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Germany Wants to See its US Gold

 

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York holds 1,536 metric tons of German gold, nearly half of Berlin’s reserves. This enormous hoard of gold is stored in the fifth subfloor of the bank’s building on Liberty Street, 25 meters (80 feet) below street level, and 15 meters below sea level.

For decades, almost half of Germany’s gold has been stored deep below the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Now, with the euro crisis swirling, German politicians are asking their central bankers to take stock of the reserves. Some even say that the gold should be shipped home.

 

2012 11 02

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann wanted to personally convince Peter Gauweiler that the German gold was still where it should be. Early this summer, the head of Germany’s central bank took the obstinate politician from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), a party that is a member of the government coalition in Berlin, and a number of his colleagues into the Bundesbank’s inner sanctum: the gold vault.

 

There, 6,000 gold bars are stacked on industrial-strength shelves in a purpose-built building in Frankfurt. An additional 76,000 bars of bullion are stored in four safe boxes, in sealed containers.But even this personal inspection wasn’t enough to reassure the visiting member of parliament — on the contrary: “The Bundesbank monitors its domestic gold in an exemplary fashion,” Gauweiler says, “and this makes it all the more incomprehensible that the bank doesn’t look after its reserves abroad.”

For quite some time now, Gauweiler has been pestering the government and the Bundesbank with questions concerning where and how the country’s reserves are stored, and how often they are checked. He has submitted requests and commissioned reports on the topic.

Last week, Gauweiler celebrated his greatest triumph to date in his gold campaign, which has been a source of some amusement for many fellow German politicians: A secret report by the Federal Audit Office had been made public — and it contained stern criticism of the German central bank in Frankfurt. The Bonn-based auditors urged a better inventory system, including quality checks.

This demand, which even the bank’s inspectors saw as nothing more than routine, alarmed the Berlin political establishment. Indeed, the partially blacked-out report read like the prologue to an espionage thriller in which the stunned central bankers could end up standing in front of empty vaults in the US.

‘Grotesque Debate’

For decades, German central bankers have contented themselves with written affirmations from their American colleagues that the gold still remains where it is said to be stored. According to the report, the bar list from New York stems from “1979/1980.” The report also noted that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York refuses to allow the gold’s owners to view their own reserves.

Not surprisingly, this prompted strong reactions in Berlin: The relevant Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele was summoned to Berlin to provide an explanation to the parliamentary budget committee. Heinz-Peter Haustein of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) was even quoted by Germany’s mass-circulation Bild newspaper as saying that “all the gold has to be shipped back.”

The Bundesbank’s otherwise reserved Thiele said that he found at least “part of the debate” to be “rather grotesque.” His financial institution currently has more pressing problems. Bundesbank head Weidmann, for example, is desperately fighting the European Central Bank (ECB) decision to buy unlimited quantities of sovereign bonds from crisis-ridden countries as a way of lowering their borrowing costs. In addition, the Bundesbank has already pumped nearly €700 billion ($906 billion) into primarily southern European countries as part of the euro-zone central bank transfers known as Target II.

Germany’s gold reserves are currently worth some €144 billion and are not stored “with dubious business partners,” as Thiele stresses, but rather with “highly respected central bankers.”

Read more…

Placebo’s Effect May Depend on Your Genes

2012 11 02

Your response to placebos, or dummy medicine, may depend on your genes, according to a new study.

People with a gene variant that codes for higher levels of the brain chemical dopamine respond better to placebos than those with the low-dopamine version.

The findings, reported online Oct. 23 in the journal PLoS One, could help researchers design medical studies that distinguish the placebo response from the underlying effect of a medicine — the real aim of drug trials.

“This is a possible way to discern who is going to be a placebo responder or nonresponder in a clinical trial,” said study co-author Kathryn Hall of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, Mass.

People report feeling better after receiving a placebo, such as a sugar pill or fake treatment, for conditions ranging from chronic pain to Parkinson’s disease. But only some patients respond strongly, and there’s no way to predict who will improve on a placebo.

A few studies have provided clues. Differences in versions of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which determines levels of dopamine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, are linked to differences in reward-seeking and pain perception. People with the high-dopamine version, or allele, of the COMT gene feel pain more acutely and seek rewards more strongly than those who have the low-dopamine copy.

That led the researchers to wonder whether the gene modulates placebo response.

To find out, Hall and her colleagues analyzed DNA from 104 patients with irritable bowel syndrome who were randomized to one of three groups: One was told they were on the waiting list for treatment, another received a placebo in the form of seemingly real, curt acupuncture, and the third group received fake acupuncture from a caring, warm practitioner who looked patients in the eye, asked about their progress, and even touched them lightly, Hall told LiveScience.

Patients with the high-dopamine version of the gene felt slightly better after seeing the curt, all-business health-care provider that gave placebo acupuncture. But they were six times as likely to say their symptoms improved with a caring practitioner as those with the low-dopamine gene, who didn’t improve much in any group.

The findings suggest that medical studies called clinical trials could identify treatment versus placebo effect by grouping patients by gene variant, Hall said. Knowing up front the level of placebo effect for a clinical trial could reduce the cost of the trial significantly by using fewer participants, for instance, she said.

