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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Stop thanking me for my service

yellow ribbon

© Shutterstock.com

As a veteran, I'm tired of being blindly celebrated. Good intentions aren't a substitute for good politics

Last week, in a quiet indie bookstore on the north side of Chicago, I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone resting on a chrome-colored plastic table a few feet from a barista brewing a vanilla latte. A cold October rain fell outside. A friend of mine grabbed the issue and began flipping through it. Knowing that I was a veteran, he said, "Hey, did you see this?" pointing to a news story that seemed more like an ad. It read in part:

"This Veterans Day, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, Dave Grohl, and Metallica will be among numerous artists who will head to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on November 11th for 'The Concert For Valor,' an all-star event that will pay tribute to armed services."

"Concert For Valor? That sounds like something the North Korean government would organize," I said as I typed Concertforvalor.com into my MacBook Pro looking for more information.

The sucking sound from the espresso maker was drowning out a 10-year-old Shins song. As I read, my heart sank, my shoulders slumped.

Special guests at the Concert for Valor were to include: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg. The mission of the concert, according to a press release, was to "raise awareness" of veterans issues and "provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans' gratitude is genuine."

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen were to serve in an advisory capacity, and Starbucks, HBO, and JPMorgan Chase were to pay for it all. "We are honored to play a small role to help raise awareness and support for our service men and women," said HBO chairman Richard Plepler.

Though I couldn't quite say why, that Concert for Valor ad felt tired and sad, despite the images of Rihanna singing full-throated into a gold microphone and James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica wailing away on their guitars. I had gotten my own share of "thanks" from civilians when I was still a U.S. Army Ranger. Who hadn't? It had been the endless theme of the post-9/11 era, how thankful other Americans were that we would do... well, what exactly, for them? And here it was again. I couldn't help wondering: Would veterans somewhere actually feel the gratitude that Starbucks and HBO hoped to convey?

I went home and cooked dinner for my wife and little girl in a semi-depressed state, thinking about that word "valor" which was to be at the heart of the event and wondering about the Hall of Fame line-up of twenty-first century liberalism that was promoting it or planning to turn out to hail it: Rolling Stone, the magazine of Hunter S. Thompson and all things rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen, the billion-dollar working-class hero; Eminem, the white rapper who has sold more records than Elvis; Metallica, the crew who sued Napster and the metal band of choice for so many longhaired, disenfranchised youth of the 1980s and 1990s. They were all going to say "thank you" - again.

Raising (Whose?) Awareness

Later that night, I sat down and Googled "vets honored." Dozens and dozens of stories promptly queued up on my screen. (Try it yourself.) One of the first items I clicked on was the 50th anniversary celebration in Bangor, Maine, of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the alleged Pearl Harbor of the Vietnam War. Governor Paul LePage had spoken ringingly of the veterans of that war: "These men were just asked to go to a foreign land and protect our freedoms. And they weren't treated with respect when they returned home. Now it's time to acknowledge it."

Vietnam, he insisted, was all about protecting freedom - such a simple and innocent explanation for such a long and horrific war. Lest you forget, the governor and those gathered in Bangor that day were celebrating a still-murky "incident" that touched off a massive American escalation of the war. It was claimed that North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked an American destroyer, though President Lyndon Johnson later suggested that the incident might even have involved shooting at "flying fish" or "whales." As for protecting freedom in Vietnam, tell the dead Vietnamese in America's "free fire zones" about that.

No one, however, cared about such details. The point was that eternal "thank you." If only, I thought, some inquisitive and valorous local reporter had asked the governor, "Treated with disrespect by whom?" And pointed out the mythology behind the idea that American civilians had mistreated GIs returning from Vietnam. (Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Veterans Administration, which denied returning soldiers proper healthcare, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, organizations that weren't eager to claim the country's defeated veterans of a disastrous war as their own.)

When it came to thanks and "awareness raising," no American war with a still living veteran seemed too distant to be ignored. Google told me, for example, that Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, had recently celebrated its 12th annual "Multi-Cultural Day" by thanking its "forgotten Korean War Veterans." According to a local newspaper report, included in the festivities were martial arts demonstrations and traditional Korean folk dancing.

The Korean War was the precursor to Vietnam, with similar results. As with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the precipitating event of the war that North Korea ignited on June 25, 1950, remains open to question. Evidence suggests that, with U.S. approval, South Korea initiated a bombardment of North Korean villages in the days leading up to the invasion. As in Vietnam, there, too, the U.S. supported a corrupt autocrat and used napalm on a mass scale. Millions died, including staggering numbers of civilians, and North Korea was left in rubble by war's end. Folk dancing was surely in short supply. As for protecting our freedoms in Korea, enough said.

These two ceremonies seemed to catch a particular mood (reflected in so many similar, if more up-to-date versions of the same). They might have benefited from a little "awareness raising" when it came to what the American military has actually been doing these last years, not to say decades, beyond our borders. They certainly summed up much of the frustration I was feeling with the Concert for Valor. Plenty of thank yous, for sure, but no history when it came to what the thanks were being offered for in, say, Iraq orAfghanistan, no statistics on taxpayer dollars spent or where they went, or on innocent lives lost and why.

Will the "Concert for Valor" mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden - two of them languishing in prison and one in exile - for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone's awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let's hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I'm not counting on it.

Thank Yous

While Googling around, I noticed an allied story about President Obama christening a poetic sounding "American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial" on October 5th. There, he wisely noted that "the U.S. should never rush into war." As he spoke, however, the Air Force, the Navy, and Special Forces personnel (who wear boots that do touch the ground, even in Iraq), as well as the headquarters of "the Big Red One," the Army's 1st Infantry Division, were already involved in the latest war he had personally ordered in Iraq and Syria, while, of course, bypassing Congress.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Damn, I voted for Obama because he said he'd end our overseas wars. At least it's not Bush sending the planes, drones, missiles, and troops back there, because if it were, I'd be mad.

Then there were the numerous stories about "Honor Flights" sponsored by Southwest Airlines that offered all World War II veterans and the terminally ill veterans of more recent wars a free trip to Washington to "reflect at their memorials" before they died. Honor flights turn out to be a particularly popular way to honor veterans. Local papers in Richfield, Utah, Des Moines, Iowa, Elgin, Illinois, Austin, Texas, Miami, Florida, and so on place by place across significant swaths of the country have run stories about dying hometown "heroes" who have participated in these flights, a kind of nothing-but-the-best-in-corporate-sponsorship for the last of the "Greatest Generation."

"Welcome home" ceremonies, with flags, marching bands, heartfelt embraces, much weeping, and the usual babies and small children missed during tours of duty in our war zones are also easy to find. In the first couple of screens Google offered in response to the phrase "welcome home ceremony," I found the usual thank-you celebrations for veterans returning from Afghanistan in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, and Saint Albans, Vermont, among other places. "We don't do enough for our veterans, for what they do for us, we hear the news, but to be up there in a field, and be shot at, and sometimes coming home disabled, we don't realize how lucky we are sometimes to have the people who have served their country," one of the Saint Albans attendees was typically quoted as saying.

"Do enough...?" In America, isn't thank you plenty?

