On the News With Thom Hartmann: New Report Shows ALEC Owns Virginia Lawmakers, and More

In today's On the News segment: New report by the advocacy group ProgressNow shows lawmakers in Virginia have outsourced their jobs to the shadowy, Koch brothers-funded, corporate think tank known as ALEC; yesterday, the Federal Reserve called on Congress to take concrete steps to address the ongoing collapse of the US housing market; inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, activists will “occupy” courts across America on Citizens United Anniversary; US war machine is about to take a cut; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. Virginia officially has the best government money can buy. According to a new report by the advocacy group ProgressNow – lawmakers in Virginia have outsourced their jobs to the shadowy, Koch brothers-funded, corporate think tank known as ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. The report claims that ALEC has a “disturbing level of influence” over the Virginia legislature. ALEC works by bringing together corporate CEOs and lobbyists with elected lawmakers to come up with custom-made legislation that benefits big polluters, job outsourcers, and banksters, and hurts unions, poor people, and voters. Since 2007 – the Virginia General Assembly has introduced 50 different pieces of legislation that are “carbon copies” of model legislation written by ALEC. Not only that – taxpayers in Virginia have paid more than $230,000 to fly state lawmakers – almost all of them Republicans – to ALEC conferences across America. This is what a corporatocracy looks like.

Homeowners are still screwed. Last month – the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the ongoing housing crisis is killing progress on job creation. More than 10.7 million Americans are unable to move to find better work because they’re stuck in an underwater mortgage. Yesterday – the Federal Reserve called on Congress to take concrete steps to address the ongoing collapse of the U.S. housing market that “continues to impede the economic recovery.” Ideas include making it easier for struggling homeowners to refinance and restructure their mortgages – changing how mortgage lenders are paid – and allowing banks to rent out foreclosed homes. The Fed argues such policies will lead to banks saving money and more homeowners saving their homes. 4 years after the economy went into full meltdown – the banks are doing just fine – while homeowners are still screwed. Banksters got bailed out – we got sold out.

In the best of the rest of the news…

Occupy the courts! The anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that has fundamentally perverted our democracy is fast approaching. And on the day before – January 20th – the anti-corporate personhood organization – Move to Amend – has big plans. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement – activists will “occupy” courts across America that day, including the Supreme Court, to challenge the judiciary, which has given corporations the rights of actual people, despite not a single elected lawmaker in the House, Senate, or Presidency ever voting or singing into law any legislation that gives corporations the rights of people. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned us about a too-powerful Judiciary – saying it would place the nation under “despotism” and oligarchy” – concluding that the only “safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society” are with the people. Time to exercise that power – go to movetoamend.org.

The U.S. war machine is about to take a cut. President Obama is making a visit to the Pentagon today to outline a new strategy for the Department of Defense as some of the biggest defense budget cuts since the end of the Cold War are coming down the pike. As the Washington Post reports, “The U.S. military…will consolidate missions and downsize the ambitions of the armed forces as they adjust to a new era of austerity.” Over the next decade – the Pentagon is facing as much as a trillion dollars in cuts. There are hundreds of mansions in the suburbs of Virginia – just outside Washington, DC – belonging to people who’ve made millions – even billions – off of war. That shouldn’t happen – and it was exactly what President Eisenhower warned us about fifty years ago when he talked about the growing influence of the military industrial complex. Time to put an end to our war economy.

The New York Times is finally catching on to the fact that the American Dream is dead. An article running in the paper today points out the disturbing fact that the United States is one of the least socially mobile nations in the developed world. As in – it’s harder for someone born poor to become rich – or even just join the middle class throughout their life. Only 8% of Americans born in the poorest fifth of the population – ever make it to the top fifth, which is an income a bit over $100,000. The Times goes on to cite persistently high poverty rates, which “leave poor children starting especially far behind” as one of the reason for low social mobility. So much for the idea that America is a class-less society. Every day, millions of Americans are living a real life version of The Christmas Story – complete with corporate Scrooges and fully a quarter of American children living in poverty like Tiny Tim.

Looking for a job in Michigan? If you're one of radical right-wing Governor Rick Snyder’s “financial managers” – you’ll make six figures. Last year, Governor Snyder signed a new law that gives him the power to fire officials of any city that he believes is being mismanaged financially – and put in place an unelected “financial manager” to run the city instead – without any input from local voters. These financial managers – or local dictators – have enormous power – from breaking collective bargaining agreements – to unilaterally making decisions about the city’s finances and operations – to selling off huge chunks of the city to corporate interests. And according to a report from the Flint Journal – these financial managers are making a lot of bucks – anywhere between $132,000 to $250,000. And their salaries are being paid by the cash-strapped city that they’re in charge of. In Flint, the financial manager makes more than the mayor. Talk about a slap in the face – broke cities in Michigan have to pay someone a quarter-million bucks to rip apart unions, sell off public parks, and cut critical funding. This law needs to be repealed. Luckily – activists in Michigan are close to collecting the 161,000 signatures needed to put it on the ballot for repeal. Keep an eye on this one.

There was a big victory for gay rights in Washington state. Governor Chris Gregoire threw her support yesterday behind a soon-to-be introduced bill in the state legislature to fully recognize same-sex marriages. “It is time in Washington state for marriage equality,” said Governor Gregoire. If the bill passes – Washington will becomes the seventh state in the nation to endorse same-sex marriages – joining New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Vermont.

And that’s the way it is today – Thursday, January 5th, 2011. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.