New Ireland daily BLOG

Saturday 23rd May 2014

What do the Local and European Elections results mean for the next

General Election?


The votes are still being counted, but attention is already shifting to whether this weekend’s Local and European Elections mark a breaking of the mould in Irish politics, or merely a mid-term realty check for the Irish Government.

None of the established political parties have much to celebrate: Fine Gael is suffering a backlash, Labour is fighting for survival and Fianna Fáil is showing a steady – but hardly triumphant – comeback.

There has been a major shift towards Independent and anti-austerity candidates, while Sinn Féin are now in with a shout of being the biggest party in some councils around the country.

“Something profound has happened in the people’s attitudes to politics,” said deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald as the tallies came in.

But the big question is whether this marks a change in the party political order to followed through in the next general election, or is it just a blunt message to the Coalition that people have had enough.

Patterns have shown that voters are more likely to experiment with their mid-term vote and use it to make a statement – in this case, possibly, a rejection of the Troika-driven austerity programme or the “politics as usual” shown by the Coalition’s broken promises.

But previous trends have also shown that local election results can be a good indicator of the make up of the next Dáil.

The Labour Party gained 43 council seats in 2009 leading to the “Gilmore Gale” in the 2011 general elections.

Similarly, Fianna Fáil lost 135 seats at the time – a sign of things to come in its Dáil representation.

This weekend’s result not only give Sinn Féin a footprint in many parts of the country where they previously had little or no presence, they have also returned many candidates to local councils where they can be nurtured to grow into Dáil contestants.

The flip side for Sinn Fein is that the results will put a sharper focus on its economic policies, while also giving the public the chance to “try them out” by watching how they get on in local councils.

Minister Leo Varadkar put in in the stark terms when he said the next general election will be a choice between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin to lead the next Government.

Based on an analysis by Dr Adrian Kavanagh of NUI Maynoth on the RTÉ poll of polls in the campaign, which is somewhat similar to the exit poll results this morning, Fine Gael would have 45 Dáil seats after a General Election; Fianna Fáil would have 38; Sinn Féin would have 32, Labour would have just two and Independents and others would have 41.

This would present three options for forming a Government: A coalition of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, which is not going to happen; A coalition of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein with the support of nine or 10 independents, or – most realistically – a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

In which case Leo Varadkar would be proven right. And this might give Fine Gael the opportunity to argue that the choice is between returning good old reliable them or giving power back to “the last lot” that got us into this mess supported by Sinn Féin and an incoherent bunch of others

Margaret Gormley tops poll in Sligo County Council election



Margaret Gormley a county councillor of 34 years had to wait until just before midnight for official confirmation that she had topped the poll in Sligo County Council’s electoral area of Ballymote-Tubbercurry,   but it was obvious from minutes after the boxes were opened that her vote would  be massive.

The Independent councillor who has been on the county council for some 34 years attributed her vote of 2,701 some 1018 above the quota due to her very hard work.

She said she had encountered a lot of anger on the doorsteps especially from elderly people who had lost telephone and electricity allowances. She said the poor condition of roads, poor broadband, water charges and the cuts to medical cards were major issues throughout the campaign.

“Medical cards should never have been centralised,” she said. “Community welfare officers knew the circumstances of families and now that you are only a number”.

Election fears hit EU markets but Irish bonds remain firm


The bond markets appeared unruffled by the likelihood that half the population was set to vote for independents or Sinn Fein in the European and local elections – with Irish borrowing costs dipping yesterday.

Elsewhere in Europe, investors were not so relaxed. Lower-rated peripheral bonds inched up yesterday with niggling EU election concerns curbing enthusiasm over the latest round of ratings upgrades.

Italian and Spanish 10-year yields opened two basis points lower at 3.03pc and 3.22pc respectively. Greece was one basis point down at 6.51pc, while Irish bond yields actually dipped to about 2.77pc.

Strategists were recommending investors to favour safe haven bonds yesterday ahead of EU elections which could destabilize some of the eurozone governments.

In Greece, a strong showing by anti-bailout parties may hurt an already-fragile coalition, potentially paving the way to national elections.

In Italy, a poor result for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s (below) party might weaken his drive for the swift reforms he promised when he took power in a party coup.

Prices in peripheral bonds have stabilised after a sharp sell-off, but with EU election results set to be released tomorrow ahead of long weekends in the UK and the US, trading volumes were fairly subdued yesterday.

“The short-term outlook ahead of the weekend still looks shaky… (German) Bunds look supported,” said global banking and financial services company Commerzbank in a research note.

In a separate development ratings agency, Fitch lifted Greece’s rating for the second time in a year yesterday, while Standard and Poor’s followed through with a widely-expected upgrade on Spain.

“The periphery has rallied off their lows but I’m not sure how much more mileage there is left in it,” said Marc Ostwald, a strategist at Monument Securities.

Fitch praised Greece’s improving fiscal track record as it lifted its rating from B- to B, with a stable outlook. It becomes the most bullish agency on the country which defaulted just two years ago, although its rating is still five notches below investment grade.

