Thom Hartmann on the News: Jan. 15, 2014
You need to know this. On the one-year anniversary of the death of internet-activist Aaron Swartz, three judges in D.C. killed the internet. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stuck down the FCC's net neutrality rule, and opened the door to corporate control of the information we can access online. Net neutrality is the principal that internet providers must treat all content equally, rather than blocking or slowing down a website or application based on its subject matter, or on the amount someone is willing to pay to access it. Because of FCC changes during the Bush Administration, the judges ruled that internet providers no longer have to comply with net neutrality. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, companies that provided phone or television service were classified as common carriers, and were required to provide everyone with equal access to these services. Internet providers were originally subject to these regulations as well, but that all changed in 2005, when Bush's FCC exempted them from common carrier status. So, yesterday the appeals court ruled that there is no way to force these internet providers to comply with these regulations. The judges did, however, hint at one possible solution. Because this ruling centers on the fact that the FCC no longer classifies internet providers as common carriers, a simply rule change could once again subject them to these standards. No corporation should have control over the information we access, and internet content shouldn't be filtered based on who can pay the most to see or post it. We must push the FCC to reclassify internet providers as common carriers, and protect the freedom of the internet.
In screwed news... On Tuesday, Senate Republicans manage to block two different attempts to extend long-term unemployment benefits. They 48 to 52 on a measure that would have extended these benefits through November and paid for it by extending the sequester cuts. A three-month extension that did not include off-sets also failed to reach 60 votes. Republicans essentially fillabustered both measures because they were not permitted to include their long list of poison pill amendments to the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even offered to allow votes on five amendments from each party, in exchange for a simple majority vote on an extension, but that wasn't enough for Republicans. Because of their obstruction, 1.4 million Americans continue to go without much-needed unemployment benefits, and nothing will get done next week, as the Senate is in recess for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It is shameful that Republicans have blocked these measures for weeks now, and even worse that lawmakers are taking time off while Americans suffer. It's time for Republicans to stop playing politics, and restore these benefits, before they cause even more harm.
In the best of the rest of the news...
You wouldn't know it by listening to Republicans demonize government spending, but our nation had a record budget surplus last December. Government revenue exceeded government spending by $53 billion dollars that month, and far exceeded predictions by economic analysts. Part of that record surplus was the result of large payments from housing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and rising tax revenues have helped to shrink our long-term deficit as well. While these monthly budget surpluses should calm the deficit hawks, they aren't good news for our overall economy. Our government could be using this money to invest in our nation, stimulate our economy, and put more Americans back to work, but instead, we're slashing our social safety net and pretending we can cut our way into an economic boom. No nation, in the history of the world, has ever cut its way to prosperity, and we won't be the first. We shouldn't be worried about deficits, we should be worried about Americans – and right now, they need social services and a good-paying job.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels are still somewhat calm throughout our nation, but they will likely rise in the coming days because of changing weather patterns. Asheville, North Carolina is reporting levels of 36 counts per minute, with spikes of 86, and Chicopee, Massachusetts is averaging 43, with highs of 71 counts per minute. Rapid City, South Dakota is hovering at 41 counts per minute, with spikes of 70, and Layton, Utah is sitting at 44, with highs of 70 counts per minute. Fresno, California is reporting 41 counts per minute, with spikes of 67, and Seattle, Washington, is sitting at 30, with highs of 50 counts per minute. RadCast.org's alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation.
Employers who use Obamacare as an excuse to shaft workers may be in for a big surprise. If a company cuts employee hours simply to avoid providing healthcare benefits, they could be violating an overlooked provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act – otherwise known as ERISA. That law forbids employers from interfering with employee benefits, and lawyers say that cutting someone's hours to deny them healthcare could be asking for a lawsuit. In addition to the legal implications, these employers run the risk of public backlash – like Walmart is experiencing over low-pay, lacking benefits, and corporate greed. Companies can cut workers' hours, but they do so at their own risk – and they may live to regret it.
And finally... It's customary for statesmen to exchange gifts when they visit their foreign counterparts, but Secretary of State John Kerry just put his own twist on that tradition. During a recent meeting in Paris, Secretary Kerry presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with two giant Idaho potatoes. The Russian minister had mentioned the famous potatoes during a previous meeting, so Secretary Kerry picked them up during a family vacation over the Christmas holiday. Foreign Minister Lavrov called the giant potatoes “impressive”, and Kerry joked that his counterpart will not be turning them into vodka because he doesn't like liquor. No news on what the Russian Foreign Minister plans to do with his giant potatoes, or on who was the first one to make a “Spud-Nik” joke.