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Monday, 15 June 2015

Legendary firearms maker files for bankruptcy to stay in business


© Reuters/Michelle McLoughlin

The firearms manufacturer Colt Defense has filed for bankruptcy protection aiming to cut its $355 million debt. The company has struggled financially due to waning sales and the loss of a key contract.

The company hopes filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection will allow an accelerated sale of its business operations in the US and Canada, according to a Colt statement issued Sunday. The company needs to reduce its debt burden and generate proceeds to repay some of its creditors.

Colt has secured $20 million in financing from its existing lenders to continue operating while in bankruptcy and expects to remain in business after the restructuring.

"The plan we are announcing and have filed today will allow Colt to restructure its balance sheet while meeting all of its obligations to customers, vendors, suppliers and employees and providing for maximum continuity in the company's current and future business operations," Keith Maib, Chief Restructuring Officer of Colt Defense LLC said.

In November, Colt got a $70 million loan from Morgan Stanley to help make an interest payment. However last month, the company missed a $10.9 million payment to holders of its $250 million in bonds.

Colt has been in a financial meltdown since 2013, when its rifle sales started to slow and it lost a key contract to supply the US Army with M4 rifles. Last year Colt's sales of sporting rifles and handguns fell 30 percent. The company developed the pistol it calls'the gun that won the West' in 1873 and in the late 1990s and early 2000s enjoyed success as the US military's sole supplier of the M4 line of firearms widely used by front-line troops.

Colt Defense previously filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992, the company emerged again two years later. One of the leading firearms manufacturers, Colt has supplied customers in the United States and throughout the world for more than 175 years.

It's time to ban toxic flavorings from processed foods

Kudos are due Center for Science in the Public Interest, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Improving Kids' Environment, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Working Group, and James Huff for the 38-page petition they filed June 10, 2015 with the Director of the Office of Food Additive Safety at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition regarding the removal of seven synthetic flavors and one additional flavor from the U.S. food production/processing/manufacturing processes.

The flavors involved are:

  1. Benzophenone (also known as diphenylketone);
  2. Ethyl acrylate;
  3. Eugenyl methyl ether (also known as 4-allylveratrole or methyl eugenol);
  4. Myrcene (also known as 7-methyl-3-methylene-1,6-octadiene);
  5. Pulegone (also known as p-menth-4(8)-en-3-one);
  6. Pyridine;
  7. Styrene; and
  8. Trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal.
The flavors involved, listed about, previously had been approved as GRAS (generally regarded as safe), but recently have been regarded as not safe under the Delaney Clause guidelines and as being probable carcinogens.

Benzophenone is in ink used in food packaging [1] that can, and apparently does, migrate into foods.

Ethyl acrylate is a chemical used in manufacturing food packages [2] that can come in contact with food and migrate into it.

Eugenyl methyl ether is a synthetic flavoring that resembles flavors in 12 plant foods [3].

Myrcene is a synthetic chemical that is used as hops flavoring in beer making [4] and also to resemble flavors in 7 plant foods [5].

Pulegone [7] is a synthetic flavoring that can be used in chewing gum and scotch making that resembles the flavors of several mints [8].

Pyridine is a synthetic flavoring related to benzene that can be used as coffee flavoring and also has a corn-like taste.

Styrene is a chemical in Styrofoam plastic food containers, which can migrate into food in a relatively short period of time [9].

Trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal is a synthetic flavoring that has a fresh, green, citrus floral odor [10] and can be used in many food preparations.

The petitioners point out that

Rather, as the legislative history amply demonstrates,23 Congress intended most new and potentially dangerous substances to receive more exacting review by FDA under the food additive petition process. Carcinogenic substances, as specifically highlighted by the Delaney Clause, certainly belong in such a category. Thus, any likely carcinogens must necessarily be assessed as food additives, subject to the Delaney Clause, even if they were once considered GRAS.24

For an in-depth discussion of the legislative history of the Food Additive Amendment of 1958, see Comment by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) re: Substances Generally Recognized as Safe, available here: [PDF] 23

Moreover, if Delaney did not apply to GRAS, any independent GRAS determinations by manufacturers of likely carcinogens would be plainly insufficient to support a "general recognition of safety," as neither FDA nor the food industry currently collects or reports on the cumulative effects information necessary to address the safety of any condition of use.24

Page 9 of the petition lists a chart with the above flavors and how they are used in food manufacturing, basically sweet treats!

Page 18 starts the listing of authorities who are recognized for their ability and responsibility for determining if a chemical is capable of causing cancer in man or animals.

Hopefully, the Office of Food Additive Safety will appreciate this petition and act accordingly with the request, which is to remove them from the GRAS list and ban them from food production and packaging.


[1] chem.agilent.com
[2] law.cornell.edu
[3] sigmaaldrich.com
[4] beersensoryscience.wordpress.com
[5] sigmaaldrich.com
[6] sigmaaldrich.com
[7] ntp.niehs.nih.gov
[8] sigmaaldrich.com/
[9] wikipedia.org
[10] books.google.com


Flavor Ingredients / Food grade essential oils, aroma chemicals, oleoresins, and botanical extracts utilized in the manufacture of finished flavors.

50 Jawdroppingly Toxic Food Ingredients & Artificial Additives to Avoid

Chemical Cuisine / Learn About Food Additives from the CSPI

Top 20 Food Additives to Avoid

10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs

CONFIRMED! Lab tests show over 30+ popular food products contains GMOs. Are you eating them?

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Mainstream journalists still act surprised when Israel kills children


© Ali Jadallah APA images
Relatives mourn after Israel killed four children playing football last summer.

There was nothing surprising about Israel finding itself not culpable for the killing of four boys on a Gaza beach in July last year, as it did in a military judgment released a few days ago.

Israel's investigations into its own crimes aren't known for delivering guilty verdicts.

What was interesting, however, was the reaction of some mainstream journalists — journalists who felt they had a vested interest in this case because they had witnessed the strikes which killed the four boys from the Baker family as they played football one afternoon during Israel's 51-day assault on Gaza.

Articles by Peter Beaumont in The Guardian and Robert Tait in The Daily Telegraph give off a sense of disbelief and indignation that the investigation by the Israeli army into the attack cleared all personnel involved and declared the incident "a tragic accident."

Both these journalists, and Paul Mason in his blog for Channel 4 News, describe how their own observations, both during and after the attack, refute Israel's allegations that it was targeting Palestinian fighters.

But the sense that there has been a miscarriage of justice by a reputable organization, rather than an outright cover-up by a rogue army, remains.

Struck in error?

This journalistic respect for Israel's army is highlighted in Tait's article, as he writes that the slaughter of the boys was "surely an indication that something had gone badly wrong in Israel's military procedures for such a deadly strike to have been aimed at what were clearly children."

By which he indicates his belief, shared by many mainstream journalists, that, unlike the killing of the Baker boys, the rest of Israel's military procedures in Gaza last summer were not acts of indiscriminate slaughter.

Bombardments which leveled homes, mosques and entire neighborhoods, massacring whoever was in the vicinity, babies and children included, weren't, according to Tait's reasoning, deliberate acts of terror, but acceptable military activity.

The BBC, true to form, goes one step further in the esteem in which it holds the Israeli army. Its online article into Thursday's findings does nothing but quote chunks from the Israeli army report and is headlined "Gaza beach attack: Israel 'struck boys in error.'"

There is no attempt to critically analyze the report's conclusions, as Tait, Beaumont and Mason all did for their respective news organizations, and no Palestinian comment.

Instead, the BBC simply provides a platform for Israel's self-exonerating report to be aired, free from the inconvenience of journalistic scrutiny.

And it ends, of course, in typical BBC fashion, by giving Israel's excuse for attacking Gaza last July and August — "to put an end to rocket-fire and remove the threat of attacks by militants tunneling under the border" — with no mention of the Palestinian reality of occupation, siege and resistance.

