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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Violent arrests as hundreds rally over 43 missing students in Mexico

Protest March Mexico

© Reuters/Henry Romero

A protester (C) is detained by riot police after a protest march to demand justice for the 43 missing students of the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, at Zocalo Square in Mexico City February 26, 2015.

Mexican police have violently arrested protesters rallying in the country's capital. The demonstrators are demanding a thorough investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in September.

Clashes between police and protesters broke out during the organized demonstration on the five-month anniversary of the disappearance of the students, who were attending a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, located in southwestern Guerrero state.

Thousands have been rallying in the streets of Mexico City, carrying banners with the portraits of the missing students. Their parents were leading the demonstration.

Violentas detenciones en #AcciónGlobalAyotzinapa http://bit.ly/1AenFLu

— Proyecto Ambulante (@proamboax) February 27, 2015

The rally went peacefully through the streets of the capital, but the clashes started when part of the crowd moved to one of the subway station, according to RT Spanish reports.

Reportan detenciones cerca del Metro Sevilla Fotos: @bpm_arian4 http://bit.ly/1Ew3bo6 http://bit.ly/1Ew3bEk

— Sin Embargo (@SinEmbargoMX) February 27, 2015

The incident has caused a number of mass protests in the country, with people demanding justice and demonstrating against corrupt police. Mexican's president's visit to the United States last month has been also marred with rallies.

An independent investigative report published in December claimed that the Federal Police was directly involved in the attack, contrary to the authorities' statements. The college the students were attending is known for its left-wing activism. The probe also asserted that state and federal authorities were tracking the students' movements on September 26 in real-time; not only did authorities do nothing to prevent their abduction and consequent murder, but police reportedly directly attacked the youths. It is believed that the students were handed over to local gangs and killed.

Reportan detenciones en Av Chapultepec Fotos: @maskbalam http://bit.ly/1Ew3bo6 http://bit.ly/1Ew3e3h

— Sin Embargo (@SinEmbargoMX) February 27, 2015

Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, whose husband José Luis Abarca Velázquez was the mayor of Iguala when the students went missing, has been charged with organized crime and money laundering. Pineda is being held in a maximum security prison until the start of her trial.

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Catastrophe-hopping Spiegel: German news magazine rolls out latest climate horror vision: A burning North Pole

This week's hard copy of features the front cover story dubbed "" - The heated planet - (see image below). Thus, is returning and keeping to its long tradition of promoting end-of world scenarios.

The following image sequence shows how the burning planet is just the latest and newest climate catastrophe designed to get an apocalypse-weary public to worry (and to buy its magazines). So far the reaction, however, has been a big yawn. The world is, after all, full with other concerns.


© Spiegel

depictions over the last decades. 1986 and 2015 were even front cover images. 1974: cooling. 1986: sea level rise. Now, 2015: it’s a burning planet.

1974 - 10,000 to 1 chance at best of planet returning to warming

In 1974 warned of global cooling, writing that climate change was leading to growing deserts and global cooling. The article even claimed that the North Atlantic had cooled 0.5°C - this after "." During that warming period, writes: ."

In the lengthy article even quoted meteorological researcher James McQuigg who said the chances of the climate returning to warmer conditions such as those in the 1930s were "at best 10,000 to 1″.

Also in 11 February, 1974 edition, an article titled The Desert is growing shows a temperature chart that tells us the global temperature fell from 16.0°C to 15.7°C from 1945 to 1970. Someone needs to tell this to NASA GISS. Today aren't they saying the global temperature is now 14.9°? Weird.

1986: "Die Klimakatastrophe"

Then, just 12 years later in 1986, scientists realized the ocean cycles had flipped to their warm phase and so suddenly global warming was back in the pipeline. Immediately ran with its legendary August 11, 1986 edition bearing the front page headline "", which depicted the Cologne Cathedral half submerged in sea water.

Forest die-off scare, acid rain

not only spread fear about climate catastrophes, but it was also instrumental in spreading the acid-rain/forest die-off scare in the 1980s. In 1981 the magazine featured a 3-part series depicting the German forests as being doomed and certain to be forever lost.

Back to some rationality

Over the past years, it seemed had been backing off from global climate catastrophe meme. The flagship news magazine often featured balanced reports, foremost by science journalist Axel Bojanowski, who often questioned the claims of a climate catastrophe and challenged the shrillness of the IPCC's warnings. NoTricksZone often wrote about these articles. It seemed the magazine was back to rational and critical journalism on the topic of climate change, and this fostered hopes of a balanced debate someday taking place in Germany.

2015 Spiegel returns to the apocalypse

But this was wishful thinking, it turns out, as this week on Monday rolled out its latest apocalyptic issue with the front page bearing the headline: "The Heated Planet" and an image of a planet on fire. The article is a repackaging all the doom and gloom scenarios that rest of the German mainstream media had been crowing about for a good two decades now. Balance has disappeared, regrettably.

Plummeting circulation

So why suddenly the change in tone? One can only speculate. Clear is that circulation has been taking a massive beating over the recent years. For example in the 3rd quarter of 2014 alone newsstand sales fell a whopping 12 percent, so reports the online horizont.net.

The European Institute for Climate and Energy presents the chart for subscriptions to


Veteran science journalist Ulli Kulke of flagship Die Welt writes at his blog:

Does the new editorial board at want to scale the magazine back to being a warrior on behalf of the environment? Will the critical journalism over the past years that questioned the increasingly baseless end-of-world-mood now come to an end? The new frontpage cover "The Heated Planet" appears to be going back to the good old days of the apocalypse..."

PS: So far none of the catastrophes have come to pass.

'Mind reading' neurones help predict behaviour of others

Rhesus Monkeys

© memerym/iStockphoto

A new study on rhesus monkeys sheds light on co-operative behaviour.

Scientists have discovered a group of neurones that enable one monkey to predict what another monkey is about to do - the first-known instance of neurones calculating another animal's behaviour.

The discovery may be fundamental for understanding social behaviour and could lead to better treatments for conditions like autism spectrum disorder.

US neuroscientists got pairs of monkeys to play a game based on classic game theory known as 'the prisoner's dilemma.'

Their findings are published today in the journal .

Decisions... decisions

In the game, the monkeys sit side by side facing a computer screens. They can choose either to cooperate (signified by pressing a hexagon on their screen) or to be selfish (by pressing a triangle).

Although they are well aware of each other's presence, neither monkey can see the other's facial expressions, nor can they see the choice the other monkey makes as they make it, explains study co-author neuroscientist Dr Keren Haroush of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

Their reward depends on their combined choices. If one monkey chooses to be selfish and the other to cooperate, the selfish monkey wins hands down, getting six drops of juice as a reward while the other (cooperative) monkey gets only one drop.

But if they both choose the selfish option they get just two drops each. Both deciding to cooperate, however, wins them each four drops of juice.

"The only follow-up was at the end of the trial: once they had both made their selections, they got to see what the other one chose." says Haroush.

Not only could they see the choice the other monkey made, they could also hear the drops of juice that it got as a reward.

Listening in

While the monkeys were making up their minds, the researchers were eavesdropping on the neurones in a brain region known as the cingulate cortex.

"We had small microchips inside the brains and we were able to record many neurones at the same time. We could basically 'listen in' on their activity as the monkeys were performing this task," says co-author Associate Professor Ziv Williams, also of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

"We found some of these neurones fired differently based on what the other monkey's yet unknown decision was predicted to be. That was pretty remarkable and surprising...we could actually tell what the first monkey thought the other would do way before that decision was revealed," he says.

