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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Big pharma is America's new Mafia

Big Pharma

© iStockphoto

Pharmaceutical companies have more power than ever, and the American people are paying the price—too often with our lives.

By now you have probably seen John Oliver's comic take on the pharmaceutical industry's influence on doctors' prescribing habits. Media outlets from Mother Jones to the Wall Street Journal commented admiringly, and even the American Medical Association felt compelled to declare they were "committed to transparency" around drug company payments to doctors.

But satire will do very little to focus on the real problem if we're distracted by the humor inherent in self-important doctors being bought off by a steak. What's not funny is that America is the most medicated nation on earth, with some 70 percent of Americans taking prescription drugs—yet we have worse health outcomes than other industrialized countries. Part of the problem may be the drugs themselves. As Slate's devastating expose on the fraud in clinical drug trials shows us: We don't know much about the drugs we prescribe.

But as physicians, we have very little good information to go on. Even our most prestigious journals publish research based on falsified studies , according to Charles Seife, a journalism professor whose class spent a semester trying to figure out why the data don't get corrected once research fraud comes to light. "As a result," Seife writes, "nobody ever finds out which data is bogus, which experiments are tainted, and which drugs might be on the market under false pretenses."

If no one knows which data is bogus, we obviously have a big problem in conventional medicine. Perhaps we shouldn't be so focused on marketing shenanigans, and more concerned about the original study data before something becomes standard of care. Standard of care, of course, is driven by "research" that is incorporated into academic guidelines and is the basis of customer demand.

Understanding consumer demand takes very little study—just turn on the TV. Every year pharmaceutical companies spend over $3 billion on direct-to-consumer ads. These ads work: a patient who requests a specific drug will get it most of the time. (We are, by the way, the only country besides New Zealand that allows this.) But the question of how something becomes part of a recommended guideline is less obvious—and has a lot to do with pharmaceutical money paid to academic physicians in research and consulting fees.

Many of these physicians "leaders" then get to influence prescribing practices—since researchers and consultants are, well, experts. Consider the 2004 Cholesterol guidelines that resulted in an explosion in the use of statin drugs—eight out of nine of the doctors who wrote those guidelines were in receipt of money from statin manufacturers . The Harvard psychiatrist credited with hyping the use of stimulant drugs for ADHD—that has resulted in nearly 15 percent of our youth being medicated—received $1.6 million from producers of stimulant drugs. Prestigious medical journals—the ones that often define medical guidelines—allow physicians consulting for pharmaceutical companies or paid medical writers to extol the virtues of the drugs they are selling.

I hate to ruin the fun, but practicing physicians are influenced far more by guidelines, esteemed academic physicians, and opinion pieces in prestigious journals than we are by a deli platter and a smiling drug rep. We look to the world of academic medicine because, well, where else can we turn? Pharmaceutical companies know this and have worked hard to sway the leadership. Now the question comes up if we can trust the data that the leadership relies on. One wonders how deep the deception goes. In fact, the heavy influence of pharmaceutical dollars inspired the former editor-in-chief of the , Dr. Marcia Angell, to conclude, "It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines."

That's why so many practicing physicians and patients alike were relieved that Obamacare would force pharmaceutical companies to come clean about how much money they're throwing at some doctors. Sure, it's fun to ridicule a middle-aged doctor ogling the drug rep's cleavage while stuffing pens in his pocket or wolfing down a falafel sandwich—but this guy isn't really the problem and everybody knows it. While $90 million went to drug-company sponsored meals in 2013, according to the Open Payments database, at least $1.4 Billion went to research. If we can believe that doctors can be bought with a slice of pizza pie, then we cannot underrate the influence of research monies.

And by the way, that $1.4 billion is probably a fraction of what is spent on researchers. Obamacare allows a four-year delay in the reporting of research grants for reasons that really don't make any sense. An explanation from Medscape does little to satisfy: "The thinking is that if there were public transparency, it might stifle companies from getting involved in very early research.... And that's again to specifically protect that research space."

Whether or not the research space needs protecting is a matter of debate. Certainly we have so much research that it's impossible for a working physician to get through it—some 800,000 articles are published annually. In response, the Cochrane Collaboration was formed in the 1990s to perform systematic reviews of the literature. Dr. Peter Gotzsche, the Director of the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen, has seen enough over the last two decades to sum up his findings in a book whose title says it all:

"Much of what the drug industry does fulfills the criteria for organized crime in US law," Dr. Gotzsche said in a recent interview . "And they behave in many ways like the mafia does, they corrupt everyone they can corrupt, they have bought every type of person, even including ministers of health in some countries...The drug industry buys the professors first, then chiefs of departments, then other chief physicians and so on, they don't buy junior doctors."

Gotzsche isn't the only one accusing pharmaceutical companies of wrongdoing beyond the marketing malfeasance they're famous for. In Australia, during the Vioxx class action suit brought against Merck, company emails were released revealing that Merck employees planned to "neutralize" and "discredit" doctors who criticized the drug. "We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live," a Merck employee wrote, according to . Apparently, uncooperative physicians were targeted to lose academic appointments and research funding for telling the truth about the negative side effects they observed.

This is troubling—but even more so in light of the fact that it's now widely accepted that prescription drugs can be dangerous and over the years dozens have been recalled. "Our prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. Our drugs kill around 200,000 people in America every year, and half of these people die while they do what their doctors told them—so they die because of the side-effects," said Dr. Gotzsche in his recent interview. "The other half die because of errors—and it's often the doctors that make the errors because any drug may come with 20, 30 or 40 warnings, contraindications, precautions...and then the patients die."

This is a hard pill for any of us to swallow. We should be able to trust our doctors, who should in turn be able to trust "the science." As amusing as Oliver's "epic takedown" of doctors was, the trouble isn't physicians prescribing a new drug because a drug rep brings us a platter of tacos, the problem is whether the drugs we have to choose from are truly safe and effective in the first place.

Of course pharmaceutical companies are here to stay—and on the whole that's a good thing. But to prevent a power dynamic that may deny us fully accurate drug data, physicians, and patients need more transparency—not just about the money, but about the drugs we are putting in our bodies.

Israel opens floodgates forcing hundreds of Gazans to evacuate

© Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinians ride horse carts as they evacuate their animals in the village of Al-Moghraga after it was flooded by rain water, near central Gaza Strip February 22, 2015.

Over 80 houses have been flooded and hundreds of Palestinians forced to evacuate after Israel opened the gates of several dams on the border with the Gaza Strip, inundating the Gaza Valley in waters up to 3 meters high.

In the wake of a recent severe winter storm in the region, Israeli authorities opened the floodgates to discharge the accumulated water. Residents of eastern Gaza reported injuries as well as deaths of livestock and poultry, caused by the Israeli action which allegedly came without prior notification, Gaza's Civil Defense Directorate (CDD) said Sunday.

"The [Israeli] army opened the floodgates of a canal leading to central Gaza, which resulted in the removal of sand mounds along the border with Israel," the CDD announced, according to Palestinian News Agency . "Opening the levees to the canal has led to the flooding of several Palestinian homes, and we had to quickly evacuate the afflicted citizens."

No casualties were reported as a result, but more than 80 families had to flee after their homes filled with water levels sometimes reaching more than three meters, the Gaza Ministry of Interior said in a statement.

The flood forced the closure of the main road connecting al-Mughraqa district and Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza city, leaving hundreds of Palestinians trapped in the floods, a difficult prospect for approximately 110,000 Palestinians left homeless by Israel's assault last summer.

If Israel opens more dams, further harm could be caused, CDD spokesman Mohammed al-Midana warned, noting that the water was flowing from Israeli territory through the valley and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Local agriculture was also affected, Brigadier Gerneral Said Al-Saudi, chief of the civil defense agency in Gaza, told . "We are appealing to human rights organizations and international rights organizations to intervene to prevent further such action."

