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Flashmob protests sweep across Brazil

Daltson Takeuti is not how you would picture one of the leaders of Brazil's flashmob movement that is sweeping across shopping centres, sparking violent clashes with police. The soft-spoken 55-year-old teaches piano for a living and has never organised a protest in his life.

But around 1,000 people are expected to turn up at São Paulo's upmarket JK shopping centre on Saturday for a gathering - known as a 'rolezinho' - which he has organised over Facebook.

Mr Takeuti was motivated to act by a crackdown on other flashmobs, which began last month as parties but have become more political. "I couldn't bear to see the criminalisation of poor, black kids," he says.

Similar protest-cum-rampages are planned in at least eight other states across Brazil this weekend, with more than 8,000 expected at one shopping centre in Rio de Janeiro. Popular among poor, largely black, Brazilians, the flashmobs have begun to snowball into a nationwide movement against racism and inequality, threatening the government with further violent mass protests just as the country prepares to host the football World Cup, academics say.

In June the biggest protests in 20 years spread across Brazil following complaints over a bus fare increase, bringing businesses in Latin America's biggest economy to a standstill and prompting a plunge, albeit temporary, in President Dilma Rousseff's popularity.

Ms Rousseff called an emergency meeting with ministers this week to discuss the rolezinho "phenomenon", concerned it would spiral out of control, local media reported. As well as steering Brazil through a trouble-free World Cup, Ms Rousseff will have to battle for her re-election during presidential elections in October.

"The government has good reason to be worried," says Rafael Alcadipani, at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), an academic institution. "The rolezinhos can be seen as a remodelling of last year's protests but this time by the people from the city's periphery," he says, pointing to a similarity with the London riots of 2011.

Mr. Potato

Unbebiebable! MSNBC cuts Congresswoman during NSA LIVE to report... Justin Bieber

Screenshot from youtube video
© Unknown
Screenshot from youtube video by user jonmanization

A US government privacy board dubs the NSA's phone calls hoarding illegal and calls to shut... wait, it's Justin Bieber. And so the Congresswoman being interviewed was dumped mid-sentence to report the "breaking news" of Bieber's DUI arrest.

On Thursday, the MSNBC put out a report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) slamming NSA hoarding of phone data, calling it 'illegal.' The privacy watchdog, established by US Congress in 2004, also urged President Barack Obama to end the NSA surveillance program.

Congresswoman Jane Harman was called in to discuss the recommendation of the US government privacy watchdog. But as Harman got round to urging Congress to "seriously consider discontinuing section 215", matters of national importance were put aside.

"...We've got some breaking news out of Miami, stand by if you will. Right now in Miami Justin Bieber has been arrested on a number of charges," announced Andrea Mitchell, the MSNBC news anchor, interrupting the congresswoman.

Comment: And the soap opera culture called America continues...


Florida man hops fence to shoot and kill 21-year-old in a hoodie - then claims self defense

© koi88/Shutterstock.com
Does 'stand your ground' include chasing someone?

On Thursday, an Orlando man shot and killed a 21-year-old who was fleeing his yard. He didn't appear to be stealing anything, according to witness accounts. He didn't appear to be threatening anybody. But Claudius Smith said he feared he was a burglar, followed him over the fence to a neighboring apartment complex, where he shot him after he said he felt threatened, according to a confession documented in an Orlando Police Department report. Smith even said he feared victim Ricardo Sanes was armed "because his pants were falling down" and his hands were in his hoodie pockets, according to a report obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

Now, questions are emerging about whether Smith will also invoke the state's Stand Your Ground law, which gained notoriety over the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, shot in a Florida residential development while wearing a hoodie. Law enforcement officials don't seem to believe Stand Your Ground applies. Smith has already been charged with second-degree murder. But that doesn't stop a judge from granting Stand Your Ground immunity later. In one of the most recent Florida court decisions on Stand Your Ground, an appeals court granted Stand Your Ground immunity to a man who went to his car to get a gun before the fatal incident.


McDonald's is losing customers

© JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images
McDonald's is losing customers, as the world's biggest hamburger chain struggles to attract diners with its higher-priced sandwiches and new offerings like Mighty Wings.

