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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Israeli 'reality creators': Israel allegedly confiscates 120 rings bearing an insignia associated with ISIS en route to Palestine


Photo by Israeli Tax Authority

Israeli customs officials have confiscated a package with at least 120 rings, claiming the inscriptions in Arabic the jewelry bears are promoting Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Staff at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport intercepted a "delivery of 120 rings bearing an insignia associated with the Daesh [the Arabic acronym for Islamic State] terrorist organization," the Israel Tax Authority said in a statement.

The items of jewelry, inscribed with messages in Arabic, were confiscated two weeks ago while being shipped to Ramallah.

Some of the rings appear to have only the word "Allah" written on them. Many have a sign known as the Seal of Mohammed engraved on top. Islamic State militants use the Seal of Mohammed on their group's flag and as a part of their own seal.

The silver rings were reportedly produced in Turkey and sent in response to an order placed by an importer in the West Bank. The package containing them was deemed suspicious upon its arrival in Israel.

"Everything that comes for the Palestinian Authority is put through a security check," a customs official told the Ynet news outlet.

The rings, found among several hundred other jewelry items, are considered "banned propaganda" in Israel and have therefore been scheduled for destruction.

"Although the importer declared the items as rings, it's considered to be incitement," the customs employee said, explaining the decision to ban the items.

"We're talking about a Palestinian civilian and we have no right to open an investigation, so we sent him a letter that the items would be destroyed and he has 30 days to appeal. Of course we immediately informed security forces and the Shin Bet."

According to the customs employee, "a large number of rings tell us that there are buyers for this."

"It is frightening and terrifying to know that in the territories of the Palestinian Authority, there are supporters of this murderous organization, and who knows, maybe with our help they will discover a cell or ideological organizing by IS."

Statins and Cancer

© Scott Olson/Getty Images

(Ho hum, not again)

A number of people have written to me pointing out an outbreak of mass hysteria in the UK press about statins protecting against cancer. I suspect this hysteria has been repeated around the world. Here are the headlines from the eponymous

Statins slash risk of death by cancer: They slow tumour growth

by up to 50% reveal major studies

Experts say there is 'overwhelming' evidence that statins can treat cancer

Study showed they cut death rates for bone cancer patients by 55 per cent

GPs should make patients aware of pills' new benefits, researchers say

I have been aware of claims that statins protect against cancer for many years. They pop up on a pretty regular basis. I have tended to ignore them on the basis that, anyone who is stupid enough to believe such research, deserves all the statins they can get.

However, such is the overblown hype this time, that I feel the need to rouse myself from my slumber, and explain why this is just complete rubbish. I don't need to read the original studies to do this. I have read enough of these over the years. I hope this does not sound too arrogant, but I will happily apologise if any single thing I write here proves to be wrong.

Not randomised controlled studies

The studies quoted will not have been randomised and controlled. By which I mean they did not take, say, forty thousand people and split them into two, randomised, groups. One group to take statins the other to take a placebo. Then wait, say, five years to see what difference there was.

These studies will have been observational. By which I mean you look at people taking statins and see what happens to them vs. people who do not take statins. Such studies can show associations between two variables. But they prove causality. (They cannot provide 'overwhelming' evidence of anything either). This is basic science, page one, paragraph one.

Just to provide one example of this. In 1987 a major observational study showed that women taking HRT had a more than forty per cent reduction in heart disease. At which point it was recommended that women took HRT to protect themselves against heart disease. This was, in fact, written into the guidelines of the American College of Physicians. To fail to prescribe HRT was considered medical malpractice in the USA.1

Some years later came the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study. The first randomised primary prevention trial to use HRT, and 17,000 women were involved.

'Analysis of hazard ratios showed that after 5.2 years, there was a 29% increase in coronary heart disease risk, including an 18% risk of coronary heart disease mortality and a 32% increase risk of nonfatal myocardial infarction. There was a 20% increase in risk of fatal stroke and 50% increase in the risk of non fatal stroke in women assigned to HRT.' 2

So, a 42% reduction in heart disease turned into a 18% risk of dying of heart disease. In short, observational studies are hopelessly unreliable and often turn out to be complete nonsense. And there is a specific reason why I know these statins studies will be complete rubbish, which I will get to.

Relative not absolute risk

Once again, in these studies, we run into the distorting use of relative, not absolute risk. A fifty per cent reduction in risk can mean something, or nothing very much. It depends what the underlying risk was in the first place. In my book I covered the use/misuse of relative risk in some depth.

Let us just say that if your underling risk of dying in the next five years is 50%, reducing that risk by 50% is a big deal. If the risk of dying in the next five years is 0.1%, then reducing that risk by 50% is five hundred times less of a big deal.

