Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

‘Vitamin B17’ and other fake Cancer Cures

Posted by butalidnl on 5 July 2017

I recently noted a link on Facebook to an article that claims that cancer is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B17. B17? The B- vitamins only reached B12. ‘Vitamin B17’ was a term made up in order to get around US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) drug regulations. ‘Vitamin B17’ or ‘Laetrile’ are just another name for Amygdalin, which is extracted from amandels, or appple and apricot fruit cores. Amygdalin is claimed to be more effective than chemotheraphy drugs; but this is because it produces cyanide, a poison which also kills cancer cells.

The article posted on Facebook claimed that cancer was caused by a lack of ‘Vtamin B17’; and that taking it will cure all kinds of cancer; and that the pharmaceutical industry has suppressed this information in order to continue earning billions of dollars in income.

While there is something to be said about how pharmaceutical companies often make scandalous incomes from overpricing their products, the Vitamin B17 lobby’s claim that big pharma has been deceiving all of us for the past 81 years is too fantastic to be true.
In 1982, the US National Cancer Institute conducted a human drug trial on ‘ Vitamin B17’ and concluded that there is “no substantive benefit … observed in terms of cure, improvement or stabilization of cancer, improvement of symptoms related to cancer, or extension of lifespan” from the use of amygdalin.

The ‘Vitamin 17’ hoax which went viral in Facebook is only one of several claimed cancer cures going around. Another claim involves the cancer-killing properties of the Guyabano fruit.

I understand the attraction of such claims. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could keep cancer at bay, or even cure it, simply by eating certain foods? Unfortunately, this is not so. We are not yet at a stage where there is an actual cure for any of the various kinds of cancer.  Maybe this is because cancer has multiple causes, which interact in various ways.
Claims of various food cures for cancer are false; at most, they may alleviate the symptoms of cancer.

All we now have are various treatments for cancer.  These treatments usually involve surgically removing the cancerous tissue, and subjecting the body to radiation, chemotheraphy or hormonal treatments to prevent the cancer from taking root elsewhere in the body. These treatments often come with rather unpleasant side-effects. Many people don’t have cancer anymore as a result of these treatments.
A true cure would be something less invasive, does minimum damage to healthy tissue, and which would work almost all the time.  This has not yet been found.

Science has not yet found a cure for diabetes, or Alzheimers, or a lot of other ailments either. But so far, ways have been found to alleviate symptoms and extend the lifespan of patients.

The lack of a cure is being exploited by many people who claim that they do have a cure.  Faith healers claim to be able to cure cancer. We also have many who claim cancer cures on the internet, and which go viral on Facebook and other social media sites. While they may be mere curiosities for most people, some people may really believe in them.
And this is the danger: people who reject medical treatments and opt for faith healers or other claimed cancer cures.  These people inevitably die from cancer.  I understand that there are people who choose other cures because they do not have the money to pay the medical expenses; but there are those who could otherwise have afforded the medical route but chose other ‘cures’ instead, and died.
The tragedy of the ‘Vitamin B17’ story is that while its advocates accuse the pharmaceutical industry of making money from cancer, they make a profit from selling ‘laetrile’ on false claims that it cures cancer.

For anybody who casually shares a Facebook link to a ‘sure cure for cancer’ , thinking that there is no harm done; there is real harm done by these posts taken together. Some people could very well choose to reject medical treatment because of them; and inadvertently choose an early death.
Stop these ‘shares’  or ‘retweets’ of fake cancer cures, they actually kill people!

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Trump and Brexit Strengthening EU

Posted by butalidnl on 1 March 2017

The international  media is constantly speculating about a possible impending break-up of the European Union (EU), due to the momentum of the Brexit and Trump populist victories. The opposite is true: Trump and Brexit are actually strengthening the EU.

Elections.
The media point to three ‘crucial’ elections in 2017 – that of the Netherlands, France and Germany – that may end up derailing the EU, because anti-EU parties are poised to gain power. Not really. In both the Netherlands and Germany, anti-EU parties could increase the number of their parliament seats, but that is all. In France,  Le Pen of the Front National (FN) may get the biggest vote in the first round of the French presidential election, where five main parties (and some minor ones) have candidates. But in the second round, with only the two top candidates left to fight it out,   Le Pen will lose, since the supporters of all the other parties will vote for whoever stands against her. This has happened once before, when Le Pen’s father (Jean Marie Le Pen) also won in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections, but got trounced in the second round.
There is very little chance that any country will opt to leave the EU, other than the UK.

