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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Hungary criticizes EU's anti-Russian crusade

© Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has criticized EU's attempts to isolate Moscow, in particular blaming former Polish PM and President of the European Council Donald Tusk for spearheading the European anti-Russia crusade.

"This rift in the EU is very deep, of a strategic nature," Orban said regarding the division in the EU and on how to build the bloc's relationship with Russia.

The European Council President Tusk is "on the other side" of this dividing line, Orban said, a day after striking economic deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tusk has been an ardent critic of Moscow's stance throughout the Ukrainian conflict, and on numerous occasions has called for a much tougher sanctions against Moscow. He speaks out against the "appeasement" of Moscow.

Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 24, 2015

But the EU countries are divided in Brussels in their attitude towards Russia. Orban specified that the Baltic States and Poland sided with the United States in their belief that Russia should be gradually excluded from cooperation with Europe.

On the other hand, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, Orban claims, believe cooperation with Moscow is essential.

"We think that without cooperation with the Russians we cannot achieve our goals," the Hungarian prime minister said, referring mainly to energy security, which the EU sanctions against Russia jeopardize.

Russia also sees Hungary as a strategic partner and will pursue mutually beneficial energy projects. This was Vladimir Putin's message to his Hungarian counterpart on Tuesday, as both countries sealed a number of energy deals.

Orban's foreign policy towards the Ukrainian conflict has been criticized in the West from the onset as too soft. Generally supporting a Moscow-backed approach of achieving a long lasting peace in the region, Orban has on numerous occasions spoken out against discriminatory treatment of Russia by Brussels.

His vocal criticism of EU and US role in European foreign policy forced Washington to issue travel bans for several Hungarian businessmen. In October, US Chargé d'Affaires André Goodfriend, visiting the country warned that Hungary should "stand firm with the EU, with EU sanctions" stating that it was not the time for Hungary to "break with its EU partners to criticize so publicly the approach that the partners have taken."

DARPA creates device that plugs directly into the visual cortex and alters DNA

terminator vision

© unknown

For now, the technology is in "crude" form undergoing R&D through animal testing, specifically with the neural connections of a zebrafish.

In the longer term, DARPA researchers (the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) believes the gene modifying optical technology will be able to restore vision to the blind and impaired, and replaced current conceptions of virtual reality, with an internal display that will provide vital stats and more about the target, err, object in view.

According to CNET, the DARPA boffins are reportedly working on a device known as a 'cortical modem' that plugs directly into a person's DNA and visual cortex. Not only does this unique device help someone overcome blindness or poor eyesight, it generates a built-in heads-up display (HUD) that appears right in before their very eyes.

The implants create an augmented reality projection that appears like magic in your natural vision and without the need for helmets or special eyeglasses. (source)

The visual overlay could be developed, as in the Schwarzenegger "Terminator" films, like an automatic panel of information that meshes seamlessly with the real world, or it could integrate interactive "Minority Report"-style panels, but internally. Regardless, the implications are fantastic, and perhaps, unsettling.

Though it is hardly the first DARPA foray into brain implants, this technology represents a new breakthrough, as it requires modification to a person's DNA, an application of optogenetics that bypasses our natural visual sensory system and makes use of what is, for now anyway, a simple $10 device that produces the LED-like display:

"The implications of this project are astounding," wrote Peter Rothman of Humanity+ Magazine, who was in attendance at the event. "First, this technology could be used to restore sensory function to individuals who simply can't be treated with current approaches. Second, the device could replace all virtual reality and augmented reality displays."

"Bypassing the visual sensory system entirely, a cortical modem can directly display into the visual cortex enabling a sort of virtual overlay on the real world," he added. "Moreover, the optogenetics approach allows both reading and writing of information. So we can imagine at least a device in which virtual objects appear well integrated into our perceived world." (source)

Researchers believe that, though still far from completion, this would make science fiction tech possible, even opening the door to telekinesis and telepathy:

The possibilities go even further, though, Rothman said. The cortical modem could potentially make electronic telepathy and telekinesis possible, and could make the neural interfaces made popular by science fiction writer's a reality. Those advances are still a long way off, however, as the cortical modem in its current form is still, in Rothman's words, a "crude" device.

While it might be billed as an incredible cure for blindness, the implications for the military battlefield are immense.

As many dystopic films and futurists like Ray Kurzweil have long predicted, these neural implants, modifications and "upgrades" are ripe for the making of super-soldiers, capable of making human warriors more-human-than-human and capable of given autonomous robots and AI computers a lopsided advantage against conventional enemies in any conflict.

Before you daydream about the "cool" visions of the future to be, keep in mind that the computer geeks have once again warned that the rise of AI and nanotechnology literally threatens the survival of civilization. A Global Challenges Foundation report was concerned about the extinction of the human race and a coming mass unemployment of the human workforce:

"Such extreme intelligences could not easily be controlled (either by the groups creating them, or by some international regulatory regime), and would probably act to boost their own intelligence and acquire maximal resources for almost all initial AI motivations," suggest authors Dennis Pamlin and Stuart Armstrong.

"And if these motivations do not detail the survival and value of humanity, the intelligence will be driven to construct a world without humans. This makes extremely intelligent AIs a unique risk, in that extinction is more likely than lesser impacts."

The report also warns of the risk that "economic collapse may follow from mass unemployment as humans are replaced by copyable human capital", and expresses concern at the prospect of AI being used for warfare: "An AI arms race could result in AIs being constructed with pernicious goals or lack of safety precautions."

So what is closer on the horizon: the end of life as we know it, or the next big thing?

Pathetic: Half-million of Wal-Mart's US workers to get average 50 cent pay raises

Doug McMillon

© Gareth Patterson/AP

Wal-Mart President and Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Bentonville, Ark.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is hoping its decision to boost workers' paychecks will help it boost its bottom line.

The nation's largest private employer announced on Thursday that it's giving a raise to about half-million U.S. workers as part of a $1 billion investment that includes changes that Wal-Mart says are aimed at giving workers more opportunities for advancement and more consistent schedules.

The changes come as the company has faced increased pressure to pay its hourly employees more. But Wal-Mart, which has been criticized for its messy stores and poor customer service, says it's also focusing on recruiting and retaining better workers so that it can improve its business.

The company has struggled with disappointing sales for most of the past two years, even though it posted better-than-expected results during the most recent holiday season. Wal-Mart hopes that taking better care of its workers will lead to better-run stores, more satisfied customers and an increase in sales and profits.

"What's driving us is we want to create a great store experience for customers and do that by investing in our own people," Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart's CEO, told The Associated Press during an interview two days ahead of the wage announcement at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. "A better store experience results in happier customers, resulting in stronger sales."

Wal-Mart's changes indicate that it is moving beyond relying on its hallmark everyday low prices to make it stand out in an increasingly crowded and competitive retail landscape and moving toward investing in its workers. The company had previously cut back on staffing in stores two years ago in an effort to be more efficient.

But the moves have backfired. Morale among workers was low at stores, employees weren't able to quickly restock items on shelves and shoppers came to expect unkempt stores. Wal-Mart's U.S. business, which accounts for 60 percent of its net sales of $482 billion, had declines or no growth for the past eight quarters. And an annual survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which polled 70,000 customers, found that Wal-Mart's customer satisfaction fell to the lowest level since 2007.

