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Thursday, 6 November 2014

USGS: Earthquake Magnitude 6.6 - 72km NNE of Finschhafen, Papua New Guinea

Finschhafen Quake_071114


Event Time

2014-11-07 03:33:54 UTC

2014-11-07 13:33:54 UTC+10:00 at epicenter


6.044°S 148.210°E depth=43.2km (26.8mi)

Nearby Cities

72km (45mi) NNE of Finschhafen, Papua New Guinea

154km (96mi) ENE of Lae, Papua New Guinea

214km (133mi) NE of Bulolo, Papua New Guinea

218km (135mi) NE of Wau, Papua New Guinea

392km (244mi) NNE of Port Moresby, Papua New

Scientific Data

BEST OF THE WEB: The New York Times doesn't want you to understand this Vladimir Putin speech

© Reuters/Yves Herman

Give me a sec to count. In my lifetime the Soviet Union and latterly the Russian Federation have had nine leaders. Stalin's death elevated Malenkov and then Khrushchev, and the banishing of Khrushchev led to Brezhnev. Then came a pair of forgettables, then Gorbachev and on to the ever-inebriated Yeltsin (whom one wants dearly to forget). For 15 years, counting the Dmitry Medvedev interval, Vladimir Putin has held the wheel of the Russian bus.

Of all these figures only Stalin, and only in his post-"Uncle Joe" years, has been vilified to the extent of the current Russian leader. The question is obvious and I hope not too complicated: Why?

There are always plenty of answers floating around. I take almost all of them to lie somewhere between misguided and malevolent by intent, but I will get to this in a minute. In as few words as I can manage, here is my thought: Putin has fallen drastically afoul of Washington - and his war is with Washington more than the Europeans - because those in deep slumber do not like to be awakened.

It is an irresistible time to consider this problem for two reasons. One, in history two sure signs of imperial decline are deafness and blindness in the imperial capital, and as of the past year or so Washington exhibits seriously deteriorating symptoms. The willful refusal of our foreign policy cliques to look squarely at our world and listen to those in it is getting dangerous.

Two, Putin has just delivered a speech every American deserves to hear and consider. Few will have done so for the simple reason that our media declined to tell you about the Russian leader's presentation to an annual gathering of leaders and thinkers called the Valdai International Discussion Club, a Davos variant. Here is the Kremlin transcript, and now readers have two things to decide: What they think of the speech and what they think of the American media for not reporting it.

The theme at Valdai this year was "The World Order: NewRules, or a Game Without Rules." With the Ukraine crisis bumbling along toward a conclusion (or not) and the horrifically pointless mess America has made of the Middle East and now worsens daily, the either/or title is just about right: We cannot continue on in the post-Cold War era as we have until now.

A Russian commentator named Dmitry Orlov, whom I do not know of, said of Putin's contribution, "This is probably the most important political speech since Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech of March 5, 1946." I have no archive of political speeches and cannot cast a vote, but Putin's remarks certainly have an amplitude that makes ignoring them unforgivable. Paying-attention readers can compare them with the speech Putin gave as Crimea was annexed last March. Churchillian or no, this is once again big stuff.

"Let me say I will speak directly and frankly," Putin begins. "Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is little point in even meeting in this way. We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us."

Right away, clear language, shorn of obfuscation. No wonder no one from Washington of any rank attended this talkfest. Plain speaking is no longer in the American repertoire. And guess what else Putin marshaled: historical reference. Out, out, out of the question for the American policy cliques.

I was tempted to read this speech as a postmortem of the Ukraine crisis, a looking back. There is something to this, but not overmuch. Putin has his point to make about Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea: "We did not start this." But in reply to a question from Dominique de Villepin, a former French premier, Putin noted, "I believe Dominique referred to the Ukrainian crisis as the reason for the deterioration in international relations. Naturally, this crisis is a cause, but this is not the principal cause. The crisis in Ukraine is itself a result of an imbalance in international relations."

Not Kosovo, not Iraq, not Libya, not Syria, not Ukraine - all are best understood less as causes than as symptoms. These are America's "follies," as Putin called them, Washington's "theory of controlled chaos" at work.

In essence - the speech is long, carefully phrased and difficult to summarize - Putin argues that the New World Order the Bush I administration declared as the Soviet Union collapsed was a fundamental misreading of the moment. It is now a 20-odd-year failure hacks such as Tom Friedman compulsively term the successful spread of neoliberalism in the face of abundant evidence otherwise.

"A unilateral diktat and imposing one's own models produces the opposite result," Putin asserted. "Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals."

Such is Putin's take on how we got here. His view of where we have to go now is yet more compelling. Our systems of global security are more or less destroyed - "weakened, fragmented, and deformed," in Putin's words. In the face of this reality, multipolar cooperation in the service of substantial reconstruction agreements, in which the interests of all sides are honored, is mandatory.

"Given the global situation, it is time to start agreeing on fundamental things," Putin said. Then:

What could be the legal, political and economic basis for a new world order that would allow for stability and security, while encouraging healthy competition, not allowing the formation of new monopolies that hinder development? It is unlikely that someone could provide absolutely exhaustive, ready-made solutions right now. We will need extensive work with participation by a wide range of governments, global businesses, civil society, and such expert platforms as ours. However, it is obvious that success and real results are only possible if key participants in international affairs can agree on harmonizing basic interests, on reasonable self-restraint, and set the example of positive and responsible leadership. We must clearly identify where unilateral actions end and we need to apply multilateral mechanisms.

It is essential to read this as an attack on the U.S. because it is one. But there is a follow-on recognition not to be missed: This is the speech not of some kind of nostalgic empire builder - Putin dismisses the charge persuasively - but of a man genuinely afraid that the planet is close to tipping into some version of primitive disorder. Absent less adversarial international relations, we reach a moment of immense peril.

Before I explain my view of the Putin presentation, I urge readers to try a simple exercise. In the mind's eye, strip all names and identifiers out of the Web page where the speech is printed. Read the words for the words alone. Then make up your minds as to the wisdom or otherwise of the thinking.

O.K. Now I feel a little safer relating my perspective.

Putin's speech is so many magnitudes more sensible and credible than anything we have heard from Washington in who can say how long that one must either laugh or do the other thing. He has always seemed to me to honor history, and here he speaks with its authority. This is where the world is now, these are the mistakes that made it this way, and this is how we can correct them. And since it is all oars in the water, wake from your slumber, Americans.

This is precisely what Washington cannot bear the thought of. Any idea of global history that suggests a diminution of American power and prerogative is either to be ignored or actively extinguished.

As to the man who delivered these remarks, there ought to have been no need for me to propose the above experiment - reading the speech while forgetting the speaker. But this is where America's childish, undignified name-calling and demonization, as awful as anything in "Lord of the Flies," lands us.

What about Putin's human rights record? What about the oligarchs? What about the "fervent nationalism," Russian nationalism always being fervent when described by American hacks? What about "autocracy"? And that Christian fundamentalism of Putin's? What about the Russian press, and the judges, the well-meaning NGOs taking American funding and ...?

These are not bad questions. They are simply not the germane questions, and they are best answered by Russians in any case. The question for us is, What are dissenters from the orthodoxy to do as they recognize that Putin stands for the right of non-Western nations to be non-Western, to escape imitation, to create and solve their problems themselves? It is because Putin insists this right must be part of a truly new world order that he is singled out in the long list of Russia's postwar leaders.

Do not ask why a leader as evil as Beelzebub by our reckoning enjoys an approval rating of nearly 90 percent. I have just told you why.

Even the correspondent in Sochi, where the Valdai gathering was held, acknowledged the significance of Putin's presentation. "The speech," Neil Buckley wrote, "was one of Mr. Putin's most important foreign policy statements since he surprised the West in Münich in 2007 by accusing the U.S. of 'overstepping its boundaries in every way' and creating new dividing lines in Europe."

