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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Pat Robertson advises elderly woman: Reverse mortgage is 'good deal' to help pay '700 Club' dues

Pat Robertson

© CBN host Pat Robertson (screen grab)

TV preacher Pat Robertson on Tuesday advised a senior citizen who was a paying member of his teleministry that a reverse mortgage was a "good deal" if she was having trouble making ends meet.

"I have been a 700 Club partner for many years," a woman named Maria explained in an email. "I am 67 years old and still working because retirement money does not cover our basic expenses."

"I was thinking about a reverse mortgage but have my doubts," Maria wrote. "What do you think?"

Robertson pointed out that a reverse mortgage prevented the bank from taking "your house away from you as long as you are alive and living."

"You don't have to pay it off, but somebody has to pay it off, namely the United States taxpayer," Robertson continued. "So, it's not a good deal for the taxpayers, but for most people it's a pretty good deal."

The televangelist recommended that Maria speak to a financial adviser, but added that "it could be a good deal for you."

Becoming a partner starts at $240 a year for a basic membership. A Chairman's Circle membership runs $10,000 a year.

Watch the video below from Jan. 27, 2015.

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Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Israel launches airstrikes on Syria following rocket attack, 'red line' warning from Iran

Israel mobile artillery units

© Reuters/Baz Ratner

Israeli soldiers are seen next to mobile artillery units near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights January 27, 2015.

Israeli jets struck several targets in Syria in response to Hezbollah rocket fire into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the IDF said. The exchange came as Iran warned Tel Aviv of crossing a "red line" with the murder of an Iranian general in Syria.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) announced striking Syrian army artillery targets late on Tuesday night in response to an earlier rocket attack on Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.

"The IDF views the Syrian regime as responsible for what occurs in its territory, and will act at any time and any way it sees fit to protect the citizens of Israel," the IDF said.

Israel's retaliation followed two rocket attacks believed to be perpetrated by Hezbollah in the northern Golan Heights on Tuesday afternoon. While the projectiles exploded in open territory and caused no damage or casualties, some 1,000 visitors to the Mount Hermon ski resort still fled for cover.

The exchange of fire came as Iran officially warned Israel of a response after Tel Aviv crossed a "red line" when it killed an Iranian general in an airstrike on Syria earlier this month.

"We told the Americans that the leaders of the Zionist regime should await the consequences of their act," Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said, as quoted by IRNA news agency. "The Zionist regime has crossed our red lines."

The minister said Iran delivered the message to Israel via US diplomatic channels.

Israel mobile artillery units2

© Reuters/Baz Ratner

Israeli soldiers are seen next to mobile artillery units near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights January 27, 2015.

Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, a senior Iranian general serving as an adviser to the Syrian army, was killed on January 18 along with six Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian-controlled part of Golan Heights.

© Facebook

Neither Israeli authorities nor the IDF have officially commented on the operation. However, a security source confirmed earlier to Reuters on condition of anonymity that it was "an Israeli helicopter that carried out the attack." The helicopter fired rockets at the convoy, while two Israeli reconnaissance planes were also reportedly seen flying over the area.

Iran continued to threaten Israel on Tuesday, with the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, voicing strong rhetoric against Israel, saying the country is nearing its final collapse after its recent surge of air attacks on Syria.

"The Quds occupying regime is making its last moves and it knows that it is nearing its end," Jafari told reporters on Tuesday.

The IRGC commander also pointed to the strength of the Resistance Front.

"They [Israelis] have experienced eight-year-long resistance, the 33-day war and the resistance shown in Gaza and Palestine, and they know how powerful and steadfast the Resistance Front is."

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned that Iran is seeking to open a new front against Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights.

"Iran seeks to attack Israel, whether from Lebanon with Hezbollah or from Gaza, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or whether it's what we saw last Sunday - an Iranian arm that is beginning to develop, to open a front against us on the Golan Heights," Ya'alon said.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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From the files of Dr. Obvious: Infant brain waves indicate pain during vaccine jabs

vaccine baby

© Dees Illustration

The average person realizes that shots hurt. There's a reason children scream and cry in anguish when they receive vaccinations. Apparently, this tidbit hasn't registered much among the medical community or else why would there be a need to widely publish EEG results of infants at the moment they get jabs? People tend to think babies will move on quickly and forget sooner....

Not only does the following study demonstrate the painful results of babies getting jabs, but is said to be the first time that recordings of brain activity have been conducted in response to real-life needle pain in infants.

It would seem like a study of this nature would have been performed eons ago, and on that note it is morbid that such a study is needed at all. Perhaps it is a growing distaste for vaccines that prompts a study like this with the aim of supporting future painless vaccines or some type of pain relief at the time of inoculation.

The pro-vaccine authors want the public and the health care providers to know that vaccines are the most common cause of procedural pain in children. That the pain is real and can lead to lifelong fear of needles, trauma and distrust.

As it happens, researchers from University College London, with their work published in the International Association for the Study of Pain's recent issue of PAIN®, want to focus on future pain-relieving measures.

"We have shown that inoculation evokes, from the time of the first needle contact, a clearly defined EEG response in infants up to at least one year of age," they say.

From the study press-release (emphasis added):

Brain Activity in Response to Shots in Infants...

The researchers performed elecroencephalography (EEG) in 15 healthy babies receiving routine vaccinations. A noninvasive and painless procedure, EEG is done to measure electrical activity in the brain, using electrodes placed in specific locations on the scalp. Twelve infants were tested during vaccinations at age one to two months, and five at age 12 months.

Dr Verriotis and colleagues compared the EEG findings with behavioral pain responses: facial expression, crying, and movements. Such behavioral responses are the standard method for assessing pain in preverbal infants. The researchers filmed the procedures to identify the precise timing of EEG responses to vaccination pain.

The EEG recordings showed two clear waveforms, or "spikes," which appeared within milliseconds after the first contact of the needle with the infant's skin. Although the waveforms appeared in both age groups, they were significantly larger in one- to two-month-old infants than in one-year-olds.

In three infants studied at both ages, the EEG responses--particularly for the first waveform--appeared clearer and larger at age 12 months. The EEG patterns were also more reproducible in older infants. The researchers suggest that these age-related differences might reflect developmental changes in the brain during the first year of life: an increased number of neurons (nerve cells), a larger proportion of neurons being activated, or better synchronization of firing activity.

Then, vaguely, they suggest that behavioral pain perceived (maxing 8 on a 10-point scale) doesn't necessarily match the EEG, which does show the brain trying to process the pain. Does that mean the actual pain was less or worse than the behavioral signs? Not clear, but the point was to demonstrate the reality of vaccine pain despite behavior (although most children respond in the obvious way to vaccination).

The fact that the wave forms were larger in young infants versus one-year-olds despite the same obvious behavior from both says something about development. Is it really a great idea to experience that type of high-threshold trauma so early in life?

What also stands out when viewing this study is: society punishes parents who spank their children - but what are the implications of an authority figure taking her infant to another authority figure and handing them over for a painful injection, and again later on with implied promises of "you'll get better" or this is "for your own good (and society's)?" Where it's possible that neither party fully comprehends not only the ingredients' effects in the bloodstream, but the long-term biological impact.

Besides, talk about trust issues....

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Growing up in a corporate-controlled junk culture

"It seems to me that my daughter and her classmates have more depression and mood disorders than in my day (the 60s and 70s). I know at least one other parent who wonders if there's a cause - the water, vaccines, all of the above.

"Thanks to you though I think it could be psychiatric drugs, which kids will filch from their parents' medicine cabinets to take and share. Then they are stuck with the withdrawal syndrome.

