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Friday, 2 January 2015

Near-Earth objects - Asteroid close approaches for January 2015

There are currently 5 known NEO Asteroids discovered that will pass within approximately 10LD or less, LD stands for "Lunar Distance", in the month of January; expect that 10 or more NEOs will be discovered before month end. Be ready for some bolide, fireball, and meteor activity!

Unfortunately we will be Moonblind for ground-based detection from 02DEC until about the 11JAN and from 28JAN-12FEB2015 so expect several asteroids that will go undetected.

There are four small mountan-sized asteroids that will safely pass this month.

2015 will be all about Iran, China and Russia

© YouTube

The Russia-China-Iran alliance is the future.

Fasten your seat belts; 2015 will be a whirlwind pitting China, Russia and Iran against what I have described as the Empire of Chaos.

So yes -- it will be all about further moves towards the integration of Eurasia as the US is progressively squeezed out of Eurasia. We will see a complex geostrategic interplay progressively undermining the hegemony of the US dollar as a reserve currency and, most of all, the petrodollar.

For all the immense challenges the Chinese face, all over Beijing it's easy to detect unmistakable signs of a self-assured, self-confident, fully emerged commercial superpower. President Xi Jinping and the current leadership will keep investing heavily in the urbanization drive and the fight against corruption, including at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Internationally, the Chinese will accelerate their overwhelming push for new "Silk Roads" -- both overland and maritime -- which will underpin the long-term Chinese master strategy of unifying Eurasia with trade and commerce.

Global oil prices are bound to remain low. All bets are off on whether a nuclear deal will be reached by this summer between Iran and the P5+1. If sanctions (actually economic war) against Iran remain and continue to seriously hurt its economy, Tehran's reaction will be firm, and will include even more integration with Asia, not the West.

Washington is well-aware that a comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be reached without Russia's help. That would be the Obama administration's sole -- and I repeat -- sole foreign policy success. A return to the "Bomb Iran" hysteria would only suit the proverbial usual (neo-con) suspects. Still, by no accident, both Iran and Russia are now subject to Western sanctions. No matter how it was engineered, the fact that stands is that the current financial/strategic oil price collapse is a direct attack against (who else?) Iran and Russia.

That derivative war

Now let's take a look at Russian fundamentals. Russia's government debt totals only 13.4% of its GDP. Its budget deficit in relation to GDP is only 0.5%. If we assume a US GDP of $16.8 trillion (the figure for 2013), the US budget deficit totals 4% of GDP, versus 0.5% for Russia. The Fed is essentially a private corporation owned by regional US private banks, although it passes itself off as a state institution. US publicly held debt is equal to a whopping 74% of GDP in fiscal year 2014. Russia's is only 13.4%.

The declaration of economic war by the US and EU on Russia -- via the run on the ruble and the oil derivative attack -- was essentially a derivatives racket. Derivatives -- in theory -- may be multiplied to infinity. Derivative operators attacked both the ruble and oil prices in order to destroy the Russian economy. The problem is, the Russian economy is more soundly financed than America's.

Considering that this swift move was conceived as a checkmate, Moscow's defensive strategy was not that bad. On the key energy front, the problem remains the West's -- not Russia's. If the EU does not buy what Gazprom has to offer, it will collapse.

Moscow's key mistake was to allow Russia's domestic industry to be financed by external, dollar-denominated debt. Talk about a monster debt trap which can be easily manipulated by the West. The first step for Moscow should be to closely supervise its banks. Russian companies should borrow domestically and move to sell their assets abroad. Moscow should also consider implementing a system of currency controls so the basic interest rate can be brought down quickly.

And don't forget that Russia can always deploy a moratorium on debt and interest, affecting over $600 billion. That would shake the entire world's banking system to the core. Talk about an undisguised "message" forcing the US/EU economic warfare to dissolve.

Russia does not need to import any raw materials. Russia can easily reverse-engineer virtually any imported technology if it needs to. Most of all, Russia can generate -- from the sale of raw materials -- enough credit in US dollars or euros. Russia's sale of its energy wealth -- or sophisticated military gear -- may decline. However, they will bring in the same amount of rubles -- as the ruble has also declined.

Replacing imports with domestic Russian manufacturing makes total sense. There will be an inevitable "adjustment" phase -- but that won't take long. German car manufacturers, for instance, can no longer sell their cars in Russia due to the ruble's decline. This means they will have to relocate their factories to Russia. If they don't, Asia -- from South Korea to China -- will blow them out of the market.

Bear and dragon on the prowl

The EU's declaration of economic war against Russia makes no sense whatsoever. Russia controls, directly or indirectly, most of the oil and natural gas between Russia and China: roughly 25% of the world's supply. The Middle East is bound to remain a mess. Africa is unstable. The EU is doing everything it can to cut itself off from its most stable supply of hydrocarbons, prompting Moscow to redirect energy to China and the rest of Asia. What a gift for Beijing -- as it minimizes the alarm about the US Navy playing with "containment" across the high seas.

Still, an unspoken axiom in Beijing is that the Chinese remain extremely worried about an Empire of Chaos losing more and more control, and dictating the stormy terms of the relationship between the EU and Russia. The bottom line is that Beijing would never allow itself to be in a position where the US could interfere with China's energy imports -- as was the case with Japan in July 1941 when the US declared war by imposing an oil embargo, cutting off 92% of Japanese oil imports.

Everyone knows a key plank of China's spectacular surge in industrial power was the requirement for manufacturers to produce in China. If Russia did the same, its economy would be growing at a rate of over 5% per year in no time. It could grow even more if bank credit was tied only to productive investment.

Now imagine Russia and China jointly investing in a new gold, oil and natural resource-backed monetary union as a crucial alternative to the failed debt "democracy" model pushed by the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street, the Western central bank cartel, and neoliberal politicians. They would be showing the Global South that financing prosperity and improved standards of living by saddling future generations with debt was never meant to work in the first place.

Until then, a storm will be threatening our very lives -- today and tomorrow. The Masters of the Universe/Washington combo won't give up their strategy to make Russia a pariah state cut off from trade, the transfer of funds, banking and Western credit markets and thus prone to regime change.

Further on down the road, if all goes according to plan, their target will be (who else?) China. And Beijing knows it. Meanwhile, expect a few bombshells to shake the EU to its foundations. Time may be running out -- but for the EU, not Russia. Still, the overall trend won't be altered; the Empire of Chaos is slowly but surely being squeezed out of Eurasia.

John Crawford's girlfriend mysteriously dies in car crash

Tasha Thomas
© MSNBC screenshot

Attorney Anthony Vannoy and Tasha Thomas during an MSNBC appearance reagrding John Crawford III’s shooting death

Tasha Thomas, 26, the girlfriend of John Crawford was just confirmed as the victim of a fatal car crash, along with 30-year-old Frederick Bailey.

Thomas was with Crawford at the Beavercreek Walmart near Thomas' home, when Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams shot and killed the African American father, even though he had not broken any law.

The New Year's Day crash comes as police response to protests and "die ins" at the Beavercreek Walmart and Fairfield Commons Mall have drawn national scrutiny.

Police say that Thomas' vehicle was traveling at nearly 100 miles per hour on a city street at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when it crashed into a pole and overturned several times.

There is no explanation for why Thomas and Bailey would have been driving at such uncanny speeds on downtown Dayton streets in the middle of the afternoon.

Watch the local video report from 22 News...

Do you think this was just a coincidence? Or could this be "pay back" for the heat police are getting for Tasha Thomas going public after the video circulated of Beavercreek police interrogating her when she had broken no law?

She was just shopping for ingredients to make "smores" at a cookout, early last August... That's when Beavercreek Police shot and killed Tasha Thomas' boyfriend, John Crawford III. Now a video of that disturbing and cruel police interrogation has just been released (scroll down for video).

