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Friday, 5 June 2015

Buyer beware: Tom's of Maine natural care products are not so natural

Tom's of Maine has become a mainstream brand among health-conscious consumers. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of these consumers are unaware of who owns Tom's of Main and what ingredients Tom's products contain. This might be shocking to some but Tom's of Maine isn't owned by Tom and is not from Maine. In fact, it's owned by a well-known corporate giant — Colgate-Palmolive of New York. In the United States alone, Colgate-Palmolive's 35% share mostly relies on a patented gingivitis formula which contains triclosan, a toxic chemical substance that reacts with the chlorine in tap water to become chloroform — a deadly chlorinated aromatic.

Reasons to Avoid Tom's of Maine Products

1. Contain Aluminum. Though Potassium alum used in Tom's of Maine products is a natural mineral salt made up of molecules that are too large to be absorbed by your skin, it is still not completely aluminum-free. It accumulates within the body so that the aluminum becomes more destructive with increased age.

Aluminum has been repeatedly linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, generalized permanent damage to the central nervous system, brittle bones, autism, infertility, hormonal imbalance.

2. Contain Zinc Chloride. According to the Dangerous Substance Directive , Zinc chloride is classified, as "Harmful (Xn), Irritant (Xi) and Dangerous for the environment (N)." Read the Environmental Working Group's page on Zinc Chloride here.

3. Contain Titanium dioxide. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, titanium dioxide is a human carcinogen:

Titanium dioxide has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen "possibly carcinogen to humans"... This evidence showed that high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation*.

4. Contain Carrageenan. Tom's of Maine puts carrageenan in its toothpaste, including kids' toothpaste. Many scientific, peer-reviewed studies found that food-grade carrageenan can cause gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcerations, lesions and even colon cancer in laboratory animals. Additionally, recent studies funded by the American Diabetes Association have linked the consumption of food-grade carrageenan to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in mice.

5. Contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is . The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product, which will be discussed in more detail later. Rsearch studies on SLS have shown links to organ and reproductive toxicity, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

Cui bono? Cyberattacks should hasten cyber legislation says Senator McCain


© Fotobank.ru/Getty Images/ Win McNamee

US Senator John McCain said that the increasing frequency of cyberattacks on the United States should prompt Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation without delay.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The increasing frequency of cyberattacks on the United States should prompt Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation without delay, US Senator John McCain said in a statement on Friday.

"It is long past time for Congress to finally pass legislation that allows for the sharing of information on cyber threats," McCain said.

McCain's comment came in response to the latest cyberattack that breached the networks of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

On Thursday, the OPM announced a cyberattack has possibly compromised the personal data of up to four million current and former US federal employees.

McCain urged Congress to pass the cyber-security legislation that was passed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year. The legislation allows information sharing between the public and private sectors on cyber-threats.

Media reports citing unnamed US officials said Chinese hackers were behind the attack. The Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC denied the charges.

Referring to reports of Chinese involvement, McCain said that if allegations are correct, the cyberattack "joins an already lengthy and well-documented record of Chinese intellectual property theft and cyber-espionage against the US government and American companies."

The OPM is a US federal agency that handles job applications, manages pension funds and issues security clearances.

Alms for the poor military-industrial complex: US Air Force to reveal new bomber contract in early August


In its quest to realize the ever-elusive pipe dream of an affordable bomber, the US Air Force will soon award a contract for its new generation of long-range bombers. Will it come in under budget? Or balloon out of control like the B-2 and F-35?

When the Pentagon first proposed development of the B-2 stealth bomber, it estimated that the cost would be, roughly, $441 million per plane. That number was - be it through lack of foresight or malice - a fairly generous estimate. Within six years, that price skyrocketed to $2.2 billion per plane, not to mention the $135,000 it cost to pilot the B-2 per hour of flight.

For its next fleet of long-range bombers, the Pentagon is hoping to keep those costs down, and in August, it plans to announce whether defense contracting firms Northrop Grumman or Boeing Co-Lockheed Martin Corp will be awarded the contract.

To save money, the project is expected to rely on already existing technologies, cutting down on research costs. The Air Force is also looking to downsize the new plane, creating something roughly half the size of the B-2.

Whichever company wins could receive between $50 billion to $80 billion to build between 80 and 100 aircraft.

That equates to roughly $550 million per plane. But if past precedent is any indication, that price could climb.

"There'll be a tendency to load this thing with every toy that can be developed because it's the only game in town," Tom Christie, a former Pentagon acquisition executive, told Bloomberg News. "It's worse now than it ever was."

The Pentagon's top acquisition official, Frank Kendall, said that the Air Force had just completed a new review of the design proposals.

"We looked at the design to make sure it's at the level of maturity it's supposed to be," Kendall said, according to Breaking Defense.

The Pentagon's decision could also have major repercussions for the defense contracting sector. With close to $100 billion at stake, the losing bidder could suffer heavy losses. Kendall has assured the public that the Pentagon's decision will not take the broader contracting impact into consideration, but will choose whichever company proves better for the project.

The bomber planes aren't the only projects giving the Pentagon budget woes. The notoriously costly F-35 fighter jet has so far set the US government back a whopping $400 billion. Despite the seemingly limitless finances thrown into the jet's development, it's suffered a number of setbacks, including failing engine designs, and a computerized system which could be surprisingly vulnerable to cyberattack.

Teen suicide following public shaming by father's internet video

Screenshot from YouTube user Sirena Covington

A 13-year-old girl from Washington State jumped off an overpass in Tacoma days after her father posted a YouTube video showing the aftermath of a punishment for an undisclosed misdeed.

Izabel Laxamana jumped off an overpass on Interstate 5 on Friday, May 29. She died the following day at a Seattle hospital.

Days before, her father, Jeff, reportedly posted a YouTube video of an apparently sullen Izabel.

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a male says from behind the camera.

The camera is then pointed downward to a pile of black hair on the ground.

he asks.

she says.

he asks.

she responds.

The original 15-second video has been removed from YouTube. A friend of Izabel's, however, posted a copy of the video after saving the original.

YouTube user Lift Up wrote.

Lift Up added.

The impetus for Izabel's suicide is still unknown. According to Jezebel.com, she posted a note about being bullied in school on Google Plus last year.

YouTube user Lift Up said Izabel's father had set up a GoFundMe account

Lift Up wrote.

A GoFundMe page was also set up to cover damages for the driver whose vehicle was hit by Izabel's body.

A memorial video for Izabel was posted on YouTube.

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Can low-carb diet protect you from Alzheimer's?

Dr. Michael Noonan

It has been known for some time that diabetics are prone to a host of problems: poor circulation, vision, even back pain.

But it seems a new one has been added to the list: dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. According to one review of the published literature, diabetic patients had a 46 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's and a whopping 250 percent increased risk of dementia caused by problems with blood supply to the brain. This is why these problems sometimes are called "Type 3" diabetes.

It appears the chronic high blood sugar associated with Types 1 and 2 diabetes is hard on the blood vessels. This, in turn, affects the tissues that rely on the oxygen and fuel these vessels' supply, including the brain.

I did not write this column to add to the woes of diabetics. But during my work with nutrition, I am amazed at how many diabetics, Types 1 and 2, still are eating carbohydrate-based diets, even if they are avoiding processed sugar.

The first recommendation I make to any diabetic patient is to eliminate grains, especially wheat, from the diet. This includes oatmeal and rice. Any grain supplies primarily one nutrient - carbs. When compared to veggies, they are a poor source even of fiber. In order to get the same amount of fiber from whole wheat as from broccoli, you have to consume five times more calories.

