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Saturday, 3 January 2015

BEST OF THE WEB: 2015 - I can't breathe... Can you?

Last December in my New Year's predictions for 2014 I wrote:

My clearest reading of 2014's tea leaves is "instability": worldwide instability and in my opinion this instability has its origins at the heart of the most developed economies of the western world. The causes? We are undergoing a technological revolution and process of globalized outsourcing, combined with a reduction of the welfare state that is severely degrading the middle class in developed countries and converting them slowly, but surely into working-poor. Anyone who has read a bit of history could tell you how dangerous that is.

I will stand on that this year too and I think things are going to get worse, perhaps much, much worse. The Reuters year end wrap gives a rather useful shopping lists of potential disasters.

"Normally after a year like this you might expect things to calm down," said John Bassett, former senior official with British signals intelligence agency GCHQ now an associate at Oxford University. "But none of these problems have been resolved and the drivers of them are not going away." The causes are varied - a global shift of economic power from the West, new technologies, regional rivalries and anger over rising wealth gaps.

I would add to that the possibility of an airborne pandemic, a sort of sneezing "Ebola", which is going to happen sooner or later in today's interconnected world... or (much more likely if the US-EU pressure doesn't let up) some very, very nasty surprise from Russia, because as Dimitri Orlov says, "The Russians don't threaten, they act".

But as I stressed a year ago, at the heart of everything is the ongoing collapse of the middle class in the most highly developed countries. This is something that is destabilizing precisely those countries whose role has always been to stabilize the rest. That is the multiplier of all the other instabilities.

Here is a comment from a conservative commentator.

The great middle-class fear today is that the connection between personal aspirations and societal opportunities is breaking down.(...) The middle class is thinning. Belonging is a matter of self-identity, and fewer Americans buy into its defining presumptions.

After you read something like that, from someone like that, news about the militarization of urban American police forces begins to look like the "good and the great" are getting ready for some serious, social unrest on the order of "urban warfare".

During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. New York Times

The federal government shipped nearly 4,000 more assault rifles to local law enforcement agencies in the three months following the Ferguson riots, marking a huge surge in the amount of lethal firearms being doled out to police and sheriff's offices.(...) The Los Angeles School Police Department decided it didn't need grenade launchers, but did figure it should keep the M-16 rifles and the armored vehicle it had previously received. Washington Times

Eric Garner, a harmless man, who was strangled to death by a brutal police officer, has given me a simple answer to a question that other Americans have often asked me over the years, "why do you live abroad?".

When people ask me why, being American, I don't like living in the USA, I usually find myself launching into some cumbersome, wordy-nerdy explanation, filled with dangling clauses and so forth... but now poor Mr. Garner has given me a three word answer that says it all... When I'm in the USA (or even think about being in the USA) I can't breathe.

Infant found unconscious in Harlem dies, police say

© Credit Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Officers on Saturday outside the apartment in the Washington Houses in East Harlem where Deion McNeil was found bleeding from a gash on his forehead on Friday. He died at the hospital.

A 23-day-old boy died on Friday after the police found him wounded and unconscious in his family's apartment in East Harlem, the authorities said.

The infant, Deion McNeil, was unresponsive and bleeding from a gash on his forehead when he was found on the living room floor, the police said.

Detectives on Saturday were questioning Deion's mother, Ebony McNeil, who was the only adult at home with the boy when she called the police around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, the authorities said. Two other children - Ms. McNeil's 6-year-old son and 17-month-old daughter - were also at home at the time.

Emergency medical workers took Deion to Metropolitan Hospital Center, which is across the street from the family's apartment in the Washington Houses on Second Avenue at 97th Street. He was born in that hospital, according to a post on the Facebook account of Larry McPhail, his grandfather.

But doctors could not save Deion on Friday.

The police said they were awaiting autopsy results to determine the cause of death. No charges had been filed as of Saturday afternoon.

Neighbors described the apartment building as quiet, and Deion's family as mostly private.

Virginia Salisbury, who has lived in the building for about 15 years, said residents rarely invited trouble.

"It's been good, I like it here," she said. "Never had any problems since I moved in."

Angel Feliciano, 24, who has also lived at the Washington Houses for more than a decade, said he was out caring for his own daughter when the police arrived on Friday night.

"It made me feel so sad," he said. "I've got a kid of my own, she's only a month and 17 days. No one wants to hear nothing like that."

Christopher McKniff, a spokesman for New York City's Administration for Children's Services, said in a statement that the agency "is aware of this situation and together with the N.Y.P.D. are investigating the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident."

© Credit Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Outside the Washington Houses in East Harlem, where 23-day-old Deion was found bleeding and unresponsive on Friday.

Vast 5,000 year-old underground city discovered in central Turkey

© Creative Commons/Katpatuka

Tatlarin, another overground city near Nevşehir

A 5,000 year-old underground city thought to be the largest in the world has been discovered in central Turkey.

The subterranean settlement was discovered in the Nevşehir province of Turkey's Central Anatolia region, in the historical area of Cappadocia.

Cappadocia is famous in archaeological circles for its large number of underground settlement.

But the site, located around the Nevşehir hill fort near the city of Kayseri, appears to dwarf all other finds to date.

Hasan Ünver, the mayor of the city on those outskirts the discovery was found, said other underground cities were nothing more than a "kitchen" compared to the newly uncovered settlement.

Mehmet Ergün Turan, the head of Turkey's housing development administration, said the discovery was made during the groundwork for a housing project meant to develop the area.

Derinkuyu underground city, to the south of Nevşehir city"It is not a known underground city. Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered," Mr Turan told Turkish publication .

The agency has already spent 90 million Turkish liras (£25m) on the development project, but the organisation's head said he did not see the money spent as a loss due to the magnitude of the historical discovery.

The upper reaches of the city were first spotted last year but it was not until now that the size of the discovery became apparent. The organisation has so far taken 44 historical objects under preservation from the site.

Cappadocia's characteristic volcanic rock landscape lends itself to underground cities. The area has been officially registered with Turkey's Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board and no further building work will be done.

© Creative Commons/Katpatuka

Derinkuyu underground city, to the south of Nevşehir city.

The Cappadocia region, once a Roman province, is fertile ground for underground cities because of its soft volcanic rock which is easy to carve.

Nevşehir province's most renown underground settlement is Derinkuyu, a multi-level city large enough to house many thousands of people and their livestock. It lies within an hour's drive south of the new discovery.

The town of Nevşehir, on whose outskirts the new underground city was discovered Derinkuyu, believed to date to the 8th century BC, was most recently inhabited by Christians until 1923 when they were expelled during a population exchange with Greece.

It has since laid uninhabited and draws visitors from around the world.

© Creative Commons/Katpatuka

Cappadocia's characteristic volcanic rock landscape lends itself to underground cities.

Former Hedge Fund Manager Arrested After Squatting In Million Dollar Home

The economic "recovery" has been harsh, especially for the former hedge fund manager of Paron Capital Management, James Crombie and his family of 4 including. So, as a result Crombie decided to continue living the good life: he did so by squatting in someone else's Maryland house listed in May 2014 for over $1 million.

Crombie's fall from grace had been quick and violent as described by ABC:

Crombie, 47, is the former head of hedge fund Paron Capital Management who was ordered to pay $35.6 million to his former partners after he allegedly lured them with false promises and falsified documents, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld in March 2013. Crombie had appealed a lower court's ruling claiming it was unsupported by the record and the award of damages and attorneys' fees were an abuse of judicial discretion.

And while appealing, Crombie decided that for a man in his business appearances are all that matter and as a result found a particularly impressive piece of property which to call his home. He just forgot to pay.

James Crombie is seen in this mugshot provided by the Montgomery County Police Dept.

According to charging documents filed in Montgomery County District Court, the Crombie clan was unpacking a moving truck stocked full of personal belongings when the home's true owner pulled into the driveway. He confronted the family and immediately called police. "The lock had been drilled out," neighbor Charles Hill told ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, D.C. "They even introduced themselves [to neighbors] and scheduled some sort of entertainment with neighbors...It's just very bizarre."

