Thom Hartmann on the News: June 18, 2013

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Thom Hartmann on the News: June 18, 2013

You need to know this.  This morning, NSA director Keith Alexander and other intelligence officials testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  The Committee chairman, Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, convened the hearing to defend the NSA's internet and phone surveillance programs.  Today's hearing, called “How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries,” was meant to provide a public forum for Director Alexander to make the case that government spying has kept Americans safe.  Alexander began the hearing with an opening statement, saying, “I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”  He refused to provide details, but said that the surveillance program has prevented 50 potential terrorist attacks since 2001.  NSA deputy director, John Chris Inglis, also testified, and described how the agency handles phone communications in the U.S.  He said the standard for looking into U.S. based phone calls requires a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorist activity, and that only 20 analysts within the NSA have the power to target US-based phone calls.  According to Inglis, analysts must get supervisor approval on any domestic targeting.  However, throughout the hearing, intelligence officials stated numerous times that U.S. citizens are not being targeted.  Director Alexander repeated this assurance, saying, “the NSA may not target the phone calls or emails of any US person, anywhere in the world,” without a court order.  It appears today's hearing was meant to defend government surveillance programs, and assure Americans that our phone and email privacy remains intact.  It's not clear yet whether today's hearing achieved the intended result.  The debate about government surveillance continues.  Stay tuned.

In screwed news... Six former Bank of America employees say that bank routinely lied to customers, and opted to foreclose on homeowners, rather than modify loans.  The employee affidavits are part of an ongoing lawsuit over the bank's manipulation of loan modifications under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, known as HAMP.  Employees say that Bank of America had a company-wide policy of putting profits over people, and even rewarded employees for meeting foreclosure quotas.  The bank allegedly used a variety of policies to push for foreclosure, like lying to customers about documentation, automatically denying all applications that were more than 60 days old, and paying employees a $500 dollar bonus if they foreclosed on at least 10 homes per month.  Bank of America, which is one of our nation's largest banks, was supposed to use HAMP fund to help keep Americans in their homes.  However, it appears the financial giant may have used those funds to pad their balance sheet instead.  Apparently, the billions of dollars in fines that Bank of America has already paid for fraudulent foreclosure practices did not deter them from cheating even more Americans out of their homes.

In the best of the rest of the news...

One man's trash is another man's electricity.  On Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new “food recycling” program, which will convert 100,000 tons of food scraps into bio-gas.  The program will create a huge composting facility, which will dispose of waste, and help the city lower its electric bill.  The New York Times reports that 150,000 homes, 600 schools, and 100 high-rise buildings will participate in the voluntary program.  Officials hope that the whole city will be participating in the composting program within three years.  In addition to helping the environment, and lowering the city's electric bill, the food recycling program will also save New Yorkers money on disposing of all the waste they produce.  In 2012 alone, New York City taxpayers spent $2 billion dollars on trash collection and disposal.  Several cities throughout our nation have started composting programs to reduce garbage collection, but many hope that New York City's participation may bring the practice of composting into the mainstream.

Yesterday, President Obama took a huge step towards fulfilling his promise to close the torture prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The President selected Clifford Sloan, a high-profile, Washington D.C. attorney, to be the State Department's special envoy for closing Gitmo.  This announcement comes only days after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to keep the prison open for another year.  Mr. Sloan was the solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush, and he served as an associate counsel to President Bill Clinton.  The appointment was praised by people ranging from Secretary of State John Kerry, to Lisa Murphy – the director of the ACLU's Washington Legislation Office.  Miss Murphy said, “The appointment of a new envoy at the State Department for closing Guantanamo puts in place one of the last pieces of the puzzle for getting the prison closed.”  It has been over a decade since our nation began locking people up indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, and President Obama's previous attempts to close the prison have been met with Republican obstruction.  The world will be watching to see if Clifford Sloan can gain enough support to close this dark chapter in American history.

And finally… Residents of one eastern Mexican city are fed up with corrupt politicians.  Their frustration with the Veracruz state government has led to the practice of calling lawmakers “rats”. So, they've nominated a mayoral candidate they say is specially equipped to handle the problem – Morris the cat.  This isn't the first time disillusioned citizens have jokingly drafted an animal to hold office.  In recent months, they've ran a political campaign for a donkey, and even nominated a chicken to express their resentment for their political system.  The cat's nomination is complete with campaign posters reading, “Fed up of voting for rats? Vote for a cat”, and a Facebook page with more than 125,000 likes.  Although Morris has gained a huge following, he is not officially registered as a candidate in the July 7th election, so his owner is asking voters to write in his name on their ballots.