Friday, August 18, 2017

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Headlines With A Voice | Aug 18, 2017




Documents Expose How US Government Uses Hollywood to Promote and Propagandize

Sputnik | Aug 18, 2017

CC0 / Pixabay
A vast swathe of documents revealing the extent of US government influence in Hollywood – including editing scripts, and blocking critical movies from ever being made – have been unearthed, indicating US officials have covertly helped produce at least 800 major movies and 1,000 television shows since 1910.

The files were uncovered by Tom Secker, an independent researcher, and Dr. Matthew Alford, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath, after diligent trawling of over 4,000 US military and intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They form the basis of the duo's book National Security Cinema.

Among the trove are office diary reports from assorted military entertainment liaison offices, documents from the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency on changes made to film scripts, production assistance agreements signed between military officials and film producers, and internal government communications about the entertainment industry.


The Racket

It may not be entirely surprising that the US government seeks to influence films and TV — after all, the power of media to shape public perceptions of major contemporary issues and historical events is well-documented —  and it's no secret US government agencies operate "entertainment liaison offices" connecting entertainment industry professionals with department officials.

However, the publicly purveyed image of these offices — small operations, assisting actors, authors, directors, producers and screenwriters upon request, with minimal input on media projects  beyond ensuring "authenticity" and accurate portrayal of agencies in the media — could not be further from the truth. Moreover, previous estimates of how many projects the US government has assisted were woefully inadequate — to say the least, Messrs Secker and Alford were shocked by the scale of what they discovered, and what the US security establishment's combined efforts have produced.

Typically, state involvement in media projects begin when their producers approach an entertainment liaison office, in search of support and guidance — often, they wish to borrow military equipment, or feature locations and/or personnel in their work, which would cost millions to hire privately. The US security state is more often than not happy to oblige — in return for a say on the project's content.
As a result, any project US government agencies are involved in is likely to be subject to script changes, in some cases quite seismic, in others small but significant — for example, if there are characters, action or dialog an agency doesn't approve of, filmmakers must accommodate their demands. Production Assistance Agreements - — contracts between the agency and project —then lock filmmakers into using the military-approved version of the script.

"It's about promoting themselves, and promoting foreign and security policies and in some cases worldviews that justify their continued existence and massive budgets," Mr. Secker told Sputnik.

Origins

Pentagon involvement in the US film industry dates back to the 1910s — although perhaps predictably, they became much more heavily involved during WW2, establishing the entertainment liaison office system shortly after the war. Since then, the documents suggest the Pentagon has worked on at least 800 movies.



The CIA became involved almost immediately upon its creation in 1947, although its forebear, the Office of Strategic Services assisted with the production of three films in the immediate aftermath of the World War II — O.S.S., Cloak and Dagger and 13 Rue Madelaine. Each movie deals with the work of the OSS, and to Mr. Secker's mind "glorify" US covert operations — in fact, the movies arguably make the case for the creation of the CIA. 

"O.S.S. is particularly obvious in this respect. It's a story about guys being recruited into the agency and being sent to France to help the resistance. In one scene, an instructor says to his recruits "we need a central intelligence agency" and talks about how the US is languishing behind its enemies in intelligence terms, as "they've been doing it for 200 years" — obviously a reference to Russia and the Soviet Union, rather than Nazi Germany," Mr. Secker said.

These lines are particularly disconcerting when one considers the film itself was released in 1946, before the term "Central Intelligence Agency" had appeared in any official document, and before most historians suggest the Cold War had commenced — indeed, far from an enemy, the Soviet Union was still considered an ally by many Western politicians and citizens alike.

Expansion

However, it was not until the 1990s the CIA began official initiatives to boost their Hollywood influence — the agency established an entertainment liaison office of its own in 1996 and since then have had a "consistent, steady" influence on films and TV shows, Mr. Secker says. Some of the projects that boast covert state involvement are perhaps predictable — sci-fi blockbusters such as Transformers and War of the Worlds — others baffling.

For instance, since 2005 the Pentagon has worked on dozens of reality TV projects, including Cupcake Wars, American Idol and Top Chef. The CIA also worked on an episode of the latter series, as did the State Department.

"The approach seems to be almost anything can be used to promote the US security state, its ideology and objectives. They're trying to reach out to audiences beyond the usual young men who go to see war/action movies," Mr. Secker explained.


The documents also make clear the US government have massively expanded its involvement in the entertainment industry since the 1990s. Mr. Secker suggests this was driven by cost-cutting initiatives during Bill Clinton's Presidency, which almost led to the liaison offices being shut down.  Motion Picture Association President Jack Valenti and others wrote to the Secretary of Defense "begging" for them to remain open. 

