Research into bee-killing pesticides is tainted by corporate interests

Members of Britain’s parliament say industry-funded research is compromising the fight to save pollinators

Report: Research into bee-killing pesticides is tainted by corporate interests

Here’s one way to keep us from finding out once and for all whether pesticides are contributing to the mysterious and catastrophic collapse of the world’s bee colonies: let the people manufacturing the pesticides fund the studies. That’s the charge being leveled against Britain’s government by the Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in a report published Monday, which contends that corporate funding is compromising the integrity of its scientific research.

The good news, amidst a sea of bad news, is that hardly anyone’s arguing that the we have a serious bee problem on our hands. In the U.S., about 23.2 percent of honey bee colonies were lost over winter 2013-2014 — an improvement from the even more disastrous winter that came before it, but a rate that the U.S. government nonetheless calls “economically unsustainable.” The White House, in pledging $50 million to address the problem, calls the losses a “genuine threat to domestic agriculture.”

A number of factors are likely contributing to bee declines here and abroad; among them are invasive parasites, along with the rise of monocultures — acres and acres of fields dedicated to one crop and one crop only — and the resulting loss of bee-supporting flowers. But a growing number of independent studies are pointing to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, concluding that they, if not the sole driver of declines, are nonetheless heavily implicated. (To take just one example, they’ve been shown to compromise bees’ immune systems, making them that much more susceptible to the viruses being carried by said parasites.) The voices most loudly insisting that there’s no link between pesticides and bee die-offs belong, unsurprisingly, to industry representatives, who continue to insist that the science is inconclusive.



When it comes to addressing the pesticide factor, the E.U. is way ahead of the U.S. While the EPA says it won’t complete its scientific review of the role neonicotinoids, a certain class of pesticides implicated in recent die-offs, until 2018, and won’t consider taking any action until that time, the European Commission decided to adopt a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Last year, it enacted a two-year, continent-wide ban on three neonicotinoids that the European Food Safety Authority decided were posing the greatest threat. The British government, however, was one of the hold-outs. Right now, it’s convening a group of experts to review the available evidence, which will form the cornerstone of a new National Pollinator Strategy and help inform the government’s decision about whether to support the ban, which is up for review next year.

According to the Parliament committee, there’s no question that it should. Since the ban was first passed, the report argues, “new studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations.” The government, the report insists, is failing to protect the bees, and, in the process, letting industry interests get in the way of sound science.

Letting manufacturers fund research into the impacts of their own products “testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the Department responsible for it,” said Joan Walley, the committee’s chair, in a statement. “If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step.”

 

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/28/report_research_into_bee_killing_pesticides_is_tainted_by_corporate_interests/?source=newsletter

What we do better without other people around

The power of lonely

(Tim Gabor for The Boston Globe)
By Leon Neyfakh

March 6, 2011

You hear it all the time: We humans are social animals. We need to spend time together to be happy and functional, and we extract a vast array of benefits from maintaining intimate relationships and associating with groups. Collaborating on projects at work makes us smarter and more creative. Hanging out with friends makes us more emotionally mature and better able to deal with grief and stress.

Spending time alone, by contrast, can look a little suspect. In a world gone wild for wikis and interdisciplinary collaboration, those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.

But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.

One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.

“There’s so much cultural anxiety about isolation in our country that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University whose book “Alone in America,” in which he argues for a reevaluation of solitude, will be published next year. “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city…and experience a feeling of freedom.”

Figuring out what solitude is and how it affects our thoughts and feelings has never been more crucial. The latest Census figures indicate there are some 31 million Americans living alone, which accounts for more than a quarter of all US households. And at the same time, the experience of being alone is being transformed dramatically, as more and more people spend their days and nights permanently connected to the outside world through cellphones and computers. In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.

Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius.

But what actually happens to people’s minds when they are alone? As much as it’s been exalted, our understanding of how solitude actually works has remained rather abstract, and modern psychology — where you might expect the answers to lie — has tended to treat aloneness more as a problem than a solution. That was what Christopher Long found back in 1999, when as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst he started working on a project to precisely define solitude and isolate ways in which it could be experienced constructively. The project’s funding came from, of all places, the US Forest Service, an agency with a deep interest in figuring out once and for all what is meant by “solitude” and how the concept could be used to promote America’s wilderness preserves.

With his graduate adviser and a researcher from the Forest Service at his side, Long identified a number of different ways a person might experience solitude and undertook a series of studies to measure how common they were and how much people valued them. A 2003 survey of 320 UMass undergraduates led Long and his coauthors to conclude that people felt good about being alone more often than they felt bad about it, and that psychology’s conventional approach to solitude — an “almost exclusive emphasis on loneliness” — represented an artificially narrow view of what being alone was all about.

“Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad,” Long said by phone recently from Ouachita Baptist University, where he is an assistant professor. “There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”

Today other researchers are eagerly diving into that gap. Robert Coplan of Carleton University, who studies children who play alone, is so bullish on the emergence of solitude studies that he’s hoping to collect the best contemporary research into a book. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, has recently overseen an intriguing study that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people think they’re experiencing something individually.

That study, led by graduate student Bethany Burum, started with a simple experiment: Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task.

The results, which Burum cautions are preliminary, are now part of a paper on “the coexperiencing mind” that was recently presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the paper, Burum offers two possible theories to explain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first invokes a well-known concept from social psychology called “social loafing,” which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack. (If two people are pulling a rope, for example, neither will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.) But Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.

“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”

Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen. According to Greg Feist, an associate professor of psychology at the San Jose State University who has written about the connection between creativity and solitude, some version of that principle may also be at work when we simply let our minds wander: When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.

Other psychologists have looked at what happens when other people’s minds don’t just take up our bandwidth, but actually influence our judgment. It’s well known that we’re prone to absorb or mimic the opinions and body language of others in all sorts of situations, including those that might seem the most intensely individual, such as who we’re attracted to. While psychologists don’t necessarily think of that sort of influence as “clouding” one’s judgment — most would say it’s a mechanism for learning, allowing us to benefit from information other people have access to that we don’t — it’s easy to see how being surrounded by other people could hamper a person’s efforts to figure out what he or she really thinks of something.

Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity. Reed Larson, a professor of human development at the University of Illinois, conducted a study in the 1990s in which adolescents outfitted with beepers were prompted at irregular intervals to write down answers to questions about who they were with, what they were doing, and how they were feeling. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that when the teens in his sample were alone, they reported feeling a lot less self-conscious. “They want to be in their bedrooms because they want to get away from the gaze of other people,” he said.

The teenagers weren’t necessarily happier when they were alone; adolescence, after all, can be a particularly tough time to be separated from the group. But Larson found something interesting: On average, the kids in his sample felt better after they spent some time alone than they did before. Furthermore, he found that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression.

“The paradox was that being alone was not a particularly happy state,” Larson said. “But there seemed to be kind of a rebound effect. It’s kind of like a bitter medicine.”

The nice thing about medicine is it comes with instructions. Not so with solitude, which may be tremendously good for one’s health when taken in the right doses, but is about as user-friendly as an unmarked white pill. Too much solitude is unequivocally harmful and broadly debilitating, decades of research show. But one person’s “too much” might be someone else’s “just enough,” and eyeballing the difference with any precision is next to impossible.

Research is still far from offering any concrete guidelines. Insofar as there is a consensus among solitude researchers, it’s that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice: People must feel like they’ve actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against their will.

Overextended parents might not need any encouragement to see time alone as a desirable luxury; the question for them is only how to build it into their frenzied lives. But for the millions of people living by themselves, making time spent alone time productive may require a different kind of effort. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, argues in her new book, “Alone, Together,” that people should be mindfully setting aside chunks of every day when they are not engaged in so-called social snacking activities like texting, g-chatting, and talking on the phone. For teenagers, it may help to understand that feeling a little lonely at times may simply be the price of forging a clearer identity.

John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, whose 2008 book “Loneliness” with William Patrick summarized a career’s worth of research on all the negative things that happen to people who can’t establish connections with others, said recently that as long as it’s not motivated by fear or social anxiety, then spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life. And it can have some counterintuitive effects: Adam Waytz in the Harvard psychology department, one of Cacioppo’s former students, recently completed a study indicating that people who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals.

“People make this error, thinking that being alone means being lonely, and not being alone means being with other people,” Cacioppo said. “You need to be able to recharge on your own sometimes. Part of being able to connect is being available to other people, and no one can do that without a break.”

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail lneyfakh@globe.com.

Israel’s Control of Palestinian Lives


My pet cat here in Gaza has more freedom than the Palestinians, such is the subhuman treatment meted out to them.

An Israeli army armoured personnel carrier (APC) moves along Israel’s border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on July 25, 2014
Photo Credit: AFP

As Israeli air force bombs fell over Gaza City one recent evening, Snowy, the white cat that has charmed me into hosting him in my garden, ducked down in shock, as I did. Snowy is one of a growing population of cats in the Gaza Strip that help deter rodents in residential areas. Israel‘s grip on what is allowed in or out of Gaza includes restrictions on equipment and supplies essential for municipal hygiene services. Gaza has become a heaven for rats.

If Snowy understood human speech, I would have responded to his angry yowls of shock at the bombing by reminding him of the silver lining for him in Gaza. For years now, he has been unwittingly upgraded compared to the subhuman treatment of the people. Snowy may have to scavenge for food, but Israel has been rationing Gaza’s supplies – and its aspirations for a dignified future – for years. As the cat freely roams around the neighbourhood, my movement in and out of Gaza is heavily restricted, when it exists at all.

The simmering cauldron that is Gaza has now boiled over, with horrifying consequences. But this is not a war of equals, as some suggest. Israel remains an occupying force that controls Palestinian lives against their will. Palestinians who do not enjoy the same opportunities, dignity and conveniences of civilian life as people in Israel cannot suddenly be considered as equals in a disproportionate conflict.

This is the third war on Gaza, and arguably the most vicious, in less than six years. When friends and family call from all over the world, including Israelis and Jewish friends of other nationalities, I am embarrassed to utter a single word of distress next to the tragedies that are unfolding all around us. I cannot forget footage of a young boy who whispered for water as he was perhaps dying on a stretcher with his abdomen torn open. Significant parts of the Gaza Strip have been for days out of water and electricity.

The proportion of children among civilian deaths remains at around 20% since the beginning of this war. This is surely an indicator of the lack of Israeli remorse or reconsideration of its military tactics for the past three weeks.