"Looking for more of the picture. Peg"

Here was my response, which, for the purposes of this column, I have expanded upon:

"Yes Peg, your observations are correct. Our children (and us adults as well - but we aren't developing adolescents anymore, are we?) are being forced to grow up in a junk culture, which, thanks to influences such as our powerful, corporate-controlled, profit-driven media, teaches junk values, encourages the swallowing of neurotoxic brain-altering psychiatric drugs, and forces them, during their most brain-vulnerable years, to be injected with multiple doses of highly toxic 'vaccines' that have been proven to damage their immune systems, harm their central nervous systems while simultaneously contributing to the alarming incidences of chronic autoimmune disorders such asasthma; rheumatoid arthritis; autistic spectrum disorders; Gulf War Syndrome; Guillain-Barré syndrome; systemic lupus erythematosus; multiple sclerosis; idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura; Type I and Type II diabetes mellitus; and inflammatory bowel disease; . ( )

"Our American junk culture, which is highly profitable for the amoral corporate diabetogenic, obesity-inducing food, entertainment, drug, media, fashion and sports industries, encourages the ingestion of toxic junk food, toxic carbohydrates, toxic synthetic fats and then saturates them with crazy-making social media, brain-altering electromagnetic radiation from the ubiquitous wireless technologies that they hold so close to their brains, advertising and mindless, addicting entertainment (which makes 'normal' the ingestion of age-inappropriate, nightmarish gore, horror, sex and violence that disturbs sleep, personality and brain development and the ability to learn normally).

"If our girls and boys don't think that they are meeting the unachievable images of Valley Girls, blonde beauty queens, vivacious big-breasted cheerleaders or star quarterback athletes (or even not enough Facebook 'friends') they feel that they are failing and are thus prone - in the absence of spiritual strengths like safety, freedom from violence, freedom from bullying and a feeling of love and acceptance from parental figures - to sadness and anxiety. And the profit-making amoral corporations don't give a rip that they are doing it to them.

"America's current crop of junk-cultivated children, whose brains did not have the advantage we might have had (of being nourished with organic food and no prescription drugs) now, starting at infancy, have damaged and therefore dysfunctional neurological systems that may be incapable of acting like adults when faced with troubling situations. And they may not realize that they are living in an abnormal universe that they sense is not good for them. And most of the information that they need to know is being censored out of their (and our) consciousness so that they may be doomed as long as corporations have control over their lives. And I suppose that the most enlightened kids know that America's 'honorable' corporations are wasting the planet, poisoning the soil, water and air and they may feel hopeless in the face of that trend. And they also know that America's lawmakers - whom their Christian parents elected to office - have done very little in opposition.

"And yes, the virtually universal misdiagnosis of 'mental illnesses' (and the 98% chance that they will be prescribed untested combinations of brain-altering, neurotoxic, psychotoxic drugs) whenever they make the mistake of mentioning to their reflexively prescribing practitioners that they are being bullied, traumatized, deprived, misunderstood, humiliated and thus having normal fears, tiredness, fatigue, sleep deprivation, sadness or anxiety.

"One therapeutic thing that always helped my patients was pointing out to them that their 'mental illness' labels were not true. Rather, most of them were only suffering temporary emotional stress and were not permanently mentally ill at all. They only needed - and usually didn't get - good psychotherapy, restorative sleep, healthful nutrition and thoughtful understanding from family and friends rather than mainly being prescribed combinations of synthetic brain-altering chemicals (unproven to be safe or effective long-term in human clinical trials) that were even poorly tested either short- or long term in the animal labs.

"Hope this sobering information helps somehow. Hopefully the truth will still make us free. GGK"

And here is more sobering information that gets to the roots:

Eleven Cunning Policies of the American Ruling Classes that Have Actually Promoted Violence and Criminality Among the Lower Classes

The following excerpts are from pp. 186 - 189 of Dr James Gilligan's ground-breaking book, first paperback edition - published in 1997. Occasional editorial notes have been added in italics.)

The eleven policies below have socially, psychologically and economically stimulated unnecessary, reversible, (theoretically) temporary and thus potentially curable (without the use of drugs) mental ill health symptoms - all too-often misdiagnosed as "mental illnesses of unknown origin".

The symptoms artificially created by these cunning policies range from depression, anxiety, mania, and suicidality to aggression, psychosis, criminal behavior, and homicidality. (

malnutrition and vaccine injuries have affected multitudes of vulnerable children in America, especially those poor or underprivileged folks who have been denied access to healthy food and also mandated to take ever increasing doses of innoculants that have contain the neurotoxins mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, unknown contaminants, viral particles and chemical adjuvants.

ncreasingly, the poor and uninformed only eat high carb, sugary, highly processed, high transfat, artificially flavored and colored, synthetic junk food that, along with the ubiquitous synthetic prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet (and the immunotoxic and neurotoxic vaccines that are given during the years in which their brains are most actively developing), are slowly sickening the bodies and brains of the children who represent the future of humanity and our dying planet.

Here is Gilligan's brilliant assessment of what has caused America's high rates of violence and criminality:

"It is in the political interest of the political parties that represent the very rich to foster as high a rate of crime as possible, and even to exaggerate what the crime rate is, to foment fear and panic about violent crime far beyond what is realistically appropriate. For the more that people are worried about crime and violence, the more the middle class will focus its anger and fear on the poor and members of certain minority groups (for most of the violence that is labeled as "crime" is committed by people from those groups).

The nonviolent and noncriminal poor will be angry at those other poor people who are violent criminals; and both those classes will be too distracted by their anger at the lower-class criminals to notice that they have much better reasons to be angry at the very rich, and the (political) party that represents the interests of the rich, than at all the violent criminals put together.

Ironically, when crime is at its maximum, the party of the rich can even represent itself as the savior of everybody, by promising to "get tough on crime" and by declaring its "war on crime" (which, as I have said, is really a war on the poor - that social class which is seen, in this mystification, as being the ultimate source of most crime and violence), thus distracting attention from the fact that the ultimate source of most crime and violence is actually the upper class - or rather, the class system.

Thus, it is not surprising at all - indeed, it is only to be expected - that those who identify with the interests of the ruling class would be likely to pursue those policies that lead to an increase in the rate of what is legally defined as crime and violence. Such policies include the following:

1) Punishing more and more people (criminals) more and more harshly, by means of more and harsher prisons, capital punishment, and so on. Nothing stimulates crime as powerfully and as effectively as punishment does (since punishment stimulates shame and diminishes guilt, and shame stimulates violence, especially when it is not inhibited by guilt).

2) Outlawing those drugs that inhibit violence (such as marijuana and heroin), while legalizing and advertising those that stimulate violence and cause physical injury and death (such as alcohol and tobacco - ); and criminalizing those drugs that have no demonstrable direct (pharmacological) effect on violent behavior (such as cocaine), thus spending billions of taxpayers' dollars to stimulate crime and violence by providing an enormous publicly funded subsidy for those organized crime groups who profit from the fact that the smaller the supply of these drugs, the higher their price; and then misinforming the public () about the relationship between drugs, crime and violence, as though crime and violence were caused by illicit drugs (which they are not) rather than by enormously profitable legal drugs such as alcohol (...which has been shown to stimulate violence), all of which distracts the public from noticing that the real cause of violence is not () drugs. The real cause of violence is the "war on drugs" (and the social and economic inequities which the "war on drugs" is designed to distract attention from).

3) Manipulating the tax laws and other economic policies so as to increase the disparity in income and wealth between the rich and the poor, for that also stimulates crime and violence, by maximizing the degree to which the poor are subjected to experiences and feelings of being shamed, humiliated, and made to feel inferior.