Oddly, it's harder to find thank-you ceremonies for living vets involved in America's numerous smaller interventions in places like the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Kosovo, Somalia, Libya, and various CIA-organized coups and proxy wars around the world, but I won't be surprised if they, too, exist. I was wondering, though: What about all those foreign soldiers we've trained to fight our wars for us in places like South Vietnam,Iraq, and Afghanistan? Shouldn't they be thanked as well? And how about members of the Afghan Mujahedeen that we armed and funded in the 1980s while they gave the Soviet Union its own "Vietnam" (and who are now fighting for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extreme Islamist outfits)? Or what about the Indonesian troops we armed under the presidency of Gerald Ford, who committed possibly genocidal acts in East Timor in 1975? Or has our capacity for thanks been used up in the service of American vets?

Since 9/11, those thank yous have been aimed at veterans with the regularity of the machine gun fire that may still haunt their dreams. Veterans have also been offered special consideration when it comes to applications for mostly menial jobs so that they can "utilize the skills" they learned in the military. While they continue to march in those welcome home parades and have concerts organized in their honor, the thank yous are in no short supply. The only question that never seems to come up is: What exactly are they being thanked for?

Heroes Who Afford Us Freedom

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz has said of the upcoming Concert for Valor:

"The post-9/11 years have brought us the longest period of sustained warfare in our nation's history. The less than one percent of Americans who volunteered to serve during this time have afforded the rest of us remarkable freedoms - but that freedom comes with a responsibility to understand their sacrifice, to honor them, and to appreciate the skills and experience they offer when they return home."

It was crafty of Schultz to redirect that famed 1% label from the ultra rich, represented by CEOs like him, onto our "heroes." At the concert, I hope Schultz has a chance to get more specific about those "remarkable freedoms." Will he mention that the U.S. has the highest per capitaprison population on the planet? Does he include among those remarkable freedoms the guarantee that dogs, Tasers, tear gas, and riot police will be sent after you if you stay out past dark protesting the killing of an unarmed Black teenager by a representative of this country's increasingly militarized police? Will the freedom to be too big to fail and so to have the right to melt down the economy and walk away without going to prison - as Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase, did - be mentioned? Do these remarkable freedoms include having every American phone call and email recorded and stored away by the NSA?

And what about that term "hero"? Many veterans reject it, and not just out of Gary Cooperesque modesty either. Most veterans who have seen combat, watched babies get torn apart, or their comrades die in their arms, or the most powerful army on Earth spend trillions of dollars fighting some of the poorest people in the world for 13 years feel anything but heroic. But that certainly doesn't stop the use of the term. So why do we use it? As journalist Cara Hoffman points out at Salon :

"'[H]ero' refers to a character, a protagonist, something in fiction, not to a person, and using this word can hurt the very people it's meant to laud. While meant to create a sense of honor, it can also buy silence, prevent discourse, and benefit those in power more than those navigating the new terrain of home after combat. If you are a hero, part of your character is stoic sacrifice, silence. This makes it difficult for others to see you as flawed, human, vulnerable, or exploited."

We use the term hero in part because it makes us feel good and in part because it shuts soldiers up (which, believe me, makes the rest of us feel better). Labeled as a hero, it's also hard to think twice about putting your weapons down. Thank yous to heroes discourage dissent, which is one reason military bureaucrats feed off the term.

There are American soldiers stationed around the globe who think about filing conscientious objector status (as I once did), and I sometimes hear from some of them. They often grasp the way in which the militarized acts of imperial America are helping to create the very enemies they are then being told to kill. They understand that the trillions of dollars being wasted on war will never be spent on education, health care, or the development of clean energy here at home. They know that they are fighting for American control over the flow of fossil fuels on this planet, the burning of which is warming our world and threatening human existence.

Then you have Bruce Springsteen and Metallica telling them "thank you" for wearing that uniform, that they are heroes, that whatever it is they're doing in distant lands while we go about our lives here isn't an issue. There is even the possibility that, one day, you, the veteran, might be ushered onto that stage during a concert or onto the field during a ballgame for a very public thank you. The conflicted soldier thinks twice.


I'm back at that indie bookstore sitting at the same chrome-colored table trying to hash all this out, including my own experiences in the Army Rangers, and end on a positive note. The latest issue of Rolling Stone appears to have sold out. Out the window, the sun is peeking through a thick web of clouds. They sell wine here, too. The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can start drinking.

There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it's no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year. If you really want to talk about "awareness raising," it's years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?

Until then, I'm going to drink wine and try to enjoy the music over the sound of the espresso machine.

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch .

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Former cop headed to trial for raping a child while other officers watched

officer rape trial

© LiveLeak.com

Pharr, Texas - Trial is set to begin December 1, in the case of former Pharr police officer Erasmo Mata, Jr., accused of repeated first-degree felony sexual assaults of a child.

A federal civil lawsuit filed with Texas Southern District Court back in May accused Mata of assaulting the minor five times, on five separate occasions, all while on duty. The suit alleges that the attacks took place in abandoned houses around the city as other Pharr police officers stood by and watched.

The lawsuit also accused the department of engaging in a cover-up to protect the officers from criminal charges, as well as not conducting a rape kit or immediately testing the evidence.

The lawsuit was filed against the officer, the City of Pharr, the Pharr Police Department and the Pharr police chief.

Claims against the City of Pharr and the Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas were dismissed, however the motion to dismiss Mata was denied.

The Pharr Police Department did an internal investigation, but the family claims Chief Villescas told them not to hire an attorney and that he would personally take care of the allegations against the officer, reports.

While the officers were terminated, neither Mata, nor the officers who allegedly watched, initially faced any criminal charges for the 2013 attacks.

After the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer for the teen asked the Texas Rangers to conduct their own investigation into the allegations. The Rangers found the accusations to be accurate and turned over the results to prosecutors, who presented the case to a grand jury and indicted Mata on July 30.

Pharr's city attorneys deny that other officers watched the sexual assaults.

If convicted, Mata faces between five and 99 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

Isolated incident? Hardly.

Sexual misconduct is the second highest of all complaints nationwide against police officers, representing 9.3 percent in 2010, according to an unofficial study.

In 2010, 354 of the 618 complaints involved non consensual sexual acts, and over half of those involved were minors.

Earlier this month we reported on an officer in charge of a rape case who is accused of stalking and sexually harassing the victim.

Last month Oklahoma made headlines with serial rapists in 3 weeks, all officers, as well as one police chief molesting children.

In July, a former New York Police Department officer convicted of planning to kidnap and rape women before killing and eating them was set to go free after a federal judge overturned his conviction.

Graphic video released in "firing squad" style police killing of mentally ill man

Saginaw, MI - The gruesome dashcam video of a summary execution of a mentally ill man by police has been released to the public this week.

The video shows six police officers, in firing squad fashion, execute mentally ill, Milton Hall, in broad daylight in a Saginaw parking lot.

Hall was several meters away from the closest police officer when the shots began. He posed very little threat to the officers as he was armed with a small pocket knife and could have easily been brought down with a taser.

Six Saginaw police officers fired 47 times at the 49-year-old Hall, striking him 11 times. Police claim Hall acted aggressively, according to then-Saginaw County Prosecutor Michael D. Thomas.

