Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Obamas Get A record-Breaking $65 Milllion US Book Deal!

Record-breaking auction for Obamas’ book deal tops $65m Penguin Random House wins bidding war for memoirs by former president and first lady Read next Fast FT Jessica Dye Private prisons get a boost as Trump reportedly pulls Obama policy © Getty Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Email6 Save AN HOUR AGO by: Matthew Garrahan in New York and David Bond in London Penguin Random House will pay more than $65m for the global rights to two books to be written separately by Barack and Michelle Obama, after a blockbuster auction that set a new record for US presidential memoirs. The company declined to comment on the fee it had agreed with the Obamas. But people briefed on the auction, which attracted interest from HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and CBS’ Simon & Schuster, confirmed it would exceed $65m. Markus Dohle, Penguin Random House chief executive, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to continue our publishing partnership with the President and Mrs Obama. With their words and their leadership, they changed the world.” Penguin Random House published Mr Obama’s previous three books. While the Obamas are writing separate books, they sold the rights jointly. The deal eclipses those secured by departing US presidents. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, paid $15m for the rights to Bill Clinton’s 2004 memoirs My Life when he left the White House, while George W Bush made an estimated $10m from his book Decision Points, which was published by Crown. Robert Barnett, Mr Obama’s literary agent, fielded the offers on behalf of the former president. A spokesman for Mr Obama also declined to comment. Related article The Obama legacy: FT journalists pick their favourite articles A collection of piercing — and prophetic — journalism as eight years in the White House come to a close Mr Barnett has become a power player for politicians seeking big book deals. He brokered Tony Blair’s £4.5m contract with Penguin Random House, which is jointly owned by UK education group Pearson and Bertelsmann, the German media company. Pearson last month said it had exercised an option to sell its stake in the company; discussions between the two sides are said to be ongoing. The Obamas have kept a low profile since leaving the White House. They recently holidayed in Palm Springs and visited Necker Island, where Mr Obama kite-boarded with Sir Richard Branson. Having gained a reputation as a writer before entering the White House with his best selling books Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, Mr Obama’s story of his two terms as president was always likely to attract huge offers from publishing groups. But the prospect of a joint book deal with his wife Michelle propelled the auction to record-breaking levels and has set the publishing industry alight. Mr Obama earned $8.8m from The Audacity of Hope, a 2006 bestseller, and the children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, according to a report by Forbes. Sales of his first memoir, Dreams from My Father, published in paperback in 2004, brought in a further $6.8m in royalties, according to Forbes.  

Make America … Swedish?

Make America … Swedish?

This Epic Short Film Reveals What Life Will Look Like Once We've Conquered the Solar System

This Epic Short Film Reveals What Life Will Look Like Once We've Conquered the Solar System: If you really want to leave the earth and go to some other planet in our solar system. Then, don’t worry about this now, as scientists are working very hard on it and may be they are in more hurry than you. The dream of leaving Earth behind and go on a lunar or Martian base is far from realization just yet, but in the meantime, this classic short film by digital artist Erik Wernquist gives you an indication of what it’s really going to look like if when humans conquer the Solar System.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Rethinking Retirement For Longer Lives With Fewer Safety Nets

Kim Moske, shown outside her home in Delaware, Ohio, is 56 and expects to retire in six years. She started to save and invest in her late 20s. CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times
Five days a week, Kim Moske makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and brown-bags it to work. “I’ve been doing that for 30 years and saving what I would have spent eating my lunch out someplace,” she said. “That’s added up to a lot of money, and truthfully, I don’t care what I eat for lunch.”
That is a small gesture, but it is indicative of the advantages of making daily choices to help save for a financially secure retirement.
Ms. Moske, 56, lives in Delaware, Ohio, and is a project manager for a small manufacturing firm. She expects to retire in six years. But it has not been all about homemade sandwiches: She started to save and invest in her late 20s.
That foresight and discipline have made it possible for her to envision a fairly traditional retirement — one that will allow her time to pursue hobbies like gardening, hiking in Hocking Hills State Park or biking along the Olentangy River near her home, and traveling.
Continue reading the main story
“I’m not one of these who has to go to Paris, but it would be fun to finish seeing all the 50 states,” she said. “I’ve visited 30 of them.”
Ms. Moske grew up in a family “where we were always getting utilities shut off,” she said. “We lived in fear that our car would be repossessed, and we frequently ran out of milk. I was raised by two people who were very good at wasting money and very poor at managing it. They were a financial disaster.”
“My father worked very hard his entire life and made a good income, yet he died penniless at age 78,” she said. “I’m frugal to a fault. Therefore my retirement is in pretty good shape.”
Ms. Moske is proof that it is never too early to start working on your retirement plan. Fewer workers today have traditional pensions than in the past, life expectancies are generally longer and, with unknowns like health care costs and inflation in the coming decades, planning is more important than ever.
When Ms. Moske was 26 and working full time to pay her way through college, she signed up for a class on finance and investing. “I didn’t know a stock from a cornstalk, but I realized that I needed to take control,” she said. “My husband and I immediately started living on less than what we needed, saving and investing.”
Money was tight during the dozen years that she stayed home to raise the couple’s two children, now 20 and 22. She also missed out on those years of employer-provided retirement savings.
Then, six years ago, her husband died from injuries sustained in a fall. That caused a seismic shift not only emotionally, but also financially, as she had to live on one income. But she paid off her home, now valued at around $300,000, with a portion of the money she received from her husband’s life insurance policy.
“I will be fine,” she said. “But I don’t go it alone: I meet with a financial planner once a year to make sure I am on track, and I check retirement calculators all the time.”
In many ways, she is an anomaly.

