Thom Hartmann on the News

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

You need to know this. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act and upheld a boss's right to punish workers for talking about unfair pay practices. And, the corporate masters are happy that their “pay secrecy” rules are still in place. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have protected workers from discussing salaries, and make it easier for them to challenge wage discrimination in court. That legislation would have also shifted the burden of proof to employers, who would have had to “prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons.” However, our current system requires a worker to prove that lower pay wasn't legitimate. Many bosses claim that pay secrecy rules protect “trade secrets,” and prevent “jealousies and strife among employees.” But, keeping workers complacent and obedient is the real reason many corporate bosses love these policies. As Michelle Chen of In These Times Magazine writes, “if workers really knew what their bosses were doing, their anger would start to unravel the complacency.” In other words, when workers know they're being cheated, they are empowered to stand up and fight back. Senate Republicans didn't block this legislation to protect jobs or deny the existence of a gender pay gap, they simply voted once again to put corporate interests ahead of the American people. If employees are being paid fairly, bosses should have nothing to fear about them discussing their salaries. The fact that these conversations are prohibited is just another attempt to keep power out of the hands of workers.

Parents and teachers in New York city don't want product placements in student testing. All around the city last week, groups protested the fact that for-profit testing company Pearsons made money off of including questions about Nike and Barbie in students' exams. In addition, the parents and teachers were furious about the so-called “confusing, developmentally inappropriate” test questions. In addition to frustration over questions about commercial products, the teachers and parents say that the tests are too long, and poorly designed. For instance, kids as young as 8 had questions that were five paragraphs long, and other questions focused more on the structure of text, as opposed to the meaning. City Councilman Ben Kallos joined the protest in Manhattan and said, “We are not against testing. We are not against Common Core. What we are saying is that students cannot be fairly assessed when the test becomes an encounter with poorly written questions that are unclear and ambiguous.” Our children shouldn't be subjected to product placement and shoddy tests by a for-profit company. It's time to protect our kids, and put education back in the hands of actual teachers.

Last week, millions of Americans rushed to finish their taxes, which means that many paid hefty fees to online tax preparers like TurboTax. Although there have been numerous attempts to make tax filing free and easy for average consumers, companies like TurboTax have been linked to fake “grassroots” efforts to oppose simplified filing. According to a new piece by Liz Day at ProPublica, TurboTax lobbyists convinced community leaders to write op-eds and letters to Congress opposing free, simple tax filing. In fact, those lobbyists may have even supplied the language for those letters and articles, considering that a rabbi, a small town mayor, and a state NAACP leader used nearly identical wording in their complaints about so-called “return-free tax filing.” Several of those community leaders didn't even know that they were being approached by lobbyists, and they are now considering retracting their earlier complaints. TurboTax's scheme has been exposed, and this fight is far from over. Stay tuned.

On April 15, taxpayers in Phoenix, Arizona delivered a special tax bill to Walmart Chairman, Rob Walton. According to the group Americans for Tax Fairness, the retail giant received an estimated $7.8 billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013. Those benefits include lower tax rates on dividends issued to the Walton family and Walmart executives, loopholes and special tax breaks from the government, and social services that employees use to subsidize Walmart's poverty wages. To put that number in perspective, $7.8 billion dollars is enough money to hire more than 100,000 new public school teachers. And, that massive number doesn't even include additional benefits Walmart receives from low tariffs on Chinese products, or the revenue they take in from being the largest recipient of food stamp dollars. Anthony Goytia, one of the Walmart workers who helped deliver the massive tax bill, said, “When the richest family in America isn't paying their fair share, it's no wonder that our children's schools, our roads, and basic public programs are getting cut left and right.” And he's exactly right. Our government may let the retail giant get away with avoiding taxes, but our fellow citizens are exposing Walmart's reliance on corporate welfare.

And finally... The federal budget deficit is falling faster than at any time since the end of World War II. In fact, the budget deficit for the month of March was lower than any year since George W. Bush took office. Republicans love to whine about massive government spending, but refuse to acknowledge that the budget deficit shrank to $680 billion dollars – down from $1.1 trillion in 2012. And, they certainly won't admit that the rapidly shrinking number really shows how much we're not investing in our nation. A half a trillion dollars could have rebuilt a lot of roads and bridges, put a ton of Americans back to work, and meant big investments in green energy. And, those new jobs could have meant more tax revenue and lower costs on social programs, which would have lowered the deficit anyway. Our lawmakers are so obsessed with paying down debt that they're ignoring the problems that cause it – and the real solutions for our economy. No nation in the history of the world has ever cut its way to prosperity, and it's time to invest in our country once again.

And that's the way it is - for the week of April 21, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

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