Caribbean leaders call on Obama not to destroy offshore industry

Caribbean leaders call on Obama not to destroy offshore industry At the Summit of the Americas, representatives of Caribbean countries have called on America and Britain not to threaten their financial services industry during difficult economic times.

The prime minister of Belize, and chairman of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, Dean Barrow stressed the importance of financial services to the well-being of Caribbean nations, many of which can rely on few other sources of economic growth.

Pointing out that the global financial crisis should not be blamed on Caribbean jurisdictions, the prime minister suggested it would be a mistake to destroy "a critical component of the very service area into which we were encouraged to diversify."

During last month’s G-20 meeting in London, the U.S president was joined by many Western leaders in calling for a crackdown on what they see as tax havens where wealthy citizens can hide their assets.

In a sign that the clampdown may be imminent, the Justice Department asked a federal court earlier this week to allow the IRS to obtain information about taxpayers who use offshore accounts, while Swiss banks have announced they will be scaling down their discreet banking services.

According to Forbes, Obama has said he supports the proposed Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act which would make it harder to hide assets in more than 30 countries including Belize, the Bahamas and Panama.

Western diet raises risk of colon cancer, says expert

Western diet raises risk of colon cancer, says expert According to a University of Pittsburgh researcher, the typical Western diet – rich in meat and fats and low in complex carbohydrates -increases the risk of colon cancer.

Professor Stephen O’Keefe from the University of Pittsburgh presented his conclusions to the Society for General Microbiology meeting in Harrogate, UK, on March 31.

They are based on growing evidence that the composition of the diet influences the diversity of intestinal microbes, supporting the link between diet, colonic disease and colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in adults in the West.

In particular, those whose diet is rich in complex carbohydrates have significant populations of bacteria in their gut called Firmicutes which use undigested residues to synthesize short-chain fatty acids and vitamins such as folate and biotin that maintain colonic health.

By contrast, meat digestion produces sulphur, which decreases the activity of ‘good’ bacteria and increases the production of hydrogen sulphide and other possible carcinogens.

"Our investigations to date have focused on a small number of bacterial species and have therefore revealed but the tip of the iceberg," says Professor O’Keefe, adding that the colon harbors more than 800 bacterial species and 7,000 different strains.

"The characterization of their properties and metabolism can be expected to provide the key to colonic health and disease," he adds.

The study also demonstrates how simple dietary changes may prevent a serious illness that requires medical intervention.

PEMA issues advice for flash floods

PEMA issues advice for flash floodsOn the heels of devastating floods which hit North Dakota last month, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) has issued safety recommendations to residents who live in areas prone to flash flooding.

The agency’s website offers downloadable materials, including home and car emergency kit checklists and emergency plan templates.

Stressing the importance of preparing in advance, PEMA Director Robert P. French says, "[Residents should check their] insurance policies to ensure appropriate coverage including content and flood insurance, since it normally takes 30 days for new policies to become effective."

According to French, basic survival tips include memorizing more than one evacuation route, regularly reviewing a family’s emergency plan so that everyone knows where to go when flash flooding occurs and where to reunite afterwards.

Each household should also have an emergency preparedness kit and keep it within easy reach in case of an evacuation.

It is also important to understand the difference between a flash flood warning and a flash flood watch.

The latter means flooding may occur, so residents should stay alert and watch rivers and streams.

By contrast, flood warning is issued when flooding is under way, and residents should move immediately to high ground.


Assault on offshore assets begins

Assault on offshore assets begins The Justice Department has asked a federal court to allow the IRS to obtain information about taxpayers who use offshore accounts, and Swiss banks have announced they will be scaling down their discreet banking services.

Banks such as UBS are acting in response to the crackdown on tax evasion which has intensified since the recent G-20 meeting in London.

"UBS is currently conducting a review of its policy and compliance framework for its international wealth management offering," said the bank’s spokeswoman as she announced a worldwide travel ban for wealth management client advisors.

Meanwhile, The Department of Justice has asked a federal court in Denver to approve service of a John Doe summons on First Data Corporation.

"John Doe" summonses allow the IRS to obtain information about U.S. taxpayers whose identities are not yet known to help the authorities identify merchants who use offshore accounts to evade U.S tax liabilities.

"Some U.S. taxpayers are evading billions of dollars per year in taxes through the use of offshore accounts," says John DiCicco, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

"The Department of Justice will ensure that the IRS obtains all the necessary information to identify these taxpayers, whether they are individuals or businesses," he adds.

Despite this, representatives of the so called ‘tax havens’ gathered at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad have vowed to lobby President Obama against the crackdown.


Vitamin D may be linked to chronic pain

Vitamin D may be linked to chronic painAccording to a new study, chronic pain may be associated with inadequate levels of vitamin D.

This study conducted at the Mayo Clinic found that patients who were prescribed narcotic pain medication, and who also had inadequate levels of vitamin D, required medication doses nearly twice as high as those who had adequate levels.

Moreover, it found a correlation between increasing body mass index – a measure of obesity – and decreasing levels of vitamin D.

"Vitamin D is known to promote both bone and muscle strength," says Dr. Michael Turner, lead author of the study and a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at the Mayo Clinic.

He adds that the deficiency is "an under-recognized source of diffuse pain and impaired neuromuscular functioning," and that by recognizing this fact, physicians can substantially improve their patients’ quality of life.