Crombie, a convicted con artist, told officers the home had been purchased for him by a Columbia, Md. consulting firm called The Moore Group. The 47-year-old said he was a principal member of the company. However, he had no sales contract or property title to prove his rightful ownership.

Needless to say, when in doubt, just make it up, but sound confident and preferably wear a business suit. Works all the time for CNBC guests.

Consequently, police forced the Crombies to vacate the residence the next day. Formal charges were filed a few weeks later.

Police forced the Crombies to vacate the residence the next day. He was charged with second and fourth-degree burglary, destruction over $1,000 and attempted theft over $100,000, according to court records. A lawyer listed as his private attorney in court records did not respond to a request for comment.

The two-story house picked by the squatters features a gourmet kitchen, marble bathrooms, custom closets and professional landscaping. Many rooms were badly damaged during the Crombie family's short stay. Court paperwork indicates the carpet was stained, door locks broken, ceiling dented and expensive furniture soiled. Repairs and cleaning costs topped $1,000.

Some photos of the squatted house in question:

As WJLA adds, James Crombie, is now facing a long list of criminal charges related to the alleged squatting incident at the vacant home nestled along the 7600 block of Dwight Drive in Bethesda.

Luckily for Crombie, he is a veteran of the criminal process in the US: a quick google search reveals the following CFTC charge against one James D. Crombie and Paron Capital Management from September 2011:

CFTC Charges California Resident James D. Crombie and Paron Capital Management, LLC with Making False, Fictitious, or Fraudulent Statements to the National Futures Association

CFTC also charges defendants with solicitation fraud.

Washington, DC –The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California charging California resident James D. Crombie and his firm, Paron Capital Management, LLC (Paron), of Tiburon, Calif., with providing false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements to the National Futures Association (NFA) and with issuing fraudulent promotional materials.

Specifically, the CFTC complaint alleges that, during a March 2011 NFA audit of Paron, Crombie and Paron made false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements to prevent the NFA from discovering that they were using fraudulent promotional materials to solicit clients to trade commodity futures. The fraudulent promotional materials were based on falsified and counterfeit trading account statements, according to the complaint. Crombie and Paron allegedly made subsequent false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements to the NFA in an attempt to further conceal their conduct and impede the NFA’s audit of Paron.

In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks a return of ill-gotten gains, restitution to defrauded customers, civil monetary penalties, trading and registration bans, and permanent injunctions against further violations of the federal commodities laws.

As we said: former "hedge fund manager" - that some criminality was involved is practically redundant.

"It was shocking," neighbor Patricia Medeiros remarked. "I can't imagine how you would think you could get away with something like that. Not to mention the ethical issues involved with moving into someone else's home."

Then again, considering that in November 2013, a federal court in California order Crombie pay $1.5 million for misrepresentations to the National Futures Association and for solicitation fraud, clearly the man had nothing to lose so it hardly comes as a surprise he decided to take the law into his own hands. It is more surprising that he didn't get away it for far longer.

The real homeowner declined to comment to ABC News, according to the property's selling agent. The home was relisted for $950,000 in November.

Are the American people that clueless about potential coming economic disasters?

Economy Stop Signs

The American people are feeling really good right about now. For example, Gallup's economic confidence index has hit the highest level that we have seen since the last recession. In addition, nearly half of all Americans believe that 2015 will be a better year than 2014 was, and only about 10 percent believe that it will be a worse year. And a lot of people are generally feeling quite good about the people that have been leading our nation. According to Gallup, once again this year Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman in America and Barack Obama is the most admired man in America. I don't know what that says about our nation, but it can't be good. Unfortunately, when things seem to be going well common sense tends to go out the window. A couple days ago, the ran an article entitled "Goodbye to one of the best years in history", and a whole lot of people out there are feeling really optimistic these days. But should they be?

Sadly, what we are experiencing right now is so similar to what we witnessed in 2007 and early 2008. The stock market had been on a great run, people were flipping houses like crazy and most people were convinced that the party would never end.

But then it did end - very painfully.

The signs of trouble were there, but most people chose to ignore them.

Sadly, the exact same thing is happening again.

economic collapse

On Monday, the price of oil hit a brand new five year low. As I write this, U.S. oil is sitting at a price of $53.76 a barrel, which is nearly a 50 percent decline from the peak earlier this year.

There is only one other time in history when the price of oil has declined by more than 50 dollars a barrel in such a short time frame. That was back in the middle of 2008, shortly before the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression.

Unless the price of oil starts really bouncing back, the U.S. economy is going to be hit really hard.

Since 2009, oil industry employment has risen by 50 percent. And jobs in the oil industry pay quite well. One figure that I saw put the average weekly wage at about 1700 dollars.

But now we aren't going to be gaining those types of jobs. Instead, we are going to rapidly start losing them.

Already, the oil rig count has dropped for three weeks in a row and is now at an 8 month low. And as the oil industry suffers, all of the industries that it supports are also going to start feeling the pain. In fact, Business Insider is reporting that Texas business executives are "freaked out" about what is happening...

Business executives in Texas are worried about the drop in oil prices.

On Monday, the Dallas Fed's latest manufacturing survey showed that activity in Texas was slowing down.

The latest composite index came in at 4.1, widely missing expectations and down big from November's reading. Expectations were for the index to come in at 9, down from 10.5 last month.

So while most Americans are feeling really good about the coming year, many of those with an inside view are becoming quite alarmed. One Texas business executive went so far as to say that the stunning decline in oil prices was "going to make things ugly ... quickly."

Meanwhile, the 9 trillion dollar U.S. dollar carry trade is starting to unwind.

The following is an excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article...

Oil's collapse is predicated by one major event: the explosion of the US Dollar carry trade. Worldwide, there is over $9 TRILLION in borrowed US Dollars that has been ploughed into risk assets.

Energy projects, particularly Oil Shale in the US, are one of the prime spots for this. But it is not the only one. Economies that are closely aligned with commodities (all of which are priced in US Dollars) are getting demolished too.

Just about everything will be hit as well. Most of the "recovery" of the last five years has been fueled by cheap borrowed Dollars. Now that the US Dollar has broken out of a multi-year range, you're going to see more and more "risk assets" (read: projects or investments fueled by borrowed Dollars) blow up. Oil is just the beginning, not a standalone story.

If things really pick up steam, there's over $9 TRILLION worth of potential explosions waiting in the wings. Imagine if the entire economies of both Germany and Japan exploded and you've got a decent idea of the size of the potential impact on the financial system.

And that's assuming NO increased leverage from derivative usage.


And yes, as that last excerpt mentioned, derivatives could soon become a massive problem. The big banks are holding trillions in commodity derivatives that could blow up if the price of oil does not rebound. Overall, there are five U.S. banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives of all types, and the total global derivatives bubble is at least 700 trillion dollars at this point.

At the same time, many are becoming concerned that the unprecedented bond bubble that we are witnessing could soon implode and trillions of dollars of "wealth" could disappear into thin air.

In fact, says that we should "get ready for a disastrous year" for bonds...

Get ready for a disastrous year for U.S. government bonds. That's the message forecasters on Wall Street are sending.

With Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen poised to raise interest rates in 2015 for the first time in almost a decade, prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That certainly does not sound very optimistic, does it?

Anyone with even a minimal amount of intelligence should be able to see the massive financial bubbles that the central banks of the world have created, and anyone with even a minimal amount of intelligence should be able to see that we are heading for a massive financial implosion which will be extraordinarily painful.

Unfortunately, as I wrote about yesterday, the American people have become "zombiefied". Instead of thinking for themselves, they let "the matrix" do their thinking for them. And right now "the matrix" is telling them that everything is going to be just fine in 2015.

If you do not think that there is a propaganda machine that tells us what to think, I want you to watch the video posted below very carefully. This video makes it so obvious that even a small child can understand it...


Why is it illegal for communities to protect themselves from toxic harm?


© unknown

The supposed answer to that question is the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, Article 6, paragraph 2:

"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."

By inference, the individual states declare their own supremacy when local communities try to nullify or avoid state statutes.

