TBR News February 18, 2016

Feb 18 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 18, 2016: “In Washington far right circles, there is a growing and very unhappy feeling that the United States as a world power, is badly slipping. Of course this is not due to any error on the part of the United States policy makers but, as always, the fault of others. In this case, they blame Vladimir Putin for their failures whereas they could easily find the source by simply looking in a mirror. Some empires last longer than others. Rome lasted for hundreds of years, Britain for a hundred but all such powers eventually come to an end and are replaced by others. Putin has proven to be very smart and, better, very patient while his enemies hop about, hooting like chimpanzees in the zoo’s monkey house. But a dying empire is a dangerous empire and often its leaders, in desperation, resort to violence to protect their domains. Given the nature of desctructive weaponry, both atomic and BW, one might hope for common sense to prevail. Too bad it never does.”

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 79

Date: Tuesday, April 8, 1997

Commenced: 9:08 AM CST

Concluded: 9;55 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert, All week there?

RTC: Very tired today, Gregory.

GD: If I’m calling at a wrong time, maybe I can call back later on…on tomorrow.

RTC: No, just very tired I slept well but I feel like I haven’t been to bed for several days.

GD: Seen a doctor recently? RTC: My God, yes. A number of them. General check ups and Emily is under the impression that because I smoke, she says too much, I might have some kind of lung problems. I am not going to give up smoking now, Gregory. I’ve gotten used to it. Terribly addictive, tobacco.

GD: Yes. I read a recent study on tobacco. Very, very addictive. Causes all kinds of respiratory diseases and cancer as well.

RTC: Ah well, Gregory, if one thing doesn’t get you, something else will.

GD: How about being hanged for rape at 95?

RTC: (Laughter) what do they say about a consummation?

GD: A consummation devoutly to be wished. Shakespeare. We could make it less final and mention being sued for child support at the same age.

RTC: They say that if you father children after a certain age, they have mental problems.

GD: Could be. You see a lot of weird yard monsters being carried around these days, Robert. Flat faces, drooling. Mongoloids. Of course, we don’t call them that any more. I think they say differently abled. But a Mongoloid idiot is still a Mongoloid idiot, no matter how you slice it. So correct now. Bloody twits. Don’t say this, can’t say that. Oh my, that is so demeaning. That’s what someone told me the other day when I called a fat woman a bloato. I apologized and called her a piggy instead. That didn’t go over very well, either. So many Mongoloids and so many jiggling fatties waddling around. If they kept their mouths shut, Robert, it would serve two valuable purposes. On the one hand, we wouldn’t have to listen to their babblings and on the other, they wouldn’t be feeding their enormous guts every waking hour. Well, the potato chip industry would suffer but then, on another negative side, they might live longer. Robert, as you were on board at the CIA during the formative years, could you address some points I am trying to research?

RTC: I’ll try, if I can, Gregory.

GD: OK. The CIA was originally started up by Truman in about ’48…

RTC: Yes. Harry was not happy with the slanted intelligence the Army was providing so he set us up to counter the bs.

GD: Yes. Gehlen told me about the fake Russian invasion plot of ’48. That’s when his organization of former Gestapo people was run by the Army. Faked up the story of a pending Russian invasion to terrify Congress and the public so as to keep business going along on a wartime footing and the Army from being disbanded.

RTC: Basically true, Gregory. We had nothing to do with that.

GD: The CIA took Gehlen over just after that fraud, correct?

RTC: Yes, after that. We had nothing to do with that.

GD: Mueller said that fake report was the real starting gun for the cold war. Would you agree? RTC: I would go along with that.

GD: Russia had been bled dry during the war and much of her relatively primitive infrastructure had been ruined. Heavy loss in troops and so on. In other words, in 1948, Stalin not only was in no shape to confront the western powers on a military level nor really compete in the marketplace. Right? RTC: Right.

GD: Now I agree that Stalin was engaged in extensive spying here and elsewhere during and after the war. But everyone spies on everyone else. Spying is not a military threat but wasn’t this domestic spying used to terrify the public into supporting a very expensive cold war? You were on the inside then, Robert. Between us and the phone taps, was Russia going to nuke us or start a land war in ’49 or even ’50?

RTC: No, they were not.

GD: So if that were the case, the CIA grew to such a powerful entity solely on the mistaken, deliberately mistaken, premise that Russia, and later China, were going to attack us. Right?

RTC: This is a rather sensitive area, Gregory, but I’m retired and old and overall, you are probably right. But they were spying on us. Bunch of traitorous Jews under Roosevelt were running rampant here. You must know that White and even Wallace were helping Uncle Joe with all of our secrets.

GD: Yes, but annoying as this was, it was not a military threat. And with the great increase in domestic income as a result of the war, Communism had long ago lost its attraction for the poor and the various left wing politicians here. Right?

RTC: Yes, but we are talking about a huge army of spies here then.

GD: Ideological people. Poor. Give a man some money and a new television, and dreams of communism vanish as the waistline spreads.

RTC: Yes but then don’t forget the very real threats to the west by Stalin and his successors.

