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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Data scientists find connections between birth month and health

© Dr. Nick Tatonetti/Columbia University Medical Center
This data visualization maps the statistical relationship between birth month and disease incidence in the electronic records of 1.7 million New York City patients.

Columbia University scientists have developed a computational method to investigate the relationship between birth month and disease risk. The researchers used this algorithm to examine New York City medical databases and found 55 diseases that correlated with the season of birth. Overall, the study indicated people born in May had the lowest disease risk, and those born in October the highest. The study was published this week in the

"This data could help scientists uncover new disease risk factors," said study senior author Nicholas Tatonetti, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and Columbia's Data Science Institute. The researchers plan to replicate their study with data from several other locations in the U.S. and abroad to see how results vary with the change of seasons and environmental factors in those places. By identifying what's causing disease disparities by birth month, the researchers hope to figure out how they might close the gap.

Earlier research on individual diseases such as ADHD and asthma suggested a connection between birth season and incidence, but no large-scale studies had been undertaken. This motivated Columbia's scientists to compare 1,688 diseases against the birth dates and medical histories of 1.7 million patients treated at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC between 1985 and 2013.

The study ruled out more than 1,600 associations and confirmed 39 links previously reported in the medical literature. The researchers also uncovered 16 new associations, including nine types of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. The researchers performed statistical tests to check that the 55 diseases for which they found associations did not arise by chance.

"It's important not to get overly nervous about these results because even though we found significant associations the overall disease risk is not that great," notes Dr. Tatonetti. "The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise."

The new data are consistent with previous research on individual diseases. For example, the study authors found that asthma risk is greatest for July and October babies. An earlier Danish study on the disease found that the peak risk was in the months (May and August) when Denmark's sunlight levels are similar to New York's in the July and October period.

For ADHD, the Columbia data suggest that around one in 675 occurrences could relate to being born in New York in November. This result matches a Swedish study showing peak rates of ADHD in November babies.

The researchers also found a relationship between birth month and nine types of heart disease, with people born in March facing the highest risk for atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve disorder. One in 40 atrial fibrillation cases may relate to seasonal effects for a March birth. A previous study using Austrian and Danish patient records found that those born in months with higher heart disease rates—March through June—had shorter life spans.

"Faster computers and electronic health records are accelerating the pace of discovery," said the study's lead author, Mary Regina Boland, a graduate student at Columbia. "We are working to help doctors solve important clinical problems using this new wealth of data."

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Crop circles discovered on southern Russian wheat field

Crop circles appeared mysteriously in a wheat field in the republic of Adygea over the weekend, to the puzzlement of residents in the southern Russian republic, the Interfax news agency reported Monday.

Local farmer Sergei Anisimov found six circles of wheat pressed perfectly in a clockwise pattern, ranging from 7 to 13 meters in diameter, Interfax reported.

Photos of the mysterious markings on the local news site 8772.ru show two big circles of completely flat wheat and smaller ones with untouched wheat standing in the center.

"I drove by the field at 9 p.m. and didn't find anything like that. At 5 a.m. on Sunday I came back and the circles were already there," Anisimov told Interfax, adding that the field's security guards hadn't noticed any suspicious activity overnight.

This is not the first time crop circles have appeared in southern Russia. The unusual markings appeared in a sunflower field on a farm in the neighboring Krasnodar region last year, causing local residents to conclude that aliens must have paid them a visit, local news site Svet Mayakov reported.

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The Krasnodar region accounts for 40 percent of all crop circles recorded in Russia, but they are a well-known phenomenon in Adygea as well. Over the last 10 years, crop circles have been registered in the Shovgenovsky, Giaginsky and Maykop regions of the republic, Interfax reported.

Over 20 fake mobile phone towers found in UK

© PressTV
An archival photo of phone towers.

More than 20 fake phone poles, which are said to be tools to spy on public communications, have been found in the United Kingdom, according to a new investigation.

The investigation was conducted by the UK-based Sky News, and its findings were released on Wednesday.

The poles, which were found in London, have on them tools known in the communications industry as International Mobile Subscriber Identity, also known as Stingrays.

It was the first time such espionage tools were detected in the country.

According to the investigation, the fake communication posts are actually intercepting phone calls and collecting all their data.

Authorities, however, have not revealed who is controlling the masts and for what purpose.

© PressTV
A file photo of a stingray.

In the past, the Scotland Yard, the territorial police force responsible for policing most of London, reportedly bought some of the posts on which the spying devices were found.

The transactions were said to be conducted by the Scotland Yard in 2009, leaving many to suspect that the police force is behind the spying on UK citizens.

Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, from Scotland Yard, told British media: "We're not going to talk about it, because the only people who benefit are the other side, and I see no reason in giving away that sort of thing."

The UK government is notorious for carrying out espionage against its citizens, past reports have showed.

Earlier this year, British lawmakers for the first time acknowledged that the country's spy agencies are snooping on private communication data in bulk.

A report by the British parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee revealed in March that British government spies were reading thousands of private communications every day. But it said the interception does not count as blanket surveillance.

Britain's spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA), were at the center of a scandal following leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The two agencies are accused of eavesdropping on not only some of the top world leaders but even ordinary citizens across the globe.

According to the revelations by Snowden, the GCHQ received private communications intercepted by the NSA through its "mass surveillance" programs, known as Prism and Upstream.

The FDA and Big Pharma's latest killer agenda: Destroy homeopathic medicine

© RadioMedix

Like pretty much everything these days, money equates to power in the big business world of both geopolitics and monopolized corporate control designed to eliminate individual liberties and personal choice around the globe. We've seen it with the treasonous US crime cabal government that engineered the murder of 3000 Americans on 9/11 to establish a fake war on terror with fake enemies acting as mercenary Islamic stooges that conveniently facilitated the dismantling of the US Constitution.

As all three branches of the federal government destroyed the US democratic republic, on a more micro-scaled level we've also seen how all the various federal regulatory agencies ostensibly set up to protect public health have in fact betrayed Americans by selling out to special interests of big business and corporate lobbyists.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission and even the Center for Diseases Control are all but corporate whores completely taken over by a rotating door of Fortune 500 CEO's, think tank provocateurs, political action committees and corporate lobbyists none of which serve the public.

A new spending bill in the oligarch owned Congress will spell the death of net neutrality. The oligarch controlled FCC is now in the process of destroying net neutrality, censoring the internet, controlling website access, making it increasingly unaffordable and in particular is bent on destroying the independent news media. Because the elite know more and more of the world's population are turning to the internet for its main source of information and news in overt rejection of MSM lies and disinformation, through its FCC gatekeeper the plan to eliminate independent news media as well as individual critical thinking have been well underway for some time now.

As part of this sinister process, search engines like the giant Google no longer lists websites by order of heaviest traffic but by the Big Brother filter deciding which sites are "more accurate." What they fail to mention is by whose standards, the lying government that Google and Facebook have sold out to or those brave souls determined to tell the truth no matter what. The globalist design is to ensure that only the six oligarch owned mainstream media outlets disseminate all news and information to the world, effectively creating a monopoly over the flow of all information from the current 90+% level to the absolute 100%.

Near a decade ago insightful longtime critic of the United States government Michael Parenti in his plain truth primer Democracy for the Few exposed how the watchdog agencies cited above merely protect the very industries they're supposed to monitor and regulate. The result is the EPA looks the other way when air becomes dirtier, groundwater more polluted and oceans and soil more saturated with toxic contaminants. The FDA gives its rubber stamped approval permitting untested drugs and unsafe foods to be sold to consumers. The CDC and Big Pharma controlled medical establishment squelch known cures for cancer and other terminal illnesses. The Pentagon, Defense Department and Homeland Security are all supposed to keep us safe when in fact in the name of national security every year they make the world far more dangerous and insecure, destroying nation after nation turning them into failed states while exterminating millions of innocent people in our name. Militarized US police are supposed to protect and serve when in fact they are 58 times more apt to murder us than any terrorists. And so on and on it goes, living in the twenty-first century we are learning that the alarmingly grim truth is virtually all our public servants are turning out to be our killers instead of protectors.

