Books, Health, Medical, Science

New studies reveal why running won’t damage your knees

RUNNING SCIENCE

YOUR excuse for not wishing to run or jog may have just been debunked.

Experts say running is not actually bad for the knees – a view held by many who love to pound the pavements.

Studies show there is no link between running and osteoarthritis, and the exercise may even strengthen cartilage.

A new book entitled Running Science says, “couch potatoes” have around a 45 per cent greater risk of osteoarthritis compared to those who run.

It states that runners place eight times their body weight on to each leg with every step.

Although that is three times as much as when walking, we take wider strides when running, so there is reduced contact time with the ground.

This means the pressure on the knees is broadly similar.

The book’s consultant editor, Professor John Brewer, of St Mary’s University in London, said runners should increase intensity of the exercise gradually, wear the right shoes and run on different terrains.

He said: “The human body is designed to run… although the knees will be under stress when running, the body will adapt to this stress and develop cartilage, muscles, tendons and ligaments that are stronger as a result of running – protecting the knee rather than damaging it.”

Osteoarthritis of the Knee.

Running Science, published last week, says that damage to joints is a “common excuse” for not running.

However, a chapter written by independent physiotherapist Anna Barnsley states: “The good news is that the converse appears to be true.”

She cites studies showing that although runners develop bony growths in their knees, there is no evidence of narrowing of the joint space, which would indicate degeneration.

The agony of osteoarthritis is caused when cartilage is no longer there to cushion the joints from the impact of walking or other exercise.

However, the book states that regular running probably increases the amount of this natural protection.

That could be because exercise helps people lose fat, which can damage cartilage.

Running also prompts blood flow and cell regeneration in the knees.

The advice follows a study by Baylor College of Medicine in the United States, which analysed knee X-rays of 2,683 participants.

The study found that 22.8 per cent of those who had been runners had signs of knee osteoarthritis, compared to 29.8 per cent of non-runners.

Running Science also noted that runners may have a genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis – meaning exercise is not necessarily to blame.

Running Science

Running Science is published by Ivy Press for £20.

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Britain, Government, Society, Technology

DVLA confirms development of electronic driving licence

DIGITAL DRIVING LICENCE

phone-driving-licence

                                                 Digital driving licences will soon become a feature on smart phones.

Mobile phones and driving make an awkward combination – it is illegal to use a phone while driving – but, the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) is planning to bring the two closer together with the introduction of digital driving licences.

It’s thought digital licences would be stored in phones’ virtual ‘wallets’, just as credit and debit cards can already be saved. When asked to present their driving licence by a police officer or official, a quick finger or thumbprint would release the licence to the phone’s display.

Oliver Morley, the DVLA’s CEO, said the organisation was making “good progress” with the prototype digital licence back in December 2016, while in March 2017 he confirmed the idea was “included in the government digital strategy.” When asked on social media whether there was a timeframe for the introduction of digital licences, Mr Morley said there was, but he wouldn’t be drawn on precisely when this would be.

Security will be a key priority for the digital licence, but given the development and success Apple and Android Pay have enjoyed, it’s thought some of the DVLA’s work has already been done for it. A service analyst and mobile device expert for Auto Express, said: “Security has taken a significant step forward to support digital payments on phones, so the framework is in place for other secure applications, such as a digital driving licence.”

Even with established and rigorous security paradigms in place, however, there will still be people who don’t like the idea of storing their driving licence on their phone, as well as those who don’t even own a smartphone capable of doing so. For those individuals, reassurance will be found in the fact that when it arrives, the digital driving licence will act as an “add-on.”

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Britain, Government, Politics, Society

The Conservative Party manifesto leaves us little wiser

GENERAL ELECTION 2017

During this election, Theresa May has conducted such an anodyne campaign that there was an earlier suspicion that she may have felt she could get away with not presenting a manifesto. After all, did she really need too? Riding high in all opinion polls, and with the Labour Party in no proper or fit state to present a genuine challenge, she has been able to glide through on soundbites and rhetoric. Why risk inviting trouble?

In the last few days, that manifesto was delivered. There is little in its pages that really rocks the boat. There is little about Brexit, other than a few broad details we are already aware of. Considering that this snap election was called purely because Mrs May wanted Brexit negotiations to be done her way, the lack of clarity is disappointing if unsurprising.

Whilst not entirely risk-free from voter desertion, the elderly will have good reason to feel hard done by. The triple lock on pensions will no longer be guaranteed, and worryingly for those in England and Wales, a greater proportion of the cost of social care is being passed on to individuals. Many will fear the loss of their home and other capital assets in paying for it.

