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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Cuba and the US: What is the future?

Cuban Revolution

The victory of the Cuban revolution over the forces of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista meant that January 1, 1959 marked the first time in 467 years that Cubans were not subjected to serfdom and exploitation by a foreign power. Spain was the first country to exercise dominion over Cuba beginning in 1510, up until the Spanish-American War of 1898. During this period, Spain engaged in the exploitation of Cuban natural resources and subjected the native population to forced labour. The Spaniards essentially distributed the "land and indigenous labourers" amongst themselves1. Both African slaves, which were originally introduced to the island by the Spanish, and the native population were forced to endure "harsh working conditions suffered under colonists"2.

The Spanish-American War, which culminated with the expulsion of Spain in 1898, did not bring emancipation to the Cubans that had been fighting for their independence. Instead, this victory only substituted one oppressor for another, as the U.S. transformed Cuba into a neo-colony. From that point forward, the U.S exercised imperial power over the island, exploiting its resources, and dictating Cuba's domestic and foreign policies. During this time, the Cuban economy was highly dependent on the U.S., as "74% of Cuba's exports were destined for the US, while 73% of its imports came from the US...the all-important Cuban US sugar export market and price were controlled in Washington" (Ritter, 2010, p. 3). In fact, "[b]y the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuban utilities, 90 percent of Cuban mines, close to 100 percent of the country's oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of the sugar industry"3. Havana also became a popular tourist destination where foreigners, particularly Americans, could indulge in gambling and prostitution.

The Revolution enabled Cuba to become independent of U.S. imperial power. One of the first acts of the new government was to nationalize foreign enterprises and utilities in addition to instituting a series of land and agrarian reforms. Washington retaliated by imposing a comprehensive commercial, economic and financial embargo in 1962, which blocked virtually all trade between the two countries and banned U.S. citizens from travelling to Cuba. The U.S. administration regarded the trade embargo as the best mechanism to achieve its objectives, which were aptly summarized by Lester D. Mallory, former deputy assistant Secretary of State, on April 6, 1960:

"The majority of the Cuban people support Castro. There is no effective political opposition... The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship... every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba... a line of action which... makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government"4

On December 17, 2014, nearly 55 years after the U.S. imposed its commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, President Barack Obama surprised the world by announcing his intention to enter into negotiations aimed at re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. It is widely believed that this step, which will include re-opening the U.S. embassy in Havana, will pave the way for an end to the embargo and eliminate certain travel restrictions on Americans looking to visit the island. In fact, some progress has already been made with regards to travel restrictions, as Americans are now able to use their debit and credit cards on visits to Cuba. Additionally, as of December 2014, Washington allows Americans to visit Cuba for the following 12 reasons5:

"family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions."6

On February 19th, approximately two months after Obama's announcement, Cuban vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, met with nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Havana. Subsequently, a second meeting will be held in Washington on February 27th. This upcoming meeting holds considerable interest for citizens of Cuba, as many of them expect this meeting to be followed by an announcement of plans to lift the embargo7, partially or completely, on the part of the Washington administration. In reality, however, it is unlikely that the embargo will be lifted unless the Cuban government agrees to meet certain preconditions mandated by Washington. For example, "lawyers are scrambling to determine whether normalized relations with Cuba will create an opportunity to get compensation for lost properties [5,9138 US companies' expropriation by the Cuban government after 1959 revolution] now estimated to be worth nearly $7 billion9". Further complicating matters is the fact that that lifting the embargo would require an act of congress; however, if Congress were to vote against eliminating the embargo, President Obama still retains the option of using his "executive power will" to bypass them and force the issue10.

It is well-known that the U.S. embargo has had tremendous consequences on the development of the Cuban economy. According to Havana, the direct economic damages to Cuba attributable to the embargo would exceed $1.1 trillion11 since 1962, "taking into account the depreciation of dollar against gold"12, with specific damages including the loss of earnings, monetary and financial restrictions, and social damages with regards to health, education, culture, the availability of food, etc. Additionally, "the embargo penalizes the activities of the bank and finance, insurance, petrol, chemical products, construction, infrastructures and transports, shipyard, agriculture and fishing, electronics and computing."13

Despite its longevity and severity, the embargo was not particularly effective in achieving its objectives, as summarized by Lester D. Mallory. Cuban Socialism still managed to be lauded for a number of notable achievements, including attaining full employment, providing universal health care services and universal access to free education, and achieving higher life expectancy, lower child mortality, lower child malnutrition, and lower poverty rates compared to any other Latin American country (Navarro, 2014, Vandepitte, 2011). In fact, a 2014 study published by the World Bank confirmed that Cuba's education system is comparable to those of Canada, Finland, and Singapore14. In the past, the World Bank also recognized that Cuba's international "success in the fields of education and health, with social services that exceeds those of most developing countries and, in certain sectors, are comparable to those of the developed nations"15. Furthermore, based on estimates from the United Nations Development Program, Cuba is ranked third in Latin America in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI)16. More precisely, according to the United Nations Human Development Report 2014, "Cuba's HDI value for 2013 is 0.815— which is in the very high human development category—positioning the country at 44 out of 187 countries and territories17".

In addition to its success in areas of human development, Cuba has also been active in providing practical foreign aid in the form of sending highly-trained specialists, such as teachers, doctors, and engineers, to developing countries where they are needed. Since 1959, Cuba has been sending doctors to countries in Latin American and Africa that are unable to meet the health care needs of their citizens on their own; this is a practice for which the island is particularly well-regarded. Currently, "around 50,000 Cuban health professionals work in 66 countries worldwide18". Recent examples of such assistance include sending Cuban doctors to West African countries during the recent Ebola outbreak and to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 where they were largely credited with ending a cholera outbreak19.

Additionally, Cuba also helps combat doctor shortages by providing free medical school to students from various developing countries. Havana's Latin American Medical School20 is "the largest medical school in the world"21; since 2005, this institution has produced approximately 23,000 doctors and another 10,000 graduates are expected in the near future22.

Despite Cuba's many social achievements, the United States has made many attempts to undermine the island's revolution since the very beginning through propaganda, sabotage, and terrorism, including the planning and support of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. Fidel Castro was depicted as a military dictator who oppressed the individual freedoms of Cuba's citizens. In addition to anti-Cuban propaganda, the U.S. government also engaged in direct sabotage aimed at weakening the socialist government, including "chemical and biological warfare against Cuba", hundreds of attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the imposition of many economic and political sanctions that eliminated access to credit and loans from international banks and prevented free trade from flourishing (Blum, p.186-193).

Barack Obama's efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba have, in some circles, been interpreted as an admission that Washington's repeated attempts to destroy the island's socialist government over the last five decades have failed. However, the possibility exists that this move could be part of a larger strategy aimed at undermining Cuban socialism and dominating the island. History has shown that Washington is not averse to intervening in the domestic affairs of other countries in order to further its own interests; this includes a long list of instances where the U.S. facilitated the overthrow of governments that did not fully commit to their dictates, including Guatemala (1953-1954, 1960), Indonesia (1957-1958, 1965, 1975), the Dominican Republic (1960-1966), Chile (1964-1973), Cambodia (1955-1973), Laos (1957-1973), the Congo (1960-1964), Greece (1964-1974), Bolivia (1964-1975), Zaire (1975-1978), Iraq (1990-1991), and Afghanistan (1979-1992).

These and many other examples of successive American governments intervening in the internal affairs of other countries in order to destabilize governments that they viewed as even moderately socialist (incorrectly on some occasions) allows for some suspicion about the sincerity of the stated U.S. intentions for its re-engaging with Cuba.

For example, after its official re-opening, the U.S. Embassy in Havana could serve as a location for the planning and staging of strategies designed to facilitate the reversal of Cuban social, political and economic policies.

Furthermore, there is also speculation that the motivation for re-establishing relations with Cuba could be to counter recent developments in the political and economic organization of Latin American and Caribbean nations, which have facilitated greater roles for China and Russia in the region.

Over the course of the last decade, Latin American and Caribbean nations have come together to create a number of economic and social organizations including: the Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas (ALBA) in 2004; the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008; and, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in December 2011. ALBA, which was originally created by Venezuela and Cuba and currently counts 11 nations among its members, aims to establish a common regional currency (the Sucre) that could eventually replace the U.S. dollar in international trade transactions. UNASUR, which was created primarily through the efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with support from Brazil's Lula da Silva and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, currently boasts 12 member countries. In addition to establishing a common currency, this organization also aspires for a common passport and parliament for its members, modelled on the European Union. Finally, CELAC includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations representing over 600 million people; it seeks deeper integration and greater cooperation among its member countries.