Similarly, since its 1921 inception members of the Council on Foreign Relations - little more than a covert front for the elites and the criminal central banking cabal - have infiltrated and embedded themselves as permanent fixtures in all three branches of the federal government to ensure that US foreign policy over this last century propagates unending wars around the globe exclusively for military industrial complex profiteering. The elite have been diligently working and plotting for more than a century to usher in their one world government.

Thanks to the likes of such Skull & Bones lifers as treasonous Bush senior (also a CFR member) and his derelict son George W, New World Order tyranny is already here. From the summer of 1990 to March 1991 alone, then President George H W Bush made no less than 42 repeated references to the globalists' design for a "New World Order."Over numerous decades through both democratic and republican administrations alike, such iconic influential presidential cabinet member-advisors and NWO architect-propagandists as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski have incessantly mouthed that same three word globalist vision countless times as their broken record mantra to condition Americans for what we are now up against.

A morally and financially bankrupt, thoroughly broken fiat slavery debt system masquerading as capitalists' free enterprise is now ready to implode just as another world war is about ready to explode. The co-timing of these two intertwined events is definitely by no accident. Both have been long planned and designed to bring about the New World Order that's tragically taken form right before our eyes. In the throes of a major global power shift from West to East, oligarchs from China and Russia are supplanting oligarchs from America and its Western allies to make the Sino-Russo partnership the world's number one economic power engine in the years to come. The US dollar and petrodollar as international currency are being replaced by BRICS and other financial alliances led by China and Russia backed by an international return to the gold standard.

One can easily see how today's globalized macro picture reflects the micro picture and vice versa. The globalists' monopoly and control endgame is absolute throughout every aspect of people's lives. The so called free trade agreements like oligarchy itself are all about crushing competition in order to guarantee absolute NWO control. And with that as the bigger backdrop frame of reference, this presentation will now focus on how through an illustrative example of the US Food and Drug Administration is currently targeting as its latest conquest an agenda to systematically demolish homeopathic medicine. Paralleling the FDA's ongoing plan to kill off all competition from the health food industry be it vitamin-herbal dietary supplements, raw dairy products to small organic farming, the latest federal assault to kill off alternative medicine has in its crosshairs the bulls eye target of homeopathic medicine.

When the feds began realizing that Americans have a rapidly growing distrust toward both US leaders and the six mainstream propaganda outlets, Big Pharma and conventional medicine also grew threatened by America's interrelated shift as health consumers increasingly began embracing alternative healing methods that homeopathy and naturopathy represent. Thus since the international drug corporations own and control both conventional medicine as well as the FDA in the United States, they are now siccing their FDA SWAT team big guns on individual practitioners of natural remedies and cures so that Americans no longer have any health care choices left. Absolute control equates to no freedom of choice at all.

In the last three months the FDA has been on its latest crusade warning Americans about potential harmful side effects from natural healing substances that have been around for centuries. The sheer hypocrisy of libelously smearing homeopathy as a serious public health threat in the face of the far more pervasive death and destruction directly caused by Big Pharma's drugs with FDA's bribed blessings amounts to criminal flagrance. According to a November 2014 article published by the American Sociological Association written by a Harvard research fellow, prescription drugs are tied with strokes as the fourth leading cause of death in America. They kill about 330,000 patients a year in the US and Europe. Big Pharma drugs are additionally responsible for an incredible 6.6 million hospitalizations along with 80 million "medically minor" problems. And with such a horrendous track record, Big Pharma's regulatory gatekeeper the FDA is now insisting that homeopathic medicines are dangerous!

As recently as April Director of the Office of Compliance at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) told ScienceInsider:

We've had tremendous growth in the [homeopathic] market and also some emerging safety and quality concerns. In light of that, we thought it was time to take another look.

Using pure scare tactics, the FDA is falsely warning both consumers and doctors that homeopathic medicines are detrimentally dangerous to your health. An example coming straight off the March FDA website: "FDA is warning consumers not to rely on asthma products labeled as homeopathic that are sold over-the-counter (OTC)." Of course what are they recommending? You guessed it - FDA approved Big Pharma drugs.

Yet using Big Pharma products often prescribed for asthma treatment such as the inhalers Advair, Serevent and Foradil were found by Cornell and Stanford researchers several years ago to increase the risk of death by three and a half times and hospitalization by two and a half times more than those in studies taking placebo drugs. Their results show that Big Pharma inhalers actually cause up to 80% of asthma-related deaths.

Three weeks after it fired its telling first shot across the bow warning against homeopathic products for treating asthma, the FDA rushed to hold a two-day hearing on April 20-21 to provide an ever so brief window of a public forum presenting both the pros and cons of homeopathic medicine. Proponents from both sides submitted their supporting evidence either touting its efficacy or its alleged dangers. Then the FDA announced that only until June 22nd will it accept posts from members of the public to voice their views, issues and concerns on its federal website prior to the FDA's plan deciding on further regulatory action to soon be implemented that could in effect eradicate the growing multimillion dollar homeopathic industry. Vox Media this year maintains that Americans are spending $3 billion on homeopathy alone. That kind of money speaks volumes in explaining why this sudden whirlwind of recent events is unfolding at breakneck speed after forty straight years of unchanged FDA policy toward homeopathy.

As more Americans fed up over their soaring health care costs have sought relief from symptoms and maladies through alternative health treatments, at the behest of Big Pharma the FDA has abruptly launched an offensive stepping up its war against homeopathy. Whereas from 2002 to 2008 the FDA sent out only nine warning letters to makers of homeopathic medicines, just since 2009 that number has skyrocketed to 40. For years the medical establishment's agenda has been to produce research demonstrating that homeopathy is no more effective than placebos. Yet there also exists a growing body of empirical support in recent years that strongly shows homeopathic remedies and cures to be increasingly valid and evidence-based. Just as acupressure was so long debunked by Western medicine but now is accepted even by conventional medical practitioners, the same process is being replicated with homeopathic medicine, much to the chagrin of Big Pharma and its FDA appendage.

The main rationale that the FDA is recently using to declare homeopathic remedies unsafe is that they have not been "approved" by the FDA, as if the toxic poisons called prescription drugs that are regularly approved without any sound research are actually safe. The propaganda lies go on further to warn:

OTC asthma products labeled as homeopathic are widely distributed through retail stores and via the internet. Many of these products are promoted as "natural," "safe and effective," and include indications that range from treatment for acute asthma symptoms, to temporary relief of minor asthma symptoms.

While on the one hand Big Pharma, FDA, "legitimate science," the medical establishment and MSM are all quick to jump on the bandwagon criticizing homeopathic medicine as inertly ineffective because it is so heavily diluted, on the other hand in the same breath the FDA website talks from both sides of its mouth urging people to now actively report any and all adverse side effects from homeopathic products as being highly dangerous:

The FDA encourages health care professionals and consumers to report any adverse reactions related to OTC asthma care products labeled as homeopathic to the agency's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

The FDA then eagerly offers downloaded forms and phone numbers to police this "out of control harmful" industry. If only the Food and Drug Administration was as diligently gung ho about reporting the lethal effects of prescription medications, perhaps those 330,000 people who've been dying every year for decades wouldn't actually be dead right now. The same old phony fed lies propagated to keep us "safe and secure" are wearing ever so thin to more Americans who are beginning to see the light, that those designated to protect us are in fact psychopathically keeping us in the dark while actually killing us. Be it through their soft kill or hard kill methods, the powers-that-be both in our government as well as their puppet masters controlling them are out to kill 13 out of 14 of us living and breathing on this planet right now. According to their eugenics final solution plan, within the next several years they want over 6.5 billion of us humans dead. If you don't believe it, just ask CIA-linked Deagel (within 10 years) and America 2050, both brazenly predicting a drastic reduction in the US population from the current 319 million to just 65 million. That's nearly 4 out of 5 of us Americans disappearing in the next few years.