Damage limitation

It is this high regard in which many mainstream journalists hold the Israeli army which explains, perhaps, their shock that its soldiers could deliberately target children and then their disbelief that its commanders could dub that deliberate targeting an accident.

The question then is, why are mainstream journalists so easily taken in by Israeli propaganda, appearing to believe Israel's refrain that it has "the most moral army in the world?"

The truth they ignore, and consequently fail to convey to their audiences, is that Israel kills Palestinians at will and with impunity.

Its army only announces investigations into a killing or killings on the rare occasion that Western journalists or politicians become agitated about Palestinian life being taken — usually because the killing has been caught on camera and can't be hidden.

Those same journalists seem unaware of the reality that an Israeli announcement of an "independent investigation" is nothing more than a damage limitation exercise, an exercise in "public relations" to quieten the critics, and that the word "independent" is meaningless in these cases.

It is meaningless because the outcome of an Israeli investigation into Israeli crimes will almost exclusively be a finding of Israeli innocence. There is nothing independent about the process, and it shouldn't be reported as such.

Wake up to reality

The military's absolution of blame for the slaughter of the Baker boys wasn't a one-off, as the resultant mainstream reporting seemed to suggest. It was part of a pattern which will be repeated over and over until the occupation ends.

Israel is a colonial power. It will kill whoever it has to (Palestinians, US activists, British media workers, Turkish humanitarians, UN staff) to make its colonial goals a reality. And it will lie, cover up and propagandize in exactly the same way that all colonial powers did in centuries past to get away with its crimes.

Mainstream media journalists need to wake up to these facts. They need to be sharper, more intelligent and more astute in the way they cover Israel and the occupation. They need to read and understand history, especially European colonial history, and they need to embrace, rather than dismiss, context in their reporting.

Israel didn't just kill those four young boys last summer. Its warplanes, warships and tanks wiped out 89 entire Palestinian families, wiped out 504 Palestinian children at an average rate of 10 a day, wiped out a total of more than 2,200 Palestinians.

Its politicians and military should be tried for all these crimes. And they should be tried in a properly independent manner — or as independently as the world allows — at the International Criminal Court. This is what the mainstream media should be clamoring for. Not expressing polite surprise that an "independent" Israeli inquiry acquitted Israel of deliberately slaying four little Palestinian boys who dared to play football in Gaza.

Hidden secrets revealed in 1491 world map that may have guided Columbus

© Wikimedia Commons
The Yale world map of "Henricus Martellus Germanus" (Heinrich Hammer). It is the most detailed "Dragon Tail" map by Martellus. It is the only one with a coordinate grid.

A map of the world produced in 1491 by Henricus Martellus has been subjected to multispectral imaging, which has revealed hidden details on the map not previously visible, including numerous Latin descriptions of regions and people.

Henricus Martellus is also known as Heinrich Hammer. He was a German cartographer who lived in Florence from 1480 to 1496. His 1491 world map is one of two (an earlier version was produced in 1489). It is similar to the terrestrial globe, called the , produced by the later mariner, artist, astronomer, philosopher and explorer Martin Behaim in 1492, which may actually have been influenced by Martellus.

Both of these incorporate variations of the Ptolemaic model in that they show an opening to the Indian Ocean beneath the horn of Africa and they include the continent of Malaysia. Both may also derive from earlier maps produced by Bartolomeo Columbus, created around 1485 in Lisbon, Portugal. Some historians believe that the Martellus map may also have been used by Christopher Columbus prior to his voyage to circumnavigate the globe.

© Wikimedia Commons
Martellus’ earlier map produced in 1489.

Not much is known about Martellus, but he probably lived in Nuremberg. His 1491 map, which has been preserved at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, may have been based on the work of Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek scholar who lived during the Second Century AD. Ptolemy's writings on geography were generally unknown to Christian Europe but they formed the basis for the Renaissance in Geography. Martellus revised Ptolemy's work from the information brought back by Marco Polo from his travels in Asia. He also incorporated information from voyages by Portuguese explorers to Africa.

© Wikimedia Commons
Martellus used information brought back by Marco Polo from his travels in Asia to compile his map. Marco Polo travelling, Miniature from the Book

Multispectral imaging has helped to reveal details on the 1491 map that have previously been obscured by five centuries of fading and scuffing. The five-member team of researchers and imaging specialists that carried out the work visited the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library where the map has hung for years outside a reading room. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities enabled them to carry out work on the map which included photography of the map in 12 reflective colours. This included several frequencies that are beyond the range of visible light. The images were then analyzed with high-tech software.

"We've recovered more information than we dared to hope for" map historian and lead researcher Chet Van Duzer told Phys Org. Mr Van Duzer added that the images reveal numerous Latin descriptions of regions and peoples, including a text box over northern Asia which contains information about the people of 'Balor', revealing that they lived on a diet of venison. Another text describes the 'Panotii' people as having large ears, of such size that they could use them to sleep in. Van Duzer also discovered that Martellus used a manuscript version of Marco Polo's travelogue, rather than the edition printed in Latin. Furthermore, Martellus based his depiction of southern Africa on Ptolemy's Egyptus Novelo map, contained in three surviving manuscripts of his "Geography". This map was itself constructed on the basis of information from native Africans, rather than European explorations but this area of Martellus' map was probably produced from information revealed by Ethiopian delegates to the Council of Florence in 1441. The fact that Martellus map shows Africa extending further eastward than the known versions of the Egyptus Novelo means that he must have been using a more complete version that displayed Africa's eastern coast.

The new images are important in that they reveal how the Martellus map influenced later map-makers, such as that produced by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507, which was the first map to label the New World as 'America'. Texts on the Martellus map show that it was an important source for Waldseemüller. "It puts you in the mapmaker's workshop" Van Duzer said. "It's easy to imagine Waldseemüller at his desk consulting various sources."

© Wikimedia Commons
World Map Universalis Cosmographia, 1507; by German Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller.

Interestingly, the image of Japan on the map is completely wrong. It is mentioned in the map's text as being around 1,000 miles away from the coast of Asia. This in turn may have led Christopher Columbus to believe he had found Japan when actually he had arrived in the Bahamas.

According to Professor Roger Easton of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology, new discoveries are still being made and that, so far, about 80 percent of the text on the map has now been revealed. The research team is currently focusing on Java. Once the work is complete, the images will be presented to academics and the public via the Beinecke Library website.

Medical tyranny: California Vaccine (SB277) Bill passes Health Committee

California is going full totalitarian, but is anyone surprised?

The state's controversial and tyrannical mandatory vaccine bill has jumped another hurdle on its path to becoming law.

Yesterday, California lawmakers approved the bill, which requires all schoolchildren be vaccinated before being permitted to attend public or PRIVATE schools unless they have a MEDICAL exemption.

That's right: they are not going to allow religious or philosophical/personal belief exemptions to vaccinations any longer if this passes the full Assembly.

From the text of the bill:

(a) As used in this chapter, "governing authority" means the governing board of each school district or the authority of each other private or public institution responsible for the operation and control of the institution or the principal or administrator of each school or institution.

(b) The governing authority shall not unconditionally admit any person as a pupil of any private or public elementary or secondary school, child care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center, unless, prior to his or her first admission to that institution, he or she has been fully immunized.

If you have an unvaccinated school-aged child in California, your only option for education will be homeschooling (which is arguably far better than public indoctrination centers anyway, and likely better than most private schools).

If the bill becomes law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such authoritarian requirements.

How long until other states follow, though? Some think that this law would encourage lawmakers in other states to limit non-medical exemptions too.

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, one of the bill's authors, said

"SB277 is about freedom. Freedom from deadly, crippling contagions that are now preventable through the science of vaccination."

I don't know about you, but I think this bill is the antithesis of freedom.

The bill was approved after five hours of emotional testimony from hundreds of opponents.

