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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Mastodons weren't hunted to extinction by Ice Age humans - they simply froze to death, new study finds


© National Post

Paleontology student Hillary McLean pieces together a tusk of an ancient mastodon, part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colo., inside a workroom at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Despite popular belief that North American mastodons were hunted to extinction by Ice Age humans, a new Canadian-led study is claiming that the prehistoric beasts simply froze to death.

"To think of scattered populations of Ice Age people with primitive technology driving huge animals to extinction, to me is almost silly," said Grant Zazula, chief paleontologist for the Yukon Territory and the study's lead author.

"It's not human nature just to see everything in your path and want to kill it," he said.

The paper, published this week in the carbon dated 36 mastodon bones from across Canada and the United States.


© Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News

What the research found was that mastodons died out in the Yukon and Alaska long before humans were even on the scene. Not only that, but northern mastodons died out a full 65,000 years before their cousins in warmer climes to the south.

For decades, paleontology has held that many North American Ice Age giants, from mammoths to giant sloths to mastodons, were wiped out by the spears of "Paleo-Indians" migrating into North America soon after crossing the Bering land bridge.

The rather unexciting implication of the study is that mastodons were most likely done in by shifting environmental conditions - rather than by a killing frenzy by the predecessors of modern-day First Nations.


© Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press

"You can't just hold up a flag and say it was one thing that led to the extinction of all these species," said Mr. Zazula. "It wasn't like they all collapsed in one instant across the continent."

Mastodons, furry elephantine creatures that once ranged from Florida to Alaska, disappeared from the North American continent about 10,500 years ago.

Their time in what is now the Canadian North appears to have been brief, and occurred during a short-lived interglacial period when temperature and conditions would have been similar to today.

"They migrated northward: 'Let's come up to Alaska and the Yukon on a vacation to see what it's like,' but then when conditions got cold again they were immediately wiped out," said Mr. Zazula.


© Brennan Linsley/The Associated Press

Although the study is hesitant to say it definitively, the Yukon die-off could well have been a preview of coming attractions for North America's beleaguered mastodons. As colder temperatures crept south, southerly mastodon herds joined their Northern Canadian brethren in being pushed off the map.

Ross MacPhee, a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History and a co-author of the Yukon study, said in a statement that human may well have dealt the death blow to mastodons, but only after they had shrunk to a small population clinging to life around what is now the Great Lakes.

"That's a very different scenario from saying the human depredations caused universal loss of mastodons across their entire range within the space of a few hundred years, which is the conventional view," he said.

Fringe theories, meanwhile, hold that, just like the dinosaurs, North America's megafauna was simply struck down in their prime by a wayward asteroid - or by cross-continental disease pandemics. In 2006, for instance, a study published in a German scientific journal claimed to have found evidence of a devastating tuberculosis outbreak among mastodons.


© Wikipedia Commons

Due to their brief northern residency, mastodon bones are rare in the fossil-rich Yukon.

Much of the territory was unaffected by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, leaving its frozen soil packed with the bones, skin and even footprints of long-extinct prehistoric creatures.

Mammoths, by contrast to snow-shy mastodons, were much more successful at eking out a living in the frozen North - and held on until 10,000 years ago.

As a result, hardly a week goes by during the summer months when mammoth parts aren't turning up in Yukon gold mines.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Rosetta's comet findings fuel debate on origins of Earths oceans

comet 67p water

© Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

First measurements of comet's water ratio

ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has found the water vapour from its target comet to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet's oceans.

The measurements were made in the month following the spacecraft's arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov - Gerasimenko on 6 August. It is one of the most anticipated early results of the mission, because the origin of Earth's water is still an open question.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Comet on 20 November. This mosaic comprises four individual NAVCAM images taken from 30.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 20 November 2014. The mosaic has been slightly rescaled, rotated, and cropped, and measures roughly 4.2 x 5.0 km.

One of the leading hypotheses on Earth's formation is that it was so hot when it formed 4.6 billion years ago that any original water content should have boiled off. But, today, two thirds of the surface is covered in water, so where did it come from?

In this scenario, it should have been delivered after our planet had cooled down, most likely from collisions with comets and asteroids. The relative contribution of each class of object to our planet's water supply is, however, still debated.

The key to determining where the water originated is in its 'flavour', in this case the proportion of deuterium - a form of hydrogen with an additional neutron - to normal hydrogen.

This proportion is an important indicator of the formation and early evolution of the Solar System, with theoretical simulations showing that it should change with distance from the Sun and with time in the first few million years.

One key goal is to compare the value for different kinds of object with that measured for Earth's oceans, in order to determine how much each type of object may have contributed to Earth's water.

Comets in particular are unique tools for probing the early Solar System: they harbour material left over from the protoplanetary disc out of which the planets formed, and therefore should reflect the primordial composition of their places of origin.

Kuiper Belt Oort Cloud

© European Space Agency

Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud in context

But thanks to the dynamics of the early Solar System, this is not a straightforward process. Long-period comets that hail from the distant Oort cloud originally formed in Uranus - Neptune region, far enough from the Sun that water ice could survive.

They were later scattered to the Solar System's far outer reaches as a result of gravitational interactions with the gas giant planets as they settled in their orbits.

Conversely, Jupiter-family comets like Rosetta's comet were thought to have formed further out, in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. Occasionally these bodies are disrupted from this location and sent towards the inner Solar System, where their orbits become controlled by the gravitational influence of Jupiter.

Indeed, Rosetta's comet now travels around the Sun between the orbits of Earth and Mars at its closest and just beyond Jupiter at its furthest, with a period of about 6.5 years.

deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio comets
© Altwegg et al

The different values of the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio (D/H) in water observed in various bodies in the Solar System.

Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen with an added neutron. The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in water is a key diagnostic to determining where in the Solar System an object originated and in what proportion asteroids and/or comets contributed to Earth’s oceans.

Previous measurements of the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in other comets have shown a wide range of values. Of the 11 comets for which measurements have been made, it is only the Jupiter-family Comet 103P/Hartley 2 that was found to match the composition of Earth's water, in observations made by ESA's Herschel mission in 2011.

By contrast, meteorites originally hailing from asteroids in the Asteroid Belt also match the composition of Earth's water. Thus, despite the fact that asteroids have a much lower overall water content, impacts by a large number of them could still have resulted in Earth's oceans.

It is against this backdrop that Rosetta's investigations are important. Interestingly, the D/H ratio measured by the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis, or ROSINA, is more than three times greater than for Earth's oceans and for its Jupiter-family companion, Comet Hartley 2. Indeed, it is even higher than measured for any Oort cloud comet as well.

"This surprising finding could indicate a diverse origin for the Jupiter-family comets - perhaps they formed over a wider range of distances in the young Solar System than we previously thought," says Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator for ROSINA and lead author of the paper reporting the results in the journal this week.

"Our finding also rules out the idea that Jupiter-family comets contain solely Earth ocean-like water, and adds weight to models that place more emphasis on asteroids as the main delivery mechanism for Earth's oceans."

"We knew that Rosetta's analysis of this comet was always going to throw up surprises for the bigger picture of Solar System science, and this outstanding observation certainly adds fuel to the debate about the origin of Earth's water," says Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist.

"As Rosetta continues to follow the comet on its orbit around the Sun throughout next year, we'll be keeping a close watch on how it evolves and behaves, which will give us unique insight into the mysterious world of comets and their contribution to our understanding of the evolution of the Solar System."

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Judge rules for workers - Walmart management 'illegally punished strikers'


© Brave New Films

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Walmart managers in California had illegally disciplined employees for going on strike and unlawfully threatened to close a store if many of its employees joined a group demanding higher wages.

