In today's On the News segment: Senate Democrats have already scheduled a test vote to restore unemployment insurance, but Republicans say they won't approve an extension without something in return; climate change poses a serious threat to the water supply for a fifth of the world's population; the state of Utah is standing up to predatory payday lenders; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Congress is back from vacation, but that doesn't mean Republicans are ready to get to work. Senate Democrats have already scheduled a test vote to restore unemployment insurance, but Republicans say they won't approve an extension without something in return. As of December 28th, 1.3 million Americans lost their long-term unemployment benefits, but Senate Republicans want more spending cuts or other concessions before passing another emergency extension. As if that wasn't bad enough, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to focus again on repealing Obamacare, rather than on helping to restore this financial lifeline for more than one million Americans. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "Republicans in Congress have to get away from being a Republican in Congress. They are just out of touch with what's going on in America today." In other words, Republican lawmakers are worried more about facing a primary challenger than about doing what's right for the American public and our economy. There should be nothing more important to our elected leaders than ensuring Americans aren't going hungry or ending up on the street. We must make it clear to our lawmakers that if they don't do what's right for Americans – and restore unemployment benefits now – than we will elect new leaders who will.
In screwed news... Climate change poses a serious threat to the water supply for a fifth of the world's population. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that if global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius, there will be severe water shortages around the globe. At the rate we're going, this dangerous scenario is not likely a matter of if – but when global temperatures will rise. A separate study projects that global temperatures will rise at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, and possibly more than 8 degrees in the following century. Water is essential to survival – not just for people, but for our entire food supply. Plants and animals can't survive without it any better than we can. If we want future generations to have enough water to survive, we must learn to conserve and start doing more to fight climate change.
In the best of the rest of the news...
The state of Utah is standing up to predatory payday lenders. That state is preparing to introduce two laws to keep the payday lending industry from preying on the poorest and most vulnerable people in that state. Interest rates from these lenders average 473 percent – even higher than the astronomical 339 percent average payday loan interest rate nation wide. Utah is trying to combat these predatory companies by introducing laws aimed at both the consumer and the corporate side of the lending process. These laws would limit the number of outstanding payday loans one individual could have at one time, as well as cap loans at 25 percent of a person's monthly income. They will also set up a database to track lenders to identify companies that violate regulations and charge excessive interest. Other states have failed in their efforts to enact similar laws, but Utah is pushing forward in their fight to protect consumers.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels are slightly calmer than last week, but some areas are still reporting above-average spikes. Charleston, West Virginia is averaging 43 counts per minute, with highs of 60, and Salisbury, Massachusetts is sitting at 41, with spikes of 76. Frederick, Wisconsin is hovering at 46, with highs of 61 counts per minute, and Colorado Springs is averaging 60, with spikes of 82. Henderson, Nevada is reporting levels of 47 counts per minute, with highs of 66, and Chino Valley, Arizona is sitting at 57, with spikes of 78 counts per minute. Menlo Park, California is hovering at 39 counts per minute, with highs of 60, and Seattle, Washington is sitting at 29, with spikes of 48. RadCast.org's alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no safe level of radiation.
A U.S. District Court in Washington state has taken a stand against water pollution. That court, in the Eastern District of Washington, denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against BNSF Railway Company for contaminating waterways with coal dust. Environmental groups sued BNSF after discovering large amounts of coal in and around Washington state waterways. By the company's own admission, they estimate that up to 500 pounds of coal dust may be lost from the top of every rail car transporting coal. BNSF sends four uncovered coal trains through Washington state every day, with an average of 120 cars. That works out to as much as 240,000 pounds of coal dust polluting Washington state every single day. A Sierra Club representative said, "The court's decision to move the case forward is a step in the right direction to stop coal – and its toxic associates, lead, arsenic, and mercury – from further poisoning our fish, our water, and our families."
And finally... It may seem like an oxymoron, but the world's most popular atheist church opened last year in London. Unsurprisingly, the self-identified "godless congregation," is going the way of nearly every religion that's come before it – they're splitting up in to new sects. After disagreements between members of "The Sunday Assembly" - a faction of the church has decided to split off and form a new group, called the "Godless Revival." The founder of the new sect, Lee Moore, promises that his church will be more devoutly atheist than The Sunday Assembly, which welcomes atheists, agnostics, and humanists. Sanderson Jones, the founder of the original atheist church, called the split "very sad," but he said, "ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic, and humanist." Someday there may be more sects of atheist churches, but we'll have to wait and see if disbelief is strong enough to keep these Sunday gatherings together.
And that's the way it is today – Monday, January 6, 2014. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.