From the Associated Press:

Opponents of the legislation say they should have the freedom to decide what's best for their child and that the bill would unfairly deny students a public education.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said he was not convinced that there was a health emergency because of insufficient vaccinations.

"I think that really stretches the facts to the point of really almost being sort of a scare tactic," he said before voting against the bill.

Naturally, those who support the bill cite the Disneyland measles "outbreak" as justification for taking away parental (and children's!) rights - even though measles is a relatively benign disease and the majority of those who contract the illness during "outbreaks" in the US are...vaccinated.

Santa Monica pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon testified against the bill. He sought to separate the bill from the December measles outbreak, noting that all those cases of measles occurred outside a school environment:

"If SB277 had been in place last year, this outbreak would have proceeded in much the same manner," he said.

No matter what you personally think about vaccinations, laws like these set a dangerous precedent.

This is a violation of civil and religious freedoms.

It is not moral nor ethical to force people to submit to medical procedures that carry the risk of serious injury or death.

Who owns your body, or those of your children?

The government, it appears.

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Malaysian tanker with $6 million petrol cargo still missing

Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) believes the missing tanker is in Indonesian waters now, after more than three days of fruitless searching.

MMEA's Vice-Admiral Maritime Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar said today that its charts showed that the vessel carrying RM21 million worth of RON 95 petrol would eventually reach Vietnam if it kept heading north.

The ship disappeared off radar off Johor's Tanjung Sedili four days ago while heading east for Kuantan port, he said, adding that it would have reached Sabah's capital Kota Kinabalu by this afternoon if it kept its course.

"But until now, we have not been able to track the ship in the Sarawak and Sabah waters, so most likely it is still at the South China Sea and surrounding areas.

"From our analysis that we made, the biggest possibility is that it is at the Nantuna and Anambas islands area," the MMEA deputy director general in charge of operations told the media at the agency's headquarters, referring to the Indonesian group of islands that lay in between Johor and Borneo.

He said Malaysia has contacted Indonesian authorities to aid in the search in that area and is also seeking clearance to enter Indonesian waters to continue the search.

Ahmad Puzi said the Malaysian search team from MMEA and the Royal Malaysian Navy had scoured the waters stretching from Johor to Kelantan, as well as waters around Sabah and Sarawak with 14 assets but still could not locate the missing tanker.

He also said today that the ship carried enough diesel to last a voyage of 22 days.

Malaysia is seeking the use of US and Australia's aircraft and had contacted all neighbouring Asean countries including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand for aid.

The tanker MT Orkim Harmony had departed from Malacca and was bound for the Kuantan port when communication was lost last Thursday at 8.50pm.

Ahmad Puzi said today that MMEA was notified about 10 hours later at 6.30am the next day, where it immediately commenced the search for the ship that was scheduled to arrive at the Kuantan port at 10.30 am.

Ahmad Puzi confirmed that this was likely a case of maritime robbery - the fourth recorded by Malaysian authorities in the South China Sea waters this year, stating that it was believed to be motivated by economic reasons.

He also confirmed that no ransom demands had been issued for the 22 crew members aged between 20 and 62.

The multinational crew is headed by a Malaysian captain and comprises of 15 other Malaysians, five Indonesians and one from Myanmar.

The 5,879 metric tonnes of RON 95 petrol cargo is owned by national oil giant Petronas, he said.

Just a week ago from Orkim Harmony's disappearance, Malaysian oil tanker was hijacked on June 4 and had some of its oil cargo stolen before it resurfaced the same day with all 18 crewmembers unharmed.

MMEA was reported saying by that the pirates had fled to Pulau Matek in Indonesia's Anambas islands.

UFOs seen above Loch Ness?


© Alan Betts
UFOs over Loch Ness

Forget the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Now we've got something else just as strange at Scotland's famous lake where, according to legend, a prehistoric beast makes its home.

Move over, Nessie, UFOs seem to take a liking to your backyard. A tourist unexpectedly photographed what looks like a pair of disc-shaped objects flying above the water of the 22-mile-long freshwater lake (pictured below).

Back on April 29, Alan Betts was vacationing in the Scottish Highlands with his wife, Anna, and her parents. They were at a holiday cottage near Urquhart Castle -- a longtime monster hunting location. In fact, you can spend your day in front of a computer screen, from anywhere in the world, looking for Nessie via a live Loch Ness web cam.

But on this day in April, it wasn't Nessie that had its picture taken -- it was something else.

Alan is quite skeptical about paranormal things in general. I am not," Anna Betts told The Huffington Post in an email from the UK. "I believe in what human beings sometimes can't see or explain. I am quite a spiritual person overall. However, I have been quite skeptical about UFOs in particular -- up until now.

"We can say 100 percent that the camera was perfectly fine. It was raining very heavily, there were no lights in the house to resemble the objects in any shape or form. We were also quite high up, about 900 feet over the lake. And our Akita dog was quite weird that day, barking into the sky," Anna Betts said.

It was only after the weather dramatically changed from total sunshine to intense cloudiness that Anna's mother went out and snapped a picture of the landscape.

At the time the picture was taken, none of the family members noticed the thing -- or things -- in the air above the water of the loch. Betts and his wife only recently looked at the images from their vacation, and that's when they suddenly noticed the unusual aerial objects.

"After the holiday, we were looking through the pictures on our PC, as they were taken on a digital camera. On the PC screen, the resolution was better and it was only then we saw the objects. When we zoomed in (picture below), we were in shock," Betts, the director of a refrigerator company in Bradford, UK, eventually told Caters News Agency in the UK after he and his wife decided to publish the picture.

"I can't offer any logical explanation," Betts told the news agency. "I am probably one of the most skeptical people you could find about things like this, but I just can't explain what it is. I know what it looks like, though.

"We showed the pictures to Anna's parents who were as shocked as us, and her dad is probably more skeptical than me."

After getting over the initial shock of seeing the disc-shaped objects above the water, Anna Bates said she and Alan, pictured above, also showed the image to very close friends and family.

"Their reaction was very similar to ours -- stunned -- and can't give any reasonable explanation," she said. "But people definitely know that it was never Photoshopped or faked. We have pictures taken at the same time in almost the same spot with no camera faults or similar objects. Some think the reason we didn't see them is that they were flying into the lake at a very high speed, invisible to a human eye, but somehow the camera caught it."

Anna Betts also told HuffPost that one comment claimed the objects were nothing but a light reflected in the window. "We never had a light on, but even if we did, it's definitely not the shape, plus there are two exactly the same discs on the picture."

US Data Breach Unveils Secret, Sordid Lives of Washington's Elite

With one of the largest government data breaches in US history, hackers have potentially gained access to the personal information of every federal employee. That includes the darkest secrets of nearly 14 million people, including drug addictions, psychiatric diagnoses, and even extramarital affairs.

Every US federal employee seeking a security clearance must go through the exhausting process of filing a Standard Form 86 (SF 86). As many have pointed out, the form is so meticulous that an individual could fill out over 115 pages.

Those pages detail almost everything about an employer's life. Family members, spouses, and neighbors are just a few of the aspects listed. But the forms also dig deeper, examining personal information a person's own mother may not be aware of. Psychological treatments, outstanding debts, drug use, sexual history - even sexual fantasies. The idea being that the government needs to be aware of any facets of a person's life which could be exploited.

The bad news: whoever hacked into the Office of Personnel Management now knows all of the information they could ever need to blackmail every federal employee.

"It's kind of scary that somebody could know that much about us," a former US diplomat, speaking anonymously, told Reuters.

One example given by officials is of a retired 51-year-old military employee. In filing his security clearance, he listed that he had engaged in a 20-year affair with the wife of his former college roommate. While he entrusted this information to the US government - a red flag on a polygraph test could have ruined his chances at a security clearance - he had not told his wife about his infidelity.

While that individual eventually came clean, confessing to his wife other "key people in applicant's life," it's exactly the kind of potentially damaging information that foreign governments could use to convince a high-level official to provide confidential material.

