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Thursday, 4 June 2015

All by myself: "Alone time" can be good for you

© Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Eighty-five percent of Americans believe it's important to have times when they are completely alone and away from anyone else, according to a recent Pew survey. Another 55 percent believe this is very important while 30 percent say it's somewhat important.1

This desire for occasional solitude gives your body and, perhaps more importantly, your mind space and time to just be in the moment, experiencing it with your full attention and focus. It turns out alone time of this sort is highly rewarding.

If you've ever hesitated to spend time alone, perhaps believing you won't enjoy it, a recent study found that people have just as good of a time engaging in fun activities as they do when they're with others. The only down side came when the loners worried about how they would look to others, perhaps appearing they had no one to spend time with.2

This latter issue is easily overcome by positive thinking and directing your focus to your activities at hand and the enjoyment it brings. However, aside from enjoyment, spending time alone offers may additional benefits.

7 Top Benefits of Alone Time

What do you stand to gain simply from spending some "me time" alone? CNN recently compiled benefits:3

1. Boost Creativity

Even though brainstorming is often promoted as the best way to gather ideas, research shows that people who work alone and later pool their ideas actually come up with far more ideas.4

2. Work Harder and More Efficiently

Working alone can also prompt you to work more intensely and efficiently, as you know it's up to you to finish the task and do it well. In a group setting, most people believe they have to put in less effort since more people are involved.

3. Restore Your Energy

This is especially relevant to introverts, who feel social interactions zap their energy. Spending time alone gives you time to recharge your batteries, in a sense, so you can go back into the social scene feeling refreshed and at the top of your game.

4. Meet New People

Ironically, spending time doing activities alone is actually a great opportunity to meet others who share your interests. When you're alone, you're far more likely to interact with people around you, including those you may not have struck up a conversation with had you been in other company.

5. Boost Your Mood, Particularly in Teens

For teens, spending some time in solitude had a "positive after effect on emotional state," and those who spent an intermediate amount of their time alone were better adjusted than those who spent either a little or a great deal of time alone.

The researchers concluded that solitude in adolescence can have a constructive role in daily life and offers "a strategic retreat that complements social experience."5

6. Clear Your Mind

Spending time alone helps your mind to process information and offers time for reflection. As reported by CNN:6

"'Constantly being 'on' doesn't give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself,' Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. wrote in Psychology Today. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It's an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time."7

7. Do What You Want

When you're alone, you can spend the day doing whatever it is you want, without worrying about others desires. So if you love to hike but your partner doesn't, going alone gives you a chance do something you love, which we all deserve on a regular basis.

Why Some People Look Forward to Their Commute

Long commutes can be dangerous for your health in that they add additional sitting time to your day and can be quite stressful, especially if you're in heavy traffic. However, a recent Australian study found that some people actually look forward to their commutes because it provides an opportunity for alone time. According to the report:8

"For many commuters, the journey to and from work is a necessary transition time between home and work. Some participants even described how they would actually extend their journeys in time by waiting somewhere along the route or traveling a different way.

For some, the commute home was a valuable opportunity to process work-related issues that were unwelcome at home. For others, commuting time was a valuable personal time out from responsibilities of both work and home life.

Some participants said this was the only time that they get to be themselves during the week, and so used it to dream, relax, and meditate. A distinctive advantage of public transport is the freedom that it permits for doing things that they see as 'luxuries.'"

There were downsides to commuting reported in the study as well, but it does shed some light on the continued importance of alone time in people's lives, even if the only alone time you get is during your morning and evening commute.
What Makes Being Alone Healthy or Harmful? Feeling Lonely

Purposefully spending time alone is quite a different phenomenon than feeling lonely. The former is defined as solitude and is often associated with getting to know your inner self, finding inner peace, and restoring and refreshing your body, mind, and soul.

The latter, loneliness, is a feeling of being disconnected from those around you and wishing you had that connection. While solitude is great for mental health, stress relief, and even building relationships, loneliness is not.

Negative emotions will invariably impact your physical well-being, and loneliness is no different. Research reveals that feeling lonely raises your blood pressure up to 14 points, with greater increases coming the more years the lonely feelings persist.9 A separate study found that the risk of developing dementia also increased about 51 percent for each one-point increase on a loneliness scale.10

What's interesting, though, is that brain deposits that normally develop in Alzheimer's patients were not seen among those who were lonely, indicating that the emotion triggers dementia through a different mechanism, such as higher levels of stress hormones, cancer, or high blood pressure (all of which are more likely to occur in lonely people).

Other studies have also shown that being socially isolated can cause health problems, including weakening your immune system and resulting in sleep dysfunctions.

Further, in what loneliness expert John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, described as "slowly unfolding pathophysiological processes," his research demonstrated that people who are lonely are more likely to:11

  • Be depressed
  • Suffer from alcoholism
  • Report higher levels of perceived stress
  • Have fewer positive social interactions
If You're Lonely, Here Are Tips to Overcome It

If your "alone time" is not chosen solitude but rather a feeling of loneliness, I recommend trying to build more social relationships by:

  • Exploring new hobbies and interests that ignite your natural curiosity and passions. Deep friendships naturally form among people with similar interests.
  • Volunteering or joining a club or organization in your area. Book clubs, adult sports leagues, holistic moms groups, even food coops can all lead to new relationships.
  • Making an effort to re-establish old relationships and cultivate new ones. This could be with family you've lost touch with, friends from college, or a new neighbor across the street. The Internet is also an increasingly popular way to meet new people.
  • Adopting a companion pet. A dog or cat can provide unconditional love and comfort, and studies show that owning a pet can help protect against loneliness, depression, and anxiety. In fact, dogs are often brought to nursing homes, hospice settings, and hospitals for this very reason.
Meditation May Help You Enjoy Your Alone Time

For some people, the thought of completely disconnecting and being alone is a terrifying thought. In fact, when faced with a decision to sit alone in a room for up to 15 minutes or self-administer electric shocks... many chose to receive the shocks. According to the study:12

"In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative."

The reason for this is likely because your mind, when left with no distractions, may start to race, focus on negative thoughts, or re-live past unpleasant experiences. This is where meditation and positive thinking can be invaluable. The researchers continued:

"Research has shown that minds are difficult to control... and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself."

How to Be Alone

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If alone time isn't a regular part of your day, you may wonder how you can carve out this time... and what, exactly, to do with it. You can use it for whatever you want... exercising, reading, writing, doing hobbies, meditating... anything that gives you joy and a respite from the daily grind. If you're feeling uncertain about venturing out into the world watch the video above for inspiration. If finding the to be alone is the more pressing question, here are some simple tips:13
  • Turn off distractions. Your phone, email, and TV can all interrupt your alone time.
  • Get up early. An extra half hour or hour in the morning can provide a quiet time for you to invest in yourself.
  • Close your door. If you work in an office, close your door, and if necessary, add a sign to it indicating you don't want to be disturbed.
  • Use your lunch hour. Take your lunch outside and eat it on a park bench or go for a solo walk.
  • Schedule it. Whether it's 15 minutes before bed or an entire day once a month, schedule alone time into your calendar so you'll always have time for valuable solitude.