"The stores are understaffed," said Anthony Rodriguez, who has been pulled to do different jobs from being a bike assembler to sales floor associate at the Wal-Mart Rosemead, California, because of low staffing. "Often, there is nobody in a department. A lot of customers get upset."

McMillon, whose first job at Wal-Mart was an hourly position loading trucks during college, acknowledged that some measures the company took to cut staff and other moves to increase productivity may have gone "too far." But he says Wal-Mart has learned from its mistakes.

"We want to make it really clear that working at Wal-Mart is a great opportunity," he said. "Time will tell what the significance of the decisions will be."

In focusing on paying investing in workers, Wal-Mart follows other big retailers that have announced plans to increase pay recently as the national debate over raising the federal minimum wage has reached a crescendo. Swedish home furnishings retailer Ikea this year gave thousands of workers at its U.S. division a 17 percent average raise to $10.76 an hour. And clothing chain Gap Inc. raised its minimum hourly wage to $9 last year and to $10 this year.

But Wal-Mart's changes are likely to have a bigger impact because it employs 1.3 million U.S. workers. Among the changes, Wal-Mart is raising entry level wages to at least $9 an hour in April and to at least $10 an hour by February of next year. That includes the less than 6,000 workers who make the federal minimum wage.

With the changes, the average full-time wage at Wal-Mart stores will be $13 an hour, up from $12.85. For part-time workers, the hourly wage will be $10, up from $9.48.

That's below the $14.65 average that hourly retail workers in a non-supervisory role earn, according to government data that includes people who work at auto dealers and other outlets that would likely pay more than discounters like Wal-Mart. But it's above the $9.93 average hourly pay for cashiers and low level retail sales staff, according to Hay Group's survey of 140 retailers with annual sales of $500 million.

In addition to raises, Wal-Mart is also doing things like offering hands-on training for new workers in areas including teamwork, merchandising, retail fundamentals and communications. It's also rolling out a program that offers some workers fixed schedules so they can be able to choose the same hours each week. The program is being tested in Wichita, Kansas.

Some industry watchers say that Wal-Mart's move to treat workers better will lead to sales growth. "There's a nice connection to highly satisfied customers and happy employees," said David VanAmburg, managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. "Employees who are better paid and treated better by management tend to go the extra mile for the customer."

But some employees are less optimistic about what the moves will do for morale.

Rodriguez, the California Wal-Mart employee who has participated in protests at Wal-Mart, says he's happy to get a bump up from $9.40 to $10 an hour next year and encouraged about the new training. But the 26-year old says the money isn't enough to support his fiancée and two-year old son.

Emily Wells, a leader of OUR Walmart, a union-backed group of Wal-Mart workers that has been pressing the discounter to start its hourly wages at $15 and increase hours, agrees.

She said she's pleased that the company is addressing issues about pay and erratic scheduling, but Wells, who makes $9.50 an hour and is scheduled to work only 26 hours per week, said the plan comes up short.

"Wal-Mart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need - and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work," she said.

SOTT FOCUS: Euromaidan: Anatomy of a Washington-backed coup d'etat

In late November 2013, the 'Euromaidan' in Kiev began as a popular protest against a generalized state of corruption and cronyism in Ukraine. The spark that ostensibly ignited the protests was the inability of then President Yanukovych to sign an EU Association Agreement that would cut Ukraine's economic and military ties to Russia in favor of a closer relationship with the EU and NATO.

The EU had made the release of former Ukrainian prime minister and "gas princess" Tymoshenko a precondition for signing the agreement.

But the fact that Tymoshenko was/is a convicted embezzler of state funds, combined with the rather severe economic impact the EU Association Agreement would have had on the Ukrainian economy, made it impossible for a consensus in the Ukrainian government to be reached, despite the fact that Yanukovych urged Parliament to put aside their differences and ratify the agreement. In fact, the EU's insistence that Tymoshenko be released appears now to have been designed to ensure the EU-Ukraine Association agreement failed and Yanukovych blamed for that failure and removed from office. Whatever the case, when the agreement was not signed, Ukrainians took to the streets in protest right on cue.

The reason I say 'right on cue' is that there is abundant evidence to suggest that public opinion had been well primed in advance of November 21st, 2013, years in advance in fact, by Western (particularly American) 'NGOs'.

The term 'Non Governmental Organisation' is a flagrant misnomer. Most NGOs require funding, which often comes from wealthy patrons with direct ties to government, or from governments themselves. Indeed, several well-known US 'NGO's are equally well-known fronts for CIA and other 'intelligence' agency activity in foreign countries.

American billionaire 'philanthropist' and business magnate George Soros is the founder and financier of several NGOs. Soros has been 'opening up' societies (particularly in Eastern Europe) for his own benefit and the benefit of Western corporate interests for many years. In 1989, his foundations were instrumental in making sure that former Soviet republics and satellite states chose Western 'liberalism' after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In May 2014 Soros told CNN:

"Well, I set up a foundation in Ukraine before Ukraine became independent of Russia. And the foundation has been functioning ever since and played an important part in events now."

Soros's aptly named 'Open Society Foundations' work closely with and receive money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED was set up in the early 1980s in response to the extremely negative press the CIA had been receiving in the late 1970s. The CIA needed a cover, so the NED was created. According to a 1991 interview in the Washington Post with one of the creators of the NED, Allen Weinstein, "a lot of what we (NED) do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA".

Part of the CIA's mission since its creation has been to make the world free for US corporations. This means infiltrating, destabilizing and 'opening up' sovereign nations. For example, one of the goals of a 1997-98 NED program in the former Yugoslavia was: "To identify barriers to private sector development at the local and federal levels in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and to push for legislative change...[and] to develop strategies for private sector growth." NED and Soros's Open Society are therefore thinly veiled tools of US imperialism, and they have been at work around the world for decades. NED continues to throw $millions at Ukrainian 'CSOs' or Civil Society Organisations. But what exactly is "civil society"?

'Civil society' (CS) is an over-used term that supposedly describes the "aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens." Or more simply, it is "individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government". In reality however, for the most part, 'civil society' is Western government double-speak for 'interfering in the political and social affairs of other nations'. While there are many genuine grassroots organisations around the world, only the ones that align themselves with US government 'strategic interests' get significant funding. In the US, these are precisely the types of groups the US government repeatedly suppresses - those that would 'manifest the interests and will' of its citizens, and not the 1%. In Ukraine, most 'civil society' groups are 100% funded and controlled by the US government via its network of phony 'NGOs'.

USAID: Funding democracy and stability around the globe.

USAID - the US government's overt organization tasked with co-opting (and overthrowing) foreign governments - is a big fan of 'civil society', providing $1.8billion in "critical development assistance in support of the Ukrainian people" over the past 20 years. However, in its 2012-2016 'Ukraine Country Development Co-operation Strategy', USAID states that it "provides the largest amount of donor support to the Verkhovna Rada" (Ukrainian Parliament) and is "also the largest donor in providing support to [Ukrainian] political parties." 1 So far from being "independent of government", USAID's definition of 'civil society' is apparently one government bribing another, and the 'will of the citizens' be damned.