Even the private affairs of a federal employee's family and associates could be utilized. SF 86 forms list the names of all foreign contacts, and those individuals could be tracked down and either kidnapped or blackmailed to sway a government official.

Details about a federal official's debt could also be exploited, providing foreign intelligence services with an idea of which employees could be bribed, and even for how much. Drug abuse history could be another way for governments to manipulate an individual who may prefer to keep darker aspects of their lives secret.

Then there is the possibility that hundreds of intelligence officers could now be compromised.

"The potential loss here is truly staggering and, by the way, these records are a legitimate foreign intelligence target," General Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA director, told Reuters.

Intelligence officials note that the names obtained through the data breach could be cross-referenced against the publicly available names of embassy employees to root out undercover operatives.

"Negative information is an indicator just as much as positive information," the US diplomat said.

While US officials have linked the hacks to the Chinese government, they have yet to provide any evidence for the assertion. Beijing denies any role in the cyberattacks.

Ice Age alert: Ocean near Iceland unusually cold, no mackerel


© Páll Stefánsson.
A West Iceland beach.

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute's annual spring expedition from May 18 to 30 concluded that the ocean temperature off Iceland has not been lower in 18 years, or since 1997. The number of krill is below average and not a single mackerel was caught.

"In the past years we have always caught some mackerel, and especially last year. But now we didn't see any," Guðmundur J. Óskarsson, one of the institution's specialists, who took part in the expedition, told .

Guðmundur stated that the ocean temperature from Southeast Iceland to the West Fjords has dropped by one to one-and-a-half degree Celsius. However, it can quickly increase if the air temperature increases substantially, he added.

Last month was the coldest May in Iceland in decades.

The expedition is part of the institute's long-term study of the condition of the ocean around Iceland, the vegetation, krill and fish which exist there. Samples were taken in 110 locations.

Our Phantom Economy

Just as Rome in terminal decline had its phantom legions, we have a phantom “recovery,” phantom democracy, phantom GDP and phantom unemployment rate.Those who believe that phantom recoveries and phantom metrics can be substituted for reality are in for a shock in the next downturn.

Those who believe that phantom recoveries and phantom metrics can be substituted for reality are in for a shock in the next downturn.

Stripped of artifice, there are only two kinds of media stories: those that support the status quo narrative, and those that are skeptical of that narrative.

What is the status quo narrative? Simply this: not only is this the best possible arrangement of labor, assets and money, it is the only possible arrangement of labor, assets and money.

It is impossible to challenge a system that is the only possible arrangement; the only option is to accept it.

In effect, the mainstream media is a vastPsychological Operation (PSYOPS) aimed at persuading the American public that the status quo Imperial system of predatory, debt-based crony-capitalism that benefits the few at the expense of the many is not just beneficial to all its debt-serfs and welfare recipients, but it is the only possible system–there is no alternative(TINA).

One of the greatest and most important PSYOPS of the Imperial State (U.S. Government) and its faithful lapdog the mainstream media is the unemployment rate.As I will show tomorrow, the real unemployment rateis between 20% and 40%, depending on whether you think someone earning $1,500 a year selling stuff on eBay and Etsy should be counted as “employed.”

The federal government is delighted to count everyone earning $100 a year as employed, and equally delighted to label everyone without a job (even one paying $100/year) who doesn’t qualify for unemployment insurance a job market zombie–a once living person who is no longer counted as among the living.

These zombies are non-participants in the labor market, i.e. not in the labor force. They might be able to work, and want to work, but they’re considered zombies once they’re no longer “actively seeking work.” But is this the proper metric for measuring the unemployment rate? It is obvious that the unemployment rate should be calculated on the total work force (those of working age 18 – 65 who are not institutionalized or permanently disabled) and those with real jobs, i.e. ones that generate enough income to get close to the poverty line.

Here is our phantom economy on display: 93 million people are no longer counted as being in the work force. They are officially declared zombies, and that’s how the federal government can claim an “official” employment rate of 5.6%.

And here’s the work force with full-time jobs, i.e. jobs that might support a household (or half a household) and that might pay substantial payroll and income taxes (unlike the forms of marginal employment that earn a few hundred or few thousand bucks annually).

Just as we have a phantom work force–the 93 million not in labor force almost equals the 120 million with full-time jobs–Imperial Rome in its final days had phantom legions. There were no longer any active-duty soldiers in the legions, but the officers and paymasters filed their payroll chits and collected the legion’s pay from the out-of-touch remnants of the Imperial Core in Rome.

The hypocritical American Empire is imploding both at home and abroad


© Reuters / Eric Thayer

The crisis and chaos engulfing the Middle East and Ukraine is evidence of US imperial decline, as Washington learns the harsh lesson that no empire lasts forever.

In the wake of the Vietnam War - the end of which was marked by news footage of US personnel and a select few Vietnamese collaborators being evacuated from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975 - the United States entered a prolonged period of decline when it came to its ability to embark on major military operations.

For all the massive destructive power in its arsenal, the Vietnamese had exposed US imperialism as a giant with feet of clay. The name given to this period of hard power retreat was the 'Vietnam syndrome' and lasted from 1975 to 1991, when the US and an international coalition embarked on the First Gulf War to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

We are witnessing a similar period of US imperial decline now with regard to Washington's inability to stage large-scale military operations. It arrived as a consequence of the failed occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which achieved nothing except the eruption of terrorism and extremism across the region, and by extension the world.

The huge resources expended have further crippled Washington's imperial power, while the fragmentation of social cohesion in the US itself - witnessed by the brutal treatment of the nation's poor, migrants, and blacks - reveals a society that is close to imploding. The parallels with the sixties and seventies are clear in this regard.

As far back as 2005, the had identified this 'Iraq syndrome.' In an article exploring the record of then outgoing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the newspaper asserted: "Whenever Rumsfeld finally packs up his office at the Pentagon, he will leave behind an even more burdensome Iraq syndrome - the renewed, nagging and sometimes paralyzing belief that any large-scale US military intervention abroad is doomed to practical failure and moral iniquity."

Ten years later, with an Islamic version of the Khmer Rouge in the shape of the so-called Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) running rampant across Syria and Iraq, the present administration is reduced to conducting a desultory and, up to this point, impotent, air campaign against IS, which continues growing and increasing its grip on territory in Syria and Iraq.

The complexities of the Middle East are well known. The presence of the bulk of the world's energy reserves has ensured the region's status as the frontline in the struggle for and against US hegemony. At the same time, the multiple ethnic, confessional, and tribal identities that crisscross the region have long ensured it remains a potential powder keg, ready to explode if exacerbated.
Such an explosion took place with the NATO air war against the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011. Intended to ensure the Libyan phase of the Arab Spring landed safely upon the shores of Western geopolitical interests, the toppling of Gaddafi instead opened the gates of hell out of which have poured tens of thousands of primeval fanatics whose bloodlust knows no bounds.

Washington and its European allies have been unable to control the spread of this fanaticism, which has grown with the connivance of its regional allies - Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the various Gulf monarchies that together make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Obama's decision not to proceed with planned airstrikes against the Syrian government in the aftermath of an alleged chemical weapons attack against a rebel-controlled Damascus suburb in 2013 left his credibility in tatters. Perceiving the president as weak, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been acting in pursuit of their own agendas, which means doing whatever it takes to stem Shia Iranian influence, and/or working to reassert Sunni domination region-wide.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a virtue out of defying the Obama administration's attempts to broker a settlement of the intractable Palestinian question, while his ongoing efforts to undermine the administration's negotiations with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program are a studied insult to the US leader's authority. The Saudis and their Turkish counterparts, we also know, have recently agreed a joint strategy coordinating their energies and resources in striving to bring down the Assad regime. Growing nervous over the popularity and sway of IS within the global jihadist movement, both governments have swung behind their own preferred jihadist groups - "The Army of Conquest" - as a counterweight and proxy in the conflict.