"I think they're partly just trying to prove their worth, but it's also because there's a lot more TV being made these days with free to air digital channels multiplying the hours of content.  More TV means more requests for assistance, which in turn means more supported projects. I imagine there's also an element of trying to justify their massive budgets in the absence of a Cold War-style external threat," Mr. Secker told Sputnik.

Mr. Secker thinks the DOD's Hollywood database is the most fascinating set of documents, as they sometimes reveal the nature of script changes — for example, 2003 film Tears of the Sun, about a fictional Navy SEAL rescue operation in Nigeria, was heavily edited to remove the impression that the US government is involved in "nasty conspiracies overseas."


In other cases it's about "civilianizing" troublesome elements of a script, to distance a story's content from the US defense establishment. For instance, Mr. Secker was "quite astonished" by the Marine Corps' notes on Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk — they speak overtly of "radical changes" made to the script, including "civilianizing" the lab in which the titular green giant is created, the primary villain becoming an ex-military character (as opposed to a currently serving military officer), the removal of dialogue referring to military experiments on human subjects, and the codename for the operation to catch Hulk becoming "Angry Man" — it was originally "Ranch Hand" in the script.


For Mr. Secker, this is possibly the most disturbing change identified over the course of their research, as Ranch Hand was the name of a real-world military operation, launched in 1962, in which millions of gallons of herbicides and poisons (including the infamous Agent Orange) were dumped on Vietnam and Laos.

Officially intended to expose roads and trails used by North Vietnamese troops, Vietnam veterans to this day suffer adverse health issues due to the operation, including skin rashes, cancer and birth defects in their children. Similar problems, including a shockingly high incidence of miscarriages and congenital malformations, have been documented among Vietnamese people who live in the areas where the chemicals were used.

Other revealed examples of CIA scriptural meddling are more surprising than troubling — for instance, the CIA were involved in the production of yuletide-themed comedy Ernest Saves Christmas, and blockbuster romcom Meet the Parents (and sequel Meet the Fockers).

In the latter instance, Robert De Niro plays Jack Byrnes, a retired CIA operative — the real-world CIA secured several changes to the script, most notably a scene in whcih protagonist Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) discovers Byrnes' secret hideaway. In the original script, Focker finds CIA torture manuals on Byrnes' desk — in the finished film, he merely stumbles upon photos of Byrnes with various famous political figures.

As many files are still withheld by the US security state, it's impossible to know exactly how widespread military censorship of entertainment has been, or is. Nonetheless, the next time a major movie featuring US military and/or intelligence to any degree hits cinema screens, readers may wish to keep their eyes and ears keenly open — its content may well have been fiddled with by the US secret state.


10 Shocking New Facts About the Manufactured Opioid Crisis in America

Waking Times | Aug 16, 2017 | Alex Pietrowski

America has some serious problems, but public attention only seems to flow where the mainstream media goes. And while there certainly is reason to be concerned with the social turmoil and the general tenor of American society today, a far more dangerous and diabolical crisis is tearing us apart from the inside.

This is the opioid crisis which is being fueled by cheap and abundant heroin, a tidal wave of increasingly potent and terribly addictive pharmaceutical and synthetic opioids on our streets, and a deepening spiritual crisis that has so many looking for an escape from the emptiness and pain of life in a culture in decline.

As events and narratives in the mainstream media rise and fall, the opioid crisis continues to gain steam, bubbling just below the surface of everyday life. Taking lives and ruining lives, this is serious, and as time goes by, little pieces of important news come and go behind the scenes, giving those who are paying attention a clearer picture of what’s really happening on this front.

Here are 10 new facts on the most recent developments with the opioid crisis:

1.) Opioids are now the leading cause of death for people under 50.

2.) The rate of overdoses for the teenage demographic surged 20% in 2015 alone, the vast majority of which were related to opioids.

3.) With a 10 day supply of opioid painkillers, one in five people will become long term users. This is how addictive these pills are.

4.) Doctors are getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to write prescriptions. Some 70,000 doctors have received an estimated $46 million in non-research opioid related payments.

5.) In 2015, more than a third of U.S. adults were prescribed prescription opioids.

6.) More than half of all opioid prescriptions are written for those with anxiety or depression.

7.) Dentists and oral surgeons are now major opioid prescribers.

8.) The crisis is being made worse by an international effort to rapidly develop stronger and more addictive synthetic opioids to be smuggled into the U.S.

9.) The United States consumes at least 85% of all the world’s natural and synthetic opiates.

10.) Members of the think tank community are quietly working to turn this epidemic into another foreign war, advocating the military invasion of Mexico.

