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Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Who is celebrating the NYPD work slowdown the most? Black New Yorkers - 'This is a taste of what it's like to be white.'

NYPD work slowdown

For the second consecutive week, New York City police have virtually ceased writing tickets and arresting people for many nonviolent crimes, on the order of a 90 percent drop from a year earlier. After perceived slights by Mayor Bill de Blasio, civil protests against police brutality, and the murder of two officers by a deranged gunman, the New York Police Department is fighting back by not doing its job. Or rather, police appear to be using their resentment as an organizing incentive to skip certain non-essential cop duties.

The police seem to be trying to teach a lesson to a city they feel doesn't adequately appreciate them. For New Yorkers who value fair policing, though, the slowdown is an occasion to celebrate.

Many of the offenses police have tacitly declared legal are considered quality-of-life (QOL) infractions. Those follow the broken window strategy, a policing philosophy that has been widely discredited since its heyday in Rudy Giuliani's mayoralty. QOL meets small transgressions with arrests and fines - a way, it's thought, to nip more substantial crimes in the bud. Perhaps because QOL policing grants cops near-unlimited discretion in determining whom to sanction, its penalties fall disproportionately on people of color. Between 2001 and 2013, the found, more than 80 percent of the 7.3 million people penalized for these infractions were black or Latino. The vast majority of African Americans and Latinos in all walks of life feel like they're treated unfairly by law enforcement, and consider police discrimination the most endemic form of societal mistreatment.It's unfair, brutal, racist, and financially burdensome, and it often follows such small transgressions as jaywalking, skipping $2.50 subway fares or merely irritating police.

To many of us from these communities, the past two weeks have amounted to a vacation from fear, surveillance and punishment. Maybe this is what it feels like to not be prejudged and seen as suspicious law breakers. Maybe this is a small taste of what it feels like to be white.

Here is my story of two cities. Ten years ago, when I first moved to New York City, some friends invited me out to an afternoon concert in Central Park. This was an event filled with upper-middle-class white people enjoying music and culture - and an occasion, it turned out, to flaunt the city's open-container laws. I was naïve enough to be surprised at how many of my friends were publicly drinking wine and liquor from badly disguised canisters, cups, and flasks. Eventually the party staggered out of the park and on to the Upper West Side, down the streets, and into the subways. Riders greeted us with smiles and laughter, pedestrians gave us you-crazy-kids nudges. Our portable debauchery snaked all the way home to our dorm rooms.

A few months later I was walking around the Lower East Side, on my way to meet friends. I decided to stop into a bodega and get a beer, which I sipped out of a brown paper bag as I blithely wandered near a housing project. A police officer materialized, and when he checked my ID, he seemed surprised that I didn't live in the housing project. He wrote me a ticket me for the open container and let me go. I didn't think much of it. I was, in fact, breaking the law. But what a contrast from my earlier infractions, in a white space with white friends.

When I went to court for my ticket, I noticed that almost everyone there answering summonses and paying fines was black or Latino. The QOL penalties, it seemed to me, were a backdoor tax for the city, and the people feeding that coffer overwhelmingly looked like me. Most stared ahead and mumbled agreements to the judge so they could leave. Some pleaded for leniency or extra time to pay, citing lack of income. Sixty dollars here, $200 there. These amounts would have momentarily inconvenienced Upper West Siders. In that courtroom, those figures were pushing people to tears.

Poor people bear the brunt of QOL fines. Not lower-income folks or working class types - no, the actual underclass, the groups balkanized into narrow living corridors in the city, offered slim opportunities, and suspended in a state of financial anxiety. Unless they are in front of a judge, they're invisible to policymakers. But QOL fines can wreck them, and for what? Recently I lived with a roommate who worked as a housekeeper. He had a couple of small run-ins with the police for issues like noise and arguing with the neighbors, and the run-ins begat fines. He fell short on his bills, and things began to snowball. He borrowed from loan sharks, resorted to cheating friends out of money, borrowed money from family he never intended to pay back and, I suspect, shoplifted. My landlord later confirmed what I'd worried for a while: My roommate had skimmed money from our rent checks (including my share) for food and transportation. While I don't believe QOL fines started him down his shady path, the summons only stoked his desperation. I doubt he's the only one, as I doubt advocates of broken windows policing ever stop to ponder the next steps for people who draw fines and who are themselves broke.

Small penalties can precipitate risky acts when they are not, as a portion of one's income, small. Here's what New York charges people for various minor offenses:

  • $25 for an open container of alcohol

  • $115 for stopping or standing in a roadway or highway

  • $115 for standing or parking on a curb when not allowed

  • $250 for disorderly conduct

  • $250 for a noise disturbance

Police get broad leeway in determining whether to cite you for such offenses. Take noise disturbances. Some are obvious: a bellowing car stereo, a party, hollering on the street. Or perhaps merely raising your voice to a police officer.

Sleeping or resting in public is another vague standard, used to clear away people who appear homeless or vagrant. Black men are frequently arrested or fined for falling asleep on the train, even if they're simply tired on a long commute. Lewd conduct fines can arise simply from wearing your pants too low. If you are wearing a two-finger ring and happen to be black, you can be arrested for jewelry that reminds a cop of brass knuckles. QOL literally allows police to mete out punishment if they don't like your look.

If none of these fit, the standby is disorderly conduct, the most malleable of the QOL fines. Disorderly conduct can include but is not limited to asking a question of an officer, cursing under your breath, or making people nervous. And if you continue in this so-called disorderly conduct, you could be charged with resisting arrest. As many people of color are aware by now, resisting arrest makes a handy explainer for injuries incurred by arrested and handcuffed individuals in police custody.

The Police Reform Organizing Project, a group that aims to end police abuses against vulnerable people in New York, has tallied some other recent crimes that led to arrests for people of color:

  • Walking between the cars of a stopped subway train

  • Occupying two seats on a mostly empty subway train

  • Putting a foot on a subway seat

  • Putting a backpack on a subway seat

  • Using a loved one's transit pass to enter the subway

  • Asking another person to swipe their pass to get you onto the subway

  • Asking people for a handout while holding open a door to an ATM

  • Standing in front of or in the lobby of your own building

  • Insisting on your rights when stopped and questioned for no apparent reason

  • Filming/recording, while not interfering with a police activity

  • Being a pedicab driver and parking in an unauthorized space or not properly displaying your rates

  • Jaywalking

  • Begging

  • Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk

Now, QOL disparities do not include driving while black, civil forfeiture laws of confiscating property, stop-and-frisk, the illegal (but still used) vertical patrolling of housing projects or the treatment that people of color receive once they are in the judicial system. We are just talking about simple things. Like being able to stand on a street corner and be pretty sure a cop won't start a conversation that ends with him fining you or locking you up.

This work slowdown highlights a low-level white privilege: the assumption of not-guiltiness. People of color have suddenly gotten a peek into this everyday advantage. It comes as a relief. Several of my friends posted joyful Facebook updates when the news made the rounds:

"Keep it up forever, and fire all the cops that would be doing the summonses."

"And look! No chaos in the streets! Amazing!"

A year after my court date, I was once again with friends, loitering after a rain-soaked evening of Shakespeare in the Park. These friends were white and drunk from consuming alcohol in public. As we filed out of the bleachers one of the guys held up a comically huge bag of weed and asked if anyone wanted to get high in the bushes. Everyone but me joined. Paranoid of the police and decidedly un-high, I walked quickly out of the park, toward home. The following day I asked my friend with the weed how things went. He was nonchalant: They'd found a patch of dry ground behind some bushes and smoked up. When I asked if they ran into any problems, he looked baffled. No, this was his city. What was there to be worried about?