"We've lost some of our customer relevance," CEO Don Thompson conceded Thursday on a call with analysts.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company reported disappointing sales for its fourth quarter, as fewer customers visited its established restaurants. Guest counts at those locations fell nearly 2 percent globally and 1.6 percent in the U.S. in 2013, according to a regulatory filing. And McDonald's expects some challenges to persist this year.

To win back traffic, Thompson said the chain will focus on speedier service, better value offerings and raising "awareness around McDonald's as a kitchen and a restaurant" that prepares high-quality food. It's expanding prep tables and plans to beef up staff during peak hours for better execution. It is also bringing in a new U.S. marketing chief, Deborah Wahl, formerly with homebuilder PulteGroup and automakers Chrysler and Ford.


Ukraine Violence Escalates: Kiev is a battlefield; Ultimatum issued to President

© Efrem Lukatsky/AP
Protesters clash with police in central Kiev.
Former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko says President Yanukovych has 24 hours in which to call snap elections

At least three people died in a day of violence in Kiev on Wednesday, as an opposition leader said he was willing to face "a bullet in the forehead" if President Viktor Yanukovych did not launch snap elections.

A three-hour meeting between the embattled president and the three main political opposition leaders ended without a deal, leaving the capital braced for intensified violence.

Two men died from bullet wounds on Wednesday, according to Ukraine's general prosecutor, while the third died after falling from a rooftop while fighting with police. Protesters report that dozens of people have been seriously injured during the clashes, which have been running since Sunday evening.

Parts of central Kiev resembled a battlefield, with police firing rubber bullets and wielding truncheons, while protesters lobbed molotov cocktails. The two men who were shot were killed with live ammunition, the authorities admitted. As night fell people drove cars filled with used tyres up to the main front line and made a giant bonfire, throwing molotov cocktails from behind the flames.

© Gleb Garanich/Reuters
A pro-European protester swings a metal chain during clashes.

Heart - Black

Mexican citizen, Edgar Tamayo, executed in Texas despite political pressure from the Mexican government and the U.S. state department

© Richard Carson/Reuters
Protestors urge Texan authorities not to execute Edgar Tamayo.
Texas executed a Mexican citizen on Wednesday night despite an international outcry and warnings that his death could damage relations between the US and Mexico.

The execution of Edgar Arias Tamayo had been set for 6pm central time, but was delayed by more than three hours after a last-ditch appeal to the US supreme court by Tamayo's lawyers. After considering the appeal on Wednesday evening the court declined to issue a stay of execution, clearing the path for Texas officials to put Tamayo to death by lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, near Houston.

Tamayo did not make a final statement in the death chamber, Associated Press reported. After being given a lethal dose of pentobarbital he took a few breaths, quietly snored once and then stopped moving. He was pronounced dead at 9.32pm central time, 17 minutes after the drug was administered.

Tamayo was arrested for the 1994 murder of Guy Gaddis, a Houston police officer, but not promptly advised of his right to consular help. That was a violation of the 1963 treaty known as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Tamayo's lawyers, Maurie Levin and Sandra Babcock, argued that he might have been given a lesser sentence had Mexican officials been able to assist him sooner. The attorneys claimed that Tamayo was mentally-ill and brain-damaged, with an IQ of 67, but that these discoveries were made too late to affect the trial.

Arrow Down

Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017 say researchers

© AFP/Getty Images
Bubonic plague bacteria.
Forecast of social network's impending doom comes from comparing its growth curve to that of an infectious disease

Facebook has spread like an infectious disease but we are slowly becoming immune to its attractions, and the platform will be largely abandoned by 2017, say researchers at Princeton University (pdf).

The forecast of Facebook's impending doom was made by comparing the growth curve of epidemics to those of online social networks. Scientists argue that, like bubonic plague, Facebook will eventually die out.

The social network, which celebrates its 10th birthday on 4 February, has survived longer than rivals such as Myspace and Bebo, but the Princeton forecast says it will lose 80% of its peak user base within the next three years.

