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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Meanwhile, In Greece, The Protests Return

On the eve of a critical Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg where FinMin Yanis Varoufakis says no new proposal will be tabled, Greeks are taking to the streets ahead of an anti-austerity protest planned for Wednesday evening. 

Here are the visuals:

Meanwhile, In Greece, The Protests Return

On the eve of a critical Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg where FinMin Yanis Varoufakis says no new proposal will be tabled, Greeks are taking to the streets ahead of an anti-austerity protest planned for Wednesday evening. 

Here are the visuals:

Reasons why gluten intolerance may be even more serious than celiac disease

Recent news stories have downplayed the significance of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, even going as far as suggesting that it doesn't exist. But a growing body of evidence has proven that gluten intolerance is not only real, but is potentially a much larger problem than celiac disease.

About a year ago I wrote an article called "Is Gluten Sensitivity Real" which critiqued a spate of news reports suggesting that nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) doesn't exist. These news stories referred to a study indicating that some people who believed they were reacting to gluten were actually reacting to a class of poorly absorbed carbohydrates (which include wheat, among many other foods) called FODMAPs.

You can read the full article above for details, but the takeaway was that the study those stories were based on in no way disproved the existence of NCGS, nor did it overturn the large body of evidence that links it to a variety of health problems ranging from type 1 diabetes, to allergies, to schizophrenia, to autism spectrum disorders. There is little doubt among those who are familiar with the scientific literature that NCGS is a real condition.

Yet despite this, we continue to see headlines in the media like this:

These stories—and many other like them—argue that nonceliac gluten intolerance is rare, and that people who eliminate gluten from their diet are just silly fad followers. In this article, however, I'm going to present three reasons why NCGS is not only a bonafide condition, but may in fact be a much more serious problem than celiac disease.

#1: Celiac disease is far easier to diagnose than NCGS

According to some estimates, for every diagnosed case of celiac disease (CD), there are 6.4 undiagnosed cases that remain undiagnosed—the majority of which are atypical or "silent" forms with no damage to the gut. (1) This silent form of CD is far from harmless; it is associated with a nearly fourfold increase in the risk of death. (2)

I believe that patients with NCGS are even more likely than patients with CD to go undiagnosed. Most gastroenterologists today know how to screen for celiac disease. They will typically test for antibodies to antibodies to alpha gliadin, transglutaminase-2, deamidated gliadin, and endomysium, and if positive do a biopsy to determine if tissue damage is present.

However, we now know that people can (and do) react to several other components of wheat above and beyond alpha gliadin, the component that is implicated in CD. These include other epitopes of gliadin (beta, gamma, omega), glutenin, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), gluteomorphin, and deamidated gliadin. What's more, people can react to other types of tissue transglutaminase, including type 3—primarily found in the skin—and type 6—primarily found in the brain. (3, 4, 5,6, 7, 8)

Why the "gluten intolerance haters" are wrong.

So, imagine a scenario where the patient is reacting to deamidated gliadin, glutenin, gluteomorphin, and either transglutaminase-3 or -6, but not reacting to alpha gliadin or transglutaminase-2—which are the antibodies used to screen for CD by most doctors. They will remain undiagnosed, and may continue to eat gluten for the rest of their lives, putting themselves at serious risk for autoimmune and other diseases.

This is not a hypothetical situation. In fact, I see cases like this all the time in my practice. Here is a screenshot from a recent test I ran on a patient. I use a much more thorough test for wheat and gluten intolerance called Array 3 from Cyrex Laboratories. Unlike other tests, it measures antibodies not only to alpha gliadin and transglutaminase-2, but also many of the other components of the wheat protein I mentioned above, as well as transglutaminase-3 and 6.

This patient is not reacting to alpha gliadin or transglutaminase-2. Had they been tested by their conventional doctor, they would have been told that they do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

However, as you can see, she is reacting quite significantly to several different components of wheat, including:

  • Native and deamidated gliadin and gluteomorphin, which are compounds produced during the digestion of wheat.
  • Glutenin, which is the other major fraction of the wheat protein, along with gliadin.
  • Gliadin-transglutaminase complex, which indicates that the patient is experiencing an autoimmune reaction to wheat.
  • Transglutaminase-3, which is expressed primarily in the skin, and to a lesser extent in the brain and placenta.
  • Transglutaminase-6, which is expressed in the brain and nervous system.
When this patient consumes wheat or other gluten-containing foods, she may not experience the classic digestive symptoms associated with CD or NCGS, because she is not producing antibodies to transglutaminase-2 (which is mostly expressed in the gut). Instead, her intolerance of wheat could manifest in skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, and in neurological or brain-related conditions like depression, peripheral neuropathy, or ADHD. (9, 10)

Worst of all, if this patient had not had this test, and had continued to eat wheat and gluten for the rest of her life, it's likely that she would have been at much higher risk for the long list of serious conditions that are associated with gluten intolerance, such as multiple sclerosis, ataxia, diabetes, and even Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). (11, 12, 13, 14)

Unfortunately, this patient is not the exception—she is the rule. I've seen so many test results just like this, where the patient would have been misdiagnosed as not having gluten intolerance had they gone to a conventional doctor.

This presents another obvious problem, of course: if very few health care providers are doing the correct testing for gluten intolerance (like the panel from Cyrex above), then how can we possibly know what the true prevalence of NCGS is? We can't—but given everything I've written above, we can certainly suspect that it's much higher than currently believed.

According to Cyrex Labs, 1 in 4 people that take the Array 3 panel test positive for some form of wheat or gluten intolerance. Granted, this is not a representative sample, since most people that take the Cyrex panel are dealing with chronic illness of some kind.

Even with the limitations of current testing, however, some researchers have speculated that NCGS may affect as many as 1 in 10 people. (15) I suspect this is accurate, if not conservative.

#2: Current cultural attitudes toward NCGS mean more people will remain undiagnosed

There has been a big backlash in both the mainstream media and on social media channels against the idea of gluten intolerance. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, uninformed journalists and armchair Facebook scientists continue to argue that NCGS is some kind of widespread collective delusion—simply a figment of the imagination of anyone who claims to experience it. And for reasons that I do not fully understand, they do so with an almost religious fervor.

The "gluten intolerance haters" seemed to emerge in force after a paper published by Gibson et al. in 2013 made the rounds in the media. This study found that a group of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were not sensitive to gluten, but instead were reacting to a group of poorly absorbed carbohydrates called FODMAPs. (16) Aside from the fact that this study did not in any way disprove the existence of NCGS, from a practical perspective the study findings would not have changed the behavior of most people with IBS who identified as being gluten intolerant, since wheat and many other gluten-containing grains are FODMAPs and should thus be avoided by these patients.

More importantly, however, in the last two years since the Gibson paper new studies have been published that directly contradict Gibson's findings and strongly suggest that patients with IBS do, in fact, react adversely to gluten—and not just FODMAPs.

For example, a new double-blind, randomized trial out of Iran was specifically designed to determine whether a group of IBS patients reacted to gluten specifically, or simply improved for other reasons on a gluten-free diet. (17) Here's how it worked:

  1. 80 patients followed an "almost-gluten-free" diet (dietary compliance was considered optimal if consumption of gluten was below 100 mg/day, the equivalent of roughly 1/8 tsp of wheat four).
  2. After six weeks, the 72 patients that complied with the diet and experienced significant improvement were then randomized into two groups: Group A, and Group B.
  3. Group A (35 patients) was given a 100 g packet containing a gluten meal (free of FODMAPs). Group B (37 patients) was given a placebo packet (100 g) containing rice flour, corn starch, and glucose.
  4. Patients in both groups consumed the powders for six weeks, while both groups continued on gluten-free diets.
After six weeks of the diet symptoms were controlled in only 26% of the gluten group, compared with 84% of the placebo group. In the gluten-containing group, all symptoms—especially bloating and abdominal pain—increased significantly one week after starting the gluten.