To differentiate between genuine CS groups and US government cover groups, you need only look at the language they use. While genuine groups will speak and write in plain terms about actual definable issues, US-government-funded groups say things like:

UNITER will ensure sustainability of advocacy and monitoring through the identification and cultivation of organization(s)/mechanisms that have: 1) the credibility and standing to coordinate, facilitate and convene other organizations around issue-based initiatives, and 2) the capacity to administer advocacy and monitoring sub-grants to organizations that collaborate on issue-based initiatives

"Administer advocacy [...] for issue-based initiatives"? I'm wondering, is that initiatives that deal with issues, or issues that require initiatives to deal with them? Can you administer advocacy for an initiative or can you only advocate for an issue that you administer? I currently have an issue that needs some advocacy and would like some sustainability of initiative to administer it. I wonder if I should contact USAID.

A complex web of phony Ukrainian NGOs

UNITER stands for 'Ukraine National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms' and is also known as USAID/Ukraine's Strengthening Civil Society in Ukraine (SCSU). It is administered by Pact Inc. Pact Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that is directly funded by USAI:

USAID/Ukraine awarded Pact a 5-year cooperative agreement to implement the project, effective October 1, 2008. The agreement was extended in September 2013 for an additional year. Including modifications and the 1-year extension, the total amount awarded comes to $14.3 million. As of September 30, 2013, $13.7 million had been obligated and $12.7 million had been spent.1

UNITER also funds the Center UA, which was set up in 2009 by Pierre Omidyar as "a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations that mobilizes civic participation in Ukraine and serves as the country's primary forum for government transparency and accountability." Omidyar is the French-born Iranian American entrepreneur and philanthropist, and the founder and chairman of the eBay auction site.

Oleh Rybachuk is named as the founder and chairman of Centre UA. In 2004, Rybachuk headed the staff and political campaign of the US-backed presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko in the 'Orange Revolution'. Speaking at a 2006 NATO forum he said:

"The task of political forces [in Ukraine] is to compromise on when Ukraine will sign a NATO Membership Plan [...] Ukraine's leaders must now join their efforts to launch an information campaign promoting the country's Euro-Atlantic integration, so that Ukrainians freely and consciously choose their future."

Rybachuk went on to serve under Yushchenko and Tymoshenko as deputy prime minister in charge of integrating Ukraine into NATO and the European Union. With the creation of Centre UA in 2009, Rybachuk transformed himself into a "civil society activist" and began working covertly for the US government to prepare the ground for the overthrow of the established order in Ukraine through "civil unrest", which eventually included the violent overthrow of President Yanukovych.

After the election of President Yanukovych in February 2010, UNITER described how Centre UA was used to put pressure on the Yanukovych government:

The New Citizen Platform was a key player in ensuring the success of the legislation. Pact, through the USAID-funded Ukraine National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms (UNITER) project assists the NGO Center UA [New Citizen] since 2009. It was UNITER's contribution to create the network of prominent local and national level Ukrainian NGOs, to bring together leaders of public opinion and civil society activist.

Henceforth, Pact helped Center UA to emerge as the main convener of the need for access to public information for journalist work. This gave important boost to the success of the New Citizen platform. It included the facilitation and creation in summer 2010 of the Stop Censorship movement that unites media professionals in defending their rights for freedom of speech and access to information. The intensive collaboration New Citizen platform and Stop Censorship movement resulted in the reinforced media attention to the legislative struggle.2

On investigating these 'NGO networks' in Ukraine it quickly becomes clear that when Victoria Nuland said that Washington has spent $5 billion on "democracy promotion" in Ukraine over the past 20 years, she wasn't lying, at least not on the numbers. But that $5billion of US taxpayers' money has not gone towards "democracy promotion" but towards the infiltration and co-opting of Ukraine's political and social life for the purpose of thwarting Russia's natural influence on and co-operation with its neighbor. Between 2009 and 2014, through its complex web of fake NGOs, the US government engaged in a concerted effort to radically and definitively change the course of Ukraine's political and social life for the sole purpose of attacking Russia. In hindsight, a violent coup d'etat and the imposition of US-government-selected political leaders was a part of that plan.

US Snipers on EuroMaidan

When he took up the post of US Ambassador to Ukraine on July 30th, 2013, Geoffrey Pyatt inherited this complex and well-established network of US-financed social activists and agitators. One of Pyatt's first tasks was to oversee the funding (about $50,000 in total) of a new television station in Ukraine, Hromadske TV. Unsurprisingly, Hromadske's first broadcast was on Nov. 22nd, 2013, the very first day of the Maidan protests. Indeed, the rallying cry for those protests was given by Mustafa Nayem, a Ukrainian journalist who founded Hromadske TV (with US taxpayers' money). Hromadske provided blanket coverage of the Maidan protest and since then has continued to receive generous funding from the US State Department and EU governments. To get an idea of the editorial line of the US State Dept. Hromadske, last year they hosted a journalist who called for the genocide of 1.5 million residents of Donbass.

McCain flanked by neo-nazi Tyahnybok

From the beginning of the protests until Yanukovych was forced to flee the country, the Euromaidan was the place to be if you wanted to press the flesh with US politicians. Pyatt and Nuland regularly handed out cookies and 'attaboys' to the protestors and police alike, while the US government's revolutionary envoy John McCain rallied the protestors in December 2013, telling them that "America stands with you" and "Ukraine will make Europe better". As the protests became increasingly violent through January 2014, the Ukrainian Prime Minister resigned on January 28th in a failed attempt to appease the protestors. By February 18th, President Yanukovych was in negotiations to draft a 'peace deal' with three members of the opposition - Yatzenyuk, the fascist Tyahnybok, and Klitschko, along with French, German and Polish foreign ministers. These were the same three people mentioned by Nuland and Pyatt in their infamous leaked phone call where they discussed the future make-up of the post-Yanukovych government.The agreement called for a drastic reduction in Yanukovych's presidential powers, a return to the 2004 constitution, the release of Tymoshenko from prison, early elections for later in 2014, the appointment of Yatzenyuk as prime minister and Klitschko as deputy prime minister, and the dismissal of the current government.

These measures amounted to a radical change in the power structure in Ukraine and should have meant an end to the protests, since they fulfilled all of the opposition demands. After all, the leaders of the opposition who had signed the agreement were the representatives of the protestors on the streets of Kiev, right? However, as the negotiations were ongoing, someone began a shooting spree in the streets around Kiev square over the three days of February 18th-20th. At least 15 policemen and 80 protestors and civilian bystanders were shot dead by what appears to have been a team of snipers firing from the tops and windows of buildings. The agreement was signed on the 21st, but the large death toll appears to have contributed to the, almost immediate, scrapping of the agreement and the announcement by what was left of the Ukrainian parliament that Yanukovych would be impeached.

The image below shows the Maidan square in the top left corner.

The yellow line shows the extent of the progress of the protestors on February 20th along Institutskaya Street as they tried to reach the central bank and the Ukrainian parliament (in red). All of the buildings surrounding Maidan square (off screen, top left), including the Ukraine hotel (in green), were occupied by protestors. The lobby of the Ukraine hotel had been turned into a makeshift triage center for the injured. The point being, everything behind and to the left and right of the protestors should have been safe territory. Ukrainian officials and protestors to this day claim that the police were responsible for the deaths. Yet the video segment below, taken from this video, shows a protestor (and the tree behind which he is hiding) being struck by a bullet from behind or the side, most likely from the upper floors of the Ukraine hotel, as pointed out by this German news report.