Final Thoughts


Watching this crisis unfold over time is like watching a garden wither without water in the long hot months of summer. It just gets worse and worse so long as nobody is attending to it. Death is the end result.

There is so much than can be done about this crisis, from stopping the production and distribution of opioids, to offering addicts more effective and affordable treatment options, however as long as our attention is diverted onto other events, there will never be a united effort to stop this.

Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com. Alex is an avid student of Yoga and life.

Featured Image © Waking Times


"Russia Sanctions": The Pleasant Euphemism for Washington's EU Extortion Racket

Russia Insider | Aug 18, 2017 | Diana Johnstone

While the U.S. preaches “free competition”, it constantly takes measures to prevent free competition at the international level

Do they know what they are doing? When the U.S. Congress adopts draconian sanctions aimed mainly at disempowering President Trump and ruling out any move to improve relations with Russia, do they realize that the measures amount to a declaration of economic war against their dear European “friends”?

Whether they know or not, they obviously don’t care. U.S. politicians view the rest of the world as America’s hinterland, to be exploited, abused and ignored with impunity.

The Bill H.R. 3364 “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” was adopted on July 25 by all but three members of the House of Representatives. An earlier version was adopted by all but two Senators. Final passage at veto-overturning proportions is a certainty.

This congressional temper tantrum flails in all directions. The main casualties are likely to be America’s dear beloved European allies, notably Germany and France. Who also sometimes happen to be competitors, but such crass considerations don’t matter in the sacred halls of the U.S. Congress, totally devoted to upholding universal morality.

Economic “Soft Power” Hits Hard

Under U.S. sanctions, any EU nation doing business with Russia may find itself in deep trouble. In particular, the latest bill targets companies involved in financing Nord Stream 2, a pipeline designed to provide Germany with much needed natural gas from Russia.

By the way, just to help out, American companies will gladly sell their own fracked natural gas to their German friends, at much higher prices.

That is only one way in which the bill would subject European banks and enterprises to crippling restrictions, lawsuits and gigantic fines.

While the U.S. preaches “free competition”, it constantly takes measures to prevent free competition at the international level.

Following the July 2015 deal ensuring that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons, international sanctions were lifted, but the United States retained its own previous ones. Since then, any foreign bank or enterprise contemplating trade with Iran is apt to receive a letter from a New York group calling itself “United Against Nuclear Iran” which warns that “there remain serious legal, political, financial and reputational risks associated with doing business in Iran, particularly in sectors of the Iranian economy such as oil and gas”. The risks cited include billions of dollars of (U.S.) fines, surveillance by “a myriad of regulatory agencies”, personal danger, deficiency of insurance coverage, cyber insecurity, loss of more lucrative business, harm to corporate reputation and a drop in shareholder value.

The United States gets away with this gangster behavior because over the years it has developed a vast, obscure legalistic maze, able to impose its will on the “free world” economy thanks to the omnipresence of the dollar, unrivaled intelligence gathering and just plain intimidation.

European leaders reacted indignantly to the latest sanctions. The German foreign ministry said it was “unacceptable for the United States to use possible sanctions as an instrument to serve the interest of U.S. industry”. The French foreign ministry denounced the “extraterritoriality” of the U.S. legislation as unlawful, and announced that “To protect ourselves against the extraterritorial effects of US legislation, we will have to work on adjusting our French and European laws”.

In fact, bitter resentment of arrogant U.S. imposition of its own laws on others has been growing in France, and was the object of a serious parliamentary report delivered to the French National Assembly foreign affairs and finance committees last October 5, on the subject of “the extraterritoriality of American legislation”.

Extraterritoriality

The chairman of the commission of enquiry, long-time Paris representative Pierre Lellouche, summed up the situation as follows:

“The facts are very simple. We are confronted with an extremely dense wall of American legislation whose precise intention is to use the law to serve the purposes of the economic and political imperium with the idea of gaining economic and strategic advantages. As always in the United States, that imperium, that normative bulldozer operates in the name of the best intentions in the world since the United States considers itself a ‘benevolent power’, that is a country that can only do good.”

Always in the name of “the fight against corruption” or “the fight against terrorism”, the United States righteously pursues anything legally called a “U.S. person”, which under strange American law can refer to any entity doing business in the land of the free, whether by having an American subsidiary, or being listed on the New York stock exchange, or using a U.S.-based server, or even by simply trading in dollars, which is something that no large international enterprise can avoid.

