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Foreign aid cuts by Boris Johnson’s Tory Government is shameful, writes Michael Settle

LITTLE England, not Great Britain.

This was the conclusion of that notorious Leftie, John Major, following the UK Government’s controversial move this week – backed by a 35 Commons majority – to cut taxpayer generosity to the world’s poorest.

In fact, Sir John was joined by all the members of the ex-Prime Ministers’ Club – David Cameron, Theresa May, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair – who have bemoaned the decision taken by their successor in Downing St.

Boris Johnson explained that, given how the country was spending £407 billion on battling the pandemic, “wrenching decisions” had to be taken; some things had to give and one was the size of the aid budget.

“Every pound we spend on aid has to be borrowed and, in fact, represents not our money but money that we’re taking from future generations,” the PM declared.

READ MORE: Controversial foreign aid cut to stay after Tory rebellion falls short

Indeed, in November when the cut was first announced, he had the clear backing of the public, who, 66% to 18% of those who expressed a view, supported cutting the overseas aid budget. 

When the row initially broke, Mr Johnson suggested the cut of a third – £4.4bn, leaving the annual aid budget at £10bn – could well be a one-off and the 0.7% level of Gross National Income[GNI] would be reinstated in 2022; it’s now 0.5%. He dismissed criticism of his decision as “Leftie propaganda”.

Opponents of the cut increasingly demanded a Commons vote because, with 50 Tory rebels onboard, they were confident of victory and reinstating the 0.7% level next year.

Intriguingly, the PM remained tight-lipped on a vote. But things were stirring behind the scenes at Westminster. 

Government whips began an Operation Fear exercise, focusing on the most fiscally conservative of the Tory rebels. Given Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s commitment to a spending splurge to get the country through the pandemic, the risk of future tax rises was raised.

Fiscally conservative minds were duly focused; raising taxes ahead of a general election is not good for electoral business; disgruntled Tory voters could stay at home; seats could be lost. Consequently, the Conservative rebel ranks broke; 14 sided with their leader. 

Mr Sunak spoke, disingenuously, of a “compromise” being offered. 

That the Government, naturally, was committed to returning to the 0.7% aid level but only when economic circumstances allowed ie if the Office for Budget Responsibility believed the UK was not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt was falling.

It has been pointed out such conditions have only been met once in 20 years, meaning a return to 0.7% will not happen in this Parliament and, in fact, the cut has been baked into Government policy for the foreseeable future.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson’s long-awaited explanation of ‘levelling up’ branded gibberish

No doubt, Messrs Sunak and Johnson regard the Commons aid cut vote a nifty strategic triumph because, with public spending cuts in the pipeline, a fiscal reality has also been baked in; Tory MPs opposed to such cuts will have to consider the prospect of higher taxes given the eye-watering levels of borrowing the Government is already committed to. 

To put it another way, the Chancellor has effectively acquired a Commons majority for public spending cuts ahead.  

Despite the £4.4bn reduction in overseas aid, Britain remains a generous donor; £10bn, 0.5% of GNI remains proportionately much more than most countries such as, according to official figures for pre-pandemic 2019, America[0.16%], China[0.36%], Russia[0.03%], Japan[0.29%], Canada[0.27%], France[0.44%] and Italy[0.24%]. 

But it is less than Germany[0.6%], Norway[1.02%], Sweden[0.99%], Luxembourg[1.05%], India[0.65%] and Turkey[1.15%].

Understandably, campaigners were outraged by the UK cut.

The anti-poverty One Campaign said: “The real losers of this vote are the three million children who will no longer be able to go to school, the half a million children who will die from preventable diseases and the three million women and children who will go hungry.

“This is also a retreat from British values and sends a sorry message about the type of country the UK wants to be.”

In his response, Sir Keir Starmer pointed out how cutting aid – the only G7 country to do so – would reduce Britain’s soft-power influence and create a vacuum, which would be filled by China and Russia. 

“Development aid,” the Labour leader argued, “reduces conflict, disease and people fleeing from their homes. It is a false economy to pretend this is some sort of cut that doesn’t have consequences.”

Indeed, the Government has been warned it could harm the drive to tackle climate change. 

Alok Sharma, the Cabinet member who leads on matters COP26, was said to have privately told Mr Johnson he was unhappy with the aid cut. But he voted for it anyway.

The International Centre for Climate Change and Development said: “Rishi Sunak has cut him[Sharma] off at the legs. He will not have any credibility when speaking about finance as his own Chancellor isn’t delivering what he is asking other countries to deliver.”

First-time rebel Mrs May also pointed out, apart from everything else, maintaining overseas aid had been a manifesto pledge. “We made a promise to the poorest people in the world; the Government has broken that promise.”

