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Monday, 29 December 2014

Are some diets 'mass murder'?

Bacon n Eggs

© http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com

Yes, hallelujah, the headline on a paper in the by Richard Smith, the previous editor of the journal. He has finally, if belatedly, come to realise that the dietary advice that has dominated western medicine for the last fifty years, or so, is complete nonsense.

This damascene conversion is mainly due to the fact that he read Nina Teicholz's book . As he states:

'...the forensic demolition of the hypothesis that saturated fat is the cause of cardiovascular disease is impressive. Indeed, the book is deeply disturbing in showing how overenthusiastic scientists, massive conflicts of interest, and politically driven policy makers can make deeply damaging mistakes.

Over 40 years I've come to recognise which I might have known from the beginning - that science is a human activity with the error, self-deception, grandiosity, bias, self-interest, cruelty, fraud, and theft that is inherent in all human activities (together with some saintliness), but this book shook me.'

The amazing thing, to me, is not the Richard Smith has finally realised the diet-heart hypothesis is a complete crock. The amazing thing is that it still holds sway, despite the fact that it was never based on anything other than the propaganda of a power-mad egotist (Ancel Keys). Any evidence that saturated fat, or any other fat consumption, causes heart disease has always been weak at best, more usually non-existent, or just flatly contradictory.

Many years ago Dr George Mann (who was running the Framingham Study at the time) stated that:

'The diet-heart idea - the notion that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease - is the greatest scientific deception of our times...The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century,'

And what effect did this comment have? Well, none. In 2008 the Food and Agricultural Organisation concluded the "there is no probable or convincing evidence" that a high level of fat in the diet causes heart disease.

A 2012 Cochrane review found no benefit from total fat reduction and no effect on cardiovascular or total mortality. "More recently we have the Women's Health Initiative, which enrolled fifty thousand women in the randomised trials of the low fat diet and cost £460m. To quote Richard Smith again:

'The women were followed for 10 years, and those in the low fat arm successfully reduced their total fat consumption from 37% to 29.5% of energy intake and their saturated fat from 12.4% to 9.5%. But there was no reduction in heart disease or stroke, and nor did the women lose more weight than the controls.'

A 23% cut in saturated fat intake, and no impact on anything. What effect has this had? Well, none. Evidence has never had the slightest effect on this hypothesis. As of today, you can still order posters and other information from the British Hear Foundation which announce, in bold, 'I cut the Saturated Fat.' The blurb underneath states1:

'Find out how to reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat using our A2-sized wallchart. It includes information on the different types of fat in food and advice on the healthiest options to choose both when cooking and eating out.'

So, saturated fat still demonised. And the BHF are still saying that:

'At the crux of this debate is the role of saturated fat in our diet. Diets that are high in saturated fat have been shown to increase cholesterol. A high cholesterol level is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, so that's why current recommendations emphasise the importance of reducing the saturated fat in our diets2.'

I suppose one could laugh at all this. Because, the BHF also states (in the same article) the following:

'Last week saturated fat came back to the top of the news agenda because research we'd helped to fund suggested there isn't enough evidence to support current guidelines on which types of fat to eat. While the latest study didn't show saturated fat is associated with cardiovascular disease, it also didn't show that eating more of it is better for your heart health2.'

In short, the British Heart Foundation states that they funded a study which shows there is no evidence that saturated fat is bad for the heart. However, they also state that diets high in saturated fat have been shown to increase cholesterol and a high cholesterol level is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Be careful guys. If saturated fat does raise cholesterol, yet a high saturated fat diet does not cause heart disease then, logically, you are stating that cholesterol does not cause heart disease/cardiovascular disease. In fact, this is exactly what they are stating. There is no escape from logic my friends.

This is just one example of the knots that people tie themselves into when they try to defend the indefensible. Luckily, for them, no-one seems able to draw the obvious conclusion from their incomprensible gibberish. Either the diet/heart (saturated fat) hypothesis is wrong, or the cholesterol hypothesis is wrong, or both. [The correct answer is, or course, both].

Of all the stupid scientific hypotheses of the twentieth century the idea that fat/saturated fat causes heart disease - or any other disease - is by all possible measures the most stupid. It is the most stupid because it has driven dietary advice to eat more and more carbohydrates a.k.a 'sugars.' Anyone who understood anything about human biochemistry and physiology could tell you what this would do;

1: Cause millions upon millions of people to get fatter and fatter

2: Cause millions upon millions of people to become diabetic

3: Cause millions upon millions of diabetics to completely lose control of their sugar and fat metabolism, get even fatter and die prematurely

All of these things have happened, exactly as could have been predicted. Yet, our esteemed experts still propagate the dangerous myth that saturated fat is bad for us and we should stuff ourselves with carbohydrates instead.

Yes, some diets are 'mass murder'. To quote Richard Smith for the last time:

'Jean Mayer, one of the "greats" of nutritional science, said in 1965, in the colourful language that has characterised arguments over diet, that prescribing a diet restricted in carbohydrates to the public was "the equivalent of mass murder." Having ploughed my way through five books on diet and some of the key studies to write this article, I'm left with the impression that the same accusation of "mass murder" could be directed at many players in the great diet game. In short, bold policies have been based on fragile science, and the long term results may be terrible.'

Richard, there is no may about it. The long term results been terrible. So, to those 'experts' who continue to propagate the idea that saturated fat causes cardiovascular disease. Merry Xmas - you dangerous idiots. As it is the festive season, I shall refrain from calling them mass murderers.


1: Cut the saturated fat

2: Saturated fats and your heart explained

New Jersey bids to privatize water without public votes

© Julio Cortez / AP

Workers deal with a broken water main in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2013.

A bill that would allow New Jersey municipalities to sell their public water utilities to private, for-profit corporations without putting the measure to voters is awaiting Gov. Chris Christie's signature.

Until now, any municipality in New Jersey that sought to sell off its water system to a private bidder had to hold a public vote. But a bill passed with bipartisan support by the state's Senate last week would allow municipalities with aging and deteriorating water systems to put their systems up for sale without holding a referendum.

While supporters of the bill say privatizing water systems could save municipalities money, it allows companies to factor the purchase price of the systems into the rates they charge customers, meaning taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook for the sale of their water systems.

Many New Jersey municipalities have turned to privatization as a way to get quick cash infusions for their deteriorating water systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the state would need $41 billion over the next 20 years to repair its water, stormwater and wastewater systems.

"We're an old, industrial state, and water infrastructure was built a long, long time ago," said Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, which has not taken a position on the bill. "We've spent billions on upgrading, but there's still a lot more to do."

If the bill is enacted, New Jersey would join several other states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, where ballot measures are not required to sell water systems to private developers.

"This is sort of a solution looking for a problem, because the option to privatize is already there. You just have to go to the voters," said Mike Cerra, the director of government affairs at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, an association and lobbying group for the state's 565 local governments. "For much smaller things, you have to go to the voters. When you consider that water is one of the most valuable assets a municipality has, then [the sale of a water system] should go to the citizens too."

The bill comes after years of sales of water systems in New Jersey to private companies.

About 300 of New Jersey's municipalities, accounting for about 45 percent of the state's population, have privately run water systems, according to the New Jersey Utilities Association, a trade group. In November voters in Camden approved the sale of their water system to New Jersey American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, one of the largest private water companies in the U.S. The state far outpaces the U.S. in water privatization; overall, only 13 percent of Americans are served by private systems.

But even as more and more New Jersey cities, towns and boroughs turn to privatization, some have resoundingly rejected it. In 2010, Trenton voters rebuffed the sale of their water system 4 to 1. In November hundreds of voters in Sussex Borough also overwhelmingly rejected privatization. Still, Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., has said, "New Jersey is one of the most receptive states to water privatization."

