On the News With Thom Hartmann: President Calls for Sweeping Reforms to US Prison System, and More

In today’s On the News segment: The president calls for changes to mandatory minimum sentencing, review of the use of solitary confinement and for more investments in education to keep people out of jail; some lawmakers say it’s time to expand Social Security; Pope Francis wants the young people of the world to rise up against capitalism; 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. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but we house 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. That is just one of the reasons why President Obama is calling for sweeping reforms to our criminal legal system. During a speech last Tuesday at the NAACP, the president called for changes to mandatory minimum sentencing, for a review of the use of solitary confinement and for more investments in education and assistance programs that keep people out of jail in the first place. He said, “Any system that allows us to turn a blind-eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, that’s an injustice system.” He added, “Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it’s the presence of opportunity.” And, the president addressed the fact that our criminal legal system has never really been blind when it comes to race or economic standing. He pointed out that African Americans and Latinos only represent 30 percent of the US population, yet those groups account for 60 percent of all inmates. Statistics clearly show that these minorities don’t commit crimes more often, but they are more often subjected to harsher penalties that trap them in a cycle of incarceration. Although many of us have been pointing out the racial disparity and injustice in our nation for decades, more Americans are finally recognizing these massive flaws in our criminal legal system. At his speech last week, President Obama said, “The eyes of more Americans have been opened to this truth, partly because of cameras, partly because of tragedy, partly because the statistics cannot be ignored. We cannot close our eyes anymore.” Incarcerated Americans are still Americans and it’s time that our criminal legal system stands for more than injustice.

Next month will mark the 80th anniversary of Social Security, and some lawmakers say it’s time to expand the insurance program. Since it’s creation, that program has allowed millions of Americans to retire, and for decades those benefits kept millions of seniors out of poverty. Unfortunately, corporations have used Social Security as an excuse to modify or destroy their pension programs, and Social Security benefits alone haven’t been able to keep up with the cost of living. As such, far too many seniors rely only these meager benefits to survive, and that’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. John Conyers want to expand the program. In a letter to President Obama, they wrote, “According to a 2014 survey, 79 percent of likely voters support ‘increasing Social Security benefits.'” That includes 90 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Republicans. The lawmakers said, “As Social Security is affordable, universal, efficient, secure, portable, distributionally fair and popular, expanding its modest benefits should be the number one retirement security recommendation of the White House Conference on Aging.” Hopefully, the White House is listening.

After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, millions of Americans thought that the fight against voter suppression was finally over. Little did they know that 50 years later, we would be witnessing the second round in the fight for voting rights. Last week marked the beginning of a two-week trial that will address a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of North Carolina’s 2013 voting law. That sweeping bill cut early voting hours by a week, barred voting in different precincts, ended the pre-registration of young voters, eliminated same-day registration and drastically restricted the types of ID that could be used to cast a ballot. That law has been dubbed “the worst voter suppression law we’ve seen since the 1960s,” and it’s finally being subjected to a legal challenge thanks to the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and a group of North Carolina students. They argue that this discriminatory law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the court agrees.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 requires corporations to disclose their CEO-to-median worker pay ratio, but that information is still being hidden from workers, shareholders and the US public. That’s why the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org, CREDO Action and other groups delivered a massive petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week. That petition included more than 165,000 signatures of individuals who want the SEC to implement that disclosure policy, which was approved under the financial reform law five years ago. Decades ago, CEOs made 30 or 40 times what they paid their average worker, but today, that ratio often exceeds 300 to one. And, CEOs don’t want us to know how high those ratios are because they know how we would react. In a press release about their petition, Justin Krebs of MoveOn.org said, “Americans have made it very clear – they want an economy that works for all workers and not just for CEOs. They was a level playing field. The grassroots movement to demand a new and transparent economic fairness has been growing all year and now over 165,000 Americans have joined in calling on the SEC to act.” Well said, Justin. Now it’s time for the SEC to take this step towards economic justice.

And finally… the Pope is on a roll. After calling on the world to address climate change and lambasting the manufacturers of weapons of war, now Pope Francis is calling on the young people of the world to rise up against capitalism. At a recent celebration in Paraguay, the Pontiff called global capitalism the “dung of the devil” that “condemns and enslaves men and women.” He called on the world’s youth to rise up against the systematic “greed for money,” and he explained that they will need to be tough to do so. Pope Francis said, “We don’t want young weaklings. We do not want young people who tire quickly, who live life warn out with faces of boredom. We want youths with hope and strength.” And the Pope is correct. It’s going to take some serious hope and strength to create a global system that brings economic fairness, but the passionate young people around the world have what it takes to fix our broken system. Whether they’re inspired by Pope Francis or by their peers, today’s young people are leading the fight towards a better future.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of July 20, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.