Mr Cameron branded Boris’s decision a “grave mistake” as so-called Global Britain’s help was, at this time of international crisis, “needed more than ever”.

Sir John insisted the Government should be “ashamed” of its decision, noting: “We can afford a ‘national yacht’ no-one either wants or needs whilst cutting help to some of the most miserable and destitute people in the world. This is not a Conservatism I recognise. It is the stamp of Little England, not Great Britain.”

The decision to cut overseas aid is, as the ex-PMs’ club has pointed out, shameful, shameless and short-sighted. Quite a combination but one Boris pulled off with his usual political aplomb.

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This post originally posted here Norway Government & Politics News

Myanmar military adopts ‘four cuts’ to stamp out coup opponents

On May 24 in Myanmar’s Kachin State, 13-year-old Awng Di walked over to his aunt’s house about noontime to feed her chickens. Thirty minutes later, heavy artillery crashed through the chicken coop; Awng Di died before reaching the nearby clinic.

“Our family has never been involved in politics … We’re just trying to survive,” Awng Di’s mother told Al Jazeera. “Now, I want to curse [the military soldiers] every time I see them.”

Momauk township, where Awng Di was from, has been the site of clashes between the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed organisation, since April. The uptick in violence in Momauk and other parts of Kachin State has displaced more than 11,000 people, according to UN estimates.

The clashes in Momauk mark a broader escalation in fighting across the country since the February 1 military coup, as decades-long conflicts between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organisations in Myanmar’s border areas resume or accelerate, and civilian defence forces emerge in townships that had not previously seen fighting.

In response to the increase in armed resistance, the Tatmadaw has launched indiscriminate air and ground strikes on civilian areas, displacing 230,000 people since the coup. Security forces have also looted and burned homes, blocked aid access and the transport of relief items, restricted water supplies, cut telecommunications networks, shelled places of refuge, and killed and arrested volunteers seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance.

According to Naw Htoo Htoo, program director of the Karen Human Rights Group, the Tatmadaw’s patterns of violence since the coup mark the continuation of a strategy known as four cuts, which the military began using in Karen State in the 1960s and has since deployed against civilian populations in other ethnic minority areas.

“[The Tatmadaw] doesn’t use the words ‘four cuts’ any more, but the strategy is definitely the same as the four cuts that they used on ethnic people for over 70 years,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.

Through means including restricting access to food, funds, intelligence and recruits, the strategy seeks to starve the support base of armed resistance and turn civilians against resistance groups.

In addition to Karen State, the armed forces have also used the strategy in areas including Kachin and Rakhine states, most notoriously in northern Rakhine State in 2017 when its ‘clearance operations’ sent hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

According to Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher focused on security and conflict in Myanmar, the four cuts strategy “treats civilians not just as ‘collateral damage’ but as a central resource in the battlefield.

“They are targeted directly with extreme violence and see their livelihoods intentionally destroyed so that armed groups cannot find sanctuary and civilian support,” he told Al Jazeera.

Indiscriminate violence

Since the coup, the Tatmadaw appears to have expanded its use of four cuts across the country, including in areas predominantly populated by the ethnic Bamar majority. In late March, after security forces looted homes in central Magway Region’s Gangaw township, locals began fighting back with hunting rifles. The Tatmadaw responded with heavy explosives and machine guns that killed four people and left more than 10,000 fleeing to the forest, according to local media group Myanmar Now.

Magway Region’s Pauk township also saw indiscriminate violence on the night of June 15, when more than 200 houses in Kinma village burned to the ground, killing an elderly couple trapped inside their home. Two Kinma residents who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity said they did not know about any clashes leading up to the fire, but according to Myanmar Now, the incident occurred days after skirmishes between local resistance fighters and plainclothes police and soldiers.

One of the villagers told Al Jazeera that he saw at least nine people in plainclothes enter the village at about 11pm on June 15, setting homes on fire and shooting at the village’s cattle, pigs and buffaloes.

The Tatmadaw has blamed the incident on 40 “terrorists” and said that media who accused it of torching the village were trying to discredit it.

The military spokesperson did not answer repeated calls from Al Jazeera seeking comment on the incidents of violence or the use of the “four cuts” strategy.

Now, the residents of Kinma are scattered in nearby villages or staying in makeshift shelters in the jungle, where they are running low on food and supplies, according to Than Tun Aung, the pseudonym for one of the two villagers from Kinma interviewed by Al Jazeera. “Collecting aid is challenging because there might be police or soldiers along the way,” he said. “We are always alert and ready to run.”