6-year-old invited sexual abuse, says judge

© Huffington Post

Judges Horacio Piombo and Ramón Sal Llargués of the Chamber of Criminal Cassation of Buenos Aires stunned the world when they reduced the sentence of a child molester because the child "displayed a homosexual orientation and was accustomed to being sexually abused."

Mario Tolosa was the child's soccer coach when he raped the child. He had been sentenced to six years, but the judges cut that sentence almost in half because Tolosa couldn't be held responsible for "the warped sexual development of the minor child." The six-year-old was called a cross-dresser by the judges before they went on to say:

it is clear that the child's sexual choice—despite his young age and in light of the considerable testimony of those close to him—had already been made."

The prosecutor in the case is appealing to the Supreme Court of the Province of Buenos Aires.

It should be noted that these are the same honorable judges that reduced the sentence of a preacher that raped a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old because the girls

"were from a social class in which sexual permissiveness was acceptable at an early age."

Obviously the judges condone sexual acts with minors, but their most recent decision and reason grants free reign to predators who can now target children that have demonstrated some form of behavior that is against the norms of the traditionally conservative society. LGBT groups in the country are (rightfully) outraged.

Even the public defender for the area expressed serious concern with the judges' ruling. He referred to the ruling as "discriminatory" and "homophobic."

Buenos Aires is already known for sex tourists and sex trafficking. Now, the area will obviously become a hotbed for people seeking to victimize children. These judges have issued a combination of rulings that have basically led to the impression that as long as the victim comes from a low-income family and can somehow be made to appear gay in the court's eyes, the abuse is just part of what the children should expect. They're even inviting it.


Death of sanity: Mike Huckabee says Israeli occupation made life great for Palestinians: Now they have sidewalks

© YouTube
Mike Huckabee speaks in Central Park at the Israel Day Concert on May 31, 2015

In a speech in New York this weekend, Mike Huckabee told a sympathetic crowd that Israeli occupation has made life great for Palestinians, reports.

The Republican presidential candidate gave a keynote at the 22nd annual Israel Day Concert in Central Park, a "star-studded" event to honor "three slain Israeli teens." This year's show featured performances by musicians Alex Clare, Gad Elbaz, Mati Shriki, and others, as well as speeches by political officials, including George W. Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

"We must educate world," Huckabee said in his Sunday speech, "that the Israelis have done more to bring prosperity, peace, and a state of liberty to people, whether they're Jewish or not."

The former governor of Arkansas describes a visit last year to a Soda Stream factory in Judea, where he observed "600 Arabs and 500 Jews working side by side, the Arabs earning four times the amount of money they would in any place in the [Palestinian Authority]." Even still, says Huckabee, there is probably "somebody in Europe or somebody in this country sitting in some Ivy League ivory tower" questioning Israel's supreme authority.

"Tell that to Arabs who've made more than ever in their lives," Huckabee quips. He argues occupied Palestine is better off under Israeli control, because of sidewalks, hospitals, and schools that Palestinians "never had before."

Huckabee says the relationship between the United States and Israel is not just a matter of "political convenience" for him, but of "personal passion." A devout Christian, Huckabee speaks of the U.S.-Israeli alliance with undertones of fire-and-brimstone, Old Testament spirituality.

"There is no explanation for Israel," Huckabee declares, "other than the hand of almighty God that has preserved and protected and given the Jews their homeland after 2,000 years of being scattered across the earth." And there is no evident reason that the United States should exist, Huckabee says, "other than the providence of God's hand."

Huckabee accuses U.S. political leaders of being more diplomatic with Iran than they are with Israel. If he becomes president, Huckabee says, he will make sure Iran will not obtain bombs and then use them to attack Israel.

A "threat to Israel is a threat to the United States," Huckabee explains. "Our liberty is threatened by the forces of radical jihad." Those who identify pressing American policy issues other than radical jihad, according to Huckabee, won't call the "enemy by its name."

Huckabee says he and people with likeminded policy views about Israel constitute a "world of sanity against the insanity." But the "existence of Israel is truly at stake," Huckabee warns. Huckabee supports keeping existing Jerusalem borders intact. Israel's boundaries are "not given by the United Nations," Huckabee says, but by "almighty God."

The United States has "no better friend" than Israel, according to Huckabee. Citizens of the two nations, he urges, should "not for one moment let our guard down." "There are forces that want to destroy every last one of us, Huckabee warns.

describes the Israel Day Concert as "a chance to soak in good music" and a way to learn more about Iran's nuclear program and how to be more active in supporting "the Jewish state."

Watch Huckabee extol the virtues of Israeli occupying forces, from a Palestinian perspective:

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Lawyer fights against Harper's C-51 Bill, a "fascist and dictatorial piece of legislation"

© Unknown

Constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati did not thank people for attending a rally opposing Bill C-51, saying instead that it is every Canadians' duty to fight against what he called a "fascist and dictatorial piece of legislation."

The Toronto lawyer, who previously launched cases against Marc Nadon's Supreme Court appointment and recent changes to the Citizenship Act, vowed to fight the Anti-Terrorism Act on constitutional grounds.

Several hundred people attended the rally in Toronto on May 30. Galati listed five ways in which he says the bill infringes on Canadians' constitutional rights, and called for citizens to withhold their votes to parties and politicians that have supported it.

"We at the Constitutional Rights Centre will challenge the constitutionality of this bill and encourage other organizations to do the same," Galati said.

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Go to war or go home: House resolution to force debate on fight against ISIS


© Reuters / Stringer

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to force a debate on the war against ISIS - by threatening to bring the US troops home by the end of the year. Congress has approved funds for the conflict for months, while dodging discussion of its status.

Calling Congress the "poster child for cowardice", Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) proposed a "concurrent resolution" on Thursday, seeking to force a debate in the House by June 23 on whether to officially declare war, or give President Obama until the end of the year to pull US troops out of Iraq and Syria.

The resolution is co-sponsored by representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

McGovern proposed the resolution citing the mounting cost of the war against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), that military officials said might last "a generation or more."

"If we are going to invest a generation or more of our blood and our treasure in this war, then shouldn't Congress at least debate whether or not to authorize it?" McGovern asked on the House floor.

He cited figures from the National Priorities Project, an organization based in his district, indicating that every hour of military operations against the IS cost the US taxpayers $3.42 million every hour.

"Nearly every single penny of this war chest was borrowed money, put on the national credit card - provided as so-called emergency funds that don't have to be accounted for or subject to budget caps like all other funds," McGovern argued.

"Every day this Congress is forced to make tough, serious, painful decisions to deprive our domestic economy and priorities of the resources they need to succeed. But somehow, there's always money for more wars."

The current policy in Iraq and Syria was just more of the same, he charged, without a beginning, middle and end. Defeating the IS would require a "complicated and more imaginative response."

The White House and the Pentagon have done their duty, McGovern said, informing Congress last June when operations against the IS began, and requesting an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in February.

Instead of approving or rejecting it, however, the Republican leadership of both the House and the Senate has criticized the proposal without offering an alternative.

"If this House doesn't have the stomach to carry out its Constitutional duty to debate and authorize this latest war, then we should bring our troops home," McGovern said. "If the cowardly Congress can go home each night to their families and loved ones, then our brave troops should receive the same privilege."

