Thursday, March 30, 2017

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Is the Stage Being Set for War Between the U.S. and China in the S. China Sea?

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

South China Sea — Adding fuel to an already highly combustible situation in Southeast Asia, Reuters reported Tuesday that China has “largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea,” and that the Asian superpower “can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time.”

Citing satellite imagery analyzed by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, part of Washington, D.C.’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, the news agency writes that “work on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands included naval, air, radar and defensive facilities.”

Sticking to the mainstream narrative that China is an aggressor in claiming sovereign rights to the majority of the South China Sea, Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross says the new images confirm what the U.S. military already knows.

“China’s continued construction in the South China Sea is part of a growing body of evidence that they continue to take unilateral actions which are increasing tensions in the region and are counterproductive to the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he told Reuters.

China, as it has repeatedly, downplayed this notion and stuck to the position that it’s simply erecting defensive infrastructure within its own borders, as would any nation.

“As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing Tuesday.

Despite comments such as these — and the very real fact that China hasn’t actually invaded anyone — the corporate media jumped on the news of the new images.

Forbes, for instance, ran a piece that essentially listed all the reasons why China is a really bad actor in the region, and CNN talked to analysts who explained how the military buildup on the artificial islands will be gradual as China continues to exert its authoritarian influence over neighboring countries.

That’s the narrative. Believe as you will.

But the reality of the situation in the South China Sea — all geopolitical analysis aside — is that there’s about to be a hell of a lot of military hardware in those waters.

As Anti-Media has been reporting, U.S. forces are already in the region, taking part in joint drills with ally South Korea that will last until the end of April. Then, at the beginning of May, Japan — another U.S. ally — will sail its navy’s most powerful warship through the South China Sea on a three-month tour.

That means that just as the joint drills with South Korea end — which, incidentally, units from Delta Force, the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers are taking part in — Japan will shove off a warship aimed at waters claimed by China.

If that timing seems a little curious, also consider that the U.S. just deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea, which both China and Russia cared none too much for.

With China showing no signs of backing away from its stance in the South China Sea — both ideologically and physically —  and with the corporate media willing and eager to push the “evil China” narrative that the U.S. military appears hellbent on capitalizing on, it appears the long-dreaded collision course with China may, indeed, be not far off on the horizon.

Reverse Gateway Drug: Opioid Deaths Plummeting in States with Legal Weed

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to lament what he views as a blight on society, a new study is showing that states with medical marijuana programs are seeing drastic reductions in opioid-related hospitalizations and overdoses.

From a Reuters article published Tuesday:

“In states that legalized medical marijuana, U.S. hospitals failed to see a predicted influx of pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they treated far fewer opioid users, a new study shows.

“Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medical purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.”

The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, was authored by Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California in San Diego. According to Reuters, Shi’s study is the fifth in recent years to demonstrate declines in opioid dependence in states where medical weed is legal.

Intrigued by the data, Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency medicine professor at Oregon Health and Science University, spoke to Reuters via email.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that battling the opioid epidemic will require a multi-pronged approach and a good deal of creativity,” Choo said. She was not involved with the study. “Could increased liberalization of marijuana be part of the solution? It seems plausible.”

One 2014 study showed opioid deaths dropped an average of 25 percent in states where medical marijuana is permitted, and data released just a month ago suggests that given the choice, many patients prefer weed over opioids as a painkiller.

The news of this latest study comes as a congressional committee announced it is opening an investigation into the pharmaceutical manufacturers of the nation’s five top-selling opioid products.

According to a statement released by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, the investigation — to be headed by Democratic senator Claire McCaskill — will explore whether pharmaceutical corporations “have contributed to opioid over-utilization and overprescription.”

The investigation will purportedly be a “wide-ranging” one and will also include the marketing side of the industry. A recent report from the Associated Press, for instance, found makers of opioid painkillers outspend the gun lobby on campaign contributions and lobbying by a ratio of eight to one.

“All of this didn’t happen overnight,” McCaskill said of the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States. “[I]t happened one prescription and marketing program at a time.”

However, neither the mounting evidence of the medicinal uses for marijuana, nor calls from those within Trump’s own government to look into the true causes of the opioid epidemic, have seemed to sway the president’s top cop. Just last week, Jeff Sessions doubled down on his stance that marijuana is nothing short of a danger to society.

“I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana,” he said, “so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another.”

