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Friday, 7 November 2014

Missing Mexico students: gang members confess to mass killing, incineration

mexico missing students


The 43 students have been missing since September 26

Suspected gang members in Mexico have confessed to killing more than 40 missing students and incinerating their remains in a case that has shocked the country, Mexico's chief prosecutor said.

In a somber, lengthy explanation of the investigation, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam played video on Friday showing hundreds of charred fragments of bone and teeth fished from the river and its banks.

He said it will be very difficult to extract DNA to confirm identities of the victims of a horrific mass murder and incineration that lasted 14 hours.

"I know the enormous pain the information we've obtained causes the family members, a pain we all share,'' Murillo Karam said at a news conference.

"The statements and information that we have gotten unfortunately points to the murder of a large number of people in the municipality of Cocula.''

"International experts have said they can't give a time frame for when they will get results,'' he added.

Funeral pyre

Some 74 people have been detained so far in a case that prosecutors have said started when police attacked student protesters September 26 in the city of Iguala, killing six people and taking away 43 students. Murillo Karam said authorities are searching for more suspects.

In the most comprehensive accounting to date of the disappearances and the subsequent investigation, Murillo Karam showed videotaped confessions by those who allegedly killed the students and built an enormous funeral pyre of tyres, wood and fuel along the River San Juan in Cocula, a town near Iguala.

He also confirmed that human remains found in clandestine graves discovered after the students went missing did not include any of the 43 young men. Those graves held women and men believed to have been killed in August, he said.

Mexican authorities told relatives of the missing college students earlier on Friday that they had found six bags of unidentified human remains on the river bank.

Murillo Karam told families that authorities could not say yet whether the remains were of the students, but the find opened a new avenue of investigation, said Manuel Martinez, a spokesman for the families.

"The meeting with the attorney general was tense, because we don't believe them anymore,'' said Martinez, who was guardian of two of the missing young men.

The students of a rural teachers college haven't been seen since the confrontation with police in Iguala, which is 130km southwest of Mexico City.

Authorities say Iguala's mayor sent police to intercept the students, who came to town to collect money and had commandeered buses. Officers opened fire, killing six people, and prosecutors say the police then handed the 43 students over to a drug gang.

Detainees include former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pinesa, who were found hiding Tuesday in a rough Mexico City neighbourhood.

Relatives of many of the missing students have been camped at their school, the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa, since the days immediately following their disappearance from Iguala.

Police officer accidentally shoots 7-year-old girl on school trip to police headquarters

A seven-year-old girl was accidentally shot by a police officer in front of a group of children while she was on a school trip to the Nottinghamshire Police department in the UK. The incident occurred last week and is currently being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

However, according to Wikipedia, A parliamentary inquiry set up in the wake of the death of Ian Tomlinson, the girl who was shot, found that the Independent Police Complaints Commission "has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt."

The children had reportedly visited the police department as part of a prize for winning a coloring competition.

According to BBC, the girl suffered a "minor injury to her lip" after a shot was accidentally fired at the ground and ricocheted around the room. The incident occurred after an alleged firearms expert gave a presentation to the students that included a firearms demonstration.

The officer involved is currently not on firearms duties, pending the outcome of the investigation, a spokesman for the police department said.

Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping told the BBC that,

According to Assistant Chief Constable Simon Torr, police department representatives personally apologized to the parents of the children involved in the incident.

"We have spoken to the parents who were visiting force headquarters with their children to explain what happened and have apologized for any distress caused," he said.

This type of incident is not entirely isolated either. Lee Paige, DEA Agent and motivational speaker, was talking to high school students about the "dangers" of guns when suddenly his credibility went down the toilet; as he quite literally, "shot himself in the foot."

"I'm the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry a Glock .40″ Paige says, and then.......... BOOM!!

Good thing there was no one else in the room handling the gun who was less "professional" than Agent Paige, as the results could have been catastrophic!

When Paige tries to bring out the second weapon, the students knew better this time and quickly and loudly voiced their opposition.

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Crony Capitalism Tribute: Mafia Dons vs. Politicians; Who Really Won the Election?

Who Really Won the Election?

If you think Republicans won the recent mid-term election you are mistaken. PolicyMic has One Chart that Shows Who Won.

Most Expensive Senate Races

Money Won the Election!

The Center for Responsive Politics projects the 2014 mid-term election will cost roughly $3.67 billion.

When all is said and done, Team Red (all Republican candidates, parties, committees and conservative outside groups) will spend $1.75 billion on this election. Team Blue (all Democratic candidates, parties, committees and liberal outside groups) will spend a total of $1.64 billion. [Outside groups account for the rest.]

Election Cost Estimate

Just three-one-hundredths of one percent of Americans wrote a check larger than $2,600 — the maximum one individual can give to a candidate each election — during this cycle.

But those are numbers based on the system of so-called “hard money” donations — money given to candidates or committees, which is strictly limited. Outside groups rarely deal in sums so small. Most outside groups rely heavily on large donors. Very large donors

The number one donor of disclosed outside money is Steyer, followed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given $20 million to super PACs, of which 98 percent went to liberal or Democratic recipients. But despite those top two donors, conservative donors dominate the top 20 — 15 of them are conservative. The three other liberal donors are: Fred Eychaner ($7.9 million), George Soros ($3.5 million) and hedge-funder James Simons (and his wife Marilyn), who have given $3 million.

The top conservative donor to outside groups is Paul Singer, of hedge fund Elliott Management, who has given $9.3 million. Last cycle’s top donor — both to outside groups and overall — was Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian casino in Las Vegas, who with his physician wife Miriam gave $92 million.

Topping the list of organizations contributing money to outside groups is the National Education Association, which has given a whopping $22.4 million to outside groups. Following the NEA are a slew of other labor unions — the Carpenters & Joiners Union ($11.2 million), the AFL-CIO ($7.6 million) and AFSCME ($6 million). These unions gave almost exclusively to liberal outside groups.

There are, however, a handful of conservative organizations on the list of big organizational donors, including the No. 3 group, the National Association of Realtors, which gave to its own super PAC; it has spent the money in support of Republicans by a two-to-one margin.

An important caveat: These lists of top donors (individuals or organizations) do not include donations made to dark money groups, which in some instances pass money on to super PACs.


Each side can (and does) point the finger at the other. Regardless, the end results show incumbents get reelected year after year. Even in the 2014 mid-term rout, Republicans only picked up 12 House seats.

Want to get elected?

First you need to pass a litmus test for your party.

Want to reform Social Security or Medicare? If you do, you better not say so. Next, you better not offend both unions and the NRA. Depending on where you live, one of those alone may do you in. Both and you are toast.

Live in a state that gets military contracts? If so, you cannot get elected if you are "weak on defense".

Bottom line: If you want to get elected, you better listen to what big money wants, or you don't get any of it. And you need money to win!

Mafia Dons vs. PoliticiansGordon Long

has an interesting post this week called

The Crony Tribute System


Instead of clipping text here are some self-explanatory graphics.

Crony Tribute Mafia Tribute System US Political System Evolution of Crony Capitalism "Impenetrable" Firewall Between Public Service and Private Profit Why Does It Takes a Crowbar to Review Regulations? Investigating Fraud and Corruption Corporations are People, Money is Speech Checks and Balances Does It Matter Which Party Controls the Senate?

I believe those graphics from Gordon Long sum things up quite nicely.

If you believe differently,

Charles Hugh Smith

may change your mind with an excellent set of questions in his post

If You Really Think It Matters Which Party Controls the Senate, Answer These Questions


Eight Questions

  1. Will U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast change from being an incoherent pastiche of endless war and Imperial meddling?

  2. Will basic civil liberties be returned to the citizenry?

  3. Will the predatory, parasitic policies of the Federal Reserve that virtually everyone from the Wall Street Journal to what little remains of the authentic Left understands has greatly increased income and wealth inequality be reined in?

