News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 27th December 2015

Joan Burton promises €25 pension hike if in next Government?


Tanaiste Joan Burton has promised to increase the State pension by a massive €25 a week as part of the Labour Party’s bid to shore up the grey vote ahead of the general election.

Ms Burton’s pledge to increase the weekly State pension by almost €5 every year will see pensioners receive around €257 a week by the end of the next government’s five-year term in office.

“It’s critical that people at different stages in their life have sufficient financial resources to be able to live a decent life with a threshold and standard of decency,” said Ms Burton.

The Tanaiste’s attempt to lure older voters comes as Fine Gael’s former chief strategist Frank Flannery predicts that Taoiseach Enda Kenny could manage to secure a single-party majority government.

Mr Flannery, who is seen as the architect of Fine Gael’s current political success, believes that Mr Kenny may sweep the board and romp home to win the party’s first overall majority.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Flannery insisted that voters will be faced with a choice of “Fine Gael on its own or Fine Gael and Labour” when they go to the ballot box.

“If you want a stable Government and you are, say, a middle-of-the-road, middle-class, professional-type person, whether you like them or not, the only party you can vote for is Fine Gael,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael strategists are preparing to add up to five extra candidates to the party’s general election ticket on the back of a series of national opinion polls which show rising support.

However, the party’s backroom staff are eager to play down expectations of securing a majority, fearing that this might unnerve voters.

The latest poll showed Fine Gael on 32pc and Labour on 9pc, with just weeks to go before the election, which is likely to take place in the last week of February.

And there is an expectation that the Coalition’s polling will improve further in January when people see the impact of the Budget in their pockets.

Among the measures announced in the Budget was a €3 increase in the State pension to €233.30 from January 1.

However, Labour faced a backlash from older people over what was perceived as a piecemeal increase to the pension after the Government had slashed supports for pensioners during previous austerity budgets.

Since 2009, an older person living on the State pension and the Household Benefits package has seen their income cut by more than €13 a week.

In its pre-budget submission, the charity Age Action called for the pension to be increased by €5 a week and for a €2.40 increase in the living alone allowance. Together these two measures would cost €142.5m.

Ms Burton is now seeking to reach out to older voters by pledging to increase the old age pension by around 2pc each year in order to keep the payment in line with inflation.

The move would mean an increase of around €4.60 a week from 2017, bringing the pension up to around €238.

In Fine Gael, the swell of public support has led to a growing belief that the party could improve on its 2011 general election result and form the next government without the need for Labour’s backing.

And even if the Coalition is returned, it is expected that Labour will have significantly fewer seats in Government and that Ms Burton’s influence over the Cabinet will be dramatically reduced.

“Labour will have to be more obedient dogs next time,” a Fine Gael source said.

Last week, Ms Burton warned voters against electing a Fine Gael majority government, saying it would “lack balance”. She suggested that Mr Kenny’s party would only look after the “very well off”.

Within Labour’s senior ranks, there is a reluctance to allow the election message to focus on Fine Gael ruling a single-party government, but there is an acceptance that this will be part of the debate.

“Fine Gael are very cocky and with some reason. They are doing a huge amount of polling and the constituency results they are getting show they are doing very well,” a Labour minister told the Sunday Independent.

The minister said part of Labour’s pitch to voters would be: “Who do you want in Government with Fine Gael?”

“Kenny will be Taoiseach, there is no doubt about that. There is zero chance of anyone else being Taoiseach unless his own people throw him out, but there’s not much chance of that,” the minister added.

The minister’s comments are echoed by Mr Flannery, who insists that there is no possibility of any party other than Fine Gael leading the next government.

The former strategist, who was forced from the party in the wake of the Rehab charity scandal, says: “This election will give a comfortable majority for the Government – I not only think it, I know it.”

He predicts that Fine Gael will clean up at the ballot box because Fianna Fail has “effectively ruled themselves out” of government by Micheal Martin insisting that the party will not do a deal with either Mr Kenny or Gerry Adams’s Sinn Fein.

“It is a matter of what type of government do you want,” says Mr Flannery. “So the real alternative in many ways is Fine Gael on its own or Fine Gael and Labour.”