For years, Israel has not only shunned Gaza politically but has painted its people as aliens with whom no one outside could relate to any more. Israel’s governments have unfairly indoctrinated their public that Gaza is a hostile place full of hostile people. It became permissible to level any degree of punishment on Gaza. While no unanimity prevails in Gaza on the firing of rockets towards Israel, a great deal of consensus exists that Gaza has been pushed too far, to a point where such actions are seen by more and more as a measure of last resort. Gaza got tired of being suffocated and pushed around without any hope for a better future.

Now, Israel is crushing Gaza in what it calls self-defence, but which feels to people here like an Israeli attempt to discipline us never to make the mistake that we are worthy of a decent and peaceful life. The mostly timid international community has been blinded to the cumulative effects of Israel’s policy and has inadequately challenged its alienation and incarceration of Gaza. This failure to appreciate how explosive the underlying causes are sows the seeds for another round of violence.

The international community should be commended for either supporting recent Palestinian reconciliation or, at least, not standing in its way. However, it can no longer view itself as a spectator as the new Palestinian government of national consensus struggles to fend off Israeli threats and actions. Europe and the US are urged to be active participants in helping Palestinians succeed in advancing a government that aims, at least in part, to devise a political programme that builds bridges with the world.

In preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections, the Palestinian Authority is urged to add a prominent item to its ballot sheet. It is whether voters in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, support peaceful resolution with Israel. The results will only reiterate the obvious: Palestinians are not seekers of violence, but are aggressively and methodically pushed and cornered into it.

 

The New Cold War

 

 

 

MH17 – Sacrificed Airliner

 

by ANDRE VLTCHEK

 

The special train carrying refrigerated corpses from the MH17 catastrophe has left the station of Torez, just a few miles from the crash site. People, who died a terrible death onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, will soon be reunited with their grieving families. They will receive a proper funeral, and will be laid to rest in the Netherlands, Malaysia and several other countries. They are on their way home, at last.

The Ukrainian rebels handed over the black boxes to international authorities. The investigation can begin. It hopefully will begin, unobstructed by political maneuvering.

Will the Empire allow the investigation to follow its course? The Western propaganda machine is in full gear. The twisting of facts, obscuring of evidence, and maneuvering public opinion all over the world: all this is being done with determination and routinely applied precision.

So much is at stake! Increasing cooperation between Russia, Latin America and China could mean the end of Western neo-colonial control of the world. The creation of alternatives to the World Bank can free billions of human beings from market feudalism and its slavery. Powerful news organizations broadcasting from Russia (RT), Venezuela (TeleSur) and Iran (Press TV) are consistently breaking the depressing and nihilistic monopoly of Western propaganda and control of people’s brains all over the world.

The more liberating these trends and waves are for the world, the more panic there is in Washington, London and Paris, but also on Wall Street and in the City, as well as in the newsrooms of the corporate media.

The West is terrified. Its ‘exceptionalism’, tremendous profits from controlling everything that moves on this planet, the kick of being in charge and holding the whip, all this can disappear if these waves of resistance are not reversed!

And the villains are damned Russia and Putin, who is refusing to yield. Putin is despicable, and a real nuisance in the eyes of the Empire, because he is unwilling to sacrifice, or to destroy his own country as Yeltsin had done two decades earlier. The villains are also those bloody Chinese, because they are sticking to their ideals, to socialism the Chinese way, while lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The other villains are those bastards from Latin America, with their big dreams and humanism, their revolutions and sudden refusal to sacrifice their own people for the wellbeing of the Western elites.

And all of them – these three disobedient parts of the world, three cohorts – are now getting closer and closer together, forging an as yet undefined alliance, but an alliance nevertheless, increasing cooperation, signing treaties, creating alternative organizations, and saying “No!” to the world order. And more countries are looking at all this with hope; more are joining the club of the free. Not absolutely free, but free from Western colonial terror, which is now perhaps the worst kind of terror that exists on this planet (including those horrid derivates of the regime, implanted all over the planet).

To fight these dissident nations openly, to do it on ideological or moral grounds, is impossible. They would most certainly not lose! By now it should be too obvious, it should be too clear who is on the ‘right and wrong sides of history’.

Therefore, the “smear” is the only way for the Empire to advance its destructive cause. Or at least it is the most effective way. The good old way of discrediting one’s enemy, was by dragging him through filth, by turning his achievements into failures, his heroic resistance into hideous crimes. The Brits perfected this, ruling their colonies for centuries, by deceit and perverse philosophical concepts. The German Nazis were fairly effective as well.

The way it stands, there is nothing good that Russia can do. There is nothing decent about China (it is Communist when it suits Western propaganda or ‘more capitalist than traditionally capitalist countries are’, when it fits the bill). Venezuela with its direct democracy is dictatorial. And so on.

And now the plane… The second Malaysian Boeing 777 lost in one single year… Both belonged to one of the best airlines on earth, with a great maintenance record for its equipment! Strange, very strange… But Russia is certainly to blame. Because the President of the United States said so, because the British PM said so… No proof is needed. The Western public is extremely obedient.

Now the bodies are going! From a small Torez station, they are going home, wrapped in bags.

They are victims of something that many decent people all over the world are even afraid to formulate in their minds.

The area of Eastern Ukraine that they – the corpses – are now leaving, is full of local victims, too – those civilian victims of ethnic cleansing, whose only fault is that their maternal tongue happened to be Russian, or that they do not or cannot live in a country run by the pro-Western fascist dictatorship of the ‘Chocolate King’, Poroshenko, and his gangsters.

Now civilians are dying, every day. That does not bother the Western regime. Killing the rebels, their families and neighbors, is encouraged. Burning people in Odessa, burning them alive, is not even criticized in the lackey corporate media. The entire debate and coverage of events has become grotesque and sick.

More then 100,000 people have recently crossed into Russia, seeking refuge from Ukrainian bombers and rockets, or perhaps more, most likely much more.

Russian lives do not count. Asian lives do not count. African lives do not count. Middle Eastern lives do not count. The lives of Latin Americans do not count. That is why the West so freely and without hesitation has murdered tens of millions of ‘unpeople’, for decades and centuries.

The formula is simple: Dutch tourists do count. Ukrainian villagers don’t. It was quite similar during Nazi control of Europe.

***

Right after the tragedy, the legendary thinker and Chief Editor of “The Greanville Post”, Patrice Greanville, summarized the events and predicted what is coming. He did it with deadly accuracy:

The US TV networks —the West’s Ministry of Truth organs—and other media have been blabbering almost nonstop for the past few hours about the Malaysian airliner down in Ukraine.

In the early reports on CBS, ABC, etc., I perceive a marked tendency to suggest “Russia or her proxies did it”, in this case also involving the “Pro-Russia separatists” in East Ukraine, who supposedly “have been shooting at planes” (the implication is indiscriminately) in their struggle against Kiev’s all-out military offensive.

As you probably agree, this is either an outright blatant provocation by the West, or a direct result of Washington’s criminal policies in Ukraine.

It’s easy to determine several scenarios in varying degrees of plausibility and culpability. While it’s plausible the plane was shot down by Eastern Ukraine separatists, it’s also obvious they (and Russia) have little to gain from such an act. So at worst, it can be argued it was simply an error on their part.

Indeed, if the plane was shot down by a missile, it could have been fired accidentally by the East Ukraine rebels—perfectly understandable given the horrible pounding they’ve been taking by Kiev’s air force, etc.

The second type of suspect involves not error but direct intention and therefore complete culpability. Here the lineup is clear, as the shot could have come from Kievan forces in the region, seeking to heighten tensions as per script, or a third party working for the West…

As usual, the larger context, that the US is the principal and very real meta-cause of this tragedy, will be lost to most in America

Welcome to the new, even higher stakes Cold War, courtesy of the usual bastards in Washington, and their accomplices around the world.

The problem for us now is how to counter the inevitable propaganda wave sure to follow. Brace yourselves for the barrage of hypocrisy and sanctimonious accusations to pour out of Washington’s mouthpieces.”

All this was happening while I was working in Cambodia, trying to counter another fully perverse narrative manufactured by the West in this tortured country, several decades ago.

I met my friend, a fellow war correspondent, Andrew Marshall, and asked him, theoretically, about the coverage of similar events. Andrew is the former head of Reuters in Iraq, who later resigned from the agency because it refused to publish his critical findings about the Thai establishment and its ‘elites’ (I will be soon publishing my full interview with him). He offered his thoughts on the issue of the downed passenger jet. The point he was making: whatever the answer to ‘The question’ is (who is responsible for the act itself?), it does not change the wider geopolitical and ethical issue:

There is a tendency in the 21st century World of 24-hour rolling news coverage to overemphasize and dramatize individual incidents in a conflict, subjecting them to intense coverage, while at the same time failing to analyze the underlying causes and patterns of conflict. The task of analyses is to focus on the “signal”, not the “noise”, but most modern media do the opposite. It’s also clearly true that powerful global interests seek to control the narrative by staging events to drown out the signal with noise. Some opponents of this strategy seek to create their own “noise”, trying to undermine the dominant narrative. In many instances it is justified, but a focus on the noise rather than signal can be counterproductive.

For example, I believe the overwhelming evidence of what happened on 9/11 is that men associated with Al Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was then exploited by the United States to justify a disastrous “war on terror” in the Muslim world.

The modern news media seize on incidents such as MH17, or 9/11, to exemplify a wider struggle. But in fact, in conflict, all sides tend to commit atrocities sometimes, and all sides make mistakes. In any conflict, innocents on all sides, and innocents unconnected with any side, routinely suffer. This is tragic. But sensible analysts need to avoid conflating the horror and blame of specific incidents within a conflict with the overall moral calculus of the conflict. The two are totally unconnected.”

***

Soon, things began to crystalize. As Western propaganda howling reached a crescendo, I contacted another trusted source, Sergei Kirichuk, the leader of the ‘Borodba’ movement, an influential left-wing organization in Ukraine, which is fully opposed to the Kiev junta, but at the same time maintains its independence, and cannot be defined as fully ‘pro-Russian’. He replied at length, and I have translated most of his quote for this essay:

Without any doubt, the tragedy of the Malaysian airliner has become the most significant political event of the last few years. The tragic death of innocent people shook public opinion in Ukraine and in the entire world. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the tragedy and the information related to it, offers more questions than answers. First, and the most important question, is how did a passenger airliner happen to be in the epicenter of the military conflict? In all those days leading to the tragedy, the mass media was carrying stories about attempts by the insurgents (both successful and unsuccessful attempts) to down airplanes belonging to the Ukrainian military. Earlier it was announced that the airspace was declared closed for civilian aviation. Besides, MH17 deviated significantly from its usual flight path; routinely it was flying more to the south. Answers to these questions should be given through an international investigation.

