On the News With Thom Hartmann: USDA Moves Forward With Plans to Privatize Poultry Inspection, and More

In today's On the News segment: Newt Gingrich scapegoated the poor and minorities on his way to a crushing victory over Mitt Romney in South Carolina Saturday, Republicans signal they may again hold payroll tax cut hostage in exchange for Keystone XL, EU sanctions heighten tension with Iran, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. The Republican Party has a serious problem on its hands – and its name is Newt Gingrich. Newt shocked the establishment on Saturday night crushing Mitt Romney in a landslide victory in the South Carolina Primary. By referring to President Obama as the “Food Stamp President” as often as he could – and characterizing the poor, and in particular minorities, as lazy – Newt proved that race baiting in the South is still a winning strategy…at least when only Republicans are voting. That means after three contests so far – and three different winners – this race is wide open – and Gingrich might have a real shot at becoming the nominee – Florida polls are showing him ahead there today. And with that – there’s already speculation that leaders within the Republican Party might push for a brokered convention – in which the nominee – who might not even be in the race today – is picked behind closed doors at the Republican National Convention later this year with little regard to what the actual voters across the nation wanted. Stay tuned – this thing is just getting started.

The middle class is about to get screwed. Extending the payroll tax cut for middle class Americans for a full year is one of the top agenda items for a returning Congress – but Republicans are hinting that they plan to hold the tax cut hostage until President Obama agrees to give oil barons what they want – which is the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week – the President formally rejected the Keystone XL pipeline – proving that grassroots environmental activism can still work. But Republicans – and their big oil contributors – will not take no for an answer. On Sunday – Speaker Boehner said, “all options are on the table” to force construction of the pipeline – and that he “may” attach it to any deal to extend the payroll tax cut. In other words – the only way Republicans want the middle class to have a tax cut – is if Midwestern Americans also choke on highly toxic tar sands oil from Canada. Call your Member of Congress and tell them the middle class can't afford to be held hostage by billionaire interests again.

In the best of the rest of the news…

The American Dream is becoming harder and harder to achieve – and more and more Americans know it. According to a new poll from The Hill – two-thirds of Americans say that it is harder than it used to be to move up from one economic class to another. Compared to the other developed nations in the OECD – the United States ranks at the bottom in social mobility – meaning we’re last in the so-called American Dream. Based on the research out of the Equality Trust in the UK – wealth inequality is one of the biggest hurdles to social mobility – and the United States is one of the most unequal nations in the developed world. Ironically, the party of the Billionaires, the Republicans, have ignored this issue in every single one of the Republican debates.

There are reports that a deal is close to being struck between several state Attorneys General and the big banks to close the books on the massive foreclosure fraud scandal that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes. The deal would have the five big banks – Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial – cough up 25 billion bucks to help struggling homeowners refinance their homes. In exchange – the banksters would get blanket immunity from future lawsuits and criminal charges for engaging in blatant fraud using robosigners and counterfeit foreclosure documents. Several state Attorneys General have already stepped away from any sort of deal – choosing instead to pursue investigations on their own to make sure the banksters are held accountable for the crimes they commited. Help for homeowners is needed and long overdue – but American also want to see some suits go to jail for the damage they caused our country.

The USDA is moving forward with a plan to privatize poultry inspection – essentially letting chicken slaughterhouses decide on their own whether or not their product is safe. But the organization “Food and Water Watch” is claiming this program “violates the department’s legal obligation to protect consumers.” And according to documents obtained through a FOIA request by Food and Water Watch – these private inspection programs aren’t working – as various parts of the chicken that could be toxic to consumers like bile and digestive track tissue are not being properly removed. It’s time to stop putting corporate profits ahead of the safety of consumers. Food safety is a part of the commons – and needs to stay that way.

Not only are our roads and bridges crumbling, but so, too, is our intellectual infrastructure. As mostly Republican Governors around the nation push for austerity and budget cuts – state spending on higher education declined last year by 7.6% – the largest drop in 50 years. That means states are trading off educating a new generation of doctors, scientists, and engineers just to close budget gaps and give the rich more tax breaks. As long as Conservatives continue to wage war against public education – and continue to hand off the duty of educating our kids to private corporations that care more about profits than curricula – then we’ll continue to fall behind in the global marketplace when it comes to skilled labor. It’s time to invest in the most important infrastructure of all – intellectual infrastructure.

And finally – tensions continue to rise in the Middle East as the European Union ignored threats from Iran – and passed a number of sanctions banning the importation of oil from Iran to EU nations. In response – one politician in Iran has once again called for a military blockade of the Straights of Hormuz – through which roughly 40% of the world’s oil flows through. Such a move could spark a military response from the United States and allies – creating a very dangerous situation for the entire world. This is just another consequence of our nation failing to adopt a genuine energy plan that gets us off dirty foreign crude. We need alternative energy now, before war is inevitable.

And that’s the way it is today – Monday, January 23rd, 2012. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.