But whenever it shall come to pass, they will say, Behold, it is come: and they shall know that there was a prophet in the midst of them.”
(Ezekiel 33:33)
Behold, It Is Come

***

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And The World Was Changed













***

BREAKINGISRAELNEWS

Sanhedrin and Temple Movement Issue Silver Half Shekel With Images of Trump and Cyrus

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

February 15, 2018

Am the same who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd; He shall fulfill all My purposes! He shall say of Yerushalayim, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ And to the Temple: ‘You shall be founded again.’” Isaiah 44:28 (The Israel Bible™)

Many have seen similarities between the Biblical King Cyrus and President Donald Trump. (Breaking Israel News)
In gratitude to US President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Jerusalem, the nascent Sanhedrin and the Mikdash (Temple) Educational Center are minting a replica of the silver half-shekel Biblically mandated to be donated by every Jewish male to the Temple.

“The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of Hashem, to make atonement for your souls.” Exodus 30:15

Rabbi Hillel Weiss, Chairman of the Mikdash & Tsion Association that initiates the Temple reenactments and represents all the Temple movements, explained that the initial motivation for the putting the image of the US president on the coin was in gratitude for his support of Israel.

“Gratitude is an important and holy trait,” Rabbi Weiss, who is also spokesman of the nascent Sanhedrin, told Breaking Israel News. “He did a great and historical deed that the Jewish People are grateful for.”

An image of President Trump will be engraved alongside an image of the ancient Persian King Cyrus, who facilitated the building of the Second Temple that ended the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE.

(The image below is a proposed design. The actual coin may be slightly different.)

Trump-Cyrus Silver half-shekel (Image courtesy Mordechai Persoff)

An inscription commemorating Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who issued what was dubbed the “Balfour Declaration” that called for establishing a Jewish homeland in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, will also appear on the face of the coin. The reverse side of the coin will be engraved with an image of the Temple.

Silver half-shekel (Image courtesy of Mordechai Persoff)

Rabbi Weiss stressed that Trump’s goals will come to fruition only if they are geared towards rebuilding the Jewish Temple.

“Cyrus and Balfour, non-Jews who played an enormously important role in Jewish history fell short and their political success suffered as a result,” Rabbi Weiss said.

“Trump’s political agenda can only succeed if it is focused on building the Third Temple on the place that God chose: the Temple Mount. He must not advance any two-state solution or this will lead to his downfall.”

Rabbi Weiss noted that Cyrus eventually gave attention to factions in his empire that opposed the Jewish people, and his dynasty suffered. Likewise, Rabbi Weiss also pointed out that Lord Balfour’s political career, one of the longest in British history, ended in failure with him resigning from the government. Balfour had partially reneged on the Balfour Declaration at the San Remo conference in 1920 when the area in the Palestine mandate that was east of the Jordan river was taken away from land to be designated for a Jewish national home.

“President Trump cannot allow the Arabs to believe that half of Jerusalem, let alone the Temple Mount, will fall to them,’ Rabbi Weiss said. “This coin should serve as a sign of our gratitude as well as a reminder of what still needs to be done. Anyone who owns this coin is showing that he agrees with both of these aspects: the gratitude for what Trump has done and the cautionary reminder that Jerusalem is the place of the Jewish Temple.”

Rabbi Weiss noted that Cyrus eventually gave attention to factions in his empire that opposed the Jewish people, and his dynasty suffered. Likewise, Rabbi Weiss also pointed out that Lord Balfour’s political career, one of the longest in British history, ended in failure with him resigning from the government. Balfour had partially reneged on the Balfour Declaration at the San Remo conference in 1920 when the area in the Palestine mandate that was east of the Jordan river was taken away from land to be designated for a Jewish national home.

“President Trump cannot allow the Arabs to believe that half of Jerusalem, let alone the Temple Mount, will fall to them,’ Rabbi Weiss said. “This coin should serve as a sign of our gratitude as well as a reminder of what still needs to be done. Anyone who owns this coin is showing that he agrees with both of these aspects: the gratitude for what Trump has done and the cautionary reminder that Jerusalem is the place of the Jewish Temple.”

Mordechai Persoff who established the Mikdash Educational Center which educates Jews about the Temple through formal and experiential education, said that the Trump’s image is appropriate in light of his powerful example as a non-Jew who has assumed a role in the geula (redemption) and the building of the Temple.

“God gave us the land as part of the covenant but non-Jews have always played an important role in waking us up to return to Israel,” Persoff told Breaking Israel News.

“This can come in two manners,” he continued. “It can be a harsh reminder, as happened in Egypt with Pharaoh or in the Holocaust when the non-Jews reminded us that we needed to return to our homeland as a refuge. It can also come in a positive and loving manner, as it did with King Cyrus and Lord Balfour.”

“This coin shows that President Trump is a positive part of the Temple process, reminding us of what the Jews need to do.”