GD: But these were struggles for markets and natural resources, weren’t they? I mean not a real military threat. It had always been the dream in Moscow to capture the very technical and industrious Germany. Was that was when Lenin took off the fright wig. Always get Germany. I know about this because when Mueller took over the tiny Gestapo in ’35, he said there were about 20,000 active Communist Russian spies loose all over Germany. When he got through with them, there were about five left. Anyway, wasn’t the struggle then just an economic struggle like the one that started the First World War? Odd. Russia and the United States were engaged in a purely capitalist struggle for economic power. Not military power. Do you concur?

RTC: Yes, it boiled down to that. I mean, we had our friends. People we knew as schoolmates, friends or neighbors. Business friends. Old Bill ran some aluminum company and he wanted us to secure bauxite sites in some country that Russia was also interested in. Of course we couldn’t use this as an excuse to topple some government and set up a US-friendly one so we tarted it up to say the existing government there was being run by Moscow and a Communist seizure was just a matter of time.

GD: Like Nicaragua?

RTC: Exactly so.

GD: Levi and Zentner has friends in Langley.

RTC: Well, more like the Grace people but I follow. But why should Russia get its hands on valuable resources when we wanted them? Let’s face it, Gregory, the struggle for natural resources is the struggle for life.

GD: But why not seek less damaging goals? Isn’t there enough to go around?

RTC: Well, that’s the question. Planet is getting very small these days. Too many people need more products and whoever has the natural resources, at least as long as they hold out, has the upper hand. Now, thanks to us, we have the upper hand. We damned near got all the Russia oil and gas under Yeltsin but you can’t win them all.

GD: But Reagan was the last gasp of all that, wasn’t he? RTC: When business sees itself as losing something they want, it will never be over.

GD: But when the cold war was on, we struggled with Russia over the natural resources of Africa. Each of us took over this or that country and set up this or that tin horn dictator answerable to us, or them. And now that the cold war is over, thanks to Reagan, why Africa is no longer of any interest to either side. I predict that in twenty years, Africa, at least sub-Saharan Africa, will be a wasteland. There’s a lot of AIDS there now and once all the natives are dead, we can just walk in and take over the resources. No need for a war, Robert, just let nature take its course.

RTC: Very ruthless, Gregory.

GD: I study history, Robert. Use facts, not emotions.

RTC: I hate to say this but Marx was right when he talked about the role of economics in history.

GD: I’ve read Marx. Fine theories but stupid practices. From each according to his ability to each according to his need. Right? Sounds almost Christian, doesn’t it? Of course both systems, Jesus and Marx, sound so noble and self-sacrificing on paper but they are Utopian and never work. And the raging idealists are the first to be shot when the pragmatists come into power. Night following day. And Robert, in the end, who cares?

(Concluded at 9:55 CST)

Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears

February 17, 2016

by Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed and Stephen Kalin


Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford (WFT.N), the document obtained by Reuters showed and officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns. A Weatherford spokesman in Iraq declined to comment, and the company’s Houston headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.

An SGS official in Iraq declined to comment and referred Reuters to its Turkish headquarters, which did not respond to phone calls.

The document, dated Nov. 30 and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.

A senior environment ministry official based in Basra, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak publicly, told Reuters the device contained up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Ir-192 “capsules”, a radioactive isotope of iridium also used to treat cancer.

The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the International Atomic Energy Agency, meaning if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

How harmful exposure can be is determined by a number of factors such as the material’s strength and age, which Reuters could not immediately determine. The ministry document said it posed a risk of bodily and environmental harm as well as a national security threat.


Large quantities of Ir-192 have gone missing before in the United States, Britain and other countries, stoking fears among security officials that it could be used to make a dirty bomb.

A dirty bomb combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation, in contrast to a nuclear weapon, which uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast.

“We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh,” said a senior security official with knowledge of the theft, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb,” said the official, who works at the interior ministry and spoke on condition of anonymity as he is also not authorized to speak publicly.

There was no indication the material had come into the possession of Islamic State, which seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 but does not control areas near Basra.

The security official, based in Baghdad, told Reuters there were no immediate suspects for the theft. But the official said the initial investigation suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of the material and the facility: “No broken locks, no smashed doors and no evidence of forced entry,” he said.

An operations manager for Iraqi security firm Taiz, which was contracted to protect the facility, declined to comment, citing instructions from Iraqi security authorities.

A spokesman for Basra operations command, responsible for security in Basra province, said army, police and intelligence forces were working “day and night” to locate the material.

The army and police have responsibility for security in the country’s south, where Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and criminal gangs also operate.


Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State in the country’s north and west, backed by a U.S.-led coalition. The militant group has been accused of using chemical weapons on more than one occasion over the past few years.

The closest area fully controlled by Islamic State is more than 500 km (300 miles) north of Basra in the western province of Anbar. The Sunni militants control no territory in the predominantly Shi’ite southern provinces but have claimed bomb attacks there, including one that killed 10 people in October in the district where the Weatherford facility is located.

Besides the risk of a dirty bomb, the radioactive material could cause harm simply by being left exposed in a public place for several days, said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

“If they left it in some crowded place, that would be more of the risk. If they kept it together but without shielding,” he said. “Certainly it’s not insignificant. You could cause some panic with this. They would want to get this back.”

The senior environmental official said authorities were worried that whoever stole the material would mishandle it, leading to radioactive pollution of “catastrophic proportions”.

