In today's On the News segment: The Justice Department is overhauling the way they deal with non-violent offenders unveiling a plan to change how the federal government prosecutes drug offenders; states like Maryland are going to great lengths to help people enroll in Obamacare, while others – like Virginia – are not doing much at all; President Obama announced his plan to reform government surveillance programs, saying in a White House press conference, that “it's right” for Americans to ask questions about surveillance; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news…
You need to know this. The Justice Department is overhauling the way they deal with non-violent offenders. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder will unveil a plan to change how the federal government prosecutes drug offenders. The goals of his plan are to ease prison overcrowding, save taxpayer money, and limit the use of unjust mandatory minimum sentences. Holder's prepared remarks say, “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.” Attorney General Holder wants to create local guidelines to determine which cases should be subject to federal charges, and he wants to work with Congress to give federal judges more discretion in applying harsh mandatory minimum sentences. It's unclear if these suggested changes are a direct result of several states decriminalizing marijuana, or if Eric Holder and the Justice Department are simply looking for a better way to handle drug-related crime. Our current drug policy has led to soaring prison populations, sky-rocketing taxpayer costs, and huge profits for the private prison industry. Holder's remarks say that the changes he's suggesting could save our nation billions of dollars in prison costs, and he's even considering a plan to ease prison over-crowding by releasing inmates who “pose no threat to the public.” These changes could have a huge impact on how our nation deals with drugs, and reduce the number of people subjected to the for-profit prison industry. Many Americans have called for similar changes to our Justice System for decades, and they'll be thrilled to see some common sense in our drug policy. It's unlikely that the for-profit prison industry and their shills in Congress will support this plan, but the majority of Americans agree with Eric Holder's desire to wind down Nixon's ill-conceived War on Drugs.
In screwed news... There's only two months left before insurance exchanges are open for business, but some states aren't interested in helping people get the healthcare they need. States like Maryland are going to great lengths to help people enroll in Obamacare, while others – like Virginia – are not doing much at all. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained that the gaps in assistance will make the sign up process much more difficult for people in states that refuse to help. She said that enrolling in a healthcare plan “may be more challenging in states where there isn't a really robust outreach effort.” Americans will soon have long-awaited access to low-cost, quality insurance, and they should not have to jump through hoops to get it because they happen to live in a Red state.
In the best of the rest of the news...
On Friday, President Obama announced his plan to reform government surveillance programs. In a White House press conference, he said “It's right” for Americans to ask questions about surveillance, and added “it's not enough for me to have confidence in these programs, the American people have to have confidence in them as well.” He proposed four changes to surveillance programs, which he said will provide more oversight of government spying. President Obama said he will work with Congress to include more safeguards in the surveillance authorization process. He said he will push for more privacy protections in the FISA court, including having the government's requests “challenged by an adversary.” He said he wants to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, and create a website where Americans see what the NSA is up to. And, President Obama said he will put together a team of outside, independent experts that will review surveillance technology and issue a report with recommendations. All together, President Obama's proposals could provide more assurance for Americans, but many are still skeptical that their privacy rights will be protected.
The seaside town of Highlands, New Jersey wants to give a little more meaning to it's name. The working-class community wants to raise the entire downtown area by about ten feet, to escape future super-storms. Currently, most of Highlands sits at, or below sea level, and the town has been devastated by previous storms like Sandy. City officials say the cost would be somewhere between $150 and $200 million dollars, and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to consider it. Critics of the idea say that elevating the town wouldn't help in the long-run, and say it wouldn't be the best use of financial resources. Rob Young, who runs the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said, “It may make them safer for the next few Nor’easters, but I'm not convinced it's going to save them from another Hurricane Sandy.” However, Highlands Mayor Frank Nolan is undeterred by critics, saying, “It's the only real permanent solution that would release the town from the shackles of flooding and allow it to really flourish.” As climate change will most certainly lead to stronger storms and a rising ocean, perhaps eventually, the critics will be more receptive to the plan to lift towns like Highland, New Jersey a few feet above sea level.
And finally… If you plan on moving in to the Alicante high-rise apartment building in Spain, you better bring your walking shoes. After years of financial difficulties and numerous delays, the 47-story building is finally 94 percent finished and is expected to open in December of this year. However, workers recently realized that there is a major flaw in the building's plans.... there's no room for an elevator! The building's architects – who have since resigned from the project – seemed to have missed that crucial element in their design. The new plan calls for an external elevator to be attached to the building, which will add a significant expense to the project. The Alicante high-rise was supposed to symbolize excellence, however that may only refer to the excellent shape you'd be in after climbing all 47 floors.
And that’s the way it is today – Monday, August 12, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.