In today's On the News segment: the CIA has been paying AT&T $10 million dollars a year for access to their overseas metadata; workers at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are getting ready to move tons of dangerous, radioactive fuel rods; the Energy Department is making solar energy more affordable; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. The Central Intelligence Agency has been bribing AT&T to help them spy on international communications. According to a new report in the New York Times, the CIA has been paying that company $10 million dollars a year for access to their overseas metadata. By accessing that data, the CIA is spying on private communications, including the date and length of calls, and the phone numbers involved, all without a warrant. Although the CIA claims that only foreign-to-foreign call data is being collected, they admit that calls made to and from the US to another country are also included. AT&T claims that they've imposed strict privacy safeguards to protect Americans, like masking several digits of a phone number and withholding the identity of any numbers from the United States. However, if the CIA wants that information, they simply ask the FBI to issue a subpoena and force AT&T to hand over the details. Essentially, our tax dollars are being used to bribe a private, for-profit company to help the government spy on foreign citizens. And in the process, Americans' private communication data can be collected. After all the NSA spying scandals, it's hard to believe that this isn't simply another program that the government uses to violate our Fourth Amendment rights. To add insult to injury, we're the ones paying yet another for-profit company to hand our private information over to the government.
In screwed news... In Japan, workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are getting ready to move tons and tons of dangerous, radioactive fuel rods. As part of the decommissioning the plant, the rods must be moved from their current storage pool, which sits about 100 feet in the air, to a more secure, indoor pool. The fuel rods are each about four-meters long, they are filled with uranium pellets, and many are badly damaged and corroded in the wake of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. The current storage pool contains 15,000 times as much radioactive material as Hiroshima, and an accident during the process could put billions of people in danger. However, leaving the rods in their current location is just as risky, because a future storm or earthquake could bring the entire pool crashing down. A TEPCO official said, "It's going to be very difficult, but it has to happen." Hopefully, this process goes smoothly, and officials in our country are learning valuable lessons about the danger of nuclear power. No nukes!
In the best of the rest of the news...
The Energy Department is making solar energy more affordable. Despite local rebates, federal tax credits, and lower solar panel prices, the cost of installation can still run a homeowner as much as $20,000 dollars. A large portion of the costs – as much as 60% - are so-called "soft costs," like the permits and inspections needed to install the panels. To lower those costs, the Energy Department just made a $12 million dollar investment in a program called "Rooftop Solar Challenge," which is designed to lower the administrative barriers to solar installation. The challenge involves eight teams of experts, who are tasked with finding ways to make it easier, faster, and cheaper for businesses and homeowners to make the switch to solar. The overall goal, they say, is to make solar panels cost-competitive with fossil fuels. However, when the cost of pollution, clean up, illness, and climate change are factored in, solar is already more affordable. A streamlined process and lower prices just make solar an even better deal.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels around our nation are pretty calm today. The West Coast is seeing levels like 32 counts per minute in North Portland, Oregon, and 31 in Bellingham, Washington. Near the East Coast, levels are slightly higher, but still close to average. Graham, North Carolina is hovering at 43 counts per minute, and Huntsville, Alabama is at 36. Even in the Midwest, levels are lower than they've been for several days. Frederic, Wisconsin is seeing 49 counts per minute, and the reading is 51 in South Dakota. RadCast.org says that the alert level is 100 counts per minute, but it looks like most of our nation is far below that today.
As if genetically modified food wasn't bad enough, not they want our trees. The Department of Agriculture is reviewing a plan to allow the biotech company, ArborGen, to plant genetically engineered Eucalyptus all around our nation. The trees are genetically modified to grow in colder climates than standard Eucalyptus, and the company hopes to commercially farm the trees for paper and "wood pellets" - which are used for fuel. Debbie Barker, of the Center for Food Safety, warns that "commercializing GE trees could be devastating to the environment." Millions of Americans want GMOs out of our food and our environment, and they are demanding that the USDA says 'No' to genetically modified trees as well.
And finally... After all the whining about the healthcare website, you'll never guess which company had a few technical issues. That's right – Fox so-called News. On Tuesday, the Fox News Channel website warned users about "World Zombie Day," and Twitter users were quick to spread the word of the site's problems. In addition to the apocalyptic warning, the website also encouraged people to watch "STUFF YO," and check out a live feed of Apple unveiling a sea lion. Several website experts explained that someone at Fox News likely published the "place holder" text, instead of the actual news and headlines, and the website was fixed shortly afterward. You'd think that the embarrassing experience would make some Fox hosts think twice about criticizing Healthcare.gov... but it's Fox after all, and they've never been afraid of a little hypocrisy.
And that's the way it is today – Thursday, November 7, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.