Before one more relatively inexpensive and valuable resource that's been practiced for over two centuries is suddenly snatched away from us, it's imperative that we Americans demand continued access to various alternative healthcare practices and freedom over how we choose to treat, improve, and otherwise maintain our bodies' optimal health. We have but only a few days left until June 22nd to make our demands publicly known prior to yet another oppressive federal agency bent on usurping and eliminating yet more of our basic human rights and freedoms. The National Center for Homeopathy website has released helpful guidelines and recommendations to assist us health consumers in registering comments to the FDA. Please go now to the federal website to voice your opinion and views about the need for continued homeopathic medicine here.

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Classic Machiavelli: 5 ways powerful people trick you into hating protesters


© Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Let's say that tomorrow you are elected Secret Ruler of the USA, a position that gives you total power over the government, economy, and the culture at large -- everything that hippies refer to as "the system." Now, your first job is to not get beheaded by rioting peasants, which means your first job is really to maintain "stability" (i.e., "keeping things mostly the way they are").

Immediately you'll find that you're facing a never-ending stream of protests from disgruntled groups who say they're being treated unfairly or otherwise getting left out -- this group over here is upset that somebody got abused by the police; this other bunch is demanding better wages or something. How do you handle it? Sure, you could crush their movements with an iron fist, using violence to kill, intimidate or arrest their most vocal members. But that can backfire, often turning them into martyrs and proving them right in the process -- you've seen Star Wars; somebody always finds the exhaust port.

No, what you need is to get the majority on your side, against those vocal complainers. Fortunately for you, the "system" comes with a number of refined and subtle processes designed to make sure the complaints of the few get ignored by the many. First, all you have to do is ...

#5. Wait For One Of Them To Break The Law, Then Talk Only About That

This might literally be the oldest trick in the book. I'm thinking powerful people have been doing this to protesters and activists since the days when getting gored by a mammoth was a leading cause of death. It plays out like this:

A) A certain group has a complaint -- they're being discriminated against, had their benefits cut, whatever -- but they are not the majority.

B) Because the majority is not affected, they are largely ignorant and uninterested in what is going on with the complainers. The news media does not cover their issue, because it's bad for ratings.

C) To get the majority's attention, the group with the complaint will gather in large numbers to chant and block traffic, etc. This forces the media to cover the demonstration (since huge, loud groups of people make for good photos and video) and cover the issue in the process (since part of covering the protest involves explaining what is being protested). In America we've seen this tactic used by everyone from impoverished war veterans, to women seeking the right to vote, to the protests about police violence you're seeing all over the news right now.


© Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

D) To counter this, all you need to do is simply wait for a member of the activist group -- any member -- to commit a crime. Then the media will focus on the crime, because riots and broken glass make for even more exciting photos and videos than the demonstrations. The majority -- who fears crime and instability above all else -- will then hopefully associate the movement with violence from then on.

© Via Historyoffeminism.com

E) You, in your quest to keep the system from changing, can now reframe the issue not as oppressors vs. the oppressed but as citizens vs. criminals -- supporting their cause means supporting violence. The TV will be full of images of burning convenience stores and looted storefronts, at which point the majority will then smirkingly say, "I would never protest government oppression by mindlessly destroying someone's private property!"

"I mean, why can't they protest within the law? You know, like Martin Luther King? That's why he was universally respected in his day!"


© Birmingham Police Dept.

"And let's face it, the fact that they're resorting to violence and petty destruction of property proves that they're really just criminals looking for an excuse to misbehave!"

© National Galleries Of Scotland
Jesus thrashing money lenders

Now, keep in mind, not even the people repeating this will actually believe it -- America's pop culture and actual history are both full of heroes who broke the law and destroyed shit when the system failed them (you know Batman ain't got no permit to fly that plane). To this day we applaud when oppressed peoples in other countries do it. So when someone says we should ignore a movement because they're a bunch of "thugs" and their bleeding heart friend points out that the same could be said of the Founding Fathers, they'll shift gears immediately. "Are you honestly comparing the protesters in Ferguson with brave imprisoned heroes like Thomas Paine? He campaigned for freedom!"

In other words, they'll quickly admit that the legality of the tactics actually doesn't have any impact on whether or not the cause is just -- disabled veterans and Neo-Nazis alike have gotten tossed in jail for protests that turned ugly. Unruly members don't automatically make a cause wrong any more than they automatically make it right. Everyone will agree this is true and logical, but then five minutes later they will again dismiss an entire cause the moment they see a single burning police car. The success rate of this technique is very high -- today, the only thing most people in China remember about the Tiananmen Square massacre is that it restored stability and order.


© CNN/3rd Party - Misc/Getty Images
Tiananmen Square Massacre, China 1989

"But since the USA was built on a revolution, won't most people automatically side with the underdog group, even if they step out of line?" This is certainly a danger, which is why the next step is ...

© Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

#4. Convince The Powerful Majority That They're The Oppressed Ones

Last year a billionaire investor said criticism of the rich today is equivalent to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. He's not having a stroke; he's under the influence of one of the most powerful techniques the system has in its arsenal. To get the majority to ignore complaints by any disadvantaged group, you simply insist that disadvantaged group has the real power and that the powerful majority is thus the underdog. It usually involves the following steps:

A) Find an example of a successful member of the disadvantaged group and exaggerate their power.

B) Say or do outrageous things until the victim lashes out, then accuse them of censorship/oppression.

C) Accuse the victim of enjoying their victimization and/or doing what they do purely for publicity. Insist they were asking for it and were the real driving force behind the harassment all along.

I'll give you a couple of real-world examples, and trust me: Once you get the hang of it, you'll start to see this everywhere.

Let's say your country has a rapidly worsening poverty problem, and the impoverished are getting noisy. A) requires you to insist that those at the very bottom -- the ones depending on government assistance to buy food -- are actually rich. This would seem like an impossible if not ridiculous task, but all it takes is a Photoshopped image showing a massive food stamp balance on a receipt from a liquor store, and the majority will share it on Facebook hundreds of thousands of times. Or, find a video of a beggar who is caught driving a luxury car, and it will be blasted from the headlines as a typical example of a poor person. Next comes B): The moment anyone calls bullshit, cry censorship by insisting you're a martyr of "Political Correctness." And then we get to C), in which you say that the activists supporting the victims of your attack are only in it for the money or attention.

That's all there is to it. Three simple steps -- exaggerate the victim's power to get the public on your side, get the victim to lash out so you can claim victimhood yourself, insist all of their complaints are disingenuous. Boom. Done.

And just to be clear, the narrative being put forth above -- that everyone claiming to be poor is secretly rich -- is once more not something that anyone actually believes. Offer anyone saying it the chance to live in the public housing projects or trailer parks where these secretly rich welfare queens dwell and all you'll see is a cloud of dust and a tiny silhouette sprinting off into the horizon. But you don't need the majority to actually believe it, only to "believe" it.

That's why this works with any group, no matter how laughably the balance of power is tilted in their favor. The petroleum industry is making $200 billion a year in profits. If you want to portray them as the gritty, oppressed underdog, just A) talk about how these poor guys are constantly getting bullied by the vicious and hugely powerful environmental lobby ...

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... and, seriously, don't be afraid of using words like "bullied," even when talking about what is literally one of the most wealthy and powerful groups in all of human history. Actual quote: "But if anyone was being bullied here, it was Chevron ... it is almost impossible for an oil company to get a fair hearing in a world brainwashed by environmentalist propaganda." Of course, that bit about not getting a "fair hearing" covers B), the accusation of censorship and cry of victimhood. Then, C) you talk about how environmentalists are only in it for the money (in this case, Al Gore), and there you go -- soon you'll have common folks looking at rising gas prices and saying, "Thanks a lot, Greenpeace."

And while just mentioning this makes me tired all over, the whole GamerGate thing last year was actually a textbook example. The guy behind it needed to rally an overwhelming male majority against an unknown, amateur female game developer, so he A) literally claimed she was being worshiped as a "false idol" that needed to be brought down, then for good measure the harassers insisted she was secretly a powerful agent for a U.S. government propaganda operation. Then, B) when the resulting harassment got bad enough that she had to get a fucking restraining order, they called it censorship. And of course, C) when she received donations from sympathetic supporters, they declared that this proved she was only in it for the money.