The researchers recorded from 363 neurones during the games. Of these 32.4 per cent appeared to be involved in predicting what the other monkey would do - attempting to 'mind read' - while a (largely different) 24.3 per cent of neurones seemed to be encoding the monkey's own decision.

"Basically what's happening is these neurones are building up a predictive model of what the other monkey is likely to do in a situation, given their past interactions," says Williams.

Furthermore, the 'mind-reading' neurones appear to be activated more in social situations. When the monkeys played the game in separate rooms (and did not know about each other) or played against a computer, considerably fewer neurones activated by the task were 'mind-reading' ones.

"Our best guess is that these types of neurones are likely to be found in other social animals including humans. However, without testing this hypothesis directly, we currently do not know for certain," remarks Williams.

Social disruption

Haroush and Williams also tried disrupting the cingulate cortex by sending electrical pulses to that part of the brain while the monkeys were doing the task.

They found the monkeys were much less likely to cooperate with each other, even if they had both cooperated on the immediately preceding trial.

The pulses "selectively inhibited their ability to cooperate and to reciprocate past cooperation," says Williams. The pair thinks this demonstrates the key role of the cingulate cortex in social behaviour.

"Ultimately we want to see if we can use some of these insights to develop treatment for social behavioural disorders such as autism and antisocial personality disorders," concludes Williams.

Dawn mission to Ceres reveals bright spots on dwarf planet


This image was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin.

Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.

"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Using its ion propulsion system, Dawn will enter orbit around Ceres on March 6. As scientists receive better and better views of the dwarf planet over the next 16 months, they hope to gain a deeper understanding of its origin and evolution by studying its surface. The intriguing bright spots and other interesting features of this captivating world will come into sharper focus.

"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

© NASA/JPL-Caltech

These images of dwarf planet Ceres, processed to enhance clarity, were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Dawn observed Ceres completing one full rotation, which lasted about nine hours.

Dawn visited the giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012, delivering more than 30,000 images of the body along with many other measurements, and providing insights about its composition and geological history. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), while Ceres has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers). Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

US Army's top secret Arctic city under the ice 'Camp Century'

The base was constructed in the late 1950s, during the height of the Cold War, for "research" purposes.

To study the feasibility of working under the ice, a "cover" project, known as Camp Century was launched in 1960. However, unsteady ice conditions within the ice sheet caused the project to be canceled in 1966.

It eventually came out that the ultimate objective of Camp Century was of placing medium-range missiles under the ice - close enough to Moscow to strike targets within the Soviet Union. This was kept secret from the Danish government, which owns Greenland and which was legally a "nuclear free zone", in keeping with Danish policy.

Details of the missile base project were classified for decades, first coming to light in January 1997, when the Danish Foreign Policy Institute (DUPI) was asked by the Danish Parliament to research the history of nuclear weapons in Greenland during the Thulegate scandal.

A report confirmed that the U.S. stockpiled nuclear weapons in Greenland until 1965, contradicting assurances by Danish foreign minister, Niels Helveg Petersen that the weapons were in Greenland's airspace, but never on the ground. The DUPI report also revealed details of Project Iceworm, a hitherto secret United States Army plan to store up to 600 nuclear missiles under the Greenland ice cap.

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Danish workers involved in the clean-up operation claimed long-term health problems resulting from their exposure to the radiation.

The crash-landing of an American B-52 bomber - laden with nuclear weapons - in Greenland in 1968, and the ensuing radioactive effect on local rescue teams, would have been consigned to the footnotes of history had it not been for one intrepid Aarhus radio journalist.

Let me take you back to an Arctic night in January 1968, still the era of the Cold War. An American B-52 bomber gets into trouble, the crew scramble to safety and the plane comes down in Greenland with an enormous amount of weapons-grade plutonium on board. Residents of Greenland working at the American base in Thule immediately set out across the ice with husky teams to get to the downed plane - the Americans desperate to get there before anyone else."

These were the words spoken to the European Parliament in 2007 by Diana Wallis, a British MEP. It sounds like a promising plot for an international blockbuster movie, but this largely forgotten piece of history not only had serious ramifications for the unfortunate workers commissioned to clean up the radioactive debris, but also uncovered clandestine nuclear activity on Danish soil, despite the nuclear-free zone peacetime policy announced by Denmark in 1957.

Perched right at the top of the globe, Thule Air Base has been of enormous strategic importance to the US since its construction in the early 1950s. It's an ideal location for radar to scan the skies for any stray incoming missiles. What the Danish populace did not know or need to know at the time was that, since 1961, nuclear-armed B-52 bombers had been continuously circling Thule Air Base on routine 'hard head' missions, as part of a cold war strategic missile warning system. Not only that, but around 50 nuclear weapons had also been stored at the base between 1958 and 1965.

It was on one of these routine missions on 21 January 1968 that a fire broke out in the cockpit of a B-52 stratofortress. The pilot, Captain John Haug, gave the mayday signal, and the plane, loaded with four nuclear warheads, was abandoned to crash into the ice of Greenland. The husky rescue teams set off and the rest is history, although had it not been for the unrelenting detective work of Aarhus radio journalist Poul Brink almost two decades later, it would have remained in the footnotes.

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From Wikipedia:

Project was the code name for a top secret US Army program during the Cold War to build a network of mobile nuclear missile launch sites under the Greenland ice sheet. The ultimate objective of placing medium-range missiles under the ice - close enough to Moscow to strike targets within the Soviet Union - was kept secret from the Danish government. To study the feasibility of working under the ice, a highly publicized "cover" project, known as "Camp Century" was launched in 1960. However, unsteady ice conditions within the ice sheet caused the project to be canceled in 1966.

So much for those sanctions: Russian MICEX stock index is top performer so far this year

© Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

The Russian ruble-denominated MICEX is currently the best performing index this year, with analysts expecting the growth streak to continue, despite rating downgrades, Western sanctions and the plunge in the oil price.

The MICEX has added 27 percent since the start of the year, outperforming some of the leading indices in Germany, France and Italy, MICEX confirmed in an e-mail to RT.

Russian analysts expect the growth to continue during the year. Aleksey Astapov of asset managers Arsagera expects the MICEX to hit 2,100 by the end of 2015, a huge jump from Thursday's reading of 1,750. It's close to the 2011 high, and a further rise could drive the index to its highest level since 2008.

The MICEX hasn't given a forecast but said 2014 market volatility was largely spurred by oil prices and geopolitics, and that forced many foreign investors who had quit Russian stocks to change their attitude to the market in the second half of 2014 and the start of 2015.

"Our data shows that in the beginning of 2015 the overall net purchases of Russian shares by foreign investors were above $656 million (40 billion rubles)," MICEX said.

© Moscow Stock Exchange

An expectation of corporate revenues in Russia is a key factor for index growth, according to Astapov. A combination of a weaker ruble, import substitution and the state support for some industries makes investors believe Russian firms would produce robust results, he said.

'Black Tuesday' that shook the Russian market and the currency in mid-December was just one single 'episode', according to Ivan Tchakarov, a chief economist at Citibank Russia, while investors need to take a broader, more impassionate view.

"Russian market suffered a lot last year, which led investors to lose interest, but now there are hopes that geopolitics are looking a bit better, so there are some investors trying to come back selectively and from very low levels," Tchakarov told RT.

Western pressure and prospects

The downgrade on the Russian economy to non-investment grade by the two global rating agencies S&P and Moody's were largely anticipated, and the effect on the Russian market will be limited, analysts agree.

"There were expectations building up that Russia will be downgraded to junk. That's how we can justify the effect that the Russian market has strengthened at the beginning of the year exactly the time when we have downgrades to junk," Tchakarov said.