  4. Will the steaming pile of profiteering, corruption, waste, fraud and ineptitude that is Sickcare in the U.S. be truly reformed so its costs drop by 50% to match what every other developed democracy spends per person on universal healthcare?

  5. Will the influence of Big Money be well and truly banned from politics?

  6. Will the incentives in the Status Quo be reset to punish rapacious financialization and gaming the system and reward productive investment and labor?

  7. Will anything be done to dismantle the Neofeudal Debt-Serfdom known as student loans?

  8. Will any prudent assessment be made of unaffordable weapons systems like the F-35 Lightning--$1.5 trillion and counting for aircraft that will soon be matched by drones that cost a fraction of the F-35's $200 million a piece price tag?

Financial Repression

I define financial repression as "

a set of fiscal and monetary policies for the expressed benefit of the ruling class: politicians, banks, and the already wealthy, at the expense of everyone else.


Any doubt that financial repression by central banks and lobbyist-sponsored government legislation explains income inequality?

For further discussion, please see

Gordon Long Video Interview of Mish: Topic - Financial Repression (and How to Defend Yourself From It)


Netanyahu orders homes of 'terrorists' demolished

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

© Reuters / Ronen Zvulun

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed officials to raze the homes of 'terrorists' who carry out attacks in Jerusalem.

The order was handed down during an emergency session on Thursday to discuss several violent incidents that have hit the city, the reports, citing Israel Radio.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Police Chief Yohanan Danino and Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Yoram Cohen were all in attendance.

Apart from the highly controversial practicing of home demolition, additional security measures, including expanded administrative detentions and additional restraining orders, were also discussed.

The measures come in response to a series of deadly hit and run attacks which have recently targeted the holy city.

On Friday, Shalom Badani, a 17-year-old Israeli, died from injuries he sustained during an attack on Wednesday, in which Ibrahim al-Akari, a Palestinian Arab residing in East Jerusalem, rammed his van into a crowd. Akari was later shot dead by Israeli security forces after exiting his vehicle and attacking the crowd with a metal bar. A police officer was also killed in the attack. Twelve other people sustained injuries.

Later the same day, a vehicle rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. Three people were injured in that attack, one of them seriously.

And in a similar incident late last month, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem rammed his car into a crowd outside a light rail station. A three-month-old baby girl was killed in the attack and eight others were injured. The attacker was later shot dead by police.

[embedded content]

Islamist militant group Hamas has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Hours after the Akari incident, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called on Israel to demolish the homes of terrorists as a punitive measure to dissuade potential attackers; nearly 10 years after Israel discontinued the controversial practice.

In February 2005, the Israeli Ministry of Defense ordered an end to the demolition of houses unless there was "an extreme change in circumstances." That same year, an Israeli Army study found there was no conclusive evidence the practice deterred terrorism. The ministry at the time argued home demolitions were in fact counterproductive and could potentially incite more violence.

The practice is banned under the Geneva Convention unless "such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

Rights groups have long criticized the practice as an illegal form of collective punishment.

'Jerusalem will always be ours'

Meanwhile, on Friday Netanyahu lashed out at critics who said building over the green line - which separates West and East Jerusalem - undermined the peace process.

"Jerusalem is Israel's capital and it is not a settlement," the cites Netanyahu as saying during a meeting with the new European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini.

The Israeli PM said that the neighborhoods where Jews were living and building "have been in the hands of Israeli governments for the last 50 years."

He continued that any such neighborhoods would remain a part of Israel under any peace arrangement, rejecting as "false" any claim that settlement construction lies at the root of the ongoing conflict.

He called European politicians who had called for the unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood "irresponsible."

Last week, Sweden became the first Western European state in the EU to officially recognize the State of Palestine.

Disgusting sexual predator: Julien Blanc, the 'female attraction' expert, glorifies sexual violence

Julien Blanc, a "dating coach" working for US company Real Social Dynamics, is visiting Australia this week to host a series of pick-up artistry seminars.

Through a program comprising online videos and in-person classes, the company has built a business model which preys on lonely desperate men, offering them the promise of female sexual attention through force when it doesn't exist by will. The instruction and promotion of abuse and the total violation of consent is this company's stock in trade.

Blanc's "PhD in female attraction" involves a disturbing fixation with physical violence. Blanc proudly posts photos across social media of him propositioning women in chokeholds using the hashtag "#ChokingGirlsAroundTheWorld".

In a video that has amassed over 50,000 views (and since switched to "private"), he teaches men how to sexually assault women in Japan, where he is apparently headed in two weeks. "Just go through Tokyo, grab girls and yell 'Pikachu' and put her head on your dick", Blanc instructs his audience before showing footage of himself doing just that. This is nothing short of a lesson teaching how to rape.

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Asian women, consistently hypersexualised by western culture, have long been the targets of a predatory, booming sex-tourism industry. White western men travel to Asian countries to sexually exploit women on whom they project their orientalist, racist fetishes. In doing so, he actively instructs men to exploit their white male status to assault women, declaring that "if you're a white male, you can do what you want".

That Blanc can sustain a profitable business out of promoting sexual violence with total impunity is a testament to the extent to which our society accepts rampant rape culture and abusive attitudes towards women. These men epitomise the rabid culture of male entitlement and the toxic social enabling of violent hypermasculinity that puts women in danger every day.

Here in Australia, one woman is killed by her own male partner every week. The leading cause of death, disability and ill health for women aged 15-44 is intimate partner violence. Just yesterday it was acknowledged by the nation's police commissioners that vulgar attitudes towards women are the primary cause of such abominations, and yet men like Blanc are able to commit and even teach sexual violence unrestrained. These "pick-up artists" hunt women as sport, referring to women as "game". This is how sexual violence becomes normalised.

Backlash has mounted rapidly. Japanese activists have been warning women and the hashtag #takedownjulienblanc has been circulated widely. Most significantly, Hotel Como Melbourne this morning announced its decision to cancel Blanc's planned seminar this week after an online petition generated over 10,000 signatures and hundreds of social media posts pressured the hotel to refuse Blanc the venue.

Blanc has several more seminars planned in Australia this month and again in December, for which the venues are yet to be made public. Once they are publicised, they can expect the same public backlash and PR disaster. As the public campaign against Blanc has made clear, this man and his company's business are based on a heinous model of promoting rape culture under a phony label of "pick-up artistry" to sanitise and normalise their behaviour.

For now, refusing him yet more platforms for his harmful views should be of the utmost priority to send the resounding message that the promotion and glorification of sexual violence is unacceptable.

Wales woman murdered in 'act of cannibalism' at hostel for homeless

Murder suspect Matthew Williams died after being arrested for attacking Cerys Marie Yemm

Detectives are investigating the murder of a woman amid claims that the suspected killer was trying to eat her.

The 22-year-old woman is known to have been bitten and suffered severe facial injuries in the incident at a hostel for homeless people in south Wales.

But some neighbours of the hostel have also claimed that the suspected attacker, who died after police fired a Taser at him, subjected the woman to an act of cannibalism.

Gwent police are refusing to comment on the claims. However, a source with knowledge of the investigation said cannibalism was now a line of inquiry.

The police have not named either the man or woman, who both died at the Sirhowy Arms hotel in the village of Argoed, but the man has been named locally as 34-year-old Matthew Williams, who goes by the nickname Fifi. He is understood to have been recently released from prison where he had been held for attacking a woman.

Lyn Beasley, who lives close to the hotel, said: "He went Hannibal Lecter on the woman." A security guard at the hotel, who did not want to be named, also claimed the woman had been the victim of a cannibalistic attack.

Neighbours of the hostel claimed that - against the rules - the man had sneaked the victim back to his room for a drink. They said the police were called in the early hours of Thursday morning after security staff burst into the bedroom because the man was refusing to answer his door.