Brexit
The people in EU countries are well aware of the economic and political mess Brexit is bringing to the UK. Even before the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which will formally start the process of leaving the EU); the negative economic effects of Brexit have started to take effect: the British Pound devaluated by more than 10%, foreign companies are preparing to move their Europe headquarter offices out of London,  inflation is rising, etc. To add to the UK’s woes, Scotland will most likely leave it and join the EU.  Far from being an inspiration for other countries to also leave the EU, Brexit is showing everyone the horrors of leaving the EU. Recent opinion polls in the EU show a rise of pro-EU sentiment because of Brexit.

Brexit is the logical end result of years of UK government policies.  Various British Prime Ministers, with David Cameron as the last, had regularly threatened to take the UK out of the EU if its demands were not met. Just before the Brexit vote, the EU gave in to most of the UK’s demands for a special deal, including with regards to EU citizens working in the UK. Before that, the UK had succeeded in opting out of the Euro single currency and the Schengen Agreement (for free travel within most of the EU, plus Norway and Switzerland), and other EU-wide arrangements. The UK had long had one foot outside the EU;  Brexit is the natural continuation of this trend.
The UK was alone in this unique position; other EU countries, with both feet in EU, are not likely to follow the UK’s lead.

Trump
Ironically, the presidency of Donald Trump is having the effect of strengthening the EU. Trump’s open disdain for the EU, and his wish that it breaks apart, has mobilized latent anti-American feelings among many EU citizens which have been channeled into pro-EU sentiments.

Trump is widely perceived as being supportive of Europe’s far-right parties. These parties, e.g. France’s FN, have thrived on their anti-immigrant platform. Now, the Trump victory has pushed them to take a more pronounced anti-EU position. As a result, these parties have backed themselves into a corner. Being anti-EU is effectively being pro-Trump; and since Trump is unpopular in Europe, the far right parties are losing support.

Another thing about the Trump victory in the US is that it shows how wrong elections could go, and that it does matter that people vote. When before, many people (especially young people) would not vote, because “the result will be the same anyway”; now they know how bad a bad result could be. Not voting could result in a Trump or Brexit-like victory. Because of Trump and Brexit, younger voters are now more likely to vote in future elections; and most of them tend to be pro-EU.

While the EU faces all kinds of problems today e.g. the Greek debt crisis or the floodof migrants from Africa and elsewhere, these are far from existential. The EU will overcome them, just as it has done for the last 58 years.

 

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After a Trump Defeat

Posted by butalidnl on 3 November 2016

The US elections are still some days away; and any side can still win. However, the odds that Hillary Clinton will win the elections are quite good. Trump will lose. Let us take a look at how the how the loss will be for Trump.

Accepting the Results
Inspite of all the furor about whether or not Trump will accept the results of the elections, I believe that he will accept the results of the elections as soon as they are declared. Cinton’s victory will be by a large enough margin that there could be no objection to the result. Trump will probably avoid saying that the elections were rigged, because this may cause violence, and he will be blamed for it. He will resort to blaming his loss on the media and to Republican ‘traitors’.
Incidents of angry Trump supporters being violent will be isolated and short-lived.

Things will have Changed
Trump will not be able to go back to the way things were before his presidential bid.
The accusations of sexual assault by a number of women will keep him busy for a long while. He will probably not sue them, because it would be difficult for him to prove them wrong, and things will turn out worse for him if he sued and lost. After the elections, I expect more women to step up and accuse him of misbehavior.

The campaign has broken the aura of invincibility and impunity around Trump. Media is no longer scared of exposing him in various ways, and people are now more open to revealing his bad business practices (e.g. the case of Trump University).

His businesses will suffer from his presidential bid. His brand is now ‘damaged goods’ for a very big part of the population. Many of his former customers will no longer consider it classy to go to a Trump resort or to buy Trump branded products. His current supporters are not the kind of people who patronized his luxurious brand.
The Trump brand has suffered immensely in Latin America and the Muslim world.

Trump’s unethical business practices will be subject to increased media scrutiny. As a result, Trump will have to stop his practice of employing illegal immigrants, using dubious tax avoidance strategies, etc.. This will significantly increase his cost of doing business. If the Democrats win the House of Representatives, the loopholes that Trump used to avoid paying income tax will be closed.

Trump’s political clout (i.e. his ability to influence politicians) will not be the same as before. Previously, he would contribute to a wide range of politicians, and then collect favors as he needed. Now, only those who are politically aligned to him will ask for his support and potentially do him favors.