In a decision made public on Wednesday, Geoffrey Carter, an N.L.R.B. administrative law judge, also found that a Walmart manager had illegally intimidated workers by saying, "If it were up to me, I'd shoot the union." In addition, the judge said it was unlawful for Walmart managers to tell employees that co-workers returning from a one-day strike would be looking for a new job.

Our Walmart, a union-backed group of Walmart employees, filed the complaint with the labor board, asserting that officials at Walmart stores in Placerville and Richmond, Calif., had illegally intimidated workers.

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said in a statement: "We do not agree with some of the administrative law judge's conclusions." The company said it would appeal parts of the ruling to the full labor board in Washington.

Walmart has a long history of vigorously battling unionization efforts.

Our Walmart is not a union but is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers union and has mounted a string of protests against Walmart over the last three years. On Black Friday, Our Walmart sponsored protests at more than a thousand Walmart stores, calling for a $15 base wage, more full-time jobs and an end to what it says is illegal intimidation and dismissals.

Walmart executives expressed pride last month that no judge had found the company guilty of unlawful actions against Our Walmart.

Judge Carter ruled that one Walmart manager had engaged in unlawful intimidation when he told an Our Walmart supporter who had a rope tied around his waist, to pull a heavy load, "If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck."

Federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for supporting a union and from making intimidating statements that discourage workers from backing a union.

Judge Carter ruled that a Walmart dress code for its California workers was overly broad because it "unduly restricted associates' right to wear union insignia." He also said Walmart had unlawfully prohibited an employee from wearing clothes that said "Our Walmart" when it did not punish another who wore a shirt saying "Free Hugs."

The judge found Walmart had unlawfully disciplined six Richmond employees for engaging in a one-day strike in 2012. He also said management had improperly prohibited other employees from talking to those six workers.

One of the six, Raymond Bravo, an overnight maintenance employee at the time, applauded the ruling. "This reinforces the fact that we were doing nothing wrong," he said. "It shows that what we're doing is right, and the government is taking our side."

Judge Carter ordered Walmart to stop intimidating workers in Richmond, Calif., and to remove any reference to disciplinary write-ups ordered because the six employees had gone on strike.

The ruling was separate from a case in which the N.L.R.B.'s general counsel charged Walmart in January with illegal activities in 14 states, in particular disciplining about 70 workers - and firing nearly 20 of them - for participating in previous protests and strikes.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

The American Police State has created a society of captives

© AP/John Minchillo

Protesters conduct a “die-in” Dec. 6 at Grand Central Station in New York City as police watch. The demonstration opposed a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans to launch a pilot program in New York City to place body cameras on police officers and conduct training seminars to help them reduce their adrenaline rushes and abusive language, along with the establishment of a less stringent marijuana policy, are merely cosmetic reforms. The killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island was, after all, captured on video . These proposed reforms, like those out of Washington, D.C., fail to address the underlying cause of poverty, state-sponsored murder and the obscene explosion of mass incarceration - the rise of the corporate state and the death of our democracy. Mass acts of civil disobedience, now being carried out across the country, are the mechanism left that offers hope for systematic legal and judicial reform. We must defy the corporate state, not work with it.

The legal system no longer functions to protect ordinary Americans. It serves our oligarchic, corporate elites. These elites have committed $26 billion in financial fraud. They loot the U.S. Treasury, escape taxation, drive down wages, break unions, pillage pension funds, gut regulation and oversight, destroy public institutions including public schools and social assistance programs, wage endless and illegal wars to swell the profits of arms merchants, and - yes - authorize police to murder unarmed black men.

Police and national intelligence and security agencies, which carry out wholesale surveillance against the population and serve as the corporate elite's brutal enforcers, are omnipotent by intention. They are designed to impart fear, even terror, to keep the population under control. And until the courts and the legislative bodies give us back our rights - which they have no intention of doing - things will only get worse for the poor and the rest of us. We live in a post-constitutional era.

Corporations have captured every major institution, including the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, and deformed them to exclusively serve the demands of the market. They have, in the process, demolished civil society. Karl Polanyi in " " warned that without heavy government regulation and oversight, unfettered and unregulated capitalism degenerates into a Mafia capitalism and a Mafia political system. A self-regulating market, Polanyi writes, turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities. This ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment. The ecosystem and human beings become objects whose worth is determined solely by the market. They are exploited until exhaustion or collapse occurs. A society that no longer recognizes that the natural world and life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves. This is what we are undergoing. Literally.

As in every totalitarian state, the first victims are the vulnerable, and in the United States this means poor people of color. In the name of the "war on drugs" or the necessity of enforcing immigration laws, those trapped in our urban internal colonies are effectively stripped of their rights. Police, who arrest some 13 million people a year - 1.6 million of them on drug charges and half of those on marijuana counts - were empowered by the "war on drugs" to carry out random searches and sweeps with no probable cause. They take DNA samples from many whom they arrest to build a nationwide database that includes both the guilty and the innocent. And they charge each of the sampled arrestees $50 for DNA processing.

They confiscate cash, cars, homes and other possessions based on allegations of illegal drug activity and use the proceeds to swell police budgets. They impose fines in poor neighborhoods for absurd offenses - riding a bicycle on a sidewalk or not having an ID - to fleece the poor or, if they cannot pay, toss them into jail. And before deporting undocumented workers the state levels fines, often in the thousands of dollars, on those being held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in order to empty their pockets before they are shipped out.

Prisoners locked in cages often spend decades attempting to pay off thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands, in court fines from the paltry $28 a month they earn in prison jobs; the government, to make sure it gets its money, automatically deducts a percentage each month from their prison paychecks. It is a vast extortion racket run against the poor by the corporate state, which also makes sure that the interest rates of mortgages, car loans, student loans and credit card loans are set at predatory levels.

Since 1980 the United States has constructed the world's largest prison system, populated with 2.3 million inmates, 25 percent of the world's prison population. Police, to keep the system filled with bodies, have had most legal constraints on their behavior removed. They serve as judge and jury on the streets of American cities. Such expansion of police powers is "a long step down the totalitarian path," U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas warned in 1968.

The police, who are often little more than predatory, armed gangs in inner-city neighborhoods, arbitrarily decide who lives, who dies and who spends years in prison. They rarely fight crime or protect the citizen. They round up human beings like cattle to meet arrest quotas, the prerequisite for receiving federal cash in the "drug war." Because many crimes carry long mandatory sentences it is easy to intimidate defendants into "pleading out" on lesser offenses. The arrested are acutely aware they have no chance - 97 percent of all federal cases and 94 percent of all state cases are resolved by guilty pleas rather than trials.

An editorial in said that the pressure employed by state and federal prosecutors to make defendants accept guilty pleas - an action that often includes waiving the right to appeal to a higher court - is "closer to coercion" than to bargaining. There are always police informants who, to reduce their own sentences, will tell a court anything demanded of them by the police. And, as we saw after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and after the killing of Garner, the word of police officers and prosecutors, whose loyalty is to the police, is law.

A Department of Defense program known as 1033, which was begun in the 1990s and which the National Defense Authorization Act allowed along with federal homeland security grants to the states, has provided $4.3 billion in military equipment to local police forces, either free or on permanent loan, the website ProPublica reported. The militarization of the police, which includes outfitting departments with heavy machine guns, ammunition magazines, night vision equipment, aircraft and armored vehicles, has effectively turned urban police, and increasingly rural police as well, into quasi-military forces of occupation. "Police conduct up to 80,000 SWAT raids a year in the US, up from 3,000 a year in the early '80s," reporter Hanqing Chen wrote in ProPublica. The American Civil Liberties Union, in Chen's words, found that "almost 80 percent of SWAT team raids are linked to search warrants to investigate potential criminal suspects, not for high-stakes 'hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.' He went on to say, "The ACLU also noted that SWAT tactics are used disproportionately against people of color."