Nationwide, the privatization of water system is significantly more controversial. According to Food and Water Watch, the number of privately owned systems decreased 16 percent from 2007 to 2011, a reflection of some municipalities taking back control of their water systems.

Activists don't disagree that more needs to be spent on the state's water infrastructure, but they say that should be the responsibility of the state, not private companies. Christie cut $85 million from the Department of Environmental Protection's 2014 budget, limiting the amount the agency can spend on water infrastructure improvement projects. And he has offered property tax rebates and tax caps that critics say starve the state's infrastructure budget.

A representative for Christie did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some experts, like Rutgers environmental studies professor Daniel Van Abs, believe there's simply not enough political will in most New Jersey municipalities to raise water rates to sufficient levels to fund infrastructure repairs.

That, activists say, has cornered municipalities into needing to turn to private investment. Since companies can charge taxpayers for the purchase of the water systems, there's little chance their services will cost less than public utilities do, according to Stefanie Brand, the director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, a state agency that advocates for utility customers.

A report from Corporate Accountability International found that privatization of water supplies was often followed by rate increases. In Bayonne, New Jersey, a 2012 contract with United Water led to an 8.5 percent rate increase in the first year, according to the nonprofit. And a 2010 report from Food and Water Watch found that customers in New Jersey municipalities with private water systems paid on average 64 percent more than others in the state.

The bill does offer some protections for public water systems: It would require municipalities to prove that their system is deteriorating before it could be put up for sale. But anti-privatization activists say the criteria for what's considered deteriorating is so broad that virtually every municipality's system would qualify. Among the conditions that could trigger a sale are if the system has a combined sewer overflow, a system that releases stormwater and sewage into rivers and other bodies of water when the system is overloaded (most big cities a use this system) and if the groundwater has a potential for sodium contamination or "any other intrusion that would negatively impact the system."

The bill's stipulates that a public ballot measure could be forced if activists against privatization gather enough signatures to equal 15 percent of a municipality's voting population during the state's last General Assembly elections.

Privatization advocates say there's still enough time - 45 days from the time of the announcement of a sale - for the public to become informed and organize against a sale if they choose to.

"We'd argue that they still have a significant amount of input, and with a wider breadth of information to act on [under this bill]," said Andrew Hendry, the president of the New Jersey Utilities Commission. He pointed out that private water systems in the state account for only 2 percent of state Safe Drinking Water Act violations, which he said proves privatization is a responsible way forward for New Jersey towns.

But for anti-privatization activists, those statistics don't prove that private systems are better as much as they prove that public systems are in desperate need of more public funding.

"We absolutely need to invest in our water system, but this doesn't actually address that issue," said Jim Walsh, the mid-Atlantic director for Food and Water Watch. "It just trades the option of low-interest municipal debt for high-interest equity markets. Wall Street gets rich in the process of our pipes being fixed."

Obama fantasy: says US 'strategic patience' with Russia yields results

© AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin, File

The United States has used "strategic patience" to steadily apply the pressure of sanctions against the Russian economy as oil prices have plummeted in recent months, US President Barack Obama said on Monday.

"Part of our rationale in this process was that the only thing keeping that [Russian] economy afloat was the price of oil. And if, in fact, we were steady in applying sanction pressure, which we have been, that over time it would make the economy of Russia sufficiently vulnerable," Obama said in an interview with the .

According to the president, the US policy toward Russia calculated that "if and when there were disruptions with respect to the price of oil," Russia would have "enormous difficulty managing it."

Earlier in the year, "everybody in Washington" was convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had "outmaneuvered" the United States but the Russian president's position does not appear as strong any more, Obama said.

"At least outside of Russia, maybe some people are thinking what Putin did wasn't so smart," Obama said, referring to Russia's reunification with Crimea. The Crimean peninsula seceded from Ukraine and rejoined Russia in March after more than 96 percent of local voters backed the move in a referendum.

The US president stressed that Washington does not want an armed conflict with Russia, adding that the United States has no conventional military peer, though "obviously Russia is a significant nuclear power."

The United States and a number of its allies have introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia, targeting its banking, energy and defense sectors, as well as certain individuals, over Russia's reunification with Crimea and Moscow's alleged involvement in the armed conflict in Ukraine's south-east. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in Ukraine's internal affairs, deeming sanctions as counterproductive.

Hollywood following government's demonization script of North Korea - The Interview and regime change policy

"And if it does start a war, hopefully people will say, 'You know what? It was worth it. It was a good movie!'" - Seth Rogen

"Wacky dictators sell newspapers, and magazines - for example, the 2003 Newsweek cover depicting Kim [Jong Il] in dark sunglasses over a cover line that read 'Dr. Evil.' ... But demonization, and ridicule, can be dangerous. At its worst, dehumanizing the other side helps to lay the groundwork for war." - Donald Macintyre

Representations of North Korea as a buffoon, a menace, or both on the American big screen are at least as old and arguably as tired as the George W. Bush-era phrase, "the axis of evil." Along with the figure of the Muslim "terrorist," hackneyed Hollywood constructions of the "ronery" or diabolical Dr. Evil-like North Korean leader bent on world domination, the sinister race-bending North Korean spy, the robotic North Korean commando, and other post-Cold War Red/Yellow Peril bogeymen have functioned as go-to enemies for the commercial film industry's geopolitical and racist fantasies. Explaining why the North Korean leader was the default choice for the villain in his 2014 regime-change comedy, The Interview, Seth Rogen has stated, "It's not that controversial to label [North Korea] as bad. It's as bad as it could be."1

Indeed, one-dimensional caricatures of North Korea flourish in the Western media in no small part because "[w]acky dictators sell."2 Yet when it comes to Hollywood's North Korean regime-change narratives, the line between fact and fiction, not to mention the distinction between freedom of expression and government propaganda, is revealingly thin. Whether in Hollywood or Washington, the only permissible narrative for North Korea is what Donald Macintyre, former Seoul bureau chief for Time magazine, has called "the demonization script."3

Not only have the dream machines of the entertainment industry long played an instrumental role within American theaters of war, but also, U.S. officials and political commentators often marshal the language of entertainment - for example, the description of U.S.-South Korea combined military exercises as "war games" and the Obama administration's references to the Pentagon's "playbook" with regard to North Korea - when describing U.S. military maneuvers on and around the Korean peninsula.

Beyond the American entertainment industry's insatiable appetite for evildoers, how might we account for the anachronistic place of North Korea as a Cold War foe that outlasted the end of the Cold War within Hollywood's post-9/11 rogues' gallery? With the eyes of the world trained on various flashpoints in the Middle East, what mileage of any kind can be gotten from the North Korean "bad guy" in Hollywood? If American moviegoers might be depended on to possess a vague awareness of geopolitical context, perhaps even to have some sense of the history of U.S. "hot" involvement subtending Hollywood's latest Islamophobic interventionist adventure, by contrast, North Korea, routinely depicted in the U.S. media as shrouded in mystery and beyond comprehension, can be counted on to draw a complete blank.

Truth, we are often told, is wilder than our wildest imaginings in North Korea, therefore the rule-of-thumb when it comes to representing North Korea in Hollywood appears to be that anything goes - even films featuring Kim Jong Un's head deconstructing and bursting into flames. Violent spectacle thus stands in for substantive treatment, leaving more complex truths about North Korea elusive. It is worth recalling that North Korea has been dubbed a "black hole" by former CIA director Robert Gates, "the longest-running intelligence failure in the history of espionage" according to ex-CIA Seoul station chief and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg, and the "Heart of Darkness" in the words of congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.4It's against this backdrop of near-total ignorance about North Korea, a place about which Americans possess great conviction but little knowledge, that North Korea serves as a malleable screen onto which the entertainment industry's fantasies can be projected - fantasies that reflect less reality about North Korea than commentary about Hollywood's own murky ideological substratum.

