The Pentagon’s dark money: Billions of federal dollars are vanishing into thin air


(Credit: Wikimedia/Deptartment of Defense)

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Pentagon’s growing list of secret programs and evasive budgetary maneuvers is accidental or simply a matter of sloppy bookkeeping.  Much of it is remarkably purposeful.  By keeping us in the dark about how it spends our money, the Pentagon has made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold it accountable for just about anything.  An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

The audit problem is a case in point.  The Pentagon along with all other major federal agencies was first required to make its books auditable in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  More than 25 years later, there is no evidence to suggest that the Pentagon will ever be able to pass an audit.  In fact, the one limited instance in which success seemed to be within reach — an audit of a portion of the books of a single service, the Marine Corps — turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a case study in bureaucratic resistance.

In April 2014, when it appeared that the Corps had come back with a clean audit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was so elated that he held a special ceremony in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Pentagon. “It might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment,” he acknowledged, “but damn, this is an accomplishment.”

In March 2015, however, that “accomplishment” vanished into thin air.  The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had overseen the work of Grant Thornton, the private firm that conducted the audit, denied that it had been successful (allegedly in response to “new information”).  In fact, in late 2013, as Reuters reported, auditors at the OIG had argued for months against green-lighting Grant Thornton’s work, believing that it was full of obvious holes.  They were, however, overruled by the deputy inspector general for auditing, who had what Reuters described as a “longstanding professional relationship” with the Grant Thornton executive supervising the audit.

The Pentagon and the firm deny that there was any conflict of interest, but the bottom line is clear enough: there was far more interest in promoting the idea that the Marine Corps could pass an audit than in seeing it actually do so, even if inconvenient facts had to be swept under the rug. This sort of behavior is hardly surprising once you consider all the benefits from an undisturbed status quo that accrue to Pentagon bureaucrats and cash-hungry contractors.

Without a reliable paper trail, there is no systematic way to track waste, fraud, and abuse in Pentagon contracting, or even to figure out how many contractors the Pentagon employs, though a conservative estimate puts the number at well over 600,000.  The result is easy money with minimal accountability.

How to Arm the Planet

In recent years, keeping tabs on how the Pentagon spends its money has grown even more difficult thanks to the “war budget” — known in Pentagonese as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account — which has become a nearly bottomless pit for items that have nothing to do with fighting wars.  The use of the OCO as a slush fund began in earnest in the early years of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and has continued ever since.  It’s hard to put a precise number on how much money has been slipped into that budget or taken out of it to pay for pet projects of every sort in the last decade-plus, but the total is certainly more than $100 billion and counting.

The Pentagon’s routine use of the war budget as a way to fund whatever it wants has set an example for a Congress that’s seldom seen a military project it wasn’t eager to pay for.  Only recently, for instance, the House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry,proposed taking $18 billion from the war budget to cover items like an extra 11 F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers that the Pentagon hadn’t even asked for.

This was great news for Lockheed Martin, which needs a shot in the arm for its troubled F-35 program, already slated to be the most expensive weapons system in history, and for Boeing, which has been lobbying aggressively to keep its F-18 production line open in the face of declining orders from the Navy.  But it’s bad news for the troops because, as the Project on Government Oversight has demonstrated, the money used to pay for the unneeded planes will come at the expense of training and maintenance funds.

This is, by the way, the height of hypocrisy at a time when the House Armed Services Committee is routinely sending out hysterical missives about the country’s supposed lack of military readiness.  The money to adequately train military personnel and keep their equipment running is, in fact, there. Members of Congress like Thornberry would just have to stop raiding the operations budget to pay for big ticket weapons systems, while turning a blind eye to wasteful spending in other parts of the Pentagon budget.

Thornberry’s gambit may not carry the day, since both President Obama and Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain oppose it.  But as long as a separate war budget exists, the temptation to stuff it with unnecessary programs will persist as well.

Of course, that war budget is just part of the problem.  The Pentagon has so many budding programs tucked away in so many different lines of its budget that even its officials have a hard time keeping track of what’s actually going on.  As for the rest of us, we’re essentially in the dark.

Consider, for instance, the proliferation of military aid programs.  The  Security Assistance Monitor, a nonprofit that tracks such programs, has identified more than two dozen of them worth about $10 billion annually.  Combine them with similar programs tucked away in the State Department’s budget, and the U.S. is contributing to the arming and training of security forces in 180 countries.  (To put that mind-boggling total in perspective, there are at most 196 countries on the planet.)  Who could possibly keep track of such programs, no less what effect they may be having on the countries and militaries involved, or on the complex politics of, and conflicts in, various regions?

Best suggestion: don’t even think about it (which is exactly what the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex want you to do).  And no need for Congress to do so either.  After all, as Lora Lumpe and Jeremy Ravinsky of the Open Society Foundations noted earlier this year, the Pentagon is the only government agency providing foreign assistance that does not even have to submit to Congress an annual budget justification for what it does.  As a result, they write, “the public does not know how much the DoD is spending in a given country and why.”

Slush Funds Galore

If smokescreens and evasive maneuvers aren’t enough to hide the Pentagon’s actual priorities from the taxpaying public, there’s always secrecy.  The Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists recently put the size of the intelligence portion of the national security state’s “black budget“ — its secret spending on everything from spying to developing high-tech weaponry — at more than $70 billion. That figure includes a wide variety of activities carried out through the CIA, the NSA, and other members of the intelligence community, but $16.8 billion of it was requested directly by the Department of Defense.  And that $70 billion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secret spending programs, since billions more in secret financing for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems has been squirreled away elsewhere.