In 2014, France’s leading bank, BNP-Paribas, agreed to pay a whopping fine of nearly nine billion dollars, basically for having used dollar transfers in deals with countries under U.S. sanctions. The transactions were perfectly legal under French law. But because they dealt in dollars, payments transited by way of the United States, where diligent computer experts could find the needle in the haystack. European banks are faced with the choice either of facing prosecution, which entails all sorts of restrictions and punishments before a verdict is reached, or else, counseled by expensive U.S. corporate lawyers, of entering into the obscure “plea bargain” culture of the U.S. judicial system, unfamiliar to Europeans. Just like the poor wretch accused of robbing a convenience store, the lawyers urge the huge European enterprises to plea guilty in order to escape much worse consequences.

Alstom, a major multinational corporation whose railroad section produces France’s high speed trains, is a jewel of French industry. In 2014, under pressure from U.S. accusations of corruption (probably bribes to officials in a few developing countries), Alstom sold off its electricity branch to General Electric. However, the $720 million in U.S. fines demanded by the U.S. were not paid by the new owner, G.E., but sloughed off on Alstom’s train division.

The underlying accusation is that such alleged “corruption” by foreign firms causes U.S. firms to lose markets. That is possible, but there is no practical reciprocity here. A whole range of U.S. intelligence agencies, able to spy on everyone’s private communications, are engaged in commercial espionage around the world. As an example, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, devoted to this task, operates with 200 employees on an annual budget of over $30 million. The comparable office in Paris employs five people.

This was the situation as of last October. The latest round of sanctions can only expose European banks and enterprises to even more severe consequences, especially concerning investments in the vital Nord Stream natural gas pipeline.

This bill is just the latest in a series of U.S. legislative measures tending to break down national legal sovereignty and create a globalized jurisdiction in which anyone can sue anyone else for anything, with ultimate investigative capacity and enforcement power held by the United States.

Wrecking the European Economy

Over a dozen European Banks (British, German, French, Dutch, Swiss) have run afoul of U.S. judicial moralizing, compared to only one U.S. bank: JP Morgan Chase.

The U.S. targets the European core countries, while its overwhelming influence in the northern rim – Poland, the Baltic States and Sweden – prevents the European Union from taking any measures (necessarily unanimous) contrary to U.S. interests.

By far the biggest catch in Uncle Sam’s financial fishing expedition is Deutsche Bank. As Pierre Lellouche warned during the final hearing of the extraterritorial hearings last October, U.S. pursuits against Deutsche Bank risk bringing down the whole European banking system. Although it had already paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the State of New York, Deutsche Bank was faced with a “fine of 14 billion dollars whereas it is worth only five and a half. … In other words, if this is carried out, we risk a domino effect, a major financial crisis in Europe.”

In short, U.S. sanctions amount to a sword of Damocles threatening the economies of the country’s main trading partners. This could be a Pyrrhic victory, or more simply, the blow that kills the goose that lays the golden eggs. But hurrah, America would be the winner in a field of ruins.

Former justice minister Elisabeth Guigou called the situation shocking, and noted that France had told the U.S. Embassy that the situation is “insupportable” and insisted that “we must be firm”.

Jacques Myard said that “American law is being used to gain markets and eliminate competitors. We should not be naïve and wake up to what is happening.”

This enquiry marked a step ahead in French awareness and resistance to a new form of “taxation without representation” exercised by the United States against its European satellites. They committee members all agreed that something must be done.

That was last October. In June, France held parliamentary elections. The commission chairman, Pierre Lellouche (Republican), the rapporteur Karine Berger (Socialist), Elisabeth Guigou (a leading Socialist) and Jacques Myard (Republican) all lost their seats to inexperienced newcomers recruited into President Emmanuel Macron’s République en marche party. The newcomers are having a hard time finding their way in parliamentary life and have no political memory, for instance of the Rapport on Extraterritoriality.

As for Macron, as minister of economics, in 2014 he went against earlier government rulings by approving the GE purchase of Alstom. He does not appear eager to do anything to anger the United States.

However, there are some things that are so blatantly unfair that they cannot go on forever.

Mercury disrupting metabolism and altering gene expression

The Watchers | Aug 15, 2017

The mercury found at very low concentrations in water is concentrated along the entire food chain, from algae via zooplankton to small fish and on to the largest fish -- the ones we eat. Mercury causes severe and irreversible neurological disorders in people who have consumed highly contaminated fish. Whereas we know about the element's extreme toxicity, what happens further down the food chain, all the way down to those microalgae that are the first level and the gateway for mercury? By employing molecular biology tools, a team of researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, has addressed this question for the first time. The scientists measured the way mercury affects the gene expression of algae, even when its concentration in water is very low, comparable to European environmental protection standards.

