On the News With Thom Hartmann: President Obama Takes a Cue From Greece, and More

In today’s On the News segment: The White House unveils its 2016 budget, which would put an end to austerity; the United Steelworkers union called for a walkout for the first time since 1980; the government of Croatia canceled the debts of its poorest citizens; 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. It looks like President Obama took a cue from Greece. Last week, the White House unveiled their 2016 budget, which would put an end to austerity and make corporate tax dodgers pay for stashing billions overseas. Although this budget will be dead on arrival thanks to Republicans, it illustrates how much we could accomplish if we reversed the massive spending cuts from the sequester. President Obama’s $4 trillion budget includes spending levels that are 7 percent higher than current caps, and sizable investments in our military, research, and infrastructure. And, this return to per-sequestration spending levels would be completely paid for by taxing the billions of dollars that corporations have stashed in overseas banks. A senior official from the White House explained that this plan would “put the good of middle-class families and our economy front and center, while also continuing progress on restoring fiscal discipline.” They added, “You don’t have to choose between those two things. You can, in fact, accomplish both.” Although many would argue that we shouldn’t be worried about such things at all, this budget would keep the deficit under three percent of our GDP, and our national debt would continue to decline. Republicans in Congress claim that we can’t afford to make these investments in our great nation, but we can, and we must. They understand these facts, but they’ll do anything to prevent a tax increase on their corporate buddies – even if that means our nation continues to suffer under sequestration. Just like the people of Greece, Americans know that it’s time to put an end to austerity, and they have no problem with making corporate tax dodgers pay their fair share. It’s time for Republican lawmakers to stop protecting the billionaires, pass this budget, and do what’s best for the American people.

Once again, Pope Francis is working to give those with the least a better sense of personal dignity. Later this month, homeless people in Rome will be able to get free haircuts and shaves every week at the Vatican. This announcement comes less than three months after the Vatican began installing showers for the homeless in public restrooms and Roman parishes. Together, these new services will help the less fortunate keep up their health and appearance, which can help them find jobs and get their lives back on track. Although Rome has traditionally made sure that homeless people are fed, officials at the Vatican are only recently looking at other ways to improve the quality of life for those on the street. Since Pope Francis began his papacy, he has kept a strong focus on improving the lives of the poor, and this latest announcement continues that effort. Whether it’s haircuts or showers, or an invite to dinner, Pope Francis recognizes the importance of showing everyone love and respect. Perhaps our lawmakers could learn a few things from the Holy Father.

Public pressure works. That’s one major takeaway from the recent news that the FCC is going to protect internet freedom. Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his plan to classify internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. That decision is almost the polar opposite of Chairman Wheeler’s original policy proposals for ISP regulation. But, after Wheeler first proposed rules that did not classify internet providers as common carriers, he was hit with a tidal wave of grassroots opposition. Millions of Americans called, emailed, and left comments on the FCC website, and many large tech companies came out in favor of stronger regulation. In his announcement, Mr. Wheeler wrote, “I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.” Now, let’s keep the pressure up to make sure that those colleagues vote to approve these regulations.

The labor movement is waking up in our nation. In recent years, we’ve seen strikes and protests by teachers, home-health workers, fast-food servers and more. This time around, it’s oil workers who are walking a picket line. A little more than a week ago, the United Steelworkers union called for a walkout for the first time since 1980. The strike affected nine oil refineries, which represent about ten percent of the refining capacity in the United States. Union leaders are fighting to work out a new contract with Royal Dutch Shell, which workers say must include higher wages, stronger safety standards, and lower out-of-pocket costs for healthcare. Shell claims that the company can’t afford higher pay, but the $16 billion of profit that they made last year says otherwise – and last year was a slow year for that company. The fact is, oil workers realize that they have the power to demand better pay and benefits, and that the company can afford to meet their demands. That’s what happens when you have strong unions, and that’s exactly why we need to strengthen the labor movement.

And finally… Croatia just gave 60,000 citizens a “fresh start.” Last week, the government of that nation canceled the debts of its poorest citizens. To be eligible for the unprecedented program, individuals must owe less than $5,100 – which is 35,000 kuna – and they should not have a monthly income greater than 1,250 kuna, which works out to about $138. Individuals who apply must not own property or have any savings, but once they meet the criteria they will have their debts completely wiped out. The Croatian government hopes that this new program will stimulate their economy, which has suffered under six years of recession. The debts to be cleared represent less than 10 percent of that nation’s total debt, but the program will free-up 20 percent of Croatia’s debtors. When citizens don’t have to spend so much of their income paying off debts, they have money to spend in their local economy. That spending helps provide income to businesses, which means more jobs and more tax revenue for government. This program will improve the lives of thousands of Croatians, and it just might jump start that nation’s economy. Now, if only our lawmakers would consider such bold solutions…

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