Those who had been evacuated from the affected area were placed in makeshift shelters in al-Bureij refugee camp and in al-Zahra neighborhood in the central Gaza Strip, according to the local news agency. The shelters were sponsored by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

This is not the first time Israeli authorities have opened the Gaza Valley dams. Almost every year without prior notice, Israel opens the floodgates to their dams in the direction of Gaza to discharge massive quantities of excessive water that accumulated during heavy rains or snowfall in the Naqab region.

North Carolina lobbyists can officially screw politicians legally

north carolina

© Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

A clandestine sexual relationship between a lobbyist and a government official they lobby may sound unethical, but the North Carolina Ethics Commission says it's perfectly legal.

North Carolina government officials who are having secret sex with lobbyists need fear no more: The state's ethics commission has decided such illicit relationships are completely fine.

Yes, what could go wrong?

Joal H. Broun, the secretary of state's lobbying compliance director, sent a letter to the commission on December 15 inquiring whether, um, intimacy between lobbyists and the people they are lobbying violates ethics laws. On Friday, the commission released its answer: The passionate and unwise may carry on!

The opinion, which is almost romantic if you can get past the legal jargon, essentially says that your body is a temple and sharing it with anyone else is a priceless gift—emphasis on priceless: Sex has no value, according to the commission, and so it doesn't need to be disclosed.

"Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or 'reportable expenditures made for lobbying' for purposes of the lobbying law's expenditure reporting provisions," the commission says.

It's difficult to read that without squinting skeptically, but consider how difficult it would be to disclose a sexual relationship as a gift. Would different acts carry different weight? Isn't that really subjective? Things would get complicated quickly.

Less black and white is the commission's contention that fostering sexual relationships with a government official does not qualify as a form of "goodwill lobbying." According to the Raleigh News & Observer , goodwill lobbying is "an indirect attempt to influence legislation or executive action, such as the building of relationships."

In an editorial published under the headline the Beaufort Observer denounced the opinion, including the idea that sex has no monetary value. The paper suggested that the latter idea may lead to the legalization of prostitution: "[S]ince the Ethics Commission has now ruled that sex has no value how will prostitution ever be prosecuted any more in this state? If sex has no value, how can prostitution be illegal?"

North Carolina has had what seems like an unusually high number of lobbyist-government official affairs become matters of public debate.

In 2012, two of Thom Tillis's staff members resigned over a span of three days because of relationships with lobbyists that the then-state House speaker said displayed "very bad judgement."

Although it wasn't known whether such relationships violated the law, Tillis, now a U.S. senator, reportedly made clear that he would initiate his own policy banning the behavior. "I'm going to require the resignation of the staff," he said. "What these people are guilty of is very bad judgement and what I am going to do is to remove any doubt from that in the future."

While the idea of lobbyists and the people they lobby engaging in sexual relationships certainly seems ill-advised, it's not clear why anyone would think the commission declaring it legal would have any impact.

After all, if you're a lobbyist or a government official, chances are you may not be very ethical to begin with. Perhaps making sex between the two professions perfectly fine would just make it less enticing.

America's prison system looks more and more like its torture sites



In the years following the beginning of the Bush administration's "war on terror," a series of revelations have exposed the horrific torture practices used against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, CIA "black sites" and other prisons abroad, as a matter of state policy.

These barbaric practices, which were documented in stomach-churning detail in the CIA torture report released last year, are rooted in the aims of US imperialism to plunder and dominate the world, and to suppress by force all opposition to its predatory aims. But the same ruling class that is waging imperialist war abroad is waging a class war at home, presiding over the enormous enrichment of the financial oligarchy at the expense of the working class.

There is no hard line between the foreign and domestic policy, a fact that was given concreteness this week in the revelation, published in the Guardian newspaper, that one of the top interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had pioneered the methods he used at the torture camp working as a detective in Chicago.

According to the , Richard Zuley obtained at least one wrongful murder conviction by methods that he would later use at Guantanamo Bay: Prolonged shackling in "stress positions," threats against family members, threats that the accused could be subject to the death penalty if they did not confess and demands that those under torture implicate themselves and others.

The newspaper cites the example of one Chicago woman who Zuley kept shackled to a wall for more than 24 hours, until she confessed that she and her ex-boyfriend had committed a murder. She remains in prison to this day. Another, Lathierial Boyd, was released in 2013 after spending 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Zuley's background and his outstanding ability to extract confessions was noticed by administrators at Guantanamo Bay, who set him to work in a team of torturers at the prison.

Among Zuley's victims, according to the , was Ould Slahi, author of the recently-published book , in which he recounts being tortured, sexually assaulted and beaten to within an inch of his life at the prison, to the point where he would sign any confession his torturers would put before him.

The revelations, declared the , express "a continuum between police abuses in urban America" and the torture perpetrated in the name of the war on terror. The case of Zuley is hardly an aberration, however. The American ruling class presides over a country that incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other in the world, where the brutal treatment of prisoners is a daily reality.

A recent report from the ACLU, for example, documents the horrific conditions facing over 80,000 people in solitary confinement in the US prison system, including the mentally ill, mentally handicapped and children. The barbaric practice has been declared a form of torture by the United Nations.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 95 percent of those subjected to solitary confinement reported developing symptoms of psychological illness, such as panic or anxiety attacks and hallucinations. In Texas alone, there are more than 100 prisoners who have spent more than 20 years in tiny cells for 22 hours a day, with virtually no direct contact with any other human beings.

Domestic prisons, which are increasingly being used to hold those accused of terrorism, often as a result of entrapment by intelligence agencies, are likewise introducing rules similar to those in force abroad. Next week, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the body that oversees civilian penitentiaries, will implement a new rule that, in the words of law professor David M. Shapiro "all but prevents prisoners incarcerated in the United States and suspected of connections to terrorism from speaking with their families."

Shapiro notes that another set of recently-introduced methods "make an unprecedented inroad into the attorney-client privilege, permitting federal agents to intercept communications between certain prisoners deemed a threat to national security and their attorneys." He adds that prisons in New York and Colorado have already used these methods.

The prison system, which is topped off by the continued barbaric practice of state-sanctioned execution, is only part of a broader apparatus, including a massive and militarized police force that kills with impunity and an intelligence system that spies on the population in violation of basic democratic rights. Whether under Democrats or Republicans, Bush or Obama, the state functions ever more openly as an instrument of violence and repression.

If the methods utilized at Guantanamo and elsewhere represent in part the "export" of techniques used within the US, it is also true that the brutal methods honed by the ruling class abroad will be and are being transferred ever more directly back into the United States, applied to suppress the growth of political opposition to war and social inequality.

The reemergence of torture, forced confession, and other "medieval" practices is part of the repudiation of democratic legal and political forms of society under the pressure of growing social inequality.

The American financial aristocracy, which makes its wealth through fraud and swindling, and the degraded thugs they hire to carry out their dirty work in prisons, precincts, and torture chambers, see the legal norms of due process and equality under the law as mere impediments to their wanton plunder, violence and murder.

Putin to the rescue: Bilateral agreements with Russia give Greece a strategic spot in the EU's 'energy landscape' - is more to come?

putin helps Greece

While mainstream media promulgate a fictitious message of Russian threats in the Baltic, Vladimir Putin's next big play lies far to the south, writes Oliver Tickell. The gross intransigence of the EU, the IMF, the European Central Bank and Germany are forcing Greece into a powerful new economic and energy alliance with Russia that will reshape Europe - and for the better.