Sometimes when I watch the video of Eric Garner being choked to death by a swarm of officers who suspected him of selling loose cigarettes, I juxtapose that with my friends' mischievous giggling as they retreated into the park to smoke an illegal drug in public. I wish we could all have that giddy thrill at little transgressions. But to do that one has to feel that he is free.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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US steps up airport, federal building security after Paris attacks


© Reuters / Kevork Djansezian

The Department of Homeland Security secretary has announced increased vigilance regarding national security, as well as stepped-up random searches of travelers and carry-on luggage in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris.

In the announcement made on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the Federal Protective Services - which provides security for US government buildings - will be expanding its reach to major cities and will vary shifts and patrols from location to location. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will also conduct random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage at US airports.

"We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country," said Johnson in a released statement.

Johnson said the US would continue to share information with the French and other allies about terrorist threats, suspicious individuals, and foreign fighters. Last week's shooting at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo followed a hostage situation in Sydney in December and a gunman's attack on the Canadian parliament in October - all of which are causing Homeland Security to increase protection.

"[The] recent attacks in Paris, Ottawa, Sydney, and elsewhere, along with the recent public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on Western objectives, including aircraft, military personnel, and government installations and civilian personnel," Johnson said.


© AFP Photo / Jewel Samad

Johnson added that the DHS is providing state and local law enforcement with FBI training in incident response. He said he personally met with community leaders in Columbus, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles to engage them in countering violent extremism, and he is looking forward to a White House summit on countering violent extremism on February 18.

The enhanced measures by the TSA were reported by CNN to be in response to an article in magazine, a publication by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which describes how to make homemade bombs using household products.

CNN reported that an official said that increased aviation security stems from the threat of non-metallic improvised explosive devices only detectable by full body scanners - a technology that is not available at smaller airports due to cost.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Asteroid 2004 BL86 to sweep close on January 26

It'll be closer than any known asteroid this large until 2027. At its closest, telescopes and binoculars will show it moving rapidly in front of the stars.

Asteroid 2004 BL86

© NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA caption: This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere.

An asteroid, called 2004 BL86 by astronomers, will sweep safely past Earth on January 26, 2015. The flyby is notable because 2004 BL86 will be the closest of any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. This asteroid is estimated from its reflected brightness to be about 500 meters in diameter (about a third of a mile, or 0.5 km). At the time of its closest approach - January 26, 2015 at 16:20 UTC, or 10:20 a.m. CST - the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth, or about three times the moon's distance.

Don Yeomans, who on January 9 retired as manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office after 16 years in the position, said:

Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years. And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it's a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more.

The asteroid is expected to be observable to amateur astronomers with small telescopes and strong binoculars beginning in the evening of January 26 and into the morning of January 27. Its peak brightness will be about magnitude 8.8, meaning it will not be bright enough to view with the unaided eye. The asteroid will be at its most visible over Europe, Africa, and North and South America. Australians and east Asians will have to look a few hours earlier, when the asteroid isn't as bright. The asteroid will be moving about four degrees every hour through the course of the night. That's fast, faster than the moon moves (about half a degree per hour). The asteroid will be whizzing past in front of the constellations Hydra, Cancer, and Leo.

You can also watch on your computer. The Virtual Telescope Project will feature real-time images and commentary.

Donald Yeomans said:

I may grab my favorite binoculars and give it a shot myself.

Asteroids are something special. Not only did asteroids provide Earth with the building blocks of life and much of its water, but in the future, they will become valuable resources for mineral ores and other vital natural resources. They will also become the fueling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system.

There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up.

A telescope of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico initially discovered asteroid 2004 BL86 on January 30, 2004.

At this flyby of the asteroid, astronomers plan to observe it with microwaves, and to acquire radar-generated images of the asteroid during the days surrounding its closest approach to Earth.

Bottom line: The flyby of 2004 BL86 on January 26, 2015 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. At the time of its closest approach, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth, or about three times the moon's distance.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Alabama: Browns Ferry nuke plants leaks tritium into the environment

Browns Ferry nuclear plant

© AP

Browns Ferry nuclear plant

A leak of radioactive water from a tank at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant released tritium into the environment this week, but a TVA spokesman said Saturday the leak was quickly contained and presented no public risk.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant near Athens, Ala., said a drain line leaked between 100 and 200 gallons of water containing tritium levels above acceptable EPA drinking water standards. The leak was fixed within three hours of when it was discovered and was largely contained within the plant area, according to TVA.

In an incident report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TVA said it has increased monitoring of water around the plant but has not detected any elevated tritium levels outside the plant.

"In the unlikely event any of the tritiated water enters either the intake or outflow channels, it would be significantly diluted in the 2 million gallon-per-minute flowrate (of the Tennessee River)" TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. "Based on all of these factors, there is no danger to the public or plant workers."

But an representative of an anti-nuclear group said any radiation release is potentially dangerous.

Garry Morgan, a retired U.S. Army medical officer who has monitored radiation around Browns Ferry for Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation, said the release was similar to one reported at Browns Ferry in April 2010. Other tritium leaks have occurred at the Sequoyah and Watts Bar plants in Tennessee.

"Any leak of a radionuclide contaminant into the environment indicates a failure of oversight and/or attention to detail, maybe both, on the part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority," Morgan said Saturday.

He said health surveys by his group show that the increase in cancer mortality rates in the Tennessee River valley grew to 20 percent above the U.S. average since Browns Ferry began generating power in 1974. Morgan has sampled radiation levels around TVA nuclear plants for six years and claims the elevated cancer rate in the region "is attributable to chemical and radionuclide contamination."

But TVA officials said radiation occurs naturally in the environment and its own sampling has not shown levels above EPA standards.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that occurs in nature and also as a byproduct of nuclear fission. It is commonly used in commercial operations for its luminescent abilities, including building "exit" signs and watch faces.

[embedded content]

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Johns Hopkins researchers attribute cancer to 'bad luck'

Cancer Diagnosis

© GreenMedInfo

"Sorry for your luck."

Much ado in the lamestream media about the new study from Johns Hopkins. In that study Johns Hopkins says cancer is a matter of luck, bad luck that is - in other words, unlucky gene mutations. Bad luck and the tired old saw about cancer being largely due to genetics? Where do I even begin to start with such terrible disinformation?

Has mankind somehow gotten more and more unlucky? And if it is "unlucky gene mutations" why is it that people who eat and live a healthy anti-cancer lifestyle are so much luckier than those who don't?

Cancer was rare a century ago. It has proliferated since then, especially since the 1950's. So I guess that our luck has really taken a turn for the worse since then. And when you think about it, it has (though as is often the case, you make your own luck).

Yes, it is our bad luck that we have introduced all of those toxins into the air we breathe, food we eat and water we drink. And our bad luck that we have depleted the soil of minerals and processed most of the nutrition out of our food while adding in harmful ingredients for the sake of longer shelf life, taste, color and texture. And that bad luck has indeed gotten worse and worse because the increased incidence of cancer tracks exactly with the increased toxins of the industrial age and with the decreased quality and nutrition of our food.

If gene mutations play such a big role, then what is it that causes those gene mutations much more frequently among unhealthy people? Could it be toxins? Of course it is toxins - and that, along with poorly nourished cells are by far the main cause of cancer, gene mutations or not.

But you know, it won't do to tell people that eating, living and supplementing wisely will prevent cancer. There is little profit in that - and the cancer industry depends on cancer for hundreds of billions of dollars each year. So, just resign yourself to lady luck and if you do get cancer be sure to keep using the failed but hugely profitable mainstream medicine paradigm of trying to cut out, poison out or burn out the mere symptoms of cancer which destroy your first line of natural defense (the immune system) and which fail to address the true root causes that led to you getting cancer in the first place..