"Our personal view is that S&P and Moody's have an unnecessarily bearish view on the Russian economy that led them to thinking about downgrades. We don't disagree that it will be a difficult year for the Russian economy - quite the opposite - we also expect a recession, but we do not think it will be as deep and as painful as it is anticipated by Moody's. This is the reason why we still think that Russia deserves to be at Investment grade status," Tchakarov said.

Sober-minded investors are skeptical about the data that the rating agencies release, and consider them to be 'politicized', Astapov wrote Russia Today in an e-mail.

The Western sanctions against Russia that have already hit both sides are in fact good for Russia, Astapov said.

"... we think, it [the sanctions - Ed.] is a good challenge for the Russian economy and a good reason to start the escalated economic reforms oriented at domestic resources," he said.

TEPCO officials admit to concealing Fukushima radioactive leak

© AP Photo/ Toshiaki Shimizu

Tokyo Electric Power Co., TEPCO, has been slammed by fishermen, for knowingly allowing radioactive substances to flow freely into the sea for ten months.

Operators of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant admitted that a drainage ditch allowed highly-contaminated water to flow into the sea, and that the leak was first detected back in May 2014.

Fishermen were shocked to hear such confession, voicing disappointment in the company that has been criticized for the cleanup of the Fukushima disaster that happened four years ago.

"I don't understand why you (TEPCO) kept silent about the leakage even though you knew about it. Fishery operators are absolutely shocked," Masakazu Yabuki, chief of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative said.

A TEPCO officials justified the cover-up saying the company found out during an investigation.

"This was part of an ongoing investigation in which we discovered a water puddle with high levels of radiation on top of the Reactor No. 2 building, and because this also happens to be one of the sources for this drainage system, we decided to report everything all at once."

A company spokesperson added that it did not disclosed the leak because samples from ocean water surrounding the area showed no substantial spikes of hazardous material.

TEPCO had to get permission from the fishermen to dispose of groundwater in the surrounding ocean.

In Sept. 2013, when Tokyo was announced to be the host country for 2020 Summer Olympics, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised the International Olympic Committee that all radiation leaks at the tsunami-ravaged plant were "under control."

The Japanese government also announced that TEPCO would be the main sponsor of the 2020 Olympics.

Meanwhile, TEPCO maintains that the contaminated water that has been freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean does not violate regulations and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has not detected a spike in the level of toxins.

In March 2011, the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan was hit by a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami that led to meltdown of three of the plant's six nuclear reactions. Four people were killed, 37 had physical injuries and two were taken to the hospital for radiation burns. The entire death toll from the earthquake and tsunami is estimated to be around 20,000.

Local, state, and federal authorities raid Texas secessionist meeting

It seemed like a typical congressional meeting for the Republic of Texas. Senators and the president gathered in the center of a Bryan, Texas, meeting hall, surrounded by public onlookers, to debate issues of the national currency, develop international relations and celebrate the birthday of one of their oldest members.

But this wasn't 1836, and this would be no ordinary legislative conference. Minutes into the meeting a man among the onlookers stood and moved to open the hall door, letting in an armed and armored force of the Bryan Police Department, the Brazos County Sheriff's Office, the Kerr County Sheriff's Office, Agents of the Texas District Attorney, the Texas Rangers and the FBI.

In the end, at least 20 officers corralled, searched and fingerprinted all 60 meeting attendees, before seizing all cellphones and recording equipment in a Valentine's Day 2015 raid on the Texas separatist group.

"We had no idea what was going on," said John Jarnecke, president of the Republic of Texas. "We knew of nothing that would warrant such an action."

The raid was a response to legal summons sent by Republic of Texas members to a Kerr County judge and bank employee, demanding they appear in the Republic's court at the Veterans and Foreign Wars building in Bryan the day the officers stormed in. Jarnecke's group, the subject of a half-hour YouTube documentary, maintains a small working government, including official currency, congress and courts.

"You can't just let people go around filing false documents to judges trying to make them appear in front of courts that aren't even real courts," said Kerr County sheriff Rusty Hierholzer, who led the operation.

He acknowledged he used a "show of force," grouping officers from city, county state and federal law enforcement to serve a search warrant for suspicions of a misdemeanor crime. He said he had worries that some extremists in the group could become violent, citing a 1997 incident when 300 state troopers surrounded an armed Republic leader for a weeklong standoff.

"We've had years of bad press, but we're not those people," said Jarnecke of the '97 incident. "But yes, we are still making every attempt to get independence for Texas and we're doing it in a lawful international manner."

The Republic has a lengthy list of qualms with the federal government, among them that Texas was illegally annexed in 1845. But most of their complaints have to do with the behavior of the American legislature and executive. Robert Wilson, a senator in the Republic, equated politicians in Washington D.C. to the "kings and emperors" of the past, and sees Texas independence as part of a worldwide movement for local control.

"This is the century for colonialist ambitions to be reversed," the 78-year-old pastor said. "I've watched a lot of things happen, and the people of the world are fed up. The spirit of the world right now is: make things smaller, move governments closer to home, take back self-rule."

Jarnecke said he was being taxed by a foreign government that he feels doesn't represent him, and protested having to fund bank bailouts and foreign wars.

"According to the U.S. Constitution, the only place any army should be is guarding our own borders, not invading and trying to impose their will on every other country of the world," Jarnecke said.

Still, he and Wilson said their group would not resort to violence, but is working through world courts to get international recognition of an independent Texas. They said their methods are legal, but Sheriff Hierholzer contests that.

"We've had a lot of dealings with Republic of Texas members in the past here, too, flooding the court with simulated documents," he said. "I don't have any problem with them going back to the Republic of Texas but they need to do it through the proper legal channels."

The judge and banker summoned to the Republic's court had been involved in the foreclosure of a member's Kerr County house. The invalid court summon was signed by Susan Cammak, the Kerr County homeowner, and David Kroupa, a Republic of Texas judge from Harris County.

A search warrant, photographed and emailed by a Republic of Texas member before her phone was confiscated, accuses the two of "simulating legal process." It also authorizes the seizure of all computers, media storage, software, cell phones and paper documents. Hierholzer said the seized devices will be downloaded and reviewed to determine if others conspired in the creation and issuance of false court documents.

Police searched and fingerprinted each person at the meeting, but they did not perform cheek-swab DNA testing as the warrant allowed.

No arrests were made in the raid, but the case is still under investigation, Hierholzer said. The FBI and Texas Rangers would not comment.

Jarnecke acknowledged that legislation and court summons issues by the Republic have no real effect, but said the group was close to taking their case to an international court—they haven't yet selected which. He hopes that will be the first step in rallying for Texas independence.

"I'm positive we will get out independence back at some point in time," he said. "Now we're just trying to nip things in the bud ahead of time to make sure the people are the ones that have the power when it happens, not the government."

Court rules cop who was fired for blowing the whistle on NYPD arrest quotas can sue

© Flickr/ Ethan

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of a New York City police officer who alleges he was unjustly punished by his superiors after he exposed an illegal quota system within his Bronx precinct.

In a ruling Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court's decision to dismiss the suit, brought by Officer Craig Matthews and the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2012.

"Quotas lead to illegal arrests, criminal summonses and ruined lives. They undermine the trust between the police and the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving," said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case.

"Today's decision protects the ability of police officers to speak out against this kind of misconduct when they see it. New York City's finest should be applauded when they expose abuse, not abused and retaliated against."

The city Law Department says it's reviewing the decision, while the NYPD still maintains it does not operate under arrest or summons quotas.

Matthews, a 17-year veteran of the NYPD, said supervisors at the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx kept color-coded records of which officers met quota, and punished those who fell short.

