You need to know this. Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits. And, another two million will stop receiving assistance if Congress doesn't extend long-term benefits by June. Our nation is barely pulling out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and we're abandoning those who are out of work because of this economy. The unemployment rate is officially sever percent, but there are still at least three unemployed workers applying for every open job. People on long-term unemployment aren't sitting around collecting checks – they're fighting like hell to be given a chance to get back to work, but the competition they face is intense. Rather than our government stepping up to be the employer of last resort, Republicans in Congress make the absurd argument that cutting off this economic lifeline will somehow help out-of-work Americans suddenly find that nonexistent job. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that the Senate will vote in early January on a temporary extension of unemployment benefits, and that it's “just the first step” toward addressing income inequality in our nation. But, that date means that – even in the best case scenario – more than a million Americans will see a delay in unemployment benefits, which could be much longer if Republicans hold up or block the upcoming vote. It is utterly un-American to abandon those who need our help. Our nation learned from history, and recognized the importance of keeping people from falling through the cracks, yet here we are, repeating those mistakes once again. We shouldn't be cutting unemployment benefits, we should be investing and creating jobs, which are the only real ways to help Americans get back to work.
In screwed news... The supposed purpose of jail is making people pay for their crimes. But, even after someone has completed their sentence, their criminal record can keep punishing them for life. Even thought it's illegal, many employers reject applicants, or even fire workers, because of a criminal record. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are only allowed to consider criminal records as one factor in the hiring process, and only if the conviction is directly related to the work. However, many employers aren't following that guideline, and the 65 million Americans with a criminal record can find it disproportionately harder to find, or to keep, a full-time job. People convicted for non-violent or drug-related crimes can find it nearly impossible to achieve a stable economic existence, and their loss translates into bigger problems for local governments. Cities and states can be denied important tax revenue, employers can exploit workers and keep area wages low, and communities are missing out on all that productivity. Once someone completes a sentence, they've paid for their crime – and that price shouldn't include their entire economic future.
In the best of the rest of the news...
People are flocking to state-run health exchanges. Enrollment in five states – Kentucky, New York, Connecticut, California, and Washington – is higher than the entire 36 states covered by the federal exchange. More than 436,000 people have signed up in those five states alone, and thousands more are selecting coverage every day. These numbers support predictions by administration officials – that most people would wait until the last minute to sign up. And, the success of state exchanges proves how much more successful the Affordable Care Act could be, if Republican lawmakers didn't try to sabotage the law by refusing to set up marketplaces in their states. The directors of these successful state exchanges say that their enrollment numbers show what's really going on throughout our nation – they people want the health insurance being offered by Obamacare. These states have higher enrollment numbers simply because they've made it easier for people to sign up. The fact is, the ACA is turning out to be a success, but it could be even better if Red-state lawmakers would stop their political grandstanding, and start working to get every American the healthcare that they deserve.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels around most of our nation are coming down a bit, but some areas are still spiking. Philadelphia is reporting levels of 44 counts per minute, with spikes of 71, and Chicopee, Massachusetts is averaging 42, with highs of 66. Frederic, Wisconsin is hovering at 48 counts per minute, with spikes of 69, and Burlington, Colorado is seeing an average of 55, with peaks of 95. Henderson, Nevada is averaging 48 counts per minute, with spikes of 72, and Tucson, Arizona is sitting at 51, but counts there are spiking to 119. Seattle, Washington is reporting levels of 30, with highs of 47, and Oakland, California is averaging 32, with spikes of 65. RadCast.org's alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no safe level of radiation.
And finally... When Reddit-user Rachel signed up for an online “Secret Santa” gift exchange, she had no idea who might pick her name. So, she was pretty surprised when she received a personal gift from the one-and-only Bill Gates. Rachel said she ripped open the package marked “To Rachel, From Bill” before realizing exactly which Bill had sent her a travel book and a stuffed cow. She then read the card, which was signed by the billionaire Microsoft co-founder, and included a picture of him holding her present for authenticity. Bill Gates wrote “My Secret Santa present to you is a cow! Don't worry – you will not have to build a barn. This cow will be given to a family in need, in your name, through Heifer International.” Rachel posted on Reddit that she was happy that a donation to charity was made in her name. She said, “I was so excited, the cause seemed really worthy and amazing, and it is the season of giving,” and she thanked Bill for the thoughtful gift. She also included an apology about the listed of gift suggestions she posted for her Secret Santa. She wrote, “Sorry for the Apple iPad on my wish-list...that was really awkward.”
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