Compounding the unraveling of Washington's ability to project its imperial power is the nonsensical and desperate attempt to effect Russia's compliance with its writ in Eastern Europe, which involves the imposition of sanctions and attempts to isolate the country politically and culturally.

The dollar has been underpinning US hard power and hegemony since the Second World War, exploiting its role as the world's international reserve currency. But US currency hegemony is also in the process of being contested with the creation in October 2014 of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China as a counterweight to the IMF. Interestingly, among the 20 nations who've since joined this new international investment bank is the UK, much to the consternation of its Washington ally.

The AIIB joins the New Development Bank that China also set up last year in partnership with Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa. Also known as the BRICS bank, it took its place alongside the pre-existing Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) development bank as part of a new global financial infrastructure operating independently of Washington. The SCO has also established its own currency reserve to help cushion its members against financial shocks or crises, such as the one that emanated from the US financial system in 2008.

Taken together, we are able to chart the relative decline of US hegemony and unipolarity, unfolding economically, geopolitically, culturally and militarily. The dangers as this process unfolds are evident in the spread of extremism and fanaticism as regional allies increasingly pursue their own agendas, regardless of how damaging to US interests they may be in terms of sowing instability.

As with the Roman Empire centuries before it, Washington is learning that the only thing permanent in this world is impermanence, especially imperial power resting on foundations of hypocrisy and injustice.

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney complains about RT's reach and influence


© Reuters / Chris Keane
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney

Former US presidential candidate Republican Mitt Romney has acknowledged RT's reach and influence. He called it part of Russia's "strategy," at the same time as slamming Obama and Clinton's foreign policy mistakes.

Romney spoke to an audience of about 200 at the fourth annual E2 (Experts and Enthusiasts) summit in Park City, Utah. He backed his statements up with a PowerPoint presentation, the main focus of which was to slam the foreign policy mistakes of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State (and now, the Democratic favorite of the presidential race) Hillary Clinton.

He had a slide for each of Obama's "most consequential foreign policy mistakes,"including the "Middle East apology tour" and the "reset" effort in relations with Russia.

This part of the presentation concluded with Romney asking whether Obama was "the worst foreign-policy president in history." He answered himself in the affirmative, reports the .

He then switched to castigating Hillary Clinton's term as secretary of state, saying she had consolidated the world against the US by making "mistake after mistake after mistake."

Finally, Romney flipped the PowerPoint pages to Russia and President Putin.

"What's Putin's strategy?" the slide asked. "Russia TV," Romney answered. "I mean, I turn on my TV here — and there's RT!"

This is far from the first time that RT has received the attention of high-ranking US politicians. In 2011, Hillary Clinton called for more financing for US state-sponsored media to counteract the channel, even going so far as to say Washington was losing the information war against Russia.

The plea was reiterated this year by Clinton's successor in the State Department, John Kerry. He also referred to RT's growing influence and said money is needed for"democracy promotion" around the world. As a side note, RT's budget is some $250 million (13.85 billion rubles), while US government media receive about $770 million.

In February, the former head of the US Broadcast Board of Governors Andrew Lack went as far as saying RT was a threat on a par with Islamic State and Boko Haram terrorists.

Romney's E2 summit was initially organized in 2012 as a way to raise money for his own presidential campaign (before he eventually lost to Barack Obama). This year, six Republican presidential hopefuls attended, aiming to get funding from major CEOs and a personal endorsement from Romney.

Israel blocks UN human rights envoy from entering Gaza for second year in a row


© Reuters / Denis Balibouse
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories Makarim Wibisono

Israeli authorities have admitted they blocked a UN human rights envoy from entering the occupied Gaza area for a second year in a row, just as a UN report on last year's Gaza war is about to be made public.

"We didn't allow this visit," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, as cited by AFP. The visit by the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Makarim Wibisono, was due to take place last week.

However, according to Nahshon, the decision doesn't go against Israel's commitments to the UN. "Israel cooperates with all the international commissions and all rapporteurs, except when the mandate handed to them is anti-Israeli and Israel has no chance to make itself heard."

Rapporteur Makarim Wibisono is attached to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is about to release its findings from an investigation into alleged war crimes Israel may have committed during last year's war in Gaza.

Even though the report hasn't been made public yet, Israeli authorities have already dismissed it as biased, saying in a 277-page counter-report that the Gaza offensive was"unfortunate yet lawful." They cite statements by Western leaders who backed Israel's right to self-defense.

The new UN report will focus on the 2014 conflict, in which some 2,200 Palestinians died, including about 1,500 civilians. Israel's losses came to 67, mostly soldiers. The Israeli offensive started after a spike in cross-border attacks by Hamas militants, and lasted for 50 days.

A previous report on another Israel-Gaza conflict, the 2008-2009 three-week Operation Cast Lead that killed some 1,400 mainly civilian Palestinians, accused Israel of war crimes.

Tel-Aviv claims this is due to Hamas militants using civilian buildings as firing bases and weapon storage facilities. So the Israelis argue collateral damage was inevitable in response strikes.

This includes Israeli attacks on seven UN-run schools converted to shelters, revealed by an April inquiry ordered by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

However, last week's visit by the UN rapporteur wasn't in connection with the upcoming report. It was for a separate yearly assessment of the situation in the territories occupied by Israel: Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel's human rights record concerning Palestinians also came into question recently, when the country's Cabinet passed a bill allowing the force feeding of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in its custody. According to Israel's Prison Service, the country now holds around 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, of which four are refusing to eat.

The bill was condemned by human rights activists from all over the world, including the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The official said it was unacceptable to use force feeding as a means of coercion against those who choose "the extreme recourse of a hunger strike" to protest the conditions of their detention.

Prisons without walls: we're all inmates in the U.S. police state

"It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free—to be under no physical constraint and yet be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national state, or of some private interest within the nation wants him to think, feel and act. . . . To him the walls of his prison are invisible and he believes himself to be free."—Aldous Huxley,


© highdefdiscnews.com

"Free worlders" is prison slang for those who are not incarcerated behind prison walls. Supposedly, those fortunate souls live in the "free world." However, appearances can be deceiving.

"As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons," writes former prison employee Marlon Brock, "it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls." In fact, if Brock is right, then we "free worlders" do live in a prison—albeit, one without visible walls.

In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere in order to maintain "security" and keep track of the prisoners. Likewise, the "free world" is populated with video surveillance and tracking devices. From surveillance cameras in stores and street corners to license plate readers (with the ability to log some 1,800 license plates per hour) on police cars, our movements are being tracked virtually everywhere. With this increasing use of iris scanners and facial recognition software—which drones are equipped with—there would seem to be nowhere to hide.

Detection and confiscation of weapons (or whatever the warden deems "dangerous") in prison is routine. The inmates must be disarmed. Pat downs, checkpoints, and random searches are second nature in ferreting out contraband.

Sound familiar?

Metal detectors are now in virtually all government buildings. There are the TSA scanning devices and metal detectors we all have to go through in airports. Police road blocks and checkpoints are used to perform warrantless searches for contraband. Those searched at road blocks can be searched for contraband regardless of their objections—just like in prison. And there are federal road blocks on American roads in the southwestern United States. Many of them arepermanent and located up to 100 miles from the border.

Stop and frisk searches are taking place daily across the country. Some of them even involve anal and/or vaginal searches. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved strip searches even if you are arrested for a misdemeanor—such as a traffic stop. Just like a prison inmate.

Prison officials open, search and read every piece of mail sent to inmates. This is true of those who reside outside prison walls, as well. In fact, "the United States Postal Service uses a 'Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program' to create a permanent record of who is corresponding with each other via snail mail." Believe it or not, each piece of physical mail received by the Postal Service is photographed and stored in a database. Approximately 160 billion pieces of mail sent out by average Americans are recorded each year and the police and other government agents have access to this information.