The bodies of the incarcerated poor fuel our system of neo-slavery. In prisons across the country, including the one in which I teach, private corporations profit from captive prison labor. The incarcerated work eight-hour days for as little as a dollar a day. Phone companies, food companies, private prisons and a host of other corporations feed like jackals off those we hold behind bars. And the lack of employment and the collapse of education and vocational training in communities across the United States are part of the design. This design - with its built-in allure from the illegal economy, the only way for many of the poor to make a living - ensures rates of recidivism of over 60 percent. There are millions of poor people for whom this country is little more than a vast penal colony.

Lawyer Michelle Alexander, author of " ," identifies what she calls a criminal "caste system." This caste system controls the lives of not only the 2.3 million people who are incarcerated but also the 4.8 million people on probation or parole. Millions more people are forced into "permanent second-class citizenship" by their criminal records, which make employment, higher education and public assistance difficult or impossible, Alexander says.

Totalitarian systems accrue to themselves omnipotent power by first targeting and demonizing a defenseless minority. Poor African-Americans, like Muslims, have been stigmatized by elites and the mass media. The state, promising to combat the "lawlessness" of the demonized minority, demands that authorities be emancipated from the constraints of the law. Arguments like this one were used to justify the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror." But once any segment of the population is stripped of equality before the law, as poor people of color and Muslims have been, once police are permitted under the law to become omnipotent, brutal and systematically oppressive tactics are invariably employed against the wider society. The corporate state has no intention of carrying out legal reforms to curb the omnipotence of its organs of internal security. They were made omnipotent on purpose.

Matt Taibbi in his book, " ," brilliantly illustrates how poverty, in essence, has become a crime. He spent time in courts where wealthy people who had committed documented fraud amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars never had to stand trial and in city courts where the poor were called to answer for crimes that, until I read his book, I did not know existed. Standing in front of your home, he shows in one case, can be an arrestable offense.

"That's what nobody gets, that the two approaches to justice may individually make a kind of sense, but side by side they're a dystopia, where common city courts become factories for turning poor people into prisoners, while federal prosecutors on the white-collar beat turn into overpriced garbage men, who behind closed doors quietly dispose of the sins of the rich for a fee," Taibbi writes. "And it's evolved this way over time and for a thousand reasons, so that almost nobody is aware of the whole picture, the two worlds so separate that they're barely visible to each other. The usual political descriptors like 'unfairness' and 'injustice' don't really apply. It's more like a breakdown into madness."

Hannah Arendt warned that once any segment of the population is denied rights, the rule of law is destroyed. When laws do not apply equally to all they are treated as "rights and privileges." When the state is faced with growing instability or unrest, these "privileges" are revoked. Elites who feel increasingly threatened by the wider population do not "resist the temptation to deprive all citizens of legal status and rule them with an omnipotent police," Arendt writes.

This is what is taking place now. The corporate state and its organs of internal security are illegitimate. We are a society of captives.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Details of torture report reveal broken limbs, hypothermia, and rectal feeding

One prisoner at a CIA black site froze to death. Others were forced to stand on broken feet, threatened sexually with broomsticks, or subjected to "rectal feeding" for no apparent medical reason. The Senate Intelligence Committee released those details and more Tuesday in the 500-page execu​tive summary of its report on the CIA's Bush-era "enhanced interrogation" program.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein unveiled the long-awaited, long-delayed report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's now-discontinued "Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation" program this morning, calling it a "stain on our country and our values."

The controversial 6,700-page report describes, among other things, detainees being kept in a dark, freezing, dungeon-like prison, being kept awake for up to 180 hours at a time, and being subjected to "near-drowning" over and over. The three-year Senate investigation concluded the "brutal interrogation techniques in violation of US law, treaty obligations, and our values" were not effective in prying intelligence from detainees.

The report also found that the CIA misled the public, the White House and Congress on both the brutality of the program and its effectiveness.

"The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting," the report states. "Abu Zubaydah, for example, became 'completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.' Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving in to a 'series of near drownings.'"

CIA interrogators threatened detainees with broomsticks and power drills and threatened to rape and kill detainees' mothers. Other detainees with broken feet and legs were subjected to stress positions for extended periods of time.

"The two detainees that each had a broken foot were also subjected to walling, stress positions, and cramped confinement, despite the note in their interrogation plans that these specific enhanced interrogation techniques were not requested because of the medical condition of the detainees," the report states. "CIA Headquarters did not react to the site's use of these CIA enhanced interrogation techniques despite the lack of approval."

The Senate report also describes a photograph of a "well worn" waterboard, at a site where the CIA said it had never previously used the practice.

The results of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," especially at the dungeon-like CIA site known as "Cobalt" in the report, led to noticeable mental health deterioration among detainees, the report found. At least one detainee at the Cobalt site died of hypothermia.

"Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation," the report states. "Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that President Obama supported releasing the report "so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired." However, more hawkish members of Congress, the intelligence community, and its allies said the report would inflame anger against the U.S. and its key allies and endanger American personnel abroad.

"We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies," Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch said in a statement on Monday.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed in a meeting with members of the Intelligence Committee over the weekend that the administration was concerned that the report could incite violence against Americans overseas, but said that he nevertheless supported its release. The US has been beefing up security at embassies, and administration officials have said that the Pentagon has strengthened protections for US forces in Afghanistan.

In the lead up to the report's release, defenders of the CIA's interrogation techniques launched an aggressive media campaign - a "prebuttal," one of Washington's more obnoxious neologisms - against the findings. Former Vice President Dick Cheney called the report's findings "a bunch of hooey" in the , and former CIA lawyer John Rizzo said on FOX News that the report is "absolutely unfair and preposterous." Former CIA officials even built a website, CIAsaveslives.com, to hit back at the report's findings.

"It's a one-stop shopping place for the other side," Bill Harlow, a top CIA spokesman during the Bush administration, told . "With the website ... we'll be able to put out newly declassified documents, documents that were previously released but not well read, and host a repository for op-eds and media appearances by various officials."

Feinstein called the pushback "a campaign of mistaken statements and press articles."

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

North Carolina church members indicted for kidnapping, choking and beating gay man to cure 'homosexual demons'


Matthew Fenner

Five members of a controversial North Carolina church were indicted this week on charges that they kidnapped and assaulted a fellow member because he had been possessed by "homosexual demons."

On Monday, a Rutherford County grand jury indicted Sarah Covington Anderson, Adam Christopher Bartley, Brooke McFadden Covington, Justin Brock Covington and Robert Louis Walker Jr. on charges of second degree kidnapping and simple assault. Anderson was also charged with assault by strangulation.

Matthew Fenner told WSPA that he was a member of The Word of Faith Fellowship church in 2013 when the others physically attacked him for being gay on Jan. 29, 2013.

"I honestly thought I was going to die," Fenner recalled. "My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black... I couldn't breathe and I'm sitting here thinking if I don't get out of this, I'm probably going to die."

According to QNotes, the suspects slapped and strangled Fenner, and they threatened to imprison him for two days to fight his "homosexual demons."

Although the church has been accused of abusing LGBT people in the past, Fenner said that local officials refused to take him seriously or even let him file a complaint at first.

QNotes described the Spindale church as "cult-like" for a technique of "deliverance" in which members are encircled, and subjected to "high-pitched shrilling sounds, screams and prayers."