Trump TV
What Trump has gained is his popularity among a segment of working-class whites. Many of them will continue to be devoted fans after the elections. There are indications that Trump is preparing to launch Trump TV, which will cater to his new-found base of support. If he did so, it will have to position itself to the right of Fox News.
I believe that the space to the right of Fox News is too small. What will the difference be between Fox News and Trump TV in programing, in news content? If Trump’s outlandish statements would be the main difference, they will not be enough to sustain its audience for long.
It would make good business sense for him not to launch ‘Trump TV’, since it is poised to be a big failure.

Chaos Among Republicans
The elections will probably result in a Democrat majority in the Senate, and a reduced Republican majority in the House of Representtives.  This means that Clinton will be able to appoint progressive Supreme Court judges; but will have to court moderate Republicans to get her legislative proposals through the House of Representatives. She would need only a few Republican congressmen to break any boycott by the Tea Party and Trump’s hard=line followers in Congress. In the previous Congress, the Republicans had boycotted everything that President Obama proposed.

Republicans who supported Trump will blame those who didn’t for the defeat. This internal struggle will push the more moderate Republicans to cooperate more with the Democrats in passing legislation.

The Republicans  will have to reevaluate their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and gay marriage. If they continue to oppose these, they stand to lose even more ground in subsequent elections.

Trump will retain his wealth after the elections are over; but he will lose a lot of prestige, and have a lower capacity to make money. He will continue to make political statements that may cause some commotion from time to time.

It is even likely that Trump will make another try for the presidency in 2020, especially if Clinton runs for reelection. If he does, the Republicans will be able to stop him early in the primaries.

 

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UK Options in Brexit Negotiations

Posted by butalidnl on 13 August 2016

In the 23 June 2016 referendum, the people of the United Kingdom (UK) voted for their country to leave the European Union (EU). The UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May has affirmed her government’s commitment to implement the people’s will. ‘Brexit is Brexit’ she said. She still has not officially started the process of the UK leaving the EU, however. This will only happen when she would formally inform the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave. This will activate Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty; which provides for two years of talks to arrange the separation.

Before activating Article 50, PM May wants the UK to first determine exactly what it means by ‘Brexit’. What exactly will it bargain for? Her government is expected to come up with an answer before the end of the year, so that the UK could start the process of leaving the EU.
The UK generally has a choice between two main options.

The general positions of both sides are known. The UK wants to retain (most of its) access to the EU Single Market while getting the right to regulate EU migration to the UK. The EU has said that access to the Single Market is a package deal (i.e. there can be no Single Market a la Carte), and thus there can be no exception made for the free movement of labor.
At first glance, one may  think that these are mere starting positions for negotiations, and that some kind of compromise somewhere in between should be possible.  But the EU has a much stronger position than the UK’s, so it is much more likely that the UK will have to work within the framework set by the EU, not the other way around.

Lesson from the Greek Crisis
During the recent Greek crisis, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras assumed that the Eurogroup (the group of countries which have the Euro as their common currency) ,and the EU as a whole, could not afford to let Greece leave the Eurozone. This was based on his assumption that a Greek exit of the Eurozone (or a ‘Grexit’) will unleash a chain reaction that will put the whole Eurozone in crisis. The Greeks thus delayed agreement on a rescue package until the absolute last minute, in the belief that the EU will end up giving them the money they needed without extracting reform and austerity concessions from them.

During marathon talks on 12 – 13 July 2015, PM Tsipras. was shocked to realize that a Grexit was not that much of a worry to the EU. In fact, there were a number of countries (especially Malta and Slovakia) who wanted to throw Greece out of the Eurozone; and that other countries were open to the idea. Bailing out Greece was becoming too much of a burden for them. Also, public opinion throughout the Eurozone had turned against the Greeks, with a growing majority of people actually preferring Grexit.

Tsipras realized then that accepting the Eurogroup proposal was not the worst possible scenario. Getting expelled from the Eurogroup (and maybe the EU), and economic chaos, were much worse. Thus, he ended up  accepting most of the Eurogroup’s package.

The mistake the Greeks made was to assume that they had a stronger negotiating position than the EU; and that the EU would act as they wanted. Many of the UK’s ‘Leave’ campaigners make a similar mistake.

UK Position is Weak
The ‘Leave’ campaigners said that the UK has the stronger position when it comes to trade talks because it is a big trading partner of the EU. They even said that the EU needs a good deal more than the UK does.