I guess I should note that the study authors and their lamestream media lapdogs did report that not all cancer is due to bad luck. In addition to smoking, they identified the sun as a cause of cancer and advised us to not stop slathering on that cancer-causing sunscreen. The life giving and cancer preventing sun!

Scientific vomit and lamestream idiocy!

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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From neighborhood cops to robocops: The changing face of American police

"Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards." ― Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means


© Studiocanal/Allstar

The 'Robocop vision’ was presented to companies by the director of the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

If 2014 was the year of militarized police, armored tanks, and stop-and-frisk searches, 2015 may well be the year of technologized police, surveillance blimps and scan-and-frisk searches.

Just as we witnessed neighborhood cops being transformed into soldier cops, we're about to see them shapeshift once again, this time into robocops, complete with robotic exoskeletons, super-vision contact lenses, computer-linked visors, and mind-reading helmets.

Similarly, just as military equipment created for the battlefield has been deployed on American soil against American citizens, we're about to see military technology employed here at home in a manner sure to annihilate what's left of our privacy and Fourth Amendment rights.

For instance, with the flick of a switch (and often without your even being aware of the interference), police can now shut down your cell phone, scan your body for "suspicious" items as you walk down the street, test the air in your car for alcohol vapors as you drive down the street, identify you at a glance and run a background check on you for outstanding warrants, piggyback on your surveillance devices to listen in on your conversations and "see" what you see on your private cameras, and track your car's movements via a GPS-enabled dart.

That doesn't even begin to scrape the surface of what's coming down the pike, with law enforcement and military agencies boasting technologies so advanced as to render everything up until now mere child's play.

Once these technologies, which used to belong exclusively to the realm of futuristic sci-fi films, have been unleashed on an unsuspecting American public, it will completely change the face of American policing and, in the process, transform the landscape of what we used to call our freedoms.

It doesn't even matter that these technologies can be put to beneficial uses. As we've learned the hard way, once the government gets involved, it's only a matter of time before the harm outweighs the benefits.

iOptik contact lenses

© Innovega

Innovega’s iOptik contact lenses augment real world vision.

Imagine, if you will, self-guided "smart" bullets that can track their target as it moves, solar-powered airships that provide persistent wide-area surveillance and tracking of ground "targets," a grenade launcher that can deliver 14 flash-bang grenade rounds, invisible tanks that can blend into their surroundings and masquerade as a snow bank or a soccer mom's station wagon, and a guided mortar weapon that can target someone up to 12 miles away.

Or what about "less lethal weapons" such as the speech jammer gun, which can render a target tongue-tied; sticky foam guns, which shoot foam that hardens on contact, immobilizing the victim; and shock wave generators, which use the shockwaves from a controlled explosion to knock people over.

Now imagine trying to defend yourself against such devices, which are incapable of distinguishing between an enemy combatant and a civilian. For that matter, imagine attempting to defend yourself or your loved ones against police officers made superhuman thanks to technology that renders them bullet-proof, shatter-proof, all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful.

Does rendering a government agent superhuman make them inhuman, as well, unable to relate to the mass of humanity they are sworn to protect and defend?

Pointing out that the clothes people wear can affect how they act, Salon magazine reporter Geordie Mcruer notes that "when clothing has symbolic meaning - such as a uniform that is worn only by a certain profession - it prepares the mind for the pursuit of goals that are consistent with the symbolic meaning of the clothing."

Mcruer continues:

When we dress our police officers in camouflage before deploying them to a peaceful protest, the result will be police who think more like soldiers. This likely includes heightening their perception of physical threats, and increasing the likelihood that they react to those threats with violence. Simply put, dressing police up like soldiers potentially changes how they see a situation, changing protesters into enemy combatants, rather than what they are: civilians exercising their democratic rights...

When police wear soldiers' clothing, and hold soldiers' weapons, it primes them to think and act like soldiers. Furthermore, clothing that conceals their identity - such as the helmets, gas masks, goggles, body armor and riot shields that are now standard-issue for officers at peaceful protests - will increase the likelihood that officers react aggressively to the situation. As a result of the fact that they are also dressed like soldiers, they are more likely to interpret the situation as hostile and will more readily identify violence as the best solution.

While robocops are problematic enough, the problem we're facing is so much greater than technology-enhanced domestic soldiers.

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State , we're on the cusp of a major paradigm shift from fascism disguised as a democracy into a technocratic surveillance society in which there are no citizens, only targets. We're all targets now, to be scanned, surveilled, tracked and treated like blips on a screen.

What's taking place in Maryland right now is a perfect example of this shift. With Congress' approval and generous funding (and without the consensus of area residents), the Army has just launched two massive, billion dollar surveillance airships into the skies over Baltimore, each airship three times the size of a Goodyear blimp, ostensibly to defend against cruise missile attacks. Government officials claim the surveillance blimps, which provide highly detailed radar imaging within a 340-mile radius, are not presently being used to track individuals or carry out surveillance against citizens, but it's only a matter of time before that becomes par for the course.

In New York, police will soon start employing mobile scanners that allow them to scan people on the street in order to detect any hidden objects under their clothes, whether it be a gun, a knife or anything else that appears "suspicious." The scanners will also let them carry out enhanced data collection in the field - fingerprints, iris scans, facial mapping - which will build the government's biometric database that much faster. These scanners are a more mobile version of the low radiation X-ray vans used to scan the contents of passing cars.

Google Glass, being considered for use by officers, would allow police to access computer databases, as well as run background checks on and record anyone in their line of sight.

One program, funded by $160 million in asset forfeiture funds, would equip police officers and vehicles with biometric smartphones that can scan individuals' fingerprints and cross check it against criminal databases. The devices will also contain real-time 911 data, warrant information from federal, state and city databases, photographs of missing persons, suspects, Crime Stoppers posters and other persons of interest, and the latest cache of information on terror suspects.

Stand-off lasers can detect alcohol vapors in a moving car. "If alcohol vapors are detected in the car, a message with a photo of the car including its license plate is sent to a police officer waiting down the road. Then, the police officer stops the car and checks for signs of alcohol using conventional tests."

Ekin Patrol cameras, described as "the first truly intelligent patrol unit in the world," can not only detect the speed of passing cars but can generate tickets instantaneously, recognize and store the license plates of stopped, moving or parked vehicles, measure traffic density and violation data and engage in facial recognition of drivers and passengers.

Collectively, all of these gizmos, gadgets and surveillance devices render us not just suspects in a surveillance state but also inmates in an electronic concentration camp. As journalist Lynn Stuart Parramore notes:

The Information Age ... has turned out rather differently than many expected. Instead of information made available for us, the key feature seems to be information collected about us. Rather of granting us anonymity and privacy with which to explore a world of facts and data, our own data is relentlessly and continually collected and monitored. The wondrous things that were supposed to make our lives easier - mobile devices, gmail, Skype, GPS, and Facebook - have become tools to track us, for whatever purposes the trackers decide. We have been happily shopping for the bars to our own prisons, one product at a time.

Unfortunately, eager as we are for progress and ill-suited to consider the moral and spiritual ramifications of our planned obsolescence, we have yet to truly fathom what it means to live in an environment in which we are always on red alert, always under observation, and always having our actions measured, judged and found wanting under some law or other intrusive government regulation.