Here, it merits considering two post-9/11, "axis of evil" films that move in opposite directions but intersect with U.S. policy in ways few critics have observed: Red Dawn 2, MGM's 2012 reboot of the 1984 Cold War original, in which North Korean invaders vaingloriously attempt regime change on U.S. soil only to be outdone by a pack of suburban American teenagers who call themselves "the Wolverines," and The Interview, Sony's 2014 screwball comedy in which a fatuous American TV talk show host and his producer are enlisted by the CIA to "take out" Kim Jong Un as a sure-fire means of ensuring North Korean regime collapse.5 If Red Dawn 2, described by Wired as "the dumbest movie ever," inadvertently descended into farce by expecting that American viewers would "take North Korea seriously as an existential threat," The Interview, catapulted to unlikely world-historical importance, has become the focus of serious controversy and incessant Western media commentary.6

North Korea furnishes the central villain in The Interview - though, in this case, a rube of a "dictator" who has crippling "self-esteem and 'daddy issues,'" according to leaked Sony emails.7 Yet, in the media-storm around the Sony hacking, North Korea has transitioned beyond the screen into an easy fall guy. At a juncture in which the White House has turned a new page with Cuba, even going so far as to describe a half-century of ineffectual U.S. isolationist policy aimed at Cuban regime change as a failure, North Korea, also long the target of U.S. regime-change designs, risks resuming its old place on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism from which it had been removed, by George W. Bush no less, in 2008.8 In other words, at a moment when Cuba stands to step off the four-country list, which also includes Iran, Sudan, and Syria, North Korea, accused of hacking into Sony and issuing terrorist threats over the release of The Interview, faces the prospect of stepping back on.9

At this moment, we are thus witness to two radically different dynamics: the prospect of long-awaited rapprochement, normalization, and engagement with Cuba in stark contrast to a war of words, threats of retaliation, and escalation when it comes to North Korea. In reference to the hacking of Sony, which the FBI has insisted can be traced to North Korea - an assertion of culpability that The New York Times dutifully reported as fact despite proliferating assessments and overwhelming opinion to the contrary in the larger cyber-security community - U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, on December 22, 2014, laid out an astonishing injury claim, on Sony's behalf, against North Korea: "The government of North Korea has a long history of denying its destructive and provocative actions and if they want to help here they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damage, damages that they caused."10

Yet missing in this lopsided discussion of reparations and national amnesia is any grappling, on the part of the United States, with the profound human costs of six decades of hostile U.S. intervention on the Korean peninsula, much less the fact that the official relationship between the United States and North Korea remains one of unfinished war. In the mid-twentieth century, the United States, which set the stage for bloodshed by cleaving the Korean peninsula in two with no Korean input in 1945, and by supporting separate elections in the South in 1948, then militarily intervened in 1950 on behalf of its South Korean ally Syngman Rhee (a ruthless dictator, no doubt, but "our guy," in the parlance of the Cold War State Department) in a war of national reunification that followed.

That war, the Korean War, remains tragically unresolved to this day. During the war's battle-phase, the United States wielded near-total aerial superiority, an index of asymmetrical warfare, to devastating consequences, especially in the North. When the dust settled, an estimated four million Koreans has been killed, seventy percent of whom were civilians, millions more were transformed into refugees, and one in three Korean families was separated by a dividing line that had been hardened by war into an impassable, intensely fortified, militarized border, which U.S. presidents ever since have referred to as "Freedom's Frontier."

As historian Bruce Cumings notes, memory plays out differently north of the DMZ:

"What is indelible is the extraordinary destructiveness of the American air campaigns against North Korea, ranging from the widespread and continuous use of firebombing (mainly with napalm), to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, and finally to the destruction of huge North Korean dams in the final stages of the war."11

This memory of ruin, so central to North Korea's consolidation as a state, registers little, if at all, within the United States where the Korean War is tellingly referred to as "the Forgotten War." Indeed, few in the United States realize that this war is not over, whereas no one in North Korea can forget it.

Yet, whether they realize it or not, Americans view and naturalize North Korea through a lens that is clouded by the fog of an unfinished war. In what has unfurled as one of the strangest PR campaigns for a Hollywood Christmas release ever, the FBI's assertions that North Korea was behind the cyberattack on Sony - an intelligence assessment presented without evidence yet framed as self-sufficient fact by the Obama administration - highlights the centrality of intelligence as the filter through which we are urged to perceive North Korea and other historic enemies of the United States.

It is worth remarking that the two primary ways that Americans "know" North Korea are through forms of intelligence - defector and satellite, precisely the two types of supposedly airtight evidence that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the UN Security Council in early 2003 as incontrovertible "proof" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Then as now, information about a longstanding U.S. military target is not aimed at producing a truthful picture about that society or its leadership but rather at defeating the supposed enemy - in short, paving the way to regime change. It is precisely within this haze of disinformation about North Korea that Hollywood churns out films that walk in lockstep with a relentless U.S. policy of regime change.

With Obama stepping into the role of booster-in-chief for The Interview, we might examine the blurred lines between what both the U.S. President and Seth Rogen have insisted is an issue of freedom of speech and artistic expression, on the one hand, and government propaganda, on the other. The collusion between Sony, the White House, and the military industrial complex, as revealed by leaked emails, merits a closer look. Not only did Obama, in his final 2014 press conference, manage to avoid any discussion of the CIA torture report, but also he gave outsized attention to a film that Sony had reportedly shelved, in effect giving an invaluable presidential thumbs-up for The Interview .

With the spectacle of North Korea implausibly rearing its head in the president's remarks as "the biggest topic today," the pressing issue of U.S. accountability for torture, with even major media outlets calling for a criminal probe into the responsibility of former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA director George Tenet, legal architect John Yoo, among others, was deflected.12 Instead, North Korea was launched to front-page news and Sony's temporary, arguably savvy, PR decision to pull The Interview was framed, in accordance with Obama's comments, as a capitulation to censorship by "some dictator someplace."13

We might ask: what political capital stands to be gained from maintaining a hard line on North Korea, at a moment of détente with Cuba? As hacked emails from the head of Sony Entertainment, Michael Lynton, disclose, Sony's tête-à-tête with the Obama administration over The Interview must be dated back to the production stage. Having screened a rough cut of the film at the State Department, Sony appears to have queried officials, including Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, Robert King, specifically about what it worried was the over-the-top violence of the head-exploding assassination scene of Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park). Harboring no such qualms, the State Department gave the green light.