Prison officials also monitor outgoing phone calls made by inmates. This is similar to what the NSA, the telecommunication corporation, and various government agencies do continually to American citizens. The NSA also downloads our text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and so on while watching everything we do.

Then there are the crowd control tactics: helmets, face shields, batons, knee guards, tear gas, wedge formations, half steps, full steps, pinning tactics, armored vehicles, and assault weapons. Most of these phrases are associated with prison crowd control because they were perfected by prisons.

Finally, when a prison has its daily operations disturbed, often times it results in a lockdown. What we saw with the "free world" lockdowns following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the melees in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, mirror a federal prison lockdown.

These are just some of the similarities between the worlds inhabited by locked-up inmates and those of us who roam about in the so-called "free world."

Is there any real difference?

To those of us who see the prison that's being erected around us, it's a bit easier to realize what's coming up ahead, and it's not pretty. However, and this must be emphasized, what most Americans perceive as life in the United States of America is a far cry from reality. Real agendas and real power are always hidden.

As Author Frantz Fanon notes, "Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief."

This state of denial and rejection of reality is the essential plot of John Carpenter's 1988 film , where a group of down-and-out homeless men discover that people have been, in effect, so hypnotized by media distractions that they do not see their prison environment and the real nature of those who control them—that is, an oligarchic elite.

Caught up in subliminal messages such as "obey" and "conform," among others, beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards, and the like, people are unaware of the elite controlling their lives. As such, they exist, as media analyst Marshall McLuhan once wrote, in "prisons without walls." And of course, any resistance is met with police aggression.

A key moment in the film occurs when John Nada, a homeless drifter, notices something strange about people hanging about a church near the homeless settlement where he lives. Nada decides to investigate. Entering the church, he sees graffiti on a door: . Nada overhears two men, obviously resisters, talking about "robbing banks" and "manufacturing Hoffman lenses until we're blue in the face." Moments later, one of the resisters catches Nada fumbling in the church and tells him "it's the revolution." When Nada nervously backs off, the resister assures him, "You'll be back."

Rummaging through a box, Nada discovers a handful of cheap-looking sunglasses, referred to earlier as Hoffman lenses. Grabbing a pair and exiting the church, he starts walking down a busy urban street.

Sliding the sunglasses on his face, Nada is shocked to see a society bombarded and controlled on every side by subliminal messages beamed at them from every direction. Billboards are transformed into authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is replaced with the words "MARRY AND REPRODUCE." Magazine racks scream "CONSUME" and "OBEY." A wad of dollar bills in a vendor's hand proclaims, "THIS IS YOUR GOD."

What's even more disturbing than the hidden messages, however, are the ghoulish-looking creatures—the elite—who appear human until viewed them through the lens of truth.

This is the subtle message of , an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state. These things are in plain sight, but from the time we are born until the time we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our good. The truth, far different, is that those who rule us don't really see us as human beings with dignity and worth. They see us as if "we're livestock."

It's only once Nada's eyes have been opened that he is able to see the truth: "Maybe they've always been with us," he says. "Maybe they love it—seeing us hate each other, watching us kill each other, feeding on our own cold f**in' hearts." Nada, disillusioned and fed up with the lies and distortions, is finally ready to fight back. "I got news for them. Gonna be hell to pay. Cause I ain't daddy's little boy no more."

What about you?

As I point out in my book , the warning signs have been cautioning us for decades. Oblivious to what lies ahead, most have ignored the obvious. We've been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that's never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

As Rod Serling warned:

"All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes—all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the earth into a graveyard, into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance. Then we become the grave diggers."

The message: stay alert.

Take the warning signs seriously. And take action because the paths to destruction are well disguised by those in control.

This is the lesson of history.

Possessing an internal locus of control improves our ability to cope with adversity

© Shutterstock

For me, one of the hardest facets of stress is relinquishing control. And though there is control in how I personally react and choose to respond to circumstances, there's also a feeling of helplessness; a feeling that control is not completely present.

I don't have complete control over genuine and natural shifts in relationships — the progression of people growing apart. New perceptions affect awareness; they affect how connections are conceived.

I don't have complete control of the past, and all the baggage that comprises such chapters.

I don't have complete control over nodules in my thyroid that may or may not get bigger; that may or may not require a biopsy or further treatment.

I don't have complete control over a competitive job market or a profession that may not lend itself to a stable, sufficient income.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the desire for a sense of control is a profound psychological need.

"If we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival," an article on changingminds.org stated. "Our deep subconscious mind thus gives us strong biochemical prods when we face some kind of danger (such as the fight-or-flight reaction)."

Interesting. Though life is renowned for unpredictability, individuals crave a sense of control. Some factors, though, are simply uncontrollable.

Psychologists have studied this human need for decades, referring to the concept as locus of control (LOC).

"The more internal our LOC, the more we believe our own efforts determine what happens in our lives; the more external our LOC, the more we feel our lives are controlled by outside forces (chance or powerful others)," according to a 2014 article in Psychology Today.

Research illustrates that those who possess an internal LOC experience greater happiness, health, success and the ability to cope with adversity.

While, at times, we have to succumb to external variables, we can still embody an internal LOC — by how we respond to such variables and by seizing control in other areas of our lives.

When undergoing stress, I can ask myself: what are the choices I can make right now? I can conquer my fear of stage fright and sing at an open mic night. I can paint at my desk for the sole purpose of catharsis. I can embark on day trips to new places and emotionally rejuvenate. I can wear a different shade of lip gloss or highlight my hair.

While none of these actions resolve conflict, they do emanate control.

In a post on Tiny Buddha, Lori Deschene explains that when she starts ruminating on something out of her hands, she chooses to think about what she can change.

"Right now, you can control: how many times you smile today," she wrote. "How you interpret situations; how nice you are to yourself in your head; the type of food you eat; what books you read; how many times you say I love you."

And who knows; with this kind of confidence, dealing with problems may become a bit easier.

When experiencing stress, we don't always have total control — we can't control every situation, and we certainly cannot control other people. And although the need for a sense of control is significant, we can still exert control in how we react to stressors, and we can still utilize choice in other aspects of our lives.

Smart cities will facilitate the total monitoring, control and management of the population

© Wikimedia Commons

The century of 'big data' will be the century of unprecedented surveillance. The dream of tyrants down through history has been the total monitoring, control and management of the public, with the ability to predict the behaviour of entire populations the most efficient means of achieving this objective. For millennia, this has mainly existed in the realm of fantasy, however with the vast leap in technology in recent decades, this idea is becoming less a dystopian science fiction movie and more the daily business of totalitarian high-tech regimes.

Most readers are now familiar with the predatory surveillance practices of agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ, which high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney describes as "totalitarian" in nature, adding that the goal of the NSA is "to set up the way and means to control the population". Yet many people may not be aware of the next phase in 21st century surveillance grid; the 'smarter city'.

Promoted by some as a low-cost and efficient way of managing the workings of a city, others see the surveillance implications of such initiatives as chilling to say the least. Smart cities are broadly defined as digitally connected urban areas filled with ubiquitous sensors, monitors and meters, which collect data on every aspect of the city; from energy usage, to transport patterns. This data is then analysed and used by city planners to 'improve decision making'.

Today, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas - a trend that is set to accelerate into the future - meaning the smart city concept is going to affect the lives of billions of people around the world. India is at the forefront of this push as it plans to build 100 smart cities in the coming years, with Singapore set to become the world's first smart nation. Smart cities are not just confined to Asia however, as Glasgow (where I'm writing from), Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Cape Town are just a handful of cities involved in IBM's "smarter cities challenge".

Privacy in a Smart City

The global move towards a 'smarter planet' is a worrying prospect for many who are concerned with the growing erosion of privacy in the modern world. Can privacy exist in a smart city where every corner and crevice of the urban environment is fitted with digital sensors collecting data on every movement of the city 24 hours a day?