Aside from that, Mrs May has pledged a ‘mainstream government that would deliver for mainstream Britain’, a slogan which appears accurate for a set of proposals which aren’t too far off centre. It is here where she is likely to succeed in securing victory on June 8, by deliberately moving into the area Labour had to occupy to get Tony Blair into Downing Street (just as Labour under Jeremy Corbyn vacate the middle ground to set up camp on the far left).

The stance taken by the prime minister represents astute politics, and much the same can be said of her handling of the Scottish Government’s request for a second independence referendum. Again, Mrs May plays the ‘now is not the time card’ which kicks another ballot anytime soon into the long grass. No doubt she will try to avoid the matter until after the next Holyrood elections – in the hope that, by that time, the SNP will not be in a position to call a referendum. It’s hard and timely politics at work.

If Mrs May’s advisers can keep her out of trouble, the manifesto should be enough to secure the majority she seeks. By aiming for the middle ground, she has started a process of countering the Tories ‘nasty party’ image. Yet, this manifesto tells us very little about what life will be like under Mrs May, because our future will be determined by Brexit. Until we know what that is, we cannot really judge on whether the Conservative Party has changed for the good.

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Britain, Legal, Media, Society

Libel threat to the Press is facing axe

PRESS REGULATION

The Conservatives have said they will scrap a draconian law on the Press that would have forced newspapers to pay all legal costs in a libel case even if they won.

The party’s manifesto, released earlier this week, pledged to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and spare papers from “crippling” costs. The party has also said it would axe the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into Press Culture, practices and ethics.

This was expected to investigate law-breaking and improper conduct by media organisations, following the first stage into phone hacking and whether police were complicit in misconduct.

Also, websites that benefit from newspaper content could be pressured to share advertising profits.

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Britain, Economic, European Court, European Union, Government, Legal

Free-trade deal possible post-Brexit following landmark EU court ruling

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

ECJ

The court ruled that Brussels has trade negotiating competence over all goods and services.

Britain’s ambition to sign a quick Free Trade Agreement with the European Union after Brexit has received a significant boost after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice handed expanded trade negotiation powers to Brussels.

The much-anticipated decision from the court in Luxembourg surprised experts by ruling that on key areas – including financial services and transport – the European Union does not need to seek ratification of a trade deal by the EU’s 38 national and local parliaments.

Trade experts said the ECJ ruling could substantially reduce the risk of any future EU-UK free trade agreement getting bogged down in the EU national parliaments, opening the way for an FTA to be agreed by a qualified majority vote of EU member states.

“The Court of justice says all services – even transport – can be ratified by a qualified majority vote, which is potentially quite a big opening for the UK,” said Steve Peers, professor of EU law at Essex University. “It could certainly make things easier.”

In the ruling, the ECJ was asked to decide whether the new-generation bilateral EU-Singapore trade deal should be treated as a so-called ‘mixed’ agreement – that requires ratification by national parliaments – or could be agreed by a qualified majority vote of member states.

The court ruled that the EU did not have exclusive competence to conclude the Singapore deal, but said that only in two narrow areas – namely non-direct foreign investment and the investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms – did it need to seek ratification by national parliaments.

By contrast, the court said the EU did have competence to conclude agreements without ratification across the great majority of the Singapore agreement – contradicting parts of a previous opinion by the court’s advocate-general.

The court ruled that Brussels has trade negotiating competence over all goods and services.

FTA2jpg

Definition, meaning and purpose of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Areas covered by EU competence include all goods and services, “including all transport services”, as well as intellectual property rights, competition policy, labour and environmental standards and the rules relating to exchange of information.

Legal and trade experts said the ruling had potentially massive implication for Brexit if the UK formulated its own FTA to avoid investment provisions and investor-state dispute mechanisms, relying on alternative arrangements such as bilateral investment treaties and WTO panels.

“This is the most significant ECJ case on EU trade policy for twenty years and has huge ramifications for any UK-EU FTA,” said Nicole Kar, head of international trade at Linklaters, the law firm.

“In policy terms, now the UK government will want to consider whether it moderates its ambition for the UK-EU FTA to those matters where there is exclusive competence in order to secure agreement through EU Member State governments by qualified majority voting.”

If Britain took a more expansive approach, Ms Kar warned, it risked any FTA getting mired in member state politics as happened last year when the regional Walloonian parliament of Belgium held the EU-Canada trade deal to ransom.

This problem arises because some EU member states, like Belgium, have domestic law that requires local parliaments to sign off on trade deals before they can be ratified by at a national level.

Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said the court ruling was to be welcomed and would make it easier for the EU to conclude deals “without fear of as many hold-ups from national and sub-national legislatures”.

“How this affects Brexit negotiations will depend on whether the final trade agreement includes investment provisions or not, although neither the UK or EU has expressed much interest in this to date,” she added.

“It’s important to remember that any eventual UK-EU trade agreement would not be about opening up each other’s markets in controversial areas, but trying to limit the amount of disruption to trade, and so it is unlikely to encounter the same resistance from other EU countries once concluded by the Commission.”

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Iraq, Middle East, Syria, Turkey

A Briefing on The Complexities of the Kurdish Landscape in the Middle East

ETHNIC KURDS

Kurds2

The Kurdish Peshmerga, many of them veterans, are spearheading the defence against IS militants in Iraq.

Conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Turkey have unleashed a tangle of political and military organisations among the Kurds. This is an article concerning who’s who in a struggle that is shaping the Middle East.

Up to 35 million ethnic Kurds are spread across Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran and are at the forefront of multiple conflicts reshaping the Middle East. In Syria and Iraq, US-backed Kurdish forces are leading the fight against the so-called “Islamic State” (IS).

However, “the Kurds” are riven by intra-Kurdish rivalries both within their respective states and across greater Kurdistan. As the United States backs Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, it has found itself in the middle of these rivalries and at odds with NATO ally Turkey.

The main intra-Kurdish fault line is between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – and its affiliates – and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG).

A divided Kurdish quasi-state

The KRG has many characteristics of a state – an executive, legislature, judiciary and security forces – all recognised under the Iraqi constitution’s federalist structure. The United States, as well as European states including Germany, provide assistance to their long-time Iraqi Kurdish allies.

However, the Iraqi Kurdish army, known as peshmerga, or “those who face death,” are not united under the same command even though they cooperate. Barzani’s KDP and its main political rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), each have separate peshmerga forces.

The PUK is closer to the PKK, the Iraqi central government and Iran. These rivalries play out in Syria and with Turkey, which is close to Barzani and his KDP.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces

In Syria, the United States backs the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with weapons, airstrikes and about 900 Special Forces. Considered the best fighters against IS, the SDF is a roughly 50,000 strong force composed of Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian militia. It was formed in 2015 with US encouragement and in part to address Turkey’s concerns over the dominance of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG and the all-female Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) are the armed wings of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a left-leaning Kurdish political party in Syria. Together they make up about half of the SDF.

Kurdistan Communities Union

The PYD, in turn, is a part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), a pan-national umbrella political group established in 2005 by Kurdish parties. Alongside the PYD, the KCK comprises the PKK, the Iranian branch Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) and the much smaller Iraqi affiliate, Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (PCDK).

The KCK and its subset political parties are composed of various political, social and military subunits. They subscribe to the ideology of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since his capture in 1999.

Though Ocalan continues to be the PKK’s nominal head, the de-facto leader of KCK is its co-chair, Cemil Bayik, one of the five founders of the PKK and a top leader of the group.

The PKK has carried out a nearly four-decade long armed struggle against the Turkish state resulting in the death of about 40,000 people. Turkey, the United States and European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organisation.

Turkey considers the YPG/PYD, as well as the SDF terrorist organisations for their ties to the PKK. This view stems in part from the fact that from the 1980s to late 1990s, the PKK and Ocalan operated out of Syria and Lebanon with the support of former Syrian President Hafiz Assad.

Syria kicked out the PKK in 1998 after Turkey threatened to invade, but then essentially handed over parts of northern Syria to the PYD shortly after the onset of the Syria civil war in 2011.

PKK under a different name?

The PKK and PYD deny that they have organic organisational ties. The PKK and PYD say they have a different substructure, command and ultimately different goals in their respective countries, Turkey and Syria, given the different political situation in each with regards to the Kurds.

Unlike the PKK, which primarily fights the Turkish state, the PYD/YPG is focused on fighting IS and on occasion Turkish-backed Syria rebel groups. The PYD/YPG has not sided with Assad, with whom they have a tacit understanding. It also has not aligned with either Islamist rebel factions or Turkish-backed opposition, saying it has no designs on Turkey and wants to avoid conflict.

But the YPG counts hundreds of Turkish Kurds within its ranks, including PKK fighters who transferred to the fight in Syria. The PKK has traditionally drawn about a third of its fighters from Syria, raising further questions over its links to the YPG.

Meanwhile, the United States has said it sees enough difference between the PYD and terrorist-categorised PKK to back the YPG and SDF units fighting in Syria. And, as that relationship has grown over the past two plus years, the PYD/YPG has sought to publicly distance itself from the PKK.