A second senior environment ministry official, also based in Basra, said counter-radiation teams had begun inspecting oil sites, scrap yards and border crossings to locate the device after an emergency task force raised the alarm on Nov. 13.

Two Basra provincial government officials said they were directed on Nov. 25 to coordinate with local hospitals. “We instructed hospitals in Basra to be alert to any burn cases caused by radioactivity and inform security forces immediately,” said one.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Pravin Char)


Kurds’ advance in Syria divides U.S. and Turkey as Russia bombs

February 17, 2016

by Daren Butler


Istanbul-The rapid advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.

Washington has long seen the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG military wing as its best chance in the battle against Islamic State in Syria – to the chagrin of fellow NATO member Turkey, which sees the group as terrorists and fears it will stir up greater unrest among its own Kurdish minority.

Russian bombing has transformed the five-year-old Syrian civil war in recent weeks, turning the momentum decisively in favor of Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian army has come within 25 km (15 miles) of the Turkish border and says it aims to seal it off altogether, closing the main lifeline into rebel territory for years and recapturing Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.

Meanwhile, the YPG has exploited the situation, seizing ground from other Syrian opposition groups in the area.

Washington says it does not believe the Kurds are coordinating directly with Moscow. But the YPG’s advance may represent a masterstroke by Russia, which could benefit from any discord between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.

“Now this is the YPG’s dilemma: Will it continue with America or Russia? The consequences of this strategic choice will influence Syria’s future, as well as the ongoing clashes in Turkey,” said Metin Gurcan, an independent security analyst and retired Turkish military officer.Turkey has shelled YPG positions inside Syria for four straight days. Ankara sees the militia as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

Turkey also portrays the Kurds as a pawn of Russia. Relations between the former Cold War rivals hit a low last year after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.

Turkey now accuses Russia of deliberately targeting civilians in Syria, including hospitals struck this week, in what it calls a “war crime” to depopulate territory ahead of a government advance. Moscow denies this and accuses Turkey of covertly supporting Syrian jihadist militant groups.

The United States, which has supported the Kurdish fighters elsewhere in battle against Islamic State, has called for the YPG to stop actions that would heighten friction in northern Syria. It has also urged Ankara to stop shelling YPG positions.

Washington has seen no evidence that the YPG are cooperating with the Russians, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing this week.


Some 30 million Kurds are estimated to live in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and in Syria. Syria’s Kurds are the largest ethnic minority and suffered decades of repression under President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him.

Under the Damascus regime, Kurds were forbidden from learning their own language, frequently evicted from their land and even denied full citizenship. Their region is home to a chunk of Syria’s estimated 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves, but Kurds enjoyed little benefit.

Now, Kurds have started to carve out a fiefdom in the north of fragmenting Syria, similar to the autonomy enjoyed by their kin in northern Iraq.

“Russia is using this instrument to put Turkey in a difficult position,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week, vowing to prevent the YPG from expanding its territory.

In the early stages of Syria’s civil war, there were signs Turkey was willing to work with the PYD and other Kurdish groups if they met three demands: remain resolutely opposed to Assad, vow not to seek autonomy through violence or before the wider conflict was resolved, and pose no threat to Turkey.

“We have no problem with their aspirations … What we do not want from any group is that they use this situation opportunistically to impose their will by force,” a senior Turkish government official told Reuters in August 2013, days after PYD co-chair Saleh Muslim was invited to Istanbul for talks.


But relations soon deteriorated, reaching a nadir in late 2014, when Islamic State fighters besieged the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish border for four months as Turkish tanks looked on from surrounding hills.

Turkey allowed Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces through its territory to help defend the town, but its failure to intervene directly in support of the YPG, even as a U.S.-led coalition carried out air strikes against Islamic State, infuriated Kurds in both Syria and Turkey.

That added to pressure on the Turkish government’s relationship with its own Kurds. PKK attacks on Turkish security forces last year helped put an end to a more than two-year ceasefire between the government and the insurgents, and the once-dormant conflict within Turkey has since stayed hot.

Wary of an escalation, Washington has urged all parties to focus on the “common threat” of Islamic State, calling on Turkey to cease cross-border artillery fire and on the YPG not to seize new territory from groups that Turkey supports.

Turkey has repeatedly criticized the United States for its position, saying that Washington should deem the Syrian Kurds terrorists, as it does with the PKK, and halt support.

The Syrian Kurdish militia has not explained the aim of its latest advance but a source told Reuters on Jan. 28 it planned to seize the stretch of border held by Islamic State east of Azaz – the only part of the frontier still in the hands of the jihadist group.

But the YPG’s advance into territory held by other rebel groups looks likely to continue for now, causing headaches for Washington as it tries to manage its strategic relationship with Turkey and check Russia’s influence in the region.

“The YPG is pushing as far as it can.… (Its) focus right now is making the most of its momentum,” said Gurcan, the analyst. “This has put the U.S. in a very bad position.”

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Warren Strobel in Washington; Tom Perry in Beirut and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; writing by Daren Butler; editing by David Dolan, Nick Tattersall and Peter Graff)


Apple encryption case risks influencing Russia and China, privacy experts say

Analysts and lawmakers warn FBI that ramifications over its demand that Apple unlock San Bernardino killer’s iPhone ‘could snowball around the world’

February 17, 2016

by Spencer Ackerman

The Guardian

Authoritarian governments including Russia and China will demand greater access to mobile data should Apple lose a watershed encryption case brought by the FBI, leading technology analysts, privacy experts and legislators have warned.