In 2010, Bolivia's President Evo Morales described CELAC as follows:

"A union of Latin American countries is the weapon against imperialism. It is necessary to create a regional body that excludes the United States and Canada. ...Where there are U.S. military bases that do not respect democracy, where there is a political empire with his blackmailers, with its constraints, there is no development for that country, and especially there is no social peace and, therefore, it is the best time for prime ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean to gestate this great new organization without the United States to free our peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean."23

Venezuela's late president, Hugo Chávez added the following at the 23rd Rio Group summit:

"Now here, in Mexico, a document, a commitment, the creation of a body of Latin America and the Caribbean, without the USA, without Canada (...) Now we can say from Latin America, from Mexico (...) we have revived the dream and project of Bolívar."24

The U.S. regards the creation of such organizations that strengthen links between Latin American and Caribbean nations as strategic threats. CELAC, for example, essentially serves the same function as the Organization for American States (OAS) but excludes the U.S. and Canada from participating. Furthermore, CELAC members will be receiving US$ 250 billion in investments over the next decade from China. The U.S. will likely not look favourably upon the prospect of losing access to the natural resources and enormous consumer market in this region to a key economic rival like China.

In addition to China, Russia is also gaining prominence as a significant economic player in the region. In July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement with Cuban officials granting Rosneft, an oil company that is majority owned by the Russian government, the rights to explore and extract hydrocarbon reserves located off of the island. During his meetings with Raul Castro and former leader Fidel Castro, which produced this agreement, Putin also "wrote off 90 percent of the more than $30 billion in Soviet-era debt Cuba owed Russia25". Perhaps Obama should consider following the Russian President's lead and offer his Cuban counterparts a gesture of goodwill by forgiving the potential compensation that could be sought by U.S. companies for property lost on account of the revolution.

The increasing prevalence of China and Russia in Latin America and the Caribbean represents a real danger to Washington's future diplomatic, political and economic power and influence on a global scale. The strategic importance of these regions to the United States is clearly reflected in the Monroe Doctrine, which was established by the administration of President James Monroe in 1823 and stated "that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention26". Based on the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine, which essentially regards Latin America as the U.S.'s "backyard", such Russian and Chinese advances in these regions could also be interpreted as acts of aggression, even though the nature of their involvement is quite different in comparison to the colonial ambitions of countries like Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century.

As long as Cuba exercises caution, does not lose sight of its own interests, and retains a certain degree of control when entering into negotiations with Washington, whether it be on February 27th or during any subsequent meetings, then it is entirely possible for the island to re-establish economic, financial and diplomatic ties with the United States without completely dismantling socialism and the benefits associated with it. Re-establishing diplomatic relations with Washington does not necessitate a clash with the aspirations of the revolution, because socialism does not require a closed commercial state, nor does it reject reforms aimed at revitalizing or strengthening the existing system.

Undertaking efforts to revitalize the Cuban economy is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Cuba has been trying to rejuvenate its socialist system since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviet Union provided Cuba with a great deal of support since the triumph of the revolution and was credited with playing a crucial role in its survival. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant Cuba lost its most important trading partner, which accounted for approximately 80% of the island's exports and imports at that time; Cuba also had to do without the generous subsidies it received from the socialist block. Consequently, the U.S. also took this opportunity to introduce new measures to further strengthen the blockade, namely the Cuban Democracy Act in 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act in 1996. As a result, Cubans experienced significant hardships and a pronounced decrease in their living standards in what became known as the "Special Period" during 1990 - 1995. During this time, the Cuban economy essentially collapsed and its inhabitants experienced severe shortages in basic supplies, including food and medicine, resulting in malnutrition and associated health problems. In response, new measures were taken to restructure the Cuban economy, especially in the area of tourism. Many of the hotels and resort chains that are joint ventures with Spanish and Canadian companies are outcomes of the reforms that were implemented in response to the "Special Period".

Re-establishing diplomatic relations with Washington and the movement towards free market policies will not diminish Cuba's standing as a symbol of the global anti-imperialist movement. In reality, programs aimed at gradually liberalizing prices, privatization, abolishing the ration system, and eliminating the dual currency have been underway for about a decade. That means the model that was conceived in the early years of Cuban revolution has been evolving in order to meet the changing needs and desires of the Cuban people, which have also been evolving with developments in the international political, economic and social arenas. In other words, policies designed to revitalize the socialist system by reducing reliance on social engineering were being put in place since 1991. History has shown that granting too much power to a central planning authority, in terms of organizing the social, political and economic activities of a state, has the potential to engender a situation where constant interference on the part of the government becomes inevitable. In fact, it could be argued that social engineering and the American embargo were the two main enemies of the Cuban revolution. A more open economy can provide buyers, sellers, and producers in the marketplace with greater freedom with which to co-ordinate their activities voluntarily and achieve common goals and ends for society without the need for constant interference on the part of state authorities. The current progress made in terms of re-establishing a normalized relationship with Washington might witness further progress in Cuban's socialist system. Hopefully, this can be achieved through a cautious and sensible approach that will ensure Cubans never return to the serfdom that preceded the 1959 revolution.


1. http://bit.ly/1Aq5typ

2. http://bit.ly/1Aq5typ

3. http://bit.ly/1CbKFSm

4. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tyr

5. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tyr

6. http://1.usa.gov/1CbKIxl

7. October 2014, despite the United Nations General Assembly's resolution calling for the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba to be lifted for the 23rd consecutive year, Washington once again elected to maintain its embargo.

8. These companies include "ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Freeport-McMoRan, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter and Gamble, Goodyear, Firestone, General Motors, Owens-Illinois, Avon Products, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and many others" (http://bit.ly/1CbKIxm).

9. http://nyti.ms/1CbKG8A

10. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tys

11. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tyt

12. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tyt

13. http://bit.ly/1CbKIxu

14. http://bit.ly/1Aq5se1

15. http://huff.to/1Aq5se2

16. "The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living... a long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy. Access to knowledge is measured by: i) mean years of education among the adult population, which is the average number of years of education received in a life-time by people aged 25 years and older; and ii) expected years of schooling for children of school-entry age, which is the total number of years of schooling a child of school-entry age can expect to receive if prevailing patterns of age-specific enrolment rates stay the same throughout the child's life. Standard of living is measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita expressed in constant 2011 international dollars converted using purchasing power parity (PPP) rates"http://bit.ly/1CbKINK)

17. http://bit.ly/1CbKINK

18. http://bit.ly/1Aq5tyz+stability&u=1&pid=532225237&oid=532225237&uid=1

19. http://bit.ly/1CbKINN

20. "The University of Toronto has 850 medical students and Harvard University has 735. ELAM has twelve times more students than those two schools combined: 19,550." (http://on.thestar.com/1Aq5se3)

21. http://bit.ly/1CbKINQ

22. http://bit.ly/1CbKINQ

23. http://bit.ly/1Aq5se4

24. http://bit.ly/1CbKG8R

25. http://alj.am/1Aq5se6

26. http://bit.ly/1Aq5suk

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Noctilucent clouds, behaving strangely

The southern season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs) has come to an end. NASA's AIM spacecraft observed the last wisps of electric-blue over Antarctica on Feb. 20, 2015. The end of the season was no surprise: The polar clouds always subside in late summer. Looking back over the entire season, however, reveals something unexpected. In an 8-year plot of Antarctic noctilucent cloud frequencies, the 2014-2015 season is clearly different from the rest:

NLC Frequency

© SpaceWeather

These data come from the AIM spacecraft, which was launched in 2007 to monitor NLCs from Earth orbit. The curves show the abundance ("frequency") of the clouds vs. time for 120 days around every southern summer solstice for the past 8 years.

"This past season was not like the others," notes Cora Randall, a member of the AIM science team and the chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado. "The clouds were much more variable, and there was an enormous decrease in cloud frequency 15 to 25 days after the summer solstice. That's when the clouds are usually most abundant."

What does this mean? Previous research shows that NLCs are a sensitive indicator of long-range teleconnections in Earth's atmosphere, which link weather and climate across hemispheres. The strange behavior of noctilucent clouds in 2014-2015 could be a sign of previously unknown linkages. "Preliminary indications are that it is indeed due to inter-hemispheric teleconnections," says Randall. "We're still analyzing the data, so stay tuned."