The largest recent project to have its total costs shrouded in secrecy is the B-21, the Air Force’s new nuclear bomber. Air Force officials claim that they need to keep the cost secret lest potential enemies “connect the dots” and learn too much about the plane’s key characteristics.  In a letter to Senator McCain, an advocate of making the cost of the plane public, Ronald Walden of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office claimed that there was “a strong correlation between the cost of an air vehicle and its total weight.” This, he suggested, might make it “decisively easier” for potential opponents to guess its range and payload.

If such assessments sound ludicrous, it’s because they are.  As the histories of other major Pentagon acquisition programs have shown, the price of a system tells you just that — its price — and nothing more.  Otherwise, with its classic cost overruns, the F-35 would have a range beyond compare, possibly to Mars and back. Of course, the real rationale for keeping the full cost estimate for the B-21 secret is to avoid bad publicity.  Budget analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that it’s an attempt to avoid “sticker shock” for a program that he estimates could cost more than $100 billion to develop and purchase.

The bomber, in turn, is just part of a planned $1 trillion splurge over the next three decades on a new generation of bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and ground-based nuclear missiles, part of an updating of the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal.  And keep this in mind: that trillion dollars is simply an initial estimate before the usual Pentagon cost overruns even begin to come into play.  Financially, the nuclear plan is going to hit taxpayer wallets particularly hard in the mid-2020s when a number of wildly expensive non-nuclear systems like the F-35 combat aircraft will also be hitting peak production.

Under the circumstances, it doesn’t take a genius to know that there’s only one way to avoid the budgetary equivalent of a 30-car pile up: increase the Pentagon’s already ample finances yet again.  Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon was referring to the costs of building new nuclear delivery vehicles when he said that the administration was “wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it, and probably thanking our lucky stars we won’t be here to answer the question.”  Of course, the rest of us will be stuck holding the bag when all those programs cloaked in secrecy suddenly come out of hiding and the bills come fully due.

At this point, you may not be shocked to learn that, in response to McKeon’s uncomfortable question, the Pentagon has come up with yet another budgetary gimmick.  It’s known as the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” or as Taxpayers for Common Sense more accurately labels it, “the Navy’s submarine slush fund.” The idea — a longstanding darling of the submarine lobby (and yes, Virginia, there is a submarine lobby in Washington) — is to set up a separate slush fund outside the Navy’s normal shipbuilding budget. That’s where the money for the new ballistic missile submarine program, currently slated to cost $139 billion for 12 subs, would go.

Establishing such a new slush fund would, in turn, finesse any direct budgetary competition between the submarine program and the new surface ships the Navy also wants, and so avoid a political battle that might end up substantially reducing the number of vessels the Navy is hoping to buy over the next 30 years.  Naturally, the money for the submarine fund will have to come from somewhere, either one of the other military services or that operations and maintenance budget so regularly raided to help pay for expensive weapons programs.

Not to be outmaneuvered, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has now asked Congress to set up a “strategic deterrence fund” to pay for its two newest nuclear delivery vehicles, the planned bomber and a long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile.  In theory, this would take pressure off other major Air Force projects like the F-35, but as with the submarine fund, it only adds up if a future president and a future Congress can be persuaded to jack up the Pentagon budget to make room for these and other weapons systems.

In the end, however the specifics work out, any “fund” for such weaponry will be just another case of smoke and mirrors, a way of kicking the nuclear funding crisis down the road in hopes of fatter budgets to come. Why make choices now when the Pentagon and the military services can bet on blackmailing a future Trump or Clinton administration and a future Congress into ponying up the extra billions of dollars needed to make their latest ill-conceived plans add up?

If your head is spinning after this brief tour of the Pentagon’s budget labyrinth, it should be. That’s just what the Pentagon wants its painfully complicated budget practices to do: leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how our tax dollars are being spent. So far, they’re getting away with it.

Source: New feed

2 dead in plane crash in Southern California orchard

SANTA PAULA, Calif. (AP) — Two people have been killed in the fiery crash of a small plane in a Southern California orchard.

Ventura County fire Capt. Mike Lindbery says the crash was reported at 3:17 p.m. Saturday and arriving units found it engulfed in flames. The victims were deceased at the scene.

The site is in the agricultural Aliso Canyon area between the cities of Ventura and Santa Paula.

There’s no immediate information about those who were aboard, the type of plane or its flight.

There are three civilian airfields in the region.

Source: New feed

Building a Palestinian “Idol”: A subtle fable of cultural survival and pop-culture triumph

The Idol

The Idol (Credit: Adopt Films)

“This place sucks,” the gangly, handsome hero tells his friends, sounding exactly like the would-be dreamboat pop star of every rags-to-riches showbiz fable ever made. Except this guy’s name is Mohammed Assaf (played by the fine young Arab actor Tawfeek Barhom), and the place where he lives really does suck, probably worse than a small town in Kansas or the back streets of the Bronx or the slums of Dublin or the other places such a story might be told. Mohammed has spent his entire life in the Gaza Strip, first under Israeli occupation and then under the dysfunctional, semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority.

In one of the best and most telling scenes of Hany Abu-Assad’s film “The Idol,” Mohammed sits behind the wheel of his day-job taxi and watches a bunch of guys in colorful uniforms sprinting through the rubble left behind after Israeli bombing. Are they Hamas militiamen, or arms smugglers? Nope. They’re using the demolished buildings as a site to practice their awesome parkour skills. Gaza is a place where life is simultaneously normal and not normal, where kids grow up just as much infused with pop culture as kids in Beijing or Boston but where absolutely everything, beginning with basic perceptions of reality, has been distorted by war, occupation, poverty, crime and religion.

