In today's On the News segment: Occupy has a new plan to buy debt from financial firms for pennies on the dollar, 200 misdemeanor cases have been dismissed so far in Washington state since passage of its new law legalizing marijuana, Ohio's secretary of state reveals new plans for Ohio to take advantage of GOP-weighted gerrymandering there in 2016, and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Congress returns this week for a lame-duck session and Republicans are openly acknowledging they have a much weaker hand post-election. One of the top Conservative thinkers, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, criticized his party on Sunday morning for its obsession with defending tax cuts for the rich. Kristol advised Republicans to take President Obama's deal to immediately pass a tax cut extension for 98% of Americans while allowing the top tax rate on the richest 2% to go up. Kristol said, "It won't kill the country if Republicans raise taxes a little bit on millionaires...the Republican party is gonna fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic, and half of whom live in Hollywood and are hostile to Republicans?" Kristol is right – though he's forgetting the pledge of allegiance the Republican Party has sworn to anti-tax master and millionaire K-Street lobbyist Grover Norquist. But if Democrats hold firm and let everyone's taxes go up after January 1st, then Norquist's pledge is irrelevant and Republicans won't have a choice but to extend tax cuts for the middle class. Everyone needs to keep an eye on what happens over the next few weeks. And Democrats in particular need to remember they have the upper hand in this fight and they should not compromise on their principles. That means no grand bargain that shreds Social Security, Medicare, and social welfare programs for the poor. As President Franklin Roosevelt said in 1940, "the Democratic Party has received the support of the electorate only when the party, with absolute clarity, has been the champion of progressive and liberal policies and principles of government." It's time for the Democrats to be that Party again.
In screwed news...President Obama may have carried Ohio this year, but Republicans are trying to make sure Democrats don't carry the state in future elections. Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted is proposing changing how his state rewards Electoral College votes. Rather than winner-take-all, Husted wants one Electoral College vote awarded for each Congressional district won. Thanks to Republican gerrymandering efforts in 2011, most Congressional districts in Ohio favor Republicans, thus giving them an edge in this new scheme. If Husted's plan were in effect this election, Romney would have actually won a majority of Electoral College votes in Ohio, despite President Obama winning the popular vote in that state. Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett floated the same idea for his state earlier this year, but backed down from the idea under pressure. Assuming Republican Governors in all the swing states had adopted this new vote counting scheme, then Mitt Romney would have won the majority of Electoral College votes in these states and the presidency, despite President Obama winning the popular vote in all of these states. Just because Election Day is over this year doesn't mean we can afford to forget about the blatant efforts by Republicans to rig elections in the future.
In the best of the rest of the news...
The Occupy Movement is tackling the nation's debt problem. Though the physical occupations have disappeared, the movement is busy helping Americans avoid foreclosure and providing disaster relief post-Hurricane Sandy. Now they've unveiled a new initiative they're calling the "Rolling Jubilee." The movement is raising money to buy debt from financial firms at pennies on the dollar. Then, rather than hounding struggling homeowners and students whose debt they just acquired, Occupy is completely forgiving it. As one organizer explained it, "OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT." Since Wall Street got bailed out and Main Street got sold out, average Americans are drowning in enormous debt. Good on Occupy for doing something about it.
The passage of marijuana-legalizing ballot initiatives is already having a profound impact on Nixon's failed drug war. In Washington state, which legalized marijuana last Tuesday, two county prosecutors have already moved ahead and dismissed more than 200 misdemeanor marijuana cases, providing much needed relief to an already over-burdened criminal justice system. In 2010 alone, more than 750,000 Americans were charged with possession of marijuana – and virtually all of those arrests take place on a state level. Washington and Colorado, which also approved legalizing marijuana, have delivered the strongest blows yet to our nation's long-lasting failed prohibition attempt. Now it's up to President Obama and the Justice Department to let these new laws stand.
Federal agents in Texas arrested 34 white supremacists on Friday charging them with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. The individuals belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas – a violent, organized crime group that exerts enormous influence over local neighborhoods and even prison populations. Don't expect to hear much about this story on the mainstream news, however, since none of the men arrested were brown-skinned or Muslims.
And finally...Japanese officials let their country down by not preparing for the worst-case scenario at the Fukushima nuclear plant. And now they're hoping a yellow bird-like mascot can save future generations from radiation sickness. Leaflets are being passed around Japan featuring a yellow mascot known as Kitiban who warns children about the dangers of radiation and tells them to stay away from pools and ditches of radioactive waste. Countless children in Japan are at risk of developing cancer as a result of the Fukushima meltdown last year – and according to a recent study from Fukushima Medical University, 36% of children in the area have overgrown thyroid glands leaving them prone to cancer. A yellow bird won't save these kids. But ditching nuclear power for good can at least give future generations around the world a chance to grow up on a safer planet.
And that's the way it is today – Monday, November 12, 2012. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.