On the News With Thom Hartmann: Utah Finds a New Way to Demonize Poor People, and More

In today’s On the News segment: The Utah State Senate has approved new legislation that would force people into a two-hour “self-reliance” class in order to receive public assistance; international trade courts hugely benefit billionaires and massive corporations; Naomi Klein has a few great ideas for Canada’s next economy, and the US should copy these ideas; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News …

You need to know this. We’ve known for some time that the “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) process is a threat to our national sovereignty. But now we know that those international trade courts are also a huge benefit to billionaires and massive corporations. According to a new study published by York University in Toronto, “The beneficiaries of [the] ISDS … have overwhelmingly been companies with more than $1 billion per year in annual revenue – especially extra-large companies with more than $10 billion – and individuals with more than $100 million in net wealth.” In other words, massive trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aren’t about expanding trade or opening markets – they’re about making rich people and corporations even richer. And that’s exactly why we must keep push Congress to say no to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That study addresses how these ISDS courts have been given the appearance of “legitimacy” by allowing people to believe that these systems would also benefit individuals and small businesses, but that’s not how they work in practice. The authors explained that challenges are not brought to these courts through normal, public processes that could be utilized by the little guy. Instead, cases are only heard by these private panels of arbitrators, who often represent the same massive corporations likely involved in the case in question. Is it any wonder that nearly all of the money – as in 95 percent – that was awarded through ISDS challenges went straight to the super-wealthy and giant corporations? As a trade campaigner for Greenpeace explained, “This trade deal is not about trade. It’s about the transfer of power from people to big business.” As if they need another way to cheat us or rig the system. The reasons to reject the TPP keep adding up, and it’s time to let Congress know that they will vote down this trade deal, or we will vote them out of office.

Leave it to Utah to find a new way to demonize the poor. According to a recent article over at AlterNet.org, that state’s Republican-controlled State Senate has approved new legislation that would force people into a two-hour “self-reliance” class in order to receive public assistance. But in addition to being insulting to our fellow Americans who need a little help, the new requirement also fails on basic logic. Bryce Covert over at the ThinkProgress blog explained that poor people typically don’t need help managing their money. He said, “Generally speaking, the poorest Americans spend larger portions of their budget on necessities and spend less on eating out, entertainment, and alcohol than others with more stable income.” In other words, they don’t need help budgeting, they simply need jobs and opportunities that create bigger budgets. Thankfully, Utah’s new law would require a federal wavier to be implemented, so for now, it only serves to remind voters who needs to be replaced in their next elections.

When Donald Trump says he wants to “make America great” again, perhaps he leaves out the fact that he might do so with cheap, foreign labor. But if his hiring practices at his high-end Mar-a-Lago club in Florida are any indication, that’s what we should expect from the bombastic billionaire. According to a recent article in New York Magazine, “Since 2010, nearly 300 United States residents have applied for jobs at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, but only 17 were hired.” The other 283 were low-wage, foreign workers. Of course, Trump claims that the only reasons Americans weren’t hired was that they weren’t qualified, but job-placement firms in the area say that they have hundreds of qualified applicants. It’s safe to assume that the same billionaire who said “wages are too high” in a presidential primary debate simply didn’t want to pay American workers. This is yet another example of how Trump says one thing and does another, and Republicans should think long and hard about who it is they nominate to represent their party.

For decades, corporations have worked tirelessly to whittle away our rights to join together and file class-action lawsuits. And one of the most staunch opponents to our class-action rights was the late Justice Antonin Scalia. That’s why Alan Pyke over at the ThinkProgress blog wrote, “With Scalia’s death, corporate America may have a harder time watering down collective legal rights.” It’s easy to see why taking on a huge corporation as one individual can be cost prohibitive and nearly impossible. But standing together as a class has made it possible for workers and consumers to challenge safety violation, pay discrepancies and numerous other injustices. However, Justice Scalia and his corporate cohorts on our nation’s highest court have made it harder and harder to qualify as a class and stand up to corporate power as a collective unit. With Scalia out and the potential for a new justice under President Obama, we can finally undo that damage and start taking on the corporate power once again.

And finally … Naomi Klein has a few great ideas for Canada’s next economy, and if we’re smart, we should copy them here at home in the US. During a recent speech in Ottawa, Naomi announced the launch of a new program called “Delivering Community Power.” That plan lays out a vision of installing solar panels on the roofs of every post office, putting electric charging stations outside and using a low-emissions fleet to service the public. Just as some in the United States have proposed using our post offices as banks for the poor, Klein wants Canada’s mail offices to include food delivery, community space and affordable banking. And she wants to incorporate the green energy component to lower costs, help save the planet and give something back to the local communities. These public buildings are a great way to provide services that are much-needed in the community, and a wonderful way to stimulate local economies. Ms. Klein said, “We believe this is no time to further contract public services. But neither it is a moment to simply protect the status quo. Rather, our moment calls on us to re-imagine what is possible.” Let’s show we share her belief and fight for change like community power here at home.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of March 7, 2016 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.