In an affidavit, Fenner recalled how Sarah Covington Anderson had told him he was "disgusting" because of his sexual orientation before the physical abuse began on one of three instances that he described.

"Deliverance soon ensued (which meant extremely rough pushing, loud screaming, and other violent measures intended to 'break me free of the homosexual 'demons" they so viciously despite), and I was at one point grabbed by my throat by Sarah and shaken, punched, and beaten," the affidavit said. "I received many bruises on my collarbones, neck, chest, and shoulders."

"I had at least 15-20 college age men around me, screaming, shaking me, punching me, hitting my chest, grabbing my head, telling me to repeat different phrases, all of which caused (and have resulted in much) mental distress to high levels," he added.

An attorney for the church insisted that all of the charges were false.

"They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court," a statement from the attorney said. "We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner... The church does NOT target members who are gay."

The U.S. Department of Justice dropped a hate crimes investigation against the church in 2012 after Michael Lowry recanted allegations that that church members held him against his will for months because he was gay. But he now says that he was coerced into changing his story.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Russia Today and the propaganda wars waged by Western media

'Information' that supports your side; disinformation that invents, distorts or invents the truth or presents spurious allegations and assumptions as facts; outright lies and propaganda; controlling the flow of information through 'embedded' reporters and hand-picked pools in order to eliminate 'inconvenient facts' or simply prevent journalists from ever seeing them - all these techniques and methods have long been essential to modern war, and they have become crucial to the murky wars and armed conflicts of the early 21st century.

The essential purpose of such efforts is to attain 'information dominance' and make sure that your 'narrative' is the one that most people hear, that they keep on hearing it as often as possible, that you can shape the ways in which these conflicts are represented and perceived by a global audience that now receives information through an all-pervasive mass media that includes 24-hour tv, the Internet, smartphones and tablets.

The best propaganda of all is the kind that you don't even recognize as propaganda; you simply assume that what you see is what you get; that the journalists and pundits you see are independent of their governments and willing to hold their actions up to scrutiny and ask questions that they don't to hear; that the journalists, newsreaders and pundits you are watching or listening to have any subjective perspective or ulterior motives or any interest in anything except the plain unvarnished truth.

In the West we often take it for granted that this is what we've got, and that our media would never and could never stoop so low as to transform journalism into propaganda. That is something that other countries do.

The problem is that large sections of the world's population don't believe in our inherent truthfulness as much as we do or are tired of hearing our stories. Now satellite technology and the worldwide web have made it possible for different voices to provide a different perspective, and even to counter the stories emanating from CNN, the BBC and numerous other outlets, and when it happens our own masters of war are not happy about it.

Sometimes we respond by identifying the source of disinformation as a military target, as NATO did when it bombed Serbia's television offices, or al-Jazeera's offices in Afghanistan. At other times we simply attempt to discredit them by comparing our own exemplary journalistic standards to the crude propagandising that other countries supposedly engage it.

The US did that with al-Jazeera on more than one occasion, and the British government did the same when it banned Press tv. And now Russia Today is getting the same treatment, as the West moves ever-closer to an all-out war with Russia. For months, Western media pundits have been shaking their heads in horror at the impact of the new international Russian media on non-Russian audiences.

Last month for example, that august bastion of the truth, the Wall Street Journal, criticized 'Putin's disinformation matrix', which it described as ' merely one part of the Kremlin's aggressive media effort' that included ' mobilizing thousands of online "trolls," cultivating sympathetic political cranks abroad, and exploiting Western freedom of speech and the Western model of public diplomacy to advance Moscow's illiberal aims.'

This is a bit rich coming from the uber-conservative WSJ, which never saw an American neocon war that it didn't like, and which never bothered to question the assumptions on which such wars were based, and which as late as last September had an editorial arguing that Dick Cheney was 'right all along' about Iraq and Syria.

These are not guys to speak truth to power - or to give others lectures for not doing so. And that same month , a web journal run by the supposedly non-partisan Institute of Modern Russia published a report entitled , which accused Russia of having 'weaponised information' through its new digital channel. The article claimed that

'Since at least 2008, Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of "persuasion," "public diplomacy" or even "propaganda," but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.'

Goodness, can such evil stalk the world? Indeed it can, because last week the US Congress approved Resolution 758,, which noted that

'the Russian Federation has expanded the presence of its state-sponsored media in national languages across central and western Europe with the intent of using news and information to distort public opinion and obscure Russian political and economic influence in Europe'

There is a lot more where this came from. Personally I don't watch Russia Today enough to be able to make an overall comment on the quality of its journalism. I have seen good things and bad. Certainly I have never seen any program or report critical of Putin, though I do remember watching the Russian Foreign Minister getting a far tougher grilling from a journalist than I have seen any American or British foreign minister receive from any of our supposedly independent and fearless reporters.

I have also seen news reports that are 'anti-Western' insofar as they focus overwhelmingly on negative aspects of European and American society. So I don't doubt that such coverage is biased, or even that Russia Today has been conceived in part to project a pro-Russian view of world events to a Western audience.

I don't see RT - or any other media outlet for that matter - as the 'voice of truth'. But it does have a refreshingly wide range of often critical pundits of varying quality, who remind me what a narrow, limited and safe range of 'experts' and commentators the BBC, CNN or Channel 4 News draws upon say. I have briefly appeared on Russia Today myself on three occasions, and I once appeared on Tariq Ramadan's show on Press tv.

The Ramadan appearance was in connection with my book I have no doubt that I was of interest to Russia Today because of critical pieces I have written here and elsewhere on Western foreign policy in Iraq and Syria.

Nevertheless I didn't say anything that I didn't want to say or that I didn't actually believe, and I didn't see myself as a troll or a propagandist or a supporter of Putin - a politician who I have very little time for as it happens.

I certainly didn't feel 'weaponised', and what I find laughable about the condemnation directed at RT is the assumption that Western governments would never themselves use the media to advance their political or foreign policy interests. According to

'Russia has hybridized not only its actual warfare but also its informational warfare. Much of the epistemology democratic nations thought they had permanently retired after the Cold War needs to be re-learned and adapted to even cleverer forms of propaganda and disinformation.'

Yes, how unfortunate that 'democratic nations' should now be forced by those sinister ghouls in the Kremlin to re-learn the 'epistemology' they had supposedly discarded out of the goodness of their freedom-loving hearts, er, when exactly?

As early as the 1989 invasion of Panama, the US military identified information as a crucial theatre of war, and sent only a handpicked pool of reporters to Panama City to report on the invasion - except that they spent most of the war locked in a room which Pentagon-approved video footage and briefings until major combat was almost over.

And it has continued ever since, in Kosovo, in Gulf Wars 1 and 2, in Afghanistan and the 'war on terror.' US military strategists have written dozens of articles on 'strategic communications', ' public diplomacy' and 'information warfare' and the Pentagon has also 'weaponised' information to achieve its aims.

Between 2002 -2008 according to the , the Pentagon secretly infiltrated more than seventy retired military officers into the tv networks to serve as media commentators and act as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' in promoting the Iraq War.

Most of these pundits, the Times reported at the time 'have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air' and the fact that these connections were not mentioned when they appeared had created 'a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.'

The itself had experience of this kind of infiltration, when the pro-war journalist Judith Miller recycled false information fed to her from the Iraqi National Congress about Saddam Hussein's weapons program.

Why is that not 'propaganda and disinformation'? Yet somehow we are now expected to hold up our hands in horror, because other countries who for one reason or another our governments have designated as strategic opponents, may be using the media to promote their own foreign policy agendas or simply to counter our own 'weaponised' information.

