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On the News With Thom Hartmann: Americans Are Drowning in Debt, and More

Americans are drowning in debt, and more.

In today’s On the News segment: Americans are drowning in debt; government surveillance is threatening our entire democracy; McDonald’s workers just scored a major victory in their fight to form a union; and more.


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

You need to know this. Americans are drowning in debt. A new study from the Urban Institute shows that more than 35 percent of us have debt and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies. These debts include auto loans, credit card bills, hospital bills, mortgages, and even gym memberships and cellphone contracts, and they average over $5,000 a person. Although wages have been pretty much stagnant for the last three decades, the cost of living hasn’t stopped rising, and many Americans had to turn to credit just to get by. To make matters worse, laws that used to cap interest rates on that credit were weakened during the 1980s, and that opened the door to a flood of high-interest lenders to prey on consumers. Not only did people need credit to supplement their stagnant wages, but they had to pay more to borrow than ever before. The situation was a recipe for disaster. The rising cost of education, health care, and housing made borrowing inevitable, and high-interest rates made defaulting on debt an almost-certainty for many Americans. Fast-forward a few decades, and it’s not hard to see how we ended up with more than 100 million people being harassed by collection agencies over debts that they can’t afford to pay back. According to Urban Institute senior fellow Caroline Ratcliff, “Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections.” Yet, Wall Street, not Main Street, got a bail out. Taxpayers rescued the banksters and propped up the too-big-to-jail banks, but we’re the ones who were denied any relief. It’s time to wipe out all debt in our nation and reset the system to repair the damage from three decades of Reaganomics. Let’s bail out Americans by calling for a national debt jubilee.

Government surveillance is threatening our entire democracy. According to a new report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, our government’s spying on journalists and attorneys is undermining our ability to hold our lawmakers accountable. The report argues that surveillance, increased prosecution of whistleblowers, restricted communications between intelligence officials and the media, and snitch programs for federal workers have all led to “less information reaching the public.” The authors explained that this has a “direct effect on the public’s ability to obtain important information about government activities, and on the ability of the media to serve as a check on government.” There’s an important reason why our press is known as the Fourth Estate. Without the ability to expose problems in our government, the American people can’t demand that these issues be corrected. According to the ACLU, “The US should genuinely confront the fact that its massive surveillance programs are damaging many critically important rights.” Our privacy is extremely important, but it’s not the only right we’ll lose if we don’t fight to end government spying.

McDonald’s workers just scored a major victory in their fight to form a union. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the fast food giant can be considered a joint employer of workers in its franchises, and that the corporations can be found liable for wage and labor violations. The general council of the NLRB found merit in some of the claims that McDonald’s “violated the rights of employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests.” Although the company plans to contest the decision, the ruling could have broad implications for workers if it’s upheld. One of the attorneys representing the low-wage workers said, “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.” The giant corporation has been fighting to keep employees from organizing, but it looks like workers may soon have the union that they have been fighting for.

In 1983, fifty companies owned the vast majority of our media. By 2012, 90 percent of all the media consumed by Americans was owned by only six companies. If the merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner Inc. is allowed to happen, it would reduce the control of our media down to just five companies. Harvard Law professor Susan Crawford said, “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse. The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.” If the Federal Communications Commission allows this merger to happen, Americans will likely lose even more diversity in news and entertainment. Christopher Sagers, an antitrust professor at Cleveland Marshall College of Law, explained, ‘It’s within the FCC’s power as merger overseers to conclude that this merger would impose undue limits on diversity. It could block it or it could impose conditions that would ensure diversity.” We have already lost much of the independent analysis that used to fill our news, and it’s been replaced with info-tainment that puts ratings ahead of information. This merger, and several others that are pending, would only worsen this problem. It’s up to us to demand that the FCC finally stands up for diversity in media and protects the integrity of the information that we consume.

And finally… States are rushing to save Obamacare subsidies. In response to the recent ruling by the DC Circuit Court, states using the federal healthcare exchanges recognized that residents were at risk of losing their tax credits that help cover the cost of insurance. Rather than wait for the issue to play out in the courts, states have started to clarify that they consider their exchanges to be state-based. Officials from Idaho and Delaware have already spoken out, saying that they although they are using the federal platform, they consider their marketplaces to be administered by the states. After having difficulty with their own exchanges, other states have announced that they’ll be switching to the federal exchange next year. However, they are already saying that they will still consider their exchanges state-based. State lawmakers know that Americans need access to affordable health care, and they are not about to give that up without a fight.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of August 4, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

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