All posts by culturecenter

Merkel responds to Trump: ‘I have witnessed’ Germany under Soviet control

Merkel responds to Trump: ‘I have witnessed’ Germany under Soviet control (Source

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to hit back at US President Donald Trump’s claim that “Germany is a captive of Russia” by drawing on her own upbringing in Soviet-controlled East Germany. “I wanted to say that, because of current events, I have witnessed this myself, that a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. And I am very happy that we are today unified in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany,” she said in an arrival statement at the NATO Summit Wednesday, according to an English translation of her remarks.

Merkel, who was born in Hamburg in 1954, has spoken on numerous occasions about her upbringing under Soviet occupation. “The first political event from my childhood that I remember distinctly is the building of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago. I was 7 years old at the time. Seeing grown-ups, even my parents, so stunned that they broke out in tears, shook me to the core. My mother’s family, for example, was divided by the building of the Wall,” she said in remarks upon receiving the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

“I grew up in the part of Germany that was not free, the German Democratic Republic. For many years I dreamed of freedom, just as many others did — also of the freedom to travel to the United States,” she said then.

Although she did not mention the US President by name in her NATO statement, Merkel’s comments seemed to be a direct repudiation of Trump’s earlier remarks, in which he maligned Germany for getting natural gas from Russia.

Donald Trump’s tirades weaken NATO and please Vladimir Putin

Donald Trump’s tirades weaken NATO and please Vladimir Putin (Source

As NATO leaders gathered in Brussels this week to be severely lectured by America’s mercurial president — who gets some things right about the organization, but a whole lot else wrong — it’s worth recalling what the alliance represents. First and foremost, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the largest and most successful assemblage of allies in history, projecting strength from a single, elegant premise: that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Created from the ashes of World War II as a way to end European wars and serve as a bulwark against a menacing Soviet Union, the original 12-member alliance worked even better than imagined.

For about seven decades, Europe prospered in relative peace. The Soviet Union collapsed. And as NATO grew — to 29 nations, with each new entrant committed to democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law — freedom flourished.

That’s not just good for Europe. It’s also good for the U.S. America no longer rushes troops overseas to die on European battlefields every generation, and the European Union is now our largest trading partner. As Defense Secretary James Mattis put it during his Senate confirmation: “If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it.”

Someone needs to tell that to Mattis’ boss, President Donald Trump. Despite Trump’s relentless carping about burden-sharing, the alliance has invoked its collective-defense provision just once in almost 70 years: to defend America after 9/11. NATO forces, fighting alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, paid their commitment in blood, suffering a thousand battlefield deaths in the years since.

Bipartisan support for NATO is so strong that a Senate resolution supporting the alliance passed 97-2 on Tuesday.


Russian Special Forces Just Practiced Invading an Island Near Finland

Russian Special Forces Just Practiced Invading an Island Near Finland (Source

A group of Russian special operations forces parachuted onto the island of Gogland in a Russian-controlled portion of the Gulf of Finland. They hid their parachutes, journeyed deep into the interior, and destroyed a series of mock communications stations, radars and ASM batteries. They then prepped a landing site for a helicopter escape — despite the fact that the island already has a helipad. The troops jumped from a Mi-8AMTSH helicopter at an altitude of 2,500 meters, and used satellite navigation equipment to guide them to their landing site, notes a July 10 press release on the drill from the Russian Ministry of Defense. The soldiers that took part in the exercise had “not less than a hundred jumps with parachutes of various types,” it said. Aki Heikkinen, who curates, pointed out that Gogland, seized by Russia in 1944, is just 24 miles from the Finnish city of Kotka. “Make no mistake, making this very public is a sure message,” he said on Twitter.

In May, Russia staged a submarine missile exercise off the Finnish coast. It’s one more chapter in the chronicle of worsening relations between Russia and various Baltic states, which have gone downhill since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its attacks on Ukraine. In 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened that if Finland joined NATO, it might have to “fight with Russia until the last Finnish soldier.”

Last December, the Finnish Defense Ministry accused the Russians of violating its airspace with a Russian transport plane. 



HEAVY AFRICAN DUST HAS ARRIVED IN HOUSTON AND IT COULD IMPACT YOUR HEALTH (Source A large dust cloud from Africa’s Sahara Desert keeps blowing into Texas, and the thickest part of the cloud is now here in Houston. Satellite imagery shows the cloud stretching 5,000 miles from Africa across the Atlantic and into Texas.

Meteorologists are monitoring the latest NASA projections that predict the flow of this dusty air. The expectation is to see an increase in the dust tonight and Saturday, keeping the sky a hazy gray all day. Meteorologist Travis Herzog says most of these fine dust particles will stay suspended thousands of feet above ground, turning the sky a hazy gray. For most of you, that’s the only difference you’ll notice, but some of you may encounter respiratory issues.

