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Monday, 23 March 2015

World's largest asteroid impact zone believed uncovered by ANU researchers in central Australia

Metamorphic deformation

© Supplied

Rock features showing shock metamorphic deformation in the mineral quartz from the Warburton Basin impact.

Australian scientists have uncovered what is believed to be the largest asteroid impact zone ever found on Earth, in central Australia.

A team lead by Dr Andrew Glikson from the Australian National University (ANU) said two ancient craters found in central Australia were believed to have been caused by one meteorite that broke in two.

"They appear to be two large structures, with each of them approximately 200 kilometres," Dr Glikson said.

"So together, jointly they would form a 400 kilometre structure which is the biggest we know of anywhere in the world.

"The consequences are that it could have caused a large mass extinction event at the time, but we still don't know the age of this asteroid impact and we are still working on it."

The material at both impact sites appears to be identical which has led researchers to believe they are from the same meteorite.

Dr Andrew Glikson

© Supplied

Dr Andrew Glikson studies samples from the two ancient asteroid craters found in central Australia.

Over millions of years the obvious craters have disappeared, but geothermal research drilling revealed the secret history hidden under an area including South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

"The next step will be more research, hopefully deep crust seismic traverses," Dr Glikson said.

"Under the Cooper Basin and Warburton Basin we don't have that information and our seismic information covers up to five kilometres and some other data such as seismic tomography and magnetic data.

"The mantle underneath has been up-domed which is a very promising indication of a major event."

There are many unanswered questions about the underground site and whether the twin asteroid impact could have affected life on earth at the time.

"When we know more about the age of the impact, then we will know whether it correlates with one of the large mass extinctions [at the end of specific eras].

"At this stage we do not have all the answers, but there has been a lot of interest and people are certainly interested in any impact on the dinosaurs."

The research has been published in the geology journal

Survivors of institutional abuse outraged at plan to seal abuse reports for 75 years

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan

© Unknown

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan

Surviviors of institutional abuse have expressed outrage over Government plans to seal all major industrial school and orphanage investigation records for 75 years.

The move, which also allows for the possible destruction of documents, must now be ratified by the Dáil in a bill which will be brought forward by Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan.

The has learned that the bill has been approved by Cabinet for drafting.

The Retention of Records Bill 2015 will provide for the strict and confidential sealing of documents from the Commission into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Review Committee.

Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse International said abuse survivors were "shocked and horrified" that the records would be sealed for so long.

"I can understand that these documents are sensitive and that they might need to be sealed for a period of years.

"But why seal them for 75 years? Why not seal them for five or 10 years? By the time they can be accessed again, everyone associated with this most shameful period of Irish history will be long dead. The whole thing won't be anything more than a footnote in history by 2090," he said.

Mr Cronin also expressed concern that, by sealing the documents, the Government may unwittingly frustrate any potential future legal action by abuse survivors.

"Who knows what new evidence or material might arise in the future? That new evidence might prove worthless because the vital supporting documentation will be locked away in a vault for 75 years."

Ms O'Sullivan has defended the Government's position, saying the records are "highly sensitive and contain the personal stories of victims of institutional child abuse".

"I believe that it is important that these records are not destroyed, both to ensure that future generations will understand what happened and out of respect to the victims who came forward," she said.

"By sealing the records for 75 years and ensuring appropriate safeguards on the release of the records thereafter, we are in a position to preserve these sensitive records."

Maeve Lewis, director of charity One In Four, said the bill represented a difficult compromise between those who wanted the records kept as a vital part of Irish history and those who demanded all documentation be destroyed on confidentiality grounds.

"It is a compromise. Our position was that these records had to be preserved as a vital part of Irish history. In fact, we felt that the destruction of these documents would be a crime," she said.

The Government plan is for all documents from the various abuse probes to be lodged with the National Archives.

Commission Into Child Abuse

Sometimes known as the Ryan Report or the Laffoy Commission after the judges who headed the lengthy probe, the investigation ran for 10 years, from 1999 to 2009. It inquired into the abuse of children in a range of different Irish institutions.

It examined all forms of abuse dating from 1936 and amongst its most shocking findings was the treatment meted out to children in industrial schools operated by Church bodies with the support of the State.

These ranged from rapes, beatings and the starvation of children, to youngsters being hired out as cheap labour. The abuse was described as "endemic" and was said to be "the most shameful episode in the history of the Irish State".

The Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) was set up in 2002 to compensate those who were abused as children in various State and Church institutions since 1936.

By the end of 2013, the RIRB had dealt with 16,620 applications for compensation. The total awards made amounted to €944.1m. The average award was €62,530.

Rats And Sinking Ships: Chairman Of Greek Bank Rescue Fund Resigns

With "The objective of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund is to contribute to the maintenance of the stability of the Greek banking system, for the sake of public interest," it appears the Fund's Chairman has decided to add some instability and leave the sinking ship:


Ironic (or coincidental) timing as Draghi proclaims he is not blackmailing Greece and Merkel says "Nein" to more liquidity.

As Bloomberg notes,

Christos Sclavounis, Chairman of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, resigned, Athens-based institution says in e-mailed statement today.

* * *

Perhaps this is why...

Paid shills: U.S. neocons defend Netanyahu and call Obama's priorities "screwed up"

© Reuters / Joshua Roberts

Republican hardliners, ignoring newly-reelected Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-polling remark that a Palestinian state would not happen on his watch, accused Barack Obama of dropping the ball regarding Israel and the Islamic State.

US partisan fractures deepened at the weekend following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's reelection. With peace talks stalled, the Palestinians have attempted to win international recognition of statehood in the UN.

Republicans, however, downplayed the Israeli leader's campaign pledge that a Palestinian state would not happen during his tenure.

Senator John McCain was unfazed by Netanyahu's remarks, instead focusing his vitriol against the Democratic president.

"The least of your problems are what Bibi Netanyahu said in a political campaign. If every politician was held to what they said in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion,"McCain told CNN.

"The president has his priorities so screwed up that it's unbelievable."

According to McCain, Obama should put aside his personal differences with Netanyahu and "work together with our Israeli friends" in order to put the brakes on "ISIS and Iranian movement," which the firebrand US senator believes is "threatening the very fabric of the region."

At one point, McCain went so far as to tell the US leader: "Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President."

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who appeared alongside McCain on the program, reminded that the fundamentals of the US-Israeli relationship are still intact.

"What counts is, are we providing Israel with the critical security equipment technology that they need? And on that, we are," he said.

Missouri Representative Steve King questioned why US Jews would remain loyal to the Democratic Party.

"I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president," King said.

Meanwhile, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who recently drew a harsh response from Democrats after inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress without first notifying the White House, announced he will fly to Israel at the end of the month - the same time a deadline expires on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Earlier this month, 47 Republicans signed an open letter to Iran claiming any deal made under Obama could be undone by the next elected US president. The letter, which some labeled 'treasonous', was sharply criticized by European diplomats who are attempting to put the final touches on the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said Netanyahu has always supported a two-state solution, however "what he's against is establishing a terror state on the West Bank that would create not another Gaza, but another 20 Gazas," he told NBC's on Sunday.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's permanent observer to the United Nations, appearing alongside Dermer, expressed strong reservations over Netanyahu's comments.

"When we were divided they did not negotiate with us; when we are united they don't want to negotiate with us," he said.

Obama said he was in the process of "evaluating" his policy towards Israel in the wake of the Israeli PM's controversial campaign statements. The day before the March 17 elections, Netanyahu made it clear that he wouldn't allow the creation of a Palestinian state, while backtracking on the remarks following his election victory.

"I indicated to [Netanyahu] that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible," Obama said. "We indicated that [this] kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel's traditions."

The Petrocurrency War

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2007 had supposedly asked ex-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd "how do you get tough on your banker?" This was over concerns about China's growing power and hold on US finances and according to Wikileaks Rudd told Clinton to keep force as a last resort. Do the Chinese trust the Americans? As superpowers, both are wary of each other. The business of America has always been business, not friendship or the interest of others in mind except their very own. That is understandable. About the American hubris- I once read somewhere that hubris was the downfall of a Greek hero in some classical tragedy.

We are entering a new era- the era of a currency war that will test the might of the US economy and the dollar against the might of the Chinese economy and the yuan. The rope in the tug of war will be crude oil. The US economy based hegemony is being challenged by China and therefore it is naturally given that the US will try to maintain its global geopolitical and financial position. Between the giants, the global financial system could end up being completely redefined through a devastating war in the Middle East.

