In today's On the News segment: New study shows that unless you are a bankster or a billionaire, you're not being represented in the United States Senate; rather than invest in infrastructure, Texas is destroying it; the sequester cut nearly $350 million dollars from our federal court system, including $52 million from funds used to pay for court-appointed lawyers; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. This won't come as a surprise to many of you, but unless you are an bankster or a billionaire, you're not being represented in the United States Senate. According to a new study published in Political Research Quarterly, Senators in the last five Congresses have consistently voted to benefit their wealthy constituents. And, those votes virtually ignored the political will of everyone except those at the top. The study's author, Thomas J. Hayes, wrote, "The fact that lower income groups seem to be ignored by elected officials, although not a new finding, remains a troubling observation in American politics." Mr. Hayes used data from the National Annenberg Election Survey to compare the political opinions of constituents to the voting records of their senators in the last five Congresses, and discovered what he called "oligarchic tendencies" in the American [political] system. During two of the Congresses, when Democrats were in charge, Hayes found that Senators did vote in accordance with middle-class constituents. But even then, the political will of low-income voters was virtually ignored. During Republican-controlled congresses, only the political opinions of the wealthy were represented. Of course, there are a few Senators that constantly work to give low-income and middle class voters a voice in Congress, but the vast majority of our lawmakers ignore those of us who can't contribute huge sums to their campaigns. We've known it for some time, but now we have hard evidence to show how important it is to get money out of politics. If we ever want to be represented by our elected leaders, let's overturn Citizens United and return the power to the public masses – where it belongs.
In screwed news... Rather than invest in infrastructure, Texas is destroying it. The Department of Transportation in that state is working to convert 80 miles of paved road to gravel, because budget cuts have made it impossible to maintain. DOT spokesman David Glessner said that a lack of funding means their "only option to make [the roads] safer is to turn them into gavel roads," and reduce the speed limit to 30 miles per hour. The state is literally becoming undeveloped because of Republican austerity, and a refusal to raise taxes on Big Oil. According to the Think Progress Blog, much of the damage to Texas's roads is the result of heavy oil field equipment being hauled across the state. But Texas Republicans would rather destroy their own state infrastructure, than ask the oil giants to contribute to the care of the commons. The gravel roads will have a serious impact on ranchers and farmers who use the rural roads. However, with facing a $5 billion shortfall for road maintenance, and nearly 40 percent of Texas roads in disrepair, rural roads aren't the only ones that may soon face this fate.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Republican austerity isn't only affecting Texas roadways, it may soon destroy one of our most important civil rights. The sequester cut nearly $350 million dollars from our federal court system, including $52 million from funds used to pay for court-appointed lawyers. As numerous cop shows have taught us, you and I have a right to an attorney, even when we can't afford one. Despite this Constitutional guarantee, huge budget cuts mean that court-appointed attorneys may not be able to afford to represent us. Already, public defenders are over-worked and under-paid, compared to attorneys that work in the private sector, and these cuts will only deepen that divide. Robert Anello, president of the Federal Bar Council, said that these cuts threaten a defendant's right to a lawyer. He said, "It's just moving crumbs of an ever-shrinking pie. There's only so much moving you can do without dismantling the whole system." We've know that the sequester is cutting our social safety net, our preschools, and our public services, but we're only now learning that Republican austerity could destroy our Bill of Rights.
Renewable energy has been so successful in Germany, that fossil fuel plants simply can't compete. So, several plants are packing up and shutting down. According to plant operators, wholesale electricity prices have become so low because of renewables, that coal-fired and nuclear plants actually loose money by selling energy at current prices. The only reason these plants continue to operate, is that they are still fulfilling contracts from several years ago, that locked in higher energy prices. Some fossil fuel plants will remain in operation, to serve as a back up energy supply in the event of a windless evening, but they won't be profiting off their customers. Wind and solar have become the new leaders in Germany's energy sector, and they are proving to be better for consumers, as well as for the environment. Hopefully someday soon, we can cheer the same news for energy production here in the U.S.
And finally... Sci-Fi fans, hold on to your hats, because fiction has become reality. According to the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, a local government council just spent 12,000 euros on a hologram "receptionist." The so-called "virtual assistant" will appear to be sitting behind the front desk, to direct visitors to various rooms throughout the building. Her name is Shanice, and she is believed to be the first such use of hologram technology. Supporters claim that the new "virtual assistant" will actually save taxpayers money, as she costs about 17,000 euros less than a real employee. But, the public, along with many Council members, have questioned the expensive purchase at a time when they are cutting jobs and reducing services. Alison Hopkins, budget and finance spokeswoman for the opposition Lib Dems, called the hologram a "startlingly expensive way of solving the problem" of bad signage throughout the building. According to Ms. Hopkins, the purchase could have been prevented with better signs directing visitors to the bathroom.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, August 20, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.