The authors point out that it is important to properly identify gluten intolerance and distinguish it from FODMAP intolerance because some recent research suggests that long-term low FODMAP diets may have adverse effects on the gut microbiome. One study found that a low FODMAP diet compared with a habitual diet reduced the proportion and concentration of , one of the most beneficial species of bacteria in the colon. (18) (Authors note: I will be exploring this issue in more detail in a future article.)

But I would add another equally serious consequence of misdiagnosing gluten intolerance as FODMAP intolerance, which is the increase in risk for numerous and sometimes serious diseases that occurs when someone with NCGS continues to consume gluten.

#3: Many doctors and patients aren't serious enough about NCGS treatment

This last point is a natural consequence of the first two. If detecting NCGS in conventional medical settings is unlikely, and there is a strong cultural backlash against it, where does that leave the millions of people that are likely suffering from NCGS without even knowing it?

Even if they do suspect that they are gluten intolerant, they might be dissuaded from pursuing a strict gluten-free diet by their friends, social media contacts, or even their doctor, all of whom are likely uninformed on this subject and do not understand the deficiencies in conventional testing or the complexity of the topic.

Based on the research I've reviewed in this article, and several others I linked to here, we should be more aggressive—not less—in diagnosing and treating gluten intolerance.

We need greater access to test panels like Cyrex Labs Array 3, which is the only commercial test outside of a research setting that screens for antibodies to many of the proteomes in wheat, instead of just testing for alpha gliadin. We need better training for doctors on how to recognize the myriad of symptoms and conditions associated with gluten intolerance, so they don't make the common mistake of assuming that the patient isn't gluten intolerant if they don't have digestive problems. And we need some prominent journalists to educate themselves, step forward, and take responsibility for treating this as the serious, potentially life-threatening problem that it is.

Even without access to tests like Array 3, an elimination/provocation trial where gluten is removed completely from the diet for 60 days and then reintroduced is still considered to be an accurate method of assessing gluten intolerance. Doctors should be much more proactive about recommending this to patients, and despite the claims of some mainstream nutritionists and dietitians to the contrary, there is no risk to removing gluten from the diet. (19) If anything, people on a gluten-free diet are more likely to increase their intake of essential nutrients, especially if they replace breads and other flour products with whole foods (rather than with gluten-free flour alternatives).

Finally, it's worth pointing out that many people that are intolerant of gluten are also intolerant of other food proteins found in foods like dairy, eggs, and unfortunately, coffee. Studies have shown that about 50 percent of patients with CD show intolerance to casein, a protein in milk. (20)

This may explain why up to 30 percent of CD patients continue to have symptoms or clinical signs after adopting a gluten-free diet. (21) For this reason, I recommend a completely grain- and dairy-free diet during the gluten challenge period. (Check out my 14Four program for a great way to get started with this.)

BEST OF THE WEB: George Soros: An American oligarch's dirty tale of corruption

Rarely does the world get a true look inside the corrupt world of Western oligarchs and the brazen manipulations they use to enhance their fortunes at the expense of the public good. The following comes from correspondence of the Hungarian-born billionaire, now naturalized American speculator, George Soros. The hacker group CyberBerkut has published online letters allegedly written by Soros that reveal him not only as puppet master of the US-backed Ukraine regime. They also reveal his machinations with the US Government and the officials of the European Union in a scheme where, if he succeeds, he could win billions in the plunder of Ukraine assets. All, of course, would be at the expense of Ukrainian citizens and of EU taxpayers.

What the three hacked documents reveal is a degree of behind-the-scene manipulation of the most minute details of the Kiev regime by the New York billionaire.

In the longest memo, dated March 15, 2015 and marked "Confidential" Soros outlines a detailed map of actions for the Ukraine regime. Titled, "A short and medium term comprehensive strategy for the new Ukraine," the memo from Soros calls for steps to "restore the fighting capacity of Ukraine without violating the Minsk agreement." To do the restoring, Soros blithely notes that "General Wesley Clark, Polish General Skrzypczak and a few specialists under the auspices of the Atlantic Council [emphasis added—f.w.e.] will advise President Poroshenko how to restore the fighting capacity of Ukraine without violating the Minsk agreement."

Soros also calls for supplying lethal arms to Ukraine and secretly training Ukrainian army personnel in Romania to avoid direct NATO presence in Ukraine. The Atlantic Council is a leading Washington pro-NATO think tank.

Notably, Wesley Clark is also a business associate of Soros in BNK Petroleum which does business in Poland.

Clark, some might recall, was the mentally-unstable NATO General in charge of the 1999 bombing of Serbia who ordered NATO soldiers to fire on Russian soldiers guarding the Pristina International Airport. The Russians were there as a part of an agreed joint NATO - Russia peacekeeping operation supposed to police Kosovo. The British Commander, General Mike Jackson refused Clark, retorting, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you." Now Clark apparently decided to come out of retirement for the chance to go at Russia directly.

Naked asset grab

In his March 2015 memo Soros further writes that Ukrainian President Poroshenko's "first priority must be to regain control of financial markets," which he assures Poroshenko that Soros would be ready to assist in: "I am ready to call Jack Lew of the US Treasury to sound him out about the swap agreement."

He also calls on the EU to give Ukraine an annual aid sum of €11 billion via a special EU borrowing facility. Soros proposes in effect using the EU's "AAA" top credit rating to provide a risk insurance for investment into Ukraine.

Whose risk would the EU insure?

Soros details, "I am prepared to invest up to €1 billion in Ukrainian businesses. This is likely to attract the interest of the investment community. As stated above, Ukraine must become an attractive investment destination." Not to leave any doubt, Soros continues, "The investments will be for-profit but I will pledge to contribute the profits to my foundations. This should allay suspicions that I am advocating policies in search of personal gain. "

For anyone familiar with the history of the Soros Open Society Foundations in Eastern Europe and around the world since the late 1980's, will know that his supposedly philanthropic "democracy-building" projects in Poland, Russia, or Ukraine in the 1990's allowed Soros the businessman to literally plunder the former communist countries using Harvard University's "shock therapy" messiah, and Soros associate, Jeffrey Sachs, to convince the post-Soviet governments to privatize and open to a "free market" at once, rather than gradually.

The example of Soros in Liberia is instructive for understanding the seemingly seamless interplay between Soros the shrewd businessman and Soros the philanthropist. In West Africa George Soros backed a former Open Society employee of his, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, giving her international publicity and through his influence, even arranging a Nobel Peace Prize for her in 2011, insuring her election as president. Before her presidency she had been well-indoctrinated into the Western free market game, studying economics at Harvard and working for the US-controlled World Bank in Washington and the Rockefeller Citibank in Nairobi. Before becoming Liberia's President, she worked for Soros directly as chair of his Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

Once in office, President Sirleaf opened the doors for Soros to take over major Liberian gold and base metals assets along with his partner, Nathaniel Rothschild. One of her first acts as President was to also invite the Pentagon's new Africa Command, AFRICOM, into Liberia whose purpose as a Liberian investigation revealed, was to "protect George Soros and Rothschild mining operations in West Africa rather than champion stability and human rights."