The second important question is based on the claim by the Ukrainian security services, related to some “intercepted communication of the terrorists”, that the ‘terrorists’ were the ones who downed the plane. This communication appears to be a clear fabrication, fake, but were it to be genuine, it would provoke even more questions towards the Ukrainian security services: would it mean that they were able to monitor the communications of their adversaries, were familiar with their plans, but did nothing to prevent the tragedy?

The most terrible thing is that the tragedy of innocent people who lost their lives is being used by Ukrainian mass media as some sort of justification for the loss of lives of the civilian population in Donbas. The onslaught of the Government forces began with renewed zeal, not caring at all, anymore, about the losses among the armed forces or civilian population.

Besides that, pro-NATO elements now believe that there is solid justification for the invasion of Ukraine by Western forces…”

***

But a leading international lawyer, Christopher Black (he has investigated genocides and crimes against humanity all over the world), based in Toronto, Canada, went even further, and declared in a letter to me:

The downing of the Malaysian airliner was either an accident by the Kiev forces or the anti-fascist forces of the Donetsk Republic, in each instance targeting the plane because they thought that it was a military and therefore a legitimate target, or it was a deliberate attack on a known civilian aircraft.  If it was deliberate then it is a case of mass murder and a war crime since it took place in the midst of hostilities. I wouldn’t call it an act of terrorism as some have said as an act of terrorism is designed to create fear and panic in a population. Clearly those who downed the plane had other motives than creating fear and panic among civilians.

Many writers over the past few days have commented that neither the DPR forces nor Russia had either the equipment in place to hit neither the plane nor the motive to deliberately shoot it down. But there is strong circumstantial evidence that the forces of the Kiev regime had the means, the opportunity and the motive. They had the equipment and engaged in very suspicious actions; they had BUK anti-aircraft systems in place for unknown reasons since the DPR forces have no aircraft, the Ukraine Air Traffic Control ordered the plane’s crew to divert from the regular more southerly route to go north over the combat zone, a Ukraine jet fighter was recorded by Russian radar climbing rapidly towards it just before it went down, and, within minutes of the crash, it was the Kiev regime and its masters in Washington and London who cried loudly that it was the DPR and Russians who were to blame without a shred of evidence to support the claim. And now we know that the Ukraine SBU immediately seized the ATC radar tapes and do not appear to have handed them over to international investigators.

Kiev and Washington also had the motive: to smear Russia and the anti-fascist forces and to provoke the EU to abandon its political and economic relations with Russia. It does not take a Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes to conclude the most likely suspects are in Kiev and Washington not in Donetsk and Moscow.

President Putin has insisted on an objective international investigation since the news broke while President Obama and his minions in Kiev have done nothing but call for the head of Putin.  History shows that President Putin has insisted on adherence to international law and civilized behavior consistently throughout his terms in office. His integrity is unquestioned, whereas President Obama has been consistent in his calls for war, war and more war in every region of the globe and insists that the Americans are “exceptional” and above the law and judgment.

It may be that the results of an independent investigation of this tragic and terrible event will have consequences for the United States that are beyond its imaginings and that will erase any remaining influence or credit that it may still have in the world. They have committed many crimes. This may be the one crime too many.”

***

The presentation of logical arguments and proof, by Moscow, by the rebels, and even by some dissidents inside the Western regime, has not changed the dogged and extremist position of the Empire. But why should it, really, if the entire scenario had been, most likely, manufactured (or at least manipulated) by the neo-con mafia in Washington and by their counterparts in European capitals?

At some point, The Wall Street Journal reported in its article, “Russia Presents Its Account of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash,” and it was refreshing that at least some quotes ‘from the other side’ were able to make it into the mainstream Western media:

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday presented its first detailed account of the final moments of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, saying Russian radar had spotted a second aircraft in the vicinity shortly before the crash and that satellite imagery showed Ukraine had moved missile systems into the area before the incident.

At a news conference, air force chief Igor Makushev didn’t say who the ministry thought had fired the missile that apparently brought down the airliner on Thursday.

In an elaborate presentation displaying radar and satellite imagery, Mr. Makushev said it was likely that the second airplane was a Ukrainian fighter jet. He also showed satellite photos allegedly portraying several Buk ground-to-air missile systems in the area close to where the plane crashed. The systems, he said, could only belong to the Ukrainian military. Ukraine has accused Russia of giving the rebels a Buk system, with which they then shot down the passenger jet.

Mr. Makushev said the airplane deviated from its course by 14 kilometers, but then attempted to return to its course, before crashing shortly after.

He said Russia is prepared to hand all of the information it has to European authorities, which included satellite imagery and data from its own radars.”

***

But there was much more to it – proof after proof painstakingly put together by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. And one is only left to wonder how many ‘objective’ and ‘well-informed’ European and US citizens ever read these accounts.

It is becoming clear and obvious, that even at the height of the so called Cold-War, citizens of the Soviet Union, even countries like Romania, were much better informed and knew more about the lines of thought of their adversaries, than the arrogant and thoroughly brainwashed Westerners now know about the points made by the people in the countries designated as their enemies.

But back to the Russian response:

The Wall Street Journal was referring to what occurred on July 21, 2014, at a Special Briefing by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777 in Ukrainian air space, the speech was given by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant-General A.V. Kartapolov. For those who are interested in what Russia has to say, these briefings are indispensable.

I worked for several hours, on improving the original translation, while trying to keep the original tone in which this was presented.

General Kartapolov argued that:

After the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 accident on July 17, studying the international flight-plan for, Amsterdam – Kuala Lumpur, we can find a quantity of conflicting information. In this case, the Russian Federation Ministry of

Defense considers it necessary to submit the information which is at the General Staff’s disposal. On the scheme you can see the international flight-path. The

Boeing-777 was supposed to fly on this flight-path. Draw your attention to the fact that the aircraft was flying inside the specified air corridor to Donetsk, but then it deviated north from the route. Meanwhile the maximum distance from the left border of the air corridor was 14 kilometers.

Then we can see that the Boeing-777 turned back to the borders of the specified air corridor. Nevertheless, the Malaysian aircrew didn’t perform the maneuver successfully. At 17.20 the aircraft began registering a rate reduction, at 17.23 the aircraft’s point blinked off on the radar. Why did the aircraft cross the border of the air corridor? Was it a navigation mistake, or the aircrew following the Dnepropetrovsk ground control orders? We will find out the answers after the decoding of the “black boxes” and communications. According to our information on the day of the accident, the Ukrainian Armed Forces deployed 3 to 4 artillery batteries of Buk-M1 missile systems not far from Donetsk. The system can hit targets at a distance of up to 35 kilometers, and at an altitude, up to 22 kilometers. Why did the Ukrainian Armed Forces deploy these air defense units in the Donetsk region? As we know militants don’t have any aircraft.

On the scheme we can see that both the projected impact point and the flight-path are inside the air defense battle zone of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Buk-M1 missile system. We have satellite photos of the Ukrainian Air Defense systems deployed in the Southeast of the country.”

Then the photos of the Buk are shown, near Luhansk and Donetsk. The first three photos are dated July 14, 2014. There are photos from that day to the day of the accident: launchers, radar, all belonging to the Ukrainian military.

After the painstaking photo presentation, the General continued:

I want to expose the airspace situation in the Donetsk area that day. In the picture you can see the information of the objective air traffic control between 17.10 to 17.30 Moscow time.

During that period, there were 3 civilian aircraft:

Flight from Copenhagen to Singapore at 17.17;

Flight from Paris to Taipei at 17.24

Flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur… Beside it, the Russian system for air traffic control detected a Ukrainian Air Force aircraft, supposedly a Su-25, moving upwards towards the Malaysian Boeing-777. The distance between two aircraft was 3-5 kilometers.

The Su-25 can gain an altitude of 10,000 meters in a short time. It is armed with an air-to-air missile R-60, which is able to lock-on and destroy a target at a distance of 12 kilometers, and destroy it definitely at a distance of 5 kilometers. What was the mission of the combat aircraft, in the flight-path of civilian aircraft, almost at the same time and same altitude with the civilian craft? We want to have this question answered.

The video of the Rostov Aerial Center of the Joint Air Traffic Management

System can provide the information. The Chief of Staff of the Air

Force, Lieutenant-General Igor Makushev, will comment on the video.”

Then the Chief of Staff of the Air Force of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant-General I.Y. Makushev presents his arguments:

Today the aircraft Air Traffic Control has acquired some objective control materials from the Rostov Aerial Center of the Joint Air Traffic

Management System. The video presents the air control information on the airspace situation in the region of Donetsk in the period from 17.19 P.M. to 17.25P.M., Moscow time, on July 17, 2014. In the upper left corner there is a

Boeing-772 mark, as it was following the route from Copenhagen to Singapore. Under this dot, there is another aircraft – it is marked as Boeing-777, which is on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. And on its right there is a Boeing-778 mark making its way from Delhi to Birmingham. All these three aircraft have been steadily monitored by the three radar stations of the air traffic control of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The Boeing-777 is moving towards the Russian Federation state boundary, and is to cross it at the point of «TONAK». An air traffic control officer has been controlling the aircraft flight and keeps on enquiring for its flight variables to compare them with the given ones. At 17.20 P.M. at a distance of 51 kilometers from the Russian Federation state boundary and the azimuth of 3000 (degrees), the aircraft started to lose its speed inexplicably, which is to be seen quite distinctively on the table of the aircraft characteristics. At 17.21.35 (seconds) P.M. with the aircraft at a speed of 200 km/h, at the point of the Boeing crash, there is a new mark of an aircraft to be seen. The radar stations of Ust-Donetsk and Butirinskoe, during the 4 minute period, steadily monitored the aircraft. The Air Traffic Control officer, having enquired for the characteristics of newly appeared aircraft but couldn’t possibly get them, because it is in all likelihood that the aircraft had no secondary deduction system mounted on it, which is typical of military aircraft. The early detection of this aircraft appeared to be quite impossible because those radars work in a standby mode and usually perform the air situation control. Detection possibilities at the given distance are over 5000 m altitude.

The detection of the aircraft turned out to be possible as soon as the aircraft ascended.

The further aircraft flight variables changed. It was now flying in the area of the Boeing crash and was monitoring the situation. Earlier the Ukrainian officials reported that on the day of the Boeing-777 accident, there were no military aircraft flying in the region. So, as you can see, it does not appear to be true.

…We also have some questions for our US partners. According to the statement of the US representatives, they have some pictures from space supporting that the militants launched the missile. But nobody has seen these pictures.

According to our records from 17:06 till 17:21 Moscow time on the July 17 over the Southeastern territory of Ukraine, a US space satellite flew overhead. This is a special device of the experimental space system designed to detect and track various missile launches. If the US party has photos made by the satellite, please let us ask them to show them to world community for further investigation.