Since Matthews objected to the system, he has been subject to a wide range of retaliation, including punitive assignments, overtime and leave denial, separation from his longtime partner, poor evaluations and constant harassment and threats, according to the lawsuit.

Last year, a federal judge with the Southern District of New York ruled that Matthews' lawsuit could not proceed because the officer was speaking as a public employee and not as a citizen.

The First Amendment notoriously does not protect the speech of public employees.

Thursday's decision states that Matthews was acting as a citizen and not as a public employee when he told his supervisors about the quotas. The ruling allows Matthews' civil rights suit to move forward.

"Officer Matthews has followed the oath he made to uphold the Constitution and his community," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "Instead of retaliating against officers who expose unjust and illegal practices, the NYPD should work to ensure that nobody is arrested because of arbitrary and illegal quotas."

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the largest NYPD union and generally one of the NYCLU's fiercest critics, told BuzzFeed News that it supports the decision.

"This union has been warning about the dangers of police quotas for over a decade," said PBA President Pat Lynch. "This decision comes at an important time because despite management's claim that they want quality not quantity, illegal quotas for police activities are, unfortunately, alive and well in the NYPD."

Paris throws temper tantrum after French lawmakers hold 'unauthorized' meetings with Assad, Hezbollah

© Reuters/SANA

French President Francois Hollande (Reuters/Vincent Kessler) and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Four French lawmakers have been slammed by their government and one of them threatened with sanctions and suspension after an unauthorized meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus as well with a Hezbollah member.

The group of four cross-party lawmakers, identified as Gerard Bapt, Jean-Pierre Vial, Jacques Myard and Francois Zochetto, went to the Middle East on a ''personal mission to see what is going on, to hear, listen."

According to the Syrian state news agency, Assad and the French lawmakers discussed developments and challenges facing Arab and European nations, especially those pertaining to terrorism.

"We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well," Jacques Myard, an MP from the opposition UMP party, told but refused to give details.

The lawmakers also met with Hezbollah's international relations officer, Ammar Musawi, in Beirut on Wednesday.

According to the statement, Musawi called on countries to combat terrorism and fight against extremist groups and also to stop helping fundamentalist groups. The visit, which was not authorized by the French government , triggered harsh condemnation.

"I fully condemn [this visit]. Assad is not an authoritarian dictator, he is a butcher," Socialist Party Chairman Jean-Christophe Cambadelis has told RTL radio as quoted by Reuters. "I have written to Gerard Bapt, I will summon him and take sanctions."

Bapt as well as Vial are presidents of the France-Syria Friendship Group in the French parliament.

It has, however, been reported that Bapt was not present at the meeting with President Assad. Reuters says Bapt personally confirmed that in a text message to the news agency.

President Francois Hollande slammed French lawmakers for meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he branded a "dictator."

"I condemn this initiative. I condemn it because French lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years," Hollande told reporters on an official trip to the Philippines.

Hollande has also said he supported and encouraged sanctions against all four members of the delegation.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the visit was "a moral failing" and compared Assad to a butcher, hinting at atrocities committed by governmental troops.

France cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 and now supports the Syrian opposition, seeking the removal of Assad from power.

However, recent reports suggest more countries and politicians are considering re-engagement with Assad's regime.

Thus, according to Reuters, numerous European countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Romania and Spain are now leaning toward rapprochement with Syria.

The report suggested that even in those EU countries that are officially opposed to renewed relations, there is talk that the Syrian crisis could have been handled better. One senior French diplomat admitted that closing the embassy was a mistake, the news agency said.

The gradual change in attitude toward Syria, the news agency noted, has gained pace since Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) made territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, prompting US-led aerial attacks on ISIS positions in the country - despite harsh criticism from Damascus, which accused Washington of violating its territorial integrity.

Detainees who were tortured at Chicago's Homan Square "black site" speak out

© Scott Olson/Getty

On Tuesday, s Spencer Ackerman reported on the "equivalent of a CIA black site" operated by police in Chicago. When computer program analyst Kory Wright opened the story, he told me, "I immediately recognized the building" — because, the Chicago resident says, he was zip-tied to a bench there for hours in an intentionally overheated room without access to water or a bathroom, eventually giving false statements to try and end his ordeal.

A friend of Wright's swept up in the same police raid described his own brutal treatment at the facility, known as Homan Square, including attacks to his face and genitals. The experiences of the two men line up with the way defense attorneys described the "black site" warehouse to Ackerman: as a place where detainees were held off the books, without access to lawyers, while being beaten or shackled for long periods of time.

Wright claims that nine years ago, he spent "at least six [brutal] hours" at the Homan facility on his 21st birthday. He says that he was never read his Miranda rights, and that his arrest was not put into the police system until after his ordeal was over. Wright was reminded of the facility again this week when he noticed a tweet from a writer he admires, Ta-Nehisi Coates, linking to Ackerman's story. Ackerman compared Homan Square to the network of shadowy torture centers built by the CIA across the Middle East — but focused "on Americans, most often poor, black and brown," rather than on purported overseas terrorists.

Also unlike CIA black sites, Homan Square wasn't a completely furtive enterprise. Several lawyers and anti-police brutality advocates with whom I spoke knew that suspects were routinely detained at Homan. The facility houses many of the police department's special units, including the anti-gang and anti-drug task forces, along with the evidence-retrieval unit. Once suspects arrived at Homan, they did not have to be booked immediately, at least not as far as the police department was concerned, according to the people with whom I spoke. In fact, it was possible that a suspect's arrest report wouldn't show that he or she had ever been to Homan. Further, police could detain individuals at Homan for hours, or disappear them, before shipping them off to a district station for processing.

The Chicago Police Department declined to address the specific allegations from Wright and his friend, providing only a general statement denying abuses at Homan Square. (The same statement also appears in Ackerman's story.) "CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility," the statement read. "There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square."

Kory Wright disagrees.

Kory Wright about one month before his detention at Homan Square.

It was late on the hot morning of June 29, 2006 — Kory Wright's 21st birthday — when he set out for the North Lawndale residence of a relative, a short walk from his own. "I know they got a lot of connections over there, and he said I can get my hair braided, so I came over and I was getting my hair braided," Wright says. He says this relative sold crack cocaine, and that his mother had warned him prior to June 29 to keep his distance, but "you know, they good people."

As Wright was having his hair braided on the porch, "a nice clean lady comes and asks to buy some drugs." According to Wright, the woman "had a fifty [dollar bill]. And I exchanged the fifty. I gave her the change and then she completed her transaction with my [relative]."

Wright claims the drug-buyer was an undercover cop, and that the entire transaction was recorded by Chicago police, because two or three minutes after the drug deal, officers in plain clothes swarmed the house and detained Wright, two of his relatives, and one of his friends, Deandre Hutcherson. "They searched us first and then they took us all down to that one place I'm talking about," Wright says, referring to the Homan interrogation site. Wright and Hutcherson both insist the police never read them their Miranda rights.

"When we first got to that place, we went in a garage and they walked us up the stairs," he says. Phone calls to counsel and family were denied, Wright and Hutcherson say, while no fingerprints were taken, and no paperwork was filled out — which means there was no evidence they were ever there. "I tried to tell them it was my birthday," he says, "and I think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He [a Chicago police officer] got the nerve to go get his friend, and they, like, sung happy birthday." Wright believes the virulent police officers were taunting him. "I see it [Homan] everyday. I shudder," says Wright, whose neighborhood was just south of the facility.