Well done, Neil Buckley. I would say your coverage was standout except that almost no one else covered it, so cheap thrills thus. On our side of the pond, recognition is due Alex Jones, the slightly paranoid conspiracy theorist, who at least put the speech and a commentary across to Americans by reprinting the Dmitry Orlov item cited above.

The coverage was notable, as in notably bad even by its poor standards of objectivity. So let's end noting it, briefly.

The news piece was brief, buried and written by Neil MacFarquhar, a correspondent in the Moscow bureau whose habit of slanting coverage has been a topic in this space previously. MacFarquhar missed the point entirely - he had to, as the can hardly be expected to render an account that actually got to what Putin said and meant.

The taker of the cake for me, however, was an opinion piece by Serge Schmemann which you can read here. Do so: You will see a classic case of '-style innuendo and the use of language as instruction in what to think. And you will understand, if you do not already, why I think American responses to Putin can fairly be called childish.

Putin's appearance at Sochi was "his chance to sound off on a global stage," we have to know in the first sentence, insinuating him into the tinpot dictator file. Then a quotation from the speech:

"'It looks like the so-called 'winners' of the Cold War are determined to have it all and reshape the world into a place that could better serve their interests alone.'" This was not simply an observation, we must understand: It was "one notable riff." Anyone have any idea what a notable riff would be in this case?

Here is Schmemann on the Ukraine passages of the presentation: "In Mr. Putin's version of the Ukrainian crisis, the United States was the instigator of the protests in Kiev that led to a 'coup' against President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent fighting. One American participant told Mr. Putin she was hard put to recognize her country as the one he was describing."

Well, confused American participant, you make an interesting point. Washington has created a version of events in Ukraine that amounts to a parallel reality, and people such as Schmemann are paid to perpetuate it. If it is of any help: There was a coup, there were neo-fascists among its leaders, the State Department backed it, and the evidence of all this is indisputable .

(Transparency: I was briefly a colleague of Schmemann's during the 's final years.)

"What is hard to gauge listening to Mr. Putin," Schmemann writes, "is whether he really means to put the blame for all things wrong on the United States, or whether he is cynically using the old Soviet gimmick of projecting onto America and the West all the faults of which the U.S.S.R. itself was accused."

Hmmm. The thought never occurred to me. I suppose it is a strange idea to some of us, but I think even Russians can mean what they say, I think Putin did, and we are better off for his having said it.

"Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century." He was the International Herald Tribune's bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote "Letter from Tokyo" for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter,

Sunspot AR2205 is crackling with M-class solar flares hurling multiple CMEs into space


Sunspot AR2205 is crackling with M-class solar flares. The blasts have hurled multiple CMEs into space, but so far none poses a threat to Earth. This movie from SOHO shows several storm clouds billowing over the sun's eastern limb on Nov. 5-6.Because AR2205 is not yet directly facing Earth, the CMEs are sailing wide of our planet. In the movie, Venus appears to be enveloped by the CMEs, but not really. The second planet from the sun is behind the clouds, not inside them.

More eruptions are in the offing. AR2205 has an unstable 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for strong flares and CMEs. NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of M-flares and a 25% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours.

Trekkies rejoice: Star Trek communicators are finally here


© OnBeep

Much like old-school Star Trek communicators are often credited for being the inspiration of the smartphone, the devices used by Captain Picard and his crew on have apparently given rise to a new wearable communication gadget developed by San Francisco startup OnBeep.

The device is known as Onyx ($99), and links up to a smartphone via Bluetooth, according to Dan Seifert of The Verge. At about 2.5 inches in diameter, this hockey puck-shaped device can clip to a bag or an article of clothing, and works anywhere with Wi-Fi or cellular data service.

Featuring a button in the middle to start conversation, the Onyx also has a volume rocker, a power switch and a mute function. The conversation button is surrounded by an LED ring that changes color based on your availability - blue for available, green for talking and yellow for muted. And, as SlashGear's Chris Burns noted, it can connect to an Android or iOS app to track other Onyx owners and launch discussions that can be heard by all members of a group.

Seifert, who was able to give the device a test-drive, said it was similar to using a walkie-talkie, except without range limits, static and the occasional interference experienced with those old-school devices. He noted that the audio quality was "quite good," that is used a low latency codec to minimize bandwidth, and that it was lightweight enough to be "clipped to a belt or shirt pocket" without being uncomfortable of impeding movement - something the company spent months perfecting.

Despite the similarities to the communicator, OnBeep CEO Jesse Robbins said that replicating that iconic device was not the company's goal. Robbins, who is a firefighter by trade, said that the company wanted to come up with a way to replicate the easy-to-use communication devices used by EMTs and first responders and get them in the hands of business owners communicating with the home office or families communicating at theme parks.

Trekkies don't fret, though. Robbins did note that the final design of the gadget was at least by the sci-fi series. Thus, perhaps we'll see a deal with CBS soon, and then OnBeep can truly challenge the Klingons of the communication world for interstellar domination.

[embedded content]

Brussels hit by protests over government austerity plans, clashes with police

Belgian Police

© Reuters

Belgian police and a few hundred protesters, including many dockers, clashed in central Brussels on Thursday after a largely peaceful march against reforms and austerity measures of the country’s new government

Belgian police used water cannons and tear gas on protesters on the fringes of a march against austerity plans set out by the country's new government, with dozens of riot police deployed Thursday near the capital's Midi Station, the main hub for international rail journeys.

Prime Minister Charles Michel and his cabinet were due to meet unions leading the protests in the late afternoon.

A right-leaning four-party coalition government took office earlier this month and announced plans to raise the pension age to 67 from 2030, as well as delaying the next wage increase under the country's system of wage indexation, which links salary increases to inflation.

The FGTB, one of Belgium's biggest trade unions, said 120,000 protesters took part in the march through Brussels. "Employers have been handed a blank check by the government, without guaranteeing to create jobs," the FGTB said in a statement on its website. "The message is clear - no to an antisocial, unbalanced and unfair government plan which will rob us."

Sixty people were injured during the day's protests, of whom 24 were taken to hospital, Belgian Red Cross spokeswoman Nancy Ferroni said.

Former Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, whose PS Francophone socialist party was part of the previous federal government, tweeted pictures of himself mingling with protesters. He said the coalition is "making almost all the budget cuts on the backs of workers, the middle-classes, families and pensioners...Similar efforts aren't being required of the well-off."

Brussels police tweeted that there were 100,000 protesters and that an underground rail station in the city center had been closed, along with numerous roads throughout the capital. Much of the city's public transport network was shut down for the day. The majority of the protesters were peaceful, with the disturbances near the Midi Station the only ones reported.

The march marks the start of a series of strikes planned throughout the country, culminating in a general nationwide strike on Dec. 15.

Brussels hit by protests over government austerity plans, clashes with police

Belgian Police

© Reuters

Belgian police and a few hundred protesters, including many dockers, clashed in central Brussels on Thursday after a largely peaceful march against reforms and austerity measures of the country’s new government

Belgian police used water cannons and tear gas on protesters on the fringes of a march against austerity plans set out by the country's new government, with dozens of riot police deployed Thursday near the capital's Midi Station, the main hub for international rail journeys.

Prime Minister Charles Michel and his cabinet were due to meet unions leading the protests in the late afternoon.

A right-leaning four-party coalition government took office earlier this month and announced plans to raise the pension age to 67 from 2030, as well as delaying the next wage increase under the country's system of wage indexation, which links salary increases to inflation.

The FGTB, one of Belgium's biggest trade unions, said 120,000 protesters took part in the march through Brussels. "Employers have been handed a blank check by the government, without guaranteeing to create jobs," the FGTB said in a statement on its website. "The message is clear - no to an antisocial, unbalanced and unfair government plan which will rob us."

Sixty people were injured during the day's protests, of whom 24 were taken to hospital, Belgian Red Cross spokeswoman Nancy Ferroni said.