[embedded content]

Throughout the day, dozens of other protestors were shot from behind, from buildings occupied by protestors, as outlined in this detailed report by Professor Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa.

The question of who was responsible for the large death toll among both protestors and policemen was brought into sharp focus by an intercepted telephone call, released on March 4th, 2014, between EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Paet, who had just returned from Kiev. In the call, Paet tells Ashton:

There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition. [...] all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides ... and it's really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don't want to investigate what exactly happened.

If you're wondering why you haven't heard much, or anything, about this phone call in the Western media, the reason is that it has been ignored. And as Paet says, apparently the new US/EU-installed 'interim' government in Ukraine is not too keen on investigating the allegations.

Along with the video evidence and eyewitness testimony, Paet's statement strongly suggests that within the 'Maidan' protestors, perhaps specifically the US-funded and Chechen Jihadi-linked 'Right Sector', there were individuals who were fighting on both sides of the barricades; their aim being to kill as many police and protestors as possible in an effort to turn the 'people's revolution' into a revolution of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists bent on kick-starting a 'civil war' to cleanse Ukraine of Russian influence. That agenda dovetails nicely with the broad, decades-long goal of the Anglo-American empire to neutralize Russia as a potential global power broker able to stand against US global hegemony through destabilization and proxy wars.

The expansion of NATO up to Russia's borders that was begun by the Clinton administration in 1992 was advised against by many because it would obviously provoke conflict with Russia, yet the plan went ahead anyway. Why? There are two interwoven benefits from the US point of view. The first is that expanding NATO eastwards served to physically and economically expand the US empire. The second is that provoking conflict with Russia was predicted to scare European states, especially the expanded-upon new NATO Baltic states, into believing that Russia was a threat.

NATO was designed to increase security in Europe, but it has achieved precisely the opposite today. What 'increase security in Europe' really means in Washington is 'increase of US control in Europe'. The US government has long-since understood that the best way to increase control is to increase fear, and to increase fear you need an enemy. In the case of Europe, Russia could be provoked into appearing as an enemy to Europe by threatening it through expansion of NATO, which was justified by the need to increase security in Europe. Basically, expansion of NATO to Russia's borders was designed to threaten Russia and, as a result, threaten Europe and push it further into the arms of the Empire.

Ukraine today is not just a 'failed state'. A 'failed state' is usually still in the hands of a national government. Ukraine today is fully in the hands of the US government and the IMF. That might not be such a bad thing (relatively) if it weren't for the fact that the only reason those two institutions have any interest in Ukraine is to use it as leverage in their futile attempt to thwart the inexorable strengthening of the Russian Federation.

Just take Natalie Jaresko as an example. A Chicago-born investment banker, who received her Ukrainian citizenship in December 2014, she now controls Ukrainian financial policy. In the late '80s and early '90s, she just so happened to hold several positions at the US State Department before taking the position of Chief of the Economic Section of the US Embassy in Ukraine. She also managed the USAID-financed Western NIS Enterprise Fund, which kindly provided funds for 'pro-democracy' movements in Belarus, Moldova and, predictably, Ukraine.

One year ago today, there was an option to end the Maidan protests peacefully while also meeting the protestors' demands and reforming Ukrainian politics and society in a way that would have benefited the Ukrainian people. Instead, the US empire and their proxy agents chose to unleash bloody mayhem on Ukraine. In the process, Ukraine (and therefore NATO) lost Crimea and is so to lose the rich lands of Donetsk and Lugansk. Does the US government care? Of course not. The real goal of demonizing Russia as a threat to global stability has been achieved.

All other considerations, including the slaughter of tens of thousands of ragged Ukrainian troops and at least 5,000 Eastern Ukrainian citizens, are a price the psychopaths in Washington were only too willing to pay.


1USAID, 'Ukraine Country Development Cooperation Strategy, 2012-2016'

2USAID, 'Audit of USAID's Strengthening Civil Society in Ukraine Project'

3FreedomInfo, 'UNITER Project, Pact Inc. Memorandum'

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Syria: Special Forces From Turkey Attack The Syrian Arab Army

Yesterday the Syrian Arab Army triedto relief the insurgent-besieged villages of Nubl and al-Zahraa and to close the corridor between the city of Aleppo and the Turkish border to the north. The troops captured three villages and nearly closed the gap in their ring around Aleppo but were pushed out again in an onslaught by hundreds of enemies coming from the direction of the Turkish border.

The map shows the areas gained and lost again by the SAA in light green. (bigger)

A bloody video from the aftermath (now deleted) showed several dozens of dead Syrian Army fighters massacred in what looked like a well executed ambush.

This was curious as the usual insurgent groups in the area are not know for good military planning:

Regime sources say that the defining characteristic of yesterday’s “ferocious” battle was Turkish support for the armed groups, as evidenced by the transfer of fighters and military supplies from inside Turkey to Aleppo’s northern countryside, including Caucasian fighters who answer directly to Turkish intelligence.

On Twitter one Ömer Khãn, who claims to be a Turkish soldier and is an avid supporter of the Syrian opposition, looks at the gruesome pictures of the dead soldiers and remarks (1, 2, 3):

Who where these SAA up against in #Mallah ? Shooting only Head is feat for a Regular Army, much less for #Rebels.

SAA skulls shattered/shot in/bet Eyes. this is only work of special units, unlikely any Rebel Org.

#Aleppo Whoever killed those SAA was no Mere Rebel, Pro-Reg cry about Turkish Intervention.

I concur. Whoever attacked those Syrian troops must have had, unlike the usual insurgents or jihadists, some extensive and professional special forces experience.

This is not the first time that Turkey actively intervenes in Syria. Recently released Turkish court documents show that Turkey, on top of logistic help, gave direct artillery fire support to the insurgents in several case.

There are new reports that the U.S. plans to give the insurgents radios and other equipment to call in air strikes especially to the Kurds. But the U.S. has already given such equipment to a few selected Kurdish fighters in Kobani for use against the Islamic State. I doubt very much that these will be given to "moderate rebels" or will be used against the Syrian army.

I also doubt that the U.S. will really train or further equip additional "moderate" anti-Syrian fighters. The biggest lobbyist for such arming was the former U.S ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. He has now changed course and admits that there are no "moderates" who could sensibly be armed:

Ford has accused the rebels of collaborating with the Nusra Front, the al Qaida affiliate in Syria that the U.S. declared a terrorist organization more than two years ago. He says opposition infighting has worsened and he laments the fact that extremist groups now rule in most territories outside the Syrian regime’s control.

Ford said part of the problem was that too many rebels – and their patrons in Turkey and Qatar – insisted that Nusra was a homegrown, anti-Assad force when in fact it was an al Qaida affiliate whose ideology was virtually indistinguishable from the Islamic State’s.


“It becomes impossible to field an effective opposition when no one even agrees who or what is the enemy,” he said.

