Triple-lock: Call for pensions policy to be revamped – BBC News

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One of the key figures behind the introduction of the triple-lock pension policy is calling for its revamp.

Steve Webb, pension minister from 2010 to 2015 and now a director at mutual insurer Royal London, has proposed a “middle way” on state pension policy.

Under triple lock, the state pension rises each April to match the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.

However, it is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and some have called for it to be scrapped.

A recent review by former CBI director-general John Cridland, who was appointed as the government’s independent reviewer of state pension age last year, recommended that the triple lock be withdrawn in the next Parliament.

The Conservatives have not committed to maintaining it.

The Labour Party has said it will keep the policy in place through the next parliament.

How much does the triple-lock cost?

Labour pledges to keep the triple-lock

In his report for Royal London, Mr Webb proposed that the government retained the triple-lock for pensioners who retired before 6 April 2016.

Those retiring after that date would have their pension increases linked to earnings only. The report said the move would save almost 3bn per year by 2028.

It also said that, as newly retired pensioners are on average 100 per week better off than those aged over 75, the policy would increasingly target money on the older, poorer group.

“There’s a big difference between pensioners who retired 20 years ago… for whom the state pension really matters, and someone who just retired,” Mr Webb said.

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Media captionAngus Robertson: “Will the PM give a clear and unambiguous commitment to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension?”

Mr Webb says his proposals would control costs and give pension increases to those most in need.

“This is the first time that someone has said anything other than scrap it or keep it,” Mr Webb told the BBC.

He said the triple lock had delivered “big improvements” to pensioner incomes since 2010, but political parties would be concerned about the long-term cost implications of the policy “on top of increased spending on health and social care associated with an ageing population”.

But Tom McPhail, pensions expert at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said the plan added a layer of complexity to pension policy.

“It would be better to review the triple-lock; the level of the state pension, which was set too low; and state pension ages as a complete package,” he said.

He added: “The challenge has always been how and when to move away from the triple-lock without upsetting a key constituency of voters.”

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Why Muslims are marching for climate

(CNN)From the cropless farmer to the beleaguered first responder to the person forced to evacuate their flooded home, we all have our reasons for caring about climate change. As an Indonesian-born Muslim living in California, it is my faith that compels me to protect our earth.

For many people like me who cherish tolerance and clean air, the first 100 days of the Trump presidency have not been easy. As a Muslim immigrant to America, it has been painfully frustrating to witness the Trump administration reinforce xenophobia against both immigrants and Muslims.
As someone whose faith is bound up with combating climate change, it hurt to see Trump impose an executive order that effectively denies the impacts of climate change I have seen with my own eyes.
    Frustration must never lead to resignation, however: that is why, on Saturday, I and many other Muslims will be marching in Washington, D.C. in solidarity with thousands of others for our climate and the protection of the vulnerable.
    Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) leaves Muslims like me in no doubt as to the duty we humans share: “God has made the Earth green and beautiful, and He has appointed you as stewards over it,” he said. There is no greater threat to our “green and beautiful” Earth than the more frequent and intense droughts, floods and storms brought by climate change.
    Muslim-majority countries around the world are some of the most severely affected by climate change impacts like heat waves, floods, droughts and extreme weather events like the recent famine in Somalia, which has led to more than 16 million people facing food shortages and death.
    Many Muslims live in parts of the world that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, such as Bangladesh and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Pakistan is another country that is extremely short of freshwater resources. With a continuously increasing of climate crisis, the water availability has decreased severely, which then placed the country as water scarce nation and in turn it will have an adverse influence on poverty.
    Maldives is another Muslim-majority country that could become the first in history to be completely erased by the sea level rise at the turn of the century.
    And with last year’s COP 22 taking place in Morocco, the responsibility has shifted to the governments of Muslim majority countries and their religious leaders to step up and play their role in the growing grassroots movement accross Muslim communities around the globe, to reverse the effects of climate change.
    That means phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, shifting away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy, including urging the Muslim petropowers and oil-producing nations to take the lead in the transition toward renewable energy based development. (Rich and oil states should phase out their emissions by the middle of the century and provide generous support to help the poor nations to combat climate change).
    The consequences of climate change are already having significant and costly affects on our communities, our health and our ecosystem. Globally, 2014, 2015 and 2016 were the three hottest years on record. From January to March 2017, the US experienced five billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, a national record that killed 37 people. Climate change likely worsened the impact of Colorado’s deadly 2013 floods and has exacerbated droughts in California. Of course, it is always the poor and vulnerable who are impacted most.
    These facts and figures are no abstractions for me. In February 2007 I was in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, as the city was paralyzed by severe flooding — the worst in its history — that inundated about 70 percent of the city, killed a number of people, cut off the highway connecting to the country’s major airport and sent about 450,000 fleeing their homes.
    In January 2014, a couple years after I moved to the US, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a “drought state of emergency” due to ongoing water shortfalls following the driest calendar year in state history. He asked Californians to cut their water usage by at least a fifth. As a California resident, I witnessed first hand firefighters battling a wildfire in San Diego County during the severe Santa Ana Wind and heat wave in 2016.
    I am not alone. Muslims — and indeed the majority of Americans outside the White House — are united on the urgency of the issue of climate change. In August 2015, I witnessed over 80 global Muslim leaders from over 20 countries release the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change in Istanbul, urging world governments to phase out fossil fuels and make a transition to renewable energy to tackle climate change.
    In December of that year, by signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, almost 200 governments set a path to do just that. The Global Muslim Climate Network, of which I am chair, is also doing its part to encourage more Muslims to focus on solutions and take concrete actions, such as running their local mosques on solar energy.
    By seeking to undermine the Paris Agreement, which the Trump administration could do if it decides to formally withdraw or which arguably it is already doing by seeking to eradicate climate regulations and funding for climate science research — Donald Trump and his administration are reneging on a promise to have the interests of the vulnerable and forgotten at heart.
    Together with his divisive rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants, Trump represents a potentially disastrous departure from the inclusive and multicultural American society that I love.

    Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    Saturday’s People’s Climate March reminds me of a verse in the Holy Quran that says, “We have created you into different nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another.” This march — images of which will be shared around the world — is a demonstration of how people are coming together to tackle one of the fiercest humanitarian and moral challenges humanity has ever faced.
    Muslims, including Muslim faith leaders and Imams, will be marching shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people of all faiths and those who ascribe to none.
    I’ll be marching to show President Trump that I will not allow him to claim to represent the vulnerable while slashing the legislation that is designed specifically to protect them. I will not allow him to claim to represent the forgotten while he stokes further divisions within American society. We will already have achieved a lot in the fight against climate change — a fight whose ultimate aims are peace and joy — if we can overcome that which attempts to divide us, embrace each other and work together.

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    Palestinians highlight prisoners’ strike with ‘Salt Water Challenge’

    (CNN)Palestinians across the world are posting videos of themselves on social media drinking salt water, as part of a new online challenge intended to draw attention to Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

    The challenge involves saltwater because that’s what the hunger strikers are drinking to stabilize their health while abstaining from food.
    More than 1,000 Palestinians in eight Israeli prisons launched a “Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity” on April 17 to demand better living conditions and medical treatment. The strike was coordinated by Marwan Barghouti, a high-profile prisoner who enjoys broad support among Palestinians.
      An Israeli court convicted Barghouti in 2004 of five counts of murder, including orchestrating attacks against Israelis. He has denied the charges and claimed to be targeted by Israeli authorities for his politics and activism against Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.
      The Salt Water Challenge appears to have been started by Barghouti’s son, Aarab Marwan Barghouti, who on Wednesday posted a video of himself on social media drinking salt water.
      “My father, along with 1,700 other political prisoners started the Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity in demand for human rights and humane living conditions in the prisons,” the younger Barghouti said in the video.
      Among those he challenged was “Arab Idol” winner Mohammed Assaf, who responded in kind helping the online campaign to go viral.
      “I challenge everyone, all honorable people wherever they may be, to take on this challenge in solidarity with our heroic detainees until they gain their freedom,” Assaf said in his video.
      Palestinians from across the Middle East, Europe and North American quickly followed suit with videos of their own. While most spoke in Arabic, others took up the challenge in English, French and other languages.
      Israeli authorities have stated that they will not meet the prisoners’ demands.
      Assaf Librati, spokesman for the Israel Prison Service, said the prison service does not negotiate with prisoners.
      “Hunger strikers in prison endanger the health and life of the prisoners in custody of the state who is in charge of their well-being — organized hunger strikers even more so,” Librati said.
      There are approximately 6,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. They are imprisoned for a number of offenses — including protesting, inciting violence and affiliating with groups Israel considers to be terrorist organizations. Many are also imprisoned under a controversial administrative detention law, which allows Palestinians to be held without charge.
      Israeli authorities consider these detainees to be criminals and terrorists; Palestinians say they are political prisoners.

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      Prosecutor: ‘Brutal’ genital mutilation won’t be tolerated in US

      (CNN)Two Michigan doctors and a medical office manager were indicted Wednesday by a Detroit grand jury in the first federal female genital mutilation case in the United States.