Apple’s decision to resist a court order to unlock a password-protected iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers has created a worldwide privacy shockwave, with campaigners around the world expecting the struggle to carry major implications for the future of mobile and internet security. They warned that Barack Obama’s criticism of a similar Chinese measure last year now risked ringing hollow.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a leading legislator on privacy and tech issues, warned the FBI to step back from the brink or risk setting a precedent for authoritarian countries.

This move by the FBI could snowball around the world. Why in the world would our government want to give repressive regimes in Russia and China a blueprint for forcing American companies to create a backdoor?” Wyden told the Guardian.

Companies should comply with warrants to the extent they are able to do so, but no company should be forced to deliberately weaken its products. In the long run, the real losers will be Americans’ online safety and security.”

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said the FBI was using an “unprecedented reading of a nearly 230-year old law” that put “at risk the foundations of strong security for our people and privacy in the digital age.

If upheld, this decision could force US technology companies to actually build hacking tools for government against their will, while weakening cybersecurity for millions of Americans in the process,” Wyden said.

Should the FBI prevail, and Apple create what is functionally a custom-built version of its mobile operating system, governments around the world “will see this as a blank check of legitimacy”, said human rights lawyer Carly Nyst, who called the Apple showdown “groundbreaking”.

In a defiant statement late on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the FBI had no way to ensure that the effect of its access would stay in US government hands. “The technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices” once Apple builds it, Cook warned.

US-based tech firms have long dealt with efforts by countries worldwide to undermine user security in the name of law enforcement and national security – terms that vary widely with government prerogative. China in particular has fought with Apple over the iPhone, in a struggle that echoes the FBI’s latest move.

Chinese state media in 2014 labeled the iPhone a national security threat for collecting location data from users and compromising “state secrets”. The accusation, coming after leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency had hacked Chinese tech giant Huawei, prompted Cook to defend the devices’ security features.

Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will,” Cook said at the time.

The Obama administration and US security services consider Chinese-aided data breaches to comprise a major national security threat, which has prompted privacy advocates to voice alarm that US government actions to undermine encryption will backfire as foreign hackers exploit mandated vulnerabilities.

The impact of the mutual distrust between Washington and Beijing can be seen in China’s new cybersecurity and counter-terrorism bill, passed last December. The far-reaching law mandates that internet firms and telecos doing business in China provide law enforcement with decryption keys in terrorism cases. Analysts and foreign firms are waiting to see how far China goes in enforcing the controversial measure, particularly in light of Apple’s standoff with the FBI.

Last March, Obama personally objected to the Chinese law as a draconian measure that would force US firms to “turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services.” Obama said he had personally raised the issue with Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart.

Imagine how hollow these objections will ring if a US court can order what China was trying to compel by statute,” said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The fact that such requests may be forthcoming from authoritarian countries if Apple is forced to comply with US law enforcement requests is reason enough why the Apple position should be respected,” said Christopher Wolf, the director of the privacy and information management practice at the law firm Hogan Lovells.

At the moment, Apple is not responding to foreign law enforcement [demands to] unlock devices. It’s a matter of time until China, Russia Bahrain, take your pick, come knocking too,” said Eric King, director of the UK-based Don’t Spy On Us coalition.

But it is not just the US authorities which are opening a path for others to undermine privacy. King and others have warned that the UK’s proposed investigatory powers bill would represent a “snooper’s charter”, giving the government broad authority to water down encryption standards and, once armed with a warrant, force a firm to turn over encrypted communications.

Foreign firms like Apple are concerned that the bill’s extraterritorial claims could “force them to re-architecture systems like iMessage and build in a backdoor,” King said, underscoring that concerns about government access to communications data are not limited to authoritarian states.

Flint Residents May Have Been Drinking PFCs in Addition to Lead

Feburay 17, 2016

by Sharon Lerner

The Intercept

Residents of Flint, Mkichagan,who drank lead in their water may also have been exposed to perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, according to a report from the Michigan Department of Community Health.

The May 2015 report showed elevated levels of PFCs in the Flint River — including PFOA, also known as C8, the chemical that spread into drinking water around a DuPont plant in West Virginia and led to a landmark class-action lawsuit. In addition to C8 and PFOS, a similar molecule that’s also based on a chain of eight carbon atoms, scientists found 11 other PFCs in the Flint River ­— more than in any of the other water sources tested around the state.

In 2014, in an effort to save money, Flint switched the source of its drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a change that resulted in residents being exposed to lead levels high enough to cause irreversible brain damage in children.

The Michigan report was based on tests of surface water and fish for PFCs in 13 sites around the state. According to Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the report was not designed to evaluate drinking water. Eisner referred questions about the dangers the PFCs posed to people drinking water from the Flint River to the Department of Environmental Quality, which did not return our phone calls.

Michigan’s testing revealed PFOS in the Flint River at levels that exceeded the state’s limits for both non-drinking water and drinking water. The scientists found C8 in 12 of the 13 bodies of water tested, though at levels below the official cutoff for concern. Michigan has not set safety levels for the other 11 PFCs.