“The Idol” is a fictionalized retelling of the unlikely story of the real Mohammed Assaf — a 22-year-old from Gaza who competed on the Egyptian TV show “Arab Idol” in 2013 — and on the surface it appears to treat the political context purely as background. Major events like the Israeli withdrawal of 2005, the Hamas takeover of 2007 and the first Gaza war of 2008-9 are never directly mentioned. The film is structured as a conventional, inspirational biopic (maybe too much so) and was made with an assemblage of international financing from Britain, the Palestinian Authority, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which usually guarantees anodyne filmmaking inoffensive to all.

But below the surface “The Idol” is all about the connections between geography, destiny and culture, as were Abu-Assad’s previous features, the 2013 “Omar” and the controversial 2005 “Paradise Now.” Both of those films received foreign-language Oscar nominations because of their self-evidently serious and challenging subject matter: “Paradise Now” was a nail-biting drama about a young Palestinian who becomes a suicide bomber (and was widely misinterpreted as endorsing his actions), while “Omar” turned that story upside down, in the form of a devious psychological thriller about a Palestinian fighter who becomes an Israeli informant. After being accused by Israelis and American Jews of justifying terrorism, and then being accused by Palestinians of apologizing for treason, no doubt Abu-Assad was happy to make a movie almost everyone would find agreeable.

That said, “The Idol” is still an Abu-Assad film, meaning that it’s a deliberately ambiguous story about the contradictions and conundrums of Palestinian life, which all reflect the social and cultural distortion of Israeli occupation but cannot be boiled down to political formulas. We can start with the fact that Abu-Assad was not allowed to shoot in Gaza by local authorities. He was born as an Arab citizen of Israel, and although he now identifies as a Palestinian, his legal status remains complicated for both sides. After “Omar,” largely shot inside Israel, he is still viewed with suspicion by some Palestinians. (For this film, he apparently used locations in the West Bank and an unidentified Arab country, probably Jordan.)

Both in real life and in the movie, Mohammed Assaf presents himself as the unheard voice of the Palestinian people. His improbable Frank Capra-style saga of sneaking into Egypt with a forged visa and bluffing his way into the “Arab Idol” competition — which is pretty much true, but almost too far-fetched for the movies — was embraced by ordinary people throughout the Arab world. But one of Abu-Assad’s points is that Mohammed had to pursue the path to stardom all by himself, because he came from a corrupt and atrophied society that doesn’t work, and that seeks to blame all its problems on outside forces. When Mohammed and his vocal instructor visit one of Gaza’s richest men to ask for financial backing, the guy barely pretends to listen to their ardent, nationalistic pitch. “What do I get out of this?” he demands, before retreating into a garish Trumpian mansion so vast that Mohammed gasps, “Is this a house or an airport?”

During Mohammed’s first appearance on the low-rent local variety show “Palestinian Star,” he had no way to get from Gaza to Ramallah in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, where the program is shot. So he performed via a hilarious combination of low-tech and high-tech, over a Skype connection on computers running from a gasoline-powered generator. (Gaza was suffering one of its frequent power outages, either out of Israeli vindictiveness or Palestinian incompetence or both.) Different viewers will inevitably have different experiences of “The Idol” and what it’s really “about,” but for me Abu-Assad is subtly twisting the knife in both sides at the same time: He perceives a relationship of mutual hatred and mutual dependency between Israelis and Palestinians, which has damaged both people perhaps beyond repair.

It’s more difficult to perceive the levels of irony and subtlety at work in “The Idol” than in Abu-Assad’s previous films, partly because for the first half of it he works almost entirely with kids, telling the story of young Mohammed’s early years in something like the spirit of “Slumdog Millionaire” or François Truffaut’s “Small Change.” But even in these seemingly carefree early adventures Abu-Assad tweaks convention, as with Mohammed’s irresistible tomboy sister Nour (Hiba Attalah), who plays soccer with boys in the street and even plays guitar in Mohammed’s preteen wedding band. (That would be less likely to happen, I imagine, in today’s more stringently Islamic Palestinian culture.) When Mohammed and Nour finally get the money together for real instruments, they’re ripped off by a vicious and violent smuggler (Abu-Assad regular Ashraf Barhom), who later becomes a born-again Muslim, his sins apparently washed away.

To some extent, the improbable happy ending of Mohammed Assaf’s story seems at odds with the more complicated and discordant tale Abu-Assad is telling about the nature of life several decades into entrenched Palestinian exile and occupation. But for him I think they are two halves of the same story. He told audiences at the Toronto Film Festival he was more excited to see Assaf perform in “Arab Idol” than he was when “Omar” won a major award at Cannes. I think I understand why. Assaf’s pop-culture transcendence was a coming-of-age moment for Palestinians, a sign that they could triumph in the most delicious, delightful and unlikely of contexts, despite a broken society built on institutional hopelessness. Abu-Assad’s films make the same point, in a darker register.

“The Idol” is now playing in Albuquerque, N.M., Buffalo, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Haven, Conn., New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Austin, Texas. It opens June 3 in Boca Raton, Fla., Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Hollywood, Fla., Honolulu, San Diego, Santa Rosa, Calif., and Washington; and June 10 in Chicago, Palm Springs, Calif., Portland, Ore., Santa Fe, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz., with more cities and home video to follow.

Source: New feed

What life in a cult was like: “We gave away our critical thinking and moral code and surrendered it to him”

Holy Hell

“Holy Hell” (Credit: FilmRise)

“Holy Hell” is an eye-opening documentary, executive produced by Jared Leto, about life inside a cult. Director Will Allen joined the Buddhafield—led by The Teacher, named Michel—in the mid-1980s, to find purpose in his life. What transpired was Allen finding a kind of family with the other members and experiencing moments of spirituality. However, during his 22 years in the Buddhafield, he says he also experienced periods of exploitation by Michel.