John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, from the US university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, have based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google as a search term. The charts produced by the Google Trends service show Facebook searches peaked in December 2012 and have since begun to trail off.

"Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models," the authors claim in a paper entitled Epidemiological modelling of online social network dynamics.


Myth of the Tibetan mastiff creates a mad industry

© Xinhua.
A Tibetan mastiff exhibition held in Handan, Hebei.
The myth that the Tibetan mastiff helps people become rich overnight has seen the breeding of the mountain dog spiral into a chaotic industry chain, involving artificial breeding, gambling, bribing and money laundering, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily reports.

The Tibetan mastiff is an ancient breed of domestic dog originating from the nomadic cultures of Tibet, Nepal and Central Asia. For thousands of years, the dogs have been used to defend the cattle and sheep of Tibetan herders. Over the past three decades, the price of a pedigree Tibetan mastiff has surged to up to 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million) from just a few hundred yuan.

Senji, a pedigree stud Tibetan mastiff from the famous Yushu region, has helped push the breeding industry to a peak, with its offspring now spreading across the country. Dogs aired by Senji have a long black and tan coat, including the legs, strong bones, a powerful body, abundant skin and a giant head. Senji embodies the ideal for the breed

Comment: Same old sad story of an ancient breed being exploited. As with many other ancient breeds the original features will be bred into extinction. Their heritage as people and livestock guardian will also be gone. To predict the future of this magnificent Asian breed one only needs to look at the old pictures of original Bulldog and compare them with contemporary English Bulldog which is at risk of cardiac arrest after only a short walk.


Secret military training blurs line between police and soldiers

Police Soldiers
© New American

As the military transitions into a tech-heavy force, increasingly reliant on robots and drones, local police forces are looking less like law enforcement and more like heavily armored combat units. Now, it seems they are starting to train like them, as well.

A story published by The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, reported on recent secret joint training missions between U.S. Army special forces and the Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff's Department.

The article describes training exercises being conducted by "unidentified units" from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Ft. Bragg is the home of the elite U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and the super-secret, super-deadly Delta Force.

A spokesman for the Richland County Sheriff's Department refused to identify who was participating in the exercise or why it was being carried out. The department did, however, issue a press release, warning that the war games could get loud. "Citizens may see military and departmental vehicles traveling in and around rural and metropolitan areas and may hear ordnance being set off or fired which will be simulated/blanks and controlled by trained personnel," it declared.

As for why such combat simulations were necessary, the statement explained that they were a result of "Sheriff Leon Lott's longstanding commitment to making sure that deputies are trained and prepared for every event and potential threat and his desire to assist the military to ensure their preparations."

This synthesis of police and military is a threat to both civil liberty and a clear distinction between the purposes of the two organizations. The integration has progressed so far, though, that even the mainstream press is taking notice.

Red Flag

Judicial corruption: Man spends four decades in Washington mental hospital for stealing $20 necklace


St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, CIA mind control facility
Franklin H. Frye was charged with stealing a $20 necklace in 1970, and he has spent the better part of his life locked up ever since after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Mr. Frye was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington in 1971, part of which houses the criminally insane - including would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr.

In a chain of events that suggests a serious judicial breakdown, federal court records in Washington reviewed by The Washington Times show a public defender filed a motion for Mr. Frye's unconditional release nearly six years ago, citing his recovery.

But Mr. Frye never got his day in court.

The judge handling the case had died in 2007 when Mr. Frye's motion for release was filed. His case was not transferred to a living judge until recent weeks.

Comment: Perhaps Frye wasn't so much 'forgotten' as he was 'made use of'...

St. Elizabeth's Hospital was of the major institutions involved in CIA MK/Ultra and MONARCH mind control experimentation during the 1950s and 60s. It's probably no coincidence that John Hinckley Jr. is still in there too: the 'failed assassination' of Reagan - probably at the instigation of the Bush clan and the CIA - has Mind Control and 'programmed assassins' stamped all over it.

Apparently the 'hospital' is now set to become the new DHS HQ, so perhaps the US government is doing some 'house-cleaning'...