On the News With Thom Hartmann: Two MIT Students Show How Collecting Metadata Is a Major Privacy Violation, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Two MIT students have created a program to help you understand the digital trail that you leave behind every day; in a survey, 80 percent of Americans polled (including conservatives and libertarians) support progressive policies, like raising the minimum wage and providing public assistance for nutrition and child care; more waves of radiation are hitting our nation from the Southwest; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA, we’ve heard politicians and agency officials claim that collecting metadata isn’t spying. But, two MIT students have created a program to help you understand the digital trail that you leave behind everyday. Daniel Smilkov and Deepak Jagdish’s “Immersion” program creates a virtual map of your life using only your email account. If you give the researchers access to the same metadata that the NSA admits to collecting – the time, date, and “To” and “CC” fields of your email – they can give you back detailed charts and graphs about your life. Using just this data, the program can identify things like your former loves, your changing personal and professional networks, and even deaths and transitions that you’ve experienced during your life. Agency officials have tried to claim that metadata is simply IP and phone numbers, but this “Immersion” program clearly shows that those claims couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s simply no question that collecting metadata and tracking our digital lives is a major violation of our privacy. The fact is that the government doesn’t need to listen to our calls, or read the content of our emails, to get a clear picture of our daily lives. The National Security Agency needs to recognize that our phone and internet metadata is private, and if they want to collect it, it’s time that they get a warrant.

In screwed news… “Agent Orange” GMO seeds may soon be approved for use in our nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture looks poised to approve genetically-modified corn and soybean seeds that are engineered to resist toxic pesticides – including the chemical 2,4-D, which is a component of Agent Orange. Despite overwhelming independent research showing that 2,4-D is linked to serious health problems, the USDA’s draft environmental impact statement says that these GMO seeds do not have a “plant pest risk.” The seeds were developed by Dow Chemical, and sold under the brand name “Enlist”, and they’re part of the ongoing effort to fight so-called “super weeds” that have become resistant to other herbicides. And, when the weeds inevitably become resistant to 2,4-D, farmers will have to use even stronger chemicals to fight them. The USDA is taking comments from the public for six weeks before approving these new seeds, and we need to make it clear that we don’t want GMOs and Agent Orange in our food supply.

In the best of the rest of the news…

Two California lawmakers are trying to fight NSA spying. State Senators Ted Lieu and Joel Anderson have introduced the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. That bipartisan bill would prohibit the state of California from providing support to the NSA. In a press release, Senator Lieu said, “public resources should not be going toward aiding the NSA or any other federal agency from spying on its own citizens.” The bill would ban state and local government from providing the agency any material support, like water or electricity, and it would place sanctions on any private corporation that tried to fill those needs. In addition, the legislation would bar public universities from acting as NSA research facilities, and ban local law enforcement from sharing information with the spy agency. This legislation isn’t law yet, but it may be a perfect state-by-state way to take down the NSA.

According to RadCast.org, more waves of radiation are hitting our nation from the Southwest, and they’re responsible for spiking levels in some areas of our nation. Taylors, South Carolina is averaging 40 counts per minute, with spikes of 58, and Robbinsville, New Jersey is sitting at 46, with highs of 66 counts per minute. Frederick, Wisconsin is hovering at 46 counts per minute, with spikes of 72, and Lakewood, Colorado is averaging 68, with highs of 101 counts per minute. Chino Valley, Arizona is sitting at 55 counts per minute, with spikes of 79, and Chico, California is averaging 33, with highs of 66. Medford, Oregon is sitting at 36 counts per minute, with spikes of 56, and Seattle, Washington is hovering at 31, with highs of 50 counts per minute. RadCast.org’s alert level is 100 counts per minute, but they remind us that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation.

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said raising the minimum wage won’t help poor people, but the majority of Americans disagree. According to a public opinion survey published by the Center for American Progress, 80 percent of people – including conservatives and libertarians – support progressive policies, like raising the minimum wage and providing public assistance for nutrition and child care. While Republicans like Senator Rubio say that the “big government” solution to poverty hasn’t worked, 61 percent of people say the War on Poverty made a difference. And, 86 percent of people think the government should be doing even more to help the poor. Republicans can continue calling tax cuts the fix-all for economic inequality, but it looks like Americans no longer buy that talking point.

And finally… Captain Craig Moreau was driving back home from Austin with his wife when he noticed smoke pouring out of an 18-wheeler on the side of the road. Without a second thought, the Houston firefighter stopped to help. Obviously, Captain Moreau didn’t have a fire hose handy to put out the brake fire, so he got creative, and used the truck’s contents to fight the flames. He asked the driver, “what have you got in here?” and the driver said, “It’s beer! It’s all beer.” So, the driver, the Captain, and his wife all started shaking cans and spraying them on the flames until the fire went out. Captain Moreau said, “It’s in [my] nature to help folks, but this is the first time that I’ve done it with beer.” Most people hate to see a good beer go to waste, but even the Fire Chief was impressed with Captain Moreau’s quick thinking. He said, “I support the extinguishment of the fire, no matter what the cost.”

And that’s the way it is today – Thursday, January 9, 2014. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.