‘All lives are threatened’

Kayah State and neighbouring southern Shan State, which had been peaceful before the coup, have also been the target of intense Tatmadaw attacks since May 23, when a group calling itself the Karenni People’s Defence Force overran a police station in the town of Moebye in Shan State’s Pekon township and fighting quickly spread across the region. While civilian defence fighters conducted targeted ambushes with homemade weapons, the Tatmadaw launched what the UN described as “indiscriminate attacks”, firing artillery and guns into civilian areas and displacing 100,000 people, most of whom are now living in nearby forests.

Churches, where some have sought shelter, have been repeatedly attacked, including the Sacred Heart Church in Kayah State’s Loikaw township, which was shelled on May 24, killing four people.

Aid delivery in Kayah and Shan is difficult and dangerous. The Tatmadaw has blocked the flow of goods into conflict-affected townships, killed and arrested aid volunteers, and killed two displaced people as they tried to fetch rice from their homes.

The Myanmar military has stepped up attacks on civilians and aid deliveries as opposition to its coup has grown. Residents in Loikaw say this church, where people had taken shelter, was shelled by the armed forces [File: Kantarawaddy Times via AFP]

Joseph Reh, a volunteer relief worker in Pekon township who preferred his real name not be disclosed for security reasons, told Al Jazeera that his group initially used white flags when delivering aid in the hope it would protect them, but that security forces shot at them anyway.

His group stockpiled food and relief items in a school, but was initially unable to distribute the goods due to the risk of being attacked. On the afternoon of June 8, when volunteers attempted to carry sacks of rice to displaced people hiding in the mountains, he said that security forces fired at the group’s van, forcing it to turn back.

“Because of that, they found out where we keep our food and supplies,” said Joseph Reh. “They came to the school, took all our supplies to a field, and burned them” that evening. In total, he said more than 80 sacks of rice were destroyed, as well as stockpiles of other dry food items, medical supplies, an ambulance and a car.

“They destroyed things they weren’t supposed to destroy and which weren’t related to the people’s defence forces they are fighting,” said Joseph Reh. “The food supplies they burned were purely for displaced people … The ambulance they burned was not related to the fight at all. It said RESCUE and had a red cross logo.”

According to Joseph Reh, security forces fired into the mountains for the next two days, further restricting aid delivery.

In addition to shortages of food and supplies, displaced people face insufficient shelter and medical care. In Chin State’s Mindat township, where civilian defence forces took up hunting rifles and homemade weapons in mid-May, the Tatmadaw launched heavy weapon attacks which displaced more than 20,000 people. At least six displaced people have since died from lack of access to healthcare, according to Radio Free Asia.

“Everything is under military control and all lives are threatened,” said Salai Shane, the pseudonym for the head of a volunteer emergency response group in Mindat. He described “extreme difficulties” when trying to access displaced people.

Demonstrators in Mandalay prepare to burn a mock coffin for army ruler Min Aung Hlaing on July 3. The military’s use of extreme force against protesters is raising further anger at the regime [File: Time For Revolution via Reuters]

On June 13, one of his group’s vehicles was seized en route from Pakokku, Magway region, to Mindat, while transporting food and raincoats; Salai Shane has since lost contact with the driver. Security forces arrested another member of the group on June 19 and confiscated his motorbike and the relief supplies which he was transporting to displaced people. During a week in custody, he was beaten and interrogated, according to Salai Shane’s account.

With aid volunteers having been shot dead in Kayah State, Salai Shane says he is especially fearful of delivering aid on foot. “Sometimes there is no route for motorbikes and we have to carry items by ourselves over several trips,” he said. “If we are in the forest or the jungle, we can be killed and our bodies disappeared.”

Military fuels anger

According to independent researcher Kim Jolliffe, the Tatmadaw is willing to do “unfathomable things” to the general public in order to retain control. “It knows only one way to deal with opposition and that is to beat every dissenting element of society into submission through extreme force,” he said.

But while the four cuts strategy may seek to turn the public against armed resistance or weaken resolve, Naw Htoo Htoo of the Karen Human Rights Group says the approach is likely to backfire.

“In the short term, there might be some impact on armed resistance due to food and water shortages and limited access to resources, but for the long term, [the Tatmadaw] will not be able to govern anywhere,” she said. “The more they oppress the people, the more civilians become stronger, because when they deliberately attack everyone, the people hate them more.”

Victims of Tatmadaw violence since the coup told Al Jazeera that the experiences have cemented their hatred of the security forces and made them even more determined to ensure their downfall.