C8, which has been linked to numerous health problems, including immune suppression, thyroid disease, and two types of cancer, has been turning up at dangerous levels in drinking water around the country, including Hoosick Falls in upstate New York, as well as in New Jersey, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. Repeated calls to regulate C8 have been dismissed. In fact, Susan Hedman, the EPA regional administrator who stepped down in the wake of the Flint lead crisis, has also offered hollow promises on C8.

PFOS, which has been linked to low birth weight in humans and causes a similar set of health problems as C8 does in lab animals, was also found above threshold safety levels for birds and mammals. The amount of PFOS in the Flint River more than tripled between 2001 and 2013, and high concentrations of the other PFCs were found in fish taken from the river.

The Michigan report noted that “a more thorough assessment may be warranted” to determine the impact of PFOS on wildlife in and near the river, and raised the possibility that the government “should assess whether fish consumption advisories” for PFOS are necessary. Surprisingly there is no mention of the impact of PFOS on the Flint residents who were drinking water from the river when the report was issued. The report acknowledged the presence of C8, but because levels were below the official safety cutoff, concluded that “human health is not being impacted.”

Still, the levels of PFOS and total PFCs in the Flint River were the second highest recorded in the state. The highest levels were in Clark’s Marsh, a wildlife preserve that borders Wurtsmith Air Force Base, which is home to one of hundreds of military fire- and crash-training sites contaminated with firefighting foam.

The Flint River finding should have sounded an alarm and, according to one historian familiar with the area, could have been anticipated. “The Flint River was lined with supply companies that were giving all the toxic materials that went into the modern car,” said David Rosner, author of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children and a professor of public health at Columbia University. Rosner noted that General Motors, which also operated a plant on the Flint River, stopped using the river water because it was “too corrosive.”

“If it’s harming transmissions and basically the open sewer for factories, how could anyone ever think of that water as a source of drinking water?” said Rosner. “The idea that they’re finding lead and PFCs is not surprising. I’m sure that river has many other pollutants, too.”

Trump leads Republican field nationally by more than 20 points: poll

February 17, 2016

by Chris Kahn


Donald Trump has taken a more than 20-point lead over U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, bolstering his position ahead of the party’s primary in South Carolina on Saturday, according to a national Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Among Republicans, Trump, a billionaire businessman, drew 40 percent support in the poll conducted from Saturday to Wednesday, compared with 17 percent for Cruz, 11 percent for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, 10 percent for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and 8 percent for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

The results contrasted with those of a national poll conducted this week by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal that showed Trump dropping into a national dead heat with Cruz in the race for the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama.

On the Democratic side, the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintaining about a 10-point national lead over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont since last week’s New Hampshire primary won by Sanders.

The Republican results marked a nominal gain for Trump since his win in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, when he led Cruz by 18.4 points in the national rolling survey, although the increase remained within the poll’s credibility interval.

Since he announced his candidacy last summer, Trump has leveraged his celebrity and deep pockets to wage an unfiltered campaign that has upended the Republican primary. He has led the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll since nearly the start of his campaign, topping Bush in late July.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll also showed that either Clinton or Sanders would win a hypothetical general election contest with Trump. Clinton would likely win with 44 percent support, compared with 37 percent for Trump. Sanders would likely win by 44 percent to 35 percent.The poll included responses from 476 registered Republicans and 543 registered Democrats. It had a credibility interval of about 5 percent.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)

FDA to test food for Monsanto weedkiller

February 18, 2016


The US government’s food watchdog will soon begin testing certain products for the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, which the World Health Organization linked to cancer last year.

Milk, corn, eggs and soybeans are on the list of foods the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) intends to test for glyphosate residue. Soy and corn are widely used in animal feed and are among the crops routinely sprayed with variants of Roundup, a herbicide developed by Monsanto in the 1970s. Glyphosate is now off-patent and widely used around the world, with Monsanto promoting “Roundup Ready” crops genetically modified for immunity to the chemical.

The agency is now considering assignments for Fiscal Year 2016 to measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs, among other potential foods,” FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher told Civil Eats, an American food news publication.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Monsanto’s request to use increased levels of glyphosate in its pesticides in 2013. Last March, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a “probable or possible” carcinogen, saying that laboratory tests found “limited evidence” of increased cancer in humans. Monsanto has contested the finding as “a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe.”

Recent testing by private companies, universities and consumer groups has found residue from the chemical in honey, cereal, wheat flour, soy sauce, infant formula and breast milk.

The FDA’s failure to test for glyphosate was among the things the agency was criticized for in a 2014 audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). While stopping short of demanding that the FDA conduct glyphosate testing, the GAO said the agency should at the very least publicly disclose that it does not do so.

Maybe we shamed them into it,” John Neumann, a spokesman for the GAO, told Civil Eats. The FDA is facing a follow-up evaluation from GAO in June this year.

A Monsanto chemist discovered the herbicidal properties of glyphosate in 1970, and the company began selling it as Roundup in 1974. Glyphosate use became widespread in the 1990s, as Monsanto rolled out “Roundup Ready” lines of genetically modified crops, enabling farmers to spray the fields directly. The patent expired in 2000, enabling generic version of Roundup to enter the market.