Residents in Argoed, a village near Blackwood in Caerphilly, expressed horror. Local councillor and Caerphilly council deputy mayor Leon Gardiner said: "Everyone is totally shocked. Argoed is a lovely place to live."

© Guardian

Most neighbours said the hostel, which puts up homeless people on behalf of Caerphilly council, did not cause too much trouble in the village. Some said they were sometimes disturbed by residents drinking and smoking in the nearby woods and occasionally came across people sleeping rough in hedgerows because they could not get a bed.

One neighbour said: "We don't have too many problems. The people who live there are not allowed to drink or smoke in the hotel so they go down to the woods to do it. Sometimes there are police vans outside if there has been a fight or something but despite that it's still a quiet street."

Gwent police said it was treating the death of the woman as murder. It immediately referred the use of the Taser to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating.

A Gwent police spokeswoman said: "At 1.23am [on Thursday] we were called to an incident at the Sirhowy Arms hotel where it was reported that a man was attacking a woman. On arrival both the male and female were still at the location. A Taser was discharged and a man was arrested.

"The woman was located with injuries and has since been pronounced deceased. Whilst under arrest, the man became unresponsive. Officers and paramedics administered first aid but he has since been pronounced deceased. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident, and an investigation is under way."

Before it was turned into a hostel, the Sirhowy Arms was popular with walkers and cyclists. It was also a thriving local pub.

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Earthquake swarm in Nevada desert intensifying

© LA Times

A swarm of hundreds of earthquakes that has been striking a corner of the Nevada desert near the Oregon border for months has intensified in recent days, prompting new warnings from seismologists.

About 750 earthquakes, mostly magnitude 2.0 to 3.0, have struck the area about 50 miles southeast of Lakeview, Ore., since the swarm started in July, said Ian Madin, chief scientist for Oregon's Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

The temblors have been growing steadily stronger with time. Six earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater have struck the area since Tuesday and about 40 have struck in the last 24 hours, Madin said.

"This week it has just gone crazy," Madin said.

The swarm is beneath an uninhabited part of the Nevada desert near the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, but officials are telling the public, especially the almost 2,300 residents of Lakeview, to develop earthquake plans if they haven't already.

"If you are not ready for an earthquake, now is an awfully good time to get ready for an earthquake," said Alison Ryan, a spokeswoman for the department.

Scientists believe groundwater is slowly percolating along the faults and building up pressure, making movement on the faults much easier, said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.

"It doesn't necessarily mean anything big is coming, but it does raise the risk there will be a bigger quake in the future," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time nothing too dramatic happens, but every now and then there is a good pop and everyone asks why we didn't predict it."

KPIX Video coverage here.

Comment: For more on what's really going on with the increasing earth changes, their cosmic origins and humanity's role in them, read Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.

"While official science portrays the crazy weather, more frequent sinkholes, increased meteor fireball activity, and intensifying earthquakes as phenomena that are unrelated, research put together by Pierre and Laura strongly suggests that all this (and more!) is intimately connected and may stem from a common cause.

In times past, people understood that the human mind and states of collective human experience influence cosmic and earthly phenomena. How might today's 'wars and rumors of wars', global 'austerity measures', and the mass protest movements breaking out everywhere play into the climate 'changing'?"

You can listen to or read the transcript of the SOTT editor's interview with the authors here.

Google wants to store your genome

Genome Storage

© http://ift.tt/kEejM6

Google is approaching hospitals and universities with a new pitch. Have genomes? Store them with us.

The search giant's first product for the DNA age is Google Genomics, a cloud computing service that it launched last March but went mostly unnoticed amid a barrage of high profile R&D announcements from Google, like one late last month about a far-fetched plan to battle cancer with nanoparticles (see "Can Google Use Nanoparticles to Search for Cancer?").

Google Genomics could prove more significant than any of these moonshots. Connecting and comparing genomes by the thousands, and soon by the millions, is what's going to propel medical discoveries for the next decade.

The question of who will store the data is already a point of growing competition between Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

Google began work on Google Genomics 18 months ago, meeting with scientists and building an interface, or API, that lets them move DNA data into its server farms and do experiments there using the same database technology that indexes the Web and tracks billions of Internet users.

"We saw biologists moving from studying one genome at a time to studying millions," says David Glazer, the software engineer who led the effort and was previously head of platform engineering for Google+, the social network. "The opportunity is how to apply breakthroughs in data technology to help with this transition."

Some scientists scoff that genome data remains too complex for Google to help with. But others see a big shift coming. When Atul Butte, a bioinformatics expert at Stanford heard Google present its plans this year, he remarked that he now understood "how travel agents felt when they saw Expedia."

The explosion of data is happening as labs adopt new, even faster equipment for decoding DNA. For instance, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that during the month of October it decoded the equivalent of one human genome every 32 minutes. That translated to about 200 terabytes of raw data.

This flow of data is smaller than what is routinely handled by large Internet companies (over two months, Broad will produce the equivalent of what gets uploaded to YouTube in one day) but it exceeds anything biologists have dealt with. That's now prompting a wide effort to store and access data at central locations, often commercial ones. The National Cancer Institute said last month that it would pay $19 million to move copies of the 2.6 petabyte Cancer Genome Atlas into the cloud. Copies of the data, from several thousand cancer patients, will reside both at Google Genomics and in Amazon's data centers.

The idea is to create "cancer genome clouds" where scientists can share information and quickly run virtual experiments as easily as a Web search, says Sheila Reynolds, a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. "Not everyone has the ability to download a petabyte of data, or has the computing power to work on it," she says.

Also speeding the move of DNA data to the cloud has been a yearlong price war between Google and Amazon. Google says it now charges about $25 a year to store a genome, and more to do computations on it. Scientific raw data representing a single person's genome is about 100 gigabytes in size, although a polished version of a person's genetic code is far smaller, less than a gigabyte. That would cost only $0.25 cents a year.

Cloud storage is giving a boost to startups like Tute Genomics, DNANexus, Seven Bridges, and NextCode Health. These companies build "browsers" that hospitals and scientists can use to explore genetic data. "Google or Amazon is a back end. They are saying, 'Hey, you can build a genomics company in our cloud,'" says Deniz Kural, CEO of Seven Bridges, which stores genome data on behalf of 1,600 researchers in Amazon's cloud.

The bigger point, he says, is that medicine will soon rely on a kind of global Internet-of-DNA which doctors will be able to search. "Our bird's eye view is that if I were to get lung cancer in the future, doctors are going to sequence my genome and my tumor's genome, and then query them against a database of 50 million other genomes," he says. "The result will be 'Hey, here's the drug that will work best for you.' "

At Google, Glazer says he began working on Google Genomics as it became clear that biology was going to move from "artisanal to factory-scale data production." He started by teaching himself genetics, taking an online class, Introduction to Biology, taught by Broad's chief, Eric Lander. He also got his genome sequenced and put it on Google's cloud.

Glazer wouldn't say how large Google Genomics is or how many customers it has now, but at least 3,500 genomes from public projects are already stored on Google's servers. He also says there's no link, as of yet, between Google's cloud and its more speculative efforts in health care, like the company Google started this year, called Calico, to investigate how to extend human lifespans. "What connects them is just a growing realization that technology can advance the state of the art in life sciences," says Glazer.

Somalee Datta, a physicist who manages Stanford University's largest computer cluster for genetics data, says that because of recent price cuts, it now costs about the same to store genomes with Google or Amazon as in her own data center. "Prices are finally becoming reasonable, and we think they will keep dropping," she says.

Datta says some Stanford scientists have started using a Google database system, BigQuery, that Glazer's team made compatible with genome data. It was developed to analyze large databases of spam, web documents, or of consumer purchases. But it can also quickly perform the very large experiments comparing thousands, or tens of thousands, of people's genomes that researchers want to try. "Sometimes they want to do crazy things, and you need scale to do that," says Datta. "It can handle the scale genetics can bring, so it's the right technology for a new problem."