      Detroit emergency room physician Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, internal medicine physician Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, face one count of conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation, two counts of female genital mutilation and one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
      Doctors Nagarwala, 44, and Attar, 53, also face one count of conspiracy to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity — a charge that carries a potential sentence of up to life in prison.
        Both doctors also face one count each of making a false statement to a federal officer.
        “Female Genital Mutilation has serious implications for the health and well-being of girls and women,” said Daniel Lemisch, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
        “This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason, to control them as women. FGM will not be tolerated in the United States,” the prosecutor said in a statement. “The federal government is continuing this investigation to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”
        The defendants have not entered pleas, but attorneys for all three argue their clients are not guilty of all charges.
        According to the indictment and a criminal complaint filed against Nagarwala, the investigation into Nagarwala and the Attars dates back to October of 2016. The FBI had received information that the banned procedure was being performed at the Attar’s medical office in Livonia, Michigan, west of Detroit. Court documents do not indicate the source of the information.
        Investigators saw two 7-year-old girls and their mothers arrive at the Burhani Medical Clinic, which Attar owns, after having traveled from Minnesota. Attar, his wife and Nagarwala were already inside.
        Investigators said interviews with the girls and medical exams conducted after the visit to the clinic, revealed both girls had been victims of female genital mutilation — a painful surgical procedure to remove part of the clitoris or clitoral hood to suppress female sexuality.
        Both girls, their parents and the three defendants are members of the Dawoodi Bohra Islamic sect, according to the criminal complaint.

        Indictment: Conspiracy dates back to 2005

        According to the indictment:
        — The three defendants had conspired to perform the procedure on girls under 18 years of age since 2005.
        — Attar allowed Nagarwala to perform the procedure at his clinic after it was closed for the day. He was present at the clinic during the procedure, while his wife, Farida, assisted Nagarwala in the examination room.
        — Attar and Nagarwala agreed to make false statements to law enforcement regarding whether the procedure took place.
        — The three defendants told others not to speak about the procedure and to lie to federal investigators about the procedure.
        — Attar and Nagarwala took steps to delete evidence.
        — Nagarwala told investigators she had never been present or had knowledge that this procedure was being performed on children.
        — Attar told investigators this procedure had not taken place at his clinic.

        Attorney: Procedure is ‘religious practice’

        The Attars were scheduled to be in court Wednesday for a detention hearing, but after the indictment was released that hearing was postponed until May 3.
        Dr. Attar’s attorney Mary Chartier, who spoke to reporters after Wednesday’s initial appearance, said her client is “not aware of any crimes committed at his clinic” and that “what happened at the clinic was not FGM.”
        “He was aware that Dr. Nagarwala used the clinic. He offered that to her and let her do that,” Chartier said. Chartier said that Attar was never present in the examination room and that he never “met these girls.”
        Chartier said that at the heart of her client’s defense is a misunderstanding over his religious practice. When asked to clarify what that practice was, she did not respond.
        “I do believe that the government does not fully understand the religious practices of Dr. Attar and Dr. Attar’s religion, and I think that’s why we are in this courthouse today, and what we’ll be fighting over for the next few months,” Chartier said.
        “They have a religious belief to practice their religion. And they are Muslims and they’re being under attack because of it. I believe that they are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs and I do not make that allegation lightly,” Chartier said.
        Farida Attar’s attorney, Matt Newburg, did not speak to reporters following the hearing. Over the weekend, he told CNN his “client has not admitted guilt.” He said she has not entered a plea, “but we look forward to defending the case against her.”
        In court, the Attars sat next to each other both wearing orange prison jumpsuits and religious head coverings. While being escorted back to jail, they waved to a supporter in the gallery and smiled.

        Nagarwala in court on Thursday

        Nagarwala is expected to be arraigned on Thursday at 1 p.m. in a Detroit federal court. She will remain in jail awaiting trial, after a federal judge deemed her a flight risk and a threat to the community.
        During a court hearing on April 17, Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, told a judge the procedure did not involve cutting and was religious in nature, CNN affiliate WXYZ reported.
        Smith argued the procedure is practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra and that the clinic was used to keep procedures sterile, WXYZ reported.
        The Detroit Free Press reported that at the hearing that Smith said her client removed membrane from the girls’ genital area using a “scraper” as part of a religious practice. The girls’ parents would then bury the membrane in the ground in accordance with their religious custom, Smith said, according to the Free Press report.

        A crime or a religious practice?

        Leaders of the Dawoodi Bohra sect’s Michigan mosque released a statement Friday saying they are offering assistance to investigators, according to the Detroit News.
        “Any violation of US law is counter to instructions to our community members,” the statement said.
        “It is an important rule of the Dawoodi Bohras that we respect the laws of the land, wherever we live,” the statement continued. “This is precisely what we have done for several generations in America. We remind our members regularly of their obligations.”
        CNN’s calls to the sect’s headquarters and the mosques attended by the parents and the defendants were not returned.
        A 2012 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that roughly 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation, which was more than three times an earlier estimate based on 1990 data. The World Health Organization considers the procedure a violation of human rights of girls and women.
        No charges have been filed against the parents of the girls.
        The FBI has a tip line for victims of female genital mutilation, or anyone who might suspect such activity. They can call 800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or submit a tip via FBI.GOV/FGM.