Ford said the latest U.S. approach of ditching the old rebel model to build a new, handpicked paramilitary to focus on the Islamic State was doomed; Syrian rebels are more concerned with bringing down Assad than with fighting extremists for the West, and there are far too few fighters to take the project seriously.


Ford said the time had come for U.S. officials and their allies to have a serious talk about “boots on the ground,” though he was quick to add that the fighters didn’t need to be American. He said a professional ground force was the only way to wrest Syria from the jihadists.

With Ford's support lost the Syrian opposition lobbyists and their friends in the Obama administration will not be able to get the U.S. support they want.

Ford is right that a professional ground force is needed to "wrest Syria from the jihadists". That ground force already exists. It is the Syrian Arab Army and its allies. But when NATO member and U.S. ally Turkey sends special forces to support the jihadist in ambushing and slaughtering those forces without getting rebuffed from Washington it will take years and lots of bloody slaughters until the jihadists are finally finished.

A portrait of Iran's supreme leader where Saddam Hussein's statue once stood in Baghdad

© Liz Sly/ The Washington Post

A billboard depicting the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was erected recently on the edge of Baghdad’s Firdaus Square.

Perhaps nothing illuminates more starkly the transformation underway in Iraq than the billboard depicting the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini erected recently on the edge of Baghdad's Firdaus Square. The portrait obscures the view of the plinth where a giant statue of Saddam Hussein once stood, until U.S. Marines pulled it down in 2003.

The 2003 event was a profoundly symbolic moment that seemed to capture the swift triumph of American troops over Hussein's crumbling army. It also signaled the start of Iraq's steady drift into the orbit of Iranian influence, a trend that has accelerated dramatically since the surge into northern Iraq by the Islamic State last summer.

The billboard is one of many put up around the streets of Baghdad advertising the multiple Shiite militias that have emerged to battle the Islamic State, many of them with support from Iran. This one advertises the Resurrection of Hussein Brigade, a newly formed group that Iraqis say was directly created by Iran. It also features the portrait of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's successor.

In the background is the Palestine Hotel, where many of the journalists who covered the U.S. invasion stayed, and where U.S. Marines set up one of their first offices.

Much of the Sunni-Shiite rivalry tearing Iraq apart today is rooted in the animosity between Saddam Hussein and Khomeini, the architect of the Iranian revolution. Under Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, Iraq waged an eight-year war against Shiite Iran in the 1980s, in which more than a million Iranians and Iraqis died. Iraq was backed in its endeavor by the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf as well as the United States, which saw Hussein's Iraq as a bulwark against the expansionist ambitions of Khomeini's new Shiite republic.

Thirty-five years after Iraq launched the war, both men are dead. (Khomeini died in 1989, and Hussein was executed in 2006.) But it is the image of Khomeini that endures, in the heart of the capital of Iraq.

Some 200 exposed to deadly superbug in UCLA campus hospital

© AFP/Mark Ralston

Exterior view of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

At least two people have died and a further seven exposed to a deadly strain of drug-resistant superbug bacteria at a hospital on the UCLA campus. Authorities are notifying 179 more people that have potentially been exposed.

The enterobacteriaceae (CRE) can be fatal in as many as half of all cases if the bacteria reach the bloodstream.

The university discovered the outbreak last month, while running tests on a patient. It will now test the other 179 people it believes to be infected. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention are currently assisting the LA County Department of Public Health in investigating further effects.

Doctors at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, where the outbreak occurred, believe the moment of infection happened "during complex endoscopic procedures that took place between October 2014 and January 2015," according to CBS.

"These outbreaks at UCLA and other hospitals could collectively be the most significant instance of disease transmission ever linked to a contaminated reusable medical instrument," believes Larence Muscarella, a safety consultant at Ronald Reagan.

Although the scopes were sterilized in accordance with standard procedure, their very construction carries with it a risk of bacterial buildup. It turns out the scope could have transmitted the infection during a procedure "to diagnose and treat pancreaticobiliary diseases," at least that is the working theory at this time.

Over 500,000 people annually have scopes inserted into their bodies to treat infections and diseases occurring in the digestive system. The clinic is receiving high praise for spotting the infection early and enabling treatment. But there is ongoing debate about proper disinfection of the scopes, with some saying that conventional techniques aren't suited to the scopes' design.

These are not standard scopes either: these and other endoscopes involved in previous outbreaks have "an elevator channel" that is used to get the tool into tight spots. It can be used with various attachments. It is there that bacteria build up.

"The two scopes involved with the infection were immediately removed and UCLA is now utilizing a decontamination process that goes above and beyond the manufacturer and national standards," university spokesman Dale Tate told the .

Authorities in the state and beyond believe an industry-wide response needs to take place, as this is not the first outbreak of such kind. Since 2012, more than 150 patients in the states of Pennsylvania and Illinois, and the city of Seattle had fallen victim to outbreaks that could well be the result of a lax system for ensuring patient safety during procedures.

A total of 32 patients were infected with contaminated endoscopes at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle between 2012 and 2014, the hospital has acknowledged last month. The infection was a similar strain to the CRE found at UCLA.


Three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated image of a group of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae bacteria.

The superbug itself is difficult to treat, and there is risk that "This bacteria is emerging in the US and it's associated with a high mortality rate," Dr. Alex Kallen with the CDC told the . "We don't want this circulating anywhere in the community."

But a number of bodies advocating patient safety say that authorities aren't fast enough in responding to the need to change things like cleaning guidelines and so on.

"Hospitals and manufacturers often take months to assess what to do, with the infected patients being the last to know," a further problem seen by Muscarella.

The FDA is also on board with efforts to curb the rate of infection from contaminated instruments. It said in a statement it was "actively engaged with the manufacturers of duodenoscopes used in the US and with other government agencies such as the CDC to develop solutions to minimize patient risk associated with these issues... The FDA believes the continued availability of these devices is in the best interest of the public health," it also said.

The manufacturer and supplier of the endoscopes to UCLA, Olympus Medical Systems Group, has joined the discussion.

Hacker from Anonymous claims he was charged after refusing to help FBI

© Reuters/Dado Ruvic

A 28-year-old hacker currently serving a six-month prison sentence for computer crimes now says that authorities asked him to help the United States gather information on Mexican drug cartels, then charged him with dozens of counts after he refused.

Fidel Salinas of Texas started his half-year prison sentence last Friday, according to court documents obtained by , three months after he accepted a plea deal that saw him owning up to a single count of accessing without authorization the computer system of Hidalgo County in 2012. The activity was part of an operation that authorities say involved the hacktivist collective Anonymous.

This Wednesday, however, reported that Salinas said ahead of surrendering to US Marshals last week that the agreement he reached with the Department of Justice was hardly the first time that the two had discussed a deal.

According to , Salinas told journalist Andy Greenberg that agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation attempted to recruit him to assist with the FBI's own intelligence gathering operations in 2013. After Salinas shot them down, he soon found himself being charged with dozens of counts through no fewer than four indictments filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

In May 2013, Greenberg wrote this week, the FBI interrogated Salinas for six hours, during which they allegedly asked him to harness his cyber skills in order to help federal authorities gather intelligence on Mexican drug cartels — a previous target of Anonymous.

"They asked me to gather information on elected officials, cartel members, anyone I could get data from that would help them out," Salinas told over the phone recently. "I told them no."

