You need to know this. On Wednesday, fifty years after Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told the world about his dream, our nation's first African-American president spoke from the very same steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama spoke to a crowd of thousands, who marched on the National Mall to commemorate Dr. King's historic speech. In recognition of how far the fight for equality has come, President Obama said, “To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed, that dishonors the courage, the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years.” However, he also acknowledged how far we still have to go in the fight towards equality. He said, “we would dishonor those heroes as well, to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.” The President, along with other civil rights leaders who spoke at the event, said that fighting for voting rights, combating unemployment, and reducing gun violence are still important issues in 2013. The “Let Freedom Ring and Call to Action” ceremony took place to honor the influential life and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the millions who fought for civil rights in our nation. President Obama explained the fight continues, “not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, [and] for Americans with disabilities.” He said, “We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago – no one can match King's brilliance – but the same flame that lit the hearts of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains.”
In screwed news... Republicans continue to deny the science, but climate change is already costing our nation billions. Drought and heat waves have hit Midwestern states year after year, and our government has had to lay out billions of dollars in crop insurance payouts. According to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Federal Crop Insurance Program paid a record $10.8 billion dollars in claims in 2011. And in 2012, that record was shattered again by another $17.3 billion dollars in payouts. Eighty percent of those payments were for crops lost to drought, heat, or high winds – all of which have intensified in recent years because of climate change. The NRDC report recommends the use of financial incentives to encourage farmers to switch to more sustainable practices, like no-till farming, cover cropping, and water conservation. By using these techniques, farmers can lower the risk of crop damage, and reduce energy and water use in farming. Sustainable practices could help save our food crops, and save our nation billions of dollars.
In the best of the rest of the news...
New federal regulations could make it much easier for veterans and disabled workers to find a job. On Tuesday, the Labor Department issued a new rule, which states government contractors must hire more disabled people and veterans. However, businesses are threatening legal action, claiming that this new rule conflicts with other federal laws regarding hiring. Current labor rules bar asking an applicant about disability status during the hiring process, which makes this new requirement a little tough to fulfill. But, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez wasn't discouraged by business complaints, and called the rule a “win-win.” He said that the new policy helps veterans and the disabled, “who belong in the economic mainstream and deserve a chance to work and opportunity to succeed.” And, he called the rule a benefit to employers, saying it increases their access to a diverse pool of new workers.
It turns out, regulation and education work when it comes to curbing underage smoking. Thanks to various laws and anti-smoking campaigns, underage tobacco sales have fallen 77 percent since 1997. A new survey from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration found that only 9.1 percent of American retailers sold cigarettes to kids in 2012. Fifteen years ago, 40 percent of stores were selling tobacco to kids. And, it isn't just the stores that are changing statistics – far fewer kids are smoking in general. The latest study shows that only 10.6 percent of kids admitted to smoking in 2012 – compared to 36 percent of kids in 1997. Strict fines and regulations have made stores less willing to risk selling cigarettes to kids, and anti-tobacco campaigns appear to have an impact on kids smoking. Public health experts say that we still have work to do, but it certainly looks like we're moving in the right direction.
And finally… Most of us have been bothered by annoying calls from telemarketers, but one man in the U.K. got so fed up, he came up with a new plan. Lee Beaumont was called nearly every day with sales pitches for solar panels and insurance. So, to make the most of the annoyance, he signed up for an 0871 number – the equivalent of a 900 number here in the U.S. So now, each time a bank, gas company, or other business calls to make a sale, Mr. Beaumont makes about 10 pence – or 16 cents – per minute. Of course, the phone company did not approve of his grand idea, and said, “Premium rate numbers are not designed to be used in this way, and we would strongly discourage any listeners from adopting this idea.” Unsurprisingly, after Mr. Beaumont raked in about 300 euros, telemarketers have virtually stopped calling.