And did I mention Fox News? Oh very well, if you insist.

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U.S. Congressmen admit they didn't read NDAA before voting for it

© AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski

US House members admitted they had not read the entire $585 billion, 1,648-page National Defense Authorization Act, which predominantly specifies budgeting for the Defense Department, before it was voted on Thursday in Congress.

"Of course not. Are you kidding?" Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) said when asked by CNSNews if he had perused the entire bill, which was just posted online late Tuesday night before it was ultimately passed in by the House by a vote of 300-119 about 36 hours later.

Moran said he did not plan to read the entire bill before voting because "I trust the leadership."

"Do you think [House Speaker John] Boehner and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid have read it?"asked CNSNews.

"I know their staff has," Moran responded.

When pressed directly about his knowledge of every aspect of the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015, House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) assured CNSNews he was aware of all aspects of the multi-faceted, complex bill.

"I've been through almost every part of that bill, as it was being put together," he said. "So, trust me, I am well aware of what's in that bill."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) also indirectly acknowledged the near impossibility for anyone to read such a comprehensive bill. He told CNSNews he had not read the full text, but understands its contents.

"The committees have gone over it, it's been in conference, and I have an outline of exactly what it does," he said. "So, I know what it does."

Upon taking control of the US House in 2010, Republicans maintained that they would allow the public to read full text of bills at least three days before they are voted on in the Lower Chamber. This promise materialized, in part, from a quote by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010, when her Democratic Party controlled the House and help shepherd the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, through Congress.

"We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it, away from the fog of the controversy,"Pelosi infamously stated of the hot-button legislation. While she may have been alluding to what she believed to be the bill's future popularity, following the rancor and oft-disputed claims - "death panels" - surrounding the debate over what the legislation meant for a sensitive issue like health care, the line was used as a political cudgel to help the GOP regain the House later that year.

Yet, Republicans voted on the 2015 NDAA after the full bill had been available to read - for both the public and members of Congress - just 36 hours prior, as pointed out by InfoWars.

The legislation will now get a vote in the Senate, likely next week.

The NDAA is annual legislation that directs budgeting and expenditures for the US military. The bill passed in the House on Thursday "authorizes $521 billion in base discretionary spending for Defense Department activities, as well as $64 billion for overseas contingency operations," according to The Hill.

The legislation authorized $6.6 billion for operations against Islamic State, the extremist group that is the target of US-led airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. That funding to combat Islamic State includes authorization of the deployment of 1,500 additional US forces and funding to train and supply Iraqi security forces over the next two years.

"I really wish to emphasize that the train-and-equip mission is just that. It in no way, shape, manner or form authorizes the use of military force," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The 2015 NDAA targeted US soldiers with cuts to benefits and other services.

"The bill also reduces benefits for troops and their families. It would raise the copay by $3 for most pharmaceuticals under Tricare, the military health insurance plan," The Hill added.

The legislation also included cuts to subsidies for military commissaries, where US service members buy groceries, by $100 million.

In addition, such massive, must-pass bills are chocked full of "pork," or just about anything a House member, especially those with clout, can pass by House leadership and the various committees that have domain over the bill's attributes.

For example, as RT reported Wednesday, the 2015 NDAA includes a handful of land deals including one that gives a foreign mining company 2,400 acres of national forest in Arizona that is cherished ancestral homeland to Apache natives.

"Since time immemorial people have gone there. That's part of our ancestral homeland," Terry Rambler, chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, told The Huffington Post. "We've had dancers in that area forever - sunrise dancers - and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They'll seal that off. They'll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas."

Previously, the House refused an amendment to the NDAA of 2014 that would have repealed a controversial provision placed in the NDAA of 2012 that has ever since provided the executive branch with the power to arrest and detain indefinitely any US citizen thought to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda or associated organizations. The House also rejected last year an amendment that would have expedited the shut-down of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In January of 2014, the US Supreme Court decided against weighing in on a challenge to Section 1021(b)(2) of the 2012 NDAA, which can be interpreted in a way that allows for the government to detain without trial any American citizen accused of committing a "belligerent act" against the country "until the end of hostilities."

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Quantum teleportation of subatomic particles reaches 15.5 miles across optical fiber


© GAP, University of Geneva (UNIGE)

These crystals captured and stored quantum information at the end of the teleportation.

A new distance record has been set in the strange world of quantum teleportation.

In a recent experiment, the quantum state (the direction it was spinning) of a light particle instantly traveled 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) across an optical fiber, becoming the farthest successful quantum teleportation feat yet. Advances in quantum teleportation could lead to better Internet and communication security, and get scientists closer to developing quantum computers.

About five years ago, researchers could only teleport quantum information, such as which direction a particle is spinning, across a few meters. Now, they can beam that information across several miles.

Quantum teleportation doesn't mean it's possible for a person to instantly pop from New York to London, or be instantly beamed aboard a spacecraft like in television's "." Physicists can't instantly transport matter, but they can instantly transport information through quantum teleportation. This works thanks to a bizarre quantum mechanics property called entanglement.

Quantum entanglement happens when two subatomic particles stay connected no matter how far apart they are. When one particle is disturbed, it instantly affects the entangled partner. It's impossible to tell the state of either particle until one is directly measured, but measuring one particle instantly determines the state of its partner.

In the new, record-breaking experiment, researchers from the University of Geneva, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology used a super fast laser to pump out photons. Every once in a while, two photons would become entangled. Once the researchers had an entangled pair, they sent one down the optical fiber and stored the other in a crystal at the end of the cable. Then, the researchers shot a third particle of light at the photon traveling down the cable. When the two collided, they obliterated each other.

Though both photons vanished, the quantum information from the collision appeared in the crystal that held the second entangled photon.

Going the distance

Quantum information has already been transferred dozens of miles, but this is the farthest it's been transported using an optical fiber, and then recorded and stored at the other end. Other quantum teleportation experiments that beamed photons farther used lasers instead of optical fibers to send the information. But unlike the laser method, the optical-fiber method could eventually be used to develop technology like quantum computers that are capable of extremely fast computing, or quantum cryptography that could make secure communication possible.

Physicists think quantum teleportation will lead to secure wireless communication - something that is extremely difficult but important in an increasingly digital world. Advances in quantum teleportation could also help make online banking more secure.

The research was published Sept. 21 in .

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California Residents Load up Sandbags Before Storm

satellite image

© Naval Research Laboratory

A NASA satellite image shows a storm forming over the Pacific Ocean that should arrive over most of California on Dec. 11, 2014.

A powerful storm expected to pack hurricane-force winds and heavy rain triggered emergency preparations across Northern California on Wednesday, with residents gathering sand bags, crews clearing storm drains and San Francisco school officials canceling classes for the first time since 9/11.

As much as 8 inches of rain could fall on coastal mountains over a 24-hour period starting late Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Ski resorts in the northern Sierra Nevada could get more than 2 feet of snow.

"It's a short amount of time for that amount of water," Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson said. "We are anticipating some localized flooding, maybe some downed trees and downed power lines. It could have an effect on a wide range of people."

The storm is expected to be one of the windiest and rainiest in five years and could also cause debris slides, especially in areas affected by this year's intense and widespread wildfires.

Public schools in San Francisco and Oakland and some private schools in the Bay Area planned to stay closed Thursday.

San Francisco Unified School District Superintended Richard A. Carranza said he didn't to put students at risk and that staff absences and power outages could affect the district's ability to supervise and feed students.

Wind gusts of up to 70 mph were expected on mountain tops, creating possible blizzard conditions in the Sierra. Rain, pounding surf and gusty winds were forecast for Southern California starting Thursday evening.

