On the News With Thom Hartmann: Scalia’s Absence Has Led to Progressive Supreme Court Victories, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Justice Antonin Scalia’s absence has led to liberal groups declaring victory on a number of cases; California workers are getting a raise; West Virginia lawmakers think poor people should be treated like criminals; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here — on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. As a member of our nation’s highest court, Justice Antonin Scalia was a champion of so-called Conservative values. With his passing, however, the justice’s Absence has led to liberal groups declaring victory on a number of cases. Since his death in February, cases about the EPA, Texas abortion restrictions and class-action lawsuits have all gone differently than they probably would have if Justice Scalia was still on the bench. And last week, his absence was a major factor in the court’s split decision on public sector unions. Back in January, Justice Scalia made clear his views on so-called “fair share fees.” Those fees, also known as agency fees, help cover the legal costs of representing all workers in a union shop, even when some choose not to become a member of that union. Current law requires unions to negotiate on behalf of everyone in a workplace, and the agency fees, which are less than regular dues, make sure that the non-union workers aren’t getting a free ride. However, Scalia appeared to side with the argument that those fees represent forced political speech because they subsidize collective bargaining. Back in January during oral arguments, he said, “The problem is that everything that is bargained for with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition.” But, with his passing, the Supreme Court just issued a split 4-to-4 decision, which means the lower-court ruling protecting unions stays in place for the time being. The case will likely wind up back before the court in the future, but for now, our public unions will have the power to fight another day. And, if the US Senate stops refusing to do their job, President Obama could appoint a new justice who isn’t opposed to our vital labor unions. In the meantime, let’s celebrate these small victories from our nation’s highest, divided court and continue to push the Senate to consider Obama’s nominee.

California workers are getting a raise. According to a recent post over at Common Dreams, that state has reached a deal to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. In an effort to avoid an expensive fight over ballot initiatives in November, state lawmakers reached a deal with labor groups to increase the minimum wage gradually to $15 an hour by 2023. Although that deal has already been approved by the state legislature, voters will still have the chance to vote on a minimum wage hike at the polls in November. And, the measure before voters would require the increase at least two years sooner. As polls show that the measure has wide support among voters, it appears that it’s a matter of when, not if, workers in California will be able to earn a living wage. Last week, at a press conference in Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “It’s a matter of economic justice and it makes sense.” And he’s exactly right. No one who works full time should live in poverty, and it’s time to enact a living wage nation-wide.

West Virginia lawmakers think poor people should be treated like criminals. Last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into a law a measure that will require some welfare recipients to submit to drug tests or lose their benefits. That new law goes into effect in June, and it will force case workers to play judge and jury, and decide which of their applicants have a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. Despite numerous states enacting similar proposals and proving that poor people don’t have a bunch of extra money to spend on drugs, West Virginia wants to get in on the action. Republican State Delegate Scott Cadle said, “I expect people who live off my tax money to be drug tested. I don’t want them laying around on welfare and drugs.” Perhaps someone should inform Mr. Cadle that repeated attempts to find all these drug users on welfare have simply proven that poor people use drugs at lower rates than the general public. But, as long as we’re drug testing people who live off of taxpayer money, lawmakers like Scott Cadle should be first in line to go pee in a cup.

One of the most common arguments against free public college is that taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing the education of rich kids. But, according to a stunning new report from the New America Foundation, it turns out that we already are. One of the study’s authors Stephen Burd said, “After all, it’s more profitable for schools to provide five ‘merit’ scholarships of $5,000 each to entice affluent students who will be able to pay the balance — even if they have less-than-stellar grades — than it is to provide a single $25,000 grant to a high-achieving low-income student.” In other words, for-profit schools tell poor kids to apply for Pell Grants and other federal aid, while they use endowments that should go to needy families to lure in rich kids instead. The fact is that everyone, regardless of income, should have access to a public college education, even if that me our nation continues to subsidize the education of wealthy children.

And finally… Our nation spends billions of dollars on war and bombs without a second thought, so it should be a no-brainer to spend a small fraction of that money to care for our fellow Americans. That may be why Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters wants to spend $13 billion to put an end to homeless in our country once and for all. Last week, Congresswoman Waters proposed the Ending Homelessness Act of 2016, which would increase funding for programs that promote affordable housing and serve the so-called “chronically homeless.” Currently, we spend about $4 billion dollars a year on these programs, and we spend a whole lot more on policing and locking up poor people simply for not having a home. That’s why we still have hundreds of thousands of Americans sleeping out on the street on any given night. Thirteen billion dollars is a drop in the bucket of our national budget, and it’s a small price to pay to ensure that every American has a place that they can call home.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of April 4, 2016 — I’m Thom Hartmann — on the Economic and Labor News.