Asked by The New York Times in a December 16, 2014 interview whether they were frightened by "the initial ambiguous threats that North Korea made," lead actor James Franco stated, "They went after Obama as much as us," adding in tongue-in-cheek fashion, "Because Obama actually produced the movie." Seth Rogen, co-lead and, along with Evan Goldberg, co-director of The Interview, clarified, "They don't have freedom of speech there, so they don't get that people make stuff."14 Within the space of the same NYT interview, however, Rogen offered a less innocuous account of the production process: "Throughout this process, we made relationships with certain people who work in the government as consultants, who I'm convinced are in the C.I.A." Indeed, in addition to State Department officials, Bruce Bennett, a North Korea watcher and regime-change advocate at the Rand Corporation, the U.S. military-funded think tank, and a consultant to the government on North Korea, also served as a consultant with Sony on this film. His primary, albeit hardly novel, thesis on North Korea is that the assassination of the North Korean leader is the surest way of guaranteeing regime collapse in North Korea. In a June 25, 2014 email to Sony Entertainment CEO, Lynton, who also sits on the Rand Board of Trustees - an indication of Sony's cozy relationship with the military industrial complex - Bennett implied that a North Korean regime-change cultural narrative, by dint of its politicized reception within the Korean peninsula, might oil the machinery of actual regime collapse. As he put it, referring to his 2013 book, Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse,

"I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending [the assassination scene] may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone."15

In their defense of the film's creative integrity (prior to the email leaks), both Rogen and Goldberg claimed that their decision to explicitly identify the North Korean leader of the film as "Kim Jong Un" was met with "some resistance" at Sony, yet as The Daily Beast subsequently reported, the leaked emails "strongly suggest that it was Sony's idea to insert Kim Jong Un in The Interview as the film's antagonist" following consultation with "a former cia [sic] agent and someone who used to work for Hilary [sic] Clinton."16

Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. Hollywood, after all, has given us Black Hawk Down , Zero Dark Thirty , Argo , and other propaganda films. Yet it runs counter to a reading of The Interview as harmless entertainment, much less as a matter of freedom of speech or pure artistic expression. It might also remind us that culture, when it comes to U.S. enemies, has always been a terrain of manipulation and war. During the Korean War's hot-fighting phase, the United States dropped a staggering 2.5 billion propaganda leaflets on North Korea as part of its psy-war "hearts and minds" operations. Throughout the Cold War, the CIA, as is well-known, funded American arts and letters in a kulturkampf with the socialist bloc, maneuvering behind the scenes to foster "democratic" cultural expressions that would, in turn, be held up as evidence of the superiority of the culture of American freedom.

Today, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a supposedly non-governmental agency established in the Reagan era to do what the CIA did covertly during the Cold War and funded almost entirely by Congress, sponsors and disseminates defector narratives, what the CIA calls "human intelligence," as the truth about North Korea.17 Central to NED's objectives is the promotion of "second cultural" products about target or "priority" countries, for example, the "dissemination of books, films or television programs illuminating or advocating democracy," as a means of delegitimizing and ultimately destabilizing the leadership of "closed societies."18 In its work on North Korea, NED supports defector organizations in South Korea and Japan, which it mobilizes as an exogenous alternative to North Korean civil society - a second culture whose propaganda can be infiltrated via radio broadcast, balloon drops, smuggled USB drives, and other underground distributional means into North Korea.

Although leaked emails indicate that Sony's South Korean division opted early on not to screen The Interview in South Korea, citing an aversion to its caricature of the leader of North Korea and spoof of a "North Korean" accent, South Korea's centrality as a site for a more sinister distribution of the film might give us some pause.19 Much along the lines advocated by Bennett, organizations like the U.S.-based, right-wing Human Rights Foundation headed by the self-professed Venezuelan "freedom fighter" Thor Halvorssen Mendoza as well as South Korean defector groups asserted their readiness, even prior to Sony's temporary pulling of the film, to conduct illegal balloon drops of DVD copies of The Interview from South Korea into North Korea. We might note that one of the Korean subheadings on Sony's promotional poster for the film reads explicitly to a North Korean audience: "Don't believe these ignorant American jackasses." Of the film's propagandistic value, Halvorssen, who describes comedies as "hands down the most effective of counterrevolutionary devices" - here, echoing Rogen's cavalier assessment of the film's supposedly subversive potential, "Maybe the tapes will make their way to North Korea and start a fucking revolution" - told Newsweek , "Parody and satire is powerful. Ideas are what are going to win in North Korea. Ideas will bring down that regime."20

Propaganda Balloon Drops Launched into North Korea by Human Rights Foundation.

Revealingly, those who profess to be so concerned about democracy when it comes to the release of The Interview rarely, if ever, consider the profoundly undemocratic implications of Obama's militarized "pivot" toward Asia and the Pacific. Here, Hollywood's North Korean "bad guy" merits critical consideration against the context of U.S. policy, past and present, within a larger Asia-Pacific region in which the United States seeks to ensure its dominance. Although Barack Obama's foreign policy is unavoidably identified with the Middle East where he has continued and intensified Bush's interventionist policies, his foreign policy vision from the outset has been explicitly oriented toward the Pacific. As Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton signaled the significance of Asia by making it her first overseas destination, bypassing Europe, the customary grand tour destination for her predecessors. Offering a blueprint of twenty-first-century U.S. power designs within the Asia-Pacific region, which he identified as America's "future," "the world's fastest-growing region," and "home to more than half the global economy," Obama, in a November 2011 speech before the Australian Parliament, stated, "Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth - the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation."21 As both Obama and members of his administration have taken pains to convey, the United States must be globally understood to be "a Pacific power."22

Ripped from the script of Red Dawn 2, the bait-and-switch narrative Obama has adhered to with regard to Asia and the Pacific requires North Korea to fulfill a necessary devil-function. Here, it is worth recalling that in 2012, MGM, facing a barrage of criticism from news media in China - not coincidentally the second largest movie market in the world, one that brought Hollywood an estimated $1.4 billion dollars in the year of Red Dawn 2's release - announced it had decided, at the eleventh hour, to replace the film's Chinese bad guys with North Korean villains. North Korea, of little significance as an open consumer market in today's global entertainment industry, could be pasted in as China's proxy, with few financial consequences. Digitally altering PRC flags, military insignia, and propaganda posters to appear "North Korean" would cost the studio well over a million dollars in the post-production phase. Although Obama's policy toward North Korea has officially been one his advisers dub "strategic patience," or non-engagement, North Korea has served as a cornerstone in this administration's interventionist approach toward the Asia-Pacific region. Although an expanded American military role in the region, including a "rebalancing" of U.S. naval forces to 60% (in contrast to 40% in the Atlantic), may be aimed at containing a rising China, the growing U.S. regional military presence, under Obama's "pivot" policy, has been overtly justified by the specter of a nuclear-armed, volatile North Korea.

Not merely the stuff of Hollywood fantasies, North Korea, inflated as an existential menace, has been indispensable, for example, to "the deployment of ballistic missile defenses closer to North Korea," not to mention sales of surveillance drone technology to regional allies.23

Indeed, central to the staging of U.S. forward-deployed missile defense systems - Aegis, Patriot, and THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) - in and off the coast of Hawai'i, Guam, Taiwan, Japan, Okinawa, and South Korea (including, eventually on Jeju Island) has been the purported dangers posed by an armed, dangerous, and totally unpredictable North Korea to both the western coast of the United States and regional allies in the Pacific. In recent years, this portrait of an unhinged, trigger-happy North Korea has justified the acceleration of the THAAD missile-defense system in Guam, a second U.S. missile defense radar deployed near Kyoto, Japan, the positioning of nuclear aircraft carriers throughout the Pacific, and lucrative sales of military weapons systems to U.S. client-states through the Asia-Pacific region.

Albeit all key elements in U.S. first-strike attack planning, this amplified militarization of the "American Lake" is justified by the Pentagon as a "precautionary move to strengthen our regional defense posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat."24 As early as June 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in announcing the deployment of both the THAAD and sea-based radar systems to Hawai'i, explained, "I think we are in a good position, should it become necessary, to protect American territory" from a North Korean threat.25 In early April 2013, in a press release announcing its missile defense deployment throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon stated, "The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and stands ready to defend U.S. territory, our allies, and our national interests."26 Advertised as safeguarding "the region against the North Korean threat," the X-band radar system, which the United States sold to Japan "is not directed at China," as U.S. officials were careful to state, but simply a defensive measure undertaken in response to the danger posed by Pyongyang.27

As critics have pointed out, "There is...nothing 'defensive'" about any of this, least of all the "B-52 and B-2 nuclear strategic bombers," which the Obama administration put into play in early 2013 on the Korean peninsula.28 Indeed, such "flights were designed to demonstrate, to North Korea in the first instance, the ability to conduct nuclear strikes at will anywhere in North East Asia."29 Yet, even as the North Koreans have had to hunker down, with "single-minded unity," in preparation for the prospect of a David-and-Goliath showdown with the United States, the true audience of the U.S.-directed dramaturgy of war styled as the "pivot" policy unquestionably has always been China.