Even whole grains are not the nutritional powerhouses they are made out to be. Whole grains may cause less of a sugar spike than white grains, but they still are a carb-based food. If your carb-handling mechanism is impaired, why burden it further?

One study of 84 overweight Type 2 diabetics compared the effects of a very low-carb diet (fewer than 20 grams per day — one piece of whole-wheat bread typically has about 12 grams) to a reduced-calorie diet (no more than 55 percent of their calories from carbs). After 24 weeks, researchers found both groups benefited from their diets, but the very low-carb group fared better. They showed overall lower blood sugar levels; had better blood pressure; lost more weight; and 95 percent of them were able to reduce or eliminate their blood sugar meds, while 62 percent of the low-calorie group was able to do this.

The downside? There were some symptoms during the transition, such as headache and bowel complaints. Neither group had more problems than the other. In my experience, an even bigger challenge is cravings. Carbs tend to be addictive, and many patients feel deprived when they eliminate them from their diets.

There are ways we help patients make these changes. First, making a slower transition away from carbs. There was no "phase-in period" for this study; it was an abrupt change. I typically advise patients to change breakfast first. Starting the day with carbs usually means you will eat them all day. Once you adapt to that change, begin to improve the rest of the day's meals.

There also are supplements that can help. One of the best is an herb called gymnema. It has been used for centuries to help regulate blood sugar and cravings. I have patients monitor their blood sugar when they start using it. If they are on blood sugar meds, as it can lower it substantially.

However you do it — whether you get help or do it on your own, if you have diabetes or even pre-diabetes — greatly reducing carbs and eliminating grains will go a long ways toward protecting your blood vessel health and ultimately your brain.

Unparallelled hubris: Obama claims US is #1 in global reputation

© Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

This week, President Obama gave himself and his administration credit for putting the United States at the top of the list of respected countries in the world.

he said. "And today, once again, the United States is the most respected country on Earth. Part of that, I think, is the work that we did to reengage the world, and say that 'We want to work with you as partners, with mutual interest and mutual respect,' " he claims.

What a lovely sentiment—if it were true. But it's simply not. Not by far.

Yes, there is an index ranking countries by how they're respected throughout the world. But the US isn't on top. It's not in the top 5. Or the top 10.

In fact, the US isn't even in the top 20 most respected on the planet—it comes in at #22 on the Reputation Institute's Most Reputable Countries - 2014". Those with a "strong" reputation fill positions 1-9 while those considered "moderate" rank 20th or higher.

The US is, in actuality, labeled "weak" in reputation—most certainly above China and Russia but under Brazil. Indeed, the US is less reputable worldwide than Singapore.

Singapore was deemed noteworthy by Human Rights Watch in 2014—the same year the US ranked below it in reputation—for charging online news outlets a bond and licensing fee of over $39,000 for printing "at least one Singapore-related news article per week," for judicial caning for nonviolent crimes, and for failing to be in compliance with international standards regarding human trafficking.

America rank at the top of one recent survey. The US was rated as the greatest threat to world peace by a 2014 global Gallup poll of 68 countries, scoring three times higher than the next greatest perceived threat — Iran.

As for Obama's claim that the United States improved its ranking? He's off the mark there, as well. The US slid 2% from the previous year.

Obama's utterly baseless claim of an exemplary world ranking holds less credibility than wet tissue paper; but in claiming as such, he highlights the reputation where America likely does hold the top position—hubris.

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Miami: Local commuter starts petition against egregious road tolls

© chapstickaddict
A new petition calls for an end to tolls.

This past November, anticipating the launch of a new toll system on the Dolphin and Airport expressways, Doral resident Alexander Gonzalez was worried. He was already paying about $50 every month on those roads to get to and from work at a communications company in Coral Gables. The changes would double, to $100 a month in tolls — severely denting his family's expenses.

So he decided to start a petition to air his grievances to the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX). He expected 100 signatures at most. But now, seven months later, it's been signed more than 12,000 times. He plans to deliver it soon to Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

"I'd never made a petition before, and I didn't expect anything," Gonzalez says. "I have no idea how it got so many signatures, but it just shows how people are feeling."

The new tolls began November 15, with a charge at every entrance and exit on the Dolphin and Airport expressways. Previously, all traffic heading west was toll-free, and many motorists never paid a single toll. Now, every car traveling on the two roads pays.

Before the change, the roundtrip fee for a driver from NW 87th Avenue, near Fontainebleau and Doral, to downtown Miami was $1. Now it's $3.20, an increase of more than 300 percent.

"Something really has to be looked at," says Carlos Garcia, an advertising exec who started RollBackTolls.com, a grassroots watchdog seeking justifiable tolls and transparency. "There's an obvious disconnect in the realities of the people that sit on the MDX board and Miami Dade's everyday commuter."

MDX hasn't exactly given Gonzalez or his fellow commuters a sense that they're hearing the concerns. In a December board meeting, MDX board chair Maritza Gutierrez urged people complaining about the increases to stop "bellyaching." Instead, she said they could sign up for a new MDX discount program.

Garcia mapped out where MDX board members live and says the majority don't live near the toll roads on which they vote.

"People just feel ignored," Garcia says.

MDX spokesman Mario Diaz says it's important to point out that MDX receives "no federal funding, no funds from the State Transportation Trust Fund, no property tax, no sales tax, no gasoline tax, and no revenues from the half-penny sales tax.

"The only revenues used to improve the MDX system are the tolls collected," he says. "MDX assures that what is collected in Miami-Dade County remains in Miami-Dade County and is invested locally."

Since 1996, when MDX took over the Dolphin (State Road 836), Airport (SR 112), Don Shula (SR 874), and Snapper Creek (SR 878) expressways, as well as the Gratigny Parkway (SR 924), the system has been repaved and improved, with more lane miles and new entrance and exit systems, he says. And by this time next year, "the new 836 and 112 projects will be awarded for design and/or construction."

But rather than eat the cost of the new tolls, some drivers now avoid the expressways and take small, already-crowded side streets.

Realtor Araceli Villanueva, who signed Gonzalez's petition this week, has begun using side streets to get to meetings with her clients in downtown Miami and points west.

"The city is becoming a really difficult place to get around," she says. "Miami was not ready for the kind of expansion it's having right now. There's already no public transportation. You can't just manage this by putting tolls everywhere."

The overlooked threats of gene editing

© unknown

It is often said that if it can be imagined, it will inevitably be done. And such a sentiment could not be any truer in terms of applying genetic engineering and synthetic biology to the genomes of our planet's organisms including humans themselves.

While the process of synthesizing and arranging genetic code has many processes, perhaps none has been as promising as the CRISPR-Cas system. From laboratory experiments to emerging software used to create code genetically almost as easily as code for a computer, gene editing has never been easier, opening the door to never-before-possible applications.

Perhaps no technology yet has been poised to change the world so profoundly. All life on Earth, every living organism, now stands the possibility of potentially being "edited" on the most basic genetic level, enhancing or degrading it, but forever changing it.

Gene editing or "gene therapy" performed on children or adults changes the genetic makeup of targeted cells after which and upon dividing, impart this new genetic material on each subsequent new cell. This is why treatments for diseases using gene therapy often are successful with only a single shot. The "treatment" self-replicates perpetually within the patient's body. Everything from leukemia to congenial genetic defects have been overcome in clinical trials using this method.

As far as science knows, these changes cannot be passed onto the offspring of patients. However, changing the genetic makeup of a human at their earliest stages of development can be passed on, spreading genetic changes made in labs onto the greater population.