Now attention turns to the northern hemisphere, where the season for NLCs typically begins in May. Will the northern season ahead be as strangely variable as the southern season, just concluded? Says Randall, "I can't wait to find out."

Boosting the chances of auroras even more is a high-speed solar wind stream waiting on the other side of the heliospheric current sheet. The wind is flowing from a coronal hole on the sun, shown in this extreme UV image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Coronal Hole

© SpaceWeather

Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the sun's magnetic field opens up, allowing hot gas to escape. In the image, above, the magnetic field is traced by curved white lines. Arrows show where the solar wind is escaping along open field lines. Forecasters expect the gassy stream to reach Earth on Feb. 28-March 1. Keep an eye on the realtime photo gallery for aurora sightings this weekend.

Dark energy camera takes accidental gigantic, magnificent picture of Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy

© Fermilab’s Marty Murphy, Nikolay Kuropatkin, Huan Lin and Brian Yanny.

Comet 2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), on December 27, 2014, as seen by the Dark Energy Survey.

Oops! In a happy accident, Comet Lovejoy just happened to be in the field of view of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, the world's most powerful digital camera. One member of the observing team said it was a "shock" to see Comet Lovejoy pop up on the display in the control room.

"It reminds us that before we can look out beyond our Galaxy to the far reaches of the Universe, we need to watch out for celestial objects that are much closer to home!" wrote the team on the Dark Energy Detectives blog.

On December 27, 2014, while the Dark Energy Survey was scanning the southern sky, C2014 Q2 entered the camera's view. Each of the rectangular shapes above represents one of the 62 individual fields of the camera.

At the time this image was taken, the comet was passing about 82 million km (51 million miles) from Earth. That's a short distance for the Dark Energy Camera, which is sensitive to light up to 8 billion light years away. The comet's center is a ball of ice roughly 5 km (3 miles) across, and the visible head of the comet is a cloud of gas and dust about 640,000 km (400,000 miles) in diameter.

The Dark Energy Survey (DES) is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of dark energy by measuring the 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion with high precision.

The camera just finished up the third, six-month-long season of observations, and the camera won't be observing again until this fall.

You can download higher resolution versions of this image here.

Nemtsov's murder: Russian opposition bloggers weigh in - 'only people to gain want to destablize Russia'

A little more than a day after the killing of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, very little is known about the reasons for his murder. Online and in the news, in Russia and across the world, most liberal voices have one way or another blamed the Kremlin for Nemtsov's homicide.

The two most popular theories to emerge seem to be that Russia's authorities either sanctioned the assassination outright, or they cultivated an "atmosphere of hatred" (with demonstrations and news propaganda) that led inevitably to someone killing a high-profile critic of the government. As with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, many are holding Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the murder.

nemtzov murder

nemtzov murder

With these narratives now dominating much of the commentary about Nemtsov's tragic death, RuNet Echo reached out to three "patriotic" Russian bloggers known for their criticisms of the liberal opposition, asking them to respond to accusations that the Kremlin is somehow culpable for the murder. These individuals' views are significant in a country where an overwhelming majority of the people do not identify with the liberal opposition. As it grows increasingly popular outside Russia to dismiss Russians' political attitudes as "Kremlin brainwashing," it becomes more important than ever to stop and listen.

@Politrash (Stanislav Apetyan)

In my view, it's pretty obvious that the authorities needed Nemtsov's death least of all. The only people who had anything to gain from his death are the forces bent on destabilizing the situation in Russia. I put no stock whatsoever in theories that the killers were some group of crazy [anti-opposition] activists who failed to understand Nemtsov's true weight in Russian politics. I think it's extraordinarily cynical and more than a little crass how some opposition groups (like those under Khodorkovsky's control) are now trying to use Nemtsov's murder as a political instrument.

Hatred hardly has anything to do with the reasons for this murder, but if you want to talk about hatred, know that almost everyone blaming it now has a very short memory (if it's possible to say they remember anything at all). All these recent years, all they've done is try to build up in society this very hatred. Oleg Kashin even penned a bona fide monument to hatred with an article titled Learning to Hate [in 2013]. I won't even get into Alexey Navalny's memorable line, "I'll chew through the throats of those swine!" When [liberals] talk about hatred, it's not even funny; it's just surreal


First of all, whatever one thinks of Nemtsov, murder is wrong, and, objectively speaking, it harms the authorities and society alike. Nemtsov was a predictable, familiar politician, who didn't threaten anyone politically. He wasn't rising any higher than his seat in the [Yaroslavl] regional parliament. It's telling that—just minutes after news of this tragedy—opportunists like [Leonid] Volkov [a close ally of opposition leader Alexey Navalny] started with their PR almost immediately, looking for ways to exploit the death of their late colleague. They were on this literally minutes after the story broke. Compared with today's oppositionists, Nemtsov's older associates from SPS [his old political party], [Boris] Nadezhdin and [Irina] Khakamada, conducted themselves quite respectfully, simply calling on people to honor his memory.

Liberal society will never recognize that the authorities aren't guilty of this murder—it's not in their interests. The liberals need a new icon for their protests. Everyone's forgotten [slain journalist Anna] Politkovskaya; Khodorkovsky has been pardoned; Pussy Riot is out of prison and nobody wants them except the West; half of the riot suspects from the May 6, 2012, case have been amnestied; [leftist activist Sergey] Udaltsov doesn't make a good icon because he's not one of theirs (he's not a liberal); they still can't manage to keep Navalny in prison; and so now they'll make their "flag" out of Nemtsov.

When it comes to inciting hatred, liberal society is more to blame than anyone. Hate breeds hate. In recent years, they've openly declared, "I'll chew through the throats of those swine!" and "When we come to power, we'll hang the lot of them!" On their social media accounts, liberals are constantly wishing death and disease on their opponents, writing op-eds about the joys of "learning how to hate." And now they complain about inciting hatred and blame it all on [Kremlin] propaganda. For far better propaganda, have a look at their social media pages and just see how they hate you.

See how they don't identify with the people at all. They're an anti-people, hating what most Russians value and hold dear. This is a kind of hatred on public display. Talk about inciting people with hate speech!


When it comes to the authorities' culpability for this murder, of course there's only one response: it's obvious nonsense that not even every oppositionist is willing to argue. I'd like to see them show me just one person in power who benefits from this murder. And the motive is also completely incomprehensible: Nemtsov had been saying the same things for the last ten years, and suddenly it became intolerable to the authorities and necessary to get rid of him? This, of course, is a wonderful theory if you're an impressionable liberal in your freshman or sophomore year at college, but the only people who would argue this seriously are those who don't value their own reputation (or they already have a reputation for being hysterical).

Blaming rhetoric about "the fifth column" and the Anti-Maidan movement has somehow and very suddenly become the dominant narrative among our liberals (as well as with former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul). Its advantage is that it doesn't accuse the authorities of direct involvement in the murder (so it doesn't alienate every last sane person), but it also promotes the idea that the murder was in fact political and likely the work of patriots. For liberals, this version of events is very convenient, if not ideal, in today's circumstances. Personally, I'm not inclined to take seriously the idea that a group of people overdosed on [conservative TV personality] Dmitry Kiselyov and went out and killed a critic of the government. This kind of thinking is like something out of one of those grisly movies about Russia made for film festivals in the West. Moreover, the rhetoric of certain liberals and their supporters is much more aggressive than anything you'll hear from Kiselyov (for example, see Navalny's "I'll chew through the throats of those swine!"), and you don't see them going on shooting sprees.

Gone with the wind: Wind-powered freighters


© Lade AS

To make ships more eco-efficient, engineers have been working with alternative fuels. A Norwegian engineer is currently pursuing a new approach: With VindskipTM, he has designed a cargo ship that is powered by wind and gas. Software developed by Fraunhofer researchers will ensure an optimum use of the available wind energy at any time.

International shipping is transporting 90 percent of all goods on earth. Running on heavy fuel oil freighters contribute to pollution. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to reduce the environmental impact of ocean liners. One of the measures: Starting from 2020, ships will only be allowed to use fuel containing maximum 0.1 percent sulfur in their fuel in certain areas. However, the higher-quality fuel with less sulfur is more expensive than the heavy fuel oil which is currently used. Shipping companies are thus facing a major challenge in reducing their fuel costs while complying with the emission guidelines.