"Be for it or against it, but have the debate," added Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican representing the district hosting the Fort Bragg military base. "It is our responsibility, not the president's responsibility, to initiate these AUMFs."

A similar resolution McGovern had proposed in July 2014 received overwhelming bipartisan support, passing with a 370-40 vote. The House Republican leadership has refused to bring the White House's AUMF to a vote in the 10 months since operations against Islamic State began.

The Danes are revolting: Tax Administration set on fire

In Fredensborg, Denmark, ten official cars from the Tax Administration Office were set on fire and destroyed overnight in a protest. As reports, police received notification Wednesday night at 3:09 a.m. that the Tax Administration offices on Kratvej were on fire. So far, there are no suspects. But, as Martin Armstrong notes, the police will undoubtedly hunt for someone retaliating against the Tax Man.

As Martin Armstrong further points out, this is not the first time the world has seen this...

On February 18, 2010, a man in a dispute with the IRS for seizing his home flew his plane in a suicide mission directly into the IRS building in Austin, Texas.

His battle against the Tax Man made him a hero to many.

As the economy turns down and governments become far more aggressive to grab money from everyone, we should see a sharp rise in these types of incidents.

This is part of the rising trend in civil unrest.

This is all insane since money is no longer tangible; taxes are also no longer necessary. We should seriously address the fact that money is not what it used to be.

We have moved forward in technology, science, medicine, and every field except economics. France is high on the list for a major tax revolution as nearly 50% of GDP is consumed by annual tax collections. That is totally insane. And they wonder why the rich flee and unemployment rises? This is the 21st century, not the 17th. Money has changed and taxes are no longer necessary, yet they create it anyway. That is like me giving you a $100 bonus and then charging you $50 to receive it.

What's the point? They spend more than they collect anyway.

USA Freedom Act: Another nail in the coffin of civil liberties

© unknown

With the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, mainstream media outlets and even some "privacy advocates" are hailing the passage of the bill as a welcome step forward and a sign of defeat for the USA PATRIOT Act, the bill that was itself passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and widely representative of the United States' rapid descent into outright police state tyranny.

Unfortunately, however, the passage of the FREEDOM Act is no victory for freedom. In fact, is an insultingly sound nail in freedom's coffin.

The bill, which has been promoted and supported by many of the same members of Congress that supported the PATRIOT Act (notably, James Sensenbrenner) now comes on the heels of a 2nd US Circuit Court decision that bulk telecommunications data collection was not authorized by the PATRIOT Act, unconstitutional, and therefore an illegal act.

To be sure, the FREEDOM Act has been in the works for passage since 2013 when lawmakers began pushing it. At the time, the bill attempted to actually extend the PATRIOT Act provisions through the end of 2017 as well as maintain a number of violations of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

The new version of the FREEDOM Act is no better, except perhaps in the language being used to promote it.

When the 2nd Circuit Court ruled that the PATRIOT Act did not authorize the bulk collection of data nationwide and that doing so violates the Constitution, it essentially made the actions of the NSA and the rest of the US intelligence apparatus illegal. The FREEDOM Act does nothing to punish or prevent intelligence agencies who have been illegally wiretapping innocent Americans. In fact, it has simply legalized the process. According to Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute, the bill is able to legalize the storage and collection of bulk data by putting the responsibility upon the back of the major telecommunications companies who will be tasked with doing just that - storing and retaining all data - for future use by intelligence agencies. This data must be turned over to the agencies upon request. It is, essentially, the privatization of mass surveillance.

These Telecom giants who will now be in charge of the data collection have worked hand in glove with intelligence agencies for some time. Now the law will require them to do so. Of course, it should be remembered that, at the top levels of many corporations, the surveillance and intelligence apparatus along with the capitalist and governing corporate boards are often one and the same.

Daniel McAdams makes four points about how the FREEDOM Act influences the collection of data in the private sphere. He writes,

1) The recent decision of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the bulk collection of American citizens' telecommunications information was not authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act means that as of this afternoon, the bulk collection of American citizens' telecommunications information was an illegal act. The government was breaking the law each time it grabbed our metadata. The moment the FREEDOM Act is signed by President Obama that same activity will become legal. How is making an unconstitutional and illegal act into a legal one a benefit to civil liberties?

2) The FREEDOM Act turns private telecommunications companies into agents of state security. They will be required to store our personal information and hand it over to state security organs upon demand. How do we know this development is a step in the wrong direction? It is reportedly the brainchild of Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA director at the time! According to press reports, this was but a public relations move to deflect criticism of the bulk collection program. Alexander "saw the move as a way for Obama to respond to public criticism without losing programs the NSA deemed more essential,"reports Homeland Security News.

3) The FREEDOM Act turns private telecommunications companies into depositories of "pre-crime" data for future use of state security agencies. It is a classic authoritarian move for the state to co-opt and subsume the private sector. Once the FREEDOM Act is signed, Americans' telecommunications information will be retained by the telecommunications companies for the use of state security agencies in potential future investigations. In other words, an individual under no suspicion of any crime and thus deserving full Fourth and Fifth Amendment protection will nevertheless find himself providing evidence against his future self should that person ever fall under suspicion. That is not jurisprudence in a free society.

4) The FREEDOM Act provides liability protection for the telecommunications firms who steal and store our private telecommunications information. In other words, there is not a thing you can do about the theft as long as the thief is a "private" agent of the state.

In addition, the bill leaves loopholes in language wide enough you could drive a truck through. For instance, it does not define the term "Direct connection," which would allow the NSA to access data on Americans through their smartphones via private providers, which would largely be seen as an expansion of NSA power, despite the fact that limits on power have never really been a concern to the NSA before.

While the bill has been presented as the negation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, used by the Bush and Obama administrations to legally justify bulk data collection, the bill merely makes the telecom companies the first level collators of this information, with intelligence agencies able to request data from them at any time based on keywords (presumably like the myriad of publicly admitted words used for surveillance triggers today).

Despite deciding to support the bill, ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer stated that "This bill would make only incremental improvements, and at least one provision—the material-support provision—would represent a significant step backwards. The disclosures of the last two years make clear that we need wholesale reform."

Another organization that supported the bill (but "hoped that congress improved it") was the Center for Democracy and Technology who admitted that the so-called limits to the PATRIOT Act provisions were virtually non-existent. It stated,

The USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 is not as comprehensive as CDT would prefer, and leaves several problems unaddressed. Notably, the bill omits an important provision that was present in the version Sen. Leahy introduced in 2014. The Senate 2014 bill - which CDT supported, but which failed to proceed in the Senate - would have required the government to limit the retention of information about individuals with no connection to a suspect or foreign power. This "enhanced minimization" language would have helped mitigate privacy problems raised by surveillance that is not "bulk collection." In addition, the new bill's transparency provisions require scant reporting on surveillance conducted under Sec. 702 of FISA.

Even more revealing, however, is an article written by Shane Harris of the Daily Beast in the weeks leading up to the passage of the FREEDOM Act. Harris writes,

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates were applauding yesterday after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation to stop the National Security Agency from collecting Americans' phone records. But they'd best not break out the bubbly.