The video of the interrogation goes well beyond the definition of "cruel and unusual" psychological abuse... and Tasha had not even given them reason to believe she had committed any crime at all!

Beavercreek Police Detective Rodney Curd brutally interrogated Tasha, accusing her and John of planning a massive heist of the Walmart Pharmacy to get thousands of dollars in drugs.

Watch the disturbing video of the heartless Beavercreek Police at work...

[embedded content]

Detective Curd asked a serious of disgusting questions in his attempt to frame John Crawford and Tasha.

The fact that John was on the phone with the mother of his children LeeCee Johnson, and his own mother, who was watching his children while he went to a cook out in the Dayton area, spurred a cold-hearted question by Detective Curd:

"Did he ever mention, 'Shoot that bitch,'" Curd asked in his frame-up attempt.

He also discussed several disturbing scenarios that neither Thomas nor Crawford had given any indication of through their actions. Curd had criminalized their completely legal behavior and repeatedly tormented Thomas for failing to implicate herself, or the boyfriend who trigger-happy Beavercreek Officer Sean William had just killed.

At the very conclusion of the interrogation, Curd blames John for his own death and in doing so informs Tasha for the first time - and in the most unimaginably heartless way - that her boyfriend is dead.

Now, right as things are heating up in Beavercreek, Tasha ends up dead... Make of that what you will.

Prince Andrew sex case claim: Duke of York is named in underage 'sex slave' lawsuit over claims of forced sexual relations

Prince Andrew

© Matthew Lloyd - WPA Pool/ Getty Images

Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrives at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 November 2014 in London

A woman has alleged that she was repeatedly forced to have sexual relations with Prince Andrew as part of a lawsuit that claims an American investment banker passed her around rich and powerful friends as a "sex slave" while she was still underage. A Buckingham Palace spokesman has said the claims are "categorically untrue".

The accusation was made in a lawsuit brought by women who say they were exploited by Jeffrey Epstein, an American multi-millionaire who was convicted of soliciting sex with an underage girl in 2008, reports the .

The woman filed the case anonymously, and is understood to have been 17 at the time, which is considered a minor under Florida law.

The prince is not a named party in the legal claim, and has not had any opportunity to respond to the allegations. He has previously denied any sexual contact with young women associated with Epstein or any knowledge of his behaviour.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the allegations to . The palace can't give comment about an ongoing legal process, a spokesperson said.

"This relates to long-standing and ongoing civil proceedings in the United States, to which The Duke of York is not a party," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said. "As such we would not comment on the detail.

"However, for the avoidance of doubt, any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue."

The case is directed towards federal prosecutors, and is part of an effort to expand an ongoing legal case, the reported. But it alleges that the woman "was forced to have sexual relations with this prince when she was a minor" in London, New York and on Epstein's private Caribbean island, the reported.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and defense lawyer, is also named in the lawsuit. He told the that the allegations made against him were "totally false and made up".

Jeffrey Epstein

© Getty Images

Jeffrey Epstein, multi-millionaire and ex-banker who was sentenced to 18 months in prison

Prince Andrew's friendship with Epstein, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for soliciting paid sex with a 14-year-old girl and is now a registered sex offender, has been a source of problems before. The Duke of York stood down from his role as the UK's special trade emissary in 2011, after his friendship with the banker provoked calls for him to step down.

The two men have known each other for years, often travelling together and staying at one another's properties.

Epstein was sued recently by crisis management firm Sitrick & Co, which accused him of failing to pay fees to deal with the scandal over his friendship with Prince Andrew. The company said that he owed £65,000, the reported.

The holiday spike in domestic abuse

For Peg Hacskaylo and her team at the District Alliance for Safe Housing in Washington, D.C., the holiday season is an especially hectic time. Working to prevent domestic violence is already a trying profession, she says, but the shelter will "typically always see an uptick in activity right around New Year's Day."

2014 shone a glaring spotlight on violence against women, including the incident with NFL player Ray Rice, the contentious Rolling Stone article profiling an alleged, then retracted, campus gang rape at the University of Virginia, and the "No More" PSAs playing during high-profile television events. In the days after the footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée emerged, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline jumped 84 percent, according to Katie Ray Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For the District Alliance for Safe Housing, "we're expecting the usual uptick around the New Year, and with an already increasing amount of activity this year, it could be doubly bad this New Year's Day," Hacksaylo said. However, a look at domestic violence research around New Year's Day can paint a very confusing picture. The 2014 report looking at incoming calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline from 2004-2013 shows the 570 calls received between Thanksgiving until New Years Day to be well below the average rate of 675 calls per day in 2013.

On the other hand, a 2005 study using Idaho as a sample state showed that police incident reports involving domestic violence were 2.7 times higher on New Year's Day than a normal daily average. And a 2010 study from the University of Pennsylvania looking at calls to law enforcement involving intimate partner violence in an unnamed major U.S. city found New Year's Day also had a significantly higher amount of calls than the daily average - with 56 calls on New Year's Day, compared to 34 for the average day.

So why is there such a discrepancy between what local law enforcement and resource centers report and what the numbers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline show?

A likely answer to the contradictory picture is that victims are simply exhausted after the holidays, and are just looking for a short-term solution, like calling the police or walking into the local shelter. The national hotline, on the other hand, is often used as a resource for victims who want to understand all their options in order to leave an abusive situation permanently, Hacskaylo said.

After the holidays, calls to the national hotline start increasing 5 percent over the first two weeks of the year. This creates a bit of a domino effect: Survivors will reach out to police and local shelters first, then seek help from national resources.

Some abusers have an outburst once the holidays are over. Survivors ask, "Is this really how I want to spend another year?"

"Survivors will often reach out to law enforcement or a local shelter to immediately resolve a violent situation that's happening, but it can take a bit of time before they're ready to reach out the national hotline," said Kenya Fairley, senior director of capacity building and education at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, an organization devoted to policy research on issues related to domestic violence.

It isn't uncommon to see women leave a shelter around the holidays to normalize things - especially if children are in the picture - to be close to family or a faith community, only to come right back once the festivities are over, Fairley said. Some abusers will also be able to keep violent behavior under wraps when loved ones are around for festivities, only to have an outburst once the holidays are over, prompting survivors to ask, "Is this really how I want to spend another year?"

There is also the issue of research funding - there just hasn't been enough money to do an exhaustive report on exactly how many people are reaching out, the different channels they may be using, where in the U.S. they are, and who exactly they're contacting. And frankly, domestic violence advocates are okay with this. "Any extra money we do have, let me use it on transitional housing, let me use it to put someone back on their feet. For people working in the shelters, domestic violence is pervasive all the time, I don't need a report to tell me that," said Kim Pentico, director of the economic justice project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Most domestic violence shelters are a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year operation. So while activity can slow down around Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is still double the workload for advocates working during the holidays. Every year, The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women - which publishes research and resources on domestic and sexual violence - teams up with the National Resource Center on Domestic violence to publish technical assistance guides filled with useful information, statistics, and tips for those working in shelters over the holidays.

"There is so much to keep in mind. How are you keeping kids engaged? Are you baking cookies? Are you helping to prepare meals? Are you decorating? If so, are you using religiously themed decorations? Are you overseeing the influx of volunteers around this time of year? Advocates are always juggling all these things around the holidays, and all the while, they'd like to be at home with their families too," Fairley said.

For those survivors just trying to have a pleasant holiday with their loved ones, it is often a test of "always putting on a happy face for your friends and family," said one survivor at District Alliance for Safe Housing, who asked to remain unnamed. "You are always just trying to protect the person who is hurting you." Another survivor emphasized the need to "not act up around my family."

Women are realizing more than ever they shouldn't have to put up with abuse and are in positions to leave bad situations.