News Roundup 3/29/17

  • Trump signs an executive order undoing some of Obama’s executive actions on climate change issues. [Link]
  • US officials say there has not been a loosening of the rules that allow airstrikes to have civilian casualties. Civilian casualties by US airstrikes have increased in Syria and Iraq recently. [Link]
  • The Senate voted 97-2 to approve Montenegro’s membership into NATO. [Link]
  • Last week, the US government denied carrying out the strike that hit a Syrian school and killed 33 civilians. This week, the US government admits carried out the strike but denies that civilians died in the strike. [Link]
  • Russia accuses the US of bombing near a dam and destroying other important civilian infrastructure in Syria. [Link]
  • The Syrian government makes a deal with Syrian rebel forces to allow the people of four towns to be evacuated. Two Sunni-majority towns besieged by Assad and two Shi’ite majority towns besieged by rebels will see civilian populations and fighters be moved to more secure areas. [Link]
  • Linked is a map showing who controls what in Yemen. [Link]

This is Government: Feds Charge Former ADA for Spying on Love Interest

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

Brooklyn — In a clear-cut case of abuse of authority, a former assistant district attorney in New York is now facing federal charges for allegedly using government resources to spy on a love interest.

“Tara Lenich, 41, was fired last November from her position as a high-ranking deputy chief of the Brooklyn DA’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau,” wrote the New York Post on Monday, “after she was arrested for allegedly having underlings listen in on conversations between an NYPD detective and a fellow prosecutor, who she believed were romantically involved.

“Lenich allegedly forged various judges’ signatures some 20 times over a year-long period in order to eavesdrop on Det. Jarrett Lemieux and her colleague Stephanie Rosenfeld-Vais, both of whom are married with two children.”

The former ADA apparently told the people working for her that communications gathered from the wiretaps were confidential, advising her employees not to listen to them. In addition to the illegal wiretapping, Lenich also created fraudulent search warrants that targeted the text messages of the two victims.

It’s unclear whether Lenich and Det. Jarrett were actually romantically involved or whether it was all in the former prosecutor’s head. Equally unclear is whether or not Jarrett and Rosenfeld-Vais were ever romantically linked.

Whatever the case, Lenich was busted when one of her staffers noticed Rosenfeld-Vais’ number on official paperwork and brought it to the attention of higher-ups. An investigation turned up a thumb drive containing records of the false court orders.

“As soon as these allegations were uncovered, we conducted a swift and thorough investigation, immediately terminating the employee, and ordered a complete review of our protocols and proceeded to make sure that this abuse of authority never happens again,” a spokesman for the then-district attorney said when Lenich was arrested last year.

At that arraignment, a former colleague of Lenich’s called what the woman did a “stunning betrayal of her oath of office and the justice system that we uphold.”

The bail for those state charges was $25,000. Lenich had been out awaiting trial but was thrown back in jail on Monday on new, federal charges — illegally intercepting oral and electronic communications. Bail was set at $500,000, which Lenich’s parents promptly paid.

In a statement, Acting United States Attorney Bridget Rohde said:

“Tara Lenich violated her duty to the public when she engaged in a long-running scheme to forge judicial documents in order to illegally wiretap telephones. Lenich’s prosecution reflects the Office’s commitment to protecting the public from the misuse of law enforcement tools, particularly by those entrusted to use those tools in accordance with the laws they have sworn to uphold.”

Lenich is next due in court on April 26. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.

How the VA’s Mistakes Are Sending Thousands of Veterans into Debt

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media.

 

Nebraska — “You get all of these promises that, ‘Hey, you do 20 years and you’ll get this.’ And when it comes down to the end, it’s like, damn. You really can’t support your family when they are taking your whole check away.”

That comment came from Army veteran Tad Steckler, 40, a retired master sergeant and winner of a medal for heroism, in an interview with VICE News that ran Monday. Steckler was discussing the traumatic ordeal he just experienced with Veterans Affairs (VA).

In June of last year, Steckler’s wife opened a letter from the agency thinking it was her husband’s monthly disability check. Enclosed, however, was a bill from the VA to the tune of over $10,000. The agency claimed Steckler had been overcompensated in error and that the debt must be paid.

The VA said the master sergeant’s monthly check would be withheld until it was.

“If Blue Cross Blue Shield gave you too much of a benefit, they would have to sue you first; they couldn’t go straight into collections,” attorney Daniel Willman told VICE News regarding the abrupt manner in which the government demands reimbursement. “But because it’s the federal government, it can go straight into collections.”