Is it a coincidence or not? However, the time of the Malaysian Boeing-777 accident and the time of the observation done by the satellite over the Ukrainian territory are the same. In conclusion, I would like to mention that all the concrete information is based on the objective and reliable data of the different Russian equipment, in contrast to the accusations of the US against us, made without any evidence. A good example of such facts is that some mass media showed the transportation of a Buk-M1 missile system from Ukrainian to Russian territory. We can clearly see that it is a frame-up. These pictures were taken in the city of Krasnoarmeisk, which is confirmed by a banner situated close to the road. This banner has an address of the car shop situated at No. 34, Dnepropetrovskaya Street. Since May 11th, the Krasnoarmeysk city has been under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. That is why we have some questions. What kind of launching system is it? Where is it being transported? Where is it now? Why is it completely unloaded? What was the last time it launched missiles? To end my speech I would like to emphasize that the Russian Federation did not deliver any Buk-M1 missiles systems to the militants, and any other such equipment. All the data compiled by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will be transmitted today to the experts of the European countries and Malaysia…

The Ministry of Defense will continue to inform you about the newly revealed facts connected with the air disaster of Malaysian Boeing-777.

***

Now why on earth should we not believe this presentation, backed by facts, images and concrete analyses?

Western and Ukrainian lies are piling up: wobbly explanations or no explanations at all for change of 777’s course, lowering altitude, ‘bad weather’, and revealing testimony of the Spanish traffic controller working in Ukraine…

And why should we believe people like the current President of the United States, who openly bragged about US ‘exceptionalism’, at the military academy, which has been responsible for producing countless mass murderers?

And for the sake of objectivity, why would we not listen to the Russians, before imposing sanctions on them, for something that we are, most likely, responsible for, ourselves?

And although it is most likely that the pro-Western Ukrainian military shot down the plane, even if it were to be the other side that did it, the entire conflict began with the EU and the US destabilizing Ukraine, overthrowing the legitimate government, and igniting the war.

Angry Dutch families of the victims should stop pointing fingers at Russia. Instead they should go to Brussels and Washington to express their wrath and to demand justice.

***

And what about Malaysia and Indonesia? Indonesia lost 12 people on that ill-fated flight.

Most of the Southeast Asian countries are historically “client” states of the West, with hardly any independent, non-corporate media. Indonesia has been exactly that since the 1965 ‘events’. Malaysia, pushing for an independent course under Dr. Mahathir’s rule, is presently being lured by the US, which is trying to establish military bases there, or to at least gain access to existing Malaysian ones.

Suddenly, a great amount of US funding has been unleashed, to win over Malaysian intellectuals, some of the most shamefully subservient in the region. Several have already began departing for conferences, cultural exchanges and writer’s retreats, to destinations all over the United States, all expenses paid.

In Kuala Lumpur, there was deadly silence after the downing of MH17. Not one writer or filmmaker that I know and contacted wanted to go on record. One mistaken word and the entire rosy dream of Western ‘funding’ would go up in flames.

Only the official anti-Russian narrative was available.

Two filmmakers spoke, but off the record:

To be honest, Malaysians are completely out of touch with what’s happening or even with the political consequences of the ‘deal’ that our Prime Minister had made to bring the bodies back. No one has even questioned what the deal was. There is no discussion whatsoever, even in the educated circles as it’s taboo to even start talking about anything other than the people who died. All Malaysians care about is that it’s tragedy and that we should feel sad. But largely, Russia and Putin are the villains in the mind of Malaysians.”

In Indonesia, theories vary. Some are far, remote from the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Agus Suhartono, a former aeronautical engineer at PT. Dirgantara Indonesia, thinks that Malaysia has been punished for creating an alternative banking system for the Muslim world:

I think it is bit strange. How could a plane at an altitude of more than 30,000 ft be a mistaken missile target? At that altitude, the plane identification should be very clear. Whoever fired knew perfectly well what he was doing. The question should be why MAS (Malaysia Airlines) again? Did they rub somebody the wrong way? Why was Malaysia the target twice in a row? I think maybe because the financial turnover of the Arab world is centered in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is the gate. The sharia gate of the Arab financial world.”

***

New sanctions are being leveled against Russia. “Cold Warriors” in Canada, Australia, UK and US are back in their saddles, like Major Kong in the unforgettable film, “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, they are ready to cover their skulls with cowboy hats, and stick A-bombs between their legs. Time to ‘go and bomb the Russkies’.

Arabs are not tough enough adversaries, and most of the Muslim world is now in ruins anyway, thanks to the ‘War on… ehm… terror’.

Russia and China are again blocking the West from fully controlling the world. ‘How dare they?’

The most frightening thing is the state of the self-righteousness and self-deception of the Western public. One wants to scream: Don’t they see? Do they refuse to see? Is it more comfortable not to see? How long are they going to pretend that they are blind? Or maybe they are blind…

After the MH17 tragedy and after the way it has been handled by the Western mass media, there is no doubt that we are back to the Cold War again. It is not just a war against Russia. The war is reflected in the arms race that is being accelerated by the US in Asia, from the revolting, racist anti-Chinese propaganda, and from the attempts to overthrow our socialist governments in Latin America.

We should never forget that Western imperialism murdered tens of millions of innocent people all over the world, after the Nagasaki ‘A-bomb’ and the official end of the WWII: all those crimes and horror to satisfy its unbridled obsession with controlling the world.

Tens of millions of lives already lost.

Why should they spare some 298 of those on MH17?

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: Fighting Against Western Imperialism‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

 

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This is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for Israel


by Jerome Roos on July 25, 2014

Post image for This is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for IsraelIf this is the IDF showing restraint, as officials claim, what kind of horrific atrocities would it be capable of unleashing if it went “all the way”?

With the Israeli assault on Gaza in its third week and the amount of civilian casualties still rising relentlessly, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had some warm words for his country’s troops. Addressing the annual gala of America’s largest Christian-Zionist advocacy group, Christians United for Israel, Dermer commended the IDF for its “unimaginable restraint”:

Some are shamelessly accusing Israel of genocide and would put us in the dock for war crimes. But the truth is that the Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize … for fighting with unimaginable restraint. One day when the enemies of Israel are defeated and the moral idiots are silenced, people will look back and marvel at how the most threatened nation on earth never lost its nerve and always upheld its values.

Let’s take a second to digest that statement.

Apparently, for leading Israeli officials, dropping over 1,500 tons of explosives on an “open-air prison camp” half the size of New York City in two weeks’ time constitutes unimaginable restraint. Killing over 800 Palestinians, up to three quarters of them civilians and one third children, clearly constitutes unimaginable restraint. Destroying 18 health centers and 85 schools cannot be mistaken for anything but unimaginable restraint. Killing two handicapped women while striking a home for the disabled – unimaginable restraint.

In fact, Israel’s restraint has been so thoroughly unimaginable that, in the words of one Norwegian doctor on the ground, it has drawn “lakes of blood” to Gaza’s hospitals — like when the bodies of 27 members of a single family were wheeled in after an Israeli bomb fell on their home while they were enjoying their traditional Ramadan feast. Of course, leveling an entire neighborhood to the ground and targeting the ambulances that try to evacuate the wounded — killing a paramedic inside — is another telltale sign of unimaginable restraint.

Or what about the IDF snipers who take aim at unarmed civilians as they search for surviving family members in their bombed-out homes, bravely shooting them as they lie wounded and eventually motionless on the ground? These Israeli heroes should surely be commended with the highest possible honors for the unimaginable restraint they display while repeatedly pulling the trigger on their helpless victims. Hell, with fathers forced to collect the various body parts of their dismembered children in plastic shopping bags, the inhabitants of Gaza should be absolutely relieved about — and truly grateful for — the unimaginable restraint Israel has shown so far.

With more than 100,000 Palestinians fleeing from their homes in absolute horror, Gaza still under total aerial, naval and land blockade, and Israel shelling a UN-run refugee shelter inside a school — killing 15 women and children who had fled there expecting it to be the last safe place in Gaza — there can be absolutely no doubt about it: Foreign Minister Lieberman was completely right when he praised the IDF as “the most humane and bravest army in the world.” After all, what other army uses tanks to wipe out 5-month-old babies, gunboats to exterminate boys playing football on the beach, or remote-controlled drones to target women and children from the skies overhead? So humane. So brave.

Of course, if this is not enough of a reason to award the IDF next year’s Nobel Peace Prize, then killing members of the press surely should be! One can’t imagine the Norwegian Nobel Committee not being swayed by the two well-placed bullets that pierced through Al Jazeera’s 10th-floor Gaza bureau, just a day after Foreign Minister Lieberman called for the station to be banned for airing ground-level reports on the unimaginable consequences of Israel’s unimaginable restraint on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

The Israeli political establishment, too, has been showing unimaginable restraint in the face of Palestinian provocation, which has so far claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians — repeat: three Israeli civilians — one of whom died from a heart attack. Knesset member Ayelet Shaked displayed unimaginable restraint when she called for the death of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes,” while Deputy Speaker Moshe Feiglin showed unimaginable restraint as he urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to cut off electricity to Gaza’s dialysis patients and when he called for the outright occupation and annexation of the Gaza Strip and the expulsion of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Luckily, the government’s international charm offensive has been bearing fruit, and Israeli society appears to have taken a cue from the unimaginable restraint displayed by its troops and leaders. When 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped, thrown into the back of a car, dragged into a forest, repeatedly beaten and kicked in the head, forced to drink petroleum and eventually burnt to death, Israeli citizens displayed a similar restraint as their soldiers and politicians — just as they did when they ran through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv shouting “Death to Arabs!” and looking for random Arab-Israeli citizens to lynch or murder. No, Israel never lost its nerve.

Those who gather on top of the hill near Sderot each night in their camping chairs, clapping and cheering every time an explosion rocks another Gaza apartment block, should not be forgotten — they, too, are showing unimaginable restraint by applauding the deaths of innocent civilians. Brave and humane like the true patriots who just beat up the pro-peace demonstrators in Tel Aviv and Haifa: did they not also display great restraint in settling their political differences in such democratic fashion? They must have learned something from Deputy Speaker Feiglin, who earlier kicked out three Arab representatives from the Knesset for daring to question the unimaginable restraint of the IDF.

How dare they criticize Israel’s heroes! Has the Jewish State not displayed enough restraint already? What about the police, did they not show unimaginable restraint when they savagely beat up Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s 15-year-old cousin Tariq, a US citizen on a family visit in Jerusalem, just as they stand accused by the UN of torturing Palestinian children in prison and using them as human shields? Arresting scores of Arab pro-peace activists, as well as dozens of minors, for participating in (or simply standing too close to) anti-war and anti-brutality protests must surely qualify as unimaginable restraint as well.