"We think you can help us," Salinas said the FBI told him. "You can help us stop some of this corruption and stop the cartels."

Authorities had first executed a search warrant on Salinas' home in January 2012 and then waited nearly a year-and-a-half before having the conversation he now alleges occurred. The Justice Department finally unsealed a one count indictment four months later in October 2013, which claimed the Texan had attempted to breach the official website of Hidalgo County in January 2012. More charges came the following April, however, and reported at the time that Salinas was facing a maximum of 440 years in prison if he was found guilty on all 44 charges. Cyber attorney Tor Ekeland later took up the case pro bono and helped Salinas iron out the plea deal entered last year, trading in the 44-count indictment in exchange for a single misdemeanor charge.

"The more I looked at this, the more it seemed like an archetypal example of the Department of Justice's prosecutorial abuse when it comes to computer crime," Ekeland told at the time. Upon hearing the latest allegations, however, he weighed in once more.

"Fundamentally this represents the FBI trying to recruit by indictment," Ekeland recently said. "The message was clear: If he had agreed to help them, they would have dropped the charges in a second."

The FBI, however, has denied that interpretation of events. Salinas "was never asked to conduct any investigative activity on behalf of the government," the FBI said in a statement sent to , and a Justice Department spokesperson said that "at no point during the case did the defense ever present any testimony or evidence to show that any of the defendant's hacking attempts had been made at the behest of the government or at the request of any alleged victim."

BEST OF THE WEB: General Wesley Clark: Our friends and allies created ISIS

Not that it was really a conspiracy 'theory' but with General Wesley Clark (ret.) now openly admitting "ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies... to fight to the death against Hezbollah" it appears the 'angel investors' cat is out of the bag. Adding that "they recruited the zealots and religious fundamentalists" Clark says 'we' create "Frankenstein." He is careful not to name names, but we ask (rhetorically of course), which of our (oil-bearing) allies has the biggest bone to pick with Hezbollah (apart from Israel of course)?

Clark on creating

[embedded content]

Which explains, as MiddleEastEye notes, the questions about ISIS' rapid geopolitical expansion despite lack of enthusiasm for its cause among ordinary people...

...a puzzling matter exists. While al-Qaeda during its most violent phases won the support of many people in the region, IS is hardly popular. Even the support of Salafist jihadists here and there is diminishing.

In fact, while many despise them, conspiracy theorists are busy linking them to Israel, the US and other Arab regimes, which could be considered the ultimate disavowal of the group.

[embedded content]

Not only does IS seem to have no strategy of its own, but its "strategy" is inexplicably and enigmatically consistent with those who are seeking to maintain military intervention, regionally and internationally, as the only way to handle Middle East crises.

* * *

Now let's see: whose strategy is to keep the middle east on constant edge?

Machine guns, drones, and permanent war in the American Police State

I never fail to be amazed -- and that's undoubtedly my failing. I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the west? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 -- bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe -- as well as its own "navy," including six submersible drones . Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as "advanced disorder control and counterterror." It will also, he announced, be equipped with "extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns -- unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances." And here's where he created a little controversy in my hometown. The squad would, Bratton added, be "designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris."

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York. By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism. Perhaps you won't be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests. A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. ("I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.") Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the west, shouldn't have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons. The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015. After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country's distant battlefields -- assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns -- to local police departments around the country. Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess. (Ferguson, for instance, had a "Bearcat," widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Since 2013, the Pentagon has transferred for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various "qualified law enforcement agencies." Police departments in rural areas like Walsh County , North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the campus police department at Ohio State University. It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life.

Post-Ferguson, a few scattered departments have actually moved to turn these useless vehicles back in. It's clear, however, that police forces "kitted out with Marine-issue camouflage and military-grade body armor, toting short-barreled assault rifles, and rolling around in armored vehicles" -- that is, almost indistinguishable from soldiers -- are now the future of American policing and there's no walking that back. Since Ferguson, President Obama has essentially refused to do so and Congress certainly won't. Despite a small uproar over the pile of military equipment being transferred to the police, there is no indication that the flow will be stanched.

When it comes to all this militarized equipment, as the president has emphasized (and the task force he appointed to look into these matters will undoubtedly reemphasize), "reform" is mainly going to be focused on "better training" in how to use it. In other words, reform will prove to be a code word for further militarization. And don't count on anyone returning those 94,000 machine guns either in a country that seems to be in some kind of domestic arms race and in which toddlers now regularly find their parents' loaded guns and wound or kill them.

How the National Security State Outlasted Its Critics

Not so long ago, that 9/11 "changed everything" seemed like the hyperbolic cliché of a past era. From the present moment, however, it looks ever more like a sober description of what actually happened. Congratulations, that is, are due to Osama bin Laden. Even dead and buried at sea, he deserves some credit. He proved to be midwife to the exceedingly violent birth of a new American world. Today, 13 years after the attacks he launched, an exceptionally healthy, well-armed teenage America is growing fast. Under the banner of Fear and Terror that bin Laden inspired, this country has been transformed in myriad ways, even if we only half notice because we're part of it. And it isn't a world much interested in walking anything back.

Consider the National Security Agency. In June 2013, it was faced with the beginning of a devastating rollout of a trove of top-secret documents exposing its inner workings. Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans (and Germans and Brazilians and Mexicans and Afghans) came to know that the agency had, in the post-9/11 years, set up a surveillance state for the ages, one for which the phrase Orwellian might be distinctly inadequate. The NSA was listening in on or intercepting the communications of 35 chancellors, presidents, and other world leaders, the secretary-general of the U.N., the offices of the European Union, foreign corporations, peasants in the backlands of the planet, and oh yes, American citizens galore (and that's just to start down a far longer list). All of this effort has -- from the point of view of "intelligence" -- been remarkably expensive but (as far as anyone can tell) relatively useless. Few terrorists have been found, next to no plots broken up, and little useful, actionable intelligence provided to the government, despite the yottabytes of data collected. The whole effort should have been written off as a bust and scaled back radically. The agency's methods arguably violated the Constitution, made a mockery of the idea of privacy, and tore up sovereignties of every sort. Instead, that global surveillance system remains embedded in our world and growing, its actions sanctified.

Clearly, in the new post-9/11 American rulebook, no one was to have the right to keep a secret -- except the national security state itself, which was madly classifying anything in sight, while the Obama Justice Department went after anyone who leaked anything about it or blew a whistle on it with a fierceness never before experienced in our history. Hence, thetowering anger of top NSA officials (and their retired colleagues ) at Edward Snowden when he exposed their "privacy" to scrutiny, too.

If ever there was a system in need of "reform," this was it. And yet the NSA has successfully outlasted the long Snowden moment without a single thing being walked back, not even the most shocking revelation for Americans: that the agency was gathering and storing their bulk phone "metadata." A year ago, a presidential advisory board on privacy concluded that the bulk data collection was "illegal and unproductive" and recommended changes. None have yet taken place. "Reform" efforts on the NSA collapsed in Congress even before the Republicans took the Senate. As with the police, so the president has announced minor "tweaks " to the system of data collection and it's marching right on.