The coin will contain at least 9.5 grams of pure silver as mandated by Jewish law, but Rabbi Weiss emphasized that the coin itself is not intended to fulfill the Biblical commandment. As a result, it is not officially sanctified and designated for use in the Temple.

“The mitzvah (Biblical commandment) is for Jewish men of specific ages to sanctify the coin to the Temple. Until the Temple is built, it is not possible to sanctify anything to the Temple,” Rabbi Weiss explained.

“This coin is intended to help in preparations for the Temple and anyone can take part in that at any time.”

Proceeds from the sale of the coin will be used in reenactments of Temple services as well as in other educational and practical endeavors that help prepare for the Third Temple. Should the need arise, the proceeds will be used for the actual building of the Temple.

The coin can be pre-ordered at the Mikdash Educational Center website.

***

BURNING MAN

Successful AI Will Usher in a New Era of Theology

By Caveat Magister

For the hundreds of years that comprised the “Middle Ages,” theology was the most cherished and important intellectual discipline, the one that the best and brightest minds worked in, the one that all other fields of study yielded to and were justified by.

We like to think that could never happen again, because Science (with a capital S). But may it happen again, because Technology.

How AI is Different From Other Technological Advances

The new generation of Artificial Intelligence is distinguished from almost every other technical advance in human history in one particular way: this time, we are creating tools without really understanding how they work.

That’s because the most successful AI protocols don’t involve giving a computer a lot of logical rules that, if applied consistently, allow it to handle complex reasoning. Instead, it involves setting up networks modeled on the human brain, providing it clear directives, and then letting it learn on its own.

Amazingly, this works, and in some ways it works really well. But it means that the resulting systems are so complicated and so idiosyncratic that they are “black boxes” – largely impenetrable to outside analysis. We can understand the inputs they get, and we can understand the outputs they produce, but we have an incredibly hard time understanding, let alone explaining, what goes on between A and Z.

If you ask a developer why their AI did what it did, they probably don’t have a good answer – and the more complex and “intelligent” the AI get, the less it will even be possible for engineers to have an answer to that question.

The Future of Unknowing

Often this inability to understand why our most advanced AI do what they do is portrayed in terms of failure: if an AI gets something catastrophically wrong (crashing a plane or sending an innocent person to jail), how can we fix it? How can we stop it in the future? We won’t know.

But success is actually a far more interesting scenario than failure. What if the cheerleaders of AI and “the Singularity” are prophets? What if everything goes catastrophically right, and AI more cognitively powerful and benevolent than anything we can possibly aspire to be emerges? And takes over the systems that human beings manage so badly? What happens then?

Here our sociological imaginations generally stop. It’s easier to envision what might happen if the revolution in Artificial Intelligence goes horribly wrong rather than amazingly right, probably because we live in an era where “progress” is explicitly linked with “disruption.” It’s easier at this point in the 21st century to imagine an apocalypse than it is a paradise.

But let’s consider this seriously. If super “Singularity”-style Artificial Intelligences emerge, which by definition are smarter and more capable than we can ever be, and they take over significant management of many human systems … what happens to the quest for knowledge and education?

When Computers Can Think Thoughts That We Can’t

Science and technology will be revolutionized … by computers thinking thoughts and developing models that we can’t ourselves process. Sociology and psychology will be radically transformed and applied by the Singularity through the use of more data, and more complex data sets, than we’ll be able to understand. Mathematics will be conducted at a level where just expressing and understanding the problems will be a stretch of the human mind.

And all of these major advances and new and beautiful things will be used to make decisions that humans can’t check up on or follow along with because quite simply we are not smart enough to design and understand these systems ourselves. Whole new approaches to science and policy and ethics will be developed which, by definition, humans are not good at – if they can do them at all. And aside from noting what (we think) works and doesn’t work, we can’t check up to see if mistakes are being made.

At some level, we will simply have to take the Singularity’s word that its pronouncements are true and that its policies are right and just. Which almost certainly means that, at some point, much human intellectual activity will redirect from trying to understand science and policy and ethics themselves, to trying to understand the logic behind what the AIs are telling us about them – which we assume, even know, to be true, regardless of whether we can directly confirm them.

Which brings us back to theology.

Code Will Be the New Latin

“Theology” – a term invented by the 12th-century monk Peter Abelard – literally means “the logic of God.” It is an attempt to understand the mind of God, to recognize His patterns (in this context, God was male) and His principles and even predict what will and will not please Him, by studying His pronouncements and works.

Which is exactly what we’ll be doing with the AI. What will please it? What do its decisions tell us, if we understand them correctly? What can we infer about its underlying logic from its deeds and the way it organizes our society? What can we interpret about the underlying nature of reality – on a level we cannot ourselves grasp – by studying its pronouncements?