In California's agricultural heartland, farmers were looking forward to the dousing after three consecutive dry years. Parts of the state have experienced above-average rainfall this year, but not enough to make much of a dent in the drought.

James McFarlane, a third-generation farmer in Fresno County, said workers would have to stop picking citrus crops during the storm, but rain this time of year makes fruit bigger, allowing it to fetch higher prices.

"If we're not getting some Mother Nature-dictated time off out in the field, that probably means we're going to have a hard time finding surface water in the warmer months," he said.

The rain and the snow in the Sierra Nevada fills reservoirs that supply irrigation water during hot, dry months.

In San Francisco, where as much as 4 inches of rain was forecast, crews cleared storm drains and removed loose rocks from a hillside to prevent them from crashing down. Residents were advised to sweep up leaves and debris in front of their properties to prevent them from clogging drains.

"We have crews working starting tonight in 12-hour shifts," said Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco's public works agency. "It will be all hands on deck."

Farther north, a series of strong weather fronts with high winds and heavy rains could lead to flooding and landslides this week in western Washington state.

The National Weather Service expects as much as 14 inches of rain between Monday and Thursday in the Olympic Mountains west of Seattle.

Saturated soils will bring the risk of mudslides, while winds could topple trees.

High winds were also forecast in Oregon.

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Why is the Treasury Department seeking survival kits for bank employees

© Photo Courtesy Flickr User Rob Young

The Department of Treasury is seeking to order survival kits for all of its employees who oversee the federal banking system, according to a new solicitation.

The emergency supplies would be for every employee at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which conducts on-site reviews of banks throughout the country. The survival kit includes everything from water purification tablets to solar blankets.

The government is willing to spend up to $200,000 on the kits, according to the solicitation released on Dec. 4.

The survival kits must come in a fanny-pack or backpack that can fit all of the items, including a 33-piece personal first aid kit with "decongestant tablets," a variety of bandages, and medicines.

The kits must also include a "reusable solar blanket" 52 by 84 inches long, a 2,400-calorie food bar, "50 water purification tablets," a "dust mask," "one-size fits all poncho with hood," a rechargeable lantern with built-in radio, and an "Air-Aid emergency mask" for protection against airborne viruses.

Survival kits will be delivered to every major bank in the United States including Bank of America, American Express Bank, BMO Financial Corp., Capitol One Financial Corporation, Citigroup, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Company, and Wells Fargo.

Items will also be delivered to OCC offices across the country, from Champaign, Ill. to Billings, Mont. The agency also has offices in Sioux City, Iowa; Joplin, Mo.; and Fargo, N.D.

The mission of the OCC is to "ensure that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access to financial services, treat customers fairly, and comply with applicable laws and regulations."

The agency has roughly 3,814 employees, each of which would receive a survival kit. The staff includes "bank examiners" who provide "sustained supervision" of major banks in the United States.

"Examiners analyze loan and investment portfolios, funds management, capital, earnings, liquidity, sensitivity to market risk for all national banks and federal thrifts, and compliance with consumer banking laws for national banks and thrifts with less than $10 billion in assets," the OCC website explains. "They review internal controls, internal and external audit, and compliance with law. They also evaluate management's ability to identify and control risk."

It is not clear why the Treasury Department is ordering the kits. Contracts for survival kits are usually made for the military, or law enforcement such as the FBI.

The OCC did not return request for comment before publication of this story.

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This is healthcare? US medical system kills 400K hospital patients every year

© Dees Illustration

Time and time again, in these pages, I've illustrated the fact that reality is being created for us - and that reality is false. It's a façade.

Waking up to this is vital, if we want to understand the virtual world we live in. We're inside a matrix.

Here's a medical study I haven't cited before: "A new, evidence-based estimate of patient harms associated with hospital care," by JT James (J Patient Saf, Sept. 9, 2013).

The key quote:

"...the true number of premature deaths [in US hospitals] associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year."

Putting it bluntly, the US medical system kills 400,000 hospital patients every year.

This is a huge increase over the previous figure I've cited: 119,000. That number comes from Dr. Barbara Starfield's review, "Is US health really the best in the world?". It was published on July 26, 2000, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. At the time, Starfield was a revered public-health expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Starfield told me, in a 2009 interview, that she was unaware of any serious government effort to fix the system.

In her review, Starfield also concluded that, every year in the US, the medical system kills 106,000 patients as a result of the administration of FDA-approved pharmaceutical drugs.

You can type into the startpage.com search engine, "FDA why learn about adverse drug effects," and you'll find an FDA page which states that, indeed, 100,000 people die every year in the US from ingesting these medicines.

So let's put these numbers together.

400,000 patient deaths every year in US hospitals. 100,000 deaths every year from medicines. These deaths are directly caused by the medical system.

500,000 deaths every year.

That would be 5 MILLION deaths caused by the US medical system every decade.

Roughly 2.5 million people die every year in the US, from all causes (or roughly 25 million every decade). So 1 out of every 5 deaths in the US stems directly from the medical system.

But that's not all. The 2013 study cited above also concludes: "Serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm."

Translation: every year in the US, hospitals cause between 4 million and 8 million incidents of serious harm - which means coma, temporary flatlining, stroke, hemorrhage, unnecessary major surgery, life-threatening infection, etc.

Neither Starfield's nor JT James' 2013 review explicitly considers vaccine damage. As I've reported before, the best estimate I've found was made by Barbara Loe Fisher, of the National Vaccine Information Center.

It takes into account the fact that the reporting system for vaccine adverse effects is broken and only a fraction of harm is recorded. Understanding that doctors and patients only report between 1 and ten percent of adverse effects from medical drugs, Fisher uses that comparison to conclude that, every year in the US, between 120,000 and 1.2 million adverse effects occur from vaccination.

Looking over the figures in this article, you can decide what the US medical system is really doing to people.

You don't need the medical propaganda of mainstream media. You don't need the hype of doctors who appear on television to promote their work. You don't need government assurances. You don't need the ceaseless warbling of "non-profit" medical fundraising groups with their causes. You certainly don't need the flag-waving promotion of Obamacare - which will bring many more people into the very system that is wreaking all this destruction.

And finally, note this. The medical powers-that-be and their Pharma brethren are fully aware of the public figures I'm citing. They know. And many doctors do, too.

But they roll on.

Over the years, I've sent some of these numbers and journal-citations to mainstream medical reporters. I've never received one reply.

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SOTT EXCLUSIVE: Propaganda alert! Kremlin manipulating Russell Brand

Russell Brand

© Getty

Yesterday, the published a piece online by Scottish anti-Muslim homosexual neoconservative Douglas Murray (wrap your mind around that one!) titled 'The Kremlin thinks Russell Brand is good news. Does that not worry him?' With reference to the recent launch of RT UK ("Putin's propaganda station in London", as Murray calls it), he launches into his own brand of propaganda (no pun intended), starting with this zinger:

Unlike the Kremlin, I am generally in favour of as diverse a media as possible.

Be honest, Murray, what you're really trying to say is that you're in favour of as diverse media as possible. In fact, it looks like you have more in common with the Kremlin than you thought, Murray. Not living in Russia, I can't comment on the state of the media there. But from where I sit, I'd agree with both of you, Murray -- you and the Kremlin. Personally, I think some newspapers, like the one you write for -- the -- shouldn't be allowed to spew corporate-sponsored, MI5-directed, pro-war provoation and lies masquerading as 'diverse' media. But that's just me.