We could see Greece simply renouncing its manifestly unpayable and unjust €320 billion national debt, and quitting the Eurozone straitjacket - while receiving an emergency liquidity package from Russia to support the launch of the New Drachma.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will , the reports today - along with all other mainstream news media.

How do we know this? Because the UK's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said so. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia watch out - the Russian peril is fast coming your way.

"There are lots of worries", Fallon told the newspaper.

"I'm worried about Putin. There's no effective control of the border, I'm worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO, the submarines and aircraft ... They are modernising their conventional forces, they are modernising their nuclear forces and they are testing NATO, so we need to respond."

Covert attack by Russia on the Baltic states is , Fallon insisted.

Now where did we hear that before? Ah yes. On 16th December 1998 President Bill Clinton said that that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein presented "a clear and present danger " to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere.

We all know where that led: the Iraq war followed a few years later. We also know that the claim was a monstrous untruth: Saddam had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. So why should we believe Fallon now? Where is his evidence? He has none. When you already know the truth, who needs evidence?

Fallon - and NATO - should keep their eyes on the ball

But while Fallon's attention is focused on the imaginary threat to the Baltic states, there is another country that really could be 'at risk' - and not because of cyber-attack, invasion by 'green men' or a campaign of destabilisation emanating from the Kremlin.

No, the EU, the European Central Bank, the IMF and European finance ministers have already been doing all the destabilisation that's needed - forcing Greece into a deep programme of austerity that has seen the economy shrink by 25% over five years, the closure of vital public services, mass unemployment and the forced sell-off of public assets.

And now the Greeks - and their newly elected Syriza government - have had enough. This week the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras flatly refused to renew the €240 billion 'bailout' package, which comes with all the austerity strings, and he today advanced proposals for a 'six-month assistance package' free of harsh conditions to give Greece time to renegotiate its debt.

The standoff continues, and will be decided tomorrow by EU finance ministers. It's not looking good: Germany has already stated that the Greek proposal . But if the finance minsters don't agree, then what?

You guessed it: Tsipras will turn to Russia. Earlier this month Tsipras and Putin agreed on a range of bilateral ties , including the construction of a pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas from the Turkish border across Greece to the other countries of southern Europe.

This follows the re-routing of the 'South Stream' pipeline, which had been due to cross Bulgaria but was effectively blocked by the EU's retrospective application of energy market rules, under heavy pressure from the USA. Last November and December Putin negotiated the pipeline's realignment across Turkey with Turkish President Erdogan - right up to the Greek border.

Following the agreement between Putin and Tsipras, which came complete with an invitation to Moscow on Victory over the Nazis day, 9th May, the pipeline link to the major countries of southern Europe is now complete, at least on paper. And once it's built, Greece will effectively control - and profit from - that gas supply, and take a strategic position in Europe's energy landscape.

But Greece is a NATO member!

Greece's increasingly warm relationship with Russia is already causing concern among other EU and NATO countries. German Defense Minister Ursula von Der Leyen has saidthat Greece was

This provoked a fierce retort from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos who branded the attack as - noting that

Statements that replace the EU and NATO's institutional bodies are unacceptable as blackmailing", he added.

So if Tsipras's refinancing proposal is refused tomorrow will Greece quit NATO and the EU, to join the Eurasian Union? Not if Mr Putin gets his way: Greece is worth much more to Russia as an ally within the EU and NATO than outside - where it can veto more trade sanctions against Russia, block the TTIP and CETA trade deals with the USA and Canada, and oppose NATO's increasing belligerence from within.

But we could see Greece simply renouncing its manifestly unpayable and unjust €320 billion national debt, and quitting the Eurozone straitjacket - while receiving an emergency liquidity package from Russia to support the launch of the New Drachma.

In fact, we could see a re-run of important elements of the Ukraine play of December 2013, when Russia offered a support package under which it would buy $15 billion in bonds from Ukraine, supporting its collapsing currency, and supply it with deeply discounted gas - £268 per cubic metre rather than the maarket price of $400.

A $15 billion purchase of New Drachma denominated Greek bonds would be a superb launch for Greece's new currency, and would firmly cement Greece's long term alliance with Russia, providing it with a valuable long term bridgehead into both the EU and NATO.

This move would also give inspiration and confidence to progressive political movements across Europe that take inspiration from Syriza's fight for economic justice - in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, the UK and beyond - and bear the powerful message: there is an alternative.

And while NATO, the EU, the USA and their loyal servants, among them the UK's Michael Fallon, deliberately whip up a fictitious threat in the Baltic, ignoring the real danger they face to the south, the masterly Mr Putin would once again make fools of them all.

The war on personal liberty ramps up: California bill seeks to end vaccine exemptions


© unknown

Despite its notoriety for being one of the least free states in America, California does still have some lingering freedoms in certain regards. Ever since California mandated that all teachers and students be vaccinated against polio in 1961, the state made sure to allow certain exemptions. In fact, California has some of the best vaccine exemption laws. Residents living there are allowed to keep their children vaccine free, for either religious or personal reasons; a status which it shares with 19 other states.

But unfortunately, in California, no individual right can remain untouched forever. After the measles outbreak in Disneyland, the busybody freak show is out in full force, and they want to cull as many vaccination exemptions as they can.

Senate Bill 277 does not specifically address the religious exemption. But if passed as now drafted, the bill would end all "personal belief exemptions," including religious exemptions, said Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and pediatrician who co-authored the bill with Sen. Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach.

"There is no religious exemption in the statute," Pan told this newspaper Thursday. But he indicated that might change as the debate over the legislation plays out over the next several months. "I'm certainly open to the discussion about the necessity and the nature of any proposed religious exemption."

That could come through "the legislative process or the governor himself, if he wishes to be engaged early on," Pan said. "It's up to him."

When Pan, then an assemblyman, carried a bill in 2012 aimed at tightening vaccine policy, Gov. Jerry Brown signed it. But he directed state health officials to maintain the ease of religious exemptions.

Asked if Brown believes that the issue of religious exemptions needs to be revisited, Jim Evans, a spokesman for the governor, would only say that "the governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered."

Sometimes it's just painful to hear these people discussing the destruction of our rights so casually, but there it is. The idea that our freedoms are at the whims of legislators like these is just unbelievable, but I guess that's par for the course in California. The politicians there (as well as plenty of the residents) have zero respect for individual freedom, and it's frightening to think that a state like that holds so much influence over the rest of the country.

And the debate over vaccines themselves is hardly relevant. Even if they worked perfectly, and didn't cause autism, and truly helped build herd immunity, this is still highly unethical. Everyone should have the right to choose what they put into their bodies, and every parent should have a say in how they raise their children.

Fortunately not everyone is going along with this, and contrary to popular belief, California isn't brimming with collectivist sheep as far as the eye can see. Those people just happen to be a majority that forces their beliefs down the throats of everyone else.

Keith Howe, 59, a San Jose chiropractor, has long opposed efforts to impose vaccinations requirements. He said when Pan introduced his legislation in 2012, "I sent him a scathing letter saying this is not Communist China and he is not Mao Zedong. He is violating the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

My sentiments exactly.

Elderly Indian man temporarily paralyzed after being body slammed by Alabama police for walking on the sidewalk

© Sarah Cole/Paul Huggins

An elderly man was recently visiting Alabama from India when he found himself beaten by police who left him paralyzed.

Madison, Alabama police brutalized the 57-year-old Indian citizen who had committed no crime, he was only going for a walk on the sidewalk outside of his son's home. Now, one officer is being charged for leaving Sureshbhai Patel temporarily paralyzed and hospitalized with fused vertebrae, as a result of the severe beating he received from the police.