Standard and Poor’s brought its rating for Spain in line with Moody’s, lifting it to BBB from BBB- based on its economic prospects. Fitch remains the most optimistic on Spain, with its rating of BBB+ one notch above the other two main agencies.

S&P also affirmed the Netherlands at AA+ with a stable outlook. Moody’s was scheduled to deliver its verdict on France and Slovenia later yesterday, with the former being widely rumoured for a downgrade and the latter tipped for a upgrade.

Type 2 people with Diabetes face a flood of drugs and tests


Drug and device makers displayed their products at the American Diabetes Association’s traveling EXPO in New York City in March. Credit Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

At the American Diabetes Association’s traveling EXPO, many exhibitors have their eye on the prize: People with Type 2 diabetes. Clinilabs offers such patients more than $3,500 to join a drug trial. Sanofi-Aventis has 10-foot-tall insulin pens on display. Walgreens offers a free test to check long-term blood sugar levels, a promotion for a new home-testing kit.

Type 2 diabetes, which afflicts an estimated 25 million Americans, is one of the new frontiers for drug and device makers. As more and more people are given the diagnosis, more products are being been developed to tap into this multibillion-dollar market. But some experts say that for many patients the profusion of choices has often led to confusion, not better treatments, as well as skyrocketing costs.

“There are now 12 classes of drugs, many of them expensive, and the question is, are we any better off?” said Dr. Silvio E. Inzucchi, director of the Yale Diabetes Center. “You can control glucose with generics for $4 a month or some new ones that are $8 or $9 per pill. Some medicines are 100 times more expensive, but they’re certainly not 100 times as effective. In fact, they’re probably equal for most people.”

Unlike those who suffer from its rarer and more dangerous cousin, Type 1 diabetes, in which the body stops making insulin in childhood, people with Type 2 diabetes typically do not make enough insulin or do not respond vigorously enough to the insulin they do make. As scientists have learned more about this complex process, drug makers have begun offering new medicines that target the cascade of reactions that starts with the ingestion of food and leads to the removal of glucose from the blood.

Type 1 diabetes is rapidly life-threatening if not treated with insulin. But Type 2 can usually be controlled with various treatments, though it can slowly damage vital organs over many years if not kept in check. Demand has grown for drugs, because the earlier that blood sugar is under control, “the greater the chance of reducing the risk of long-term complications,” wrote Mary Kathryn Steel, a spokeswoman for Sanofi, in an email.

While the disease can, initially, often be treated with changes in diet and exercise, there is usually little support and financing to help with such solutions. And there is encouragement aplenty to move on to costly drugs, including insulin, which most experts say is necessary for only a minority of Type 2 patients after other options have failed.

Judy Boncaro, 71, of Portland, Ore., was taking cheap generic drugs that had long controlled her Type 2 diabetes when a knee injury left her unable to exercise and her blood sugar started climbing. A doctor suggested that she start on an injectable drug called Byetta, which costs close to $500 per month, nearly double the price when it was introduced in 2006. She refused the treatment and is saving money to cover the co-pays for surgery on her knee.

When Juanita Neitling of the city of The Dalles, Ore., was given a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes two years ago, at 75, her MedicareH.M.O. arranged for her to attend four nutrition classes and counseling. She is not diabetic anymore. But many conventional insurers would not have picked up the tab for such counseling, which can cost more than $1,500 annually.

Lacking comparative studies about the effectiveness of the new drugs flooding the market, the American Diabetes Association and its European counterpart convened a panel of experts in 2012 to recommend how to deal with the disease.

The first step is to lose weight, exercise and eat better, the panel found; much of the rise in Type 2 cases is linked to the growing incidence of obesity. The second step is an old generic drug called metformin, which reduces blood sugar and costs just pennies.

But the panel concluded the next step was discretionary — up to the doctor and patient, weighing factors like convenience, side effects and cost. Options range from old, cheap oral medicines to expensive new injectable drugs and long-acting forms of insulin. (A large trial run by the National Institutes of Health to compare the new options is just starting and results are years away.)

Drug makers promote products to keep blood glucose in the near normal range — a treatment strategy called tight control. But many researchers debate whether tight control is important or appropriate for many people with Type 2 diabetes, since they do not typically experience the life-threatening metabolic disturbances and extremely high glucose levels of people with Type 1 of the disease. They usually do not suffer some of the most dreaded complications, like blindnessand kidney failure. They tend to die of heart attacks and strokes, and only after many years.

“These new medicines reduce glucose,” said Dr. Inzucchi of the Yale Diabetes Center. “But if you control blood pressure and lowercholesterol, the added benefit may be lost for many patients.”

Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Diabetes Association, said that doctors had to individualize therapy for patients: A 25-year-old trying to get pregnant or an active 35-year-old would merit aggressive control since they would live decades with the disease. An 80-year-old with Alzheimer’s might not derive benefit, and the risks of mistakes from a complicated injectable regimen could prove deadly.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than three million Americans with Type 2 diabetes are on insulin today, a large increase compared with a decade ago, experts said. And studies show that growing numbers of them are arriving in emergency rooms unconscious from low blood sugar — generally a result of too much insulin or missing a meal.