A new way of reducing fuel consumption, emissions and bunker expenses is being pursued by the Norwegian engineer Terje Lade, managing director of the company Lade AS: With VindskipTM he has designed a type of ship that does not use heavy fuel oil but utilizes wind for propulsion. The highlight: The hull of the freighter serves as a wing sail. On the high seas, VindskipTM will benefit from free-blowing wind making it very energy efficient. For low-wind passages, in order to maneuver the ship on the open sea while also maintaining a constant speed, it is equipped with an environmentally friendly and cost-effective propulsion machinery running on liquefied natural gas (LNG). With the combination of wind and liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel to heavy fuel oil, the fuel consumption is estimated to be only 60 percent of a reference ship on average. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 80 percent, according to calculations by the Norwegian company.

Weather routing module determines the optimal course

For efficient operation, it is critical that the available wind energy is used in the best possible way. In order to calculate the optimal sailing route, researchers from Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services CML, a division of Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, have developed a customized weather routing module for VindskipTM. Considering meteorological data the software for the new ship type uses a navigation algorithm to calculate a route with the optimum angle to the wind for maximum effect of the design. "With our weather routing module the best route can be calculated in order to consume as little fuel as possible. As a result costs are reduced. After all, bunker expenses account for the largest part of the total costs in the shipping industry," says Laura Walther, researcher at CML in Hamburg. For the complex calculations, the researcher and her team apply numerous parameters, such as aero- and hydrodynamic data as well as weather forecasts from the meteorological services, such as wind speed and wave height.

So how is it possible that the VindskipTM is being pulled forward? "At angles close to headwind the wind generates a force in the ship's direction. The ship is pulled forward. Since the hull is shaped like a symmetrical air foil, the oblique wind on the opposite side -- leeward -- has to travel a longer distance. This causes a vacuum that pulls the ship forward," explains VindskipTM patent-holder Lade. This makes the freighter move at speeds of up to 18 to 19 knots, hence just as fast as conventionally powered ships. Due to its very low fuel consumption, Vindskip™ can utilize liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel and still be capable -- in the worst case -- of 70 days of steaming between bunkering. Thus, it can meet all of today's and tomorrow's challenges with regards to fuel economy and emission control.

Wind-tunnel tests completed successfully

The researchers from CML are continually developing the weather routing tool further; the first version has been available since mid-December 2014. By the end of January 2015, the software will be handed over to the company Lade AS. Ship types that are particularly relevant to the VindskipTM-design, for which the weather routing module is developed, are ships like car and truck carriers, big ferries, container ships and LNG carriers. Terje Lade forecasts that the freighter will set sail as soon as 2019. First, the ship model has to pass numerous tests in a marine research model tank -- also called a towing tank by experts. Tests in wind tunnels have already been completed successfully.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft .

Breaking Bad (Debt) - Episode One

“At this juncture, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.”Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, Congressional testimony, March, 2007

“Capitalism without financial failure is not capitalism at all, but a kind of socialism for the rich.”James Grant, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer

The Federal Reserve issued their fourth quarter Report on Household Debt and Credit last week to the sounds of silence in the mainstream media. There were minor press releases issued by the “professional” financial journalists regurgitating the Federal Reserve’s storyline. Actual analysis, connecting the dots, describing how the massive issuance of student loan and auto loan debt has produced a fake economic recovery, and how the accelerating default rates in auto loans and student loans will produce the next subprime debt implosion, were nowhere to be seen on CNBC, Bloomberg, the WSJ, or any other status quo propaganda media outlet. Their job is not to analyze or seek truth. Their job is to keep their government patrons and Wall Street advertisers happy, while keeping the masses sedated, misinformed, and pliable.

Luckily, the government hasn’t gained complete control over the internet yet, so dozens of truth telling blogs have done a phenomenal job zeroing in on the surge in defaults. The data in the report tells a multitude of tales conflicting with the “official story” sold to the public. The austerity storyline, economic recovery storyline, housing recovery storyline, and strong auto market storyline are all revealed to be fraudulent by the data in the report. Total household debt grew by $117 billion in the fourth quarter and $306 billion for the all of 2014. Non-housing debt in the 4th quarter of 2008, just as the last subprime debt created financial implosion began, was $2.71 trillion. After six years of supposed consumer austerity, total non-housing debt stands at a record $3.15 trillion. This is after hundreds of billions of the $2.71 trillion were written off and foisted upon the backs of taxpayers, by the Wall Street banks and their puppets at the Federal Reserve.

The corporate media talking heads cheer every increase in consumer debt as proof of economic recovery. In reality every increase in consumer debt is just another step towards another far worse economic breakdown. And the reason is simple. Real median household income is still below 1989 levels. The average American family hasn’t seen their income go up in 25 years. What they did see was their chains of debt get unbearably heavy. Non-housing consumer debt (credit card, auto, student loan, other) was $800 billion in 1989.

The 300% increase in consumer debt, while incomes stagnated, has created a zombie nation of debt slaves. And this doesn’t even take into account the quadrupling of mortgage debt from $2.2 trillion in 1989 to $8.7 trillion today. This isn’t Twelve Years a Slave; it’s Debt Slaves for Eternity. And who benefits? The Wall Street bankers, .1% oligarchs, and corporate fascists pulling the levers of government and society benefit. An economic and jobs recovery for working Americans is nowhere to be seen in the chart below.

Total debt on the balance sheet of American consumers (formerly known as citizens) now tops $11.8 trillion, up from the $11.1 trillion trough in 2013. The peak was “achieved” in a frenzy of $0 down McMansion buying, Lexus leasing, and Home Equity ATM extraction in 2008, when the total reached $12.7 trillion. The $1.6 trillion decline from peak insanity had nothing to do with austerity or Americans reigning in their debt financed lifestyles.

The Wall Street banks took the $700 billion of taxpayer funded TARP, sold their worthless mortgage paper to the Fed, suckled on the Fed’s QE and ZIRP, and wrote off the $1.6 trillion. Wall Street didn’t miss a beat, while Main Street got treated like skeet during a shooting competition. Every solution proposed and implemented since September 2008 had the sole purpose of benefitting the criminals on Wall Street who perpetrated the largest financial heist in world history. The slogan should have been Bankers Saving Bankers Since 1913.


The average American benefited in no way from the government/banker bailout. Their wages have deteriorated, their daily living expenses have risen, Obamacare has resulted in higher healthcare premiums, higher co-pays, more part-time jobs, less full-time jobs, and less healthcare choices for the working class, while Wall Street generates billions in risk free profits, bankers and corporate executives reap massive million dollar bonuses, and the .1% parties like its 1999. Rising wealth inequality has been systematically programmed into our economic system by bankers and their bought off puppet politicians in Washington D.C. – Corporate fascism at its finest.

The lack of real economic recovery for the average American has been purposely masked through the issuance of $500 billion of subprime student loan debt and $200 billion of auto loan debt (much of it subprime) since 2010 by the Federal government and their co-conspirators on Wall Street.

The issuance of debt by the government to people not financially able to repay that debt, in order to generate economic activity and boost GDP is nothing more than fraudulent inducement using taxpayer funds. Debt financed purchases is not wealth. Debt financed consumption does not boost the wealth of the nation. If adding debt produced economic advancement, why has the number of Americans on food stamps escalated from 33 million in 2009 to 46 million today during a five year economic recovery? Why have 10 million Americans left the labor force since 2009, pushing the labor participation rate to 30 year lows, during a jobs recovery?

Why have social benefits distributed by the Federal government surged by $2.5 trillion since 2012, reaching a record high of 20.8% of real disposable income? It resides 33% above 2007 levels and still above levels during the depths of the recession in 2009. But at least the stock market hits record highs on a daily basis, creating joy in NYC penthouse suites and Hamptons ocean front estates. American dream for the .1% achieved.


Does this look like Recovery?

When you actually dig into the 31 page Federal Reserve produced report, anyone with a few functioning brain cells (this eliminates all CNBC bimbos, shills, and cheerleaders), can see our current economic paradigm is far from normal and an economic recovery has not materialized. Record stock market prices and corporate profits have not trickled down to Main Street. Janet, don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining (credit to Fletcher in Outlaw Josey Wales). The mainstream media spin fails to mention that $706 billion of consumer debt is currently delinquent. That is 6% of all consumer debt.

Could the Wall Street banks withstand that level of losses with their highly leveraged insolvent balance sheets? The number of foreclosures and consumer bankruptcies rose in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter. Does this happen during an economic recovery? Donghoon Lee, research officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, may be looking for a new job soon. When a Federal Reserve lackey actually admits to being worried, you know things are about to get very bad very fast.