Keep in mind that the US Constitution enumerates powers granted to the federal government, and reserves all other powers for the states or the people. But this restraint has been trampled on so many times it's barely visible under the tonnage of federal law and regulation.

Therefore, the Supremacy Clause becomes: "We, the federal government, can do anything we want to, and the states and the people are bound by it."

So...what happens when the people of a community decide that a medical drug or pesticide (see also this) or genetically modified organism or fracking chemical or vaccine is poisonous and must be banned?

The state preempts the community and if the state doesn't, the federal government will move in and assert its ultimate authority.

Take the case of Roundup or any of the pesticides that contain the toxic glyphosate. If the EPA or the USDA or the FDA decides glyphosate is harmless, and if their "science" is a sham, and if they are merely caving in to big corporations who want to sell it, the people would have no recourse.

"It's the law, and you have to submit to liver and kidney damage at the very least."

That's the absurdity.

If health and life aren't the basis of law, if they are ignored, if they are necessary sacrifices on the altar of federal or state control, then all bets are off.

For the past 25 years, I've been documenting exactly this: medical and scientific fraud that leads to great harm. This fraud is not only permitted, it's embodied in federal and state regulations.

I frequently cite Dr. Barbara Starfield's stunning review, "Is US health really the best in the world?" It was published on July 26, 2000, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

At the time, Starfield was a widely respected public health expert working at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Her credentials and those of JAMA were impeccably mainstream.

She concluded that, every year, FDA-approved medical drugs killed 106,000 Americans. That adds up to over a million deaths per decade.

In the wake of her published review, and for the next nine years, as she told me in a 2009 interview, no one in the federal government approached her to help remedy this ongoing plague of destruction. Nor was she aware of any systematic remedial federal effort.

But you see, the FDA is a federal agency set up by federal law. It is tasked with approving all medical drugs as safe and effective before they are released for public use.

So if a local community decided, on its own, to ban a deadly medicine, its vote would be struck down from above.

"Suffer. Die. It's the law."

There are people who are happy to settle for choice. "As long as I'm free to refuse the medicine, I'm good. Let others take it if they want to."

But we're not talking about a choice between pears and oranges. We're talking about poison.

And despite recalls, lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and heavy fines, the killing continues.

Therefore, on the basis of self-protection, a community has the right to enact a ban .

Unless self-protection must surrender to the System. Then we are looking at lawless government pretending to be lawful.

These phrases come to mind:

"...certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

"...in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

Making these goals come to fruition when communities are under toxic attack is impossible. Therefore, governments that support and enshrine such attacks are violating the very origin of laws.

Lawlessness and death squads in Ukraine: Washington Post almost gets it right


© Efrem Lukatsky/AP

A car drives by a private house destroyed in a recent battles between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists in Semenivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014.

Kiev is abuzz with creative reforms in governance, major anti-corruption initiatives and budgetary clawbacks against rent-seeking oligarchs. Civic activism is on the upsurge, and a new government team - populated with many foreign-born and Western-educated ministers - is largely free from the control of the country's super-rich, who dictated policy in the past.

In recent months, Ukraine's defenses have strengthened since the Russian takeover of Crimea and the eastern industrial Donbas region. Ukraine's security service, formerly riddled with corruption and Russian infiltration, has rebuilt its leadership. Combat readiness has improved and weapons production is on the rise, as are the refurbishment and modernization of tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers. With winter in full swing, the danger of a major Russian offensive has faded.

In many ways, Ukraine is intelligently addressing its key challenges: restructuring the national budget to avoid default and meeting the military threat posed by Russia. Despite such important progress, however, a new threat is emerging: independently operating warlords and armed groups.

After the collapse of the Yanukovych regime in February and subsequent Russian aggression, Ukraine's new government was saddled with an ill-prepared military and required the help of thousands of volunteers. These volunteer fighters were motivated by a patriotic desire to protect their homeland. Many were veterans of the Maidan civic protests. The fighters were mainly supported by grass-roots financing from civic initiatives and small and mid-size businesses.

A minority of the fighters were ideologically motivated members of far-right movements. These included the ultra-conservative Right Sector and the notorious Azov brigade, whose members had been shunned during the Maidan protests because of their white-supremacist, anti-democratic views. Other volunteer brigades, such as the Dnepr-1, were recruited by business oligarchs, who financed them and commanded their loyalty.

During the spring and summer, many of these volunteer forces exhibited remarkable courage and helped stem the Russian-backed offensive. In the months that followed, most were integrated into the interior or defense ministries as special-status units.

But now several of these units, especially those linked to oligarchs or the far right, are revealing a dark side. In recent months, they have threatened and kidnapped government officials, boasted that they will take power if Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko fails to defeat Russia, and they served as armed muscle in illegal attempts to take over businesses or seize local governments.

In August, members of the Dnepr-1 battalion kidnapped the head of Ukraine's state land fund to prevent him replacing an official deemed inimical to business interests. On Dec. 15, these volunteer units interdicted a humanitarian convoy destined for the Russia-controlled Donbas, where a major emergency is emerging.

On Dec. 23, the Azov brigade announced that it was taking control of order in the eastern port city of Mariupol, without official approval from local or national officials.

Government prosecutors have opened 38 criminal cases against members of the Aidar battalion alone.

A pattern of blatant disregard for the chain of command, lawlessness and racketeering is posing a growing threat to Ukraine's stability at a critical juncture. Concern about volunteer groupings is widely shared in the Poroshenko administration, which reportedly raised the question of dealing with these dangers at a meeting in November of his National Security and Defense Council.

Most alarming, however, is the role of Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov. Instead of reining in these fighters, conducting background checks on their records and reassigning those who pass muster, he instead has offered them new heavy weapons, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, and given them enhanced brigade status. Amazingly, in September he even named a leader of the neo-Nazi Azov brigade to head the police in the Kiev region.

Equally worrying is the activity of Ihor Kolomoyskyy, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk oblast. Kolomoyskyy, who played a crucial and widely respected role in stabilizing his East Ukrainian region, is now flouting central authority by interdicting aid convoys headed to the Donbas and permitting brigades he finances to engage in activities that contravene the law.

What can be done? Poroshenko clearly wants this problem resolved but has been reluctant or unable to act. For him to succeed will likely require coordination with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who has also been slow to address the threat, possibly because Avakov is one of his key political allies.

Western donors, however, must make countering incipient warlordism a top priority and press Ukraine's leaders to reassign qualified members of the volunteer brigades into regular militia and military units.

Ukraine's elected leaders can no longer sweep this emerging threat under the rug for fear of stoking resistance or stirring up negative international headlines. Ukraine faces many challenges, but it is heading in the right direction. Nipping the problem of warlordism in the bud can only add to the country's strength and resilience.

NYPD cops busted again for planting evidence and inventing informants

police arrest

© unknown

In 2011, while caught up in a corruption scandal, former NYPD Detective Stephen Anderson testified in court that fabricating drug charges on innocent victims to meet quotas was common practice. Three years later, cops in Brooklyn are again accused of planting evidence and allegedly lying about "informants" to make gun-related arrests.

Two weeks ago, a judge in Brooklyn ordered prosecutors to produce a confidential informant that cops were accused of inventing as part of a scheme to boost the numbers of gun arrests via planting weapons on innocent men. The scenario described in court usually went as follows: a tip came in from a "confidential informant" that someone had a gun. Officers would then find a man who matches the description at a reported location, then a gun is discovered and an arrest is made.

Other similarities shared in the scenarios? Guns were found in plastic bags or handkerchiefs without a trace of the suspect's fingerprints, and the presence of an informant wasn't mentioned until months after the arrest. Also, none of the informants have come forward.

The recent developments have brought back the Kimani Gray killing. Last year, Gray was shot seven times by officers in East Flatbush, who claimed that the 16-year-old pointed a .38-caliber Rohm rifle at them. Eyewitnesses to the shooting insisted he was unarmed. No one was indicted.

Aggrieved family members demanded justice. Protests were held. Civil unrest ensued. No one was indicted.

Since 2007, at least six different individuals have been arrested under this tactic, including Jeffrey Herring, Eugene Moore and John Hooper. All were arrested by officers in the 67th Precinct, based in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The suspects said the guns were planted by police.