Mr Flannery notes that the week before the last election Fine Gael was on 41pc in an opinion poll but slipped back to 36pc on the day of the vote.

“If it hadn’t happened, Fine Gael would have had an overall majority last time. It could happen again this time because of an absence of an alternative for that centrist group of voters in Irish politics,” he adds.

However, he predicts that Fine Gael would return with around 66 seats and Labour would secure between 12 and 15 seats.

“Fine Gael won’t be talking up an overall majority. It will be talking up re-elect the Government,” Mr Flannery says.

“I think a Government between Fine Gael and Labour is actually a good Government because the measure of compromise visited on both of them works rather well.”

Mr Flannery predicts that the Taoiseach will step aside three years into the next term to allow an “orderly transition” for the next leader.

He believes that if Mr Kenny stays any longer he will have to run for a third term as a leader cannot step down before a general election.

He is convinced that the Taoiseach will call the election in January and that the country will go to the polls on Thursday, February 25.

Doctors will design diets based on individuals’

A gene study says


Doctors and dieticians will be able to design diets based on individuals’ genes within next five years, according to a new study by University of Texas (UT) researchers.

The researchers, however, said better analytical tools will require to be developed in the coming years to quickly understand the relationship between an individual’s genetics, behavior and weight-related diseases.

They explained that the potential that many genes involved with weight gain, weight loss, and regain weight and they pose a challenge. Researchers have found the gene that causes energy from food and store it as fat, variations in the gene and they way it interacts with other genes can differ from one person to other.

Dr. Molly Bray, a professor of nutritional sciences at UT Austin, said, “When people hear that genes may be playing a role in their weight loss success, they don’t say, ‘Oh great, I just won’t exercise any more’ … They actually say ‘Oh thank you. Finally someone acknowledges that it’s harder work for me than it is for others.”

Dr. Bray said gains in collection of data on weight loss and weight gain, and better sensors to monitor diet, activity and stress, would help. When blended with genomic data with the help of a computer algorithm, Dr. Bray believes that the development of analysis tools is not far off.

The study appeared in the most recent edition of the journal Obesity.

According to a report from the I4U, it has been surmised that the DNA diet may be the future of fat loss for so many afflicted with the curse of obesity. The next big step in helping individuals lose extra flab and trim down may be a diet and exercise program based on their very own genetic makeup. This has been called precision weight loss and it just might be what all the nutritionists and health experts have been looking for.
The genetics of weight loss involves more precise tools for measuring one’s capacity for shedding fat through various means. Genes, behavior and diseases that cause one to pile on the pounds are the name of the game.

Researchers have suggested in a report that overweight people could be provided with weight-loss diet plans based on a person’s genome, Dispatch Tribunal reports. According to researchers, overweight people could soon be provided with personalized diet and exercise plans designed on their genetic data, an approach that has been termed is as “precision weight loss.”

The authors of the report noted that to make the ‘precision weight loss’ program a reality, there was a need for better analytical tools to establish the relationships between genetics, behavior and weight-related diseases, told the UniversityHerald.

The NY Post notes that, Here’s good news for big eaters fighting the battle of the budge — the “DNA diet’’ is on the way. By 2020, genome-specific diets could help people lose weight even if they’ve tried one plan after another with no success, researchers report in the journal Obesity. “Scientists have made huge strides in recent years connecting DNA to weight struggles, according to ¬researchers.

A forest the size of Sligo and Leitrim is needed to tackle Ireland’s global warming targets


Growing a forest the size of the entire of Sligo and Leitrim would allow Ireland meet its 2030 global warming targets, according to Institute of International and European Affairs senior research fellow Joseph Curtin.

“Planting 20,000ha of trees is the target that we should be aiming for,” he said.

“And this is feasible, as back some years ago land areas of this magnitude were being planted out in trees.”

If Curtin’s targets are achieved, this means that a forest equivalent to the combined size of counties Sligo and Leitrim will be established between now and 2030.

“All of this comes with the proviso that agreement is reached on the contribution of Ireland to the EU’s 2030 climate change targets.