The Biggest Threats: The Jab and Slow Kill

Talk of gene editing usually revolves around its use to treat diseases and produce super-crops and livestock to "save the world." But as history has shown us, any technology is but a double-edged sword. Whatever good it is capable of, it is proportionally capable of just as much bad.

The first and foremost danger of human gene editing in particular is its use in weaponized vaccines. Such fears are founded upon what was revealed by the United Nations during the apartheid government in South Africa where a government program named "Project Coast" actually endeavored to produce vaccines that were race-specific in hopes of sterilizing or killing off its black population.

The United Nations in a report titled Project Coast: Apartheid's Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme would admit:

One example of this interaction involved anti-fertility work. According to documents from RRL [Roodeplaat Research Laboratories], the facility had a number of registered projects aimed at developing an anti-fertility vaccine. This was a personal project of the first managing director of RRL, Dr Daniel Goosen. Goosen, who had done research into embryo transplants, told the TRC that he and Basson had discussed the possibility of developing an anti-fertility vaccine which could be selectively administered—without the knowledge of the recipient. The intention, he said, was to administer it to black South African women without their knowledge.

At the time, the technology to accomplish such a feat never materialized. Now it has.
Another danger is "slow kill." This would be the process of using gene editing to affect individuals directly or through a genetically modified food supply subtly, infecting or killing off targeted demographic groups over a longer period of time. The advantage of this method would be the ambiguity surrounding what was causing upticks in "cancer" and other maladies brought on by degraded immune systems and overall health.

And while some might be tempted to claim the dangers of this technology being used against populations remains solely in the realm of "Nazi eugenicists" and racist South African regimes, the truth of the matter is even Washington has penned policy papers advocating weapons deployed amid the "world of microbes."

Mentioned in the US Neo-Conservative Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) 2000 report titled Rebuilding America's Defenses it stated:

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack - electronic, "non-lethal," biological - will be more widely available. (p.71 of .pdf)

Although it may take several decade for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and "combat" likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, "cyber-space," and perhaps the world of microbes. (p.72 of .pdf)

And advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool. (p.72 of .pdf)

Biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes is precisely what is now possible in the advent of improved gene editing. While many may suspect profit alone drives large pharmaceutical corporations to push vaccines on the global population, in reality, what it may also represent is an attempt by these very conspirators to create a well established globalized medium through which to administer their targeted bioweapons, yet another reason why the matter of human healthcare and biotechnology (and specifically vaccines) is a matter of not just business, but of national security as well.

Overwriting the Planet's Genetic Heritage

Recently, Chinese scientists have crossed what many Western commentators, scientists and others have claimed is an "ethical line" by applying gene editing to human embryos. Critics have condemned the move specifically because any human "edited" while at their embryonic stage would likely transfer those genetic changes to any offspring they had upon becoming an adult.

Yet many of these critics have been vocal advocates for precisely the same use of biotech, though not for humans, but rather for our food supply. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), particularly modified crops transfer their artificially altered genetic code to its next generation. Cross pollination has repeatedly contaminated the fields of farmers not using GMOs, creating an expanding controversy and multiple lawsuits and legal reviews.

In reality, all genetic editing, especially when it alters the genetic material of subsequent generations, represents a potential threat to the genetic heritage of the entire planet with potential consequences we may still not fully understand. In a world where the "science is final" regarding humanity's impact on the planet's climate, demanding "urgent action" to stop or reverse it, the absence of a similar impetus behind stopping the contamination of our planet's genetic heritage seems suspiciously hypocritical if not utterly reckless and even intentional.

Of course, gene editing will be done, with or without the approval of governments and the people they govern. However, measures should be developed and put in place to preserve the natural genetic heritage of the planet, and such measures should be decentralized as much as possible.

The James Bond-esque "Svalbard Global Seed Vault" in the frigid climate of Norway represents a sort of "backup" for many of the planet's horticultural species, but is controlled by the very interests intentionally destroying the planet's genomes. It represents essentially a criminal gang preparing to sink the ship, but only after securing for themselves the only lifeboat available.

More lifeboats must be made available and it will require the understanding of policymakers of this emerging technology and the threats it presents, along with national and local policies to hedge against these threats.

The West Trapped in its Own Hypocrisy

Ironically, the West's own hypocrisy has tied its hands in condemning China's moves to recklessly alter the human genomes of embryos. Not only is the West's attitude toward GMOs in general now hurting their case against China, the prevailing attitude in the West that embryos are not even "human" is also critically hypocritical, regardless of how irrational, unscientific and unqualified (however very politically convenient) such an attitude is.

To the West, unborn children are virtually "garbage" to be thrown away on a whim. So the Chinese might be forgiven for thinking it is perfectly OK to experiment recklessly upon them. In reality a human being's unique genetic code and the metabolic cellular activity that constitutes the beginning of its life... both of which perpetuate themselves uninterrupted until birth and continues on until death, natural or otherwise ... begins at conception. As such, experimenting on a human embryo may not superficially "feel" or "look" like human experimentation, but scientifically it is.

The West is quite right about condemning China for its experimentation on human embryos; however, its confused self-serving hypocrisy has made this condemnation incoherent and unfortunately irrelevant.

Regardless, those nations still adhering to a sense of both objective science and humanity can and must set a precedent based on the above described realities. They must recognize the threats and abuses this technology poses equally with its benefits. They must educate their populations to understand the difference between the two, and the importance of developing a national biotechnology initiative as a matter of both national security and progress. But, above all, they must understand that biotechnology represents the next big revolution, after information technology, and begin building the necessary infrastructure to support it.

Without doing so, nations will find themselves ill-prepared to either capitalize on its benefits or defend against its many and incredibly dangerous abuses.

Weaponization, accidents and even the prospect of globalized corporations finding, then making inaccessible the cures to diseases and conditions affecting millions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are all threats we now face, whether we would like to admit it or not. One point the West correctly made upon its hand wringing over China's most recent and reckless leap forward, was that the matter of biotechnology's profound impact on the human genome and the genetic heritage of the entire planet is no longer the subject of a "future" scenario. It is a matter of present concern.

Urban warfare military explosions rock Flint, Michigan, residents failed to get the memo

© unknown

Yet another location is erupting into urban army exercises ahead of the nationwide Jade Helm drills that have many concerned about martial law and the true intentions of mock takeovers of U.S. cities across the map.

This time, it was unexpected "simulated explosions" that rattled residents in a neighborhood of Flint, Michigan after the U.S. Army initiated training without warning the locals - despite the fact that the drills, which will last until June 12, had been planned for six months.

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According to WNEM 5:

"I was standing there, and all of a sudden, boom!" Jean Glenn said.

"I mean it was loud, it blew up the whole sky or whatever, it was like four or five big bangs," Annette Humphrey said.

Explosions you'd expect in a war zone echoed through Flint. People's homes shook and those inside were caught off-guard. It all went down Tuesday at the shuttered Lowell Junior High on the city's east side.

MLive added:

"They should warn the residents around here at least when there's something that loud and scary," said Nicole Robinson, 28. "That's pretty crazy."

The exercises involve the use of "training simunitions and helicopters. Sounds associated with the training may be heard in the local area," the city's statement says.

"The Flint Police Department is aware of the training and will contact residents in the immediate area where training will occur."

Transparency is definitely part of the issue, and it will do little to dispel the growing concerns about the real reasons for military training all across the country in cities from Florida to Michigan to Texas and Utah.

Technically, a press release was put out, but the news went out such a short time before that most had no idea it was coming.