If the increased media scrutiny around violence against women has helped survivors leave bad situations this year, the recovering economy has also had a hand in the steady increase in calls and walk-ins to shelters. "People were staying in bad relationships because they couldn't afford to not be in them," Pentico said. "A better economy is better for everyone. Yes, more women than ever are seeking shelter, but at least she's leaving that situation."

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has also recently added online chat and text capabilities. There's no hard data on how many people are using these resources and when they're using it yet, but the hope is the information will be ready in the coming year. "We don't want to post a few months worth of data from the text/online chat service, with varying hours of operation, along with years worth of data from phone calls to the Hotline which operates 24/7/365," Fairley said.

Even without hard numbers, Fairley says the text/online chat option has made reaching out easier. After all, calling a hotline requires having a verbal conversation, which can be dangerous for some victims. "They may find some privacy to text back and forth with an advocate to explore options for help," she said. In any case, advocates will have their hands full this New Year's.

This is a bit of a double-edged sword for advocates. While it is disheartening to see shelters fill up and hotlines ringing off the hook, women are realizing more than ever they shouldn't have to put up with abuse and are in positions to leave bad situations. "We've gotten to a point where things may plateau after a while, but we're never going to see the level of activity we saw, say, two years ago," Farley said.

Catastrophic wildfire conditions across South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria

© Channel 7

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley: “The fire scenario is actually the most severe that we have had for this summer season, and it’s only the start.’’

An out-of-control fire has been raging in Victoria's west, threatening the lives of Moyston, Rocky Point and Willaura North residents, while emergency warnings have also been issued for fires in the Adelaide Hills and South East.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley confirmed one house had burnt down in Moyston.

While crews have contained the bushfire and downgraded an emergency fire warning to a watch and act message, Mr Lapsley said crews would be fighting the blaze throughout the night.

He said wind forecast overnight meant the fire could pose challenges for crews.

Elsewhere, an uncontrolled bushfire at Humbug Scrub in South Australia's Mount Lofty Ranges is threatening lives. The serious bushfire is burning in scrub, the Country Fire Service says.

Residents of Moyston in Victoria's west were told earlier that it was too late to leave as firefighters battled an out-of-control blaze pushing towards their town, with nearby Maroona also threatened.

© Sky News

Deadly bushfires raging in Victoria.

Mr Lapsley said high overnight temperatures are expected to create even worse fire conditions on Saturday.

Mr Lapsley also warned the worst may not be over.

"Be attuned for the 48 hours, be attuned about what happens overnight and make sure you understand that it's not just going to be fires that run in the daylight hours," Mr Lapsley told reporters.

His warning came as a 17-year-old boy was charged with reckless conduct endangering life following a grass fire in Melbourne's north.

Firefighters were called to the blaze near Cassinia Crescent in Meadow Heights at around 8.40pm on Friday and took about 35 minutes to extinguish it. Police said a Meadow Heights boy was arrested at the scene.

Temperatures are tipped to stay as high as 28 degrees overnight, before hitting 39c in Melbourne and more than 40c in regional areas on Saturday.

Ambulance Victoria's Paul Holman said the overnight heat would mean ill and elderly people could struggle on Saturday.

"The body doesn't have enough time to recover," he said.

Mr Holman said people should check on their neighbours and make sure they stay hydrated and out of the heat if possible.

"Some of the interesting research out recently has shown that slushies, or ice drinks, are very effective in cooling. So that's probably a good tip for people - use slushies," he said.

Premier Daniel Andrews told parents not to leave children in cars, and to report anyone lighting fires.

© Sky News

Plumes of smoke in Victoria.

"Today is about making sure we do nothing to contribute to a fire," he said.

Victoria Police acting commissioner Tim Cartwright urged people to call 000 if they see anyone lighting a fire or welding or using an angle grinder.

The out of control bushfire has burned 4796ha in Moyston so far.

The Country Fire Authority still has 60 tankers and 11 aircraft battling the blaze.

© Sky News

Smoke billowing. The bushfires have continued to spread.

Residents of the nearby town of Maroona have also been told to leave as the fire is heading towards them.

A relief centre has been set up at the nearby town of Ararat and some roads into and out of Moyston have been closed.


Emergency warning: An emergency centre has been established in Ararat for the Moyston bushfire.

© Sky News

Home under threat, bushfires force locals to flee.

The warnings will be extended to the north central district on Saturday, including Mildura, Swan Hill and Horsham which can expect highs of 43C and winds up to 40km/h.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said potentially dangerous wind changes would hit the state on Saturday morning.

"Traditionally, we have seen more loss of life, loss of property after the wind change," Mr Lapsley said.

"The fire scenario is actually the most severe that we have had for this summer season, and it's only the start.''

Total fire bans have been declared in eight of the state's nine districts.

The warning comes as catastrophic fire conditions across South Australia and Western Australia have also put authorities on high alert.

A bushfire at Humbug Scrub in South Australia's Mount Lofty Ranges is burning out of control and threatening lives. The Sampson Flat scrub fire at Humbug Scrub, near Kersbrook Road, is travelling southeast towards the Kersbrook township, Bagshaw Road, South Para Road and Scott Street. There is a risk to lives and homes, the Country Fire Service says. Residents should only leave if there is a clear path to a safe place. Homes that are actively defended and well-prepared may provide safety, the CFS says. "The Sampson Flat fire is travelling in a south-easterly direction towards Airstrip Road and Kersbrook Road," the CFS wrote on its Facebook page.

The CFS also said a westerly wind change is expected to hit Tantanoola at any time, which could drive the fire towards Glencose. There are 10 trucks, 8 Forestry SA, 8 bulk water carriers, 3 firebombing aircraft and 3 observation aircraft on scene, ABC Emergency reports. The fire was initially travelling in an easterly direction towards Kersbrook and about 2ha had been burnt by 1.30pm.

The CFS in South Australia has also declared total fire bans in 14 of that state's 15 fire districts, with Mount Lofty Ranges and Lower South East districts considered catastrophic. Temperatures have soared to 43.1C with winds of up to 31km/h in Adelaide - more than 12C above the January average - and 45.8C with winds of up to 65km/h on the West Coast. The CFS issued a watch-and-act message about 12pm for an uncontrolled bushfire in the southern Mt Lofty Ranges. The service also issued warnings for fires at Murray Bridge East, near Karoonda Rd and Murray Drive, and another at Kepa Rd, Kepa, east of Murray Bridge. CFS assistant chief officer Rob Sandford urged all of the state to be prepared to ensure all "communities are safe". He said the service's aerial firefighting fleet was ready.

"We have our full compliment of aerial firefighting fleet online now (and) all our brigades, groups and regions along with partner agencies are as prepared as we can be," Mr Sandford said. Crews have also been called to grass fires on Tapleys Hill Rd, near Adelaide Airport, and the Sturt Hwy, at Nurioopta in the Barossa Valley. No warnings were issued in relation to the airport and Barossa Valley fires.

Sayonara! Azerbaijan gives Radio Free Europe the boot - raids office, closes bureau

rfe azerbaijan

Azerbaijani authorities detain RFE/RL's Baku bureau staff during an office raid, Dec. 26, 2014.

Azerbaijan police raided the Baku bureau of U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe early Friday, shutting down the office and ordering its journalists to stop working.

RFE chief editor Nenad Pejic called the raid "a flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold."

He told VOA that officials from the state prosecutor's office took documents and questioned staff members from Radio Azadliq into Friday evening.

The broadcaster has received no details on why it was targeted. "No allegations," Pejic said. "What we do know is they say they (are investigating) our operations. That's it."

"We assume (staff) are going to be asked questions about our operations, maybe about salaries, maybe who works, who doesn't work - this kind of stuff," he added. "Frankly, this is, from my point of view, not important at all, because officials are going to say what they want to say."