"He was just walking on the sidewalk as he does all the time," Chirag Patel, the son of Sureshbhai said. "They put him to the ground." No crime had been committed. Madison Police on Monday issued a statement saying the department had suspended the officer and were investigating the use of force in this case. The police statement wished the man a "speedy recovery."

Chirag Patel is an engineer who had just flown his father to America from the small Indian town of Pij. Sureshbhai Patel was trying to help his wife care for Chirag's 17-month-old son, so that Chirag could finish graduate courses for his masters degree in electrical engineering at the University of Alabama. "This is a good neighborhood. I didn't expect anything to happen," Chirag said.

Madison police blamed the elderly man in a statement Monday, saying that they received a call that a man was "looking in garages." "The caller, who lives in the neighborhood did not recognize the subject and thought him to be suspicious," the police statement on the incident stated.

Hank Sherrod, the attorney for the Patel family, said "this is broad daylight, walking down the street. There is nothing suspicious about Mr. Patel other than he has brown skin." Sureshbhai Patel speaks no English. The Madison police acknowledge a "communication barrier." Sherrod explains, however, that Sureshbhai told the police officers "no English" and told them his son's address. But that didn't stop the officers from beating the man to the point of paralysis.

"The subject began putting his hands in his pockets," the police statement says. "Officers attempted to pat the subject down and he attempted to pull away. The subject was forced to the ground, which resulted in injury." Sherrod said one officer slammed his client face first into the ground, with his arms pulled behind him.

"This is just one of those things that doesn't need to happen," Sherrod explained."That officer doesn't need to be on the streets." "He was just walking on the sidewalk as he does all the time," Chirag Patel, the son of Sureshbhai said. "They put him to the ground." Well now he is off the streets. Eric Parker, the officer responsible for the beating Patel took, was just arrested and is being fired after Indian officials demanded action from the United States.

Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India's External Affairs Ministry, said that their government takes the incident "very seriously." They are in contact with the U.S. mission in New Dehli, Akbaruddin said. They also are in contact with officials in Washington and Alabama, Akbaruddin added. He was responding to reporters' questions in New Dehli.

"What we will communicate is that we are extremely disturbed," he said. "This is a matter of concern for us, and India and the U.S. as open pluralist societies need to address these issues and find ways in a mature manner so that these are aberrations and are not the norm."

Patel's attorney said that his client suffered partial paralysis but hopes for a full recovery.

Keeping Fear Alive: As DHS shutdown looms, Jeh Johnson Issues Terror Warning To Mall of America Customers

Just as the DHS congressional Feb 27th budget deadline and possible shutdown nears, a conveniently timed new domestic terror alert was issued today by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Two weeks ago Jeh Johnson also warned that a lapse in funding would cause a “terrible disruption,” and “A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in these times is frankly too bitter to contemplate, but we have to contemplate it,”

Could this be another politically motivated scare tactic being used against the US Congress and the American people?

Well... It was not too long ago that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge admitted in his book The Test of Our Times , that he “was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election.”

The NY Daily News in 2004 found that:

Ashcroft’s Justice Department rolled out terrorism announcements frequently to give Bush a boost in the polls against Democrat John Kerry. Ridge’s first hint that Bush political aides were leveraging fear of terror attacks — an issue where Bush polled well — came in May 2004. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller held a press conference to warn about American-Al Qaeda Adam Gadahn and other suspects. 

CNN Reports

from Jeh Johnson's appearance today:

Shoppers at the Mall of America need to be "particularly careful" after a terror group singled out the Minnesota super-mall for attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says...

"If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they've got to be particularly careful," Johnson said. "There will be enhanced security there, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important, and it's the environment we're in, frankly."

His comments come as the Mall of America implements new security measures -- some of which the mall said in a statement would be noticeable to shoppers.

It is very possible that Jeh is just taking a page from the

Former FBI assistant director that in a new documentary film explains that "to keep budgets high, we must ‘keep fear alive’

Not enough fear: Mall of America terrorist threat

© Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg

Mall of America, the nation’s biggest shopping center in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Visitors to the Mall of America must be "particularly careful" after a terror group threatened the Minneapolis-area tourist attraction, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary said.

Jeh Johnson's comments during an interview Sunday on 's "State of the Union" program followed the release of a video Saturday by the terror group al-Shabaab that called for attacks in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., according to the news network.

"If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they've got to be particularly careful," Johnson said. He said later on 's "Meet the Press" that he wasn't telling people to steer clear of the mall.

Gunmen from al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, attacked a shopping mall in Kenya in September 2013. At least 67 people died during the attack, which lasted for days. Minneapolis is home to one of the largest Somali populations in the U.S., and federal officials have said al-Shabaab lured recruits from the region.

The world is dealing with a "new phase" of global terrorism, Johnson said on . Previously, terror groups would train recruits to commit acts of violence and then send them into other countries to carry out plans. Now, such groups are using the Internet and social media to push people to carry out attacks on their own, he said.

Tourist Traffic

"I'm sure security at the mall will be enhanced in ways visible and not visible," Johnson said in his interview. "There needs to be an awareness" by the public as well, he said.

Mall of America has "implemented extra security precautions, some may be noticeable to guests, and others won't be," according to an e-mailed statement by Dan Jasper, a spokesman. "We will continue to follow the situation, along with law enforcement, and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations."

The complex in Bloomington, Minnesota, has more than 500 stores and attracts 40 million visitors a year, about two-fifths of them tourists, according to its website. It's owned by Triple Five Group, an Edmonton, Alberta-based development company.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are also investigating the "exact contents and authenticity" of the video allegedly from the terror group because it contains a threat against Canada's West Edmonton Mall, Canadian Press reported.

That mall is also owned by Triple Five Group.

Funding Fight

Johnson's interviews on several Sunday morning U.S. news shows aired five days before funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to lapse. Such an event would trigger a shutdown of non-essential agency operations unless Congress enacts new funds. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner want to use a spending bill to force President Barack Obama to reverse his orders shielding undocumented immigrants from being deported.

On Monday, McConnell will try for a fourth time to advance a House-passed Homeland Security spending bill, H.R. 240, that would require Obama to abandon the immigration action he announced in November.

Democrats have blocked the measure three times. They say Congress should fund Homeland Security, which is responsible for immigration and border enforcement, without setting new limits on immigration policy. Democrats have said they are holding firm in defense of the president's policies.

Court System

The Justice Department is preparing to appeal a judge's order last week that blocked Obama from implementing his immigration policy changes. On Monday, the administration also will seek an emergency order allowing the president's plans to proceed during the appeal.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said in an interview on 's "Face the Nation" Sunday that he didn't support efforts to shut the government down and that the federal court system is the "best way" to resolve the impasse.

"But have no doubt I am angry, as are my constituents in a border state, that the president of the United States would unconstitutionally issue the executive orders he did," McCain said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, urged Republicans to fund the department and fight Obama's actions in court.

"The worst possible option is to defund the Department of Homeland Security," Graham said on 's "This Week" program. "And I will not be part of that."

'Skeleton Crew'

Johnson said separately on Sunday that he plans to be on Capitol Hill "continuously" this week to press for an end to the stalemate.

During a shutdown, while 80 percent to 85 percent of the department's employees would be required to come to work, many wouldn't be paid on time, Johnson said at a cyber-security panel at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington. About 30,000 employees would be furloughed, with headquarters in "skeleton crew" mode, he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would have 80 percent of its workforce furloughed at a time of severe weather in parts of the U.S., Johnson said. The agency would also be unable to process disaster-aid claims during a shutdown, he said.

The rebellion in Ukraine is reversing the Maidan revolution - der Spiegel tells Poroshenko he must 'cave in, in order to win'


© Reuters / Baz Ratner

Rebels walk near a building damaged during fighting in the village of Nikishine, south east of Debaltsevo February 17, 2015.