Just after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the city sent out a release informing the public about the exercises. People say the explosions went off around 2 Tuesday afternoon, but why were residents given such short notice?

"Obviously, I can't speak for the Army on that, but we try to give people a heads up when we can, we can't go into too much detail, we don't want people just coming to these things and sightseeing," Lorenz said. (source)

The Army and city blamed a last-minute change in schedule that prompted an 'early start':

"Yesterday was a unique situation," said Chief James Tolbert. "For whatever reason the timetable was moved up. And we put it out as soon as we could. We did put it out before there was any type of explosives."

Meanwhile, reporters since that time have been asked not to film the events - get this, if their faces are shown:

[...] the officials from the army didn't wanted their faces shown during our broadcast.

The concern: terrorists may try to find them and harm them.

Officials do say they will release more information following the exercises, but specifics will be kept secret so tactics aren't passed to our enemies.

The excuses for why a press release wasn't put out sooner and why residents weren't put on notice there in Michigan hardly holds water when you look at the past examples of urban warfare training that also curiously kept locals in the dark.

Infowars carried this report about training Florida back in March that also caught people off guard with 'little or no notice':

The Department of Defense is conducting military training in Broward County this week, with exercises involving low flying helicopters that will 'scare the crap out of people', according to one local reporter.

"This type of training where military helicopters go around scaring the crap out of people has been conducted in different cities across the country and is designed to certify service members in urban environment operations for any future overseas deployments," writes Chris Joseph of the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, adding, "Don't panic. Those military aircraft and soldiers you see down the street are only a drill."


The U.S. military routinely conducts urban warfare exercises domestically, sometimes with little or no warning whatsoever, drawing criticism that the drills are designed to acclimate Americans to a state of martial law.

Last year, the Twin Cities were also "occupied" by urban training without warning, when low-flying helicopters buzzed concerned residents:

With no warning for residents, military helicopters flew low Monday evening over St. Paul and Minneapolis in a federal training exercise, about which officials released almost no information.

The St. Paul police watch commander initially had no information on the exercise.

He was later informed that it was a training exercise involving Homeland Security and local law enforcement.


"Apparently (local law enforcement) worked something out last March. Apparently they were supposed to go through the city of Minneapolis PIO to let people know, but that didn't work out so well," Thune said. "One day's notice is hardly any kind of excuse for doing this kind of thing anyway.

"It's incredibly unsafe," Thune added. "When you've got Blackhawk helicopters flying between buildings full of people in the middle of the night, it's just not safe. ... It's absolutely wrong for us as a civilian police department to be engaging in military exercises. It shouldn't happen here."

Perhaps the element of surprise is key to the training... if so, what is its true purpose?

Perhaps we will all wake up one day, surprised to find that this kind of conduct has not made us, or the world, any safer; and that instead our liberties have been slipping away, while the population has become quietly accustomed to military occupation and, yes, martial law.

Blood scan reveals every virus you've ever had

© Thinkstock
Viruses in the bloodstream.

With conventional methodology, researchers typically examine a patient's blood for one type of infection at a time.

However, a new technology from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is now able to scan a blood sample for any of a subject's current and past infections from any known human virus, according to a new report in the journal

The system, known as VirScan, can run a single test to figure out which viruses have infected an individual, as opposed to limiting their evaluation to explicit viruses. That impartial approach could discover unexpected factors impacting individual patients' health, while also growing opportunities to investigate and assess viral infections in large populations. The comprehensive evaluation can be conducted for around $25 per sample.

One-stop blood shopping

"We've developed a screening methodology to basically look back in time in people's [blood] sera and see what viruses they have experienced," said study author Stephen Elledge, an HHMI investigator who led the development of VirScan. "Instead of testing for one individual virus at a time, which is labor intensive, we can assay all of these at once. It's one-stop shopping."

To develop the system, the VirScan team synthesized more than 93,000 short pieces of DNA encoding several sections of viral proteins. They introduced those pieces of DNA into bacteria-infecting viruses known as bacteriophage. Each bacteriophage then created a peptide protein segment and presented it on its own exterior. As a collective, the bacteriophage presented all of the protein sequences discovered in the over 1,000 known types of human viruses.

To execute the VirScan evaluation, the peptide-displaying bacteriophage are permitted to mingle with a blood sample. Antiviral antibodies in the blood then find and bind to viral surface proteins called epitopes found inside the presented peptides. The researchers then grab the antibodies and wash away everything, saving the few bacteriophage that cling to them. By sequencing the DNA of those remaining bacteriophage, the team can determine which viral protein pieces were snapped up by antibodies in the blood sample, showing which viruses an immune system has encountered via infection or vaccination.

Elledge said the team was shocked to see antibody responses were surprisingly among many individuals, with different people's antibodies recognizing the same amino acids in the viral peptides.

"In this paper alone we identified more antibody/peptide interactions to viral proteins than had been identified in the previous history of all viral exploration," he said.

Sinkhole swallows police SUV in Sheridan, Colardo


© KUSA-TV, Denver
A police SUV was swallowed by a sinkhole Friday, June 5, 2015, in Sheridan, Colo. The police sergeant in the SUV was able to climb out of the SUV and the sinkhole.

A police sergeant on patrol in his department SUV was swallowed by a massive sinkhole here, Sheridan Police said.

Sgt. Greg Miller was traveling eastbound on West Oxford Avenue south of Denver early Friday morning when the road gave way.

"Next thing I know ... dirt — I'm assuming dust from the airbag — was floating around and everything," said Miller. "I hear the rushing water, and all I see is a dirt wall in front of me."

The car ended up 10 to 15 feet below the road surface.

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Miller had to crawl out onto the roof of the SUV to crawl out of the sinkhole.

"The door wouldn't open, so I had to crawl through the window," Miller said. "I reached up, grabbed the rails at the top of the roof, pulled myself up, got on top of the car, and that's when I reached up and pulled myself up out of the hole."

Miller was taken to Swedish Medical Center to be checked out but was released. The police car is a total loss.

"I'd rather it be me than somebody — a citizen — driving down the road or kids in the car," Miller said. "Or, you've got two vehicles, and the other vehicle is on top of the other vehicle, and you've got even more injuries ... you've got people trapped. I mean, I'm glad it was me than anybody else."

The sinkhole exposed a gas line, but police said there was no break in the line. The utility plans to inspect the line and cut off the gas.

China's new "Silk Road" to extend to South America

As the United States insists on articulating regional integral schemes oriented towards restraining its rise as world power (Transpacific Partnership, Pacific Alliance, etc.), China relies on the construction of economic corridors in land and maritime fields in diverse regions.

On a first stage, the Chinese government established the strengthening of economic and political links with the rest of the Asian Pacific as a priority. Although now, the links of the "Silk Road" are intended to be expanded to South America.

An enormous 5300 km rail structure will be constructed between Brazil and Peru, it will be built throughout the Amazonia and the Andes Mountains with the objective of connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The continental railway will cost between 10 and 30 billion US dollars and if there aren't any casualties it will be inaugurated by 2020.

Is not the first time that China shows interest in projects about railway structures in Latin America. The Tinaco-Anaco railway was built in Venezuela by China Railway Engineering Corporation with a 7.5 million US dollars investment. In mid-2014, the China South Railway won the tender for modernizing railway infrastructure of the Belgrano Cargas in Argentina.

However, in the majority of countries of this region land transport predominates due to the strong promotion of the American and European automobile industries since mid-50s. In Brazil, railways only represent the forth part of transport system's total capacity. In this proportion near 35% was built more than half century ago.

