Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Virginia is now poised to be the first state to move legislation forward, which will rig the Electoral College to benefit Republican presidential candidates in the future. On Wednesday, legislation to dole out Electoral College votes based on gerrymandered Congressional districts, instead of the current winner-take-all system, advanced out of a state Senate subcommittee. It now heads to full committee, where it will likely be approved, before heading to the full state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. So, Republicans have actually taken rigging the next presidential election seriously, with efforts also underway in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio to do the same thing. Progressives must counter with an equally aggressive push for a national popular vote. Nine states have already passed National Popular Vote laws, which commit their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, even if that candidate lost the state Electoral College vote. Those nine states that have passed national popular vote laws - including California, Maryland, and Illinois - account for 132 electoral votes among them, nearly half of the 270 needed in the Electoral College to win the White House. If this trend continues, and enough states sign up to bring their combined Electoral College votes to 270, then the Electoral College, which Republicans are currently trying to rig, dies just like that. Let's get active and fight fire with fire.
In screwed news...Welcome to America, where you have to go to jail to receive the healthcare you need. The Sun-Sentinel, out of Florida, is reporting on a man who threatened to kill President Obama just so he could be arrested, thrown in jail, and receive much-needed medical care. Fifty-seven year old Stephen Espalin told a judge last week that he, "would have no intent to hurt the president", but he knew federal agents would arrive and "take care of [him]." Espalin made the threat against the President after he was kicked out of a hospital for giving a false name, and lying about having health insurance. Florida's Governor Rick Scott is critical of Obamacare, and is unlikely to adopt the provision in the law that expands Medicaid coverage in his state, which would help people like Espalin. But now that Espalin is headed to jail, he will receive the care he needs. He's already receiving chemotherapy, and once he begins his four year prison sentence, he's scheduled to have heart surgery. This is a cautionary tale of what happens to a nation that doesn't provide basic medical care to its citizens. Either we make healthcare a basic human right in America, just like it is elsewhere in the developed world, or we commit ourselves to unrest, desperation, and a sick population.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Robin Hood is coming to Europe. On Tuesday, 11 European nations agreed to put in place a financial transaction tax – also known as a Robin Hood tax – on the banks. Such a tax could generate billions in much needed revenue for the cash-strapped continent. The tax, which will range between .1% and .01%, will be applied to all trading in stocks, bonds, and derivatives. According to a statement from the European Council, the purpose of this new tax is, "for the financial industry to make a fair contribution to tax revenues, whilst also creating a disincentive for transactions that do not enhance the efficiency of financial markets." The participating nations in this Robin Hood tax make up 90% of the EU – and it's estimated the tax will bring in roughly 37 billion euros annually. According to the European Commissioner in charge of tax policy, Tuesday's agreement was "a major milestone in tax history." Now let's kick start the movement here in the United States to create our own Robin Hood tax.
Well, there's at least one place now that women will soon see workplace equality: in the military. Today, the Pentagon officially announced that it's lifting its ban on women in combat, potentially opening up more than 200,000 new combat positions in the military to women. This decision will pave the way for women to serve on the front lines, for the first time in the history of our armed services. The military will have until May to come up with plans to implement these changes – and each branch of the military will have until 2016 to get official exemptions for certain combat roles, which will remain exclusive to men. From allowing gays to openly serve, to now allowing women in combat, President Obama has taken significant steps to bring equality to our military – and he should applauded for his efforts.
Beware of online surveillance. This week, Google released its Transparency Report, revealing a massive increase in government surveillance. According to the report, Google received over 21,000 requests for data from governments and courts worldwide, just in the second half of 2012. That's a 70% increase from 2009. During that same period, the United State government made the most requests – with more than 8,000 demands for online data. Protecting our online privacy from prying government, and corporate eyes, is the new frontier – and "we the people" are currently losing this struggle.
And finally...following reports that a drone stike in Yemen mistakenly killed two children, the United Nations is launching an official investigation into the legality and death toll of drone warfare. The investigation will focus on 25 different drones strikes carried out by US, UK, and Israeli forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. According to Benn Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, this investigation is, "a response to the fact that there's international concern rising exponentially, surrounding the issue of remote targeted killings through the use of unmanned vehicles." This will be President Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge in his second term – winding down our deadly covert drone warfare programs. And it's up to us to push him to do what' right.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, January 24, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.