The video was obtained by the ACLU from the family of Hall. It provides a more detailed depiction of the incident that day than the original cellphone footage.


[embedded content]

According to the , the ACLU presented the police dashboard footage to representatives of the Organization of American States on Monday in an attempt to pressure the federal government to take another look at Hall's death.

The shooting was "not only reckless, but clearly unjust, and also grossly violated Milton Hall's human right to life," Fancher said.

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the FBI announced their joint decision on Feb. 25.

"After a thorough investigation, federal authorities have determined that this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to lead to a federal criminal prosecution of the police officers involved," a news release stated.

What do you think? Was the force used by Saginaw police in the above video "justifiable"?

Just in case you answered yes to the above question, here is an example of police in the UK handling a man with two very large knives. Amazingly enough, no one was killed.

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Utterly insane! Utah police shut down dance party because people were dancing without a "dance permit"

Utah dance party

© Unknown

A dance party in St. George, Utah was shut down over the weekend because the city will not allow people to dance without permits. However, "Heart of Dixie", the company who organized the event was actually under the impression that they had all of the permits that they needed.

The group has held their annual Halloween event "The Monster Mash" for the past three years in other areas of Utah. This year, they moved their event to St. George, but unfortunately the permit process is far more rigorous there than in other places where they had done business in the past.

Many event promoters are familiar with being required to get permits for alcohol and amplified music, and although many disagree with the process, they still do what they must to stay out of trouble.

Some towns, like St. George, do not like having events in their town, so they make the permitting process so difficult and complicated that it is nearly impossible to legally establish a live music event.

It is fairly common in these areas for the city to throw permit requirements on event organizers days before their show, which sabotages their event after months of planning is done and large sums of money have been invested.

That seems to be the case in St. George, where town bureaucrats claim that event organizers had applied for their "dancing permit" just days before the event.

While dancing permits do exist they are not typically separate forms than those required to hold a large gathering with amplified sound. These "permissions" are typically wrapped into the same paperwork, but in St. George this was an entirely separate permit. In other words, the event was permitted for live music, but not for dancing.

Jared Keddington, one of the main organizers for the event, told local Fox 13 that he thought he had all of the permits that he needed.

"We were given a permit, and then told by officers we couldn't have a dance, under threat of being taken to jail with a felony of inciting a riot. Things had been crossed out, and in hand was written, no dance activity permitted. On another page it was typed that the event must not be allowed to become a dance party due to random acts of dancing by patrons," Keddington said.

"It's not OK to tell people they can't dance. It's not OK to tell people they have to get a permit to dance," he added.

City spokesman Marc Mortensen said that Keddington did not file for the permit soon enough, but Mortensen neglected to mention how town officials made the entire process nearly impossible for the event organizers every step of the way.

"Via the power of social media, who knows how many could have showed up and would that have overburdened that particular neighborhood and could it have potentially created problems, that's what we try and avoid," Mortensen said.

Only in the "Land of the Free" do we need a permit to dance.......

Colorado man vanishes at stadium during Broncos game

Paul Kitterman

© Courtesy of Tia Bakke

Paul Kitterman, second from left, poses for a photo with his son, left, and two family friends shortly before his disappearance.

Paul Kitterman told his friend Tia Bakke that the experience of being at his first ever Denver Broncos game in person with his son was "awesome" - and that was the last she heard of him.

The 53-year-old from Kremmling, Colorado, seemingly vanished into the Sports Authority Field crowd at the Broncos-Chargers game Thursday night in what Denver police now call a missing persons case.

"He would never bail on his son, or anyone," Bakke told

ABC News, "so by Friday night, we knew something was really, really, wrong."

Bakke, who traveled with Kitterman and his son, Jarod, to the game, said they had plans to meet afterwards at a stadium gate.

"We go down to gate 8. No Paul. We wait an hour. No Paul," she said.

Bakke's group contacted stadium security and searched around the grounds until 1 a.m. before finally heading back to Kremmling without Kitterman.

Kitterman has few contacts in Denver and had no cell phone, credit card or vehicle with him, Bakke said. She added he had plans to go hunting with his son the next morning.

Denver police have filed a missing persons report, are assisting the family and are investigating, but are not actively searching on foot because they are not certain a crime was committed.

"With 70,000 people and cameras all over the stadium, you would see something if a violent crime occurred," Sonny Jackson, a police spokesman, told ABC News.

Now, friends and family are posting signs around Denver and appealing to the public to help with the search, Bakke said. But as time goes on, they are growing more concerned they are running out of options.

"Now we're just sick about it, and we have no idea what to do," Bakke said.

Video here.

NASA rocket bound for International Space Station explodes just seconds after takeoff

An unmanned rocket exploded shortly after takeoff Tuesday evening on Virginia's eastern shore. Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket was carrying thousands of pounds of equipment to restock the International Space Station.

The launch was supposed to be the third of eight planned Orbital missions to ferry gear and food to astronauts aboard the ISS. The rocket had some 5,000 pounds of food, supplies and science experiments, which all were engulfed in a fireball just above NASA's Wallop's Island facility.

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The team on the ground has confirmed there are no injuries, although because of "classified crypto equipment" onboard, it is in the process of securing the surrounding area, chatter on the livestream of the launch said.

Orbital called the enormous blast a "vehicle anomaly" on Twitter.

There has been a vehicle anomaly. We will update as soon as we are able.

- Orbital Sciences (@OrbitalSciences) October 28, 2014

The Antares was originally supposed to lift off on Monday, but the launch was postponed 10 minutes before take-off because a sailboat ended up in the restricted danger zone south of the Virginia complex, the Associated Press reported. Controllers promptly halted the countdown.

.@OrbitalSciences declares contingency. @NASA and Orbital determining when press conference will be held. Updates: http://t.co/6Bo6KBRWnG

- NASA (@NASA) October 28, 2014

Each delivery by Orbital Science's unmanned Cygnus capsule honors a deceased person linked to the company or a commercial spaceflight. Tuesday's mission was a tribute to Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton, who led a rocket company until his death in 1993. As a retro-style homage, Orbital Sciences flight controllers wore short-sleeved white shirts and skinny black ties.

Along with 32 mini-research satellites, a meteor tracker and a tank of high-pressure nitrogen to replenish a vestibule used by spacewalking astronauts, the company stowed a post-Halloween surprise for the two Americans, three Russians and one German aboard the ISS, Orbital said at a prelaunch news conference Sunday.

The launch of the Orbital Sciences' #Antares Rocket has failed immediately after launch http://ift.tt/1xBQeD1

- Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) October 28, 2014

Antares Rocket blows up on liftoff #breaking #7news http://ift.tt/135qtlN

- Brad Tatum (@BradTatum) October 28, 2014

Orbital Sciences, a US-based company designing and manufacturing small- and medium-sized rocket systems, has been contracted by NASA to resupply the ISS.

Audit reveals U.S. government secretly monitoring mail on massive scale

© AFP Photo/Mychele Daniau

Questions are being asked of the United States Postal Service after the release of an audit confirming that roughly 49,000 pieces of mail were monitored by the agency during the last fiscal year.

The Ron Nixon reported on Monday this week that a 2014 audit of the USPS's little-known surveillance program showed that nearly 50,000 pieces of mail were scrutinized during a 12-month span upon the request of authorities using a tactic called a "mail cover."