The burned-out remains of Kinma VIllage. Local residents say the military torched their homes. An elderly couple were unable to escape and died in the fire [File: Pauk Township News via AFP]

“It will never be possible for us to view the military positively,” Than Tun Aung of Kinma village told Al Jazeera. “We just want to continue living peacefully as farmers … We have to end this military regime or we will suffer for our entire lives.”

In Mindat, Salai Shane has come to a similar conclusion. “If civilian defence forces could defeat the military and remove them from the area, we would be able to freely resume business and agricultural activities and live better lives,” he said. “We cannot separate the two: armed resistance groups are made up of civilians, because we all hate the military regime and aim to abolish it. Restricting aid to civilians will only delay the armed resistance movement, but cannot stop it.”

Author: Emily Fishbein
Read more here >>> Al Jazeera – Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera

‘We don’t know the root cause’ says Luma CEO as huge fire cuts power to 50% of Puerto Rico

Thousands have been left without power after a huge fire devastated a substation. Wayne Stensby, the CEO of LUMA Energy Puerto Rico, told the media: “We don’t know the root cause [of the power station explosion].

He added that the situation had been made safe and that work was being done to restore power.

Posting on Twitter, LUMA issued a statement shortly after the incident pledging to restore power as soon as possible.

“A fire broke out in a transformer at LUMA’s Monacillo substation,” it read.

“Protection systems interrupted electrical service. The restoration will begin in two hours and will continue overnight.”

LUMA recently took over the power distribution system on June 1.

The country’s power system took a severe blow after Hurricane Maria destroyed large sections of the grid which left some residents without electricity for nearly a year.

Javier Jiménez, mayor of San Sebastián, said the incident had “turned into chaos.”

Mr Stensby added that roughly 700,000 people were without power across the country and that around 100,000 have had power restored.

READ MORE: Joe Biden hails the ‘RFA’ in major embarrassing gaffe on arrival in UK

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: World Feed

Latest Sky price cuts offer 'mighty' deals on TV, Netflix and broadband

SKY is slashing prices on TV and broadband with one ‘mighty’ deal giving customers the chance to get telly, internet and Netflix for just £43 per month. Here are all the best discounts available from Sky. If you are looking for a new broadband and TV deal then it might be worth checking out the latest offers from Sky. The satellite television firm has released a swathe of offers which include access to its popular Sky Q service along with fast internet and even boxset binges thanks to Netflix.

There’s plenty of different bundles to choose from with prices starting from £25 for TV only or £43 per month if you want Sky’s broadband as well.

A basic Sky Q box bundle is also included allowing you to record multiple shows at once and find content via the power of your voice.

Express.co.uk has been looking at all of the deals from Sky and here’s our pick of the best discounts available right now

SKY TV ONLY

Sofa So Good • £25 per month • SEE THE DEAL
Includes Sky Entertainment and Netflix
18-month contract with £49 set-up fee

Spring Into Action • £41 per month  SEE THE DEAL
Includes all Sky Sports channels
18-month contract with £49 set-up fee

Sky TV, Netflix & Cinema • £36 per month  SEE THE DEAL
Includes Sky Entertainment, Cinema and Netflix
18-month contract with £49 set-up fee

If that all sound like a lot a pay out or you don’t want to be tied to a long-term contract then Sky’s NOW service has also just slashed prices.

The streaming service is currently offering its Entertainment Membership for just £4.99 which is 50 percent off the standard cost.

This deal lasts for two months and, once your back paying the standard £10 per month price you can cancel at any time.

NOW is also offering fast broadband for just £22 per month which includes 64Mbps download speeds.

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission on any sales of products or services we write about. This article was written completely independently, see more details here

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Tech Feed

Intervention Cuts PPI Use, No Worsening of Acid-Related Diseases

Proton pump inhibitor (PPI) use can safely be reduced by deprescribing efforts coupled with patient and clinician education, according to a retrospective study involving more than 4 million veterans.

After 1 year, the intervention was associated with a significant reduction in PPI use without worsening of acid-related diseases, reported lead author Jacob E. Kurlander, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System’s Center for Clinical Management Research.

“There’s increasing interest in interventions to reduce PPI use,” Kurlander said during his virtual presentation at the annual Digestive Disease Week® (DDW). “Many of the interventions have come in the form of patient and provider education, like the Choosing Wisely campaign put out by the American Board of Internal Medicine. However, in rigorous studies, few interventions have actually proven effective, and many of these studies lack data on clinical outcomes, so it’s difficult to ascertain the real clinical benefits, or even harms.”

In an effort to address this gap, the investigators conducted a retrospective, difference-in-difference study spanning 10 years, from 2009 to 2019. The 1-year intervention, implemented in August 2013, included refill restrictions for PPIs without documented indication for long-term use, voiding of PPI prescriptions not filled within 6 months, a quick-order option for H2-receptor antagonists, reports to identify high-dose PPI prescribing, and patient and clinician education.

