In today's On the News segment: Congress hasn't yet prevented one potential government shutdown, and the next one is right around the corner; a bipartisan group of four senators has teamed up to put an end to phone data collection; 35,000 part-time Walmart employees will soon be moved to full-time, and will have access to full healthcare benefits; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Congress hasn't yet prevented one potential government shutdown, and the next one is right around the corner. On Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that our nation will hit the debt ceiling on October 17th. At that point, the Treasury Department will have only $30 billion dollars in cash on hand. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary Lew wrote, "This amount would be far short of the net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion [dollars]." He warned that if Congress doesn't raise the debt limit, "it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history." But, rather than working on a reasonable plan to prevent an economic disaster, House Republicans have prepared the long list of demands they want met before raising the debt limit. Those demands include approving the Keystone XL pipeline, weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, cutting more than $100 billion dollars from federal health programs, and – of course – delaying Obamacare for another year. Essentially, Republicans want President Obama to pretend he didn't win the last presidential election, and agree to nearly every major right-wing policy idea. And, House Republicans say they're willing to hold our entire economy hostage until their demands are met. President Obama has vowed not to negotiate over our nation's debt limit, but one side is going to have to give in to avoid a financial crisis. This is no way to run a government. This is an economic game of chicken that puts our nation at risk for a major disaster, and millions of Americans are waiting to see who blinks first.
In screwed news... For the second time in a single year, the National Fair Housing Alliance has accused Bank of America of racial discrimination. According to a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Bank of America allows foreclosed homes in minority neighborhoods to fall into disrepair. Those decaying homes then bring down property values for the entire neighborhood. But, the too-big-to-jail bank properly maintains foreclosed homes in predominantly white neighborhood. The complaint lists findings for 18 different metro areas, and documented a clear pattern of Bank of America ignoring structural and cosmetic issues in black or Hispanic neighborhoods. And, despite the overwhelming, well-documented evidence, the Supreme Court may allow that bank to get away with it. In just a few months, the Justices will hear a case challenging the theory of "disparate impact" - which HUD uses to evaluate racial discrimination in housing. If the high court's right-wing justices strike down the use of that theory, minorities will have to show that housing discrimination was intentional to challenge it in court. Once again, our nation could move backwards in the fight for equality, and too-big-to-jail banksters could get away with their crimes.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Millions of Americans are still angry over government spying, and the international community has expressed outrage over US surveillance. So, a bipartisan group of four senators has teamed up to put an end to phone data collection. Democrats Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Richard Blumenthal have joined forced with Republican Senator Rand Paul to draft legislation to stop widespread NSA surveillance programs and open some FISA court records. Under their proposed bill, the National Security Agency would still be able to collect data from terrorist suspects, but sweeping bulk data collection would be prohibited. Senator Ron Wyden said that this legislation "expresses our bipartisan view of what Congress must do to enact real, not cosmetic, intelligence reform. The disclosures over the last hundred data have caused a sea change in the way the public view the surveillance system." This legislation faces an uphill battle in Congress, as senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed support for surveillance programs. But, millions of Americans are happy to see that some senators are standing up against government spying.
Public opposition to Walmart's awful labor practices is actually having an effect. After years of protests by workers, and numerous opposition campaigns against poverty wages, the low-wage employer announced they will finally be making some positive changes. According to Walmart, 35,000 part-time employees will soon be moved to full-time, and will have access to full healthcare benefits. Walmart recently placed dead last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and experts believe that their low ranking is the result of under-staffing retail stores, and continued bad press over how they treat employees. According to Forbes Magazine, "Walmart's business is going south due to the company's penchant for putting politics and the squeeze on Walmart employees ahead of the kind of customer satisfaction that produces prosperity over the long-term." Essentially, most people don't want to shop at stores that aren't well stocked and staffed, because employees are stretched thin, over-worked, and under-paid. And, Walmart workers can't afford to purchase items with poverty wages. It appears that striking workers have won this round, but they have a long fight ahead on the road to living wages and fair treatment at Walmart.
And finally... After finding a $100 dollar bill in a box of cookies from Walmart, an Oregon man went back to the store to inspect the other packages. The man, identified only as Phil, said, "The remaining three boxes were still there, so I looked at the one and I looked at the other, and low and behold, there was a second $100 dollar bill." A store manager explained that the case was probably left by a generous stranger, who came into the store last Christmas and paid off layaway charges for random families. The anonymous kindness is certainly heartwarming, but Phil may also want to check the cookies' expiration date.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, September 26, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.