Naftogaz the target

The Soros memo makes clear he has his eyes on the Ukrainian state gas and energy monopoly, Naftogaz. He writes, "The centerpiece of economic reforms will be the reorganization of Naftogaz and the introduction of market pricing for all forms of energy, replacing hidden subsidies..."

In an earlier letter Soros wrote in December 2014 to both President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, Soros openly called for his Shock Therapy: "I want to appeal to you to unite behind the reformers in your government and give your wholehearted support to a radical, 'big bang' type of approach. That is to say, administrative controls would be removed and the economy would move to market prices rapidly rather than gradually...Naftogaz needs to be reorganized with a big bang replacing the hidden subsidies..."

Splitting Naftogaz into separate companies could allow Soros to take control of one of the new branches and essentially privatize its profits. He already suggested that he indirectly brought in US consulting company, McKinsey, to advise Naftogaz on the privatization "big bang."

The Puppet-Master?

The totality of what is revealed in the three hacked documents show that Soros is effectively the puppet-master pulling most of the strings in Kiev. Soros Foundation's Ukraine branch, International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) has been involved in Ukraine since 1989. His IRF doled out more than $100 million to Ukrainian NGOs two years before the fall of the Soviet Union, creating the preconditions for Ukraine's independence from Russia in 1991. Soros also admitted to financing the 2013-2014 Maidan Square protests that brought the current government into power.

Soros' foundations were also deeply involved in the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought the corrupt but pro-NATO Viktor Yushchenko into power with his American wife who had been in the US State Department. In 2004 just weeks after Soros' International Renaissance Foundation had succeeded in getting Viktor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine, Michael McFaul wrote an OpEd for the . McFaul, a specialist in organizing color revolutions, who later became US Ambassador to Russia, revealed:

Did Americans meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Yes. The American agents of influence would prefer different language to describe their activities — democratic assistance, democracy promotion, civil society support, etc. — but their work, however labeled, seeks to influence political change in Ukraine. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and a few other foundations sponsored certain U.S. organizations, including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Solidarity Center, the Eurasia Foundation, Internews and several others to provide small grants and technical assistance to Ukrainian civil society. The European Union, individual European countries and the Soros-funded International Renaissance Foundation did the same.

Soros shapes 'New Ukraine'

Today the CyberBerkut hacked papers show that Soros' IRF money is behind creation of a National Reform Council, a body organized by presidential decree from Poroshenko which allows the Ukrainian president to push bills through Ukraine's legislature. Soros writes, "The framework for bringing the various branches of government together has also emerged. The National Reform Council (NRC) brings together the presidential administration, the cabinet of ministers, the Rada and its committees and civil society. The International Renaissance Foundation which is the Ukrainian branch of the Soros Foundations was the sole financial supporter of the NRC until now..."

Soros' NRC in effect is the vehicle to allow the President to override parliamentary debate to push through "reforms," with the declared first priority being privatization of Naftogaz and raising gas prices drastically to Ukrainian industry and households, something the bankrupt country can hardly afford.

In his letter to Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, Soros hints that he played a key role in selection of three key non-Ukrainian ministers—Natalia Jaresko, an American ex- State Department official as Finance Minister; Aivras Abromavicius of Lithuania as Economics Minister, and a health minister from Georgia. Soros in his December 2014 letter, referring to his proposal for a "big bank" privatization of Naftogaz and price rise, states, "You are fortunate to have appointed three 'new Ukrainian' ministers and several natives (sic) who are committed to this approach."

Elsewhere Soros speaks about de facto creating the impression within the EU that the current government of Yatsenyuk is finally cleaning out the notorious corruption that has dominated every Kiev regime since 1991. Creating that temporary reform illusion, he remarks, will convince the EU to cough up the €11 billion annual investment insurance fund. His March 2015 paper says that, "It is essential for the government to produce a visible demonstration (sic) during the next three months in order to change the widely prevailing image of Ukraine as an utterly corrupt country." That he states will open the EU to make the €11 billion insurance guarantee investment fund.

While saying that it is important to show Ukraine as a country that is not corrupt, Soros reveals he has little concern when transparency and proper procedures block his agenda. Talking about his proposals to reform Ukraine's constitution to enable privatizations and other Soros-friendly moves, he complains, "The process has been slowed down by the insistence of the newly elected Rada on proper procedures and total transparency."

Soros suggests that he intends to create this "visible demonstration" through his initiatives, such as using the Soros-funded National Reform Council, a body organized by presidential decree which allows the Ukrainian president to push bills through Ukraine's legislature.

George Soros is also using his new European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank to lobby his Ukraine strategy, with his council members such as Alexander Graf Lambsdorff or Joschka Fischer or Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, not to mention former ECB head, Jean-Claude Trichet no doubt laying a subtle role.

George Soros, now 84, was born in Hungary as a Jew, George Sorosz. Soros once boasted in a TV interview that he posed during the war as a gentile with forged papers, assisting the Horthy government to seize property of other Hungarian Jews who were being shipped to the Nazi death camps. Soros told the TV moderator, "There was no sense that I shouldn't be there, because that was - well, actually, in a funny way, it's just like in markets - that if I weren't there - of course, I wasn't doing it, but somebody else would."

This is the same morality apparently behind Soros' activities in Ukraine today. It seems again to matter not to him that the Ukrainian government he helped bring to power in February 2014 US coup d'etat is riddled with explicit anti-semites and self-proclaimed neo-Nazis from the Svoboda Party and Pravy Sektor. George Soros is clearly a devotee of "public-private-partnership." Only here the public gets fleeced to enrich private investors like Mr. Soros and friends. Cynically, Soros signs his Ukraine strategy memo, "George Soros - A self-appointed advocate of the new Ukraine, March 12, 2015."

Military chief in Canada forced to apologize after saying men are 'biologically wired' for sexual harassment


© Reuters/Chris Wattie
Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson

Canada's military chief has apologized for saying the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces is due to "biological wiring." His comment drew outrage from politicians and those on social media.

Tom Lawson's controversial statement was made during a Tuesday interview with CBC News.

"It would be a trite answer, but it's because we're biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It's not the way it should be," Lawson said.

"Much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do, and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and have been situations where, largely, men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members,"he added.

But it took Lawson just hours to backpedal on the statement, calling it an "awkward characterization."

"Sexual misconduct in any form, in any situation is clearly unacceptable," Lawson said, adding that his "reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions."

But the apology didn't come before a barrage of criticism from politicians and social media users.

Joyce Murray, a Liberal defense critic, called Lawson's excuse "deplorable."

Meanwhile, Liberal Marc Garneau called for the military chief's immediate resignation.

Others on social media expressed the same thoughts, stating that Lawson should be removed from his post.

Lawson did, however, say in the interview that the current situation needs to change.

"We are going to tackle that. We've been successful in tackling other cultures," he said, adding that the Armed Forces are "well on their way."

The comments come after an April report by Marie Deschamps, a retired Supreme Court justice, which called sexual misconduct "endemic" in the Canadian Forces.

Deschamps accused the military of having a macho culture, in which the leadership tolerates abuse and leaves women in fear of reporting it.

In particular, she concluded the Canadian Forces environment was characterized by frequent swearing and "highly degrading" comments about women's bodies, along with sexual jokes, unwelcome sexual touching and discriminatory comments about women's abilities.