“Although we’ve seen an overall improvement in delinquency rates since the Great Recession, the increasing trend in student loan balances and delinquencies is concerning. Student loan delinquencies and repayment problems appear to be reducing borrowers’ ability to form their own households.”

And he didn’t even mention the increase in auto loan delinquencies which will eventually morph into a landslide of bad debt write-offs, repossessions, and Wall Street bankers demanding another bailout. The pure data in the Fed report doesn’t tell the true story. The $306 billion increase in outstanding debt only represents a 2.7% annual increase. And even though mortgage debt increased by $121 billion, it was on a base of $8.17 trillion. That is a miniscule 1.5% increase. A critical thinking individual might wonder how national home prices could rise by 25% since the beginning of 2012, while mortgage debt outstanding has fallen by $220 billion over this same time frame, and mortgage originations are hovering at 1997 levels.


It couldn’t have been the Wall Street/Fed/Treasury Dept. withhold foreclosures from the market, sell to hedge funds and convert to rental units, and screw the first time home buyer scheme to super charge Wall Street profits and artificially boost home prices. Could it? New home sales prices and new home sales were tightly correlated from 1990 through 2006. Then the bottom fell out in 2006 and new homes sales crashed. Nine years later new home sales still linger at 1991 recession levels. New home sales are 65% lower than they were in 2005, but median prices are 20% higher. This is utterly ridiculous.

If prices had fallen to the $100,000 to $150,000 level, based on the historical correlation, first time home buyers would be buying hand over foot. But the Federal Reserve, their Wall Street owners, connected hedge funds, and the Federal government has created an artificial price bubble with 0% interest rates and trillions of QE heroin. The 1% can still afford to buy overpriced McMansions, but the young are left saddled with student loan debt, low paying service jobs, and no chance at ever owning a home.

The chart that puts this economic recovery in perspective is their 90+ days delinquent by loan type. If you haven’t made a payment in 90 days or more, the odds are you aren’t going to pay. The Fed and the ever positive corporate media, who rely on advertising revenue from Wall Street, the auto industry, and the government, go to any lengths to spin awful data into gold. Their current storyline is to compare delinquency levels to the levels in 2009 at the height of the worst recession since the 1930s. Mortgage delinquencies have fallen from 8.9% in 2010 to 3.2% today (amazing what writing off $1 trillion of bad mortgages can achieve), but they are three times higher than the 1% average before the financial meltdown. Is that a return to normalcy? Home equity lines of credit had delinquency rates of 0.2% prior to the 2008 meltdown. Today they sit at 3.2%, only sixteen times higher than before the crisis. Is that a return to normalcy? Do these facts scream “housing recovery”?

The outlier on the chart is credit card delinquencies. The normal, pre-crisis level hovered between 9% and 10%. Banks can handle that level when they are charging 18% interest while borrowing at .25% interest. During the Wall Street created recession, delinquencies spiked to 13.7%, but after writing off about $150 billion of bad debt and closing 100 million credit card accounts, delinquencies miraculously began to plunge. Delinquencies have plunged to 7.3% as credit card debt still sits $170 billion below the 2008 peak. This is a reflection of Americans depending on their credit cards to survive their everyday existence.

With stagnant real wages and household income 7% below 2008 levels, the average family is using their credit cards to pay for food, energy, clothing, utilities, taxes, and medical expenses. They are making the minimum payments and staying current on their payment obligations because their credit cards are the only thing keeping them from having to live in a cardboard box. A Bankrate.com survey this week revealed 37% of Americans have credit card debt that equals or is greater than their emergency savings, leaving them “teetering on the edge of financial disaster.” Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst sums up the situation:

“Not only do most of them not have enough savings, they’ve all used up some portion of their available credit — they are running out of options. People don’t have enough money for unplanned expenses, and if they have more credit card debt than emergency savings, it’s a double whammy. In the event of unplanned expenses, their options are limited.”

Who doesn’t have an unplanned expense multiple times in a year? A major car repair, appliance repair, hot water heater failure, or a medical issue is utterly predictable and most people are unprepared to financially deal with them. As many people found in 2009, credit card lines can be reduced in the blink of an eye by the Wall Street banks. This potential for financial disaster is why Americans are doing everything they can to stay current on their credit card payments. That brings us to the Federal Reserve/Federal Government created mal-investment subprime boom 2.0, which is in the early stages of going bust.

I’ll address the Subprime bust 2.0 in part two of this article.

DNA evidence: cultural connections between Britain and Europe 8,000 years ago


The ancient British were not cut off from Europeans on an isolated island 8,000 years ago as previously thought, new research suggests.

Researchers found evidence for a variety of wheat at a submerged archaeological site off the south coast of England, 2,000 years before the introduction of farming in the UK.

The team argue that the introduction of farming is usually regarded as a defining historic moment for almost all human communities leading to the development of societies that underpin the modern world.

Published in the journal Science, the researchers suggest that the most plausible explanation for the wheat reaching the site is that Mesolithic Britons maintained social and trade networks spreading across Europe.

These networks might have been assisted by land bridges that connected the south east coast of Britain to the European mainland, facilitating exchanges between hunters in Britain and farmers in southern Europe.

Called Einkorn, the wheat was common in Southern Europe at the time it was present at the site in Southern England -- located at Bouldnor Cliff.

The einkorn DNA was collected from sediment that had previously formed the land surface, which was later submerged due to melting glaciers.

The work was led by Dr Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, in collaboration with co-leads Professor Vincent Gaffney of the University of Bradford and Professor Mark Pallen of Warwick Medical School, the Maritime Archaeology Trust, the University of Birmingham and the University of St. Andrews.

Dr Allaby, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick's School of Life Sciences, argues that the einkorn discovery indicates that Mesolithic Britain was less insular than previously understood and that inhabitants were interacting with Neolithic southern Europeans:

"8,000 years ago the people of mainland Britain were leading a hunter-gatherer existence, whilst at the same time in southern Europeans farming was gradually spreading across Europe.

"Common throughout Neolithic Southern Europe, einkorn is not found elsewhere in Britain until 2,000 years after the samples found at Bouldnor Cliff. For the einkorn to have reached this site there needs to have been contact between Mesolithic Britons and Neolithic farmers far across Europe.

"The land bridges provide a plausible facilitation of this contact. As such, far from being insular Mesolithic Britain was culturally and possibly physically connected to Europe.

"The role of these simple British hunting societies, in many senses, puts them at the beginning of the introduction of farming and, ultimately, the changes in the economy that lead to the modern world."

"The novel ancient DNA approach we used gave us a jump in sensitivity allowing us to find many of the components of this ancient landscape"

Commenting on the research's findings Professor Vincent Gaffney, research co-lead and Chair in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford, said:

"This find is the start of a new chapter in British and European history. Not only do we now realise that the introduction of farming was far more complex than previously imagined. It now seems likely that the hunter-gather societies of Britain, far from being isolated were part of extensive social networks that traded or exchanged exotic foodstuffs across much of Europe.

"The research also demonstrates that scientists and archaeologists can now analyse genetic material preserved deep within the sediments of the lost prehistoric landscapes stretching between Britain and Europe. This not only tells us more about the introduction of farming into Britain, but also about the societies that lived on the lost coastal plains for hundreds of thousands of years.

"The use of ancient DNA from sediments also opens the door to new research on the older landscapes off the British Isles and coastal shelves across the world"

Co-lead Professor Mark Pallen, leader of the Pallen Group at the University of Warwick's Medical School, explains how the researchers employed a metagenomic approach to study the einkorn DNA:

"We chose to use a metagenomics approach in this research even though this has not commonly been used for environmental and ancient DNA research. This means we extracted and sequenced the entire DNA in the sample, rather than targeted organism-specific barcode sequences. From this we then homed in on the organisms of interest only when analysing DNA sequences."

The research builds on the work of the Maritime Archaeology Trust, who also collected the sediment samples from the site. The Trust's Director, Garry Momber, commented:

"Of all the projects I have worked on, Bouldnor Cliff has been the most significant. Work in the murky waters of the Solent has opened up an understanding of the UK's formative years in a way that we never dreamed possible.

"The material remains left behind by the people that occupied Britain as it was finally becoming an island 8,000 years ago, show that these were sophisticated people with technologies thousands of years more advanced than previously recognised. The DNA evidence corroborates the archaeological evidence and demonstrates a tangible link with the continent that appears to have become severed when Britain became an island."

The research is published in a paper entitled: 'Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8,000 years ago'.