As for slowing tumour growth by 50%. Well, that could mean almost anything. Did you reduce tumour growth by 1%, 50% or some other number. And does reducing tumour growth actually reduce the risk of dying? Of course, you will always find some super rare cancer e.g. bone cancer, where death rates are cut by 55%.

I would imagine this meant about three deaths verses seven in bone cancer. Basically, however small the absolute figures can be to get to a relative risk reduction of 55%. I would guess there will be no statistical significance figure attached to this reduction. Many questions, almost none of them well be answered, you will find.

The elephant in the room (raised cholesterol protects against cancer)

Here, however, is the big issue. People with higher cholesterol levels are far less likely to die of cancer. Add this to the fact that people with higher cholesterol levels are far more likely be prescribed statins, and you start off with the most gigantic built in bias that it is possible to find.

In 1992 (before statins were being prescribed to more than a select few) a conference was held to look at low blood cholesterol and associations with mortality3. Going back this far in time is important. After this, statin prescribing makes it very difficult to disentangle those with naturally low, or high, cholesterol levels vs. those who were taking statins.

All the major studies of the time were reviewed, with nearly one million participants. As you can see from my little graph, reproduced from the figures in the paper, as cholesterol levels rise, the risk of cancer falls. For women, if your cholesterol level is below four, the risk of dying of cancer is 38% higher than if your cholesterol level is above 6.2mmol/l. In men we are looking at a 27% greater risk with low cholesterol levels. {See chart)

© drmalcolmkendrick.org

Thus any observational study on lowering cholesterol with statins starts off with a massive inbuilt bias in the two populations. You are looking at one group of people who have a much lower risk of cancer to start with, then giving them statins, then declaring that statins protect against cancer..... just most absolute unscientific codswallop.

As final warning. Be careful about lowering cholesterol too far. A very large Japanese study (that you will never have heard of, because it was not very supportive of statins) looked at prescribing statins to over forty seven thousand people over six years. As they found:

'The patients with an exceptionally low TC (total cholesterol) concentration, the so-called 'hyper-responders' to simvastatin, had a higher relative risk of death from malignancy than in the other patient groups.'4

In fact, the rate of death from cancer in those whose cholesterol fell the most dramatically was increased by three hundred and thirty per cent (relative risk, apologies for doing this, but I do not know the absolute risk). The authors added this warning:

'Further analysis is necessary to elucidate why the hyper-responders had an increased risk of death; their baseline characteristics will be described and discussed in detail in the future. Nevertheless, the health of patients who show a remarkable decrease in TC or LDL-C concentration with low-dose statin therapy should be monitored closely.'

Can I return to my slumbers on this issue now?


1: American College of Phyisicians. Guidelines for Counselling Post-Menopausal Women about Preventative Hormone Therapy. 117:1038-41. (1992)

2: Writing group for the Women's Health Initiative Investigators. 'Risks and benefits of oestrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women. Principal results from the Women's Health Initiative Randomized controlled Trials' (2002)

3: Jabobs et al: Conference on Low Blood Cholesterol and Mortality: Vol 86, No 3 September 1992

4: Matsuzaki M et al: Large Scale Cohort Study of the Relationship Between Serum Cholesterol Concentration and Coronary Events With Low-Dose Simvastatin Therapy in Japanese Patients With Hypercholesterolemia Primary Prevention Cohort Study of the Japan Lipid Intervention Trial (J-LIT). 2002; 66: 1087 - 1095

Texas Floods: Piles of worms mysteriously show up along roads

© Eisenhower State Park
A bunch of worms clumps together on a road at Eisenhower State Park in Denison, Texas after heavy rains in a photo released by park rangers on May 29, 2015.

Park rangers in Texas had thought someone left spaghetti in the middle of the road.

Instead, the piles in the middle of Eisenhower State Park were actually worms, Park Superintendent Ben Herman told ABC News today.

Rangers were checking the back roads of the park in Denison, Texas, found on May 29 when they found the piles lined up in a near-perfect straight line.

© Eisenhower State Park
Bunches of worms clump together on a road at Eisenhower State Park in Denison, Texas after heavy rains in a photo released by park rangers on May 29, 2015.

"We're still puzzled why they decided to line up in the middle of the road," Herman said. "Even our biologist doesn't know why they're spaced so well and in the line."

Rangers decided to poke the piles with a stick to ensure that there were only worms in the spaghetti-looking clumps.

The worms stayed for two days before heading back into the soil and leaving behind their manure, Herman added.

© Eisenhower State Park
A photo released by Eisenhower State Park rangers on June 2, 2015 shows piles of worm manure left behind after the worms returned to the soil.