​Pejic said the action was unsurprising for a government that has demonstrated increasing hostility toward the media, with at least 200 journalists arrested annually for the past three years.

Jeff Shell, chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which funds RFE/RL, called on the Azeri government to allow the bureau to immediately reopen.

"This unwarranted action is an escalation of the Azeri government's abusive attempt to intimidate independent journalists and repress free media," Shell said.

A U.S. State Department senior official said the U.S. is "deeply disturbed" by reports that employees of the RFE/RL bureau in Baku have been detained in their offices and questioned while the premises were searched by police.

The State Department official called on "responsible authorities" to respect Azerbaijan's "international commitment to protecting media freedom," saying a free and independent press is "critical to the well-being of the nation."

Earlier this month, an Azeri court ordered RFE journalist Khadija Ismayilova held in pre-trial detention for two months over allegations she attempted to pressure a man to commit suicide. A petition for her release was denied Friday as the raid was happening.

Shell also requested Ismayilova's release.

Pejic said the staff in Baku was continuing to work from private apartments. He expected only a minor impact on programming, with journalists in Prague updating online and TV operations.

In a 60-page statement in early December, Azeri Chief of Staff Ramiz Mehdiyev singled out the RFE bureau and likened its work to "treason."

"Overall, there is an understanding within the society that Radio Azadliq and its employees are on a disgusting path," Mehdiyev said. "There is no need to prove that provision of false information is the same as working for the foreign secret service. This is treason.

"If the symbol of democracy is Khadija Ismayilova, then it is awful to imagine what future awaits the society."

Arzu Geybullayeva, an academic fellow with RFE/RL who works with the Azerbaijan staff from Prague and monitors press freedom issues in her native country, said the raid was expected, though staff had no warning of when it would come.

Azerbaijan, she said, has been in a "downward spiral" with regard to media. Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 160th out of 180 in its press freedom index this year, four points below its 2013 score.

"Once the chief of staff went on against the radio, accusing it of treason and of spreading lies, it was clear that something was going to happen," Geybullayeva said. "And Khadija's arrest was, I guess, the beginning of what was to come."

U.S. officials have called for Ismayilova's release, saying the case was the latest attempt by the Azeri government to silence its critics and restrict press freedom.

Pejic said the charges against Ismayilova were part of "a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan."

Ismayilova has reported extensively about the business dealings involving relatives of Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev.

Geybullayeva said the RFE bureau's closure marked the end of one of the remaining sources of independent local reporting for Azerbaijan. She said she doubted the bureau, like other news services that government officials cut off before it, would reopen its doors.

"This is the last blow to the independent opinions in Azerbaijan, given the direction Azerbaijan is headed," Geybullayeva said. "I'm afraid to say that I don't think there's anyone left."

RFE/RL is funded through grants from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which also oversees VOA. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service was established in 1953.

SOTT EXCLUSIVE: Meet Alexei Navalny: The U.S. State Department's inside man for 'regime change' in Russia

© RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

Alexei Navalny, "anti-corruption" campaigner or U.S.-sponsored controlled opposition?

In recent months it's come to light that the U.S. government and allied Western powers have arrayed all of their economic, social, political, martial, and propagandizing forces against Russia and the leadership of its president, Vladimir Putin. Some of the policies, strategies and approaches towards destabilizing Russia are out in the open. Some less so. But this is where it gets even more interesting. For while it was fairly easy to spot some of the aggression aimed at Russia from without, seeing it occur even more covertly from within is another story. Which brings us to some recent news.

The western media is now carrying the story of a protest on the streets of Manezh Square in Moscow which occurred on Tuesday, December 30th. At the center of the rally was Alexei Navalny, self-proclaimed "anti-corruption" blogger and head of the largest opposition movement of the leadership of Vladimir Putin and his administration in Russia. Navalny was just convicted of defrauding a cosmetics company of about $440,000 and given a suspended sentence of 3 1/2 years. Relating to the same case, his brother, Oleg, will be sent to prison for the same period of time. In 2013, Alexei Navalny was also tried and convicted for embezzling over $500,000 from the state-owned timber company Kirovles, where Navalny worked as a volunteer in 2009.

© AP

Navalny breaks house arrest to join his supporters in Manezhnaya Square, Moscow.

Even though Navalny, a lawyer and activist, was under house arrest for the prior case, he arrived at the rally to decry his brother's sentence and to speak out against the Putin government who, Navalny asserts, had political motivations for trying the brothers. As could be expected there were Pro-government protestors on the scene countering the anti-government protestors who could be heard echoing Navalny's sentiments given in prior public speeches and blog posts, "We are the power!," and "Russia without Putin!". Addressing the notion that the Navalny cases were politically motivated, President Putin's past comments have been interesting: "There should be no illusions like when someone is calling for everyone to catch a thief, giving this person a license to steal. But this also does not mean that someone whose views differ from those of the authorities must be put on trial and dragged to prison." Putin minces no words here, but there is more to the story that Putin, perhaps strategically, has chosen to leave out from his public comments on the cases involving Navalny.

Beneath the surface controversy of Alexei Navalny's relative guilt and improprieties, and the likelihood of him being a 'pot calling the kettle black' - and that there may be a political game of cat and mouse going on, there are some deeper questions about who Navalny is, what he's actually doing, and who's backing him. After all, he's head of the largest opposition movement in Russia at what is a most critical time in the country's history. And nothing in politics ever happens by accident, after all.

Navalny the "activist"

From here we get a little bit about Alexei Navalny's background and some of the things he's done to make him well known as 'Putin's biggest political foe' in Russia:

Aleksey Navalny is a 37-year-old Russian lawyer and a political activist who has gained tremendous media popularity, especially in Western media, since 2009. He is known for publicly criticizing the administration of Vladimir Putin and the level of corruption in the country. He was also instrumental in organizing numerous sanctioned and unsanctioned protests in the Russian capital, leading to his and his supporters' repeated arrests.

In his earlier political career as an acting Deputy Chief of the Moscow branch of the social-liberal Yabloko party, Navalny made headlines by supporting the ultra-nationalist 2006 Russian March, which Yabloko condemned as a program of "fascist, Nazi, xenophobic manifestations" - a sentiment shared by many other media outlets and NGOs.

This led to his exclusion from Yabloko the following year. The unofficial reason for his discharge, however, was his alleged attempt to overthrow the party leadership.

In 2007, Navalny became one of the founders of the Nation nationalist movement. In 2008, Nation was incorporated into a vaguely structured coalition of far-right groups known collectively as the Russian National Movement. It ceased to exist in 2011.

Besides being well-known for his populist but nationalistic political outlook, Navalny is also famous for his political blog which was used to organize mass demonstrations in Moscow during the parliamentary elections in December 2011 and presidential elections in March 2012.

But he really rose to fame in 2010 with the launch of the Rospil project, which quickly became notorious for disclosing alleged corruption by government officials. Navalny used online channels to publish confidential information about oil pipeline giant Transneft's auditing, exposing what appeared to be a multi-million dollar theft during the construction of an Eastern Siberia - Pacific Ocean oil pipeline. Further whistleblowing activity followed, earning him popularity in social media and the press.

© Reuters / Mikhail Voskresenskiy

Russian Nationalist neo-nazis. Yeah, they've got them in Russia too, but perhaps not such easy cannon fodder as the the ones in Ukraine.