4) Depriving the poor of access to education (especially if they are in prison), for nothing decreases the rate of crime and violence as powerfully and effectively as does education. We know that the single most effective factor which reduces the rate of recidivism in the prison population is education, and yet education in the prisons is the first item to be cut when an administration "gets tough on crime." Educational achievement provides prisoners in need of rehabilitation with a nonviolent source of self-esteem or pride; it protects them against the vulnerability to shame, and the injuries of structural violence (poverty) that motivate criminal violence.

5) Perpetuating the caste divisions of society that usually fall along racial lines. The poor and members of minority racial and ethnic groups are regularly subjected to maximal degrees of shame, humiliation, and feelings of inferiority by being told that they are innately and inherently stupid and intellectually inferior; that is then turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy by depriving them of the education they would need in order to develop their actual intellectual potential.

6) Exposing the public to entertainment that glorifies violence and holds it out as a () source of pride, honor, and masculine self-esteem.

7) Making lethal weapons easily available to the general public. ().

8) Maximizing the polarization and asymmetry of the social roles of men and women. Nothing stimulates crime and violence more than the division of males and females into the roles of violence object and sex object, respectively.

9) Encouraging the prejudice against homosexuality, by striving to keep homosexuals out of the military, and from positions of leadership within religious institutions. Nothing stimulates violence more powerfully and effectively than homophobia, just as nothing would prevent it more effectively than a more relaxed, tolerant, and respectful attitude toward homosexuality (but what would the raison d'etre of the military be without violence?).

10) Perpetuating and legitimizing the exposure of children and youth to violence such as corporal discipline in school and at home (), injuries that would be considered assault and battery if inflicted on those who are more mature, and yet are regularly declared legitimate by our highest courts.

11) Regulating the economy so as to ensure that unemployment will never be abolished or even fall below a high enough minimum (maintaining high unemployment rates makes desperate, under-employed workers willing to work for next to nothing, thus ensuring low hiring costs for the amoral corporations that are legally obligated by capitalistic norms and their governing boards to do anything and everything to maintain high profits and thus high share prices - Ed. note).

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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FLASHBACK: Ukrainian deputy exposes plans for civil unrest and war in 2013

This video, from November 20, 2013, shows People's Deputy of Ukraine Oleg Tsarov explaining in the Ukrainian parliament U.S. plans for civil unrest and civil war in Ukraine. This was the night before the protests began (on November 21).

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See below for the transcript.

Deputy Oleg Tsarov has the word.

Honourable colleagues, Honourable Vladimir Vasiljevitch,

In my role as a representative of the Ukrainian people, activists of the public organisation "Volya" turned to me, providing clear evidence that within our territory, with support and direct participation of the US Embassy in Kiev, the "TechCamp" project is realised, under which preparations are being made for a civil war in Ukraine.

The "TechCamp" project prepares specialists for information warfare and the discrediting of state institutions using modern media, potential revolutionaries for organising protests, and the toppling of the State Order.

The project is currently overseen and under the responsibility of the US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt.

After the conversation with the organisation "Volya" I have learned that they succeeded to access facilities in the project "TechCamp" disguised as a team of IT specialists. To their surprise, briefings on peculiarities of modern media were held.

American instructors explained how social networks and Internet technologies can be used for targeted manipulation of public opinion as well as to activate protest potential to provoke violent unrest on the territory of Ukraine, radicalization of the population, and triggering of infighting.

American instructors show examples of successful use of social networks used to organise protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

"TechCamp" representatives currently hold conferences throughout Ukraine. A total of five events have been held so far. About 300 people were trained as operatives, which are now active throughout Ukraine. The last conference "TechCamp" took place on 14 and 15 November 2013 in the Heart of Kiev on the territory of the US Embassy!

You tell me which country in the world would allow an NGO to operate out of the ​US Embassy?

This is disrespectful to the Ukrainian government, and against the Ukrainian People!

I appeal to the Constitutional Authorities of Ukraine with the following question:

Is it conceivable that representatives of the US Embassy which organise the "TechCamp" conferences misuse their diplomatic mission?

- - Let him speak - -

- - Carry on - -

UN Resolution of 21 December 1965 regulates inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of a state to protect its independence and its sovereignty in accordance with paragraphs one, two and five.

I ask you to consider this as an official beseech to pursue an investigation of this case.

Thank You!

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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7 shocking facts about Saudi Arabia under 'modernizing' reign of King Abdullah

© Reuters/Zainal Abd Halim ZH/DL

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud

Taken aback by the fulsome praise the recently deceased King Abdullah has garnered from world leaders, RT has decided to assess whether his record stands up to scrutiny.

READ MORE: Saudi King Abdullah dead - state TV

The majority of eulogies went beyond the requirements of diplomatic etiquette, while some epithets used by Western politicians made people believe they had stepped through the looking glass. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the monarch, who died at 90, while IMF chief Christine Lagarde called him albeit a one. And almost all political grandees seemed to agree that the scion of the House of Saud, was - in the words of Tony Blair - who

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One is invited to do a reality check and examine how far the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques really brought his country into the 21st century.

1. No elections, no parties, no parliament, no dissent

Continuing its consistent decades-long record, Saudi Arabia received the lowest possible marks for civil and political freedoms in the annual Freedom House rankings in 2014. The countries placed alongside it were North Korea, Turkmenistan, and smattering of the most brutal African dictatorships.

The regime's disregard for any accountability to its people is brazen. There are no national elections, no parties, and no parliament - only a symbolic advisory chamber, known as Majlis al-Shura. Criticism is strictly forbidden: only last year, prominent opposition activist Abd al-Kareem al-Khoder joined hundreds of the country's political prisoners, when he was sentenced to eight years for demanding the changeover to a constitutional monarchy. Just days before King Abdullah's death, blogger Raif Badawi was given the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes - for calling for free speech on his blog.

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King Abdullah introduced municipal elections upon his official ascension to the throne - as a largely symbolic valve mechanism. At the same time, high-profile petitions demanding greater reform a decade ago landed their authors in prison.

The country's sizable and restive Shia minority in the east - which led a series of public protests from 2011 onwards - is also systematically starved of political representation, somewhat inevitably, in a country led by a single Sunni family.

2. Equality: Jobs for the Saud boys - all 7,000 of them

The grip of the House of Saud on the country's levers of power and purse strings would be the envy of any medieval court. More than 7,000 princes bearing that family name are alive - with some experts speculating that the real number of titled family members approaches 30,000. Every single one has to be allocated a job commensurate with his lineage - creating hundreds of sinecures - while conversely, all talented candidates are shut out from key jobs if they do not bear the correct surname.

© Reuters/Fahad Shadeed

Saudi Princess Lulwa Khaled Al-Saud (L)

3. Power transfer: Half Brezhnev-era USSR, half Game of Thrones

Ironically, with such a large pool of descendants to choose from, the House of Saud is crippled by particularly outdated succession laws. Instead of primogeniture - where the title is inherited by the first-born son of the ruler - Saudi Arabia uses agnatic seniority, or the passing of power across to one's brothers. This means that the 90-year-old Abdullah has been succeeded by 79-year-old half-brother Salman, while Crown Prince Muqrin turns 70 this year.

© Reuters/Yuya Shino

Saudi King Salman

Underneath the geriatric cadre of leaders, there exists a viper's nest of intrigue, as the exponentially bigger younger generation plans to stake its claim on the throne, with factions aplenty split among the different branches of the sprawling family. It is not obvious how such a system guarantees the increasing prosperity and stability of a 21st-century state, and King Abdullah did little to reform its basic tenets.

4. Law: Scimitars and whips

It may have become almost an online cliché to compare the legal systems of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State, but the links between the two are fundamental. Both use the same ultra-conservative Hanbali school of jurisprudence, and many of the IS "judges" are Saudis, due to their familiarity with this concept of justice.