Moore's case was dismissed by a judge who questioned the credibility of Detective Gregory Jean-Baptiste, calling him "extremely evasive" on the witness stand. Hooper spent a year in jail awaiting trial and pled guilty. He agreed to a sentence of time served after the judge refused to believe officers' version of events.

One of the officers involved in Herring's case, Lt. Edward Babington, was involved in another federal gun case that was dismissed and led to a $115,000 settlement after a federal judge said officers had perjured themselves.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Dineen Riviezzo adjourned Herring's case until Jan. 15 and told prosecutors that the case will be resolved at that date unless they produced the informant. Prosecutors said they had found the informant but needed more time to investigate Herring's case.

Colony of crazies: Israeli settlers attack US diplomats, Israel to investigate

© AP Photo/ Sebastian Scheiner

Israeli authorities are looking for Jewish settlers in the West Bank who have attacked US diplomats, an official from the US State Department has told Sputnik.

"The Israeli authorities have communicated to us that they acknowledge the seriousness of the incident and are looking to apprehend and take appropriate action against those responsible," the official said Friday.

According to the official, the American side has video evidence of the attack that it is willing to share with the Israeli law enforcement.

"We are working with Israeli authorities in their investigation of the incident, including by offering to provide video footage taken during the incident. We take the safety and security of US personnel very seriously," the State Department official told Sputnik.

The US State Department confirmed that a vehicle from the US Consulate General was pelted with stones and confronted by a group of armed Jewish settlers in the West Bank on Friday. The US diplomats were investigating reports of settlers having uprooted 5,000 olive tree saplings belonging to Palestinians.

According to the State Department official, nobody was harmed in the attack and contrary to some media reports American personnel did not draw their weapons.

Palestinians want to create an independent state on the West Bank territories, including East Jerusalem, partially occupied by Israel, and the Gaza Strip.

The international community views Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal. These settlements are the major stumbling block in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Elderly man killed by rhino in Nepal

An elderly man attacked by rhino in Chitwan district has died on Saturday night.

According to the District Police Office, Chitwan, Sadabahar Community Forest member Chaudhari was attacked by a rhinoceros while inspecting the forest.

64 year old Nathuram from Megauli-5 died while receiving treatment.

He had suffered severe injuries on the leg, chest and head.

Ebola in the UK: New suspected case in Gloucestershire, as Scottish nurse worsens

Great Western Hospital, Swindon

A new patient displaying symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus is being rushed to hospital as doctors say the Scottish nurse already suffering from the disease has worsened and is now in a critical condition.

Hospital officials said the unnamed new patient was being transferred to hospital in Swindon by specialist ambulance team after being taken ill after returning from West Africa.

The patient, from South Gloucestershire, will undergo tests at the hospital and if necessary be transferred to the specialist quarantine unit in London where nurse Pauline Cafferkey is already being treated.

A spokesman for the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "Any suspected patients will be tested for a variety of things. If there was a confirmed Ebola case, they would be transferred to London."

[embedded content]

The local ambulance service said the patient was being transferred by its hazardous area response team. A spokeswoman said: "That patient has recently returned from West Africa and has made complaints of feeling unwell."

Two other suspected cases of Ebola last week later tested negative for the disease. A patient in Truro and a woman in Aberdeen were both tested after returning from West Africa, but were found not to have the disease.

Doctors said Ms Cafferkey's condition had worsened on Saturday and she was now critically ill.

The 39-year-old is being treated in a quarantine tent at the Royal Free Hospital in north London said after she was diagnosed with the deadly virus late last month.

Miss Cafferkey, a Scottish public health nurse who had been volunteering in the stricken West African country, was diagnosed with the disease after returning to Glasgow from Sierra Leone via Casablanca in Morocco.

A brief statement on the hospital's website said: "The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust is sorry to announce that the condition of Pauline Cafferkey has gradually deteriorated over the past two days and is now critical."

David Cameron said: "My thoughts and prayers are with nurse Pauline Cafferkey who is in a critical condition with Ebola."

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the nurse was being given the "best possible care".

Her deterioration came just days after the team treating her said she was sitting up in bed in her quarantine tent and talking to relatives through an intercom system.

Doctors have been treating her with an experimental antiviral drug and with plasma from another health worker who recovered from the disease. The hospital has been unable to obtain ZMapp, the drug used to treat recovered British nurse William Pooley, because "there is none in the world at the moment", doctors said.

A senior microbiologist said it was very difficult to judge her chances of survival, because so little was known about how to combat the virus and the new drugs were experimental.

Prof Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said people with the disease can deteriorate "very quickly".

He said using blood from a recovered Ebola patient to treat her was the "best chance" for recovery.

Prof Pennington said: "We have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. It's the luck of the draw unfortunately.

"Some people do recover, but some don't make it. We still don't know enough about Ebola."

She is being treated with an experimental antiviral drug along with the blood from a survivor after the hospital was unable to obtain ZMapp, the drug used to treat recovered British nurse William Pooley, because "there is none in the world at the moment".

Mr Pennington said: "The plasma is probably her best chance of treatment as that is actual antibodies from people who have recovered from Ebola.

"Because of the small number of people treated with experimental drugs, it's difficult to judge the percentage of success.

"We also don't know the circumstances of the infection. That might be important."

Michele Bachmann has last laugh on Twitter for predicting low gas prices

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN

© Twitter.com

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN

Outgoing Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R) took to social media late this week to congratulate herself for bringing the price of gas down under two dollars per gallon.

The erstwhile 2012 presidential contender posted a photo of herself standing under a gasoline station's pricing sign on Friday via the social medium Twitter. She captioned the image "$2 gas, anyone?"

Bachmann was referring to a campaign promise from her failed run at the presidency in which she vowed to bring gas prices back down under two dollars per gallon.

"Under President Bachmann you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again," Bachmann said at a South Carolina rally in 2012. "That will happen."

Now, gas prices have tumbled, which Bachmann is more than happy to take credit for, in spite of the fact that she lost her bid for the GOP nomination in 2012, let alone the presidency.

A column at "birther" hub and far-right conspiracy theory website World Net Daily claimed Friday that Bachmann is getting the "last laugh at her critics."

"Back in December, Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters also noticed that gas prices were edging closer and closer to the $2 mark and recalled the mainstream media, or MSM, mockery of Bachmann," wrote WND's Drew Zahn.

Conservative writer Mollie Hemingway tweeted:

However, energy analysts say that the real reason gas is cheap in the U.S. right now is largely due to a simple increase in supply and decrease in demand. In response to the flood of shale oil from U.S. and Canadian tar sands operations, Middle Eastern oil nations like Saudi Arabia have glutted the market with cheap oil in order to offset their losses as oil prices fall.

Furthermore, due to increase in sales of hybrid vehicles and increasing unpopularity of gas-guzzling SUVs, Americans are using less gas than ever to drive more miles.

According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute's Michael Sivak, "The reductions in these rates likely reflect fundamental, non-economic changes in society, such as increased telecommuting, increased use of public transportation, increased urbanization of the population, and changes in the age composition of drivers."

View Bachmann's tweet image, embedded below:

Major search off Scottish coast after ship with 'eight people on board' is overturned

It is understood that up to eight people could be on board the vessel, pictured partially-submerged in the sea

Eight people are missing after their cargo ship overturned in stormy seas.

A major air and sea rescue operation has been mounted after the upturned hull of the vessel was spotted off the north coast of Scotland this afternoon.

But hopes of finding any survivors are rapidly diminishing as weather conditions in the area continue to deteriorate as darkness falls.

The upturned hull of the , a cargo ship registered in Cyprus, was spotted by a passing passenger ferry at 2.30pm today. It is understood that there were eight people onboard.

The 83-metre ship, which was carrying cement from Denmark to Runcorn, Cheshire, is now drifting in freezing waters of the Pentland Firth - 15 miles north-east of Wick.

A spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: 'We have discovered wreckage but, at present, there are no survivors in the immediate vicinity.'

Bill Farquhar from RNLI Thurso said the last known position of the ship had been at 1.15 pm yesterday, adding: 'The weather at that time yesterday was pretty bad.