But while the USPS green-lighted tens of thousands of these requests made by law enforcement agencies in the last year pursuant to criminal and national security investigations, the reported, the protocols in place for authorizing such scans are reportedly ripe with flaws.

"Insufficient controls," as identified in the audit, "could hinder the Postal Inspection Service's ability to conduct effective investigations, lead to public concerns over privacy of mail and harm the Postal Service's brand," Nixon quoted from the report.

Additionally, the audit found that "responsible personnel did not always handle and process" those requests on par with the agency's established rules.

The determinations made by the authors of the report run counter with what a spokesperson with the Postal Service told the Associated Press when reached for comment upon publication of the ' report. According to USPS spox Toni DeLancey, the agency "authorized only under limited circumstances" the monitoring of letters and packages.

According to the audit, however, 21 percent of the 196 instances examined when the USPS conducted "mail cover" surveillance, or when the agency recorded the identifying address on a package for law enforcement purposes, were done without written authorization; another 13 percent, the report noted, "were not adequately justified."

These "inadequate controls," as described in the audit's summary, could impede legitimate investigations intended to target criminal activity, while at the same time subjecting even more Americans to government surveillance on the heels of revelations concerning other spy programs administered through offices such as the National Security Agency.

"It appears that there has been widespread disregard of the few protections that were supposed to be in place," National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Theodore Simon told the Times.

Others, including those within the ranks of the USPS, raised concerns over the report as well.

"You can't just get a mail cover to go on a fishing expedition," Paul J. Krenn, a spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service - the policing branch of the USPS - added to the . "There has to be a legitimate law enforcement reason, and the mail cover can't be the sole tool."

The report is available on the website of the USPS Office of Inspector General and contains information about the "mail cover" program between October 1 2013 and September 30, 2014. Although the agency says around 49,000 requests for mail covers were made during the last fiscal year, auditors examined only a sample of 196 in determining the inadequacies within the program.

Time to ramp the fear up: U.S. government buildings beefing up security over phantom terror threats

© Eric Thayer/Getty Images/AFP

"Tribute in Light" is reflected on the 9/11 Memorial

The United States is beefing up security at thousands of government buildings around the country due to "continued public calls" for terrorist attacks, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Tuesday.

Johnson said the new security measures will affect more than 9,500 federal buildings as well as the 1.4 million people who visit these facilities every day. The move was described by Johnson as a"precautionary step," intended to safeguard federal buildings and visitors.

"The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently," Johnson said.

"Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel."

However, Johnson declined to detail exactly what new policies will be implemented by the Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of government facilities. The measures will differ from location to location, and will be consistently reviewed, he added.

Moscow calls reports of U.S. diplomats being harassed in Russia 'groundless'

Reports of US diplomats in Moscow being systematically mistreated are "groundless," Russia's Foreign Ministry said. It also accused US special services of provocations and attempting to recruit Russian diplomats in Washington.

Responding to an ABC "exclusive," the ministry said that voiced "complaints" are "banal fantasies" that"do not reach the level of cheap spy detectives."

"What is outrageous is the peremptory and contrary to the facts statement by the US State Department press secretary that "in contrast to the behavior of the Russians," the American side treats diplomats from Russia with the utmost respect," the Russian Foreign Ministry statement reads.

In a report Monday, ABC News accused Russia of Cold War-style harassment of US embassy diplomats, which included slashing, hacking and breaking into diplomatic apartments.

Reporting on the issue at length, the ABC's Kirit Radia listed a number of cases when US officials - none of whom were named - were targeted by Russia's "aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics" of intimidation and harassment "that is believed to be led by Russia's Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB."

The report specifically focused on Michael McFaul who served as the US ambassador until last February and who also "was targeted by aggressive actions".

The Office of Inspector General described McFaul's treatment as "a level of petty and more serious harassment far exceeding that experienced by his predecessors."

McFaul himself refused to speak to ABC.

© RIA Novosti/Iliya Pitalev

Former United States Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul

"We are not supporters of public discussions of professional sides of the diplomatic work and risks associated with it, which are especially high in the US given the scale and range of secret operations by American intelligence, closely 'watching over' Russian diplomats," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

"But once Washington has started the conversation 'out loud', we have something to say," the statement added.

'Provocations, brazen recruitment attempts and use of force'

According to the ministry, Russian diplomats in Washington have been "purposefully" spied on and attempts have been made to entrap them in conversation.

Employees of the Russian center for science and culture in Washington, DC, have also faced targeted persecution by the US side.

"We can recall the incident that took place not so long ago when force was used not only against the staff of our embassy in the United States, but also their wives, who were subjected to detention and harsh interrogation in handcuffs," the statement said. "The American side offered no apologies despite our requests."

Russian diplomats reported regular recruiting attempts, when "rough provocative techniques" were used or personal data, including on health status of family members, illegally obtained.

Speaking of US diplomats working in Russia, the Ministry stressed that are they are not an "example of law and compliance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations."

According to the ministry, US envoys have been involved in about 20 cases of traffic violations. This also includes the accident when a US diplomat smashed into cars parked in the street on last New Year's Eve.

There have been no responses to "any note from the Russian Foreign Ministry with a request to take actions against the violators."

"We advise our colleagues from the State Department to not add negative to the already dark background of our relations. Problems are not solved that way, but rather aggravated," the ministry said.

The ABC News report comes amid tense relations between Russia and the US. Having deteriorated previously, this year the two countries have been facing the deepest rift in recent years, triggered by the political conflict in Ukraine.

Here's why US home ownership rate dropped to 1983 levels

The last time US home ownership declined down to 64.4% (which the Census Bureau just reported is what US home ownership declined to from 64.7% in Q2), was back in the fourth quarter of 1983.

It goes without saying that this is about the bearishest news possible for those few who still believe in the American home ownership dream.

Of course, those who have been following real-time rental market trends would be all too aware there is no rebound coming to the home ownership rate. The reason is simple: increasingly fewer can afford to buy, instead having no choice but to rent, which in turn has pushed the median asking rent to record highs. In fact in the past two quarters, the asking rent was just $10 shy of its all time highs at $756 per month.

But capital allocation preferences aside, while explaining the disparity between rental and home ownership in a world where is the new American Dream, what the charts above don't explain is why there is no incremental demand from all those millions of young Americans who enter the population and, eventually, the workforce. At least on paper.

Earlier today, Bank of America in its Chart of the Day was confused by precisely this:

Population growth of 25-34 year olds outpacing growth in the housing stock: The primary driver of household formation is population growth among 25 to 34 year olds. There is notable divergence with the growth in this age group and the growth in the housing stock. This suggests greater doubling up of households as a result of the recession and weak recovery. Unless doubling up turns into tripling up, household formation should recover over time, creating a need for greater building. Given tight credit conditions, this will tend to drive apartment construction more than single family construction. Either way, the housing stock is lagging well behind demographic fundamentals.

Yes, in theory, in a normal world, demand should increase over time. But the world is anything but normal.

Enter: the Millennials.

For the benefit of a very confused Bank of America, and everyone else who missed our weekend chart porn on the financial state of the Millennial, here are some of the key charts which explain why owning a home in the US has become a mirage for an entire generation of Americans. Incidentally, the largest generation in US history.