The really big winner here is the NSA. Over at its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, intelligence officials are high-fiving, because they know things could have turned out much worse.

"What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community," said a former senior intelligence official, one of half a dozen who have spoken to The Daily Beast about the phone records program and efforts to change it.

Here's the dirty little secret that many spooks are loath to utter publicly, but have been admitting in private for the past two years: The program, which was exposed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, is more trouble than it's worth.

"It's very expensive and very cumbersome," the former official said. It requires the agency to maintain huge databases of all Americans' landline phone calls. But it doesn't contribute many leads on terrorists. It has helped prevent few—if any—attacks. And it's nowhere near the biggest contributor of information about terrorism that ends up on the desk of the president and other senior decision makers.


The bill that the House passed yesterday, called the USA Freedom Act, doesn't actually suspend the phone records program. Rather, it requires that phone companies, not the NSA, hold on to the records.

"Good! Let them take them. I'm tired of holding on to this," a current senior U.S. official told The Daily Beast. It requires teams of lawyers and auditors to ensure that the NSA is complying with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the program, as well as internal regulations on how the records can and can't be used, he said. The phone records program has become a political lightning rod, the most controversial of all the classified operations that Snowden exposed. If the NSA can still get access to the records but not have to hold on to them itself, all the better, the senior official said.

"It's a big win for common sense and for the country," Joel Brenner, the NSA's former inspector general, told The Daily Beast. "NSA can get to do what it needs to do with a higher level of scrutiny and a little more trouble, but it can do what needs to do. At same time the government is not going to hold the bulk metadata of the American people."
"What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community."

"The NSA is coming out of this unscathed," said the former official. If the USA Freedom Act passes the Senate—which is not a foregone conclusion—it'll be signed by President Obama and create "a more efficient and comprehensive tool" for the NSA. That's because under the current regime, only the logs of landline calls are kept. But in the future, the NSA would be able to get cell phone records from the companies, too.
"That's great," the former official said. "I think no one thought it was in the realm of the possible before this bill."

And there's another irony. Before the Snowden leaks, the NSA was already looking for alternatives to storing huge amounts of phone records in the agency's computers. And one of the ideas officials considered was asking Congress to require phone companies to hang onto that information for several years. The idea died, though, because NSA leaders thought that Congress would never agree, current and former officials have said.

The Daily Beast even reports that the FREEDOM Act was entirely a creation of Keith Alexander, former Director of the NSA. The article reads that "The USA Freedom Act"—the supposed reining in of the NSA—"was literally born from Alexander," the former official said."

The picture painted by the Daily Beast and the individuals commenting on the FREEDOM Act is thus one of the typical Problem-Reaction-Solution variety.

But the "gains" that civil libertarians supposedly made in regards to this bill are virtually nonexistent. The Daily Beast can really only find one to mention and even that has nothing to do with the bill itself. It is merely the fact that millions of Americans now know they have been spied on for the last decade. How that is a "win" is anyone's guess.

Julia Sanchez of the CATO Institute, while trying to paint the bill as a level-headed agreement was also forced to admit that it simply gives the NSA greater flexibility. Harris writes,

"I'd certainly agree it's not a loss for NSA in any meaningful way. Indeed, there are some respects in which a shift to the carrier-centric model is likely to give them greater flexibility by allowing them to query on data the FISC order doesn't permit them to collect." For instance, billing addresses, which the NSA database doesn't have now, but that the phone companies could, in principle, provide.

The FISC is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has been secretly authorizing the program for years. Under the new law, the NSA would have to get court approval to query the phone records. That adds another layer of oversight to the intelligence operations, but it doesn't suspend them. And there's no guarantee it would curtail them, either. The court has repeatedly found that the phone records program is legal. Presumably it's not going to stop granting NSA's requests just because the records now sit in an AT&T database instead of one owned by the U.S. government.

Consider also Representative Justin Amash's summary of the FREEDOM Act.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the bulk telephone metadata program run by the National Security Agency (NSA) is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act and is thus unlawful. The ruling is a big win for privacy and civil liberties advocates who have long argued that Section 215 clearly does not contemplate the type of mass collection we now know is occurring. But the win will be short-lived if H.R. 2048, the latest version of the USA FREEDOM Act that's scheduled to be considered by the House of Representatives this afternoon, becomes law.

Section 215 authorizes the government to collect records and other "tangible things" that are "relevant" to a terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation. To support the bulk collection of data pertaining to millions of law-abiding Americans, the government has effectively claimed that all records everywhere are potentially relevant to a current or future investigation, and thus all records are fair game for collection. In its ruling, the Second Circuit had little choice but to reject the government's broad interpretation of "relevant," given that the rest of the statute gives no indication Congress ever contemplated collection on such a mass scale.

So far, so good.

But H.R. 2048 threatens to undo much of the progress resulting from the Second Circuit's opinion. The bill's sponsors, and unfortunately some outside advocacy groups, wrongly claim that H.R. 2048 ends "bulk" collection. It's true that the bill ends the phone dragnet as we currently know it—by having the phone companies themselves hold, search, and analyze certain data at the request of the government, which is worse in many ways given the broader set of data the companies hold—but H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.

H.R. 2048 does this by authorizing the government to order the production of records based upon a "specific selection term" (i.e., like a search term used in a search engine). The records sought still must be relevant to an investigation, so it's possible the court's ruling will continue to restrain the government in some fashion. But it's more likely a court looking at H.R. 2048's language will see the "specific selection term" as defining the outer limits of what Congress considers acceptably "relevant" under Section 215.

Indeed, the Second Circuit encouraged Congress in reforming Section 215 to make a "congressional judgment as to what is 'reasonable' under current circumstances."

Unfortunately, "specific selection term" is defined so broadly under the bill as to have little effect on narrowing the scope of items the government may obtain through a 215 order.

A "specific selection term" may be a specific person (including a corporation, such as Western Union), account, address, or personal device, but it also may be "any other specific identifier," and the bill expressly contemplates using geographic regions or communication service providers (such as Verizon) to define the records sought, so long as it's not the only identifier used as part of the specific selection term. In other words, the bill doesn't let the government require Verizon to turn over all its records without limitation, but nothing appears to prevent the government from requiring Verizon to turn over all its records for all its customers in the state of New York. Only a politician or bureaucrat wouldn't call that "bulk."

H.R. 2048 gives our intelligence agencies, for the first time, statutory authority to collect Americans' data in bulk. In light of the Second Circuit's opinion that the NSA has been collecting our information in bulk without statutory authority for all this time, it would be a devastating misstep for Congress to pass a bill that codifies that bulk collection and likely ensures no future court will ever again be positioned to rule against the government for over-collecting on statutory grounds.

H.R. 2048 falls woefully short of reining in the mass collection of Americans' data, and it takes us a step in the wrong direction by specifically authorizing such collection in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Americans, and members of Congress, should demand that Congress instead pass the original, bipartisan version of the USA FREEDOM Act from 2013, which strengthened—not weakened—Section 215's relevance standard to end bulk collection, while still allowing the government the flexibility it needs to pursue genuine threats against the United States.

Taken in concert with the fact that the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled that Americans have no perception of privacy when it comes to records being held by a third party, one can easily see why the NSA would be high-fiving in the break room of their massive data center.