'I don't know what has happened after that. There was no mayday as such. It is very, very strange, especially with all the weather technology we have nowadays.'

He added: 'Whatever happened, it happened very rapidly.'

Shetland Coastguard are co-ordinating the search operation and immediately instructed four RNLI lifeboats from Wick, Thurso, Longhope and Stromness to comb the suggested location.

At the same time, the Coastguard Rescue helicopter from Shetland and an RAF rescue helicopter have also been scrambled to provide aerial back-up.

Other vessels in the area are also involved in the search. assisted with the search for around an hour, but has now resumed its journey to Aberdeen.

Mr Farquhar described the conditions tonight as 'very bad indeed'.

A lifeboat is alongside the upturned vessel, waiting for the arrival of a tug which will tow the ship back to land.

was drifting at 5.2 knots, roughly 6 mph, according to readings on marinetraffic.com that were recorded yesterday. It left port in Aalborg, Denmark on December 30.

The Pentland Firth is a channel between the north tip of Scotland and Orkney that is known for strong tides and requires careful planning to sail, according to Sail North Scotland.

US Army report calls for 'military support' of Israeli energy grab


US military strategists are contemplating the threat of war to redraw the Middle East’s energy architecture around Israel

A new report by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute emphasises the need for "US security and military support" to its key allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Israel, over access to recent vast discoveries of regional oil and gas.

The Army study, released earlier in December 2014, concludes that extensive US military involvement "may prove essential in managing possible future conflict" in case of "an eruption of natural resource conflict in the East Mediterranean," due to huge gas discoveries in recent years.

Visible US engagement is also necessary to ward off the regional encroachment of "emerging powers and potential new peace brokers such as Russia - which already entertains a strong interest in East Mediterranean gas developments - and notably China."

Fossil fuel bonanza in the Levant

Since 2000, the Levant basin - an area encompassing the offshore territories of Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon - has been estimated to hold as much as 1.7 bn barrels of oil and up to 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. As much of the region's potential resources remain undiscovered, geologists believe this could be just a third of the total quantities of fossil fuels in the Levant.

The new US Army report argues that these hydrocarbon discoveries are of "tremendous economic and geostrategic significance," not just for its allies, but for the United States itself. Israel especially stands to "gain considerably from their newly discovered gas wealth" in terms of cost-effective energy for domestic consumption and revenues from gas exports.

But while the discoveries offer the prospect for closer regional cooperation, they also raise "the potential for conflict over these valuable resources." The potential for resource conflicts over oil and gas relates directly to intractable border conflicts between Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the unresolved Cypriot question between Greece and Turkey. US interests are to minimise the risk of conflict between its core allies, while maximising their capacity to exploit these resources.

"Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey are key strategic US allies," the report says. "Neighbouring Egypt, Syria and Lebanon play important roles from the European and US perspective, both as direct neighbours to Israel and the Palestinian Territories as well as because of their strategically important location as the geographic interconnection between Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East."

The new US Army report is authored by Mohammed al-Katiri and Laura al-Katiri. Mohammed al-Katiri was previously research director at the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Advanced Research and Assessment Group (ARAG), but now heads up two private intelligence consultancies, MENA Insight and the Conflict Studies Research Centre (CSRC), both of which provide services to government and commercial sectors, including the oil and gas industry.

The Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) which published the report, calls itself an Army "think factory" for "commanders and civilian leaders." SSI uses independent analysis to help "develop policy recommendations" for the US Army on national security and to "influence policy debate" across the military.

Advancing Israel's energy empire

The SSI report on the risk of Middle East resource conflicts notes that Israel's massive offshore gas discoveries "have yet to translate into proven gas reserves," but that it's total of 9.48 tcf of proven and 30 tcf estimated reserves, positions Israel "ahead of all East Mediterranean countries in terms of gas reserves and resource prospectivity."

The Army report also reveals that Syria could hold significant offshore oil and gas potential. In 2007, before the outbreak of hostilities, President Bashar al-Assad launched a first bidding round to secure investment into new exploration efforts, and another in 2012 that was cancelled due to deteriorating security conditions.

"Once the Syria conflict is resolved, prospects for Syrian offshore production - provided commercial resources are found - are high," observes the report. Potential oil and gas resources can be developed "relatively smoothly once the political situation allows for any new exploration efforts in its offshore territories."

The report also mentions significant gas finds in the offshore territories of Lebanon and Palestine, including the Gaza Marine, which holds over 1 tcf - production of which has been "obstruction by Israel over concerns regarding the flow of revenues to Palestinian stakeholders." But in addition to the Gaza Marine, "Palestinian offshore territories near Gaza are believed to hold substantial hydrocarbon potential," whose total quantities are still unknown because a lack of exploration there:

"Both Israel and Cyprus are key US allies and pillars of US foreign policy in the region: Israel, with its long history of close political ties with the United States, historically has stood at the heart of American efforts to secure regional peace; while Cyprus forms the most eastern part of Europe and is an important strategic location for both US and British military interests."

Regional war

The region faces four main potential arcs of conflict. Firstly, in Israel-Palestine, the US Army study warns that "the presence of valuable natural resources in disputed territory may further feed the conflict."

Secondly, rival claims between Israel and Lebanon over maritime boundaries could "complicate" the development of regional offshore hydrocarbon resources and result in military confrontation.

Thirdly, that risk has, in turn, delayed efforts to define Cypriot-Israeli and Cypriot-Lebanese exclusive economic maritime zones.

Fourthly, in 2013 Israel granted oil exploration licenses in the Syrian-claimed Golan Heights, spelling "potential for another armed conflict between the two parties should substantial hydrocarbon resources be discovered." According to a report to the UN Security Council in early December, Israel has been in regular contact with Syrian rebels, including Islamic State fighters , raising the question of Israel's role in supporting anti-Assad extremists to cement its control of Golan's potential fossil fuel resources.

The US Army study highlights a real risk that tensions across these flashpoints could escalate into a wider regional conflict:

"In the case of an armed conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the security of the wider Levant region could once again be at stake, with a possible escalation of the conflict into neighbouring Syria and the Palestinian Territories, as well as (with historical precedents) Jordan and Egypt. In combination, the pre-existing political problems in all of these countries - Syria destabilizing into de facto civil war, Egypt in the midst of political instability, the Palestinians and Lebanese lacking stable political cores - the potential for a new, escalating regional war is a threatening scenario indeed."

War for peace (for gas)

To stave off this disturbing prospect, the US report recommends that Israel and other Levant gas hubs like Lebanon and Cyprus play a key role in exporting Eastern Mediterranean gas to their Arab neighbours, such as Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, given that Middle East demand for gas is projected to rise dramatically in coming decades.

Further, the report highlights the possibility of Israel piping gas to Turkey, where it can be exported to European markets, making Turkey a regional gas transhipment hub. This would allow both Turkey and Europe to wean off their Russian gas dependence, and integrate instead into a "peaceful" US-Israeli dominated regional energy architecture.

As has been confirmed by Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair's energy advisor, Ariel Ezrahi, Gaza's offshore gas resources are seen as a potential bridge to overcome popular Arab public opposition to gas deals with Israel. "Israeli as well as Palestinian offshore hydrocarbon resources could play a significant role in facilitating mutual trust and the willingness to cooperate," the US Army study suggests, "including between Israel and a few of its other Arab neighbours, Jordan and Egypt."

But ultimately this architecture cannot be installed without extensive US intervention of some kind. "US diplomatic and military support has a pivotal role to play in the East Mediterranean's complex geopolitical landscape, and its importance will only grow as the value of the natural resources at stake increases," concludes the Army report:

"US security and military support for its main allies in the case of an eruption of natural resource conflict in the East Mediterranean may prove essential in managing possible future conflict."

Diplomatically, the US could play a significant role in mediating between the various parties to facilitate successful oil and gas development projects across the East Mediterranean, not just for "Israel's sake," but also to shore-up allies like Jordan and Egypt with "low-cost Israeli gas," contributing to regional economic and thus political stability:

"US support - diplomatic and, where necessary, military - can form a potentially powerful element in the safeguarding of these long-term economic benefits, at little cost in relative terms."