A portion of this microscopic dust, known as particulate matter, does reach the ground and can penetrate deep into our lungs. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, studies have shown chemical contaminants and microorganisms can also survive the trek across the Atlantic, but few studies have been conducted on the impact to human health.

Sensitive individuals with asthma, allergies, and other lung conditions may notice flare ups over the weekend, especially after prolonged outdoor exposure. Other sensitive groups include the elderly, young children, and pets. If you are concerned about the impact to your health, consider limiting your time outside over the weekend, especially Saturday.

Travis says the dust cloud will thin out starting Sunday, with noticeable improvements by July 4th as Gulf moisture generates thunderstorms to help clean out the air.

There is a seasonal cycle to when African dust clouds can reach Houston. Travis says they normally track through our sky in May, June, and July.



360,000+ Americans with tax debt may be denied passports

360,000+ Americans with tax debt may be denied passports (Source RT) Hundreds of thousands of US citizens may have to scrap their holiday plans, the Internal Revenue Service said, as it is enforcing a law allowing authorities to revoke and deny passports to those owing over $51,000 in unpaid taxes. Some 362,000 people may fall under the scope of the 2015 law as early as the end of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing an IRS spokesperson.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which became a law in December 2015, allows the State Department and the IRS to refuse to issue passports to those with “seriously delinquent” debts that are defined as “an unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax liability” of more than $51,000, including interest and penalties. That rule envisions denying first-time passport applications, as well as the renewal of the travel document. In a worst-case scenario, a valid passport can be revoked by the State Department.

However, an IRS representative told the publication in June that the authorities have not gone that far as of yet and, for now, they have contented themselves with simply denying applications. It’s not known how many tax debtors have already seen their travel plans ruined, with the State Department saying that it has already denied some applications. The IRS, meanwhile, said that the process of alerting the State Department about individuals with outstanding debts is in full swing and should be completed by the end of the year.

China Steals Secrets Behind Apple’s Self-Driving Car

China Steals Secrets Behind Apple’s Self-Driving Car (Source Zero Hedge) The US has arrested a former Apple employee who allegedly tried to leave with sensitive proprietary information from the company’s closely guarded self-driving car project, according to the Financial Times. Xiaolang Zhang, who had recently left his position at Apple under suspicious circumstances, was arrested by FBI agents as he tried to board a plane bound for mainland China. Zhang joined Apple in December 2015, and was arrested on July 7. US prosecutors allege that he had downloaded sensitive information about the company’s self-driving car research without permission. During his time at the company, Zhang worked “to develop software and hardware for use in autonomous vehicles.”

The charges against Zhang represent the latest in a series of arrests made by federal authorities of Chinese spies carrying out what the US government calls “economic espionage” that date back to 2006.

And with President Trump intensifying efforts to stop China from extracting intellectual property from foreign corporate partners trying to gain a foothold in Chinese markets, it’s hardly surprising that China is stepping up its espionage programs.Zhang initially aroused suspicion when he told Apple that he would be returning to China to take a job with Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese electric-car startup that also has offices in the Bay Area.

The complaint against Mr Zhang said about 5,000 of Apple’s 135,000 full-time employees have security clearance for Titan, although that figure may include staff across the company working on artificial intelligence technology, as well as hundreds of people working on the car project itself.

Mr Zhang allegedly told Apple on April 30 that he intended to resign after returning from paternity leave. He told his supervisor he was moving back to China to be closer to his mother, who he said was ill. Later in the meeting, he said he intended to work for XMotors, according to the filing on Tuesday.

His comments apparently raised the suspicions of his supervisor. Mr Zhang was asked to turn over his Apple-owned devices and escorted from its campus, his network and building access revoked, the filing said.

Apple began an internal investigation and allegedly found he had downloaded information about its autonomous vehicle project. CCTV footage showed he had also taken a large box from Apple’s self-driving car lab shortly before informing his supervisor about his resignation, the US government claimed.


First of Its kind University study proves without a doubt that your phone is spying on you


For years, conspiracy theories about smart phones listening to users without their permission to show them advertisements have abounded. While some researchers have shown this could happen, a first of its kind study just found something far more insidious. Academics at Northeastern University have just proven that your phone is recording your screen—as in taking video—and uploading it to third parties. For the last year, Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson, and David Choffnes ran an Android apps using ten different phones. Their findings were alarming, to say the least.

As Gizmodo points out, during the study, the researchers started to see that screenshots and video recordings of what people were doing in apps were being sent to third party domains. For example, when one of the phones used an app from GoPuff, a delivery start-up for people who have sudden cravings for junk food, the interaction with the app was recorded and sent to a domain affiliated with Appsee, a mobile analytics company. The video included a screen where you could enter personal information—in this case, their zip code.

