On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Supreme Court Rules That Human Genes Cannot Be Patented, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Supreme Court has ruled that human genes cannot be patented, because they are a product of nature; Without huge investments in our drinking water system, millions of Americans will lose access to the clean water needed to survive; and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. The Supreme Court has ruled that human genes cannot be patented, because they are a product of nature. However, the offered a compromise which allowed synthetic, complementary DNA, known as cDNA, to be protected by patent law, because it is not naturally occurring. The case, Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, challenged the biotechnology company’s existing patents on two genes associated with high risks of breast cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Cancer researchers argued that the patents prevented other groups from developing more effective and less expensive methods to test for gene mutations. Myriad claimed that the patents protected billions of dollars in research and investment. In the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “it is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes,” but in the case of cDNA, a genetic technician “unquestionably creates something new.” Myriad investors were obviously happy with the compromise, as company shares jumped eight percent after the ruling was issued. Today’s Supreme Court decision will open the door to new scientific research and testing methods, which could provide breakthroughs in diagnosing and curing breast cancer. It’s great to know that much-needed scientific research will continue, and that no company has the right to own our DNA.

In screwed news… Without huge investments in our drinking water system, millions of Americans will lose access to the clean water needed to survive. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, our nation must invest $384 billion dollars over the next 17 years, to protect our drinking water infrastructure. Most of our pipes, water treatment plants, storage tanks, and distribution systems are between 50 and 100 years old, and the risk of contamination increases as more pipes age and systems break down. Despite the risk, Congress has done little to address the problem. According to The Think Progress Blog, funding to repair our water infrastructure will fall short by as much as $263 billion dollars by 2019, and that shortfall may be even larger as demand for drinking water grows. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 billion people die every year because they lack access to safe drinking water. The majority of water-borne illness takes place in developing nations, but experts warn that could all start to change if we don’t protect our drinking water system here at home.

In the best of the rest of the news…

A Federal District Court Judge in Manahattan said corporations can’t treat interns like slave labor. This week, Judge William H. Pauley ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage laws by failing to pay interns, who were essentially regular employees. Judge Pauley agreed with the plantiffs, Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman, that they performed the tasks of regular employees, and that the internship did not foster an educational environment. The judge said that corporations must follow the Department of Labor criteria laid out for unpaid internships. According to those rules, unpaid interns should not displace the role of a regular employee, their work must be similar to vocational training given in an educational environment, and the experience must actually benefit the intern. The research firm Intern Bridge estimates that undergrads work in over one million internships every year, and half of those positions are unpaid. Corporations all over our nation may have to rethink their internship programs, and recognize that they no longer have the right to free labor.

Thanks to austerity, Greece is no longer considered a developed country. For the first time in the history of the so-called “emerging market index,” a country has been downgraded from “developed” to “emerging market.” Because of strict debt limits and forced spending cuts, the Greek unemployment rate has topped 25 percent, and their economy has contracted by nearly one-fifth. The austerity measures imposed by the European Union, the I.M.F., and the European Central Bank have left Greece unable to meet the criteria needed to be considered a developed nation. European leaders are starting to back away from these harsh austerity measures, after admitting they misjudged how much destruction the spending cuts would cause. The Greek people are fighting to repair their damaged economy, and the world is watching to see if leaders everywhere will abandon austerity before more nations lose their developed status.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied federal aid to the town of West, Texas. According to FEMA, the explosion “is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.” While the agency has provided emergency funds to individual residents, it will not cover the $57 million dollars in needed repairs to roads, sewers, and buildings. And, because the plant only carried one million dollars of liability insurance, the town is left holding the bag. This is what happens when hazardous chemical plants are under-regulated, and allowed to be under-insured. Disasters like this either leave taxpayers on the hook for the bill, or leave small towns like this without the funds needed to rebuild. As the town doesn’t have the means to borrow the money, and FEMA won’t provide federal aid, years of non-existent regulation have left a bleak future for the town of West, Texas.

And finally… It seems that scientists have figured out the origin of the term “cat burglar.” Documentary filmmakers and researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in the U.K. collaborated on an experiment to find out just what domestic cats do when their owners aren’t around. The study tracked 50 cats, 24 hours a day, using GPS and micro cameras. They said that one of the most common behaviors was “nocturnal thieving,” like sneaking into a neighbor’s house at night to steal food. After conducting the study, one researcher commented on how independent cats are, saying, “The owners think they own the cats, but in fact it is the cats who own the owners.” As if any cat owner couldn’t have told them that years ago…