‘Work More, Save More or Both’

Unlike Ms. Moske, many Americans are not ready for retirement. “Nearly half of families have no retirement-account savings at all,” says a report by the Economic Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. The median retirement savings figure among all working-age families in the United States is just $5,000; the median among families with savings is $60,000.
According to the Fidelity Investments Retirement Savings Assessment, 55 percent of American households risk not being able to cover essential expenses like housing, health care and food in retirement.
Fred Blanton, a business and marketing consultant in Houston, does not have “a big golden nest egg,” he said. “I’m going to be 65 in a few months, but I need an income. I have enough money if I live another 15 years, but am I going to die at 80?”
Mr. Blanton’s fear of outliving his savings is heartbreakingly real. “We are now living longer and have to recognize that we either have to work more, save more or both,” said Don Blandin, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust, which worked with Detroit Public Television to produce the documentary “When I’m 65: Rethinking Retirement in America.”
“The 65 retirement age for Social Security was put in place in 1933 when retirement lasted eight to 10 years,” Mr. Blandin said. “In the old pension system, people didn’t have to make decisions on how much to contribute to a retirement account, which investments to grow their nest egg, how big of a nest egg they would need, what to do with the nest egg when changing jobs and how much to withdraw on an annual basis in retirement.”

A Plan for the Self-Employed

It is essential to get a “snapshot of your financial picture ASAP,” Mr. Blandin said. For example, how much have you already saved for retirement? How much are you saving annually as a percentage of your income? Can you bump it up? How is it invested? Have you used a retirement calculator to run the numbers? Have you worked with a financial planner to help you create a blueprint?
Even people who save conscientiously, he said, are not necessarily paying close attention to the details of the financial products they purchase, investment fees, planning for health care in retirement, inflation and other factors that will affect their future.
Moreover, the 15 million self-employed workers in this country face another set of retirement challenges. For many of them, working longer is their retirement plan, according to a recent report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies in collaboration with the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement. They found that more than half of self-employed workers expected to retire either after age 65 or never.
“Saving and planning for retirement among the self-employed requires a do-it-yourself approach,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center and executive director of the Aegon Center. “Because they don’t have an employer, they typically lack access to the employer-sponsored retirement benefits that so many workers enjoy.”
“They also often encounter fluctuations in income,” she said, “which makes it that much more challenging to save on a consistent basis.”
About one-third of self-employed workers always make sure they are saving for retirement, according to the report. Less than a quarter say they save for retirement on an occasional basis, or that they have saved for retirement in the past but are not currently doing so.
For many retirees, part-time work is a pillar of their retirement strategy, along with Social Security, retirement savings plans and other savings. “The line between work and retirement has blurred,” said Maddy Dychtwald, an author and a founder of Age Wave, a think tank and consultancy. “Seven in 10 pre-retirees say they plan to work in retirement, and the fastest-growing segment of the total American work force is those 55-plus.”
Some people have always worked a variety of jobs in retirement, but for a growing number of retirees, it is now a necessity. “With my clients, I’m having retirement discussions about transitioning their lifestyle gradually,” said Lazetta Rainey Braxton, a financial planner and founder of Financial Fountains in Baltimore. “We talk about ways that their skill set allows them to be a part of the gig economy, and if they need to add any new skills to stay relevant in the work force and how to budget for that cost.”
Even for those who have saved enough to retire comfortably, working for pay in retirement can help provide a safety net and peace of mind. It helps people put off dipping into retirement accounts and may even allow some to continue contributing to their retirement savings.
The pay can also help provide a cushion to allow someone to delay tapping into Social Security until age 70, which increases annual Social Security income by nearly 8 percent compared with retiring at the full retirement age. The income can also help with medical bills not covered by Medicare.