The four men were split up and placed in small, separate rooms that were the size of office cubicles. It was a steamy summer day, and Wright was sweating profusely at Homan; he believes the police either turned the heat on, or turned the air conditioning off, to sweat him out. "When we first got in there it was room-temperature, and before he [a Chicago police officer] left, he was like, 'It's gon' get a little hot in here,'" says Hutcherson, now 29.

For six hours, a sweaty Wright sat zip-tied to a bench with no access to a restroom, a telephone or water. "They strapped me — like across, kind of — to a bench, and my hands were strapped on both sides of me," he says. "I can't even scratch my face." When Wright first arrived at Homan, he was left alone for a while in the hot room. Wright asked the police if he could call his mother, but instead, various police officers came "in and out. They were badgering me with questions. 'Tell me about this murder!'" one officer shouted. Wright provided his interrogator with false information and names, with the hope of making it stop. He told me he was "trying to get out of the situation and give them something they wanted."

Meanwhile, Hutcherson — also shackled to a bench — was being interrogated in another room. "He [a Chicago police officer] gets up, walking toward me," Hutcherson alleges. "I already know what's finna happen. I brace myself, and he hit me a little bit and then take his foot and stepped on my groin." According to Hutcherson, the officer struck him two or three times in the face before kicking his penis.

"You must think I'm a fucking idiot," Hutcherson says his attacker told him. Within an hour, Hutcherson, who was in town for his mother's funeral, faked an asthma attack that unnerved the police. He says they then released him from detention and sent him on his way.

The descriptions that Wright and Hutcherson provided of their experiences at Homan are eerily similar to how Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, described such torture in :

Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It's meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they're not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn't leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds.

Siska has known about the goings-on at Homan "since about the mid- to late-2000s." Siska also said that most of those detained at Homan are poor, black and brown people suspected of street crimes. When I asked why reporters haven't covered the abuses allegedly occurring there, Siska replied with a slight chuckle, "That's the million dollar question. The problem is a lot of reporters agree with the police perspective."

More broadly, Wright's tale is typical of low-income, minoritized people victimized by America's criminal justice system. Eventually, he was taken to Cook County jail, where he was processed and charged with distribution of heroin and cocaine. Given his low-income status, Wright's only option for counsel was a public defender.

Wright's lawyer, he says, was pregnant and overworked, while Wright suffered through multiple continuances. When his public defender gave birth, Wright was assigned a new attorney, who also, naturally, had a taxing caseload. In the end, the drug charges against Wright were thrown out, though not before he'd spent six months under house arrest because his mother lacked the money to fund a bond for release.

Kory Wright was attending Wilbur Wright Community College, and taking criminal justice courses, when he was detained at Homan. He says he had hopes of becoming a police officer in the city of Chicago before that June day. Wright told me a story about how police — when he was 16 years old — had roughed up him up, along with some friends of his. Afterwards, Wright decided he wanted to be a counterweight to that sort of police-initiated harassment, which regularly afflicts communities such as North Lawndale. But his experience at Homan, and his subsequent arrest, caused him to miss a semester of school.

Fortunately, Wright recovered, and today, at age 29, he is working on his master's degree in network engineering at DePaul University. He lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, and is the father of a new baby girl. But the touchless torture he says he suffered at Homan continues to haunt him. "The whole thing caused a rift between me and my mom. I didn't like being black at all after that, and when I got to DePaul, I started trying to be as white as possible," a doleful Wright told me. "Being black is a curse."

Our model of the world gives us the capacity for wonder


The awe and wonder of childhood

My son recently asked me if it was possible that we lived on a speck of dust in a much larger universe. He explained that he had just watched again and it had him thinking. I, ever eager to promote the impossible, said I don't see why not. And he walked about blissfully conjuring the possibilities.

What is it about fantastic speculation that makes it so compelling a past time? Many of us read science fiction, or watch documentaries about aspects of our world that we will never experience, and yet we love it. We love to hear that there may be parallel universes or ways to go back in time. I recently read an article (link is external) in magazine that argued that we may live in the center of a black hole, created in a multiverse, where black holes that experience just the right conditions expand into universes like our own—as if they were flowers. I felt like I had taken mescal after reading that article. I walked around for a week just smiling at everything.

But why?

To my knowledge, no other species cares if we live inside or outside of a blackhole. No other species considers it interesting that quantum probability requires something to collapse the wave function (like consciousness) or else that there are many worlds, infinite and ever increasing parallel universes in which every possibility happens. All of these theories are like drugs—like mind-expanding mushrooms that open Huxley's doors of perception. They each carry with them such a fantastic vision of reality that we are forced to rethink our place in the universe and thereby the limits of who we are as individuals, as a species, and as life itself.

What is it that makes this capacity for wonder possible?

The answer lies in part in how we understand ourselves.

Let me explain.

Episodic future thinking

Since about the mid-1990s researchers began to identify cells in the hippocampus that were active when animals 'thought about' places they were about to visit. In some of the initial studies, rats were found to reactivate sequences of place cells in their hippocampus during sleep that were also actived together when the animals were awake. This animal dreaming has since been found to occur when animals need to make a difficult decision about where to go next. In these case, the animals reactivate past memories such they can search their memory for the best way forward. This is called episodic future thinking and it is deeply related to our ability to deliberate about the future (see Pezzulo et al., 2014).

Even more interesting is the observation that animals can activate new sequences in their minds that are plausible, but have nonetheless never been experienced. Now the animal isn't just remembering, it is creating a model of its world. Within that model, the animal can conjure up a future that is custom built to its own specifications. This self-projection has often been speculated to be the domain of humans alone, but we now know it isn't so.

Hugging your virtual mom

Buildig a model of the world in our heads allows us to simulate reality. This idea is supported by the cognition. Hesslow (2002) has done a lot of work outlining this theory, but the basic idea is fairly simple. If the mind can use its own output as new input, then it can simulate reality. We can imagine that we are going on vacation, getting hit by a bus, or falling in love. When we do this, areas in our brain are activated that are associated with our actual experience of realities similar to the one we envision—both in sensory and motor areas—and their probable outcomes are activated as well. If we imagine playing the piano, our brain wiggles our cognitive fingers. If we imagine flying to the moon, our brain looks out the window at the shrinking blue earth in our minds. Just imagine giving your mom a hug, and immediately consequences begin to proliferate in your mind. Your brain is hugging your virtual mom, who is in turn virtually hugging you back.

We are our model of the world

Now what's quite important here is something you may have missed. If the animal is building a model of its world, then it is also building a model of itself. That is, to the extent that we think we are anything, we must do so in relation to what we understand about the place, the world, the universe in which we live. As our understanding of that place changes, we change as well.

Indeed, arguably one of the most significant contributions of psychology is that our understanding of ourselves is more defined by what we believe in our heads than by the actual external world that we experience. If you imagine you are the center of the universe, then you experience yourself as a different person than one who imagines they live on a speck of dust. However, even better, if you can imagine living in different kinds of universes, then who you are becomes a fantastic landscape of possibilities.

The wonder of science and art lies in their capacity to alter our model of the world, and thereby alter our conception of ourselves.

When I read today in Quanta Magazine (link is external) that physicists at University College London were looking for evidence of other universes by looking for dents in ours, detectable by concentric rings in the cosmic background radiation of our universe, I swooned. In that moment, my brain simulated something like a child blowing bubbles, and our universe, somehow being one among many, in a vast inflationary process that breathes out worlds in countless varieties, each with various versions of things like me. And then my mind just popped.

Snake makes a rare winter appearance in Stephenville, Maryland

© Jake Claypoole

A Snake in Winter

Jake Claypoole of Stevenville spotted something unusual when he took his son sledding near the park and ride across from Kent Landing Shopping Center, commonly called Kmart hill, about noon Wednesday, Feb. 18. He noticed a 3-foot snake on top of the ice on the storm water management pond.