Allen filmed much of his activities in the Buddhafield, and that footage, along with interviews with former cult members, including David Christopher, are the basis for this film, which examines how this cult operated. The film documents the perils of groupthink in the cult as Michel established a series of rules, from abstaining from sex and performing “service”—one member carried Michel’s chair for him wherever he went—to more shocking revelations.

In separate interviews, Allen and Christopher discussed their experiences with Salon.

Will, how did you get involved with the Buddhafield?

Allen: My sister introduced me to her teachers and group of meditators in 1985. I was on a quest for happiness. I was pretty burned out from college. I liked the teachings I heard, and the people I met, and that was the beginning of the end. I was young and looking for some kind of secret to life—how to live my life and give it purpose.

What can you say about the nature of the cult, and why you stayed in it for so long?

It’s like any relationship. You find the good and hold on to that as long as you can and overlook all the negatives. It’s a human condition. When do we say enough is enough in any situation? It didn’t register as abuse at the time because of the paradigm we were in. We were told to go beyond it in our mind. 

What made you decide to tell this story now?

I spent four years making it after spending five years deciding when to make the film. I was trying to reintegrate back into the world. I was being open and honest and transparent with others. I’m a filmmaker by heart, and this was the most direct path to gain power of my sense of self and identity. When I decided to make a film, I followed the old saw, “tell what you know.” This is what I spent 20 years studying and documenting, and what I know best. I felt it was my duty to bring it to life and touch upon these themes that have been interesting to me for 20 years—this spiritual, nebulous belief that we all have to deal with in these lives.

You shot much of the footage as part of the Buddhafield’s resident cameraman. How did you assemble the film and tell the story you did?

I did propaganda movies [for the Buddhafield]. I wanted to find the truth about what happened to my friends and me; that’s what I wanted to explore. The films were all my creation. So when I left [the Buddhafield], I took what I wanted, the completed films and some raw footage. I wanted my memories. I never thought I’d look at this footage again.

How did being in the Buddhafield make you feel?

The Teacher [Michel] made me feel accepted for who I was—being gay, and not perfect—because we were talking about something greater than [that]. In the group, we bonded over childhood turmoils and experiences that shaped our lives in negative and positive ways. We exposed our egos, which made us bond and love and forgive each other, and we became closer. It was the family you can talk to and cry with and they can help you. It was palpable. There weren’t the expectations from blood family. There was no judgment. It was unconditional acceptance. Even when new people came, and I was jaded and damaged, I still wanted them to have that initial experience I did.

Can you describe what the nature of the culture was like, with the rules Michel handed down?

The rules were interesting because they formed over time. When we first got there, there were no rules. There was no dogma, no religious history. I was raised Catholic, so that was very refreshing. The “guidelines,” as The Teacher called them, were developed to keep you on your path. We reinforced those rules with each other. We were reiterating what he said back to each other, and we created these rules, like the rule of no sex. It was “go beyond that emotion and desire, and you can take all that energy and create a higher, more ecstatic experience.” So masturbation was draining your energy. That’s the opposite of what you want—it’s the opposite of meditation. But there was so much deception and secrets and lies, these rules were impossible to maintain. Rules shifted—don’t eat sugar, don’t drink coffee. Caffeine and sugar create turbulence to your personality and you are trying to be still. Things became extreme.

Can you talk about the film’s allegations of sexual exploitation?

Chris says it well in the film: “It never registered as abuse.” We trusted [Michel]. Even though my physical and sexual boundaries were ruptured at the time, I was too young to understand. We gave away our critical thinking and moral code and surrendered it to him. The abuse was able to last for so long because we were surrounded by each other 24/7 and those situations were not abusive. The abuse was clustered around 23 hours of safety. Somehow they coexist. What I would say to him [now]: How could you have not understood our psyche was attached to what he did to us? He ignored our personality and egos, and we also ignored and compartmentalized it, as [if] in an abuse relationship. He was a predator and working people, trying to break them down. We were pushed beyond our comfort zone in the name of awakening or enlightening. We rationalized the good; it outweighed the bad. Once we felt safe to talk about it, the healing could begin.

How did you get out? How were you deprogrammed?

I was so committed I didn’t have the strength to leave until my other brothers and sisters [in the Buddhafield] started to leave. I was there because of them. When everyone said, “Hey, wait a minute…” we did it together. We couldn’t do it alone. We had this groupthink. Reprogramming—it is a tedious job to reintroduce yourself to your desires. I did a lot of writing. It took a long time to feel selfish again and feel self-centered. At 22 I unlearned everything I learned up to that point. When I got out at 44, I had to do it again.

What can you say about incorporating the other members of the Buddhafield in your film?

There is no power in one person telling their story. This film is showing that you can’t argue with 12 to 15 people saying the same thing. Michel’s power trumped an individual’s power. There was shame involved as your moral compass came into play. He would convince you why wanting to leave was wrong. He played with reality. He’d make fun of us for being moral.

David Christopher joined the Buddhafield in 1999 when Michel, The Teacher, renamed himself Andreas, and moved the cult to Austin, Texas.

David, one of the most striking moments in “Holy Hell” was when one disciple admits, “The benefits outweighed the craziness.” What can you say about the veracity of that statement?

Christopher: The craziness wasn’t really apparent for most of us. I’d like to say 80 percent of it is so fricking amazing that you can live in this state of bliss. And 20 percent was a little weird but you say, “I’m not going to look at that part.”

You say in the film that when you joined the cult you felt “lost,” and found safety in the Buddhafield. Can you discuss that?