Making It Work

For Michael L. Stark, 66, chief operating officer at American Financial Network in Calabasas, Calif., the decision to stay on the job is straightforward. He loves what he does and believes that he is still on a learning curve. He has flexibility in his hours and a short commute to work, leaving him time to spend with his three grandchildren and on leisure activities like skiing and hiking.
“I am not wealthy by any means, but my wife and I have done O.K. saving,” he said. “I could have retired a couple of years ago, but I am not mentally or physically ready to retire right now.”
The benefits of working in retirement, of course, go well beyond finances. In fact, a recent study by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch found that the top three benefits of continuing to work in retirement were mental stimulation, physical activity and social connections.
Retirement is about a lot more than just hitting financial targets. “It’s about taking a more holistic approach to our longer lives,” Ms. Dychtwald said. “Despite the challenges, retirees are generally adaptable. They are willing to make a wide array of course corrections, trade-offs and adjustments — from continuing some form of work, to downsizing or relocating their home, to renting out a spare bedroom or living with a roommate — which offer the chance to create more financial security.”
As for Ms. Moske, when she retires she plans to buy a small condo in Florida where she can go for the winter months. Thinking of her brown-bag habits, she laughed and said, “I’ll name it PB&J.”

Mystery Deepens Over Chinese Forces In Afghanistan

Mystery deepens over Chinese forces in Afghanistan Beijing confirms ‘joint counter-terrorism operations’ with Kabul Read next The Big Read Chinese private security companies go global Afghan security forces in anti-Isis operations in Kot district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan © Eyevine Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Email42 Save YESTERDAY by: Charles Clover in Beijing A mystery over recent sightings of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan deepened last week as Beijing denied its troops were in Afghanistan but confirmed it was undertaking “joint counter-terrorism operations” with Kabul. The disclosure comes as China steps up its involvement with its western neighbour amid a gradual withdrawal by US forces from the war-ravaged country. Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army, was asked about reports of Chinese troops inside Afghanistan at a defence ministry press conference on Thursday. He flatly denied any military involvement but said that “the law enforcement authorities of the two sides have conducted joint law enforcement operations in border areas to fight against terrorism”, according to an official transcript of the remarks made available Friday. “The report that the Chinese military patrolled in Afghanistan is false,” he said. An effort Friday to clarify whether there were any Chinese non-military patrols on the Afghan side of the border was met with the same response.  Col Ren was referring to a number of witness reports and photos appearing to show Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan in recent months.  Clearly in a place like Afghanistan, law enforcement and military patrols are rather blurred terms Justin Bronk, the Royal United Services Institute The first photos were published on November 3, when Wion, an Indian news website, reported the presence of Chinese military vehicles in the Wakhan corridor, a mountainous strip of land between the Pamir and Karakoram mountain ranges that extends all the way to the border with China.  In February, the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, a think-tank, published a report citing “overwhelming evidence” including statements of diplomats, as well as an unnamed Chinese official, that Chinese troops were patrolling inside Afghanistan, though the article also cited a denial by Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of internal affairs. Justin Bronk, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said a denial by Beijing that the Chinese military was involved might not rule out a military-style operation by police. “Clearly in a place like Afghanistan, law enforcement and military patrols are rather blurred terms” he said. Related article Chinese private security goes global Beijing’s protection industry looks after workers in the most dangerous places He said published photos of the alleged patrols showed two types of Chinese vehicles — the Dongfeng EQ 2050, similar to the US Humvee, and the Norinco VP 11, a mine resistant vehicle. Both are military vehicles, said Mr Bronk, but could be used in a law enforcement capacity. If an agreement on joint patrolling exists, it would not the first such arrangement of extraterritorial law enforcement that China has with a border state. Since December 2011, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have completed dozens of joint police patrols on the Mekong river, aiming to crack down on crime in the region. Those patrols follow the brutal murder of 13 Chinese sailors on a stretch of the Mekong by suspected drug smugglers in Oct 2011. The motivations for China to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan are several. Beijing fears contagion from Islamic extremism, while Chinese companies also hold key mining and hydrocarbons concessions across Afghanistan. It’s impossible to see what China is doing outside the context of the US drawdown, which forced China, reluctantly, to face up to the fact that it will have to take on greater responsibility for security in its western periphery Andrew Small, an expert on China at the German Marshall Fund “China's main focus is counter-terrorism,” said Andrew Small, an expert on China at the German Marshall Fund. He added that the Turkistan Islamic Party, a separatist organisation that China has linked to terror attacks, was believed to have its headquarters in Badakhshan, the Afghan province neighbouring China. Often accused of being a “free rider” that benefits from the security provided by US forces in Afghanistan, China has also been forced to respond to the likelihood of an eventual US withdrawal from the country. “It’s impossible to see what China is doing outside the context of the US drawdown, which forced China, reluctantly, to face up to the fact that it will have to take on greater responsibility for security in its western periphery,” said Mr Small. In 2014 former US President Barack Obama announced that US forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of his term in office, though due to the worsening security environment 8,400 have stayed on since a partial drawdown was completed in December. China tormented by torrents of cash Play video Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. 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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Killing Kim Jon Nam With Nerve Gas

