On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Middle Class Can’t Be Saved Unless Wall Street Is Tamed, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been talking a lot about the middle class, but that talk is cheap; legal cannabis is the fastest-growing industry in the United States; Greece has had enough of the austerity; 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. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been talking a lot about the middle class. But, that talk is cheap as long as their in bed with Wall Street. Six years ago, our economic system came crashing down thanks to degenerate gamblers and their bankster buddies on Wall Street. That crash left 23 million Americans without jobs and got one million families kicked out of their homes, but our legislators are actually helping Wall Street set up this same house of cards all over again. According to a recent article by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, “the middle class can’t be saved unless Wall Street is tamed.” As Secretary Reich explains, the banks that brought down our economy have only gotten bigger since the financial crash. Back in 2000, the five largest banks in our country held 25 percent of America’s banking assets, and today they hold almost half. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve continues to keep interest rates near zero, which means that Wall Street can borrow money cheaper than ever, and use it to gamble on high-risk bets. Too-big-to-jail banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan worked hard to keep financial regulations like Dodd-Frank from having any real bite, and now they’ve managed to wipe out what little protection that regulation provided to the American people. Members of Congress and 2016 presidential hopefuls have been swept up in a wave of talking points about saving the middle class, but they’re not doing anything to stop the monster that destroyed it in the first place. And, they’re unlikely to do anything that might weaken the stream of corporate cash that flows in to their campaigns. Until our legislators put Main Street ahead of Wall Street, they won’t risk upsetting the banksters, and all their claims about saving the middle class will be nothing but talk. It’s up to us to remind them that talk is cheap, and we want to see some action when it comes to regulating Wall Street.

There is a new up-and-coming industry in our country. According to new data from the ArcView Group, legal cannabis is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. Researchers from that investment and research firm found that the legal pot industry grew by 74% between 2013 and 2014. Using data from state agencies, nonprofits, and private industry, ArcView calculated that the 2014 market for legal cannabis was $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in the previous year. Troy Dayton, ArcView CEO, said, “At this point, it’s hard to imagine that any serious businessperson who is paying attention hasn’t spent some time thinking about the possibilities of this market.” Just a few years ago, talking about the cannabis industry meant a conversation about crime or another country, and today it means billions of dollars worth of legal sales, jobs, and tax revenue right here at home. This report projects that recreational and medical marijuana will create an $11 billion market by 2019, which means that legal pot will be bringing us even more benefits in the future.

Greece has had enough of the austerity. Last week, the anti-austerity Syriza party won Greece’s general election with a clear mandate against bailouts and the destruction of that nation’s social safety net. Newly-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised to renegotiate Greece’s debt and to reverse the harsh austerity measures that have wreaked havoc on the people of that nation and it’s economy. In response to the election results, leaders from other European Union nations expressed concerns about the promises made by the new leader, but that doesn’t seem to be intimidating Mr. Tsipras one bit. Rather than worrying about the EU, the IMF, and the European Central Bank – aka the troika – the new party is focusing on the needs of the Greek people, and they could inspire similar groups in other nations. This election could spark the beginning of the end of austerity in the European Union, and hopefully the rest of the world as well.

Sixteen states in our nation have more people in prison than in college dormitories. According to a recent analysis over at Vox.com, it’s clear that we need to do more to address mass incarceration, which may start with changing our priorities. Our nation spends billions every year locking people up for minor, non-violent offenses, instead of investing more in education that could help people avoid a life of crime to begin with. Although the map over at Vox doesn’t include college students who are living off-campus, it illustrates how many people we’re putting in a jail cell instead of a classroom. This is not the type of nation we should be building, and we need to change our priorities as a nation. Let’s stop spending money to destroy people’s future with a criminal record, and start investing in their future by giving them a college education.

And finally… The U.S. budget deficit will shrink again in 2015, but other important deficits will continue to grow without Congressional action. According to Senator Bernie Sanders, it’s time for lawmakers to address our deficits in education, trade, infrastructure, retirement security, and jobs. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that our budget deficit would total $468 billion at the end of September, which is the lowest it’s been since 2007. However, Senator Sanders’s report says that the CBO won’t “tell us about the suffering of tens of millions of Americans who are part of the disappearing middle class, and who worry about the kind of economy we will be leaving to their kids.” His report explains how and why we must address these other deficits to regrow our middle class and put our nation back on a path to shared prosperity. For far too long, our lawmakers in Congress have been obsessed with the debt and budget deficit, and they have forgotten how we built the American Dream in the first place. If we want to go back to being that great nation, it’s time to focus on the deficits that Senator Sanders lays out in this new report.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of February 2, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.