For the Stecklers, the issue came down to marital status. Steckler had taken his ex-wife and her two children off his military healthcare policy when his divorce was finalized and had informed the Department of Defense of the split. Thinking this was enough, he never informed the VA directly.

The master sergeant says if it was a mistake, it was an honest one. But even still, he says the government has yet to show exactly how — and by how much — he was overpaid.

“If we owe, then we own. We get it,” he told VICE News. “But can you show me what I owe and how? I don’t know any businesses that would get away with something like this.”

After months of letters, filings, and phone calls — during which, the Stecklers were informed the initial debt quote itself was a miscalculation, and that the family actually owed nearly $22,000 — Tad and his wife Robyn were left with very few answers and even fewer options. In September of last year, they set up a payment plan with the VA to repay the supposed debt. They opted to pay $360 a month over five years, to be drawn from Steckler’s disability check.

“They basically blackmail you with the option of losing your house and filing bankruptcy or (to) go on a payment plan for some enigmatic, elusive, ever-changing debt,” said Robyn.

And the process took its toll on the veteran. Robyn recounted to VICE News that throughout their dealings with the VA, she watched her husband grow more and more depressed — to the point where she was worried he would harm himself.

“In a few days I will have to start driving the girls to and from school again, and I dread it,” Robyn wrote in one letter to the VA. “I know we will worry that he is home alone during those times. We cannot take him with us because with the added stress of this huge debt, his PTS symptoms have increased and he is back to being unable to handle traffic, noise and becomes disoriented.”

Unfortunately, Tad Steckler is far from alone with these woes. VICE News’ investigation revealed that the VA sent out nearly 190,000 such overpayment notices in 2016. One combat medic from Idaho was told he owed the government nearly $10,000. An Army sniper from Colorado is purported to owe over $11,000.

An NPR report from January of 2016 shed light on the case of Clay Hull, an army vet whose military career ended when he was wounded by an improvised explosive device. The government said Hull owed it $38,000 in reimbursement for payments received while Hull was in prison for eighteen months on a weapons charge. Hull fought the VA and eventually got the debt erased.

His attitude about the whole ordeal mirrors Steckler’s.

“If I’m in the wrong, I’ll admit it,” he told NPR. “But I’m not going to let somebody just push me around, especially the VA.”

NPR’s investigation found that in 2015 alone, the VA overpaid vets by $24 million  —  money it then tried to get back

As to the manner of that debt collection, VICE News wrote Monday that the VA says “there is no limit on how much it can ask a vet to repay, and no limit on how far back the agency is willing to go to collect overpayment debts.”

It’s not a system that works in a soldier’s favor, says Douglas Rosinski, an attorney who represents veterans.

“VA is so fragmented that it is almost impossible to correct an error in the underlying facts before VA turns the case over for collection,” he said. “If the underlying facts are incorrect, which they are in many instances, it is nearly impossible to jump through all the legal hoops to appeal the determination before VA executes its recovery action.”

In all such cases, the burden is on the soldier to disprove the VA’s claims. In all cases, as well, payments to veterans are withheld until the agency is fully reimbursed.

Crowdstrike Retracts Half Their Claims

After being busted, by the Voice of America, no less, telling tall tales about why you should believe for one single minute that Russia must be behind the DNC or Podesta leaks to Wikileaks last year, Crowdstrike has now climbed down from half of their claims.

Don’t worry. If you are a hardcore rightwing nationalist hawk, an Israel-first neocon kook or a center-left liberal Democrat Hillary-supporter — sorry for being so redundant — you can still continue to believe your stupid birther-level conspiracy nonsense about Russian interference in last year’s election. It was never based on a single fact in the first place.

New Police Toy

Image result for bozena riot system

“Officer, what big toys you have,” she said. “The better to protect you with, my dear,” to paraphrase Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.

The Big Bad Wolf has countless ways of “protecting” us.

Enter the BOZENA RIOT SYSTEM.

Image result for bozena riot systemImage result for bozena riot systemImage result for bozena riot system

Image result for bozena riot system

Some of the specifics:

BOZENA RIOT SYSTEM is designed to control riots in streets and urbanized areas and to protect the law-enforcement units in action whenever peace maintenance is required. The system is intended predominantly for the special military and police units responsible for the CROWD CONTROL during the violent political/social demonstrations, against football hooligans, etc.