The intervention group consisted of 192,607-250,349 veterans in Veteran Integrated Service Network 17, whereas the control group consisted of 3,775,978-4,360,908 veterans in other service networks (ranges in population size are due to variations across 6-month intervals of analysis). For each 6-month interval, patients were included if they had at least two primary care visits within the past 2 years, and excluded if they received primary care at three other sites that joined the intervention site after initial implementation.

The investigators analyzed three main outcomes: Proportion of veterans dispensed a PPI prescription from the VA at any dose; incidence proportion of hospitalization for upper GI diseases, including upper GI bleeding other than from esophageal varices or angiodysplasia, as well as nonbleeding acid peptic disease; and rates of primary care visits, gastroenterology visits, and esophagogastroduodenoscopies (EGDs).

The analysis was divided into a preimplementation period, lasting approximately 5 years, and a postimplementation period with a similar duration. In the postimplementation period, the intervention group had a 5.9% relative reduction in PPI prescriptions, compared with the control group (P < .001). During the same period, the intervention site did not have a significant increase in the rate of patients hospitalized for upper GI diseases, primary care visits, GI clinic visits, or EGDs.

In a subgroup analysis of patients coprescribed PPIs during time at high-risk for upper GI bleeding (that is, when they possessed at least two high-risk medications, such as warfarin), there was a 4.6% relative reduction in time with PPI gastroprotection among the intervention group, compared with the control group (P = .003). In a second sensitivity analysis, hospitalization for upper GI diseases in high-risk patients at least 65 years of age was not significantly different between groups.

“[This] multicomponent PPI deprescribing program led to sustained reductions in PPI use,” Kurlander concluded. “However, this blunt intervention also reduced appropriate use of PPIs for gastroprotection, raising some concerns about clinical quality of care, but this did not appear to cause any measurable clinical harm in terms of hospitalizations for upper GI diseases.”

Debate Around “Unnecessary PPI Use”

According to Philip O. Katz, MD, professor of medicine and director of motility laboratories at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, the study “makes an attempt to do what others have tried in different ways, which is to develop a mechanism to help reduce or discontinue proton pump inhibitors when people believe they’re not indicated.”

Yet this latter element — appropriate indication — drives an ongoing debate.

“This is a very controversial area,” Katz said in an interview. “The concept of using the lowest effective dose of medication needed for a symptom or a disease is not new, but the push to reducing or eliminating ‘unnecessary PPI use’ is one that I believe should be carefully discussed, and that we have a clear understanding of what constitutes unnecessary use. And quite honestly, I’m willing to state that I don’t believe that’s been well defined.”

Katz, who recently coauthored an article about PPIs, suggested that more prospective research is needed to identify which patients need PPIs and which don’t.

“What we really need are more studies that look at who really needs [PPIs] long term,” Katz said, “as opposed to doing it ad hoc.”

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The investigators reported no conflicts of interest. Katz is a consultant for Phathom Pharma.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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This post originally appeared on Medscape Medical News Headlines

A New Antitrust Case Cuts to the Core of Amazon’s Identity

“I founded Amazon 26 years ago with the long-term mission of making it Earth’s most customer-centric company,” Jeff Bezos testified before the House Antitrust Subcommittee last summer. “Not every business takes this customer-first approach, but we do, and it’s our greatest strength.”

Bezos’ obsession with customer satisfaction is at the center of Amazon’s self-mythology. Every move the company makes, in this account, is designed with only one goal in mind: making the customer happy. If Amazon has become an economic juggernaut, the king of ecommerce, that’s not because of any unfair practices or sharp elbows; it’s simply because customers love it so much.

The antitrust lawsuit filed against Amazon on Tuesday directly challenges that narrative. The suit, brought by Karl Racine, the Washington, DC, attorney general, focuses on Amazon’s use of a so-called most-favored-nation clause in its contracts with third-party sellers, who account for most of the sales volume on Amazon. A most-favored-nation clause requires sellers not to offer their products at a lower price on any other website, even their own. According to the lawsuit, this harms consumers by artificially inflating prices across the entire internet, while preventing other ecommerce sites from competing against Amazon on price. “I filed this antitrust lawsuit to put an end to Amazon’s ability to control prices across the online retail market,” Racine said in a press conference announcing the case.