Crafting offers meditation-like benefits

© culturbia.net

More than half of US households craft at least once a year,1 but for some it becomes a daily pastime. If you're an avid crafter - knitting, quilting, scrapbooking, etc. - you've probably lost yourself in a project on more than one occasion.

This tendency to become so absorbed in your craft that you're able to forget about your worries, obligations, and even physical pains is called "flow" - and it's a key reason why crafting may be phenomenal for your mental and emotional health.

Getting Creative Boosts Brain Health, Happiness

Crafts such as knitting and crocheting are no longer viewed as a pastime for the elderly. In fact, they're popular among all age groups, from 18 year olds to those over 65.

People in their 20s and 30s are actually taking up knitting in droves, and not because there's a shortage of baby blankets and hats. The number one reason why people are drawn to this hobby, according to a survey by the Craft Yarn Council, is because it's a wonderful creative outlet.2

Creating is beneficial for a number of reasons, one being that it allows you to become fully immersed in the moment to the extent that your worries fade away. This "flow," according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the secret to happiness. As he stated during a TED talk:3

"When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life... You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger."

Not to mention, crafting likely offers many of the same health benefits to your brain that have been associated with brain games and crossword puzzles, which are known to boost memory and cognitive function.

One study revealed that craft activities such as quilting and knitting were associated with decreased odds of having mild cognitive impairment.4 Another study, published earlier this year, found that taking part in "cognitively demanding" activities was also beneficial.

This would include learning to quilt or take digital photography, which researchers found enhance memory function in older adults.5 Here again the benefits seem to depend on the task being mentally absorbing, which allows you to experience flow.

Crafting May Offer Meditation-Like Benefits

Some experts equate the benefits of crafting-induced "flow" with those of meditation. Indeed, when you're absorbed in a craft, it can induce your body's relaxation response, just like meditation can.

This is a physical state of deep rest that changes physical and emotional responses to stress, decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension. Even beneficial changes to gene expression have been revealed as a result of the relaxation response .

Meditation acts as a form of "mental exercise" that can help regulate your attention and emotions, while improving well-being, and there's evidence that crafting may do the same.

One study found that engaging in "purposeful and meaningful activities" stimulates your neurological system, counters the effects of stress-related diseases, reduces the risk of dementia, and enhances health and well-being.6This applied not only to meditation but also to:

  • Arts and crafts

  • Music

  • Drawing

  • Reading

  • Home repairs

Crafting May Be a Natural Antidepressant

A significant number of knitters and crocheters do so because it offers stress relief,7 and this isn't only due to prompting flow or triggering your relaxation response. Crafting also activates your brain's reward centers to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that's sometimes described as a "natural antidepressant."

In fact, one study found a strong relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.8 Those who reported frequent knitting also reported higher cognitive functioning, while knitting in a group was associated with greater perceived happiness and improved social contact and communication with others, the latter of which is also linked to improved mood and brain health. The researchers were so impressed with the findings they noted:

"Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential..."

Engaging in a Hobby You Love Might Fight Brain Degeneration

Research into brain plasticity has proven that your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity, which means that cognitive function can be improved, regardless of your age, and cognitive decline can be reversed.

However, if you don't sufficiently challenge your brain with new, surprising information, it eventually begins to deteriorate. In my interview with Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California who has pioneered research in brain plasticity (also called neuroplasticity) for more than 30 years, he explained:

Generally, by the third or fourth decade in life, you're in decline. One of the things that happens across this period is that you go from a period of the acquisition of abilities to largely using those abilities that have been acquired earlier in life.

By that I mean to say, the fundamental skills that you apply in your profession or in your everyday life are things you master, and you're doing them without thought.

To a large extent, you're operating most of your day without really being consciously engaged in the things you're doing... I've gone without really thinking very much about the physical acts of driving. I'm substantially disengaged.

This has been contributed to substantially by modern culture. Modern culture is all about taking out surprises... to basically reduce the stimulation in a sense on one level, so that we could engage ourselves in sort of an abstract level of operations.

We're no longer interested in the details of things. We're no longer interested in resolving the details of what we see or hear or feel, and our brains slowly deteriorate."

What research into brain plasticity shows us, however, is that by providing your brain with appropriate stimulus, you can counteract this degeneration. Again, a key factor necessary for improving brain function or reversing functional decline is the with which you engage in a task.

In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting - it must hold your attention. Rote memorization of nonsensical or unimportant items will not stimulate your brain to create new neurons, for instance, but learning how to play a musical instrument that you've always dreamed of playing .

Crafting and Other Hobbies Give Adults Much-Needed Playtime

Unstructured playtime is essential for kids to build their imagination, relieve stress, and simply be kids. But when's the last time you took time for play? Regular playtime for adults, doing hobbies that you enjoy, is actually quite beneficial and even necessary for optimal well-being. Making time for play offers:9

  • Stress relief: Taking a break from your worries feels good, and if you laugh while you do it, you'll also relax your muscles, optimize your blood flow, and even boost your immune system.

  • Better physical health: Back pain, fatigue, sleep troubles, and indigestion often disappear when you make more time for play.

  • Increased self-esteem and productivity: When you take time for fun, it makes you feel good about yourself and about your life in general. Playing during your free time also boosts creativity and enhances your problem-solving skills, which, in turn, may make you perform better at work.

  • Social support: Engaging in hobbies with friends and family helps you to strengthen relationships and enhance the social support in your life

If Crafting Is Not Your Thing, Find a Hobby That Is

While I've been focusing on the health benefits of crafting, please realize that similar benefits can be gained from other hobbies as well. This might include knitting, quilting, or scrapbooking... or it might not. Other examples include:

  • Building model ships, aircraft, railroads, or rockets

  • Gardening

  • Sewing

  • Cooking

  • Drawing

  • Painting

  • Sculpting

  • Music (playing an instrument, singing, and writing songs)

  • Soap making

  • Woodworking

  • Photography

  • Stained glass or glass blowing

  • Jewelry making

  • Quilling

  • Digital arts

  • Origami

The key is to find an activity that is mentally stimulating for . Ideally, this should be something that requires your undivided attention and gives you great satisfaction... it should be an activity that you to doing. After you've figured out which hobbies you most enjoy, the next step is prioritizing the time to do them. You needn't devote hours each day (unless you want to) - even 15 minutes here and half an hour there is likely to offer you great rewards for your mental health and happiness.

Sources and References

Propaganda Alert! Russian 'Trojan Horse' bug lurking in vital US computers since 2011

E-mails sent to Sott.net become the property of Quantum Future Group, Inc and may be published without notice.

Debunking the myth: 'We need GMOs to feed the world'

The reality of food waste

Do we really need Monsanto's GMOs to feed the world? Looking at the research and the studies, the answer is quite clear. Let's take a look at the 8 proofs that we most certainly need GMOs to feed the world:

One Organic Rooftop Farm Can Feed 9000 People

One organic rooftop farm can feed 9000 people. They don't use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, and they provide fresh produce to their community year-round [1]. This is a big slap in the face to the biotech companies who lie, saying that GMO is needed to feed the world. This is only one urban farm bucking the system.

"Several of the high profile advocates for conventional agricultural production have stated that the world would starve if we all converted to organic agriculture. They have written articles for science journals and other publications saying that organic agriculture is not sustainable and produces yields that are significantly lower than conventional agriculture." ~ Avery (2000) Trewavas (2001)

Are these claims really true?

Small Organic Farms Are Working, Even in Major Cities

Lufa Farms has an astonishing approach to feeding the world. Their newest rooftop hothouse in the suburb of Laval near Montreal, produces enough veggies for more than 9,000 people. According to Lufa's founder Mohamed Hage, this is only the beginning. From rhubarb to kale, and organic milk, cheese, and tofu, Lufa is feeding its community without following Big Ag practices. The company plans to expand to Chicago soon.

