In today's On the News segment: Michigan Gov. Snyder's decision to put money ahead of safety has left people without regular access to clean water; President Obama says kids don't belong in solitary confinement; another state wants to demonize people for needing a little financial help; and more.
Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...
You need to know this. Republicans love to say we need to run government like a business. But, we only need to look to Flint, Michigan to see how that works out for our fellow citizens. Thanks to the work of Rick Snyder and his team of little dictators - aka "Emergency Managers" - the people of Flint have been drinking and bathing in contaminated water for more than a year. And, Gov. Snyder's decision to put money ahead of safety has left people without regular access to clean water, and with news that just keeps adding insult to their injuries. First, residents learned that their complaints about brown, abrasive, nauseating water were ignored by state officials, and that water quality tests were manipulated to show lower levels of lead and other toxins. As if being ignored wasn't enough to anger Michiganders, next they learned that the whole disaster could have been avoided if city officials were not instructed to stop treating the water with an anti-corrosion chemical that only cost about $100 a day. To top all of that off, now residents are learning that the corrosive Flint River water that exposed their bodies to lead and toxins has also damaged their homes, plumbing and water heaters, and they're stuck questioning whether Snyder and his cronies will help cover the cost of those repairs. This is what happens when you run government like a business, and you concern yourself with short term costs instead of what's best for people in the long run. Thankfully, environmental and civil rights groups are working to help Flint residents and they have even filed a lawsuit on residents' behalf. Unfortunately, the people of Flint can't wait through a legal battle for the help that they desperately need now. Rick Snyder was wrong to thwart democracy and install emergency managers in cities like Flint, and it's time for him to be held responsible. For the people of Flint, let's help get Snyder out of office and get busy fixing the massive disaster that he created.
President Obama says that kids don't belong in solitary confinement. In a recent op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post, the president said that "The United States is a nation of second chances." And he asked, "How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?" Yet, there are thousands of inmates in federal prisons throughout our nation who are subjected to this torture - and many of them aren't even yet adults. Although President Obama can't single-handedly fix this problem, he is doing what he can to change this broken system. That's why the president has offered new reforms for federal prisons, which include banning solitary for juveniles, expanding mental health care and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary must be allowed to spend outside of their cells. Those reforms will help improve the lives of about 10,000 federal prisoners currently being held in solitary confinement, and they help shed a light on this important topic. Thanks to Republicans in Congress, President Obama can't go as far as he would like, but he's doing everything he can to reign in the immoral practice of solitary confinement.
Flint isn't the only city in Michigan with problems. Detroit is dealing with their own disasters, one of which is the condition of their public schools. And, the major issues at those schools have a direct connection with Flint's water crisis - they are ruled by the same emergency manger, Darnell Earley, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. For the last several weeks, teachers at Detroit Public Schools have been protesting conditions like broken plumbing, rotten cafeteria food and even dead rodents by holding "sick-outs" that force schools to be closed. Although the school district attempted to get a restraining order to block the protests, the Michigan Court of Claims denied that request. School sanitation and food safety shouldn't require teachers to protest to be addressed, but Rick Snyder's little dictator cares more about dollars than he does about student safety. The people of Flint had to fight hard to be heard, and it looks like the teachers of Detroit have learned from Flint's fight for clean water. If Snyder and his cronies want to run Michigan into the ground, they will have to do so under a national spotlight.
Another state wants to demonize people for needing a little financial help. According to a recent article over at the ThinkProgress blog, South Dakota lawmakers are working on a bill to force welfare recipients to take a drug test before they can receive benefits. Apparently, they have all missed the news that such policies have failed in every single state where they've been attempted. Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arizona have all spent boatloads of taxpayer money to figure out that people on welfare can't afford to spend money on drugs. But, South Dakota wants to get around those costs by forcing welfare recipients to pay for their own drug tests. I guess it isn't enough to treat poor people like criminals, they also want to take money out of the pockets of those who can't even afford to pay for food. Hopefully, the South Dakota legislature comes to their senses before passing this new law, and the voters of that state remember this despicable proposal come November.
And finally... At the start of this year, 14 states raised their minimum wages and we're finally learning just how many people that pay increase actually helped. According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than 4.6 million people are getting larger paychecks as a result of those minimum wage hikes. Twelve of the 14 pay increases were the result of legislation or ballot initiatives, where voters or their representatives put working people ahead of corporate profit. Our nation has a long history of fighting for the middle class, and these pay increases prove that when we fight for workers, we win. Let's remember that this election year.
And that's the way it is - for the week of February 1, 2016 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.