Some years ago I'd read a book "Petrodollar Warfare" by William Clark. The book was published in 2005 when the euro was a rising currency and China's yuan was a distant dream. Clark had written that the rationale for intervening (in Iraq) was not just for control of oilfields, but also for the control of the means by which oil is traded in global markets. Saddam was deposed by the US and its Arab allies (who held US$ as their reserve currencies) because he refused to sell oil in US$ alone. The same fate was meted to Libya's Gaddafi. Now Iran is in the American crosshairs not because it is purportedly developing a nuclear bomb which the CIA itself has denied but because it has been selling oil in several currencies from its Kish Island bourse. China is buying oil in international markets from countries that are willing to accept the yuan. Again, as per the EIA, China will become the largest importer of oil in 2014-15. Not only that but China's oil production from overseas equity shares through acquisitions increased from a meagre 150,000 BOPD in 2005 to 2.7 MMBOPD in 2013.

China has been importing 52% of its crude oil from the Middle East (including 10% from Iran and 20% from Saudi Arabia) while on the flip side the US has reduced its imports from Saudi Arabia to 16% while the imports from Canada have been steadily increasing over the years. In 2010 US oil production was 9.7 MMBOPD and consumption was 19.2 MMBOPD. That balance changed in 2014 as oil production increased to 13.4 MMBOPD due to shale oil while consumption has actually decreased to 18.7 MMBOPD due to alternate energy and fuel efficiency. Net imports, therefore, further decreased in 2014 by 1.3 MMBOPD (source: EIA)

For over 40 years the US$ has been enjoying an unprecedented and guaranteed position as the world's global currency reserve. In 1971, President Richard Nixon ordered the cancellation of the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold due to heavy inflation caused by the Vietnam war, trade deficit and the rising price of oil which made the dollar worth less than the price of gold used to back it from the Bretton Woods that all other currencies (including the British pound) to be indirectly linked to the gold standard wherein the Central Banks would trade gold among themselves at an agreed peg of US$35/ troy oz. All thirteen OPEC countries including Iran adopted the sale of oil in US dollar. This allowed the US to export much of its inflation.

In January 2015, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) issued a paper titled outlining that since the global financial crisis (of 2008), banks and bond investors have increased the outstanding US dollar credit to non-bank borrowers outside the United States from $6 trillion to $9 trillion (and up from $2 trillion in 2001). This increase due to quantitative easing (QE) by US Federal Reserve Bank has implications for understanding global liquidity and monetary policy transmission. The report explores the horrifying and addictive scale of global debt in US dollars. In layman language the debt is a direct result of the US printing of dollars since 2008.

According to SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) China's yuan became one of the world's top five payment currencies in November 2014, overtaking the Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar. Global yuan payments increased by 20.3 percent in value in December 2014. CIPS (China International Payments System)will also put the yuan on a more even footing with other major global currencies like the U.S. dollar, yen, pound sterling and euro. It is possible that in a few short years the yuan will share the same position with the dollar as with the price of oil being quoted in both yuan and dollar. This will cause a massive migration of dollars to head back into the US from foreign countries and foreign investors resulting in hyperinflation.

Having explained the impact the yuan in a few years and global debt addiction due to the US QE policies, we turn our attention to the new CIPS to be launched by end of 2015 as an alternative to SWIFT which links more than 9000 financial institutions in over 200 countries for facilitating global currency transactions. As per a Reuters report of 9 March 2015 "the launch of the CIPS will remove one of the biggest hurdles to internationalizing the yuan and should greatly increase global usage of the Chinese currency by cutting transaction costs and processing times. Reuters mentioned that "CIPS will become the superhighway for the yuan".

Under above scenarios, the 40 years of political and economic marriage of convenience between Saudi Arabia and the US would likely change. Iran could well emerge as the regional Middle East superpower and a close Chinese and Russian ally under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - a new OPEC with nuclear bombs as suggested in brevity by Professor David Wall in Matthew Brummer's Journal of International Affairs . Could that well lead to World War 3 or history may refer to it as "the petrocurrency war"?

Good for him! Okinawa governor blocks survey needed to build U.S. military base

© Reuters / Toru Hanai

Okinawa's governor ordered a halt to an underwater survey needed for reclamation of land for a new $8.6-billion base, which would host US troops after the Futenma facility on the island is closed.

Takeshi Onaga is delivering on the promise he made to voters to oppose the construction, after his election last November. At a media conference on Monday, he announced that defense ministry contractors must stop the survey due to the damage it's causing to corral reefs. If they don't, Onaga said he would revoke approval for drilling operations given by his predecessor in December 2012 within days.

The survey is necessary for the eventual construction of an off-shore runway for the future US military base in the less populous area of northern Okinawa, which would house thousands of troops after the closure of the Futenma base in the south.

The facility is viewed by locals as a source of noise, pollution and crime. Opposition to its presence flared up after the rape and abduction of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen in 1995.

In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed to shut the base down, but construction of a replacement stalled due to local resistance.

Onaga's move coincides with the announcement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the US in late April. Abe, who supports the construction of the new base, is expected to be praised for his determined position to oppose Chinese influence in the region.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told journalists the Japanese government was examining Onaga's documents. He called the governor's steps "extremely regrettable."

"We are going to continue with construction work without delay," the spokesman said.

Ex-cop says Royal family member was investigated as part of paedophile ring before cover-up

© Getty Image

A member of the Royal family was claimed to be part of a suspected paedophile ring under investigation by police in the late 1980s, a former police officer has said.

The former Metropolitan Police officer says he was told by a detective sergeant that the investigation into the ring, which was also claimed to include an MP, was shut down for national security reasons.

"I was in a car with two other vice squad officers. ... The detective sergeant said he had just had a major child abuse investigation shut down by the CPS regarding a royal and an MP," he told the newspaper.

"He did not mention names, but he said the CPS had said it was not in the public's interest because it 'could destabilise national security'."

The police officer identified the two colleagues, the newspaper said.

Sir Allan Green, the Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the CPS at the time the conversation took place, said he was not aware of any child abuse investigations shut down for national security reasons.

He however said he had been asked by a "senior person" if he had heard anything about a named MP being involved in child abuse. He said he had not.

The MP he was asked about has since died, Mr Green said.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson told the : "If detailed, substantive allegations are made they will be taken seriously and looked into. However, we are not in a position to comment on speculative stories based on a chain of unnamed sources."

The Metropolitan Police has pledged to investigate historical crimes by establishment figures "without fear of favour".

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was pleased that allegations of cover-ups were coming to light.

"We do think we are getting somewhere with these wider enquiries and we are seeing people coming forward. We have seen lots of coverage this week around allegations of cover-ups, and I think it's helpful that this is being spoken about and people are coming forward.

"We will go where the evidence takes us, without fear or favour, I think that is what the public expect and that is what the investigators are doing and are keen to continue to do."

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 14 related allegations of impropriety by officer stretching from the 1970s to 2005.

The Home Secretary Theresa May said earlier month that child sexual abuse ran through British society like a "stick of Blackpool rock" and warned that the public did not fully "appreciate the true scale" of exploitation.

ACLU finds Chicago police overwhelmingly target minorities with stop-and-frisk policy

© Reuters / Jim Young

Move over, Manhattan. The controversial stop-and-frisk practice once common among the New York Police Department has spread to Chicago, according to a new report, and is more prevalent in the Windy City than in the Big Apple.

A report published by the American Civil Liberties of Illinois on Monday accuses Chicago Police Department officers of overwhelmingly targeting minorities during an apparent stop-and-frisk surge last year.

African-Americans accounted for around 72 percent of civilians stopped by the CPD during a four-month period last summer, according to the ACLU. This is despite them accounting for less than one-third of Chicago's population. Whites and Hispanics were subjected to stop-and-frisk policing 17 percent and 9 percent of the time respectively.

From May through August 2014, according to the report, the CPD stopped around a quarter of a million people without making an arrest. With statistics showing that minorities are predominantly the victims of these searches, the ACLU report suggests constitutional violations may be afoot.

"What this data shows should be a wake-up call for residents of the city," Karen Sheley, a senior legal counsel with the Illinois ACLU and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement . "[The] CPD is engaging in wholesale stop-and-frisks of African American youth, without any link to criminal activity in most cases.