“Afforestation is a win-win scenario for beef farmers in marginal areas. Current performance figures confirm that these producers are losing up to €250/ha. But the establishment of a forest can provide them with an annual income of up to €400/ha.

I know that Irish farmers are wedded to livestock production. But this is a mindset that must be changed.

Curtin believes that Ireland could be facing cumulative fines of up to €2.5 billion, if the country does not meet its 2030 climate change targets.

“So better to spend the money on growing forests, which will deliver on the ground environmental benefits and improved farm incomes throughout the Shannon catchment area, than buying expensive Carbon Credits.”

Curtin is at odds with the ‘An Taisce’ claims that trees should not be planted out in high carbon soils, for environmental reasons.

“These views have been expressed on a number of occasions, without any scientific evidence proffered to back them up,” he said.

“What I do know is that a thorough environmental impact is carried out on the back of each tree planting application that is submitted in Ireland.

“But we need a societal response to the challenge of global warming, within which tree planting and forest growing must play a critical and mitigating role. And this means that farmers and members of the general public should join forces in order to make this happen.”

Obesity is more of a risk to health than a lack of fitness


It appeared that men who had a normal weight and didn’t exercise were at lower risk of dying than the obese people who had really high scores in the fitness test. That doesn’t mean that the obese people don’t benefit from exercising though. However, they were still at higher risk of early death than slim men with lower aerobic fitness.

Findings were published in the December 20 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Of the 1.3 million young men who participated in the study, the ones who were not fit, but weighed a normal amount still were less likely to die over the next few decades than the fittest obese men.

The study carefully viewed the Body Mass Index of the participants, as well as subjecting them to cycling.

Overall, the study also uncovered the expected results that fit men reaped the biggest benefits.

During the follow-up period, 44,301 participants died.

Researchers assessed the link between aerobic fitness and fatigue when they made the men do exercises until they were exhausted.

The study was successful in eliminating the myth that staying fit and obese will essentially lower the common risks of the latter condition. That benefit shrunk to 28 percent among overweight individuals and 26 percent for obese people with a BMI between 30 and 34. However, the findings were not promising for people diagnosed with obesity.

After adjusting for age and conscription year, men with the highest aerobic fitness levels had 51% lower risk for all-cause death (hazard ratio [HR], 0.49; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.47 – 0.51) compared with those with the lowest fitness levels.

Aerobic fitness is generally tied to a longer life, but the same can’t be said for obese people, according to new research.

He said the next step would be to experiment with interventions to determine the effects of exercise instead of relying on observational data, which can’t prove cause and effect.

Dr Spitzer set rigorous standards for the diagnosis of mental health disorders


The central question Dr. Robert Spitzer applied to homosexuality — does it cause distress? — was the same one he used to conduct a broad re-examination of all behaviours listed as disorders.

Robert L. Spitzer was instrumental in changing the perception that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, who gave psychiatry its first set of rigorous standards to describe mental disorders, providing a framework for diagnosis, research, and legal judgments, as well as a lingua franca for the endless social debate over where to draw the line between normal and abnormal behaviour, died Friday. He was 83.

Spitzer died from complications of heart disease at the assisted living facility where he lived in Seattle, his wife, Janet Williams, said. The couple had moved to Seattle from Princeton, New Jersey, this year.

Spitzer’s remaking of psychiatry began with an early interest in one of the least glamorous and, historically, most ignored corners of the field: measurement. In the early 1960s, the field was fighting to sustain its credibility, in large part because diagnoses varied widely from doctor to doctor. For instance, a patient told he was depressed by one doctor might be called anxious or neurotic by another.

The field’s diagnostic manual, at the time a pamphlet-like document rooted in Freudian ideas, left wide latitude for the therapist’s judgment. Spitzer, a rising star at Columbia University, was himself looking for direction, increasingly frustrated with Freudian analysis.

A chance meeting with a colleague working on a new edition of the manual — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM, for short — led to a job taking notes for the committee debating revisions. There, he became fascinated with reliable means for measuring symptoms and behaviour — i.e., assessment. “At the time there was zero interest in assessment,” said Dr. Michael First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia. “He saw how important it was, and his whole career led to assessment being taken seriously.”