Most western media are 'soft-controlled' by the government and in end effect by Washington. For starters, the editors and journalists hired can be trusted to follow the cultural-Marxist party line, no need to 'control' them explicitly.

So if for instance der Spiegel writes something, you can expect it to be in line with what Washington thinks. Yesterday der Spiegel came with the surprising advice to Kiev to 'cave in, in order to win': spiegel.de - Kiew muss aufgeben, um zu siegen

The author of the article Benjamin Bidder says that Kiev's plan A, regain control over the entire area of the former Ukraine, is unrealistic (which it is). Kiev forces have low morale and are up against an enemy backed by Russia, with virtually endless military resources. Even if Washington would send in heavy weapons, it would not make a difference.

The article starts with the lie that the war was forced upon Ukraine by Russia. In reality it was the violent CIA coup in Kiev, the demand that Ukranian should be the only official language, as well as intimidating tones from the operetta Nazis from Lvov to 'teach the Moskals a lesson', that triggered the Donbass resistance. Additionally the very realistic threat that Ukraine could join NATO on the fast track forced Moscow's hand in Crimea. There would not have been a war in Ukraine without the western backed Euro-Maidan protest + subsequent violent coup.

Bidder accuses Poroshenko of denial of reality and that he should accept that rebel hold territories are lost for Kiev and that Kiev can't win this war. As long as the war lasts, no real beginning can be made with the reconstruction of Ukraine (at the expense of the EU taxpayer).

But now comes the really interesting part: Bidder says that continuation of the war is in the interest of Moscow, not Kiev. The war is a tool for the Kremlin to reverse the Maidan-revolution.

One day later it seems as if Poroshenko does indeed follows Bidder's advice, when he calls for deployment of an EU peacekeeping police force to separate the combatants, with the Balkans as a positive example.

[spiegel.de] - Ukraine fordert EU-Soldaten zur Kontrolle der Front

Apparently Poroshenko has indeed given up on Donbass. Angela Merkel repeated yesterday her familiar message that, although Russia violated international law by annexing Crimea, EU-governments were nevertheless interested in shaping a 'European peace order', including Russia.

Editor: smart tones from der Spiegel. The US has probably understood that it will not be possible to drag Europe into a conflict/(cold) war with Russia and that Crimea and Donbass are lost and that the West must be satisfied with rump-Ukraine. Under these conditions war is more in the interest of Moscow than the West.

With peace in Ukraine, the West can begin to consolidate its gains and incorporate rump-Ukraine into the West. Germany and France will block any notion of Ukraine becoming a NATO member, not to antagonize Moscow too much.

The big question is: will Moscow go along and accept the loss of rump-Ukraine from its sphere of influence? Our tentative guess would be: probably yes, but peace could still be some time off, when NAF will try to occupy the rest of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, as they have announced they will.

But as long as the rest of 'Novorossia' refuses to revolt, than there is no hope for Moscow for regime change in Kiev, at least not in the short term. Perhaps in the long term, when Ukraine becomes disillusioned with the West and Europe in particular. But for the moment, Ukraine will probably give Europe a try for at least a couple of years.

The following package, acceptable to both EU and Russia, is in the cards:

  • Ukraine not member of NATO

  • Association treaty Rump-Ukraine with EU

  • International recognition of Crimea and probably Donbass as members of the Russian Federation

  • Lifting of all sanctions

  • Basket case Ukraine becomes a responsibility for the West (read: an already financially overstretched Europe)

In the long term, this is not a bad deal for Russia. It is obvious that the EU does not want conflict, let alone a new cold war with Russia, unlike the US. At some point the role of the US will be greatly diminished anyway (that racial and financial house of cards will fall apart in 202x ) and the rise of China to superpower status will drive Russia and EU almost automatically into each others arms.

Muslim anti-anti-Semitism: Norwegian Muslims form human chain around synagogue

oslo synagogue

© Reuters/Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

Muslims join hands to form a human shield as they stand outside a synagogue in Oslo February 21, 2015.

Muslims in Oslo formed a human chain around the city's main synagogue, chanting "No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia." Over 1,000 people took part in the rally to show solidarity with Jews just a week after a fatal shooting in a Denmark synagogue.

Muslims in Norway, many young women, formed what they called a ring of peace, as the small Jewish congregation filed out of the synagogue after Shabbat prayers on Saturday.

The Muslim message to the Jews in Norway was simple - they mourn and stand in solidarity with the victims of increasingly instances of violence against Jews in Europe, including the terror attacks in France in January and in neighboring Denmark last week.

"This shows that there are many more peacemakers than war-makers," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organizers told the crowd. "There is still hope for humanity, for peace and love across religious differences and background."

[embedded content]

The spirit of solidarity filled the air, with Norway's chief rabbi performing a traditional Shabbat ceremony outside.

"It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope...particularly as it's a grassroots movement of young Muslims," said Norway's Jewish community leader Ervin Kohn.

Just to be on the safe side, authorities, apart from ramping up the police presence, also dispatched sharp shooters around the building.

"It has been calm as we expected. We had no reason to expect any trouble but we were prepared," said police superintendent Steiner Hausvik, adding that about 1,300 people attended the vigil.

The disturbing spate of attacks against the Jewish minority in Europe prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge European Jews to immigrate to Israel if they felt unsafe. Europe's Jewish population has been steadily declining over the past seven decades after the WWII. While in 1960 it was about 3.2 million, by 2010 only 1.4 million were living there - or roughly 0.2 percent of Europe's population, according to the PEW Research Center.

Muslim anti-anti-Semitism: Norwegian Muslims for human chain around synagogue

oslo synagogue

© Reuters/Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

Muslims join hands to form a human shield as they stand outside a synagogue in Oslo February 21, 2015.

Muslims in Oslo formed a human chain around the city's main synagogue, chanting "No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia." Over 1,000 people took part in the rally to show solidarity with Jews just a week after a fatal shooting in a Denmark synagogue.

Muslims in Norway, many young women, formed what they called a ring of peace, as the small Jewish congregation filed out of the synagogue after Shabbat prayers on Saturday.

The Muslim message to the Jews in Norway was simple - they mourn and stand in solidarity with the victims of increasingly instances of violence against Jews in Europe, including the terror attacks in France in January and in neighboring Denmark last week.

"This shows that there are many more peacemakers than war-makers," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organizers told the crowd. "There is still hope for humanity, for peace and love across religious differences and background."

[embedded content]

The spirit of solidarity filled the air, with Norway's chief rabbi performing a traditional Shabbat ceremony outside.

"It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope...particularly as it's a grassroots movement of young Muslims," said Norway's Jewish community leader Ervin Kohn.

Just to be on the safe side, authorities, apart from ramping up the police presence, also dispatched sharp shooters around the building.

"It has been calm as we expected. We had no reason to expect any trouble but we were prepared," said police superintendent Steiner Hausvik, adding that about 1,300 people attended the vigil.

The disturbing spate of attacks against the Jewish minority in Europe prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge European Jews to immigrate to Israel if they felt unsafe. Europe's Jewish population has been steadily declining over the past seven decades after the WWII. While in 1960 it was about 3.2 million, by 2010 only 1.4 million were living there - or roughly 0.2 percent of Europe's population, according to the PEW Research Center.

More healthy reasons to come to the yoga mat

© ethnichealthtips.com

For more than 5,000 years humans have practiced the ancient Indian art of yoga. Long revered for its spiritual and mental benefits, yoga is fast becoming equally valued for its benefits in reversing the effects of modern chronic diseases.

A new study from Harvard University finds that yoga has particular benefits for your heart.