"These stops don't make us safer, they simply drive a wedge further between the police and the public they serve," Sheley added.

In 2013, a federal court judge ruled stop-and-frisk tactics, which had become commonplace in New York City, had established a "policy of indirect racial profiling" and declared it unconstitutional. Roughly 83 percent of the stops in NYC between 2004 and 2012 involved blacks and Hispanics, the reported when US District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin made her decision. Those groups made up only around 50 percent of the city's population.

Despite the court's ruling, stop-and-frisk is still rife in Chicago, according to the ACLU.

"While most of the media coverage has suggested that the stop-and-frisk was a New York phenomena, its use is not limited to New York," Harvey Grossman, the ACLU's legal director, said in a statement.

"Chicago has been systematically abusing this practice, for reasons that are not justified by our constitution," added Grossman. "And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out."

The 23-page ACLU report out this week contains recommendations the organization believes the CPD should adopt to ensure that alleged constitutional violations taper off, as had finally happened in New York after years of litigation. Among the suggestions are that the CPD begin collecting data on all instances involving individuals who are stopped and frisked, and then making that information available for public scrutiny. The ACLU says the department could also benefit from offering police officers training on the legal requirements concerning stop-and-frisk, to ensure they are aware of when and why they can stop civilians.

According to the ACLU, CPD officers are often lax at documenting instances of stop-and-frisk, making it hard to enumerate them accurately.

#Chicago is 32% Black, yet Blacks made up 72% of pedestrians stopped last yr by city police. @ACLUofIL #stopandfrisk http://bit.ly/1BcJdKj

— ACLU National (@ACLU) March 23, 2015

"In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers' stops," the report reads. "Officers do not identify stops that result in an arrest or ordinance violation, and they do not keep any data on when they frisk someone. This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them."

"The data makes clear that stop-and-frisk is a problem in Chicago and needs to be reformed," added Grossman, the legal director. "The city has an opportunity to make modest fixes now, rather than risk further alienation with large swaths of the public."

Weighing in on the report, CPD spokesperson Superintendent Garry McCarthy told the the department "flatly prohibits racial profiling and other race-based policing."

Four cops fired for racists texts and KKK video

© Reuters / Lucy Nicholson

Four cops are out of a job after an internal review within the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department in Florida uncovered a slew of racially-charged messages sent between officers, and even a homemade movie that's ripe with hateful epithets.

Three officers have been fired, Ft. Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley said at a news conference on Friday, and a fourth, Alex Alvarez, had already resigned in the midst of a five-month probe launched late year when his former fiancée filed a complaint with the department.

The woman, who has not been named, approached authorities in October 2014 about text messages sent between Alvarez and other officers with the Ft. Lauderdale police.

"She said she had personally seen it herself and felt it was inappropriate," Adderley said.

A subsequent review of text messages sent between the cop and his colleagues uncovered several instances in which the officers used derogatory terms.

"I had a wet dream that you two found those two n*****s in the VW and gave them the death penalty right there on the spot," reads one of the text messages in question.

Additionally, authorities uncovered a movie trailer allegedly made by Alvarez for a film called 'The Hoods' which contains references to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), an image of United States President Barack Obama with fake gold teeth and a photograph of a dog biting a victim who appears to be black.

Adderley said that although the officers didn't engage in criminal conduct, their actions and behavior could not be ignored.

"The four officers' conduct was inexcusable, and there is zero tolerance for this type of behavior within the Fort Lauderdale Police Department," the chief said.

"We can't have people like this protecting us," Alvarez's former fiancée said when approached by a local CBS News affiliate upon the release of the department's report.

Watch: Racist texts and mock video trailer cost four #FortLauderdale cops their jobshttp://bit.ly/1BcJb52 http://bit.ly/1BcJb53

— Sun Sentinel (@SunSentinel) March 21, 2015

The three officers whose termination was announced on Friday are James Wells, 30; Jason Holding, 31; and Christopher Sousa, 25. Alvarez, 22, resigned in late January. An investigation into the conduct of all four men concluded they "exchanged text messages that included derogatory comments towards Hispanics and homosexuals," among other findings.

"Based on the investigation, they felt, in their words, that it was a joke," Adderley said of the officers.

"I sent it being as a joke. Something I never shoulda said. Something I'm disappointed that I've ever, ever said," Sousa told investigators, according to Sun Sentinel journalists who read the report. "When I saw everybody else was texting, I felt, you know, maybe it - the way I could possibly fit in is saying something along those lines."

Others, however, say there's nothing funny about the officers' actions.

"I'm very disappointed, disgusted and shocked by this incident," Mayor Jack Seiler said in a statement."The inappropriate racist behavior exhibited by those involved is unacceptable and reprehensible. It violates the trust we place in our law enforcement officers; it damages the bond we have established with our community; and it undermines the standards to which each and every City employee is held accountable."

"It's attempt was to damage our agency, and I just hope that the people in the public realize that we're not going to tolerate it, and that anyone that's engaged in this behavior, it's going to be addressed immediately," Chief Adderley added.

According to the , two sergeants, five officers and two detectives were questioned during the department's probe, in addition to the four who are no longer with the force.

Chief Adderley spoke with federal agents over the weekend, the CBS affiliate reported, and the Civil Rights Division of the US Dept. of Justice has asked for a meeting to take place in the coming days.

"We'll be meeting this week with the FBI Civil Rights Division and I'm pretty sure they are very interested in what [the officers'] activity has been since they've been on our department," Adderley said. "That's something the FBI will come back later after they make their evaluations and tell us."

It comes less than a month after a Ft. Lauderdale officer was suspended after a video surfaced of him pushing, shoving and slapping a homeless man.

Researchers find that walking in a forest optimizes natural immunity


Anyone who has walked in a forest knows by common sense the beauty of it. It's why some people choose to live in forests, or next to them, and why other people travel thousands of miles to stand in Redwood forests, or the rain forests of Costa Rica or Ecuador. But researchers in Japan, where the tradition called shinri-yoku, or "forest bathing" is still strong, have discovered some biochemical reasons why. Researchers found that forest bathing optimizes natural immunity, which is important to prevent cancer as well as other chronic illnesses. How does that happen?

[embedded content]

When researchers sampled people before and after a 2-hour forest walk, they found all but one forest walker had a 50% higher killer T-cell count. They also had lower blood pressure, and felt calm and clear headed. Researchers explained the phenomenon: the forest trees and plants infused the environment with "antimicrobial allelochemic volatile organic plant-derived compounds called phytoncides that exterminate fungi and bacteria". Translation please? Fungi and bacteria can spell trouble for our immune system. Turns out trees don't like them either. Forests trees are often hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The trees, and other plants, have evolved a protection, a compound they can produce, that kills fungi and bacteria. When you walk in the forest, you breathe and are infused with these compounds. The effect lasts for about 2 months.

Let's say, when you walk in a forest, you bathe in the forest's natural immunity. You're immersed in the forest's phytochemical immune system.

Professor Qing Li, of the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, gave this story to American Scientist writer Anna Lena Phillips. There's more specific info in the article about effects on specific hormones as well, including noradrenaline and DHEA that affect stress response, and adiponectin, lower levels of which is associated with Type 2 Diabetes and obesity. The study appeared in the European

Strong winds sweep wild fire in North Korea across South Korean border

wild fire north korea

© Evan Collis / DFES / AFP

The cause of the blaze was not known, and damage estimates were not immediately available.

Strong winds swept a wild fire in North Korea across the heavily armed border with South Korea, prompting a suspension of cross-border movements into a jointly-run factory park in the North.

About 50 firefighters and three helicopters were battling the fire on the south side of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) border, according to an official at the South Korean border town of Paju, adding that there were no reports of casualties.

Access to the area is normally restricted.

An official at the South's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said that due to the fire South Korean workers were restricted from going in and out of Kaesong factory park, which lies in the North just over the border.

In the latest spat over the Kaesong complex, a group of South Korean businessmen last week visited the complex to protest North Korea's decision to increase wages paid to workers there.

The cause of the blaze was not known, and damage estimates were not immediately available.

Feces to fortune: US sewage may contain billions in precious metals

© Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory

Microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample.

Scientists are perusing poop at America's wastewater treatment facilities for gold, silver, copper and other useful metals. The sewage from one million people could net $13 million in metals each year, all while making fertilizer more efficient.