Claypoole said he thought the snake was dead at first, but then he noticed its tongue moving and it began slithering toward the snow.

He said he watched and took pictures for about 20 minutes as the snake made its way off the ice, across the snow and into some nearby brush.

He said he had never seen a snake out in the winter on snow or ice before.

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Bill Killen of the Wye Research and Education Center at the University of Maryland Extension in Queenstown identified the snake as a garter snake from the photos on Monday, Feb. 23.

While snakes may sometimes come out in the winter to sun themselves on a warm day, Killen agreed it was unusual for the snake to come out during the frigid arctic temperatures the area experienced last week.

"It's not very often that they do that," he said.

Killen speculated the snake may have been hibernating under the parking lot. Unless it was able to find its way under cover, it likely became lunch for a bird.

Shame: Florida teacher posts 'student terror list'

terrorist wheel of fortune

© Anthony Freda Art

Last week, a St. Pete high school teacher was stuck in hot water over shaming students by placing their names on a "student terrorist list" and posting it on the door. It is unclear what was the motive for his actions. The teacher, however, went so far as to give the blacklisted students Arabic sounding alias names.

While the teacher sounds like he might have a screw loose - is he in reality doing what he was trained to do?

In other words, was he doing "his job" but just went one tad too far? See below for more. Notably, it doesn't appear that he will be reprimanded for his actions.

While this particular story is of a quirky, zany nature, the truth is, that government schools are bent toward detecting future thought-crime terrorism in students.

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Here are three examples of trying to root out "terrorism" in students:

The Eagle Forum List of Nosy Questions for Students - Submitted by Parents. Follow-up info.


Parents Outraged by "Challenge" Program that Had Students Bear Their Souls Without Permission

A reader tells us that in middle school, during the mid-1990s, a work book was passed around for the students to fill out in Health Class/Study Hall. They were to answer extremely private questions - similar to the ones in the "Nosy questions" and "Challenge" program above. The books were kept on the last day of school. When the student inquired about them, s/he was told they were being sent to a company but was not told why.

Perhaps the teacher above took the cue just that much too far - and accidentally spilled the beans with his twisted form of punishment.

King crab from Arctic waters found on Redcar beach, UK

King Crab on Redcar beach

He's spent his working life beneath the sea but even oceanographer David McCreadie was baffled by a rare visitor to Redcar.

For the formidable-looking red crustacean found by David's fiancee Diane Weinoski looks for all the world like a king crab - and they hardly ever stray from considerably icier waters.

Members of the lithododid family, king crabs are large, tasty and usually found in seas MUCH colder than Redcar's.

And despite having worked and played in oceans across the world since the mid-1960s, David has never heard of one being found this far south.

Oceanographer David McCreadie

His suspicion that the six-legged visitor was a king crab species has now been confirmed by David's friend and world crab expert Dr Norman Sloan, of the remote Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, Canada. Dr Sloan, who used to work in the Natural History Museum, is now contacting an expert on British crustaceans to discuss it further.

David, 66, who was brought up in Redcar but now lives in Great Ayton, said: "I have dived as an amateur and professional since 1966 and never seen one anywhere near here before.

"I have heard that king crabs have migrated under the Arctic ice cap and been found in Norway, but this is so far south."

In a lifetime devoted to marine matters, after studying oceanography and marine biology in Bangor, North Wales, in 1966, David stayed to do research before starting a successful oyster hatchery, mussel business and lobster tanks.

Since then, he's started a smokery which supplies the Royal Family, worked as a senior offshore inspection rep in Abu Dhabi and is currently senior lecturer at the TWI Techonology Centre on Riverside Park, Middlesbrough.

In other words, when it comes to life under the sea, he knows what he's talking about.

David, a former pupil of Sir William Turner's School in Redcar, said: "I know my crustaceans and when I saw this one, I knew it was special.

"I know king crabs are common in the Arctic, especially around Alaska, and they have turned up in Norway recently, but how on earth this one has got so far south, I have no idea. To my knowledge, this is the first one.

"It could only come from very cold, deep water but we don't have very cold deep water in the North Sea.

"Perhaps it was on its summer holidays!"

Sadly, the king crab's Redcar vacation didn't last long.

It was alive when Diane first came across it last Friday, but a subsequent return to the beach found it dead on the sands.

Defeat in Debaltsevo: Kiev's Stalingrad

ukraine graves

Junta's losses over the last month stagger the imagination.

DPR Ministry of Defense published data concerning the losses of Ukrainian occupation forces which they suffered during battles with Novorossia's defenders in the vicinity of Debaltsevo and on other sectors of the front between January 12 and February 20.

Occupier losses include 10,940 killed and wounded (including 4110 killed), and 1178 prisoners of war.

Equipment losses are also staggering. The invaders have lost the following quantities of equipment:

  • 299 tanks (28 captured intact at Debaltsevo)

  • 38 self-propelled howitzers (12 captured)

  • 4 2S7 Pion 203mm self-propelled cannon (3 captured)

  • 4 2S3 Akatsiya 152mm SP howitzers

  • 3 2S1 Gvozdika 122mm SP howitzers

  • 151 BMPs (33 captured)

  • 115 BTRs (30 captured)

  • 24 Grad 122mm MRLs (15 captured at Debaltsevo)

  • 1 Smerch 300mm MRL

  • 205 towed artillery pieces

  • 36 120mm mortars

  • 16 ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns (captured at Debaltsevo)

  • 6 MT-LB tracked APCs and prime movers.

  • 2 BRDMs

  • 4 BMDs

  • 290 motor vehicles (145 captured)

In addition, the junta lost 3 Su-25 attack aircraft, 1 helicopter, and 4 UAVs.

The Ukrainian military had abandoned a state-of-the-art counter-mortar radar supplied by the United States.

J.Hawk's Comment: It's difficult to say to what extent this data is accurate, especially when it comes to the estimates of killed and wounded, many of whom became casualties due to Novorossia artillery fire against targets behind the front lines. However, photographic evidence from several blogs suggests these figures are correct within an order of magnitude. Every major engagement saw the battlefield littered with destroyed and abandoned UAF vehicles. The Debaltsevo cauldron's rate of losses was even higher, since the vast majority of equipment the UAF sent there had to be left behind.

Arguably this victory is even more important as, in addition to he obvious morale effect on both sides, it quite effectively deprived the UAF of the physical ability to conduct offensive military operations (not that they were all that impressive to begin with), and even to offer effective defense against a Novorossia offensive. This is why Ukrainian officials are scouring the world for weapons, and why the West is concerned about Novorossia's designs on the rest of Ukraine. And, let's face it, the surest sign that Ukraine is on the brink of military collapse is when NATO begins to talk about the Russian Army allegedly operating in Eastern Ukraine.

However, it does not appear that Novorossia is going to press its military advantage. To start with, its government has major problems to deal with, due to the damage caused by Ukrainian artillery bombardments of civilian areas. In contrast to Ukraine, Novorossia's government plans to establish its legitimacy by actually governing and making the country a place fit for human habitation. Secondly, Ukraine's economic crisis is deepening, which will either force a change of policy or, should that fail to materialize, a change of regime. At the moment, the latter scenario seems the more likely of the two.

Italian 'Frankensurgeon' says first head transplant will be possible in two years

brain scan

© Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Controversial Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero claims he could perform the world's first ever human head transplant in 2017, despite ethical and scientific reservations from many of his colleagues.

Canavero, who heads the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, told Sky News.