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Among the punishments distributed is anything from hands and feet being chopped off for theft, lashes for adultery and other "social" misdemeanors, to beheading, which can be handed down for crimes as varied as sedition, carjacking, sorcery and drug smuggling.

Eighty-seven people are thought to have been beheaded in 2014, which is in line with the national average over the past five years, despite ever-growing external pressure on Saudi Arabia. Only this month, a video emerged online, showing an executioner repeatedly hacking away at the neck of a screaming condemned woman, as people looked on open-mouthed. Unlike solving some of Saudi Arabia's deep-seated problems, the curtailing of such "justice" would have just required one firm intervention from King Abdullah. It is clear, this was not a priority for him.

5. Human rights: Torture and gavel

There is no legal code in Saudi Arabia, leaving it to individual judges to set the punishment for a crime in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic scriptures. This gives them unlimited power, creating arguably one of the most inconsistent justice systems in the world, in which crimes and punishments are simply made up, leaving the convicts no obvious way to appeal.

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In addition, much of the legal process hinges on a "confession" from the defendant, which in turn encourages torture. In practice, the information obtained this way is even less reliable than that received from inmates at Guantanamo, as instead of trying to extract provable data, the torturers are merely demanding admissions of guilt - by all means available.

King Abdullah attempted to rationalize the system, by creating more appeal courts, and introducing a stricter selection of judges. However, he did not question the value of the legal system as a whole, and all judges that have been appointed in the past two decades have been personally approved by him.

6. Women's rights: Female (non-)drivers

Over the past decade, the battle lines have been drawn on the symbolic issue of women drivers in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf monarchy is the last country in the world, where women are still not allowed to drive.

© Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

The issue is not near resolution, and women caught behind the wheel - whether during a symbolic protest, or an ordinary drive - can still end up sentenced to lashings. In fairness, King Abdullah did intervene in at least one case in 2011, to commute a punishment.

But of course, for the majority of Saudi women, driving is the least of their problems.

Many would prefer to be able to leave the house, make a purchase, sign any legal document - in fact perform almost any official action, from agreeing to surgery, to signing up to a class - without the consent of a guardian, either the husband or the father. Yet, even these suffocating measures give only scant impression of the status of Saudi women in a society where even their court testimony is worth half of that of a man.

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King Abdullah encouraged more women to go into education, and allocated them a fifth of the seats in his advisory chamber, also allowing them to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections. As with other reform areas, these are top-down symbolic gestures that have done little to affect most Saudi women, who - outside of warzones - remain some of the most disadvantaged anywhere in the world. Still, Abdullah's admirers can hope that his first steps will lay the foundation to profound change, not patronizing concessions.

© Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

7. Terrorism fight: Friend or foe?

A voluntary $100 million donation to the UN's counter-terrorism center last year was a show of generosity from Riyadh, but what the Saudis give with one hand, they seem to take away with the other.

According to the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2010, the US regards Saudi Arabia as the biggest source of Sunni terrorism funding in the world, and a "crucial" piggy-bank for Al-Qaeda and other radical groups. While much of its funding comes from private individuals, their identity is unlikely to have been a secret to King Abdullah, who did nothing to rein in his family members.

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In fact, one could be tempted to feel that the House of Saud is only against the "wrong" kind of terrorist - mostly Shia, but also splinter Sunni groups that threaten its hegemony over the region. When the "right" kinds of terrorist - Russia's Chechen militants, or anti-Assad rebels - appear, then those in Riyadh palaces not only support them with funds, but see them as a legitimate tool for spreading influence and the favored Wahhabi ideology.

© Reuters/Yaser Al-Khodor

Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border with Turkey January 2, 2014.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Gigantic ring system around J1407b much larger, heavier than Saturn's

© Ron Miller

Artist’s conception of the extrasolar ring system circling the young giant planet or brown dwarf J1407b. The rings are shown eclipsing the young sun-like star J1407, as they would have appeared in early 2007.

Astronomers at the Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, and the University of Rochester, USA, have discovered that the ring system that they see eclipse the very young Sun-like star J1407 is of enormous proportions, much larger and heavier than the ring system of Saturn. The ring system - the first of its kind to be found outside our solar system - was discovered in 2012 by a team led by Rochester's Eric Mamajek.

A new analysis of the data, led by Leiden's Matthew Kenworthy, shows that the ring system consists of over 30 rings, each of them tens of millions of kilometers in diameter. Furthermore, they found gaps in the rings, which indicate that satellites ("exomoons") may have formed. The result has been accepted for publication in the .

"The details that we see in the light curve are incredible. The eclipse lasted for several weeks, but you see rapid changes on time scales of tens of minutes as a result of fine structures in the rings," says Kenworthy. "The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system. If we could replace Saturn's rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon."

"This planet is much larger than Jupiter or Saturn, and its ring system is roughly 200 times larger than Saturn's rings are today," said co-author Mamajek, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. "You could think of it as kind of a super Saturn."

The astronomers analyzed data from the SuperWASP project - a survey that is designed to detect gas giants that move in front of their parent star. In 2012, Mamajek and colleagues at the University of Rochester reported the discovery of the young star J1407 and the unusual eclipses, and proposed that they were caused by a moon-forming disk around a young giant planet or brown dwarf.

In a third, more recent study also led by Kenworthy, adaptive optics and Doppler spectroscopy were used to estimate the mass of the ringed object. Their conclusions based on these and previous papers on the intriguing system J1407 is that the companion is likely to be a giant planet - not yet seen - with a gigantic ring system responsible for the repeated dimming of J1407's light.

The light curve tells astronomers that the diameter of the ring system is nearly 120 million kilometers, more than two hundred times as large as the rings of Saturn. The ring system likely contains roughly an Earth's worth of mass in light-obscuring dust particles.

Mamajek puts into context how much material is contained in these disks and rings. "If you were to grind up the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter into dust and ice and spread out the material over their orbits in a ring around Jupiter, the ring would be so opaque to light that a distant observer that saw the ring pass in front of the sun would see a very deep, multi-day eclipse," Mamajek says. "In the case of J1407, we see the rings blocking as much as 95 percent of the light of this young Sun-like star for days, so there is a lot of material there that could then form satellites."

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In the data the astronomers found at least one clean gap in the ring structure, which is more clearly defined in the new model. "One obvious explanation is that a satellite formed and carved out this gap," says Kenworthy. "The mass of the satellite could be between that of Earth and Mars. The satellite would have an orbital period of approximately two years around J1407b."

Astronomers expect that the rings will become thinner in the next several million years and eventually disappear as satellites form from the material in the disks.

"The planetary science community has theorized for decades that planets like Jupiter and Saturn would have had, at an early stage, disks around them that then led to the formation of satellites," Mamajek explains. "However, until we discovered this object in 2012, no-one had seen such a ring system. This is the first snapshot of satellite formation on million-kilometer scales around a substellar object."

Astronomers estimate that the ringed companion J1407b has an orbital period roughly a decade in length. The mass of J1407b has been difficult to constrain, but it is most likely in the range of about 10 to 40 Jupiter masses.

The researchers encourage amateur astronomers to help monitor J1407, which would help detect the next eclipse of the rings, and constrain the period and mass of the ringed companion. Observations of J1407 can be reported to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). In the meantime the astronomers are searching other photometric surveys looking for eclipses by yet undiscovered ring systems.

Kenworthy adds that finding eclipses from more objects like J1407's companion "is the only feasible way we have of observing the early conditions of satellite formation for the near future. J1407's eclipses will allow us to study the physical and chemical properties of satellite-spawning circumplanetary disks."