Ten years earlier, they did it to another female developer named Kathy Sierra, following the exact same template. The playbook never changes because it never stops working -- in three simple steps you can get mobs to bully anyone on your behalf, all while claiming heroic victim status. After all, what tactic is off the table when you're taking on an unstoppable giant who is trying to bully you and silence criticism for fame and profit?

You can read the rest of this amazing article here at cracked.com

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SOTT Exclusive: Putin presented peace medal by the pope, more popular than ever

The polarization of opinions on Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn't be more extreme. To the 'official' West, he is an authoritarian dictator, the next Hitler, a greedy power-mad ex-intelligence menace to all the values the Western world holds dear. To everyone else, he's nothing of the sort. After all, what are Western 'values', really? As I wrote in my last article for SOTT (Where's my cookie?! Anti-government protests in Ukraine ignored by US and EU), they're pretty obvious: "crippling, suicidal debt, no economic or foreign policy to speak of, the torture and murder of civilians, brazen lies, insane rhetoric, and brutal psychopathy." Freedom and democracy are meaningless words, or at least, their true meanings are totally opposite to what most people think.

By his words and his actions, Putin has shown that he not only sees through the democratic doublespeak; he's also doing things in a such a way as to avoid the worst aspects of Western freedom and democracy. You know, by supporting things like diplomacy over aggression, international law over unilateral invasions and blatant interference in the affairs of other nations, dialogue and cooperation over threats, demands, and subjugation. This is unacceptable to the rulers of the West, who amount to little more than an entrenched, hereditary, oligarchic ruling class that has thought it has the right to rule the world by virtue of the size of its military and the size of its checkbook.

So it's understandable that anyone who hasn't made a habit of imbibing the sweet sickness of the mainstream media, and the honeyed words of two-faced politicians in the West, sees Putin in a totally different light, putting their hopes in him to do what the whole world wants. For example, here's what people on the streets of Italy expressed during Putin's recent visit:

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Putin met the Pope while in Italy. Here's one description of what went down:

"Discussed the current situation in world affairs, of course, mentioned the crisis in Ukraine, spoke about the universal and humanitarian values, which largely unite the Catholic and Orthodox worlds, and all religions," — said Peskov, also noting that both sides expressed concern about the situation with Christians in the Middle East.

"First of all, of course, those situations that pose a threat to the life of Christians in Syria, and continued conflict. Indeed, this is a very dire situation", — quoted RIA Novosti the words of a Kremlin representative.

In total, the meeting lasted more than an hour. According to Peskov, "the conversation got really deep and thorough".

After the meeting, Pope Francis gave Putin a medal with the image of an angel-peacemaker. Presenting a gift to the Russian President, the pontiff said: "This medal, which was created by the artist of the last century, depicts an angel who brings peace and justice, and solidarity, and protects. As well as this text, in which there is a reflection on the fact that the gospel brings us light and joy, and there are geopolitical thoughts about us and about our life", — TASS quoted the words of the Pope.

In turn, Vladimir Putin presented Pope Francis with a canvas of the temple of Christ the Savior, as well as several volumes of the Orthodox Encyclopedia.

No, Daily Beast, the pope didn't 'diss' Putin. What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to go through to come to that conclusion?! Then again, it's the only conclusion possible when you're blinded to your own arrogant, gutter-brained, faulty assumptions about Putin and Russia, about which you don't know anything, really. Here's how Barbi Latza Nadeau framed the encounter in that rag:

Putin and the pope spoke for 50 minutes during the private audience, and although there are no official minutes from the encounter, local press reported that Francis welcomed Putin with the word "wilkommen" which is German for welcome, and made the rest his public comments in German, raising eyebrows that perhaps Francis was making a not-so-subtle Merkel reference. (Or it might be nothing more than Francis using a shared language; Putin speaks fluent German from his days in the KGB in East Germany.)

Putin then presented the pope with a framed embroidery work sewn with gold thread. Francis gave Putin a medallion with the angel of peace on it, reminiscent of the same gift he gave to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas last month. ...

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Francis asked Putin to put forward "a great effort to achieve peace" in Ukraine, implying that the two did indeed discuss the matter. "They agreed on the importance of rebuilding a climate of dialogue and that all parties commit themselves to implement the agreements of Minsk," Lombardi said after the audience.

Check out the headline to Nadeau's piece: "Did Pope Francis Just Diss Putin? Pope Francis greets the Russian president in German, prompting speculation that he stands with Germany and the U.S. in standing up to Russia." Seriously? Talk about grasping for straws! At least Nadeau gave the more reasonable explanation in parentheses in her piece: they both know German! But no, the pope must be giving Putin some hidden message that he really sides with the warmongers. Lord, save us!

But note that Francis also gave such a medal to Abbas. Apparently he regularly gives out such medals to heads of state, but Abbas and Putin are significant. The gift of the medal basically calls on these leaders to be "messengers of peace" ('angel' actually means messenger). Francis apparently even told Abbas, "you are a bit an angel of peace," after which he had to reassure the prickly, jealous three-year-olds ruling Israel that he meant them no offense. Remember, the Vatican just recently recognized Palestine, so that should give some idea of what Francis really thinks.

If anything, the conclusion to come to might be that Francis really does see Putin as a messenger of peace. It would make sense: he is! He's the one behind the latest Minsk agreements; he's the one calling for their complete and full implementation while Kiev refuses to abide by a single one of the stipulations and continues to illegally shell, torture and kill civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk. He's the one who staved off an American invasion of Syria the first time 'round. He's the one trying to bring a voice of reason to the world regarding Iran and the Middle East in general.

But all that is lost on most people in the West, apparently. But not in Russia. Putin is more popular than ever:

Vladimir Putin is supported by the vast majority of Russian citizens. Such data was provided by the Pew American research center.

According to the expert survey, the rating of the Russian President has reached 88%. This is the absolute maximum for the last 15 years.

The experts also shared other figures. The policy of the President of Russia towards Ukraine was supported by 83% of respondents, friendship with China - 90%, and Russia's strategy towards the US - 85%.

And this coming from an American research center!

But Putin's a tyrant, right? An authoritarian? Well, no. Sure, he is powerful. And sure, he is authoritative. But it might be wise to keep in mind these words from the historian Dio. It was written in regards to the Roman empire, but the relevance to today is clear enough:

Democracy, indeed, has a fair-appearing name and conveys the impression of bringing equal rights to all through equal laws, but its results are seen not to agree at all with its title. Monarchy, on the contrary, has an unpleasant sound, but is a most practical form of government to live under. For it is easier to find a single excellent man than many of them, and if even this seems to some a difficult feat, it is quite inevitable that the other alternative should be acknowledged to be impossible; for it does not belong to the majority of men to acquire virtue.

Russia saw what a 'democracy' of psychopaths can do to a country. We could learn a thing or two from them.

Russian Foreign Ministry says Pentagon trying to establish covert bioweapons labs near Russia

© Reuters / Regis Duvignau

The US is obstructing international efforts to eradicate biological weapons, seeking to involve other nations covertly in research on weaponized diseases, Moscow charged. America's record of handling bioweapons is poor.

The accusations of mishandling biological weapons voiced by the Russian Foreign Ministry refer to a recent report that the US military shipped live anthrax by mistake. Last week, the Pentagon admitted sending samples of the highly dangerous disease to at least 51 labs in 17 US states and three foreign countries.

The delivery "posed a high risk of outbreak that threatened not only the US population, but also other countries, including Canada and Australia.Of great concern is the shipment of bacteria to a US military facility in a third country, the Osan Air Base in South Korea," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

It added that an anthrax outbreak incident occurred in 2001, which also involved a US military lab.

For Russia such incidents are of particular concern, because one of its neighbors, Georgia, hosts a research facility for high-level biohazard agents. The Richard G. Lugar Center for Public and Animal Health Research near Tbilisi is an undercover American bioweapons lab, a branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Russia believes.

"American and Georgian authorities are trying to cover up the real nature of this US military unit, which studies highly dangerous infectious diseases. The Pentagon is trying to establish similar covert medico-biological facilities in other countries [in Russia's neighborhood]," the Russian ministry said.