More than seven million dry tons biosolids (read: poop) are generated in the US annually by more than 16,500 municipal wastewater treatment facilities. And that sewage contains metals that people ingest and otherwise flush down the toilet, or rinse out in the laundry and shower.

"There are metals everywhere," Dr. Kathleen Smith of the US Geological Survey (USGS) said in a statement, noting that they are "in your hair care products, detergents, even nanoparticles that are put in socks to prevent bad odors."

Smith leads a team of researchers looking to get metals out of biosolids because about half of all human waste ‒ about 3.5 million tons in the US ‒ is used as fertilizer on farms and in forests, while the other half is incinerated or sent to landfills.

If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these biosolids we can use on fields and forests, and at the same time recover valuable metals and other elements, that's a win-win Smith said.

It may be odd thinking of precious metals like silver and gold as nuisances, but they impede the usefulness of fertilizers.

"We have a two-pronged approach," Smith said. "In one part of the study, we are looking at removing some regulated metals from the biosolids that limit their use for land application."

"In the other part of the project, we're interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys," she added.

Smith's team has collected samples from small towns in the Rocky Mountains, rural communities and big cities, but will also combine their findings with years of existing data collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USGS. They will present their research at 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society on Tuesday.

The EPA analyzed 28 metals for their 2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, using samples randomly selected from 3,337 facilities that treat more than one million gallons of sewage per day, Smith wrote in her paper's abstract. The agency discovered that the samples averaged 30 mg of silver per kilogram, 563 mg of copper per kilogram and 36 mg of vanadium per kilogram of waste.

© Environmental Science & Technology/Arizona State University/Paul Westerhoff

A similar eight-year study by the USGS involved monthly sampling and analysis of biosolids from a municipal wastewater treatment plant. Those samples contained an average 28 mg of silver, 638 mg of copper, 49 mg of vanadium and less than one milligram of gold per kilogram of waste.

About 80 percent of vanadium is used in producing rust resistant and high-speed tool steels, according to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"The gold we found was at the level of a minimal mineral deposit," Smith said, meaning that if that amount were in rock, it might be commercially viable to mine it. She added that "the economic and technical feasibility of metal recovery from biosolids needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis."

In a January Environmental Science & Technology paper, scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe calculated that the waste from one million Americans could contain as much as $13 million worth of metals, including $2.6 million in gold and silver.

The group analyzed sewage sludge for 58 regulated and non-regulated elements, and used electron microscopy to explore opportunities for removal and recovery. Based on their model to capture the relative potential for economic value from biosolids, the 13 most lucrative elements (silver, copper, gold, phosphorus, iron, palladium, manganese, zinc, iridium, aluminum, cadmium, thallium, gallium and chromium) present had a combined value of US $280 per ton of sludge.

The study's lead author, environmental engineer Paul Westerhoff, says it could prove worthwhile for cities looking for ways to gain value from something that can be a costly disposal problem.

One place has already figured out how to profit from poop: A sewage treatment facility in Japan has been mining sludge for gold since 2009, Reuters reported at the time. The Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, once recorded finding 1,890 grams of gold per ton of ash from incinerated sludge. The district expected to earn about 15 million yen (currently US$125,000) for that fiscal year, depending on the price of gold.

Another GMO: Research aims to create gluten-free grains amid rise of celiac disease

© Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

Kansas farmers are funding a genetic research project aimed at developing gluten-free grains, as an increasing number of Americans are being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition preventing them from safely digesting wheat, barley and rye.

The Kansas Wheat Commission earmarked $200,000 for the first two years of the project, which is seeking to catalog the DNA sequences of wheat which can trigger reactions in people suffering from celiac disease. The research is being led by Engrain, a Kansas-based company specializing in improving baked goods.

"If you know you are producing a crop that is not tolerated well by people, then it's the right thing to do," Chris Miller, senior director of research for Engrain and the project's lead researcher, told AP.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, approximately one percent, or one in 133 Americans, have celiac disease - an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. Celiac disease is genetic, and there is no treatment other than a gluten-free diet which is free of any foods that contain wheat, rye or barley.

Sales of gluten-free bread, pasta, crackers and other products in the US reached $973 million in 2014, up from $810 million the year before, according to consumer research firm Packaged Facts.

Research has already identified about 20 protein fragments in wheat that cause celiac reactions, but the new project hopes to identify all of them, and ultimately breed a variety of wheat safe for consumption by celiac sufferers.

According to the Whole Grains Council, most grains - for example, buckwheat, corn, millet, rice, wild rice, sorghum and quinoa - don't have gluten. Oats don't have gluten naturally, but frequently receive residual traces when processed on equipment used for wheat, barley and rye.

A 2013 report by the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) indicated that the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the American food supply in the mid-1990s could have been a "possible environmental trigger" for the sudden rise in the number of celiac cases. The IRT cited data from the US Department of Agriculture, as well as US Environmental Protection Agency records, medical journal reviews, and international research.

An Italian company is testing wheat that is purged of gluten via a special fermentation process, and is conducting live studies on celiac patients. Initial studies have shown 100 percent tolerance to baked goods made with the "digested flour." A third, long-term study is still underway.

It was THAT big! Scottish fisherman nets Russian submarine after it strayed inside British waters in the North Sea

Angus MacLeod (pictured) a fishing boat skipper, has lodged an incident report with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch following the unusual occurence.

A fisherman told last night about the one that got away - a suspected Russian submarine which became entangled in his nets after it strayed inside British waters in the North Sea.

Angus Macleod, 46, was fishing for haddock and skate when he became convinced that a hostile vessel was caught up below his boat Aquarius.

The submarine attempted to free itself, taking the 65ft vessel and his two-ton catch with it.

Mr MacLeod was told that submarines were operating in the area when the incident occurred (file picture).

Mr Macleod, whose account is being examined by the Marine Accident Investigation Board, said: 'Suddenly a force beneath our boat dragged the nets from behind us to in front of us. It was very powerful because the nets were full of fish and very heavy.

'The submarine was then ahead of Aquarius and heading on a northerly bearing towards international waters and bringing our nets along behind it. Only a submarine could have done this - it was a clear, still night and there were no other boats around.

'Had the submarine headed for deeper waters we might have sunk with it, but I don't want to dwell on that.

'We were eventually cut loose when the 150ft-long dog rope, which attaches the nets to the ship, wrapped itself around Aquarius's propeller and got ripped apart. We were then able to sail back to port.'

Mr MacLeod says he suffered around £10,000 in damage and loss of earning due to the damage to his boat.

Mr McLeod said following the incident: 'I've been at sea for 30 years - and between the five of us there is 110 years experience - and in our collective times we have never experienced anything like that'.

Mr Macleod, a fisherman for 30 years, never saw the submarine but is convinced that such a vessel caused the incident.

It follows an upsurge in covert operations by the Russian navy in the waters surrounding the British Isles and patrols on the periphery of UK airspace by Russian aircraft.

He added he was told by the coastguard that there was no NATO submarine activity in the area where the incident took place.

The Ministry of Defence said it did not comment on submarine operations, while Foreign Office sources suggested they would consider the outcome of an MAIB investigation before making any approach to the Russian Embassy.

The incident caused damage worth £10,000 and lost fishing time. Mr Macleod added: 'If you give me the address, then I'll send the bill to Moscow.'

No surprise: Israel and US 'boycott' UN session on Gaza conflict

© Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian woman sits near her house, that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli and American representatives were conspicuously absent from the UN Human Rights Council session on the Palestinian territories on Monday. The session aimed to look into the Gaza conflict which killed 2,200 people in 50 days in 2014.

"I note the representative of Israel is not present," Council President Joachim Ruecher said as the session kicked off Monday in Geneva.

Tel Aviv refused to comment as to why its representatives did not take part.

The US, however, said that one of the points on the UN session agenda - concerning human rights violations against the Palestinians - lacked legitimacy.

"Our non-participation in this debate underscores our position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy, as it did last year when we also refrained from speaking. The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it," Keith Harper, US ambassador to the Council, said in a statement.

He added that the United States remains "deeply troubled" by the item directed against Israel "and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item. No other nation has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it."

The Monday session was initially scheduled to discuss the report on the 50-day war in Gaza last year, but the incoming United Nations Human Rights Council's chairperson, Mary McGowan Davis, said investigators needed more time to finish their report on the conflict, as Israel impeded access to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"The commission has done its utmost to obtain access to Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We would very much have liked to meet face to face with victims and the authorities in these places," she said.