We weren’t joining a cult. I can’t speak for everyone—there are 140 people with 140 perspectives. We were looking for something deeper. Our families are a cult. I have a new definition for cult: a group or organization that inhibits your thinking through guilt, shame, or coercion. That can be your family, it can be your church. I just broke up with a girlfriend because she doesn’t think on her own. Most everyone in our community wanted something more—they saw something under the veil and wanted more than just the superficial, and that’s how they entered into this. The veil got ripped away.

Can you describe how you came to be involved?

You can’t just join the Buddhafield. It’s hard to get in. It’s selective, and secretive. I realized quickly that there was something going on. I wasn’t invited in. There was a process you needed to go through… Eventually you get invited to a satsang [a meeting where The Teacher is present]. We had these elaborate parties for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You were suggested not to go home because you didn’t want to miss them. We rented out halls and had amazing presentations and initiates could first meet the master [Andreas] in that environment. Then there was dancing and singing and meditating. It was “this is more your family,” and I felt that way—it was way more intimate than my own family. There were no boundaries. It was more than I experienced with anyone who can reach those depths of intimacy with me.

Can you describe your relationship with Andreas?

Andreas was flirty with me, but it was always in a jokey manner. In hindsight, I understand I was probably being programmed and conditioned to be someone he would try to pursue—groomed for what he did with [some of the guys]. When you work with a spiritual master, there’s a master/disciple relationship. The master has an individual relationship with each disciple. Your trips that you need to overcome are different from my trips. Your master would see what’s best for you and you surrender and listen to the guidance of the master. So in that context, when the master tells you to “drop your mind” about gender—that’s how it starts. It’s a manipulation and a coercion that sex with your master will help you reach enlightenment because that’s what you need. It’s a sacred thing between master and disciple. What happens between you and your master stays there.

How did you get out?

We got this mass email [discussed in the film] and all of a sudden, I read it and I was like, What the fuck? All of a sudden there was this division.

Do you miss the feeling you had in the Buddhafield?

The film “Room” is a great example. It’s an extreme—you want to go back to the room; it’s what you know… You stay with conscious company because there was no judgment. You can have that intimacy with others. If you felt too many feelings, drop your mind and meditate. You get rid of your feelings but you never resolve anything. It’s an addiction—you run away from your feelings. Once the Buddhafield went away, and after we stopped self-medicating with meditation, everything came up and you had to stop running from it and deal with it. If you aren’t feeling your feelings, you aren’t being human. That’s one thing we really missed in the Buddhafield.

What are your feelings now toward Andreas?

If Andreas had said he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, “I’m human, I’m not this enlightened being,” this community might still be around. He refused to do that, and kept blaming everyone else. That’s when you saw the sociopathy. When you pick it apart, you see the dysfunction. Looking outside it, you see it clearly now. The only way to deal with a sociopath is to expose them. They have to run because they can’t confront the reality.

Source: New feed

Drew Peterson’s defense rests after calling 3 witnesses

James Glasgow

FILE – In this Feb. 20, 2013 file photo, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow leaves a courthouse in Joliet, Ill., during a hearing in Drew Peterson’s request for a new trial. On Friday, May 27, 2016, the trial continues in Chester, Ill., for Peterson, who is accused of trying to hire someone while in prison to kill Glasgow, who helped convict Peterson in 2012 of killing his third wife. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File) (Credit: AP)

CHESTER, Ill. (AP) — Drew Peterson’s attorneys rested their case Friday in the former suburban Chicago police officer’s murder-for-hire trial after calling three inmates who testified that the prosecution’s key witness cannot be believed.

Peterson is accused of trying to hire someone while in prison to kill Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, who helped convict Peterson in 2012 of killing Peterson’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, eight years earlier. Prosecutors say Peterson believed that with Glasgow dead, he could win an appeal of his conviction.

The prosecution’s star witness in the murder-for-hire trial is Antonio “Beast” Smith, who testified earlier this week that Peterson enlisted him to help kill Glasgow. On Friday, defense witnesses testified that Smith is a scam artist, the Chicago Tribune reported ( ).

“He wasn’t truthful,” Jacob Bohannon said. “Sometimes (Smith) tells the truth. Most of the time he wouldn’t.”

Bohannon and Smith were convicted in the 2010 attempted murder of a woman whose home they were robbing. Bohannon is serving a 25-year sentence.

Peterson is serving a 38-year sentence in Savio’s death and could get an addition 60 years if he’s convicted in the murder-for-hire case. Smith wore a wiretap for prosecutors, and jurors heard hours of Smith’s recorded conversations with Peterson at Menard Correctional Center in November 2014. In them Peterson appears to agree to have Glasgow killed by Smith’s uncle.

Peterson’s lead attorney, Lucas Liefer, has argued the recordings were difficult to understand and nonsensical.

Another inmate witness, Albert “Chino” Chavez, testified Friday that he for a time hung out with Peterson at Menard, but not after Smith was transferred back to the prison in 2014. Smith was moved out of the prison and returned after agreeing to wear the recording device.

“Because they were running a scam,” Chavez testified when asked why he stopped spending time with Peterson and Smith. “(They were) trying to con some people.”

Peterson has chosen not to testify.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.


Information from: Chicago Tribune,

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SpaceX lands another rocket after satellite delivery

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX pulled off another rocket landing Friday, the third in just under two months.

The first-stage booster of the unmanned Falcon rocket settled vertically onto a barge 400 miles off Florida’s east coast, eight minutes after the late afternoon liftoff. Cameras on the barge provided stunning, real-time video.

“Falcon 9 has landed!” said a SpaceX flight commentator.

The touchdown occurred after the rocket launched an Asian communications satellite. Like the last successful landing, this one was especially difficult given the speed and heat of the incoming 15-story booster.