Claiming to have done conducted "a lot" of research on North Korea, Seth Rogen has insisted that The Interview holds up a mirror to North Korea's reality: "We didn't make up anything. It's all real." His conclusion about North Korea after conducting exhaustive research? "It was f - king weird."30 Yet, even as the curtains go up in movie theaters across the United States for The Interview, the centrality of the North Korean demon to Obama's pivot policy within Asia and the Pacific, itself a historic theater of U.S. war, may prove to be far stranger than fiction.

Christine Hong is an assistant professor at University of California Santa Cruz. She is on the executive board of the Korea Policy Institute, the coordinating committee of the National Campaign to End the Korean War, and part of the Working Group on Peace and Demilitarization in Asia and the Pacific.


1 Josh Rottenberg, "Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg Like that Kim Jong Un Doesn't Get the Joke," LA Times 3 December 2014 . As Rogen's comments in this interview with the LA Times reveal, the biographical particulars of the North Korean leader did not matter; indeed, one leader was interchangeable for another. Rogen and his fellow filmmaker Evan Goldberg initially envisioned Kim Jong Il as the arch-villain of the film but, with his death in December 2011, simply replaced him with Kim Jong Un.

2 Donald Macintyre, "U.S. Media and the Korean Peninsula," Korea Witness: 135 Years of War, Crisis and News in the Land of the Morning Calm, ed. Donald Kirk and Choe Sang Hun (Seoul: EunHaeng Namu, 2006), 404.

3 Ibid., 407.

4 As quoted in Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (New York: Basic-Perseus Books, 2001) 60; "North Korea's Heart of Darkness," Dong-A Ilbo, 23 May 2012, available here.

5 Sandy Schaefer, "'The Interview' Red Band Trailer: Rogen and Franco Serve Their Comedy," Screen Rant, September 2014.

6 David Axe, "North Korea Invades America in Dumbest Movie Ever," Wired 4 August 2012.

7 Sam Biddle, "Leaked Emails: Sony Execs Scared of 'Desperately Unfunny' Interview," Defamer, 15 December 2014.

8 As reported in The Daily Beast, Obama, in clarifying a new U.S. policy approach to Cuba, stated, "'I do not believe we can continue doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result,' said Obama in a none-too-subtle allusion to a popular definition of insanity." See Christopher Dickey, "Obama Realizes What 10 Presidents Didn't: Isolating Cuba Doesn't Work," The Daily Beast, 18 December 2014.

9 See Amy Chozick, "Obama Says He'll Weigh Returning North Korea to Terror List," The New York Times, 21 December 2014.

10 State Department, Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, 22 December 2014. Noting that a heavy regime of U.S. and international sanctions prevents direct financial dealings with North Korea, AP reporter Matt Lee asked Harf to clarify what she meant by "compensation": "'How could Sony legally accept compensation from North Korea? Is there an exception?' Lee asked. 'Because as far as I know, if you're getting a payment, a direct payment, from the North Korean government, you're breaking the law.'" See "Reporter Dismantles State Dept Suggestion that North Korea Pay Compensation to Sony," Free Beacon, 22 December 2014. On skepticism from cyber-security experts that North Korea was responsible for the hacking, see Elissa Shevinsky, "In Plain English: Five Reasons Why Security Experts Are Skeptical North Korea Masterminded the Sony Attack," Business Insider,22 December 2014 and Marc Rogers, "No, North Korea Didn't Hack Sony," The Daily Beast,24 December 2014.1

1 Bruce Cumings, "On the Strategy and Morality of American Nuclear Policy in Korea, 1950 to the Present," Social Science Japan Journal 1:1 (1998): 57.

12 "Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference," The White House, 19 December 2014; The New York Times Editorial Board, "Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses," The New York Times, 21 December 2014.

13 "Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference."

14 Dave Itzkoff, "James Franco and Seth Rogen Talk about 'The Interview,'" The New York Times, 16 December 2014.

15 Although purportedly an expert on the Korean peninsula, Bennett offers an assessment of South Korean receptivity to The Interview that is contradicted by Sony's own internal emails. Fearing controversy, Sony's South Korean division passed on opening the film in South Korea. For an account of how another "axis of evil" film, the Bond thriller, Die Another Day (2002), incited widespread protests in South Korea, see Hye Seung Chung, "From Die Another Day to 'Another Day': The South Korean Anti-007 Movement and Regional Nationalism in Post-Cold War Asia," Hybrid Media, Ambivalent Feelings, ed. Hyung-Sook Lee, special issue of Spectator 27:2 (2007): 64-78.

16 Rottenberg, "Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg Like That Kimg Jong Un Doesn't Get the Joke"; William Boot, ""Exclusive: Sony Emails Say Studio Exec Picked Kim Jong-Un as the Villain of 'The Interview,'" The Daily Beast,18 December 2014.

17 On this point, William Blum writes: "Allen Weinstein, who helped draft legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: 'A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.'" See William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2000), 180.

18 NED, "Statement of Principles and Objectives: Strengthening Democracy Abroad: The Role of the National Endowment for Democracy," NED.19 See Biddle, "Leaked Emails."

20 Josh Eells, "Seth Rogen's 'Interview': Inside the Film North Korea Really Doesn't Want You to See," Rolling Stone, 17 December 2014; Paul Bond, "Sony Hack: Activists to Drop 'Interview' DVDs over North Korea via Balloon,"The Hollywood Reporter, 16 December 2014; Katherine Phillips, "Activists to Send DVDs of 'The Interview' to North Korea by Balloon," Newsweek, 17 December 2014.

21 Barack Obama, "Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament," 17 November 2011.

22 Hillary Clinton, "America's Pacific Century," Foreign Policy, 11 October 2014.

23 Barbara Starr and Tom Cohen, "U.S. Reducing Rhetoric That Feeds North Korea's Belligerence," CNN 13 April 2013.

24 Department of Defense, News Release No. 208-13, 3 April 2013.

25 John J. Kruzel, "U.S. Prepares Missile Defense, Continues Shipping Interdictions," U.S. Department of Defense, 18 June 2009.

26 "Department of Defense Announces Missile Deployment," Press Release, Department of Defense, 3 April 2014.

27 Lolita Baldor and Matthew Lee, "US and Japan Revamp Defense Alliance to Counter North Korean Threat," Business Insider, 3 October 2013.

28 Peter Symonds, "Obama's 'Playbook' and the Threat of Nuclear War in Asia," World Socialist Web Site, 5 April 2013.29 Ibid.

30 Judy Kurtz, "FLASHBACK - Seth Rogen: No Regrets about Making 'The Interview,'" the Hill,17 December 2014.

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Why the U.S. just can't stop

Mikhail Khazin.

On several past occasions I have written that the United States is deliberately destroying the entire system of international security, the same system that they had built together with the USSR. Why did they start dismantling the international security system is also understandable, in the 1990s the generation of "victors" came to power in that country, these people are convinced that they had "defeated" the USSR (as our theory explains it is obviously not so, please refer to this) and because they are "victors" they may do anything they please. They decided that collective security arrangements are onerous, and that they need their own security system, the one that only they will have control over.