She laid out an action plan to change that culture - a plan that Lawson claims he's committed to following.

"I am committed, alongside Canadian Armed Forces leadership, to addressing the issue of sexual misconduct through an action plan based on the 10 recommendations provided in Madame [Marie] Deschamps' report," Lawson's statement said.

Lawson will be stepping down as military chief in September. He will be replaced by Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance, currently the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command.

Being there: How to lend support to someone going through a tough time

© Shutterstock

When someone is struggling, we might be at a loss for how to help. We want to reach out. But we're worried we'll do or say the wrong thing. So we don't do anything. Or maybe we have a track record of saying or doing the wrong things. Either way, the result is the same — we keep to ourselves.

Psychotherapist Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, worked in oncology for years. She noted that the best way we can support someone who's grieving is simply by being there.

The same is true for most things someone is struggling with — whether your friend is having marital problems, your cousin had a miscarriage or an acquaintance opens up about being overwhelmed.

Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of listening with empathy. Empathy is key for meaningful relationships. And it's a skill we can learn. Kogan cited the four attributes of empathy, identified by nursing scholar Teresa Wiseman. Researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown incorporated Wiseman's definition in her own work. Brown writes about empathy in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

  • Seeing the world as others see it. According to Brown, "we must be willing to recognize and acknowledge our own lens and attempt to see the situation that someone is experiencing through her lens."
  • Being non-judgmental. "Judging has become such a part of our thinking patterns that we are rarely even aware of why and how we do it," Brown writes. However, judgment creates distance and disconnection, Kogan said. Non-judgment is a skill we can practice. It starts with ourselves. For instance, we can practice being non-judgmental by embracing ourselves when we make mistakes or don't measure up to our expectations, Kogan said. We also can practice speaking to ourselves with compassion and realize that others are experiencing hard times like us, she said.
  • Understanding another's feelings.In order to understand someone else's feelings, we must be in touch with our own feelings, Brown writes. It's important to have an understanding of emotions. But it's also important to put aside our own "stuff," or our own opinion when empathizing, Kogan said. Focus on what the person is feeling.
  • Communicating your understanding of their feelings. Brown shares this example in the book: Your friend tells you they feel like her marriage is falling apart. These kinds of responses convey empathy: "Oh, no, you and Tim are a great couple — I'm sure everything will be fine," or "At least you have a marriage. John and I haven't had a real marriage for years." This response does convey empathy: "I'm really sorry — that can be a very lonely place. Is there anything I can do?" Similarly, if your friend is going through a breakup, Derhally suggested listening and saying, "That sounds really hard. I'm sorry you're in so much pain." According to Brown, in general, "at least" isn't empathetic. Here's another example: "I had a miscarriage." "At least you know you can get pregnant."
These are other helpful and not-so helpful strategies for support.

Be curious about the right thing.

Psychologist Dan Griffin, Ph.D, was working with a family whose father was accused of a terrible crime. During a session one of the adult kids mentioned an Irish saying that goes something like this: If the person is just interested in the story, they're not your friend. If they're interested in you, they are. In other words, to be truly supportive, focus on how the person is doing. Don't ask for the dirt or sordid details.

Think of what's helped — and not helped — you.

Griffin suggested picking three situations where you needed help and received the right kind of help. What were the common supportive factors? Maybe the person was fully present and didn't judge you. Maybe they referred you to a helpful resource. Maybe they brought you food or flowers. Maybe they sat with you while you processed your pain.

Also, consider what wasn't so helpful. Maybe they turned the conversation toward themselves and their issues. Maybe they focused on fiddling with their phone or watching TV.

Of course, everyone is different. But thinking about what's helped you and what hasn't may be a good place to start, he said.

Avoid silver linings.

"A major don't is to try to create silver linings or attempt to fix something with words," Derhally said. She recalled that during her time working in oncology, it was really difficult for people to hear statements like "everything happens for a reason." It's not necessary to come up with "words of wisdom," she said.

Avoid giving advice.

Unless you're asked for it, avoid giving advice, Kogan said. When you give advice, you're communicating what the other person should do instead of giving them the space to discuss how they feel, she said. "For this reason, advice giving often shuts down the conversation because the person does not feel heard."

Check in regularly.

Let the person know that you're thinking about them, and you're available if they want to talk, Derhally said.

Again, the best thing you can do for someone who's struggling with anything is listen. Give them your full attention. Put down the gadgets. As Griffin said, leaving your phone in another room is a small gesture with a profound meaning.

It's easy to get caught up in wanting to say the right thing, especially if you've messed up before. But, as Kogan said, it's perfectly OK to say: "I just don't know what to say, but I am here for you."

FDA to ban trans fats by 2018


© Reuters/Yves Herman

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced its final decision to outlaw partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, by June 2018.

The agency said that its decision is based on scientific review of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) which has indicated that they are not "generally recognized as safe" for human food consumption.

"The FDA's action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency's commitment to the heart health of all Americans," said Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's acting commissioner. "This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year."

Trans fats boost risk of coronary disease given they raise "bad" cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Removing PHOs from processed foods could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 coronary deaths a year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Heart Association said in astatement that it "joins the public health community today in celebrating what is truly a historic victory for the nation's health. After years of advocating for the removal of industrially produced trans fat from the country's food supply, we couldn't be more gratified that this day has finally come."

Food manufacturers will be allowed to petition the FDA for approval of one or more uses of PHOs if they can offer reasonable proof that the proposed uses are safe. Unless otherwise approved by the FDA, companies have until June 18, 2018, to adjust their products or to petition the FDA.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a major lobby group for food manufacturers, supported the FDA for acting "in a manner that both addresses FDA's concerns and minimizes unnecessary disruptions to commerce."

"GMA's food additive petition to FDA will show that the presence of trans fat from the proposed low-level uses of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) is as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet," the group said in a statement on the FDA's decision.

"Food and beverage companies have already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fat added to food products by more than 86 percent and will continue lowering PHO use in foods," the group claimed.

The FDA is not targeting small amounts of natural trans fats that are found in some meat and dairy products and that do not propose a considerable health risk.

Artificial trans fats in products like baked goods and fried foods will be affected, especially products that require PHOs to maintain texture or shelf life, or to enhance flavor.

The FDA tentatively determined in 2013 that artificial trans fats were not safe for human consumption. A public comment notice was given until January 2014, though the agency expanded the comment time to March 2014. The agency received more than 6,000 comments from an array of sources responding to the notice, according to Food Safety News.

Since 2006, food manufactures have been required to list trans fats on nutritional labels, contributing to a 78 percent drop in consumption.

"While trans fat intake has significantly decreased, the current intake remains a public health concern,"the FDA said.

Key BRICS economic strategy document near completion as summit approaches


© Sputnik/ Alexei Druzhinin

One of the key documents outlining an economic partnership strategy for the BRICS nations, which will be discussed at an upcoming summit in the Russian city of Ufa is nearly complete, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

"We have never doubted the focus of BRICS on economic issues and therefore this is why, when the preparation for Russia's chairmanship in the association began, naturally the topic of what our contribution would be and what added value the Russian chairmanship would give came up. The development of the economic partnership strategy has already begun, and this document is practically finished," Ryabkov told RIA Novosti.

Ryabkov said the document would not be a declaration from the parties involved, but is quite detailed.

"It too early to discuss the document's contents because the procedure of its agreement has not been completed, but we are quite sure that the document will be published in Ufa and will become one of the summaries in the high level meetings," Ryabkov said.