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        Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t regret voting for Trump despite LGBT ‘mistakes’

        (CNN)Caitlyn Jenner may not like everything US President Donald Trump’s administration has done so far — especially when it comes to actions affecting transgender Americans like her.

        But she does not regret her decision to vote for Donald Trump, she told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday.
        “As far as LGBT issues, yes, he’s made some mistakes,” she said. “I don’t support him in everything that he does. But we needed to shake the system up.”
        It’s been almost two years since the famed US Olympian came out as transgender in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, revealing she had “the soul of a female.” Weeks later she debuted her new look in a Vanity Fair cover story that was heralded as a watershed moment for transgender visibility.
          Jenner reveals what the past two years have been like for her in a new memoir, “The Secrets of My Life.”
          At the time, Jenner said she was still a Republican despite the party’s anti-LGBT positions. She later said Trump appeared to be a champion for women and LGBT rights. When Trump famously said people should use “whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate,” including Jenner, she took up his offer to use the women’s restroom in Trump Tower.
          Her position evolved when the Trump administration withdrew Obama era guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination in public schools. She called the decision a disaster and urged him to “fix it.”
          She told CNN she’s still a Republican and she still believes Trump is the man “we need to turn this country around,” for better or worse.
          “To, you know, to have career politicians constantly, the Clintons, the Bushes, run this country. We need to get outside that box and shake things up again.”

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          King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud Fast Facts

          (CNN)Here is a look at the life of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia.

          Death date: January 22, 2015
          Birth place: Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
          Father: King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al Saud
            Mother: Fahda bint Al-Asi Al-Shuraim
            Marriages: Wives’ names not available publicly, but according to Islamic tradition, he was allowed no more than four at a time.
            Children: Exact number is not available publicly; sons include: Khalid (eldest son died June 2011 at age 54); Mitab; Abdulaziz; Mishal; Faisal; Badr
            Education: Early education at the Royal Court
            Religion: Wahhabism (a conservative Islamic sect)
            Military: Commander of the Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, 1962-2010
            Other Facts:
            Was one of 37 sons.
            Was prime minister and head of state from 2005-2015.
            Helped create the Allegiance Authority, a committee of princes who vote on the eligibility of future monarchs and crown princes.
            During his leadership, Saudi Arabia joined the World Trade Organization.
            Bred pure Arabian horses and founded the equestrian club in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
            Spoke with a stutter.
            1962-2010 –
            Commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.
            1975-1982 – Is Saudi Arabia’s second deputy prime minister.
            1976 – During his first visit to the United States, he meets with President Gerald Ford.
            June 13, 1982 – He becomes Crown Prince Abdullah after King Khalid dies.
            1982-2005 – Deputy Prime Minister.
            October 1987 – During his second visit to the United States, Crown Prince Abdullah meets with President George H.W. Bush.
            March 1, 1992 – Is confirmed heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia by King Fahd.
            November 1995 – Crown Prince Abdullah assumes the duties of King Fahd after the regent suffers a stroke.
            September 1998 – Meets with President Bill Clinton in the United States.
            February 2002 – Proposes a comprehensive peace plan to address the violence in Jerusalem and other Israeli-Palestinian areas. It is the first such plan introduced by an Arab nation since 1947. This plan calls for full Arab recognition of Israel as a nation, and a complete withdrawal by Israel from territories gained since the 1967 war.
            April 25, 2002 – Meets with President George W. Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
            2004 – In a 2004 speech broadcast on Saudi television, Abdullah warns Saudi citizens not to support extremists who want to overthrow the ruling family, and vows to hunt them down, regardless of how long it takes.
            August 1, 2005 – Becomes sixth king of Saudi Arabia following the death of King Fahd. He chooses Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz el Saud as crown prince.
            2008 – King Abdullah hosts President Bush at the royal ranch in Jenadriyah.
            February 2009 – Appoints the first woman to Saudi Arabia’s council of ministers.
            November 13, 2010 – Transfers his position as commander of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard to his son Prince Mitab bin Abdullah.
            November 2010 – Is in New York to undergo back surgery on a herniated disc and blood clot.
            September 25, 2011 – Announces that women can run for office and vote in local elections in 2015.
            October 2011 – Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud dies. Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud is named crown prince.
            October 2011 – Undergoes his third back surgery within a year, at a Riyadh hospital.
            June 16, 2012 – Crown Prince Nayef dies.
            June 18, 2012 – Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud is named crown prince.
            November 2012 – Has his fourth back surgery since 2010, at a hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
            January 11, 2013 – Appoints 30 women to the Shura Council, the first time women have been chosen for the country’s top consultative body.
            March 27, 2014 – Names former intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as the deputy crown prince. Prince Muqrin follows Crown Prince Salman in the line of succession.
            December 31, 2014 – Is admitted to King Abdulaziz Medical City hospital in Riyadh, the capital. On January 2, 2015, the state-run Saudi Press Agency says that King Abdullah is suffering from pneumonia and was given a breathing-aid tube temporarily.
            January 22, 2015 – Dies at a hospital in Riyadh.