In the same way, the goods exported to China are transported by road before setting sail by vessel through the pacific.

Facing the persistent global crisis it's been manifested that the "economic bonanza" imposed by the high prices of commodities is an issue of past. According to the previsions elaborated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the increment of the GDP in the South American region for this year 2015 won't be more than 1.5%.

In the case of Brazil, the investing decrease and the deceleration of the internal consumption, has caused a recession that threatens to prolongate. In annual terms, the economy has dropped to 0.81% in the first quarter of 2015, therefore it has been in continuous fall for six months. This has been its worst performance in the last two decades, according to the data published by the central bank [of Brazil].

Under the same perspective, monetary resources allocated by China (almost 4 trillion US dollars) represent an economic release for South American governments for boosting productive investments, establishing lines of credit in preferential conditions, increasing commercial exchanges, etc.

On his visit in the third week of May, China's Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, approved the purchase of 40 airplanes from Embraer, the construction of a automobile business park in São Paulo and a 4 billion US dollars credit extension to the Vale mining company, he also committed 7 billion US dollars for financing Petrobras, this represents a rest for the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) which had been suffering turbulences after corruption scandals in which various members were involved.

After its launch, the "Silk Road" will allow Brazilian entrepreneurs to bring down costs for exporting grain to China at approximately 30 US dollars per ton. In the first phase, the interoceanic train will be able to transport 21 million tons between the Ilo Port (Peru) and the Açu Port (Brazil). In the second phase, its capacity is expected to be up to 35 million tons.

Now, the question is: what type of economic integration will be predominant between China and Latin America in the long run? With the exception of high benefits for a small bunch of "Trans-Latin-American" corporations under Brazil's leadership, up until now, there is no evidence that would allow us to conclude that the cash flow from China (linked in its majority to infrastructure and exploitation of commodities) has privileged the massive construction of productive linkages in the region.

In a time of panic in the periphery and rentability crisis in the core of the system (United States of America, Euro Zone, Great Britain, Japan, etc.) it's important to stress that China enriches its geopolitical influence in a global scale always looking forward to ensuring its food and energy security.

Although it's true that the "Silk Road" would be set to radically transform the economic geography in South America, its promises of industrialization and development could only be evaluated in a retrospective manner.

Grapefruit-sized hail, tornadoes and floods batter Colorado

© Dan Elliott - AP
A tornado moves through Longmont, Colorado, June 4, 2015

Hail the size of grapefruit, heavy rainfall, and multiple tornadoes caused damage and flooding across parts of the Rockies and Plains overnight into Friday, officials and meteorologists said.

Seven tornadoes were reported in Colorado and one in Kansas, according to the National Weather Service.

The worst hit was the town of Berthoud, Colorado, where up to 25 homes were affected, with more than 12 severely damaged. Trees were uprooted, but the Associated Press reported there were no injuries.

Don Grabosky, who lives just west of Berthoud, told that a tornado tore through his shed and destroyed his neighbor's home, but stopped short of his own house.

"You just wouldn't believe how many hailstones we had," he said. "And the continuous roar of the lightning and thunder. It was just awful."

His neighbors were not home when the tornado hit.

"It was just a whirling mass," he said. "It was coming for my home, and God stopped it."

Another tornado touched down southeast of Denver Thursday night and damaged some homes, with heavy rain and hail pounding the area, causing flash floods.

Heavy rains prompted officials to issue a flash flood emergency in north-central Colorado until 4 a.m. MT (6 a.m. ET). Flood watches and warnings were also issued across patches of Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Weather Channel lead forecaster Michael Palmer told there had been some reports of hail the size of grapefruit. And residents in the town of Simla, Colorado, about 60 miles southeast of Denver, posted pictures of large balls of ice to their Twitter accounts.

Scot Alexander, a resident in Denver, filmed people digging out their cars from ankle-deep hail on Thursday night, according to footage posted by NBC station .

There were 87 reports of hail across five states on Thursday and early Friday, according to the NWS.

Several rivers and creeks in Kansas City flooded as a result of persistent, heavy rain from Wednesday and Thursday. At least 17 river gauges across the city were at flood levels as of 3 p.m. local time Thursday, The Kansas City Star reported.

In other parts of the Missouri, the ground was so saturated that "as little as one inch of rain could lead to flash flooding in some areas," the NWS warned.

The severe weather was expected to calm down through Friday morning, Palmer said, before picking back up in Colorado for another round in the afternoon.

On Saturday, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota were set to get their share of severe storms, he added, before the system moved further east on Sunday, when it was expected to hit Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.

Hundreds of barrel jellyfish wash up on the south coast in UK


The English Channel is teeming with the enormous jellyfish just as thousands of people are due to visit the coast this weekend.

Hundreds of 4ft barrel jellyfish have washed up along the south coast of England as millions of people prepare to flock to the country's beaches to make the most of the soaring temperatures.

Port worker Clive Thomas managed to capture photos of the giant jellyfish in Portland Harbour in Dorset, while dozens more have been found washed up further along the coast in Bournemouth.

In one morning alone, lifeguards in Bournemouth recovered more than 100 jellyfish which had beached themselves.

Despite their large size, barrel jellyfish - which are called Rhizostoma pulmo in Latin - cause little harm to humans as their sting is not considered powerful. It is similar to a nettle sting and can cause a rash.

The recent influx to British shores is down to rich nutrients presently in the water which create ideal conditions for plankton to bloom.

The jellyfish are attracted towards the shore by the plankton but strong southerly winds often mean they end up being swept into the shallows.


Those heading to Branksome Beach in Dorset will want to keep an eye out for the dozens of washed-up jellyfish which have found themselves stranded on the shore this week.

Mr Thomas, who works at the Portland Port Authority, recorded hundreds of them in the harbour during his lunch break yesterday.

He said: 'We get jellyfish coming here every so often but I have never seen them in such great number before.

'I videoed just one part of the harbour but they were everywhere. They do look a bit alien-like and the scene did look a bit spooky. You wouldn't have wanted to jump in.'

Beachgoers in Bournemouth also reported seeing dozens of the giant jellyfish washed up on a stretch of coastline.

Caroline Walker, from Canford Cliffs, Poole, was walking at Branksome Chine beach near the millionaire's playground of Sandbanks when she spotted an influx of the huge marine creatures stranded on the sand.

She said: 'I live near the beach and was down early in the morning with my camera to see what I came across when I spotted all these jellyfish high and dry on the shore.

'In just one section of beach between groynes there were 15 jellyfish - it was quite a sight.

'They ranged in shapes and size, from ones that would fit in the palm of your hand to others that were about 2ft wide.

'Barrel jellyfish aren't uncommon but we've been getting more and more being washed up recently.

'I first saw one around a month ago but since then the numbers have been going through the roof and in the last week there have been hundreds.

'Unfortunately once they've been washed up they then die. I saw a man from the council putting them in bags, and he said he'd collected 100 that morning.'

Barrel jellyfish are often known as dustbin-lid jellyfish because of their enormous size.

They are commonly found in the north east Atlantic, Adriatic, and Mediterranean and are thought to be among the oldest species on the planet, dating back around 500 million years.

Dr Simon Boxall, a lecturer oceanography at the University of Southampton, said: 'You get swarms of jellyfish when the conditions are right. We have had a combination of rain and sun in the spring and that leads to a reasonable amount of food in the water.

'Nutrients wash off the land into the sea that feed the plankton which feeds the jellyfish.

'Jellyfish do drift and go with the flow. They are at the mercy of the winds and that is why they do beach.