Former Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, whose PS Francophone socialist party was part of the previous federal government, tweeted pictures of himself mingling with protesters. He said the coalition is "making almost all the budget cuts on the backs of workers, the middle-classes, families and pensioners...Similar efforts aren't being required of the well-off."

Brussels police tweeted that there were 100,000 protesters and that an underground rail station in the city center had been closed, along with numerous roads throughout the capital. Much of the city's public transport network was shut down for the day. The majority of the protesters were peaceful, with the disturbances near the Midi Station the only ones reported.

The march marks the start of a series of strikes planned throughout the country, culminating in a general nationwide strike on Dec. 15.

Magic mushrooms create a hyperconnected brain and might offer a new treatment for depression

Magic Mushrooms

© Reuters/Jerry Lampen

Boxes containing magic mushrooms are displayed at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam November 28, 2008.

The active ingredient in the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, seems to completely disrupt the normal communication networks in the brain, by connecting "brain regions that don't normally talk together," said study co-author Paul Expert, a physicist at King's College London.

The research, which was published Oct. 28 in the , is part of a larger effort to understand how psychedelic drugs work, in the hopes that they could one day be used by psychiatrists in carefully controlled settings to treat conditions such as depression, Expert said.

Magic mushrooms

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is best known for triggering vivid hallucinations. It can make colors seem oversaturated and dissolve the boundaries between objects.

But the drug also seems to have more long-lasting effects. Many people report intensely spiritual experiences while taking the drug, and some studies even suggest that one transcendent trip can alter people's personalities on a long-term basis, making those individuals more open to new experiences and more appreciative of art, curiosity and emotion.

People who experiment with psilocybin "report it as one of the most profound experiences they've had in their lives, even comparing it to the birth of their children," Expert told Live Science.

Making connections

Scientists have long known that psilocybin binds to a receptor in the brain for serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in mood, appetite and sleep, but exactly how the drug transforms the whole brain's pattern of communication isn't clear.

In past work, Expert's colleagues had found that psilocybin spurred the brain into a more dreamlike state, and that the drug decreased brain activity.

In the current study, the team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brain activity of 15 healthy volunteers once after they had taken a placebo, and once after they took the hallucinogen psilocybin. (The team chose only people who had reported past positive experiences with magic mushrooms to prevent them from panicking inside the claustrophobic MRI machines.)

The team then compared the brain activity of the individuals on and off the drug, and created a map of connections between different brain regions.

Psilocybin dramatically transformed the participants' brain organization, Expert said. With the drug, normally unconnected brain regions showed brain activity that was synchronized tightly in time. That suggested the drug was stimulatinglong-range connections the brain normally wouldn't make. After the drug wore off, brain activity went back to normal.

Drug's effect

Psilocybin may create a brain state akin to synesthesia, a sensory effect in which one sense stimulus (such as a number) always gets paired in the brain with another (such as a color or a sound), the researchers wrote in the paper. People with synesthesia may see certain colors when they hear music, or always see the number 3 in yellow, for instance, Expert said.

The findings could help scientists who are studying the drug as a potential treatment for depression, Expert said. Past work has found that people tend to be happier even after using psilocybin just once, but scientists would need to get a much better picture of how the drug impacts the brain before using psilocybin to treat depression, Expert said.

The research could ultimately also help answer bigger questions of the mind, like how people construct a sense of self.

"Through studies such as these we can really begin to tackle the questions of how we achieve coherent experiences of ourselves in the world around us, and understand what makes this break down," said Mitul Mehta, a psychopharmacology researcher at King's College London, who was not involved in the study.

With Republicans taking over control of Congress, America's moribund democracy is a harbinger of more war

The US mid-term elections, which saw the Republican Party take control of the Senate and extending their hold over the House of Representatives, proves one thing: money can buy an election, but it can't buy democracy. That indictment of eviscerated democracy in America, however, is a portent of more foreign aggression and wars.

Congressional elections this week saw $4 billion being poured into media campaigns - a record high. But even with this largesse, the majority of American voters were underwhelmed by what was on offer. Some 60 per cent of voters did not even bother to cast their ballots. That is perhaps the real, shameful result of this election. Americans by their absence at polling stations are saying that there is nothing worthwhile voting for from among the two parties, whether Republican or Democrat.

In other words, democracy in the US is certified as dead. The official winners of the mid-term elections may be Republicans. With deep pockets splurging on vitriolic television attack-ads, the Grand Old Party may have managed to buy a majority of seats in the Senate and House, but buying these seats hardly amounts to a mandate-to-rule from the people - when the vast majority of citizens refuse to vote, and many of those that did vote express only contempt for both parties.

As an article in the notes: "Voters interviewed leaving the polls Tuesday offered negative opinions about almost everything, from the president and Congress to the Republican and Democratic parties to the state of the economy, the direction of the country and confidence in the federal government."

© businessinsider.com

You have to sneak a laugh at Washington for its asinine irony. Only days before the mid-terms, US officials were denouncing the elections in Eastern Ukraine as a sham. No matter that more than 60 per cent of the electorate in Donetsk and Luhansk mustered the courage to cast their votes to elect pro-independence leaders, while they are being slaughtered by the Western-backed regime in Kiev firing Grad rockets and cluster bombs at civilian areas.

The disturbing thing is that the election-buyers in the US will claim - in spite of the facts - that they have a mandate to embark on a more militarist foreign policy. This is a classic case of adding 2 plus 2 and getting 5, a conclusion that only multi-millionaire politicians divorced from public reality could arrive at.

© economist.com

With Republican control over the Congress, US President Barack Obama is now a lame-duck leader who can't even quack. Not that Obama has shown any enlightenment towards international diplomacy and curbing military interventions throughout his two terms in office. But with the more gung-ho Republicans able to over-ride the White House, we can expect a turn for the worse in international relations over the remaining two years that Obama resides in the Oval Office.

On Ukraine and Russia, the Republicans will step up their vociferous support for the ultra rightwing Kiev regime. Even before this week's Congressional elections, they have been calling for more military aid to the CIA-installed junta. The Republicans have also been leading the media frenzy demonising Russian President Vladimir Putin as the new Hitler and pushing for a more militaristic advance of NATO towards Russia's borders.

In Syria and Iraq, Obama has limited US involvement to sporadic air strikes against the Islamic State terror network and other Jihadists, while promising "no American boots on the ground". Obama's hesitancy has been mocked by the hawkish Republicans who want to escalate US military presence in the Middle East and extend it to an all-out attack on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. That is, to make American regime change in Syria a full-throttle campaign, not the pusillanimous approach adopted by the Obama administration.

Perhaps the only fig leaf to international diplomacy under Obama has been the nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past year. This month a potential deal is in the offing on November 24, via the P5+1 forum, which might see US-led international sanctions on Iran finally being lifted. Obama has previously said that he is prepared to use executive powers to over-rule opponents of an Iranian deal in Congress. But with both chambers on Capitol Hill now under the complete control of Republicans it is extremely doubtful that Obama will have the courage or political will to close the long-running dispute with Tehran. Failure to clinch an agreement portends a resort to belligerence from Washington towards Iran - an outcome that will bring glee to the closely aligned Israeli lobby.

All in all, the Republican dominance emerging this week in Congress spells a hardening of Washington's foreign policy - or, more accurately, an even more reckless American militarism riding roughshod over diplomacy and international law.

The travesty of this is that Washington has, in fact, no democratic mandate to pursue the belligerence that the Republican lawmakers will claim to have.

Polls have consistently shown that most Americans are opposed to Washington's wars overseas.

Of the minority of American voters who did participate in the mid-term elections, their concerns were mostly driven by domestic economic woes. Foreign policy, and much less foreign wars, was not on the agenda of the electorate. As even one Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio remarked, the voters came out against Washington dysfunction and [for Washington] to get back to legislation on issues that will help them and their families.

The also commented that "voters seemed to be reaching for a way to end Washington inertia".

From soundings of exit polls, the reported that 70 per cent of voters expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the economy. Some 80 per cent voiced their fear that the economy will become worse - despite official claims of a recovery.

