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Dollar

Big Pharma's hidden links to NHS policy, with senior MPs saying medical industry uses 'wealth to influence government'

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© Unknown
NHS bosses allowed a lobbying company working for some of the world's biggest drugs and medical equipment firms to write a draft report which could help shape future health policy. NHS England commissioned a group called the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA) to consult with patients' groups, charities and health organisations and produce a report feeding into its future five-year strategy for commissioning £12bn of services.

But the SHCA has confirmed to The Independent that it is entirely funded by commercial "members". Its director, John Murray, is also a lobbyist whose company lists some of the world's biggest drug and medical device firms as clients.

Mr Murray put his name on a foreword to the NHS England document along with James Palmer, the clinical director of specialised services at NHS England, with whom he admits he has had "many meetings [on] a wide range of organisations and interests".

The findings raise significant questions about links between the lobbying industry and NHS England - a quango set up to run the NHS under the Government's health reforms.

Unlike other government departments NHS England does not register its meetings with lobbyists. It also does not routinely publicly disclose all potential conflicts of interest of those who do work for it. While the report itself makes no specific spending recommendations, it does suggest that NHS England should set out a "clear commitment" to "disinvest in interventions that have lower impact for patients" in favour of "new services or innovations".

USA

The Army might replace soldiers' caffeine with electric shock therapy

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© AP
For some modern soldiers, caffeine is just not enough to stay vigilant, especially for the growing ranks of digital warriors who must spend hours monitoring spy drone footage and other streams of surveillance data.

So the Pentagon is exploring a novel way to extend troops' attention spans and sharpen their reaction times: stimulate the brain with low levels of electricity.

It sounds like science fiction, but commanders in search of more effective tools than the ubiquitous cups of coffee and energy drinks are testing medical treatments designed to treat such brain disorders as depression to determine whether they can also improve the attentiveness of sleepdeprived but otherwise healthy troops.

Early experiments using "noninvasive" brain stimulation have been performed on several dozen volunteers at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The results show the technique improves both alertness and acuity, researchers say.

Vader

As 'peace talks' fail to force regime change on Syrians, Americans resort to what they do best

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© Unknown.
Having failed to advance regime-change in Syria through two rounds of talks in Geneva, the Obama administration is stepping up its funding and arming of Islamist and mercenary militias fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. And once again, Washington is turning toward direct military intervention.

In what marks a sharp escalation of the US-backed war for regime-change, the Saudi monarchy is shipping more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, to the so-called "rebels," while the US itself is paying salaries to an entire "rebel" front in southern Syria near the Jordanian border.

The offer of the new weapons came at a January 30 meeting in Amman, Jordan between "rebels" and agents of both US and Saudi intelligence, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing unnamed diplomats and "opposition figures."

"At the meeting, US and Gulf officials said they were disappointed with the Syrian government's refusal to discuss Mr. Assad's ouster at the talks and suggested a military push was needed to force a political solution to the three-year war," the Journal reported.

The aim is apparently to arm and organize an offensive to seize control of the southern suburbs of Damascus in order to subject the capital to military attack and force the ouster of Assad.

Bad Guys

Lawmakers cheer as Uganda president announces bill punishing homosexuality with life in prison

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© AFP/File, Stan Honda
A person holds a sign during a protest against a proposed anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, in front of the Ugandan Mission to the United Nations in New York, on November 19, 2009
Uganda's government on Tuesday defended its decision to push through tough anti-homosexuality laws, saying it was determined to protect the country's "morals" even if that meant losing international aid.

Veteran President Yoweri Museveni has announced he would sign into law a controversial bill that will see homosexuals jailed for life, despite warnings from key allies including the United States.

Officials also said Museveni had last week signed into law anti-pornography and dress code legislation which outlaws "provocative" clothing, bans scantily-clad performers from Ugandan television and closely monitors what individuals watch on the Internet.

"We shall not care losing the financial support from our partners if only we are left alone," Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo told reporters, saying Ugandans would rather "die poor than live in an immoral nation".

Snakes in Suits

Ex-House Rep. Mel Reynolds arrested in Zimbabwe on pornography, immigration charges

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© M. Spencer Green -- AP
Convicted former congressman Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.)
Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds - an ex-con from Chicago convicted of bank fraud and having sex with a 16-year-old girl when he was in his 40s - has been arrested in Zimbabwe, said a Zimbabwean immigration official.

Reynolds, 62, is being held in custody and is expected to appear in court soon, immigration official Ario Mabika told The Associated Press.

The state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, reported that Reynolds was arrested Monday for allegedly possessing pornographic material and violating immigration laws.

He brought several Zimbabwean models and other women to his hotel room where he took photographs and videos, the newspaper reported.

Eye 2

What Cold War CIA interrogators learned from the Nazis

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Everett Collection/Shutterstock
At a secret black site in the years after the end of WWII, CIA and US intelligence operatives tested LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies - all with the help of former Nazi doctors. An excerpt from Annie Jacobsen's Operation Paperclip, published this week.