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said via Twitter that the rocket’s landing speed was close to the design maximum, thus the back and forth motion. He said it was probably OK, “but some risk of tipping.” No one was aboard the barge at touchdown for safety reasons.

SpaceX’s first booster landing actually occurred in December — on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The California-based company followed up with a successful touchdown on its floating platform in the Atlantic in early April, then again May 6. All three of those recovered boosters are now side by side, horizontally, in a SpaceX hangar. The second recovered booster will be tested and should fly on another mission later this year.

Musk wants to recycle boosters to lower launch costs and open space up to more payloads and people. These first-stage boosters normally are discarded in the ocean. SpaceX is the only one ever to land the stages left over from orbital missions.

NASA is a major customer; SpaceX flies cargo to the International Space Station and aims to transport astronauts, too, by the end of next year.

A glitch in the rocket’s engine system prevented liftoff Thursday.




Source: New feed

Venezuelan boy’s death sparks anger over health care crisis

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans are expressing dismay over the death of an 8-year-old boy with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who had become a symbol of the crisis-wracked nation’s collapsed health care system.

Oliver Sanchez gained fame in February when he appeared with his mother at a demonstration to protest medicine shortages wearing a mask and holding up a homemade sign reading, “I want a cure, peace and health.”

Sanchez died Tuesday, sparking outrage on social media and in congress. Opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly held up pictures of the second-grader to denounce what they called an avoidable death. A popular cartoonist dedicated a drawing to him dressed as an angel with a white dove in his hands.

The boy’s mother, Mitzaida Berroteran, told local newspaper El Nacional that in the absence of readily-available and affordable drugs she had to scour social media for donations.

“Each time they prescribed us something we had to run,” said Berroteran, who thinks her son contracted a deadly bacteria while interned in a public hospital in western Caracas.

Low oil prices and a deep recession are causing widespread shortages in the South American nation, with everything from prescription medicines to basic foodstuffs going scarce.

Source: New feed

There is no Ferguson effect: New data confirm the war on police is a right-wing myth

Police Stop

(Credit: Susan Chiang via iStock)


According to the FBI, 2015 was one of the safest years on record to be a police officer in America. Agency data shows 41 officers were killed in the line of duty last year, a drop of 20 percent from one year prior. Only in 2013, when felonious police fatalities hit an historic all-time low, were fewer officers killed while doing their jobs. The year 2015 tied with 2008 for the second lowest death rate for police on record.

That fact is interesting on its face, but it’s particularly noteworthy considering the number of sources who claim a “war on cops” is being waged that imperils the lives and safety of officers around the country. This manufactured battle is supposedly linked with the “Ferguson effect,” the theory—popular in conservative circles and other places where white people thrive on having their racist fears stoked—that Black Lives Matter and other anti-police-brutality protesters have created a “surge in lawlessness” through “intense agitation against American police departments.” The narrative has been publicized and popularized widely enough that a 2015 Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe the police currently face higher levels of danger than they have in the past. It’s also given rise to the Blue Lives Matter movement and a Louisiana bill of the same name, the first law in the country to make attacking a police officer a hate crime.

In other words, this has all the markings of a classic social panic, including the lack of actual data or factual truth to back it up.

“Any felonious death of a police officer is a tragedy, but the data show that the police officers’ job is not becoming more deadly,” David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor who studies law enforcement, told Huffington Post writer Matt Ferner. “The FBI statistics on police officer felonious deaths show that belief that the job is growing more dangerous, because of protests against police or because of the demand for reform to police practices, is simply wrong. Belief to the contrary may be sincere, but it has no basis in fact.”

Despite the fact that statistics from his own agency effectively dispel the myth of the war on cops, FBI head James Comey has been a consistent proponent of the idea, emphasizing “viral videos” as a demotivating factor for cops to engage in police work. In a speech he made last year, Comey said that “in today’s YouTube world” cops feel “under siege” and suggested they’re “answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns.” Earlier this month, the FBI head reiterated this idea, chalking up a recent rise in crime rates in 40 cities to cops shying away from doing their jobs lest they end up on camera.

“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime,” Comey stated, according to the New York Times, “the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’”

That idea was met with resistance by James O. Pasco Jr., the executive director of National Fraternal Order of Police. Speaking with the Times, the organization head seemed less than happy with Comey’s insinuation that police around the country are simply standing by as crime happens.

“He ought to stick to what he knows,” Pasco told the Times. “He’s basically saying that police officers are afraid to do their jobs with absolutely no proof.”

There are plenty of other obvious problems with Comey’s repeated assertions. Essentially, he’s suggesting that BLM and movements against police abuse are bigger problems than police violence; pushing the notion that activists deserve scorn for filming and calling out police misconduct when they see it; and none too subtly implying that demanding accountability for police violence somehow merits a response that jeopardizes public safety (while also peddling the opinion that without extreme policing, some communities just naturally tend toward violence). Maybe the most outlandish idea lurking between the lines of Comey’s talking points is that policing without brutality is an impossibility; that police officers simply cannot do their jobs—which are difficult and challenging on the best of days—without crossing the line into abuse.

“Police now for the first time are having to consider the consequences of being brutal, being unethical, and doing things that for the longest time they could do and not be accountable for,” Jacob Crawford, founder of WeCopwatch, told the Intercept. “But that doesn’t make crime happen.”

It also seems worthwhile to point out that it’s hard to affirmatively pinpoint a connection between de-escalations in policing and changes in crime rates. In New York City, more than a year after police significantly lowered the number of stop-and-frisks and engaged in a virtual work stoppage, overall crime rates remain low. While other large cities—Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles—have seen crime rise under similar conditions, experts note that a number of variables, instead of a singular issue, tend to contribute to climbs or drops in crime rates.