There are those who are not at all worried about this impending future, certain that they have nothing to hide. Rest assured, soon we will all have nowhere to hide from the prying eyes of a government bound and determined to not only know everything about us - where we go, what we do, what we say, what we read, what we keep in our pockets, how much money we have on us, how we spend that money, who we know, what we eat and drink, and where we are at any given moment - but prepared to use that information against us, whenever it becomes convenient and profitable to do so.

Making the case that we're being transformed as citizens, neighbors and human beings, Parramore identifies six factors arising from a society in which surveillance becomes the norm: a shift in power dynamics, in which the "watcher" becomes all-seeing and all-powerful; an incentive to turn citizens into outlaws by criminalizing otherwise lawful activities; diminished citizenship; an environment of suspicion and paranoia; a divided society comprised of the watchers and the watched; and "a society of edgy, unhappy beings whose sense of themselves is chronically diminished."

As Parramore rightly concludes, this is "not exactly a recipe for Utopia."

Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Police defend use of pepper spray and tear gas at Ohio State football celebration

pepper spray ohio state game

© John Kuntz / Northeast Ohio Media Group

Ohio State Buckeye fans cheer as the clock expires and OSU wins the NCAA's College Football Playoff National Championship game in Dallas January 12, 2015. The party at Eddie George's Grill 27 in Columbus soon hits the streets as fans took over High Street and the police used tear gas and pepper spray to break up the crowd.

A Columbus police spokeswoman defended officers' use of pepper spray and tear gas against Ohio State fans celebrating Monday's football championship win, saying the least amount of force possible was used against the crowds.

Police and SWAT team members used the substances to disperse thousands of boisterous revelers who, following the Buckeyes' 42-20 win over Oregon, gathered along North High Street, Ohio Stadium, and around Mirror Lake, a campus pond.

A number of fans -- as well as a Northeast Ohio Media Group photographer -- said the crowd-control agents caused them to vomit or suffer from burning eyes and skin.

Columbus Police Department spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis said in an interview Tuesday that the use of pepper spray and tear gas was necessary to keep people safe and clear streets so fire trucks could be deployed to dozens of small fires being set around the campus area.

Alex-Bouzounis said canisters of tear gas were the least forceful option to be used in crowd control, and the department hasn't heard of any officer resorting to more severe measures. She also noted that officers repeatedly gave verbal warnings to revelers that gas would be used if they didn't clear the area.

"When there's thousands of people, [the officers] scream, they say 'move,' and then they have to go to the next thing," the spokeswoman said.

Police Chief Kim Jacobs was "completely pleased" with all of the officers' professionalism, Alex-Bouzounis said.

"Overall, she was pleased with how everything was handled," the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said the department has received a couple of complaints about the use of tear gas and pepper spray; those complaints have been referred to the department's internal affairs bureau for investigation, she said.

A spokesman for Ohio State's administration and planning department also spoke in support of the use of pepper spray at Mirror Lake and at Ohio Stadium. At the latter location, 5,000-8,000 people - according to Columbus police estimates -- broke in and tore down a temporary goalpost.

A number of Ohio State students affected by the tear gas and pepper spray questioned the need for it, saying the vast majority of people were only cheering and doing nothing wrong.

"I understand why they would do that to a couple people, but I don't think they need to do that to everybody that's out there," said Aditya More, a freshman at Ohio State who encountered the tear gas on High Street. "Everyone that was out there watching - that's, like, taking videos - everybody was hit with the tear gas they got out there."

But Kevin Gould, a Chicago native who's a freshman at the College of Wooster, said he didn't blame the police at all for doing what was required to break up the crowd.

"It worked -- honestly, great ploy by them," he said.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Senator Rand Paul: Kicking the Palestinians is a freebie

People who are still sure that Rand Paul offers a meaningful alternative to Hillary as far as excessively zealous support for the Empire is concerned may need to install the latest version of the software.

This week, Senator Paul introduced legislation to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians unless the Palestinian application to join the International Criminal Court is withdrawn.

Senator, I knew Ron Paul. You are no Ron Paul.

Whatever one thinks of the ICC, or the Palestinian decision to join it, a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" would suggest acknowledging the right of the Palestinians to join the ICC if they wish. Indeed, the right of the Palestinians to join the ICC has been recognized by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

Existing U.S. law demands that the Administration cut funding to the Palestinian Authority if it initiates or actively supports an investigation into Israeli nationals at the ICC. But Senator Paul's bill would go further by trying to require a cut-off of aid to the Palestinians simply for joining the ICC.

Sadly, Senator Paul seems to have made a cynical political calculation that a good way to inoculate himself from neocon charges that he is soft in his so-called "support for Israel" is to be "more 'pro-Israel' than thou" in kicking Palestinians.

That is, Senator Paul appears to believe that kicking Palestinians even more than Netanyahu and AIPAC is a freebie - that nobody worth caring about will bother to complain.

It would be a mitzvah to test whether Senator Paul's presumption is correct in this case. After all, the International Criminal Court has a lot of support among human rights groups. Some of these groups, like Amnesty International, have real troops. If you support the International Criminal Court, it follows logically that you support more countries joining it, and support the right of every country to join it.

What if a bunch of us tried to complain? Maybe, like with the "rebellious peers" in the Milgram experiment who refuse to crank up the voltage on the "learner", it would have a knock-on effect, and the rebellion would spread. Maybe Amnesty International would speak up. "Better to light one candle than curse the darkness." You can add your voice here.

Comment: The U.S. willingly gives billions to Israel to steal Palestinian land and commit genocide against the Palestinian people. Blaming the victim is such an epidemic, it's sickening.

The Problem With Israel

The problem with Israel isn't merely that it is an Apartheid state where Palestinians (both in Israel and in the occupied territories) are treated as second class citizens, at best; there have been (and are) many nations around the world that brutally treat a section of their populations. The real problem with Israel is the image it presents of itself as a little slice of the 'West' in the Middle East surrounded by hoards of atavistic Arabs baying for Jewish blood and against whom Israel is fighting, on behalf of the people of Western nations, in the supposed 'clash of civilizations'.

The problem is not only that this image is entirely false, but in manipulating Western citizens into accepting this false image as true, the state of Israel makes Western citizens accomplices in the slaughter of innocent civilians, children included. This is the real problem of Israel for the people of the world and in particular the people of Western nations who are very much the primary target of this attempt to, essentially, subvert their souls, or at least their humanity (or what is left of it).

Israel's ongoing attack on the people of Gaza represents a choice (albeit a weighted one) for the people of this planet. A gun is being held (figuratively and literally) to the head of a small child, and the question being put to the 'civilized' West is:

'Is there ANY situation under which it is appropriate to pull the trigger?'

Too many people are allowing themselves to be manipulated by the despicable lies and manipulations of psychopaths in positions of power to answer 'yes'. In doing so, they are pushing us all, as a global society, closer to the brink (and perhaps over the edge) of complete moral bankruptcy. The history of human civilizations is littered with, not only the stories, but the actual ruins of civilizations that provoked devastating catastrophes because they lost their connection to their own humanity.

Telegenically Dead Palestinians and the Subversion of your Soul

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Levi Quackenboss: There is no 'Anti-Vaccination Movement'

It's been 5 years since the mainstream media began writing about the "dangerous and misinformed anti-vaccination movement." Who are the kooks in this crazy unhinged movement? Surely they are hanging out in labor and delivery rooms, throwing mercury on expectant mothers, making threats against anyone who vaccinates their newborn for a sexually transmitted disease. Certainly they are sneaking into Boy Scout meetings by posing as den mothers and brainwashing neighborhood parents into hosting chickenpox parties. They organize violent protests, vandalize the homes of known pediatricians, and detox children at slumber parties without parental consent.