In a meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials, researchers concluded that a yoga practice lowers heart disease risks as well as the risks of metabolic syndrome.[i]

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of the following metabolic risk factors - increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. It greatly increases the chance of cardiovascular problems.[ii]

Compared to people who didn't exercise, yoga practitioners had:

  • lower body mass index and weight

  • lower blood pressure

  • lower LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol

  • lower triglycerides

  • lower heart rate

The researchers still aren't sure how yoga works its magic in reducing cardiovascular disease. But they noted that yoga helps reduce the effects of stress, leading to positive impacts on the neuroendocrine system, metabolic function, and inflammation.

In fact, they found that yoga may provide the same benefits in heart risk reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking. That makes yoga a good alternative for people who can't or won't engage in traditional aerobic exercise.

Yoga means "union" in Sanskrit. It incorporates physical, mental, and spiritual elements. The researchers noted that in the West, the Hatha style of yoga is most commonly practiced. Hatha yoga focuses on stretching and stimulating the spine and muscles in coordination with breath control.

Besides its heart benefits, yoga has been proven to:

  1. Improve insulin resistance: A 2005 review found improvements in insulin resistance syndrome with yoga.[iii]

  2. Help smokers quit: Twice-weekly Vinyasa-style yoga improved smokers' odds of 7-day and 24-hour abstinence.[iv]

  3. Benefit patients with cardiac heart failure.

  4. Reduce urinary incontinence by 70%.

  5. Reduce chronic lower back pain.[v]

  6. Reduce blood sugar in type 2 diabetics.[vi]

  7. Improve brain function.[vii]

  8. Improve bronchial asthma.[viii]

  9. Relieve carpal tunnel syndrome.

  10. Lower cortisol levels and relieve stress.[ix]

  11. Help fibromyalgia patients.[x]

  12. Improve obsessive-compulsive disorder.[xi]

  13. Improve behavioral skill in children with autism.

  14. Relieve computer eye strain.[xii]

  15. Improve osteoarthritis of the hands.

There are many more. To learn more, visit GreenMedInfo's page on yoga.


[i] Chu P et al, "The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." 2014. pii: 2047487314562741. [Epub ahead of print]

[ii]What is metabolic syndrome?"http://1.usa.gov/1vqjwZp (2011).

[iii] Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AGRisk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: A systematic review." 2005; 18: 491 - 519.

[iv] Bock BC, Fava JL, Gaskins R, et al "Yoga as a complementary treatment for smoking cessation in women." (Larchmt) 2012; 21: 240 - 248.

[v] Holger Cramer, Romy Lauche, Heidemarie Haller, Gustav Dobos. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain. . 2012 Dec 14. Epub 2012 Dec 14.

[vi] S Amita, S Prabhakar, I Manoj, S Harminder, T Pavan. Effect of yoga-nidra on blood glucose level in diabetic patients. . 2009 Jan-Mar;53(1):97-101.

[vii] Tenzin Kyizom, Savita Singh, K P Singh, O P Tandon, Rahul Kumar. Effect of pranayama&yoga-asana on cognitive brain functions in type 2 diabetes-P3 event related evoked potential (ERP). . 2010 May;131:636-40.

[viii] R Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. Yoga for bronchial asthma: a controlled study. . 1985 Oct 19;291(6502):1077-9.

[ix] Andreas Michalsen, Paul Grossman, Ayhan Acil, Jost Langhorst, Rainer L├╝dtke, Tobias Esch, George B Stefano, Gustav J Dobos. Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. . 2005 Dec;11(12):CR555-561. Epub 2005 Nov 24. PMID: 16319785

[x] James W Carson, Kimberly M Carson, Kim D Jones, Robert M Bennett, Cheryl L Wright, Scott D Mist. A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia. . 2010 Nov;151(2):530-9. PMID: 20946990

[xi] D S Shannahoff-Khalsa, L R Beckett. Clinical case report: efficacy of yogic techniques in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders. . 1996 Mar;85(1-2):1-17.

[xii] Shirley Telles, K V Naveen, Manoj Dash, Rajendra Deginal, N K Manjunath. Effect of yoga on self-rated visual discomfort in computer users. . 2006;2:46. Epub 2006 Dec 3.

Warning over toxic fumes in plane cabins

Richard Westgate

© Cascade

Richard Westgate died in 2012 after claiming he had been poisoned by toxic cabin fumes.

Toxic fumes in cabin air pose a health risk to frequent fliers and aircrew, a coroner has said in a landmark report.

Stanhope Payne, the senior coroner for Dorset, said people regularly exposed to fumes circulating in planes faced "consequential damage to their health".

Mr Payne, who is inquiring into the death of Richard Westgate, a British Airways pilot, called on BA and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to take "urgent action to prevent future deaths". Most airline passengers, who fly only occasionally, will not be affected by the problem, but some frequent travellers who are genetically susceptible to the toxins could fall ill.

Mr Payne's call for urgent action is likely to be welcomed by campaigners who have raised similar concerns for a number of years.

His report, obtained by the , is the first official UK recognition of so-called "aerotoxic syndrome", a phenomenon long denied by airlines but which is blamed by some for the deaths of at least two pilots and numerous other incidents where pilots have passed out in flight. Co-pilots can normally take over, but campaigners claim the syndrome is a suspected cause of some mid-air disasters.

Frank Cannon, the lawyer for Mr Westgate's case, said: "This report is dynamite. It is the first time a British coroner has come to the conclusion that damage is being done by cabin air, something the industry has been denying for years."

Mr Cannon said he was acting for approximately 50 other aircrew allegedly affected by the syndrome, working for airlines including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Thomas Cook and EasyJet. He is also representing two passengers.

Commercial passenger planes have a system which compresses air from the engines and uses it to pressurise the cabin. But it can malfunction, with excess oil particles entering the air supply.

In a confined space, with the air recirculated, the cumulative effect on frequent fliers, especially aircrew, can be harmful, the coroner said.

Mr Westgate, a senior first officer, died in 2012 after claiming he had been poisoned by toxic cabin fumes.

In his "prevention of future deaths report", produced last week, the coroner says that examinations of Mr Westgate's body "disclosed symptoms consistent with exposure to organophosphate compounds in aircraft cabin air".

In the report, sent to the chief executive of BA and the chief operating officer of the Civil Aviation Authority, the coroner raises five "matters of concern", including that "organophosphate compounds are present in aircraft cabin air"; that "the occupants of aircraft cabins are exposed to organophosphate compounds with consequential damage to their health" and that "impairment to the health of those controlling aircraft may lead to the death of occupants". He also says there is no real-time monitoring to detect failures in cabin air quality and that no account is taken by airlines of "genetic variation in the human species that would render individuals ... intolerant of the exposure".

Toxic Cabin Report

© The Telegraph, UK

He demands that BA and the CAA respond to the report within eight weeks, setting out the action they propose to take. The report, made under regulation 28 of the Coroners' Investigation Regulations 2013, is not a full verdict from an inquest, which has yet to be held in this case.

Tristan Loraine, a former BA captain who claims toxic air poisoning forced him to leave his job, said: "I took ill-health retirement only a year after completing the Iron Man triathlon. I had about 10 medical experts give their view to the CAA that I was suffering from ill-health effects of contaminated air.

"From the minute I got sick until when I left the airline, I never saw a BA employee."

Tristan Loraine

© The Telegraph, UK

Former British Airways pilot Captain Tristan Loraine.

Mr Loraine, who is making a documentary about the issue, said he had been left with numbness in his fingers and feet and that he sometimes found it difficult to recall information. He said that a friend in BA — not Mr Westgate — had suffered the same symptoms, continued to fly and died from a brain tumour aged 44.