If we were to evaluate rhetoric of individuals who were in charge of the states that were admitted as new NATO members in the last 20 years, then we can figure out the logic that stands behind the expansion (and perhaps a bit even farther still). "We are being threatened and the USA is our only possible protection, therefore we must all be integrated within a US-centered security structure." This was all going on while Russia, as a matter of principle, was not participating in affairs of those countries (not even in those of the Ukraine, which was abandoned to its own devices, something that has to a great extent caused the recent events in that country), Russia was not a threat to anyone (and of course it is not a threat to anyone now), the point of this all was deliberate destruction of the old global security system, in which Russia used to play a key role.

Obviously constructing a new security system from scratch is an endeavor that is both expensive and slow, and that is the prime reason why on some issues (such as nuclear disarmament) the United States continued to talk with Russia although the background of those communications can be best expressed through a formula: we only talk about questions which we consider to be of interest to us, and the rest is not really your business. The trouble is that all those plans, which were developed in the 90s and which they began to implement during 2000s (quite possibly, the events of September 11, 2001 were organized to launch the execution of those plans, same way as the Pearl Harbor was staged to extract the United States from its "embrace of isolationism"), so those plans had been based on the premise of continuous economic growth, itself founded upon the primacy of America's resources. Instead they ended up with a crisis, which has significantly reduced those available "resources."

I must note that the period of capture of former Socialist Commonwealth's markets has indeed become "the golden age" of American economy, even their budget scored a surplus. But our work in 2001 in which we evaluated the balance between different branches of American economy in the 1998 showed that already then the US economy was standing on the brink of abyss comparable to where it found itself in the early 1930s. Today's picture is far more frightening and what can be done about it unclear as well. The old security model has been destroyed. Trust cannot be restored, a new model does not exist, there are some elements of it here and there, but they function only if the US directly intervenes into the process. Intervention factually consists of allocating large sums of money to all participants in the process, and it is faulty: Palestine, ISIS, etc.

This is happening while the situation inside the US worsens. The problem is that for a long time they have a barrier in place that has separated the elite from the rest of the society, the barrier of the kind that's only being built here (in Russia). American educational system, and I mean educational system that prepares societal leaders, has been destroyed already back in the 1960s, an average citizen (the sheep in the parlance of the elite) has actually no chances of advancement to an upper "elite" level, the one from which the society is being governed. A successful marriage could serve as a theoretical exception, but this social advancement mechanism cannot be employed in a systemic fashion. However for those few who are born active, unless the punitive psychiatry destroys them at a tender age or they fall victim to juvenile justice, something that now gets written a lot about, for them there are still mechanisms for upward social mobility which could bring them up to the level of technocratic elite.

The trouble is that in the course of this half of a century they've had accumulated lots of people who are absolutely unprepared to tolerate a sharp decline in their standards of living. But along with the worsening of the economic crisis, in order to maintain their grip on power and their status the "actual" elites must most definitely reduce the living standard of these population strata of the American society. And that can push the system up onto the critical level of mutual contradictions. Because internal resources necessary for maintenance of the quality of life of this so called upper middle class are depleted, they need to find some substitute external resources. To phrase it differently: the United States can only preserve domestic social stability at the expense of someone else.

Here we stumble upon remnants of the old security system. The Bretton Woods system was based upon a premise that all assets of participating member states will be dollar denominated. So fresh dollars were printed along with introduction of new assets into the system, and the US elites could then work out how those dollars are to be shared with the elites of those new countries (or regions) that were about to be incorporated within this dollar zone. How those regional elites were going to split those dollars with their own population was their own concern. But there are no more assets to be brought into the system, consequently no new dollars are being printed, and worse than that, existing dollars are being redistributed for America's benefit through US controlled world dollar system. This makes internal conflicts in many of the world's countries all but unavoidable.

Some of those conflicts are at their beginning stage while others are already burning hot, but their essence is all he same, counter-elites, the ones who were not let into the proverbial dollar cookie jar now make claims upon existing elites demanding either to restore the scale of support they get (that means that the old elites must commence financing of the economy from their own pockets) or yield power and get out of the way. Most obvious that because those existing elites are all pro-American, the scenario is developing under accompaniment of increasingly anti-American rhetoric.

We would like to remind you that similar processes already took place in Latin America after the investment flows from the United States changed their direction in aftermath of the Second World War. There the finale was either a breakdown of the economy or emergence of new forces at the helm of the state, frequently personified by brutal dictators, and sometimes, like in Chile, both a combination of both developments. What is going to happen to the world's regions is an open question, but the choice of means to control the situation which remains at America's disposal is shrinking dramatically.

The United States are obviously witnessing these processes and are impotent to do anything about them. From that standpoints, Obama's officials are no different from Putin, he might not like Nabiullina's policies but he cannot just fire her because giving her the boot would destroy the consensus of the elites (and he's too hesitant as doesn't venture to reign in the elites), likewise the administration team in the US is unable to go against their elites, which adamantly refuse considering anything that might somehow threaten their status. And that in turn means that rocking the boat is forbidden!

That can be defined as: sudden moves that can be interpreted as a game changer which in turn might alter the very rules that the United States has introduced in the decade of 2000 and such moves are not allowed. For example, you cannot just change borders. Possibly, if the United States could turn the clock back, then they might have left the Pandora's box safely closed and would not have amputated Kosovo from Serbia, but what's done is done, besides that all happened during prosperous 90s. But to permit the phenomenon of Crimea (or anything similar) is just impermissible. Because if we allow to change borders on a regional level, then entire Eastern Europe, the Middle East and many other areas will turn into serious war theaters.

Essentially we are the ones who understand that this is unavoidable, but American elites will never come to grips with that (and that's why our economic theory is something they would never agree with), this is why they will do whatever it takes to postpone their own end, they'll drag it until the whole structure collapses upon them on its own. In that sense, it is implausible to expect that they would remove sanctions or that they will somehow agree to us acting independently. Perhaps they would be happy to but they are prisoners of their own system.

ISIS and Al-Nusra banned in Russia, labelled terrorists


© Reuters/Stringer

Members loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) wave ISIL flags as they drive around Raqqa.

Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front have been banned in Russia by the Supreme Court, which has ruled both the organizations as 'terrorist'.

Once the ruling comes into force, those suspected of being involved with either Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or Al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra), will face prosecution in Russia.

The case against the two extremist groups was initiated by Russia's Prosecutor General and supported by the Federal Intelligence Agency (FSB).

The court hearings were closed for the press, as certain documents reviewed were classified.

The judge only announced the final decision.

"Having heard representatives of Prosecutor General's Office and FSB [Federal Security Service], having studied the case files, the Supreme Court has ruled: to grant a judgment to the plaintiff, the prosecutor general, to regard the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra organizations as terrorists and to ban their activity in Russia," the judge said, according to TASS.

Both the banned organizations are Al-Qaeda offshoots, though the IS has split from its parent organization. Al-Qaeda leaders have denounced the IS's brutality, particularly public beheadings - the group's major intimidation tool.

Over the last six months, the IS has killed 1,878 people in Syria, mostly civilians, British-based watchdog the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has recently estimated.

Around 80,000 militants are estimated to be currently fighting with the IS, and the group continues to recruit jihadists from all over the world.

The IS, currently occupying large parts of Syria and Iraq, is considered the wealthiest of all terror organizations, having oilfields and refineries under its control.

The US Treasury said in October that oil sales, ransoms and extortions helped IS "generate tens of millions of dollars" monthly. The group's estimated net worth is $2 billion.

Al-Nusra Front - a branch of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon - has been in relative obscurity, compared to the rampaging Islamic State. However, the US-led airstrike campaign against the IS has led to Al-Nusra Front issuing threats against the West and pledging support to the IS.

IS jihadists in Syria made a video in September threatening to bring the Russian republic of Chechnya into their self-proclaimed caliphate.