BRICS is a bloc of emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The upcoming meeting will occur in Ufa on July 9-10 and will become the group's seventh summit. Russia currently holds the presidency of the group.

USGS: Earthquake Magnitude 7.0 - Southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge

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Scientists discover traces of methane in Mars meteorites


© Flickr/ NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

An international team of researchers discovered a possible clue in the search for life on Mars: traces of methane in Martian meteorites, which could be a possible food source for lifeforms on the Red Planet.

Scottish and Canadian scientists found various levels of methane in each of the eight samples of Martian volcanic rock they examined, phys.org reported. Basic forms of life beneath Mars' surface could use the gas as a food source, much like microbes do on Earth.

Other researchers will be eager to replicate the findings using different measurement tools and techniques, according to co-author Sean McMahon, a Yale University postdoctoral associate.

"Our findings will likely be used by astrobiologists in models and experiments aimed at understanding whether life could survive below the surface of Mars today," McMahon was quoted as saying by phys.org

The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, the University of Glasgow, Brock University in Ontario, and the University of Western Ontario.

"One of the most exciting developments in the exploration of Mars has been the suggestion of methane in the Martian atmosphere," University of Aberdeen professor John Parnell, who directed the research, told physics.org.

"Recent and forthcoming missions by NASA and the European Space Agency, respectively, are looking at this, however, it is so far unclear where the methane comes from, and even whether it is really there. However, our research provides a strong indication that rocks on Mars contain a large reservoir of methane."

The team said it plans on building on its research by analyzing additional meteorites, and noted that its work may prove helpful in future Mars rover experiments.

"Even if Martian methane does not directly feed microbes, it may signal the presence of a warm, wet, chemically reactive environment where life could thrive," Yale's McMahon told phys.org.

Researchers make surprising connection between solar storms and incidences of rheumatoid arthritis and giant cell arteritis


© DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

What began as a chat between husband and wife has evolved into an intriguing scientific discovery. The results, published in May in (formerly ) Open, show a "highly significant" correlation between periodic solar storms and incidences of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and giant cell arteritis (GCA), two potentially debilitating autoimmune diseases. The findings by a rare collaboration of physicists and medical researchers suggest a relationship between the solar outbursts and the incidence of these diseases that could lead to preventive measures if a causal link can be established.

RA and GCA are autoimmune conditions in which the body mistakenly attacks its own organs and tissues. RA inflames and swells joints and can cause crippling damage if left untreated. In GCA, the autoimmune disease results in inflammation of the wall of arteries, leading to headaches, jaw pain, vision problems and even blindness in severe cases.

Inspiring this study were conversations between Simon Wing, a Johns Hopkins University physicist and first author of the paper, and his wife, Lisa Rider, deputy unit chief of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the National Institutes of Health, and a coauthor. Rider spotted data from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showing that cases of RA and GCA followed close to 10-year cycles. "That got me curious," Wing recalled. "Only a few things in nature have a periodicity of about 10-11 years and the solar cycle is one of them."

Wing teamed with physicist Jay Johnson of the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a long-time collaborator, to investigate further. When the physicists tracked the incidence of RA and GCA cases compiled by Mayo Clinic researchers, the results suggested "more than a coincidental connection," said Eric Matteson, chair of the division of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic, and a coauthor. This work drew upon previous space physics research supported by the DOE Office of Science.

The findings found increased incidents of RA and GCA to be in periodic concert with the cycle of magnetic activity of the sun. During the solar cycle, dramatic changes that can affect space weather near Earth take place in the sun. At the solar maximum, for example, an increased number of outbursts called coronal mass ejections hurl millions of tons of magnetic and electrically charged plasma gas against the Earth's magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds the planet. This contact whips up geomagnetic disturbances that can disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and knock out power grids. More importantly, during the declining phase of the solar maximum high-speed streams develop in the solar wind that is made up of plasma that flows from the sun. These streams continuously buffet Earth's magnetosphere, producing enhanced geomagnetic activity at high Earth latitudes.

The research, which tracked correlations of the diseases with both geomagnetic activity and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) solar radiation, focused on cases recorded in Olmsted County, Minnesota, the home of the Mayo Clinic, over more than five decades. The physicists compared the data with indices of EUV radiation for the years 1950 through 2007 and indices of geomagnetic activity from 1966 through 2007. Included were all 207 cases of GCA and all 1,179 cases of RA occurring in Olmsted County during the periods and collected in a long-term study led by Sherine Gabriel, then of the Mayo Clinic and now dean of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Correlations proved to be strongest between the diseases and geomagnetic activity. GCA incidence — defined as the number of new cases per capita per year in the county — regularly peaked within one year of the most intense geomagnetic activity, while RA incidence fell to a minimum within one year of the least intense activity. Correlations with the EUV indices were seen to be less robust and showed a significantly longer response time.

The findings were consistent with previous studies of the geographic distribution of RA cases in the United States. Such research found a greater incidence of the disease in sections of the country that are more likely to be affected by geomagnetic activity. For example, the heaviest incidence lay along geographic latitudes on the East Coast that were below those on the West Coast. This asymmetry may reflect the fact that high geomagnetic latitudes — areas most subject to geomagnetic activity — swing lower on the East Coast than on the opposite side of the country. While Washington, D.C., lies just 1 degree farther north than San Francisco geographically, for example, the U.S. capital is 7 degrees farther north in terms of geomagnetic latitude.

Although the authors make no claim to a causal explanation for their findings, they identify five characteristics of the disease occurrence that are not obviously explained by any of the currently leading hypotheses. These include the east-west asymmetries of the RA and GCA outbreaks and the periodicities of the incidences in concert with the solar cycle. Among the possible causal pathways the authors consider are reduced production of the hormone melatonin, an anti-inflammatory mediator with immune-enhancing effects, and increased formation of free radicals in susceptible individuals. A study of 142 electrical power workers found that excretion of melatonin — a proxy used to estimate production of the hormone — was reduced by 21 percent on days with increased geomagnetic activity.

Confirming a causal link between outbreaks of RA and GCA and geomagnetic activity would be an important step towards developing strategies for mitigating the impact of the activity on susceptible individuals. These strategies could include relocating to lower latitudes and developing methods to counteract direct causal agents that may be controlled by geomagnetic activity. For now, say the authors, their findings warrant further investigations covering longer time periods, additional locations and other autoimmune diseases.

Mobile phone towers in Hyderabad, India are driving migratory birds crazy


Birds near phone tower

Increasing radiation from thousands of mobile phone towers in Hyderabad is playing havoc with the natural flight paths of migratory birds, experts said on Monday. Rare species of birds are unable to find their way back home after winter, they added.

While migratory birds use the geomagnetic field as a compass to track their route from Europe to the Indian sub-continent every year, radiation emitted from these mobile phone towers (6,000 of which came up in just two years) is damaging their brain cells and sense of direction, several environmentalist groups said.

Thousands of birds from 800 different species visit the lush environs of Osmansagar and Safilguda lakes every year. But bird-watchers say hundreds of birds they tracked about a year ago have not found their way back home. Instead, they are found to be circling the city and heading back to the city lakes.

While scientific studies have established that radiation from mobile towers hampers the birds' ability to track the Earth's geomagnetic field, experts say species like the Bar-Headed Goose, Greater Flamingo and Pelicans could be worse off as they don't mate or lay eggs outside their homes.