It was 1946 and World War II had ended less than one year before. In Top Secret memos being circulated in the elite 'E' ring of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preparing for 'total war' with the Soviets - to include atomic, chemical, and biological warfare. They even set an estimated start date of 1952. The Joint Chiefs believed that the U.S. could win this future war, but not for reasons that the general public knew about. Since war's end, across the ruins of the Third Reich, U.S. military officers had been capturing and then hiring Hitler's weapons makers, in a Top Secret program that would become known as Operation Paperclip. Soon, more than 1,600 of these men and their families would be living the American dream, right here in the United States. From these Nazi scientists, U.S. military and intelligence organizations culled knowledge of Hitler's most menacing weapons including sarin gas and weaponized bubonic plague.

As the Cold War progressed, the program expanded and got stranger still. In 1948, Operation Paperclip's Brigadier General Charles E. Loucks, Chief of U.S. Chemical Warfare Plans in Europe, was working with Hitler's former chemists when one of the scientists, Nobel Prize winner Richard Kuhn, shared with General Loucks information about a drug with military potential being developed by Swiss chemists. This drug, a hallucinogen, had astounding potential properties if successfully weaponized. In documents recently discovered at the U.S. Army Heritage Center in Pennsylvania, Loucks quickly became enamored with the idea that this drug could be used on the battlefield to "incapacitate not kill." The drug was Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.

Black Magic

America hired Nazis to test LSD and CIA interrogation techniques on Soviet spies, new book claims

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It's long been known that Nazi scientists helped the U.S. in its quest to secure its military might and space program at the height of the Cold War. Wernher von Braun, for example, a Nazi rocket scientist, led a team that helped the U.S. develop the vehicle employed for the first nuclear missile test, and aided efforts to launch first Western satellite in 1958. Hundreds of Nazi scientists were given citizenship between 1945 and 1955. But what's been unknown - until today - is the extent to which former Nazis were employed to test LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies.

According to a book released this week by journalist Annie Jacobsen, U.S. intelligence hired Third Reich scientists in capacities stranger and more nefarious than anything reported before.

"Under Operation Paperclip, which began in May of 1945, the scientists who helped the Third Reich wage war continued their weapons-related work for the U.S. government, developing rockets, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine (for enhancing military pilot and astronaut performance), and many other armaments at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War," Jacobsen writes. Her book is titled Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America.

Vader

Researchers and psychologists receiving death threats for reporting widespread psychological trauma inflicted on Yemen by sky full of American drones

Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

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© Abubakr al-Shamahi/Reprieve
Scarred for life: Family members of drone strike victim Aref al-Shafee
The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yemen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

"The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike," Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

Along with the eyewitness testimony, Shiban gained access to video and still images of the alleged victims of the drone strike. Photos of the aftermath of drone attacks - whether in the tribal regions of Pakistan, or in the deserts of Yemen - are rarely captured. Most occur in obscure regions with hostile terrain, making access difficult for journalists and activists.

Stormtrooper

Under guise of 'humanitarian concern', German government steps up military operations in 21st Century Scramble for Africa

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The German government is fiercely promoting an aggressive imperialist foreign policy. At the beginning of the year, it declared an end to the previous policy of military restraint. Shortly thereafter, it announced plans to develop a new strategy for Africa.

Last Wednesday, this was followed by the announcement that the German Navy was to be sent to the Mediterranean to fulfill a "robust mandate". Official statements revealed that the frigate Augsburg is to aid in securing the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons on a US vessel, Cape Ray. The use of combat forces is not ruled out in the operation.

This decision is in line with US President Barack Obama's announcement that he reserves the right to militarily intervene in Syria. At a joint press conference with French President François Hollande in Washington on Tuesday, Obama stressed that a military option in Syria was not off the table.

At the same time, Berlin is toughening its foreign policy offensive in the Ukraine. In his first official visit to Moscow last week, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party, SPD) warned the Russian government against escalating the Ukrainian power struggle. "Nobody should seek to ignite the fuse to that powder keg", said Steinmeier.

Lemon

Eurozone countries should form United States of Europe, says EC vice-president

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© Georges Gobet/AFP
Viviane Reding: 'Like Winston Churchill, I believe that the UK will not be part of this, but it should remain a close ally with the federated eurozone
Viviane Reding calls for full fiscal and political union for 18 eurozone countries but says UK should remain apart

A celebrated call by Winston Churchill for the creation of a "United States of Europe" was revived on Monday by a leading member of the European commission who said the 18 eurozone countries should form a full fiscal and political union.

Viviane Reding, a vice-president of the commission, told Cambridge University's law faculty that "bold reforms" were needed to avoid tensions across Europe as new governance arrangements were introduced to stabilise the single currency.

Delivering the Mackenzie Stuart Lecture, named after the first British judge to serve as president of the European court of justice, the European justice commissioner endorsed Churchill's view in a famous speech in Zurich in 1946 that Britain should remain apart from the United States of Europe.