Or what about the wise religious leaders who have been so exemplary in their restraint? Like the Secretary General of the World Youth Movement, Rabbi Bnei Akiva, who called upon Netanyahu to turn the IDF into an “army of avengers which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins”? Or Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron, who just posted a Halakhic ruling stating that it is totally acceptable for Israelis to punish the civilian population of Gaza in any way possible, including “bomb[ing] the whole area … to exterminate the enemy,” giving the Minister of Defense explicit permission “to instruct even the destruction of Gaza.” A final solution to the Arab question? Israel always upheld its values.

The academic community has similarly played an exemplary role throughout the conflict. Just a few days ago, Dr Mordechai Kedar, a reputed Israeli expert of Arab literature and Palestinian culture, offered some basic insights — clearly obtained from a long and distinguished career of serious academic research — on how to show restraint in the face of Islamic terror: “The only thing that can deter terrorists,” the Professor stated on an Israeli radio program, “is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” Advocating rape as a weapon of war — if that does not win Israel a Nobel Peace Prize, then what will?

Now, with its bloodthirsty fanaticism on full display for all the world to see, any reasonable and well-informed observer should be left scratching their heads: if this is what “unimaginable restraint” looks like for Israeli officials, what kind of horrific atrocities would they be capable of unleashing if they decided to go “all the way”? The thought alone should make us shudder. The US and Europe urgently need to stop the monster they created — before it is too late.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

From the Food Babe to Dr. Oz, these four are the media’s biggest fear-mongers and snake-oil peddlers.



4 of the Biggest Quacks Plaguing America with False Claims About Science

Photo Credit: indiamos/Flickr

It may be easy to draw a caricature of a “quack” as a cross between the ShamWow pitchman and an alchemist, but they’re really not so easy to spot. Modern-day quacks often cherry-pick science and use what suits them as semantic backdrop to fool unsuspecting consumers. Quacks may dazzle people with fanciful research studies or scare them with intimidating warnings before trying to peddle products that make unreasonable promises. And those who use these alternative, unproven products may forego treatments that would be more likely to help them.

In short, quackery is dangerous. It promotes fear, devalues legitimate science and can destroy lives. Here are the four biggest quacks giving dubious health advice in the media and some samples of their detrimental advice.

1. Dr. (of Osteopathy) Joseph Mercola. Mercola is not a strict medical doctor, but an osteopath who practiced in suburban Chicago (according to Chicago magazine, he gave up his practice in 2006 to focus on Internet marketing). Mercola has also written several books on health that have become bestsellers.

Mercola operates one of the Internet’s largest and most trafficked health and consumer information sites. With an estimated 15.5 million unique monthly visitors, Merola.com dwarfs even ConsumerReports.org and HealthCentral.com. The site vigorously promotes and sells dietary supplements, many of which bear Dr. Mercola’s name.

A typical article on Mercola’s site touts the wonders of yet another miracle cure or supplement. Some recent articles include “13 Amazing Health Benefits of Himalayan Crystal Salt” and “Your Flu Shot Contains a Dangerous Neurotoxin.” His site has also touted Vitamin D as “The Silver Bullet for Cancer.”

Many of Mercola’s musings clash — sometimes bitterly — with conventional medical wisdom. Mercola advises against immunization, water fluoridation, mammography, and the routine administration of vitamin K shots for newborns.

The medical community says Mercola is dangerous, and that he steers patients away from proven medical treatments in favor of unproven therapies and supplements.

“The information he’s putting out to the public is extremely misleading and potentially very dangerous,” says Dr. Stephen Barrett, who runs the medical watchdog site Quackwatch.org. “He exaggerates the risks and potential dangers of legitimate science-based medical care, and he promotes a lot of unsubstantiated ideas and sells [certain] products with claims that are misleading.”

Mercola has been the subject of a number of Food and Drug Administration warning letters about his activities, including marketing products as providing “exceptional countermeasures” against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses. He also has marketed coconut oil to treat heart disease, Crohn’s disease, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Mercola.com also sold an infrared camera to be used as a cancer screening tool.

Some of Dr. Mercola’s wildest claims include:

  • HIV may not be the cause of AIDS. Mercola believes that the manifestations of AIDS (including opportunistic infections and death) could result from “psychological stress” brought on by the belief that HIV is harmful. Mercola.com has also featured positive presentations of the claims of AIDS truthers who deny the existence of AIDS or the role HIV has in the disease.

  • Mercola has said that microwave ovens emit dangerous radiation and that microwaving food alters its chemistry.

  • Commercial sunscreens increase the likelihood of skin cancer, instead of protecting from it. Of course, he sells his own natural sunscreens on his website.

2. The “Health Ranger,” Mike Adams. Adams runs a website called Natural News that is dedicated to supporting alternative medicine techniques and various conspiracy theories about chemtrails, the link between vaccinations and autism, and the dangers of fluoridated drinking water. Dr. Mercola is a frequent guest blogger on his site.

Natural News, which gets an estimated 7 million unique visitors a month, primarily promotes alternative medicine, raw foods, and holistic nutrition. Adams claims he began the site after curing himself of Type II diabetes by using natural remedies.

Adams seems to revel in going against the grain. He likes to tell readers on his website that if they just exercise, eat the right foods and take the right supplements (he markets supplements on his site) infectious disease cannot harm them. Like Mercola, he is an AIDS denialist, and claims flu vaccines are totally ineffective.

Dr. David Gorski of the Science-Based Medicine website calls Natural News “a one-stop shop, a repository if you will, of virtually every quackery known to humankind, all slathered with a heaping, helping of unrelenting hostility to science-based medicine and science in general.”

Adams also considers himself a scientific researcher, but some of his claims are dubious. He has even bought himself a mass spectrometer which he uses to test various products for toxicity. He recently used this device to show that a flu vaccine containing thiomersal registered 51 parts per million of mercury. But that’s not the news in his findings: Adams went on to insist that his critics must be brain-damaged (or perhaps brainwashed) by mercury:

The only people who argue with this are those who are already mercury poisoned and thus incapable of rational thought. Mercury damages brain function, you see, which is exactly what causes some people to be tricked into thinking vaccines are safe and effective.

Science-Based Medicine blogger Dr. Steven Novella describes Adams’ site as “a crank alt-med site that promotes every sort of medical nonsense imaginable. If it is unscientific, antiscientific, conspiracy-mongering, or downright silly, Mike Adams appears to be all for it —whatever sells the ‘natural’ products he hawks on his site.”

What makes Adams unique is that he likes to mix far-right vitriol and conspiracy theories with his alternative medicine advice. He has come out as a climate-change denialist, 9/11 Truther, and a Birther.

Here’s some more quackery from Adams and Natural News:

3. The “Food Babe,” Vani Hari. She doesn’t have a degree in nutrition, chemistry or medicine, and her work background is as a management consultant. Yet without any serious credentials, Hari—the “Food Babe”—bills herself as a voice of consumer protection on the Internet. In just a few years, she’s assembled an army of followers who have joined her on her quest to get hard-to-pronounce ingredients banned from foods.

Hari’s acolytes see her as a muckraking reporter, saving us from nefarious chemicals, GMOs and unappetizing ingredients like beaver anus, yoga mat and fish bladder. The public and the media love her; a “food safety” campaign by the Food Babe can get thousands of signatures, countless media mentions and guest appearances on television shows such as Dr. Oz and The Doctors.

But Hari is really more of a fear-mongerer and conspiracy theorist than a safe-food advocate. Her campaigns are born of misinformation and anxiety. Recently, she published a petition on her website demanding that the top beer companies come clean about the ingredients in their beer. Citing a long list of creepy, chemical-sounding ingredients that are allowed in beer, she implied that the industry was flying under the radar and obscuring the additives it puts in its products.​ It turned out that the beer companies were actually using very few of the ingredients on her list, and some were only used in the production process and were not part of the finished product. When we looked further into it, we found that many of the nefarious ingredients and techniques she described were either misrepresented or entirely misunderstood by her.​

However, at Hari’s request, the top two breweries in the U.S. acquiesced and listed their ingredients on their websites, and none of the ingredients would come as a real shock to beer drinkers. Still, Hari continued to insist that GMO corn and other bad ingredients were integral ingredients in beer.

In response to critics who say Hari is not qualified to make hard judgments on food ingredients, Hari says, “I don’t think you need to have those degrees to be intellectually honest, to be able to research, to be able to present ideas.”

Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon who writes for the website Science-Based Medicine takes offense to Hari’s food campaigns:

“Her strategy is very transparent, but unfortunately it’s also very effective,” wrote Gorski. “Name a bunch of chemicals and count on the chemical illiteracy of your audience to result in fear at hearing their very names.”​

Gorski says since companies live and die by public perception, it’s far easier to “give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public.”​

Some of Vani Hari’s more specious ideas about food are:

  • Microwaves kill food and remove its nutrients. Also, microwaves change the chemical properties of water. She persists with this theory although it has been persistently debunked by science.

  • Water, when exposed to the words “Hitler” and “Satan” changes its physical properties.

  • Flu shots contain “a bunch of toxic chemicals and additives that lead to several types of Cancers and Alzheimer [sic] disease over time.” Actually, flu shots are made up mostly of proteins and preservatives that give no indication of being harmful, despite plenty of medical research.

Hari has not provided any scientific evidence to back her claims as of yet.

4. Dr. Mehmet Oz. What do Vani Hari, Dr. Joseph Mercola and Mike Adams have in common? They’re all guest experts appearing on the Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Oz is a media darling and cardiothoracic surgeon who first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. In 2009, Oprah produced Oz’s namesake show focusing on medical issues and personal health.

But before we label Oz a quack, it’s only fair that we also should note he’s a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University, directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, has authored more than 400 medical research papers and holds several patents.

But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you probably know Dr. Oz has been exposed as a daytime-television snake oil peddler, while being shamed during testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee last month.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, took Oz to task over false claims he’s made for over-the-counter weight loss cures. For example, Oz proclaims that worthless supplements such as green coffee beans have “miracle” properties.

The Missouri senator made it clear that she thinks Oz abuses his great influence. Products he endorses on his show are almost guaranteed to fly off the shelves.

“People want to believe they can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of their body,” McCaskill chided the celebrity doctor. “I know you know how much power you have.”

Oz acknowledged to the subcommittee that while there’s no such thing as a “miracle” supplement, and many he touts wouldn’t pass scientific muster, he insisted he was comfortable recommending them to his fans.

“My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” Oz says. ”And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look and I do look everywhere, including alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

As McCaskill then pointed out, Oz was giving people false hope. Isn’t that what quacks do?