Tellingly, too, many (25 per cent) who cast their vote for the Republicans said that they were doing so not out of a positive endorsement of the party, but out of a general protest against the political establishment in Washington. The Democrat president and his incumbent administration naturally would receive the brunt of this popular discontent, or as a headline put it: "An unhappy electorate is toughest on Obama and the Democrats". But that does not mean that Republicans have anything to crow about. Far from it, a logical conclusion would be "shame on both sides of the House".

The Republicans may have bought the election results this week - from an embarrassing minority of the US population - but this is far from a mandate. The results are more a sign of how futile American elections are now seen by the vast majority of the population. When confronted with no real choice, most voters simply chose to stay away, and those that did vote, simply voted for the best way to express protest at the oligarchy in Washington - whether Democrat or Republican.

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Nevertheless, for the rest of the world, the carnival of American money-politics and the bellicose arrogance of those sitting on top of Capitol Hill, is something to view with deep dread.

For the next two years, the world better be on its guard against America's war machine - a war machine that is fuelled with a delusional mandate.

Healthy Texas girl confiscated from parents who smoked pot, given to murderous foster mother

Alex Hill

© Police State USA

Alex Hill, age 2, was taken from her natural parents and put into the deadly custody of the state.

Round Rock, - A little girl was confiscated from her loving parents because they smoked marijuana, and given away to a foster mother who put her into a coma and killed her. Alexandria "Alex" Hill, age 2, succumbed to her injuries after being "thrown to the ground."

"We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care," said the girl's father, Joshua Hill, to KVUE.

Alex was seized by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service (TDFPS) after her parents were accused of smoking marijuana while the girl slept. She was taken into state custody in November 2012.

Mr. Hill said that she was put into more than one dangerous foster home.

"She would come to visitation with bruises on her, and mold and mildew in her bag," Mr. Hill told KVUE. "It got to a point where I actually told CPS that they would have to have me arrested because I wouldn't let her go back."

The girl's final home was with Sherill Small, a foster care contractor in Rockdale, Texas. The TDFPS trusted Ms. Small enough to take custody of multiple children displaced by the agency.

On the evening of July 29th, 2013, Mr. Hill got an urgent call to come to the local hospital. When he got there, he found that Alex was in a coma. The girl had suffered traumatic head injuries after being thrown to the ground. She was also bruised on her buttocks, arm, and chin, and had so much hair ripped out that she was "nearly bald." Alex died 2 days later.

"I was blown away to find out she was in a coma," Hill told KXAN. "That's not what you expect, especially when your child is in state custody for 'safety,' and now they're suffering more injuries and more harm than they ever have in their entire life before that."

Mr. Hill was 4 months away from getting his daughter returned to his custody. He spoke out in an interview, shown below:

[embedded content]

This tragic case illustrates a widespread injustice perpetrated regularly in the United States in the name of child welfare. Healthy, happy children are commonly stolen from loving families who have never once caused them harm. Once in the care of the state, they are traumatized by familial separation, forcibly drugged, and placed into questionable situations with complete strangers.

As was the case for Alex and her family, the state intervention comes without a trial, without a conviction, and without due process for the parents. The state's accusation of "neglect" (a loosely defined term) can result in armed agents of the state forcibly enter a home to abduct the child - ostensibly for his or her "safety."


Sherill Small

© Police State USA

Sherill Small was convicted of murdering 2-year-old Alex Hill while in her foster care.

Sherill Small was charged with the murder of Alex Hill. In November 2014, she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Although she claimed that she "does not shake babies," a jury found the evidence against Mrs. Small to be overwhelming.

Alex's mother, Mary Sweeney, has chronicled updates on the case on a Facebook page, "Justice 4 Alex Hill."

The Texas DFPS was not found to be at fault for placing Alex in the home of Sherill Small. After numerous complaints statewide, and ten Texas children killed in state care in 2013, the Office of the Inspector General became involved, and found that the meddling bureaucracy was often dishonest and reckless in its placement of children.

Although new rules imposed in 2014 make it more difficult to be a foster parent, the agency itself remains dangerously powerful and unaccountable when it comes to snatching children. In 2013, over 30,000 children in Texas spent time in foster care - many for absurd reasons such as parents using marijuana. A major overhaul of child welfare agencies is needed in Texas and across the country.

Merde! Protesting French farmers dump 100 tons of manure at government buildings

© AFP/Sebastien Bozon

A farmer passes by the main entrance of the DDT (Direction Departementale des territoires) with a manure stacked outside during a protest in Vesoul, France on November 5, 2014

Dumping some 100 tons of manure and rotten vegetables in Chartres was part of a wave of protest by French farmers, who are angry with overregulation, sluggish economy and lack of protectionism.

France was gripped by a series of protests on Tuesday and Wednesday, with an estimated 36,000 people participating. The dumping of manure in front of a local administration building in Chartres in northern France was mirrored by similar action in the central city of Tours, western Nantes and Toulouse in the southwest.

"Manure, we can't spread it any more. You can have it, help yourselves," one of the slogans said.

This year France has started enforcing a 1991 EU directive aimed at curbing nitrate pollution, which forced tens of thousands of farms that previously used manure as fertilizers to undergo costly infrastructure upgrades to comply.

In Dijon, farmers burnt an effigy of French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal.

In other parts of the country farmers organized by two of France's main farming unions, the FNSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers) resorted to less dramatic ways to vent off their anger.

Parisians who happened to be near at Place de la République on Wednesday could get some of 60 tons of potatoes and 20 tons of onions, apples and pears grown in the region and dumped on the streets by protesting farmers.

"This is a symbolic action. Often farmers don't harvest their produce because it costs too much and isn't worth it, so it goes to waste. Instead of doing that we decided to give it to the Parisians to help get our message across," Cyrille Milard, a farmer from the Seine et Marne department who participated in the protest, told the .

© Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

French police officer stands amongst apples thrown by French farmers during a demonstration in Marseille, November 5, 2014.

French farmers are irritated by what they call the overregulation of agriculture in France, accompanied by a lack of protection from foreign competition that does not suffer from such hurdles.

"Markets need to be regulated. The borders are open, that's Europe, and we import 80 percent of vegetables and 80 percent of meat. While this happens our farmers quit the profession every week and every day because they can't sell their produce. We produce high quality goods, but can't sell them," said Milard.

Illustrating the situation, some 20 Young Farmers activists checked freighters delivering food to the French Finance Ministry on Wednesday morning.

"Tomatoes from Morocco, apples from Italy, unlabeled produce: the Economy Ministry should set an example of 'Made in France', and that is not the case," said Samuel Vandaele, the group's deputy leader.

Aggravating the pressure on the farmers is the sluggish economy, which they blame on the policies of widely unpopular socialist President Francois Holland, and the falling prices caused by large harvests and a food embargo imposed on the EU by Russia in response to economic sanctions.

© Reuters/Vincent Kessler

Farmers demonstrate with tractors in Strasbourg, November 5, 2014.

The protests held by the farmers coincide with those staged by activists opposing police brutality in France. This protest, which at times escalated into violent clashes with riot police, was triggered by last month's killing of an environmental activist by a police stun grenade.

Remi Fraisse, 21, was part of a camp of green protesters opposing the controversial Sivens Dam project in the basin of the river Garonne in Southern France. His death on October 25 led to a wave of riots, with a new protest expected on Thursday.

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Names of paedophiles with links to the British establishment may be opened

Oxford University

© The Independent, UK

File rumoured to be locked in archives at Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

A secret file which is said to contain the names of paedophiles with links to the British establishment and which is rumoured to be locked away in archives at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library, could be made public as part of the Government's child abuse inquiry.

Inquiry panel members Barbara Hearn and Sharon Evans, along with Ben Emmerson QC, counsel to the inquiry, assured campaigners at their meeting last week - shortly before Fiona Woolf announced she would be the second person to resign as chair - that they would have top-level security clearance and access to restricted or closed files.