Canavero's team, which previously touted their plans for a whole-eye transplant, published a paper outlining the procedure two years ago, and say they are now ready to find subjects for the experimental procedure.

" the neurosurgeon told the New Scientist.

Prior to the surgery, the two bodies would be cooled, to preserve them better without oxygen, and then their necks would be sliced open and major blood vessels connected between the donor's body and the recipient's head.

The key stage would be the severing and re-attachment of the spinal cord, which would have to be cleanly sliced, and would then present two bundles of nerves, which would need to be connected to each other. Canavero foresees this being done with polyethylene glycol, a material that enables fat in different tissues to mesh.

The neck would then be stitched shut, and the patient placed in an artificial coma for four weeks, allowing the body to heal without movement.

Canavero previously estimated that the pioneering surgery would cost upwards of €10 million, and that the perfect initial recipient would be a person with a young, healthy brain, suffering from muscular dystrophies or metabolic disorders. He proposes initial experiments where both of the individuals in the surgery would be brain-dead.

'No evidence' it would work

Most of the scientific objections to the procedure focus on the impossibility of restoring body control after the refusing of the spine. Currently, it is commonly impossible to overcome paralysis when a spinal cord is completely severed, even when the rest of the body belongs to the same person. An ambitious procedure performed by Polish doctors last year, managed to restore movement by implanting lab-grown nerve cells into the spine.

But Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University, Indiana, said that Canavero's surgery offers no such guarantees.

There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation," he told the New Scientist.

This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely. I don't believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure. Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for four weeks - it's not going to happen," said Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis, himself a leading expert on reconnecting spinal tissue that enables paralyzed people to walk again.

Yet Canavero can reassure himself that his 'Frankensurgery' is not without precedent. The first attempted dog head transplant dates back to more than a century ago, and Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov performed multiple such procedures in the 1950s. US surgeon Robert J. White famously performed a head transplant between two monkeys in 1970, with the survivor living for nine days.

In all of the previous procedures, the recipients remained paralyzed, and all struggled with immune rejection of the new body parts, though with improved techniques, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Ethical problems - from religious considerations, to the simple ickiness-factor - are also likely to slow down progress.

said Patricia Scripko, a neurologist and bioethicist at the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in California, who does not believe the procedure is possible, but insists it is not objectionable.

Despite the myriad objections - and even his supporters are skeptical of the two-year timeframe - Canavero will now have the chance to convince his colleagues, when he will present his specific plans for the surgery to the prestigious congress of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons in Maryland in June.

The truth about Walmart's paltry wage increase

evil walmart

© Reclaim Democracy.org

Remember when Walmart got panned for running a Thanksgiving food drive for its own employees—overlooking the irony of demonstrating noblesse oblige by asking customers to subsidize the workers the company itself impoverished? The retail giant took a more strategic approach last week when rolling out its latest do-gooder scheme: raising its base wage incrementally to $10 an hour. The move was widely praised even by labor groups—for lifting wages slightly closer to... well, what it should have been paying workers all along.

Still, the announced raise, to a $9 minimum, then rising to $10 an hour by early next year, isn't chump change: for many, it means earning perhaps $1 or $2 more per hour, which, spread across an estimated half million workers, may generate a not-insignificant economic stimulus. Moreover, Walmart promises to offer more stable scheduling and boost some managers' starting pay, as well—all measures that respond partially to the longstanding demands workers nationwide have aired in protests, petitions and lawsuits.

Some predict Walmart's move could eventually raise the floor for the entire labor force, because the company controls a tremendous retail market share and helps set standards for pay scales across the supply chain, from shelf stockers to truck drivers. Though this market influence has been blamed for depressing wages, an uptick in Walmart's base wage may theoretically encourage competitors to match its more favorable offerings on the labor market. That's the business narrative painted by CEO Doug McMillon when he told CBS that Walmart's motive was to "provide a great customer experience" and ensure that workers understood "how much we value them."

But even with the raise, Walmart would still seem to peg the value of its workers at less than a living wage. The lowest-paid employees rely on billions in public benefits each year, including masses of food stamps, to scrape by. According to one recent analysis based on federal estimates, "a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between... $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers." If a part-time associate is working 1,000 hours a year—roughly half its workers are part-timers—the extra dollar an hour still might not make her financially self-sufficient, much less lift her family out of poverty .

And since Walmart apparently has no plans to significantly expand full-time positions , thousands may continue to lack the working hours they need to approach a sustainable income.

Walmart associates are further devalued by the company's longstanding pattern of suppressing workplace organizing efforts and imposing unstable schedules , which often interfere with workers' family caregiving or school responsibilities and especially impact working women. In addition, Walmart devalues workers further through its vastly unequal corporate hierarchy: according to Demos, the ratio of CEO-to-worker earnings has more than doubled in recent years, to about $300 in CEO compensation for every meager dollar earned by a wage worker.

Besides, the modest wage hike still barely offsets the lag between associates' earnings and shareholder gains in recent years. While wages have barely kept pace with inflation, during the "recovery" since 2007, Walmart has seen a 22 percent rise in profits per worker, according to .

What would a fairer raise at Walmart look like? Workers have proposed their own simple—and surprisingly feasible—demand: $15 an hour, and full-time jobs . According to an analysis by the think tank Demos, Walmart could already afford this measure simply by redirecting about $6.6 billion away from its current practice of repurchasing its own shares—a tactic to artificially boost shareholders' income—and boosting workers' pay instead. This measure "could give its 825,000 low-wage employees a raise of $5.13 per hour, boosting productivity and sales."

The virtuous circle could be widened by ratcheting up pay scales across the retail workforce. Demos estimates that if retailers with 1,000 or more workers set a basic annual income of $25,000, nearly six million workers, most of them women, would get a major boost—resulting in a 27 percent raise for a typical low-wage woman worker.

So Walmart's raise deserves some praise, but it represents a fraction of what the company could already afford to pay, if it only slightly shifted some investments from the executive suite to the checkout line.

Demos analyst Catherine Ruetschlin tells via e-mail that Walmart's chief competitors, ultra-cheap dollar stores, might decide to double down on poverty wages to fill the bottom rung of the market that Walmart previously occupied. So unless economic conditions drastically improve for all workers (and Walmart's new wage hike won't cut it), there will always be impoverished families with householders forced to work for less.

"Since the base of households struggling to make ends meet will persist even after Walmart's raise, it's unlikely those stores will change their model, which is really too bad," Ruetschlin says. Walmart might argue its business will benefit from higher pay, but cheaper rivals might opt to keep banking on the low-wage, low-price economy. Amid a weak labor market, Ruetschlin says, "There may remain a market for buying cheap goods from unhappy employees."

One thing that could actually improve pay across the board would be a boost in the legal minimum wage —and many communities are pushing for higher mandatory wage floors that no one can undercut without breaking the law.

And upward pressure on wages can come from workers who organize to reject poverty wages and demand better working conditions. Following Walmart's announcement, the advocacy group OUR Walmart reminded workers and the public that activists should take this initial raise as a down payment on what they are truly owed:

Walmart associates deserve enough hours each week to make ends meet and enough per hour to keep a roof over our heads. That means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours, and respect for our hard work.

As it squares off with aggrieved workers, Walmart may have sought to move the goalpost with a modest concession. But the measure ought to spur labor activists to up their game. When Walmart finally grants them the labor conditions and just compensation they deserve, workers should rightly take the credit for keeping the pressure on the retail giant.

Additives used to thicken foods found to cause inflammation and weight gain leading to metabolic syndrome

food additives

© Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Processed foods containing emulsifying agents disrupt gut bacteria

Food additives that are commonly used to thicken and stabilize processed foods may disrupt the bacterial makeup of the gut, causing health problems, a new study in animals suggests.