Journal Reference:

  1. O. Smith, G. Momber, R. Bates, P. Garwood, S. Fitch, M. Pallen, V. Gaffney, R. G. Allaby. Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago. , 2015; 347 (6225): 998 DOI:10.1126/science.1261278

Orwell and black boxes in car

Car watched

Orwell had it right; his timing was just off a couple decades.

The world of universal surveillance is upon us and so far not much of anything is really being said about it. Those who talk about "privacy" are written off as crackpots or malcontents. Anyone who complains about being tracked, monitored, or photographed is assumed to be guilty of some transgression against an employer, government edict, or society in general.

There once were technical and practical barriers that prevented corporate and governmental entities from tracking and monitoring our every move. There also once existed political barriers that discouraged intrusive prying into most aspects of our daily lives. These barriers no longer exist.

Inserting a benign microchip in a person's earlobe and monitoring that person's every move is no longer a science fiction event, it's perfectly feasible and tens of millions will willingly comply with such a requirement. All that's needed is the right concoction of incentives.

You say, "no way, the free and the brave will never stand for it!" Well, I've got news for you, they will. In fact they already are. The only difference is that the chip is not in their ear, it's in their car -- and soon to be in your bike.

Our all-seeing corporate and governmental benefactors have big plans for us. Call it "better living through constant surveillance and centralized control." Private and government transportation interests have been licking their chops for years in anticipation of being able to charge/tax motorists on the basis of how, when, and where they travel.

The insurance industry and vehicle manufacturers can barely restrain themselves when it comes to expanding the capabilities of in-vehicle data recorders. There is no limitation to the length of time and range of measurements that can be absorbed and disgorged by these devices. Furthermore, the technology already exists to automatically communicate this data to roadside transponders. Today's "black boxes" are the equivalent of a 60's HD Rapido, but their most important role is fulfilled, setting the precedent for personal surveillance through personal vehicles. Take my word for it, the "V-ROD" version is waiting in the wings.

Surveillance for surveillance sake is sort of a voyeur thing. But surveillance for the sake of control and exploitation are what really get the juices flowing at places like EPA, NHTSA and your average insurance company.

One of the much discussed and hoped for components of the third generation On-Board-Diagnostic System (OBD 3) for emission controls is the ability (actually the authority, the ability already exists) to remotely read emissions systems' status as vehicles pass by a roadside reader/transponder. And, better yet, the authority to send a signal that puts a vehicle in "limp home" mode if defective emission components are detected.

Actually, the "limp home" options are endless. Ride too fast past a reader/transponder? Limp home. Late paying your registration fee? Limp home. Outstanding parking fine? Limp home. Of course only official fee and fine collection agencies will be certified to re-set the limp home trigger.

A few years ago a northeastern wrinkle belly car rental agency received a lot of publicity when it surcharged customers' rental fees several hundred dollars for exceeding speed limits. It turned out that the GPS units in the cars were reporting the vehicle speeds in various speed zones and the mouse print rental contract sanctioned the practice of assessing surcharges for violating speed limits. This was a short-lived operation, but it serves as a window into the future.

Another interesting quirk of the ON STAR navigation system is that the conversations of the vehicle occupants can be listened to and recorded, without the knowledge of those occupants. For this you get to pay extra money???

Of late there has been some interest, albeit minimal, in the black boxes that record vehicle operation events prior to a crash. Throttle position, brake pressure, engine RPM, and vehicle speed are some of the factors collected. The excuse for this data collection is claimed to be "research." And a Step-Through 50 will outrun a Ninja ZX-12R. Read L-I-A-B-I-L-T-Y and E-N-F-O-R-C-E-M-E-M-E-N-T. It's the New Age version of being able to pay for your own gallows rope.

Car manufacturers have solemnly declared that the black box and the information it contains belong to the owner of the car.

The California Legislature attempted to restrict access to black box recordings but left in loopholes you could drive a school bus through. For example, a subpoena could be used to get the information. And just how much trouble do you suppose the average DA is going to have getting a subpoena?

How long do you think it will take insurance policies to include a provision that their insureds agree to give them access to the black box data? And, we're told that responders to crash scenes are routinely grabbing the black boxes if the victim is unable to protest.

Realistically, under the current scenario, black box data is available to anyone who really wants it. But, it gets worse. There is virtually no limitation to the breadth of information or the length of time this information could be recorded, depending on the motives and motivations of government and industry.

Picture this: You're riding with the flow of traffic, say 40 MPH and the speed limit, like most speed limits, is under posted at 30 MPH. Suddenly an on-coming car whips a left in front of you and you center-punch the drivers door, doing considerable damage to you and the driver. His insurance company refuses to pay your claims on the basis that you were exceeding the speed limit and that there is evidence that you are a dangerous maniacal rider that shouldn't even have a license.

At the trial the opposition pulls out the black box data. Sure enough, you were going 10 MPH over the speed limit, but traffic records show that everyone travels that road at 10 MPH over the speed limit. Then they show that on 47 occasions over the past six months you hit speeds in excess of 90 MPH! You're portrayed as a loose cannon looking for a place to have an accident. In fact, not five minutes before the accident you were traveling 87 MPH! It doesn't matter that you were executing a clean, safe pass, you were exceeding the speed limit by 27 miles per hour, "reckless driving" according to state statutes.

You get the picture and it isn't pretty.

Did the U.S. murder Boris Nemtsov?


Headlines around the world have carried some variation of the story: the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Each of these includes some retelling of the pertinent facts: what, who, where, how ... but the real question is 'why'. The answer to this question, or rather, what the west insists is the answer, will tell us a lot about the US's plans to escalate the tensions in Russia over Ukraine, and beyond.

It would be foolish to set aside any hypothesis about this being motivated by people close to him, in the realm of business, politics, or romance. In anything related to business dealings, we might recall that any number of people probably want him dead after his criminality and corruption while serving as director of the now liquidated Neftyanoi Bank, and as chairman of its parent company Neftyanoi Concern.

Much controversy surrounded this back in 2006. Of course in the realm of romantic problems, we have significantly those surrounding the woman he was last seen with. This woman, Anna Duritskaya, was also present during the shooting. Rumors are floating around that this could do with her recent abortion and surrounding points of melodrama.

An obvious link in general with this case is to the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, but in one variation, this killing may have been motivated by an internal dispute between those pro-US factions there: Nemtsov was connected with the US backed Orange Revolution and Victor Yuschenko, was appointed as an economic advisor then, but left under suspicious circumstances and more enemies than friends.

Among any of these could very well be the motive of the killer or those behind him, but the timing of this shooting and other pertinent facts should lead us to consider that this was politically motivated.

These plots can actually be somewhat complex, it is often the case that two birds are killed with one stone. A personal rival can be given a green light settle a score, and also accomplish something of larger geostrategic significance such as this.

But to the point, here we are looking at whether this was carried out on the orders of one of the major involved players in the present world turmoil. Concretely, the question is whether this was carried out by the Russians and its friends, or by the US and its friends.

Whether the actual shooting was done by contract or not, is also not very important except when looking at forensics of the crime scene, and the immediate circumstances themselves. These might tell us certain things, except that in cases such as this we must always be mindful that looking like an unprofessional job - such as in this case - would be something a professional would do to throw the scent.

For example, we are likely to hear from friends of Russia that this killing does not have the telltale signs of a professional type of hit, the sort a government would carry out. They will point out, of course, that Boris Nemtsov would have died in a car crash, or from a heart attack. It is considered far too sloppy for anyone in the Kremlin to think of shooting him in public, with witnesses.

This is not too compelling, because such clean methods would actually seem to implicate the Russian state, whereas the rather sloppy way Nemtsov was actually killed even compels us to rule this out. If a hit were to be carried out of this sort, then it would make perfect sense of the state to use an amateur method. Because anything is possible, it is not entirely useful to follow this line of reasoning with one exception: if the US was behind this, that it was a murder would have to be obvious, with no doubts.

This is because if the Russians wanted him dead, the value of killing him would be in his absence. If the Americans killed him, the value is in the spectacle of the killing itself. This killing is loaded with spectacle.

While one can argue that Russia could have employed someone to use sloppy methods in order to throw the scent, it is more likely that given the method, that the US is behind it. This could have been arranged through Ukrainian assets, and would not involve actual US agents on the ground in Moscow.

This was very obviously a murder which was wanted to be known as a murder. This does not fit into either a Russian motive or modus operandi.

What complicates things, however, is when we ask the real questions.