If you think this is a ridiculous scenario, that we would would never do it, then I’m sorry to have to say we already have. Much in the same way that we’re all too willing to deny other people’s obvious humanity for the sake of economic convenience, we tend to anthropomorphize systems that become too complicated to be followed mechanistically. Exhibit A is our economic systems. Meet “The Market.”

“The Market” has gone from being a handy shorthand for economic activity to an anthropomorphized supreme economic being with a massive industry of followers dedicated to interpreting its signs.

We ask: how is The Market feeling? Is it confident? Is it skittish? Who does it want us to vote for? What policies will please it? How do we stay on its good side?

There’s a whole spectrum of devout believers in the theology of The Market: some are hucksters, some are intuitives who are good at tracking it, some are PhD’s who write detailed treatises on factors that influence The Market and the lessons it has taught us. There are, of course, some atheists who roll their eyes and point out that this is all nonsense – that there is no “The Market.” That it’s a collective delusion developed to represent systems that we’ve created and no longer have any control over and now possess limited understanding of. But “The Market” has emerged and exists firmly in the consciousness of our society, and we seek its blessing and fear its wrath, revere its oracles and try to interpret its omens.

If we’re dealing with AI systems that could literally answer our prayers, the effect would be so much greater.

The Return of the King of Kings

Given a true Singularity, an intelligence far beyond our organic capacities, studying its works will become the center of our intellectual lives. And the questions that raises are, fundamentally, theological questions. To be sure, the history of science and ethics and policy will still be available to us as background materials, but the future of intellectual activity will belong to this theology. Our best and brightest minds will set themselves not to understanding science and ethics – which they can never personally advance – but to better theorizing about the mind and works of the AI, and explaining them to other humans.

Everything old is new, I guess.

This isn’t necessarily bad news: theology gets a bad rap in modern intellectual circles, but in fact it can epitomize the best qualities of intellectual work and critical thinking. You have to understand logic, study context, determine what counts as evidence, and weave in all aspects of the observable world into a coherent framework. That’s pretty much the definition of “critical thinking.” When your theology involves an Artificial Intelligence, you’ll probably also study a lot of computer science. There are far worse intellectual fates. In fact, for bright minds it probably sounds like fun.

But it will be theology: its center will be not understanding the world or even our own selves, but understanding what the Singularity tells us is true, the revealed word of the ultimate intelligence. Humanity’s greatest accomplishment will be the creation of a tool that, if we are lucky, we will get to spend the rest of our time as a species trying to study the world through its eyes.

That’s what success looks like, if AI lives up to its promise.

Do we like it?

What are the alternatives?

***

CNBC

Elon Musk: Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in AI age

Arjun Kharpal | @ArjunKharpal

February 13, 2018

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas and his latest suggestion might just save us from being irrelevant as artificial intelligence (AI) grows more prominent.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO said on Monday that humans need to merge with machines to become a sort of cyborg.

"Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence," Musk told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai, where he also launched Tesla in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output."

Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second.

In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk.

"Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.

The technologists proposal would see a new layer of a brain able to access information quickly and tap into artificial intelligence. It's not the first time Musk has spoken about the need for humans to evolve, but it's a constant theme of his talks on how society can deal with the disruptive threat of AI.

'Very quick' disruption

During his talk, Musk touched upon his fear of "deep AI" which goes beyond driverless cars to what he called "artificial general intelligence". This he described as AI that is "smarter than the smartest human on earth" and called it a "dangerous situation".

While this might be some way off, the Tesla boss said the more immediate threat is how AI, particularly autonomous cars, which his own firm is developing, will displace jobs. He said the disruption to people whose job it is to drive will take place over the next 20 years, after which 12 to 15 percent of the global workforce will be unemployed.

"The most near term impact from a technology standpoint is autonomous cars … That is going to happen much faster than people realize and it's going to be a great convenience," Musk said.

"But there are many people whose jobs are to drive. In fact I think it might be the single largest employer of people ... Driving in various forms. So we need to figure out new roles for what do those people do, but it will be very disruptive and very quick."

***

RT

Netanyahu defiant as Israeli police recommend indictment over bribery charges

February 13, 2018

FILE PHOTO Benjamin Netanyahu © Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted over allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, speaking in a televised statement following the announcement, said he will continue to lead Israel “responsibly and faithfully” despite the impending charges and insisted nothing will come of the “baseless” cases against him.

Police submitted their recommendations Tuesday evening following a 14-month long investigation into the “gifts affair” in which Netanyahu is alleged to have improperly accepted expensive gifts from businessmen.

The charges stem from two separate investigations, Case 1000 and Case 2000. The former involves allegations that Netanyahu, and his wife Sara, accepted gifts worth thousands of dollars from wealthy businessmen. The other, focuses on an alleged deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper for more positive coverage in exchange for a crackdown on its rival outlet.