People with the high-dopamine allele of the gene may do well on the placebo with the nurturing treatment because they are generally more attuned to their environments, said University of Michigan psychiatrist Jon-Kar Zubieta, who was not involved in the study.

“It speaks about an interaction between the environment and the gene,” Zubieta said. “It’s very possible that individuals with this allele are more able to process those positive environmental cues.”

Source - http://www.livescience.com

Iran Offers to Send Emergency Aid Team to Stricken New York

 

2012 11 01

TEHRAN — Iranian rescuers and aid workers are on standby to fly to New York City to provide assistance to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent Organization said on Wednesday.

“We are ready to help the flood-stricken people of America,” Mahmud Mozaffar, who leads the organization, told the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

His men stand ready to board planes and fly to the United States to help out, assuming the American government accepts Iran’s offer, he said.

“If American authorities agree, we can send our rescuers with equipment and tools to American cities in the shortest period of time,” Mr. Mozaffar said.

Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, said in an email message late Wednesday, “We have seen reports in the media, but at this time have received no official offer of assistance from the Iranian government or any Iranian entity.”

Dealing regularly with floods and earthquakes, Iran’s Red Crescent Organization is experienced in providing immediate assistance following disasters. But the organization, the Islamic version of the Red Cross, is closely affiliated with Iran’s government. According to documents disclosed by WikiLeaks, American officials suspect that some Red Crescent employees operate as spies when providing help in other countries.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 hostage taking of the United States Embassy in Tehran, but natural disasters have sometimes been a way of engaging in direct communication, beyond politics.

In 2003, the United States sent a C-130 military transport plane with a rescue team and an ambulance to the southeast Iranian city of Bam where 25,000 people died in a devastating earthquake, and in August the United States offered to do the same when more than 300 people were killed in two deadly earthquakes in the northwestern part of the country.

While Iranian authorities turned down the most recent offer, the United States Treasury Department temporarily lifted sanction restrictions to allow charities to send goods and money to the stricken area.

In June 2010, Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards Corps said they were ready to help out the United States in controlling the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Source – http://www.nytimes.com/

The FBI in the Palm of Your Hands

 

2012 10 31

With the release of iPhone 5 and its clear success, Apple is making great strides to entrench itself as the most widely used smartphone. What is surprising is that iPhone sales have been strong since release despite the fact that a few weeks prior, it was reported that the FBI may be tracking iPhone users.

According to various news outlets, 12 million iPhone and iPad device identifiers were swiped from an FBI computer by hackers associating themselves with the group Anonymous. Luckily for consumers the hack was meant to expose the tracking that was going on and not to compromise any individual accounts. To further credit this attack, the hackers posted one million unique identification numbers that were verified by a third party.

This begs the question, why is the FBI monitoring and tracking people via their iPhones? On what grounds is this legal? What starts to make things even stranger is the fact that almost a month after this story broke the FBI stated that Android phones, iPhone’s competition, are prone to malware and viruses. Why did the FBI specifically single out Android phones? This statement does give more credibility to the claims made by Anonymous. If the FBI had managed to hack iPhones or make a deal with Apple, it would be in their best interest to get everyone using an iPhone.

This doesn’t mean that people should rid themselves of their iPhones, but it does mean that a critical eye must be placed on the FBI and their actions. Monitoring what people spend their time doing is a step in the wrong direction; a step further from freedom. How can a person be free when their every move is scrutinized? How can someone express themselves when there is the possibility that every word they say, every action the take, can be twisted and used against them? The very technology that is suppose to allow us a new degree of freedom, bring us all closer together, can end up destroying the very foundations of liberty.

One can expect that the reasoning behind this blatant breach of constitutional rights will be to protect the country from terrorists or any other vague evil out there. How much more freedom will be lost to ensure our safety? The FBI has stayed quiet about this hack and the public seems to have grown apathetic. Benjamin Franklin said it best “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Aspartame linked to lymphoma and leukemia in men and women

2012 10 3

As few as one diet soda daily may increase the risk for leukemia in men and women, and for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in men, according to new results from the longest-ever running study on aspartame as a carcinogen in humans. Importantly, this is the most comprehensive, long-term study ever completed on this topic, so it holds more weight than other past studies which appeared to show no risk. And disturbingly, it may also open the door for further similar findings on other cancers in future studies.

The most thorough study yet on aspartame – Over two million person-years

For this study, researchers prospectively analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study for a 22-year period. A total of 77,218 women and 47,810 men were included in the analysis, for a total of 2,278,396 person-years of data. Apart from sheer size, what makes this study superior to other past studies is the thoroughness with which aspartame intake was assessed. Every two years, participants were given a detailed dietary questionnaire, and their diets were reassessed every four years. Previous studies which found no link to cancer only ever assessed participants’ aspartame intake at one point in time, which could be a major weakness affecting their accuracy.