Oz often uses his show as a soapbox for the likes of Hari, Mercola and Adams. And when they’re guests on his show, they’re handled with kid gloves. Oz even describes Adams as an “activist researcher,” a “whistleblower” and a “food safety activist.” Viewers then open their wallets to Adams, who is there to promote his website. A similar scenario plays out when Mercola, a frequent guest, joins Oz. Hari, for her part, does not market miracle products on her site. She does, however, seem to make money from affiliate advertising.

Oz’s great sin is that he uses his show to promote all types of modern shamanism. Critics find it mystifying that he, a medical doctor, would host and promote people on his show who are anathema to science. It’s Oz’s instant access to millions and his medical degrees and peer-reviewed research papers that have given him credibility, but critics say he loses all of it when he promotes guests who explicitly reject the tenets of reason. So, can Oz still be considered a serious scientist?

Unlike the other three quacks mentioned in this article, Oz is more a ringmaster than a snake-oil salesman. However, he’s not without his list of dubious stances:

  • In November 2012, Dr. Oz invited Julie Hamilton, a representative of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, who claimed that she could heal homosexuality with gay reparative therapy. Although the show did include guests who condemned reparative therapy, Dr. Oz never weighed in on the subject, and the audience was led to believe that there were valid arguments on both sides of this issue.

  • His proclamation on Oprah that resveratrol is an effective anti-aging supplement sparked a resveratrol marketing craze. Numerous fly-by-night online peddlers used his name and likeness (along with the likenesses of age-defying actresses Jennifer Aniston and Marisa Tomei) to peddle the so-called miracle supplement. But it’s anyone’s guess what was in those pills.

  • Oz has invited a medium on his show who told selected audience members that she was communicating with their lost loved ones.

  • Oz once invited a faith healer, Issam Nemeh, to “heal” sick audience members on his show. On his website, Oz bragged about the “Oz Effect”: “Dr. Nemeh has received an overwhelming response from the viewers of the Dr. Oz show. Medical office appointments with Dr. Nemeh are already filled for the next four months.”

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on Facebook.

 

 

A Silicon Valley scheme to “disrupt” America’s education system would hurt the people who need it the most

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them
(Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Pgiam via iStock/Salon)

How does Silicon Valley feel about college? Here’s a taste: Seven words in a tweet provoked by a conversation about education started by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreeseen.

Arrogance? Check. Supreme confidence? Check. Oblivious to the value actually provided by a college education? Check.

The $400 billion a year that Americans pay for education after high school is being wasted on an archaic brick-and-mortar irrelevance. We can do better! 

But how? The question becomes more pertinent every day — and it’s one that Silicon Valley would dearly like to answer.

The robots are coming for our jobs, relentlessly working their way up the value chain. Anything that can be automated will be automated. The obvious — and perhaps the only — answer to this threat is a vastly improved educational system. We’ve got to leverage our human intelligence to stay ahead of robotic A.I.! And right now, everyone agrees, the system is not meeting the challenge. The cost of a traditional four-year college education has far outpaced inflation. Student loan debt is a national tragedy. Actually achieving a college degree still bequeaths better job prospects than the alternative, but for many students, the cost-benefit ratio is completely out of whack.

No problem, says the tech industry. Like a snake eating its own tail, Silicon Valley has the perfect solution for the social inequities caused by technologically induced “disruption.” More disruption!

Universities are a hopelessly obsolete way to go about getting an education when we’ve got the Internet, the argument goes. Just as Airbnb is disemboweling the hotel industry and Uber is annihilating the taxi industry, companies such as Coursera and Udacity will leverage technology and access to venture capital in order to crush the incumbent education industry, supposedly offering high-quality educational opportunities for a fraction of the cost of a four-year college.



There is an elegant logic to this argument. We’ll use the Internet to stay ahead of the Internet. Awesome tools are at our disposal. In MOOCs — “Massive Open Online Courses” — hundreds of thousands of students will imbibe the wisdom of Ivy League “superprofessors” via pre-recorded lectures piped down to your smartphone. No need even for overworked graduate student teaching assistants. Intelligent software will take care of the grading. (That’s right — we’ll use robots to meet the robot threat!) The market, in other words, will provide the solution to the problem that the market has caused. It’s a wonderful libertarian dream.

But there’s a flaw in the logic. Early returns on MOOCs have confirmed what just about any teacher could have told you before Silicon Valley started believing it could “fix” education. Real human interaction and engagement are hugely important to delivering a quality education. Most crucially, hands-on interaction with teachers is vital for the students who are in most desperate need for an education — those with the least financial resources and the most challenging backgrounds.

Of course, it costs money to provide greater human interaction. You need bodies — ideally, bodies with some mastery of the subject material. But when you raise costs, you destroy the primary attraction of Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” model. The big tech success stories are all about avoiding the costs faced by the incumbents. Airbnb owns no hotels. Uber owns no taxis. The selling point of Coursera and Udacity is that they need own no universities.

But education is different than running a hotel. There’s a reason why governments have historically considered providing education a public good. When you start throwing bodies into the fray to teach people who can’t afford a traditional private education you end up disastrously chipping away at the profits that the venture capitalists backing Coursera and Udacity demand.

And that’s a tail that the snake can’t swallow.

* * *

The New York Times famously dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” Coursera and Udacity (both started by Stanford professors) and an MIT-Harvard collaboration called EdX exploded into the popular imagination. But the hype ebbed almost as quickly as it had flowed. In 2013, after a disastrous pilot experiment in which Udacity and San Jose State collaborated to deliver three courses, MOOCs were promptly declared dead — with the harshest schadenfreude coming from academics who saw the rush to MOOCs as an educational travesty.

At the end of 2013, the New York Times had changed its tune: “After Setbacks, Online Courses are Rethought.”

But MOOC supporters have never wavered. In May, Clayton Christensen, the high priest of “disruption” theory, scoffed at the unbelievers: ”[T]heir potential to disrupt — on price, technology, even pedagogy — in a long-stagnant industry,” wrote Christensen, ” is only just beginning to be seen.”

At the end of June, the Economist followed suit with a package of stories touting the inevitable “creative destruction” threatened by MOOCs: “[A] revolution has begun thanks to three forces: rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology. The result will be the reinvention of the university …” It’s 2012 all over again!

Sure, there have been speed bumps along the way. But as Christensen explained, the same is true for any would-be disruptive start-up. Failures are bound to happen. What makes Silicon Valley so special is its ability to learn from mistakes, tweak its biz model and try something new. It’s called “iteration.”

There is, of course, great merit to the iterative process. And it would be foolish to claim that new technology won’t have an impact on the educational process. If there’s one thing that the Internet and smartphones are insanely good at, it is providing access to information. A teenager with a phone in Uganda has opportunities for learning that most of the world never had through the entire course of human history. That’s great.

But there’s a crucial difference between “access to information” and “education” that explains why the university isn’t about to become obsolete, and why we can’t depend — as Marc Andreessen tells us — on the magic elixir of innovation plus the free market to solve our education quandary.

Nothing better illustrates this point than a closer look at the Udacity-San Jose State collaboration.

* * *

When Gov. Jerry Brown announced the collaboration between Udacity, founded by the Stanford computer science Sebastian Thrun and San Jose State, a publicly funded university in the heart of Silicon Valley, in January 2013, the match seemed perfect. Where else would you want to test out the future of education? The plan was to focus on three courses: elementary statistics, remedial math and college algebra. The target student demographic was notoriously ill-served by the university system: “Students were drawn from a lower-income high school and the underperforming ranks of SJSU’s student body,” reported Fast Company.

The results of the pilot, conducted in the spring of 2013, were a disaster, reported Fast Company:

Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25 percent passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging. A student taking college algebra in person was 52 percent more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain.

A second attempt during the summer achieved better results, but with a much less disadvantaged student body; and, even more crucially, with considerably greater resources put into human interaction and oversight. For example, San Jose State reported that the summer courses were improved by “checking in with students more often.”

But the prime takeaway was stark. Inside Higher Education reported that a research report conducted by San Jose State on the experiment concluded that “it may be difficult for the university to deliver online education in this format to the students who need it most.”

In an iterative world, San Jose State and Udacity would have learned from their mistakes. The next version of their collaboration would have incorporated the increased human resources necessary to make it work, to be sure that students didn’t fall through the cracks. But the lesson that Udacity learned from the collaboration turned out be something different: There isn’t going to be much profit to be made attempting to apply the principles of MOOCs to students from a disadvantaged background.

Thrun set off a firestorm of commentary when he told Fast Company’s Max Chafkin this:

“These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit….”

“I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial… But the data was at odds with this idea.”

Henceforth, Udacity would “pivot” to focusing on vocational training funded by direct corporate support.

Thrun later claimed that his comments were misinterpreted by Fast Company. And in his May Op-Ed Christensen argued that Udacity’s pivot was a boon!

Udacity, for its part, should be applauded for not burning through all of its money in pursuit of the wrong strategy. The company realized — and publicly acknowledged — that its future lay on a different path than it had originally anticipated. Indeed, Udacity’s pivot may have even prevented a MOOC bubble from bursting.

Educating the disadvantaged via MOOCs is the wrong strategy? That’s not a pivot — it’s an abject surrender.

The Economist, meanwhile, brushed off the San Jose State episode by noting that “online learning has its pitfalls.” But the Economist also published a revealing observation: “In some ways MOOCs will reinforce inequality … among students (the talented will be much more comfortable than the weaker outside the structured university environment) …”

But isn’t that exactly the the problem? No one can deny that the access to information facilitated by the Internet is a fantastic thing for talented students — and particularly so for those with secure economic backgrounds and fast Internet connections. But such people are most likely to succeed in a world full of smart robots anyway. The challenge posed by technological transformation and disruption is that the jobs that are being automated away first are the ones that are most suited to the less talented or advantaged. In other words, the population that MOOCs are least suited to serving is the population that technology is putting in the most vulnerable position.

Innovation and the free market aren’t going to fix this problem, for the very simple reason that there is no money in it. There’s no profit to be mined in educating people who not only can’t pay for an education, but also require greater human resources to be educated.

This is why we have public education in the first place.

“College is a public good,” says Jonathan Rees, a professor at Colorado State University who has been critical of MOOCs. “It’s what industrialized democratic society should be providing for students.”

Andrew Leonard Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

Former State Department employee reveals spying on Americans by executive order

http://usofarn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/nsa-prism1.jpg

By Ed Hightower
25 July 2014

In the latest revelation of unconstitutional spying on US citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA), former State Department employee John Napier Tye has given his account of ongoing violations of privacy under cover of a legal fig leaf known as Executive Order 12333.