If regional tensions escalate though, the report warns that "the United States also holds an important military position that could have an impact in securing the East Mediterranean," including "military training and equipment support" to defend Cyprus and Israel from attacks on "their energy infrastructure and gas developments."

This Orwellian document thus reveals that in the name of maintaining regional peace, a new Great Game is at play. To counter Russian and Chinese influence while cementing influence over its Arab allies, US military strategists are contemplating the threat of war to redraw the Middle East's energy architecture around Israel.

investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the 'crisis of civilization.' He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist

Meditate to become a healthier, happier and more compassionate human being


© Namita Azad

Meditation is excellent method to maintain our physical and emotional health and well-being

The Challenge: Stress, work and life challenges can get the best of us.

The Science: Research shows that meditation is linked to a host of benefits from happiness to health!

The Solution: Meditate to feel calmer, happier, healthier, more productive and more in charge.

Trying to find a New Year's Resolution that's really worth it? How about one that will boost your resilience?

This coming New Year will hopefully be full of wonderful surprises, but undoubtedly - like every year - will also throw some challenges at us. I started meditating soon after 9/11. I was living in Manhattan, an already chaotic place, at an extremely chaotic time. I realized I had no control over my external environment. And I realized this would always be the case. No matter what we do, we never have full control over our jobs, partners, health, or environment.

However, there is one place we can have a say over: the state of our mind. As a friend once said to me "When my mind is ok, then everything is ok." This statement is so simple yet also so profound. When I started meditating, I realized I was clamer despite any situations I encountered. What I didn't realize, was that it would also make me healthier, happier, and more successful. Having witnessed the benefits, I devoted my PhD research at Stanford to studying the impact of meditation. I saw people from diverse backgrounds from college students to combat veterans benefit. In the last 10 years, hundreds of studies have been released.

Here are 20 scientifically-validated reasons you might want to get on the bandwagon come Jan 1 (if not today!)


During meditation we process the deep tracks of our unconscious mind that will lead into better self-understanding

It Boosts Your HEALTH

1 - Increases immune function (See here and here)

2 - Decreases Pain (see here)

3 - Decreases Inflammation at the Cellular Level (See here and here and here)

It Boosts Your HAPPINESS

4 - Increases Positive Emotion (here and here)

5 - Decreases Depression (see here)

6 - Decreases Anxiety (see here and here and here)

7 - Decreases Stress (see here and here)

It Boosts Your SOCIAL LIFE

Think meditation is a solitary activity? It may be (unless you meditate in a group which many do!) but it actually increases your sense of connection to others:

8 - Increases social connection & emotional intelligence (see here and - by yours truly - here)

9 - Makes you more compassionate (see here and here and here)

10 - Makes you feel less lonely (see here)


11 - Improves your ability to regulate your emotions (see here) (Ever flown off the handle or not been able to quiet your mind? Here's the key)

12 - Improves your ability to introspect (see here & for why this is crucial see this post)

It Changes Your BRAIN (for the better)

13 - Increases grey matter (see here)

14 - Increases volume in areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions & self-control (see here andhere)

15 - Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention (see here)

It Improves Your PRODUCTIVITY (yup, by doing nothing)

16 - Increases your focus & attention (see here and here and here and here)

17 - Improves your ability to multitask (see here)

18 - Improves your memory (see here)

19 - Improves your ability to be creative & think outside the box (see research by J. Schooler)

It Makes You WISE(R)

It gives you perspective: By observing your mind, you realize you don't have to be slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy and sad but that it doesn't have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself. Think about it, you shower every day and clean your body, but have you ever showered your mind? As a consequence, you'll feel more clear and see thing with greater perspective. "The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind," writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We can't control what happens on the outside but we do have a say over the quality of our mind. No matter what's going on, if your mind is ok, everything is ok. Right now.

It Keeps You REAL

Once you get to know your mind, you start to own your stuff and become more authentic, maybe even humble. You realize the stories and soap operas your mind puts you through and you gain some perspective on them. You realize most of us are caught up in a mind-drama and become more compassionate towards others.

And...the more you meditate, the more you seem to benefit, research studies such as this one suggest.


© Unknown

Working our own psychological traumas through meditation will increase our compassion towards others

Myths about Meditation

Having an empty mind - nope, in fact, when you start meditating, you'll find its quite the opposite

Sitting in lotus position - nope, you can sit on the couch (just don't lie down, you'll fall asleep)

Sitting for an hour a day - nope, small doses work just fine, (see here and - by yours truly - here)

Chanting in a language I don't understand - nope, not unless that floats your boat

Buddhist, Hindu or religious - nope, not unless you make it so

Weird - what's so weird about sitting and breathing? Besides, US congressmen, NFL football leagues and the US Marine Corps are doing it, how weird can it be?

Wearing robes - what?

"I can't meditate" because...

I tried it once or twice and it didn't work for me - did you know there are many different ways to meditate? There are so many techniques (Mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation, Loving-Kindness Meditation, Compassion, Yoga Nidra, Sudarshan Kriya, Vipassana), you have to find the shoe that fits.

I can't clear my mind - no worries, while you're sitting there you'll experience the noisy chaos of a wound up mind that's unwinding: tons of thoughts, feelings and emotions. Don't worry about how you feel during, notice how you feel after and throughout the rest of the day

I can't sit still - that's ok, just sit comfortably, fidget if you need to

I get anxious - that's also normal, all the junk's coming up, learn some breathing practices to calm yourself down, exercise or do yoga before meditating

I hate sitting still - that's fine, then go for a walk without your earphones, phone etc; or start with yoga; or do breathing exercises...give yourself time to just "be" without constantly "doing" something

I don't have time - if you have time to read an article about meditation all the way through, you have time to meditate. Think of all those minutes you waste every day on the internet or otherwise, you can definitely fit in 20 minutes here or there to give your life a boost! Gandhi is quoted as saying "I'm so busy today, that... I'm going to meditate 2 hours instead of 1."

South Australia faces worst wildfires since 1983

© Dylan Coker

An aerial view of the out-of-control Sampson Flat wildfire near Kersbrook.

Strong winds are expected to fan South Australia's worst bushfire in 30 years with dozens of homes believed destroyed by the massive blaze.

The out-of-control Sampson Flat fire in the Mount Lofty Ranges is feared to have destroyed dozens of homes and burnt out more than 11,000 hectares of scrub and farmland since Friday afternoon and no relief is in sight for Sunday.

Although temperatures are forecast to be lower on Sunday, winds will keep fire crews and residents fighting desperately to save lives and property as South Australia faces the worst fire conditions since the 1983 Ash Wednesday disaster.

© ABC TV/Twitter

Meanwhile, cooler conditions are expected to help firefighters contain blazes in Victoria's northeast. Temperatures are not expected to exceed 30C near Horsham and Moyston on Sunday. Firefighters worked throughout the night to contain fires in Dimboola and Cherrypool as blazes raged in two national parks. Crews have battled in the Moyston and surrounding areas since Friday. They were able to stop the spread of fire in Hastings late on Saturday evening. One home has been confirmed destroyed, and others damaged by fire. More than 300 volunteer firefighters from New South Wales will now be sent to South Australia and Victoria to assist.

Sad loss of animal life

About 40 dogs and cats have perished after a bushfire destroyed large parts of a boarding kennel and cattery in the Adelaide foothills.

© Dylan Coker

Paracombe and Tea Tree Gully CFS rescue a dog from the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennel and Cattery, where 40 animals perished.

Fire ripped through the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennels and Cattery on Saturday morning, burning down the cattery and a large section of the kennels. All of the cats and about a third of the dogs at the kennels were killed.

Extreme conditions hit South Australia

The Country Fire Service warned anyone in areas affected by the Samson Flat fire to leave their homes.

A total of 19 areas across the Adelaide Hills region were included in the warnings, including: Mount Pleasant, Kersbrook, Gumeracha, Mount Torrens, Woodside, Lobethal, Inglewood, Upper Hermitage, Breakneck Hill, One Tree Hill township, Little Para Reservoir, Chain of Ponds, Houghton, Cudlee Creek, Lower Hermitage, Charleston, Birdwood, Lenswood, and Williamstown.