SOTT EXCLUSIVE: Year of the planes: Cluster of plane problems as 2014 comes to a close

In addition to Ebola, ISIS, and Ukraine in general, some of the biggest events of 2014 have involved passenger jets. First there was the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew on March 8, followed by the shoot-down of MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 aboard. A week later, July 24, Air Algerie Flight AH5017 enigmatically crashed in Mali, burning to a crisp and killing all 116 aboard. After that, there was the plane crash in Brazil that killed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six others on 13 August.

Now, another Malaysia-connected flight has gone missing on December 28: AirAsia Flight QZ8501, with 162 aboard and presumed dead at this point. No distress signal, just an announcement that the pilots would gain altitude to navigate a storm, before disappearing completely from radar.

Yesterday, the Indonesian vice president, Jusuf Kalla, told the public they are not ruling out that the plane crashed. Now Indonesia's "top rescue officials" are saying they think the plane is most likely at the bottom of the Java Sea:

"(Because) the coordinate that was given to us and the evolution from the calculation point of the flight track is at sea, our early conjecture is that the plane is at the bottom of the sea," Bambang Sulistyo, head of Indonesia's national search and rescue agency, told reporters Monday.

Searchers still don't know the exact location of the plane, he said, and may need help from other countries with an underwater search.

Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said the search was focused on an area 70 nautical miles square between the island of Belitung, off Sumatra, and Borneo island., according to Reuters report.

That should make it an easier search than the one carried out for MH370. But what if nothing turns up?

Similar to MH370, with passengers cell phones seemingly operational when they should not have been, a family member of one of the passengers received a text message from her brother. She told reporters: "We got word that that the plane made an emergency landing in Belitung Timur, everyone is safe. But we still need to be sure." Then there's this: Bizarre Chinese forum posts may have predicted doomed AirAsia Flight QZ8501

But that's not all. The same day, another AirAsia flight (AK6242) on its way to Malaysia had to make an emergency landing due to "technical problems". Today, Virgin Atlantic flight VS43 had to circle Gatwick Airport for several hours due to malfunctioning landing gear. Also today, a Jet Airways flight 9W 268 also had to make an emergency landing on its way from Mumbai to Katmandu after one of its engines caught fire:

A Boeing 737-800 of Indian Jet Airways made an emergency landing after one of its engines caught fire when a bird hit its left wing, the Hindu reports.

All 125 passengers and six crew members on board flight from Mumbai to Katmandu are safe.

"Jet Airways flight 9W 268 Mumbai to Kathmandu B737 experienced a bird ingestion on approach and continued the flight with an uneventful and safe landing at Kathmandu," the Times of India reports citing an airline's statement.

Did the pilot see the bird enter the engine? Or could there be another explanation?

So what's up with all these plane disasters, problems, and mysteries? Coincidence? Or is the universe perhaps sending a message, that humanity is like Icarus, flying "too close to the sun" for its own good. Icarus fell to the sea and drowned for his hubris. What fate might we be facing for the same fault?


Harrison Koehli (Profile)

Harrison Koehli hails from Edmonton, Alberta. A graduate of studies in music performance, Harrison is also an editor for Red Pill Press and has been interviewed on several North American radio shows in recognition of his contributions to advancing the study of ponerology. In addition to music and books, Harrison enjoys tobacco and bacon (often at the same time) and dislikes cell phones, vegetables, and fascists.

Large volumes of methane being released in Arctic Ocean


Kara Sea is a section of the Arctic Ocean between Novaya Zemlya and the Yamal Peninsula on the Siberian mainland. Siberian permafrost extends to the seabed of the Kara Sea, and it is thawing.

Researchers from Norway and Russia have found significant amount of the greenhouse gas methane is leaking from an area of the Arctic seabed off the northern coast of Siberia.

According to the team's report in the , the melting of permafrost on the seafloor of the Kara Sea is releasing previously-sequestered methane.

"The thawing of permafrost on the ocean floor is an ongoing process, likely to be exaggerated by the global warming of the world´s oceans," said study author Alexey Portnov at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment (CAGE) at The Arctic University of Norway.

Permafrost is considered soil that has been permanently frozen for at least two years and is usually much thicker on land where temperatures can stay far below the freezing point for months on end.

"Bottom water temperature is usually close to or above zero. Theoretically, therefore, we could never have thick permafrost under the sea," Portnov explained.

He added that 20,000 years ago, during the last ice age, the sea level dropped nearly 400 feet.

"It means that today´s shallow shelf area was land. It was Siberia. And Siberia was frozen," Portnov said. "The permafrost on the ocean floor today was established in that period."

When the last ice age ended around 12,000 years ago, the Kara Sea became submerged by water - kicking off a slow thaw of the previously-terrestrial permafrost. While previous research has shown that this permafrost extends down around 330 feet, the new study has found evidence of methane leaking from much shallower depths - between 66 and 100 feet.

"The permafrost is thawing from two sides," Portnov said. "The interior of the Earth is warm and is warming the permafrost from the bottom up. It is called geothermal heat flux and it is happening all the time, regardless of human influence."

Using mathematical models based on expected conditions, the study team concluded that the maximal possible permafrost thickness would take around 9000 years to thaw. If Arctic Ocean temperatures were to increase due to global warming, the process would accelerate, the researchers noted.

"If the temperature of the oceans increases by two degrees as suggested by some reports, it will accelerate the thawing to the extreme," Portnov said. "A warming climate could lead to an explosive gas release from the shallow areas."

In addition to containing methane in seafloor sediments, permafrost also serves to stabilize ice-like structures called gas hydrates that form under high pressure and low temperatures.

"Gas hydrates normally form in water depths over 300 meters (980 feet), because they depend on high pressure," Portnov said. "But under permafrost the gas hydrate may stay stable even where the pressure is not that high, because of the constantly low temperatures."

Gas hydrates typically contain large volumes of gas and their release would generate massive sinkholes like those currently being formed by melting permafrost on the Siberian mainland.

Police investigating cop for choking and body slamming man filming arrest

The Baton Rouge Police Department is investigating a claim by a Virginia man who reported he was choked and slammed to the ground by an officer while filming an arrest, after surveillance video showed officers lied in their incident report, according to WAFB.

Daniel Clement, 22, said he was using his cell phone to film the arrest outside of a club when an officer ripped his phone from his hand, and another officer grabbed him around the throat and then tossed him on the ground where he was mobbed by officers.

"I saw a police officer push somebody and I've always been told if something like that is going on, it's important to have an objective source of data for what happened," Clement said. "So, I pulled my phone out and I started filming."

According to Clement, that is when the officer snatched the phone from his hand and the other officer assaulted him.

"It got ripped from my hands and as I turned to see who ripped it, another officer slammed me into the railing outside," Clement added.

In the surveillance video, Clement - wearing a bright red shirt - can be seen arguing with the first officer as another large officer steps in and grabs him by the throat before body-slamming him.

"They threw me on the ground and started throwing their knees into me," he explained.

A friend of Clements then grabs a policeman's arm, attempting to pull him off, only to be tackled by police and also arrested. According to that man, police also sprayed him with pepper spray.

In his official report, the officer wrote Clement "jumped on that officer [attempting to make an arrest] and began pushing that officer off of his friend."

The surveillance video does not support the officer's claims, leading the Baton Rouge police department to launch an investigation.

Clement was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on charges of public intoxication, battery on police, resisting arrest, and failure to disperse.

Saying there is little he can add, pending an investigation, police spokesman Cpl. L'Jean Mckneely said, "We're doing a thorough investigation. The chief is trying to get down to the bottom of it to find out exactly what happened. After the investigation is completely over, he's going to make a decision and whatever his decision is it will be done swiftly and effectively."

