On the News With Thom Hartmann: Institutional Racism Must End Once and for All, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Systematic poverty and the failed war on drugs created the violent police tactics that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement; student debt strikers may finally find some relief; anti-Keystone activists have been labeled “environmental extremists” by US goverment; 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. This year has been filled with examples of racial discrimination and police brutality. From Ferguson to Cleveland to McKinney, Texas, we’ve seen tons of coverage about these often-tragic events, but rarely do we see real discussion about the conditions that lead up to such violence. Despite what many on the Right claim, our nation has not yet repaired the damage of 250 years of slavery and another 100 years of Jim Crow. And, the fact that we have an African American president does not erase the institutional racism that persists in much of our country. In a recent op-ed in The Guardian newspaper, Congressman Keith Ellison explained how “the systematic economic abandonment of black neighborhoods” and “the failed war on drugs” created the violent police tactics that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement. Congressman Ellison pointed out that in the last 30 years, Republicans enacted policies that left communities of color without jobs or resources, and then criminalized the resulting conditions and sent millions of black men to prison. But, Ellison said, the results of those tactics, “are inevitable, not unstoppable.” The fact is, we can create economic opportunity in communities of color by investing in those neighborhoods. And, we can stop police brutality with better training, more resources, and an end to Nixon’s failed drug war. These aren’t radical ideas, they’re common sense, and they benefit our nation as a whole as much as they benefit minorities. Congressman Ellison wrote, “We can’t wait another 30 years and just hope that the systematic poverty upheld by Republican policies goes away on its own.” In order to be a stronger, more equal nation, we must lift up all our communities and put an end to institutional racism once and for all.

The student debt strikers may finally get some relief. According to a recent announcement by the Department of Education, students who were tricked into taking out loans by some for-profit colleges may be eligible for student loan forgiveness. Considering that student loans are one of the only types of debt that cannot be written off in a bankruptcy, even a few students getting relief from these loans is big news. Some of the defrauded Corinthian students say that claims of loan forgiveness are still a sham, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that’s not the case. As part of his announcement, he said, “I am fully committed to making sure students receive every penny of relief they are entitled to under law.” The only lingering question is whether or not that law goes far enough to protect students. The organization Strike Debt is calling for an “automatic, class-wide discharge for defrauded Corinthian students,” and they intend to keep fighting for that goal. Regardless of where someone went to school, it is flat-out wrong that they should be stuck with a lifetime of debt in order to get an education. Hopefully this debt relief is the tip of the iceberg, and more students will get some relief from the astronomical price of higher education.

When you think “terrorist” you probably don’t think “environmentalist.” But, that’s exactly the connection that US government is making when it comes to Keystone protesters. Last week, The Guardian newspaper revealed the stunning news that the FBI had labeled anti-Keystone activists as “environmental extremists” and investigated them as if they were terrorists. Those investigations included active monitoring by federal and local law enforcement, getting arrested for participating in protests, and being added to federal no-fly lists. And, despite the fact that the FBI closed the investigation due to lack of evidence, many of these protesters are still being harassed by local cops and subject to invasive screening at every airport. Our Constitution is supposed to protect the right to petition our government, but the FBI managed to ignore those protections by labeling peaceful protesters as “extremists” – and using the Patriot Act to violate their civil rights. If you think that this doesn’t concern you – just wait until there’s something that you’d like to protest about.

If you’re a software developer, it’s not surprising when you’re asked to sign a non-compete agreement. But, how would you react to such a rule if your job was making sandwiches? Last week, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota said that it’s “ridiculous” to ask low-wage workers to sign agreements banning them from working for competitors. That was his response to finding out that workers at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop were being forced to sign such agreements as a condition of employment. And, that is why Senator Franken, along with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, introduced the Mobility and Opportunity for Vulnerable Employees Act. That legislation – better known as the MOVE Act – bans non-compete agreements for employees who make less than $15 an hour, and requires an employer to explain such agreements to higher-paid employees. Low-wage workers should never be blocked from finding work because of these ridiculous agreements, and it’s flat-out laughable that they would be required at a sandwich shop. Good on Senators Franken and Murphy for introducing the MOVE Act to protect these workers.

And finally… We don’t often celebrate progressive policies in Texas, but we give credit where credit is due. Last week, the city of Houston, Texas announced that they have effectively put an end to the problem of homeless veterans. Thanks to a new system that offers housing to any former military member, Houston is now the largest city to say that they have solved the homeless veteran problem. As of last year, that city had more than 5,300 homeless people, and one out of eight was former military. Following in the footsteps of cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Salt Lake City, Utah, Houston set to work on finding a place for every homeless person who has served our nation. Although there is still much more work to be done to solve the homelessness problem for all individuals, finding a place for veterans is a big step toward that goal. No one should be living on the streets in the richest nation on the planet, especially when they were willing to give their life just to defend it.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of June 15, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.