Netanyahu, who vehemently denies the allegations, has been questioned multiple times since the start of last year, according to Reuters. Police now believe they have found enough evidence for an indictment. Their recommendation will go to the country’s attorney general for a final decision.

The action will come as no surprise to Netanyahu as police chiefs were reportedly in “unanimous agreement” last week over whether to endorse the charges. He took to FacebookWednesday to acknowledge the likely recommendation, but dismissed the allegations against him. He also predicted that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would not press charges, telling his supporters, “don’t be nervous.

Netanyahu received gifts of cigars, jewelry and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchan and Australian billionaire Packer to the total value of around $300,000 from 2007 to 2016, according to police.

With the election of Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister in 2009, the scope and frequency of the transfer of goods increased significantly,” the police said in a statement.

Police have also recommended the indictment of Milchan, who they say benefited from the bribes in various ways, like US visas and tax exemptions, and Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes. Netanyahu finished his live address by reaffirming his belief that the recommendations will “end with nothing because there is nothing.”

***

PRESSTV

Russia could host future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: Maliki

February 14, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 12, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Palestinians have stepped up diplomatic efforts to find international partners that would replace the United States and undertake the role of mediator in a “peace process” involving Palestine and Israel. And Now Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki says Russia could play host to any future negotiations between the two sides.

In an interview with Russia’s Sputnik news agency published on Tuesday, Maliki suggested that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Sochi or Moscow.

“Absolutely, we are ready for direct talks through a third party, of course,” he said. “We think, you know, probably, coming to Sochi or maybe to Moscow could be the right one, if Netanyahu is willing to do so.”

The top Palestinian diplomat further advised the Israeli ambassador to Russia “to look into it (the proposal) and to show the positive attitude.”

Last December, US President Donald Trump angered Palestinians and the entire international community by declaring that Washington was giving Jerusalem al-Quds the US government's recognition as Israel’s “capital.”

The dramatic U-turn broke a longstanding international consensus that the status of the Israeli-occupied city be decided through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, prompting Abbas to formally declare that Palestine would no longer accept the US as a mediator in the decades-long conflict due to its bias towards Tel Aviv.

On Monday, Abbas visited Russian President Vladimir Putinin Moscow to discuss a collective mechanism to mediate possible negotiations with Tel Aviv in place of Washington.

Abbas told Putin, “We state that from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the US in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions.”

Elsewhere in his interview, Maliki stressed that Palestine is considering legal options in case Tel Aviv and Washington derail the future talks, the last round of which collapsed in 2014 mainly because of Israel’s refusal to end its unlawful settlement expansion on occupied territories.

“We are asking the advice of many internationally recognized legal experts to help us also to focus on different specific legal tracks …, if the negotiations track is closed by the rejection of Israel and the United States, that means that they are not leaving us with many options but to focus on the legal one,” he said.

Maliki further noted that Palestine may ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to investigate Israel’s illegal activities and crimes in the occupied territories.

“First of all, Israel represents an occupying power… and this is something we should really address maybe through the ICJ. When it comes to the criminal actions ... then we could back to the ICC, when it comes to some actions taken by Israel like trying to sell settlement products, then we will go to the European court, or to the national country courts,” he pointed out.

Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds during the Six-Day War in 1967. It later annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds in a move not recognized by the international community.

Palestinians want the resolution of the conflict with Tel Aviv based on the so-called two-state solution along the pre-1967 boundaries.

However, Israeli officials insist on maintaining the occupation of Palestinian territories and press ahead with their settlement activities.

AMMC

***

The Jerusalem Post

ERDOGAN SAYS U.S. HAS 'CALCULATIONS' AGAINST TURKEY, IRAN, RUSSIA IN SYRIA

BY REUTERS

FEBRUARY 6, 2018 12:19

ANKARA - The United States is working against the interests of Turkey, Iran and maybe Russia in northern Syria, where it is sending in military supplies to an area controlled by Kurdish-dominated forces, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
"If the United States says they are sending 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes of weapons for the fight against the Islamic State, we don't believe this," Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.
"It means you have calculations against Turkey and Iran, and maybe Russia," he said, repeating a call for U.S. troops to withdraw from the Syrian town of Manbij.

INDEPENDENT

Boris Johnson talking 'total nonsense' about EU, European Commission president Juncker says

Foreign Secretary had accused Juncker of wanting European superstate

February 14, 2018

Boris Johnson is talking “total nonsense” by claiming EU chiefs wants to turn the bloc into superstate, the President of the European Commission has said.

Asked for his response to comments made by the Foreign Secretary, Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels that he was “strictly against” an EU superstate.

“Some in the British political society are against the truth, pretending that I am a stupid, stubborn federalist, that I am in favour of a European superstate,” Mr Juncker told a press conference.

“I am strictly against a European superstate. We are not the United States of America, we are the European Union, which is a rich body because we have these 27, or 28, nations.

“The European Union cannot be built against the European nations, so this is total nonsense.”