BOZENA RIOT was developed in a close cooperation with specialists of the Slovak Police Corps. In principle, BOZENA RIOT is the well protected and easy deployable barrier which can be flexibly used in favor of actual operational needs as a tool:
(1) to direct or disperse gathered crowds into desired areas or directions;
(2) to block entirely narrow streets and to create safe and effective access control to protected areas and buildings;
(3) to execute direct observation and monitoring of the operational situation;
(4) communication with rioters through the loudspeakers;
(5) for some anti-terrorist operations, fighting against snipers, allowing a safe access to buildings and other elevated positions;
(6) with use of the shield it can be flexibly used for removal of smaller obstacles;
(7) with use of an easy attachable bulldozer blade it can be flexibly used for removal of bigger obstacles.

BOZENA RIOT provides higher level of safety and security for the police forces on one side as well as better handling with the passive and not violent members of the c rowd on the other side.

A video of the beast is proudly on display from the manufacturer, although thoughtful people should be ashamed to engineer these kinds of monstrosities.

And here’s another lengthier, more in-depth look at the BOZENA RIOT SYSTEM:

NFL Announces Raiders Move to North Korea

Scottsdale, Ariz. – National Football League bigshots, meeting here to drive drunk and get in fights in Old Town nightclubs, in the longstanding tradition of college and professional football players who visit this resort city, announced today that they had voted unanimously to allow the Oakland Raiders to move to North Korea.

NFL spokesman Dennis Rodman said that N. Korea epitomizes the league’s values—and, increasingly, America’s values.  “The North Koreans have taken sports socialism to the next level,” said a beaming Rodman.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Raiders will not only get a free stadium from the generous government, they will also get free coverage on state TV, as well as a government guarantee that every game will be sold out through the forced conscription of fans.

When asked how he could justify the N. Korean government spending money on sports when its citizens don’t have enough to eat, Rodman said, “Let ‘em eat nachos covered with greasy artificial cheese.”

“And please don’t be sanctimonious about this,” Rodman continued.  “The good ole USA tears down perfectly good stadiums and builds gleaming new ones in the downtowns of decaying cities, surrounded by miles and miles of slums, where my bros work for the drug industry and slaughter each other.”

League President Len Vladimir stepped in front of Rodman, and with a nervous smile said, “What Dennis was trying to say was that it’s a proven fact of Keynesian economics that subsidized sports return $1,000 to the community for every dollar stolen from, er, invested by, taxpayers.  This deal is a surefire way of introducing American-style capitalism to North Korea.”

Mr. Vladimir went on to promise that every half-time show in North Korea will be a bigger extravaganza than the half-time shows at the Super Bowl.  “Instead of a military color guard and martial music,” he said, “ballistic missiles will be towed around the field.  And to top the vulgarity of half-time entertainers in the States, firing squads will shoot dissidents in front of the fans.”

Separately, Cuba and Venezuela expressed disappointment over the NFL’s decision, saying that they had offered better terms to the league.  But both countries were pleased that Major League Baseball had promised them an expansion team.  The deals were brokered by former President George W. Bush and modeled on the deal he got from Dallas for his Texas Rangers.

News Roundup 3/28/17

  • Jeff Sessions announced that he will look to strip funding from sanctuary cities. [Link]
  • The US is boycotting nuclear disarmament talks taking place at the UN. [Link]
  • US soldiers in Mosul have started to wear black uniforms to look more like Iraqi counterterrorism forces. [Link]
  • Between 200 and 300 additional US soldiers are moving into Mosul to aid in the fight against ISIS. [Link]
  • Kurdish forces are working to seize the town of Tabqa from ISIS. The town is near the Tabqa dam, that ISIS warns is near failure. [Link]
  • A Kurdish leader says that after Raqqa is freed from ISIS, the people will be allowed to choose how they are governed. The Kurds expect the people of Raqqa will choose to join the Kurdish government. [Link]
  • The Trump Administration is considering giving additional aid to the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting against the Houthi in Yemen. [Link]

On Foreign Policy Focus #19, I discuss the war in Yemen. For over two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging an air war in Yemen with the assistance of the US. The US is also carrying out raids and drone attacks against al-Qaeda. I explain how the US is fighting on both sides of the Yemeni war and how the civilians are suffering. LISTEN HERE!!

Will Grigg is Sick

Our hero Will Grigg has been hospitalized. Word is that he is stable and will probably be okay, but he is in the ICU.

I will update this post when I find out more.

Update: Word is that Will will be moved from ICU today, Sunday, but is still in bad shape.

Update II: Will is awake and is making some progress.