            Read more:—fast-facts/index.html

            Women in science share a message: Don’t give up

            Washington (CNN)From across the fields of science they came, marching to show that women in science have a lot to say.

            Biologists and ecologists, medical researchers and EMTs, doctors and nurses, biomedical engineers and neuroscientists came with stories of why they fell in love with science.
            They ranged from little girls to seasoned science veterans, all carrying a message of what they’d like to tell other women.
              “It’s important for women scientists to be here because there are still too few of us,” said neuroscientist Sharri Zamore.
              She drove from Blacksburg, Virginia, to support the cause, but also to “encourage more diversity” in the sciences, she told CNN.
              There were many who stood up and marched for the first time in their lives.
              “This is the first time in my adult life that I have been able to stand up for something that I truly believe in. We both felt very passionately about science and the subject of this march, so we decided to drive to DC from Buffalo, New York,” said 26-year-old EMT Alyssa Militello, who came with her friend, fellow EMT Jessica Robins, 23.
              There were scientists there who paved the way for others, like Cynthia Chatterjee, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist from the Bay Area.
              “Historically women have not been encouraged to study science,” Chatterjee told CNN. “I didn’t go to medical school until I was age 34, but when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor.”
              It wasn’t until much later that she realized she could do it. And now, standing at the science march, she said she hoped other little girls could pursue their dream from the very start.
              One of the most common messages for women and for the next generation was: Don’t give up. Ever.
              “I would tell other female scientists, no matter how hard it may seem, it’s absolutely worth it,” said biomedical engineering student Remy Cooper.
              She said she hopes to help shape science policies someday. Well, after she finishes her Master’s and gets into a Ph.D. program, of course.
              Other women were more forward with what it’s really like to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.
              “Know that there is sexism and don’t be nave that it won’t affect you. When you need to stand up for yourself, do so,” said wetland ecologist Alicia Korol. “Don’t be afraid to raise your voice or to speak up for something.”
              The Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University stressed the importance of finding a fellow female to help chart your career course.
              “Mentorship inspires women to stick with or even pursue science. It makes the field welcoming, fun and encouraging,” Korol said.
              Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to be the only one like you in a crowd.
              Lynette Stehr is a Department of Homeland Security contractor and a terrorism risk modeler.
              “There’s a whole lot of time I am the only woman in the room and sometimes it’s a little hard to get used to. But, if you can embrace it and recognize your strut, you’re making a pathway for that next woman behind you,” she told CNN.
              Stehr and her husband, Jeff, were carrying matching signs that read “Listen to your nerds.”
              While it may be hard to crack into a male-driven workplace, Stehr’s husband said he’s seeing more of it where he works at NASA, as a contractor.
              “I’m mighty proud of just how many women we have been hiring into my team at NASA HQ. It’s almost as if we just keep walking by an unguarded gold mine and walking away with awesome hires that other companies just keep missing,” he told CNN.
              “Their loss is forever our gain. Amazing what people do when you give ’em a shot.”

              Read more:

              Form an orderly queue! Google wants your blood (and other bodily fluids). Oh and your medical records

              Alphabets (Googles) life sciencesdivision Verilyhas launched its publicpitch for amassive, multi-year health studyits leading along with Duke University School of Medicine, Stanford Medicine and Google proper.

              Verily is hoping to recruit some10,000 Americans tovolunteer to share their medical records and have blood and other bodily fluids extracted and linked to a Google account in order for the companyand its partners to try to spur the next generation of medical discoveries, as it couches it. In exchange, participants will get some of their own health data shared back with them(though itcautions not to expect to get medical care or advice), plus a small amount of financial compensation for time lost and a little earlyintel on what the ad giantmight be learning from their sensitive health data.

              The Project Baseline study has been a long time in the works itwas previously slatedto launch in 2015,but hasevidently taken rather longer to set up; unsurprisingly so, given the scope and size of the longitudinal study. The four-yearstudy will involve volunteers making annual visits to one of the Baseline study sites for a full one to two days of health tests, including giving blood, saliva and other samples; doing specialized tests such as chestX-rays and echocardiograms; and other tests, such as assessing physical strength and answering health-related questionnaires.