Killing Kim Jong Nam With VX Nerve Agent Crossed a ‘Red Line’

EARLY LAST WEEK, in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, two women approached Kim Jong Nam—estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un—from behind. They swiped what the victim described to nearby customer service agents as a “wet cloth” across his face, and fled. Shortly after, he was dead.
Now, Malaysian authorities say they’ve identified the substance that took Jong Nam’s life: VX, a nerve agent that the United Nations classifies as a weapon of mass destruction. And while it’s not an entirely uncommon substance—or particularly difficult to produce—its apparent use marks a troubling break from international norms. And if officials manage to link it back to North Korea, it could have serious consequences.

Special VX

If you’re already familiar with VX agent, it’s likely because of seminal 90s action flick The Rock, in which a disgruntled Ed Harris brings over a dozen VX-laden warheads along with him to seize Alcatraz.
VX doesn’t work quite the way The Rock depicts it. Specifically, contact with it doesn’t cause human skin to bubble and sear. But it plays havoc with the human nervous system. Like other nerve agents, VX interferes with the signals that pass between your brain and your muscles. “If you have a nerve impulse that tells a muscle to contract, you have to turn off the impulse. Otherwise the muscle will stay contracted,” says Matthew Meselson, a geneticist at Harvard and member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation national advisory board. “The one that primarily kills is a spasm of the diaphragm, so you can’t breathe. You die of asphyxiation.”
VX can work through skin contact or respiration, and while it’s part of a broader class of nerve agents that all accomplish roughly the same effect, experts consider it to be especially dangerous, even among banned substances. “It’s heavier than other nerve agents, so it settles on an environment and can be persistent on the ground. If it was used in larger quantities, it could make an area non-usable,” says Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.
As the Kim Jong-nam incident showed, though, smaller quantities are also dangerous. “Even a tiny drop is lethal,” Inglesby says.

And while an antidote exists—atropine, which unlocks the muscles that VX causes to seize up—the nerve agent works so quickly that it’s no use unless there’s a hypodermic needle on scene.
So dangerous is the stuff, in fact, that all but a handful of countries agreed to destroy whatever stockpiles they had of VX as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. One of the handful of holdouts: North Korea.

The Red Line

In 1995, Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo cult turned the nerve agent on a small number of its members, whom leaders believed to be police informants. On a larger scale, VX was one of the chemical weapons deployed in the Iran-Iraq war. The Kim Jong Nam case, though, would be the first VX assassination on record, and the first time chemical weapons were used to that end since a ricin pellet—fired from an umbrella gun—took Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov’s life in 1978.
“That this particular chemical weapon would be used in a political assassination in a third country is very alarming. It’s a red line,” says Ingelsby. “It should be considered a new threshold that’s been crossed in terms of unconventional weapons.”
Those norms matter. After decades without any nation deploying chemical weapons, Syria used sarin and chlorine gas. If a nation-state such as North Korea uses VX once, they or other actors may well do it again.
That’s all conditional for a reason. While North Korea maintains a VX stockpile, and Kim Jong Un may well have considered his half-brother a threat to his rule, there’s no direct link between the VX airport incident and the hermit kingdom. And there may well never be, at least from the weapon of choice.

“It’s not very hard to produce, so it’s doubtful that the specific use can be chemical-traced back to North Korea,” says Sigmund Gartner, director of the Penn State School of International Affairs. Any decent organic chemist can make the stuff.
Meselson also says that it may not have been VX at all; if it was, it’s remarkable that the two women survived the attack as well.
All of which underscores how critical the next several days of investigation will be. If it turns out to be a random or untraceable act, it may at least prove to be an isolated incident. Should a direct link to North Korea exist, the world will find itself in potentially dangerous, uncharted waters.
“The political reaction should be very strong internationally, once all the facts are in,” says Ingelsby. “Responsible countries around the world should make it very clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
Unfortunately, that’s the thing about red lines. Once you cross them, there’s no going back.