The whereabouts of the "Dickens Dossier", containing allegations of paedophiles linked to the British establishment and compiled by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, is unknown. It went missing after the politician handed it to the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, in 1984, as are more than 100 documents concerning child abuse allegations that had been held by the Home Office. It is rumoured it may be in the Barbara Castle archives within the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library.

Geoffrey Dickens

© Getty Images

Former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens.

Ian Pace, who in 2013 organised a petition of musicians calling for a public inquiry into abuse in specialist music schools, and one of 21 campaigners at Friday's meeting chaired by Home Office official Usha Choli, asked whether the panel would have access to closed archives such as those belonging to the former Labour cabinet minister under Harold Wilson.

"The answer seemed to be yes," said Mr Pace. "We were told the panel's security clearance would enable them to access things like intelligence files and closed archives such as a lot of material contained within the Barbara Castle archives where some people suspect she may have kept a copy of the dossier."

At least three people have tried unsuccessfully to access the Castle files to see if it contains the Dickens Dossier, but found a lot of the material closed. Some papers with restricted access include diary entries and correspondence with family members.

Barbara Castle

© Getty Images

Barbara Castle, pictured in 1974

All of her correspondence with the former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw between October 1981 and February 1999 is also marked "closed" on the library's database, along with a letter she wrote to Neil Kinnock in December 1999.

Mr Pace said: "I do know of separate occasions where people went after a whole range of material where the Dickens Dossier was likely to be, but could not see any of it."

The Independent on Sunday revealed at the weekend that the inquiry panel will have "developed vetting" - top-level clearance allowing them access to intelligence files and information.

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Commons on Monday that the Government was "in the process of working out the protocol" to ensure that access is possible "between all agencies and the inquiry, so that no stone is left unturned".

Due to the number of ongoing cases and historical sex abuse trials taking place in the coming months, campaigners have received assurances from the panel that witnesses could give evidence about people already on trial, with proceedings therefore .

Election judges in Chicago told to vote Republican then fired when objecting to dirty tricks


Cook County Republican Party Committeewoman Charon Bryson

Election judges in Chicago said this week that the Republican Party removed them because they objected to being forced to vote for GOP candidates.

Two Republican Party committee members who had been selected as election judges told WBBM's Pam Zekman that campaign workers called them to report to campaign headquarters for additional training related to their election day duties, which normally include setting up polling places and assisting voters.

But instead of getting training, they said that they received instructions on who they had to vote for if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Committeewoman Charon Bryson explained that each party was allowed to select its election judges based on their voting records, but being told who to vote for was going too far.

"They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party," she said. "They should not be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment."

Bryson said that the tactic was like "buying a vote."

"If you don't vote Republican you will not be a Republican judge, which pays $170," she pointed out.

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Jim Allen on Tuesday revealed "a new dirty trick" that resulted in long lines at polling places. Allen said that 6,000 Republican election judges received robocalls telling them they needed additional training, causing more than 2,000 judges not to show up at the polls on Tuesday.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has called for an investigation, but stopped short of blaming the Republican Party for the robocalls.

"Somebody called with the intent to create confusion," Emanuel noted. "Who did it? How did they get the list? Who paid for it? We have to get to the bottom of it."

Both of the committee members who spoke to WBBM's Pam Zekman said that they were removed as election judges after they objected to the robocalls, and to being told how to vote.

For its part, the Cook County Republican Party has denied that it authorized the robocalls.

Strike Back: Russian government may ban circulation of US dollar

Source: APA
Russia may ban circulation of US dollar

The State Duma has been submitted a relevant bill

Moscow. Farid Akbarov – APA. Russia may ban the circulation of the United States dollar.

The State Duma has already been submitted a relevant bill banning and terminating the circulation of USD in Russia, APA’s Moscow correspondent reports.

If the bill is approved, Russian citizens will have to close their dollar accounts in Russian banks within a year and exchange their dollars in cash to Russian ruble or other countries’ currencies.

Otherwise their accounts will be frozen and cash dollars levied by police, customs, tax, border, and migration services confiscated.

After the law enters into force, it will be impossible to obtain cash dollar in Russia. The ban or termination of the US dollar will not apply to the exchange operations carried out by Russian Central Bank, the Russian government, ministries of foreign affairs and defense, the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Federal Security Service.

Read More @ Source

FBI accused of pressuring Islamic leaders to become informants

© Reuters / Stephanie Keith

The FBI is pressuring law-abiding Islamic community leaders throughout the United States to spy on fellow Muslims in an effort to sniff out extremism in the US in what amounts to religious profiling, a top Muslim civil rights organization has alleged.

Mosques in California, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, and other states have been targeted for surprise visits by FBI agents seeking Muslim leaders to act as informants on members of their communities or congregations, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"It's happening all over the country," said Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The agents are approaching these community leaders at mosques with basic questions that quickly turn into something different: pressure to become informants."

Concerned over potential civil rights violations, CAIR has urged Islamic leaders across the nation to seek out legal counsel should the FBI approach them.

"For us, the issue is one of civil rights," Hooper said. "Too often these interactions are done in private and people feel coerced. Because ISIS (militant jihadist group Islamic State) is a hot topic, they're going to mosques. It's all based on the round-up-the-usual-suspects style of law enforcement."

CAIR civil rights attorney Jennifer Wicks said no imam or other leader "has been detained in any way or taken from one setting to another" as of late, but, nevertheless, interrogation tactics can vary.

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"These visits aren't based on people being suspected of doing anything wrong. It's because this is a Muslim community. That's why people are being targeted," Wicks said.

"However, the FBI's over-broad and coercive use of informants in mosques, reports of outreach meetings being used for intelligence gathering and other acts of abuse demonstrate that community leaders should engage legal professionals to ensure the protection of their rights and those of their congregations," Wicks said in a statement.

The number of cases involving FBI intimidation of Muslims in the US is on the rise, according to Florida attorney Hassan Shibly, who said he has represented 33 clients this year who have claimed the FBI has made efforts to compel them to share information on their religious beliefs, political opinions, and other topics.

Sometimes, Shibly said, the FBI will attempt to lay "the groundwork for a charge of giving false information to a law enforcement officer. That's the trick to get them to cooperate."

"In Orlando, they pressured one citizen who happened to be Muslim to spy on mosques, Islamic restaurants and hookah lounges or they would throw him in jail," he told the LA Times. "In another case, they approached an imam with pictures of a woman they claimed would testify of an affair unless he helped them. These are law-abiding Muslims, not criminals."

Shibly said he has taken some of these cases to court, accusing the FBI of illegalities.

"The FBI thinks it can get away with bending the law," he said. "Many Muslims come from Third World countries where such practices are common fare for the secret police. But in the U.S. you don't expect such blackmail, with threats of deportation or worse."

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Mosque leaders in California and Minnesota contacted by the LA Times would not comment on any FBI pressure, based on fear of retaliation.

The FBI would not comment on CAIR's national alert, but spokesman Paul Bresso told the in a statement that the law enforcement agency respects civil rights of all citizens and "we value our partnerships with the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities as they are partners in our efforts to stem crime, violence and civil rights violations."

The US Department of Justice recently announced a pilot program in Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis that calls on social and mental health workers, religious leaders, and police departments to watch for Islamist-extremist recruiting in those areas.

In 2011, Muslims in California attempted to sue the FBI for spying, they alleged, using informants to fracture the cohesiveness of law-abiding communities. Yet a federal judge eventually dismissed the suit, claiming the disclosure of a potentially unconstitutional domestic spy program might reveal sensitive state secrets.

The controversial discriminating practice of surveillance on US Muslims after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks came to public prominence in 2011, when The Associated Press reported on New York City Police Department's spying on Muslims in New York City and neighboring New Jersey.

In February, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the NYPD, saying that the covert police operation that sent undercover officers into area mosques to conduct surveillance on innocent Muslims was not unconstitutional. In April, it was reported that the NYPD unit that was tasked with spying on Muslim communities was supposedly disbanded.