Of course, if Congress was interested in reigning in the massive dragnet of data being taken illegally by the NSA, they would have simply allowed the expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act to do just that - expire. This would have been the most simple and common sense action to take since the PATRIOT Act section 215 is itself unconstitutional. Instead, the American people are subjected to the FREEDOM Act, written by the NSA FOR the NSA and all the propaganda of civil liberties victories and "weakness in the face of terror" that comes with it.

Yet the unfortunate truth is that, even if the FREEDOM Act was never passed and relevant sections of the PATRIOT Act were allowed to expire, the power of the NSA would scarcely be diminished. Illegal government spying has taken place with every new advent of technology and communications since even long before 9/11. With the knowledge that programs such as Sentient World Simulation is in existence as well as the ability to record and store all the information on one individual for less than the cost of a mobile home, Americans would be naïve to think that a change on paper would change the surveillance state in which they live. While this is not to downplay the importance of codifying privacy and upholding the Bill of Rights legally and on paper, it is clear that it will take more than Congress to get it done.

Regardless, the FREEDOM Act is anything but freedom much like the PATRIOT Act was anything but patriotic. The FREEDOM Act is merely another nail in the coffin of civil liberties and a comical funeral procession over the corpse of privacy.

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Jurassic Park paleontologist wants to re-create a real dinosaur within 10 years

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Jack Horner, the paleontologist who worked on Jurassic World (and the rest of the Jurassic Park films), has plans to make a dinosaur.

Yes, this is for real.

No, there isn't dinosaur DNA trapped in amber, waiting to be replicated and cloned.

But that's not the only way to make a dino, said Jack Horner, the paleontologist who worked on "Jurassic World" (and the rest of the "Jurassic Park" films), and he wants to make it happen.

How did we get to this point, where Horner — one of the main inspirations for Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" character Alan Grant — thinks we can make a live dinosaur within five to 10 years?

"It all started with 'Jurassic Park,'" Horner told Business Insider in an interview.

In 1993, the same year the first movie came out, he and then-graduate student Mary Schweitzer, who has continued to make some amazing discoveries in the field of paleontology, tried to extract DNA from dinosaur bones.

They failed. DNA basically starts coming apart as soon as a cell dies, says Horner, and no one has ever found intact dinosaur DNA — he doesn't think it's possible. "If you did the thing they did in 'Jurassic Park,'" says Horner (referring to the story's solution of filling in dino DNA gaps with frog DNA), "you'd basically have a frog."

About 20 years of genetics research later, however, Horner has another plan — and it relies on the fact that we have a more effective way to get "dinosaur" DNA.

© Universal
Picture this guy (or gal?), but smaller and feathered.

Going back in time

We have creatures on the planet that are the direct descendants of dinosaurs: birds. And if you ask a paleontologist, birds are dinosaurs, specifically avian dinosaurs.

They might not look like dinosaurs, but birds have feathers, just like dinosaurs, including the ferocious velociraptor. Over time, their descendants' snouts turned into beaks, they stopped growing tails, and wings further evolved into modern bird wings.

But birds didn't necessarily lose the genes that code for tails or arms or snouts — instead, those same traits most likely exist in their genetic code, inactive, while the newer genes for wings, tail feathers, and beaks are expressed.

Horner thinks that we can suppress these new genes and express the atavistic, throwback dinosaurian genes instead. And his plan is to do this first with a well-researched bird that we're all familiar with, a chicken, giving us... a "chickenosaurus," as he described in a TED talk, or a "dino-chicken."

Picture it: a small, feathered creature, with a tail that helps it balance, small arms with claws, and a toothy snout, instead of a beak.

Remember, real velociraptors were just the size of a large turkey.

Horner has talked about pet dinosaurs for a while. Publishers of his book, "" came out in 2009, originally planned to release it around the same time as "Jurassic Park 4."

Basically, Horner says, he's trying to discover the genetic pathways that turned birds into the modern creatures we know, so we can turn back the clock on a chicken's evolutionary history.

And as wild as this may sound, Horner's not the only one doing this type of work. A pair of Harvard and Yale scientists recently announced they'd found a way to turn chicken beaks back into dinosaur snouts. Skeptics think building a dino snout won't be so easy, and will involve as-yet undiscovered genetics. But the researchers counter that their work shows just how fast the science in this field is developing.

Horner says we can look at the beak study as a "proof of concept" that this reverse engineering process is feasible.

That Harvard-Yale team is working on the beak. In 2014, another group reported in PLOS Biology they'd figured out how dinosaur arms fused into wings. Horner is working on the tail. And he thinks that with the right funding, we can reverse-engineer and grow a dinosaur in five to ten years.

Creating something new

If researchers reverse-engineer a bird, they'd have some sort of dinosaur, though it would still be a new species — the process by which modern birds evolved happened over tens of millions of years, and the few changes we're talking about here probably wouldn't represent an exact creature that existed 65 million years ago.

And dinosaurs that weren't of the avian variety still wouldn't be represented. We have no modern descendant of a stegosaurus or a brontosaurus (newly restored to real dino status).

But the rapidly changing world of genetics could open up the possibility for creating animals just like, say, a triceratops.

Horner says that we were interested, we could genetically engineer creatures like these, or like anything else we can figure out a genetic code for, even if it never existed in nature. Once we figure out the genes that create a trait, those genes could potentially be incorporated into an animal. We've already done this. Researchers used the genes from jellyfish to make rabbits that glow in the dark, and other researchers made mice with transparent skin. Once we know the code for a trait, we could use that to make a creature.

Horner uses a unicorn as an example — we'd just need to add genes for a horn. "We could probably get to a unicorn before we get to a dino-chicken," he says.

© REUTERS/Stringer
Your friendly neighborhood dinosaur relatives.

So why do it?

Though some of this might sound like it's totally out there, there are practical applications. If Horner's team figures out how to make a tail grow, that might unlock the ability to better understand the growth of vertebrae and neural tissue, with fascinating medical implications.

He also thinks "if we can make a dino-chicken, it's pretty cool." It might help get kids interested in genetics at a young age — what kid doesn't love dinosaurs?

Plus, Horner points out that we've been genetically modifying the genes of animals for thousands of years. We've just called it "breeding."

"People made chihuahuas out of wolves, for God's sake," he says.

Cop runs over bicyclist during high speed chase

© Unkown

Officials near the city of Philadelphia say they are investigating an officer who ran over a bicyclist during a high speed police chase.

Officials say they are trying to determine what happened, but local media sources have already begun spinning the story to favor the officer involved.

The local media has more information than the police have given out to everyone, but numerous sources have already begun conjecture about the collision happening "after" the police chase. We asked the Delaware Sheriff's department and the Chester Police if they had made any such claim, and they told us they had not.

Right now, they say they have turned the investigation over to the Delaware County District Attorney's Office. They tell us that this is the normal procedure in any police related fatality case.

The community and the victim's family say they want answers now. Specifically, they want to know how the officer could have possibly been justified in running over the suspect, identified as 24-year-old Sherman Byrd.

This all happened at around 8:30 Wednesday night, after a 55-year-old woman reported having her cell phone stolen.

Sheriff's deputies were nearby. They said they saw a suspect on bike who looked like the man the victim had reported.