According to the EPA, as of 2007 glyphosate was the most used farming herbicide in the US, and the second most used in American homes and gardens.

In addition to potential health hazards to humans, the widespread use of Roundup has led to the near-destruction of milkweed, a plant serving as the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies across the Midwestern US. This resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the Monarch population.

Cheese fraud: FDA finds traces of wood pulp, substitutes in Parmesan

February 17, 2016


Parmesan cheese fraud is a growing problem for US consumers, the FDA warned, after tests revealed products described as “100 percent grated Parmesan” contained wood pulp and cheaper cheeses.

The US Food and Drug Administration has discovered that cheaper cheeses – such as cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella – and even wood pulp shavings, have been used as filler in grated Parmesan products.

The FDA is currently in the middle of a criminal case against Castle Cheese after carrying out an inspection of its cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania in 2012, following a tip-off.

The probe has discovered evidence that the Parmesan had been adulterated with cut-rate substitutes and fillers such as wood pulp before being distributed to some of the country’s biggest grocery chains, according to Bloomberg.

In 2013, the FDA sent Castle Cheese Inc. a warning letter citing its violations.

Castle had been supplying cheese branded as “100% grated Parmesan” which contained “no Parmesan cheese”  for almost 30 years, according to the FDA. The company used to provide the cheese for Target’s Market Pantry brand and two other brands used by Associated Wholesale, the nation’s second-largest retail grocery supplier.

Castle President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty this month to criminal charges in the FDA’s biggest Parmesan case yet. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Castle Cheese filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but the problem doesn’t appear to have gone away. It is still possible that you’re sprinkling wood shavings over your pasta.

A Dairy Farmers of America subsidiary claims its tests showed only one-third of labels are accurate, according to Grubstreet.com.

Another cheese industry executive told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2014 that some Parmesan cheese being sold contains 20 percent or more cellulose.

Bloomberg carried out its own investigation on brands claiming to be “100 percent” grated Parmesan to see how much cellulose –  the main ingredient in wood pulp –  they consisted of:

Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese came in at 7.8 percent.

Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent.

While Kraft had 3.8 percent cellulose in its parmesan product.

An acceptable level of cellulose is between 2 to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin.

Spokespeople for the companies questioned Bloomberg’s findings, but all assured reporters their companies were most definitely “investigating” or at least “looking into” this matter.

The FDA regulates what can legally be called Parmesan or Romano according to standards established in the 1950s. Among other things, the cheese cannot contain more than 32 percent moisture; it must have a “granular texture”; come with a “hard and brittle rind”; grate “readily,” and be made from cow’s milk.

Parmesan is big business in the US: in 2015 output rose 11 percent from 2014, to around 336 million pounds, while Romano production grew 20 percent to 54 million pounds, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

The Danger of Fake Supplements

by Danica Collins

Health Reporter

Did You Know…that many herbal supplements, especially ones at major retailers, aren’t really what you think they are?

Natural health experts have been sounding the alarm on fake supplements for years, and mainstream regulatory agencies are finally catching on.

Two recent studies expose some vastly subpar herbal supplements for what they really are—worthless fakes that in many instances may exacerbate the very conditions you are trying to treat.

Major Retailers Under Fire for Fake Supplements

The New York Times recently ran an exposé on GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart.  New York State authorities investigated top-selling herbal supplements sold by these retailers and found that many contained none of the herbs listed on the labels.  Instead, these fake supplements were filled with powdered vegetables, houseplants, and other allergenic ingredients.

Walgreen’s gingko biloba had zero gingko and was instead powdered radish, houseplants, and wheat… even though the label claimed it was gluten and wheat free!

3 out of 6 herbal supplements at Target (St. John’s Wort, gingko biloba, and valerian root) were made of powdered rice, beans, peas, and carrots… and no herbs!

Walgreen’s ginseng pills were nothing more than garlic and rice.

GNC supplements contained some of the labeled ingredients, but were also packed with unlabeled fillers such as powdered legumes, which spark allergic reactions All four retailers have been issued cease-and-desist letters and instructed to outline the procedures they use to verify the ingredients in their herbal supplements.

This is the first time—and long overdue—that major retail and drugstore manufacturers have been held accountable for misleading marketing and mislabeled products.

What’s Really in Your Gingko Biloba?

Additional shocking research comes from Dr. Damon Little, Associate Curator of Bioinformatics in the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics at The New York Botanical Garden.  Dr. Little developed a DNA mini-barcoding assay and used it to test the authenticity of popular brands of gingko biloba, the memory-boosting herbal supplement. Published in the journal Genome, Little’s research showed that 16.4% of gingko supplements contained no gingko.

In order to be effective, the primary active components of ginkgo biloba should contain a minimum of 24% flavonol glycosides—such as that found in Supreme Brain Nutrition.

We don’t know if suppliers inaccurately identified the materials used in their products or used faulty manufacturing processes or if they intentionally switched out the herb for less expensive substitutes. Little explains, “For the supplements in which I found no evidence of ginkgo, I cannot be sure if that is because the DNA was destroyed (for example by drying at very high temperatures) or if the samples simply do not contain any ginkgo.”

Previous research showed that only 75% of black cohosh pills were labeled correctly, and only 85% of saw palmetto capsules actually contained saw palmetto.