Airports Serving... Sustainable Foods?

Or take La Guardia airport - yes, you read that right. An airport is also sticking it to Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta by serving organic, local, and sustainable food at their upscale eateries scattered through different terminals.

Agribusiness advocates such as Steve Kopperud need a reality check. They think you can't feed the world on organic, sustainable, non-GMO food, but they are dead wrong.

The United Nations Admits We Don't Need GMOS

Even the UN once admitted that, You can read the pdf here.

Sustainable Agriculture = Increased Crop Yields

Further, an editorial in New Scientist stated that low-tech sustainable agriculture is increasing crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 percent or more. This is achieved by replacing synthetic chemicals with natural fertilizers and natural pest control methods, while the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out that GE crops are failing to yield:

". . .GE soybeans have not increased yields, and GE corn has increased yield only marginally on a crop-wide basis. Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as result of the GE traits. Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices."

Conversely, vertical organic farming is going high tech and big-scale. Utilizing the space equal to a small one-bedroom apartment, healthy food can be grown for a small family.

"Using a combination of new growing techniques and more sustainable energy practices, food markets around the world could soon benefit from the adoption of plant factories taking up a lot less space than traditional agriculture but boasting significantly more production."


Also look at places like Urban Organics in Minnesota. They use aquaponics to grow food sustainably. The company was established in an old brewery, which was vacant for almost two decades. They now grow a variety of herbs and healthy vegetables.

States Taking Action

Maine is also growing loads of organic food. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association suggests this economical solution:

"Consider the fact that half a pound of pole bean seeds, which you can buy for between $4 and $15 depending on the catalog and variety of bean, will plant a 100-foot row that can yield 150 pounds of beans The price of fresh, organic green beans at Maine farmers' markets is about $3 per pound, so even if you paid $15 for your seed, that 150 pounds would have grossed $435 for you!"

Home Gardening: Grow Your Own Food!

Even home gardeners are increasing their organic food yields with tried and true techniques that have been around for ages. Just planting according to your growing region can help you yield a cornucopia of fresh, healthful food. For a list of the best regional varieties, look here.

Biotechnology companies like Monsanto rely heavily on claims that GMOs will solve world hunger. Their marketing strategy says it all: "," but we can produce more, and of a much higher quality without resorting to biotech tricks.

Russell Brand points out the ridiculousness of the U.S. spending $4 billion on elections while feeding the homeless is illegal

Russell Brand weighed in on the recent controversy surrounding the arrest of a 90-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida man whose only crime was violating a new city ordinance against feeding the homeless.

"He couldn't look any more like an adorable old man, could he?" Brand began. "And yet he's being ushered away by the police."

"These values now aren't the preserve of extreme activists, loonies in Anonymous masks tipping over police vans - they're the values of elderly old war veteran men, because the values we're talking about are just compassion and fairness."

"There's a prevailing idea," he continued, "that there's something ethically wrong with being poor, and that America's run according to Christian values. But when people are practicing genuine Christian values, they themselves are directly prosecuted."

"Clearly," Brand said, "what Jesus was really into was having guns, and not having abortions, and not being gay. Those are his main priorities. But after he made sure that everyone had a gun, no one had an abortion, and nobody was gay, he had a little think about the poor people and whether they needed anything."

[embedded content]

"Sharing is one of the most important Christian values. Looking after each other is a Christian value." But, he added, American businessmen use "Christianity and morality of all kind to protect their own corporate interests."

"We've got to have a law," he said in the voice of an American businessman, "preventing people from sharing food - from the hungry, let's exclude them from the get-go."

In his own voice, Brand said, "this is a very popular current mentality, and presumably it comes from businesses and corporations in town centers saying, 'I don't like these homeless folk outside my store, it's inconvenient and depressing. Don't feel sympathy for the vulnerable people, think about local businesses and their needs not to have human litter cluttering up the walkways.'"

"At no point," he continued, "do people think, 'We can divert some of this wealth and affluence at the top of the pyramid towards vulnerable people.'"

"They never think, 'That could be me.' They just assume, 'That person is naturally inferior.'"

"And of course," Brand said, "we all know homelessness can't be ended," before pivoting, noting that "homelessness could be ended with the money Americans spend on Christmas decorations."

"Let's bear in mind," he concluded, "that America just had midterm elections where $4 billion was spent on campaigning - which is just telling you that something's good. But feeding the homeless? That's illegal."

It's no crime when Big Corps do it! Leaked documents reveal that global companies cut tax deals in Luxembourg


© Tim Meko / Shutterstock

The landlocked European duchy has been called a "magical fairyland" for brand-name corporations seeking to drastically reduce tax bills.

Pepsi, IKEA, FedEx and 340 other international companies have secured secret deals from Luxembourg, allowing many of them to slash their global tax bills while maintaining little presence in the tiny European duchy, leaked documents show.

These companies appear to have channeled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes, according to a review of nearly 28,000 pages of confidential documents conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a team of more than 80 journalists from 26 countries.

Big companies can book big tax savings by creating complicated accounting and legal structures that move profits to low-tax Luxembourg from higher-tax countries where they're headquartered or do lots of business. In some instances, the leaked records indicate, companies have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on the profits they've shuffled into Luxembourg.

The leaked documents reviewed by ICIJ journalists include hundreds of private tax rulings - sometimes known as "comfort letters" - that Luxembourg provides to corporations seeking favorable tax treatment.

The European Union and Luxembourg have been fighting for months over Luxembourg's reluctance to turn over information about its tax rulings to the EU, which is investigating whether the country's tax deals with Amazon and Fiat Finance violate European law. Luxembourg officials have supplied some information to the EU but have refused, EU officials say, to provide a larger set of documents relating to its tax rulings.

Today ICIJ and its media partners are releasing a large cache of Luxembourg tax rulings - 548 comfort letters issued from 2002 to 2010 - and reporting on their contents in stories that will be published or broadcast in dozens of countries. It's unclear whether any of these documents are among those still being sought by EU investigators, but they are the kinds of documents that go to the heart of the EU's investigation into Luxembourg's tax rulings.

The leaked documents reviewed by ICIJ involve deals negotiated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's largest accounting firms, on behalf of hundreds of corporate clients. To qualify the companies for tax relief, the records show, PwC tax advisers helped come up with financial strategies that feature loans among sister companies and other moves designed to shift profits from one part of a corporation to another to reduce or eliminate taxable income.

The records show, for example, that Memphis-based FedEx Corp. set up two Luxembourg affiliates to shuffle earnings from its Mexican, French and Brazilian operations to FedEx affiliates in Hong Kong. Profits moved from Mexico to Luxembourg largely as tax-free dividends. Luxembourg agreed to tax only one quarter of 1 percent of FedEx's non-dividend income flowing through this arrangement - leaving the remaining 99.75 percent tax-free.

"A Luxembourg structure is a way of stripping income from whatever country it comes from,'' said Stephen E. Shay, a professor of international taxation at Harvard Law School and a former tax official in the U.S. Treasury Department. The Grand Duchy, he said, "combines enormous flexibility to set up tax reduction schemes, along with binding tax rulings that are unique. It's like a magical fairyland."

FedEx declined comment on the specifics of its Luxembourg tax arrangements. Other companies seeking tax deals from Luxembourg come from private equity, real estate, banking, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and other industries, the leaked files show. They include Accenture, Abbott Laboratories, American International Group (AIG), Amazon, Blackstone, Deutsche Bank, the Coach handbag empire, H.J. Heinz, JP Morgan Chase, Burberry, Procter & Gamble, the Carlyle Group and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

For their part, Luxembourg's officials and defenders say the landlocked nation's system of private tax agreements is above reproach.

