In today's On the News segment: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) dismantles its non-economic task forces, the House passed Congressman Paul Ryan's budget for the rich, more bad news is coming from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the EPA is taking on frackers with its new pollution standards, and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. In response to pressure from several progressive organizations – and an exodus of corporate members – the American Legislative Exchange Council announced on Tuesday it's dismantling its non-economic taskforces responsible for writing radical legislation like "Shoot First" laws and "Voter ID" laws. While this is a small progressive victory – ALEC promises to continue writing economic legislation that repeals environmental regulations, busts up unions, and gives massive tax breaks to the Romney-rich in America. Not only that – even though ALEC is ending its non-economic task forces – the damage has already been done. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin is dead in Florida thanks to ALEC's Shoot First law – and millions of Democratic voters will be disenfranchised this election because of ALEC's Voter ID laws. So let's not celebrate ALEC's decision yesterday – let's take it as a sign that we need to work even harder to expose the American corporatocracy that's been working in the shadows for the last 30 years.
The poor are screwed. Yesterday - House Republicans again passed multi-millionaire Congressman Paul Ryan's radical "for the rich" budget – setting new funding levels for a variety of social welfare programs. Republicans used the same "deem and pass" tactic to pass the budget that they criticized Democrats for using back in 2010 to pass Obamacare. Beyond the one million American students who stand to lose their Pell Grants – and the millions of poor and disabled Americans who could lose their Medicaid health insurance coverage – it's those Americans on food stamps who could suffer the most. Under the Republican budget – families on food stamps will see immediate cuts in their benefits after September – and new eligibility requirements will force millions Americans further into desperation before they qualify for federal food assistance. The Associated Press reports that 3 million people will lose their benefits this year under the Ryan plan. In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the food stamp program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged lawmakers to, "protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises." Unfortunately – Republicans aren't listening.
In the best of the rest of the news...
More bad news coming from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. While speaking to Swiss lawmakers last month – Japan's former ambassador to Switzerland warned that if the building housing reactor four at the plant were to collapse – as many officials fear might happen – then it would lead to a global catastrophe like the world has never seen before. According to a former official with the U.S. Department of Energy – if building four collapses – exposing thousands of spent fuel rods to the atmosphere- then it could trigger a radioactive fire involving 85-times more radiation than that of the Chernobyl accident. Our addiction to nuclear power has put our planet – and every human living on it – at risk today.
The EPA is taking on the frackers. Today – the agency unveiled for the first time new air pollution standards to curb millions of tons of pollution leaking out of hydraulic fracking wells. The dangers of fracking – from the earthquakes to the entire towns that have been poisoned by fracking chemicals – are now well known in America. EPA standards on pollution might be a positive first step – but what we really need to do is ban fracking altogether like France did because it's far too dangerous.
Rather than saving taxpayers money – drug testing welfare recipients is actually COSTING taxpayers money. As the New York Times reported on Tuesday – in Florida – where Republicans passed legislation giving power to the government to analyze the body fluids of poor people on welfare – only 2.6% of those who were drug-tested failed the test. That's a far lower drug use rate than among normal populations. And since the Florida law required the government to reimburse those who passed the drug test – the government had to pay out $118,140 in drug-testing reimbursements – which is far more money than the government saved kicking people who failed the drug test out of state welfare programs. Beyond the Republicans' fascination with big government analyzing our bodies and watching us in our bedrooms – the point lawmakers seem to be missing is that drug addiction is a disease. People shouldn't have their welfare benefits taken away for failing a drug test – they should instead get the medical help they need to deal with their addiction.
The situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate even further. The Los Angeles Times is in possession of photos showing U.S. troops gleefully posing with severed body parts belonging to a suicide bomber. One photo depicts soldiers holding a severed hand with the middle finger propped up. The U.S. military is now worried that the photos could spark another wave of violence against U.S. troops in the same way that the Koran burning incident did, the desecration of Taliban fighters did, and the actions of a U.S. kill squad did. Each month – a new story comes out of atrocity in our war in Afghanistan. This is a consequence of our nation's longest war in history – and the toll that multiple deployments are having on the psychological well-being of our troops. Time to end the war and come home.
And finally...did Mitt Romney commit voter fraud? Even though fewer people commit voter fraud than are struck by lightning – there are allegations that the Republican nominee for President – Mitt Romney – may have committed voter fraud. This is an issue first raised by Republican rival Fred Karger, picked up by MSNBC, and is now being reported on by the Conservative Daily Caller. Back in 2010 – Romney voted in the Massachusetts Senate race for Scott Brown claiming that he was a resident of the state living in his son's basement. However – everyone close to the Romney's say that Mitt and his wife were living in California at the time – not in a Massachusetts basement. If that's true – then Romney violated Massachusetts law – and could face a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison...where he won't be able to hurt any more dogs.
And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, April 18, 2012. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.