Xenophobic with Nazi leanings, a strong political will to power, critic of the pro-Putin government, a degree in law - this passage could have well and ironically been describing Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy "Russians are subhuman" Yatsenyuk. Navalny and Yatsenyuk also want their respective countries to be more aligned with the EU and the West in general, and resent anything that alludes to the "influence" that the current Putin governance has on Russia or Ukraine. Unlike Yatsenyuk however, Navalny has had little to no success marshaling support from the fascist Russian 'Nationalists' whom he has rallied with every year since 2006 in an event called the 'Russia March' in Moscow. In 2011, before his house arrest, Navalny became a co-organizer. This, as one might imagine, has come much to the bafflement of his main base of 'liberal' supporters who have nothing whatsoever to do with the Nationalists, either politically or ideologically. Maybe he was finding the 'liberals' a little too peace-loving and decided he needed to run with an angrier crowd; one more willing, he might have thought, to throw molotov cocktails at the designated enemy and, well, start a revolution.

Navalny and the wily West

As indicated, Navalny is incredibly popular in Western media circles. From an article written in 2012 by William Engdahl we learn:

It's also instructive to look at the leading opposition figures who seem to have stepped forward in Russia in recent days. The current opposition "poster boy" favorite of Russian youth and especially western media is Russian blogger Alexei Navalny whose blog is titled LiveJournal. Navalny has featured prominently as a quasi-martyr of the protest movement after spending 15 days in Putin's jail for partaking in a banned protest. At a large protest rally on Christmas Day December 25 in Moscow, Navalny, perhaps intoxicated by seeing too many romantic Sergei Eisenstein films of the 1917 Russian Revolution, told the crowd, "I see enough people here to take the Kremlin and the White House (Russia's Presidential home-w.e.) right now..."[13]

Western establishment media is infatuated with Navalny. England's BBC described Navalny as "arguably the only major opposition figure to emerge in Russia in the past five years," and US Time magazine called him "Russia's Erin Brockovich," a curious reference to the Hollywood film starring Julie Roberts as a researcher and legal activist. However, more relevant is the fact that Navalny went to the elite American East Coast Yale University, also home to the Bush family, where he was a "Yale World Fellow." [14]

The charismatic Navalny however is also or has been on the payroll of Washington's regime-destabilizing National Endowment for Democracy (NED). According to a posting on Navalny's own blog, LiveJournal, he was supported in 2007-2008 by the NED. [15] [16]

In his article entitled Exploring the possibility of a 'Russian Maidan,' Tony Cartalucci expands on Navalny's U.S. connections and backing:

The political front that will take to Russia's streets has already long been identified. It includes the same brand of extreme "nationalists" and ultra-right groups seen overrunning Ukraine's political order. This includes literal Neo-Nazis. One of the prevailing figures among Russia's ultra-right is US-backed Alexey Navalny - billed by the West as an "anti-corruption activist," who is in all reality a neo-fascist operating openly in the service of Wall Street.

Alexey Navalny was a Yale World Fellow, and in his profile it states:

Navalny spearheads legal challenges on behalf of minority shareholders in large Russian companies, including Gazprom, Bank VTB, Sberbank, Rosneft, Transneft, and Surgutneftegaz, through the Union of Minority Shareholders. He has successfully forced companies to disclose more information to their shareholders and has sued individual managers at several major corporations for allegedly corrupt practices. Navalny is also co-founder of the Democratic Alternative movement and was vice-chairman of the Moscow branch of the political party YABLOKO. In 2010, he launched RosPil, a public project funded by unprecedented fundraising in Russia. In 2011, Navalny started RosYama, which combats fraud in the road construction sector.

The Democratic Alternative, also written DA!, is a US State Department National Endowment for Democracy (NED) fund recipient, implicating Alexey Navalny as an agent of US-funded sedition. The US State Department itself reveals this as they list DA! among many of the "youth movements" they support operating in Russia:

DA!: Mariya Gaydar, daughter of former Prime Minister Yegor Gaydar, leads DA! (Democratic Alternative). She is ardent in her promotion of democracy, but realistic about the obstacles she faces. Gaydar said that DA! is focused on non-partisan activities designed to raise political awareness. She has received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, a fact she does not publicize for fear of appearing compromised by an American connection.

That this funding is nowhere on NED's official website indicates that full disclosures are not being made and that NED is engaged in clandestine funding.

Navalny was involved directly in founding a movement funded by the US government and to this day has the very people who funded DA! defending him throughout Western media. The mention of co-founder Mariya Gaydar is also revealing, as she has long collaborated, and occasionally has been arrested with, Ilya Yashin, yet another leader of a NED-funded Russian "activist" opposition group.

Given these connections, and one more thing he seems to have in common with Yatsenyuk (a political alliance with the U.S.), it is not surprising then that the U.S. State Department felt that it must weigh in on Navalny's court case:

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. government was troubled by the verdict, which "appears to be another example of the Russian government's growing crackdown on independent voices."

If one wasn't aware of Navalny's U.S.-backing, one might reasonably ask what business is it of theirs anyway? Ahh, but fomenting dissent and starting or appropriating 'color revolutions' is what they are in the business of doing - to meet the goals of world hegemony. For another instructive case of how the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) works, read about their long reach and hand in the protests of Hong Kong last year - and note that China - Russia's most important economic and political ally - is the U.S.'s other big target for destabilization from within.

Wherever there is the U.S. helping their version of Democracy to flourish, we find the CIA giving a helping hand. At least historically.

Navalny's neutralization is not a total loss for the State Department, however. Even though the would-be revolutionary could probably never drum up the support necessary to overthrow the hugely popular and well supported government of Vladimir Putin, Maidan-style, the U.S. now has the opportunity to publicly exclaim how 'undemocratic' the Russian system of governance is, and have multiple media outlets repeat the charge. Navalny is their tool, just as all of Navalny's supporters are his tools. This begs the question though: how does a guy like Navalny manage to get as many Russian people on his side as he does? After all, there were numbers of people who showed up to protest his court case, and a number of Russians reading his blog and paying attention to his speeches (except for the Nationalists it seems).

The schizoid inside

From what's known about Navalny's criminal propensities, strong ambitions to rule, revolutionary rhetoric, and alignment with fascists - coupled with factors that still make Russia a less than perfect place to live with all that the Russian people are still recovering from since the Yeltsin years; we can recall what Dr. Andrew M. Lobaczewski's had to say in his indispensable book Political Ponerology about the schizoidal psychopath, and the environment in which they operate.

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 they revert to "bad" times.

When a few generations' worth of "good-time" insouciance results in societal deficit regarding psychological skill and moral criticism, this paves the way for pathological plotters, snake-charmers, and even more primitive impostors to act and merge into the processes of the origination of evil. They are essential factors in its synthesis.

During stable times which are ostensibly happy, albeit marked by injury to individuals and nations, doctrinaire people believe they have found a simple solution to fix such a world. Such a historical period is always characterized by an impoverished psychological world-view, a schizoidally impoverished psychological world-view thus does not stand out during such times and is accepted as legal tender. These doctrinaire individuals characteristically manifest a certain contempt with regard to moralists then preaching the need to rediscover lost human values and to develop a richer, more appropriate psychological world-view.

Schizoid characters aim to impose their own conceptual world upon other people or social groups, using relatively controlled pathological egotism and the exceptional tenacity derived from their persistent nature. They are thus eventually able to overpower another individual's personality, which causes the latter's behavior to turn desperately illogical. They may also exert a similar influence upon the group of people they have joined. They are psychological loners who feel better in some human organization, wherein they become zealots for some ideology, religious bigots, materialists, or adherents of an ideology with satanic features. If their activities consist of direct contact on a small social scale, their acquaintances easily perceive them to be eccentric, which limits their ponerogenic role. However, if they manage to hide their own personality behind the written word, their influence may poison the minds of society in a wide scale and for a long time.

Birds of a feather

In light of the above, we can note that it's not only psychologically impoverished Russians, the U.S. government, and the Western media that are coming out to speak in favor of Navalny. Convicted criminal and former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was released from prison by presidential pardon earlier this year, also had to add in his two cents:

I am convinced that the authorities are preparing their next nasty trick and are already busy putting together the propaganda stories about how a fifth column is defending the Navalny brothers' criminal group on the orders of the State Department. Deprive them of this pleasure. Bring Russian flags, paint the tricolor on your faces. Because tomorrow it will be you who will be fighting for the future of Russia, a wonderful country in which there live people prepared to fight for justice despite the risk.