Take a look around you - undoubtedly someone from this "anti-vaccination movement" has infiltrated your very own social circle. Thank goodness for the media, otherwise you would never have known.

Except, there is no such thing as the "anti-vaccination movement." A "movement" is a growing organization of people, all pushing toward a common goal. People who exempt their children from vaccination don't have a "common goal." There is no target percentage of "anti-vaccination" they conspire to achieve. There is no agenda to push down anyone's throat. There is no point in time at which they hope to declare victory. The only thing that exemptors have in common is this: they don't care what you do with your kid. They only care about their own.

The "pro-vaccination movement" is funded - in cash, in product donations, and in intellectual manpower - by people who have gotten rich from the manufacture and sale of vaccines. Sure, they have uncompensated foot soldiers of uncertain mental stability, but the driving force is from a higher level. The goal of the "pro-vaccination movement" is to have 100% compliance with the vaccine program. Exemptors? Exemptors don't care if anyone complies.

The "pro-vaccination movement" teams up with local health departments to get state legislators to sponsor laws that take away parental rights. Exemptors? They don't care how anyone else parents their children; just don't tell them how to parent their own.

The "pro-vaccination movement" goes to their contacts in the pharmaceutical-owned media to call names and paint portraits of ignorance and mis-education of the parents who exercise their right of exemption. Exemptors? Most of them don't have any friends in the media and if they do, they sure aren't slinging mud. Why? Because they don't care what other people are doing with regard to vaccines.

See the pattern here? One group is trying to force the other group to bend to its will, but the roles aren't what the media tells you they are. There is no such thing as an "anti-vaccination movement."

The common thread in all of these scenarios is this: the exemptors aren't making anyone else do anything - they are minding their own business and worrying about their own. Do they talk? Sure. Do they answer questions? Absolutely. Do they call your home and threaten you - claiming to know where your children go to school - if you write a pro-vaccination piece on your little mommy blog?

No. No one reads your little mommy blog and exemptors certainly aren't threatened by what you write on it.

Exemptors aren't convinced that vaccines are safe enough to be administered to all children across the board and they don't subscribe to the notion that they're effective enough to create vaccine-induced herd immunity. What, they're not allowed to talk about that?

Where did this idea of there being a dangerous movement underfoot come from, you wonder?

Let's look at what else happened five years ago: Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, admitted in an interview that HHS "reached out to the media to get them to stop giving equal weight in their reporting" of the views of parents of vaccine injured children.

Wow. Did you hear that? One of the highest-ranking officials in the US Health Department admitted feeling threatened by moms and dads who tell the story of what vaccines did to their children. But worse than that, she admitted to gagging the media from speaking about it, which turned the tides and created the non-existent "anti-vaccination movement" out of thin air. In September of 2007 Jenny McCarthy went on to talk about vaccines and her son's autism. Two years later the media was gagged by the US Health Department and Jenny was made into a villain.

Despite what the media says, there is nothing new or trendy about being an exemptor, and it certainly doesn't have any roots in Malibu or Beverly Hills. Laws granting freedom from vaccination are celebrating their 117th birthday this year so instead of picturing a sexy actress like Alicia Silverstone when you think about exemptors, picture Queen Victoria (born in 1819), who, despite being the first member of the Royal Family vaccinated for smallpox, was the reigning Monarch during the birth of Conscientious Objection.

Even in the 1800s there were people who proclaimed the smallpox vaccine to be dangerous after seeing their family and friends become disabled or die after inoculation. Then they witnessed vaccinated neighbors come down with smallpox years later, so they weren't convinced of the vaccine's effectiveness, either. Some things never change, huh?

In 1853 vaccination for smallpox became mandatory, with fines for non-compliance and imprisonment for non-payment of the fines. This led to massive demonstrations by the working class, celebrities, and parliament members. In 1885, with over 3,000 prosecutions pending in one county alone, a demonstration of 20,000 people led to what eventually became the exemption of Conscientious Objection of 1898.

The 1898 Vaccination Act removed penalties for not vaccinating and allowed parents who did not believe that vaccination was safe or effective to obtain an exemption for their infant children. But there was a catch - in order to obtain the exemption they had to satisfy the requirements of two magistrates before the child was 4 months old. Unsurprisingly, many magistrates refused to perform their duties under the law and the intention behind granting liberty from vaccination floundered.

The exemptors pushed harder and the British government responded by passing the 1907 Vaccination Act. With that, a parent could exempt their child by mailing a written declaration to the local Vaccination Officer that stated their belief that vaccination would harm their child's health. In 1908 a whopping 17% of the British population filed for Conscientious Objector status. It was the advent of the modern Philosophical Exemption, born of oppressive government intervention and community meddling in parenting rights.

, my friends, was an "anti-vaccination movement."

So no, in 2015 there is no "anti-vaccination movement," but keep it up. Keep hurling insults in the media, keep schmoozing with local law makers. Keep going after infant children to receive vaccines that you yourself haven't had in decades. Keep on talking about this "anti-vaccination movement" and exemptors are going to give you something to talk about, mark my words. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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170-million-year old 'fish lizard' fossil found in Scotland's Isle of Skye

© Todd Marshall

An artist's rendering of the new ichthyosaur species discovered in Scotland.

A prehistoric marine-reptile fossil found in Scotland's Isle of Skye represents a new species that lived about 170 million years ago, a new study finds.

The specimen was a member of a group of extinct marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs. Researchers say the creature helps to fill in a gap in the fossil record during the Middle Jurassic period, which lasted from about 176 million to 161 million years ago.

"It's one of a select few specimens of that age in the world," said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the study, published today (Jan. 12) in the . Not only that, but "this is the first time we have something distinctly Scottish," Brusatte added.

Ichthyosaurs were predatory reptiles that ruled the oceans during the time of the dinosaurs, before large sharks and whales came on the scene. The first ichthyosaurs ever discovered were found in England, and some of the same kinds of rocks where fossils of these animals were found exist in Scotland, Brusatte told Live Science. Researchers suspected the fossils were there, and bits and pieces had been found, but no ichthyosaur fossils were reported in Scotland until now.

The specimens in the study were found by an amateur fossil collector named Brian Shawcross. Instead of taking the specimen home, Shawcross donated it to a museum, Brusatte said. The new species - - is named after him, as well as a Gaelic word for "marine lizard" ().

Brusatte and his colleagues found that the fossils contained the arm bone and vertebrae of a new ichthyosaur genus and species. The marine creature was likely about 14 feet (4.3 meters) long, or about the size of a motorboat, Brusatte said.

"It's not the most beautiful specimen in the world," he said. "If it was found somewhere [besides Scotland], people might not have looked at it very closely."

Sometime during the Middle Jurassic, ichthyosaurs experienced a major global turnover. Smaller ichthyosaurs gave way to larger, more advanced ones, and nobody knows why. The smaller ones went extinct, whereas the larger reptiles dominated the seas until the creatures went extinct by about 95 million years ago, in the early stages of the Late Cretaceous period.

The new species was a smaller ichthyosaur, but it helps flesh out the fossil record during the Middle Jurassic, Brusatte said.

In addition to , the researchers found teeth that could be from the ichthyosaur species , which was found to be widespread in the limestone rocks on the southern coast of England.

Brusatte thinks more ichthyosaur fossils exist in Scottish museums and private collections, and he hopes to find them. "Amateur collectors are so important in this story," he said. "We need to work with them."

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Do viruses lurking in our genes make us smarter? Not really

© Mehmet Pinarci

"Our Viral Inheritance May Make Us Smarter" cries the headline of a news story reporting on a new research study from Lund University in Sweden. "Junk DNA' from million-year-old viruses actually plays vital role in human intelligence: study" claims another, about the same study. The headlines are provocative indeed, suggesting viral gene fragments that are embedded in our genome are linked to intelligence.