In July, journalist Glenn Greenwald, keeper of the trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden that exposed mass global surveillance by the National Security Agency, reported that 202 prominent Muslim-Americans had been surveiled by the NSA.

People Power! Global Million Mask March as it happened around the world

MMM sf

© John Harvey/Twitter

San Francisco Million Mask March at Justin Herman Plaza

Protests against mass surveillance, govt austerity and social injustice have taken to the streets in over 400 cities worldwide. Dubbed the Million Mask March, the third annual act of mass civil disobedience was organized by the activist group Anonymous.

United in face and values, hiding behind the stylised Anonymous masks popularized by movie, activists flocked the streets in the UK, China, and the US, just to name a few.

Some of the biggest protests were seen in London where hundreds of activists engaged in a tense and prolonged stand-off with police in and around the Parliament Square. At least ten people were arrested following scuffles on charges of assaulting police officers and different public order offences.

Ahead of the rally, Anonymous, a loose-knit collective that stages politically-motivated cyber-attacks on businesses, government and religious institutions to protect the rights of the people, warned its members of possible police brutality. Meanwhile activists on the ground did their best to stay out of trouble and not provoke any violence.

Yet the prospect of a harsh standoff with authorities did not stop a few thousand from marching through the streets against government corruption, corporate malfeasance and the expanding surveillance state. The mass protest was organized to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day, which is celebrated annually in the UK on November 5.

"The internet has the power to bring down regimes. That is what terrifies them. That is why they are now monitor our phone calls, they monitor our emails, and they monitor our free speech. It terrifies them. They have no particular jurisdiction over the internet. It belongs to everyone," Old Holborn, member of the movement told RT from London.

From Sydney to Los Angeles, from Johannesburg to Hong Kong - thousands came forward to make their voices heard. Among key ideas which virtually connected all different protests were anti-capitalist idealism and the rejection of global surveillance by the NSA. Some rallies had a sense of carnival, where whole families with kids marched in protest, while other gatherings - like in London and Washington - turned more intense, with people not hiding their rage.

Protesters taking part in the Million Mask March in Washington, DC briefly clashed with the police as they tore fences away. Several protesters, many sporting Guy Fawkes masks, were seen being arrested.

"Being in the military you're just a number, you're just a pawn for their game. I respect everyone in, 'cause that's their choice, but it is just a fucking pawn game. It's all for money, oil and greed," a protester on the streets of DC told RT's Ruptly.

Even Finland, with a population of just over 5 million, or roughly half the population of London saw masked protesters take to the streets of Helsinki on Wednesday night as part of the global Million Mask March.

The Anonymous citizens of Germany, the economic power of the EU, also had something to say against global governance.

"My message is that we should finally stop being against each other, we should be together again, worldwide. The government and the economy do everything to make us dependant of money and that cannot be the solution. The solution is to do everything together. We could make the world a lot more beautiful when we stop being against each other," one protester in Berlin said.


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Washington DC

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For more images and videos go to RT.

72-year old man charged with murder in mercy killing his wife of 37 years

© Rawstory.com

Jerry Canfield

A 72-year-old California man was charged with murder after placing a dozen roses beside his ailing wife and then shooting her in the head.

Joann Canfield had been allowed to return to her Alameda home Oct. 25 from a nursing home facility where she was being treated for dementia.

Neighbors told KGO-TV that Jerry Canfield left every day at 7 a.m. to visit his wife of 37 years at the nursing home and stayed with her until 9:30 p.m. or later.

"You know, you've heard of being in love? Well, they were that," said Jose De Dios, the couple's next-door neighbor and friend.

The neighbor said Joann Canfield's condition had deteriorated in recent months, and her husband was worried about her.

"Jerry said, 'You know, she's seeing little demons - demons are chasing her around the house,'" De Dios said. "Because she had bruises from, like falling, so she was running and tripping."

She was disoriented and unable to recognize anyone after returning to the apartment with her husband, neighbors said.

Jerry Canfield had promised his wife he would end her life when she could no longer bear the pain, his attorney said - and he went through with their pact Oct. 26.

After fatally shooting his wife, neighbors said he dressed as if going to church, drove to a nearby police station about 6 p.m., and turned himself in.

"In California, if you take the life of another, it's considered a homicide," said Sgt. Rick Bradley, who admitted the case was emotionally difficult for police. "That's how we investigate it, and that's what the facts showed."

Neighbors said Jerry Canfield told them the couple had "made arrangements" if he could no longer take care of his wife.

"This might have been the last kind thing he could do for her, and I'm sure that's what it was," said neighbor Rod Baker. "I just - nobody could ever convince me otherwise."

Another neighbor said the Canfields had restored her faith in marriage by the way they acted toward one another.

"If there is such a thing as a mercy killing, this is definitely it," said neighbor Bridget Milet. "Because he was a very nice man and he loved his wife very, very much."

Jerry Canfield remains jailed and is scheduled to enter a plea Nov. 14 in court.

Watch this video report posted online by KGO-TV:

EU diplomats tell it like it is: 'US wants EU on the hook, sanctions favor no one but Washington'

© Reuters / Francois Lenoir

European High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

The EU's policy towards Moscow would have been completely different if the US was not so keen on having the Union on the hook, and sanctions which favor no one but Washington were imposed, Willy Wimmer, former Vice President of the OSCE Assembly told RT.

The EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini says the Union must look harder at ways to compromise with Moscow over the situation in Ukraine. She also said that the sanction pressure must be kept up and that action must be taken together with NATO.

RT discussed this with Wimmer, OSCE Assembly vice president in 1994-2000, and a former deputy Defense Minister of Germany.

RT: Federica Mogherini says the EU must engage in dialogue with Russia - which is something her predecessor wasn't too keen on. Are things improving in Brussels-Moscow relations?

Willy Wimmer: I think it is little bit too early to say this, but the first remarks of this Italian lady who is now responsible for the European Union foreign policy were interesting because she didn't continue the words [her] predecessors used and especially words which are today still used in NATO. So this was first sign of a new position and everybody in Europe now looks on the situation: what might be its outcome and what might be the result. Because everything that we have heard until today is not as good as it should be.

RT: Mogherini says that she wants more dialogue. That is not something that we've seen too much of so far. A lot of pressure, though. Why is it has been like that?

WW: Because we face a critical situation in Europe. When we talk about these issues we usually don't think about Washington. By these days it is even more complicated to think of Washington because of the elections and the results of the elections. It might be a totally crucial question whether we should talk with President Obama or with... John McCain. This is already creating difficulties...in Europe because we know that when it comes to Europe alone, I think our policy would have been completely different in the last nine months of this year. Everybody knows here that the US is very keen on having us, the Europeans, "on the hook," and that is the way it is.

RT: The US is widely seen as the driving force behind the EU sanctions against Russia. Are they really in Europe's interest?

WW: When we look on the industrial aspects of these sanctions we know that we are killing ourselves because of the financial figures which are related to this, not only when it comes to the farming area but also to other industrial areas. It is not in our favor, it is not in Russia's favor, it is only perhaps in the US's favor...But the other critical question which is related to sanctions - these are usually ways to war. Now they are talking about the third round, the fourth round, the fifth round. And...when will they start sending tanks? That is the reality and this creates totally disastrous image in Europe.

RT: If it's not in the EU's interest why is not it resisting Washington's pressure when it comes to acting against Russia?

WW: I think it was a very complicated situation when they decided to join the sanctions. I think the Europeans have to make other decisions when it comes to the situation after the US elections which were held on November 4.

Heads up! Giant steel bolts fall from London's 'Cheese-grater' building

© AFP Photo / Carl Cour

"Cheese-grater" building (c).

Two heavy steel bolts broke off one of London's tallest skyscrapers, prompting urgent ultrasound tests on more than 3,000 'mega-bolts' on the City's 'cheese-grater' tower.