Davis asked for a delay until June for the commission to complete its report, due to late-breaking testimonies from witnesses and changes in leadership.

Mary McGowan Davis - a former New York State Supreme Court Justice - replaced William Schabas, a Canadian international law expert, as the Council's chairperson after Schabas quit last month under Israeli pressure. Israel had doubts about his objectiveness, as he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization while serving as a law professor in 2012.

© Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinians walk near the ruins of houses that witnesses said were destroyed or damaged by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, on a winter day east of Gaza.

Meanwhile, despite Schabas' resignation, Israel continues to accuse the commission of bias against the Jewish state. Three years ago, Tel Aviv cut all ties with the Council after it began checks on how Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories could be violating human rights. Relations were partially restored last year.

Israel has been severely criticized for its political decisions amid the 2014 war in Gaza, which claimed the lives of more than 2,140 Palestinians - most of them civilians - and over 70 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers. The conflict ended with a truce between Israel and Hamas on August 26.

"The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack," Makarim Wibisono, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, told the Council. Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups were also accused of impunity against civilians and targeting Israeli civilians to inspire aggression from Tel Aviv.

"The actions of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian neighborhoods in Israel, firing from densely-populated areas, locating military objects in civilian buildings, and the execution of suspected collaborators, also constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law," Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said in remarks published on the UN's website on Monday.

Relations between the Obama administration and Israel appeared to have cooled down after Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the US Congress with a speech criticizing Washington's nuke talks with Iran. Netanyahu's pre-election promise not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state did not help to improve the situation. After being re-elected, the PM tried to step back and said he still supported the concept of "two states." However, White House press secretary Josh Earnest called his position "cynical" and accused him of "divisive election day tactics."

Competition between terrorist organizations raises threat level in France

© Reuters/Christian Hartmann

Member of the French GIPN intervention police forces.

French security officials have warned more jihadist attacks are expected in the country as the level of terrorist threat has "reached a level without precedent." Counter-terrorism officials described the threat as "permanent".

"Not one day goes by without an alert, the discovery of a network trying to send people to Syria or Iraq, or an intervention (by the security services)," a high-level official from the Defense Ministry of France told on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, there are currently around 4,000 people who are "identified or suspected of evil intentions" in France.

These aren't just amateurs, they include some highly educated people - "pros, not drop-outs," he added.

The French security services are forced to play catch-up with the terrorists as they "use the best encryption and concealment techniques the official stressed.

"Every time we get our hands on a network, we see they are each using seven or eight SIM cards, changing them constantly. And the most cunning don't go near phones at all - they use messengers," he said.

According to another unnamed counter-terrorist official, the source of biggest concern are former so-called Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) fighters, who returned to France after taking part in military action in Iraq and Syria.

Those 200 individuals are especially dangerous as "they have lost all inhibitions about violence" he explained.

Security services are trying to put them under the tightest possible surveillance, but their resources are limited, the source said, adding that terrorists may wait for years before executing their plots.

As an example, he cited the Kouachi brothers responsible for the deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris this January, when 17 people were killed.

The duo was known to be connected to jihadist networks in France, but they had been 'sleeping' for several years and had eventually fallen off the radar of anti-terrorist officials. Since then the French security services have been put on high alert.

But security officials told that even such desperate measures as deployment of police and military at media HQs, synagogues and other vulnerable sites, will unlikely prevent new attacks.

"The problem is not to know if there will be a new attack. It is to know when and where," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as he unveiled new surveillance laws last week.

There are also fears that competition between different terrorist organizations may lead to even more violence in France.

"Al-Qaeda needs to restore its prestige and will try to compete with IS with complex and major actions," the official noted.

He added that security services are concerned that an Al-Qaeda wing known as Khorasan is planning an attack on a major airline.

The Islamic State "is in the process of training commandos and sending them to our territory with high-quality equipment" the source said.

12 pilot whales dead in Bunbury harbour, Australia

© Bunbury Mail

Pilot whales stranded in Bunbury harbour

The fight to save members of a whale pod stranded at a beach in WA's south continues after a dozen long-finned pilot whales were confirmed dead.

The pod of whales became stranded along the breakwater wall and adjacent beach in Bunbury harbour early Monday and Department of Parks and Wildlife nature conservation leader Kim Williams said 12 whales had died in the stranding, while six were earlier herded out to sea.

© Department of Parks and Wildlife

Long-finned pilot whales at Bunbury harbour

"This afternoon's efforts have focussed on the rescue of four remaining whales that were stranded in the shallows, and they were pulled out to sea using a sling and boats," he said.

"Unfortunately one of these whales has re-stranded and is being taken out to deeper water again, while the other three are not swimming strongly and there is a chance they will also re-strand."

Around 50 people, including staff and volunteers from the Dolphin Discovery Centre helped with the rescue effort.

Rescuers said a confused whale looked as though it was trying to reach its calf on rocks but it wasn't there. In doing so, the whale continued to beach itself.

Rescuers had to bring the calf back to the shore in an attempt to coax the mother to stop.

"There is another pod of 15 long-finned pilot whales that has been swimming in the area all day, and we are hoping the whales we released this afternoon will join them.

Don't throw out that fat -- put it to good use

fat cubes

© leitesculinaria.com

If you're a hunter, a prepper, a homesteader, a chef or a crafter, you probably know at least a few uses for animal fats.

If you're prepping, knowing which fats are best for certain projects will give you even more tools to work with when you may need them.

Different animals yield different fat with different textures, melting points and flavors, and thus different uses. Also, some animals carry much more fat than others, so if you're hunting during a time that you need a lot of fat, you may be able to target higher-fat animals versus their slimmer counterparts.

Today we're going to touch on a few different projects and match you up with animals that provide good fat for your needs.

Rendering the Fat

Before you use any fat, you need to render it. Rendering is simply the process of heating the fat in order to separate the liquids from the solids so that you have a usable product that isn't going to go rancid as quickly as unrendered fat.

The rendering process is pretty easy: Make sure that ALL of the meat is removed from the fat, then cut the fat into very small pieces and add it to a skillet or pot over low heat. If you're working with hard fats such as the fat found in large farm and game mammals, it's easiest to get the fat really cold and use your cheese grater. You'll save yourself a ton of time by doing this because large chunks of fat can take days to melt. Softer fats such as goat fat and fowl game fat can just be cut into small pieces with a knife.

Next, you can choose to dry render, semi-wet render or wet render your fat. The only difference is that dry rendering uses no water, semi-wet rendering uses only an inch or so of water in the bottom of the pot, and wet rendering uses about equal parts of water and fat. Either way, you need to make sure that all of the water is removed by the end of the rendering process or your fat will spoil faster.

You don't want to actually COOK the fat; you just want to get it hot enough to melt. Cooking it on higher heats may cause it to burn (which ruins it) and can make for stronger-flavored fat. Let it melt down until most of the fat is melted and you no longer see little bubbles rising from the bottom - this is moisture evaporating and you want ALL of the water out of it. You'll have some little chunks of fat and some cracklings left but when you hit this point, you're done. Remove it from the heat immediately, strain all of the chunks from the fat and you're finished!

Making Schmaltz

Schmaltz is a Jewish delicacy that simply consists of adding onions to your chicken fat during the rendering process. It's used in a wide variety of dishes to add richness and flavor. Though I've never used it, it actually makes me curious to try a variety of herbs during the rendering process to make flavored fats. Hmm. A project for next time, maybe!

Just a side note for rendering fat from fowl: toss the skin in along with the fat because there's a nice layer of fat in it that you just can't trim off. The skin will just crisp up and you can toss it or eat it if you'd like - it's delicious. It's not exactly healthy now, but if you're in a survival situation, fat is a good source of calories.


A solid fat makes for a crisp, flaky pastry but you want to be careful which type you use if flavor matters. Some gamier fats such as bear may add a meaty or gamey flavor to your crust which may be fine if you're making a savory meat pie. Not so much if you're making an apple pie. Visceral fats from any animal, the deep fats found around the organs, may best be rendered separately because it typically has very little flavor and is great for pastries. Beef fat, pork fat and goat fat are also great for sweet pastries.

Savory Recipes

If you're using fat to add flavor and richness, stick with the fat that's the closest to what you're cooking. If you're making a beef stew, break out the tallow. If you're making chicken soup, toss in some schmaltz. That stuff is like crack in any dish that you want to add poultry flavor to!