'People should avoid swimming in the sea if there are in large numbers. If people do get stung they are best off bathing the sting in salt water.'

Malaysia 6.0 earthquake: Over 160 people stranded on mountain, 40 missing

© Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad
Mount Kinabalu

Rockfalls at Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu, caused by a 6.0-magnitude earthquake on Borneo Island, have left more than 160 people stranded on the peak, with some injured, according to officials. Forty people have been reported missing.

About 120 climbers and 40 local guides appear to be unable to descend from the Kinabalu summit, due to the Friday morning earthquake. At least four climbers had injuries, such as broken bones and head wounds, the reported.

[embedded content]

"It's very tricky now," Sabah state tourism minister Masidi Manjun told . "We can't land a helicopter up there because visibility is so bad, but the people can't come down on their own because the main route is now impassable."

The rescue operation "Op Gempa" has already led to 29 climbers being brought down from the 4,095-metre mountain, local police said.

"We are trying to locate 40 people believed to be trapped on the mountain," Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters, as cited by the .

Another 200 hikers were banned from climbing at the gates of the Kinabalu Park for safety reasons.

The peak's iconic profile has suffered, as the tremor destroyed one of the two twin rock formations dubbed "Donkey's Ears".

According to the US Geological Survey, the quake hit at about 7:15 am (2315 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers, with its epicenter located about 54 kilometers (34 miles) east of Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah.

No major damage or deaths were initially reported, and there was no tsunami warning. The earthquake damaged a road and at least ten buildings including schools, hospital, police station, banks, mosque and supermarkets in the town of Ranau.

Some panic among the residents of the Malaysian state of Sabah was reported, as people fled buildings in order to avoid any danger. A resident of Kota Kinabalu, Colin Forsythe, told that the quake lasted around 15 seconds and felt "as if a truck had crashed into a brick wall."

Malaysia lies outside the Ring of Fire, the seismic activity belt that borders the Pacific basin, so major earthquakes are rare in the country. Mount Kinabalu is considered to be a popular tourist destination with thousands of people flocking each year to climb it. Local tribal group, Kadazan Dusun, believes it to be a sacred place.

Last week, a group of 10 Westerners uploaded their nude photos, made on the mountain's top, on the internet, thus angering the locals and provoking suggestions that the quake was a sign that the spirits were disturbed by their act.

Biblical scenes in China as a plague of toads descend on town after heavy rainfall


The toads pile on top of each other, and because of their colour, give the impression the ground is moving

A scene of biblical proportions descended upon China's Liaoning Province following heavy rainfall.

A plague of toads was filmed in the area of Ganjingzi Qu, Liaoning Sheng, swarming a pathway and making the ground look like it was moving.

Hopping in their tens of thousands, the toads, which were all relatively small in size, escaped from a nearby lake.

According to local news reports the amphibians arrived in the area after heavy rainfall in the morning.

In the short clip people can be seen attempting to negotiate around the toads as they jump in every direction.

In some areas of the pavement the distance between each amphibian is quite large, and there doesn't appear to be an overly dramatic amount of them.

[embedded content]


People can be seen attempting to negotiate around the toads as they jump in all directions

However, nearing the lake, the toads can be seen pilling on top of each other and because of their colour, they give the impression that the ground is moving.

Toads are characterized by leathery skin, which is often drier than that belonging to a frog.

They also have short legs and snout-like parotoid glands, and live in more terrestrial habitats than their commonly confused counterpart.


The plague of toads arrived in Ganjingzi Qu, Liaoning Sheng after heavy rain fall in the morning


SOTT Exclusive: G7 games politicians play


© AP Photo/Grigory Dukor, Pool
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The upcoming G7 summit in Germany is revealing some of the games politicians are playing.

Last year Russia was excluded from the G7 summit for the first time in 17 years. It was to be held in Sochi but was canceled following the Crimea referendum to join Russia. The Western nations deemed it as an "illegal annexation" of territory.

Canada's Stephen Harper came out shouting that Russia will not be a part of the upcoming G7 meeting in Germany as long as Putin is the leader of Russia:

From RT:

Canadian PM Stephen Harper has pledged to "strongly oppose" Russia rejoining the Group of Seven nations as long as Vladimir Putin is president. The G7 suspended Moscow last year over the conflict in Ukraine, but hasn't ruled out allowing it back.

"I don't think Russia under Vladimir Putin belongs in the G7. Period," Harper said in an exclusive interview with AP ahead of his trip to Ukraine and the G7 meeting in Bavaria this week. "Canada would very, very strongly oppose Putin ever sitting around that table again. It would require consensus to bring Russia back and that consensus will just not happen."

According to Harper, who faces re-election in October, Moscow is hard to get on with.

"Russia is more often than not trying deliberately to be a strategic rival, to deliberately counter the good things we're trying to achieve in the world than for no other reason than to just counter them," Harper said, adding that the "mindset of the guy we are dealing with is that the Cold War has never ended and, 'I've got to fight to change the ending somehow.'"

"I don't think there is any way under this leader Russia will ever change," Harper said.


© Reuters/Grigory Dukor

It is pretty clear from Harper's statement that he is frustrated with Russia because they don't play along with the West's imperial goals. But he seems to be alone in wanting Russia to stay away:

Russia's Absence at G7 Summit is a Loss:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the absence of the Russian Federation at the summit of G7 is a loss.

However, she added that such a step was necessary.

"In a certain sense, [it] is a loss, but it was necessary," the politician stated.

Merkel stressed that the fighting in eastern Ukraine and Russia's actions in Crimea violated the "peaceful order in Europe that formed after the Second World War."

"Some things require a lot of time, but in this case we need a change in Russia's position, which I currently don't see," Merkel said in an interview with radio station RTL.

So Merkel is on board, but not all German politicians agree:

German Politicians Want Putin at G7 Summit:

Global economy, security, environmental protection and other key issues cannot be effectively addressed without Russia, China and India, ex-leader of the German Left, Oskar Lafontaine, said Wednesday.

"The [G7] lineup is questionable. I believe we must invite Putin," Lafontaine said during Wednesday's Anne Will talk show aired by ARD television.

His opinion was fully echoed by ex-Education Minister Klaus von Dohnanyi from the Social Democratic Party and by former Bavarian Prime Minister

Edmund Stoiber from the Christian-Social Union Party said Russia's expulsion from G8 was a mistake because key global issues cannot be discussed without Russia.

"There is no way you can possibly resolve the Syrian crisis without Russia's participation. Neither can you the Iranian problem," Stoiber underscored.

Klaus von Dohnanyi said he thought this idea should be put across to the other members of the "western camp" located "west of Germany".

"We need to tell them loud and clear that problems are not resolved by shutting off someone simply because his opinion is not shared by the rest," he added.

Here is what the US has to say about the meeting:

President Barack Obama, who will join the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan at the upcoming G7 summit in Germany, plans to urge European allies to continue with sanctions against Russia. White House officials said they are concerned by the outburst of violence in Ukraine earlier this week.

"We continue to see very concerning Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine," Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said in a conference call with journalists, AP reported. "That is why it's so important that sanctions are kept in place, so that they're not just seen as one-time punishments that are then able to be waited out by countries that continue to violate international law and international norms."


© AP Photo/ Geert Vanden Wijngaert

So is Russia worried about their exclusion from the G7?

Kremlin comments on Canadian PM's words about Putin:

The Kremlin has voiced regret over the revival of the irreconcilable cold war rhetoric with regard to Russia's leaders.