This is what is happening:

And this is why:

Bottom line: they may be homeless, but Millennials sure love their smartphones...

Much more here.

Hunger will tame the fiercest animals: Engineered poverty in the UK

© Matt Kenyon

What would you do to keep your baby from starving? Perhaps the same as Lucy Hill. At the start of October, the 35-year-old mother from Kidderminster was broke. After missing an interview at the jobcentre, her disability benefits had been stopped - which left her, her partner and her toddler of 18 months without anything to live on. So she went to the local Spar and stole a chicken and some soap powder.

Two weeks later, Hill was up before the magistrate. Her police interview noted that she said "sorry to the shop ... but had no money ... and was in a desperate situation". She was ordered to pay compensation, a fine, costs and a surcharge: a total of over £200 to be taken off someone who'd only committed a crime because she had no money. Her solicitor John Rogers remembers that the mother's chief worry was that the social services might find out and take away her baby.

After running me through the details, Rogers sighs. Cases like this keep coming his way, he says: "They miss an appointment so their benefits are sanctioned [docked or stopped altogether], so they have no money, so they steal." His local office now handles "at least half a dozen" such cases each month - up from almost nothing a year ago.

He's just one lawyer in one post-industrial town, describing a national policy: of starving the poor into committing crime. Nothing is accidental about this regime.

Iain Duncan Smith has denied setting staff targets for sanctioning benefits claimants; but this paper has found evidence, not only of targets but even league tables for job centres to compete against each other in keeping claimants away from their money. Do that on a big enough scale and some are bound to choose to steal rather than starve.

Because, rest assured, Hill's not the only one. Last week, Ian Mulholland of Darlington was in court. After having his benefits "sanctioned" and spending nine weeks with nothing to live on, the 43-year-old had stolen some meat from the local Sainsbury's. That crime got him six weeks in prison. A theft worth £12.60 means the taxpayer will spend over two grand to keep Mulholland behind bars.

When you read of such sentences, remember that this is the same country in which - just a few years ago - over 300 parliamentarians were found to have claimed expenses to which they weren't entitled; hundreds of thousands handed over to some of the richest people in the country for duck houses, moat repairs and heating their stables.

A mere handful were sent to prison. For others, the punishment was just a career break.

David Laws, an architect of the cuts we are living through, resigned after it was discovered that he had funnelled over £40,000 of public money as rent to his landlord, who was also his lover. He was back as a minister within two years and is in charge of drafting the Lib Dem election manifesto. When Laws began his cabinet sabbatical, the broadsheets wept as bitterly as if it were a scene from Les Mis.

This newspaper ran a column raging against the exile of "a man of quite exceptional nobility". No ink so purple will be spilled for the likes of Hill and Mulholland, of course. But then, these people aren't powerful and their crimes are merely prosaic. They're the pensioner caught by police in Glasgow with three stolen cans. The asylum seeker nicking a sarnie from Sainsbury's.

And all the other instances that police from Lancashire to south London cite as one of their growing crime areas: of people stealing to eat because they can't afford basics.

If this sounds humdrum, that's what austerity Britain is: humdrum, run-of-the-mill immiseration. Greece gets austerity imposed upon it by Brussels and Berlin, and Athens goes up in flames. But the British choose a government that imposes cuts - and then the poorest are forced either to steal, or to beg from this decade's other great phenomenon: food banks.

And sometimes, they try other tactics to keep fed and warm. Ask Mark Frankland, who runs a food bank in Dumfries. He used to dispense 100 food parcels a month; now it's more like 500.

He's noticed another trend: people who've had their benefits sanctioned stealing televisions or other items sufficiently expensive to guarantee they're sent down. That way, they get up to four months in a heated cell, with three meals a day. He says: "For them, it's ten times better than spending a hungry winter in a cold flat."

Put that way, it sounds quite rational. And certainly the driving forces could have been spotted way off. Food and energy prices have been rising since the crash; real wages and benefits have been sliding. The upshot was always going to be: families in work having to go without, and much worse for those not in work.

But if they couldn't do the arithmetic, ministers could have listened to the dozens of Anglican bishops and hundreds of church leaders warning that hunger was becoming "a national crisis". They could have read the letters from researchers in the British Medical Journal warning that the rise in food poverty has "all the signs of a public health emergency". They could have looked over the hospital admissions statistics showing a rise in malnutrition.

Instead Lord Freud, a welfare minister, pretended that the spread of hundreds of food banks was because people like a free meal. When the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs received a report on food banks that showed Freud's argument was "not based on robust evidence", it sat on it for as long as possible.

Whatever intentions you ascribe to Freud and IDS and Cameron, there can be no doubt they have engineered Britain's crisis of hunger, simply by blocking their ears to all the evidence and pressing ahead. Whether food banks or shoplifting or the devaluation of wages for British workers, the effect has been the same. And it's best summed up by Joseph Townsend, an 18th-century vicar - and a precursor to IDS in his plans to scrap poor relief.

"Hunger will tame the fiercest animals," wrote Townsend in support of his welfare reforms. "It will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjection ... it is only hunger which can spur and goad the poor on to labour."

Exhibiting no symptoms, New Jersey woman forcibly quarantined in 'prison-like' conditions

Kaci Hickox

© Steven J. Hyman

Kaci Hickox in quarantine.

Newark - A humanitarian worker says she is being detained against her will and "treated like a criminal" after selflessly working to provide health care to the people of Africa. The quarantined nurse has not tested positive for any disease and has exhibited no symptoms of illness.

Kaci Hickox, 33, recently returned from the West African nation of Sierra Leone, part of an assignment from Doctors Without Borders to help the poverty and disease stricken natives deal with the recent ebola outbreak.

What she returned home to in the USA, she said that she "would not wish on anyone."

Ms. Hickox said that even though she tested negative for ebola and never felt ill, she was forcibly detained by armed police and state health workers and confined as part of a mandatory quarantine instituted by Governor Chris Christie.

The "prison-like" treatment has included locking her in an unheated tent in a parking lot, without a flushing toilet, while being deprived of legal counsel.

When Ms. Hickox first arrived at Newark International Airport from Sierra Leone, a federal agent smiled at her and told her, "No problem. They are probably going to ask you a few questions."

Kaci Hickox_1

© Kaci Hickox

The inside of the tent Kaci Hickox was locked in during quarantine.

Ms. Hickox said that she was then ushered to a "quarantine office" at the airport and interrogated by federal and state officials dressed in gloves, masks, coveralls, and protective gear. As she described in her exclusive account in the , a man with a gun protruding from his coveralls "barked questions at [her] like a criminal."

After six hours of detainment at the airport, Ms. Hickox said that she was finally taken to a local hospital, and ultimately confined in a quarantine tent in the parking lot.

All of this was done without evidence of her being sick. She was also denied access to her lawyer for days, she said.

Quarantine Tent

© Kaci Hickox

The tent had no running water.

The tent has a window, and doctors talk to me in normal clothes from outside the window," she told CNN. "So if there's no risk to them talking to me from outside the window, it doesn't make any sense that my lawyer wouldn't be able to do the same."