They claim they are confident Byrd was the culprit, but they have no other evidence than their hunch and the fact that he had a weapon. Byrd's family say it is ridiculous to imagine he would have robbed anyone.

He was in fact only in town visiting his 6-year-old daughter and to attend his sister's high school graduation. To suggest that he would have taken a "robbery break" during his visit is not only out of character, but also just strange, according to friends and family.

In fact, his family says he had only taken a quick trip to the store in the middle of a family gathering. To suggest that he needed to run out to steal a cell phone made little sense to anyone who knew him.

To add insult to injury, the Upland Police Department has charged Byrd's father and another relative with assault for getting aggressive with a police officer at the hospital when and where Byrd died.

Watch the local report

Researchers find ability to delay gratification linked to how specific structures of the brain are connected and communicate

© The Royal Society
Pictured are a series of 12 serial views of a chimpanzee's brain, projecting from the base of the brain, showing the white matter connectivity between the caudate and the dorsal prefrontal cortex. The scans were projected onto a standard chimpanzee template brain.

The ability to delay gratification in chimpanzees is linked to how specific structures of the brain are connected and communicate with each other, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University.

Their findings were published June 3 in the .

This study provides the first evidence in primates, including humans, of an association between delay of gratification performance and white matter connectivity between the caudate and the dorsal prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere, said Dr. Robert Latzman, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Georgia State, who led the study with Dr. William Hopkins, professor of neuroscience at Georgia State.

The researchers found higher white matter connectivity between the caudate and dorsal prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere of the brain was associated with the learning of delay of gratification.

Delay of gratification, the need to control emotional and behavioral impulses, is one of the earliest demands placed on individuals and is of critical importance, Latzman said.

"Delay of gratification or self-control is core to a number of different types of mental illnesses, most notably ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder)," said Latzman. "This ability and the developmental process that occurs when children learn to delay gratification and inhibit an immediate want for a longer-term goal is a hugely important developmental milestone."

There is a considerable need for understanding connections among brain regions associated with delay of gratification abilities, such as the two regions that showed significant results in this study, Latzman said.

The task used to measure delay of gratification in chimpanzees in this study is a parallel task to that used in a series of famous experiments conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s. Preschoolers were placed alone in a room furnished with a small desk and on the desk were two marshmallows and a bell. The researcher told the child he had to leave the room, but when he returned, the child could eat both marshmallows. If the child wanted to eat one marshmallow before the researcher returned, the child could ring the bell and eat one, but not both. When the researcher shut the door, some children ate the marshmallow right away and others tried to distract themselves, according to The New York Times.

In follow-up studies, Mischel found that delay of gratification abilities at age 4 can predict a number of behaviors into adolescence and adulthood, including planning and reasoning abilities, control of negative emotions, standardized test scores, higher educational attainment, better coping abilities, fewer interpersonal difficulties, less substance use and higher self-esteem and self-worth more than 20 years later, according to Latzman.

The current study involved 49 chimpanzees that were trained to perform a delay of gratification task. Researchers placed grapes in a transparent PVC pipe with a closed bottom and trained the chimpanzees to delay gratification in receiving the grapes. The study used chimpanzees because their self-control abilities, as compared to other model species such as monkeys, closely resemble those of human children and both their neuroanatomy and neural development are quite similar to humans. They also share a very high degree of genetic overlap, Latzman said.

"We trained them to learn that if they waited, the one grape becomes two grapes and two grapes become three grapes and three grapes become four grapes and so on. There's variability in how well they do and it was this variability that we were interested in," Latzman said.

All chimpanzees received DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) brain scans during their annual physical examination. Data were acquired that allowed the researchers to examine white matter tracts, or bundles of neurons that connect one part of the nervous system with another, between the caudate and prefrontal cortex. The white matter connectivity between these brain structures was compared to the chimpanzees' delay of gratification abilities.

The research team also included Dr. Jared Taglialatela of Kennesaw State.

The study is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Corporate rule and crimes of the past

© Unknown

With TPP and its deranged Atlantic cousin, TTIP, both proceeding — and Citizens United still buttering up our elections for corporate feasts — watchdogs and whistleblowers have never been more important to our democracy.

However, while a hero like Edward Snowden can reveal to us the surveillance state and dragnet data collection enabled by the Patriot Act, one person alone can't stop its successor, the USA FREEDOM Act, from privatizing mass data collection and outsourcing the job to the government's Big Data partners.

Corporate rule over this country is more disturbing than ever, but it's important to never gloss over the crimes of the past. Corporations can and do get away with murder — and have been doing so for a while. Their dubious "personhood" status — which bestows upon them seemingly limitless powers of 'citizenship' — has in many cases immunized them from the same laws and regulations real humans face. As a result, their crimes are swept under the rug as though they were merely teenage transgressions.

But watchful eyes and minds can collect and archive these crimes with the same ubiquity as the surveillance cameras on our street corners. Without further ado, here are 10 corporations that got away with murder:

Dutch West India Company

Granted a charter to monopolize the Atlantic slave trade, the Dutch West India Company transported African slaves to sugar and cotton plantations in the Americas. On average, 15 percent of slaves died from suffocation, starvation, violence, and disease during the voyages.

Colorado Fuel & Iron Company

After 14-hour work days and filthy working conditions, Colorado miners had had enough. They went on strike in 1914. Then, members of the Colorado National Guard and the CFI descended upon a group of strikers in Ludlow, Colorado, killing two dozen people—including women and children. CFI, owned by John D. Rockefeller, was never charged.

Philip Morris

In May 2011, Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri claimed, "It's not that hard to quit smoking." The year before, the company had collected $27 billion in revenue. Meanwhile, smoking is responsible for one in five deaths in the United States. Philip Morris has often dodged lawsuits and continues to market its deadly product to teenagers who, they hope, will become lifelong customers - provided these are substantially shortened lives.

Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation

© National Geographic

About 10,000 subsistence diamond diggers were working small plots in the Marange diamond field in Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe in 2006. After taking over the mining field, the government of Zimbabwe began shooting the unlicensed miners from helicopters. Today, the field is operated by seven companies, all partnered with the government affiliate, ZMDC.


© IC Magazine

In April 2013, plaintiffs filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of 73 Colombians who accused Dole of driving small farmers from banana zones, sanctioning union leader murders, and using terror tactics to discourage local resistance. Dole and rival banana magnate, Chiquita, have long been accused of funding paramilitaries to squelch labor rights.

Royal Dutch Shell

Shell, long a mistress of the Nigerian government, has regularly faced accusations of razing villages to install pipelines, flaring billions of dollars' worth of natural gas, mucking up water quality, and committing human rights abuses culminating in murder. Yet in the Supreme Court case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the judges dismissed the pleas based on "lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

Temmler Werke

Methamphetamine was first marketed as Pervitin, an alertness enhancer, by Berlin-based drug manufacturer, Temmler Werke, in 1938. It was used widely through World War II in Germany, Japan, and even America. Addicted soldiers were known to shoot themselves and others in psychotic phases. Pervitin was removed from the market, but of course, meth remains and its Big Pharma cousin, Adderall (and other amphetamines), contributes to premature death and psychiatric disorders every year.