Furthermore, many of the supporters and proponents of smart initiatives are multinational corporations and notorious foundations, including IBM, Siemens, Cisco and the Rockefeller Foundation. The notion of corporate giants managing a smarter planet becomes even more troubling when you consider the history of companies such as IBM, which played a pivotal role in the holocaust and worked closely with Nazi Germany. Given IBM's dark history, should we trust it with the power to regulate and manage numerous cities around the world?

In an article for AlterNet titled: The Terrifying "Smart" City of the Future, Allegra Kirkland details some of the more disturbing aspects of a smarter planet:

"The surveillance implications of these sorts of mass data-generating civic projects are unnerving, to say the least. Urban designer and author Adam Greenfield wrote on his blog Speedbird that this centralized governing model is "disturbingly consonant with the exercise of authoritarianism." To further complicate matters, the vast majority of smart-city technology is designed by IT-systems giants like IBM and Siemens. In places like Songdo, which was the brainchild of Cisco Systems, corporate entities become responsible for designing and maintaining the basic functions of urban life.... Private corporations are the ones measuring and controlling these mountains of data, and that they don't have the same accountability to the public that government does."

The Age of Big Data and Predictive Policing

The amount of data generated in recent years has skyrocketed, with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty noting in a 2013 speech that "90% of all the data ever known to man has been created in the last two years". With this trend only set to continue into the future, the race is now on to develop systems to accurately predict the behaviour of entire populations through scanning copious volumes of data for behavioural patterns.

In Australia, the federal crime commission is now using big data systems to analyse patterns of behaviour in a quest to predict criminal activities before they occur. It seems the world is moving closer to the themes in the 1950's science fiction story by Philip K. Dick and the later film adaptation of the work, 'The Minority Report'.

It is not just Australia however that is engaged in such activities, as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has a division called the Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division (RACR). The RACR uses cutting-edge algorithmic systems and analytics in an attempt to predict future crime. British police in Kent have also been using a precrime software program called Predpol for two years, which analyses crimes based on date, place and category of offence, in order to assist police in making decisions on patrol routes.

The ethical and moral questions of the move towards predictive policing are obvious, leading many to fear a potential 'tyranny of the algorithm' in the future. With big data being used in the field of law enforcement to and attempt to predict criminal behaviour, you can be assured that intelligence agencies and corporations will be using big data in the futuristic smart city to monitor and predict the behaviour of the city's population.

Crystal Ball Software

Back in 2010, we got a glimpse into the intentions of the CIA and Google when they funded a start-up company called 'Recorded Future', an organisation that claimed to have technology that could predict the future through collecting data from the internet. 'Recorded Future' attempts to scan the entire web looking for patterns and analyzing information on a global scale; with the companies CEO Christopher Ahlberg revealing that the software scans "8 billion data points, [from] 600, 000 sources" each week.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand in size and scope producing even more data, demand for companies such as 'Recorded Future' by intelligence agencies and corporations will continue to increase. Techopedia defines the IoT as a "computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and be able to identify themselves to other devices." The number of devices connected to the internet has exploded in recent years, a trend that Cisco details in a 2011 report:

"In 2003, there were approximately 6.3 billion people living on the planet and 500 million devices connected to the Internet... Explosive growth of smartphones and tablet PCs brought the number of devices connected to the Internet to 12.5 billion in 2010... Cisco IBSG predicts there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020."

Many have voiced privacy concerns over the idea of the internet being embedded in everything considering the fact that government agencies and corporate entities have been illegally collecting vast swaths of personnel information from the internet for years. As Michael Snyder writes in a recent article, "could an IoT create a dystopian nightmare where everyone and everything will be constantly monitored and tracked by the government? "

We are truly entering a 'Brave New World', where science fiction is becoming reality. But what input will the people of the world have in the creation of this 'Brave New World', and what role will representative government play?

The Analyst Report, especially for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

Venezuela elections and U.S. efforts to destroy the Bolivarian revolution

The precise date for election in Venezuela is not defined as yet. Probably Venezuelans will go to vote in October - November. President Nicolas Maduro said he wanted an election as soon as possible. The pre-race campaign hits the radar. It could be said without exaggeration that the fate of Venezuelan - style socialism, the goal of Bolivarian movement, is at stake.

According to the results of 2010 National Assembly election, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Spanish: Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) got 96 seats with three seats going to the Communist Party and 6 to Fatherland for All (Patria Para Todos, PPT) and PODEMOS (literally meaning 'We can', an abbreviation of Por la Democracia Social, Spanish, meaning 'For Social Democracy'). The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (Spanish: Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD), a catch-all electoral coalition of Venezuelan centrist, centre-left, left-wing and some centre-right political parties, gained 65 seats. The correlation of forces allows President Nicolas Maduro to get the laws approved by parliament without expecting any serious obstruction from the right-wing opposition.

Will the United Socialist Party of Venezuela maintain its position in the National Assembly after the 2015 election? It's hard to be optimistic. The election will take place under the conditions of economic downturn, permanent deficit of goods, inflation and the exacerbation of social problems. The Hugo Chavez voters may change allegiance. The experts are trying to define reasons for crisis. There are different versions. Some say the reasons are of emotional character. Voters are tired of ideological struggle affecting their daily routine, as well as overcoming everyday life difficulties and living under the conditions of permanent confrontation.

In his research work What They Do to Venezuelan People Waging the Fourth Generation Warfare (Que le están haciendo al pueblo venezolano en la guerra de cuarta generación) Ramón Manaure analyzed the situation offering a deep insight and answers to many questions. First, what is the war unleashed for? The answer is - the war is unleashed to undermine the process of reforms to change the country and the world, the policy initiated and implemented by Hugo Chavez. Who is responsible for war? - The United States of America has the responsibility as it applies efforts to establish full control over Venezuela, the spearhead (punta de lanza) of movement for reshaping the world in favor of nations implementing independent policies. What goal does the Unites States pursue? Here is the answer - the United States has set the goal of doing away with the Bolivarian revolution and its leaders.

How does it plan to do it? - The United States has a strategy. A multi-phased plan has been worked out for Venezuela with the help of foreign experts. Who will bring it into life? - The plan is to be carried out by special laboratories working on the fourth generation warfare, including, first of all, the US Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and other American intelligence agencies, as well as national and foreign universities, advertisement agencies, Colombian paramilitary groups, right wing and ultra-right parties, national and foreign media outlets.

Ramon Manaure is not the only one to believe that the subversive activities of conspirators are aimed at depriving PSUV of popular support it enjoyed at previous elections. The activities of propaganda instruments are in full swing inside the country and abroad in accordance with the scenario prepared by the United States. The Bolivarian leadership has come under fire. The argument is clearly defined - the Maduro government is incapable of solving the country's problems and has to resign. The transition should be smooth without dramatic consequences. Hundreds of commentators and analysts are engaged. The smear campaign based on fraud is in high gear. The propaganda war is extremely hard to counter. Now they paint Hugo Chavez quite differently than before. They offer a positive image of the late president and his policy. According to them, he was a real leader, but the successors have squandered his legacy, got mired in corruption and act against the interests of people.

Actually Bolivarian politicians and military are denigrated for being adamant in protecting the interests of the country and countering the expansionist plans of the United States. The accusations not backed up by any proof are directed at military districts commanders, foreign and current leaders of Venezuelan counter intelligence agencies. Fierce attacks are launched against President Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello Rondón, President (Speaker) of the National Assembly of Venezuela.

Many a time opposition leaders have discussed ways to topple Maduro and the regime with US special services. They are concerned over the possibility of Diosdado Cabello coming to power. His allegiance to the ideology of Chavism and anti-US policy is well known. That's why the current chairman of parliament has become the primary target of smear campaign. The whole US propaganda machine has concentrated efforts to ruin his image. Cabello is painted as the leader of drug cartel, the largest in Latin American history, with Venezuelan generals holding top positions in the criminal structure.

