Thom Hartmann here – on the news…
You need to know this. Today, many Americans consider themselves “middle class.” However, compared to the standards of the 1960s, the so-called middle class is dead, and the war on unions is directly responsible. In 1965, Americans willing to take dangerous, difficult work – like a midnight shift shoveling waste at a steel mill – could earn about $2.30 an hour. That may not sound like a lot, but it's the equivalent of over $17 dollars an hour today. These jobs were often filled by unskilled workers with high school diplomas or less, but they still paid well enough to cover the cost of an apartment and car. Today, those same unskilled workers are often forced to work for corporate giants for minimum wage - $7.25 an hour – less than half of what they would have been paid in the 1960s. Automation and outsourcing did eliminate many of the manufacturing jobs that previously paid decent wages. However, it's the fact that workers have been unable to unionize that's really kept wages low in the service jobs that replaced manufacturing. In the 1950's, more than 35 percent of private-sector jobs were unionized. Today, less than 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and that number continues to decline. Those labor groups fought for higher wages, workers' rights, and employment regulations – including many of the protections that workers now take for granted. Today, the average employee has virtually no power against their employers, and the corporate masters are fighting hard to keep workers from standing together. This is why today's labor battles are so important. The “Fight for 15” isn't only about higher wages – it's about bringing back the middle class. For a real chance to make the American Dream a possibility for all, we must fight for our labor unions, so that they can fight for us.
In screwed news... Australia is ringing in the new year with a heat wave. The record-breaking temperatures reached almost 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday – even hotter than 2013, which broke previous records. This alarming heat wave hit that nation only a week before Australia's Bureau of Meteorology is expected to announce that 2013 was their hottest year on record. As Australians suffer in the oppressive heat, their government is acting as if the problem doesn't exist. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has given up on Australia's emissions targets, done away with that nation's climate commission, and has even tried to repeal their cap-an-trade system. And – Australia will continue producing as much as 40 million tons of coal each year, which will only worsen their climate problems. Australia must wake up to the dangers of climate change before people in that nation can't suffer through even higher temperatures.
In the best of the rest of the news...
A federal judge has rejected the mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients. U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven ruled against Florida's drug testing program, writing, “[T]here is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a 'concrete danger' that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.” In other words, there's no proof that someone is more likely to use drugs simply because they're poor. These programs have cost taxpayers much more than they promised to save, and they have been used as a way to discriminate against the poor. Thankfully, Judge Scriven issued the second ruling against Florida's drug testing program, and reinforced a lower court decision that found the program unconstitutional. Florida may attempt to repeal this ruling, but for now, Judge Scriven has blocked that state from enforcing their discriminatory drug testing law.
According to RadCast.org, waves of radiation are increasing levels throughout our nation, and the heavy snowfall in many regions may be to blame. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, radiation levels are averaging 43 counts per minute, with spikes of 71, and Charleston, West Virginia is sitting at 43, with peaks of 60 counts per minute. Spearfish, South Dakota is reporting levels of 56 counts per minute, with spikes at 93, and Lakewood, Colorado is hovering around 67, with highs up to 99 counts per minute. Chandler, Arizona is averaging 46 counts per minute, with spikes of 76, and Diablo Canyon, California is sitting at 45, with highs at 70 counts per minute. Seattle, Washington is hovering at 30, with spikes of 47 counts per minute, and Portland, Oregon is sitting at 31, with spikes of 54. RadCast.org's alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no safe level of radiation.
Senate Democrats want to “fast-track” unemployment benefits. According to the Guardian Newspaper, Democratic leaders in the upper chamber are planning to introduce a three-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits. The aide explained, “This is not some abstract political issue. If Congress doesn't do this, and do it quickly, people will be choosing whether to pay rent or be out on the streets.” The trouble is, without much-needed financial assistance, most people won't have any choice in that scenario. Hopefully, Senate Democrats can push through an extension quickly, and start working on a long-term solution to unemployment – like making our government the employer of last resort.
And finally... David Waddell, a councilman from Indian Trail, North Carolina, is giving up his Town Council seat. However, he didn't want to turn in any plain-old resignation letter to Mayor Michael Alvarez. So, Mr. Waddell turned in his letter on Thursday – written entirely in Kilngon, the language of a race of Star Trek warriors. Councilman Waddell did include a translation for his letter, and said it was part of an inside joke between him and the Mayor. Apparently, Mayor Alvarez was not amused. He called the letter “childish and unprofessional,” and said, “It's an embarrassment for Indian Trail, and an embarrassment for North Carolina.” The councilman said, “Folks don't know what to think of me half the time. I might as well have one last laugh.” At least Mr. Waddell was original, and hopefully he will “live long and prosper” after his resignation.
And that’s the way it is today – Friday, January 3, 2014. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.