“Every city is going to be unique,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project told Think Progress. “There are certain trends that can affect crime rates nationally, but we do know that crime is very much subject to local circumstances. It can be demographics, the proportion of young men in a given population, the size and the kind of policing that goes on, the employment rates, types of drug abuse. All those factors can vary quite substantially.”

“The cities with more crime in the last years are cities that are already facing severe challenges,” Ames Grawert, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice told the Intercept. “If we’re going to talk about causes of crime we should be talking about that.”

We should probably also be talking about how putting out the demonstrably false idea of a war on police isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous. We know where unchecked moral panics lead—the evidence is all around us, in overly punitive drug laws, filled-to-capacity prisons and a real war on the poor masquerading as welfare reform. The consequences of irresponsible scaremongering can be enormous. What’s more, the outlets and talking heads who continue to push the baseless and provocative narrative that police are under widescale attack cannot pretend to be surprised at the resulting negative climate.

“If you tell cops over and over that they’re in a war, they’re under siege, they’re under attack, and that citizens are the enemy—instead of the people they’re supposed to protect—you’re going to create an atmosphere of fear, tension, and hostility that can only end badly, as it has for so many people,” Daniel Bier writes at Newsweek. “As I wrote in the Freeman last year, ‘Disproportionate fears about officer safety are leading inexorably to the disproportionate use of force’—as well as leading many people (especially those who have never witnessed police misconduct) to excuse obvious brutality in the name of officer safety. Meanwhile, those who see such behavior every day will have their trust in law enforcement steadily eroded.’”

It’s far easier to gin up fears about Black Lives Matter than it is to address longstanding tensions between the cops and poor communities of color. It plays with a certain audience, both for votes and ratings. What it doesn’t do is genuinely address any of the real issues at the heart of the current debate around policing. But it’s a conversation that has to happen, and it’s long overdue.

Source: New feed

5 superfoods you’re probably not eating



By some estimates, the state of American health looks pretty grim. And much of it is directly tied to poor diets.

Based on current trends, one in three American adults—about 146 million people—will be suffering from type 2 diabetes by 2050, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year, say researchers at Harvard University, 42 percent of Americans will be obese, up from the current figure of 35 percent.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2000, partially because of a surge in meat consumption, the average American ate almost 20 percent more calories than he did in 1983.

The problem isn’t only that we’re eating too much, but that we’re eating a lot of bad stuff: According to the CDC, more than 11 percent of the American diet comes from fast food. Could the gloomy 2050 predictions be averted? A hopeful sign is the growing interest in healthy diets, and in particular, superfoods. New research by Mintel, a market research firm, has found that between 2011 and 2015, the number of new food and drink products to hit the marketplace containing the terms “superfood,” “superfruit” or “supergrain” increased more than 200 percent worldwide. Just a cursory glance at your local Whole Foods will give you a sense of how ubiquitous the word has become to sell various foods and drinks.

And while the term superfood has been used aggressively as a marketing tactic, it’s a real concept. The Oxford Dictionary defines a superfood as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” But that doesn’t mean superfoods should be treated as panaceas. While Cancer Research UK points out that superfoods are often marketed as having the power to prevent or even cure various diseases and ailments, it warns that consumers “shouldn’t rely on so-called ‘superfoods’ to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Interested in making the most of what you eat? Try including these five “superfoods” in your diet. (And as with any change in diet, check with your doctor before trying anything new.)

1. Moringa

 What has more protein than yogurt, more calcium than milk, more B vitamins than peanuts, more potassium than bananas, and more vitamin A than carrots? Moringa.

People in Africa and Asia have long known the health properties of moringa, a tree whose seed pods taste like a sweeter version of green beans and whose leaves have a peppery flavor. “In India, we call moringa the drumstick tree, for its long, drumstick-like seed pods,” writes Maanvi Singh on “It’s easy to come by in Mumbai, where I grew up. My mother would use the young, tender pods to make this amazing lentil stew called sambhar.”

Packed with protein and phytochemicals (compounds that may reduce the risk of chronic disease), moringa also has all eight essential amino acids. And while there’s also compelling evidence that moringa can help diabetes and function as an anti-carcinogen, Singh points out that the current research is preliminary.

Still, the plant punches way above its weight in nutrients. “Milligram for milligram, it outperforms many of the classic sources of vitamins and minerals by multiples, such as 25 times the amount of iron as spinach or seven times the amount of vitamin C as oranges,” writes Jonathon Engles, a food writer and eco-gardener who first discovered it in Guatemala, where it is being used to fight malnutrition.

If you can’t find moringa locally, buy it online, but be sure to look for the responsibly sourced, fair-trade variety. But the best option is simply to grow your own. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 9, 10 or 11, you can easily grow moringa trees. And next time you go camping, you might want to bring some dried moringa seeds with you: Just a few crushed up seeds can purify a bottle of contaminated water.

Here’s an easy recipe to try: Moringa pizza.

2. Turmeric

Google searches for turmeric have surged by 300 percent over the last five years, according to the company’s 2016 Food Trends Report. In fact, turmeric latte (aka “Golden milk), a drink made of juiced turmeric root and nut milk that is fast becoming a cultish, healthy alternative to coffee, may be 2016’s drink of choice, notes Saba Imtiaz of the Guardian. She adds, “Turmeric lattes are now being sold at cafes from Sydney to San Francisco, and the drink is gaining fans in the UK.”

A member of the ginger family whose root is widely used as an ingredient in medicines, turmeric is a superfood that has many health properties. Since ancient times, turmeric has been used to fight inflammation, a power given to it by the compound curcumin, which has been found to inhibit several molecules that play a role in inflammation in human clinical trials.