They correctly point out tha the EU exports more to the UK than it imports from it (44% of UK exports are to the EU, while 53% .of its imports are from the EU). What they don’t fully realize is that the EU economy is about 9 times bigger than the UK’s; and that from the EU’s point of view, trade with the UK is only a small part of its overall trade (exports to the UK make up 6% to 7% of EU exports, and only 4% to 5% of its imports). If trade talks were to fail, it would be catastrophic for the UK, but merely an inconvenience for the EU.

The negotiations will  be done by 27 different EU countries, and this further weakens the UK’s position. All countries will have issues with certain parts of the deal, which all need to be addressed. Then, the fact that 11% of all UK imports is from Germany (bigger that its imports from the US, and a full fifth of its total imports from the EU), actually makes things worse for the UK; since it is only Germany which would be a bit worried if the UK bought less its products – only one country out of 27.

Once negotiations start, the parties have two years to come to an agreement. If there is no deal, the EU will just treat the UK like any other country.. This will be quite bad for the UK economy. So, it will be the UK that will be under pressure to make an agreement within two years.

Single Market Access
UK politicians keep talking about negotiating for ‘access to the Single Market’, That seems to be clear enough; but actually, it is not. There is a difference between being part of the Single Market and simply having access to it.  In principle, all countries in the world have access to the EU Single Market – in the sense that they can all trade with the EU, invest in companies within the EU, and have their citizens travel to the EU. Being part of the Single Market, however, entails a deeper involvement in it. It gives the EU countries advantages that non-members do not enjoy. These include the following:
1. Goods that cross internal EU borders will not be subject to tariffs, nor to administrative, technical or other non-tariff barriers. In effect, they will be treated in the same way as locally produced goods  .
2. Their companies could operate all throughout the EU, and be treated the same as local companies.
3. Their companies could hire personnel from all over the EU.
4. The EU negotiates trade agreements with other countries on behalf of all its members.
5. Their companies could bid for government contracts in all EU countries. Big companies, big non-profits and government institutions are required to be open to bids from  companies all over the EU.
6. Licenses to operate that are granted in any member country are valid all over the EU.
7. Diplomas and school credits from any member country are valid throughout the EU.
8. All EU citizens are able to participate in, and benefit from, social security, health and other programs that are open to host country citizens. EU students pay the same school fees as local students.

As part of the Single Market, the UK has become a base for many foreign companies that serve the EU market. This has made London a financial center and a center for internet technology. The UK is the manufacturing base for many foreign auto makers. UK-based service companies have a significant part of the EU market. The UK people and companies have benefitted greatly from being part of the EU Single Market.
This is why the UK wants to retain many of the advantages from being in the Single Market, while taking control of migration into the UK.

The Single Market, however, is an integral whole. It will be extremely difficult for the EU to agree to the UK’s desire to leave out the free movement of labor.  The poorer countries of the EU will not agree to this, especially since they don’t gain much from trade with the UK anyway.

A basic aspect of the Single Market is the body of laws that govern it. UK voters were told that Brexit meant that they would not follow EU laws anymore. But it is impossible to be part of the Single Market without following the laws that govern it.

Another important aspect of the Single Market is the financial contribution to maintaining it. EU countries will not agree to give the UK a free ride. If we take what Norway pays (which participates in the Single Market, but is not an EU member) as an indication, the UK would pay about 6 billion euros a year as administration cost for being part of the  Single Market. This is less than the present net UK contribution to the EUof 14 billion euros a year, but it is still something that many Brexit voters will not like.

If the UK wants to be part of the Single Market, it must:
– accept all the laws that govern the Single Market (including the free movement of labor);
– contribute financially to administering the Single Market.
These conditions would likely be politically unacceptable in the UK; so, it will not be possible for the country to remain within the Single Market. This leaves the UK with two main options.

Free Trade Plus
The more likely option is for the UK to negotiate a ‘Free Trade Agreement Plus’.

A Free Trade Agreement (one which provides for tariff-free trade) between the EU and the UK would be ‘relatively easy’ to make. The problem would be in the details (of course). One such detail would be fishing: if UK fishermen are no longer constrained by EU fishing quotas, other countries may push for a maximum import quota for UK fish, or for the exclusion of UK fishermen from EU waters. There are many such details that need to be hammered out.

The EU and UK could also agree on a transition period during which people and companies who currently enjoy Single Market privileges would continue to avail of them. For example, UK residents already in EU countries could continue to be covered by domestic health care and other social security programs during the transition period. EU citizens in the UK would enjoy similar benefits.