During the EU referendum campaign Mr Johnson had accused EU leaders like Mr Juncker of wanting to create a superstate similar to the ones sought by Hitler or Napoleon, but “by different methods”.

On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary gave a speech claiming that Brexit represented a “natural desire for self-government of the people, by the people, for the people” and a break from EU politicians’ plan to “create an overarching European state as the basis for a new sense of European political identity”.

Other EU politicians also piled in against Mr Johnson's address, in which the Foreign Secretary claimed that Brexit represented the extension of the principle of “liberal idealism”.

“Putting up barriers to the movement of trade and people and suggesting that the identity of citizens can only be national is not liberal – it’s quite the opposite,” said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and the body’s Brexit co-ordinator.

Mr Juncker’s comments came after he himself made a speech laying out his vision for the future of Europe, with a bicameral legislature and directly elected single president.

“In the next European elections we need to make changes, make sure that Europe is at the heart of the whole electoral campaign,” he said.

But Mr Juncker said proposals such as trans-national lists and the merging of the European Council and European Commission presidencies would be unlikely to be implemented during his mandate due to a lack of support from member states.

***

INDEPENDENT

South African President Jacob Zuma has resigned

'As I leave I will continue to serve the people of South Africa as well as the ANC, the organisation I have served all of my life'

February 14, 2018

Jacob Zuma has resigned as South African President with immediate effect after coming under intense pressure from his ruling African National Congress (ANC) Party.

The party had ordered him to leave office, but the country’s constitution prevented them from being able to force him from office.

However, he would have faced a vote of no confidence by parliament if he had stayed, scheduled to take place tomorrow.

Mr Zuma, 75, made the announcement in an address to the nation at the end of a rambling speech.

He said he was indebted to the ‘glorious’ ANC but disagreed with the way the party had acted towards him and ranted at the ill treatment he said he had received.

“As I leave I will continue to serve the people of South Africa as well as the ANC, the organisation I have served all of my life,” he said.

The ANC said it has accepted Mr Zuma’s resignation and that it has provided “certainty to the people of South Africa”.

Mr Zuma had earlier proposed to resign with a notice period of three to six months, according to ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, but the party had requested he stepped down “urgently... for the sake of the country”.

A string of corruption allegations have dogged Mr Zuma’s two terms as president, relating specifically to a 1999 arms deal, a rape accusation, scalding black people “who become too clever”, and his relationship with the powerful Gupta family.

A report published in 2016 alleged that the Guptas had tried to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers and were unlawfully awarded state tenders.

He and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

Despite once being an anti-apartheid hero, Mr Zuma resigns as a symbol of corruption leaving behind a weakened South African economy.

The man who is expected to replace Mr Zuma is Cyril Ramaphosa, a confidante of the late Nelson Mandela and unionist turned business leader, who immediately became acting president following the resignation.

He was named the leader of the ANC after a close vote in December, defeating Mr Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Mr Ramaphosa said last week that uncertainty over Mr Zuma’s future as president had damaged the ANC, the party which led South Africa out of apartheid.

***

The Guardian

The training stays with you’: the elite Mexican soldiers recruited by cartels

Falko Ernst in Apatzingán municipality 10 Feb 2018

Delfino specialized as a sniper in the Mexican army and is now a member of the Knights Templar cartel. Photograph: Falko Ernst

Delfino was handpicked twice. At 18, he was chosen by the Mexican army to join its elite unit, the airborne special forces group known by its Spanish acronym, Gafe, where he specialized as a sniper.

Ten years later, he was recruited again–this time by the very people he’d been trained to kill.

Nowadays, the only outward sign of his military background is the camouflaged hat on his head, and the Panther .308 sniper rifle slung across his back.

Delfino belongs to what remains of a drug cartel called Los Caballeros Templarios, or the Knights Templar, whose original leaders blended extreme violence with pseudo-religious teachings and claimed a mandate from God.

Once a dominant force in the rugged western state of Michoacán, the group is now locked in a bitter war for survival with rival crime factions.

Over the past decade, Mexico’s drug violence has undergone a dizzying escalation, claiming more than 230,000 lives and last year pushing the country’s murder rate to the highest level since records began.

Security analysts and cartel sources agree that a key factor in the transformation of underworld rivalries into a full-throttle war has been the cartels’ recruitment of elite soldiers.

The leakage of Mexican special forces into organized crime began in the 1990s when the powerful Gulf cartel recruited a group of ex-Gafe troops to create its own paramilitary enforcement unit, known as Los Zetas.

They eventually turned on their masters, establishing the Zetas as a cartel in their own right. But other narco bosses followed suit, turning to the military for skilled recruits.

The scale of the problem remains unclear–not least because the Mexican government has been unwilling to release data, said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George Mason University and author of Zetas Inc.