Many people who develop Type 2 diabetes when they are young will need combinations of different drugs as they age and the disease progresses. After a decade of living with Type 2 diabetes, Regina Lavasseur found that inexpensive pills were no longer controlling the disease and a doctor told her she needed insulin.

Uninsured at the time, the 60-year-old Seattle resident bought insulin derived from pigs, the standard treatment a quarter century ago, over the counter (in some states only newer synthetic human insulin requires a prescription). Now, with good insurance, Ms. Lavasseur is on a once-a-day long-acting insulin, Lantus, that retails for over $600 a month for her dose, of which she contributes a small co-pay.

Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said many patients who might benefit from some of the newer treatments did not get them because insurers required high co-pays and special approvals. “The primary care doctors don’t know how to use them and if they do, they have to fight with insurers,” he said, “so they throw in the towel.”

Meanwhile, others might get too much intervention. Type 2 patients are often encouraged to use meters that measure blood sugar and other testing equipment. Ms. Neitling said that as soon as she received her diagnosis, she got “one or two meters” and more supplies than she ever needed — all of which were provided to her for free but billed to her insurer. At the Diabetes Expo in New York City in March, salespeople were signing up Type 2 patients to request a new meter — getting their name, their doctor’s name and an insurance card.

Two days later, Dr. Zonszein said, he faced piles of forms from companies asking him to prescribe a new device. Many, he said, were for patients who do not need close monitoring, or who already have two or three other meters at home.

There is no evidence that patients with Type 2 diabetes require daily home testing if they are not on insulin and are on stable doses of medicine, doctors say. While some physicians find that frequent testing can motivate some patients to be more attentive to diet and exercise, one study in Britain found that the main effect of intensive monitoring was simply added stress.

If you are looking for a Healthy Environment then follow the Dancing Bee


(Right picture)  Dr. Margaret Couvillon decoding dance movements.

Honeybee “waggle dances” could help conservationists judge whether wildlife restoration efforts are working

Honeybees can tell one another when they find a particularly sweet patch of flowers by using an intricate back-and-forth motion called a “waggle dance.” Their highly attuned ability to identify the best spots for pollination in their immediate surroundings holds potential for helping naturalists to determine the health of a particular ecosystem.
In a new study, published today in Current Biology, scientists have used bee dances to find out which parts of a patchwork landscape the insects prefer to visit. They’re using this information to determine what types of land management are effective at improving habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
The focus of their research was the waggle dance, which ethologist Karl von Frisch deciphered in the 1940s (earning him a Nobel Prize in 1973). The bee boogie consists of a figure-8 movement that the bees make repeatedly in the hive in the presence of other bees.

Von Frisch discovered that the angle of the waggle portion of the dance, which connects the upper and lower loops of the movement, corresponded to the direction relative to the sun where the good flower patch or other food source could be found. Additionally, the longer the bee waggled, the farther the distance (roughly) the sweet spot was from the hive.
Margaret Couvillon, the lead author of the new study and a researcher at the University of Sussex, wondered whether the bees could be used to evaluate the environmental health of the landscape surrounding three hives. The researchers chose an area of 94 square kilometers around the hives that included urban, agricultural and protected areas, and divided that area into 60 square blocks. Then, by videotaping and painstakingly decoding over 5,000 waggle dances over the course of two years, they could see where the bees preferred to go.
Couvillon and her co-authors, Roger Schürch and Francis Ratnieks, wanted to see specifically whether efforts to improve the landscape for wildlife were in fact helping bees and other pollinators. In the U.K. “agri-environment schemes” reward landowners for farming or managing their land in environmentally and wildlife-friendly ways.

Couvillon and her co-authors wrote in their paper, there is “either a lack of or mixed evidence-based support for the schemes.” The bees, she says, are a good proxy for other insect pollinators, which have seen recent declines. “Where they collect their food other insect pollinators will also be collecting their food,” she says. The a honeybee can act as an “ecological monitor.”

The scientists found that overall, bees were significantly more likely to give an approving waggle to land that had been targeted for more intensive restoration of grasslands or of margins around the edges of agricultural fields compared with areas having less stringent requirements. Oddly, they also found that bees seemed to specifically avoid some areas that had been targeted for low-level restoration.

Couvillon says that this may be due to how these schemes are managed—frequent mowing, for instance, may reduce the number of flowers. But the bees were often on target. The scientists found that two blocks most frequently tagged with a waggle—after correcting for distance from the hives—each contained a protected nature reserve.
James Nieh, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies bees but was not involved in the research, says the work is an interesting use for waggle dance data. Whereas other studies have used similar techniques to see where bees are foraging, he says, “This is the first real broadscale evaluation that I know of to really evaluate, ‘How good is this agricultural environmental scheme?’”
Couvillon points out that her team’s observations are only one example at a single site. But she hopes that other groups will attempt similar studies elsewhere. She thinks that this work might help combat the widespread declines of bees and other pollinators.

Bees face a variety of challenges, “from pesticides to pathogens to pests,” she says, but a fundamental challenge persists: “Healthy or sick, your bee still needs to eat.”




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