CITGO Petroleum Corporation

For 10 years, CITGO expelled carcinogenic waste gases from its oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. But in 2014, Judge John D. Rainey decided that calculating the real-life amount owed to local victims would "unduly delay the sentencing process" and "[outweighed] the need to provide restitution to any victims." Make no mistake, this corporation was responsible for the premature deaths of dozens of victims.

Kansas Pacific Railroad

The Kansas Pacific Railroad transported businessmen, tourists, and the military to and from Kansas City to Denver in the early 1870s. It encouraged travelers to shoot American bison from the train windows for a jolly good time. By 1890, the buffalo populations had dropped from its 1492 peak of 60 million to just 750. Some call that near extinction, others call it murder. This entry is representative of countless corporations responsible for the deaths of animals, including the livestock industry and oil companies like BP that killed thousands of birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals.

Accusations of the mass-murder of buffalo to starve out Native Americans also possibly play into the Kansas Pacific Railroad's decision to systematic slaughter of the buffalo. US Colonel Richard Dodge famously said in 1867, "Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone."


Monsanto is a special breed of evil. The multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation is best likened to a serial killer that you could arrest for murder but never be sure of exactly how many people he killed. The deaths we know about involve the Indian farmers who commit suicide every thirty minutes because the GMO seeds they are basically forced to plant fail to produce necessary yields. Disturbingly, some of the farmers committed the act by consuming the same Roundup herbicide Monsanto gave them for their crops. The total death count is estimated at 290,000.

Additionally, Monsanto may very well be causing irreversible kidney damage and cancer on large-scale populations with the herbicide glyphosate marketed as Roundup. The city of San Diego is even suing Monsanto for polluting its bay with cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

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BEST OF THE WEB: The reality of Kiev's repression of anti-fascism in Ukraine


© Facebook
‘Alley of Glory’ in Odessa on May 9, 2015. Marchers chant anti-fascist slogans

There is a common misconception in the West that there is only one war in Ukraine: a war between the anti-Kiev rebels of the East, and the US-backed government in Kiev. While this conflict, with all its attendant geopolitical and strategic implications has stolen the majority of the headlines, there is another war raging in the country - a war to crush all dissent and opposition to the fascist-oligarch consensus. For while in the West many so called analysts and leftists debate whether there is really fascism in Ukraine or whether it's all just "Russian propaganda," a brutal war of political repression is taking place.

The authorities and their fascist thug auxiliaries have carried out everything from physical intimidation, to politically motivated arrests, kidnappings, torture, and targeted assassinations. All of this has been done under the auspices of "national unity," the convenient pretext that every oppressive regime from time immemorial has used to justify its actions. Were one to read the Western narrative on Ukraine, one could be forgiven for believing that the country's discontent and outrage is restricted solely to the area collectively known as Donbass - the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics as they have declared themselves. Indeed, there is good reason for the media to portray such a distorted picture; it legitimizes the false claim that all Ukraine's problems are due to Russian meddling and covert militarization.

Instead, the reality is that anger and opposition to the US-backed oligarch-fascist coalition government in Kiev is deeply rooted and permeates much of Ukraine. In politically, economically, and culturally important cities such as Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, and Kherson, ghastly forms of political persecution are ongoing. However, nowhere is this repression more apparent than in the Black Sea port city of Odessa. And this is no accident.

Odessa: Center of Culture, Center of Resistance

For more than two centuries, Odessa has been the epicenter of multiculturalism in what is today called Ukraine, but what alternately was the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. With its vibrant history of immigration and trade, Odessa has been the heart of internationalism and cultural, religious, and ethnic coexistence in the Russian-speaking world. Its significant populations of Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Greeks, Tatars, Moldovans, Bulgarians and other ethnic and national identities made Odessa a truly international city, a cosmopolitan Black Sea port with French architecture, Ottoman influence, and rich Jewish and Russian/Soviet cultural history.

In many ways, Odessa was the quintessential Soviet city, one which, to a large extent, actually embodied the Soviet ideal enumerated in the state anthem - a city "united forever in friendship and labor." And it is this spirit of multiculturalism and shared history which rejects the racist, chauvinist, fascist politics which now passes for standard political currency in "Democratic Ukraine."

When in February 2014, the corrupt, though democratically elected, government of former President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in a US-backed coup, the people of Odessa, just as in many other cities, began to organize counter-demonstrations against what they perceived to be a Western-sponsored oligarch-fascist alliance seizing power over their country. In the ensuing weeks and months, tens of thousands turned out into the streets to air their discontent, including massive rallies held in February, March, and April.

This inchoate movement against the new dispensation in Kiev, handpicked by the US and its European allies, culminated in two critical events: the establishment of an anti-Maidan movement calling for federalization and greater autonomy for the Odessa region, and the massacre at the Trade Unions House carried out by fascist thugs which resulted in the deaths of more than fifty anti-fascist activists and demonstrators. As a protest organizer and eyewitness recounted to this author, "That was the moment when everything changed, when we knew what Ukraine had really become."

The brutality of the pogrom - an appropriate word considering the long and violent history of this region - could hardly be believed even by hardened anti-fascist activists. Bodies with bullet wounds found inside the burned out building, survivors beaten on the streets after their desperate escape from the flames, and myriad other horrific accounts demonstrate unequivocally that what the Western media dishonestly and disgracefully referred to as "clashes with pro-Russian demonstrators," was in fact a massacre; one that forever changed the nature of resistance in Odessa, and throughout much of Ukraine.

No longer were protesters simply airing their grievances against an illegitimate government sponsored by foreigners. No longer were there demonstrations simply in favor of federalization and greater autonomy. Instead, the nature of the resistance shifted to one of truly anti-fascist character seeking to get the truth about Ukraine out to the world at large. Where once Odessa had been the site of peaceful demands for fairness, instead it became the site of a brutal government crackdown aimed at destroying any semblance of political protest or resistance. Indeed, May 2, 2014 was a watershed. That was the day that politics became resistance.

The Reality of the Repression

The May 2, 2014 massacre in Odessa is one of the few examples of political repression that actually garnered some attention internationally. However, there have been numerous other examples of Kiev's brutal and illegal crackdown on dissent in the critical coastal city and throughout the country, most of which remain almost entirely unreported.

In recent weeks and months, the local authorities have engaged in politically motivated arrests of key journalists and bloggers who have presented a critical perspective on the developments in Odessa. Most prominent among them are the editors of the website infocenter-odessa.com, a locally oriented news site that has been fiercely critical of the Kiev regime and its local authorities.

In late 2014, the editor of the site, Yevgeny Anukhin, was arrested without any warrant while he was attempting to register his human rights organization with the authorities. According to various sources, the primary reasons for his arrest were his possession of video evidence of illegal shelling by Ukrainian military of a checkpoint in Kotovka, and data on his computer which included a compilation of names of political prisoners held without trial in Odessa. With no evidence or warrant, and in breach of standard legal procedures, he was arrested and charged with recruitment of insurgents against the Ukrainian state.