Park officials now have two theories to why the worms came out in herds. Herman said the first is the heavy rains saturated the ground so much that the water forced the worms onto the dryer parts of the pavement. The second theory is rain may sound like predators beating down on the ground to the worms, so they move and clump together to avoid them.

The piles were only found in the back part of the state park that was closed off to vehicles because of flooding. Herman noted that no other Texas state parks reported the same phenomenon.

© Eisenhower State Park
Bunches of worms clump together on a road at Eisenhower State Park in Denison, Texas after heavy rains in a photo released by park rangers on May 29, 2015.

"We were all fascinated by what happened," he said. "It was pretty entertaining to watch the worms do their thing."

Eisenhower State Park covers more than 450 acres of land about an hour from the Oklahoma state border.

Israel launches multiple airstrikes in Gaza


© Reuters / Amir Cohen

Several massive explosions rocked the Gaza Strip on Thursday night amid multiple reports of Israeli jets buzzing the area. It follows reports that two rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel but failed to cause any damage.

At least three major blasts rocked Gaza city as Twitter got flooded with reports of residents waking up to the sounds of airstrikes and Israeli F-16 jets flying over.

The strikes took place in the western part of the strip, near the Maqousi Towers residential area. Khan Younis and Ubaidah garrison of Hamas-affiliated Al-Qassam Brigades were also struck.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, said citing Hamas media reports. Hamas said its military facilities were targeted.

Earlier on Wednesday, two missiles were fired into Israel from Gaza. However, it was not Hamas, but its rival Salafist group called Omar Brigades, loyal to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) that claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We are continuing with our jihad against the Jews," the group said in a statement, claiming the rockets were fired in retaliation for Hamas killing of an IS supporter on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

An Israeli army statement cited by Haaretz blamed Hamas for Wednesday's missile attack. IAF jets struck three "terror infrastructures" in the Gaza Strip, the statement said.

The outlet reported that Hamas' Gaza headquarters had been evacuated prior to the strikes, but the group adamantly denied being behind the launches. Hamas reportedly pointed a finger at the Salafist group, accusing it of trying to provoke a new all-out conflict in Gaza. Hamas security services had reportedly eliminated a senior Salafist, who had been planning attacks against the Palestinian group, just a few days before.

© Reuters / Mohammed Salem


Lost memories can be recalled by activating brain cells with light

© Christine Daniloff/MIT
Scientists use optogenetics to reactivate memories that could not otherwise be retrieved.

Memories that have been "lost" as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light.

In a paper published today in the journal , researchers at MIT reveal that they were able to reactivate memories that could not otherwise be retrieved, using a technology known as optogenetics.

The finding answers a fiercely debated question in neuroscience as to the nature of amnesia, according to Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor in MIT's Department of Biology and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, who directed the research by lead authors Tomas Ryan, Dheeraj Roy, and Michelle Pignatelli.

Neuroscience researchers have for many years debated whether retrograde amnesia -- which follows traumatic injury, stress, or diseases such as Alzheimer's -- is caused by damage to specific brain cells, meaning a memory cannot be stored, or if access to that memory is somehow blocked, preventing its recall.

"The majority of researchers have favored the storage theory, but we have shown in this paper that this majority theory is probably wrong," Tonegawa says. "Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment."

Memory researchers have previously speculated that somewhere in the brain network is a population of neurons that are activated during the process of acquiring a memory, causing enduring physical or chemical changes.

If these groups of neurons are subsequently reactivated by a trigger such as a particular sight or smell, for example, the entire memory is recalled. These neurons are known as "memory engram cells."

Shedding light

In 2012 Tonegawa's group used optogenetics -- in which proteins are added to neurons to allow them to be activated with light -- to demonstrate for the first time that such a population of neurons does indeed exist in an area of the brain called the hippocampus.

However, until now no one has been able to show that these groups of neurons do undergo enduring chemical changes, in a process known as memory consolidation. One such change, known as "long-term potentiation" (LTP), involves the strengthening of synapses, the structures that allow groups of neurons to send signals to each other, as a result of learning and experience.

To find out if these chemical changes do indeed take place, the researchers first identified a group of engram cells in the hippocampus that, when activated using optogenetic tools, were able to express a memory.

When they then recorded the activity of this particular group of cells, they found that the synapses connecting them had been strengthened. "We were able to demonstrate for the first time that these specific cells -- a small group of cells in the hippocampus -- had undergone this augmentation of synaptic strength," Tonegawa says.

The researchers then attempted to discover what happens to memories without this consolidation process. By administering a compound called anisomycin, which blocks protein synthesis within neurons, immediately after mice had formed a new memory, the researchers were able to prevent the synapses from strengthening.