Mr Cannon said: "There are major crashes where we suspect the only plausible explanation is that the crew were suffering from cognitive dysfunction. More commonly, it causes incredible misery — very fit, intelligent and motivated people fall over sick. The first thing BA and other airlines have to do is recognise and take care of their injured aircrew."

Most passengers who fly only occasionally will not be affected by the problem, but some frequent travellers who are genetically susceptible to the toxins could fall ill, with around 10 per cent of the population affected.

Their bodies are unable to detoxify quickly enough and an accumulation of toxic material over time becomes dangerous. The main vulnerability is suffered by aircrew, who spend much of their lives on board.

Official records from the Civil Aviation Authority show that oxygen masks are being used by pilots and crew at the rate of at least five times a week to combat suspected "fume events".

The official safety watchdog, the Air Accident Investigation Branch, has called for aircraft to be fitted with equipment to detect any contamination of cabin air.

A spokesman for BA said it could not comment on the case, but would consider the coroner's report and respond. The airline cites independent studies commissioned by the Department for Transport, which found "no evidence that pollutants occur in the cabin air at levels exceeding available health and safety standards".

The Government's position is that "concerns about significant risk to the health of airline passengers and crew are not substantiated". A spokesman for the CAA said it would consider the report in detail but claimed it was "nothing that passengers or crew should be overly concerned about".

Mr Cannon said: "I see this as an impending tsunami for the airline industry — it's been ignored for so long."

The disclosure of Mr Payne's report comes ahead of a meeting in London this week of a group set up by the International Transport Workers' Federation to examine the issue of contaminated air on planes. A spokesman for the ITF said: "There is growing published evidence of the toxicity of these oil fumes and the increase in reported fume incidents in which flight safety was compromised because of crew member impairment."

More mad science! Feds approve GMO apple

© nytimes.com

A new genetically modified apple that doesn't brown when cut open or bruised finally has been cleared to be grown in the U.S.

An arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday — after a three-year wait — that the Okanagan Specialty Fruit's Arctic Apple in Golden and Granny varieties doesn't pose any harm to other plants or pests. The apple won't be at grocery stores yet, though this was its last major regulatory hurdle. The company is still waiting on the conclusion of a voluntary review by the FDA before the apple can enter the market place.

Most apples start browning when the flesh is exposed to air or damaged. But the Canadian company behind the Arctic Apple says its browning-free variety will mean less food waste, more uses for cut apples and the preservation of nutrients.

Okanagan can now provide its trees to growers to ramp up production so the apple can make it to market and potentially get picked up for use by consumers, restaurant chains and grocery stores.

The apples could find their way into millions of Happy Meals and sit out on salad bars — without having been sprayed with citric acid, which is how other apples are kept from browning now.

Small companies and universities have been hesitant to go through the USDA process for taking genetically engineered foods to market because approvals take so long — and the products aren't making any money in the meantime. But the apple's approval could be a test case that could spur the industry on.

The biotechnology space is the domain of large companies, like Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta. For a small company that lacks lobbyists and political clout "to actually break into this arena is challenging, and to be unnecessarily delayed is impediment enough that folks will say 'why would I go down that path.'" said Jennifer Armen, Okanagan's marketing director.

But the approval of a genetically modified apple for mass consumption also stokes the debate about GMOs, which have spawned legislation and regulation throughout the country.

Biotechnology has been used to enhance plants for more than 30 years, and millions of acres of government-approved GE corn, soybeans, cotton and canola are in production. However, genetically engineered produce like the Arctic Apple are uncommon, and the road it took to secure approval from USDA's Biotechnology Regulatory Service was even longer than usual.

It took nearly 36 months for BRS to grant Okanagan's petition for deregulation under the federal Plant Pest Act. That's nearly three times BRS' 13 to 15 month average.

Michael Firko, BRS' deputy administrator, in November declined to comment on why the Arctic Apple was taking so long to garner his agency's seal of approval.

But the Arctic Apple isn't like most of the products that go through Firko's office.

Nearly all of BRS' approvals have been for one of six major crops: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and sugar beets. And the genetic enhancements approved have been for pest or herbicide resistance. What's more, most other GMO applications submitted to USDA are from the same big six biotech companies — Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Bayer Crop Sciences and BASF.

Okanagan is a new player, and its apple is a novelty: It contains traits meant to help consumers, not farmers.

For any item, gaining regulatory approval isn't easy. The average time from initial discovery to commercial launch is 13.1 years, according to a 2011 study by CropLife International, with regulatory proceedings accounting for more than one-third of that time.

The process is also pricey. CropLife found the average cost of commercializing a biotech plant trait from 2008 to 2012 was $136 million. Of that, about $35 million was for regulatory testing and registration, $31 million for discovery and $70 million for development.

As time-consuming and expensive as it is for every biotech product, the challenge is nearly insurmountable for small, innovative enterprises like Okanagan, which has six employees and survives on venture capital, said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Firko is quick to dismiss such concerns. "I think this is kind of a myth that has been created" that commercializing a GE product is a rich man's game, he said, adding that BRS is "happy to accept a petition from anyone."

While BRS considered the Arctic Apple, the agency made a decision on eight of 11 other biotech products submitted after Okanagan the other three are still pending. But it is not BRS' job to encourage companies to develop biotech crops, just to regulate them, Firko added.

One of the few products pending longer than the Arctic Apple is ArborGen's freeze-resistant eucalyptus tree, submitted in January 2011. The tree is undergoing a stricter environmental review because it's the first GE tree to seek approval.

When the South Carolina-based tree breeder first considered seeking regulatory approval in the late 2000s, the company expected an 18-month to two-year wait, said Les Pearson, director of regulatory affairs for the company.

"We assumed that over time the process would become more efficient," Pearson said. "The 30-plus years of experience [of USDA] with the technology should be a factor in making the [regulatory] decision and somehow that has been missing."

A tougher sell

Once approved, new GMO products face sales hurdles.

The big biotech players know that herbicide- and pest-resistant plants have proven profitable, and farmers, the primary customers for biotech crop companies, are quick to adopt the technology with its promise of lower chemical inputs and low or no tillage.

A consumer-facing trait is a tougher sell, said Susan Knowlton, a DuPont Pioneer senior research manager. Biotech companies need to convince food makers that consumers will accept the products.

In the 1990s, customer pressure led McDonald's to stop using a potato modified to resist certain diseases in its french fries, and the fast food giant has been noncommittal on whether it will use a non-browning potato developed by spud-giant J.R. Simplot that gained USDA signoff late last year.

Friends of the Earth urged McDonald's and baby food maker Gerber to reject the Arctic Apple, arguing that it is not being sufficiently tested for safety. Another advocacy group, Food & Water Watch, responded Friday to USDA's approval of the Arctic Apple with similar disdain.

"This GMO apple is simply unnecessary," the group said. "... The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food."

DuPont's Plenish soybean is one of the few examples of a major biotech company commercializing a nutrition-based trait, but even that has been slow going. The soybean, approved by USDA in June 2010 after more than three years of review, is modified to produce oil that does not need to be hydrogenated to stay shelf stable, making it trans fat free. The oil is being tested by food companies whose interest was bolstered after FDA's announcement in 2013 that wants to phase out trans fats.

Knowlton said at least one retail product has already started using its GMO soybean oil, though she could not disclose it due to a confidentiality agreement.

Lawmakers are also putting increased attention on GMO foods. On Thursday, bills that would require the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients in food were reintroduced in both chambers of Congress.

The expense, risk and regulatory delays are pushing small GMO technology companies to look more at overseas markets.

With no predictable regulatory approval process in the United States, ArborGen has developed a "very strong interest in Brazil," Pearson said.