© Tom Huntley

Local volunteer firefighters put out a fire near property at risk on Stone Quarry Road, Kersbrook South Australia.

So far, a confirmed five homes have been lost however the State Emergency Service warns it's likely dozens of properties have been destroyed. One person who was believed to have been missing after seeking refuge in a dam near Mt Gawler Forest was found safe earlier today. That rare piece of good news came as more than 500 firefighters fought the blaze in extreme conditions, with high temperatures and strong winds proving trying. The largest fire in the Adelaide Hills has ripped through an estimated 10,000 hectaresof land and is likely to move northeast, but all of its edges remain active and there are unpredictable wind gusts.

© Tori Arbon

Huge plume of smoke from a major bushfire in Hillier, South Australia.

At least seven firefighters have been injured fighting the Sampson Flat fire in the Mount Lofty Ranges, as conditions worsen. The CFS advises that fires burning under today's conditions are likely to be fast-moving and uncontrollable. Winds of 100 to 120 kilometres per hour were seen in some parts of the state today. "Because of that, there's not a huge amount of direct fire-fighting activity being undertaken at the moment," CFS assistant chief officer Rob Sandford said.

Ferocious and unpredictable blaze

The fire - which started on Friday afternoon at Sampson Flat - wreaked havoc as it spread towards Kersbrook before swinging back towards One Tree Hill, Greenwith and Golden Grove. Co-ordinator Brenton Eden said the fire continued to present challenges as the day unfolded, with winds shifting and more hot temperatures expected. "Conditions will worsen, they will not get better,'' he said.

A wind change from an easterly to northerly direction has caused the fire to burn in numerous directions, causing smoke to blanket large parts of metropolitan Adelaide. The CFS said the Sampson Flat fire was "travelling in a very erratic manner".

Weather change eases Victoria fires

A weather change has brought welcome rain but also new problems for firefighters battling blazes in Victoria. More than a dozen fires burnt across the state on Saturday with separate major warnings issued for areas around Moyston, Dimboola, Edenhope and Cherrypool in the west, while a threatening blaze ignited southeast of Melbourne in Hastings late in the day.

The storm band, which crossed the state from west to east, damped down the major Moyston fire on Saturday afternoon after it had burned mostly out of control since midday Friday. The fire, which has razed almost 5000 hectares in Victoria's west, was burning within containment lines early Saturday evening and authorities have downgraded a warning to say the immediate threat to homes has subsided. "The good news is the front has brought some moisture with it, particularly over the western parts of the state where we had that serious fire at Moyston," State Control Centre spokesman Gerard Scholten said.

"The rain has brought some relief. However, the bad news is the wind change has caused some serious problems down at Hastings and Crib Point."

© David Caird

Local farmer Phillip Grellet surveys the burnt-out land while helping a fellow farmer as a fire still burns in the background.

The Hastings fire, a grass fire which started just after 2pm Saturday, was burning in a southerly direction down the coastline before the front reached the Melbourne area. The fire turned easterly after the wind change, burning in the direction of suburban homes. The popular holiday spot was evacuated, triggering traffic chaos, though the fire was contained before it could cause major damage.

Lightning strikes from the storm front also triggered a batch of new fires in the state's west late on Saturday, and there are "watch and act" recommendations for towns including Dimboola and Edenhope. One home, four sheds and an unknown amount of livestock were lost in the Moyston fire, which also posed a threat to the nearby township of Maroona before it was contained.

Rare northern hawk owl seen south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin

© Anne Geraghty

A northern hawk owl like this one has been spotted south of Eau Claire

Since early December, a rare visitor - a northern hawk owl - has been hanging out just south of Eau Claire, to the delight of local bird-watchers.

"Usually, the crows will help you find it. There's four or five crows who like to harass it," said David Lund of rural Eleva, who has seen the bird several times in recent weeks.

The owl is only about 14 inches tall and is unusual among owls because it is just as happy hunting in the daytime as at night, which also has made the bird popular with local birders.

One owl watcher reported seeing the little owl catch three mice within a span of about 20 minutes, so he is an owl with an appetite.

The owl has often been found near Lars Road, west of Down to Earth Gardening and Landscaping along Highway 93 south of Eau Claire. Some local birders have nicknamed to bird Lars, Lund said.

Ryan Brady, bird monitoring coordinator for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, said bird-watchers have been driving from three or four hours away to see the Eau Claire owl.

"It's not every year that there's one of these birds in the state that people can go and find," he said.

There have been a couple of other sightings of hawk owls in the state earlier in the winter, but those were one-time events, Brady said.

Dead blue whale found dead on coast of India

The whale that was found washed ashore at Valai island off Periapattinam.

A giant Blue Whale was found washed ashore on Valai island, one of the 21 islands in the Gulf of Mannar region.

Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, Deepak Bilgi said the marine mammal was found dead near the shore of the island two days back and initial studies revealed that it had died long back.

As the whale was found away from the shore, post-mortem could not be conducted immediately, he said, adding the whale was expected to hit the shore on Friday. A veterinary surgeon would be taken to the island, situated six km off Devipattinam near here, for conducting the post-mortem, he said.

The whale, measuring about 50 feet length, could weigh about six tonnes. The cause of the death would be known only after the post-mortem, he added.

Fishermen from Vedalai alerted the forest officials on Tuesday about 'some giant black object' floating near Valai island. Anti-poaching watchers swam close to the "object" and found it to be a whale, sources in the forest department said.

The carcass was found stuck in sand, the sources said. Anti-poaching watchers and guards were posted at the island for security.

They were constantly sending reports about the 'movement' of the dead whale to the higher officials, the sources added.

Upheaval at Ukraine's Zaporozhye nuclear power plant?

© Unknown

Over the last week, more publications, including Zero Hedge, have started reporting on a still developing nuclear problem at the largest nuclear plant in Europe. This news has been widely circulated in Eastern Europe over the last few weeks.

The problem in Ukraine has been and remains verification: Ukrainian sources have not been forthcoming. When this first occurred I was contacted through a second party and told directly after the officially reported transformer incident that a radiation spike was observed in Crimea, which is 140km away from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.

The spike was small against background radiation but noticeable on a geiger counter. I was also given hacked files of the emergency conversation that happened at the plant that day. They are included at the bottom of the article. The proximity to what is coming to light means they cannot be ignored.

Understanding Geiger Counters

The first thing most people don't realize is that geiger counters are location sensitive. They are calibrated against the background radiation for a specific location. This means that if you take a geiger counter and move just a mile away, the background radiation itself could be different and the measurement inaccurate. Known background radiation is the Zero point on a calibrated geiger counter.

Second and as important is that all sensitive measurement tools need to be calibrated and certified to be useful. Sensitive tools go out of calibration by themselves over time. After Fukushima, a new normal needs to be considered.

What this means to Europe

is the possibility of a larger than Fukushima event opening up in its own backyard, without anyone getting a handle on it - quite literally. Depending on which way the wind blows, without verification they are leaving their own countries futures in the hands of Ukrainian nationalists who are in the midst of trying to perpetrate a genocide in Donbas.

Ukraine reported an non-nuclear 'incident': a transformer short circuiting, while the term 'accident' is used for radiological issues. This report was carried across the nuclear industry forums that talked about it. The case was closed.

As reported at - we reported of the odd coincidence of a 2nd emergency shutdown at Ukraine's Zaporozhye Nuclear reactor - Europe's largest nuclear power plant - following our earlier fears of disinformation. Today, we learn of a leaked report sourced from three different places - unconfirmed for now but which is trying to verify - that Ukrainian nuclear scientists misled the public and a radioactive leak has been detected - and citing the country's emergency services claim that levels of radiation are 16.3 times the legally permitted norm.

What does 16.3 times the allowable norm mean? In a pre-Fukushima world, if any nuclear plant in the US were to report 1 times the allowable radiation/ steam contamination release, every major publication in the country would be focused on that event.