Similarly, the CIA outlasted Senator Dianne Feinstein. After years of effort, a truncated, redacted version of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's Torture Report that she oversaw was finally released, filled with American horrors and barbarities. The result, as with Snowden's revelations, was nada. For torture, no one at the CIA is to be held responsible or accountable; nor did the CIA pay any price for hacking into the computer systems of the committee's staff or turning on the woman once known as the senator from the national security state. The whole process seemed to signal that congressional oversight of the U.S. intelligence community was now more fiction than fact.

Admittedly, when President Obama came into office, in what may be the single exception to the rule of the era, he walked back one crucial set of Bush administration policies, ending torture and closing the "black sites" at which much of it occurred. Since then, however, the CIA has expanded, while its power, like the national security state within which it is lodged, has only grown.

The process of expanding that shadow government and freeing it from supervision has, in fact, been unending. Only last week, for instance, the Obama administration announced that the 17 intelligence outfits that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community were about to get a new baby. Amid a thicket of outfits now devoted to cyberintelligence, including "cyber-operations centers" at the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Security Agency, the new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, which will be housed in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will "analyze cyberthreats and coordinate strategy to counter them." It will assumedly be the civilian equivalent of the military's 2009 creation, the U.S. Cyber Command. And keep in mind that all this is happening in the country that is responsible for launching the planet's first cyberwar.

Or consider another growth industry: drones and their progeny. They are spinning off into domestic air space at a startling rate and can now be found from America's borderlands to thousands of feet up in the skies above commercial jetliners to the White House grounds (reportedly thanks to the recreational activities of a drunken employee of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency). Abroad, Washington's drones have been this country's true "lone wolf" hunters, inflicting terror from the skies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya in 2011, and most recently Syria. In five of those seven countries they have been at it for years, in the case of Pakistan flying hundreds of strikes in its tribal borderlands.

Washington's grimly named Predator and Reaper drones have been hunting their prey in the backlands of the planet 24 hours a day for more than a decade now. Thousands of people have been wiped out, including women, children, and wedding parties, as well as numerous significant and insignificant figures in terror outfits of every sort. And yet in not one of those countries has the situation improved in any significant way in terms of U.S. policy goals. In most of them it has grown worse and the drones have been a factor in such developments, alienating whole populations on the ground below. This has been obvious for years to counterinsurgency experts. But a reconsideration of these drone wars is beyond the pale in Washington. Drone assassination is now a sacrosanct act of the American state, part of a "global" war 13 years old and ongoing. No one in any position of power, now or in the immediate future, is going to consider flying them back.

The CIA has sometimes been called the president's private army. Today, it's running most (but not all) of Washington's drone campaigns and so those robotic lone wolves could be considered the president's private air force. In the process, the twenty-first-century White House has been officially and proudly turned into an assassin's lair and don't expect that to change in 2016 or 2020 either.

Permanent War and the Permanent Election Campaign

Similar points could be made about the 13-year-old "global war" the Bush administration launched and the specific wars, raids, conflicts, invasions, and occupations that have been carried out under its aegis. President Obama has been fighting Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0 for six months, claiming that Congressional post-9/11 authorizations allow him to do so. Now, he wants a three-year extension on something he claims he doesn't need and has delivered a text to Congress filled with enough loopholes to send an army (and air force) through -- and not just in Iraq and Syria either. Not getting this authorization wouldn't, however, significantly affect the administration's plans in the Middle East. So much for the "power" of Congress to declare war. That body is nonetheless evidently going to spend months holding hearings and "debating" a new authorization, even as fighting goes on without it, based on informal agreements pounded out by the White House and the Pentagon. (Alice would have found Wonderland sane by comparison.)

In this way, the White House has in our time become a war-making and assassination-producing machine. In the same period, terror groups and membership in them have leapt across the Greater Middle East and Africa; no terror organization has been destroyed (though the original al-Qaeda, a modest enough outfit to begin with, has been weakened); most have expanded; the Islamic State, the first mini-terror state in history, has taken over significant parts of Iraq and Syria and is expanding elsewhere; Libya is a chaos of competing militias, some of an extreme Islamic nature; Yemen is believed to be in a state of collapse with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the rise; Afghanistan remains a war disaster area; Pakistan is significantly destabilized; and so on. And yet, as the president's authorization request indicates, there is no walking any of this back.

In the meantime, on the domestic front in this "too big to fail" century, the country that eternally sallies forth under the banner of democracy has been working on a new political system which, as yet, has no name. Here's what we do know about our latest version of "democracy": in a period when plenty of American citizens weren't too small to fail, the inequality gap has grown to yawning proportions. On the principle that what goes up must come down, some part of the vast infusion of money flowing to the .01% or even the .001% has, with a helping hand from the Supreme Court, been raining down on the electoral system.

In the same way that the national security state was funded to the tune of almost a trillion dollars a year and war became perpetual, the new political system, focused on TV advertising, has created a perpetual campaign season. (It is now estimated that the 2016 presidential campaign alone could cost $5 billion, essentially doubling the $2.6 billion spent in 2012.) And here's the most recent news from that round-the-clock campaign, whose focus is increasingly on donors, not voters: the Koch brothers and their allied donor networks have pledged nearly one billion dollars for election season 2016 (more than double the amount they contributed in 2012). And they already have pledges for $249 million, which suggests that they may even exceed their present guesstimate.

Despite comments from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg about her personal desire to roll back the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of money, it's clear that this court won't be walking its election-financing positions back anytime soon. In donor terms, think of what that court did as the equivalent of the Pentagon putting all those machine guns and MRAPs in the hands of the police.

And keep in mind that, as the U.S. changes, the world does, too. Consider it a form of reverse blowback, as from drones to surveillance to cyberwar, Washington helps lay the groundwork for a new more extreme century in which, from sovereignty to privacy, boundaries are there to be broken, new kinds of weaponry to be tested out in the real world, and new kinds of conflicts to be launched.

In sum, we, the people, are ever less in control of anything. The police are increasingly not "ours," nor are the NSA and its colleague outfits "our" intelligence agencies, nor are the wars we are fighting "our" wars, nor the elections in which we vote "our" elections. This is a country walking back nothing as it heads into a heavily militarized future. In the process, an everyday American world is being brought into existence that, by past standards, will seem extreme indeed. In other words, in the years to come an ever-less recognizable American way of life will quite expectably be setting in the west. Don't be shocked.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His new book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

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Scientists unveil map of 'epigenome'


© cosmin4000/iStockphoto

The epigenome can turn genes in DNA on or off.

For the first time, scientists have mapped out the molecular "switches" that can turn on - or off - individual genes in the DNA in more than 100 types of human cells.

Researchers unveiled the map of the 'epigenome' in the journal Nature today, along with nearly two dozen related papers.

The human genome is the blueprint for building an individual person. The epigenome can be thought of as the cross-outs and underlinings of that blueprint: if someone's genome contains DNA associated with cancer but that DNA is "crossed out" by molecules in the epigenome, for example, the DNA is unlikely to lead to cancer.

As sequencing individuals' genomes to infer the risk of disease becomes more common, it will become all the more important to figure out how the epigenome is influencing that risk as well as other aspects of health.

Precision medicine

Sequencing genomes is the centrepiece of the new area of "precision medicine".

