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On the News With Thom Hartmann: The NSA Is Spying on Angry Birds, and More

According to dozens of previously undisclosed British intelligence documents, government spies may be exploiting popular apps to get their hands on our personal data, and more.

In today’s On the News segment: The NSA is spying on Angry Birds; more crude oil was spilled from train cars in 2013 than in the entire four previous decades combined; President Obama will deliver the 2014 State of the Union speech, and the AFL-CIO has a few suggestions; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. The NSA is spying on Angry Birds. According to dozens of previously undisclosed British intelligence documents, government spies may be exploiting popular apps to get their hands on our personal data. And – they’ve been doing it since at least 2007. Smart phone applications collect an amazing amount of our personal data – like our age, sex, and location – and intelligence agencies were delighted to find what they called a “Golden Nugget” of information. While the scale and the details of this program at not completely clear, these documents show that the NSA and its British counterpart routinely collect information from apps, and and the data can be as personal as a user’s political alignment or sexual orientation. Once again, we learn through leaked documents that our personal data is being spied on, and that our privacy is under attack. When other government spying programs have been disclosed, agency officials have argued that data collection is necessary to keep us safe. It will be difficult to defend this program, because it’s unlikely that international terrorists sit around playing Angry Birds. Americans and people around the world are already furious over government spying programs, and this news isn’t going to make anyone feel more secure about using their phones. It’s going to take a massive movement to end government spying without a warrant, and it looks like now even app developers are going to have to get involved in this fight.

In screwed news… More crude oil spilled from train cars in 2013 than in the entire four previous decades combined. According to an analysis from McClatchy News, more than one million gallons of oil spilled from trains in 2013, while a total of 800,000 gallons spilled between 1975 and 2012. The oil industry likes to claim that they have a 99.9 percent delivery success rate, but they fail to mention that they’re shipping much more oil via train than ever before. In just that last five years, the amount of oil being shipped by rail has increased 2400 percent, which means these dangerous spills have become much more common. This is what happened when toxic fossil fuels are transported over our crumbling infrastructure, and it shows why we need to act fast to fix both problems. We should not be increasing shipments of oil, we should be making the switch to green energy. And, we shouldn’t be spending millions on cleaning up oil spills, we should be investing that money by rebuilding our infrastructure.

In the best of the rest of the news…

Tonight, President Obama will deliver the 2014 State of the Union speech, and the AFL-CIO has a few suggestions. According to the labor group’s blog editor Jackie Tortora, there are five points that the President should bring up during his yearly address. The AFL-CIO wants to hear President Obama talk about raising wages and fighting economic inequality. They want to hear about investing in our nation by repairing and updating our schools, roads, and bridges. Ms. Tortora explains that we need to jump-start programs like high-speed rail, and get ready to meet the energy needs of the 21st century. The AFL-CIO would like to hear the President talk about rebuilding our middle class by protecting our right to unionize, and renewing benefits for the long-term unemployed. In addition, they think President Obama should spend a few moments addressing deportations, and our broken immigration system. These policies aren’t unique to our labor unions. These are American ideas, and we should all hope they have a place in this year’s State of the Union.

According to, radiation levels in many areas are still coming down from last week’s high readings. Salisbury, Massachusetts is reporting 52 counts per minute, with spikes of 80, and Taylor, South Carolina is averaging 36, with highs of 62 counts per minute. Frederick, Wisconsin is sitting at 46 counts per minute, with spikes of 80, and Layton, Utah is hovering at 46, with highs of 78 counts per minute. Lakewood, Colorado is averaging 65 counts per minute, with spikes of 95, and Henderson, Nevada is reporting 47, with highs of 79. Oakland, California is hitting at 29 counts per minute, with spikes of 52, and Seattle, Washington is averaging 30, with highs of 50 counts per minute.’s alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation.

Medical marijuana could soon be legal in Georgia. On Tuesday, Representative Allen Peake – a Republican – introduced legislation in the Georgia State House to allow limited use of pot for medical purposes. And, according to Representative Peake, his measure is backed by the Georgia Medical Association, that state’s largest professional group of doctors. Although this legislation would only allow limited use of cannabis, it provides more evidence that our nation is moving towards re-legalization. Little by little, marijuana prohibition is becoming a thing of the past in our nation, and it’s only a matter of time before we can all benefit from the industrial, recreational, and medical benefits of the cannabis plant.

And finally… Never underestimate the power of prayer. Early Sunday morning, Father Arthur O’Neill woke up to what he said, “looked like a machine gun pointed at my head.” Two armed men had broken into the priest’s home in Dublin, Ireland looking for cash, but Father O’Neil told them “they had no chance and that they were barking up the wrong tree.” Although Father O’Neil said he “wasn’t very priest like” with his language, he decided to use scripture to make the men leave. He said he got rid of the men by “boring” them with a sermon he had prepared for later that day. The two men left without harming Father O’Neil, and even left the cellphone that they had taken outside his home. Thankfully, the priest’s quick thinking worked, but you can’t help buy wonder if Father O’Neil re-wrote his Sunday sermon to make sure it didn’t have the same effect on on his parishioners.

And that’s the way it is today – Tuesday, January 28, 2014. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.

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