The first question to ask is , in this case we know that Russia, in particular Putin, has nothing to gain. The killing of Nemtsov under any of the circumstances does not make any sense from the view of Russian interest. Politically he did not pose a real threat, alive. With less than 5%, his ticket and the Republican Party failed to garner enough support to be sat in the Duma. With approval ratings above 85%, Putin is not in the position to need to resort to these kinds of tactics.

Russia is also at a different juncture politically, where such methods are not likely to be necessary even if there was an opposition figure to be concerned about. Every other form of virtual-media assassination is possible, that actual ones are not necessary. There are also other methods to delegitimize these characters which invariably revolve around their business dealings, underage girls, and so forth.

These other methods are much cleaner, as assassinations make a government look more desperate, create an unnecessary martyr out of a marginal character, and give fuel to other opposition at home and abroad.

While he held an important position in the 1990's under Yeltsin as First Deputy Prime Minister for about a year until 1998, his political career since the early 00's has been of little significance and has not inspired mass support.

It is the US that has the most to gain from this. Western press has painted him for years as the likely person to replace Putin in a serious change of political stability in Russia. This follows a western narrative, where western liberal values are superimposed as natural and universal values around the world.

While Nemtsov was one of the US's favorites, he is not a favorite with the Russian people. The actual 'runner up' party in Russia, which is projected to surpass Putin's ruling party in the event of a serious change, is the Communist Party of Zyuganov. But this narrative cuts against western interests, and is at odds with the west's narratives about the Cold War and its results.

That western press and the leadership of the US and Ukraine are exploiting this is another clue that they had a hand in it.

We can see already statements made by Obama and Poroshenko , Canadian Foreign Minister and also deputy general secretary of NATO happened very quickly, uniformly, and seem to be following a procedure.

These statements from NATO and foreign governments are outrageous, but not surprising, because they imply that the Russian government is behind them. Why would the murder be 'condemned'? Besides that all murders are condemned, generally, by the societies in which they occur (hence there are laws against them), why would this particular murder be 'condemned' politically without knowing if there was a political motive at all?

As we know, on March 1st, tomorrow, there will be another attempt by the pro-US forces and their liberal allies to launch a Russian "Spring", also called the 'Anti-Crisis March'. With this fresh murder just 36 hours before the March, we might expect to see the martyrdom of Nemtsov highlighted.

Just ten days ago, Alexei Navalny, another western backed figure, was arrested for trying to organize for the march, which backers hope will attract as many as 100,000 against Putin.

When Putin was last elected, the same group organized a similar march. The loyal opposition Communists joined this march, and drowned the liberal banners with communist ones. This was an excellent test run and message sent to US handlers, that Russia is ready with its own loyal opposition to frustrate and redirect the aims of any 5th column efforts on the part of the US.

Likewise, on the propaganda front, the patriotic scene has co-opted the term 'Russian Spring' to mean the opposite of what the US has branded it in places like Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Now it means a movement to push back the US's hegemonic schemes, including its use of the Color/Spring tactic.

The biggest concern now for this Sunday's march is not the turnout, or how it will be spun in the west. The problem on the propaganda side of this action so far is that it is quite useless and incomplete.

Russia's present political stability and the popularity of Putin is not in the hands of western media. This represents a monumental change from the last days of old media during the collapse of the USSR, when BBC and CNN presented the spectacle of objective and neutral reporting.

For Russian audiences, and Russian media, this investigation will follow the form of a standard murder investigation. Given the status of the victim and the political implications, it will be given significant coverage. Eventually investigators will make an arrest, and some story will be told. The story may or may not be true, but by and large it will be accepted.

Russians are not losing sleep over this murder, and the outcome of the investigation is not related in any way to their general support for the present government and its policies. Russians have other things to do, places to go, work to get done, and lives to live. Most didn't like him, and only see it as a tragedy, perhaps even a US plot. Those who like him will blame the state, as they hold the state and Putin responsible for much of everything else. All of this is true also of Sunday's planned march.

For western audiences, Russia is already now a totalitarian regime in which opposition is silenced, and its leaders imprisoned and killed in cold blood. This is already the narrative which requires no further reiteration. Putin is Hitler. Appeasement will not work. This is already the line.

All of this means that we haven't heard the end of this yet. It is difficult to see how increased sanctions can be pulled out of this murder, but if there are, that should be no surprise. Past sanctions were based on less. Still, Europe has grown wary of sanctions and any further sanctions are likely to be symbolic, as were the last round.

The biggest concern now is if there are more killings planned for Sunday. The US seems to be going ahead with all of its plans even if the necessary successes at each step before are not met. We have seen this in Syria and Ukraine.

In such an event, it is obvious how the US will spin this, and the call will begin openly for Putin to step down. While this last part may be an eventuality at any rate, the events tomorrow will tell us whether we should expect a serious escalation in this process.

Joaquin Flores is an American expat living in Belgrade. He is a full-time analyst at the Center for Syncretic Studies, a public geostrategic think-tank. His expertise encompasses Eastern Europe and Eurasia,

SOTT FOCUS: Insignificant 'Putin critic' gunned down by someone who hates Putin

Boris Nemtsov entering the US embassy in 2012

Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back last night as he walked with his Ukrainian girlfriend near the Kremlin in Moscow. Nemtsov ran unsuccessfully for office in 1989 before eventually being elected to Russia's parliament in 1990. As deputy minster for economic reform under Yeltsin, he failed to actually deliver economic reform amid the August 1998 economic crisis and it cost him his job.

In 1999 he founded the Union of Right Forces (SPS), along with fellow liberals Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar. The SPS was directly sponsored by the US government (via USAID) in 2002 after which it became openly critical of Russia's new President Putin (surprise!). This fact alone establishes Nemtsov and SPS as agents of Western efforts to destabilize Russia and therefore not representative of any significant section of the Russian people. Indeed, in the 2003 election, the SPS failed to reach even the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament.

Realising real politics wasn't for him, Nemtsov decided to try his hand at legalized money laundering banking, joining Neftyanoi Bank which, with Nemtsov as director, was investigated and shut down in 2005 for money laundering and fraud.

In 2004 he joined the Ukrainian government of Mr US-backed-Orange-revolution, Victor Yushenko as an economic adviser. He was kicked out of the job in 2006 because of complaints from cabinet members that he was criticizing their decisions.

With nut-job par excellence and has-been 80s chess champion, Gary Kasparov, Nemtsov formed the political opposition movement Solidarnost (Solidarity) in December 2008. Solidarnost attempts to unite the disparate and, frankly pathetic, opposition groups in Russia. Without US-government funding to Solidarnost this time via NED etc. (USAID was finally kicked out of Russia in 2012) it's unlikely that it would still be operating.

Nemtsov became a prominent face of the "opposition" from 2011 to early 2012 when he and his "uncivil society" friends attended a super covert meeting at the US embassy in Moscow shortly after Michael McFaul had been appointed US ambassador. Unfortunately for the erstwhile 'oppositionists', several TV crews were waiting for them and asked them the obvious question: "why are you visiting the new US ambassador?" There was no response from Nemtsov or the others as they entered, but after an hour or two with the ambassador they appear to have developed some hard core social activist skillz and emerged with camera phones at the ready and a party line to chant at the journalists. You can watch the high jinx here.

Of course the answer to the question of what they were doing with the good ambassador was a no-brainer. Ambassador McFaul serves on the board of directors of Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy and is therefore an 'easy touch' for a few $million worth of 'democracy promotion' bonds.

In 2011 the real US government Brookings Institution published a report that called on the US Senate to confirm McFaul and extolled McFaul's merits in "democracy promotion" (i.e. organizing coups) and meeting with "civil society" representatives in Russia (i.e. paying coup plotters). The Brookings report, Give the Next Russian Ambassador a Powerful Tool to Guard Human Rights, also ordered the US government to equip McFaul with a bill to "sanction Russian officials accused of human rights abuses." As with most rabid anti-Russian diatribes couched in vomit-inducing liberal speak, the Brookings report was penned by arch-Neo-Conservative Robert Kagan who is married to freedom cookie queen of the Euromaidan, Victoria "f**k the EU" Nuland, of the US State Dept.

Since 2011 Mr. Nemtsov was Mr. nobody, politically speaking, with even the BBC stating that he had "fallen out of the limelight over the past few years" and "no longer considered part of mainstream politics in Russia". Still, that didn't stop the Western media from referring to Nemtsov as a "prominent opposition politician" whose death has "provoked a worldwide outpouring of sympathy and anger" Really?