The 47-story landmark building was cordoned off from pedestrians after the incident. The bolts are reportedly around the size of a human arm.

Contractor Laing O'Rourke, who constructed the tower, and structural engineers Arup have begun a full investigation testing for weaknesses in the 5-inch-diameter (12.7cm) bolts that hold the building together.

The #Cheesegrater in London making headlines again. Instead of roasting cars it has bits dropping off. Integrity not compromised though!

- Brian Seaman (@BrianMSeaman) November 6, 2014

British Land has put fencing around the ground floor while the tests are carried out. Nigel Webb, head of development at British Land, said.

Steel bolt breaks off from Richard Rogers' Cheesegrater tower http://ift.tt/1pqbKMd

- Emil (@fufcall3q) November 6, 2014

British Land revealed on Wednesday that part of one bolt and a nut fell to the ground from the fifth floor and a second bolt broke and fell on the access gantry on the 19th floor.

Construction was completed on the building earlier in 2014.

Luckily, no one was injured, as the bolt landed in an area currently cordoned off for construction. The area, however, will become a public space with gardens and benches when building work is completed.

The tower is built with a wedge-shaped angle in order to preserve the views of St Paul's Cathedral, earning it the nickname of

Robot makes people feel like a ghost is nearby

Ghost Simulation

© Alain Herzog/EPFL

In 2006, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva in Switzerland was testing a patient's brain functions before her epilepsy surgery when he noticed something strange. Every time he electrically stimulated the region of her brain responsible for integrating different sensory signals from the body, the patient would look back behind her back as if a person was there, even when she knew full well that no one was actually present.

Now, with the help of robots, Blanke and colleagues have not only found a neurological explanation for this illusion, but also tricked healthy people into sensing "ghosts," they report online today in . The study could help explain why schizophrenia patients sometimes hallucinate that aliens control their movements.

"It's very difficult to try to understand the mechanisms involved in something so strange," says cognitive neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study. "It's very encouraging, very impressive, the way this team is making science out of this question."

Ghosts and apparitions are a common theme in literature and religion. In real life, patients suffering from schizophrenia and epilepsy sometimes report sensing a presence near them. After studying such cases, Blanke found some striking similarities in how epilepsy patients perceive these eerie "apparitions," he says. Almost all patients said the presence felt like a human being positioned right behind their back, almost touching them, with malicious intentions. Patients with brain damage on the left hemisphere felt the ghost at their right side, and vice versa.

To pinpoint the brain regions responsible for such illusions, Blanke and colleagues compared brain damage in two groups of patients. The first group, mostly epilepsy patients, all reported feeling ghostly presences near them. The other group matched them in terms of the severity of their neurological illnesses and hallucinations, but didn't perceive any ghostly presence. Brain imaging revealed that patients who sensed the "ghosts" had lesions in their frontoparietal cortex, a brain region that controls movements and integrates sensorimotor signals from the body - such as the "smack" and pain accompanying a punch - into a coherent picture.

The researchers suspected that damage to this region could have disrupted how the brain integrates various sensory and motor signals to create a coherent representation of the body. That may have led the patients to mistakenly feel that someone else, not themselves, were creating sensations like touch.

So the team built a robot to test their theory on healthy people. The machine consisted of two electrically interconnected robotic arms positioned in front of and behind a participant, respectively. The smaller arm in front had a slot where participants could insert their right index fingers and poke around. The poking motion triggered the bigger arm at the back to poke the participants at different positions on their backs, following the movement of their fingers. During the experiments, the participants wore blindfolds and headphones so that they would concentrate on what they felt. They were told that only the robot was poking them at the back, but unbeknownst to them, the back-poking was sometimes synchronized with their finger movements, and sometimes delayed by half a second.

When the participants reported how they felt, a clear pattern emerged. If the back-poking was in sync with the participants' finger movements, they felt as if they were touching their backs with their own fingers. But when the back-poking was out of sync, a third of the participants felt as if someone else was touching them. The sensation was so spooky that two participants actually asked the researchers to stop the experiment.

To verify the response, the researchers conducted another study in which four researchers stood in the room. Participants were told that while they were blindfolded and operating the machine, some experimenters might approach them without actually touching them. The researchers told participants to estimate the number of people close to them at regular intervals. In reality, no researcher ever approached the participants. Yet people who experienced a delayed touch on their back felt more strongly that other people were close to them, counting up to four people when none existed.

The researchers suspect that when participants poked their fingers in the finger slot, their brains expected to feel a touch on the back right away. The delay created a mismatch between the brain's expectations and the actual sensory signals it received, which disrupted how the brain integrated the signals to create a representation of the body, and thus created the illusion that another human being was touching them.

The findings could help scientists understand the hallucinations of schizophrenia patients, Blanke says. Scientists have long hypothesized that patients hear alien voices or feel that they are not controlling their own bodies because their brains fail to integrate bodily signals properly.

The researchers are now building an MRI-equipped robot system to study what exactly happens in healthy people's brains when they feel the ghostly presence and to test how schizophrenia patients would react to the mismatched pokes.

Watch video here.

Largest sunspot in over two decades unleashes barrage of solar flares

sunspot AR 12192

© nasa.gov

The Earth's biggest sunspot in over two decades has unleashed a barrage of solar flares, including five in the strongest, X-class, over a period of eight days, a NASA video shows.

The sunspot, called Active Region 12192, the size of the planet Jupiter, was caught on camera producing flares between October 19 and October 27, when the phenomenon was visible from Earth. It's one of the biggest sunspots of all time, ranking 33rd out of almost 33,000, Space.com reports.

In addition to being biggest since 1990, AR 12192 is also interesting because it didn't produce any coronal mass ejections - outbursts of hot plasma associated with solar flares, which are releases of energy.

"What's really curious about it is that it's produced so many flares of pretty good size, but little or no coronal mass ejections," NASA scientist Alex Young told Space.com. "It's not that it's never happened before, but it tends to be the case that when you have a big flare, you generally get a big CME."

Large structures like this one are relatively stable, so AR 12192 may well survive the two more weeks that it will take for rotation to make it observable again, the scientist added.

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The silence of the Israelis on ISIS

A curious silence in the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is coming from Israel, which has advocated the overthrow of Iran's ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, but has had little to say about the brutal Islamists seeking to oust Assad.

In the war on the Islamic State, the alleged scourge of humanity, little is heard about the position of America's much-ballyhooed greatest ally in the Middle East, if not the world, Israel. Now the Islamic State has been conquering territory in very close proximity to the border of Israel. But Israel does not seem to be fearful and it is not taking any action.

And the Obama administration and American media pundits do not seem to be the least bit disturbed. This is quite in contrast to the complaints about other Middle East countries such as Turkey that are being harshly criticized for their failure to become actively involved in fighting the Islamic State.

© Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office, Oct 1, 2014. The meeting was described as chilly, reflecting the strained relationship between the two leaders.

For example, a New York Times editorial, "Mr. Erdogan's Dangerous Game," begins, "Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once aspired to lead the Muslim world. At this time of regional crisis, he has been anything but a leader. Turkish troops and tanks have been standing passively behind a chicken-wire border fence while a mile away in Syria, Islamic extremists are besieging the town of Kobani and its Kurdish population."

An article in the Boston Globe read "Turkey has failed Kobani, Kurds." An editorial in the USA Today was titled "Turkey waits as ISIL crushes Kobani."

Neocon Charles Krauthammer in "Erdogan's Double Game" compared Turkey's failure to come to the defense of the Kurds in the surrounded border town of Kobani to Stalin's unwillingness to aid the uprising of Polish nationalist forces in Warsaw in 1944, thus allowing the latter's destruction at the hands of the Nazis.

"For almost a month, Kobani Kurds have been trying to hold off Islamic State fighters," Krauthammer wrote. "Outgunned, outmanned, and surrounded on three sides, the defending Kurds have begged Turkey to allow weapons and reinforcements through the border. Erdogan has refused even that, let alone intervening directly."