When they returned one day later and attempted to reactivate the memory using an emotional trigger, they could find no trace of it. "So even though the engram cells are there, without protein synthesis those cell synapses are not strengthened, and the memory is lost," Tonegawa says.

But startlingly, when the researchers then reactivated the protein synthesis-blocked engram cells using optogenetic tools, they found that the mice exhibited all the signs of recalling the memory in full.

"If you test memory recall with natural recall triggers in an anisomycin-treated animal, it will be amnesiac, you cannot induce memory recall," Tonegawa says. "But if you go directly to the putative engram-bearing cells and activate them with light, you can restore the memory, despite the fact that there has been no LTP."

"Groundbreaking paper"

Further studies carried out by Tonegawa's group demonstrated that memories are stored not in synapses strengthened by protein synthesis in individual engram cells, but in a circuit, or "pathway" of multiple groups of engram cells and the connections between them.

"We are proposing a new concept, in which there is an engram cell ensemble pathway, or circuit, for each memory," he says. "This circuit encompasses multiple brain areas and the engram cell ensembles in these areas are connected specifically for a particular memory."

The research dissociates the mechanisms used in memory storage from those of memory retrieval, according to Ryan. "The strengthening of engram synapses is crucial for the brain's ability to access or retrieve those specific memories, while the connectivity pathways between engram cells allows the encoding and storage of the memory information itself," he says.

Changes in synaptic strength and in spine properties have long been associated with learning and memory, according to Alcino Silva, director of the Integrative Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California at Los Angeles. "This groundbreaking paper suggests that these changes may not be as critical for memory as once thought, since under certain conditions, it seems to be possible to disrupt these changes and still preserve memory," he says. "Instead, it appears that these changes may be needed for memory retrieval, a mysterious process that has so far evaded neuroscientists."

Mass die-off of marine life predicted from powerful red tide along California's central coast

A health warning is urging people not to eat anchovy, sardines, crab, or shellfish from the Monterey Bay

Scientists with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are predicting a mass die-off on the Central Coast because of a powerful red tide.

Researchers are seeing the highest levels of red tide in more than a decade, and they're worried it will have grave impacts on marine life.

"This is probably the largest domoic acid event they've seen in the last decade, so it is pretty severe," said Scott Kathey of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Up and down the West Coast, a large algal bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia is growing rapidly. As it gets bigger, it's producing more and more domoic acid, known to most people as red tide. The acid closes shellfish harvesting and can kill some animals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in early May that particulate domoic acid levels were exceeding 30 micrograms per liter of seawater. Shellfish harvesting closures are implemented when domoic acid levels reach 20 micrograms per gram of shellfish tissue. The bloom has continued to grow since then.

Researcher Raphael Kudela of the University of California Santa Cruz said the tide hasn't been this potent since 2000.

Red tides are not uncommon in the Monterey Bay, but when it is strong like this one, the concern is for marine life as concentrations of the acid move up the food chain.

"By the time you get to the higher level predators, like a sea lion, it's already been concentrated through all these fish on the ladder to the sea lion," said Kathey. "The visible aspects will be, like, the shakes, their behavior becomes very erratic. They can't focus on feeding, so they get dehydrated, malnourished, and then they essentially starve to death."

In past decades when there have been strong red tide events like the current one, there have been mass die-offs.

"It's sad to see, because you can tell they are in distress, and there is not much we can do about it," Kathey said.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already reporting effects from the high domoic acid levels. Melissa Miller, Ph.D, with the department said Kudela and a team at UCSC have determined a mass die off of anchovies along the Monterey Bay is related to the bloom.

Miller, who studies marine organisms, said she was asked to collect a dead pelican in Moss Landing to see if domoic acid was a factor in its death.

"I can't look at animal, and say, 'Yes, it tested positive from domoic acid,'" she said about the post mordum process.

Kathey said if you see a marine mammal suffering, you can call the Marine Mammal Center in Moss Landing.

More economic indicators show we are heading into recession

If we are not heading into a recession, why does our economy continue to act as if that is precisely what is happening? As you will see below, we learned this week that factory orders have declined year over year for six months in a row. That is something that has never happened outside of a time of recession. We have also seen new orders for consumer goods fall dramatically. In fact, the only time we have seen a more dramatic decline in that number was during the last recession. And when you add these two items to what I have written about previously, the overall economic picture becomes even more disturbing.

Corporate profits have fallen for two quarters in a row, our exports fell by 7.6 percent during the first quarter of 2015, and U.S. GDP contracted by 0.7 percent during Q1. Even though Barack Obama and the mainstream media are willingly ignoring them, the truth is that these numbers are absolutely screaming that we are going into a new recession.