              Some participants will also be asked to visit astudy site quarterly for one to two hours to gather more frequent information about health profiles that we are especially interested in, says Verily, andsome may also be asked in for appointments at other times following a significant life event, so that we can see if and how your health changes.

              All volunteers will be required to wear an investigational wristwatch daily aka the Verilystudy watch announced earlier this month; and sleep witha sensor underneath their mattress (so you can add sex-tracking to this studys scope a woman on the Project Baseline question phone line said shed been asked about the movement-tracking mattress coil a lot!); as well as havea dedicated Wi-Fi hub device installed in their home to suck up and send the tracking data from the devices back to Verilys servers.

              Theres alsotrimonthly, half-hour-long online surveys to take, with questions about diet, exercise and well-being; and a mobile app that will push additional questions at participants, perhaps as frequentlyas daily, such as asking them about their sleep quality oralcohol consumption. Presumably the project researchers want the ability tobe able toreact to specific tracked activity/events with follow-up questions that might shed light on linked factors.

              Participants will be compensated$410 per annual site visit; $30 per visit for the shorter quarterly assessments; and $10 a time for the trimonthly questionnaires so no one exceptVerily and its various academicand commercialpartners standsto get rich from being involved in thislengthy medical research project.

              Lastly, but by no means least, study participants will berequired to share access to their medical records with Verily so anyone signing up for this studyreally will be standing naked in front ofMountain View.

              On the website where the company is pitchingfor volunteers, Verilysmarketing is heavy on tryingto stir up stirring historic parallelsfor thismission to as it puts it better understand health and prevent disease, laying it on thickly thatparticipants will be doing good and helping humanity by contributing their health data to the research effort.

              To the brink, frankly,of emotional blackmail. A glossy marketing video showing a series of people smiling into the camera intones:What if you could impact the health of millions of people, just by sharing your personal health story? with the unspoken implication being: how dare you be so selfish NOT to share your medical records with Google.

              The website israther thinner on detail about what will actually be done with all the sensitive personally identifiable health data that will be obtained from study participants. And theres also very little aboutthe underlying commercial motives driving the effort to gather health data in incredible depth and detail, as Verilys marketing paintsit.

              For example, an FAQ on the website ostensibly answering what the data will actually be used for is decidedly non-specific saying only:

              We will use it to expand the Baseline database and develop advanced tools for collecting, organizing, and analyzing health information. As well, in partnership with qualified researchers and organizations, we will use the data to uncover new medical insights or develop new health products.

              Its also not clear who else the data might be shared with and for what specific purposes. The FAQ notes that members of the Baseline team will have access to directly identifying information (your name, street address, phone number and email), but external researchers and organizations for research will also be given access to the data albeit with the directly identifying info removed. Although, on that front, its worth pointing out that the re-identification of anonymous individuals attached tohealthdata has been demonstrated by researchers to be disturbingly easy. So the possibility that suchgranular medical data might bereattached to study participants identities in the hands of unknown third parties cannot be ruled out.

              On its blog, Verily specifiesthat it will be working with partners from academia, medicine, science, patient-advocacy, engineering and design, adding: In the future, the intent is to make de-identified data from the Project Baseline study available to qualified researchers to spur new ideas across the broad ecosystem.

              The Project Baseline website also notes that study participants will be required to have a Google account so theyre effectively also agreeing to link a (potentially massive) trove of online activity with this highly granular personal health data. And its not clear at what point/s and/or which portions of their data arebeing covered by Googles privacy policy or by the Project Baseline privacy policy(or indeed the consent forms they will go on to sign at study sites). An unreassuring single line in the FAQ notes thatGoogle will not sell your information for advertising but the company is in the business of ad targeting, so does not need to sell users personal information to advertisers it sells ad targeting based on its data holdings.

              And even if you were to create a new Google ID just to use for Project Baseline, its rather harder to change your real-worldidentity (i.e. your real name) and thus de-link all of the online information Google might have (or be able to glean) about youbased on that rather less mutable identifier. (Something it unintentionally flags up given itcantresist linking Baselines aim with other Alphabet divisions prior efforts; a slogan for the project claims: Weve mapped the world. Now lets map human health.)

              Asked whether Google might share information it has on internet users who also are participating inthe study, the woman on the Project Baseline phoneline wasnt sure. I dont believe so, she said, notingthatparticipants selected to be a part of the study can ask any questions that I cant answer at the site visit. Furthermore, You can take your head out of the ring at any time, she added. You can take your application or your enrollment and withdraw it at any time if anything doesnt sound good.