The danger of fake supplements extends far beyond the failure to live up to their purported health benefits.  Mislabeled herbal pills can be toxic, either alone or in combination with other drugs. As more and more evidence brings to light the widespread mislabeling of herbal products, both suppliers and consumers are urged to do due diligence and check the accuracy of herbal supplements.  Dr. Little’s assay offers an easy way for supplement manufacturers to verify that supplements sold do indeed contain the ingredients listed on their product labels.

Choose Reputable Companies

Finally, choose only the best reputed manufacturers and brands for your supplement needs—companies that are willing to stand 100% behind their products, ingredients, and manufacturing methods

San Francisco tech worker: ‘I don’t want to see homeless riff-raff’

In an open letter to the city’s mayor Ed Lee, entrepreneur Justin Keller said he is ‘outraged’ that wealthy workers have to see people in pain and despair

February 17, 2016

by Julia Carrie Wong

The Guardian

In only the latest cultural altercation between San Francisco’s tech workers and the city’s impoverished population, one tech worker has declared the homeless are “riff raff” whose “pain, struggle and despair” shouldn’t have to be endured by “wealthy” people commuting to work.

It’s a familiar story. A male entrepreneur (some might even call him a “tech bro”) – flush with the sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction that comes from living and working in a city and industry that treats him and his friends as the most important and intelligent human beings ever to grace a metropolitan area with their presence – takes a moment to think about homelessness. Not content to wrinkle his nose and move on with his day, he types those thoughts out. He publishes them on the internet.

And, there, with the click of a button, he enters the pantheon of infamous San Francisco tech bros.

Justin Keller, an entrepreneur, developer and the founder of startup Commando.io, joined those exalted ranks on 15 February when he published an open letter to San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and police chief Greg Suhr:

I am writing today, to voice my concern and outrage over the increasing homeless and drug problem that the city is faced with. I’ve been living in SF for over three years, and without a doubt it is the worst it has ever been. Every day, on my way to, and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces, and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shanty town … Worst of all, it is unsafe.

Keller explained that he had been moved to action by his experience over the holiday weekend, when his parents and relatives came to visit. Three encounters with “a homeless drunken man” in the street, a “distraught, and high person” outside a restaurant, and a man who “took his shirt off and laid down” in a movie theater left him angry and frustrated with the city’s homelessness “problem”.

While Keller is not alone in his frustration that there are nearly 7,000 people living in San Francisco without homes, his letter is distinctive for its total lack of sympathy for the plight of those in difficult circumstances, focusing instead on the discomfort the “wealthy”:

The residents of this amazing city no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.

Keller does not propose a solution to San Francisco’s complex and intractable civic conundrum, though he does seem to cite approvingly the controversial “sweeps” of the homeless during the recent Super Bowl festivities:

I don’t have a magic solution … It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff seem to up and vanish. I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence. Money and political pressure can make change. So it is time to start making progress, or we as citizens will make a change in leadership and elect new officials who can.

After facing significant backlash against the post on Twitter, Keller appended an apology for his use of the term “riff-raff”, writing that the word choice was “insensitive and counterproductive”.

As of publication, however, he has not reached the next stage of the tech bro homeless rant cycle. First comes the deletion of the post. In 2013, startup founder Peter Shih deleted his 10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition rant from Medium after the backlash reached such a fevered pitch that posters featuring his photograph were posted on telephone poles around the city.

Next comes the apology tour. In 2015, startup CEO Greg Gopman attempted to make amend for his own anti-homeless screed (he described the homeless as “the lower part of society” and “degenerates [who] gather like hyenas” and bemoaned the “burden and liability [of] having them so close to us) by launching a program of his own to “solve” homelessness.

(Gopman’s plan never went anywhere. One city hall official told the Guardian in 2015 that the entrepreneur’s plan to house homeless people in domes “remind me of a dog house”.)

In an email to the Guardian, Keller said that he was writing an additional blog post about the issue.

The thesis of the post was that inaction by the city and officials is not working. We all as citizens of San Francisco need to figure out how we can improve the city and address the homeless and drug addiction problem straight on,” he said.

I in no way meant to vilify homeless or drug users, my frustration was that we as citizens don’t feel safe. The amount of violent crime is increasing, and it affects everybody. What specific measures is the city taking to proactively help the homeless and drug addicted?

Instead of crucifying me, we all as citizens should be crucifying the city and elected government officials for ineptness. The status quo is not working.”

Of course, Keller will likely only be the pariah of the internet for the next few days, while San Francisco’s homeless people are made to feel like the pariahs of the city every day.

Being homeless is like being the germ of the city. That’s how they treat you,” said Bercé Perry, a homeless resident of San Francisco. Perry was standing outside his tent in an encampment underneath the Highway 101 overpass. The 42-year-old said he had been homeless for about one year, and he has little patience for the distaste some people have for his presence in the city.

They don’t care about nobody but themselves,” Perry said about the wealthy tech workers who’ve moved into San Francisco. “If you got money, you just want to grab anything you can get.”

A few blocks away, Michael Jones, who has been homeless for about three years, was frustrated that people are homeless and hungry in a city with so much wealth.

I see all the food that they throw away,” Jones said. Still, asked about how he feels about wealthy tech workers, he would only say, “I don’t judge anyone.”