It has also been used to treat a wide number of ailments, including arthritis, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, high cholesterol, headaches, bronchitis, fibromyalgia and depression. Curcumin may also help fight cancer, as its antioxidants may help prevent free radicals from damaging cellular DNA.

The fact that its wide-ranging health properties may be used as a potential treatment for a number of afflictions common to older people means that turmeric isn’t just a hipster fad. “Turmeric has potential as an ingredient in supplements and functional food and drink products, particularly within products aimed at the growing senior population,” says Stephanie Mattucci, a global food science analyst at Mintel.

A 2012 study backs up her view. Researchers described three patients with Alzheimer’s disease whose behavioral symptoms were “improved remarkably” after consuming 764 milligrams of turmeric for 12 weeks. The researchers concluded that turmeric is “effective and safe” for the treatment of the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

“After bubbling under the surface for many years, with those of us immersed in the world of curcumin saying ‘any minute now,’ it finally broke into the mainstream in a big way two years ago,” wrote Shaheen Majeed in Natural Products Insider in December. “We believe it was propelled by an overwhelming growth in the body of science on its safety and efficacy.”

Generating more than $20 million in revenue in 2014, curcumin is the top-ranking natural herbal supplement. (As a dietary supplement, curcumin extracts are generally preferred, since in its raw state, turmeric has low bioavailability.)

Here’s an easy recipe to get your turmeric on: Iced turmeric latte.

3. Aronia

Native to the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S., aronia (aka chokeberry) have been used in many food products, from jam, salsa and syrup to ice cream, beer and wine. But this dark, sour berry that has long been prized by Native Americans as a miracle fruit has emerged as a potent superfood.

The primary reason is its high anthocyanin content. A class of over 600 naturally occurring plant pigments, anthocyanins, a type of phytochemical, confer a dark red or purple color to many fruits and vegetables, such as purple berries, red grapes, eggplant and purple corn. There is a growing body of evidence of anthocyanins’ wide-ranging health benefits.

“Based upon many cell-line studies, animal models, and human clinical trials, it has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or less associated with their potent antioxidant property,” according to a 2010 Ohio State University study.

While anthocyanins are present in all those purple fruits and vegetables, none contain nearly as much as aronia. According to USDA figures, aronia has 2,147 milligrams of anthocyanin per 100 grams of berry. That outperforms the second-place elderberry (1,993 mg), as well as eggplant (750 mg), blackberries (353 mg), Concord grapes (192 mg) and red cabbage (113 mg).

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 3, you can grow your own and eat them right off the bush. But they’re also perfect in smoothies. Here’s a video on how to make one:

4. Mung Beans

A popular food in India, China and Southeast Asia, the mung bean has a nutty, sweet flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. While they are packed with potassium, iron, magnesium and fiber, it’s the protein content that is amazing: 24 percent. It’s no surprise that they are popular, even for breakfast, in India, where 40 percent of the population is vegetarian.

While most other legumes lose their vitamin C content after cooking, mung beans retain most of it. Also, studies have shown that fermented mung bean extracts can help lower bad cholesterol levels and also blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics.

And there’s more: A 2012 study showed that mung beans have the ability to suppress the growth of cancer cells in the liver and cervix. A 2005 study revealed that mung beans have antifungal properties as well.

Sprout mung beans overnight (using a simple sprouting vessel) and eat over rice,” suggests Rich Roll, a vegan athlete who Men’s Fitness Magazine dubbed one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World.”

“Alternatively, you can make a broth with turmeric or even brew a coffee-like drink in a French press with nutritional yeast,” he writes.

Learn how to grow mung bean sprouts at home with this video:

5. Maple Syrup

It was hiding in plain sight all along. An American kitchen staple, maple syrup is now being hailed as a superfood because it contains anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds that can also help manage type 2 diabetes. As a recent Daily Mail headline heralded, “Maple syrup joins the ranks of broccoli and blueberries as new ‘one-stop shop’ superfood.”

While you might eat it with pancakes, new research suggests you should be eating it a lot more. “We don’t know yet whether the new compounds contribute to the healthy profile of maple syrup,” said Navindra Seeram, who led the research at the University of Rhode Island. “But we do know that the sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a champion food.”

The finding puts maple syrup alongside such known superfoods as berries, red wine (in moderation), tea and flaxseed.

“We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries.”

Here are 11 new ways to ways to include maple syrup in your diet.

Do you have any superfood recommendations or recipes? Share them in the comments.

Source: New feed

China’s Zoomlion drops bid for US crane maker Terex

HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese heavy equipment maker Zoomlion said Friday it’s abandoning its takeover bid for U.S. crane maker Terex because it failed to reach a deal after months of talks.

Zoomlion, which made its unsolicited offer at the start of the year, said in a filing Friday to the Hong Kong stock exchange that “no agreement can be made on the crucial terms” so it decided to terminate its offer.

The company added that the two sides had made “joint efforts to closely negotiate” over the proposal that valued Terex at $3.3 billion.

The announcement ends a complicated mating dance that began last August when Westport, Connecticut-based Terex Corp. and Finnish rival Konecranes said they planned to merge.

Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co., based in the central Chinese city of Changsha, stepped in with its own offer in late January and sweetened it by $1, to $31 a share, two months later.

Then, in mid-May, Terex, which also makes aerial platforms and construction material processing equipment, said it was pulling out of the proposed merger and planned instead to sell its crane business to Konecranes for $1.3 billion in cash and stock, adding pressure on Zoomlion to complete the deal.

Chinese firms have been scooping up companies overseas as they spend their cash hoard on foreign technology to bolster their competitive positions at home, though there have been occasional hiccups. In another recent aborted deal, Chinese insurer Anbang lost out to Marriott International’s winning bid for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

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