For a long time, Amazon openly did what DC is alleging; its “price parity provision” explicitly restricted third-party sellers from offering lower prices on other sites. It stopped in Europe in 2013, after competition authorities in the UK and Germany began investigating it. In the US, however, the provision lasted longer, until Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to antitrust agencies in 2018 suggesting Amazon was violating antitrust law. A few months later, in early 2019, Amazon dropped price parity.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The DC lawsuit alleges that Amazon simply substituted a new policy that uses different language to accomplish the same result as the old rule. Amazon’s Marketplace Fair Pricing Policy informs third-party sellers that they can be punished or suspended for a variety of offenses, including “setting a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon.” This rule can protect consumers when used to prevent price-gouging for scarce products, as happened with face masks in the early days of the pandemic. But it can also be used to inflate prices for items that sellers would prefer to offer more cheaply. The key phrase is “off Amazon. In other words, Amazon reserves the right to cut off sellers if they list their products more cheaply on another website—just as it did under the old price parity provision. According to the final report filed by the House Antitrust Subcommittee last year, based on testimony from third-party sellers, the new policy “has the same effect of blocking sellers from offering lower prices to consumers on other retail sites.”

The main form that this price discipline takes, according to sellers who have spoken out against Amazon either publicly or in anonymous testimony, is through manipulating access to the Buy Box—those Add to Cart and Buy Now buttons at the top right of an Amazon product listing. When you go to buy something, there are often many sellers trying to make the sale. Only one can “win the Buy Box,” meaning they’re the one who gets the sale when you click one of those buttons. Because most customers don’t scroll down to see what other sellers are offering a product, winning the Buy Box is crucial for anyone trying to make a living by selling on Amazon. As James Thomson, a former Amazon employee and a partner at Buy Box Experts, a brand consultancy for Amazon sellers, told me in 2019, “If you can’t earn the Buy Box, for all intents and purposes, you’re not going to earn the sale.”

Jason Boyce, another longtime Amazon seller turned consultant, explained to me how this works. He and his partners were excited when the last third-party seller contract they signed with Amazon, to sell sporting goods on the site, didn’t include the price parity provision. “We thought, ‘This is great! We can offer discounts on Walmart, and Sears, and wherever else,’” he said. But then something odd happened. Boyce (who spoke with House investigators as part of the antitrust inquiry) noticed that once his company lowered prices on other sites, sales on Amazon started tanking. “We went to the listing, and the Add to Cart button was gone, the Buy Now button was gone. Instead, there was a gray box labeled ‘See All Buying Options.’ You could still buy the product, but it was an extra click. Now, an extra click on Amazon is an eternity—they’re all about immediate gratification.” Moreover, his company’s ad spending plummeted, which he realized was because Amazon doesn’t show users ads for products without a Buy Box. “So what did we do? We went back and raised our prices everywhere else, and within 24 hours everything came back. Traffic improved, clicks improved, and sales came back.”

Author: Gilad Edelman
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Queen cuts 'terribly poignant' figure as 'she avoids showing emotion' despite Harry attack

Body language expert and author Judi James analysed pictures of the Queen’s Saturday outing for Express.co.uk and shared her insights.

The analyst told Express.co.uk: “There’s something terribly poignant in the thought that, in the face of personal grief plus all the pressures of painful to hear comments being made by her grandson in the US, this ninety-five-year-old woman got up, put on her brightest red coat, hat and lipstick, added a brooch given to her by her recently deceased husband and went off to work as usual.”

The Queen seemed set on not displaying deep emotions, Judi claimed.

She added: “Resolutely determined to avoid any visible signs of inner emotions like self-pity or even anger, the Queen actually managed to look more buoyant than usual as she toured an aircraft carrier yesterday.”

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Life and Style Feed
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Potential First-in-Class Schizophrenia Drug Cuts Negative Symptoms

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This post originally appeared on Medscape Medical News Headlines

The novel antipsychotic agent SEP-363856 (Sunovion Pharmaceuticals) has a significant and ongoing effect on negative symptoms in patients with schizophrenia, new research shows.

Results of a phase 2 placebo-controlled trial show SEP-363856 significantly decreased total scores on the Brief Negative Symptom Scale (BNSS), and lowered subscale scores for such symptoms as alogia and asociality, compared with placebo.

The active-treatment group also showed significantly lower scores on the negative subscale of the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). During an open-label extension of the study, both BNSS total scores and PANSS negative symptom scores continued to decrease.

Overall, the results “provide further confirmation of the effectiveness of SEP-363856 in treating schizophrenia,” study investigator Kenneth Koblan, PhD, Sunovion, told Medscape Medical News.

He added that the compound also showed “a favorable safety and tolerability profile that is differentiated from first and second generation antipsychotics, and which is consistent with the absence of D2-receptor binding.”