Madeleine McCann, 27, had some more pointed words for tech bros who disapprove of her. McCann has been living in a tent under the highway for about a month, ever since her van was towed, leaving her without a roof.

They need to be a little more tolerant”, she said. “It’s not like they’re going to let us come shower at their house.”


How can I stop spam emails?

February 18, 2016

by Jack Schofield

The Guardian

My wife and I have never received more than three or four spam emails each week for over two decades. Recently we started getting large volumes of spam. We are with BT but tend to use eM Client for our emails using the IMAP system. eM Client can dump these into Junk and blacklist the domain, but this does not stop the spam emails, which are now five a day at least. Neither BT nor eM Client nor Sophos (our anti-virus company) have any ideas about how to stop this happening, other than to get a new email address. Do we just have to live with it? Mike”

The short answer is that you just have to live with it. However, different email services have different levels of spam blocking, so you would probably see less spam if you got a new email address. First, your new address would not be on any of the mailing lists used by spammers – at least for a while. Second, you could use a service that blocks more spam, such as Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook.com (aka Hotmail/Live mail).

You are using a btinternet.com email address, so I presume that your emails are actually being handled by Yahoo. In my experience, Yahoo’s blocking is less aggressive than either Gmail or Outlook.com, so you would probably benefit by switching.

The drawback is that these email services also tend to put more legitimate emails in their junk folders. Sometimes my Gmail and Outlook.com spam boxes have more legitimate emails than spam.

Switching to GmailIt’s not hard to switch to a Gmail address, because it can retrieve emails from your BT address, and you can use Gmail to send emails from or on behalf of your BT address.

Once you have set up a Gmail account, click the cogwheel on the top right, select Settings, and go to the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” page to set “Enable IMAP”. Remember to click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page.

Next, click “Accounts and Import”. The second option on this page is “Import mail and contacts”, which allows you to “Import from Yahoo!, Hotmail, AOL, or other webmail or POP3 accounts.” You will obviously have to give Gmail your email address and password so that it can fetch your old emails. (Outlook.com has similar features.)

The next option is “Send mail as”, which enables Gmail to send emails from your old email address. You can elect to “reply from the same address to which the message was sent” but I’d recommend setting Gmail as the default address. This will encourage your contacts to use the Gmail address rather than your old BT Internet address.

Sorry to say, I’m not sure how eM Client will handle this. I looked through all the eM Client options without finding a way to set a different email address. I also used eM Client to send a test email, but it sent it using my Gmail address, not the default email address I use on Gmail (which uses my own domain name, not gmail.com). However, you can always select an email address when you write an email in eM Client.

Note that if you use an email program instead of the web interface, BT Yahoo mail will not download the contents of your spam folder by default. This will prevent you from seeing any legitimate emails that have been blocked. See Using BT Yahoo’s anti-spam features for details.

You can also tell an email service to forward all your emails to a different inbox – in your case, from BT Internet to Gmail, for example. Spam emails are generally not forwarded.

Incidentally, Google has just announced a new smartphone feature called Gmailify, which lets you Gmailify a “Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail/Outlook.com” account. Your linked account will then get Gmail’s spam-blocking without you opening a Gmail account. Presumably, Gmailify is aimed at people who have limited technical abilities. I think it would be better to open a Gmail account and add your old account as described above, but if that sounds too hard, maybe Gmailify is the answer.

Protecting your new address

The secret to keeping your email inbox mostly spam free is not to tell anyone about it. This is impractical, but you can at least give your address to as few people as possible. In particular, don’t post it online where it can be harvested by would-be spammers. Also, don’t forward things like chain letters or cute pictures of furry animals: if you do, you could be sending your email address to hundreds of people you don’t know.

Avoid opening spam emails, don’t allow spam emails to load pictures, and never click on links in spam emails. Emails can include web beacons, web bugs or tracking pixels that tell the spammer you have accessed an email and therefore that your account is a live one. More spam will follow.

In Gmail, you can tick the box next to an email and then click the Spam button in the toolbar to get rid of spam without opening it. This also helps Gmail to identify the same sort of spam sent to other people, which is why you should never mark legitimate newsletters as spam.

Don’t give your email address to companies you don’t trust. And when you do give it to companies, make sure you are not opting in to marketing emails, newsletters and other bumf.

Some people set up separate mailboxes for newsletters and marketing emails, but reputable companies almost always provide a simple way to unsubscribe if you change your mind.

You can use another Gmail feature to provide one or more customised addresses. For example, if your email address is fredbloggs@gmail.com, you can give someone an address such as fredbloggs+spam@gmail.com or fredbloggs+list@gmail.com. Gmail ignores anything after the plus sign and delivers these emails to your inbox as normal. However, you can set up filters to divert or delete them.

You could even use a different +based email address for each company, so you’ll know if one of them sells your email address. But I think this is more trouble than it’s worth.

As things stand, the better email service providers, including Google and Microsoft, are doing the bulk of the work in blocking spam, and they stop the vast majority from even reaching your spam box. There’s very little that an individual can do to improve on that, beyond the simple measures described above.

It’s best to accept that some spam will always get through, but if you’re only getting five a day, it’s not worth worrying about. Just delete them and concentrate on the more important things in life.


Our new President and his Wife, Doris

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