"No way are these sweetheart deals," Nicolas Mackel, chief executive of Luxembourg for Finance, a quasi-governmental agency, said in an interview with ICIJ.

"The Luxembourg system of taxation is competitive - there is nothing unfair or unethical about it," Mackel said. "If companies manage to reduce their tax bills to a very low rate, that's a problem not of one tax system but of the interaction of many tax systems."

Less than 1 percent

Disclosure of the leaked documents comes at a sensitive time for Luxembourg, a nation with a population of less than 550,000. Amid the EU probe of Luxembourg's tax deals, former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is in his first week in office as president of the European Commission, one of the most powerful positions in the EU.

Juncker, Luxembourg's top leader when many of the jurisdiction's tax breaks were crafted, has promised to crack down on tax dodging in his new post, but he has also said he believes his own country's tax regime is in "full accordance" with European law. Under Luxembourg's system, tax advisers from PwC and other firms can present proposals for corporate structures and transactions designed to create tax savings and then get written assurance that their plan will be viewed favorably by the duchy's Ministry of Finance.

"It's like taking your tax plan to the government and getting it blessed ahead of time," said Richard D. Pomp, a tax law professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. "And most are blessed. Luxembourg has a very user-friendly tax department."

The private deals are legal in Luxembourg but may be subject to legal challenge outside the country if tax officials in other nations view them as improper.

Luxembourg's Ministry of Finance said in a statement that "advance tax decisions" are "well established in many EU member states, such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Luxembourg" and that they don't conflict with European law as long as "all taxpayers in a similar situation are treated equally."

PwC said ICIJ's reporting is based on "outdated" and "stolen" information, "the theft of which is in the hands of the relevant authorities." It said its tax advice and assistance are "given in accordance with applicable local, European and international tax laws and agreements and is guided by a PwC Global Tax Code of Conduct."

In its statement PwC said media do not have "a complete understanding of the structures involved." While the company can't comment on specific client matters, it rejects "any suggestion that there is anything improper about the firm's work."

ICIJ and its media partners used corporate balance sheets, regulatory filings and court records to put the leaked tax rulings in context. News organizations that have worked together on the six-month investigation include The Guardian , Süddeutsche Zeitung and NDR/WDR in Germany, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Le Monde , Japan's Asahi Shimbun , CNBC, Denmark'sPolitiken , Brazil's Folha de S. Paulo and others.

U.S. and U.K. companies appeared more frequently in the leaked files than companies from any other country, followed by firms from Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. Most of the rulings in the stash of documents were approved between 2008 and 2010. Some of them were first reported on in 2012 by Edouard Perrin for France 2 public television and by the BBC, but most of the PwC documents have never before been analyzed by reporters.

The files do not include tax deals sought from Luxembourg authorities through other accounting firms. And many of the documents do not include explicit figures for how much money the companies expected to shift through Luxembourg.

Experts who've reviewed the files for ICIJ say the documents do make it clear, though, that the companies and their advisors at PwC engaged in aggressive tax-reduction strategies, using Luxembourg in combination with other tax havens such as Gibraltar, Delaware and Ireland.

The documents show that:

  • The Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. , a New York-based unit of PepsiCo, used subsidiaries in Luxembourg to arrange a series of loans among sister companies that allowed the bottler to reduce its tax rate on its $1.4 billion purchase of a controlling interest in JSC Lebedyansky, Russia's largest juice maker. At least $750 million of the money involved in the Russian deal traveled through a Luxembourg subsidiary named Tanglewood, before landing in a Pepsi subsidiary in Bermuda. Luxembourg acted as a tax-reducing conduit as the profits moved from Russia to Bermuda.

  • New York-based Coach Inc. set up two Luxembourg entities to move €250 million in Hong Kong earnings in 2011, an amount it expected to approach €1 billion by 2013. One Luxembourg entity acted as an internal corporate bank, allowing much of the luxury goods maker's Asian operating earnings to glide through a series of foreign entities in the form of interest payments on money the company loaned itself. Filings in Luxembourg showed that in 2012, the company paid €250,000 in taxes on €36.7 million in earnings channeled into Luxembourg - a rate of well under 1 percent.

  • IKEA has used Luxembourg as part of a tax-savings strategy almost as complicated as the retail chain's ready-to-assemble furniture. IKEA operates through two independent groups of companies: IKEA Group, which controls most of the 364 iconic IKEA big-box stores and Inter IKEA Group, which oversees franchise operations. Inter IKEA's structure includes a Luxembourg holding company, a Luxembourg finance company, a Liechtenstein foundation and a Swiss finance arm. Leaked documents show IKEA's Luxembourg operations opened the Swiss subsidiary in 2009 to outsource part of their financing operations to yet another low-tax jurisdiction, allowing the company to save taxes both in Luxembourg and in Switzerland.

  • Belgium's richest family, the billionaire de Spoelberch dynasty, obtained a private tax ruling from Luxembourg in 2008. The de Spoelberch clan, part of the country's old nobility and close to the royal family, holds a big stake in ABInbev, the world's biggest brewer whose labels include Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona and Beck's. The records indicate the de Spoelberch's routed €2 billion through Ireland and then Luxembourg, reducing taxes with each step. The only sign of Luxembourg companies controlled by the family appears to be a small letter box at an address that lists nearly 190 other companies.

  • Even the Canadian government got a private Luxembourg tax ruling. In 2008, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board , which manages pensions for all Canadian federal employees, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, bought real estate in Berlin. The pension board set up Luxembourg companies that helped it sidestep German land transfer taxes. A complex internal loan structure allowed the board to pay minimal taxes in Luxembourg on income from the German properties. The investment board has a Luxembourg office - a place where desks can be rented by the month and where two employees watch over $600 million in European investments.

The Canadian pension board and Inter IKEA both said their tax planning complies with all laws and regulations. The Canadian fund argues that because it has tax-exempt status in Canada, it ultimately gained "no tax advantage" by routing investments through Luxembourg. Inter IKEA said its total effective corporate income tax rate is currently around 14 percent.

Pepsi, Coach and an accountant for the de Spoelberch family's Luxembourg holdings declined to comment on the specifics of their tax arrangements.

"This is the first time really that we've seen inside the workings of Luxembourg as a tax haven," said Richard Brooks, a former U.K. tax inspector and author of the book The Great Tax Robbery , who was hired by ICIJ to help review some of the leaked documents. "The countries . . . that are losing money, they don't know about it, don't know how it operates at all."

Gilded Age

Last month, in the Gilded Age splendor of New York's private Metropolitan Club, Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg's minister of finance, tried to woo the Wall Street crowd with some premier cru wine and a little levity. He told assembled financiers that he wanted to dispel the myth that his tiny country is nothing more than a tax haven: "Luxembourg is not an offshore place. I say it loud and clear."

What he got back was hearty round of laughter.

In the wake of the EU's probe of its tax practices, Luxembourg officials continue to bristle at their nation's tax haven label. The country, a founding member of the EU, boasts of being a multi-lingual nation in the heart of Europe with a business-friendly and stable government. Once primarily a steel-maker and manufacturer, Luxembourg has transitioned into a financial center rivaling London, New York or Hong Kong. With $3.7 trillion in assets under management by banks and other institutions, Luxembourg is second only to the U.S. as a global investment center.

More than 170 of the Fortune 500 companies have a Luxembourg branch, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. A total of $95 billion in profits from American corporations' overseas operations flowed through Luxembourg in 2012, the most current statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show. On those profits, corporations paid $1.04 billion in taxes to Luxembourg - just 1.1 percent.

Other tax havens, Ireland for example, openly advertise rock-bottom corporate tax rates of 12.5 percent. Luxembourg instead maintains a statutory tax rate of 29 percent, but the leaked files show that the duchy has routinely approved tax rulings that whittle down what counts as taxable income to practically nothing. This can drop Luxembourg's effective tax rate deep into single digits.