The situation has been traumatic for Ms. Hickox, who relates the conditions to being in prison. She spoke of passing the hours by staring at the walls.

"I don't think most people understand what it's like to be alone in a tent and decisions are being made that don't make sense and show no compassion," Hickox said. "I just feel like fear is winning right now, and when fear wins, everyone loses."


Kaci Hickox_2

© Police State USA

Kaci Hickox photographed during her time in Africa.

On October 27th, after several days of detainment in the tent, the New Jersey Department of Health agreed to transport her to her home state of Maine, where she will continue being quarantined without symptoms of illness.

"When you look at what happened and how it happened, you come away with the sense that this policy was based on fear and politics rather on medical fact, and we can't have the politicians directing these kinds of important issues," said attorney Norman Siegel to ABC News.

"Her civil rights were violated," Mr. Siegel added. "At a minimum, she could bring an action for damages. But I think her goal is to try to revise the current policies with regard to, for example, mandatory quarantines."

Beauty myths: The 'Certified Organic' deception

Natural and organic cosmetics and skin care products are becoming more and more popular, as more of us are addressing our state of wellbeing. Whilst I feel this is a wonderful shift in culture, it can also be quite confronting, confusing and deceiving. If you have recently jumped on the wellness train, and gone through the process of detoxing your bathroom cabinet, then it's highly likely you've come across words such as organic, natural, biodynamic, certified organic, vegan, wild crafted and naturally derived.

And then there's the BDIH, ECOCERT, USDA, ACO (Australian Certified Organic), OFC (Organic Food Chain), NATRUE, Soil Association and many more.

It's no wonder you may be confused, reading contradictory information on the internet, and wondering which beauty product is best. If you've been hoodwinked in to thinking that your certified organic brand is better (in terms of purity and performance) than the non certified organic brand that you were contemplating, you're not alone. But please take a moment to think about what your deciding factor was. Was it the certification stamp that gave you instant assurance? Or did you do your research?

Perhaps your certified organic product is better. But then again, it may not be. Those certification stamps are not as straightforward or trustworthy as you've been led to believe.

What if I were to tell you that it's all a crock of sh*t? Excuse my language but there's no other way to succinctly phrase it.

There is no universal standard for "certified organic".

Every organic certification processor has a different set of standards and a different list of what they will allow in a product and what they prohibit. It's also an expensive process, which deters many fabulous brands (with product made from 70 - 100% organic ingredients) and suppliers (with genuine organic ingredients) who either don't have the budget to go through the certification process, or those who know better than to follow blindly like sheep without questioning the efficacy of the process.

Still confused? I don't blame you. It baffled the pants off me when I first started researching it 10+ years ago. Following is a very simplified overview that I hope will help clear the confusion over common buzz words that are used and abused.

Buzz words defined

Natural - naturally occurring in nature, and delivered in its natural form. eg. coconut oil. But is the coconut oil raw? virgin? cold-pressed? or has it been heat treated, bleached and deodorised?

Naturally derived - ingredients first derived from nature, that have been used to artificially create an end ingredient that is delivered in an unnatural form. eg. SLS derived from coconut oil, polysorbates derived from sugar. And guess what ... high fructose corn syrup is naturally derived too, and highly hazardous to your health.

Wild crafted - plants that have grown wild in nature without human intervention and ideally harvested following wildcrafting guidelines to ensure a high quality.

Vegan - a product can be 'vegan' if the ingredients are plant-based, mineral-based or synthetic.

Organic - strictly speaking means relating to, or derived from living matter (i.e. containing carbon molecules). It is loosely used in the beauty industry to mean a product with ingredients that are grown without the use of artificial chemicals. It doesn't, however, take in to account the various other ingredients that may be in the product that aren't organic and may or may not be highly toxic.

Certified Organic - there is no universal standard for "certified organic". It can mean anything from as little as 10% of the ingredients being organic to as high as 95% or more of the ingredients being organic. And a very large grey area of acceptable and unacceptable manufacturing methods permitted by the various certification bodies.

Biodynamic - one of the most ethical and sustainable forms of agriculture in existence. It excludes the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides and relies on the natural interdependence between all the different components of the farm to create a self-sustaining, balanced and harmonious environment.

Certification Standards

The certifying body for biodynamic farming is Demeter. An international standard. There are no other conflicting biodynamic certification bodies. Demeter certified products haven't yet become mainstream in Australia. However, in Europe, there are health food stores with shelves and shelves of Demeter-certified goods. My husband and I literally fill our suitcase full of Demeter goods when we're in Zurich. Let's hope more and more Australian farmers start the conversion of their farms to Demeter standards so that we can have more availability of biodynamic produce.

Still curious? Following is a very brief outline of various certifiers commonly found on cosmetic labels.

If your products bear the ECOCERT logo then you really might want to double check that ingredient list and method of ingredient sourcing by the manufacturer. ECOCERT is the most misleading standard currently out there. They allow as little as 10% of the ingredients to be organic. They allow various petrochemical ingredients and synthetic preservatives that other certifiers strictly prohibit.

NATRUE has 3 different levels of certification: natural, natural with a portion of organic, and organic. For the highest level of organic certification, at least 95 % of the natural and/or naturally-derived ingredients must come from controlled organic cultivation and/or controlled wild collection. However, NATRUE allow many potentially toxic and irritating ingredients such as synthetic preservatives, sulfates and hydrogenation of oils. But here's where it gets confusing, NATRUE recognize biodynamic ingredients where other certification bodies don't. Personally I'm a little perplexed by NATRUE as some very good brands bear this logo and I love that they recognise biodynamics.

However, a good point to highlight... just because one fabulous brand bears a certification stamp, doesn't mean that all the other brands with the same certification stamp have the same level of purity (due to the sliding scale of organic content requirement), performance (delivering similar results) or ethical standards.

The BDIH is a natural certification body. Meaning that the product does not need to contain organic ingredients. Herein lies the highly probable risk of pesticide residue. They allow synthetic preservatives but prohibit the use of certain petrochemicals that other organic certifiers allow.

The Soil Association has stricter standards than ECOCERT, NATRUE and BDIH with a sliding scale of 70% organic content for the product to bear the "made with organic" certification and 95% organic content for the "organic" certification stamp of approval. BUT, they allow certain synthetic preservatives and foaming agents that are renowned skin irritants, as well as frequently being found to be contaminated with the -amine group of chemicals that can react with other substances in your products to form another class of chemicals called nitrosamines, most of which are carcinogenic.

The USDA, OFC and ACO have stricter standards than those mentioned above, with a sliding scale of 70% organic content for the product to bear the "made with organic" certification and 95% organic content for the "organic" certification stamp of approval. BUT... just because the product bears either one of these logos, it does not mean that it contains superior ingredients than brands that aren't certified.

And then there's the latest COSMOS Standard that is bringing together 5 certifiers: BDIH, Soil Association, Ecocert, ICEA and CosmeBIO. Whilst this at first sounded quite promising in terms of a more "standard" definition of what certified organic might mean, this is a partnership that has left my jaw dropped since first talking with one of it's representatives and reading their Standards and Licence Fees.