Sometimes, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, and I believe that is certainly the case with the chart that I have posted below. It comes from Zero Hedge, and it shows that factory orders have declined year over year for six months in a row. The only times when this has ever happened before have been when the U.S. economy has been in recession...

When we look at new orders for consumer goods, we see a similar thing happening. This next chart comes from Charles Hugh Smith, and it really doesn't need much explanation...
Here is another chart from Charles Hugh Smith. This one shows the percentage change in new orders for consumer goods on a year over year basis...
These charts that I just shared with you are rather compelling. How anyone can see them and still believe that we are in an "economic recovery" is beyond me.

When the economy starts to turn, there are certain things that we look for. As I have written about over and over on my website, so many of the exact same patterns that we have seen emerge just prior to previous economic downturns are happening again right now.

Yes, the stock market is still sitting pretty for the moment. But almost everyone can see that it is massively overvalued and could start tanking at any time. And when the market does start crashing it is just going to cause our economic problems to accelerate even more.

Sadly, most Americans are totally oblivious to all of this.

Most Americans just continue to do the same things that they have always done. That includes going into ridiculous amounts of debt. For instance, this week we learned that the percentage of auto loans that are being stretched out for periods of greater than 6 years is at an all-time high...

The average new car loan has reached a record 67 months, reports Experian, the Ireland-based information-services company. The percentage of loans with terms of 73 to 84 months also reached a new high of 29.5% in the first quarter of 2015, up from 24.9% a year earlier.

Long-term used-vehicle loans also broke records with loan terms of 73 to 84 months reaching 16% in the first quarter 2015, up from 12.94% — also the highest on record.

But you know what?

Even though most Americans are being exceedingly foolish and are living paycheck to paycheck, that still isn't good enough for the boys and girls on Wall Street.

Just consider the following excerpt from a recent Wall Street Journal piece entitled "A Letter To Stingy American Consumers"...

Do you know the American economy is counting on you? We can't count on the rest of the world to spend money on our stuff. The rest of the world is in an even worse mood than you are. You should feel lucky you're not a Greek consumer. And China, well they're truly struggling there just to reach the very modest goal of 7% growth.

The Federal Reserve is counting on you too. Fed officials want to start raising the cost of your borrowing because they worry they've been giving you a free ride for too long with zero interest rates. We listen to Fed officials all of the time here at The Wall Street Journal, and they just can't figure you out.

Please let us know the problem. You can reach us at any of the emails below.


The Wall Street Journal's Central Bank Team

-By Jon Hilsenrath

They just want all of us to keep borrowing and spending our way into oblivion. But of course when things do fall apart and millions of Americans can't pay their debts, they will be there to foreclose on our homes and repossess our vehicles without any hesitation.

And when the next major economic downturn does strike, don't expect the rest of the planet to feel sorry for us. We like to think that the rest of the world looks up to us, but the exact opposite is actually true. At this point, much of the globe is pointing fingers at us and mocking us. Just consider the following excerpt from an article that appeared in Pravda...

The land of illusion; the land of entertainment producing songs and movies to warp reality. People pretending to be something they are not. Likewise, Washington DC has people who pretend to represent the people's interests. Pretending to bring hope and a change for the better. Pretending to bring unity and peace among all races. Lying through their teeth and laughing like clowns behind closed doors. Setting up a consumer based economy forcing the once mighty middle class to shrink and work at customer service jobs. "Ya want fries with that?"

It would be easy to dismiss that paragraph as "Russian propaganda", but the cold, hard reality of the matter is that there is nothing in that quote that is not true.

They are mocking us, and they are dead on. We are the land of illusion. We do have a shrinking middle class. And we are definitely addicted to entertainment. If you doubt this, just check out what one study recently found...

If you weren't reading this article, you would probably be scanning something else on the internet, watching TV, or maybe—just maybe—reading a newspaper or magazine. In short, you would be consuming media.

On average, people spend more than 490 minutes of their day with some sort of media, according to a new report by ZenithOptimedia. Television remains dominant, accounting for three hours of daily consumption—an hour more than the internet, in second place.

Other studies have actually discovered that the amount of time that Americans spend connected to media is even greater. This is something that I discussed in a previous article entitled "How Much Time Do Americans Spend Plugged Into The Matrix Every Day?"

For the moment, the mainstream media is assuring everyone that everything is going to be just fine and that they should go out and spend lots and lots of money.

But instead of spending your money on frivolous things like boats, electronic toys and expensive vacations, I believe that now is the time to get prepared for the great economic crisis which is currently starting to unfold.

Right now, I know that most people don't actually believe that life in America is about to dramatically change.

So many of the things that people (including myself) have been warning about for so long are about to happen. Our politicians and national leaders have turned a deaf ear to all of the warnings and have continued to conduct business as usual. Soon, the error of their ways will be apparent to all.