Last week the Washington Post published Tye’s lengthy criticism of the Obama administration under the title “Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans.” The editorial underscores both the immense scope of illegal spying by an unaccountable military-intelligence apparatus and the sham character of the official “reform.”

President Ronald Reagan enacted Executive Order 12333 in 1981. The order was aimed at providing a lax legal standard for the collection of communication content —not just metadata such as call logs—of US citizens, as long as the communication was not obtained within the United States.

While 12333 was legally dubious even in 1981, it was not until the widespread transfer of data over the internet that it could be exploited for the mass collection of communications. Enormous amounts of data and communications generated by Americans in the form of emails, for example, are now routinely routed to servers all over the world, bringing the data within the now much broader reach of 12333.

Tye’s editorial calls attention to 12333, saying that the order is now used to justify possibly more illegal surveillance than Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which sanctions bulk collection of telecommunications records. While Section 215 has garnered more public attention, Tye argues that it “is a small part of the picture and does not include the universe of collection and storage of communications by US persons authorized under Executive Order 12333.”

Referring to “classified facts that I am prohibited by law from publishing,” Tye writes, “I believe that Americans should be even more concerned about the collection and storage of their communications under Executive Order 12333 than under Section 215 [of the Patriot Act].”

Because it is an executive order as opposed to a statute, 12333 is subject to virtually zero oversight. The attorney general, who is part of the executive branch and serves at the pleasure of the president, determines what restraints, if any, apply. Currently, intelligence agencies are permitted to keep data obtained pursuant to 12333 for up to five years.

Nor does 12333 typically require a warrant. Tye explains that the NSA keeps data obtained through 12333 even if it is not directly related to a surveillance target who was subject to a warrant. This so-called “incidental” collection represents the exception that swallows the rule.

As Tye describes it, incidental collection is “a legal loophole that can be stretched very wide. Remember that the NSA is building a data center in Utah five times the size of the U.S. Capitol building, with its own power plant that will reportedly burn $40 million a year in electricity. ‘Incidental collection’ might need its own power plant.”

Tye worked for the State Department from 2011 until this past April. He currently serves as legal director for the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz. His Post article was reviewed and cleared by the State Department and NSA prior to publication. Before he left his State Department job, Tye filed a complaint about 12333-related spying with the department’s inspector general, and he eventually brought this complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as to the inspector general of the NSA.

While Tye did not leak any documents or data to the press, it is clear that what he saw and heard at the State Department deeply troubled him.

He begins his Washington Post piece with this disturbing anecdote:

“In March I received a call from the White House counsel’s office regarding a speech I had prepared for my boss at the State Department… The draft stated that ‘if U.S. citizens disagree with congressional and executive branch determinations about the proper scope of signals intelligence activities, they have the opportunity to change the policy through our democratic process.’”

“But the White House counsel’s office told me that no, that wasn’t true. I was instructed to amend the line, making a general reference to ‘our laws and policies,’ rather than our intelligence practices. I did.”

In other words, Tye was directed to remove from his speech something that might give the misleading impression that the US population has any meaningful oversight where the military-intelligence apparatus is concerned.

In his op-ed comment, Tye also points out the Obama administration’s “reforms” are bogus. Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies recommended that data obtained by incidental collection should be purged. Tye writes that an unclassified document he saw while working with the State Department made the White House’s position clear: there were no plans to change the practices around Executive Order 12333.

The Israeli Pogrom of Gaza

 

 

Political Bestiality

 

 

by NORMAN POLLACK

 

Let’s start with terms: “bestiality,” bestial is marked by base or inhuman instincts or desires, brutal, to which bestiality adds, display or gratification of bestial traits or impulses; “pogrom,” an organized massacre of helpless people, specifically [and ironically], such a massacre of Jewish people. (Webster’s) Singly, and in combination, I believe we have an accurate description of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the irony of course being that we see a replay of the barbarous treatment of the Jews practiced throughout history now instead being carried forward by Jews themselves in, yes, a massacre, as brutal as in Czarist times, of Gazans.

Before proceeding further, let’s throw in another phrase, emanating from Israeli and multiple Jewish sources, the charge, to be applied to fellow Jews for any criticism whatsoever of Israel, which makes one a “self-hating” Jew. I frankly don’t know whether to accept the designation (sans quotation marks), in which case I would be expressing my abhorrence to the war crimes committed by Israel, by convention, in world Jewry, THE representative of the Jewish people and religion, leading therefore to feelings of shame, alienation, and betrayal, that my religion, ancestral heritage, upbringing, could so distort the meaning of Judaism as I’ve known and loved it, necessitating, through the dictates of conscience (itself formerly a Jewish trait shared with world secular and religious thought), that I formally leave the Jewish faith until it purges itself of urges toward domination and, also yes, sadism. Or else, retain the quotation marks around “self-hating” Jew and come out fighting, throwing the vile epithet back in the face of those who use it to silence dissent and prevent exposure,, within the Jewish community, to recognition of what is being done in its name and to solidify its identity and devotion.

Obviously, I choose the latter, stating outright that Israel and world (especially American) Jewry blindly supporting it have contributed to the falsification, denigration, debasement of Judaism, a treacherous act of negation even Nazism with its gas chambers and concentration camps could not do, i.e., destroy the Jewish love of freedom and cosmopolitan outreach to all peoples in search of a humane, equitable social order. In fact, the phrase “self-hating” Jew is disguise, cover, defense mechanism, to hide what has become the tragic phenomenon resulting from the Holocaust. Rather than experience a burst of emancipation from that darkest of dark experiences, Jews have internalized it, introjected the behavior and values of their captors, murderers, assailants, replicating through application to others the crimes committed on themselves (ourselves, to bring it home). “Self-hating” Jew is in fact a reactive formation, possibly even a projection of what through intervening levels of the unconscious is the realization by the Jewish people of the true state of their current mindset and experience. I am speaking, then, of Jewish self-hatred, which is self-hating Jew stripped of the quotation marks, SELF-HATRED because the denial of all that made Judaism worthwhile as both a secular and religious experience in modern times—secular and religious being an almost empty distinction when one notes the unified Jewish response on behalf of the welfare of others, in America, blacks, the poor, radicals, militant labor, dissidents of every description—all washed away in the last half-century, first, gradually, then by the 1980s a growing tumult of, now the introversion of McCarthyism, of Reaction, an anticommunism of the spirit having nothing to do with communism but as code for opposition to antiwar, civil rights, whatever rocks-the-boat movements, most vociferously applied to the defense of Israel and the actions and tenets of US foreign policy.

Jewish self-hatred, out of unconscious recognition (not an oxymoron) that Judaism stands for power, force, militarism, occupation, conquest, the inferiority of blacks, Arabs, Muslims, a hodgepodge of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, deep-lying fears of real and imagined rejection, the element of self-hatred becoming prominent because in former times the opposite was true, Jewish identity having been the haven for intellectual freedom, forthright opposition to repression, gentle in its respect for tolerance and concern for the weak. Einstein would not bomb Gaza hospitals. The Rosenbergs would not, like Obama, flirt with nuclear annihilation. Schwerner and Goodman, with their comrade Chaney, would not murder small children, whether a Vietnam hamlet or in Shejaiya. But let’s get beyond the past. Shejaiya (I here and later anglicize it for Shujai’iya because of my earlier usage) provides sufficient indictment of the bestiality of the Israeli aggression.

***

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the invasion, the tone getting more militant as the brutality of the mission (to terrorize the Palestinian people and inflict as much damage and destruction as possible) widens and intensifies. 500 dead. Now 600 and more. The appetite of the beast is not sated. Israelis reveal a streak of uninhibited lust for blood seldom seen so publicly displayed, and not just in official circles. Consider two examples, reported in the Guardian. The first, perhaps not even Nazis could duplicate; rather than Eichmann-like bureaucratic methodical dealing in death, Israelis celebrating in a festive mood the death rained down on Gaza through airstrikes—more like a college fraternity drunken party than anything. I refer to Harriet Sherwood’s article, “Israelis gather on hillsides to watch and cheer as military drops bombs on Gaza,” (July 20), with the subheading, “People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive.”

We read, “As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.” Sherwood continues: “Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze. Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks.” No “self-hating” Jews here, but should the despicable callousness ever break through, enough raw psychic material for Jewish self-hatred—the trouble being, breaking through appears near-impossible, how far gone, fortified behind towering psychological walls, these people are, as though even Jewish self-hatred, predicated on a modicum of awareness, is a step above and beyond the reach of who and what they are.

Her account, in Siderot, only gets worse, gruesome to the point of nausea (mine). “On Saturday [the 19th],” she writes, “a group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Gazans know this, see the hatred at the check points and blockade even in “normal” times, the display of force everywhere, the sophisticated gadgetry of a supposedly superior society, the human depravity of “selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Siderot: “A house with a war view may even command a premium price these days.” “Anticipatory excitement grows as dusk falls,” because there will be more rockets after breaking the Ramadan fast, “and the Israeli military will respond with force.” Again, “The thud of shellfire, flash of an explosion and pall of smoke are greeted with exclamations of approval. ‘What a beauty,’ says one appreciative spectators.”

One wonders if Gazans are taking selfies against a background of dead children, rubble, further rubble? I have to say, no wonder the tunnels and rockets, a desperate attempt at self-respect (the opposite psychological dynamics of the Israelis’ self-hatred, mocking human life because unable to affirm it—or rather, confusing affirmation with a hedonistic, exhibitionist lifestyle, empty of regard for others but the self, driven to deface and exterminate those who are a reminder of what true affirmation is like), if not indeed survival. How hold the Occupation as a constant, and blame those suffering under it for rockets? Perhaps the Occupation is the unstated basis for Jewish self-hatred. One last reference to Sherwood’s article—a bit of touchiness on the Israelis’ part about their obvious inhumanity: “Given the dramatic views, media news are coming to the area to cover the fighting. On a nearby hilltop, an ugly scene develops as a group of Israeli men threaten a photographer, accusing him of being a ‘leftist’. We are warned against asking for interviews, as another cheer goes up.” To Israelis, and now world Jewry, to question a broad range of policy, in America and Israel alike, is to be a “leftist,” a term equated with the phrase “self-hating”.

The second Guardian article, also by Sherwood, “Israel uses flechette shells in Gaza,” (July 20), for me, an unknown, but not unexpected, development, given the seeding of antipersonnel devices earlier in Lebanon, bears the grisly, rightly so, subheading, “Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts.” They’re illustrated in the piece. (This may help to explain the images seen of small children whose faces have been scarred by shrapnel.) She begins: “The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operations in Gaza,” as in the case of those “fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis [of which we’ll hear more recently in the commission of Israeli atrocities], on 17 July…. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict.” Its explanation was classic—hiding behind law written by the conquerors: “As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict.” And with the laws of human moral conscience, in light of their promiscuous (i.e., unrestricted, indiscriminate) use, scope, and lethality?