              It goes without saying that Verily, a division of Googles parent company Alphabet, is a for-profit enterprise so is obviouslylooking for ways to profit from the health data that study participants will be handing it. Yet despite this rather lopsided exchange your blood, your moods and your medical records in exchange for a vague notionof some possiblefuture health benefits (for someone) it isnot committing to hand over all the data it gathers duringthe study to individual study participants, saying only that it may return information such as laboratory tests and clinical assessments, and that: We think its important to return as much of your information as possible in an ethical, responsible manner and in a format that is interesting and understandable. So, in other words, volunteers for this four-year questwont be privytoall the data Alphabets divisions will be extracting from theirperson.

              Weve reached out to Verily with various questions and will update this post with any response. In a blog postabout Project Baseline, the company writes that it is focused on creating new tools to collect and organize information in ways previously not possible so that we can make the information useful describing the initiative overall as a unified effort to map human health.

              [T]he Project Baseline study dataset will include clinical, molecular, imaging, self-reported, behavioral, environmental, sensor and other health-related measurements. To organize this information, we are creating an infrastructure that can process multi-dimensional health data much of which have never been combined for an individual. Our vision is that this data platform can serve as a single query source and may be used for more seamless data integration and collaboration, it adds.

              Alphabet/Googlehas faced controversy in the U.K. where its AI division, DeepMind unveileda big health push last year, partnering with a publicly funded National Health Service Trust to get access to patient health data in exchange for building an app. However, at the launch of the first partnership it was not made publichow many medical records were being shared with DeepMind to poweran app for hosting an NHS algorithm designed tospot the early signs of akidney condition. An FOI request subsequently revealedDeepMind had beengiven access to some 1.6 million patients health data without their knowledge or consent. Theinformation-sharing arrangementremains under investigation by U.K. data protection watchdogs.

              But whileAlphabethas been able to quickly suck up vast quantitiesof medical datain the U.K. to power its ambitions for AI-enabled preventative healthcare because acash-strapped NHS isall too eager to accept the offer of free help from a high-profile, high-tech outsider,the U.S. healthcare marketplace evidently requires a different approach to outsidercorporates gaining access to medical records at scale. Lets not forgetGoogles prior attempt at generating mass adoption foran opt-in, centralized electronic medical records and health data platform of its own failed spectacularly. Seen from that angle, Project Baseline has rather more modestambitions to onlyacquire the medical records of ~10,000 US citizens albeit this project isalso couched asonly the start. Eventually we hope to expand internationally to capture health diversity on a global scale, writes Verily.

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              Shops agree to limit sugary drinks sales in hospitals – BBC News

              Image copyright SPL

              WHSmith, Marks & Spencer, Subway and Greggs have all agreed to cut the proportion of sugary drinks they sell in their hospital shops in England.

              NHS England has asked all retailers with hospital outlets to limit the drinks to no more than 10% of the total beverages they sell by next April.

              Companies that do not comply will face a total ban on selling sugary drinks in hospital shops.

              Campaigners welcomed the move to limit sugar intake in hospitals.

              Retailers have been asked to cut sales of drinks such as fruit juices with added sugar and coffees with sugar syrup and NHS England will ask them to provide sales figures to check on progress.

              All retailers in hospitals in England are being urged to make the changes to their stock.

              The plans are part of a health drive to cut obesity and tooth decay across the country.

              How much sugar is hiding in your food?

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              NHS England said progress had already been made this year to remove all price promotions on sugary drinks and junk food sold in hospitals and to make sure healthy food options were available at all times for patients and staff.

              Over the next 12 months, NHS England now wants hospitals to stock a healthier range of sweets and confectionery and more low-fat and low-calorie pre-packed sandwiches.

              ‘Serious health problems’

              Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down but spoonfuls of added sugar day in, day out mean serious health problems.

              “The NHS is in a great position to take action on the damage being caused by poor diet to the nation’s health and the wider healthcare system.

              “With more money spent each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than on the police, fire service and judicial system combined, urgent action is needed.”

              Katherine Button, Campaign for Better Hospital Food co-ordinator, said she was delighted by the move.

              “NHS hospitals are trusted by patients, families and staff to keep them fit and well and NHS England is helping everyone to take a big healthy step in the right direction.”

              Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said it was great news that NHS England was “taking this step to make hospitals healthier places for all of us”.

              He added: “With this plan, people with type 1 diabetes should still have access to products that are commonly used to treat hypos.”

              The sugar problem

              • There has been growing concern about the damaging impact of sugar on health – from the state of people’s teeth to type 2 diabetes and obesity
              • Sugar has been blamed for providing “empty calories” because it has no nutritional benefit
              • Government advisers recommend no more than 5% of daily calories should come from sugar
              • That is about 1oz (25g; six or seven teaspoons) for an adult of normal weight every day. For children, it is slightly less
              • The limits apply to all sugars added to food, as well as sugar naturally present in syrups and honey
              • To put this in context, a typical can of fizzy drink contains about nine teaspoons of sugar

              Why is sugar so addictive?