But is that what the study really claims? Not really, as it turns out.

Before we go into the study, let me cover a little bit of the background. Mammals and viruses share a long and storied complex genetic history together. As viruses infected mammals again and again over millions of years, they transferred many thousands of viral gene fragments into the genome. Research stemming from the human genome project showed that there are at least 100,000 known viral fragments that are part of the human genome which makes up more than 8 percent of our genetic material. While these sequences were initially thought to be non-functional remnants of infection, we now know that many viral genes and proteins have evolved to become part of normal cellular functions and even serve to regulate the expression of other genes.

The most common of these fragments are known as endogenous retroviruses because they are very similar to a class of viruses known as retroviruses. Retroviruses themselves derive their name because of their ability to RNA back into DNA inside a host cell, reversing the traditional transcription process of converting DNA to RNA and then protein. The reverse transcribed DNA is then integrated into the host genome with the help of a specific viral enzyme known as an integrase and while this helps the virus replicate in the host cell.

The Lund University study sheds light on how some endogenous retroviruses may play a key role in brain function. The research group led by biologist Johan Jakobsson looked at the role of a protein called TRIM28 which had been previously shown by other groups to hold back the expression of endogenous retroviral elements. In a previous study, the same group found that when the TRIM28 gene was deleted in neurons of mice, they showed behavioral changes, particularly a vulnerability to stress. So in this study, Prof Jakobsson and his team wondered whether deleting TRIM28 might have a role to play in how neurons function by affecting expression of endogenous retroviruses.

To test this, the researchers took neuronal progenitor cells (stem-like cells that are on their way to becoming neurons) from mice that had the TRIM28 gene deleted and cultured them in the laboratory. They found that deleting TRIM28 in neuronal progenitor cells led to an increased expression of endogenous retroviruses which then altered the expression of nearby genes on the mouse genome.

The is is an exciting finding showing that there might be a mechanism of genetic regulation in the brain that we do not yet know about, one that is controlled by endogenous retroviruses. However, nowhere in the TRIM28 study do the researchers claim that TRIM28, endogenous retroviruses and intelligence are somehow connected. And appropriately so, considering that the study was conducted only on cultured cells and will need a lot more work to relate the finding to an effect on intelligence.

So where did the erroneous claims in the news come from? From the press release as it turns out, which had the headline - "Do viruses make us smarter?" Even though the body of the press release itself makes no reference to intelligence, the provocative headline is catching the eyes of reporters. Unfortunately, it is also having the consequence of spreading an idea that has no scientific backing.

Media coverage of this study is reminiscent of reports that appeared late last year about a virus that was linked to decline in cognitive performance in humans. While the stupidity virus' as it was dubbed made a splash, the reports were misleading and the results were inconclusive at best as Faye Flam wrote in

Purdue University virologist David Sanders said he would need to see this replicated before he'd believe the claim. One possible problem is the possibility that samples from the patients might have been contaminated with the algae virus.

He also raised questions about the peer review behind the paper. The journal, PNAS, allows authors to choose their own reviewers in some cases. "Something is wrong here...I don't know how the experiments happened," he said. "This is a whole bunch of random data stitched together with little real basis for making any conclusions."

It's provocative, and perhaps worth a follow up study, but unlikely to have implications for human stupidity.

She also points out that the hype generated had no legitimate source,

What's misleading here is the story never reveals who is being quoted saying "makes us more stupid." The implication is that it's the scientists or someone in authority. But there's no such phrase in the paper or the press release from Johns Hopkins University, nor does the story seem to include an interview.

I couldn't find the word "stupid" in any form, and the only time I could find the word "intelligence" was when the researchers admitted that infected and uninfected scored the same on a test called the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.

Interestingly, most of the media reports about the TRIM28 study do not refer to intelligence or smartness anywhere else apart from the headline, suggesting that they are following the lead of the press release. This is not uncommon as a recent study of misinformation in health news reporting found out.

All this is not to say that the study does not have importance. In fact it opens up a lot more of the genome to study as Jakobbson points out in the press release

"We have been able to observe that these viruses are activated specifically in the brain cells and have an important regulatory role. We believe that the role of retroviruses can contribute to explaining why brain cells in particular are so dynamic and multifaceted in their function."

"I believe that this can lead to new, exciting studies on the diseases of the brain. Currently, when we look for genetic factors linked to various diseases, we usually look for the genes we are familiar with, which make up a mere two per cent of the genome. Now we are opening up the possibility of looking at a much larger part of the genetic material which was previously considered unimportant."

But for now, while we are beginning to figure out the role that viruses (or their remnants) may play in human brain function, we are nowhere close to knowing whether they make us smarter or dumber.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Turkish president accuses 'the West' of being behind Charlie Hebdo attacks and deliberately 'blaming Muslims'

© Getty images

Blame game: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested French security forces were behind the Paris attacks as they 'track' former prisoners and the culprits in the Charlie Hebdo shootings had served time.

The President of Turkey has suggested French security forces are to blame for the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week, since the culprits had recently served prison sentences.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the West of 'playing games with the Islamic world', warning fellow Muslims to be 'aware'.

Erdogan said Muslims are 'paying the price' for the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish kosher supermarket in Paris last week.

'French citizens carry out such a massacre, and Muslims pay the price,' Erdogan said yesterday.

'That's very meaningful ... Doesn't their intelligence organisation track those who leave prison?

'Games are being played with the Islamic world, we need to be aware of this.

'The West's hypocrisy is obvious. As Muslims, we've never taken part in terrorist massacres. Behind these lie racism, hate speech and Islamophobia,' Erdogan added.

Erdogan also denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attending a solidarity rally in France on Sunday with other world leaders after the Paris attacks.

'How can a man who has killed 2,500 people in Gaza with state terrorism wave his hand in Paris, like people are waiting in excitement for him to do so? How dare he go there?' he said.

[embedded content]

© Getty images

Erdogan made the comments at a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ankara on Monday.

Erdogan did not attend the Sunday march, though Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu participated.

Erdogan is not the only senior Turkish politician publicly voicing conspiracy theories over the Paris attacks.

The Mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, said he was convinced the Israeli intelligence service Mossad was behind the attacks, linking them to France's recent move towards recognising Palestine as an independent state.

'Mossad is definitely behind such incidents... it is boosting enmity towards Islam.' Mr Gokcek said, according to .

In Russia, several pro-Kremlin commentators blamed the United States and the CIA for the attack, the newspaper reported.

One, Alexei Martynov, director of the International Institute for New States, said 'I am sure that some American supervisors are responsible for the terror attacks in Paris, or in any case the Islamists who carried them out.'

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Flooding in Mozambique and Malawi claims at least 40 lives

© Unknown

Flooded roads in Mozambique (file photo)

Flooding has claimed at least 40 lives in Mozambique and neighboring Malawi, where a state of emergency has been declared over almost a third of the country.

A group of 25 school children was swept away by torrents in Mozambique on Monday, and 18 others have been reported missing in the country, whose large eastern swathes have been swamped.

In the town of Mocuba in central Zambezia Province, where the Licungo River overflowed its banks, 15,000 people have lost their homes. The flooding of the river has been described as the worst since 1971.

The authorities have decreed maximum alert in the north and center of the country, warning that the rains would continue.

Malawi officials said at least 19 people died in the southeast African country, and nearly 3,900 homes had to be abandoned. Much of the country's center and western border region is under water.

