On the News With Thom Hartmann: Senate Decides Social Policy Cuts, and More

In today’s On the News segment: The US Senate holds a vote-a-thon to decide which proposals and policies will make it into the upper chamber’s budget; US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein finally rules that we have a right to see the evidence of torturous acts; employers are moving away from actual paychecks to electronic payroll cards; 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. If you thought the 2013 sequester was a disaster for our country, you should be pretty thankful that there’s a Democrat in the White House. Last week, the United States Senate held a vote-a-thon to decide which proposals and policies would make it into the upper chamber’s budget. Although the document is non-binding, it should cause some very real concern over what happens if Republicans win in 2016. According to the Senate Republicans, our nation should slash another $5 trillion in domestic spending, all while handing out more tax payer dollars to the military and lowering taxes on the rich. To put that number in perspective, consider that the 2013 sequester cut $1.5 trillion from our spending, and that was enough to slash the budgets of everything from the Centers for Disease Control to Border Security to Head Start. That massive cut cost our nation real jobs, and it slowed our economic growth. But, all that means little to Republicans who want to destroy our social safety net, all while giving the wealthy a tax cut, and boosting the paychecks of their buddies in the defense industry. $5 trillion in cuts is almost unimaginable, unless we consider a nation that stops protecting Americans from poverty and disease, and a nation that values war profiteers and billionaires over everything. That is not the nation that our parents and grandparents built, and we must never allow it to become reality. For the next two years, we have a president who can stop the worst of this legislation, but the time is now to make sure that we have another Democratic leader in 2016. If we don’t stop the Republicans from destroying the social programs and agencies that make our country great, we may not get a chance to repair them before they’re gone for good.

For the last decade, the ACLU has been fighting to expose the torture and abuse that has been committed in our name. Last week, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein finally ruled that we have a right to see the evidence of those torturous acts. For the last 10 years, the ACLU has been locked in a legal battle over their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request, which asked the government to release photographs and records relating to the torture and even death of prisoners held by our nation around the world since 2003. The government denied that FOIA request, saying that the “disclosure would endanger Americans.” But, Judge Hellerstein concluded that the government failed to prove how Americans would be in danger, and ordered that the photographs and records be released to the ACLU. That group’s legal director, Jameel Jaffer, said, “Giving the government that kind of censorial power would have implications far beyond this specific context.” As Americans, we have a right to know what has been done in our name, and this ruling is a victory for justice.

Quite a few employers have moved away from actual paychecks, to electronic payroll cards, and workers have been hit hard by fees and other problems. Finally, one state is stepping up to do something about this, and employees in Washington state may soon be better off as a result. Earlier this month, the Washington state legislature advanced a bill that would make sure all workers have an alternative to these predatory debit-like cards. In addition to federal legislation that may soon require all employers to disclose the fees and charges associated with these cards, workers should have real protection against the payroll card scheme. Those in favor of the cards claim that workers who don’t have bank accounts can avoid check cashing fees and the ability to buy things online, but opponents point out that the cards charge exorbitant fees for cash withdrawals, balance inquires, and even calling customer service. No one should be subjected to these unjust fees because they want a job, and it’s great news that at least one state is moving to protect workers.

Indiana is finding out that businesses aren’t all in favor of discrimination. In the wake of Gov. Mike Pence singing a so-called “religious liberty” bill in his state, the list of companies standing up for LGBT rights just continues to grow. By last Friday, huge organizations like Apple, Yelp and even the NBA have come out against Pence’s bill, saying that it legalizes discrimination. Over the weekend, the CEO of Angie’s List put a stop to that company’s expansion plans in Indiana, saying that they are looking for alternative locations for their headquarters in other states. Even religious groups like the Disciples of Christ denomination said that the bill is “distressing” and it is causing them “to reconsider their decision to hold their 2017 gathering in Indianapolis.” Regardless of how lawmakers, including Gov. Mike Pence, try to spin this law as anything but LGBT discrimination, these businesses and the public who they serve won’t be fooled. Good on these groups for refusing to discriminate against someone because of who they love.

And finally… Republican governors all around our country are slashing education to cover the cost of tax breaks for the rich. But, Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota wants to invest a portion of his state’s budget surplus in universal pre-K. Rather than dishing out tax breaks, the Democratic governor actually raised taxes on the top two percent in his state, and it’s turned in to quite a success. Republicans in Minnesota balked at the tax hike idea, saying that businesses would leave that state, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, higher wages, stronger unions and better education systems have lured business to that state, and that’s paying off in terms of more investment in the people of Minnesota. Universal Pre-K would ensure that every child starts school with stronger skills, and allow parents to work more hours instead of caring for kids. Families get the help they need to be stronger, and Minnesota gets a better educated workforce. This is what happens when progressive ideas are allowed to become real policy. Governor Dayton has proven that these ideas work for the state of Minnesota, so let’s keep fighting to implement these policies nation-wide.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of March 30, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.