In today's On the News segment: Only five banks control more than half of all the industry's assets, President Obama announced the fast-track approval of the southern leg for the existing Keystone pipeline today in Oklahoma, Democrats try to curb influence of SuperPACs, and more.
You need to know this. "Too big to fail" is bigger than ever. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is out with its annual report on America's banking industry – and the numbers are shocking. Currently – only 5 banks control more than half of all the industry's assets. That's right – the top 5 banks in America own 52% of all the wealth in the finance sector. To put that in perspective – in 1970 – the top 5 banks controlled only 17% of the industry's assets. Not only that – the total wealth owned by the top 10 banks in the nation now equals half of America's total GDP. These startling numbers have prompted the President of the Dallas Fed – Richard Fisher – to call for the breaking up of the big banks – warning that they've become so large they not only threaten the Federal Reserve's ability to conduct monetary policy – but also "erode faith in American capitalism." Fisher also called for tough new financial reforms to strengthen the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Thanks to three decades of Reaganomic deregulation of Wall Street – we've all become slaves to the banksters. As President Grover Cleveland said in his 1888 State of the Union address to a nation then under the control of the Robber Barons, "Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters." Here we are again. It's time to break up Wall Street before they crash our economy for a second time in just a few years.
Drip, drip, drip. The more multi-millionaire Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal is scrutinized – the more Americans realize how screwed they are if it's ever enacted. On Wednesday night Ryan's budget narrowly passed out of his committee by just one vote. That means the entire Republican-controlled House will have a chance to vote on Ryan's vision for America that will leave 48 million more Americans without healthcare and the top 1% $3 trillion richer. Not only that – buried within the budget is a proposal to sell off more than 3 million acres of public lands that belong to "we the people" in states like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and several others. The land would be sold off to the highest corporate or billionaire bidder – at a fraction of its real value. At the same time – Ryan's budget preserves $40 billion in taxpayer subsidies for transnational oil corporations over the next decade - an industry that just last year raked in $137 billion in profits. This is corporate welfare at its most extreme – and a glimpse into the corporatocracy the Republican Party is dragging us all toward.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Speaking of caving in to big oil – President Obama announced the fast-track approval of the a southern leg for the existing Keystone pipeline today in Oklahoma. Bowing to political pressure from big oil, the president is allowing a smaller extension of the pipeline that already runs to the midwest. Analysis of the project shows that it will create only 4,000 temporary jobs and actually RAISE gas prices by 20-cents. But it will bring in billions more in profits for oil corporations that will ship the refined gasoline overseas to foreign consumers – and NOT American consumers. While this is not an approval of the overall, large Keystone project, it's a compromise that is sure to upset both sides in the debate.
Tensions are building in Sanford, Florida – where George Zimmerman still walks free after shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death last month as Martin walked home from a 7-11 armed with skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman is protected by Florida's radical "Shoot First" law, which allows a person to shoot and kill another person if they feel threatened. The law was written by the American Legislative Exchange Council at the behest of the National Rifle Association. But as more evidence comes to light – it's looking more and more like Zimmerman committed cold-blood murder and did not act in self-defense – yet the Sanford police department has yet to arrest Zimmerman. On Wednesday night – Sanford city commissioners passed a "no confidence" vote in the city Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr., who continued to defend his department's actions. With public anger boiling over in the city – the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has decided to send its community relations service to Sanford to prevent all-out riots and social unrest. Meanwhile – hundreds of people gathered in New York City on Wednesday to show support for the Martin family and demand justice for Martin's killer.
Democrats are once against trying to curb the influence of corporate SuperPACs in our elections. On Wednesday – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse introduced the DISCLOSE Act – which would require any organization that spends more than $10,000 on a political campaign to reveal its donors. In 2010 – Democrats in control of the House of Representatives passed similar legislation that could have prevented the flood of anonymous corporate spending that corrupted the midterm elections that year – but Republicans in the Senate killed it. So once again – Republicans will have to decide if transparency in our elections is a good thing – or if millionaires, billionaires, and foreign corporations should keep funding American politicians in secret. And the DISCLOSE Act is just the first step toward returning democracy to "we the people." The next is a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people and money is property, not speech. Go to movetoamend.org or freespeechforpeople.org to get involved.
And finally...the new hot item on the campaign trail is an Etch-A-Sketch. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich seized on the Romney campaign's blunder of saying that once the general election starts Romney will be able to erase – just like on an Etch-A-Sketch – all the far-right positions he took to pander to the Tea Party . Gingrich and Santorum were both spotted with Etch-A-Sketches at campaign events yesterday – ridiculing front-runner Romney. One has to wonder with all the attention – if Ohio Arts, which has manufactured the Etch-A-Sketch in China since the factory moved there in 2001 - will be the next SuperPAC donor to come out of the shadows.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, March 22nd, 2012. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.