So in other words, ignore those nasty rumors of the U.S. propping up Navalny and give yourself over to their version of patriotism. Never mind that Khodorkovsky himself raped Russia of its energy, resources, and stability when he was making hay as one of the richest men in the country. Some sense of patriotism there. And never mind that this ruthless oligarch would have stood to benefit by making many billions more if Putin et al. hadn't caught on to his criminally enforced monopolies and collusion with the West. Also never mind that Khodorkovsky became a "political voice for justice" only after he went to prison; Khodorkovsky's latest statement implores Russians to ignore the 'man behind the curtain' in the hopes of convincing those who are ignorant of how the game is rigged - to stay ignorant with a misplaced sense of justice and patriotism.

It stands to reason then that, in addition to all else, if an individual the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is endorsing Alexei Navalny, there must be something very, very off about Navalny, and who he really is.

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Thirteen endangered animals we may have to say goodbye to in 2015

We have only ourselves to blame.

British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough once asked: "Are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?"

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, who managed to survive only 14 years in captivity after her species became extinct in the wild. More recently, Angalifu, a 44-year-old northern white rhinoceros, died at the San Diego Zoo, leaving just five other white rhinos worldwide, all in captivity. Chances are our grandchildren will never get to see this remarkable creature.

In fact, the world is losing dozens of species every day in what experts are calling the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history. As many as 30 to 50 percent of all species are moving toward extinction by mid-century - and the blame sits squarely on our shoulders.

"Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened," said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. "The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors."

About 190 nations met last month at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru to discuss action needed to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions. It ended with a watered-down agreement that seems unlikely to help much in the battle against global warming.

Corruption and illegal online trafficking also threaten conservation efforts. The illegal wildlife trade is an estimated $10-billion-a-year industry . It's the fifth largest contraband trade after narcotics, fueled by the rising demand for animals as pets, trophies, and ingredients in medicine, food and other products.

There's no doubt that we're facing an uphill battle against mankind's unsustainable greed and consumption, but it's a battle we can't afford to lose.

"The thought of having to explain to my children that there were once tigers - real, wild tigers, out there, in the great forests of the world - but that we let them die out, because we were busy - well, it was bad enough explaining about the Tooth Fairy, and that wasn't even my fault," said English comedian Simon Evans.

Here are a few of the planet's most endangered animals who we may have to say good-bye to in 2015:

1) Amur leopard

© Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Poached for its beautiful, spotted fur, the Amur Leopard is possibly the rarest and most endangered big cat in the world. Found along the border areas between the Russian Far East and northeast China, this species also faces habitat destruction and a loss of prey animals - i.e., food - due to poaching. Today, around 30 individual Amur leopards remain in the wild.

2) Sumatran elephant

© Wikimedia Commons

The smallest of the Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant's numbers have declined by an astonishing 80 percent in less than 25 years due to deforestation, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict in Sumatra. Around 2,400 to 2,800 individuals survive today.

Male Asian elephants have relatively small tusks, but poachers still kill to sell them in the illegal ivory market, thus skewing the sex ratio among wild elephants and making future breeding and species survival difficult.

3) Javan rhinoceros

© Rainforest Alliance.org

As the most threatened of the five rhino species, Javan rhinos were killed by trophy hunters during colonial times. Since then, poachers have continued to target them for their highly prized horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicines. With just 35 individuals left in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia - you can see them in the above video, shot in 2012 - this species is extremely vulnerable to extinction due to natural disasters, poaching, diseases and low genetic diversity.

4) Leatherback turtle

© Cameron Spencer/AFP/Getty Images

The largest sea turtle species and one of the most migratory, the Leatherback turtle population has severely declined in recent years due to overharvesting, fisheries bycatch, plastic ingestion, egg poaching, habitat loss and expansion of coastal development that continues to disturb and destroy turtle nesting beaches.

5) Western lowland gorilla

© Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

Although hunting and killing of the species is illegal, western lowland gorillas continue to be killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, while baby gorillas are captured and kept as pets. The deadly Ebola virus has also devastated the wild ape population. In Gabon's Minkébé Forest alone, the virus killed more than 90 percent of the region's gorilla and chimpanzee populations.

6) Saola

© World Wildlife Fund

Known as the Asian unicorn, the saola is rarely seen in the wild, and none live in captivity. (The photograph above represented the first time in 14 years that a saola had been photographed in the wild.) The current population is estimated to be between a few dozen and a few hundred. Saola are hunted to supply growing demands for traditional medicine in China and food markets in Vietnam and Laos.

Habitat loss and reduced genetic diversity also threaten this species' already dwindling population.

7) Vaquita

© Wikimedia Commons

As the world's most rare marine animal, the vaquita is on the brink of extinction with fewer than 100 individuals left in the world.

Found in the upper Gulf of California, one out of every five vaquita gets entangled and drowned in gillnets that are intended to catch another critically endangered species, the totoaba, whose swim bladders are illegally sold for about $4,000 a pound.

As long as this illegal international trade thrives, the vaquita population will continue to decline.

8) Siberian tiger

© Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images

Also known as Amur tigers, Siberian tigers are the world's largest cats, hunted for their use in traditional Chinese medicine on the black market or even as trophies.

Hunting, mining, fires, poor law enforcement, forest destruction and illegal logging also continue to threaten this species, leaving an estimated 400 to 500 individuals in the wild.

9) Mountain gorilla

© Brent Stirton/AFP/Getty Images

Mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga Mountains that border Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Poaching, destruction of habitat, disease, and charcoal production that destroys gorilla habitat has left around 880 individuals struggling to survive.

10) Greater bamboo lemur

© Earthtimes.org

Found in southeastern Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is the most endangered lemur species in Madagascar with as few as 60 believed to still exist in the wild and no more than 150 in captivity.

Climate change, illegal logging, lemur hunting and severe depletion of bamboo mean this species might not survive much longer.

11) Sumatran orangutan

© Sutanta Aditya/AFP/Getty Images

Orangutan habitats in Sumatra are depleting at an astonishing rate due to forest fires, development of oil palm plantations, illegal logging and other agricultural development, posing a serious risk to this species.

Hunted for food and even captured alive to be kept as status symbols, this species is facing a downhill spiral due to inadequate law enforcement and an increase in illegal trafficking. About 7,300 individuals are left in the wild.

12) Black rhino

© Horst Ossinger/Getty Images

During colonial times, black rhinos were killed daily for their prized horns, food or just for sport. One of the oldest groups of mammals, this species is considered an important source of tourism in many African countries.

Sadly, even the most fervent conservation efforts are being hampered by habitat change and increases in poaching due to severe poverty and rising black market demand for rhino horns, particularly in Asia. Just 4,848 individuals are left in the world.

13) Yangtze finless porpoise

© Wikimedia Commons

Known as the "giant panda of the water," these clever creatures are one of the most famous species found in China's Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia.

Due to overfishing, decrease in food supply, pollution and changing conditions caused by dams, only 1,000 to 1,800 individuals remain. The finless porpoise's close cousin, the Baiji dolphin, has already been declared functionally extinct due to human activity.

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Plane blown off runway in Scotland

High winds caused a plane to veer off the runway as it attempted to take off at Stornoway Airport on the Isle of Lewis this morning

Four passengers were injured today after a plane was blown off the runway amid 80mph winds, as Britain braces itself for days of grey skies and heavy downpours.

The twin-propeller Saab 340 was attempting to take off from Stornoway Airport on the Isle of Lewis just before 8.30am when strong gusts caused it to veer off the tarmac and nose-dive into the grass, sparking a major investigation.