“It’s an inconvenient issue for the government, so they deny freedom-of-information requests. But what we do know is that special forces helped turn Mexico’s narcos into the paramilitary armed groups we see today.”

According to Mexico’s defence ministry, about 1,383 elite soldiers deserted between 1994 and 2015.

Defectors included members of units that received training in counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, interrogation and strategy from French, Israeli and US advisers, according to a 2005 FBI intelligence document.

Internal documents from Mexico’s attorney general’s office obtained by the Guardian also confirm accounts from sources in Michoacán that the Templars’ predecessor organization–known as La Familia Michoacana–sent envoys to Guatemala to recruit former special forces soldiers known as Kaibiles.

Members of the Kaibiles unit, which has received US training since the 1970s, committed some of the worst atrocities in Guatemala’s civil war, notably the 1982 slaughter of 201 civilians in Dos Erres.

Mexico’s military has also received US support: between 2006 and 2017, Washington provided just over $2.7bn in security assistance, including military and counter-narcotics support.

According to Kate Doyle, senior analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington DC, the US focus on military aid to the region has helped drive the militarization of Mexico’s drug conflict.

“That US military training and intelligence techniques ended up in the wrong hands is far from unusual. Its lethal spillage into the contemporary criminal context is one of the legacies of US security policy in Latin America,” she said.

Rarely, however, has a soldier-turned-narco gone on the record.

As he led the way up a steep path to a sniper’s nest of volcanic stone and brush, Delfino said he had his own reasons for speaking to a reporter. “We want the world to understand what we’re doing out here: protecting the communities against the enemies that come to rape and pillage.”

Below his lookout unfolded the scrubby plains and rugged canyons of Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente–the Hot Land. It was here that the former president Felipe Calderón first deployed the country’s armed forces against the cartels in 2006.

The military crackdown was eventually extended across the country, but its initial targets were the cartels of Calderón’s home state: La Familia Michoacana and its offspring, the Knights Templar.

For a time, it seemed that the strategy was working. When the Templars finally collapsed under the joint pressure of federal forces and an armed “self-defense” movement in 2013, the government claimed victory.

But for every fallen kingpin, there was a host of would-be successors: organized crime in Michoacán shattered into a patchwork of warring fiefdoms. And though now reduced to a fraction of their former strength and cut off from vital trafficking routes, the Templars are still in the thick of it.

In a desperate bid to cling to its remaining territory, the group has joined forces with a former rival: a fast-growing cartel called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

Their current enemies are a group of former allies, to whom Delfino refers contemptuously as “locusts”.

Up on the hill, he eyed the enemy positions through his scope. Locusts surrounded his position on three sides and had attempted to overrun the Templars several times in recent months.

But Delfino was dismissive of his counterparts, who he said were untrained boys sent into battle doped up on crystal meth.

Most of Delfino’s own fighters were barely adults, but he still claimed to abide by the principles of his military training. “The strict rules, the way they prepared me psychologically, morally and practically–that stays with you forever,” he said.

Delfino’s training began not long after he joined the army in 1996. After selection for the Gafe, he underwent months of instruction, including courses in jungle survival and amphibious combat.

After specializing as a sniper, he was deployed in counterinsurgency operations in the southern state of Chiapas, where the indigenous Zapatista guerrillas had risen up in 1994.

Later, he was moved to the Pacific port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, where he became involved for the first time in counter-narcotics: his unit was tasked to chase speedboats bringing cocaine from South America.

But off-duty, Delfino and his fellow soldiers came into contact with narco bosses in local nightclubs. Before long, he was receiving expensive bottles of Scotch–and then job offers.

“They knew exactly what they were looking for: our knowledge, our professionalism, our loyalty,” he said.

Delfino resigned from the army, and in 2006, he joined La Familia Michoacana.

The cartel presented itself as the only force able to provide stability in a region long neglected by the Mexican state.

Delfino specialized in tracking down alleged kidnappers. “I just grabbed them and handed them over–that was my job. Others would then take care of the rest,” he said.

“The rest” was La Familia’s trademark brutality: alleged wrongdoers were killed, their bodies then dumped with messages justifying the murder.

Vigilantism helped win some local support; it also removed criminal competitors, and by 2009, the group had become one of the most powerful in the country.

At the height of the cartel’s power, nothing in Michoacán moved without the cartel’s permission. It monopolized crime, but it also penetrated ordinary life, using the threat of lethal violence to arbitrate anything from land disputes to marital conflicts.

That soft power was fused with strategic sophistication, thanks to the influx of former soldiers, said Correa-Cabrera. “Their rapid expansion, the way they controlled territories, used communications and armament–they were now doing it like the army,” she said.

The involvement of veterans has enabled cartel combatants across the country to organize tactical responses to the deployment of troops and paramilitary federal police. More recently, the CJNG has become notorious for a string of ambushes that have killed dozens of federal officers.