"As for such irreconcilable attitude towards our president, this is not something new," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, commenting on the remarks by the Canadian Prime Minister that Russia wouldn't return to the G7 during Vladimir Putin's tenure. "We can only voice regret over the fact that the rhetoric of the 1970s has revived so quickly," Peskov added.

Commenting on the sanctions issue, he noted, "This is not our issue on the agenda."

G7 Summit Without Russia: Problem for the West, But Not for the Kremlin:

Moscow's absence at the G7 summit in Germany does not mean that Russia is politically isolated in the world. Moreover, it helps the Kremlin to pursue a more independent policy, wrote.

The proximity to the Western world is no longer an absolute value for modern Russia, the German newspaper wrote.

Moscow seeks to follow a sovereign foreign policy and is not willing to impose itself on Western countries, the article said, referring to the upcoming G7 summit, which will be held in Germany on Sunday without the participation of the Russian leader.

"Will the Russian President sit on Sunday in the Kremlin and grieve about the fact that the G7 leaders met in the Elmau castle without him? Unlikely. The days when the Russian President wanted to just stand next to his Western colleagues are over," the newspaper wrote.

As Lavrov notes:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov then said that no one had actually excluded Russia from the G8.

"The G8 is an informal club, no one gives out membership cards and no one can expel members", he added.

Russia is hardly excluded from world geopolitics. European leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, regularly visit Russia. In a few days, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit the Russian pavilion at the international exhibition "EXPO-2015" in Italy. In the Vatican, he will have a private meeting with Pope Francis.

Russia is also expanding its contacts within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and maintains fruitful cooperation with Asian countries. With this regard, the Kremlin's non-participation in the G7 summit is just a little episode in its foreign policy activities, noted.

These games the G7 politicians are playing just go to show the absurdity of their world views and how they are increasingly becoming irrelevant.




Corrupt to the core: The lasting legacy of Ukraine's oligarchy


© Unknown
Caricature of Ukrainian oligarchs Firtash, Kolomoisky, Akhmetov, from left to right

One year after Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, his methods remain firmly entrenched in the reality of Ukrainian life. Despite the country's Revolution of Dignity and continued Russian aggression against Ukraine, local oligarchs have become even more powerful and influential, and pose a significant threat to Ukraine's European development. Oligarchs control the state apparatus, mass media, and whole sectors of industry. Therefore, they can simply put the brakes on reform as soon as their financial interests are threatened.
Under the previous government, the oligarchs were strictly subordinated. Yanukovych was the "super oligarch", the main beneficiary of the regime. Below him came the traditional oligarchs, who had to share their profits with Yanukovych. Rinat Akhmetov, for instance, was granted control of metallurgy and energy, Igor Kolomoisky had the oil industry, and Dmitry Firtash and Sergei Levochkin controlled the gas, chemical, and titanium sectors.

Last year, after Yanukovych's flight, the oligarch clans lost their patron - but they gained the chance to extend their personal power.

Now, one year after the Revolution of Dignity, a few have seen their influence diminished, but only because Yanukovych is gone, not because reforms have been made. The oligarchs soon found a common language with the victors of the Maidan, providing them with financial help, access to television channels, and votes in parliament. This unofficial pact prevented the eradication of the clans' wealth-generating systems, traditionally powered by corruption, conspiracy, and crushing competition.

A disoriented and weakened state apparatus proved unable to oppose the oligarchs. The new government lacked the political will to break with its predecessors' schemes. No real economic reforms were introduced to give new impetus to small and medium-sized enterprises, the only real potential challengers to the oligarchic order and guarantors of democratic reforms.

The government has blamed the ongoing war for the failure to implement reforms. However, it is difficult to accept that the war necessarily prevented the government from implementing fiscal reforms, simplifying business rules, dismissing corrupt traffic police, or setting up sanitary-epidemiological services, as borne out by the model of Georgian reforms after the Rose Revolution in 2003.

Yanukovych's clan

After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, the EU imposed sanctions against 18 individuals who embodied the old regime. The list included Yanukovych himself along with his two sons Oleksander and Viktor Jr, other former government members, and Serhiy Kurchenko, the man behind multiple business schemes for the Yanukovych family.

Interestingly, none of the influential oligarchs who accumulated wealth during Yanukovych's reign were on the list.

The heaviest losses were sustained by Yanukovych's clan, headed up by his eldest son, Oleksander, who assigned key posts to his friends, Serhiy Arbuzov, Oleksander Klymenko, and Vitaliy Zakharchenko. Their accounts in Europe were frozen and some of their assets were blocked. In Ukraine, however, the Yanukovych family assets were mostly in the hands of "straw men". The family's main path to wealth was not acquisition of private property, but corruption and appropriation of state assets. This explains why the losses incurred by Yanukovych's circle are still inconsiderable.

The All-Ukrainian Development Bank, which served as a shop front for Yanukovych's son's business, ceased its activities only in December 2014, after the introduction of an interim administration by the National Bank of Ukraine. Donbasenergo, a company that held two electric plants privatised to benefit Yanukovych's family, continued to receive payments throughout 2014.

Financial institutions belonging to Yanukovych's circle carried on functioning throughout 2014. One example is Unison Bank belonging to former revenue minister Oleksandr Klymenko, Kurchenko's business partner and the main paymaster of the Yanukovych family.

Yanukovych's subordinates' media empires are still operating. None of the publications by Kurchenko's Ukrainian Media Holding group have been stopped, Zakharchenko-linked television news channel 112 continues to broadcast, and, in Kyiv's metro, people are still queuing for Vesti, a free newspaper associated with Klymenko.

Even with Yanukovych's people removed from their posts, corrupt courts of justice have continued to pass judgement in the former president's favour: for example, one of the snipers who targeted people at the Maidan was released from house arrest, Arbuzov's money in Ukrainian banks was unblocked, and the decree forbidding Ukrainian state payments to the electric plants owned by Yanukovych's family was cancelled.

In January 2015, Yanukovych was placed on the Interpol wanted list, accused of economic crimes. But Yanukovych was instrumental in reducing, by $30 million, the financial obligations of a company that went on to buy the state telecommunications company, Ukrtelecom. The new owner of Ukrtelecom also appears to be associated with the Yanukovych family.

Akhmetov and Firtash

© Unknown
Rinat Akhmetov of the Donetsk clan whose fortune is estimated at $11.6 billion (Wikipedia)

Rinat Akhmetov's clan's influence has diminished because of Ukraine's loss of control over the occupied part of the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. These regions constituted Akhmetov's political and industrial base. Compared to 2014, Akhmetov's influence in parliament has considerably decreased. In the previous administration, he had control over several dozen Party of Regions MPs, as well as a number of key ministries, state monopolies, and regulators. Today, no more than 20 deputies from Akhmetov's camp are in the Opposition Bloc faction, formerly the Party of Regions. Some of his long-term allies have defected to the clan of his rival, Ihor Kolomoisky.

The legislative initiatives of Akhmetov and his people in parliament have no chance of being approved, since none of his contingent heads up any of the parliamentary committees. Today, the oligarch's main resource is his good relationship with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who has taken no steps in the past year to limit Akhmetov's voracious appetite. Akhmetov's enterprises continue to reap benefits in the industry and energy sectors, while the dubious privatisation that took place under Yanukovych goes unquestioned. Akhmetov even managed to acquire the thermal power plants Zakhidenergo and Dniproenergo through tender offers in which his supposed competitors only pretended to fight for the assets.