New look at homosexuality

One of the first behaviours he scrutinized was homosexuality, which at the time was listed in the manual as a mental disorder. Spitzer, after meeting with gay advocates, began re-examining homosexuality based on whether it caused any measurable distress. The issue was extremely contentious, but in 1973 Spitzer engineered a deal by which the diagnosis was replaced by “sexual orientation disturbance,” to describe people whose sexual orientation, gay or straight, caused them distress.

Gay groups immediately recognised the change as a historic one, and Spitzer’s skill in orchestrating it helped him take charge of the third update of the manual, known as DSM3. “The fact that gay marriage is allowed today is in part owed to Bob Spitzer,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a gay psychoanalyst in private practice in New York.

To some extent, the central question he applied to homosexuality — does it cause distress? — was the same one he used to conduct a broad re-examination of all behaviours listed as disorders. In a series of meetings, many in New York, he convened experts in each diagnostic category and sat in a corner, typing notes as they debated. Working with another researcher, Williams, who would become his wife, he produced the DSM3, which became an unlikely bestseller in 1980, in the United States and abroad.

It immediately set the blueprint for future manuals, using rigorously tested checklists to categorise mental problems.

It also elevated its principal architect to the top of his field, where he reigned as keeper of the book for more than two decades.

He wore the position as if he had been born to it, exuberantly courting controversy. He clashed with Freudian analysts, researchers, journalists and, late in his career, gay advocates and psychiatrists, who helped discredit a study he had done purporting to support “reparative” therapy to alter homosexual behaviour. He publicly apologised for that study in 2012, calling it the only thing in his career that he regretted.

“Bob Spitzer was by far the most influential psychiatrist of his time,” Dr. Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University and editor of a later edition of the manual, said by email. “He saved the field and its millions of patients from a crises of credibility, raising its scientific standards and rescuing it from the arbitrariness of warring and unsupported opinions.”

Robert Leopold Spitzer was born on May 22, 1932, in White Plains, New York, the youngest of three children of Benjamin and Esther Spitzer. His father was an engineer who invented dental materials, among other things; his mother was an accomplished pianist. The family soon moved to New York City, and the boy attended the Walden School.

He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University in 1953 and an M.D. in 1957 from New York University School of Medicine. He completed a psychiatric residence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1961, and in 1966, he graduated from Columbia’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. From 1980 to 2001, he won many of the field’s most prestigious awards.

Spitzer’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to Williams, he is survived by five children and four grandchildren.

There’s a new shark around, and this one can glow in the dark?


In a year replete with shark-related news stories, the Ninja Lanternshark may be the oddest one yet.

The year 2015 has in many ways been the year of the shark.

Most of the many, many stories that emerged were of the tragic variety, so the arrival of the Ninja Lanternshark is thankfully a little less negative.

This new species of shark (although there are many other types of lanternshark) has just been discovered in the depths of the Pacific Ocean off Central America by a team from California’s Pacific Shark Research Centre.

Their findings can be read here in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation, although some of the new shark’s features are especially noteworthy.

It’s jet-black but, in an odd twist, also glows in the dark.

It’s official Latin title, Etmopterus Benchleyi, may also look a little familiar to fans of Jaws.

Yep, this shark has been named for Peter Benchley, the writer of the original aquatic potboiler who also popped up in the original movie in a cameo as a news reporter.

The Ninja Lanternshark is roughly half a metre in length and can be found in depths of about 1,000 metres off Nicaragua and Panama. It’s the first such lanternshark to be found off the oceans of Central America.

It’s thought that its black complexion allows it to surprise its prey using the gloom at those depths as camouflage.

And why does it glow in the dark? To help it blend in with the limited light coming from the surface and thus render it camouflaged from above. Sneaky.

So why has it been given its, well, distinctive name?

According to researcher Vicky Vásquez, speaking to Hakai magazine, the suggestion came from her young cousins, who initially suggested the fish be christened the “super ninja shark”.

We think the Ninja Lanternshark has a better feel to it.


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