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4 beheaded in Saudi Arabia less than a week into King Salman's rule

Four people have been executed in Saudi Arabia less than a week after 79-year-old King Salman assumed power following the death of his 90-year-old predecessor, King Abdullah.

Under the strict guidelines of Sharia Law, three people were put to death across the oil-rich kingdom on Tuesday.

The first, Omar bin Yahya bin Ibrahim al-Barkati, was executed for the crime of incest in the southwestern Asir region, the Interior Ministry announced. “He was executed as punishment for his crime and as a lesson to others,†the ministry said in a statement.

The second victim, Yassir bin Hussein al-Hamza, also a Saudi, was executed in northwestern Jawf region for smuggling amphetamine pills, the ministry said.

In a separate case in the city of Mecca, Latif Khan Nurzada, a Pakistani national, was beheaded for smuggling heroin into the kingdom.

Prior to that, on Monday, Saudi Arabia executed Moussa al-Zahrani, a teacher convicted of raping several girls in the city of Jiddah – charges he denied.

“Mousa bin Saeed Ali al-Zahrani lured several underage girls and kidnapped them. He also threatened them and their relatives and physically assaulted them in his home,†Saudi Press Agency said, citing the Interior Ministry.

Reuters/Andrew Biraj

Despite being found guilty of luring underage girls, intoxicating them, and then sexually assaulting them, al-Zahrani created a 20-minute video claiming he was framed, in a last-ditch effort to save his life. The footage was intended for King Abdullah.

The case caused a stir on social media. An Arabic hashtag on Twitter which translated to “We are all Moussa al-Zahrani†exploded with comments by Saudis with conflicting opinions on the execution.

READ MORE: 7 shocking facts about Saudi Arabia under ‘modernizing’ reign of King Abdullah

The spike in executions coincides with US President Barack Obama's arrival to Riyadh on Tuesday at the head of a heavyweight US delegation which met with King Salman. The delegation included Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan, signaling the strong ties between the two states.

The trip to Riyadh was an “opportunity to both pay respects to the legacy of King Abdullah, who was a close partner with the United States and also to touch base on some of the issues where we’re working together with the Saudis,†US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters.

So far this year, 16 people have died from the justice sword in the kingdom, AFP reported. Last year, 87 people were put to death. The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of violations, including murder, rape, and false prophecy. Blasphemy, adultery, witchcraft, and sorcery can also result in beheading with a sword, or more rarely in an execution by a firing squad, or even stoning.

The kingdom has faced constant international criticism over its human rights record, including its use of the death penalty.

Writing for health

I hate to admit it but it's true: I'm terrible at keeping a journal. I probably have half a dozen notebooks lying around, each one with no more than 20 entries before I got caught up in other things, made excuses, didn't have the time, or just plain forgot. Reading them when I stumble upon them is always interesting and sometimes helpful. Memories are seldom totally accurate. Time has a way of changing perspective. But, nonetheless, I've never found a way to manage my time and my life so that I could make a daily entry into a diary or blog.

But new research is making me think about trying again. It seems that keeping a journal has benefits besides preserving baby's first word, recording my pleasure during a vacation or providing a place to put my strong feelings about what so and so did and what I wish I'd said. Writing about my feelings can actually improve my health.

James Pennebaker, PhD at the University of Texas and Joshua Smyth, PhD at Syracuse University have done studies that show that writing about our feelings can boost the immune systems of people suffering from asthma, arthritis and even HIV/AIDS. For those of us who always seem to have more tasks than hours every day, it is heartening to note that they have found that even 15 to 20 minutes a day of reflective writing is all it takes.

Pannebaker divided 37 HIV/AIDS patients into two groups. One group was asked to write about their negative life experiences. The other group was instructed to simply write about their daily schedules. All of the participants wrote for only four sessions of 30 minutes each. The research team found that those who wrote about their experiences showed an increase in the functioning of their immune system. Unfortunately, the elevated immune function didn't hold beyond three months but the fact that simply writing could affect it at all is remarkable.

Pennebaker has suggested that writing about their distress helped the patients reduce their anxiety and helped them cope. I wonder what would happen if people made writing a daily habit.

Smyth's team studied 107 people with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. He asked half the group to write for 20 minutes a day for three days about the most stressful event they could remember. The control group was asked to write about their daily plans. Four months later, 70 people in the group that wrote about their stress showed improvement. Only 37 of the control group improved.

Other researchers have found that writing about our feelings is more beneficial when it is directed in positive ways. Writing pages of negative comments and angry and depressed feelings can lead to feeling more angry and depressed. Focusing on only the pain of a traumatic experience can reopen an old emotional wound or increase feelings of helplessness or vulnerability. Susan Lutgendorf, PhD at the University of Iowa found that it's important for writers to focus on how they can find meaning in their pain to benefit from the journaling. Similarly, Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania stresses the importance of finding meaning in life's challenging events if we are to grow and be happy.

Writing out our feelings and our insights about the difficult events in our lives can have long-term as well as short-term effects. Participants in studies, especially those who continued to write regularly, have reported fewer visits to doctors and hospitals, reduced blood pressure, improved mood, reduced depression, reduced pain and improvement of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Convinced? Here's all you need to do to improve your health and well-being through writing.

  • Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days each week. (That's less than a total of an hour a week that you are devoting to your own good health.) You don't have to do it every day. You can decide which days of the week work best for you. Take the other days off guilt-free.

  • Do your best to create a time and space that is free of distractions. Turn off your cell phone notifications. Think about getting up a little before the rest of the family or staying up a bit later so you have the quiet you need to think.

  • Write about an emotional issue that has affected you deeply. You can write about the same event every day or you can choose something different every time you sit down to write. That's up to you. Go beyond stating the facts. Explore your feelings and reflect on how that event altered the course of your life. Think and write about ways that event can be seen as having helped you grow. Researchers think that it is the combination of emotional expression and cognitive reflection that makes this type of journaling more helpful than simply keeping a diary.

  • Push yourself to write for the entire block of time. Even if you stop to think for a good portion of the time during this exercise, focusing your attention on your emotional life and working to make new sense of it (or affirming the growth that came from it already) for the entire time period will have a positive effect on your life.

  • No one will see this journal except you so don't worry about grammar or spelling. It's fine to use bullets and lists for part of it if that is easier for you. But do work on finding ways to express your deepest feelings and your thoughts about them.

  • Once a month, take some time to read over your entries. Write for 15 minutes about what you are learning about yourself and what you are doing or would like to do to support your own growth and change.

It may take time to make expressive journaling a habit. If you skip a day once in a while, don't let it become a reason to quit. Simply recommit and start again. If you do, you should have noticeable improvement in your health and in your general sense of well-being within months.

I have made plenty of false starts at journaling. Looking back, I think I expected myself to write too much and for too long to fit it into my life. Fifteen to 20 minutes a day for a few days a week? That I can manage, especially if it helps me be healthier and happier.

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10 Catholic priests charged with sexual abuse

Ten Spanish priests were charged with child sexual abuse on Tuesday, in a case brought after Pope Francis telephoned the victim to offer the Church's apology, court documents showed.

The victim, now 24, wrote to the pope to say he had been molested when he was an altar boy. The pope called the man in August to apologize, Spanish news site Religion Digital reported in November, a report later confirmed by the pope himself.

The pope said in November that he had ordered a church investigation. The Archbishop of Granada, Francisco Javier Martinez, removed several priests linked to the case from their duties.

The victim said the abuse had happened over a period of years from when he was 14 to the age of 17 in a house rented by the abusers in a suburb of Granada, the court said.

Pope Francis has promised a policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse of children by clerics after church scandals in several countries over many years. Groups representing victims say he has still not done enough.

The Vatican said last year it had defrocked about 850 priests between 2004 and 2013 who had been accused of sexually abusing minors.