In the study, mice that were fed two chemicals that are commonly added to foods gained weight, had altered blood sugar and developed intestinal problems. The chemicals were "emulsifying agents," chemicals that hold together mixtures that include both fat and water, which would otherwise separate.

The chemicals were "able to trigger low-grade inflammation and metabolic syndrome," in the mice, said study co-author Benoit Chassaing, a microbiologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The food additives may also have harmed the mice by promoting the growth of bacteria that eat through the protective mucus lining of the gut, the study found.

Widely used products

Generally, emulsifying agents are chemicals that thicken foods. For instance, emulsifiers help make ice cream stay creamy even after several cycles of freezing and thawing, whereas otherwise it would turn into a hard, icelike block, Chassaing said.

"If you want to make a product that gels together and liquefies together, you need to add these compounds," said Christian Jobin, a microbial immunologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not involved in the study.

Past studies in mice had shown that a food additive called carboxymethylcellulose changed the composition of the bacterial communities that line the gut. So Chassaing and his colleagues wondered how this affected the animals' health.

Big changes

The team fed healthy mice a diet with either 1 percent carboxymethylcellulose, or 1 percent polysorbate 80, another popular emulsifier found in many foods. (Processed foods typically contain about 1 percent emulsifiers.)

The healthy mice soon began eating more, gaining weight and had blood sugar control problems , compared with control mice. These symptoms are important to look at because in humans, they are involved in "metabolic syndrome," which is a generally unhealthy state (defined as having high blood pressure, low levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, high blood sugar and increased levels of triglycerides).

When the researchers looked at the mice's gut tissue under a microscope, they saw more signs of low-grade inflammation.

The team also fed the food additives to mice genetically predisposed to develop diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. In these mice, the emulsifiers seemed to worsen the disease.

To understand why the food additives caused low-grade inflammation in the mice, the researchers looked at the layer of protective mucus that lines the gut. They found that emulsifiers contributed to the growth of bacteria that live deeper in the mucous layer, closer to the intestinal tissue itself. The food additives also promoted the growth of bacteria that can digest the mucous.

The findings are part of a growing body of literature that suggests that the bacteria that live in the human body play an important role in health, the researchers said.

Human effect?

Jobin noted that mice eat a very different diet than humans, so repeating this study in animals such as pigs, which eat a very similar diet to humans, could be more informative.

Ultimately, the ideal experiment would be to compare people who are eating foods with and without these agents in them, Jobin said. But completely eliminating these compounds from a person's diet could be tricky.

"We are just bombarded with these things," Jobin told Live Science.

People who want to avoid these food additives should eat more whole foods and fresh foods, Chassaing said.

"Packaged products are very loaded with emulsifiers and freshly cooked foods are not, so this is one of the simplest ways to avoid these agents," Chassaing told Live Science.

The research team is currently starting a test in people, and the members are also following up to see if other natural emulsifying agents, such as soy lecithin and guar gum, have similar effects, Chassaing said.

The findings were published today (Feb. 25) in the journal .

1.6 billion people worldwide forced to pay bribes


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A major study has looked at bribery levels across the world and reached a disappointing conclusion: a total of 1.6 billion people worldwide - nearly a quarter of the global population - are forced to pay bribes simply to gain access to everyday public services.

The research, published in a new book by academics from the University of Strathclyde and the University of Birmingham in the UK, found that bribes are paid for healthcare and education, to obtain permits or after being stopped by police.

Scamming the globe

Professor Richard Rose of Strathclyde and Dr. Caryn Peiffer of Birmingham conducted surveys interviewing more than 250,000 people in 119 countries in Africa, Asia, the European Union, former Communist European nations, Latin America and the Anglo-American world. There were significant differences in bribery levels between continents, but also between different countries in the same continent.

Europe has very low rates of bribery, with only 4 percent on average making such payments. By contrast, the average is 22 percent in Latin America and 29 percent in the 30 African countries surveyed.

However, Professor Rose says that: "'Within every continent, there are major differences in the percentage of people annually paying bribes. In Africa, the range is between 63 percent in Sierra Leone and 4 percent in Botswana; in the European Union, which has the goal of upholding the rule of law, there were 29 percent paying a bribe in Lithuania and fewer than 1 percent reporting bribing a British public official."

Large percentages of countries' populations will avoid the problem for long periods simply because they do not have regular contact with public services, however most people will have contact with public services at some stage in their life. Parents of school-age children are most likely to be in contact with education officials, while older people, especially widows, are most likely to need health care, and young men are most likely to have contact with the police.

Morals are hard to map

Europe's low rates for individuals having to bribe officials for services should not necessarily be taken as a sign of moral superiority. Professor Rose explains that: "The European contribution to global corruption is in the bribes that multi-national corporations pay to political elites to obtain 'big bucks' contracts for such things as building dams or supplying military aircraft."

In countries where individuals do have to bribe public officials, the study looked at the cause of the problem. Rose says that: "Some public officials like to blame their citizens for being ready and willing to pay bribes, as part of a so-called 'moral economy' of corruption, in which everybody sees services as corrupt and therefore takes payment of a bribe as a part of everyday life."

"However," he added, "survey data shows this is not the case. The great majority of people in every country think that bribery is wrong. They pay bribes because the alternative is doing without health care or a better education for their children."

He also pointed out that: "Our evidence shows that most public officials are not out to make money by taking bribes, but to provide services such as teaching small children to read or looking after people in hospital," while the problem is caused by a minority of "bad apples."

Six principles for reducing bribery are set out in the book's conclusion, including computerized systems and rewarding the service ethic of public officials.

Cyprus and Russia renew military cooperation

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Anastasiades and Putin.

Russian navy ships will keep having access to stop off at Cyprus' ports in Mediterranean as the two countries have agreed to prolong the pre-existing deal on military cooperation.

The agreement, which applies to Russian vessels involved in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts, was signed by President Vladimir Putin and his Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades, in Moscow.

The signing came aimed heightened tensions and sanctions between Russia and the EU over the military conflict in Ukraine.

President Putin, however, stressed that the agreement, as well as Russia-Cypriot ''friendly ties aren't aimed against anyone."

"I don't think it should cause worries anywhere," he said.

During his press conference at Tass news agency's headquarters, Anastasiades stressed that Moscow and Nicosia haven't signed any new agreements, but only prolonged those that were in place before.

"The updated agreement envisages the right of Russian warships to visit the ports of Cyprus...for humanitarian purposes such as supply and refueling a swell as saving the lives and evacuation of Russian citizens from neighboring states," he said.

He called the prolongation of a military deal with Russia "a sensitive issue," adding that Vladimir Putin discussed this matter in a very delicate manner, not putting Cyprus in an uncomfortable position before its EU partners.

Despite the permission to enter Cyprus port for Russian ships, the sides also agreed that Moscow will restructure its €2.5 billion bailout loan it gave Nicosia in 2011.

In return for being granted permission for Russian navy ships to stop off in Cypriot ports, Moscow has agreed to restructure its €2.5 billion (£1.8 billion) bailout loan it gave Cyprus in 2011.

Russia isn't only country to have military ties with Cyprus as the Mediterranean island state also planning to host British military bases.

The cool down in relations with EU and the US saw Moscow working to maintain good relations with its long-time time European partners, including Greece, Hungary and Cyprus.

Anastasiades spoke out against the implementation of further European sanctions against Russia as "they impact other countries [and] members of the EU, which include my motherland."

He also reminded that "most of the Cyprus military's weaponry is Russian made. Apart From France, only Russia supplies weapons to Cyprus."