This is an old Native American food that is packed with fat, carbs and nutrients. It's made from three primary ingredients and is a prepper's superfood because it's easy to transport, it keeps without refrigeration and you can quite literally live off of it if need be. It has fat (typically deer fat but any will do), jerky made from lean meat, and dried fruits and/or berries. You just ball up the ingredients in equal parts and tuck it away.

Deep Frying

When you're choosing a fat to deep fry with, you need to consider two things: taste and smoking point. You don't want to use fats that smoke at lower temperatures. Fats such as butter or bacon grease make them poor choices for deep frying because they smoke at low temperatures. Duck fat is considered a delicacy for frying; you haven't HAD fried potatoes until you've had them fried in duck fat! Other more available fats such as lard, tallow, goat and venison all make good frying grease. Animal fat is typically going to have a lower smoke point than most vegetable oils, just FYI.


I've tried several different fats for waterproofing and though all of them work, bear grease is by far the best waterproofer that I've found. I'm not sure what the difference is but it just seems to provide better waterproofing, especially for my boots, and it seems to last longer, too.

Fire Starter

Though animal fat goes rancid fairly quickly if not refrigerated, it's still safe to eat but it tastes like crap. If you have fat that's gone rancid but you don't want to waste it, use it to make fire starters. Dip a tampon, a cotton ball or a piece of tinder in the fat and watch it burn!

Soap Making

Animal fat gives you a good, hard bar of soap that won't turn to glop as soon as it gets wet. Tallow (beef fat), goat fat or lard (pig fat) are often used by experienced soap makers. There's no reason why elk, moose or other large animals couldn't be used; these three fats are just more readily-available. You can use fats from some plants but the curing process takes months to years whereas soap made with animal fat is ready to use in about 3 weeks.

fat candle

Animal fat candle

Candle Making

You can use animal fat to make simple, functional candles. They won't smell pretty but they'll keep the lights on! Tallow is good for this because it gets good and hard. Lard works but it's a lot softer.

Just place the wick in a jar (I like small jelly jars but use whatever size you want) so that it goes all the way to the bottom, then pour melted tallow in. You'll need to secure the wick so that it stays in the middle until the tallow gets hard. I use a clothes pin but feel free to use whatever you'd like.

Skin Care

The lipids found in mammal fats closely mimic the oils in our skin and people who are getting back to the "old" way of doing things are discovering that animal fats make a great base for soaps, lotions and balms for that very reason. They're easily absorbed and free of the chemicals and toxins found in commercial products. They also make your skin soft and your hair shiny, though be careful using it on your hair; you'll have to wash it a few times to get the grease out.

As you can see, throwing away the fat from any animal is a shame and a waste. There are a multitude of uses for fat and it's a valuable resource that you need to learn how to work with in case SHTF. Fat can literally keep you fed, warm and dry while providing you with light. Don't miss out on it!

If you can think of other uses of fat, please feel free to share them with us in the comments section below!

Large hailstones kill horses, birds and ravage cotton crops in northern New South Wales, Australia

A woman holds a huge piece of hail at Narrabri from a super cell storm.

Large hailstones pounded the Narrabri region and winds close to 100 kilometres an hour ripped at crops and pulled at tiled rooves.

The cotton crop of the Narrabri Community Education Trust farm has suffered extensive damage, but farmer Rob Eveleigh, who helps manage the crop, said other growers around it may have lost everything.

He said the 60 hectares of cotton was being grown as a fundraiser for local schools.

"It's probably in the order of 25 to 30 per cent damage which is a big loss obviously. That's the profits," he said.

"I know not too far away from there there's growers who lost whole crops.

"It's just one of those thing. If you're in farming, you just have to take it on the chin and move on."

Photo: This cotton crop has been decimated by huge hail stones, heavy rain and strong winds.

Horses killed and locals pick up dead birds

David Brodrick, from the Narrabri Shire Weather Station, believed winds reached over 150 kilometres in some parts of the region out of the weather station's reach.

He said people had been contacting him about animals killed by the enormous hail.

"You could see that this was a super cell storm on the Doppler radar," he said

"The highest winds that we recorded on a weather station from this storm were about 95 kilometres an hour.

"I've heard this morning about several horses which were caught in the storm have been killed.

"We've had several comments on our Facebook page about wildlife and dead birds. One lady said that she was sick of picking up a number of dead birds, so it's a really horrific event from that point of view."

Oligarch infighting: Kolomoisky given 24 hours to disarm his private army after storming gas giant's HQ


The Ukrainian government has given the private army of billionaire Dnepropetrovsk governor Igor Kolomoysky a day to lay down their weapons, after they occupied and erected a fence around the headquarters of the national oil company.

"We won't have armed personal security forces of businessmen and politicians on the streets of our cities. This applies to every single one of them," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page.

"All security forces have 24 hours to comply with the letter of the law."

President Petro Poroshenko has also dispatched two battalions of the elite National Guard to Dnepropetrovsk, to diffuse "rising tension in the region."

"There will be no more pocket armies for each governor. Any regional armed forces must fall in with the national military hierarchy," the president warned.

Arriving in unmarked armored trucks, dozens of camouflaged men barricaded themselves in the head office of majority state-owned oil producer Ukrnafta in central Kiev on Sunday afternoon. Kolomoysky, whose net worth is estimated at $1.3 billion by Forbes but may be much greater, according to local sources, was inside, issuing orders to build an impromptu barrier around the office. The government says no permit has been issued to allow this.

Kolomoysky's companies own about 43 percent of Ukrnafta, and the government controls just over half the shares. According to previous legislation, the state needed 60 percent ownership to exercise active control over a part-private company, which meant that Kolomoysky could treat Ukrnafta as his own property, including withholding dividends from the state, and sabotaging quorums at board meetings. The conflict erupted after the Rada passed a law on Thursday, stipulating that the state could manage any company in which it had a majority share.

Kolomoysky has taken the news badly. After the government fired his protégé from Ukrtransnafta - another energy company in which he has a stake, but a transporter, not a producer - Kolomoysky also occupied its office on Friday. Accusing the government of being "Russian saboteurs" and "corporate raiders" in an expletive-filled rant to the media, he reportedly threatened to "bring 2,000 volunteer fighters to Kiev," before being persuaded to stand down.

He also allegedly temporarily froze bank accounts owned by companies affiliated with Petro Poroshenko, himself an oligarch.

From key ally to potential suspect

Until the recent fallout, the oligarch, who additionally holds Israeli and Cypriot citizenships, was considered one of Kiev's most effective allies. As well as espousing strongly nationalist rhetoric, Kolomoysky has funded several large units fighting against the rebel forces in the east of the country.

But taking on the entire state apparatus may cost the oligarch more than just financial influence.

On Monday, Valentin Nalivaichenko, the head of Ukraine's security service, the SBU, directly accused the Dnepropetrovsk authorities of "financing criminal gangs."

These have been operating near the eastern conflict zones.

"A single criminal gang has been carrying out kidnappings, murders and violence against officials in Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. That gang has been in contact, and even received financing from Dnepropetrovsk officials," he said during a press conference in Kiev.

"Those officials are now intimidating our investigators by threatening to use illegal armed units against them in the region," said Nalivaichenko, specifically naming the threat posed by 'Sich', the very same "security firm" that has occupied the Ukrnafta head office in Kiev.

Four of Kolomoysky's allies in the Rada said on Monday that they were quitting Poroshenko's bloc, and called for a demonstration in Dnepropetrovsk, to demonstrate support for the embattled oil baron.

Assault on Canadian democracy - Stephen Harper terrorizing Canada with odious Secret Police Act

The Harper government's pursuit of its odious Secret Police Act (C51) is just another chapter in the most through-going, and massive social engineering project in the history of the country. Social engineering used to be one of the favourite phrases of the right in its attack on social programs - accusing both liberal-minded politicians and meddling bureaucrats with manufacturing the welfare state. They conveniently ignored the fact that there was huge popular demand and support for activist government.

That was the so-called golden age of capitalism and it wasn't just because of expanding government services. It was so-called because of a much broader and well-informed citizen engagement - both through social movements and as individual citizens. The level of trust in government was much higher than it is today. And absent from the picture were the factors that today dominate the political conversation: fear and economic insecurity.