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Study finds sleeping and hay fever pills increase risk of Alzheimer's and dementia

© Getty Images

Over-the-counter hay fever pills and sleeping tablets can increase the risk of Alzheimer's, a study warned today. The findings have "public health implications" about "potential safety risks", according to scientists. Other drugs for depression and bladder control were also linked to dementia.

The drugs have an ­"anticholinergic" effect, which blocks a chemical transmitter that people with Alzheimer's lack. Experts tracked the health of 3,434 over-65 and their use of anticholinergic drugs, like antihistamine diphenhydramine, for seven years.

During the study, 637 developed Alzheimer's and 160 got other forms of dementia. For people on high doses the risk of dementia was 54% higher compared to no use.

The report said: "These findings have public health implications for the health of older adults about potential safety risks because some anticholinergics are available as over-the-counter products."

The findings, in journal , showed people were at higher risk if they took at least 10mg a day of antidepressant doxepin, 4mg a day of antihistamine diphenhydramine, or 5mg a day of oxybutynin for more than three years.

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This large study adds to some existing evidence linking anticholinergic drugs to a small increased risk of dementia, but the results don't tell us that these drugs cause the condition."

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Gunman opens fire in Minnesota city council meeting

© Screenshot from http://bit.ly/1D601UJ

A gunman has opened fire during a law enforcement swearing-in ceremony at a city council meeting in a Minnesota town. Two police officers were injured and the gunman was fatally wounded.

Authorities had yet to identify the name of the suspect as of Tuesday morning, but acknowledged that the man was killed when the officers returned fire inside New Hope City Hall outside of Minneapolis.

The ceremony began at around 7 pm local time Monday, according to the , and the two new officers, Joshua Eernisse and Adam Johnson, were sworn in within the first 15 minutes. At around that time, the paper reported, the officers walked out of the chambers and encountered a man with a "long gun," according to officials, who then opened fire.

Video cameras were recording the swearing-in ceremony from inside of the chambers, and footage from there has since been recovered and published to the web.

[embedded content]

Footage from the room reveals that a council member was discussing a resolution when he was interrupted by a gunshot, then the warnings of another official.

"Get down, get down, everybody get down," someone off-screen is hearing yelling.

"That went right through the door," says the first official.

New Hope City Council Member John Elder - a former police officer who currently works as a public information officer for the Minneapolis Police Department - is shown in the clip reacting to the uproar by drawing a handgun from behind his desk and ordering his colleagues to stay down. According to the LinkedIn profile purportedly registered to Elder, the councilmember has worked in law enforcement for at least 25 years.

The audio in the clip then becomes totally quiet, but Hennepin County Chief Deputy Mike Carlson told the that two cops were struck before "other officers were able to return fire, subsequently killing the suspect."

Elder and others present in the room were eventually escorted to safety nearby, according to the paper, and the two injured officers are expected to survive.

New Hope is a town of roughly 21,000 people located 11 miles outside of Minneapolis.

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80+ cartoonists and comics workers say: 'No business as usual with Israel'

The following press release was published today:

More than 80 cartoonists and other workers in the comics industry, including colorists, writers, critics, and editors, from over 20 countries, signed an open letter released today addressed to Franck Bondoux, the head of the International Festival of Comics at Angoulême, which opens in France on January 29th.

The letter, a follow up to a 2014 letter, demands that he sever ties between the Festival and Sodastream, an Israeli manufacturing company complicit in the occupation of Palestinian land. The authors of the letter include 10 prize winners at Angoulême itself, two winners of the MacArthur "Genius Grant," many Eisner and Ignatz awardees, and a Palestinian cartoonist previously imprisoned for his work by the Israeli military.

The organizers of the letter also released an accompanying statement, in the wake of the slaying of cartoonists Wolinski, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Charb, among many others in Paris this month. "These horrific acts of violence compel artists of the world to act urgently for a world where the dignity, freedom, and equality of all people are respected and promoted," said cartoonist Ethan Heitner and writer Dror Warschawski, organizers of the open letter. "We affirm that the Palestinian boycott movement is one important step towards that vision, and we urge others to join us."

The 2015 letter expands on its predecessor in several key ways. Its signatories include workers in the comics industry beyond cartoonists, including critics Jeet Heer and former heads of the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée Thierry Groensteen and Gilles Ciment, and organizers of the first-ever festival of comics held in Palestine, Palestine Comics, which opened in November of 2014.

The letter also addresses itself beyond Angoulême, to "all festivals, conventions, and celebrations of comics and cartooning art in which we participate." Finally, the letter expands its target beyond Sodastream, to all "Israeli companies and institutions" complicit in ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and war crimes. Noting that Israel's assault on Gaza in the summer 2014 alone killed over 2,100 Palestinians, the signatories urge, "No business as usual with Israel."

Open letter to:

Key links:

Open letter: lettertoangouleme.tumblr.com

Angouleme: http://bit.ly/1v0xKjy

Sodastream: http://bit.ly/1v0xLUQ

BDS Movement: http://bit.ly/1D5ZZMC

Last years's letter: http://bit.ly/1D5ZZMz


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Russia says no proof to U.S. spy charges, just more of "anti-Russian campaign"

Igor Sporyshev and Viktor Podobnyy were a case study in bumbling incompetence, according to the FBI and US prosecutors

Russia has accused the United States of having no evidence against three Russian citizens charged with spying, and says the Americans are using the charges for political purposes.

U.S. prosecutors said the defendants were directed by Russia to gather sensitive economic intelligence on potential U.S. sanctions against Russian banks and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy resources.

One of the defendants, identified as Yevgeny Buryakov, arrested Monday in New York, is officially employed by the Manhattan branch of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state bank that was hit by U.S. sanctions last year.

The other two defendants held diplomatic positions and are believed to have returned to Russia.

"No proof to back up the charges has been presented," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Tuesday, accusing the U.S. of deciding "to launch another round in its anti-Russian campaign."

"We insist on a stop to the string of provocations against Russian representatives unleashed by U.S. secret services, and on immediate consular access to Buryakov, on the strict observance of the Russian citizen's rights and on his release," Lukashevich was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS

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Americans' satisfaction with the federal government is at an all-time low

If you have to deal with the federal government - be it the seemingly innocuous Social Security Administration or the eternally-despised Treasury Department, home to the IRS - prepare to be even more annoyed than in the past.

According to a report released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, our satisfaction with the federal government has hit an all-time low (at least since the company began collecting data for this index in 2007). The federal government now scores a 64.4 out of 100 in terms of satisfaction (the average across all industries is 75 out 100). This is the lowest score across the 40 different industries - including industries like airlines, cable companies and others - that the ACSI measures, with the exception of Internet service providers.

"Overall, the services of the federal government continue to deliver a level of customer satisfaction below the private sector," the report - in which ACSI interviewed 1,772 randomly selected people - concludes.

When asked what they specifically didn't like about the government, some Americans cited issues with the staff and customer service. Indeed, Americans are more annoyed with the government's customer service (specifically how courteous, helpful and professional the government staff are) than they were in 2013: customer service rankings for the government plummeted 6% from a year ago - from a score of 80 to a score of 75. While this sounds bad, ACSI Director David VanAmburg says that some of it has to do to with the fact that some agencies have fewer staff members now than in the past, which makes consumers more frustrated when trying to get something accomplished in a timely manner.

Plus, Americans say that the services the government provides aren't always easy to navigate or delivered in a timely manner - and were worse in 2014 than in years past (scores fell from 70 to 68 out of 100), as was the information provided to them by the government (scores fell from 71 to 69), which they say often lacks clarity and isn't accessible. The only area that Americans weren't less pleased with was, perhaps surprisingly, government websites, which while certainly not well-reviewed (72 out of 100) didn't see a fall in ratings from last year.