GoPuff did not disclose in its terms of use that its app was recording users screens and uploading this data to a third party. What’s more, when they were contacted by the researchers GoPuff merely added a disclosure to their policy acknowledging that “ApSee” might receive users PII.

The fact that these apps can record your screen without you knowing and use this data is chilling. It illustrates how easy it would be for a malicious actor to be able to look at your private messages, personal information, passwords, photos, and videos. None of this is stopped by your phone’s security either as it is a function built into the apps and you don’t have an option to disallow it.

According to Gizmodo, the researchers will be presenting their work at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona next month.



Report Shows Superbug Contamination in 62% of Common Supermarket

Report Shows Superbug Contamination In 62% Of Common Supermarket Meats (Source

The non-profit – which aims to empower the public to protect their health through information – analyzed over 47,000 tests to determine the contamination rate.

Results showed high levels of potentially harmful bacteria in chicken, turkey, pork, and beef, caused by the administration of antibiotics to livestock. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria contamination rates ranged from 36 percent in chicken breasts, legs, thighs, and wings to 79 percent in ground turkey – while ground beef and pork chops hit 62 and 71 percent, respectively. The organization also found that 20 percent of salmonella found in supermarket chicken was resistant to the antibiotic most commonly used to treat the ailment – amoxicillin.


Brent crude firms on drop in U.S. oil inventories, Iran threat

Brent crude firms on drop in U.S. oil inventories, Iran threat (Source Reuters)

Brent oil rose on Wednesday, driven higher by a threat from an Iranian commander and a drop in U.S. crude inventories for the second week in a row.

The price rose above $78 a barrel after an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said he was ready to prevent regional crude exports if Iranian oil sales were banned by the United States.

The most-active Brent futures contract for September delivery settled up 48 cents at $78.24 per barrel. U.S. crude futures were up 19 cents at $74.33 a barrel, within sight of Tuesday’s 3-1/2-year high above $75 a barrel. The U.S. market will not have a settlement price due to the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared on Tuesday to threaten to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring states if Washington continued to press all countries to stop buying Iranian oil. Looming U.S. sanctions on Iranian crude exports, force majeure in Libya and unplanned pipeline outages in Nigeria have been clouding the supply outlook despite rising output by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. “In an ideal world an increase in global or regional oil production would have downward pressure on prices. These are, however, no normal times as supply outages are almost weekly occurrences,” PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said. “Under these circumstances it is justified to argue for higher prices when production increases are announced,” he said.

Crude inventories fell by 4.5 million barrels in the week to June 29 to 416.9 million, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 3.5 million barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 2.6 million barrels, API said. Crude stockpiles at oil storage facilities in Cushing have dropped after an outage at Syncrude Canada’s 360,000 barrels per day (bpd) oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Trading had been expected to be limited on Wednesday by the U.S. national holiday, although the market has been more volatile. Implied options volatility, a way of measuring uncertainty among crude oil traders and investors, is at its highest since the run-up to last month’s OPEC meeting where an agreement was reached to ease output curbs in place since January 2017. With the outlook unclear, investors were turning to options to protect themselves against any sudden move, said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas. “When there is consolidation in the market, there is also the expectation of an eventual price breakout in either direction. So in the options market, the volatility gets bid up,” he told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.


The Dark Cloud of Global Debt…The Perfect Storm Looms

The Dark Cloud Of Global Debt… The Perfect Storm Looms (Source Zero Hedge)

While everyone is debating the effects of possible trade sanctions on the global economy, few are paying attention to a far more serious issue. Enormous global debt, combined with low-interest rates, have set the stage for a global recession that has the potential for economic chaos.

Countries such as Brazil, India, and China have been busy issuing questionable credit. This dubious credit being issued in many emerging markets has come with extremely low-interest rates. If the borrowers’ default, the lenders won’t be looking at enough compensation to recoup their loses. Low-interest rates have become an overall global problem, including the rates in the U.S. high-yield bond market. Central banks around the world have been keeping interest rates artificially low while printing money with abandon. The current global debt is the direct result of this policy. $2 trillion in corporate debt will be maturing annually through 2022. A considerable amount of this debt may default and cause debt repricing. The damage caused by central banks and their policy of easy credit has been done, and there is little that can be done at this point to stem the tide. It can only be hoped that they are more aware now than they were in 2008.

Just prior to 2008, during the halcyon days of easy mortgages, homeowners jumped onto the debt bandwagon by refinancing their homes and incur more than $300 billion in debt as the value of their properties increased. Many used their new-found wealth to purchase furnishings, automobiles, vacations or reinvest in the stock market. By the time anyone realized that the homes and stocks were highly overvalued, the stock market took a tumble, major lenders declared bankruptcy, and the world suffered through a massive recession.