In today's On the News segment: The FBI has just admitted to using surveillance drones to spy on Americans on US soil; the Securities and Exchange Commission may soon be getting tougher on the banisters; the state of Illinois just adopted our nation's strictest regulations on fracking; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. As if the news of the NSA's phone and internet spying weren't enough to worry us, the FBI has just admitted to using surveillance drones to spy on Americans on US soil. During a Congressional hearing on telephone data collection, FBI director Robert Muller said the agency is in the "initial stages" of developing privacy guidelines, and has only used drones in a "very, very minimal way." However, Americans are skeptical of such a description after being told that sweeping data collection was only a "modest" invasion of our privacy. Democratic Senator Mark Udall, said he is "concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the 'initial stages' of developing guidelines to protect Americans' privacy rights." Senator Udall explained that he understands drones have the potential to "more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties," but promised to do everything in his power "to hold the FBI accountable and ensure its actions respect the US constitution." In keeping with the defense of NSA spying, Director Muller urged Congress to consider national security before placing any limits on drone surveillance and data collection. He said, "Are you going to take the dots off the table, make it unavailable to you when you're trying to prevent the next terrorist attack?" Our nation is at a crossroads in deciding how much privacy we are willing to give up in the name of security. As Benjamin Franklin said, "those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." This won't be an easy debate. Stay tuned.
In screwed news... Recently, the Obama Administration dropped its fight to restrict young women's access to emergency contraception. And less than two weeks later, anti-choice groups are already working to limit or ban Plan B on a state-by-state basis, just like conservatives have done with abortion, gay-marriage and immigration. Abortion opponents in Arkansas are pressuring state lawmakers to completely ban the so-called "morning after pill", or impose an age restriction on Plan B sales. State law already allows pharmacists to refuse to sell Plan B, if they have "moral objection" to its use. At least twenty-four states throughout our country have similar laws, which allow pharmacies to deny women birth control, or emergency contraception. Jerry Cox, the director of Arkansas's Christian Family Council, said the federal law now allows kids to get contraception "as easily as they can buy candy out of the store." He is calling for the state to refuse any federal mandate on emergency contraception. Women's rights advocates cheered the Administration's decision to ensure access to Plan B, but it appears their fight for reproductive choice will now continue in the states.
In the best of the rest of the news...
The Securities and Exchange Commission may soon be getting tougher on the banksters. SEC Chairman Mary Jo White said she is revising the "no-admit-no-deny" practice, which allows the banksters to pay settlements without ever having to admit to their crimes. The decision comes only a month after Senator Elizabeth Warren inquired about the settlement policy, and questioned why the SEC did not pursue prosecution of financial crimes. Chairman White announced the new policy at a Wall Street Journal event, but said it will not be applied to every case. The decision to deny a "no-admit-no-deny" settlement will depend on "how much harm has been done to investors, [and] how egregious is the fraud." News of White's announcement broke at virtually the same time lawmakers in the U.K. called for new criminal sanctions for those found guilty of "reckless mismanagement" in the financial sector. There is no indication that the SEC's enforcement policy change was purposely timed to coincide with the British Parliament. It appears that leaders on both sides of the pond think it's time that banksters start answering for their crimes.
The state of Illinois just adopted our nation's strictest regulations on fracking. State lawmakers passed the legislation last month, and Governor Pat Quinn signed it into law on Monday. The new bill requires all oil and gas companies to register with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and disclose many details about their drilling. During the state permit process, companies must describe how the well will be drilled, what volume and pressure of fluids they will use, how they will store waste, and what chemicals they will use during drilling. The new law also guarantees a 30-day public comment period for each new drilling permit, and promises an investigation into any claims against companies that are suspected of polluting the water supply. Similar legislation is being considered in other states, like Nebraska and California, but as of now, Illinois is the only state to require companies to disclose what chemicals are used in the fracking process. Although many environmental groups oppose hydraulic fracturing altogether, they are hopeful that these common-sense regulations will be adopted by other states.
And finally... Immigration reform has sparked a heated debate in our nation, bringing issues like government spending and jobs to the forefront. Well, a new video from human rights organization Breakthrough, is attempting "break through" the intense immigration debate using humor. The video depicts Lady Liberty sitting down with an immigration worker, trying to make the case of why she should be allowed to stay in our nation. During the video, she explains that she has "over 120 years of experience" and is a symbol of American freedom. The video has quickly gone viral, and has inspired twitter hash-tags like "Deport The Statute" and "Take Liberty Back." One Twitter user wrote "Have you seen the Statue of Liberty's papers?," while another said "You come to the USA and who welcomes you? Some French Lady." As with any great satirical work, some viewers found the "Deport Lady Liberty" campaign completely hilarious, and others seem to have trouble determining whether it's real.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, June 20, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.