"We have noticed that certain species of birds are increasing in numbers and are not flying away. We believe there is a disturbance caused by the radiation emanating from the towers - which is hampering their natural movement," said expert Dinesh Bhatt, dean, Faculty of Life Sciences, G K University, Haridwar.

Not just departure, arrival of migratory birds has also been affected by radiation from cellphone towers. A recent report published in , a bird-watchers magazine, says many birds including the Garganey Teal (duck species) are no longer being seen in Hyderabad, Pune and Nagpur lately.

"There has been no scientific study to resolve this matter. Even the gradual disappearance of the commonplace sparrow can be attributed to spurt of mobile phone towers. There needs to be a detailed study on this issue," said Farida Tampal, state director, WWF-India.

Grexit plan: The next great European financial crisis has begun

The Greek financial system is in the process of totally imploding, and the rest of Europe will soon follow. Neither the Greeks nor the Germans are willing to give in, and that means that there is very little chance that a debt deal is going to happen by the end of June. So that means that we will likely see a major Greek debt default and potentially even a Greek exit from the eurozone. At this point, credit default swaps on Greek debt have risen 456 percent in price since the beginning of this year, and the market has priced in a 75 percent chance that a Greek debt default will happen. Over the past month, the yield on two year Greek bonds has skyrocketed from 20 percent to more than 30 percent, and the Greek stock market has fallen by a total of 13 percent during the last three trading days alone. This is what a financial collapse looks like, and if Greece does leave the euro, we are going to see this kind of carnage happen all over Europe.

Officials over in Europe are now openly speaking of the need to prepare for a "state of emergency" now that negotiations have totally collapsed. At one time, it would have been unthinkable for Greece to leave the euro, but now it appears that this is precisely what will happen unless a miracle happens...

Greece is heading for a state of emergency and an exit from the euro following the collapse of talks to agree a bailout deal, senior EU officials warned last night.

Europe must be prepared to step in otherwise Greek society would face an unprecedented crisis with power blackouts, medicine shortages and no money to pay for police, they said.

In the past, the Greeks have always buckled under pressure. But this new Greek government was elected with a mandate to end austerity, and so far they have shown a remarkable amount of resolve. In order for a debt deal to happen, one side is going to have to blink, and at this point it does not look like it will be the Greeks...

The world's financial markets are facing up to the possibility that Greece could soon become the first country to crash out of Europe's single currency. Talks between Athens and its eurozone creditors have collapsed in acrimony just days before a final deadline for Greece to unlock the €7.2bn (£5.2bn) in bailout funds it needs to avoid a catastrophic debt default.

The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, accused the creditor powers of hidden "political motives" in their demands that Greece make further cuts to public pension payments in return for the financial aid. "We are shouldering the dignity of our people, as well as the hopes of the people of Europe," Mr Tsipras said in a defiant statement. "We cannot ignore this responsibility. This is not a matter of ideological stubbornness. This is about democracy."

As we approach the point of no return, both sides are preparing for the endgame.

In Greece, members of parliament have been studying what happened in Iceland a few years ago. Many of them believe that a Greek debt default combined with a nationalization of Greek banks and a Greek exit from the euro could set the nation back on the path to prosperity fairly rapidly. The following comes from the Telegraph...

The radical wing of Greece's Syriza party is to table plans over coming days for an Icelandic-style default and a nationalisation of the Greek banking system, deeming it pointless to continue talks with Europe's creditor powers.

Syriza sources say measures being drafted include capital controls and the establishment of a sovereign central bank able to stand behind a new financial system. While some form of dual currency might be possible in theory, such a structure would be incompatible with euro membership and would imply a rapid return to the drachma.

The confidential plans were circulating over the weekend and have the backing of 30 MPs from the Aristeri Platforma or 'Left Platform', as well as other hard-line groupings in Syriza's spectrum. It is understood that the nationalist ANEL party in the ruling coalition is also willing to force a rupture with creditors, if need be.

Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to get the Greeks to give in at the last moment, Greek's creditors are preparing to pull out all the stops in order to put as much financial pressure on Greece as possible...

Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that the creditors are drawing an ultimatum to the Greeks, threatening to cut off Greek access to the European payments system and forcing capital controls on the country as soon as this weekend. The plan would lead to the temporary closure of the banks, followed by a rationing of cash withdrawals.

For a long time, most in the financial world assumed that a debt deal would eventually happen. But now reality is setting in. As I mentioned at the top of this article, the cost to insure Greek debt has risen by an astounding 456 percent since the beginning of this year...

Given these dramatic stakes, the risk of a Greek default has gone way up. One way to measure that risk is by looking at the skyrocketing price of insurance policies that would pay out if Greek bonds go bust. The cost to insure Greek debt for one year against the risk of default has skyrocketed 456% since the start of the 2015, according to FactSet data.

These insurance-like contracts, known as credit default swaps, imply there is a 75% to 80% probability of Greece defaulting on its debt, according to Jigar Patel, a credit strategist at Barclays.

The probability of a Greek default soars to a whopping 95% for five-year CDS, Patel said.

"Default is looking more and more likely," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday.

And in recent days, we have also seen Greek stocks and Greek bonds totally crash. The following comes from CNN...

The Greek stock market has plummeted 13% over the past three trading days, including a 3% drop on Tuesday alone.

In the bond market, the yield on Greek two-year debt has skyrocketed to 30.2%. A month ago, the yield was only 20%. Yields rise as bond prices fall.

Of course if there is a Greek debt default and Greece does leave the euro, it won't just be Greece that pays the price.

As I have written about previously, there are tens of trillions of dollars in derivatives that are directly tied to currency exchange rates and 505 trillion dollarsin derivatives that are directly tied to interest rates. A "Grexit" would cause the euro to drop like a rock and interest rates all over the continent would start to go crazy. The financial chaos that a "Grexit" would cause should not be underestimated.

And there are signs that some of Europe's biggest banks are already on the verge of collapse. For example, just consider what has been going on at the biggest bank in Germany. Both of the co-CEOs at Deutsche Bank recently resigned, and it is increasingly looking as if it could soon become Europe's version of Lehman Brothers. The following summary of the recent troubles at Deutsche Bank comes from an article that was posted on NotQuant...

Here's a re-cap of what's happened at Deutsche Bank over the past 15 months:

  • In April of 2014, Deutsche Bank was forced to raise an additional 1.5 Billion of Tier 1 capital to support it's capital structure. Why?
  • 1 month later in May of 2014, the scramble for liquidity continued as DB announced the selling of 8 billion euros worth of stock - at up to a 30% discount. Why again? It was a move which raised eyebrows across the financial media. The calm outward image of Deutsche Bank did not seem to reflect their rushed efforts to raise liquidity. Something was decidedly rotten behind the curtain.
  • Fast forwarding to March of this year: Deutsche Bank fails the banking industry's "stress tests" and is given a stern warning to shore up it's capital structure.
  • In April, Deutsche Bank confirms it's agreement to a joint settlement with the US and UK regarding the manipulation of LIBOR. The bank is saddled with a massive $2.1 billion payment to the DOJ. (Still, a small fraction of their winnings from the crime).
  • In May, one of Deutsche Bank's CEOs, Anshu Jain is given an enormous amount of new authority by the board of directors. We guess that this is a "crisis move". In times of crisis the power of the executive is often increased.
  • June 5: Greece misses it's payment to the IMF. The risk of default across all of it's debt is now considered acute. This has massive implications for Deutsche Bank.
  • June 6/7: (A Saturday/Sunday, and immediately following Greece's missed payment to the IMF) Deutsche Bank's two CEO's announce their surprise departure from the company. (Just one month after Jain is given his new expanded powers). Anshu Jain will step down first at the end of June. Jürgen Fitschen will step down next May.
  • June 9: S&P lowers the rating of Deutsche Bank to BBB+ Just three notches above "junk". (Incidentally, BBB+ is even lower than Lehman's downgrade - which preceded it's collapse by just 3 months)

For a very long time, I have been warning that a major financial crisis was coming to Europe, and for a very long time the authorities in Europe have been able to successfully kick the can down the road.

