In today’s On the News segment: the two most recent presidential elections broke every campaign spending record in history, but the 2016 race is shaping up to blow those two out of the water; the public takes a hedge fund manager to task for raising the price of a life-saving medication by more than 5,000 percent; Baltimore is finally doing something to fix their food deserts; and more.
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Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…
You need to know this. The two most recent presidential elections broke every campaign spending record in history, but the 2016 race is shaping up to blow those two out of the water. According to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics, as of September 21st, political groups “outside the party or official campaign structure” have flooded the 2016 race with more than $25 million, which is five times more than the last presidential race. And, single-candidate groups – AKA “super PACs” – have already spent 55 times more money than they had at this point in the 2012 race. Unsurprisingly, most of that campaign cash was spent to benefit Republicans. Only one of the top-20 spending groups has a “liberal view” according to the report, and the others are working to help put a Republican in the White House. Of course, the Right continues to claim that Super PACs are simply exercising “free speech” that is not affiliated with the official campaigns, but that is simply laughable. Robert Maguire, one of the study’s researchers, said, “Single-candidate PACs have been around for the last two elections, and they make a mockery of the FEC’s coordination rules.” He added, “A super PAC founded by your best friend that does nothing but raise money and buy ads supporting your candidacy is not an independent organization.” These groups aren’t independent and the only speech they represent is the speech of millionaires and billionaires. Ever since the disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, our nation has moved further and further away from a “small-d” democracy. If we don’t stand up and fight back, this next election could be an all-out sale of our government and the White House. We have to end these out-of-control super PACs by saying that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and by voting for candidates that promise to overturn Citizens United.
When a hedge fund manager raised the price of a life-saving medication by more than 5,000 percent, the public immediately took him to task for his greed. In fact, Martin Shkreli’s decision to increase the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill was met with such a powerful reaction, the CEO has agreed to lower the price of that medication. The drug in question is a 62-year-old medication used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. That infection is most commonly found in pregnant women, AIDS patients and individuals who have weakened immune systems, like cancer patients. Of course, Shkreli claims that the price increase was going to fund a better medication for individuals infected by toxoplasmosis, but organizations like the HIV Medicine Association and The Infectious Diseases Society of America say the increase is “unjustifiable.” In the richest nation on earth, it’s unacceptable that anyone should die of a treatable illness, but it will keep happening until we take the profit motive out of our health-care system.
Baltimore is finally doing something to fix their food deserts. According to a recent article over at the Think Progress blog, one out of four Baltimore residents live in an area with no supermarket and lower-than-average access to a car to go shopping. That means more than 185,000 people in that city live at or near the poverty line, and have no way to purchase healthy food. In an effort to address the problem, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has announced a new plan to encourage grocery store owners to improve healthy shopping options in these areas. In exchange for building new supermarkets or improving smaller store, qualifying store-owners can get huge discounts on their property taxes for the next 10 years. By encouraging private investment and combining it with improved public transportation, it appears that Rawlings-Blake is trying to avoid the gentrification that typically goes along with improving an area. With the help of community leaders and city residents who are still calling for change after the killing of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore mayor may have come up with a plan that works. For the sake of the people of Baltimore, let’s hope this is only one step towards a better city.
It’s bad enough that college students are saddled with a lifetime of debt for getting an education. Now, to add insult to injury, private companies are ripping them off all over again with fake debt-relief scams. And, those scams are bringing back some scary memories of our last financial meltdown. Seth Frotman, of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said, “What really concerns us is that the issues and practices we see are eerily similar to what happened in the wake of the mortgage meltdown, where we saw a number of scammers doing comparatively what they’re doing now in the student loan context.” These companies often ask for large sums of money up front, and they take advantage of students who don’t know about the repayment options available through the federal government. With more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt and the number of load defaults rising, it’s more important than ever to protect students and our economy from those who destroyed it the last time. The easiest way to fix this problem is to forgive student debt and invest in Americans by making public college free for everyone.
And finally… In all the negative coverage about the refugees fleeing Syria, the media often fails to point out the stories of kindness. One such story is taking place every day at a train station in Budapest, Hungary. As refugees are blocked at borders and abused by police, citizens are lining up to donate food, clothing and other goods to help the migrants on their journey. Human rights groups are sorting donations, providing wi-fi and phone charging and helping refugees get to and from trains in the stations. As Hungarian officials treat refugees as less than human, citizens of that nation gathered at train stations holding signs that said “No One is Illegal,” “Not in my Name” and “Jesus was a Migrant.” It’s important to expose those nations and individuals who are inhumane to migrants. However, it’s also vital that we recognize – and applaud – those who treat refugees as members of our one human family.
And that’s the way it is – for the week of September 28, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.