Moscow says the US is de facto derailing international efforts under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), a 1972 international treaty aimed at eradicating bioweapons worldwide.

"The US administration is obviously not interested in strengthening this convention. It's known that in 2001 the US unilaterally torpedoed multilateral talks in Geneva to work on a verification mechanism for the BWTC and have since obstructed their restart. Decades of international effort to strengthen the convention were derailed," the statement said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry's indictment comes amid a wider list of accusations against the US over what Moscow sees as American violations of various international agreements dealing with weapons control, non-proliferation and disarmament.

The statement came in response to a US annual report on the issue, which accused Russia of various wrongdoings. Moscow considers such reports "megaphone diplomacy." Such tactics aren't aimed at resolving any differences, but instead support America's pretense to be the ultimate judge of other nation's behavior, the ministry said.

Dozens of dead penguins have shown up on the coast of Uruguay

Rescued penguins wait to be fed on July 28, 2007, in the department Maldonado, Uruguay

Dozens of penguins have shown up dead over the past three days on the coast of Uruguay, a government official said Thursday.

One group of young specimens was found in the Rocha area 210 km (125 miles) east of Montevideo, and then another at a beach in the resort town of Punta del Este, said Graciela Fabiano of the National Directorate of Water Resources.

The agency has no penguin monitoring program but at this time of year penguins do tend to show up on the coast, sometimes dead, and the movement is associated with migratory patterns, she said.

The dead birds that wash up have usually succumbed to natural causes, but the cases should be investigated anyway, Fabiano added.

The Atlantic waters are going through a rough season so the number of penguins washing up dead is expected to increase, she added.

Mother arrested for use of medical marijuana to treat Crohn's disease faces 30 year prison sentence

Screenshot featuring Shona Banda from a video by MedicalMarijuana411.com.

Last month, Kansas mother Shona Banda made headlines when her son was removed from her custody after he defended her use of medical marijuana to treat Crohn's Disease. He had spoken up about her use at an anti-drug presentation at his school. This prompted the school to call to Child Protective Services and authorities, which led to a raid on her home on March 24.

The raid found what local Garden City authorities described as "'1.25 pounds of marijuana in plant, oil, joint, gel and capsule form and drug paraphernalia' along with what was characterized as a 'lab used for manufacturing cannabis oil'" (it should be noted that at the time, the Washington Post reported police found just 2 ounces of cannabis oil). Banda has seen her eleven-year-old son only once since he was taken from her.

Last week, Finney County charged her with five offenses related to marijuana, three of which are felonies. They include "manufacturing a controlled substance, possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment."

Banda disputes the charges. As she told ,

I think it's absolutely ridiculous. There was no endangerment of a child, for one. For two, this plant is the most non-toxic substance on the planet, so, it's safer to have around my house than aspirin. So the child endangerment charges I [cannot] believe.

Further, she argued that

They're trying to say that it's 1,000 feet from a school. I'm several blocks away from a school. I sure would like to challenge that.

Banda is an outspoken cannabis user who has made YouTube videos and written a book promoting the treatment. Last year, Truth in Media reported on her innovative and inexpensive method to extract cannabis oil for medicinal use.

She says that contrary to the charge of child endangerment, her use of cannabis has actually made her a better mother:

I spent years raising my children from a couch, not being able to move much...I wasn't able to be a proper mother when I was sick. And now I'm a fantastic mother.

She only tried cannabis oil after trying conventional medical treatments and being informed that her Crohn's disease was terminal. Since her current ordeal with the government began, she has ceased treatment and says she has lost weight and sustained an infection in the roof of her mouth.

Banda faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and the long-term removal of her son from her custody. She is expected to turn herself in to authorities on June 15. "I do believe that they're trying to make an example out of me," Banda said.

Multiple petitions have secured over 130,000 signatures calling for the rescindment of charges against her.

"I'm very afraid...I cannot believe that I could be facing 30 years in prison for trying to save my life," she said of the charges against her.

Conscience expressed: Drone strikes equal collateral massacres


© Unknown
A wall painting in Yemen.

Do you have a moment? Would you mind entertaining a humble question? Why does our government want to drive a wedge between America and the rest of the world by using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen? It isn't accomplishing anything.

A study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School of Law notes the number of Islamic terrorists killed as a percentage of total casualties in drone strikes stands at a paltry 2 percent. The study also casts doubts on Washington's claims that these attacks produced few civilian casualties. An investigation by the human-rights group Reprieve indicates that drone bombings on al-Qaida members in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 innocent men, women and children. In Yemen 17 men were targeted and 273 people (seven of them children) were killed in the process.

The use of drone warfare is a disaster-in-the-making. When you kill people who are not the enemy, you simply create more enemies.

Members of Veterans for Peace (VFP), Code Pink and other anti-war groups recently went to Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada to protest America's use of drones. They temporarily closed the base and 38 protestors were arrested, including retired Humboldt State University biology professor Richard Gilchrist.

Why would an 80-year-old Humboldt County resident and the founder of Six Rivers Running Club go to such lengths to halt the U.S. drone bombing program?

"I never thought I'd spend my later days in demonstrations and getting arrested," said Gilchrist, "but that what has happened since my knee will not let me run. I would much prefer running, but I can't ignore what we are doing around the world."

Drones have been sold to the American public on the claim that they're "precise" and "a sound weapon of choice." In reality, they are only as accurate as the intelligence that feeds them. Drones kill, maim and traumatize innocent people. They are counter-productive and (like Guantanamo) one of the best recruiting tools ISIS and al-Qaida ever had.

Proponents of drone warfare insist that it's a better option than boots on the ground. They argue that drone strikes beat carpet bombing. But do we usually carpet bomb countries we consider our allies and haven't declared war upon?

Would you support the use of drones on a terrorist cell here at home? What if they accidentally wiped out a dozen school children? I doubt that any of us would stand by while our government killed innocent Americans with a remote-controlled weapon that rains death from the sky.

The drone war is carried out remotely, from the U.S. and a network of other military bases around the world. VFP members carefully observe what goes on at these locations. "The U.S. is planning on expanding our drone program," said Gilchrist. "This will mean that more children will be killed. We call those who kill indiscriminately 'terrorists,' but what do we call our drone program? It was interesting to watch the cars go onto the base and leave in the later afternoon. What a way to fight a war. You never have to muss up one's hair. Just kill a few, go home, and have a cocktail."


© Julie Jacobson / NBC News

Drone warfare has been fed to us as a surgically precise way to kill. We have no skin in the game. Politicians and war profiteers believe this makes everything more sanitary and acceptable. It makes civilian deaths much easier to justify, too. But Americans can no longer pretend that our policy of drone strike vigilantism is going unnoticed by the international community. Drones are considered a coward's weapon. For every bit of "collateral damage" they inflict, they create more deep-seated hatred against the U.S. For every al-Qaida "target" a drone attack eliminates, it spawns more terrorists who are intent on exacting retribution against us.

What does drone warfare say about the direction our country is headed in? I believe it's a broader symptom of how quickly we resort to violence. Someone is a threat? Shoot 'em. Someone looks like they might be a threat? Shoot them, too. It's no different than how the police in our country deal with black men — use extreme force. Maybe it's time we wake up, slap ourselves upside the soul, and ask how we can ever hope to achieve a durable peace by sitting at computers and "unintentionally" killing people thousands of miles away with Hellfire missiles.

We might be destroying our enemies, but the fallout from the "collateral massacre" will impact us for years to come.

[email protected]

Pharma industry fuels super-bug epidemic by illegally dumping drug waste into environment

© epSos.de/flickr/cc
"This is a huge problem with a simple solution: Pharmaceutical companies must reveal where they source their antibiotics from and stop buying from polluting factories," said Paul Ferris, campaign director for SumOfUs.org.

From the World Health Organization to the National Academy of Sciences, scientists are warning that rising antibiotic resistance poses a public health threat across the world. Now, a new report from consumer advocacy group Sum Of Us examines an often-overlooked factor behind this crisis: the complicity of pharmaceutical giants in the dangerous dumping of drug waste throughout the supply chain.