But now it looks like we have reached the end of the road, and a day of reckoning is finally here.

Nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next, but almost everyone agrees that it isn't going to be pretty.

So you better buckle up, because it looks like we are all in for a wild ride as we enter the second half of this year.

Shanghai Containerized Freight Index Totally Collapses, Top Carriers Wage Price War to Form Global Shipping Oligopoly

This is what two unnamed container shipping executives, one from an Asian carrier, the other from a European carrier, told the Wall Street Journal about the containerized-freight fiasco on the China-Europe route:

“We are now shipping at an absolute loss. With the bunker-adjustment-factor surcharge at $300 for Asia-Europe, we are losing more than $50 per box.”

“Unless by a miracle demand grows, we are up for heavy losses in the next quarter and maybe the rest of 2015.”

The rate for shipping a container on that route, after plunging for months, is now below even the cost of fuel.

The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), which covers spot market rates and contractual rates from Chinese ports to major destinations around the world, dropped another 1.2% last week, to a multi-year low of 851.4. The China-Europe component dropped 2.5%. The CCFI is now 21% below where it was in February, and 15% below where it was in 1998, when it was set at 1,000!

The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) paints an even drearier scenario. Unlike the CCFI, it is composed only of spot rates, not contractual rates, from Shanghai to the rest of the world. And this babe plunged 6.8% last week to 581.25, an all-time low, 42% below where it was during the Financial Crisis, on October 16, 2009, when it was set at 1,000, and down 47% from February.

This is what the four-month plunge looks like:


The Shanghai-Rotterdam sub-index plunged 14.4% last week to an all-time low of $243 per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). Rates began to collapse in February. By April, when they’d crashed to around $400 per TEU, Drewry Maritime Researchestimated that the break-even rate for most carriers was $800 per TEU on that route. But now, the rates, at $243 per TEU, don’t even cover the cost of fuel of about $300 per TEU. Hence the screaming by the shipping execs!

But not everyone is screaming.

“I can’t speak for other companies, but small and mid-size carriers controlling a 3% to 5% market share – with very few exceptions – have been unprofitable for the last seven years,” explained Nils Andersen, CEO of the Danish giant A.P. Møller-Mærsk, whose Maersk Line is the largest container carrier in the world.

“After such a long period of not being profitable, it defies logic to continue to invest in the business,” he told the Wall Street Journal, thus proffering his agenda: pushing all but the largest carriers out of the business to build a global shipping oligopoly, with him at the top.

“Some of those companies have not been able to identify an acceptable way to exit the business, so they continue to throw good money after bad money by investing in more vessels,” he said. “It’s highly unlikely that there will be an easy way to make a profit going forward for a small or midsize carrier.”

So they better get out now. That’s the message.

Maersk is deploying its big guns: lots of money and Ultra Large Container Vessels (ULCVs). It just ordered another 11 second-generation “Triple-E” vessels of 19,630 TEU capacity for $1.8 billion, with an option for six more, to be delivered between April 2017 and May 2018, for its Asia-Europe route, Drewry reported. Maersk now has a capacity of about 400,000 TEU on order, or 13% of its fleet. And it will order even moreships, as part of its $15-billion investment program, which central-bank easy-money policies have encouraged it to do.

With shipping rates at “historical lows,” according to Drewry, even a giant like Maersk would “feel the pinch”:

The comments from Andersen perhaps betray a company that knows it is in for a bumpy ride in the short-term at least. The removal of a few pesky competitors would certainly help to lift freight rates off the floor.

Maersk currently controls 15.3% of the global container capacity. The big three carriers together – Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM – control 38%, up from 26% in 2005. Including Hapag-Lloyd and Evergreen, the top five control 48%, up from 37% in 2005. These share gains at the top are “seemingly unstoppable” in a race to add capacity.

So when Andersen exhorted midsized carriers with a share of 3% to 5% to exit the business, he covered just about all carriers other than the top three. If he gets his wish, it will be one heck of a global oligopoly.

The top three, particularly Maersk, are relentlessly adding capacity, and thus global overcapacity, hoping that they’ll have the resources to survive the price war, that easy-money policies that have made all this possible will continue, and that smaller players won’t survive – particularly in an environment of sluggish demand.

But maybe Andersen miscalculated?

Turns out, medium carriers are “displaying their survival instincts” by ordering their own ULCVs, Drewry explained. It’s “a defensive move to fight off attack,” but “it guarantees years of overcapacity that will depress freight rates and profitability for all. No wonder Maersk is annoyed.”

Overcapacity and “sluggish westbound volumes have brought about the worst spot-market rate collapse that this trade has experienced,” Drewry found in a separatereport, as shipping volumes in the first quarter had fallen 1% year over year.

With demand expected to grow only marginally, and with these new giant ships adding to overcapacity, things will get tough over the next five years, Andersen said. But being the largest carrier in the world, Maersk could afford the price war to achieve his lofty goal of a global shipping oligopoly. “I don’t think it will backfire,” he said, perhaps not totally certain about the outcome, in light of the rate fiasco and glut in ships that he himself, drunk with cheap money, has helped create.

Other gluts have developed, and this one, only a miracle could stop, but miracles have become rare. Read… Biggest Glut in Recorded Crude-Oil History Taking Shape 

The Walmart octopus: World's biggest corporation dodges its massive US tax bill with secret overseas havens

A groundbreaking report reveals that Walmart has built a vast, undisclosed network of 78 subsidiaries and branches in 15 overseas tax havens, which may be used to minimize foreign taxes where it has retail operations and to avoid U.S. tax on those foreign earnings. These secretive subsidiaries have never been subject to public scrutiny before. They have remained largely invisible, in part because Walmart fails to list them in its annual 10-K filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Walmart's preferred tax haven is Luxembourg, dubbed a "magical fairyland" for corporations looking to shelter profits from taxation.

The report, , is the first-ever comprehensive documentation of the company's use of tax havens. The full report is available here, and for the report's Key Findings, click here.

Key Findings

Most people know that Walmart is the world's biggest corporation. Virtually no one knows that Walmart has an extensive and secretive web of subsidiaries located in countries widely known as tax havens. Typically, the primary purpose for a corporation to set up subsidiaries in tax havens where it has little to no business operations and few, if any, employees is to pay little, if any, taxes and to maintain financial secrecy.

Walmart has established a vast and relatively new web of subsidiaries in tax havens, while avoiding public disclosure of these subsidiaries.

All told it has 78 subsidiaries and branches in 15 offshore tax havens, none of them publicly reported before. They have remained invisible to experts on corporate tax avoidance in part because of the way Walmart has filed information about them to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Walmart may be skirting the law as there is a legal requirement to list subsidiaries that account for greater than 10 percent of assets or income.
Luxembourg, dubbed a "magical fairyland" by one tax expert because of its ability to shelter profits from taxation, has become Walmart's tax haven of choice.

