In today's On the News segment: More than 2 million Americans are set to lose extended unemployment benefits at the end of the year if the nation tumbles off the so-called "fiscal cliff"; the Department of Homeland Security has spent $250 million on a fleet of surveillance drones to fly US skies; a battle over the minimum wage is brewing in New Jersey; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Despite receiving little attention from the Left or the Right during the election, our nation's drone warfare program continues to inflame anti-American sentiments across the world – particularly in volatile nations like Pakistan. And we ignore this semi-covert drone war at our own peril, because in the near future, those same drones will be flying over U.S. skies, too. In fact, they already are – assisting in law enforcement and anti-immigration missions. And this week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it plans to double its fleet of Predator drones flying inside the United States. Already, DHS has spent $250 million on a fleet of ten surveillance drones to fly U.S. skies – but according to the group California Watch, DHS signed a contract worth nearly $500 million to purchase an additional 14 drones to spy on us. DHS is also encouraging local police forces to purchase their own drones – and has dished out $4 million to local agencies to "accelerate" the purchase of unmanned surveillance drones. According to estimates from the FAA, we might have as many as 30,000 drones patrolling American skies by the end of the decade. If the countless dead civilians from our drone strikes abroad don't affect you, then the complete disappearance of your privacy rights at home will.
In screwed news...Walmart is getting serious with its workers over their plans to strike on the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. As labor journalist Josh Eidelson atThe Nation reports, despite Walmart dismissing Friday's planned actions as stunts by fringe workers, the retail giant is showing far more concern behind closed doors. According to several reports from workers, Walmart is engaging in a number of intimidation tactics to prevent workers from striking at the end of the week – including holding mandatory meetings to inform workers that if they walk off the job to strike, then they will be terminated. "OUR Walmart" – the group organizing labor actions on behalf of Walmart employees – filed a dozen complaints with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday asking for them to intervene to stop Walmart's blatant suppression of employees' right to organize. Keep an eye on this story – and I'll be staying away from Walmart on Black Friday...I find it's better to shop locally, anyway.
In the best of the rest of the news...
A battle over the minimum wage is brewing in New Jersey. This week – Democrats in the state House moved legislation forward to boost the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50. The state Senate is expected to approve the legislation as well, but Republican state lawmakers are having none of it. Using Hurricane Sandy as an excuse, Republicans say raising wages will put an extra burden on storm-affected businesses. That argument was shot down by Democratic state lawmakers Donald Norcross, who blasted Republicans, saying, "I think jumping on the back of this storm to keep those people down is disgraceful." The legislation is expected to make its way to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's desk to be signed, and we'll get to see if one of the Republican Party's 2016 front-runners really stands with working people or the greedy corporate elite.
The UN is warning we may have crossed the tipping point when it comes to global climate change. A new report by the UN World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday finds that greenhouse gases in our atmosphere reached in a new high in 2011 – rising to 390.0 parts per million. CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, which are all considered the most potent greenhouse gases, all reached record levels last year, putting into jeopardy plans to prevent considerable warming of our planet in the future. As the agency's Secretary-General said, "Even if we are able to stop them tomorrow, these greenhouse gases will continue to have an effect for centuries." This report comes on the heels of a World Bank report warning of a 7-degree rise in temperatures by the end of the century inflicting enormous harm on the entire planet. It's time to wake up people – before the planet becomes hostile to the human species.
More than 2 million Americans are set to lose extended unemployment benefits at the end of the year if the nation tumbles off the so-called "fiscal cliff." And Republicans who consider such things as mere "gifts" that, they say, the nation can't afford, appear more than happy to let it happen. But as The Atlantic recently reported, the United States actually provides less generous unemployment benefits than most of the other developed nations in the world. Looking at numbers from the OECD, the United States ranks lower than Japan, Italy, Spain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Norway, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Israel when it comes to providing the unemployed with benefits. It's time for Conservatives in the United States to understand who the real "job creators" are. They aren't rich people demanding more tax cuts to stash in Swiss bank accounts. They're working class Americans who spend money, and thus keep the economy churning. That's why it's crucial to help these working-class Americans when they lose their jobs – and keep the economy going for the rest of us.
And finally...did the United States hack into former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's computer? Those are the allegations coming from the French news magazine l'Express. They're reporting that the United States government hacked into the offices of the former French President before he was voted out of office earlier this year. The hack was allegedly performed though a sophisticated computer program known as Flame, which is capable of collecting files on a computer, taking screen shots, and using the computer's mic to record conversations. The White House has so far not commented directly on these allegations. But, if they were looking for some really juicy stuff – they should have hacked into former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's computer and gotten pictures and audio from all those Bunga Bunga parties!
And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, November 21, 2012. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.