Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...
You need to know this. Republicans love to whine about redistribution of wealth, but it's all just an act. They may scream about “socialist” welfare programs, but they don't make a peep when massive amounts of America's wealth goes straight to the top. According to Paul Buchheit over at Alternet, the 14 richest Americans increased their wealth by $82 billion dollars in the last year alone. And, they're just a small part of the wealthiest 400 Americans, who Forbes magazine says got $270 billion dollars richer over that same time period. To put those numbers in perspective, Paul pointed out that our entire food stamp budget is only $80 billion dollars – and it feeds 50 million people in our country every year. The wealth that flowed to the 14 richest people could have hired two million pre-school teachers, while middle-class wages stayed stagnant, and programs for the poor were slashed at every turn. Talk about redistribution of wealth. Republicans in Congress say that we can't afford to rebuild our infrastructure, extend unemployment benefits, or help students struggling with college debt, but they're wrong. We can afford to make those investments in our nation, and we must reverse the trickle-up economics that sends all the wealth straight to the top. We've had three decades under the disastrous policies of Ronald Reagan, and we don't need more evidence to prove that trickle-down is a myth. Thirty-plus years of Reaganomics have put more and more wealth in the hands of the few, and left our government struggling to care for the many. The greed of the richest 14 people doesn't out-weigh the needs to 50 million Americans, and it's time to stop the real redistribution of wealth that's been going to the top.
Twitter wants to tell you that you're being spied on. Last week, the social media company sued the U.S. Justice Department for the right to reveal the number and nature of requests for private user information. According to their lawsuit, the tech company said that under current rules, they're not even allowed to say whether or not they've received any requests for information, and they believe those rules are unconstitutional. Other internet companies like Google and Microsoft have made similar complaints about surveillance, and formed agreements with the government that allowed them to release some unspecific information. However, Twitter has taken a more aggressive stance against sharing user information, and has described themselves as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” After months of negotiation with government officials, Twitter is taking the issue to the courts, hoping to provide users with complete transparency. Although we'll have to wait and see how this lawsuit turns out, we should stand with any tech company willing to go to such great lengths to ensure that our privacy rights are protected – even from our own government.
Many restaurant workers only get about two bucks an hour from their employers. The rest of their pay is earned from tips, and that means they often have to put up with abusive customers. According to the organization Restaurant Opportunities Center United, 60 percent of women in that industry have experienced sexual harrassment, and half of those say that it occurs on a weekly basis. ROC United said that even male restaurant workers experience harrassment, but at a lower rate than their female counterparts. In fact, the problem is so common, one restaurant worker said, “It's kind of a running joke in the industry: If you're not being harassed, then you're not doing the right thing.” No one should have to consider that kind of abuse acceptable. But, because workers rely on tips – which they practically have to sell themselves to earn – they have no choice but to put up with it. We could fix this problem easily by eliminating tips and paying workers a living wage. No one should have to put up with abuse to earn a living, and the time has past to fix this problem.
Another state has decriminalized marijuana. Last week marked the official start of Maryland's new law, which allows people to carry up to 10 grams of cannabis without fear of going to jail. Under the new law, people over the age of 21 will only face a fine if they're caught carrying marijuana, and people between the ages of 18 and 21 may have to take a drug education course. While the new rules are far better than locking people up for smoking pot, they're still far from perfect. People caught with marijuana could be hit with fines as high as $500 dollars, and they can still be arrested for carrying cannabis-related paraphernalia. Maryland may reduce or remove penalties for carrying pipes or other paraphernalia next year, but for now it looks like hefty fines are here to stay. By making marijuana possessions a civil offense, as opposed to a criminal one, Maryland will save a ton of money on court and law enforcement costs. And, the new legislation will prevent many people from being arrested. Hopefully Maryland will improve the flaws, but this new law is a step in the right direction.
And finally... Some in Congress may be able to turn their backs on hungry children, but teachers in Albuquerque refuse to ignore the problem. Marvin Callahan, a first grade teacher in New Mexico, started a program to make sure kids in his school have enough to eat when they're not in class. Every week, retired teachers volunteer to fill backpacks full of food for the weekend, so that children who rely on free lunch don't have to miss a meal while they're away from school. Every backpack has two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, and they're filled with foods that kids can easily make without help from a parent. Mr. Callahan started the program two years ago with his own money, and now local organizations are helping him with funding and donations. It is unacceptable that any child should be going hungry in the richest nation on earth, but thankfully there are great people like Marvin doing something about it. Perhaps Republicans in Congress should stop attacking teachers and food stamp recipients, and start learning how to care for kids as well as our nation's educators.
And that's the way it is - for the week of October 13, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.