A Funny Picture Of Congressman Weiner

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Challenge Of Vetting Someone From Syria

 Steve Syria reminds me of Coventry, England after the bombing raid of November, 1940. The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages was burned to the ground and all records lost. You can imagine what it was like when someone needed a birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate, etc. For decades afterwards, criminals used false birth certificates from Coventry prior to November 1940. They had to be accepted at face value. No one could get an official verification. The same situation exists in Syria today. Even with the 18-month plus vetting, there is no guarantee that the person or persons admitted are who they say they are. Yes you can finger print people, use facial recognition, do DNA tests, and check Social media and Google. But it's not a perfect system.

The Republican Replacement For Obamacare

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Dear Facebook Friend Has Cancer

Everyone a dear Facebook friend is quite ill with cancer, The prognosis is not good. It breaks my heart.
In 1966 I read a book called The Captain by Jan de Hartog. To this day it is a treasured part of my library. Every time I read the ending of the book, tears come down my eyes.
At the end of the book he is talking to his son about his experiences in World War II as the captain of an ocean-going tug boat that accompanied convoys from England to Murmansk in Russia. He talks about all of the people who he saw die. He tells his son what a big part luck plays in all of our lives.
Some of us are lucky and have good health. Good medical care can help but it is not a guarantee of a long life. I see this even with the dogs that we have had.

Fasting Diet Regenerates Diabetic Pancreas

Fasting diet 'regenerates diabetic pancreas'

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Blood sugar testImage copyrightSPL

The pancreas can be triggered to regenerate itself through a type of fasting diet, say US researchers.
Restoring the function of the organ - which helps control blood sugar levels - reversed symptoms of diabetes in animal experiments.
The study, published in the journal Cell, says the diet reboots the body.
Experts said the findings were "potentially very exciting" as they could become a new treatment for the disease.
People are advised not to try this without medical advice.
In the experiments, mice were put on a modified form of the "fasting-mimicking diet".
It is like the human form of the diet when people spend five days on a low calorie, low protein, low carbohydrate but high unsaturated-fat diet.
It resembles a vegan diet with nuts and soups, but with around 800 to 1,100 calories a day.
Then they have 25 days eating what they want - so overall it mimics periods of feast and famine.
Previous research has suggested it can slow the pace of ageing.

Diabetes therapy?

But animal experiments showed the diet regenerated a special type of cell in the pancreas called a beta cell.
These are the cells that detect sugar in the blood and release the hormone insulin if it gets too high.
Dr Valter Longo, from the University of Southern California, said: "Our conclusion is that by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back - by starving them and then feeding them again - the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning."
There were benefits in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the mouse experiments.
Type 1 is caused by the immune system destroying beta cells and type 2 is largely caused by lifestyle and the body no longer responding to insulin.
Further tests on tissue samples from people with type 1 diabetes produced similar effects.
Dr Longo said: "Medically, these findings have the potential to be very important because we've shown - at least in mouse models - that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes.
"Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we've shown that you can use diet to reprogram cells without having to make any genetic alterations."

What's it like?

Peter's blood is tested

BBC reporter Peter Bowes took part in a separate trial with Dr Valter Longo.
He said: "During each five-day fasting cycle, when I ate about a quarter of the average person's diet, I lost between 2kg and 4kg (4.4-8.8lbs).
"But before the next cycle came round, 25 days of eating normally had returned me almost to my original weight.
"But not all consequences of the diet faded so quickly."
His blood pressure was lower as was a hormone called IGF-1, which is linked to some cancers.
He said: "The very small meals I was given during the five-day fast were far from gourmet cooking, but I was glad to have something to eat"

Separate trials of the diet in people have been shown to improve blood sugar levels. The latest findings help to explain why.
However, Dr Longo said people should not rush off and crash diet.
He told the BBC: "It boils down to do not try this at home, this is so much more sophisticated than people realise."
He said people could "get into trouble" with their health if it was done without medical guidance.
Dr Emily Burns, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, said: "This is potentially very exciting news, but we need to see if the results hold true in humans before we'll know more about what it means for people with diabetes.
"People with type-1 and type-2 diabetes would benefit immensely from treatments that can repair or regenerate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas."
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