Western politicians with an irrational hatred of Russia (i.e. all of them) also took the opportunity to "condemn" the murder while simultaneously using it to defame the Russian government. David Cameron, for example, stated "[Nemtsov's] life was dedicated to speaking up tirelessly for the Russian people, to demanding their right to democracy and liberty under the rule of law, and to an end to corruption". You get the not very subtle insinuation of course. Obama (and others) obnoxiously demanded that the Russian government carry out a "prompt, impartial and transparent investigation", the implicit message being, "we know you did it Putin, and we're warning you, you better admit to it this time!" Barely 24 hours has passed since the shooting and already the British media is reporting that the Kremlin is being "accused of a whitewash".

Of course, the suggestion that Putin, with an 85% approval rating, would have thought it necessary to publicly assassinate a non-entity former politician who couldn't muster 5% of the vote, on the doorstep of the Kremlin no less, and one day before an opposition rally in which the deceased was scheduled to take part, is utterly ridiculous. The point being, by killing Nemtsov in this way, the reaction of Western governments and their media was always going to be as if Putin pulled the trigger himself and posted a selfie of the event on FB. Ergo, if, as the ranks of Western yellow journalists claim, Putin is responsible....where's the selfie!??

Well, you know what's coming next. Do I even need to say it? 'Cui bono'?

Putin's a thug, Putin killed Litvinenko, Putin shot down MH17, Putin annexed Crimea, Putin invaded Ukraine. Yawn.

One final word of advice though to the other opposition "leaders" in Russia, chess-head Kasparov and Navaly in particular. Russia is obviously a dangerous place for opposition "activists". To ensure your safety, please consider asking yourselves these questions:

How much money have I taken from the US government to prepare the ground for a coup in Moscow?

How much money has the US government spent on promoting me as a "prominent opposition leader" in Russia.

Does the US embassy know where I live and do they regularly track my movements.

Does my usefulness to the US government as a still breathing "anti-Putin" activist outweigh my usefulness to the US government as a dead (assassinated) anti-Putin activist?

Four more Homan Square torture victims come forward

homan square

© unknown

Four more victims of incarceration at Chicago's Guantanamo Bay style secret detention/torture center, known as Homan Square, have come out and spoken to The Guardian about their experience being essentially treated like cattle. They are four black males, Brock Terry, Kory Wright, Deandre Hutcherson and David Smith.

Three of them were held in 2006, and one in 2011.

They were kicked in the genitals while helpless and bound, put in 'kennels for humans', and they heard the bloodcurdling screams of other helpless victims while they thought they would never see the light of day again.

One man named Brock Terry was caught with five pounds of cannabis, and ended up being shackled to the arms spread open, being fed only twice in 3 days. The Chicago police are known for turning up the temperature in the facility to extremely high temperatures, and then depriving victims of water while they are tied up, arms extended.

Terry said.

he continued.

He also said he didn't see any other victims there, but he heard cries from people being seemingly tortured, and they screamed and

Another black man named Deandre Hutcherson was shackled in the same vulnerable position, and he said he was punched in the face, and stomped in the genitals

They got kennels - like, for people," Terry also told the Guardian.

Terry continued.

More details will be released as the situation unfolds.

There is a movement to #Shut Down Homan Square tomorrow, and a Twitter storm today.

CCTV footage of Nemtsov's death released


© Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

A visitor holds a photo at the site where Boris Nemtsov was recently murdered, in central Moscow, February 28, 2015.

The TVTs TV channel published surveillance camera video which captured the moment of Nemtsov's murder in the center of Moscow. One can see the car and the silhouettes of people.

We can see how Boris Nemtsov and Anna Duritskaya are walking on the bridge toward the Bolotnaya square. They are overtaken and obscured by a snow clearance vehicle with flashing lights. A second later another man runs out from behind the vehicle, gets into a car and leaves.

The snow clearance vehicle stops several meters from the location of the crime. Only one silhouette remains, apparently Nemtsov's acquaintance. Then she walks up to the drivers, and spends several minutes behind the snow clearing vehicle.

[embedded content]

At the same time other pedestrians walk on the bridge. They walk past as if nothing had happened, while others stop briefly out of interest. One individual inspects the place of Nemtsov's death, then runs up to the snow clearing machine, next to which is the girl, then returns to the body. At 23:35 the first vehicle stopped here, and left several seconds later. The girl returned to the place of the crime, then two other individuals walked up to it. At 23:37 another vehicle drives by, abruptly stops, and drives in reverse to the site of the crime. It remains next to the crime scene for some time.

Police arrive at the crime scene at 23:42. We can see two individuals running away from under the bridge.

Investigators are considering all possible versions of Nemtsov's murder. However, sources in the law enforcement say that they are most interested in the scenario in which Nemtsov was killed for personal reasons. In spite of the fact that Nemtsov was fired at no less than six times, not a single bullet struck his companion Anna Duritskaya.

Keeping fear alive: If terrorism is such a grave threat, why does the FBI need to manufacture plots?

fbi arrests brooklyn men plot

The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency's latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS (photo of joint FBI/NYPD press conference, above). As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, "it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant." One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI's plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case "sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill."

In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade. As my colleague Andrew Fishman and I wrote last month — after the FBI manipulated a 20-year-old loner who lived with his parents into allegedly agreeing to join an FBI-created plot to attack the Capitol — these cases follow a very clear pattern:

The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the "radical" political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a "terror plot": either because they're being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of "entrapment" that it could almost never be successfully invoked.

Once again, we should all pause for a moment to thank the brave men and women of the FBI for saving us from their own terror plots.

One can, if one really wishes, debate whether the FBI should be engaging in such behavior. For reasons I and many others have repeatedly argued, these cases are unjust in the extreme: a form of pre-emptory prosecution where vulnerable individuals are targeted and manipulated not for any criminal acts they have committed but rather for the bad political views they have expressed. They end up sending young people to prison for decades for "crimes" which even their sentencing judges acknowledge they never would have seriously considered, let alone committed, in the absence of FBI trickery. It's hard to imagine anyone thinking this is a justifiable tactic, but I'm certain there are people who believe that. Let's leave that question to the side for the moment in favor of a different issue.

We're constantly bombarded with dire warnings about the grave threat of home-grown terrorists, "lone wolf" extremists and ISIS. So intensified are these official warnings that earlier this month cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials to warn of the growing ISIS threat and announce "the prospect of a new global war on terror."

But how serious of a threat can all of this be, at least domestically, if the FBI continually has to resort to manufacturing its own plots by trolling the Internet in search of young drifters and/or the mentally ill whom they target, recruit and then manipulate into joining? Does that not, by itself, demonstrate how over-hyped and insubstantial this "threat" actually is? Shouldn't there be actual plots, ones that are created and fueled without the help of the FBI, that the agency should devote its massive resources to stopping?

This FBI tactic would be akin to having the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) constantly warn of the severe threat posed by drug addiction while it simultaneously uses pushers on its payroll to deliberately get people hooked on drugs so that they can arrest the addicts they've created and thus justify their own warnings and budgets (and that kind of threat-creation, just by the way, is not all that far off from what the other federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, are actually doing). As we noted the last time we wrote about this, the Justice Department is aggressively pressuring U.S. allies to employ these same entrapment tactics in order to create their own terrorists, who can then be paraded around as proof of the grave threat.

Threats that are real, and substantial, do not need to be manufactured and concocted. Indeed, as the blogger Digby, citing Juan Cole, recently showed, run-of-the-mill "lone wolf" gun violence is so much of a greater threat to Americans than "domestic terror" by every statistical metric that it's almost impossible to overstate the disparity:

In that regard, it is not difficult to understand why "domestic terror" and "homegrown extremism" are things the FBI is desperately determined to create. But this FBI terror-plot concoction should, by itself, suffice to demonstrate how wildly exaggerated this threat actually is.

gun murders vs terrorism graph

© Mary Altaffer/AP

UPDATE: The ACLU of Massachusetts's Kade Crockford notes this extraordinarily revealing quote from former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes, as he defends one of the worst FBI terror "sting" operations of all (the Cromitie prosecution we describe at length here):

If you're submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you're not going to submit the proposal that "We won the war on terror and everything's great," cuz the first thing that's gonna happen is your budget's gonna be cut in half. You know, it's my opposite of Jesse Jackson's 'Keep Hope Alive'—it's 'Keep Fear Alive.' Keep it alive.

That is the FBI's terrorism strategy — — and it drives everything they do.