Even the normally antiwar Noam Chomsky expressed support for protecting the Kurds. "With regard to Kobani, it is a shocking situation," Chomsky opined. "This morning's newspaper described Turkish military operation against Kurds in Turkey, not against ISIS, a couple of kilometers across the border where they are in danger of being slaughtered. I think something should be done at the UN in terms of a strong resolution to call for a ceasefire."

"It is hard to impose the use of force," Chomsky continued, "but to the extent that it can be done try and protect Kobani from destruction at the hands of ISIS, which could be a major massacre with enormous consequences." Chomsky added that "the strategic significance of the town in the Kurdish region is pretty obvious, and the Turkish role is critical in this."

Israel's Reticence

Returning to the issue of Israel, the fact of the matter is that Israel acts to protect its own national interests. At the current time, the primary goal of the Islamic State is to purify Islam rather than attack non-Muslims.

In response to Internet queries as to why the militant group wasn't fighting Israel instead of killing Muslims in Iraq and Syria, its representatives responded: "We haven't given orders to kill the Israelis and the Jews. The war against the nearer enemy, those who rebel against the faith, is more important. Allah commands us in the Koran to fight the hypocrites, because they are much more dangerous than those who are fundamentally heretics."

As justification for this stance, the group cited the position of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who began his caliphate by fighting against those he deemed apostates who still professed to be followers of Islam. (Shiites hold a negative view of Abu Bakr and his policies). Also cited was Saladin, who fought the Shiites in Egypt before conquering Christian-controlled Jerusalem.

Considering the Islamic State is targeting Muslims, the Israeli government does not see it as a significant enemy at this time. And it is reasonable for Israeli leaders to believe that the Islamic State would never move on to attack their country because it will never be able to conquer its major Islamic foes, though American military involvement would further secure Israel from any possible threat from the Islamic State.

Moreover, the fact of the matter is that the Islamic State actually benefits Israel by causing problems for those very states that do actively oppose Israel and support the Palestinians, such as Syria. What the Islamic State is causing in the Middle East is perfectly attuned with the view of the Israeli Right - as best articulated by Oded Yinon in 1982 - which sought to have Israel's Middle East enemies fragmented and fighting among themselves in order to weaken the external threat to Israel.

Currently, these divisions are not only plaguing Syria and Iraq, but also Turkey, where ethnic Kurds are rioting because of the government's unwillingness to help their brethren in Syria, and Lebanon, where the Shiite group Hezbollah - allied with Iran, Israel's foremost enemy - is being assailed by the radical jihadist Nusra Front, which has the support of many Lebanese Sunnis. [See Jonathan Spyer, "The Shia-Sunni War Reaches Lebanon," Jerusalem Post, Middle East Forum, Oct. 17, 2014.]

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Hamas is no different from Isis, Israel's Netanyahu tells UN General Assembly

More than this, the Netanyahu government is trying to take advantage of the Islamic State's aggression by falsely claiming that Hamas is its equivalent. In an address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 29, Netanyahu asserted that "Hamas's immediate goal is to destroy Israel. But Hamas has a broader objective. They also want a caliphate. Hamas shares the global ambitions of its fellow militant Islamists."

Thus, Netanyahu claimed that it is wrong for countries to criticize Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in its conflict with Hamas, pointing out that "the same countries that now support confronting ISIS, opposed Israel for confronting Hamas. They evidently don't understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control."

In short, Netanyahu maintained that the Islamic State and Hamas were essentially identical, "when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas."

National Interest

Now there is nothing strange about Israel's position here. It is simply acting in its own national interest. There is no reason to fight a group that doesn't threaten it. Furthermore, it is in Israel's interest to try to make it appear that it is acting for the good of all humanity when attacking Hamas, and though these arguments are unlikely to sway any UN members, the prime minister did provide ammunition to the Israel lobby and its supporters that could be used to persuade some gullible Americans.

It can be argued that if Israel openly entered the fray as a member of the anti-Islamic State coalition, it would be counterproductive. Since many Arabs see Israel as their major enemy, Israel's involvement in the war would turn them against fighting the Islamic State and maybe even cause some of them to support that militant jihadist group as an enemy of Israel.

So it might be understandable that the United States would not demand that Israel participate in the war against the Islamic State, just as it did not expect Israel to fight against Saddam Hussein. Although this might be understandable, if true it would mean that Israel could not really be an ally of the United States in the Middle East because it could not participate in America's wars in the region, which is the very raison d'état of an ally.

Conceivably, Israel could covertly support the enemies of Islamic State. Israel has been doing just that in regard to Syria. During the past two years it has launched airstrikes against Assad's forces which has helped the rebels. Israel takes the position that any attacks on its territory from Syria are the responsibility of the Assad government even if they are made by the rebels.

Moreover, just like the United States, Israel has provided training for Syrian rebels. For example, Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir al-Noeimi, currently the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army, secretly trained in Israel in 2013 after being admitted into the country for medical treatment. [See "Report: Commander of Syrian Rebels Trained in Israel, Jewish Press News Briefs," Feb. 24, 2014. In regard to Israeli participation in training Syrian rebels, see: Jason Ditz, "Report Claims US, Israeli Trained Rebels Moving Toward Damascus," Antiwar.com, Aug. 25, 2013,; Jinan Mantash, "Israeli analyst confirms link between Israel, 'moderate' Syrian rebels," Alakbar English, Oct. 17, 2014.]

Staying Out of the Fray

Israel's pro-rebel activities in the Syrian conflict have not been counterproductive in that they have not caused any of Assad's many Arab enemies to abandon their effort to remove his regime. But it is not apparent that Israel is taking any steps like this regarding the Islamic State, and the United States does not seem to be pressuring it to do so.

What this means is that Israel is not really any type of ally of the United States. It does not bend its foreign policy to aid the United States but only acts in its own interest. It takes actions against the Assad regime because the latter is an ally of Iran and provides a conduit for weapons being sent to Israeli's enemy Hezbollah.

Israel's inaction toward the Islamic State, despite its close proximity, should actually provide a model for the United States to emulate. It shows that the Islamic State should not be regarded as a threat to the faraway United States. And this lesson is further confirmed by the fact that the nearby Islamic countries, which should be far more endangered than the United States, do not seem to be fighting hard against it. It would seem that the fundamental way for the United States to face significant attacks from the Islamic State is to attack it first, which is exactly what it is now doing.

Considering Israel's inactivity, it is ironic that in the United States it is the supporters of Israel, such as the neoconservatives, who have taken the lead in pushing for a hard-line American military position against the Islamic State. [See Jim Lobe, "Project for a New American Imbroglio," LobeLog Foreign Policy, Aug. 28, 2014.]

Neocon Max Boot, for example, wrote about the need for "a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire," which would "require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisers and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria."

Fred and Kimberly Kagan have developed a strategic plan involving up to 25,000 American ground troops to combat the Islamic State, which I have already discussed at length. Some of the other noted members of the neocon war-on-the-Islamic-State chorus include Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz, Dan Senor, David Brooks, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Danielle Pletka (vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute), and, as noted earlier, Charles Krauthammer.

Needless to say, neither the neocons, nor any other mainstream commentators for that matter, have uttered a word about Israel's inaction. As Scott McConnell wrote in August in The American Conservative, "over the past two generations thousands of articles have been written proclaiming that Israel is a 'vital strategic ally' of the United States, our best and only friend in the 'volatile' Middle East. The claim is commonplace among serving and aspiring Congressmen. I may have missed it, but has anyone seen a hint that our vital regional ally could be of any assistance at all in the supposedly civilizational battle against ISIS?"

However, it would be far wiser for the United States to follow the example of Israel here - and, in fact, always follow the example of Israel by adhering to national interest (that of the United States, of course, not Israel) - than to follow the advice of those American supporters of Israel who have, because of their influence on American Middle East policy, involved the United States in endless wars creating a regional environment beneficial to Israel from the perspective of the Israeli Right.

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