It has 22 shell companies there - 20 established since 2009 and five in 2015 alone. Walmart does not have one store there. Walmart has transferred ownership of more than $45 billion in assets to Luxembourg subsidiaries since 2011. It reported paying less than 1 percent in tax to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits from 2010 through 2013.

Walmart has made tax havens central to its growing International division, which accounts for about one-third of the company's annual profits.

At least 25 out of 27 (and perhaps all) of Walmart's foreign operating companies (in the U.K. Brazil, Japan, China and more) are owned by subsidiaries in tax havens. All of these companies have retail stores and many employees. Walmart owns at least $76 billion in assets through shell companies domiciled in the tax havens of Luxembourg ($64.2 billion) and the Netherlands ($12.4 billion) - that's 90 percent of the assets in Walmart's International division ($85 billion) or 37 percent of its total assets ($205 billion).

There is evidence that Walmart uses its subsidiaries in tax havens to pursue well-known international tax-avoidance strategies:

  • In 2014, Walmart's tax-haven subsidiaries provided U.S. affiliates access to $2.4 billion in foreign earnings - in the form of low-interest, short-term loans - which may transgress U.S. law.
  • Walmart generates about $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making phantom interest payments to its U.S. global parent. It uses a "hybrid loan," which makes this income disappear for tax purposes here and in Luxembourg.
  • Walmart's use of inter-company debt permits it to avoid taxes overseas. It strips earnings out of higher-tax countries by taking out inter-company loans and pays interest to itself in tax havens where the interest income is taxed lightly or not at all.
Walmart appears to be playing a long game - from tax deferral to profit windfall.

It is using tax-haven subsidiaries to minimize foreign taxes where it has retail operations and to avoid U.S. tax on those foreign earnings. Walmart apparently hopes the U.S. Congress will reward its use of tax havens by enacting legislation that would allow U.S.-based multinationals to pay little U.S. tax when repatriating current low-taxed foreign earnings (such as to fund infrastructure spending) and pay no tax with the adoption of a territorial tax system.

U.S. and foreign authorities should investigate Walmart's tax avoidance.

Among the issues to pursue:

  1. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should ask Walmart to explain its failure to disclose on Exhibit 21 of its SEC Form 10-K any of the 78 subsidiaries and branches Walmart has in tax havens. As a remedy for that failure, the SEC should also require the company to make public a complete list of its business entities and which of those subsidiaries Walmart has elected to designate as disregarded for U.S. tax purposes, so that investors can better evaluate the company's tax practices.
  2. The Internal Revenue Service should audit Walmart's use of subsidiaries in tax havens, including the transfer of billions of dollars to its tax-haven subsidiaries and its use of various financial instruments to move taxable income out of the United States. The IRS should also analyze Walmart's use of short-term offshore loans to fund some of its U.S. operations without paying repatriation taxes and its deposit of offshore cash in U.S. financial institutions to determine whether Walmart has been improperly avoiding U.S. tax.
  3. The European Commission should determine whether Luxembourg has been providing Walmart with sweetheart tax deals equivalent to illegal state aid.
Download the full report here.

Download the key findings here.

Read the press release here.

Download shareable graphics here.

Watching those cat videos is actually good for you!

A new study finds watching cute cat videos may actually be good for you.

Indiana University researchers discovered the Internet phenomenon of watching cat videos, from Lil Bub to Grumpy Cat, does more than simply entertain; it boosts viewers' energy and positive emotions and decreases negative feelings.

Assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, Ph.D., surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and how it affects their moods.

"Some people may think watching online cat videos isn't a serious enough topic for academic research, but the fact is that it's one of the most popular uses of the Internet today," Myrick said.

"If we want to better understand the effects the Internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can't ignore Internet cats anymore.

"We all have watched a cat video online, but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us," added Myrick, who owns a pug but no cats.

"As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon."

Internet data show there were more than two million cat videos posted on YouTube in 2014, with almost 26 billion views. Cat videos had more views per video than any other category of YouTube content.

In Myrick's study, the most popular sites for viewing cat videos were Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed, and I Can Has Cheezburger.

Among the possible effects Myrick hoped to explore: Does viewing cat videos online have the same kind of positive impact as pet therapy? And do some viewers actually feel worse after watching cat videos because they feel guilty for putting off tasks they need to tackle?

Of the participants in the study, about 36 percent described themselves as a "cat person," while about 60 percent said they liked both cats and dogs.

Participants in Myrick's study reported:

  • they were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before;
  • they had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness, after watching cat-related online media than before;
  • they often view Internet cats at work or during studying;
  • the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating;
  • cat owners and people with certain personality traits, such as agreeableness and shyness, were more likely to watch cat videos;
  • about 25 percent of the cat videos they watched were ones they sought out; the rest were ones they happened upon;
  • they were familiar with many so-called "celebrity cats," such as Nala Cat and Henri, Le Chat Noir.
Overall, the response to watching cat videos was largely positive.

"Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward," Myrick said. The results also suggest that future work could explore how online cat videos might be used as a form of low-cost pet therapy, she said.

For each participant who took the survey, Myrick donated 10 cents to Lil Bub's foundation, raising almost $700. The foundation, Lil Bub's Big Fund for the ASPCA, has raised more than $100,000 for needy animals.

The study has been published in the journal .

Women under chronic stress have significantly lower levels of klotho, a hormone that regulates aging and enhances cognition

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Women under chronic stress have significantly lower levels of klotho, a hormone that regulates aging and enhances cognition, researchers at UC San Francisco have found in a study comparing mothers of children on the autism spectrum to low-stress controls.

The researchers found that the women in their study with clinically significant depressive symptoms had even lower levels of klotho in their blood than those who were under stress but not experiencing such symptoms.

The study, published June 16, in , is the first to show a relationship between psychological influences and klotho, which performs a wide variety of functions in the body.

"Our findings suggest that klotho, which we now know is very important to health, could be a link between chronic stress and premature disease and death," said lead author, Aric Prather, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF. "Since our study is observational, we cannot say that chronic stress directly caused lower klotho levels, but the new connection opens avenues of research that converge upon aging, mental health, and age-related diseases."

Scientists know from their work in mice and worms that, when klotho is disrupted, it promotes symptoms of aging, such as hardening of the arteries and the loss of muscle and bone, and when klotho is made more abundant, the animals live longer.

In previous work, senior author Dena Dubal, MD, PhD, showed that a genetic variant carried by one in five people is associated with having more klotho in the bloodstream, better cognitive function and a larger region of the prefrontal cortex. Carriers also tend to live longer and have lower rates of age-related disease. Dubal and colleagues found that increasing klotho in mice boosted their cognition and increased resilience to Alzheimer-related toxins, suggesting a therapeutic role for klotho in the brain.

The current study included 90 high-stress caregivers and 88 low-stress controls, most of whom were in their 30s and 40s and otherwise healthy. Klotho is known to decline with age, but in this cross-sectional study of relatively young women, this decline only happened among the high-stress women. The low-stress women did not show a significant reduction in klotho with aging.

"Chronic stress transmits risk for bad health outcomes in aging, including cardiovascular and Alzheimer's disease," said Dubal, an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and the David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease. "It will be important to figure out if higher levels of klotho can benefit mind and body health as we age. If so, therapeutics or lifestyle interventions that increase the longevity hormone could have a big impact on people's lives."

The researchers hypothesized that lower levels of klotho could contribute to stress and depression, since klotho acts on a variety of cellular, molecular and neural pathways that link to stress and depression.