years. During that time, a stay has been issued, blocking additional same-sex couples in California from marrying. The Supreme Court must consider two questions in today's case – whether the law is unconstitutional, and whether the anti-gay group even has standing to argue the case. If the justices decide to uphold the lower courts' rulings, it would represent a huge victory in the fight for full LGBT equality, but there's no telling how this court will rule. Tomorrow, the justices will hear arguments in another landmark equality case, United States v. Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and rulings on both are expected later this year. Hopefully, the conservative-leaning court will recognize that gay rights are civil rights, and that everyone in our nation should have the right to marry the person that they love.
In screwed news... You don't have the right to know you're being poisoned. At least, not in Wyoming. Yesterday, County District Judge Catherine Wilking ruled against environmental groups fighting to make public the list of toxic ingredients used in hydraulic fraking fluid. According to Judge Wilking, Wyoming's state oil and gas supervisor was authorized to withhold the information, because the list of chemicals is considered a trade secret. Halliburton, one of the companies involved in the 2010 BP Gulf Disaster, argued that if they disclosed the makeup of their fracking fluids, competing companies would be able to reverse engineer the toxic sludge. So, not only does Halliburton get to control the controversial hydraulic fracturing industry in Wyoming, but this ruling allows them to socialize all external costs. Without knowing what chemicals are used in the process, people can't blame Halliburton when they get sick, or when their groundwater becomes contaminated. And it will be John Q Taxpayer picking up the tab when people can't cover healthcare or clean up related costs. Corporate power in our nation is out of control. It's even worse that Judges like Caterine Wilking are making that power even stronger.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe took a stand to protect voters. On Monday, the democratic governor vetoed a voter ID bill, which he said could disenfranchise voters. Beebe said, "I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens." The Republican-dominated state legislature plans to override the veto, as they have with two recent anti-abortion bills. If they again succeed in obtaining a veto-proof majority, the new law will require county clerks to provide photo ID's to any registered voter that does not currently have one, and it will cost the sate an estimated $300,000. Similar laws are being challenged in other states, and legal battles are expected if Arkansas enacts the measure. Even if state Republicans press on with their efforts to disenfranchise voters, it's great to see that Governor Beebe is fighting to protect the democratic process in his state.
Walmart is getting what they pay for. The mega-retailer's bottom-of-the-barrel wages are leading to disorganized stores, long-lines, and empty shelves. And customers are choosing to shop at other retailers to avoid the chaos. Mr. Ton, an associate professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, studied the problem, and said "[customers] are mad about they way they were treated or how much time they wasted looking for items that aren't there." He explained that retailers think wages are an easy cost-cutting target, but that history shows the resulting deterioration of customer satisfaction often leads to a decline in sales-growth. In other words, people get frustrated by the lack of adequate staff and merchandise, and they go to other stores instead. So, it looks like Walmart's low-wage strategy may be backfiring. We can only hope that as more customers flee from the low-cost retailer, that management will catch on, and start paying workers a living wage.
Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is under investigation. The Office of Congressional Ethics is looking to allegations of misusing campaign funds during her 2012 presidential run. According to the Washington Post, Peter Waldron, who worked as Bachmann's national field coordinator, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the lawmaker of using PAC funds to pay her campaign staff. Her attorney, William McGinley, says they "are confident at the end of their review, the OCE Board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate." The review is expected to last 30 days, during which four board members will decide whether to refer the matter to the full Ethics Committee. After the Congresswoman's numerous attempts to repeal Obamacare, and her anti-muslim witch-hunt of Hilary Clinton's top staffer, it's nice to see Michelle Bachmann spending some time in the hot seat.
And finally... The Internal Revenue Service doesn't top the list as American's favorite government agency. So, people are especially angry over the IRS spending 60,000 tax payer dollars to produce a "Star Trek" video parody under the guise of employee training. The public learned of the space parody after Charles Boustany, chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, demanded the IRS hand over information about it's video production budget. The IRS released a statement saying, "the space parody video from 2010 is not reflective of overall IRS video efforts." The agency did, however, defend a separate video parody of "Gilligan's Island," saying it provided valuable employee training. Seriously...they really did.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, March 26, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.