Irresponsible use of antibiotics—in human medicine and factory farming—has reportedly led to the rise of antimicrobial-resistant superbugs that threaten our ability to treat common infection.

The report , released Wednesday night, examines antibiotic production from start to finish, revealing that some of the most well-known drug corporations are fueling the global health problem of antibiotic resistance.

The multinational corporation Pfizer, for example, has sourced antibiotics from a Chinese factory that "stands accused of discharging pharmaceutical waste into the environment and numerous other manufacturing deficiencies," the report states.

Pollution from the dumping of pharmaceutical raw materials is a serious problem, because it releases antibiotics into the environment—a factor behind the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

But it doesn't stop with Pfizer.

"There also appear to be direct links between one of the world's largest generic drug manufacturers, McKesson, which owns several European brands, and Indian company Aurobindo, which sources from at least four polluting Chinese factories," write the study's authors.

And Israeli company Teva has direct ties to three Chinese companies that "have been in the Chinese media spotlight for various offenses including improper waste management and the release of noxious chemicals," notes the study.

"This is a huge problem with a simple solution: Pharmaceutical companies must reveal where they source their antibiotics from and stop buying from polluting factories," said Paul Ferris, campaign director for SumOfUs.org, in a press statement. "Good environmental stewardship and health are intrinsically linked - dumping antibiotics in the environment could be harming the health of everyone on this planet."

American dreaming, from G1 to Bilderberg

© Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
US President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the conclusion of the G7 Summit in the Bavarian town of Kruen, Germany.

What's the connection between the G7 summit in Germany, President Putin's visit to Italy, the Bilderberg club meeting in Austria, and the TTIP - the US-EU free trade deal - negotiations in Washington?

We start at the G7 in the Bavarian Alps - rather G1 with an added bunch of "junior partners" - as US President Barack Obama gloated about his neo-con induced feat; regiment the EU to soon extend sanctions on Russia even as the austerity-ravaged EU is arguably hurting even more than Russia.

Predictably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande caved in - even after being forced by realpolitik to talk to Russia and jointly carve the Minsk-2 agreement.

The hypocrisy-meter in the Bavarian Alps had already exploded with a bang right at the pre-dinner speech by EU Council President Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland and certified Russophobe/warmonger: "."

So this was all about civilized "values" against "Russian aggression."

The "civilized" G1 + junior partners could not possibly argue whether they would collectively risk a nuclear war on European soil over a Kiev-installed 'Banderastan', sorry, "Russian aggression."

Instead, the real fun was happening behind the scenes. Washington factions were blaming Germany for making the West lose Russia to China, while adult minds in the EU - away from the Bavarian Alps - blamed Washington.

Even juicier is a contrarian view circulating among powerful Masters of the Universe in the US corporate world, not politics. They fear that in the next two to three years France will eventually re-ally with Russia (plenty of historical precedents). And they - once again - identify Germany as the key problem, as in Berlin forcing Washington to get involved in a Prussian 'Mitteleuropa' Americans fought two wars to prevent.

As for the Russians - from President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov downwards - a consensus has emerged; it's pointless to discuss anything substantial considering the pitiful intellectual pedigree - or downright neo-con stupidity - of the self-described "Don't Do Stupid Stuff" Obama administration policy makers and advisers. As for the "junior partners" - mostly EU minions - they are irrelevant, mere Washington vassals.

It would be wishful thinking to expect the civilized "values" gang to propose alternatives for the overwhelming majority of citizens of G7 nations getting anything other than Mac-jobs, or barely surviving as hostages of finance-junkie turbo-capitalism which only benefits the one percent.Rather easier to designate the proverbial scapegoat - Russia - and proceed with NATO-infused fear/warmongering rhetoric.

Iron Lady Merkel also found time to pontificate on climate change - instilling all and sundry to invest in a "low-carbon global economy." Few noticed that the alleged deadline for full "decarbonization" was set for the end of the 21st century, when this planet will be in deep, deep trouble.

© Reuters/Christian Hartmann
G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Kruen near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Achtung! Bilderberg!

Obama's neocon-induced newspeak continues to rule that Russia dreams of recreating the Soviet empire. Now compare it to what President Putin is telling Europe.

Last week, Putin found time to give an interview to the Milan-based at 2 am; the interview was published as the Bavarian Alps show went on, and ahead of Putin's June 10 visit to Italy. Russia's geopolitical interests and US- Russia relations are depicted in excruciating detail.

So Putin was a persona non grata at the G1 plus junior partners? Well, in Italy he visited the Milan Expo; met Prime Minister Renzi and Pope Francis; reminded everyone about the "privileged economic and political ties" between Italy and Russia; and stressed the 400 Italian companies active in Russia and the million Russian tourists who visit Italy every year.

Crucially, he also evoked that consensus; Russia had represented an alternative view as a member of the G8, but now "other powers" felt they no longer needed it. The bottom line: it's impossible to have an adult conversation with Obama and friends.

And right on cue, from Berlin - where he was displaying his sterling foreign policy credentials, Jeb Bush, brother of destroyer of Iraq Dubya Bush, fully scripted by his neocon advisers, declared Putin a bully and rallied Europe to fight, what else, "Russian aggression."

The rhetorical haze over what was really discussed in the Bavarian Alps only began to dissipate at the first chords of the real sound of music; the Bilderberg Group meeting starting this Thursday at the Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol in Austria, only three days after the G1 plus junior partners.

Possible conspiracies aside, Bilderberg may be defined as an ultra-select bunch of elite lobbyists - politicians, US corporate honchos, EU officials, captains of industry, heads of intelligence agencies, European royals - organized annually in a sort of informal think tank/policy-forming format, to advance globalization and all crucial matters related to the overall Atlanticist agenda. Call it the prime Atlanticist Masters of the Universe talkfest.

To make things clear - not that they are big fans of transparency - the composition of the steering committee is here. And this is what they will be discussing in Austria.

Naturally they will be talking about "Russian aggression" (as in who cares about failed Ukraine; what we need is to prevent Russia from doing business with Europe).

Naturally they will be talking about Syria (as in the partition of the country, with the Caliphate already a fact of post-Sykes-Picot life).

Naturally they will be talking about Iran (as in let's do business, buy their energy and bribe them into joining our club).

But the real deal is really the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - the alleged "free trade" deal between the US and the EU. Virtually all major business/finance lobbyists for the TTIP will be under the same Austrian roof.

And not by accident Bilderberg starts one day before "fast track" presidential authority is to be debated at the US Congress.

© Reuters/Gregorio Borgia
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets Pope Francis during a private meeting at Vatican City, June 10, 2015.

WikiLeaks and a ton of BRICS

Enter WikiLeaks, with what in a fairer world would be a crucial spanner in the works.

The fast track authority would extend US presidential powers for no less than six years; that includes the next White House tenant, which might well be 'The Hillarator' or Jeb "Putin is a bully" Bush.

This presidential authority to negotiate dodgy deals includes not only the TTIP but also the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

WikiLeaks, just in time, published the Healthcare Annex to the secret draft "Transparency" chapter of the TPP, along with each country's negotiating position. No wonder this draft is secret. And there's nothing "transparent" about it; it's an undisguised hold-up of national healthcare authorities by Big Pharma.

The bottom line is that these three mega-deals - TTP, TTIP and TiSA - are the ultimate template of what could be politely described as global corporate governance, a Bilderberg wet dream. The losers: nation-states, and the very concept of Western democracy. The winners: mega-corporations.

Julian Assange, in a statement, succinctly nailed it "."

So this is the real Atlanticist agenda - the final touches being applied in the arc spanning the G1 + added junior partners to Bilderberg (expect a lot of crucial phone calls from Austria to Washington this Friday). NATO on trade. Pivoting to Asia excluding Russia and China. The West vs. the rest.

Now for the counterpunch. As the show in the Bavarian Alps unrolled, the first BRICS Parliamentarian Forum was taking place in Moscow - ahead of the BRICS summit in Ufa next month.