Exactly how historians will describe this period in Canadian history is anyone's guess but one approach could be to look upon the Harper era as an experiment in revealing how vulnerable democracies are to political sociopaths bold enough and ruthless enough to bend or break every rule and tradition on which democracy's foundation rests.

It's not just the institutions that are vulnerable though they certainly are. It's a familiar list including Harper's bullying of Governor General Michaelle Jean to force the proroguing of the House, his guide book on how to make parliamentary committees ineffective, the use of robo-calls and other election dirty tricks, his attempt to break the rules in appointing a Supreme Court Judge and his neutering the House of Commons question period through a deliberate strategy of refusing to answer questions - a practice that institutionalizes a contempt for Parliament that spreads outward to the general public. At a certain point it doesn't matter who is responsible - the institution itself becomes risible and irrelevant to ordinary citizens. Which is, of course, exactly what Harper intends.

And that brings us to the other element of democratic politics - the actual citizens who are supposed to be the raw material of democracy. The whole institutional edifice theoretically rests on the foundation of the voting public. The extent to which the institutions of democracy can be assaulted and eroded with impunity is directly proportional to the level of civic literacy. The lower it is, the easier it is for malevolent autocrats like Harper to abuse his power.

In terms of civic literacy we are somewhere between Europe where it is relatively high and the US where it is frighteningly low. While the question is obviously more complicated than this, it's not far-fetched to suggest that there is a continuum - with consumerism at one end and highly engaged citizenship at the other. We live in a hyper-consumer society - not a citizen-society characterized by the oft-repeated disclaimer "I'm not interested in politics." The growing basis for our culture is not community or cooperation but conspicuous consumption and possessive individualism.

So long as the political elite accepted the basic premises of modern democracy and activist government, so long as the institutions they controlled functioned more or less within their defined mandates (that is, they were only occasionally abused) society could function with a minimal level of civic literacy. We could all go shopping more or less assured that the stuff of government (in substance and process) would continue undisturbed. If all political parties accepted the precepts of civil liberties, for example, it didn't matter that much if there was a low degree of public awareness of the importance of civil liberties to our daily lives.

But when a politician suddenly appears on the scene willing to systematically violate democratic principles as if they simply don't apply to him, then the demand for increased civic literacy is just as suddenly urgent and critical. Yet it is not something can be accomplished easily or quickly. Three sources come to mind: schools, the media and civil society organizations and activity.

Despite the best efforts of teachers and their unions over the decades civic literacy is extremely low on the curriculum totem pole in Canadian schools. Provincial governments have resisted such pressures which should hardly come as a surprise. There is a built in bias in a hierarchical, capitalist society against critical thinking - precisely because in liberal democracies the over-arching role of government is to manage capitalism with a view to maintaining it along with all its inherent inequalities. Too many critical thinkers is not helpful.

The media, of course, are largely responsible for helping put Stephen Harper in power. Ever since the Machiavellian Conrad Black bought up most of Canada's dailies they have been used (by him and his successors) as an explicit propaganda tool for the dismantling of the post-war democratic consensus. While there are some tentative signs that they now recognize they've created a monster (Globe editorials criticizing the PM on a number of issues like C51) it's a little late. Twenty-five years of telling people there is no alternative to unfettered capitalism has had a pernicious effect on both democracy and civic literacy.

That leaves voluntary (for the most part) civil society organizations. Yet, despite their objective of informing people about the myriad issues we face, here, too, the model falls short of significantly expanding the base of engaged, informed citizens. Ironically, much of the defensive politics of the left are the mirror image of Harper's reliance on fear (of Muslims, criminals, niqabs, terrorists, environmentalists, unions, the CBC) to energize his base. We peddle more mundane but substantive fears - of losing Medicare, of climate change, of higher tuition fees, of unprotected rivers and streams and dirty oil.

If Canadians are scared silly, it's no wonder given the mode of politics directed at them.

Regrettably there is no model from Canadian history that points us in the direction of serious commitment to civic literacy. We have to look to the Scandinavian countries. According to Canadian author Henry Milner ,"Swedish prime minister Olof Palme once said that he preferred to think of Sweden not as a social democracy but as a 'study-circle democracy.' The idea ...is associated most of all with the efforts of the ABF (the Workers' Educational Association). ...The ABF offers courses in organizing groups and co-operatives, understanding media, and a broad range of contemporary issues, as well as languages, computers, art, music, and nature appreciation." There were ten other groups doing study circles - many of them subsidized by the government. Half of all Swedish adults were involved in them

Even in Sweden the model is no longer as robust as it was when Milner wrote this assessment (2002). But even after the defeat of Social Democratic governments, no party has dared undermine Swedish social programs or run roughshod over its democracy. That's because informed citizens are not easily manipulated by fear and their level of trust in government remains high.

Given our shamefully biased media Canadians still manage to resist Harper's continued assault on our political sensibility. The first polls on the Secret Police Act (don't call it by any other name) were alarming with upwards of 80% agreeing with the need for tougher anti-terror laws. But things are changing very quickly as the result of a determined fight-back by civil society groups, a phalanx of heavy-hitting experts and the NDP. A Forum Research poll this week showed support for the Act was down to 38% with those disapproving at 51% - an amazing turn around. The highest levels of disapproval were amongst "...the youngest (64%), New Democrats (77%), the best educated (65%) and the non-religious (70%)."

Yet the Forum results are decidedly mixed and demonstrate how much work there is yet to be done to neutralize the fear campaign. When respondents were presented with specific parts of the bill the percentage disapproving actually decreased and supporters increased.

The polling will no doubt continue to demonstrate confusion, a desire to deal with the real problem of terrorism and condemnation of the attempt to at the idea of labelling environmentalists and First Nations as terror suspects.

Yet a huge effort will be needed to completely immunize Canadians against the next wave of Harper fear-mongering. Imagine if all these efforts and similar warning campaigns had instead been put into creating something similar to the Swedish "study circle democracy." That's the only lasting solution to voter manipulation and a healthy democracy. Until we realize that, progressive politics will remain crisis management and we will continue to pin our desperate hopes on coalitions and proportional representation. But without a high degree of civic literacy these institutional fixes will be ultimately dissatisfying.

Kiev threatens to cut off Russian gas imports starting April 1


© Reuters / Laszlo Balogh

Kiev said it will stop importing Russian gas from next Wednesday if Gazprom doesn't offer it a better price, according to the country's Energy Minister Vladimir Demchishin. Halting supplies through Ukraine could put Europe's energy security in limbo.

"It is necessary to buy Russian gas at the moment, but buying at a higher price than we can buy from Europe makes no sense," Demchishin said Monday, as quoted by TASS.

Similar claims have been made by Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.

Last week, Ukraine Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko said gas imports from the EU would be $50 cheaper per 1,000 cubic meters.

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said the price Ukraine would pay for gas starting April 1 could be $348, according to preliminary calculations. Under the current 'winter plan' Russia sells gas to Ukraine at $378 per 1,000 cubic meters, but it only after receiving prepayment from Kiev.

Moscow and Kiev are expected to strike a new gas deal this week, since the 'winter plan' expires at the end of March. Ukraine expects to sign a new deal with Russian on April 13-14, according to Demchishin. At a previous meeting, Ukraine agreed to continue buying Russian gas to keeps its underground storage full in order to ensure supplies to Europe.

As of Sunday, Ukraine's gas reserves stood at 7.741 billion cubic meters, 5 percent less than on the first of the month, according to data from Gas Storage Europe (GSE). Since the beginning of the year, Ukraine's gas reserves have shrunk by 3.627 billion cubic meters, TASS reports.

Deliveries of Russian gas to Ukraine in 2014 were suspended for almost six months. On June 16 Gazprom switched to a prepayment system for Naftogaz because of a $4.5 billion debt, and only resumed deliveries on December 9.

How the touch of others makes us who we are

group hug

© colormetwentysomthing

Not only does touch seem to signal trust and cooperation, it creates them. Our sense of touch does much more than help us navigate the world at our fingertips. It is becoming clear that touching each other plays a fundamental role in our lives. It isn't just a sentimental human indulgence, says Francis McGlone at Liverpool John Moores University, UK. "It is a biological necessity."

Touching gives the world an emotional context. It builds trust and promotes teamwork, wins friends and influences people. But that's not all. Beginning in the womb, it may guide the development of regions in our brain that govern social behaviour. It could even give us our sense of self. The touch of others makes us who we are.