The findings were presented at the virtual Congress of the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS) 2021.

FDA Breakthrough Designation

SEP-363856 has a completely different mechanism of action from currently available antipsychotics.

In May 2019, it was granted breakthrough therapy designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a novel treatment for patients with schizophrenia.

Phase 2 data published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2020 showed it achieved significant and clinically meaningful improvements in PANSS total scores after 4 weeks in patients hospitalized with an acute exacerbation of schizophrenia. It also showed durable effects out to 26 weeks.

In the current analysis, the investigators focused on negative symptoms, both in the initial acute treatment phase and an open-label extension.

They analyzed data from the previous phase 2 trial using a validated Uncorrelated PANSS Score Matrix (UPSM) transformation of the PANSS to isolate the effects of the drug on apathy/avolition and deficit of expression. They also used the BNSS.

Patients aged 18 to 40 years with an acute exacerbation of schizophrenia were randomly assigned to receive either 50 mg or 75 mg of SEP-363856 per day (n = 120) or matching placebo (n = 125) for 4 weeks. Completers were eligible for enrollment in a 26-week phase 2 extension study of 25 mg, 50 mg, or 75 mg of SEP-363856 per day.

The mean age of the participants was 30 years, and 64% were men. The treatment groups were balanced in terms of demographics.

Significant Improvement

The BNSS total score decreased significantly with SEP-363856 over placebo during the 4-week acute treatment period, at a mean reduction of 7.1 vs 2.7, or an effect size of 0.48 (P < .001).

Scores on the PANSS negative subscale also decreased significantly with the active drugs, with an effect size of 0.37 vs placebo (P < .05), as did scores on the UPSM apathy/avolition and deficit of expression subscales (effect size, 0.32; P < .05 for both).

In addition, there were significant reductions with SEP-363856 over placebo for the BNSS alogia, asociality, anhedonia, avolition, and blunted affect subscales (P < .05 for all comparisons) but not for the distress subscale.

During the open-label extension, mean BNSS total scores continued to decrease for the SEP-363856 group, at an average reduction vs extension enrollment across the whole cohort of 11.3.

PANSS negative symptom scores also decreased by an average of 5.2 points, while UPSM apathy/volition scores decreased by 0.4 points on average. UPSM deficit expression scores decreased by 0.5 points.

When the researchers restricted the analysis to those who received SEP-363856 during the acute treatment phase and then continued using the drug during the open-label extension, they found BNSS total scores decreased by an additional 8 points.

Similarly, PANSS negative symptom scores decreased during the open-label extension by an average of 4 points. For UPSM apathy/avolition and deficit of expression, the additional decrease was 0.3 points on average.

In addition, an analysis of the drug’s safety and tolerability showed that, compared with the commonly prescribed antipsychotic lurasidone, it had a significantly lower risk of adverse effects. In addition, the drug was not associated with extrapyramidal symptoms and had no adverse cardiometabolic effects, Koblan reported.

Still in Development

Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, René S Kahn, MD, PhD, chair of the department of psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, noted that although the results showed that the drug had a “nice effect” on negative symptoms, it’s still in development.

Kahn, who was not involved in the research, said “we’ve all seen” drugs that were extremely promising in phase 2 trials that have then failed in phase 3 trials. “The proof of the pudding is phase 3, and we have to wait and see,” he added.

“Obviously I hope it’s going to work out, because we are in desperate need of new drugs, especially with a new mechanism of action and not ‘me too’ drugs. And this definitely not a ‘me too’ drug,” Kahn said. However, “we’ll have to wait.”

He noted that psychosis is often the primary focus of schizophrenia management. However, he added, cognitive and negative symptoms are also “very relevant” to the disorder.

“In fact, both of them may be more important in determining the long-term outcome of schizophrenia than psychosis, [and] most of the antipsychotics that we currently have are not very effective against negative symptoms,” he said.

“So it would really be a breakthrough if we have a drug that is really effective not only against positive psychotic symptoms, but also against negative and possibly cognitive, symptoms,” Kahn added.

Commenting on the drug’s safety, Kahn said there is a need for head-to-head studies of active drugs before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

However, he noted the exploratory analysis suggests it has a different side effect profile compared to other medications on the market.

The study was supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. Koblan and his co-investigators are employees of Sunovion Pharmaceuticals.

Congress of the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS) 2021: Abstracts S96 and M1. Presented April 18, 2021.

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Russia continues slashing foreign debt, cuts it by $8.6 BILLION since start of year

Russia’s total external debt has fallen by 1.8% in the first quarter of the year, and was worth $ 459.3 billion as of April 1, data from the central bank shows.