Less than 30 percent of the tax deals in the leaked documents include a specific figure for the amount of money that companies said they planned to "invest" through the Luxembourg agreements. The total for those deals was roughly $215 billion between 2002 and 2010. The figure would likely grow to several hundred billion dollars if projected investments in other deals in the leaked PwC documents were included. And the overall figure for money shuffled through Luxembourg as the result of confidential tax agreements would grow even larger if tax deals arranged through other accounting firms were included.

PwC's letters seeking special tax rulings were usually 20 to 100 pages long. They detail various financial strategies and then specify the tax treatment the accountants expect to get for their clients - suggesting, for example, that dividends be treated as tax-free interest.

The leaked tax rulings indicate that negotiations were conducted in private meetings between PwC accountants and Luxembourg tax officials. PwC's written proposals were often approved the same day they were submitted.

The deals can be so complex that PwC accountants frequently include "before" and "after" diagrams to illustrate how money flows from subsidiary to subsidiary and across different countries and tax havens. The leaked records show that Luxembourg's 2009 tax deal for Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories - which makes arthritis drugs and Ensure meal replacement shakes - features 79 steps including companies in Cyprus and Gibraltar. Abbott projected it would invest as much as $50 billion via Luxembourg.

A spokesperson for Abbott declined comment.

In a 2009 presentation, PwC highlights Luxembourg as a place with "flexible and welcoming authorities" who are "easily contactable" and offer a "readiness for dialogue and quick decision-making process."

Most of the leaked tax rulings were approved and signed by the same tax official, Marius Kohl, now retired. Sometimes known in tax circles as "Monsieur Ruling," Kohl was described by one Belgian newspaper as "the guardian of the only door through which companies can enter the fiscal paradise of Luxembourg." During his time as head of a Luxembourg agency called Sociétés 6, Kohl oversaw the approval of thousands of tax agreements, personally signing as many as 39 in the course of a single day. The Wall Street Journal has reported that since Kohl retired in 2013, it can take up to six months for a tax ruling to be approved.

A woman who answered the phone at Kohl's home told an ICIJ reporter that he wasn't interested in talking. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kohl said: "The work I did definitely benefited the country, though maybe not in terms of reputation."

When a Journal reporter asked whether the prices that companies' Luxembourg affiliates charged sister companies outside the country for the use of intellectual property and other services were accurate, Kohl licked his thumb and held it in the air.

"There was no way to verify it," he said.

Financial Power

Luxembourg's economy benefits from a growing cadre of lawyers, accountants, and financiers who are hired to appear before the tax authorities. PwC, for example, said in 2013 that it had more than 2,300 employees in Luxembourg and that it expected to add another 600 in 2014.

Sprawling office parks of high-rise towers, not unlike those outside of Dallas or in northern Virginia, bustle with energy. Construction cranes dot the skyline. The International Monetary Fund reports that Luxembourg has the planet's highest economic output per capita - $112,473 per person in 2013, more than double the United States ($53,001), France ($44,099) and the United Kingdom ($39,372).

"Luxembourg is not what people think it is when you think of a tax haven,'' Mackel, CEO of Luxembourg for Finance, said. "We make steel and car components and have a logistics industry. Our financial center is diverse with first class funds, insurance, corporate finance and Europe's leading stock exchange. Luxembourg is about much more than this one issue they try to make of it.''

Still, Luxembourg has many ways to cut tax bills not always seen elsewhere. For example, some 80 percent of royalties on earnings from intellectual property - software copyrights, patents and trademarks, for instance - are exempt from taxes.

Corporations that have established toeholds in Luxembourg have made use of financial instruments that shift money around the map to play one country's tax rules against another. This might be, for instance, a hybrid debt instrument that allows profits to move out of a high-tax EU country to a Luxembourg entity. The profits are treated as interest payments in Luxembourg, where they can be deducted from taxes. In the parent company's country, they can be treated as dividends and eligible for a tax exemption.

The EU recently banned the use of hybrid loans that exploit tax mismatches between country tax systems for companies headquartered in Europe. Luxembourg and other EU members have until the end of 2015 to enact the ban into law within their own borders.

As in many tax havens, a Luxembourg office can be just a mailbox. Office buildings throughout the city are filled with brand-name corporate nameplates and little else. Some have offices and no visible employees. One building at 5 Rue Guillaume Kroll is home to more than 1,600 companies; another at 2 Avenue Charles de Gaulle houses roughly 1,450; and a building at 46A Avenue J.F. Kennedy is home to at least 1,300, according to an ICIJ analysis of Luxembourg's corporate registry.

These companies can represent big bucks. From the U.S. alone, direct investment into Luxembourg in 2013 was $416 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Of that, the vast majority, $343 billion, was in the form of holding companies, which are vehicles to hold securities and financial assets rather than to create local jobs. In fact, Luxembourg represents a tiny fraction of 1 percent - 0.13 percent in 2010 - of all overseas jobs with American companies, indicating it is a place that houses money more than it provides employment.

In 2011 Luxembourg passed new rules requiring that Luxembourg-based companies that serve as internal banks for larger corporate structures station a majority of their managers and board members in the Grand Duchy. It's unclear how these rules are enforced and the Ministry of Finance did not respond to ICIJ's questions about mailbox companies in Luxembourg.

EU probe

Luxembourg's freewheeling ways are gaining it few friends in nearby Brussels, the EU's headquarters.

The European Commission, the administrative arm of the EU, is investigating whether Luxembourg's tax rulings for Amazon and Fiat Finance constitute illegal state aid, violating rules that bar EU members from offering deals to one company that are not available to all.

"In the current context of tight public budgets, it is particularly important that large multinationals pay their fair share of taxes," Joaquín Almunia, the commission's vice president for competition policy until last week, said earlier this year in announcing EU probes into tax practices in Ireland, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Reuters reported in 2012 that Amazon's Luxembourg arrangements allowed it to have an average tax rate of 5.3 percent on overseas income from 2007 to 2011. Amazon company filings show that in 2013 the on-line merchant reported revenues of $20 billion from its European operations, which are channeled primarily through Luxembourg.

Amazon's Luxembourg headquarters.The commission's Amazon probe focuses on one of the online retailer's key companies in Luxembourg, Amazon EU S.à.r.l., which handles services to Amazon's European customers.

The commission argues that a generous 2003 tax ruling by Luxembourg authorities allows Amazon EU S.à.r.l. to funnel millions of euros in tax-deductible royalties each year to yet another Amazon company in Luxembourg, a limited partnership that is tax exempted. This tax break and others like it allow Amazon to pay little in taxes in the Grand Duchy on its European sales.

The leaked PwC documents show that in 2009 Amazon EU S.à.r.l. reported more than €519 million in royalty expenses while the limited partnership Amazon Europe Holding Technologies SCS had an influx of the same amount "based on agreements with affiliated companies." Thanks to the royalty expenses and other deductions, Amazon EU S.à.r.l. posted a taxable profit of just €14.8 million and paid €4.1 million in taxes in Luxembourg.

A spokesman for Amazon said the company "has received no special tax treatment from Luxembourg - we are subject to the same tax laws as other companies operating here."

As EU authorities are pushing their corporate tax probes, a leading multinational group, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has proposed a new set of rules that would bar companies from using many common practices to shift profits into tax havens. Approval of the OECD's proposals, however, is uncertain and years away.

Gramegna, Luxembourg's finance minister, said in an interview with ICIJ in New York that "the European Commission is entitled, by treaty, to look after fair competition and at state aid. They decided to look into Amazon. We are telling the European Commission that everything we've done has been within the general principles of the European Union and the OECD."

Adding a political twist to the Brussels probes is Juncker's rise to the presidency of the European Commission. As Luxembourg's prime minister, he signed into law the provision that allows companies to write off 80 percent of royalty income from intellectual property.