Recent research has also found that in addition to the benefits of strong muscles and bones, vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system, helping fight inflammation and certain types of cancer.

Report reveals many health benefits of soy foods

Report reveals many health benefits of soy foods According to the April issue of the Journal of Nutrition, soy products play an important role in promoting heart and bone health.

This conclusion is based on a comprehensive review of available medical literature which was presented at the 8th International Soy Symposium recently held in Tokyo.

It details studies which have shown soy protein reduces total and LDL cholesterol by approximately 5 percent, which is associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease from 10 to 15 percent.

"The cholesterol-lowering effects of soy protein are similar to those of soluble fiber and certainly relevant from a public health perspective," says Dr. Mark Messina, professor of nutrition at Loma Linda University and author of the report.

"Integrating a variety of heart-healthy foods – like soy, beans, nuts and certain vegetables – together into a healthy lifestyle is really the best approach to heart health," he adds.

Other research discussed at the symposium provided evidence that soy foods promote bone health.

One study, conducted in Italy, found women taking soy extract experienced an 8 to 9 percent increase in spinal and hip bone mineral density, whereas those a placebo saw their bone density decrease at those sites by an average of 10 percent.

According to the article, the bulk of research on the health impact of soy has been inspired by the low rate of hip fractures among Asians, a population known to have a high rate of soy consumption.


Officials release Bush-era memos, rule out prosecutions

Officials release Bush-era memos but rule out prosecutionsThe Department of Justice released four previously undisclosed Office of Legal Counsel opinions yesterday that were issued to the CIA in 2002 and 2005 to guide the treatment of prisoners apprehended in connection with the war on terrorism.

According to Bloomberg, the documents show that Justice Department lawyers authorized CIA to use techniques such as sleep deprivation, slapping, nudity and waterboarding.

Attorney General Eric Holder said officials who acted in good faith based on the legal advice from the Justice Department, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not be prosecuted.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a lawsuit earlier this year to obtain the memos, said in a statement that those who "gave legal blessings to acts of torture" should be prosecuted.

Amnesty International, while welcoming the release, expressed a similar opinion to that of ACLU.

In the view of executive director Larry Cox "The Department of Justice appears to be offering a get-out-of-jail-free card to individuals who … were involved in acts of torture."


Anti-gun rally marks second anniversary of Virginia Tech shooting

Anti-gun rally marks second anniversary of Virginia Tech shootingOn the second anniversary of Virginia Tech shooting yesterday, students and advocates rallied at State Capitol in Austin, Texas, to call for a ban on guns on America’s campuses.

The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and Students For Gun-Free Schools organized the rally during which they also accused gun advocates in Texas and other states of exploiting the tragedy to push for expansion of the law allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.

House Bill 1893 is expected to come up for vote in the state legislature at any time, while the senate version remains in committee.

"The gun lobby is trying to hijack higher education in Texas, and across the country, to force public universities, against their will, to permit armed students to carry hidden guns in college classrooms," said Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign.

"This is one of the most dangerous legislative agendas we have ever seen, and it needs to be stopped," he added.

The protest comes against the backdrop of a new poll which has found that the opposition to stricter gun laws is falling in America.

In 2001, some 54 percent favored stricter regulations, but the number has fallen to 39 percent today, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

On April 16, 2007, a gunman who turned out to be a student opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech killing 32 people before committing suicide.

Vitamin and minerals mix may have extended anti-cancer benefits

Vitamin and minerals mix may have extended anti-cancer benefitsA study has found that people who took a nutritional supplement called Factor D had a lower gastric cancer rate for at least 10 years after they ceased taking it.

Vitamins and minerals found in Factor D include selenium, vitamin E and beta-carotene.

Chinese scientists first drew this conclusion based on long-term follow-up data from the General Population Nutrition Intervention Trial in Linxian, China.

The trial followed 29,584 adults between the ages of 40 and 69 years who took the dietary supplement from 1986 to 1991.

After the initial results showed a significant reduction in risk of gastric cancer and overall mortality in individuals taking factor D, a 10-year follow-up study confirmed the results by estimating the continuing 5 percent reduction in overall mortality and an 11 percent reduction in gastric cancer mortality.

The follow-up study was recently reviewed by Dr Philip R. Taylor of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and reported in the March issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"The persistence of risk reduction for up to 10 years … is consistent with an emerging new paradigm in cancer [research], namely that prevention may be achievable with short-term as opposed to life-long treatment," the authors write.


Fewer Americans support gun control laws, poll says

Fewer Americans support gun control laws, poll saysGiven the recent spate of deadly shootings from coast to coast, some have found it surprising that American’s preference for stricter gun control laws has been declining.

In fact, while in 2001 some 54 percent favored stricter regulations, the number has fallen to 39 percent today, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

However, only 15 percent want gun laws that are less strict while almost half of those polled prefer to see them unchanged.

Some believe the sudden drop has to do with the new administration’s recent suggestions that stricter regulations and stronger gun laws enforcement may be in the offing.

The economy, however, may also be playing a role.

According to a recent article in Time Magazine, the nation is seeing a boom in gun sales. Quoting SportsOneSource, a research firm that tracks the sporting goods industry, it says firearms sales in large retail outlets have increased by 39 percent this year.

"The economy played a large part in my decision," Jacquita Baker, a new gun owner from Kentwood, Michigan, told Time. "When people don’t have jobs, they might go breaking into people’s homes. I want to be safe in my home."