It came as a deep Atlantic depression whipped Machrihanish, Argyll, with 77mph winds, while gales of 71mph were detected in Edinburgh.

The Loganair flight, which was carrying 28 people, had been due to fly to Glasgow at 8.35am but remained grounded as two people were taken to Western Isles Hospital with minor injuries.

Police said two men were taken to hospital, while two women sustained minor injuries, but declined medical assistance.

An investigation has now been launched into the incident and a spokesman said normal operations should resume once the plane has been removed from the runway.

Plane bursts tyre upon landing at Rio de Janeiro airport

The Boeing 767-300 had just landed safely in Rio de Janeiro when the right landing gear tyres burst

An American Airlines plane suffered at least one blown tyre when it landed at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil airport this week.

The Boeing 767-300 had just touched down at Rio de Janeiro/Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport when the incident happened.

The aircraft continued to taxi towards the gate despite smoke billowing from beneath the plane.

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Nanosilver in your food? EPA sued for failing to regulate tiny pesticides

© civileats.com

If you haven't heard of nanosilver, you're definitely not alone. But that doesn't mean these tiny silver particles intended to kill bacteria aren't ending up in your food. There are now over 400 consumer products [PDF] on the market made with nanosilver. These include many intended for use with food, among them cutting boards, cutlery, pans, storage containers, espresso machines, water filters, baby bottles, and refrigerators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers nanosilver a pesticide and requires products that contain - or are treated with this germ-killer - to be registered with and approved for use by the agency. But most of the nanosilver products now on the market have not been reviewed, let alone approved by the EPA.

Just a few weeks ago, in an attempt to close this loophole, the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and other nonprofits filed suit against the EPA for failing to respond to their 2008 petition [PDF], asking the agency to regulate all products containing nanosilver as pesticides.

Why all the fuss?

As the name implies, nanosilver is silver used at the nanoscale, in the realm of billionths of a meter. To put this in perspective, one strand of human hair is about 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. What makes nanomaterials so interesting to scientists designing new materials is that at this infinitesimal scale, materials can behave entirely differently than they do at either the macro or micro scales.

At the nanoscale, materials can take on chemical, physical, and biological properties that they might not otherwise have. And there are still many of unknowns, even in the scientific community, about how nanomaterials behave.

It is known that nanosilver can kill bacteria and microbes, so manufacturers are including it as a sort of antiseptic safeguard in food contact products that might harbor bacteria (i.e., that pesky cutting board on your kitchen counter.) But exactly how nanosilver behaves once released into the environment or absorbed into the human body, is not yet well understood. A number of studies show that consumer products, including textiles and plastics, can shed nanosilver particles. In fact, these particles have been detected in wastewater and sewage sludge.

Recent studies also show that nanosilver has the potential to harm and stress cells in ways that include causing damage to DNA.

Among the concerns raised by the growing use of nanosilver as antimicrobial agents in consumer products, explains Center for Food Safety's Senior Policy Analyst Jaydee Hanson, is that it, like other antibacterial ingredients, "may lead to bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics."

Despite the many gaps in understanding the environmental and human health impacts of nanomaterials, the EPA has already granted what's called "conditional approval" to some nanosilver products, saying the silver released will not cause unreasonable adverse effects.

This brings us back to EPA oversight and approval. So far, the EPA has only reviewed the few nanosilver products that manufacturers have submitted to the agency for registration as pesticides. Under the law, manufacturers must have EPA approval to make claims about a product's germ-killing ability. The agency has enforced this law, taking a number of nanosilver products off the market, as it did earlier this year with some sold widely by retailers that included Amazon, Pathway, Sears, and Walmart.

According to the recent lawsuit, however, other manufacturers have simply changed their product labels to remove germ-killing claims, in an effort to avoid EPA enforcement or product scrutiny. These products, however, may still contain nanomaterials.

In short, the plaintiffs contend that EPA is not regulating nanosilver products comprehensively as required under the U.S. law governing pesticides.

Asked about any EPA approval of nanosilver for use in food-contact products, an EPA spokesperson responded by email explaining that the agency "has approved nanosilver for use as a non-food-contact preservative to protect plastics and textiles ... from odor and stain causing bacteria, fungi, mold, and mildew." But they did not respond about food contact products directly.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates chemicals used in food contact products, responded by saying it has "not approved the use of silver nanomaterial for use as a food ingredient added to food or as a food contact substance." So while EPA has approved some nanosilver products for use in plastics, its approval does not cover food-contact products of the type that are now being sold - without FDA approval.

To make matters more confusing, in a "guidance document" issued last June, the FDA said it had "not established regulatory definitions of "nanotechnology," "nanomaterial," "nanoscale," or other related terms." The same document also says safety evaluations of such products should consider their "unique" characteristics.

The bottom line appears to be that both EPA and FDA - the agencies responsible for regulating chemicals used in consumer products - acknowledge significant gaps in understanding the behavior and toxicity of nanomaterials, including nanosilver. Yet such products - including those for use with food - are growing in number and availability while research shows that nanosilver can indeed escape from these items.

So what happens next? "The EPA hopefully will say they want to settle," and develop a legally binding "timeline to respond to the petition," says CFS' Hanson. In the meantime, nanosilver may be finding its way from these materials into the food we eat. If you're concerned about their potential environmental and health effects, you might want to stay away from kitchen items that claim to kill germs and follow good food safety practices instead.

Paris to Washington Air France flight makes emergency landing in Montreal

Flight AF054 was west of Montreal when the flight crew declared an emergency and diverted

An Air France flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Montreal after one of its business class seats overheated and set off an alarm.

The Boeing 777-300 was flying from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to Washington Dulles International Airport when 'strong heat' was detected within the components of an empty seat, said Air France spokesman Cedric Landais.

He said the flight crew decided to divert to Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport as a precaution.

Flight AF054 was carrying 269 passengers and 17 crew when it landed safely shortly before 4pm local time on Thursday.

Mr Landais told MailOnline Travel that the seat's electrical system was deactivated and inspected.

The plane departed Montreal for Washington about two hours later once officials determined that the faulty seat posed no danger to the safe operation of the aircraft.

Despite the emergency passengers remained on the plane after it was met on the tarmac by emergency services.

A passenger seated near the front of the economy cabin tweeted a photo of firefighters inspecting the seat in the empty business class.

The passenger said there was no trace of smoke on board.

Firefighters inspected the seat after the plane made an emergency landing at an airport in Montreal

Propaganda! US continues to spread myth that North Korea hired hackers from Russia to take down 'The Interview'

Interview poster

© AFP Photo / Christopher Polk

U.S. investigators believe that North Korea likely hired hackers from outside the country to help with last month's massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures, an official close to the investigation said on Monday.

As North Korea lacks the capability to conduct some elements of the sophisticated campaign by itself, the official said, U.S. investigators are looking at the possibility that Pyongyang "contracted out" some of the cyber work. The official was not authorized to speak on the record about the investigation.

The attack on Sony Pictures is regarded to be the most destructive against a company on U.S. soil because the hackers not only stole huge quantities of data, but also wiped hard drives and brought down much of the studio's network for more than a week.

While U.S. officials investigate whether North Korea enlisted help from outside contractors, the FBI stood by its previous statement that Pyongyang was the prime author of the attack against the Sony Corp unit.

"The FBI has concluded the Government of North Korea is responsible for the theft and destruction of data on the network of Sony Pictures Entertainment," the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement to Reuters.

North Korea has denied that it was behind the Sony attack and has vowed to hit back against any U.S. retaliation.

The people who claimed responsibility for the hack have said on Internet postings that they were incensed by the Sony Pictures film , a comedy about a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Because of the hackers' threats, major U.S. cinema chains refused to show the film. Last week, Sony struck deals with some 320 independent theaters to distribute and also made the film available online.