Murray continues:

The problem with Russia Today is that it seems to have fooled an astonishingly diverse number of silly people into thinking that what they really do is provide 'unbiased' and 'alternative' news, as opposed to simply offering an international mouthpiece for the Kremlin.

As opposed to papers like the , not to mention the BBC, , CNN, , , etc., which absolutely do NOT act as mouthpieces for Downing Street and the White House! Give us a break, Murray.

Actually, RT does a fine job deconstructing the Western media, which you represent. Sure, it serves Russia's interests to so expose the propaganda machine of the Anglo-Zionist Empire, but that doesn't mean they're . In fact, press prostitutes such as yourself make it very easy. Your lies are obvious, transparent, and odious.

Take the nation's most unsavoury clown, Russell Brand. On his 'Trews' internet channel - where he too believes that he puts out the 'real' news - Brand regularly includes clips of his various 'revolutionary' activities. Many of these seem, amazingly, to be followed particularly closely and given due prominence by Russia Today.

Not so amazing, given that any rational person of conscience would come to the same conclusions, based on the obvious, transparent, odious lies people like you peddle to 'silly' authoritarian followers who will swallow any line you offer. You're really stretching to find a connection here, Murray.

For his own insatiable taste, it may be true that the mainstream media in Britain probably spend an inadequate amount of time covering the various left-wing protests involving Brand and his friends. But Russia Today does. Perhaps Brand and his ilk think this means Russia Today just really cares. Or maybe they don't know what RT stands for. Or perhaps they think that together they are breaking the 'establishment media monopoly.' But is it too much to hope that at some point the penny will drop?

You haven't exhausted all the possibilities here, Murray. Perhaps Brand and his 'ilk' are simply . And it serves Russia -- which has had to put up with decades of Western interference, lies, intrigue, provocation, aggression, and proxy warfare -- to point out the about its self-declared enemy.

As the Kremlin closes the last remaining independent TV station in Russia, perhaps Brand and co may begin to wonder if there are other reasons why the Kremlin's propaganda outfit in London might be so interested in turning an 'anti-austerity' march in the UK into a major news story.

Maybe it's because your society is sick to the core, thanks to people like you propping it up. And what's your problem with 'anti-austerity' marches Murray? Why the 'suspicious quotes' around 'austerity measures'? Are you not-so-subtly trying to tell us that austerity measures been imposed on the British people by international bankers and 'vultures' who are in the process of eviscerating the welfare system, and that those protestors are, therefore, just a bunch of lefty whiners? Maybe that shocking increase in British parents forced to resort to food banks to feed themselves and their children is just made up? What a pathetic, lying sycophant to the 'elite' you are, Murray. Do the British public a favor and crawl back under the rock provided for you by your MI5 handlers.

Judge for yourself. Is Russell Brand deluded, or simply stating some obvious, fundamental truths about what is wrong with the world. Here's what he had to say about the recent CIA torture report:

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SOTT FOCUS: Black Pete, chimney sweep? Meet "Santa's helper" in The Netherlands

© Unknown

As the holiday season approaches, people the world over will be celebrating the year's end in accordance with their local traditions. In the Netherlands in recent years there has been steadily-growing controversy about its peculiar Christmas tradition involving white people wearing blackface theatrical makeup.

Jon Stewart is right: the U.S. most definitely is NOT a post-racial society. But before we, as Dutch citizens, start lecturing Americans about the state of their nation, we ought to come clean about our own racist proclivities. Every year on December 5th Dutch children celebrate a kind of mini pre-Santa day of gift-giving (well, gift-receiving in the kids' case, but the adult population joins in the fun too). The centerpiece of Sint Nicolaas Day are parades in every town and city up and down the country, in which the guest of honor is a very Father Christmas-like figure who gives kids candy... with the assistance of 'Black Pete', his negro servant sidekick.

To understand this toxic Dutch 'tradition', you have to understand some of its past. But first, here's the story of 'Sint Nicolaas and Black Pete' as it is presented today.

Sint Nicolaas and his Servants

© Unknown

Sint Nicolaas and his "black" servants

Saint Nicholas' Day, usually December 6th, is the feast day of Saint Nicholas in many Western countries. In most of those countries, it's no longer a big deal because gift-giving celebrations around the Winter Solstice take precedence. In the Netherlands (and Belgium), however, 'Saint Nicholas eve' (December 5th) is nearly as big a deal as 'Christmas proper'.

The Dutch December 5th/6th 'Sint Nicolaas' is based on the same basic Saint Nicholas myth, celebrated annually with the giving of gifts on the eve of Saint Nicholas' Day (December 5th). Sint Nicolaas is portrayed as an elderly man with a flowing white beard, much as 'Father Christmas' is. But instead of flying reindeer and elvish toy-makers, Sint Nicolaas has servants called 'Black Petes' who act goofy and funny while handing out candy to children. Sint Nicolaas and entourage arrive on a steamboat from Spain, then the old man rides a white horse through town (don't ask, no one knows why). Where once there was one Zwarte Piet, now many 'Black Pete' assistants throw candy and cookies into the cheering crowd. Harmless fun, right?

The Dutch to this day believe 'Black Pete' to be based on historical events, or a relatively unbroken tradition going back centuries. However, this particular part of their 'Christmas Tale' arose in the 19th century. Sint Nicolaas had no servants or companions between the 16th and 19th century1. In 1850 a school-teacher named Jan Schenkman published an illustrated book called Saint Nicholas and his Servant, in which the servant is depicted as a young, black male wearing traditional Moorish garb.

© Wikipedia

Illustration from Jan Schenkman's book

Between then and now, Black Pete's costume went from Moorish attire to an exaggerated 16th century Renaissance era wardrobe (again, don't ask why, although it may have something to do with the 16th century being the golden era of Dutch imperialism and slave trade). The distilled result we have today is white people dressed to look like black people in clown-like outfits as the Dutch Saint Nick's 'little helpers'.

Like much else when it comes to 'historical traditions', the individual parts make no sense and yet somehow they have come together to form part of the Dutch collective identity. Think of giant bunny rabbits leaving chocolate eggs in commemoration of the death and resurrection of a crucified mythological figure. The problem with this Dutch tradition is that - unlike elves, giant bunny rabbits, flying reindeer, and reanimated dead people - black people are very much real. Not only are they real, they have historically been, and to a large extent continue to be, treated abominably.

Lack of Moral Criticism in Dutch Society

Now, if you ask Dutch people why their Saint Nick's servants/helpers are black, most will tell you their faces are blackened with soot as a result of climbing down chimneys to deliver the boss's gifts. This can be quite confusing, and make no sense to people outside of the Netherlands. Does everyone who climbs down a chimney end up with an afro, big earrings, and bright red lips? Side-effects of falling down the chimney head-first, perhaps? Hardly.

Given the historical context (the Netherlands was the last European country to abolish the slave trade - more on that below), the Schenkman formulation of Sint Nicolaas' helper being a Moor from Spain, and the black-face worn by people re-enacting the ritual today, it's very clear that Black Pete was not a 'soot-covered ethnic Dutch boy', but a black boy. A picture posted by the No Black Pete organization on their blog site illustrates this point further.

© Unknown

Are these side effects of climbing down the chimney?

To see how non-Dutch people react upon learning about 'Black Pete', watch the recently-released documentary, 'Zwart als Roet' (Black as Soot), by Dutch filmmaker and journalist Sunny Bergman. In this documentary exploring racism in the Netherlands, Bergman conveys how deeply biased Dutch society is, and what kind of impact the Black Pete tradition has had, and is having, on people of all color. While two 'Black Petes' and a Sint Nicolaas walked around a park in London asking people for their opinions, English actor and activist Russell Brand made an appearance and said the following:

"What this tradition does, is that it dehumanises people that are of a different ethnicity and it reduces them to a lower status of either toys or a degenerative role as servants."