Neocons - with Obama in tow - knock themselves out dreaming that Russia has become "isolated" from the rest of the world because of their sanctions. Since then Moscow has signed major economic/strategic contracts with at least twenty nations. Next month, Russia will host the BRICS summit - 45 percent of the world's population, a GDP equivalent to the EU, and soon bigger than the current G7 - as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, when India and Pakistan, currently observers, will be accepted as full members.

G1 plus junior partners? Bilderberg? Get a job; you're not the only show in town, any town.

Canadian wildfire smoke covers 17 states and causes red sun

© Richard Barnhill
A smoky sunset over the District, June 9, 2015 (Richard Barnhill via Flickr)

A thick haze of smoke drifted over the D.C. region late Tuesday afternoon, driven south from Canada's burgeoning wildfires by the high-level winds of the jet stream.

There are six large wildfires burning in Alberta and British Columbia, according to the Remote Sensing Applications Center in Salt Lake City. These fires are pumping copious amounts of smoke high into the atmosphere, which is then hitching a ride on the global jet stream to paint our skies pink and orange.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts south into the eastern U.S. on Tuesday afternoon, seen here in a high-resolution visible satellite image. (NASA)

The 9 a.m. visible satellite scan on Wednesday showed the unmistakable, thick smoke from eastern Kentucky all the way into Delaware. NOAA's Satellite Services Division says that some amount of smoke is present in 17 states from North Dakota to Connecticut, and as far south as Georgia and Alabama.
According to Airnow.gov, the air quality index is moderate in the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, meaning the air is "acceptable" to most populations, although people with high sensitivity might have a "moderate health concern."

While the wildfire smoke may be contributing slightly to the elevated index in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, the Maryland Department of the Environment suspects it's a small impact, and they're more concerned about sunny skies and light winds driving up the ozone levels. "Some Canadian wildfire smoke may be visible Wednesday as a slight haze," the department writes, "and some minor contributions to fine particle concentrations is expected."

The red, filtered sun greeted our readers as they stepped out into the late afternoon on Tuesday and again on Wednesday morning. The size of the smoke particles are just right for filtering out other colors, which means the pink and orange is seen more vividly in the sky.

© Geoff Chester
The smoky sun, June 9, 2015 (Geoff Chester via Facebook)


© (National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)

Thanks to everyone who shared their skies with us!

If you were Lavrov or Putin - which leader would you choose to talk to in the West?


© AP /Jerry Lampen
A Confederacy of Psychopaths

G7 Joint Communique - yet another exercise in make-believe

I won't divulge into the full text (which you can read @ http://1.usa.gov/1FVEGx1), but here is the "foreign policy" segment, dealing with the Ukraine: (stress added)

Finding a Solution to the Conflict in Ukraine

We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and reaffirm our policy of its non-recognition.

We reiterate our full support for the efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, particularly in the framework of the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group. We welcome the OSCE's key role in finding a peaceful solution. We call on all sides to fully implement the Minsk agreements including the Package of Measures for their implementation signed on 12 February 2015 in Minsk, through the established Trilateral Contact Group and the four working groups. We are concerned by the recent increase in fighting along the line of contact; we renew our call to all sides to fully respect and implement the ceasefire and withdraw heavy weapons. We recall that the duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia's complete implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine's sovereignty. They can be rolled back when Russia meets these commitments. However, we also stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase cost on Russia should its actions so require. We expect Russia to stop trans-border support of separatist forces and to use its considerable influence over the separatists to meet their Minsk commitments in full.

We commend and support the steps the Ukrainian government is taking to implement comprehensive structural reforms and urge the Ukrainian leadership to decisively continue the necessary fundamental transformation in line with IMF and EU commitments. We reaffirm our commitment to working together with the international financial institutions and other partners to provide financial and technical support as Ukraine moves forward with its transformation. We ask the G7 Ambassadors in Kiev to establish a Ukraine support group. Its task will be to advance Ukraine´s economic reform process through coordinated advice and assistance.

It is pretty evident to me that this statement is self-contradictory. Consider this:

1) The Novorussians have done everything which M2A demanded of them. Not only have they fully withdrawn all their heavy weapons, they have even drafted a proposal for local elections and sent it to the junta in Kiev.

2) The Ukronazis have violated all the provisions of M2A including the very first one: withdrawing their heavy weapons.

3) Russia is not even a party to the conflict but in spite of that she has been arguing for the full implantation of M2A (if only because they are so favorable to Novorussia and Russia)

4) In contrast, the Ukronazi junta in Kiev has not stooped its bellicose rhetoric even for a single day.

5) The sanctions on Russia have totally failed: they failed to meaningfully affect the Russian economy and they have only solidified the support of the Russian population for Vladimir Putin.

And yet, in spite of these undeniable acts, all the leaders of the G7 agreed to that ridiculous communique. What does this show?

I think that they are truly out of touch with reality and this joint communique sounds more like an incantation, a mantra, than like a workable plan with some chance of achieving a real-world result.

I have said it many times here, Russians don't believe in threats. In the Russian culture, if you are strong, you never make threats (because you don't have to), and if you are making threats - that is because you are weak. Now imagine how the Russians will react to half-baked and vapid threats like "we stand ready to...". They will laugh and shake their heads in disgust and total contempt.

This is, by the way, something I hear a lot of Russian political figures saying: that the intellectually quality of American officials has fallen dramatically, In the past, the Russians did not often like US officials, but they never had contempt for them either. Now this is the single most frequent comment I hear - the disgust with the total lack of professionalism of the US officials. As for the EU, the Russians now see it as a voiceless colony of the USA not even capable of formulating an independent opinion or stand up for its national interests.

The sad - and scary - reality is that Russia has nobody to speak to any more. Literally. Not a single western leader is worth even speaking to. They are either deluded, or clueless, or spineless. Usually all of the above. Think about it yourself: if you were Lavrov or Putin - whom would you chose to talk to in the West?

Exactly. There is *nobody* left at all worth talking to. Nobody.

If it wasn't for the availability of nuclear weapons in the USA, UK and France - this would all be very funny. Alas, these non-entities can still probably muster the brainpower to press the button, and this is why Russia has to be so careful. The normal theory of deterrence always assumes a "rational actor". But what do you do when the other side has basically "gone fishing" and is it not capable of discerning reality anymore?

Comment: To underscore the absurdity of Washington's and the G7's stance against Russia, Obama had to go even further at the G7 talks:

U.S. President Barack Obama accused President Vladimir Putin of wrecking Russia's economy in a doomed drive to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire and G7 leaders said they could step up sanctions against Moscow if violence in Ukraine escalated.

At the conclusion of a Group of Seven summit in the Bavarian Alps, leaders expressed concern about an upsurge in fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have clashed with Kiev's troops in violation of a ceasefire agreed in April.

The strongest rhetoric came from Obama, who told a news conference the Russian people were suffering severely because of Putin's policies.


"He's got to make a decision," Obama said of Putin. "Does he continue to wreck his country's economy and continue Russia's isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire, or does he recognize that Russia's greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries."

The Kremlin played down Putin's absence from the summit, saying he preferred "other formats" that were more effective and better reflected the balance of global economic power.

The Kremlin sure is diplomatic when conveying that they have much and many more constructive things to do then to sit down with a bunch of sniveling, sycophantic and sophomoric puppets of the Empire.

One Nation, Under Sedation: Medicare Paid for Nearly 40 Million Tranquilizer Prescriptions in 2013

Look up the drugs your doctor prescribes with our Prescriber Checkup tool. For more stories about physician prescribing, see our related reporting.

This story was co-published with the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and Health News Florida.


In 2012, Medicare’s massive prescription drug program didn’t spend a penny on popular tranquilizers such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan.

The following year, it doled out more than $377 million for the drugs.

The Doctors and Drugs in Medicare Part D

Our Prescriber Checkup tool has been updated with 2013 data from Medicare, including controlled substance prescribing for each provider. Explore the app

(Jeff Larson, Jennifer LaFleur, Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and Lena Groeger, ProPublica)



While it might appear that an epidemic of anxiety swept the nation’s Medicare enrollees, the spike actually reflects a failed policy initiative by Congress.