In a speech in July in Brussels, Juncker promised to "fight tax evasion and tax dumping. ... We will try to put some morality, some ethics, into the European tax landscape." But he also recently told German television: "No one has ever been able to make a convincing and thorough case to me that Luxembourg is a tax haven. Luxembourg employs tax rules that are in full accordance with European law."

At a press conference two weeks ago, Juncker promised he wouldn't try to influence regulatory cases involving Luxembourg: "I won't abuse my position in order to pressure commissioners to make different decisions regarding Luxembourg than they would regarding similar cases."

Many observers are skeptical Luxembourg and its allies will give up the country's flexible tax regime without a battle.

Jürgen Kentenich, chief tax fraud investigator in the German city of Trier, which lies near the border with Luxembourg, worries that big companies and their accountants will keep finding ways to take advantage of the deals offered by Luxembourg and other financial havens, while smaller companies and average taxpayers are left to make up the what's lost in tax revenues.

"It's always the same story," he said in an interview with ICIJ's partner, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Accounting firms are always coming up with fresh ways to cut tax bills "and lawmakers and tax authorities are always behind, always chasing."

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Greenspan's stunning admission: "Gold is currency; no fiat currency, including the dollar, can match it"

GREENSPAN: ...remember, we had that first tapering discussion, we got a very strong market response. And then we reassured everybody to have no - remember, tapering is still (audio gap) of an agreement that the central banks have made -European central banks, I believe - about allocating their gold sales which occurred when gold prices were falling down (audio gap) has been renewed this year with a statement that gold serves a very important place in monetary reserves.

And the question is, why do central banks put money into an asset which has no rate of return, but cost of storage and insurance and everything else like that, why are they doing that? If you look at the data with a very few exceptions, all of the developed countries have gold reserves. Why?

TETT: I imagine right now, it's because of a question mark hanging over the value of fiat currency, the credibility going forward.

GREENSPAN: Well, that's what I'm getting at.Every time you get some really serious questions, the 50 percent of the gold price determination begins to move.

TETT: Right.

GREENSPAN: And I think it is fascinating and - I don't know, is Benn Steil in the audience?

TETT: Yes.

GREENSPAN: There he is, OK. Before you read my book, go read Benn's book. The reason is, you'll find it fascinating on exactly this issue, because here you have the ultimate test at the Mount Washington Hotel in 1944 of the real intellectual debate between the - those who wanted an international fiat currency which was embodied in John Maynard Keynes' construct of a banker, and he was there in 1944, holding forth with all of his prestige, but couldn't counter the fact that the United States dollar was convertible into gold and that was the major draw. Everyone wanted America's gold. And I think that Benn really described that in extraordinarily useful terms, as far as I can see. Anyway, thank you.

TETT: Right. Well, I'm sure with comments like that, that will be turning you into a rock star amongst the gold bug community.

Comet Siding Spring's dust triggered 'mind blowing' Mars meteor shower


Comet Siding Spring's close flyby of Mars last month dumped several tons of primordial dust into the thin martian atmosphere, likely creating a brief but spectacular meteor shower with thousands of shooting stars per hour had any astronauts been there to see it, scientists said Friday.

The comet dust also posed a much more serious threat than expected to an international fleet of spacecraft in orbit around the red planet and roving about its surface. While engineers did not think the comet posed a major hazard, the orbiters were maneuvered to put them on the far side of Mars during close approach. Just in case.

As it turned out, that was a smart decision.

"After observing the effects on Mars and how the comet dust slammed into the upper atmosphere, it makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm's way," Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters, told reporters during a teleconference. "I really believe that hiding them like that really saved them, and it gave us a fabulous opportunity to make these observations."

Siding Spring, more formally known as Comet C/2013 A1, originated in the Oort Cloud, a vast realm of icy relics left over from the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago that extends from beyond the orbit of Pluto halfway to the nearest star. It was Siding Spring's first trip into the inner solar system, a journey that began a million or more years ago when the gravity of a passing star, perhaps, nudged it onto a different trajectory.

On Oct. 19, the comet passed within about 87,000 miles of Mars at a relative velocity of some 35 miles per second, or 126,000 miles per hour. Had the comet flown by Earth at that distance, it would have been just a third of the way to the moon.

"We believe this type of event occurs once every eight million years or so," Green said. "So it is indeed a rare opportunity for us to observe this."

Three NASA orbiters -- the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Odyssey and the newly arrived MAVEN -- along with the European Space Agency's Mars Express and India's Mars Orbiter Mission all trained their cameras and instruments on the comet or the martian atmosphere to study the possible effects of Siding Spring's passage.

MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, was built to study the martian atmosphere. Its Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument detected major changes as dust from the comet slammed into atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, high-energy collisions that caused the thin air to glow. The spacecraft's Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer detected clear signs of eight ionized metals -- sodium, magnesium, potassium, chromium, manganese, iron, nickel and zinc -- that spiked immediately following the comet's flyby and then faded away.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter trained its high-resolution camera on Siding Spring and while the instrument was not able to resolve the nucleus, brightness variations indicated the comet was rotating once every eight hours.

By analyzing photos taken at different distances, and given the comet's trajectory and sun's illumination, Siding Spring could be larger than a mile across or just a few hundred yards.

"So we have an exciting time ahead to untangle that," said Alan Delamere, a co-investigator for MRO's camera.

Another instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uses a 130-foot-long antenna to probe the subsurface of the planet with radar. The surface appears sharply defined in images taken just before the comet's passage. But images in the immediate aftermath are slightly blurred, the result of atmospheric ionization caused by comet dust dust that affected the radar beam as it passed through the atmosphere to the ground and bounced back to the orbiter.

The amount of dust and its effects on the atmosphere were a surprise. Green said initial modeling indicated Mars would just skirt the edge of Siding Spring's dust tail. More recent photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, however, showed the comet's trajectory was slightly different than expected. And the dust tail was larger than initially believed.

"The analysis seemed to indicate Mars would miss the dust tail in a significant way," Green said. "In other words, as the comet flies by the dust tail is following the trajectory.... it still would not have reached Mars to any significant amount. The surprise was indeed the dust tail seemed to be larger. The other surprise, the comet wasn't quite in the same position we thought it was."

Most of the particles were very small, tiny fractions of an inch across. But given their extreme velocity, they had a noticeable effect.

"With the amount of dust that came in, it's very possible that these are not just micron size, but they can be quite large, perhaps up to a centimeter size," Green said. "And anything that is of any size could easily destroy a spacecraft given it's high velocity and hitting in the right location. So, we were speculating the spacecraft would survive (in the dust tail's path), but I think it's pretty obvious they wouldn't have based on the tremendous response of Mars' atmosphere to the comet tail."

By measuring the glow of magnesium ions -- material from the comet that had electrons stripped away in high-energy collisions with particles in the atmosphere -- scientists could make a rough estimate of how much dust must have been deposited as the planet encountered Siding Spring's tail.

"And the answer we're coming up with is a few tons," said Nick Schneider, a leader of the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph team at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Based on this mass, we can make a rough estimate of what the meteor shower would have looked like, and it's looking like that meteor shower must have had thousands of shooting stars an hour, possibly what's called a meteor storm, although we're still working on the numbers.

"Numbers aside, it must have been a spectacular meteor shower on Mars," he said.

Meteor storms with more than 1,000 per shooting stars per hour are rare in Earth's sky and whether Siding Spring's display at Mars was a storm or a very intense shower, "I don't think anybody on the phone has ever seen that," Schneider said. "It's extremely rare in human history."

Asked what an astronaut on the surface might have seen, he said "it would have been truly stunning to the human eye."

"Now, we've got all these high tech robots around, but I have to say it might be the most sensitive science instrument of all having a human lying outside with dark-adapted vision looking up at that sky and to see many shooting stars happening at once," he said. "I think it would have been really mind blowing."