On the News With Thom Hartmann: Millions Ripped Off by Payday Lenders, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Millions are being ripped off by payday lenders, and the United States Postal Service could put a stop to it; Georgia Republicans think that there hasn’t been enough voter suppression; our nation’s top law enforcement official says it’s time to put an end to capital punishment; 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. Millions of Americans are being ripped off by payday lenders and check cashing stores, and the United States Postal Service could put a stop to it. Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, says that offering basic banking services at the post office is a win-win for the public and postal workers. According to a recent article at In These Times, about one out of every four U.S. households either has no checking account, or has to rely heavily on non-bank services like check-cashing stores. Because they are priced out of regular banking services, or they’re living in so-called “banking deserts”, these households pay thousands of dollars every year in exorbitant fees and interest. In fact, individuals without regular banking pay out more money in fees and service charges than our federal government spends on all our domestic food aid. With 30,000 offices and outlets, the Postal Service already has the perfect infrastructure to provide public banking, and expanding services would help protect postal workers’ jobs. Since 2006, when the poison pill legislation forced USPS to pre-fund 75 years of retirement benefits, the postal workforce has shrunk by about 200,000 workers. And, since that time, credit problems, poverty, and location have locked millions of Americans out of our regular banking system. A U.S. Postal Bank could solve both of these problems in one fell swoop, and provide us with an alternative to too-big-to-fail corporate banks. The APWU is calling on the postmaster general to take up this idea, and it’s backed by dozens of other unions and community groups. Even prominent lawmakers like Senator Elizabeth Warren support the idea of Postal Banking. This isn’t a pipe dream or a fantasy. Postal banking has worked well in other nations, and it’s time to make it a reality right here at home.

Apparently, Georgia Republicans think that there hasn’t been enough voter suppression. Earlier this month, a committee of state lawmakers voted along party lines to slash early voting by more than a week. The full state legislature could vote on that measure at any time, and as Republicans hold the majority of the state House, it would likely pass. In 2008, more than half of all Georgia voters cast their ballot early, and more than a third of that state voted early in this last election. Although the lawmakers backing this bill claim that it will ensure “uniformity” between counties, voting rights advocates say that it’s all about keeping certain Georgians from the polls. Francys Johnson, President of the Georgia NAACP, said, “They’re saying to working Georgians and seniors and communities of color and the young: ‘We’re not interested in your participation’.” The people of Georgia need to fight hard to protect their early voting period before Republicans make it disappear.

Our nation’s top law enforcement official says it’s time to put an end to capital punishment. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a moratorium on the death penalty, at least until the Supreme Court rules on lethal injection. Holder explained that he was speaking from a personal standpoint, and not in an official capacity, and he thinks that moratorium should be permanent. He said, “Our system of justice is the best in the world. It is comprised of men and women who do the best they can, [and they] get it right more often than not, substantially more right than wrong.” However, he noted, “There’s always a the possibility that mistakes will be made… It’s for that reason that I am opposed to the death penalty.” Recent botched executions have shed light on this horrific practice, and that has renewed an important debate in our country. Even Benjamin Franklin said, “that it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” Perhaps it’s time that we ask ourselves which of those outcomes is more important to our American ideals.

Oklahoma Republicans hate American history – well, at least as long as it’s AP history. Last week, a legislative committee in that state voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, claiming that the class only teaches students “what is bad about America.” And, Oklahoma State Representative Dan Fisher introduced “emergency” legislation to block funding for that course as well. The Republican reasons for banning the AP course range from lawmakers’ claims that it’s part of Common Core standards, which were repealed last year, to special interest groups arguing that the class is “indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.” In other words, Republicans don’t like anything that stands in the way of pushing their revisionist history. This hostility towards accurate history didn’t start in Oklahoma, and it’s unlikely that state will be the last to try and rewrite history to fit their current beliefs. These actions have been met with walkouts, protests, and national attention in other states, and Oklahoma should expect the same reaction if they go forward with trying to rewrite the past.

And finally… Abraham Lincoln helped create our nation’s land grant colleges with the signing of the Morrill Act in 1862. Since then, even our public universities have began charging a fortune for tuition, but one Senator wants to get back to our land-grant roots. Last week, while visiting Johnson State College in Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed free college at public universities, and a “revolution in the way higher education is funded.” He said, “It makes no sense that students and their parents are forced to pay interest rates for higher education that are much higher than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages.” Our country has more than a trillion dollars of outstanding student debt, and many young people are skipping out on an education because of the high cost of tuition. That outstanding debt is slowing down our economy, and a lack of education will slow down our advancement as a nation. Our public colleges should be free for every citizen, and wiping out student debt would be a great stimulus. It’s not a matter of whether we can afford to make these changes, it’s the fact that we can’t afford not to.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of February 23, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.