More than a decade ago, when lawmakers created Medicare’s drug program, called Part D, they decided not to pay for anti-anxiety medications. Some of these drugs, known as benzodiazepines, had been linked to abuse and an increased risk of falls and fractures among the elderly, who make up most of the Medicare population.

But doctors didn’t stop prescribing the drugs to Medicare enrollees. Patients just found other ways to pay for them. When Congress later reversed the payment policy under pressure from patient groups and medical societies, it swiftly became clear that a huge swath of Medicare’s patients were already using the drugs despite the lack of coverage.

In 2013, the year Medicare started covering benzodiazepines, it paid for nearly 40 million prescriptions, a ProPublica analysis of recently released federal data shows. Generic versions of the drugs — alprazolam (which goes by the trade name of Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin) — were among the top 32 most-prescribed medications in Medicare Part D that year.

And it appears these were not new prescriptions.

IMS Health, a healthcare analytics company that tracks drug sales nationwide, logged only a tiny increase in all benzodiazepine prescriptions, including those covered by Medicare, from 2012 to 2013. That probably means Medicare paid mostly for refills of existing prescriptions, said Michael Kleinrock, director of research for the IMS Institute.

That millions of seniors are taking Xanax, Ativan and other tranquilizers represents a very real safety concern, said Dr. Brent Forester, a geriatric psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

The drugs are popular because they are fast-acting — working quickly, for example, to quell debilitating panic attacks. But they can be habit-forming and disorienting and their effects last longer in older patients. For that reason, the American Geriatrics Society discourages their use in seniors for agitation, insomnia or delirium. The group says they may be appropriate to treat seizure disorders, severe anxiety, withdrawal and in end-of-life care.

Forester said he and others who specialize in geriatric psychiatry don’t use benzodiazepines as a “first-, second- or third-line treatment because we see more of the downside than the good side.”

Some geriatric psychiatrists worry that doctors may have turned to the drugs in place of antipsychotic medications to sedate patients with conditions such as dementia. In the past several years, Medicare has pushed to reduce the use of antipsychotics, particularly in nursing homes, because of strong warnings about their risks.

In 2013, Medicare covered more prescriptions for benzodiazepines than for antipsychotics.

“At the end of the day,” Forester said, “in terms of risk, the risk with benzodiazepines seems so much worse to me … There’s significant danger and there’s no spotlight.”

A spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to answer questions about Medicare’s suddenly soaring tab for benzodiazepines.

Some doctors who ranked among Medicare’s top prescribers of the drugs said any risks were outweighed by their benefits.

Fall River, Mass., psychiatrist Claude Curran wrote more than 11,700 prescriptions for benzodiazepines (including refills) in 2013, ranking him behind only four other doctors, all from Puerto Rico. He said the drugs worked well for his patients, many of whom are trying to kick addictions to narcotics but struggle with anxiety and depression.

“First of all, they’re reliable,” he said. “Second of all, they’re cheap because they’re all generic … They tickle the brain in the same way alcohol does.”

Without benzodiazepines, he added, patients in recovery often need higher doses of methadone, which carries significant risks of its own. “Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack is sympathetic to the use of the benzos,” Curran said. “Anyone who has never had a panic attack doesn’t understand it.”

Medicare Part D Totals by the Numbers, 2013

35.1MBeneficiaries with Part D Claims

1.4BPrescriptions (Including Refills)

$103.4BRetail Price of All Prescriptions

1.3MNumber of Prescribers

39Average Prescriptions Per Beneficiary

$75.52Average Retail Price of a Prescription

47%Portion of Claims to Patients Receiving Low-Income Subsidy

10.4Average Prescriptions Per Patient, Per Provider*

Notes: Counts include initial prescriptions and refills dispensed. Retail price includes patients’ out-of-pocket costs but does not reflect drug maker rebates. Average prescriptions per patient, per provider has been adjusted to give more weight to doctors who treat more patients. (The unadjusted average is 5.7).

The vast majority of Curran’s Medicare patients were younger than 65 and qualified for coverage based on a disability. Disabled patients made up about a quarter of Part D’s 35 million enrollees in 2013, but used benzodiazepines disproportionately, accounting for about half of all prescriptions.

Miami psychiatrist Rigoberto Rodriguez also ranked high among Medicare prescribers of benzodiazepines, writing 9,900 prescriptions in 2013, but most of his patients were seniors. Many, he said, are Cuban immigrants who experienced traumas that left them with lingering anxiety, and they have been taking the drugs for years.

Rodriguez readily acknowledged the risks of the drugs for elderly users — recently, researchers found that the longer a person took benzodiazepines, the higher his or her risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The drugs’ labels say they are generally for short-term use but many patients take them for years.

Rodriguez said he has been working to reduce his benzodiazepine prescriptions in light of emerging research. He expects that when Medicare releases data for 2014 and 2015, his totals will be lower.

Prescribing Benzodiazepines and Narcotics

Below are the states with the most doctors who prescribed at least 1,000 prescriptions of both benzodiazepines and narcotics. Experts say combining the two increase the risk of overdoses.

State # of Doctors
FL 158
AL 136
KY 102
TN 84
TX 71
GA 71
NC 60
CA 49
OH 49
VA 45

(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)

“This is fresh information coming out in the last couple years … telling us that benzos are probably not good and you should try to avoid them,” Rodriguez said. “I totally agree with that.”

Roberto Hernando, another Miami psychiatrist who wrote high numbers of benzodiazepine prescriptions in 2013, said he intends to review his prescribing after a reporter told him his totals.

“Some people may need it; some people may not,” he said. “You’re bringing to my attention something that I wasn’t even aware of.”

When Congress created Medicare’s drug program in 2003, there wasn’t much discussion about whether it should cover benzodiazepines.

They were on a larger list of drugs excluded for coverage, along with barbiturates, fertility drugs, and drugs for weight loss and cosmetic purposes. The list mirrored one from a law years earlier allowing states to voluntarily exclude certain drugs from Medicaid programs for the poor. (Medicare now also pays for barbiturates.)

Andrew Sperling, director of federal legislative advocacy for National Alliance on Mental Illness, said it’s unclear why Congress made the exclusions mandatory for Medicare when they had only been voluntary for Medicaid. He believes it was a drafting error.

IMS Health data suggests that while the Medicare ban was in effect, seniors and disabled patients paid for benzodiazepines in other ways. Many paid out of pocket for the relatively inexpensive drugs, which can cost less than $10 for a 30-day supply. Some, particularly those with disabilities, qualified for state Medicaid programs, which continued to cover the drugs even though they didn’t have to. Another set of patients chose Medicare Advantage plans that offered the drugs as an added benefit.

Dr. Michael Ong, an associate professor at UCLA, co-authored a 2012 paper concluding that many patients continued using benzodiazepines after Congress banned coverage in Medicare Part D and that some turned to more powerful psychiatric drugs.

Most-Prescribed Benzodiazepines

Below are the most-prescribed benzodiazepines in 2013 in Medicare's prescription drug program.

Drug name More popularly known as # of Claims
Alprazolam Xanax 12,545,978
Lorazepam Ativan 9,720,014
Clonazepam Klonopin 8,923,315
Diazepam Valium 3,990,078
Temazepam Restoril 3,184,787

(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)

“Just mandating something and saying we’re not going to pay for the benzodiazepines is probably not the right type of policy solution to change the behaviors of both the providers who are providing these medications and also the patients who are using them,” Ong said.

A worrisome aspect of the newly released data is that some doctors appear to be prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotic painkillers to the same patients, increasing the risk of misuse and overdose. The drugs, paired together, can depress breathing.

ProPublica found that this pattern was most common in southeastern states, which struggle with opioid abuse and overdoses. In 2013, 158 doctors in Florida wrote at least 1,000 prescriptions each for opioids and for benzodiazepines, tops in the nation. Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee also had unusually high numbers of doctors who often prescribed both narcotics and benzodiazepines. The data does not indicate if the prescriptions were given to the same patients, although that prospect worries experts.

Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-authored an analysis showing that benzodiazepines were involved in about 30 percent of the fatal narcotic overdoses that occurred nationwide in 2010.

“It increases the possibility of overdoses,” he said.