One diet soda a day increases leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphomas

The combined results of this new study showed that just one 12-fl oz. can (355 ml) of diet soda daily leads to:

- 42 percent higher leukemia risk in men and women (pooled analysis)
- 102 percent higher multiple myeloma risk (in men only)
- 31 percent higher non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk (in men only)

These results were based on multi-variable relative risk models, all in comparison to participants who drank no diet soda. It is unknown why only men drinking higher amounts of diet soda showed increased risk for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Note that diet soda is the largest dietary source of aspartame (by far) in the U.S. Every year, Americans consume about 5,250 tons of aspartame in total, of which about 86 percent (4,500 tons) is found in diet sodas.

Confirmation of previous high quality research on animals

This new study shows the importance of the quality of research. Most of the past studies showing no link between aspartame and cancer have been criticized for being too short in duration and too inaccurate in assessing long-term aspartame intake. This new study solves both of those issues. The fact that it also shows a positive link to cancer should come as no surprise, because a previous best-in-class research study done on animals (900 rats over their entire natural lifetimes) showed strikingly similar results back in 2006: aspartame significantly increased the risk for lymphomas and leukemia in both males and females. More worrying is the follow on mega-study, which started aspartame exposure of the rats at the fetal stage. Increased lymphoma and leukemia risks were confirmed, and this time the female rats also showed significantly increased breast (mammary) cancer rates. This raises a critical question: will future, high-quality studies uncover links to the other cancers in which aspartame has been implicated (brain, breast, prostate, etc.)?

There is now more reason than ever to completely avoid aspartame in our daily diet. For those who are tempted to go back to sugary sodas as a “healthy” alternative, this study had a surprise finding: men consuming one or more sugar-sweetened sodas daily saw a 66 percent increase in non-Hodgkin lymphoma (even worse than for diet soda). Perhaps the healthiest soda is no soda at all.

Source – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

The Crack Team That Removes & Preserves People’s Brains Just Hours After They Die

 

2012 10 31

On average, the residents of Sun City, Arizona, occupy their domiciles for a dozen years. When they depart—almost always by dying—they often leave their brains behind. The stages of physical and mental decline take them from their dream house to a hospital off Del Webb Boulevard, then to a nursing home, and finally back to the medical complex, where researchers harvest their most important organ. Hoping to do good for science, they have enrolled in the Brain and Body Donation Program of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute—widely considered the world’s preeminent brain bank.

A large base of well-
documented donors in close proximity sets the Sun City program apart from other repositories, which often have scant information about patients who may be scattered and diverse. Here, healthy, active seniors who eventually die of, say, heart disease, can be compared with others who develop neurodegenerative disorders. Because the two sets of subjects have similar backgrounds, lifestyles, and ethnic traits, changes relating to a brain disease should be easier to detect.

The institute is also famed for its crack autopsy team, which responds so quickly that no more than three hours elapse from the time a donor expires to the time that the brain is removed and preserved. “We’re not the biggest brain bank in the world, but we have the highest-quality tissue,” says pathologist Thomas Beach, the program director, who notes that donors must live within a 50-mile radius of the morgue.

After withdrawing some blood and cerebrospinal fluid for analysis, a team of rotating techs on duty 24 hours a day remove the top of the skull and take out the brain. The next step relies on a device that resembles a bread slicer, which is used to cut the brain into sections one centimeter thick. The slices from the left side are fixed in formaldehyde and those from the right are frozen between sheets of dry ice. Part of the tissue from the formaldehyde sections is stained, pressed into slides, and put under the microscope to verify the brain’s condition, healthy or diseased. The rest, light brown and convoluted, may be held in Tupperware containers at the research institute indefinitely. A recent visit to the storeroom turned up a container dated 1994.

These fresh brain sections, kept in carefully monitored freezers, are hot properties for advanced neuroscience research. Because the brain’s proteins, DNA, and other molecules are still intact, pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay high prices for the tissue. 
One of the most prized specimens is a sample of the entorhinal cortex, regarded as the X on the brain’s treasure map by Alzheimer’s researchers because the disease is thought to originate there; the nonprofit brain bank charges up to $1,000 for half a gram.

“Alzheimer’s starts at least 30 years before it’s diagnosed,” says Banner Health neurobiologist Paul Coleman, who works with entorhinal cortex from the brain bank himself. “The clinical trials for treatments have all failed because by the time of diagnosis the brain is so far gone that it’s like pouring gas into a car that has no engine.” Tissue samples from the ostensibly healthy brains in the institute’s brain bank might contain the seeds of the disease and clues to its treatment.

The brain bank has provided raw material to 110 investigators and several hundred studies over the past five years. Asked to name the most important use of the samples so far, Beach thinks for a moment and then describes an ambitious gene-expression study, “the first thorough study of gene expression of individually selected nerve cells in several regions of the Alzheimer’s brain.” And, he adds, “it’s publicly available.” Another project enabled the first FDA-approved imaging agent that could be used in PET scans of Alzheimer’s patients who were still alive.

In 2005 the institute expanded its autopsy program to include body as well as brain donations. The goal is to correlate the neurological changes found in Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s patients with biomarkers of brain diseases in other organs. Scientists using Sun City tissue were the first to thoroughly map Parkinson’s lesions throughout the body and brain.

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