The prison state of America

US Prison State

© Shutterstock

Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.

States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store. Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke - and being broke is a frequent occurrence in prison - prisoners must take out prison loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison.

States impose an array of fees on prisoners. For example, there is a 10 percent charge imposed by New Jersey on every commissary purchase. Stamps have a 10 percent surcharge. Prisoners must pay the state for a 15-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member or a 15-minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother.

Fines, often in the thousands of dollars, are assessed against many prisoners when they are sentenced. There are 22 fines that can be imposed in New Jersey, including the Violent Crime Compensation Assessment (VCCB), the Law Enforcement Officers Training & Equipment Fund (LEOT) and Extradition Costs (EXTRA). The state takes a percentage each month out of prison pay to pay down the fines, a process that can take decades. If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing must rely solely on a prison salary he or she will owe about $4,000 after making payments for 25 years. Prisoners can leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments - difficult because of high unemployment - they are sent back to prison. High recidivism is part of the design.

Corporations have privatized most of the prison functions once handled by governments. They run prison commissaries and, since the prisoners have nowhere else to shop, often jack up prices by as much as 100 percent. Corporations have taken over the phone systems and charge exorbitant fees to prisoners and their families. They grossly overcharge for money transfers from families to prisoners. And these corporations, some of the nation's largest, pay little more than a dollar a day to prison laborers who work in for-profit prison industries. Food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors feed like jackals off prisons. Prisons, in America, are a hugely profitable business.

Our prison-industrial complex, which holds 2.3 million prisoners, or 25 percent of the world's prison population, makes money by keeping prisons full. It demands bodies, regardless of color, gender or ethnicity. As the system drains the pool of black bodies, it has begun to incarcerate others. Women - the fastest-growing segment of the prison population - are swelling prisons, as are poor whites in general, Hispanics and immigrants. Prisons are no longer a black-white issue. Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. ..." And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states.

Corporate investors, who have poured billions into the business of mass incarceration, expect long-term returns. And they will get them. It is their lobbyists who write the draconian laws that demand absurdly long sentences, deny paroles, determine immigrant detention laws and impose minimum-sentence and three-strikes-out laws (mandating life sentences after three felony convictions). The politicians and the courts, subservient to corporate power, can be counted on to protect corporate interests.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner of for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities in the country, had revenues of $1.7 billion in 2013 and profits of $300 million. CCA holds an average of 81,384 inmates in its facilities on any one day. Aramark Holdings Corp., a Philadelphia-based company that contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, was acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs.

The three top for-profit prison corporations spent an estimated $45 million over a recent 10-year period for lobbying that is keeping the prison business flush. The resource center In the Public Interest documented in its report "Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and 'Low-Crime Taxes' Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations" that private prison companies often sign state contracts that guarantee prison occupancy rates of 90 percent. If states fail to meet the quota they have to pay the corporations for the empty beds.

CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and so-called 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the American Civil Liberties Union reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials plus undisclosed sums to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona's cruel anti-immigrant law SB 1070.

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all newly built prisons. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.

But corporate profit is not limited to building and administering prisons. Whole industries now rely almost exclusively on prison labor. Federal prisoners, who are among the highest paid in the U.S. system, making as much as $1.25 an hour, produce the military's helmets, uniforms, pants, shirts, ammunition belts, ID tags and tents. Prisoners work, often through subcontractors, for major corporations such as Chevron, Bank of America, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria's Secret, J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy's, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpillar, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin and Target. Prisoners in some states run dairy farms, staff call centers, take hotel reservations or work in slaughterhouses. And prisoners are used to carry out public services such as collecting highway trash in states such as Ohio.

States, with shrinking budgets, share in the corporate exploitation. They get kickbacks of as much as 40 percent from corporations that prey on prisoners. This kickback money is often supposed to go into "inmate welfare funds," but prisoners say they rarely see any purchases made by the funds to improve life inside prison.

The wages paid to prisoners for labor inside prisons have remained stagnant and in real terms have declined over the past three decades. In New Jersey a prisoner made $1.20 for eight hours of work - yes, eight hours of work - in 1980 and today makes $1.30 for a day's labor. Prisoners earn, on average, $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour.

However, items for sale in prison commissaries have risen in price over the past two decades by as much as 100 percent. And new rules in some prisons, including those in New Jersey, prohibit families to send packages to prisoners, forcing prisoners to rely exclusively on prison vendors. This is as much a psychological blow as a material one; it leaves families feeling powerless to help loved ones trapped in the system.

A bar of Dove soap in 1996 cost New Jersey prisoners 97 cents. Today it costs $1.95, an increase of 101 percent. A tube of Crest toothpaste cost $2.35 in 1996 and today costs $3.49, an increase of 48 percent. AA batteries have risen by 184 percent, and a stick of deodorant has risen by 95 percent. The only two items I found that remained the same in price from 1996 were frosted flake cereal and cups of noodles, but these items in prisons have been switched from recognizable brand names to generic products. The white Reebok shoes that most prisoners wear, shoes that lasts about six months, costs about $45 a pair. Those who cannot afford the Reebok brand must buy, for $20, shoddy shoes with soles that shred easily. In addition, prisoners are charged for visits to the infirmary and the dentist and for medications.

Keefe Supply Co., which runs commissaries for an estimated half a million prisoners in states including Florida and Maryland, is notorious for price gouging. It sells a single No. 10 white envelope for 15 cents - $15 per 100 envelopes. The typical retail cost outside prison for a box of 100 of these envelopes is $7. The company marks up a 3-ounce packet of noodle soup, one of the most popular commissary items, to 45 cents from 26 cents.

Global Tel Link, a private phone company, jacks up phone rates in New Jersey to 15 cents a minute, although some states, such as New York, have relieved the economic load on families by reducing the charge to 4 cents a minute. The Federal Communications Commission has determined that a fair rate for a 15-minute interstate call by a prisoner is $1.80 for debit and $2.10 for collect. The high phone rates imposed on prisoners, who do not have a choice of carriers and must call either collect or by using debit accounts that hold prepaid deposits made by them or their families, are especially damaging to the 2 million children with a parent behind bars. The phone is a lifeline for the children of the incarcerated.

Monopolistic telephone contracts give to the states kickbacks amounting, on average, to 42 percent of gross revenues from prisoner phone calls, according to Prison Legal News. The companies with exclusive prison phone contracts not only charge higher phone rates but add to the phone charges the cost of the kickbacks, called "commissions" by state agencies, according to research conducted in 2011 by John E. Dannenberg for Prison Legal News. Dannenberg found that the phone market in state prison systems generates an estimated $362 million annually in gross revenues for the states and costs prisoners' families, who put money into phone accounts, some $143 million a year.

When strong family ties are retained, there are lower rates of recidivism and fewer parole violations. But that is not what the corporate architects of prisons want: High recidivism, now at over 60 percent, keeps the cages full. This is one reason, I suspect, why prisons make visitations humiliating and difficult. It is not uncommon for prisoners to tell their families - especially those that include small children traumatized by the security screening, long waits, body searches, clanging metal doors and verbal abuse by guards - not to visit. Prisoners with life sentences frequently urge loved ones to sever all ties with them and consider them as dead.

The rise of what Marie Gottschalk, the author of calls "the carceral state" is ominous. It will not be reformed through elections or by appealing to political elites or the courts. Prisons are not, finally, about race, although poor people of color suffer the most. They are not even about being poor. They are prototypes for the future. They are emblematic of the disempowerment and exploitation that corporations seek to inflict on all workers. If corporate power continues to disembowel the country, if it is not impeded by mass protests and revolt, life outside prison will soon resemble life in prison.