As a result, Akhmetov now owns 70 percent of Ukraine's thermal energy, and fixed tariffs guarantee him stable profits. He survived Yanukovych's flight from the country because of his willingness to share his money with all the political parties, as well as his far-reaching media holdings. He even succeeded in coming to an arrangement with the terrorists occupying Donetsk. His luxurious mansion stands intact in a town ruled by gangs of heavily armed "marginal" and Russian fighters.

Today, Akhmetov's problem is the absence of a brilliant political leader to replace Yanukovych and spearhead his revenge. This is another consequence of the perverse political culture of the Party of Regions, in which the absence of internal competition has led to a shortage of party officials.

Another oligarch clan, centred on the corrupt gas broker RosUkrEnergo, incurred much greater losses after Yanukovych's escape. However, American law enforcement agencies rather than Ukrainian actions made this happen: at their request, Dmytro Firtash, one of the group's leaders, was arrested in Vienna. Firtash is now trying to avoid being extradited to Chicago, where he faces imprisonment. He has hired a group of influential American and Austrian officials to act on his behalf, including a former Austrian justice minister and the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. Firtash wants to stay in Austria as long as possible; there, he is allowed to move freely within the country, while trying to settle his US criminal charges with the help of American lobbyists.

Firtash was held in custody for almost two weeks, then released on bail after paying €125 million, the largest sum in Austria's history. But these were not his only losses. Last year, he lost Nadra Bank as well as control over the titanium deposits he acquired under Yanukovych. Ukraine's prosecutor general has opened a criminal case over the fraudulent sale of Inter, Ukraine's leading television channel. Meanwhile, Firtash continues to wield control over two dozen deputies, including his close business partners, Sergei Levochkin and his sister Yuliya Levochkina, Yuriy Boyko, and Ivan Fursin.

Ukraine has not managed to eliminate one of the main elements supporting corruption: the differential in gas prices for households and industrial complexes, which can vary tenfold. Firtash still controls the largest network of gas distribution companies, where cheap gas destined for the people is "lost", but then reappears in his chemical plants that produce fertilisers sold at international-level prices. This is the source of his great financial wealth.

Kolomoisky and the new oligarchs

Ihor Kolomoisky's clan significantly increased its sphere of influence after Yanukovych's fall. Kolomoisky tries to present himself as a staunch opponent of Yanukovych, but this is far from the truth. He was ready to establish relationships with any authority and, before the 2010 elections, he decided to bet on Yanukovych, assisting him financially through his old friend Yuriy Ivaniuschenko. By doing so, he kept control of Ukrnafta, despite the fact that the state owned the majority of its shares. Kolomoisky was one of the main beneficiaries of Yanukovych's regime and even attended the former president's private birthday celebrations.

After Yanukovych's departure, Kolomoisky's strategy was to bet on his own political authority. Instead of spending money on external political projects, he invested in himself and became head of Dnipropetrovsk province, neighbouring the Donbas region occupied by Russian troops.

Kolomoisky created battalions of volunteers to defend the borders of Dnipropetrovsk province, and sometimes to act as private security for his organisations. They were even involved in corporate conflicts. For instance, they confiscated petroleum products belonging to Kurchenko.

In the new parliament, Kolomoisky's people have infiltrated various factions. They can be found in the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the Popular Front, and among the unaffiliated MPs. Kolomoisky continues to control Ukrnafta, the oil refinery in Kremenchuk, and a network of state-owned pipelines. Immediately after Yanukovych's fall, raw material from these pipelines was processed in Kolomoisky's plant. He also controls Odesa province, governed by Ihor Palytsia, a former top manager of Kolomoisky's Ukrnafta. Kolomoisky's media empire, which includes the 1+1 television channel, is used to settle political scores.

Kolomoisky was fired by Poroshenko in March 2015, when as governor of Dnipropetrovsk province he crossed the line in using public resources for his own enrichment. He refused to pay dividends of 1.8 billion hryvnia (approximately $70 million) to the state budget from Ukrnafta. Kolomoisky said he would "never pay the dividends" in spite of the fact that the government owns 50 percent plus one share in the company.

He also violated the law that prohibits dual citizenship, because he actually has not even two but three passports - from Ukraine, Israel, and Cyprus. And he involved former battalion fighters in protecting his management in Ukrnafta after legal changes that allowed the removal of the company's pro-Kolomoisky CEO.

The arrival of armoured personnel carriers and automatic weapons on the city's streets had looked like the first act of a military coup.

Kolomoisky placed in doubt the president's monopoly on the use of force and undermined the legitimacy of Poroshenko and the whole government. It was a point of no return and his resignation was unavoidable. Kolomoisky has, in other words, been prevented from grabbing even more power; but it is still a key member of the oligarch system which survives intact.

This last decade has seen the almost invisible emergence of a new breed of oligarchs in the agrarian sector. The land reserves of Ukraine, their prime location, and the preferential treatment given to agriculture have all contributed to the rise of these magnates, whose fortunes can now compete with those of the "old" oligarchs.

Their rise is reflected in the composition of the current parliament, which includes relatives and representatives of the main agrarian empires, including the son of the owner of Nubilon, the brother of the owner of Kernel, and lobbyists for the Myronivsky Hliboprodukt, UkrLandFarming, and Cargill corporations.

After the 2014 elections, when parliament sat for the first time, there were eight candidates to head the committee on agrarian policy in Poroshenko's faction alone. The agrarian lobby, which had until then acted from outside parliament, was now firmly established in legislative structures from where they could lobby for corporate interests.
How to move forward

More than anything, Ukraine needs to find a way of reducing the influence that oligarchs have on all aspects of life. This might take years, but if it does not happen, it will be impossible to build a fair and just society without corruption at the highest levels of government.

The oligarchs' financial influence over politics must be removed.

The oligarch clans are currently important sponsors of political projects that are profitable for business, making Ukrainian elections some of the most expensive in the world. To weaken their influence,Ukraine should introduce state funding of political parties. This is a system that has been implemented in the majority of European countries, where parties receive yearly grants funded by taxpayer money to cover their expenses. Money from the state budget should become a real alternative to that from the oligarch clans.

Today, rivalry between the parties looks very much like a virtual purchasing power competition. Campaign teams buy airtime on television channels at great expense. One minute on the STB channel belonging to Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, cost between $15,000 and $20,000 during the last elections. Campaign teams would buy hours of airtime and accept the oligarchs' people on their lists in order to get discounts.

A major step towards reducing the oligarchs' influence, therefore, would be limiting or even banning political advertising on commercial channels. Advertising for political parties should be restricted to free slots on public television. This would encourage politicians to engage in new forms of communication with the electorate, face-to-face rather than through televised broadcasts.

Financing parties from the state budget and limiting political advertising would be a start, but it would by no means be enough. It will be impossible to curtail the oligarchs' influence over society without reforming television. Eighty percent of the population rely on television for information. Ukraine should, therefore, create a public state television channel, supervised by a board to ensure its impartiality, which would not only give citizens an alternative source of information, but would also force the oligarch-controlled channels to cover information more objectively. Biased news, if competing against a comparatively unbiased viewpoint, would become less influential and popular.

Equally important is the reform of justice, which today does not serve the needs of a modern Ukraine. However, these complex reforms will only be achievable if Ukrainian civil society finds a permanent ally in Western governments and international institutions. Ukrainian officials and politicians are sometimes deaf to the demands of their citizens, but become much more receptive when these demands are reiterated by organisations providing financial assistance to Ukraine. Therefore, including anti-oligarchic measures in a reform package might well be the greatest service that European institutions could provide to Ukraine.

Serhiy Leshchenko is a member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Previously he was an investigative and political journalist and deputy editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda.

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