The region is likely to face at least two more days of torrential rain carried by late summer storms, according to meteorologists.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Cops nonchalantly hose celebrating Ohio State fans with pepper spray for no reason

[embedded content]

Ohio State football fans on Monday celebrated the university's championship game win by going berserk in the streets of Columbus. The local police, in turn, responded by indiscriminately blasting the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas, as this video from show.

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World Bank report: Low oil prices create 'window of opportunity' for China and India

© David McNew/Getty Images/AFP

Oil importing countries like China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa will be the big winners as oil prices continue to weaken in 2015, the World Bank says in a report.

Battered oil prices "creates a window of opportunity for oil importing countries, such as China and India; we expect India's growth to rise to 7 percent by 2016. What is critical is for nations to use this window to usher in fiscal and structural reforms, which can boost long-run growth and inclusive development," Kaushik Basu, one of the main authors of the report, and the World Bank Chief Economist, writes in the report published Tuesday.

Emerging markets can use sagging energy prices to their advantage to build up financial reserves. Inflation, or the price of goods, is likely to remain low, delaying wealthy countries from raising interest rates, which bumps up the cost of borrowing.

"In Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, the fall in oil prices will help lower inflation and reduce current account deficits, a major source of vulnerability for many of these countries," the report says.

The World Bank publishes its Global Economic Prospects twice a year, once in June and again in January. Overall, global economic growth is slated to increase by 3 percent, up from June's 2.6 percent.

Growth in Europe and Central Asia will remain sluggish, exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis.

Europe and Central Asia was already expected to have slowed to less than 2.4 percent, according to the last forecast given by the Washington-based institution.

"Recession in Russia holds back growth in the Commonwealth of Independent States whereas a gradual recovery in the euro area should lift growth in Central and Eastern Europe and Turkey," the report says.

Sustained low oil prices will hurt economic activity in major exporting countries, such as Russia, which will likely see its economy decline by 2.9 percent in 2015, the World Bank says.

In neighboring Ukraine, GDP will fall by 2.3 percent in 2015, a major revision from the Bank's minus 1 percent estimate in its previous report. Kiev is weighed down by external debt and a high budget deficit.

"Risks to the global economy are considerable. Countries with relatively more credible policy frameworks and reform-oriented governments will be in a better position to navigate the challenges of 2015," concluded Franziska Ohnsorge, lead author of the report.

The Hryvnia, Ukraine's national currency, lost 85 percent against the US dollar in 2014, making it the worst performing worldwide, with Russia second as the ruble lost 46 percent.

"Ukraine's economy is facing high levels of uncertainty. In the baseline scenario, which assumes no further escalation, we expect a slowdown in 2015 and the recovery in the 2016 and 2017 years," the report said.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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One of the Milky Way's arms might encircle the entire galaxy

Milky Way

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

Artist’s conception of the Milky Way galaxy as seen from far Galactic North.

Given that our Solar System sits inside the Milky Way Galaxy, getting a clear picture of what it looks like as a whole can be quite tricky. In fact, it was not until 1852 that astronomer Stephen Alexander first postulated that the galaxy was spiral in shape. And since that time, numerous discoveries have come along that have altered how we picture it.

For decades astronomers have thought the Milky Way consists of four arms - made up of stars and clouds of star-forming gas - that extend outwards in a spiral fashion. Then in 2008, data from the Spitzer Space Telescope seemed to indicate that our Milky Way has just two arms, but a larger central bar. But now, according to a team of astronomers from China, one of our galaxy's arms may stretch farther than previously thought, reaching all the way around the galaxy.

This arm is known as Scutum - Centaurus, which emanates from one end of the Milky Way bar, passes between us and Galactic Center, and extends to the other side of the galaxy. For many decades, it was believed that was where this arm terminated.

However, back in 2011, astronomers Thomas Dame and Patrick Thaddeus from the Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics spotted what appeared to be an extension of this arm on the other side of the galaxy, placing it outside of our Solar System as well.

Interstellar space

© NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Star-forming region in interstellar space.

But according to astronomer Yan Sun and colleagues from the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, China, the Scutum - Centaurus Arm may extend even farther than that. Using a novel approach to study gas clouds located between 46,000 to 67,000 light-years beyond the center of our galaxy, they detected 48 new clouds of interstellar gas, as well as 24 previously-observed ones.

For the sake of their study, Sun and his colleagues relied on radio telescope data provided by the Milky Way Imaging Scroll Painting project, which scans interstellar dust clouds for radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide gas. Next to hydrogen, this gas is the most abundant element to be found in interstellar space - but is easier for radio telescopes to detect.

Combining this information with data obtained by the Canadian Galactic Plane Survey (which looks for hydrogen gas), they concluded that these 72 clouds line up along a spiral-arm segment that is 30,000 light-years in length. What's more, they claim in their report that: "The new arm appears to be the extension of the distant arm recently discovered by Dame & Thaddeus (2011) as well as the Scutum-Centaurus Arm into the outer second quadrant."

Scutum-Centaurus Arm

© Yan Sun/The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Vol. 798/Robert Hurt. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC

Illustration of our galaxy showing the possible extension of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm.

This would mean the arm is not only the single largest in our galaxy, but is also the only one to effectively reach 360° around the Milky Way. Such a find would be unprecedented given the fact that nothing of the sort has been observed with other spiral galaxies in our local universe.

Thomas Dame, one of the astronomers who discovered the possible extension of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm in 2011, was quoted by as saying: "It's rare. I bet that you would have to look through dozens of face-on spiral galaxy images to find one where you could convince yourself you could track one arm 360 degrees around."

Naturally, the prospect presents some problems. For one, there is an apparent gap between the segment that Dame and Thaddeus discovered in 2011 and the start of the one discovered by the Chinese team - a 40,000 light-year gap to be exact. This could mean that the clouds that Sun and his colleagues discovered may not be part of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm after all, but an entirely new spiral-arm segment.

If this is true, than it would mean that our Galaxy has several "outer" arm segments. On the other hand, additional research may close that gap (so to speak) and prove that the Milky Way is as beautiful when seen afar as any of the spirals we often observe from the comfort of our own Solar System.

Further Reading: arXiv Astrophysics,

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6th earthquake in 2 days rattles Connecticut

Another minor earthquake has rattled eastern Connecticut.

Boston College's Weston Observatory says the 2.1 magnitude earthquake at about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday was in Plainfield. It was in the same area as five small earthquakes over five hours Monday morning.

The strongest of those was 3.1 magnitude and could be felt in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Last Thursday, an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.0 to 2.2 was felt in Plainfield. Homeowners reported it was strong enough to shake picture frames off the walls.

A research scientist at the Weston Observatory said such a series of small earthquakes in the Northeast is not unusual because the eastern U.S. is atop a tectonic plate affected by geological pressure.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Mysterious smoke that filled DC train station leaves one person dead and over 80 hospitalized


Smoke fills a yellow line car near the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station.

One person is dead and dozens more are injured after smoke poured into one of Washington, D.C.'s busiest metro stations Monday, creating what authorities described as a "mass casualty" incident.

The heavy smoke began billowing out of L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station around 3 p.m. after a disabled train became trapped inside an underground tunnel, DC Fire and EMS reported.

At least 83 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, including a firefighter, and two were critically injured, authorities said.

"We have one fatality, a woman who was in distress on the train, which I'm very sorry to report," Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles said at a press briefing.


Smoke fills the inside of L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station in Washington DC

More than 200 people evacuated from the scene were evaluated for possible injuries, they stated.

"People could barely breathe," passenger Denzel Hatch told NBC Washington . "They had to evacuate us through the tunnel and walk back through the front. No electricity, no visibility, nothing. Couldn't see anything at first."

