In today's On the News segment: Fracking companies want to move in to the George Washington National Forest, which supplies water to the DC metro area; at the same time that lawmakers in red states are enacting as many discriminatory voting laws as possible, now they want to rig the Electoral College; Ohio will be the next state to expand Medicaid; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. The oil and gas industry is already cozy with Washington, but soon they might be neighbors. Fracking companies want to move in to the George Washington National Forest. That forest is one of the largest undeveloped areas east of the Mississippi, and it also supplies water to the DC metro area. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Forest Service must decide whether or not to allow fracking in the National Forest, and they are facing mounting pressure from energy industry lobbying groups. The American Petroleum Institute has called the Forest Service's ban on drilling "plainly unsupported and absurd," and companies like Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, ConocoPhillips, and others have criticized the ban as well. These companies are itching to get their hands on the natural gas deposits under the forest, even if it means destroying one of our national treasures, and contaminating the water supply for nearly nine million people. Of course, the oil and gas industry argues that they can drill for natural gas in "an environmentally responsible manner" - just like they promised in areas all around our nation that are now suffering from toxic chemicals being released into the ground, air, and water. The fact is, even if there are no spills or accidents, the fracking process still will have a devastating impact on the forest. Water withdrawals, sediment pollution, trucking traffic, and air pollution would harm wildlife, and destroy the local recreational economy. Residents and anti-fracking activists are begging the Forest Service to protect George Washington Nation Forest, as well as all the national lands in our nation. These lands, our commons, belong to the people of our nation, and they should be off limits to the oil and gas industry that would inevitably destroy them.
In screwed news... Republicans know that they can't win the presidency fair-and-square in the next election, so they want to change the rules and steal the White House. At the same time that red state lawmakers are enacting as many discriminatory voting laws as possible, now they want to rig the Electoral College. A new bill in Florida would split up that state's electoral votes, based on the number of congressional districts won by either candidate. Similar bills are being considered in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Changing the electoral system to favor the gerrymandered congressional district make up would mean Republicans had a much stronger chance to win back the White House. If electoral votes are awarded simply on the districts that Republicans have designed, the next president could win the majority of districts, but lose by a landslide in the popular vote – just like the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the last election, despite getting 1.5 million fewer votes. It's obvious that conservatives will do just about anything to win... and that includes rigging the system to cheat the majority of Americans out of their choice in the next election.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Ohio will be the next state to expand Medicaid. On Monday, a special seven-member panel of state lawmakers approved Governor John Kasich's request to expand low-income healthcare. The panel sided with the Republican Governor in a 5 to 2 vote, and gave him the authority to spend federal money to facilitate the expansion. Conservative state lawmakers in Ohio are expected to sue Governor Kasich over the panel's decision. Last week, about 40 Republican state legislators formally protested the special panel, saying Governor Kasich was using it to bypass the state legislature. Unless Republican lawmakers can find a way to stop it, the program will soon provide basic health benefits to 275,000 Ohio residents. The Medicaid expansion is also expected to cut that state's uninsured population by more than 60 percent. And, it helps close the gap in healthcare coverage between those who qualify for insurance subsidies and those who already qualified for Medicaid in Ohio. Lawmakers may try to block these important benefits, but the people of Ohio aren't going to give up their new health coverage so easily.
While many of our lawmakers strongly defend government spying programs, lawmakers in the EU are standing up for privacy. On Monday, the European Union voted in favor of new online privacy protections, and they limited the transfer of private data to other countries. The new protections also include stiff fines for violations, which will apply even to U.S.-based Internet companies. The legislation still needs to be approved by the EU member states, but lawmakers hope to finalize the bill during their current session. Considering the international anger over U.S. spying, it's likely that most member states will have strong support for the proposal. In addition to protecting the transfer of data, the new policy would mandate that companies designate officers to ensure data privacy. And, the bill pressures tech companies to provide a way for users to delete their online profiles entirely. Unlike our government, European lawmakers are standing up for the right of privacy. Now Washington should follow their lead.
And finally... Senator Ted Cruz is back in home state of Texas, basking in the glory of Tea Party love. The freshman senator has lost the support of his party, but the hard-Right Texans are still with him. At a homecoming celebration, Cruz acknowledged that his efforts didn't stop Obamacare, or prevent Congress from reopening the government. Once he was back in the Lone Star State, Cruz even tweeted "It's good to be back in America," - apparently calling his fellow lawmakers "un-American." Perhaps Senator Cruz doesn't realize that his hard-line political posturing is exactly the type of thing most Americans don't like about Congress. He's not only part of the establishment, he's a perfect example of everything that's wrong with it. It turns out that Senator Cruz's rhetoric is so extreme, that he can even politicize geography.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, October 22, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.