Compared to the other senses, however, touch often gets a raw deal. It receives less attention than sight or hearing, say. And yet the skin -- our touch detector -- is our biggest organ. An average-sized man has some 5 or 6 kilograms of it -- roughly the weight of a bowling ball. As well as regulating our temperature and shielding us from infection and injury, our skin is a communication interface with the outside world. And just as we can lose our sight or hearing, we can go touch-blind.

The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine says it has carried out more than 100 studies into touch and found evidence of significant effects, including faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes, and improved immune systems in people with cancer.

The nerves that carry signals from the surface of our skin to the brain run at different speeds. In the fast lane, we have A fibres, heavy duty cables that carry breaking news to the brain in an instant -- detailed information that helps us safely navigate our environment. In the slow lane, however, we have C fibres, thinner wires that deliver messages at a more languid pace. Moving at a sedate 7 kilometres an hour, information carried by one of these nerves takes about a second to travel from a caressed ankle up to the brain.

Our high-speed nervous system is relatively well understood. For years, we also thought the vocabulary of our skin was limited to messages of pressure or vibration, temperature, itches and pain. The slower C fibres were just thought to convey the less immediate components of pain -- throbs and aches, rather than pricks, stings and burns. But in the late 1990s, researchers identified a type of C fibre in humans -- dubbed C-tactile fibres or CT fibres -- that seemed to be activated by soft caresses.

People can communicate several distinct emotions through touch alone, including anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy. Accuracy rates ranged from 48 per cent to 83 per cent, comparable with those found in studies of emotions shown in faces and voices. "The evidence indicates that humans can communicate several distinct emotions through touch," said Dr Hertenstein. "Our study is the first to provide rigorous evidence showing that humans can reliably signal love, gratitude and sympathy with touch. These findings raise the interesting possibility that touch may convey more positive emotions than the face.''

Most touch receptors are concentrated in places like the lips and fingertips. However, CT fibres are found only on hairy skin -- almost everywhere except the lips, palms of the hands and soles of the feet -- and are concentrated on the top of the head, upper torso, arms and thighs. Like other touch highways, CT fibres are wired up to the brain region that lets us construct a model of the physical world around us -- the somatosensory cortex. But they also plug into areas like the insular cortex, which is linked to emotions.

Touch helps to build trust

"CT fibres activate this whole network of brain regions involved in thinking about other people and trying to understand what their intentions might be," says Kevin Pelphrey of Yale University. These same regions also respond to other social cues, such as facial expressions. "We think this touch system is another way to communicate social intentions," he says.

Or as David Linden -- a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and author of new book -- puts it: fast fibres are all about the facts, slow ones the emotional vibe.

What's more, they seem to be primed to the touch of others. "These nerve fibres respond optimally to low force, low velocity, stroking movements of around 3 to 5 centimetres per second," says McGlone. In other words, a gentle stroke. This kind of touch -- variously called social, emotional or affective touch -- also seems to be activated more by warm temperatures , meaning a touch from cold hands is less rewarding. "They are exquisitely tuned to exactly the type of affiliative touching that you see between parents and baby, or between two lovers," says McGlone.

But what for? It is probably to do with social bonding, if clues from our primate cousins are anything to go by. Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford and his colleagues at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, have preliminary results suggesting that gentle stroking activates similar brain pathways in humans to those that fire in non-human primates such as rhesus macaques during a grooming session. It also triggers the same release of endorphins. Interestingly, in humans, the density of an individual's endorphin receptors seems to correspond with the size of their social network.

Since gentle touching is rewarding, Dunbar thinks it encourages individuals to spend time together to develop relationships of trust and obligation. "We probably have as much physical contact within our core relationships as monkeys do within theirs," he says.

Touch lets us communicate a range of emotions. Gratitude, sympathy and love can all be conveyed with the briefest of touches. "I have always argued that touch is worth a thousand words in terms of understanding how somebody really sees you," says Dunbar.

Setting Boundaries

"The psychological sense of being oneself seems to be linked to being touched in this emotional way by another person," she says. "This may have a crucial role in teaching us the psychological boundaries of our own body, what is mine and what is not." Fotopoulou also has new results suggesting that people who have had a stroke can recover a lost sense of limb ownership if the arm or leg is stroked on a regular basis.

One question that fascinates many researchers is when this sense of identity develops. It might be that a parent's touch teaches infants about where they stop and others begin. "We aren't born with a fully fledged sense of body and self, and so we believe that what parents do is important for building it," says Fotopoulou.

Our sense of touch kicks in early. It is the first sense to develop, starting about eight weeks after conception, when the fetus is 1.5 centimetres long and brain activity is just beginning. "We know that babies are learning a great deal about touch in the uterus," says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida. "They suck on their thumbs, grab the umbilical cord and are constantly bumping against the walls of the mother's abdomen."

Emotional touch may also be at work in the womb. McGlone thinks that the swirl of amniotic fluid around the downy, lanugo hairs that cover a fetus may provide crucial stimulation to a developing brain, guiding the construction of areas such as the insular cortex. For McGlone, such caresses provide a kind of scaffold for the "social" parts of the brain, promoting the growth of synapses and connecting networks in key areas. And this building work continues after birth.

Ongoing stimulation is crucial for the development of other sensory systems, such as vision. If you deliberately block vision in one eye soon after birth, for example, the parts of the brain that process vision from that eye will never develop, even if it is unblocked later on.

"My hunch is that the natural interaction between parents and the infant -- that continuous desire to touch, cuddle and handle -- is providing the essential inputs that lay the foundations for a well-adjusted social brain," says McGlone. "It's more than just nice, it's absolutely critical."

Losing touch

We can lose our sense of touch in a number of ways. When Ian Waterman was 19, his immune system attacked his nerves and he lost his sense of proprioception -- a kind of internal touch that helps us locate our body in space. He could still feel pain and temperature, and his motor nervous system still functioned. But without knowing where his limbs were unless he looked, he couldn't move. It took years of mental retraining to learn how to will his arms and legs into action.

Other cases have been reported in which people lose the ability to feel prods and pokes, with similarly debilitating results. There is also a community of people in Norrbotten, Sweden, who have a genetic condition that makes them largely insensitive to pain.

Touch at a distance

Touch is a fundamental part of human communication, but in this era of remote digital interaction are we missing out? Some obviously think so, because there are now devices that can help us connect with colleagues or loved-ones remotely.

One gadget on the market is the Hug Shirt. By donning a sensor-laden sweater, you can record a cuddle by giving yourself a hug. This is then sent to a shirt worn by a recipient, which recreates the strength, duration and shape of your embrace. Other devices in development include objects that send strokes and squeezes over the internet by making companion devices respond with vibrations and temperature changes.

Can remote touches replace the real thing? Maybe. Michiel Spape at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology in Finland and his colleagues recently invited volunteers to play a game of trust called Ultimatum remotely. In the game, two players must decide how to divide a sum of money. One is asked how the money should be split, the other accepts or rejects the proposal. If an agreement is reached, both players receive their share; if not, neither gets anything.

Being touched by someone often makes us feel more altruistic towards them, so Spape's team strapped a vibrating "tactor" to the players' hands to recreate the sense of being touched. This made it slightly more likely that players would agree when divvying up their spoils.

Hug actually affect the entire body to such an extent that many scientists claim it is equivalent to the effect of many different drugs operating on the body simultaneously. Even seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch can help people deal with their emotions with clarity and more effectively.

How hugs can heal

* Hugging your partner could lower his or her blood pressure.

* Researchers have found that in younger women, the more hugs they get, the lower their blood pressure.

* Researchers at the University of North Carolina who investigated 69 pre-menopausal women showed that those who had the most hugs had a reduced heart rate.

* Exactly what could be responsible is not clear, but the psychiatrists who carried out the work also found that blood levels of the hormone oxytocin were much higher in the women who were hugged the most.

* Other research finds that oxytocin is released during social contact and that it is associated with social bonding, while a study at Ohio State University shows that when it is put into wounds in animals, the injuries heal much more quickly.

* Work at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences suggests that oxytocin can induce anti-stress-like effects, including reduction in blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol: "It increases pain thresholds and stimulates various types of positive social interaction, and it promotes growth and healing. Oxytocin can be released by various types of non-noxious sensory stimulation, for example by touch and warmth," they say.