We are heading into the greatest economic crisis in U.S. history, and there is going to be no coming back to the false, debt-fueled "prosperity" that we are enjoying today.

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WikiLeaks releases secret TISA docs: The more evil sibling of TTIP and TPP

A cartoon by WikiLeaks.


WikiLeaks has released 17 secret documents from the negotiations of the global Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), which have been taking place behind closed doors, largely unnoticed, since 2013. The main participants are the United States, the European Union, and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan and Israel, which together comprise two-thirds of global GDP.

Significantly, all the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are absent, and are therefore unable to provide their perspective and input for what is essentially a deal designed by Western nations, for the benefit of Western corporations. According to the European Commission's dedicated page: "TiSA aims at opening up markets and improving rules in areas such as licensing, financial services, telecoms, e-commerce, maritime transport, and professionals moving abroad temporarily to provide services."

TISA's focus on services complements the two other global trade agreements currently being negotiated in secret: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the corresponding deal for the Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which deal with goods and investments. Like both TTIP and TPP, one of the central aims of TISA is to remove "barriers" to trade in services, and to impose a regulatory ratchet on participating nations. In the case of TISA, the ratchet ensures that services are deregulated and opened up to private companies around the world, and that once privatised, they cannot be re-nationalised.

The 17 documents released today include drafts and annexes on issues such as air traffic, maritime transport, professional services, e-commerce, delivery services, transparency, and domestic regulation, as well as several documents on the positions of negotiating parties. The annexe on e-commerce is likely to be of particular interest to Ars readers, since, if adopted, it would have a major impact on several extremely sensitive areas in the digital realm.

Federal judge investigating allegations U.S. government destroyed evidence in NSA whistleblower case


© AFP Photo / DPA
Former senior executive of the US National Security Agency (NSA), Thomas Drake

A federal judge is investigating allegations that the US government may have destroyed documents during the investigation of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, who leaked information about the agency's surveillance programs.

According to a report by McClatchy, federal judge Stephanie Gallagher of Maryland wrote to Justice Department lawyers on May 13 explaining that the judge who oversaw the Drake case asked her to check out allegations made by Drake's lawyers that documents were destroyed by the Pentagon Inspector General's office. Gallagher gave the Justice Department a month to respond.

If the allegations are confirmed, sanctions can be made against prosecutors and federal agents for violating evidence retention rules in criminal cases.

Drake's lawyers, in a letter to the judge in April, accused the Pentagon Inspector General's Office of destroying possible evidence during Drake's criminal prosecution in 2010.

Thomas A. Drake was a senior executive at the NSA for seven years. When he tried to alert his superiors and Congress about what he saw as illegal activities - the surveillance of Americans, as well as waste and mismanagement at the NSA - his efforts went nowhere. He then decided to take his allegations to the press. Drake used encrypted email to communicate with a reporter, but his leak was discovered.

In 2010, Drake was indicted by the Obama administration on a 10-count charge under the Espionage Act. He was facing a possible sentence of 35 years in jail. The government's case, however, unraveled during trial and Drake pleaded guilty to only a misdemeanor charge. He was sentenced to community service and probation.

Drake's current lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, who did not comment to McClatchy about what to expect from the judge's investigation, said her client is "grateful that the court sees this as serious enough to look into."

"The fact that there is a court-ordered investigation is a partial vindication," said Radack, who also works as a national security director with the Government Accountability Project, which advocates on behalf of whistleblowers. "As (the presiding) judge noted, Tom Drake has been through years of hell because of this prosecution even though this case collapsed in a spectacular fashion."

Drake's former defense lawyer and the two judges did not return calls from McClatchy, while the Justice Department and the Pentagon Inspector General's Office declined to comment.

From 2002-2003, Drake joined a group of whistleblowers who cooperated with congressional and Pentagon Inspector General inquiries scrutinizing the NSA's surveillance programs.

The possible document destruction first came to light when Drake's lawyers sought records relating to his whistleblower cooperation with the Pentagon. The Justice Department at the time told the judge that most of the "hard-copy documents" were destroyed "pursuant to a standard document destruction policy" and couldn't be provided to the defense.

"I investigated the destruction of documents and learned that the (the Pentagon Inspector General's Office) does not have a document destruction policy," Radack wrote in her letter to the judge on April 12. "Rather, (the Inspector General's Office) has a Records Management Program, which dictated that the documents should have been retained."

A previous report by McClatchy said the document destruction allegations came from complaints filed by multiple former and current officials in the Pentagon Inspector General's Office, which said that senior officials had attempted to "water down or changing findings in [the Drake] investigations because of fear of political controversy."