Some manufacturers are having to step up to a more strict compliance, whereas others are compromising their existing high standards to drop down to meet a middle ground with the others. COSMOS will allow the following known irritants and toxic chemicals, to mention just a few examples of those that initially jump out as ingredients that you;d be much better off steering clear of: various preservatives and denaturing agents from petrochemical origin, various petrochemical molecules, Bismuth Oxychloride (skin irritant), Mica (skin irritant and linked with child labour) and Carmine (part of insects).

Then there are the Licence Fees. This is my other main concern about the entire certified organic industry. Some certifiers demand a percentage of profits based on the previous year's turnover of products or ingredients that bear their certified organic logo. What this means to you as the consumer, is an increase in the end price of the product. Why? because the significant fees that are involved in obtaining that certified organic logo are factored in to the pricing. It is also, not just a one off fee. It is an annual fee that is charged year after year, and a hidden trap for the brand owner, as it doesn't exactly look great if the brand decides not to renew their certification logo with the certifier. Public perception would undoubtedly be something along the lines of "perhaps they are not genuinely organic anymore".

Product Comparison

Following is an example of two skincare products marketed as Cleansing Balms:

Full list of ingredients for the cleansing balm:

caprylic/capric triglyceride, glycerin, sunflower seed oil*, water, sucrose laurate, sucrose palmitate, parfum (natural fragrance), tocopherol.

* ingredients from organic farming

Full list of ingredients for the cleansing balm that is certified:

sunflower seed oil*, virgin coconut oil*, chamomile flower*, marigold flower*, raw shea butter*, candelilla wax, carrot root*, rosehip fruit oil*, natural vitamin E in GMO-free soybean oil, orange essential oil*, petitgrain essential oil*, rosemary leaf extract*, bog myrtle essential oil, neem seed oil*.

* ingredients from organic farming and wild crafted

(Product contains 90% organic ingredients).

Considering the first 3 ingredients of a product make up the majority of the ingredients, I know which one I'd prefer to use on my skin. Especially as the certified organic product only contains one organic ingredient, whereas the product that is not certified organic contains a much higher percentage of organic ingredients as well as being totally transparent in informing the actual percentage of organic ingredients. Having personally tried both products, there isn't a comparison in terms of effectiveness. The certified organic cleansing balm was unimpressive to say the least. The non certified organic cleansing balm was an absolute heavenly experience that removed all traces of makeup and left my skin feeling clean and fresh, soft and smooth, as well as nourished and hydrated.

So, what's a girl to do?

Read the full ingredient list. The first 3 ingredients typically make up the majority of a product. Not always the case, but it's a fairly safe bet. Look out for any hidden nasties, most likely words that don't look or sound anything like a botanical plant name.

Get to know the brand you are planning on using. Are they owned by a big multinational that is more concerned with profitability than the long term health and appearance of your skin and wellbeing? Do they source their ingredients ethically?

Most importantly ... follow your knowing. Try a product and determine the results for yourself. If you aren't impressed, try another brand. Sooner or later you'll find the right beauty brand for you.

Remember the fundamental truth that applies to everything in your life. There is no-one else that knows what is better for you, than you.

Over the years I've tried a ridiculous number of so-called natural, organic, and certified organic brands. The brands that I've found to be superior in terms of purity (organic, wildcrafted and biodynamic ingredients, no nasties etc), performance (delivering beautiful results) and with ethical standards that tick all my vegan, cruelty-free and sustainability boxes, and most are not certified organic. But that's what works best for me.

If in doubt, always go with what feels light, and what is right for you. Only you know what is best for you.

About the author

Indiana town moves to seize over 350 homes to make room for private developer

 resident mows his lawn

© Facebook

A resident mows his lawn in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood of Charlestown, Indiana.

Charlestown , Indiana - A town is working to "demolish a working-class neighborhood" by seizing 354 homes and passing the land off to a private commercial developer. Using federal dollars and the highly-abused power of eminent domain, the city intends to evict multitudes of families to make way for economic progress.

The community under fire is called "Pleasant Ridge." It contains hundreds of small homes that were built during World War II as military housing. Today the homes are privately-owned and contain working-class and poor families, many of which have owned their homes for decades.

The City of Charlestown intends to demolish the community in order to allow new commercial and residential real estate to be built in its place - privately-owned real estate. The city declared its intentions in June 2014, when it applied to the state for permission to use eminent domain and for $5.3 million in "Hardest Hit Funds," a federal grant program administered through Indiana's Blight Elimination Program (BEP). The land grab might not have been economically feasible if not for being directly subsidized and incentivized by the federal government.

Protests against the looming seizure have persisted for months, and Pleasant Ridge formed its own neighborhood association this summer to coordinate opposition. The government's decision on the project is supposed to be made in November or December.

The perilous power of eminent domain has been in use for as long as governments have existed, but it was traditionally (and constitutionally) constrained to projects involving "public use" of the land. These might have included roads or government facilities.

In 2005, however, the U.S. Supreme Court egregiously ruled that it was "constitutional" for a city to seize homes for the benefit of private developers (see: Kelo v. City of New London). The benefits of "economic development" have been henceforth recognized to trump private property rights in the USA. In other words, people can be involuntarily kicked off land they own free-and-clear, if government bureaucrats believe another private party could use it to bring in more tax revenue for the city.

The City of Charlestown has been further justifying its authoritarian maneuver by claiming that the Pleasant Ridge community is "blighted" and full of drugs, crime, and "transients." Officials claim building retail stores and new homes would be an improvement to Charlestown.

Residents contest these allegations, striking blows at the city's credibility. And, even if the claims were found to contain shades of truth, they would not morally excuse the wholesale violation of any family's right to be secure in their own private property.

 home of Ellen and David Keith

© Institute for Justice

Blighted? The home of Ellen and David Keith in Charlestown, Indiana.

"I've never had any trouble in this neighborhood, not one problem," said resident Ellen Keith, who has lived in the community since 1968 and raised a family there. "The mayor wants to say that we have a crime and drug problem. ... I guess because we're a poor neighborhood, they want to label it like that."

"We're not transients. We're real people," Mrs. Keith continued. "These people are my real neighbors, and I love my neighbors. ... My house is not for sale."

The use of eminent domain comes with compensation to the evicted landowners. As the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, "No person shall be... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The City of Charlestown has proclaimed that a paltry sum of $6,000 per home is the amount of "just compensation" that will be administered to the Pleasant Ridge refugees if the land grab takes place.

The nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice (IJ) has taken up the cause of Pleasant Ridge, leading the charge to defend the private property rights of the community.

Politics can interact with evolution to shape human destiny: Just look at the horrible decline of society under the rule of psychopaths

© Ninjin Club

Politics can have unintentional evolutionary consequences that may cause hastily issued policies to cascade into global, multigenerational problems, according to political scientists.

"Most western democracies look at policies as if they are bandages, we fix what we can and then move on," said Pete Hatemi, associate professor of political science, Penn State. "But we need to consider generational policies so that we can fix what we can now, but also be prepared for what comes next."

The researchers said that there is an interaction between political and cultural forces and evolutionary results. Genes can shape culture and political institutions, which in turn can shape biology and physiology, passing on certain traits to future generations. The environment's influence on adaptation and how it changes biology is better known and often easier to observe, said Hatemi, but the way culture can affect gene expressions in future generations is often harder to show and may take longer to reveal itself.