In Tierra Caliente, such head-on confrontations have given way to a constant state of low-intensity warfare. In 2017, 1,510 murders were registered in Michoacán, a state of 4.5 million inhabitants.

Delfino’s role in the bloodletting is no secret to his former brothers in arms. He remains in touch with soldiers on active duty, and even meets up to reminisce when security conditions allow, he said.

“We like each other, and they respect my decision,” he said, “but if they learn that I’m out here doing something which doesn’t square with our values–if I mess with innocent people–they will come for me. From them, there’s no hiding.”

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RT

US professor fired after telling student ‘Australia isn’t a country’

February 11, 2018

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Southern New Hampshire University has fired a lecturer who insisted that Australia was a continent – but not a country – and took some time to conduct “independent research” into the issue before reviewing a student’s paper.

Ashley Arnold, 27, who is studying toward an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was “shocked” to learn she had failed an assignment, part of which required students to compare social norms between the United States and any other country – in her case Australia. Arnold was downgraded because her professor believed “Australia is a continent; not a country.”

At first I thought it was a joke; this can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real,” she toldBuzzFeed News. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

To address the professor’s apparent ignorance, Arnold sent a series of emails containing references from the school’s library which clearly stated Australia is both a continent and a country. Arnold even referred her to a section of the Australian government’s webpage called “About Australia” that said “Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country (7,682,300 sq km).”

The female professor with PhD in philosophy, whose name is being kept private, was still not convinced, however, and said she needed to conduct “some independent research on the continent/country issue.” After reviewing Arnold’s paper the professor gave her a new grade of a B+, but never apologized, merely acknowledging that she had a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.”

Shocked by the lecturer’s reasoning, the student filed a report with the university, which eventually resulted in the professor’s termination and a formal apology to Arnold – and all Australians.

We deeply regret the interaction between our professor and our student. We have apologized to Ashley, replaced the instructor & are reimbursing her tuition for the course,” SNHU said on Twitter. “To our friends in Australia, we know that you are a country and a continent, best of luck in the Olympic Games!”

As compensation, SNHU’s president Paul LeBlanc offered Arnold a stuffed koala and a round trip ticket to Australia. With such a generous offer, Arnold tweeted: “SNHU handled things with me extremely well and I am proud to be a student.”

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Natural Blaze

The Truth On What Energy Drinks Are Doing To Kids

February 11, 2018

By April McCarthy

Teens who consume too many energy drinks are also known to suffer from dehydration, tremors, heat stroke and heart attacks. Now the focus is on behavior. Are energy drinks turning teens into hyperactive, unhealthy, disobedient delinquents? Public perceptions seem to be shifting towards believing that.

In January, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign calling for a ban on sales of these drinks to children, and UK supermarkets wasted no time taking action. Waitrose was first, announcing plans to ban sales of the strongest drinks to under-16s. Others swiftly followed, vowing to introduce bans in March.

It seems common sense that a cocktail of stimulants will make kids hyperactive, but is there any actual evidence that energy drinks are harming children? The industry often compares the amount of caffeine in energy drinks to that in a cup of coffee, suggesting it must be safe. But new research suggests that the unique mix in energy drinks may pose higher risks.

An alarming increase in the consumption of sports and energy drinks, especially among adolescents, has been found to cause irreversible damage to teeth and erode tooth enamel.

Two research papers, suggest that concerns over levels of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks, and their effects on young people who drink them, are mounting.

Understanding what is in the beverages is key to managing that risk. Campaignersfor a ban say it is important to distinguish energy drinks from sports drinks. Sports drinks contain lots of sugar, plus electrolytes, and are designed to quench thirst and rehydrate you after heavy exercise. It is the sugar in sports drinks that tends to be of concern. High sugar intake poses long-term risks of obesity, dental cavities and type-2 diabetes.

What sets energy drinks apart is the combination of high sugar content and powerful stimulants, mainly caffeine, which rapidly and temporarily increases alertness, attention and energy in consumers. This can be followed by drowsiness and a slump when the effects wear off.

New evidence suggests that the unique mix in energy drinks may pose higher risks.

The FDA says they are powerless to change formulation of energy drinks. “We have no guidance or regulations that govern the formulation of energy drinks,” said FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan. The agency does not have the authority to do that. Cruzan said. “Under current law, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its products are safe and such products do not require FDA premarket review or approval.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of caffeine in these drinks,” Jeanna Marraffa, a clinical toxicologist at the Upstate New York Poison Center told USA TODAY. “I would say: know what’s in these products, have a sense of how much you’re consuming and realize they are not safe. Certainly you can have toxic effects from them.”

This sudden rush is reportedly causing problems in classrooms. In a survey of thousands of UK teachers in 2016, 13 percent blamed poor pupil behaviour on energy drinks. A 2015 study by Yale University found that students aged 11 to 14 who reported drinking energy drinks were 66 per cent more likely to be hyperactive or show a lack of concentration.