"The only way you can deliver on the promise of precision medicine is by including the epigenome," says Manolis Kellis of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the mapping that involved scientists in labs across the world.

Epigenetic differences are one reason identical twins, with identical DNA, do not always develop the same genetic diseases, including cancer.

But incorporating the epigenome in precision medicine is daunting.

"A lifetime of environmental factors and lifestyle factors" influence the epigenome says Kellis.

These factors include smoking, exercising, diet, exposure to toxic chemicals and even parental nurturing, he says.

Not only will scientists have to decipher how the epigenome affects genes, they will also have to determine how the lives people lead affect their epigenome.

Early results

The epigenome map published today shows how 127 tissue and cell types differ from every other at the level of DNA.

The scientists involved in the project deposited their findings in a public database as they went along.

This meant that other researchers have been able to analyse the information before the map was formally published.

One of the resulting studies shows that brain cells from people who died with Alzheimer's disease had epigenetic changes in DNA involved in immune response. Alzheimer's has never been seen as an immune-system disorder, so the discovery opens up another possible avenue to understand and treat it.

Other researchers found that because the epigenetic signature of different kinds of cells is unique, they could predict with nearly 90 per cent accuracy where metastatic cancer originated, something that is unknown in two to five per cent of patients.

As a result, epigenetic information might offer a life-saving clue for oncologists trying to determine treatment, says senior author Shamil Sunyaev, a research geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

There is much more to come. Instead of the epigenome map being the end, says Kellis, "I very much see (it) as beginning a decade of epigenomics."

America struck by 'Siberian Express' high-pressure system

© Kiichiro Sato/AP

Ice and snow lead to record freeze in the USA

A bitterly cold chill known as the "Siberian Express" has enveloped much of eastern America, sending temperatures plummeting up to 40 degrees below their normal February levels to record lows in at least 100 places.

Southern states such as Tennessee and Kentucky suffered some of the most extreme drops on the thermometer as bone-chilling air from Siberia settled on the region after snowstorms passed through.

The relentless cold has blanketed the country's north-east for weeks, alternating heavy snowfall with spells of clear but gnawingly chilly skies.

In New York's Central Park, temperatures were expected to fall to -17C, but that was before a windchill factor with gusts that made it feel another 10 degrees colder. The city is on course for its coldest February in history.

"The frigid air in the US comes courtesy of the Siberian Express," Mike Bettes, a Weather Channel meteorologist told NBC News. "It's cold Arctic air from northern Russia. It's travelling 5,000 miles over the North Pole, over cold snow pack, and going all the way as far south as the Gulf Coast."

Carl Erickson, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said that a high-pressure system has redirected the jet stream, leaving the icy air hanging over the country's eastern third.

The sub-zero weather was predicted to set records on Thursday and Friday from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas to Washington, New York and Boston.

In Kentucky, the town of Paducah had already experienced temperatures of -22C, the coldest since records began in 1895.

© AP

The sun rises on Lake Michigan as ice forms along the shore

The great chill has created some memorable sights, including the frozen Niagara Falls. But it is also producing life-threatening conditions, has forced school closures and cancellations of flights and trains.

More than 100 million Americans are in the path of the current Siberian blast. Emergency response officials in southern states such as Tennessee scoured the streets urging homeless people not accustomed to such cold to seek refuge in shelters.

No stranger to deep winter chill, Chicago is experiencing its coldest February since 1875. In North Carolina, officials warned that black ice turning roads into potential death traps with "ice-skating rink-like conditions".

Maine and northern New Hampshire and Vermont were expected to receive up to another foot of snow in areas that have already been battered by record-setting falls. The town of Eastport, Maine, was believed to be leading the snow table with 109 inches in the last 23 days.

Fears are growing for the physical safety of buildings under the weight of the snow. More than 70 roofs have collapsed in Massachusetts, including a partial-collapse in the town of Sutton of a shopping plaza that had just been evacuated after workers heard cracking noises above them.

With such intense cold, there has been no melting of the snows. Indeed, in Boston, city fathers have urged thrill-seekers to end the craze for "snow jumping", hurling themselves from the upper floor windows of buildings into the towering drifts that are lining streets.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis: No more games in Greece


Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country's creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation, and even prove a turning point for Europe's unfolding experiment with monetary union.

Game theorists analyze negotiations as if they were split-a-pie games involving selfish players. Because I spent many years during my previous life as an academic researching game theory, some commentators rushed to presume that as Greece's new finance minister I was busily devising bluffs, stratagems and outside options, struggling to improve upon a weak hand.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If anything, my game-theory background convinced me that it would be pure folly to think of the current deliberations between Greece and our partners as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffs and tactical subterfuge.

The trouble with game theory, as I used to tell my students, is that it takes for granted the players' motives. In poker or blackjack this assumption is unproblematic. But in the current deliberations between our European partners and Greece's new government, the whole point is to forge new motives. To fashion a fresh mind-set that transcends national divides, dissolves the creditor-debtor distinction in favor of a pan-European perspective, and places the common European good above petty politics, dogma that proves toxic if universalized, and an us-versus-them mind-set.

As finance minister of a small, fiscally stressed nation lacking its own central bank and seen by many of our partners as a problem debtor, I am convinced that we have one option only: to shun any temptation to treat this pivotal moment as an experiment in strategizing and, instead, to present honestly the facts concerning Greece's social economy, table our proposals for regrowing Greece, explain why these are in Europe's interest, and reveal the red lines beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going.

The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners' trust. We are also determined not to be treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must. The principle of the greatest austerity for the most depressed economy would be quaint if it did not cause so much unnecessary suffering.

I am often asked: What if the only way you can secure funding is to cross your red lines and accept measures that you consider to be part of the problem, rather than of its solution? Faithful to the principle that I have no right to bluff, my answer is: The lines that we have presented as red will not be crossed. Otherwise, they would not be truly red, but merely a bluff.

But what if this brings your people much pain? I am asked. Surely you must be bluffing.

The problem with this line of argument is that it presumes, along with game theory, that we live in a tyranny of consequences. That there are no circumstances when we must do what is right not as a strategy but simply because it is ... right.

Against such cynicism the new Greek government will innovate. We shall desist, whatever the consequences, from deals that are wrong for Greece and wrong for Europe. The "extend and pretend" game that began after Greece's public debt became unserviceable in 2010 will end. No more loans — not until we have a credible plan for growing the economy in order to repay those loans, help the middle class get back on its feet and address the hideous humanitarian crisis. No more "reform" programs that target poor pensioners and family-owned pharmacies while leaving large-scale corruption untouched.

Our government is not asking our partners for a way out of repaying our debts. We are asking for a few months of financial stability that will allow us to embark upon the task of reforms that the broad Greek population can own and support, so we can bring back growth and end our inability to pay our dues.

One may think that this retreat from game theory is motivated by some radical-left agenda. Not so. The major influence here is Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who taught us that the rational and the free escape the empire of expediency by doing what is right.

How do we know that our modest policy agenda, which constitutes our red line, is right in Kant's terms? We know by looking into the eyes of the hungry in the streets of our cities or contemplating our stressed middle class, or considering the interests of hard-working people in every European village and city within our monetary union. After all, Europe will only regain its soul when it regains the people's trust by putting their interests center-stage.