In today’s On the News segment: On Monday, a Bush-appointed Federal District Court judge ruled that the NSA is likely violating our Fourth Amendment rights; the House may have passed a budget, but that doesn't mean there won't be another economic showdown; if you're going to protest oil drilling, there are few better ways than showing up with a giant wind turbine; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. On Monday, a Bush-appointed Federal District Court judge ruled that the N.S.A. is likely violating our Fourth Amendment rights. In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon called the government's collection of so-called meta data "almost Orwellian," and he was unconvinced by the government's argument that these massive spying programs serve the public interest. He wrote that our government failed to illustrate "a single instance in which analysis of the N.S.A.'s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive." Judge Leon made clear that he believes the plaintiffs can prove that government spying violates our Fourth Amendment rights, and issued an injunction to halt the programs. However, he stayed – or put on hold – his own ruling, pending the outcome of the inevitable appeal, "in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case the the novelty of the constitutional issues." So for now, the government can keep on spying, while privacy advocates and civil rights groups continue their fight to stop government surveillance. Although this ruling does not yet prevent the N.S.A. from snooping on our communication data, it is the first successful legal challenge against that spying agency. And, it's a sign that our court system could put an end to these massive surveillance programs. Judge Leon wrote that James Madison himself – the author of our Constitution – would be "aghast" to learn of these invasive spying programs. But, it's possible that he would also be proud of the activists, advocates, citizens, and judges who are using that very same document to protect Americans' Fourth Amendment rights.
In screwed news... The House may have passed a budget, but that doesn't mean there won't be another economic showdown. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan says that the Republicans in Congress are looking to hold our economy hostage over the debt limit, even though they don't even know what they want yet. On Sunday, Representative Ryan said, "[Republicans are] going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don't want nothing out of this debt limit." So, the pension cuts, the expiration of long-term unemployment benefits, and the piles of cash for the Pentagon that the Republicans got in the Murray-Ryan budget were all for nothing. Democrats gave up all that and more, and the Republicans haven't even started their list of demands for the next showdown. And, much of the austerity in that budget is permanent. So, Republicans will get to keep their pension cuts, and then continue pushing more extreme policies on working Americans in the debt limit deal. We must find a way to stop this hostage taking – and reverse this austerity – before there's nothing left to give up in the next economic showdown.
In the best of the rest of the news...
If you're going to protest oil drilling, there are few better ways than showing up with a giant wind turbine. And, that's exactly what fifty people did on Monday in North West England. The environmental activists showed up at IGas's exploratory drilling site at 5:30am, where they unloaded and assembled a 17-meter wind turbine blade to block the entrance of the site. The group then left, leaving the giant blade in place in front of the entrance, and decorated it with a giant red Christmas bow. Sandra Denton, one of the protestors, said, "We've delivered this early Christmas gift to IGas to remind them that we don't need damaging, risky and polluting energy sources like oil and gas to power the UK." Another protestor Pearl Hopkins said, "We'd like renewable energy for the future – not the destruction of our towns and countryside with thousands of drill sites." Together, these activists found a unique way to bring international attention to the dangers of fossil fuels, and they even managed to show a little holiday spirit.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels are down slightly from yesterday's readings, but they're still higher than they'd like to see. Near the East coast, Charleston, West Virginia is averaging 43 counts per minute, with spikes of 70. In the Midwest, Lakewood, Colorado is down to an average of 60 counts per minute, with peaks of 84, and Craig, Montana is sitting at 40, with spikes of 67. In the Southwest, Chandler, Arizona is down slightly to 45 counts per minute, with highs of 70, and Henderson, Nevada is sitting at 47, with spikes of 75. In the Northwest, Portland, Oregon is hovering at 33 counts per minute, with highs of 56, and Seattle, Washington is averaging 30, with spikes of 48. RadCast.org reminds us that their alert level is 100 counts per minute, and they're working hard to bring us this important information.
And finally... The rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capital building is getting a little crowded. After religious groups set up a nativity display, the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics group responded with a "Festivus" pole, and a "Winter Solstice Nativity" scene featuring Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin. And now, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is also represented among the holiday display. Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation said, "The rotunda is getting very cluttered, but if a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be 'room at the inn' for all points of view." The newest display features a poster of the Flying Spaghetti Monster which reads, "he boiled for your sins" and "be touched by his noodly appendage, before it's too late!" And, in anticipation of the "war on Christmas" rhetoric, the sign also reads, "Think this is ridiculous? We agree! Religious ideas should not be promoted within the halls of government. Protect the separation of church and state, it protects us all." But, it's safe to say that Fox so-called News will ignore that logic... and go right back to their top story about Santa's skin tone.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, December 17, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.