"In this country we think of Holland as a very advanced nation with advanced social principles, so it's very surprising to see this kind of tradition".

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In a survey of 1,700 Dutch citizens conducted in 2013 by Peil.nl, 92% didn't consider the depiction of 'Black Pete' to be racist, nor did they associate him with slavery. In addition, 91% didn't want the character's appearance to be changed. Another survey of 1,383 people conducted in Amsterdam, suggested that nearly three quarters of the capital's residents with a Dutch colonial (Surinamese, Antillean, or Ghanaian) background perceived Black Pete to be racist. According to new research by EenVandaag , the number of Dutch citizens wishing to see 'Black Pete' de-racialized has almost tripled, from 5% last year to 13% this year, amounting to over 1.5 million Dutch citizens who are against the current depiction of Black Pete.

Discussion about this is getting more attention, and more people seem to see the other side of the 'story'. The question remains, however; why a majority of Dutch citizens accept something that might have been acceptable in colonial times, but which has no place in a country that houses the International Court of (supposed) Justice? In 2011 in Canada, Dutch-Canadian organizers of New Westminster's 'Sinterklaas' celebrations decided to discard 'Black Pete' altogether, the first time since 1985 that Black Pete didn't appear with Sint Nicolaas during celebrations in western Canada. The Canadians did it, so what's stopping the Dutch?

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Queen Maxima of Holland seems to endorse racism

A majority of Dutch citizens either simply don't care or seem to feel bound to a tradition they identify with as part of Dutch culture. They view it as innocent and fun, not only for children, but for everyone. Lacking the ability to view the matter from a different, more objective, perspective, could it be that the Dutch are not yet feeling pressure from the downward spiral their homeland finds itself in? Most of the Dutch population appears oblivious to wrongdoings in general, kept busy and content with dissociating activities, such as watching and discussing soccer, the latest fashion trends, TV shows, and participating in annual racist 'festivities'. Far from being harmless 'fun', the 'Black Pete' tradition reinforces racial division within Dutch society. And these days, with extreme right-wingers like Geert Wilders given a platform in Dutch media, racial division is STRONG. That 'Black Pete, a product of the psychopathically cynical 'white man's burden, is inherently racist and understood perfectly well as such by white schoolchildren when they bully children descended from immigrants with taunts of 'Look, there goes Black Pete!'

The following excerpt from the book Political Ponerology by Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski touches on this:

During good times, people progressively lose sight of the need for profound reflection, introspection , knowledge of others, and an understanding of life's complicated laws. Is it worth pondering the properties of human nature and man's flawed personality, whether one's own or someone else's? Can we understand the creative meaning of suffering we have not undergone ourselves, instead of taking the easy way out and blaming the victim? Any excess mental effort seems like pointless labor if life's joys appear to be available for the taking. A clever, liberal, and merry individual is a good sport; a more farsighted person predicting dire results becomes a wet-blanket killjoy. [...]

When communities lose the capacity for psychological reason and moral criticism, the processes of the generation of evil are intensified at every social scale, whether individual or macrosocial, until everything reverts to "bad" times.

Considering the major budget cuts right around the corner, "bad" times are here. What can ordinary people, of all colors, do to resist or defend against 'austerity measures' implemented by the government if they are divided as a nation? If we would all use our moral compasses, leave subjective opinions behind, and look at situations from a more objective point of view, we might be able to join forces in a more productive manner when it comes to demanding real solutions to pressing issues.

Our 'Colonial Hangover'

Rarely discussed is the part the Dutch played in the West's slave and opium trades, and their brutal reign in the Dutch colonies (not least Indonesia). If we do not wish to explore our past and admit that we were on the wrong side of history, how then can we look at Black Pete in an objective manner? In the words of author and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, we have "violently disremembered the past".

Just a few years ago, former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called for the return of the Dutch East India Company's 'industrious' mentality, prevalent in the Netherlands for three centuries. Although most today still believe that 'trade' took place, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), using military might and forced labour, became exceedingly rich by stealing enormous quantities of natural resources from the East. In fact, the VOC was at one point the wealthiest corporation in the world, and still holds the record. In the words of historian Hans Derks, what the the VOC REALLY stands for is 'Violent Opium Company'. Why would a modern Dutch Prime Minister want to promote the kind of extreme mind-set that normalizes pillage and plunder on an absolutely gargantuan scale?

Then there was the Dutch West India Company (WIC), which enriched itself (and its owners) through the slave trade and colonies in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. Historians estimate that more than 500,000 people were forced to work as slaves in the colonies over the course of 200 years.

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The Golden Carriage belonging to the King and Queen depicts dark-skinned slaves in a submissive position offering goods to white elites, called Painting of the Colonies. Despite protests it was not removed

The verbal abuse, including death threats, that Quinsy Gario, social activist and founder of Black Pete is Racism, has suffered is staggering, and it demonstrates that many Dutch citizens cannot put themselves in the shoes of the descendants of slaves, and furthermore, that they refuse to look at the facts. It's cognitive dissonance on the macrosocial scale: the discomfort and mental stress that we feel when our beliefs, ideals or values don't match up to reality.

When confronted on this subject, victims of cognitive dissonance will often become abusive and angry, lashing out verbally.

As a number of psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors explain, these responses are a natural defense mechanism when faced with something threatening to our world view.

Just like the filmmaker Sunny Bergman, who was honest about her own hidden and unconscious racism, other Dutch people go through the painful process of admitting to themselves that they are, in fact, born and raised racist, even if they think we are not. Most of us completely disregard certain social advantages that we have over our darker-skinned fellow citizens, also called white privilege. In many cases it is easier to get a job, the police leave us alone, more often than not, and we are not treated like villains or anti-social when we walk in small groups. Because we have been brainwashed into thinking that our country is "a very advanced nation with advanced social principles," we assume that we are open-minded and accepting of other cultures.That is the narrative we as a nation have been telling ourselves.

Recent protests

In November this year more than 60 protesters were arrested during a large demonstration against the 'Black Pete' tradition.

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On this matter the country's Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined the debate, appearing to back the controversial ceremony by saying: "We should not disturb a children's party in this way." Yes it is a children's party, but his comments only inflamed the situation because they whitewashed the dark stain protesters wish to expose. Sunny Bergman, by the way, was an observing journalist at the protest and was arrested along with the protesters. According to producer Monique Busman of the VPRO broadcaster, the police singled out and isolated Bergman before arresting her and confiscating her camera.


Black Pete has no place in a compassionate and truly 'advanced nation'. Racism remains a deep-seated issue in The Netherlands because ordinary people aren't willing to examine their assumptions. Against the backdrop of an economy going down the drain (as with everywhere else in the Western world, more and more people are losing their jobs and find it impossible to survive on social welfare), increasing police brutality, the vicious anti-Russia propaganda, and the cover-up surrounding MH17, changing attitudes in how the Dutch celebrate winter festivities may seem like 'small potatoes'. But as a permanent affront to the country's 3.5 million non-whites, 'Black Pete' serves as a fault-line along which the Netherlands can be divided and conquered by its ruling elite because it provides fuel with which psychopaths in positions of power can aggravate inter-community tensions and deflect public anger away from where it should be directed: to those Dutch Indian Company revanchists at the top.


1. E. Boer-Dirks, "Nieuw licht op Zwarte Piet. Een kunsthistorisch antwoord op de vraag naar de herkomst", Volkskundig Bulletin, 19 (1993), pp. 1-35; 2-4, 10.

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