The size of the country’s foreign debt has dropped by $ 8.6 billion, “mainly due to decrease in liabilities of other sectors on external loans, as well as a decrease in portfolios of non-residents in sovereign securities,” the regulator said.

The nation’s foreign debt totaled $ 470.1 billion as of January 1. It has been dropping since mid-2014, when it reached its peak of around $ 733 billion in the wake of US and EU sanctions.
Also on rt.com IMF improves Russia’s economic growth outlook for this year
At the same time, Russia has been boosting its foreign reserve holdings, which stood at $ 574.8 billion as of April 2.
The holdings, which are highly liquid foreign assets comprising stocks of monetary gold, foreign currencies, and Special Drawing Rights (SDR) assets, have been steadily growing in recent years and are higher than the half-trillion-dollar target set by the central bank. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the reserves surged by over $ 40 billion last year.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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This article originally appeared on RT Business News

Executives Call for Deep Emission Cuts to Combat Climate Change

WASHINGTON — More than 300 businesses, including Google, McDonalds and Walmart, are pushing the Biden administration to nearly double the United States’ target for cuts to planet-warming emissions ahead of an April 22 global summit on climate change.

In a letter to President Biden, expected to be released Tuesday morning, chief executive officers from some of the nation’s largest companies will call on the administration to set a new Paris Agreement goal of slashing the nation’s carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

That is roughly what most major environmental groups want, and the corporate executives called the target “ambitious and attainable.”

Former President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, eradicating emissions reduction targets set by the Obama administration that many environmentalists had seen as too weak. President Obama had pledged to cut national emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

With Mr. Biden promising to tackle climate change intensely, climate change activists are watching to see how much more ambitious his targets will be than those set when he was vice president. Mr. Biden, who returned the United States to the Paris Agreement on Inauguration Day, has said the United States will announce fresh targets for the Paris Agreement on or before a virtual summit of world leaders he is hosting around Earth Day next week.

According to two administration officials familiar with the deliberations, the target is expected to be a range that will include a 50 percent reduction in emissions.

Organizers of the business letter said they hoped such a message coming from the private sector — including electric utilities like Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric, as well as dozens of companies based in Republican districts — would resonate strongly with Congress. Other signators include Target, Verizon and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant once considered a firm ally of the Republican Party.

The effort also underscores the delicate path corporate leaders are treading in the post-Trump era. Their decisions to break with Republicans on issues like voting rights and racial justice have rankled their traditional allies in the G.O.P. Pressing the Biden administration to aggressively combat climate change could further alienate Republicans, who have long fought emissions regulations as “job killers” that would make American business less competitive.

“I think this signals a major shift in the corporate community’s understanding of the urgency of climate change as a systemic financial risk,” said Anne Kelly, vice president for government affairs at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, which organized the letter.

Republican lawmakers have given no indication they are likely to be swayed, but they framed their opposition as a defense of consumers, not businesses.

“The Paris climate agreement will result in increased energy costs for Americans while Russia and China increase greenhouse gas emissions,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement. He predicted whatever target Mr. Biden announces will be “punishing.”

Patrick Flynn, vice president of sustainability for Salesforce, which signed on to the letter, said he hopes businesses will lobby Congress to support the Biden administration’s target.

“We know it will create millions of jobs, we know it’s a good thing for the economy, and we know if we do it right we can do it in a way that leaves no one behind,” he said.

Ralph Izzo, president and chairman of the Public Service Enterprise Group, a New Jersey-based energy company, said he is supporting the 50 percent target because he has seen the consequences of climate change in his state.

“It’s critical that we take significant action against the threat,” he said.

The corporate response is all the more remarkable because Mr. Biden’s plan for curbing climate change would be paid for in large part by raising corporate tax rates, a move sure to raise objections among at least some of the climate-conscious corporations. He also has called for a clean electricity standard and promised new regulations on the utility sector, automobile makers and oil and gas industries.

Mr. Flynn said his company has supported tax increases in the past and called Mr. Biden’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure proposal “a good investment” for the long term. Other companies that signed on to the letter sidestepped questions about the tax plan.

Ms. Kelley said she believes companies can “decouple” the commitments the United States needs to make to curb climate change with differences they may have with the administration around how to pay for it. “I think they see that as a separate set of negotiations,” she said.

Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 nations set their own voluntary targets for cutting emissions by 2025, including major developing nations like China and India. The rules of the accord do not punish countries for failing to meet the goals, but do require countries to set them.

The United States is currently less than halfway to its original goal.

Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to rise. According to a recent measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, concentrations recently topped 420 parts per million for the first time since levels have been recorded.

Lisa Friedman
This article originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News