There could be additional agreements made on specific matters, such as:
1. Cross recognition of diplomas and school credits.
2. The free movement of labor for specific sectors (e.g. Internet Technology).
3. Agreements on specific product categories (e.g. for wines and spirits).

European Economic Area
Another option for the UK would be for it to immediately leave the EU with a transition period during which it will remain within the Single Market. This will mean that during this period UK laws will have to continue to be in harmony with the EU’s laws, and that the UK will contribute around 6 billion euros a year to the Single Market administration costs.
This arrangement will be similar to what Norway has with the EU; Norway is a member of the European Economic Area.

This arrangement will give the UK time to negotiate a longer-term deal with the EU, and to have trade talks with other countries. An added advantage of this option is that Scotland will not leave the UK, for as long as the UK stays within the Single Market.

The problem with this is that the Brexit advocates will complain that the UK is effectively not leaving the EU, since immigration will continue as before, and the UK can’t make its own laws on a host of economic issues.

The choice is PM May’s. Will she choose  to immediately negotiate for a Free Trade Agreement Plus; or will she choose the more careful route of temporary EEA status?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 2-year Transition to Brexit

Posted by butalidnl on 29 June 2016

On 23 June, the people of the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU).  The UK and the EU will have two years to negotiate the terms of the separation. (The 2-year period will start when the UK officially informs the EU of its intention to leave; this may be sometime in September) During this period, the British will already feel some negative effects of Brexit (British Exit from the EU).
During the 2-year negotiating period, the UK will remain a full member of the EU, with all the privileges and responsibilities this entails.

The coming two years will not be uneventful, however.

Devaluation. In response to the Brexit vote, the British Pound fell from a rate of 1.50 to the dollar, to a low of 1.33 on 24 June. It may still go down a bit farther. Devaluation is supposed to decrease imports (as they become more expensive) and increase exports (as they become cheaper); but this effect takes 9 months to happen. Inflation is sticky upwards (i.e. prices tend to rise fast but fall very slowly if at all), so devaluation would mean that inflation will increase as a result of devaluation.

Immigration. The Brexit vote will probably have the effect of increasing, rather than decreasing immigration – at least during the 2-year period. EU nationals seeking to work and live in the UK may rush in before the UK actually leaves the EU. British pensioners would delay deciding whether to move to Spain and elsewhere in the EU until the rules for this (e.g. for health care insurance, residency permits, etc.) are clear.

Short Term Grants Only.  EU funding for research, study, small business support, urban renewal , and other projects will need to finish before the cut-off date. As a result, fewer and fewer projects will be supported as the deadline comes closer.

Freeze on Foreign Investments. While the new agreement between the UK and EU is being negotiated, foreign companies would be extremely hesitant to invest in the UK. Foreign Direct Investment will dry up.

Transfer of Operations. Businesses will start the process of transferring some of their operations to EU countries as early as during the negotiation period. For those whose EU headquarters are in London, these offices will be downsized into UK offices. For foreign companies which had set up manufacturing plants in the UK to access the EU market, they will simply set up new plants elsewhere in the EU and downsize their UK operations gradually.

Separation. Scotland will most probably hold a referendum on leaving the UK, so that it can remain in the EU. During the Brexit vote, 62% of Scots voted to Remain, and Remain won in all of its counties. The Scots are mad at England for dragging them out of the EU.
Northern Ireland, which also voted for Remain,  is considering the option of leaving the UK and joining the Republic of Ireland. This will be more difficult for them than for Scotland because the Ulster Unionists are vehemently against leaving the UK. However, if Northern Ireland is allowed to hold a referendum on whether it wants to leave the UK, a majority will vote to do so.
If Scotland (and maybe Northern Ireland) leave the UK, this will have negative economic and political effects on the rest of the UK.

Economic Uncertainty. Nobody knows what kind of deal the UK will finally forge with the EU, or what kinds of political changes will take place. This means that the British economy will be saddled by uncertainty for the next two years at least. This is bad  for the economy. Credit rating agencies have lowered the UK’s rating; making it more expensive for the UK government to borrow money.

And finally, there is Regrexit – Regret at the British Exit from the EU. The online petition calling for a second referendum will not get more than a debate in Parliament; it will not delay or overturn the referendum results.
The growing movement against Brexit will  influence the negotiations between the UK and the EU, by pushing to keep the UK inside the Single Market (including immigration of EU nationals). There could be quite heated public debate on this during the negotiations.

All the above are a list of bad things that will happen before the UK leaves the EU. When the UK finally leaves the EU,  things will get even worse.

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