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              The stakes for the French election just got higher

              St-Remy-de-Provence, France (CNN)Just days before French voters go to the polls, gunshots rang out on Thursday in Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysees. It was another jarring reminder to French voters of the high stakes and confusing choices they face in a pivotal election — one whose outcome has become impossible to predict.

              At this moment, there are few details about the killing of a police officer in the heart of Paris, and the motive is unknown, although an ISIS statement claims the shooter was one of its fighters.
              It came as the nation focused on the Sunday vote, which will be the first step in electing a new president, a decision that will have repercussions far beyond the shores of France. It will determine if the wave of nationalist populism sweeping across the globe will continue to reshape the international landscape. Or whether perhaps globalization — a dominant political and economic ideology — can survive and thrive in the 21st century.
                Once the first ballot is counted, we will have a better sense whether the European Union will endure; how Europe is likely to address its refugee issue and what lies ahead for European relations with Russia, after yet another election with signs of meddling from Moscow.
                “It’s good to have electroshock,” Lydia, a local real estate agent, told me. She wouldn’t give her last name, but said she will vote for Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-immigrant candidate, who seems well positioned to make it to next month’s runoff. Lydia said she doesn’t expect Le Pen to become president, but she expects a strong showing to give a jolt to the establishment and show the depth of discontent, particularly on the immigration issue.
                In storied Provence, a land of vineyards, olive groves and charming towns, it’s startling to hear this kind of discontent among the French, but the sentiment is there, and it has already upended French politics. The current President, Francois Hollande, is so unpopular that he decided not to run — the first president since World War II not to seek re-election.

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                And voters are abandoning the two mainstream parties, the Socialists and Republicans, which have dominated French politics for decades. While they have always garnered the overwhelming majority of support, this time they may not get even a quarter of the votes. In fact, the parties that until now took turns governing France may not even have a candidate in the final round.
                Voters’ dissatisfaction is difficult to understand in a country where the standard of living is among the world’s highest. But the reality is that the vast majority say their country is headed in the wrong direction.
                The French are distressed by the impact of globalization, a stubbornly sluggish economy, the growing presence of immigrants and refugees and a spate of terrorist attacks by radical Islamists that have killed hundreds and continue to threaten at every turn. Just this week, security forces disrupted what they described as yet another imminent terrorist plot in the city of Marseille.
                Incredibly, with just a few days left, almost half the voters I spoke with remain undecided. Even more surprising is the number of people who told me they will not vote at all.
                Anjelica Leconte, a 22-year-old student, said “They [politicians] are all liars and hypocrites,” explaining why she doesn’t plan to vote.
                Her boyfriend, Jeremy Entressangle, will vote. But his seemingly contradictory wavering encapsulates the emotional turmoil of the choice. He is leaning toward Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who, as mentioned before, is the far-right candidate, with a disdain for Islam and a fondness for Russia.
                But he is also considering Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left standard-bearer of the “France Unbowed” Party. Endorsed by the Communist Party, he proposes taxing incomes above $425,000 at 100%, essentially making that the maximum income allowed.
                Since Sunday is only the first ballot, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff on May 7. Fears of a runoff between Le Pen and Melenchon have already rattled global markets.
                But what are the chances these two emerge as the victors? Le Pen has led most of the polls, though surveys show four candidates clustered at the top. Le Pen is followed by the leading centrist in the race, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, the center-right Francois Fillon — who is surviving despite a scandal surrounding government payments to his wife — and Melenchon, whose meteoric rise in the past few weeks stunned the establishment.
                Experts have also warned the French to be skeptical about what they read online amid growing suggestions that Russian media and Russian-linked online operations are working to influence the election. One study showed almost one in five links shared by social media users contained fake news with signs of Russian involvement, favoring pro-Putin candidates. Of the top four, Le Pen appears to have the closest ties with Moscow, but only Macron does not support improved relations with Russia.
                And though the outcome of the election is a tossup, the odds appear to slightly favor the young up-and-comer, Macron, who has maintained a steady second, occasionally first, place in the polls.

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                Macron, a former economics minister under Hollande, last year founded his own movement, En Marche! roughly meaning “Forward!” The exclamation point gives it a force that some voters told me Macron lacks. He is the standard-bearer of the center, a position from which it is more difficult to stir up fiery passions. He supports the European Union and proposes a hazy blend of economic policies aimed at stimulating the free markets while protecting the country’s generous social benefits. And he says accepting refugees fleeing war is the country’s duty.
                Long before this election, the French had earned a reputation as chronic pessimists. This time, however, many of their fears and concerns reflect worries afflicting the rest of the world. This angst-filled nation is taking its discontent to the polls. The electoral outcome will give us a strong indication of what lies ahead — not just for Paris, but for the globe.

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