"No one knows what was in the material," said an unnamed person with knowledge of the matter to McClatchy. "It might have been exculpatory. What is known is IG officials obscured the fact that such evidence might have been destroyed improperly."

Blaming the victim: Lawyer for youth pastor accused of rape says underage girl is lying since "she consented 6 times after rape"


Former youth pastor Daniel Jack

The lawyer for a Pennsylvania youth pastor who has been charged with rape suggested this week that the underage victim may have been lying because she consented to sex on other occasions.

According to the , court documents filed against 31-year-old Daniel Allen Jack of Amplify Church alleged that the youth pastor first met the victim in December 2014 when she joined the church youth group.

By January, Jack was using text messages to gain the trust of the girl, the complaint alleged. And he created fake identities on Google and gave her a second cell phone so the two could talk privately.

Before Easter, Jack was said to have taken to girl to his parents' home, where he suggested that the two should have sex. But when he started kissing and touching her, she cried and refused to cooperate, the complaint said.

When she refused to have sex with Jack again, he allegedly held her on the floor and forcibly raped her.

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The court documents indicated that the girl, who was said to have been about 16 years old when the relationship began, consented to sex at least six more times with the youth pastor. She told investigators that she did not refuse Jack's sexual advances after the first time because she looked up to him like a father and did not want to disappoint him.

On May 11, the girl's mother reported to police that her daughter was missing, and that the girl had written a suicide note. The girl was eventually recovered by State Troopers, who found that Jack had picked her up and had taken her to a shack in a wooded area.

Attorney Robert Mielnicki, who is representing Jack, told WPXI that the he had a hard time buying the girl's story.

"Look at the affidavit. She says that he raped her but then she had consensual sex with him six times after that," he noted. "After practicing law for 23 years, I cannot rule out that anything is possible but that seems strange to me."

"I only learned Mr. Jack was being charged yesterday and saw the complaint for the first time today at the arraignment. My client is absolutely shocked at the allegation that he forcibly raped this girl."

Amplify Church board member Joe Kubit said that the church terminated Jack's employment in April and contacted "Child Line" when they learned of the charges. Jack also held a job as a technology employee at Kiski Area School District. The district has placed him on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Jack was released from Westmoreland County Jail after posting $50,000 bail. A court appearance was set for June 30.

Rhode Island couple charged with murder after body found on property covered up by concrete


© Mary Murphy/Providence Journal via AP, Pool
Steven Pietrowicz, Jr., center, of Burrillville, R.I., is arraigned on a murder charge in Providence District Court in Providence, R.I., for the murder of Domingo Ortiz of Worcester, Mass.

A Rhode Island couple was ordered held without bail Monday in the killing of a Massachusetts man whose body was found under newly poured concrete at the couple's home nearly a month after he went missing.

Steven Pietrowicz, 39, and Michelle Morin, 40, were arraigned on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of a police officer. A bail hearing was scheduled for June 15.

Morin was arrested late Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she and Pietrowicz previously lived. She waived extradition Monday and agreed to be returned to Rhode Island to face charges.

Pietrowicz was already in custody on charges of domestic assault.


© Rick Cinclair/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via AP, Pool
Michelle A. Morin, center, is arraigned in Worcester District Court in Worcester, Mass. Monday, June 1, 2015, with her attorney Michael Hussey, left, for the murder of Domingo Ortiz of Worcester, Mass.

The body of 60-year-old Domingo Ortiz, of Worcester, was found Friday beneath a newly constructed deck adjacent to the home Pietrowicz and Morin were renting. The body was located in a four-to-five-foot hole covered by large rocks and a layer of concrete, police said.

Ortiz had been beaten with an object and his legs may have been tied up, police said. An autopsy had not been completed Monday. Ortiz had been missing since May 5 and was last seen getting into the couple's car that day in Worcester, police said.

Pietrowicz and Morin told police they'd had an argument with Ortiz that evening but said that he'd left the home the morning of May 6. An initial search of the couple's home turned up broken furniture and evidence of cleaning with a strong bleach product, police said.

Police have not offered a motive for the killing.

Fog bank gives illusion of tsunami wave off New Jersey


© Jim Freda
The Sea Girt Lifeguards Twitter page said the fog bank showed up along the coastline after a storm Sunday.


Sea Girt Lifeguards @SGLifeguards

Weekend 2 in the books & ended w a fog bank, some surf & a wicked storm that came through #swimnearalifeguard

10:17 PM - 31 May 2015

Lifeguards at a New Jersey beach shared photos of a massive fog bank that looked like an extremely slow-moving tsunami wave.

The Sea Girt Lifeguards Twitter page shared photos of the fog bank, which sat right on the coastline Sunday following massive storms in the area, giving the appearance of a slow-moving tsunami wave.