Brazil's law governing GE plants was passed in 2005, and officials there are still working toward fully implementing the measure. But Brazilian authorities seem to be more open to biotechnology, Pearson said, issuing approvals for some products that have yet to be deregulated in the United States and expressing interest in working with biotech companies.

It's not just GE crop producers looking to Brazil. The country also has been more open to GE animals, approving the release of mosquitoes modified to prevent the spread of dengue fever and funding a project to develop goats whose milk can prevent childhood diarrhea.

In the United States, however, the FDA, which regulates genetically modified animals, has yet to allow any into the market. AquaBounty Technologies, a Maynard, Mass.-based company that has created a GE salmon that grows at twice the rate of conventional varieties, first started the process for regulatory approval in 1995.

James Murray, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, working on the goat, said the project moved to Brazil because "the regulatory environment here has made it very difficult to even fund the work."

"If Brazil wants to fund the work and we have colleges there that want to do the work," then that's where biotech projects will go, Murray said.

7 Snowy owls from the Arctic seen in New York City

The owls are native to Canada, Scandinavia and northern Russia.

Humans may be staying inside for the frigid temperatures of the polar vortex, but the gust of arctic weather has brought unexpected guests to New York City.

Seven snowy owls have been spotted this year in the city, which reached a 60-year low of 1F for February 20 on Friday morning.

The birds are generally seen along the water in Brooklyn and Queens, but one was found on Governor's Island off the southern tip of Manhattan, according to DNA Info.

A spokesman for the island said that it is the first time that snowy owls have been seen at the site, which is accepting proposals for what to name the animal.

The arrival of the white-feathered owls, which are native to Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia, comes as air from Russia moved over the North Pole and has pushed south into the US.

Temperatures in Embarrass, Minnesota, slid down to -41F on Thursday.

This year's owl sightings come after dozens of the white birds were seen in New York last year during the polar vortex

The cold front, dubbed the Siberian Express, has brought single-digit temperatures as far south as Georgia as well as bringing arctic birds to the US.

Snowy owls are carnivorous and experts advise against approaching the predators, who mostly eat lemmings, rodents and fish, according to .

Unlike many other owls, they are active both during the day and at night.

This year's snowy owl sightings follow on dozens of the birds appearing in New York during last year's polar vortex.

A group of owls is called a parliament.

Forced socialization: The story of St. Michael's Residential School through the eyes and voice of a survivor - Demolished but not forgotten

On Wednesday, Feb. 18 The Tyee's Katie Hyslop reported on the demolition of St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, British Columbia. A day-long ceremony honoured St. Michael's survivors with prayer, speeches and song.

Though the building is set to disappear from the landscape, the experiences of these survivors will not be forgotten. This video piece by Ed Carswell captures a personal account of survivor Verna Flanders, as told to a class of young students in Courtenay, B.C.

[embedded content]

Over 380 people evacuated in Naples, Italy after massive sinkhole opens up

A sinkhole opened up in the middle of a street in Naples, Italy early Sunday morning.

Residents in Naples, Italy woke up this morning to a massive sinkhole that opened up in the middle of a street.

Officials say the sinkhole started off as a depression in the road and is most likely caused by a broken sewer.

'It was 5 this morning when I heard a huge thud. I looked out and saw the road collapse and swallow a car,' a woman who lives in a neighboring apartment told

None of the surrounding buildings showed sign of damage, but nonetheless the four condominiums surrounding the crater were evacuated on Sunday with city officials scrambling to find accommodations for the 380 displaced locals.

'We are in contact with hotel facilities in the area in order to accommodate everyone and try to reduce as far as possible, the inconvenience to citizens,' an official said.

David Lezzi, the operations manager of the site, said crews will first figure out the extent of the hole before trying to stabilize it with concrete.

Reports did not say when residents might be able to return to their homes. The area has been cordoned off.

Engineers plan to stabilize the sinkhole by filling it with concrete

The "too big to fail" have stopped being banks. They have become huge criminal enterprises involved in market manipulation

Too Big to Fail

© William Banzai

No Longer Focused On Deposits Or Loans

Bloomberg reported last month:

"Banks don't have a need for deposits, and the demand for loans by households and firms is weak," Niels Storm Stenbaek, chief economist at the Danish Bankers Association, said in a phone interview.

Wait ... ?

Banks don't need ? They're not giving many ? Isn't that what banks ?

If they're not collecting deposits and making loans, what they doing?

In reality, big banks aren't really like banks anymore. Big banks do very little traditional banking, since most of their business is from financial speculation. For example, we noted in 2010 that less than 10% of Bank of America's assets come from traditional banking deposits.

The big banks are manipulating every market. They're also taking over important aspects of the economy, including uranium mining, petroleum products, aluminum, ownership and operation of airports, toll roads, ports, and electricity. And they are using these physical assets to massively manipulate commodities prices ... scalping consumers of many each year (more here and more).

The evidence demonstrates that the big banks have essentially become huge criminal enterprises ... waging warfare against the people of the world.


© William Banzai

Apart from the above-described manipulation, of the big banks profits come from taxpayer bailouts and subsidies (see this, this and this). Why don't they need deposits? Because the taxpayers are showering them with money.

And they don't need deposits because - as is now admitted by the mainstream - banks create money out of thin air. In other words, banks don't need deposits in order to make loans.

At the same time, the big banks have sat on the money the government threw at them - with the encouragement of the Fed - instead of loaning it out to Main Street to kickstart the economy. As we noted in 2012, small banks are much more interested in making loans to the little guy than the TBTFs:

points out:

Banks that received federal assistance during the financial crisis reduced lending more aggressively and gave bigger pay raises to employees than institutions that didn't get aid, a USA TODAY/American University review found.

Dennis Santiago - CEO and Managing Director of Institutional Risk Analytics ... notes:

The vast majority of this contraction of credit availability to American industry has been by the larger banks ....

reports that smaller banks are stepping in to fill the lending void left by the giant banks' current hesitancy to make loans. Indeed, the article points out that the only reason that smaller banks haven't been able to expand and thrive is that the too-big-to-fails have decreased competition ....


As big banks struggle, community banks are stepping in to offer loans and lines of credit to small business owners....

Fed Governor Daniel K. Tarullo said:

The importance of traditional financial intermediation services, and hence of the smaller banks that typically specialize in providing those services, tends to increase during times of financial stress. Indeed, the crisis has highlighted the important continuing role of community banks....

[Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas President] Thomas M. Hoenig pointed out in a speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce summit in Washington:

During the recent financial crisis, losses quickly depleted the capital of these large, over-leveraged companies. As expected, these firms were rescued using government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The result was an immediate reduction in lending to Main Street, as the financial institutions tried to rebuild their capital. Although these institutions have raised substantial amounts of new capital, much of it has been used to repay the TARP funds instead of supporting new lending.

On the other hand, Hoenig pointed out:

In 2009, 45 percent of banks with assets under $1 billion increased their business lending.

45% is about more than the amount of increased lending by the too big to fails.

Indeed, some very smart people say that the big banks aren't really focusing as much on the lending business as smaller banks.

Specifically since Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, the giant banks have made much of their money in trading assets, securities, derivatives and other speculative bets, the banks' own paper and securities, and in other money-making activities which have nothing to do with traditional depository functions.

Indeed, the Too Big To Fails are doing everything they can to fight the availability of low-cost loans for Main Street and the little guy.

The bottom line is that we don't need the big banks. Indeed, top economists, financial experts and bankers say that the big banks are too large ... and their very size is threatening the economy. They say we need to break up the big banks to stabilize the economy.

This is especially true since the monsters are growing larger and larger ... and have mutated so much that they're no longer even behaving like .