While no department within the federal government scores above the national average, some departments are more hated that others - with the Treasury getting the gold star as the most-hated. VanAmburg notes that this isn't surprising, as its public face is often the IRS, which we don't have to tell you, isn't very popular. That's followed closely by the Veterans Affairs department and the Health and Human Services Department - both of which may score fairly low because there is sometimes some controversy about people's eligibility for benefits from these organizations, which can anger consumers, he says.

But perhaps more disturbingly, customers may soon be even less satisfied with the government: "While there are exceptions to the general trend of lower customer satisfaction with government services, the challenge of maintaining high-quality service with fewer resources may affect even more services soon," says VanAmburg says. "For example, the wait time for callers to the IRS is projected to balloon even more than it did a year ago - possibly exceeding 30 minutes."

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The growing ties between Palestinian rights activists and U.S. racial injustice movements

© Christopher Hazou/IMEU

Delegates on the Dream Defenders delegation pose in front of Israel's West Bank wall, near Qalandia checkpoint.

After Black teen Trayvon Martin's 2012 death at the hands of George Zimmerman in Florida, a newly formed group called the Dream Defenders sprung into action. They marched for miles. They occupied the state capitol in Tallahassee. They pushed for legislative measures that would address racial inequality.

Today, the Dream Defenders remain focused on racism in America, and have helped lead the burgeoning #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations that have swept the nation after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed Black men killed by the police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.

But the Dream Defenders have also broadened their focus in recent months by joining U.S. Palestinian rights groups in calling for an end to Israeli human rights abuses. On December 20th, they deepened their commitment to Palestinian rights by unanimously endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) call. The endorsement came during the Dream Defenders' conference in Florida.

And at the start of 2015, members of Dream Defenders, along with other groups focused on racial injustice like the Black Youth Project, went on a delegation to Palestine organized by the Institute for Middle East Understanding. The trip was meant to expose Black activists to the Israeli occupation. After returning, the participants have drawn parallels between the Black and Latino experience in the U.S. and the Palestinian experience.

The BDS endorsement by the Black and Brown-led Dream Defenders and the trip to Palestine is a sign of the growing ties between the racial justice movement and Palestinian rights activists. The groups are building on a rich history of collaboration between Black, Latino and Palestinian activists.

The growing ties between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Palestine also comes at a time when pro-Israel groups, anxious about a changing America, are courting communities of color to bolster America's pro-Israel stance.

"It was really great to participate in a space where people immediately understood why Palestine is such an important issue and started making connections to their own histories of experiencing racism or colonialism in the Caribbean or Latin America or Africa," said Kristian Davis Bailey, who was part of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) contingent at the Dream Defenders conference.

The BDS endorsement by the Dream Defenders was the result of several months of conversation between SJP and the Florida group. SJP members reached out to the Dream Defenders after reading that the Florida organization was getting involved in Palestine solidarity work. Both groups attended each other's conferences, laying the groundwork for what has become a multiracial alliance in the struggle for racial justice and Palestinian rights. Members of the Dream Defenders, who have worked with SJPs on campus, could step up their work on BDS campaigns in the future. And members of both organizations point to companies like G4S, which operates prisons in the U.S. and in Palestine, as one example of why they see their movements as common struggles.

The January trip to Palestine fortified the links between Black, Brown and Palestinian activists, said Ahmad Abuznaid, a Palestinian-American who is a co-founder of the Dream Defenders.

"This trip, for me, and for the Dream Defenders, for Black Lives Matter, and all the folks who were involved, was a declaration that, you know what, the relationships are being revisited and we're going to fortify them and take them to the next level," Abuznaid told me over the phone while he attended a protest in Florida against the North Miami Beach Police Department's use of photos of Black convicts for a sniper training program. "So Black youth, Palestinian youth, LGBTQ youth, we're united, we're united and we're building, and that's going to make a lot of people very nervous."

Tara Thompson, a St. Louis-based activist who has participated in Ferguson protests since August, when Michael Brown was killed, was one of the delegates. Asked if she saw any parallels between Black Americans and Palestinians, she ticked off a number of examples, like being harassed at Ben-Gurion Airport and at airports in the U.S.

"It might not look the same," she said in an interview. "But there are certain neighborhoods [in the U.S.] that you definitely don't want to drive in because you're harassed, targeted. You know, 'driver's license and registration' is the same as having to show whatever you have to show at a checkpoint."

© Christopher Hazou/IMEU

Israeli officer checks delegate’s ID at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, East Jerusalem.

In recent months, as more and more activists like Thompson have drawn parallels between Palestine and racial injustice in the U.S., pro-Israel organizations have forcefully come out against making those comparisons. The Anti Defamation League's Deputy National Director Kenneth Jacobson recently wrote in the Op-Ed "Don't Compare Ferguson and Palestine":

The latest strategy being used by those who make a career of assaulting the good name of the State of Israel is to link the issue of full equality for African-Americans, as symbolized by the word "Ferguson," with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is a long history of using legitimate American social justice issues to undermine the Jewish state. We saw it during the Vietnam War, where small contingents linked opposition to the war to opposition to Israel. We saw it in protests against the war in Iraq, which some linked to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. We saw it during the Occupy Wall Street movement, when some targeted Israel as well as the financial system.

There is, however, no rational connection between the challenge of racism in America and the situation facing the Palestinians.

Delegates returning from Palestine would surely disagree. Aja Monet, a prominent New York City-based poet who went on the trip, told me the delegates were detained and interrogated for two hours by Israeli security officials on their way back to the U.S.

"At the end of the day, we were still Black. You know, we were Black enough to be stopped at the airport, and interrogated for two hours. Something about our Blackness was threatening enough for you to stop us, and for you to interrogate, and for you to ask us where we ate, and how we ate, and where we spent our money, what we did while we there, what pictures we had," she said. "That's like being an everyday Black kid in America. Every day, you walk with the stigma of fear and interrogation around your existence. And I think we were able to relate to that, being in Palestine, and witnessing the type of atmosphere that was created by the Israeli occupation."

Black engagement with Israel/Palestine has a complex history. There is a long tradition of Black American affinity for Zionism. Some of the leading Black thinkers in the early to mid twentieth century, from Marcus Garvey to W.E.B. Du Bois, admired Zionist leaders, seeing them as advocates for a long persecuted people. Garvey famously advocated for all Black Americans to move back to Africa - advocacy that mirrored Zionist ideology. In the 1940s, Black intellectuals advocated for the state of Israel, seeing it as anti-colonial struggle against Arab aggressors, as the scholar Robin D.G. Kelley wrote in a chapter for the e-book

The Black left changed its tune, though, beginning in 1956, when Israel, Britain and France colluded to invade Egypt after Gamel Abdel-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. 1967 was another turning point. When Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, Black activists, like those in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), saw Israel as a colonial oppressor, and the Palestinian struggle as akin to other movements for decolonization.

Black radicals would continue along that path forged by SNCC and other Black groups. Kelley told me, though, that more established groups like the NAACP were loath to touch the issue lest it break the bond they had forged with Jewish groups who were liberal Zionists. Today, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are reliably pro-Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has had some success in courting Black students.

But the Dream Defenders and others in the #BlackLivesMatter movement see themselves as part of a long line of Black radicals who identify with Palestine.

"There's a generation of young people who have not inherited a civil rights, an old school civil rights, relationship to the kind of old school liberal Zionism. They don't have any relationship," said Kelley, one of the leading scholars of African Americans in the U.S. "The Dream Defenders, like some of the activists in Ferguson, are actually, I would dare say, radical organizations - meaning that they don't see the problem as simply racial discrimination. They see it as structural inequality, they see it is an issue of global power, they see it as an issue of decolonization."