The source of the smoke has yet to be determined, according to the city's Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. They say they've activated the tunnel fans to ventilate the station which is located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

The National Transportation Safety Board is now handling the investigation, an WMATA spokeswoman told the Daily News.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser offered her sentiments to the victims as well as her thanks to the "brave first responders" in a statement released later Monday night.

"We are all saddened by today's fatality aboard the Metrorail, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the passenger who passed away," she stated. "I have been in contact with the WMATA leadership, and we will continue to keep the District's resources available in the aftermath of the incident."

'Mass Casualty' is a term utilized when additional resources are potentially necessary on large scale incidents," DC Fire Fighter L36 tweeted.

The station has since closed with Green Line services suspended between Navy Yard and Mt. Vernon Square and the Yellow Line services suspended between Pentagon City and Mt. Vernon Square.

Authorities say to expect "significant delays."

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Rouhani: Iran will weather oil price slide, some Gulf states will suffer

© Reuters / Adrees Latif

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that Iran can cope with the economic turmoil of falling oil prices, adding that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will be harder hit.

Rouhani said that while oil now only accounts for one-third of Tehran's budget, some of the Gulf states are up to 95 percent reliant on it.

"If Iran suffers from the drop in oil prices, know that other oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will suffer more than Iran," he said.

He added that "Kuwait's budget is 95 percent reliant on oil," and 90 percent of Saudi Arabia's "annual exports are related to oil."

Rouhani was addressing a crowd in the southern city of Bushehr - home to a nuclear power plant built with the help of the Russians, which became operational in 2011.

He also said that falling prices for crude oil are the result of "a plot that will be overcome with unity and resistance."

"Those [countries] who have planned the oil price reduction against some countries should know that they will regret it," he said, without elaborating on what countries he meant.

© AFP Photo / Atta Kenare

Iranian South Pars quarter one (SPQ1) gas platform in the Gulf near Qatar's territorial waters.

Rouhani was elected in 2013 on promises to turn around Iran's sanctions-hit economy. He has successfully lifted the country out of recession and recently began to stress the importance of non-oil exports.

Iran was somewhat caught off guard by the slide in oil prices, as its current budget was based on sales at US$100 a barrel.

Tehran cut that estimate to $72 in March but oil has now hit a six-year low, with Brent crude trading at just $46.

With Rouhani at the helm, inflation rates have halved to less than 20 percent. With progress in talks regarding Iran's controversial nuclear program, some sanctions by the West have been lifted.

But as oil prices continue to tumble, there is now the prospect of a deficit in Tehran, particularly as businesses are cut off from loans in the international banking system, as most of the sanctions still remain in place.

By seeking to hammer out a deal with the six world powers, Rouhani had hoped to breathe life into the Iranian economy by opening Iran up to foreign companies and partnership deals.

Due to Western sanctions, Iran's oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to about one million barrels today, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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NASA: Satellite to get the dirt on soil moisture


© eospso.nasa.gov

SMAP: Soil Moisture Active-Passive

A new NASA satellite that will peer into the topmost layer of Earth's soils to measure the hidden waters that influence our weather and climate is in final preparations for a Jan. 29 dawn launch from California.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will take the pulse of a key measure of our water planet: how freshwater cycles over Earth's land surfaces in the form of soil moisture. The mission will produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps ever obtained from space of the moisture present in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth's soils. It also will detect and map whether the ground is frozen or thawed. This data will be used to enhance scientists' understanding of the processes that link Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles.

"With data from SMAP, scientists and decision makers around the world will be better equipped to understand how Earth works as a system and how soil moisture impacts a myriad of human activities, from floods and drought to weather and crop yield forecasts," said Christine Bonniksen, SMAP program executive with the Science Mission Directorate's Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SMAP's global soil moisture measurements will provide a new capability to improve our understanding of Earth's climate."

Globally, the volume of soil moisture varies between three and five percent in desert and arid regions, to between 40 and 50 percent in saturated soils. In general, the amount depends on such factors as precipitation patterns, topography, vegetation cover and soil composition. There are not enough sensors in the ground to map the variability in global soil moisture at the level of detail needed by scientists and decision makers. From space, SMAP will produce global maps with 6-mile (10-kilometer) resolution every two to three days.

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Researchers want to measure soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state better for numerous reasons. Plants and crops draw water from the soil through their roots to grow. If soil moisture is inadequate, plants fail to grow, which over time can lead to reduced crop yields. Also, energy from the sun evaporates moisture in the soil, thereby cooling surface temperatures and also increasing moisture in the atmosphere, allowing clouds and precipitation to form more readily. In this way, soil moisture has a significant effect on both short-term regional weather and longer-term global climate.

In summer, plants in Earth's northern boreal regions -- the forests found in Earth's high northern latitudes -- take in carbon dioxide from the air and use it to grow, but lay dormant during the winter freeze period. All other factors being equal, the longer the growing season, the more carbon plants take in and the more effective forests are in removing carbon dioxide from the air. Since the start of the growing season is marked by the thawing and refreezing of water in soils, mapping the freeze/thaw state of soils with SMAP will help scientists more accurately account for how much carbon plants are removing from the atmosphere each year. This information will lead to better estimates of the carbon budget in the atmosphere and, hence, better assessments of future global warming.

SMAP data will enhance our confidence in projections of how Earth's water cycle will respond to climate change.

"Assessing future changes in regional water availability is perhaps one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world today," said Dara Entekhabi, SMAP science team leader at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Today's computer models disagree on how the water cycle -- precipitation, clouds, evaporation, runoff, soil water availability -- will increase or decrease over time and in different regions as our world warms. SMAP's higher-resolution soil moisture data will improve the models used to make daily weather and longer-term climate predictions."

SMAP pic 2

© article.wn.com

Tracking moisture on a global scale.

SMAP also will advance our ability to monitor droughts, predict floods and mitigate the related impacts of these extreme events. It will allow the monitoring of regional deficits in soil moisture and provide critical inputs into drought monitoring and early warning systems used by resource managers. The mission's high-resolution observations of soil moisture will improve flood warnings by providing information on ground saturation conditions before rainstorms.

SMAP's two advanced instruments work together to produce soil moisture maps. Its active radar works much like a flash camera, but instead of transmitting visible light, it transmits microwave pulses that pass through clouds and moderate vegetation cover to the ground and measures how much of that signal is reflected back. Its passive radiometer operates like a natural-light camera, capturing emitted microwave radiation without transmitting a pulse. Unlike traditional cameras, however, SMAP's images are in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is invisible to the naked eye. Microwave radiation is sensitive to how much moisture is contained in the soil.

The two instruments share a large, lightweight reflector antenna that will be unfurled in orbit like a blooming flower and then spin at about 14 revolutions per minute. The antenna will allow the instruments to collect data across a 621-mile (1,000-kilometer) swath, enabling global coverage every two to three days.

SMAP's radiometer measurements extend and expand on soil moisture measurements currently made by the European Space Agency's Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, launched in 2009. With the addition of a radar instrument, SMAP's soil moisture measurements will be able to distinguish finer features on the ground.

SMAP will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket and maneuver into a 426-mile (685-kilometer) altitude, near-polar orbit that repeats exactly every eight days. The mission is designed to operate at least three years.

SMAP is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, with instrument hardware and science contributions made by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. JPL is responsible for project management, system engineering, radar instrumentation, mission operations and the ground data system. Goddard is responsible for the radiometer instrument. Both centers collaborate on science data processing and delivery to the Alaska Satellite Facility, in Fairbanks, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, at the University of Colorado in Boulder, for public distribution and archiving. NASA's Launch Services Program at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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