In May 2015, the new editor of infocenter-odessa.com Vitaly Didenko, a leftist, anti-fascist activist and journalist was also arrested on trumped up charges of drug possession which, according to multiple sources in Odessa, are entirely fabricated by the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) secret police in order to create a pretext upon which to detain him. In the course of his arrest, Didenko was seriously injured, incurring several broken ribs and a broken arm. He is currently sitting in an Odessa jail, his case entirely ignored by Western media, including those organizations ostensibly committed to the protection of journalists.

Additionally, just this past weekend (May 24, 2015) there was yet another sickening display of political repression on the very spot of the May 2, 2014 massacre. Activists and ordinary Odessa citizens had been taking part in a memorial service for the victims of the tragedy when the demonstration was violently dispersed by armed men in either military or national guard uniforms (see here for photos). According to eyewitnesses, the military men instigated violence at the gathering and broke it up, all while both local police and OSCE monitors stood aside and watched. Naturally, this is par for the course in "Democratic Ukraine."

Aside from journalists, a large number of activists have been detained, kidnapped, and/or tortured by Ukrainian authorities and their fascist goons. Key members of the Borotba (Struggle) leftist organization have been repeatedly harassed, arrested, and beaten by the police. One particularly infamous example was the detainment of Vladislav Wojciechowski, a member of Borotba and survivor of the May 2ndmassacre. According to Borotba's website, "During the search of the apartment where he lived, explosives were planted. Nazi "self-defense" paramilitaries participated in his arrest. Vladislav was beaten, and it is possible that a confession was beaten out of him under torture. Currently, he is in SBU custody." He was ultimately charged with "terrorism" by the authorities after having been beaten and tortured by both Nazi goons and SBU agents.

Upon his release more than three months later in December 2014 in a "prisoner exchange" between Kiev and the eastern rebels, Wojciechowski defiantly stated, "I am very angry with the fascist government of Ukraine, which proved once again with its barbaric acts that it is willing to wade through corpses to defend its interests and those of the West. They failed to break me! And my will has become tempered steel. Now I'm even more convinced that it is impossible to save Ukraine without defeating fascism on its territory." Wojciechowski was also the editor of the website 2May.org, a site dedicated to disseminating the truth about the Odessa massacre.

It should be noted though that Wojciechowski was arrested along with his comrades Pavel Shishman of the now outlawed Communist Party of Ukraine, and Nikolai Popov of the Communist Youth. These arrests should come as no surprise to observers of the political situation in Ukraine where all forms of leftist politics - the Communist party, Soviet symbols and names, etc. - have been outlawed and brutally repressed.

Kiev is not only engaged in an assault on political freedoms, but also a class war against the working class of Odessa and Ukraine generally. That the events leading up to the massacre took place at Kulikovo Field - a famous staging area for Soviet era demonstrations of working class politics - and the massacre itself took place in the adjacent Trade Unions House, there's a symbolic resonance, the significance of which is not lost on the people of Odessa. It is the attempt to both erase the legacy of working class struggle and leftist politics, as well as the sacrifices of previous generations in a place where historical memory runs deep, and the scars of the past have yet to heal.

Aside from these shameful attacks on leftist formations, multicultural institutions too have been repressed under the pretext of "Russian separatism." A multiethnic, multi-nationality organization known as the Popular Rada of Bessarabia (PRB) was founded in early April 2015 in order to push for regional autonomy and/or ethnic autonomy in response to the legal and extralegal attacks on minorities by the Kiev authorities. It was reported that within 24 hours of the founding congress, Ukraine's SBU had detained the core leaders of the organization, including the Chair of the organization's presidium Dmitry Zatuliveter whose whereabouts, according to this author's latest information, remain unknown. Within two weeks 30 more PRB activists were arrested, including founding member Vera Shevchenko.

While the Western media and its armies of think tanks and propaganda mouthpieces steadfastly deny that an organization such as PRB can be anything other than "a project of Russian political consultants," the reality is that such moves have been a reaction to repressive legislation and intimidation by the US-backed regime in Kiev which has done everything from outlawing the two most popular political parties of the Russian-speaking South and East (The Party of Regions and the Communist Party), to attempting to strip the Russian language of official status within Ukraine, a move interpreted by these groups as a direct threat against them and their regions where Russian, not Ukrainian, is the lingua franca.

As Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (read CIA front) contributor Vladimir Socor wrote last month in an article entitled Ukraine Defuses Pro-Russia Instigations in Odesa Province, "In the spirit of preventive action, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies have arrested some 20 members of a centrifugal organization in Odesa [sic] province..The timely intervention also stopped the publicity bandwagon that had just started rolling from Moscow in support of the Odesa [sic] group." Interestingly, the author deceptively frames his apologia for so called "preventive detention" as merely a "timely intervention," conveniently glossing over the blatant illegality of the action by Kiev, which has eschewed the rule of law in favor of brute force and repression.

And what is the PRB's great crime in the eyes of Mr. Socor and the US interests for which he speaks? As he directly states in the article with typical condescension:

[BPR's program and manifesto] include demands for: greater representation of ethnic groups in the administration of Ukraine's Odesa [sic] province; promotion of the ethnic groups' cultural identities and schools; conferral of a "national-cultural special status" to Bessarabia; a free economic zone, with specific reference to local control over Ukraine's Black Sea and Danube ports; no integration of Ukraine with the European Union, the "enslavement practices of which would ruin the region and its agriculture"; and reinstatement of Ukraine's [recently abandoned] international status of nonalignment, or else: "In the event of Ukraine moving close to NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization], we reserve the right to implement the self-determination of Bessarabia."

A careful reading of these demands reveals that these are precisely the demands that any right-minded anti-imperialist position should espouse, including rejection of NATO integration, rejection of EU integration, rejection of opening up Ukraine's agricultural sector to the likes of Monsanto and other Western corporations, and protection of ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities, among other things. While Socor writes of these demands derisively, the reality is that they constitute precisely the sort of program that is essential for defending both Ukraine's sovereignty, and the rights of the people of Odessa and the region. But of course, for Socor, this is all just a Russian plot. Instead, he kneels to kiss the chocolate ring of Poroshenko...and perhaps other parts of Victoria Nuland and John Kerry, while vigorously cheer-leading further political repression.

A Message for the Left

The question facing leftists internationally is no longer whether they believe there are fascists in Ukraine, or whether they are an important part of the political establishment in the country; this is now impossible to refute. Rather, the challenge before the international left is whether it can overcome its deep-seated mistrust of Russia, and consequent inability to separate fact from fiction, and unwaveringly defend its comrades in Ukraine with the conviction and aplomb of its historical antecedents.

There is a whole history that is under assault, a whole people being oppressed, a leftist tradition being ground to dust under the heel of an imperialist agenda and comprador oligarch bourgeoisie. Some on the left choose to snicker derisively at this struggle, aligning themselves once again with the Empire just as they so often have in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. And then there those who, like this author, refuse to be cowed by the baseless slur of "Russian apologist" and "Putin puppet"; those of us who choose not to look away while our comrades in Ukraine are beaten, kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, and disappeared.

For while they speak out in the face of reprisals, in the midst of brutal repression, under threat of prison and death, the least we can do is speak out from our comfortable chairs. Anything less is moral cowardice and utter betrayal.

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.org and host ofCounterPunch Radio. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at [email protected]

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