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6 unprovoked shark attacks off Californian coast in 2014

© David Fleetham / Discovery Channel

Though being attacked by a shark like this great white is extremely unlikely, the number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide has grown at a steady pace since 1900. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 39 reported shark attacks in California from 2001 to 2013.

A recent report says there were six unprovoked shark attacks along the U.S. Pacific Coast in 2014. All of them were in California, and all the sharks were great whites.

Four of the attacks occurred in October, one in July and another in December, according to the Shark Research Committee's recently released 2014 report. Remarkably, in all attacks, only two surfers were injured.

"I am surprised we don't have more of them," said Ralph Collier, the shark expert and researcher who wrote the report, which specifically looks at attacks that were deemed not to be provoked by humans.

Last July's shark attack in Manhattan Beach, for example, was not included. In that attack, long-distance swimmer Steve Robles was bitten by a 7-foot juvenile shark.

The attack, Collier said, was provoked -- not by Robles but by fishermen who hooked the shark near swimmers.

In the six attacks listed in the report, three victims were surfing, two were kayaking and one was on an outrigger.

Based on the size of the bite, Collier believes a great white shark more than 20 feet in length was responsible for both kayak attacks.

"It wasn't trying to feed," he said.

Collier said the shark likely knew the kayaks were not food.

In the other attacks, Collier suspect the sharks were much smaller.

According to the report, last year's attacks along the Pacific Coast increase the 21st century total to 83, which is three times the 20th century average.

Shark experts have authenticated 191 unprovoked shark attacks since 1900 along the Pacific Coast.

"You have to use common sense when you are in their home," he said.

A few tips:

1) Swim in a group.

1) Stay away from large groups of dolphins and seabirds, which are attracted to the same food as sharks.

2) Don't enter the water if bleeding.

3) Don't splash a lot, and keep pets out of the water.

4) Be extra cautious near sandbars or steep drop-offs, which are preferred hangouts for sharks.

5) Avoid waters being fished. In the July Manhattan Beach attack, the shark was hooked and trying to free itself. "He was agitated and was probably biting everything in his way and then the swimmer swam right into the shark's line," said Los Angeles County lifeguard Tracy Lizotte at the time.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Washington's Terror Inc. has its marks all over Libya

"Human rights" or "democracy" have nothing to do with current wars of conquest except that these words are used as cover to hide institutionalized mass murder and theft. In fact, human rights and democracy are usually the first casualties of any invasion.

The "West", however, understands the value of these words to sell wars which invariably destroy "non-compliant" secular governments in favour of divisive fundamentalist regimes.

Human lives are superfluous to the overriding imperial agendas. In fact, imperial strategists prefer that target countries become internally divided, even when division exacts a huge toll in innocent lives.

It's all very illegal, but the West is not overly concerned with international sanctions. The West isn't particularly perturbed by the consequent rise of fundamentalism either, because it uses fundamentalist proxies such as al Qaeda and ISIS - or neo-Nazis - to globally implement their agendas of destruction.

The pre-planned invasion of Libya is a case in point. Prior to the invasion - ironically billed as a "humanitarian Intervention" - Libya's government, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, boasted significant achievements, including the following:

*The highest standard of living in Africa

*Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of health, education, and income, ranked above the regional average

* Free public health care, and free public education

* 89% adult literacy rate (with girls outnumbering boys by 10% in secondary and tertiary education)

* Subsidized, affordable food

* Homelessness all but wiped out

Given these very positive metrics, how did the West sell its so-called "humanitarian intervention"? Simple. It created a false narrative that demonized Gadaffi as it promulgated lies and media fabrications.

Associate university professor and author, Maximilian C. Forte rebuts the arsenal of lies promulgated by the West in "The Top Ten Myths in the War Against Libya" . Here is the list of evidence-free accusations:

  • Genocide

  • Gadaffi is "bombing his own people".

  • "Save Benghazi"

  • African mercenaries

  • Viagara-fueled mass rape

  • Gaddafi - the Demon

Freedom Fighters - the Angels

Significantly, the west supports the "rebels" - long-time enemies of Gaddafi - who are basically al-Qaeda/ISIS, the same mercenaries that are currently in Syria.

So, what are the underlying reasons for the destruction of Libya and its people plus the subsequent empowerment of al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists? Dr. Michel Chossudovsky argues in "Operation Libya And The Battle For Oil" that oil is the "Trophy":

"An invasion of Libya under a humanitarian mandate would serve the same corporate interests as the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The underlying objective is to take possession of Libya's oil reserves, destabilize the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and eventually privatize the country's oil industry, namely transfer the control and ownership of Libya's oil wealth into foreign hands. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) is ranked 25 among the world's Top 100 Oil Companies. (The Energy Intelligence ranks NOC 25 among the world's Top 100 companies. - Libyaonline.com)."

Chossudovsky explains further that looting of Libya's finances would be another goal:

"The financial stakes as well as "the spoils of war" are extremely high. The military operation is intent upon dismantling Libya's financial institutions as well as confiscating billions of dollars of Libyan financial assets deposited in Western banks."

The aftermath of the overthrow of the Jamahiriya-Gaddafi rule has unfolded as expected. Abayomi Azikiwe explains in "Libya War Continues Three Years After Gaddafi Assassination" that there is on-going destabilization, with warring factions battling for control.

Washington and NATO are no doubt pleased. They have weakened a once strong, secular Libya - that was (significantly) a model for other African countries - by imposing their will, to the detriment of humanity, and in favour of Islamic Fundamentalism.

The resulting carnage dims future prospects for countries that strive to break free from parasitical, imperial agendas, even as it empowers proxy armies such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Washington's stated goal of conducting a "war on terror" is actually a "war for terror" that is responsible for the slaughter of multitudes, all beneath the false veneer of humanism, freedom, democracy, or any number of other lies.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Pulling all-nighters? How memory affects the sleep cycle

© Kiselev Andrey Valervich/Shutterstock

Want to ace that test tomorrow? Here's a tip: Put down the coffee and hit the sack.

Scientists have long known that sleep, memory and learning are deeply connected. Most animals, from flies to humans, have trouble remembering when sleep deprived, and studies have shown that sleep is critical in converting short-term into long-term memory, a process known as memory consolidation.

But just how that process works has remained a mystery.

The question is, does the mechanism that promotes sleep also consolidate memory, or do two distinct processes work together? In other words, is memory consolidated during sleep because the brain is quiet, allowing memory neurons to go to work, or are memory neurons actually putting us to sleep?

In a recent paper in the journal , graduate students Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann in the Griffith Lab make a case for the latter.

Haynes and Christmann focused their research on dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons, well-known memory consolidators in . They observed, for the first time, that when DPM neurons are activated, the flies slept more; when deactivated, the flies kept buzzing.

These memory consolidators inhibit wakefulness as they start converting short-term to long-term memory. All this takes place in a section of the brain called the mushroom body, similar to the hippocampus, where our memories are stored. As it turns out, the parts of the mushroom body responsible for memory and learning also help keep the awake.

"It's almost as if that section of the mushroom body were saying 'hey, stay awake and learn this,'" says Christmann. "Then, after a while, the DPM neurons start signaling to suppress that section, as if to say 'you're going to need sleep if you want to remember this later.'"

Understanding how sleep and memory are connected in a simple system, like, can help scientists unravel the secrets of the human brain.

"Knowing that sleep and memory overlap in the fly brain can allow researchers to narrow their search in humans," Christmann says. "Eventually, it could help us figure out how sleep or memory is affected when things go wrong, as in the case of insomnia or memory disorders."

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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