The UNIGE research team is led by Vera Slaveykova, professor of environmental biogeochemistry and ecotoxicology in the Department F.A. Forel for environmental and aquatic sciences, and vice-president of the School of Earth and environmental sciences, Faculty of Sciences of the UNIGE. The scientists selected a green microalga measuring barely six microns by ten, known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The alga was chosen not because of its colour or the two flagella it uses to swim but because, of all the primary producers in the aquatic environment at the the lowest level of the food chain of the food chain, it is the one whose genome has been fully sequenced. The availability of this genomic information made it possible to compare gene expression of algae exposed to different concentrations of mercury and to determine the associated effects.

Mercury disrupts the metabolism of algae


The researchers were able to analyse the transcriptome of the microalgae - i.e. the set of all RNA molecules that controls the expression of their genes - using molecular biology tools. As professor Slaveykova explains: "We were able to accurately determine which were over-expressed or, on the contrary, under-expressed as a result of exposure to mercury." And the conclusion was clear: mercury disrupted the metabolism of algae, with numerous genes being deregulated, regardless of whether the concentrations were comparable with those set by European environmental standards, lower or higher than those usually found in the environment.

An alga that seems healthy from a physiological point of view appears altered when its gene's expression is examined. The dysregulated genes are involved in diverse processes, from the generation of reactive oxygen species triggering antioxidant defence to the alteration of the flagella and cell motility. The photosynthesis and transport of essential elements such as zinc, iron or copper are also affected. It is difficult, however, to establish an exhaustive list since, as professor Slaveykova points out: "Of the 5,493 genes specifically dysregulated by methylmercury, we don't yet know the function of 3,569 of them, even though this alga is the most widely studied of all the primary producers". Together with inorganic mercury, methylmercury is one of two forms of the element analysed by the researchers. It is formed by the transformation of inorganic mercury caused by bacteria in the anoxic environment. It magnifies in the food chain and can directly affect the central nervous system of the top consumers.

The accumulation of mercury in fish, together with its impact on human health, have been the subject of numerous studies since the Minamata disaster, when the population of this eponymous Japanese fishing harbour was hit by large-scale pollution in the mid-twentieth century. However, thanks to the transcriptomic approach adopted by the UNIGE researchers, we now know how mercury enters the food chain and affects the microalgae at its base.

An environmental and public health issue


Although mercury is found naturally in the environment (it is emitted, for example, when a volcano erupts), its concentration has been steadily increasing because of human activity: by burning coal or releasing mercury as part of various industrial processes. It is now estimated that over half the mercury in the air is linked to human activities, and that the ratio is nearly two-thirds in the aquatic environment. And it is a global problem since high levels of mercury have been detected in the blood of polar bears, far from any source of contamination. It is crucial, therefore, that we understand the governing mechanisms, both from an environmental and public health perspective.

Source: Université de Genève

Featured image: Green microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a model system for molecular biology and environmental studies. Image © Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility, Louisa Howard

New Study Shows Pesticide Levels Harmful to Aquatic Life in US Streams

Sustaianble Pulse | Aug 15, 2017

A new analysis published this month by U.S. Geological Survey scientists found pesticides at high enough concentrations to harm already imperiled aquatic invertebrates in more than half of 100 streams studied in the Midwest and Great Plains. The pesticide levels threaten species like the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and the sheepnose mussel.

The USGS study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found an average of 54 pesticides in each stream in both agricultural and urban areas, spotlighting the ever-broadening contamination of waterways caused by the nation’s escalating use of pesticides.

“This study exposes the hidden harm of our increasing addiction to pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “When we see pesticides doing this kind of widespread harm to aquatic animals, we can be sure it has dangerous cascading effects on the entire web of life, including humans.”

The analysis of 228 pesticide compounds in 100 streams over a 14-week period in 2013 documented the most complex pesticide mixtures yet reported in U.S. water samples. The waterways included in the study are in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Surprising among the findings was that the concentrations and incidences of some pesticides, including glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — imidacloprid and 2,4-D, were higher in urban waterways than in agricultural settings.

“The finding that many of these pesticides are more prevalent in urban waterways than in rural streams shows the escalating risks of dumping millions of pounds of chemicals on the landscape every year,” said Donley. “We simply can’t keep pretending it’s safe to spray more and more poisons on our fields, gardens and waterways.”

The analysis comes as a federal court in California is considering a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, including the Center, urging common-sense measures to prevent dangerous pesticides from harming endangered species like California condors, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats and Alabama sturgeon. Evaluations from the Environmental Protection Agency clearly show that imperiled wildlife continue to be threatened by pesticides.

The study is the first of five regional assessments by USGS scientists of pesticide pollution of streams. The others regions are the Southeast, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and California.

Featured Image © Sustainable Pulse