The same propaganda efforts were targeted at Hugo Chavez and his inner circle. The fakes don't bring dividends. Diosdado Cabello will repel the slander attacks with dignity. The Venezuelan parliament has taken steps to fight drug trafficking, including the permission to bring down «transit» aircraft transporting drugs from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Nobody in Latin America can measure up to President Maduro who has taken an uncompromised stand in the effort to fight drug trafficking. Even the US Drug Enforcement Administration had to admit that Venezuela had taken effective steps to counter the criminal activities related to narcotics. Transit planes have switched to the routes across the Caribbean islands.

The government of Maduro has many times disclosed the operations sponsored by US administration. The Venezuelan financial circles and entrepreneurs greatly damage the country and the government which they want to be under their control. They do their best to aggravate the economic crisis. They spur inflation and conduct activities aimed at smuggling subsidized commodities and foodstuffs out of the country. No matter effective steps are taken to bolster border security, secret routes are used to take everything - from toilet soap to oil products - out of the country to Colombia. Gas is smuggled in great quantities using riverine routes. Black market exists almost openly offering goods at prices exceeding many times what they should be.

Criminal rate is on the rise in the countries under US control, such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia. But the US propaganda focuses on Venezuela. It is based on rigged statistics. People are scared, they are afraid to become victims of criminals. US propaganda warriors try to impose an opinion that the Venezuelan law enforcement agencies are not able to maintain order. Oil and energy production facilities are subject to acts of sabotage. Nicolas Maduro has addressed the nation twice recently telling people that there is evidence to corroborate the fact that such activities do take place. The President called for vigilance.

Venezuelan political scholars have started to use the term «colombization» talking about paramilitary formations penetrating the country from Colombia. The conflict with the neighboring country has been lasting for half a century. The process of normalization hits snags on the way. No matter that, some progress has been reached. The representatives of Juan Manuel Santos government took part in the talks with guerillas in Havana (with Cuba acting as a mediator). The US power structures view the détente process in the region as something undesirable to put into question the presence of US military facilities in Colombia. The US-controlled Colombian media outlets constantly publish materials lambasting FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo, FARC - EP and FARC), a guerilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964, to hamper the negotiation process. The same reasons make the United States do its best to exacerbate the situation in Venezuela. The Obama administration views the country as a threat to the Unites States. According to some reports, President Maduro has recently cancelled a visit to Italy upon receiving information about planned armed provocations to be perpetrated by radical opposition.

Felipe González, former Prime Minister of Spain, plans to visit Venezuela during the pre-election period to meet so called political prisoners. In 2014 these people provoked unrest in the streets, the death toll was measured in dozens, including policemen and military. This fact is turned a deaf ear on. The Bolivarian leadership displays self-control, confidence and readiness for a dialogue with opposition.

President Maduro offered the opposition MUD comprising over 20 parties and organizations to conclude an agreement with PSUV on recognition of election results. Will the opposition (and the sponsors representing US special services) meet his initiative half way? It raises great doubts. Such an agreement will stand in the way of efforts aimed at inciting further confrontation.

BRICS must become alternative, not usurper, of US hegemony - Can it?

Recent news has shown China quickly gaining ground against a West which has for centuries maintained hegemony over Asia Pacific. Beyond Asia, China has been steadily expanding its influence throughout Africa and the Middle East. Together with Russia, Iran and other nations of the "East," they are constructing what is commonly referred to as a "multi-polar" world order.

This multi-polar world order stands in contrast to the unipolar order the West has sought to impose for decades after the end of the World Wars and is a continuation of Western imperialism carried out by the British and other European empires during the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

But is what the East doing truly building an alternative to the West's brand of hegemonic imperialism? Or is it simply more of the same under a different label? More over, is the West's behavior coaxing other nations to unify under a singular, consolidated banner, only to be rolled under the West's vision of an international order ruled from Washington, Wall Street, London and Brussels?

These are questions that must be asked and explored particularly by the people who gravitate toward the East the most. They understand the threat of Western hegemony and the very real damage it has and still is inflicting upon humanity. From the devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the wars raging in Yemen, Syria and Libya, Western designs have taken unstable tinderboxes around the globe and turned them into raging infernos.

Naturally, people look for a force to counter such inhumane violence, bloodshed and shameless exploitation and manipulation. They see that counter in Russia, China and those in their spheres of influence. And while in the past these nations have indeed served as counterweights to the forces of fascism or imperialism, one must always be careful not to simply back one hegemon over another.

For Moscow, Beijing and across the other BRICS nations, they must understand that the support and success they enjoy is specifically because they offer what many believe is an alternative to, not a replacement for Western hegemony. The world sees BRICS as a viable alternative specifically because they are not setting up military bases in foreign lands, intervening militarily thousands of miles from their borders and working with nations instead of coercing them. As soon as they cease to uphold these principles, they will cease to serve as a relevant alternative to the West.

China in particular has been long criticized by the West for doing business with any nation regardless of their so-called human rights record. The West however, makes these criticisms because it disrupts their ability to exploit human rights as a pretense to meddle diplomatically, militarily and economically in any targeted country. Meanwhile, the West gladly has conducted long-term business with the most egregious human rights offenders on Earth, the Saudi regime chief among them.

China has repeatedly, sometimes even painfully reasserted the primacy of national sovereignty in ruling over all international relations. It must not only continue to reassert this message diplomatically, but also pragmatically throughout its foreign policy. Not only is it a matter of self-interest, preventing foreign interests from dictating to Beijing what it should do within its own borders, but it helps set a solid precedent in establishing a new multi-polar global order.

Supranational Institutions Old and New

Russia, China and the rest of BRICS are themselves creating a variety of supranational institutions and military alliances to compete against those of the West, particularly the IMF, World Bank, NATO, and even the UN itself. However, while doing this, they must ensure the preservation, even the encouragement of national sovereignty as the primary organizing principle among these new institutions. And not just on paper, but especially in practice, whether it suits BRICS at the moment or not.

This is because whether those special interests behind BRICS and standing in apparent opposition to the West realize it or not, the very reason they have been given an opportunity by the global public is specifically because they are perceived as being different from the West and the Western way of using their global wealth and influence. And whether it serves their interests immediately or fully, they must fulfill these expectations or suffer the same backlash the West is now facing, both at home and abroad.

The world is changing economically, technologically and culturally. These shifts have not boded well for the concept of "globalization" or even supranational institutions. To seek to create doppelgangers of existing and failing Western supranational and international institutions seems folly at best.

Understanding this, and balancing competition with the West's existing and still potent institutions, against the changing dynamics of the coming future is essential for the survival and eventual success of BRICS and the multi-polar world they claim to want to create.

In a world where technology now empowers one individual to do what once required many people and tremendous resources, constitutes a shift in the balance of power between local communities, nations and global alliances and power brokers. Even if the people have yet to realize this, they will soon. The future of BRICS depends on a collective understanding that fighting this coming shift will lead BRICS to the same cliff the West is currently dangling over.

For the people themselves, they must understand that they have always been in the driver's seat, even if insidious hands have reached past them to take the wheel for the majority of this trip. Realizing that the people, not special interests have the ability to steer the world toward a path we would all like to see it on is our greatest bet. We need not obsessively support one bloc over another, subscribing almost religiously to political parties, personalities and brands, but should instead agree on a set of principles and only back those as long as they uphold those principles.

By attaching ourselves to political parties, personalities and brands, we stand only to be inevitably disappointed. On the other hand, principles are inextinguishable, indomitable and everlasting. In the ongoing game of geopolitics, if ever we want to finally break the continuous turning of the wheel of history, we must stop following those whose hands are turning that wheel, and follow the principles that always and forever lead forward.

When Russia, China and the rest of BRICS stand up for national sovereignty, non-interventionism and non-military expansionism, we should applaud them not because they are simply BRICS, but because of the principles they are upholding. When they fail to do so, we must also, and as equally as vocal, condemn them.