Blaming North Korea

Some private security experts have begun to question whether Pyongyang was behind the Sony cyberattack at all.

For instance, consulting firm Taia Global said the results of a linguistic analysis of communications from the suspected hackers suggest they were more likely from Russia than North Korea. Cybersecurity firm Norse said it suspects a Sony insider might have helped launch the attack.

"I think the government acted prematurely in announcing unequivocally that it was North Korea before the investigation was complete," said Mark Rasch, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor. "There are many theories about who did it and how they did it. The government has to be pursuing all of them."

The FBI said its determination that North Korea was behind the hack was based on information from a variety of sources, including intelligence sources, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, foreign partners and the private sector.

"There is no credible information to indicate that any other individual is responsible for this cyber incident," the agency said.

Kevin Mandia, whose security firm was hired by Sony to investigate the attack, said the only way to know who the culprits are is to trace the network traffic from the infected machines back to the hackers' machines. Only the government and Internet service providers have that kind of visibility, he added.

"I don't have the data that they have to come up with that conclusion," Mandia, chief operating officer of FireEye Inc, said in a video interview with Reuters.

"Every attack loops through numerous machines," he said. "You have to peel that onion all the way back. It isn't an easy thing to do."

Mandia, who has supervised investigations into some of the world's biggest cyberattacks, said the Sony case was unprecedented.

"Nobody expected when somebody breaks in to absolutely destroy all your data, or try to anyway, and that's just something that no one else has seen," he said.

5.1M earthquake hits off coast of Northern California

© Dutchsinse

January 1, 2015: 5.1M earthquake off the shores of California, and new swarm develops at the border of Nevada and Oregon.

2 days ago, on December 30 2014, I made a post on a earthquake which occurred just South of Los Angeles California - happening near a few offshore drilling platforms.

In the website post from December 30th, I made note of the event, an said we need to watch the area for larger movement (based upon the activity showing near LA / oil platforms).

Quote my forecast from 2 days prior:

"Overall, we can expect the movement to continue in the region, especially due to the movement occurring along the edge of the Craton, as well as the excessive movement happening around the Pacific plate.

Indeed it is not just the fracking / drilling operations we need to be watching, but also the dormant volcanoes (salton sea, mono lake, clear lake, mammoth mountain etc..) for movement in the near term."

Now that a 5.1M earthquake has struck near the coast of NW California, this confirms the pressure rebuilding on the West coast causes activity at known volcanic sites.

This 5.1M event happening very close to the fresh lavic fields formed off the coast of Oregon.

Lava fields off Oregon story in the MSM here and here.

In 2011, and 2012 researchers discovered new volcanic vents off the coast of Oregon, reaching South towards the border of California. The new lavic fields were discovered when sensors for detecting earthquakes were COVERED by 10+ feet of new undersea lava.

The area which showed movement two days ago , and the area which just had the 5.1M earthquake, both are offshore fault locations, and both areas which have drilling platform activity.

This activity is expected, as the pressure on North America keeps resetting itself in the Pacific Northwest.

After we see movement on the West coast like this 5.1M event, we need to watch the edge of the craton for possible larger earthquakes in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas....

After we see movement in the aforementioned states, we should see activity in the Southeast to East United States (Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas).

There is a remote chance that the East coast (far NORTHEAST) could see movement over the next several days. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Jersey. Be on watch.

Finally, after all the above movement takes place, we can expect a reset of the pressure to occur again, this next time, it should occur further NW from this current California 5.1M earthquakes (Off shore of Oregon or British Columbia).

We can expect all the movement discussed above to happen over the next 7 days (starting today, January 1 2015 @ 900am CDT).

January 1, 2015: Past 48 hours of earthquakes 2.5M+ in the United States (up to 9am CST). Movement along the edge of the craton (middle south portion) in Texas and Oklahoma - multiple 3.0-4.0M earthquakes. After the movement in TX and OK, we saw a reset of the pressure occur off the West Coast of California. This means NEW pressure is building from the West, thus we need to watch the edge of the craton from West to East (yet again).

Information on the 5.1M earthquake from the USGS:

M5.1 - 113km W of Ferndale, California 2015-01-01 12:16:14 UTCEvent Time

  1. 2015-01-01 12:16:14 UTC

  2. 2015-01-01 04:16:14 UTC-08:00 at epicenter

  3. 2015-01-01 06:16:14 UTC-06:00 system time


40.452°N 125.590°W depth=2.5km (1.6mi)

Nearby Cities

  1. 113km (70mi) W of Ferndale, California

  2. 122km (76mi) W of Fortuna, California

  3. 126km (78mi) WSW of Eureka, California

  4. 135km (84mi) WSW of Arcata, California

  5. 408km (254mi) WNW of Sacramento, California

AirAsia flight search continues: 30 victims' bodies recovered, some of them belted into seats

© Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Caskets containing the remains of AirAsia QZ8501 passengers recovered from the sea are carried to a military transport plane before being transported to Surabaya, where the flight originated, at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan January 2, 2015.

The bodies of 30 victims of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 plane crash have been recovered as internationally-backed search operations attempt to locate the remainder of the wreckage amid rough weather conditions.

Five of the victims' bodies which were recovered were still belted into their seats when they were found, Indonesian Navy official Col. Yayan Sofiyan told local channel Metro TV. Twenty-one bodies were found Friday, the majority by a US naval vessel.

Four bodies have been identified so far. Hayati Lutfiah Hamid was identified Sunday by her fingerprints, and three more bodies were found to be those of passengers Kevin Alexander Soetjipto and Grayson Herbert Linaksita, and crewmember Khairunnisa Haidar Fauzi.

Rear Marshal Henry Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, has said that bad weather is a concern as his staff attempt to safely conduct the search.

The search is also complicated by the fact that in 1942 one of the largest naval battles of World War II, the Battle of the Java Sea, took place in the area.

[embedded content]

The search team is currently using sophisticated sonar equipment and metal detectors, AP reported.

The crews hope that when the fuselage is located it will have along with it some 150 passengers and cabin staff still missing, bringing some form of closure to relatives.

Soelistyo said and vowed to recover the bodies of He estimated that the fuselage is currently at a depth of between 80 and 100 feet.

Nearly 100 vehicles have been deployed in the search.

Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, General Moeldoko, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

The wreckage of the Airbus 320-200 has been dispersed over an area spanning approximately 5 square kilometers. An oil slick has been sighted in a priority search area, according to the search and rescue chief.

Rescuers hope the fuselage will contain the remains of the majority of passengers and crew still missing as well as it would give answers to what could have caused Flight 8501 to go down.

Investigators as they try to determine why the plane crashed, said Toos Saniotoso, an Indonesian air safety investigator.

he said.

Because of the World War II battle, the Java Sea is the site of several naval wrecks. Indonesian search and rescue agency official S.B. Supriyadi told AFP on Friday that during the hunt for the AirAsia plane, they had located a metal structure but it was found to be an unrelated piece of debris - "possibly a ship which sank."

© Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Caskets containing the remains of AirAsia QZ8501 passengers recovered from the sea are carried to a military transport plane before being transported to Surabaya, where the flight originated, at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan January 2, 2015.

The Airbus, carrying 162 people, disappeared Sunday morning amid poor weather conditions as it was flying from Indonesia's second-largest city of Surabaya to Singapore. Indonesia is in charge of the search, with Singapore, Malaysia and Australia taking part, as well as Thailand and the US joining the operation. Russia has also flown out to Indonesia a team of emergency recovery specialists and high-tech search equipment.

After two days of scouring the sea for signs of the aircraft, the search teams started encountering debris and bodies Tuesday, reducing hopes that the missing passengers and crew could be found alive.