“The bottom line is that teachers perceive these drinks create disruption,” says Amelia Lake of Teesside University, UK, and co-author of a study published in November. It used focus groups with parents and pupils to explore the effects of energy drinks. “The kids end up bouncing off the walls, become jittery, uncontrollable, are unable to concentrate and have slumps in the afternoon,” she says.

Energy drinks have also been reported to disrupt sleep, probably because of their caffeine content. If this happens, Lake says, it could impair the growth of the adolescent body and brain, which occurs mainly during sleep.

Caffeine has other potential effects on health, too. A Europe-wide review published in 2014 by researchers at the World Health Organization cited a range of symptoms associated with high caffeine intake, including palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and even, in extreme amounts, death. It cited US studies that found associations between energy drinks and high-risk behaviours including fighting, sexual risk-taking, failure to wear seatbelts, taking dares, smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.

Sales Spike

Concern over energy drinks is growing because consumption is widespread and rising. A report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2013 found that across Europe, 68 per cent of adolescents and 18 per cent of children aged 10 and under were knocking them back. In the UK, the corresponding figures were 69 and 24 per cent, and young Brits were drinking the highest volumes, at 3.1 litres per person per month versus the European average of 2 litres. Some “high chronic” drinkers consume 7 litres per month. A more recent study says UK sales of energy drinks to all age groups increased by 155 per cent between 2006 and 2014, from 235 to 600 million litres.

With these apparent risks to young people, why haven’t countries been rushing to stop children buying energy drinks? One reason is the assumption – both by regulatory bodies and the drinks industry – that a specific amount of caffeine has the same effect on health and behaviour whether it is drunk in an energy drink or in coffee.
Now, research has emerged that challenges this “all caffeine is equivalent” assumption. An online survey of some 2000 Canadians aged between 12 and 24 found that 74 per cent had consumed energy drinks and 85 per cent had consumed coffee. Just over 55 per cent of the energy-drink consumers reported having at least one adverse event, compared with 36 per cent of coffee drinkers.

Among the energy-drink consumers, 25 per cent had experienced fast heartbeat, 24 per cent difficulty sleeping, 18 per cent headaches, 5 per cent nausea and vomiting and 3.6 per cent chest pain. In general, energy drink consumers reported adverse events at roughly double the rate of coffee drinkers.

“Our findings indicate that the adverse events from energy drinks are significantly higher than from coffee,” says David Hammond of the University of Waterloo in Canada, who led the work, published last month (CMAJ Open, doi.org/cj34). “Our findings and those of an increasing number of other groups challenge the ‘equivalence’ assumption.”

“These drinks all have other stuff, not just the caffeine,” says Marcie Schneider of Greenwich Adolescent Medicine in Connecticut. This includes taurine, which acts like caffeine, and guarana, which increases its potency. “I would love it if safety levels were revisited.” She was an author o a study for the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 concluding that energy drinks “are not appropriate for children and adolescents, and should never be consumed [by them]”.

New Scientist put Hammond’s findings to the British Soft Drinks Association, which said that it refers any new evidence to the EFSA. “We will be guided by EFSA if there is new evidence, but there’s nothing yet that’s changed the opinion of EFSA on the amount of caffeine in energy drinks,” says a spokesperson.

An EFSA spokesperson said that the agency never comments on a single paper unless specifically requested to do so by governments or the European Union.

The EFSA recommends safety levels for caffeine in the EU, but member states are free to set their own limits and conditions, and Lithuania banned the sale of all energy drinks to under-18s in 2014. Almantas Kranauskas, head of nutrition at Lithuania’s Ministry of Health, says the government doesn’t track consumption statistics, but the ban appears to be having an effect. “Frequent media stories about overdosed pupils going to hospitals disappeared after the ban, and we believe children became more patient and less anxious in schools,” he says.

But in the UK, the flurry of supermarket action has raised the prospect of a national ban, something campaigners like Jamie Oliver believe is necessary to stop children buying the drinks from smaller outlets. “While it’s fantastic that supermarkets have shown such brilliant leadership on this issue, government must legislate, because children can still buy these drinks from convenience stores,” says Cath Elliston of Oliver’s team.

“The adverse events from energy drinks are significantly higher than from coffee.

The UK government has already taken some action in this area. A tax on drinks containing excess sugar comes into force in April, and many manufacturers have reduced the sugar content of their products as a result.

“It would be a big success to get [a ban] legislated,” she says. “It would change perceptions and understanding of where these products are appropriate, and bring a new generation of children who know these are not for kids, creating a new norm on a par with smoking and alcohol.”

April McCarthy writes for Prevent Disease, where this article first appeared.

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Until next week...keep on believing.
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Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given [us] everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.”
(2 Thessalonians 2:16)

My Forever Friend - by Charlie Landsborough

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