One more obvious way to see how culture affects natural selection is the effect that politically inspired atrocities -- for example, Communist purges in China and USSR and the Nazi Holocaust -- have on genetic diversity, according to the researchers, who released their findings in a recent issue of .

Other examples are just beginning to be studied. For example, researchers are starting to investigate whether, in certain conflicts, such as the Sudan, children who endured violence as soldiers, or mothers who suffered stress and malnutrition during famines, experience shifts in gene expression.

"Biology is affected by culture just as culture is changed by human biology," the researchers write.

Hatemi, who worked with Rose McDermott, the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of International Relations, Brown University, said this interaction between culture and biology could explain why some troubled hot spots remain troubled over many years. People who are born in aggressive environments may pass on traits that make it more likely that future generations react to certain situations violently, he added.

"These changes, then, may have a long-range effect on children and on who those children become when they grow up," said Hatemi. "Those who grow up in a violent culture may have more of a tendency to respond with aggression in the future."

Another problem is that politicians typically create policies in a one-size-fits-all approach, Hatemi said, but there are considerable differences among groups.

"Education is a good example," said Hatemi. "We try to create educational policies to benefit the greatest number of people, but we also know that not everyone responds to education in the same way."

A similar dynamic may be at work in the creation of policies that guide health care and foreign affairs. Not all groups respond to diets in the same way, for example, and reproductive health varies across populations.

"We suggest that one of the reasons for the common failure of well-designed, well-intentioned social programs lies in the implicit 'one size fits all' assumptions, as well as the mismatch between modern intentions and older psychological drives and incentives," the researchers write.

While genetics is often seen as a rigid blueprint for destiny, the researchers suggest that humans are extremely adaptable and capable, to some degree, of molding evolutionary forces for good and bad. Humans have managed their environment by developing everything from tools and weapons to medical technologies, from crutches to vaccines.

"Evolution and genetic influence are, of course, important, but that doesn't mean it's fixed," Hatemi said. "We can shape policies that can shape evolution."

Comment: Everything is interconnected, and now there is a scientific explanation to the enormous mess we find ourselves in, due to the global infestation by psychopaths. Consider the following information:

[embedded content]

The transcript: Well this is something the Cassiopeans have told us, we don't have a full theoretical explanation for all of this what we have are observations. We can observe that all the planets in our solar system are heating up, the same as our earth is. Now, we have the global warming alarmist who say that you know we have human caused global warming.

Well if we have human caused global warming on planet earth, who is causing it on Mars and jupiter, on Saturn, on Uranus, on Neptune, you know the other planets in our solar system? How is that happening? So We have evidence of that.

We also have evidence of great shifts in our magnetic field of our planet, it's fluctuating wildly. We have evidence of strange things going on our planet, we have sink holes, we have volcanic eruptions, we have the gulf stream behaving irrationaly or crazy, we have - I don't know if you saw the picture of those cyclones over the U.S and the fact that nearly the entire U.S was covered with snow except for the state of Florida, and Hawaii I believe. Well I think Hawaii even had snow.

And look at, if you just read the articles we post on SOTT.NET every day, and we have categories for these articles, we have a category for earth changes, we have categories for things happening in the sky and cosmos. If you read the scientific reports that come through and put the pieces together- You can see Something BIG is happening. Something BIG is happening.

And we have the Cassiopaeans telling us this explanation for it- this Wave, this change in the cosmic environment. They've talked about the fact that there is a companion star involved and swarms of comets that may or may not devestate the earth. We may get a few, we may get a lot, you know. And I think a lot of that depends on the state of humanity itself, at the time of the event. So we have all of that. But what we still need, is that we still need a real theoretical structure into which to place all of these things that we can observe with our eyes.

So that's where science really needs to come in and we need to get psychopaths out of science. We need to get science able to really do what they should be doing, which is exploring our reality and our Universe and coming up with answers for what is going on. I mean I have my husband, you know he is a scientist, we have numerous scientists in our research team. We do the best we can to produce the best work we can. But we need help. There are other kinds of sciences that we don't have necessarily represented in our group. There are things that need to be studied, that need to be researched, tests that need to be done- and we don't have the time now. This should have all been done, and it's been prevented - for millenia, by psychopaths.

We are in the condition we are in, in the state of ignorance we are in, in the state of war, the state of economic depression and the state of depletion of the resources of our planet because of the greed of the psychopaths, who thought that they could create their own reality - Well look at the reality they created, just look at it.

Scientists engineer toxin-secreting stem cells to treat brain tumors

© Credit: Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Encapsulated toxin-producing stem cells (blue) help kill brain tumor cells in the tumor resection cavity (green).

Harvard Stem Cell Institute scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have devised a new way to use stem cells in the fight against brain cancer. A team led by neuroscientist Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, who recently demonstrated the value of stem cells loaded with cancer-killing herpes viruses, now has a way to genetically engineer stem cells so that they can produce and secrete tumor-killing toxins.

In the AlphaMed Press journal Stem Cells, Shah's team shows how the toxin-secreting stem cells can be used to eradicate cancer cells remaining in mouse brains after their main tumor has been removed. The stem cells are placed at the site encapsulated in a biodegradable gel. This method solves the delivery issue that probably led to the failure of recent clinical trials aimed at delivering purified cancer-killing toxins into patients' brains. Shah and his team are currently pursuing FDA approval to bring this and other stem cell approaches developed by them to clinical trials.

"Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don't work as well in solid tumors because the cancers aren't as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life," said Shah, who directs the Molecular Neurotherapy and Imaging Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"A few years ago we recognized that stem cells could be used to continuously deliver these therapeutic toxins to tumors in the brain, but first we needed to genetically engineer stem cells that could resist being killed themselves by the toxins," he said. "Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs."

Cytotoxins are deadly to all cells, but since the late 1990s, researchers have been able to tag toxins in such a way that they only enter cancer cells with specific surface molecules; making it possible to get a toxin into a cancer cell without posing a risk to normal cells. Once inside of a cell, the toxin disrupts the cell's ability to make proteins and, within days, the cell starts to die.

Shah's stem cells escape this fate because they are made with a mutation that doesn't allow the toxin to act inside the cell. The toxin-resistant stem cells also have an extra bit of genetic code that allows them to make and secrete the toxins. Any cancer cells that these toxins encounter do not have this natural defense and therefore die. Shah and his team induced toxin resistance in human neural stem cells and subsequently engineered them to produce targeted toxins.

"We tested these stem cells in a clinically relevant mouse model of brain cancer, where you resect the tumors and then implant the stem cells encapsulated in a gel into the resection cavity," Shah said. "After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumors, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells and eventually prolonging the survival in animal models of resected brain tumors."

Shah next plans to rationally combine the toxin-secreting stem cells with a number of different therapeutic stem cells developed by his team to further enhance their positive results in mouse models of glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor in human adults. Shah predicts that he will bring these therapies into clinical trials within the next five years.


Daniel W. Stuckey, Shawn D. Hingtgen, Nihal Karakas, Benjamin E. Rich, Khalid Shah. STEM CELLS, Published Online October 24 2014. doi: 10.1002/stem.1874

Harvard University press release