What binds the PKK and PYD, they say, is an adherence to Ocalan’s Marxist-Leninist ideology and a shared desire to beat back jihadist forces. Ocalanism incorporates women’s rights, human rights, environmentalism, communalism and ”democratic autonomy,” a grassroots form of federal governance viewed by its followers as a model for democracy in Middle East.

This political model contrasts with that in Iraqi Kurdistan led by Barzani. There, the system is based on family and tribal ties, crony capitalism and patron-client relationships.

Facts on the ground

Off the battlefield, the PYD has set up an autonomous political structure based on Ocalan’s ideas in areas under its control in northern Syria, known as Rojava. By creating facts on the ground, the PYD hopes to bolster Kurdish political claims in any future settlement in Syria.

Turkey fears Syrian Kurdish gains will embolden its own Kurdish population and create a PKK statelet on its southern border. This has created strains in Ankara’s relations with Washington, including setting up the prospect that Turkey could clash directly with the United States in one of the many attacks it has carried out against the YPG.

A sustained conflict between the SDF/YPG and Turkey would undermine a key US goal, namely defeating IS and rooting it out of its self-declared capital Raqqa.

The PYD’s detractors, including other smaller Syrian Kurdish parties, accuse it of monopolising power and repressing dissent. They also accuse it of allying with the Assad regime.

As a result, Barzani’s KDP has supported other Syrian Kurdish factions and, similar to Turkey, implemented a border embargo over PYD controlled areas, fuelling intra-Kurdish tensions.

The next conflict

Adding to those tensions, the PKK has created armed units among the ethno-religious Yezidi population in Iraq in their heartland around Sinjar to defend against IS. These Yezidi units pose a direct challenge to Barzani, whom many Yezidis accuse of abandoning them to genocide when IS swept through in 2014.

For the PKK, Sinjar is strategic geography. With the retreat of IS, Sinjar will provide the PKK with a potential land corridor and transportation hub linking Syria to the Kurdish group’s headquarters in Qandil. This route would cut south of KDP controlled areas, through Iraqi government territory and onto friendlier PUK dominant territory in the eastern part of the KRG.

Turkey seeks to prevent the PKK from establishing a second headquarters based in Sinjar. To this end, it bombed Sinjar last month and has threatened a military operation to root out the PKK from the area.

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Government, Legal, Politics, Society, United States

What Is Obstruction of Justice?

UNITED STATES

Ever since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last week the term “obstruction of justice” has been swirling inside Washington D.C. and across cable television. The rhetoric has somewhat intensified after the New York Times cited a memo from Mr Comey claiming that the president had asked him to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn following his resignation.

Using social media networking site Twitter, Senator Chris Murphy has asked about the exact definition of “obstruction of justice” and highlights the frenzy between Democrats and Republicans over its meaning. Mr Murphy tweeted with a link to the Times report.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tweeted: “Yesterday, secrets to the Russians. Today, obstruction of justice? When does this end?”

But what exactly is Obstruction of Justice and how does it relate to the headlines that have been coming out of the Beltway?

Obstruction of Justice is essentially someone who intentionally intervenes or tampers with an ongoing investigation.

Obstruction of Justice

The Times wrote that the memo is “the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.”

“You can’t get in the way or do anything to impede an investigation that has already been launched and if you do you may suffer criminal penalties,” said William C. Banks, a law professor and Director of the Institute for National Security and Counter-Terrorism at Syracuse University.

The federal code has 21 statutes outlining the different methods of obstruction of justice, including the use of murder or physical force to disrupt a testimony influencing a juror, and falsifying records. But one of the statutes, 18 U.S. Code § 1512 also includes a general provision, explaining that someone who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

But the key to proving obstruction of justice, explains Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford, is that the intervention has to be propelled by corrupt motives.

“If it’s a threat, that makes it a crime. If it’s not a threat – but a request – it could still be a crime if the threat is motivated by a corrupt purpose,” Weisberg said.

The punishment varies, and usually depends on what the person was convicted for, but the maximum is 20 years of imprisonment if fined under the federal statute of 18 U.S. Code § 1512. In 1974, articles of impeachment drafted against Richard Nixon accused him of obstructing justice after he refused to hand over his tape recordings to the FBI. Nixon resigned, but faced no charges because Gerald Ford pardoned him.

In 2007, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, was convicted of Obstruction of Justice – in addition to lying to a grand jury and FBI agents – regarding the federal investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame and received a 30-month prison sentence before President George W. Bush pardoned him that June.

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