The photos were taken by Jim Freda, beach manager for Borough of Sea Girt.

The National Weather Service said the fog bank was caused by "warm air condensing over cold ocean water."

The NWS posted a Facebook photo showing how the fog bank lined up perfectly with the coast.


Hurricane Blanca, a category 4 storm is heading toward Baja, California

© National Hurricane Center
The forecast track of Hurricane Blanca shows it heading for Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

Hurricane Blanca, a Category-4 storm with 130 mph winds, is spinning in the eastern Pacific Ocean. As of 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, it was located 455 miles south of Manzanillo, Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Blanca is nearly stationary, but will begin moving northwestward Thursday, the Weather Channel said. There is increasing confidence in a track toward southern Baja California, though it is expected to weaken as comes closer to land.

The hurricane would impact the Baja by the weekend.

Blanca is the second major hurricane to form in eastern Pacific this year. A major hurricane is one that's a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of Hurricane Intensity.

Tropical Storm Andres, which had been a major hurricane a few days ago, decreased to near 70 mph with continued weakening expected. The storm is centered about 995 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. It's no threat to land.

Australia's first day of winter brings lowest temperatures in forty years

The NSW alpine resorts of Perisher (pictured) and Thredbo turned white overnight as 30cm of snow blanketed the mountains with lows of minus nine degrees

Australia is experiencing the coldest start to winter in forty years after parts of the country were buried under a foot of snow.

Temperatures plunged as low as minus nine degrees Celsius as the alpine resorts of Perisher and Thredbo in New South Wales disappeared underneath a blanket of snow on Monday evening.

Average winter temperatures across New South Wales are typically between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius.

It got as cold as 6.1 degrees Celsius in the City of Sydney, making it the chilliest morning the region has seen since 1987. Falls Creek in Victoria also received 20cm of snow overnight and Mount Buller recorded8cm, while Melbourne got off to its coldest morning in almost 40 years.

While the UK, in comparison, was bathed in sunshine today as highs of more than 21 degrees Celsius were recorded this morning in Lincolnshire.

The freezing weather is forcing many Australians to get creative with ways to beat the cold, from leaving the oven on to heat the house, to warming their beds with hairdryers.

Most of the homes in the typically temperate country do not have insulation and so are not equipped to keep the warmth in and cold out during icy spells, accordant to Claire Cunliffe, Marketing Manager at Knauf Insulation Australia and New Zealand.

The situation is so extreme that one in ten Australians have had to move their families into a warmer part of the house to sleep - even into one room - to beat the chill during frosty nights, a new survey by Thinkinsulation revealed.

It was minus seven degrees at ski resort Perisher on Monday morning, while Thredbo recorded temperatures of minus eight, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Freezing temperatures on the first day of winter has ensured the Snowy Mountains will live up to its name ahead of the ski season opening this weekend with 30cm of snow falling at Perisher Valley

Low temperatures are expected to continue throughout the week, with snow predicted to fall in both areas from Wednesday to Friday.

But the cold snap is good news for the country's skiers who are expected to flock to the Snowy Mountains to take advantage of the early snowfall.

Both Perisher and Thredbo revealed they will now open on Friday given the forecast conditions for the rest of the week

Southern California experiences reverse meteorological spring for first time in nearly a century

© Reuters/Lucy Nicholson/Files
Rain clouds move in over downtown Los Angeles, California in this March 2, 2015 file photo.

Spring weather in downtown Los Angeles and other areas of Southern California flip-flopped this year as temperatures cooled from March to May, creating a so-called reverse meteorological spring for the first time in nearly a century, officials said on Tuesday.

A reverse meteorological spring is rare and indicative of the abnormally warm and dry weather plaguing California, which has suffered severe drought conditions for the last four years, National Weather Service weather specialist Stuart Seto said.

"What this means is that springtime started out warmer in March and then April was cooler and May was cooler," Seto said. "It's an unusual occurrence that's only happened three times in the history since we've been keeping records."

The last reverse meteorological springs in the area were in 1914 and 1921, according to National Weather Service records dating to 1877.

This year, the average temperature in March was 68.2 compared to the normal average of 60.1. May saw an average temperature at 64.1, nearly two degrees cooler than the normal average temperature of 65.8 degrees, Seto said.

The same high pressure system that has been blocking rain during the winter months when the area typically sees most of its precipitation also causes warmer temperatures, Seto said. He added that unusually warm weather has been seen across the world this year.

"Even globally, January through April has been warmer," he said.

Seto said this summer is looking to be warmer than normal for Southern California, but noted that an El Nino weather pattern means rain could come in the winter months.

"We might get more rain over these winter months," he said. "It may not end the drought but it sure would be helpful to get at least normal rainfall."