On the News With Thom Hartmann: Corporations Jack Up Prices to Funnel Our Money to the Elite, and More

In today’s On the News segment: All over the country, massive corporations buy up or buy off their competition; Seattle is proving to be the birthplace of new, progressive policies; President Obama wants to help former prisoners transition back into society; 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. When we talk about fixing income inequality in this country, we typically focus in on taxing the rich to redistribute wealth down to the working poor. But, we often forget about all of the income that’s constantly being redistributed up to those at the top. In a recent article over at AlterNet, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explained how huge corporate cartels jack up their prices, and funnel our money straight to the ruling elite. All over the country, massive corporations buy up or buy off their competition, and then use their might to convince us that higher prices and lower benefits are simply the way things are meant to be. For example, as Mr. Reich explained, we pay more for prescription drugs than the citizens of any developed nation. That’s because drug companies have the legal right to pay off generic drug makers and ensure that we can’t get our hands on cheaper, unbranded medications even after their patents expire. And, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t alone. Internet service in the United States costs three-and-a-half times more than faster service in France, but most Americans have only one or two choices for their internet providers. The same goes for our banks, our food producers and our health insurance companies. These corporate monstrosities bribe our lawmakers to look the other way when it comes to anti-trust violations, and they spend a fortune on campaigns to promise us that larger companies mean more efficiency and better service. But, all they really care about is increasing profits so that CEOs and shareholders can pocket a larger and larger share of our cash. The level of inequality in our nation hasn’t been seen since before the industrial revolution, and these industries are the very reason why that divide continues to grow. Yes, we absolutely must increase taxes on the rich and make them pay their fair share. But, our work to end inequality doesn’t end there. Let’s break up the banks and the telecoms and every industry that works to benefit the rich at the expense of the working poor.

Seattle is proving to be the birthplace of new, progressive policies. Last year, that city was the first in our nation to pass a $15 minimum wage. Last week, they were the first to pass a new public campaign finance initiative to put democracy back into the hands of voters. The so-called “Honest Elections” initiative not only strengthens campaign finance restrictions in Seattle, it will give every registered voter there $100 dollars of “democracy vouchers” to support their favorite candidates as well. This proposal is aimed at getting more people to participate in local elections and an effort to weaken the power of big money in our democracy. However, the plan is not without its possible faults. Critics worry that candidates can opt to use the public financing system, which will make them eligible to receive vouchers, but still get the benefits of big donors with the help of Super PACs. Thankfully, Seattle voters have proven time and time again that they’re savvy enough to identify candidates who cheat the system. It will be up to them to test the “Democracy Voucher” system and determine if it can become an effective way to take our election back from the billionaires.

President Obama wants to help former prisoners transition back into society. That’s why he recently announced an executive order to “ban the box” at federal contract employers. In other words, he is directing those companies to wait until later in the application process before they ask about an applicant’s criminal history. Civil rights groups have long been calling for a change in this policy, which often prevents people with criminal backgrounds from finding work. By including this information on applications, employers often dismiss applicants with criminal histories, even when it has nothing to do with the perspective job. Without work, people convicted of petty, nonviolent offenses have to turn to other crime to make an income. If we want people to turn their lives around and become functional members of society, they need basic opportunities like access to a job. President Obama gets that. Let’s hope more employers follow suit.

For all our talk about overseas tax havens, there’s not a whole lot of action when it comes to our nation stashing money for wealthy foreigners. According to a recent study by the Tax Justice Network, the United States has now surpassed Singapore and the Cayman Islands as a tax haven for the super-rich. The authors of that report wrote, “Though the US has been a pioneer in defending itself from foreign secrecy jurisdiction it provides little information in return to other countries, making it a formidable, harmful, and irresponsible secrecy jurisdiction.” So, while our president and regulators have begun forcing other nations to give up information on tax havens, we’re not reciprocating when people stash billions within our borders. If we want the rest of the world to tell us when billionaires hide money in their banks, we should be doing the same when it comes to foreign money.

And finally… How do you save the post office and help millions of people find affordable banking services? Well, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders, you allow low-income Americans to fill their basic banking needs where they’re already buying stamps and sending packagers. In a recent interview, the independent senator from Vermont explained that the post office isn’t broke. Thanks to an arbitrary bill back in 2006, the postal service was forced to pay upfront for 75 years of retiree benefits, which has cost them more than $5 billion dollars a year. Without that burden, the system would have plenty of cash to survive long in to the future. In addition, these services would give millions of low-income Americans access to check cashing, payday loans and other non-bank financial services, without the high fees and interest rates charged at pawnshops and check cashing stores. This policy is a common sense way to help millions of Americans and protect the postal service from further harm. Let’s help make it a reality by calling Congress and telling our lawmakers that we support the post office and this effort to bring banking to all.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of November 9, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.