Flechette shells should be thought per se evil. Probably US use of napalm in Vietnam was cribbed from and justified by the same contrived explanation or cheat sheet. B’Tselem describes the shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5 mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide.” (I can hear the cheering from the hillsides—just the knowledge of and celebration of its release, even when the tanks are out of sight.) B’Tselem also notes that whatever its status, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.” Even B’Tselem waffles by not declaring for outright prohibition, on the ground that “avoid[ing] to the extent possible” plays into the hands of any despot, like Netanyahu, who stands up and cynically proclaims his sorrow at civilian casualties, even a single one. Flechettes accounted for Palestinian deaths in Gaza earlier, and “also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

***

Finally from the Guardian, and moving forward in the Israeli onslaught, we have Sherwood, along with Peter Beaumont and Ian Black’s article, “More than 20 members of one family killed in Gaza strike,” (July 21), the subtitle of which graphically gives the lie to the Netanyahu-Obama sales pitch on the desire for moderation: “’We don’t want to see any more civilians killed,’ says Barack Obama as IDF attacks intensive care unit in day of bloodshed.” Roll out the propaganda machinery of damage control as what should be regarded as the sacredness of hospitals in the bombing or shelling of targets is ignored and disregarded, on the ground that they are storage depots for weapons (Israel’s lame excuse) or the destruction construed as part of an absolute right of self-defense (which Obama, not deploring these acts, uses to exonerate Israel of all war crimes). The first sentence says it all: “A hospital was shelled, killing and injuring staff and patients, and up to 28 members of one family died in an airstrike as Gaza endured another day of relentless bloodshed on Monday [the 21st].”

The international uproar over Shejaiya (I discussed the mass killings there in a previous article) required the flurry of Obama statements and Kerry’s diplomatic activities, the uproar itself however going largely unreported in the American media. The lead photo for the article, mother, child in her arms, older man, crouched on the floor, the caption, “Palestinian patients in the hospital after the building was shelled by the IDF,” is the ideal backdrop for Kerry’s amoral cynicism. Authorized by Obama to do “’everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities,’” Kerry now in Egypt blames Hamas for the violence and states that Israel, presumably including the hospital shelling, is making “an ‘appropriate and legitimate effort’ to defend itself but the consequences were of deep concern.” How deep the concern, this official Washington talking out of both sides of its mouth?

We learn further, “In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital became the third to be struck in the 14-day conflict when three shells slammed into the intensive care unit, surgical and administrative areas. Five people were killed and 70 wounded, including about 30 medics…. Ambulances tried to evacuate patients but were forced to turn back by continued shelling. Israel has claimed that Hamas hides weapons in hospitals.” Therefore, blow them up? More still: “Further south, in Khan Younis, an extended family was wiped out in an air strike on a house. The number of dead was put at between 24 and 28. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said “another 10 people were killed in a single air strike in Rafah, including four young children and a baby.” And Save the Children estimates “that on average, seven had been killed every day during the conflict,” one of its spokesperson’s also reminding us, “’For many children, this is the third war in six years that they are going through.’” A second photo taken at a morgue is captioned, “Palestinians pray over the bodies of 17 members of the Abu Jamea family, killed by an air strike.”

Sherwood, et. al., in an article, “Israel hits hundreds of targets in Gaza as soldier is confirmed missing,” (July 22), point out that one hundred alone focused on Shejaiya, “the scene of the most intense fighting of the conflict.” In the larger picture, according to B’Tselem, the description worthy of an indictment of Israeli leadership, civil, political, military, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague: “Horrific developments in Gaza have reached intolerable heights; Israel is bombing houses with people in them, entire families have been buried under rubble, and streets lie in ruins. Hundreds have been killed so far, dozens in the last 24 hours only, many of them women and children. The number of refugees is rising: tens of thousands of people have nowhere to go and no safe haven.” 1939? No, July 22, 2014. Nor in any particular exaggerated. We have the reports, the photographs, the children’s deaths, the rubble—and the slickness of the Israeli reply.

***

Anne Barnard, in her New York Times article, “Questions About Tactics and Targets as Civilian Toll Climbs in Israeli Strikes,” (July 21), enables us to fill in important details, first, about what happened in Khan Younis: “The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses. It came to rest along with a twisted laundry rack still laden on Monday with singed clothes and a child’s slipper.” This, in a densely populated urban area; carnage is the only word that will do: “When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households—including 19 children—gathered to break the Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.”

Enough reason for the slaughter, or do we now see McCarthyism’s guilt-by-association principle raised to near-infinity, itself testimony to a mindset verging on a totalistic concept and practice of repression. “The attack,” Barnard writes, “was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroys Hamas’s tunnel network.” The explanation is self-serving and hardly connects with, except as a terror-tactic, the civilian killings on a massive scale. Barnard appears to realize this perfectly well, whatever The Times’s editorial policy: “The Palestinian deaths—75 percent of them civilians, according to a United Nations count—have prompted a wave of international outrage, and are raising questions about Israel’s stated dedication to protecting civilians.”

Israel’s reply: All Hamas’s fault, “saying they have chosen to keep operating among civilians,” while the now familiar spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said “he had not been able to confirm the circumstances of the attack here or who the target might have been.” Par-for-the-course stonewalling, nor would he “address questions about whether the target would have been considered worth so many additional deaths.” That is of course the question Israelis would not reply to; whatever the status of past surgical strikes (were they such? were they even then justified?), now, she continues, “there have been numerous instances of family homes being struck with residents inside.” Out of the mouths of babes, or even Times reporters, comes wisdom: “More and more Palestinians are accusing Israel of trying to inflict maximum suffering to demoralize Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas.” The tone of her writing seems to credit the observation.

How could it be otherwise, the facts now on the table, the war crimes not simply evident but becoming self-evident? More description of carnage, and then a fact which suggests ghoulishness beyond war crimes, to wit, encourage Gazans to seek safety in an area, then BOMB it: “On Monday night [the 21st], a strike hit an eight-story apartment building in downtown Gaza City—an area where Israeli officials had urged Gazans to take shelter. The building collapsed as rescue crews were inside, killing more people. The death toll, at least 13, was still being tallied.

Here one credits the Israelis for their frankness, as that of one senior military official who said that not all civilian casualties “come from strikes going astray; some take place when civilians are in places the military aims to hit.” What he meant was not terrorization as such, but a contrived picture of Hamas “holding people inside the apartments while shooting from there,” which comes down to the same thing (a license to kill). Barnard sees through this: “That did not appear to be the situation at the Abu Jameh home, where survivors said, the family was gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast, a ceremonial meal, a time when Israeli military officials would have known that people were likely to be home.” All of the dead were from that family, except for one Hamas member “who was visiting a member of the family.” Enough, no more for now. The picture is clear: “Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike.”

“Self-hating” Jew, no, Jewish self-hatred, for the acts committed in the name of Judaism, and for the negation of the acts which had once distinguished Judaism as the vehicle and spirit of world humanism, peace, social justice, racial harmony, and individual self-creation and self-development, all the fruition of the struggle for freedom.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

 

 

The terrifying uncertainty of our high-tech future

Our new robot overlords:

Are computers taking our jobs?

Our new robot overlords: The terrifying uncertainty of our high-tech future
(Credit: Ociacia, MaraZe via Shutterstock/Salon)
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American Last fall economist Carl Benedikt Frey and information engineer Michael A. Osborne, both at the University of Oxford, published a study estimating the probability that 702 occupations would soon be computerized out of existence. Their findings were startling. Advances in data mining, machine vision, artificial intelligence and other technologies could, they argued, put 47 percent of American jobs at high risk of being automated in the years ahead. Loan officers, tax preparers, cashiers, locomotive engineers, paralegals, roofers, taxi drivers and even animal breeders are all in danger of going the way of the switchboard operator.

Whether or not you buy Frey and Osborne’s analysis, it is undeniable that something strange is happening in the U.S. labor market. Since the end of the Great Recession, job creation has not kept up with population growth. Corporate profits have doubled since 2000, yet median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped from $55,986 to $51,017. At the same time, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product increased from around 5 to 11 percent, while compensation of employees as a share of GDP dropped from around 47 to 43 percent. Somehow businesses are making more profit with fewer workers.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both business researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, call this divergence the “great decoupling.” In their view, presented in their recent book “The Second Machine Age,” it is a historic shift.

The conventional economic wisdom has long been that as long as productivity is increasing, all is well. Technological innovations foster higher productivity, which leads to higher incomes and greater well-being for all. And for most of the 20th century productivity and incomes did rise in parallel. But in recent decades the two began to diverge. Productivity kept increasing while incomes—which is to say, the welfare of individual workers—stagnated or dropped.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that technological advances are destroying jobs, particularly low-skill jobs, faster than they are creating them. They cite research showing that so-called routine jobs (bank teller, machine operator, dressmaker) began to fade in the 1980s, when computers first made their presence known, but that the rate has accelerated: between 2001 and 2011, 11 percent of routine jobs disappeared.



Plenty of economists disagree, but it is hard to referee this debate, in part because of a lack of data. Our understanding of the relation between technological advances and employment is limited by outdated metrics. At a roundtable discussion on technology and work convened this year by the European Union, the IRL School at Cornell University and the Conference Board (a business research association), a roomful of economists and financiers repeatedly emphasized how many basic economic variables are measured either poorly or not at all. Is productivity declining? Or are we simply measuring it wrong? Experts differ. What kinds of workers are being sidelined, and why? Could they get new jobs with the right retraining? Again, we do not know.

In 2013 Brynjolfsson told Scientific American that the first step in reckoning with the impact of automation on employment is to diagnose it correctly—“to understand why the economy is changing and why people aren’t doing as well as they used to.” If productivity is no longer a good proxy for a vigorous economy, then we need a new way to measure economic health. In a 2009 report economists Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, Amartya Sen of Harvard University and Jean-Paul Fitoussi of the Paris Institute of Political Studies made a similar case, writing that “the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being.” An IRL School report last year called for statistical agencies to capture more and better data on job market churn—data that could help us learn which job losses stem from automation.

Without such data, we will never properly understand how technology is changing the nature of work in the 21st century—and what, if anything, should be done about it. As one participant in this year’s roundtable put it, “Even if this is just another industrial revolution, people underestimate how wrenching that is. If it is, what are the changes to the rules of labor markets and businesses that should be made this time? We made a lot last time. What is the elimination of child labor this time? What is the eight-hour workday this time?”