Allowable release at nuclear power plants falls under a Zero tolerance policy. At the Zaporozhye power plant, background radiation before the event registered at 10-12 counts per minute on a geiger counter. At 50 counts it does not cause an alarm but is something to monitor.

The threshold for alarm is 100 counts and radiological personal protective gear might be warranted. Zaporozhye is well beyond that threshold now.

Post Fukushima Norms

At 16.3 X the allowable count, the measurement is not 16.3 cpm (counts per minute) X 10-12cpm (known background) at Zaporozhye. The key to understanding this is knowing what the highest allowable radiation exposure(milli-rems, milli- seiverts, counts per minute) figure is in Ukraine. Ukraine is working with the MAX allowable figure, not the normal one. The terminology used and lack of measurement is the surest indicator of there being a problem.

Background to RAD work

First things first, I AM not a nuclear engineer, or nuclear scientist. These are the industry people that need to weigh in. However I used to have locked high rad clearance and what that means essentially is I know a bit more than the average person about what the slight of hand in the official figures could mean. As an example from Fukushima's #3 sister plant I did some work at over 10 years ago, a few times I went into situations that because of the stage in the refueling, dose was very high.

Each assignment or job starts with a detailed briefing which includes where not to go in a room or what to touch. It included how long a person could be there before they had to leave or where to stand away from the work if there were any complications in order to lower the radioactive dose. This attention to safety is the norm in nuclear plants, not the exception.

Personnel are monitored by an HP (Health Physics) and Nuclear Hygienist that make sure they do not get into trouble. They monitor personal dosimetery (measuring personal radioactive dose and exposure) as well as local radiation levels.

The Hand can be Quicker that the Eye

I will recount one of several situations that stand out in my mind which make it impossible to believe Ukraine's 16.3 X Allowable (legal) limit without independent verification. In certain rare situations the Allowable limit is a sliding scale. The one thing the world learned post Fukushima is that the Allowable limits can change hour to hour, day to day.

Exposure = Dose + Time

During a refueling at Fukushima #3 sister plant I was asked to go into a really high radiation location because I had the skill sets to get the job done quickly. I went into the containment area and the HP was there waiting. I took 2 steps beyond the HP and my dosimeter alarmed. He evacuated me and they raised the alarm level on my dosimeter a little. This was the new norm for me from that point.

I returned to the work area and went past the HP a 2nd time. I didn't make it any further. The alarm sounded and I was told to leave. Again they raised the alarm level to my new norm. Simply put my norm was anything that allowed me to do what I needed to get done.

This happened a third time. On my way out I told the HP to call ahead and make sure it was sufficient for the work at hand this time. I was getting dosed every time I went in and the more time I spent going in and out the more radiation I would be hit with.

The point is that after a few tries, the new norm or allowable limit was established so I could do my work without interruptions.

While this sliding scale is necessary once in a while in a closely monitored and controlled situation it is perverse to impose it on an unknowing world such as was done with the lies before and after the Fukushima event. The new radiological norm for a post Fukushima world was illegal before the meltdown happened.

What We Know about Zaporozhye

We now know that radiation was released and reports of a steam blow-off are starting to surface. Unfortunately this is in line with information I was given about a fire in the cooling system and a contaminated side steam pipe burst inside the containment (their word is sarcophagus). People who have left the area have reported that iodine tablets are being handed out to people who live close to the plant. We know that the plant shut down all social media for plant workers so they would not talk about the incident. This was a highly unusual move for a transformer problem.

A second reactor(#6) has been shutdown at the same plant and restarted on December 28th. This linked document shows that unit #6 is still down on December 29th. A third at South Ukraine Nuclear Power plant which has been testing Westinghouse fuel assemblies is in an abnormally long shutdown. Normal is 30-40 days. This is planned to be 120 days. This is also not the first time this year that Zaporozhye had unscheduled shutdowns.

In the spring Pravy Sektor tried unsuccessfully to storm nuclear power plants three times. Later the government of Ukraine ordered that they guard nuclear material, nuclear facilities, and even nuclear waste using, meaning that the Poroshenko government put the terrorists that tried to take nuclear plants by force in charge.

The Worst Possible Problem with the Information about Zaporozhye

This copy of a leaked letter from Westinghouse speaks of even larger problems at an undisclosed reactor in Ukraine on December 6th. It has not been reported until now.

westinghouse letter for pub

Shortly after Unit #3 was reported as a non-nuclear incident, an anonymous bomb threat was given about Chernobyl. In the same time frame I was given the following files of a conversation hacked by an Anonymous style group called ().

I really hate using the term false flag event. Given the nature of the leaked conversation below, an anonymous bomb threat would give Kiev cover in the event that they lost control over the reactor. The conversation unfortunately provides context to what we are now learning about the problem reactors and specifically a contaminated steam release. By including that text here, hopefully the issues at the plant can be identified by reliable and qualified sources. Ukraine has none.

The original text that made me aware of the files are from twitter- @VexhilvyStrimer after November 28th.

zaporoshia nuke 4 29 nov

Zaporozhye Leaked Accident Conversation-

The following leaked conversations that took place during the Zaporozhye incident are between Tyshenko (General Director of Nuclear Power Plant) and Torbayevsky ( Head of Emergency Readiness).

November 28th

Tyshenko 8:12 PM- Vasili what the hell is going on over there?

8:24- Tyshenko- Why aren't you answering?

8:58- Torbayevsky- Vacheslav Alexaivich, forgive me for not answering. We have an emergency. The Third Unit shut down. I am already there. Ignatchencho is with me. Krasnogorov is coming.

Tyshenko- Fuck! Why the hell didn't you tell me immediately? Do you understand the danger this will mean for us? We will be thrown in prison, you as well. Leaving now, will be there in ½ hour.

Torbayevsky- Need to contact Chech specialists from Skoda. Its their equipment.

November 29th

Tyshenko and Krasnogorov, head engineer at plant ZGD

20:34 Tyshenko- Fiador, how are things?

Krasnagorov- Things are not good. The casket on the upper unit cannot take the pressure. Seems we screwed around with this improper material long enough.

Tyshenko- Don't whine. You need to understand that no one asked me about any of it.

Krasnagorov- Even back then I was saying that this is not going to end well. We needed to do testing first. Its not just the caskets that are the problem. Its with the fuel as well.

Tyshenko- I said don't whine! These are the orders the ministry gave. They warmed their hands on it already (they made their money) and let this fuck them now (let them deal with the fallout).

Krasnagorov- Understood.

December 2nd

7:48 Tyshenko and Stefansky (Assistant Plant manager)

Stefansky- Vacheslav Alexaivich as soon as you left, journalists flooded us. They are hanging out at the security checkpoint. What do I say to them?

Tyshenko 8:01 am- Listen, I am fucking barely able to stay on my feet (tired). Can't you come up with something? Say that it is an electrical short circuit or some other shit like that, but about the reactor not a word! Blab, and I will turn you inside out (skin you)! Thats it, out, I'm getting a few hours sleep and will be back.

December 2nd

8:53 Tyshenko and Torbayevsky

Torbayevsky- Vacheslav Alexaivich, we have a leak.

Tyshenko- Fuck! Where are you?

Torbayevsky- I'm at the station with the personnel, trying to fix it, but its a dead number (no use).

9:31 am Tyshenko- Ok, I called to the top. We need to be quiet now or we'll be sent to Donbass as volunteers. Do You understand?

Torbayevsky- Understood.

12:17 Tyshenko- Vasili, I've been called to Kiev immediately. Figure this out without me.

Torbayevsky- What do we do with the personnel? We need to evacuate people, radiation is off the charts! And locals need to be warned. We already started dumping into the water supply from the cooling system. Very soon we will have a second Chernobyl.

Tyshenko- Don't panic! We were told to be quiet. We'll be quiet!

Torbayevsky- Vacheslav Alexaivich! Do you understand we can no longer keep silent? This is a catastrophe! Here in a 100 kilometer radius, nothing will be left alive! Fucking sky is already glowing! (inside joke about radiation)

Tyshenko- Listen! I am flying to Kiev. Wait for a call. For now don't answer any questions and don't talk to anyone.