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Daily Archives: February 15, 2022

Charts: U.S. Producer Price MoM Rose in January 2022

Source : Bloomberg

Does Kindness Equal Happiness and Health?

Catherine S. Williams wrote . . . . . . . . .

Could kindness be a magic elixir that makes us happier – and healthier?

Research suggests acts of kindness like donating money, volunteering and mentoring can boost the giver’s emotional health, but science also is studying how altruism improves physical health.

Acts of kindness can take many forms, especially amid Random Acts of Kindness Week from Feb. 13-19. It can be as simple as holding a door for someone, to a commitment like donating blood or starting a fundraiser. (The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has many ideas to get you going.)

The main takeaway is they promote social connection, said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside. That’s especially important during the pandemic as people have become more isolated.

“They can strengthen relationships, help you make new friends, give you a more positive, optimistic outlook and enable you to feel good about yourself,” said Lyubomirsky.

Even just recalling acts of kindness could promote well-being. Lyubomirsky led a 2019 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology showing that when participants recalled hugging a grandparent or buying lunch for a co-worker, for instance, their well-being improved as much as when they performed the act.

Some research studies link kindness with the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that contribute to mood and well-being. Waguih William IsHak, professor and clinical chief of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, said the hormone oxytocin in particular benefits overall wellness because of its anti-inflammatory, pro-immunity and anti-stress effects.

“Kindness, whether it is experienced through performing random acts of kindness, loving kindness meditation or other means, has a profound impact on one’s well-being,” said IsHak.

Researchers also are studying how altruism improves physical health in measurable ways, such as lowering blood pressure or strengthening the immune system. One study showed spending money on others improved the cardiovascular health of at-risk older adults diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Another study looked at gene expression, the process that enables a cell to respond to its changing environment, and examined changes linked to long-term physical health outcomes. That research concluded that incorporating “small acts of kindness” into a daily routine could positively alter gene regulation.

“Few studies have shown causal mechanisms between prosocial behavior and improvements in biological processes,” said Lyubomirsky, one the authors of the 2017 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. “Our findings point to possible changes in the immune markers that influence disease development or resistance.”

Do all acts of kindness benefit givers equally?

Lara Aknin, director of the Helping and Happiness Lab at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, said emotional rewards are stronger when people give in ways that are socially connected.

Aknin led a review of research examining when and how generous actions are most likely to boost happiness, and when they are not. The analysis, published in 2020 in Social Issues and Policy Review, weighed the happiness impact of altruism using three motivation factors – autonomy, competence and relatedness – and concluded that the most rewarding experiences are those you voluntarily choose to perform (as opposed to be being compelled to), those in which you see your efforts make a positive impact, and those that connect you with other people.

“People tend to get more out of prosocial behavior when they give in a face-to-face manner and can see how their gift helped someone in need,” said Aknin, who also is associate professor of psychology.

Her review also suggests how organizations and public policy can make prosocial actions more emotionally rewarding, suggesting that even paying taxes could be more satisfying if payers were given more positive feedback about the people and initiatives their tax dollars impact.

Researchers also want to measure the durability of the happiness we get from acts of kindness, Aknin said. We feel good right after acting generously and when we recall it, but how long does that last?

“We need large studies to test that,” she said. “While we don’t know the longevity of a single act, we do know there is a positive feedback loop between generosity and kindness. Giving makes people happier, and happier people are more likely to give.”


Source: American Heart Association

Chart: U.S. Ranks Last Among 46 Countries in Trust in Media

Does Fauci Bear Any Responsibility? He Says No

Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff wrote . . . . . . . . .

With millions of Americans getting infected and over 800,000 reported COVID-19 deaths, most people now realize that Washington’s pandemic policies failed. Lockdowns just postponed the inevitable while causing enormous collateral damage on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, mental health, education and much else.

So, the blame game is in full swing. At a recent Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci did not even attempt to defend his policies. Instead, he insisted that: “Everything that I have said has been in support of the CDC guidelines.”

Dr. Fauci, as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has worked closely with the two CDC directors, Drs. Robert Redfield and Rochelle Walensky, throughout the pandemic, but he is now laying the responsibility on them. He did the same with his former boss, shortly after Dr. Francis Collins resigned as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Collins fiercely defended Fauci throughout the pandemic. In October 2020, the Great Barrington Declaration criticized Fauci’s lockdown strategy, calling for focused protection of high-risk older people while letting children go to school and young adults live near-normal lives. A few days later, Collins—a geneticist with little public health experience—wrote an email to Fauci suggesting a “take down” of the declaration, and characterizing its Harvard, Oxford and Stanford authors as “fringe epidemiologists.” Fauci agreed with his boss, but when asked about the incident at the recent Senate hearing, he responded that it “was an email from Dr. Collins to me.”

In other words, Fauci himself was just following orders.

As public health scientists and coauthors of the Great Barrington Declaration, we have been critical of the pandemic strategy championed by Drs. Collins, Redfield and Walensky. As human beings, we can only feel sympathy for the trio as Dr. Fauci seeks to deflect blame onto them. At the Senate hearing, Dr. Fauci did not engage in a substantive public health discussion to defend the pandemic strategy—as one might have expected from its principal architect and salesman. Understandably, politicians, journalists, academics and the public trusted Dr. Fauci. Why should they now shoulder the blame?

Dr. Fauci also defended himself by saying he has received death threats from “crazies.” It is tragic that scientists have to deal with such threats, a testament to the lack of civil scientific discourse during the pandemic. But Fauci is not alone in that respect. The organized “take down” that he and Collins orchestrated, with their grave mischaracterization of focused protection as a let-it-rip strategy, resulted in death threats and racist attacks against the Great Barrington Declaration authors. As Dr. Vinay Prasad of the University of California, San Francisco pointed out, the NIH director’s “job is to foster dialogue among scientists and acknowledge uncertainty. Instead, [Collins] attempted to suppress legitimate debate with petty, ad hominem attacks.”

Strangely, the Senate is the only venue where Dr. Fauci has faced scientific scrutiny. That important role fell on Dr. Rand Paul, one of the few senators with medical training. America would have been better served if Dr. Fauci had engaged public health scientists with divergent views in civilized debates outside the political environment of the Senate chamber. If Dr. Fauci had embraced open and civil discussion, the public may have benefited from better pandemic policies, such as:

  • More accurate public health communication with less fearmongering, emphasizing that there is more than a thousandfold difference in COVID mortality risk between the old and the young.
  • Better-focused protection of older and other high-risk Americans, using specific, concrete standard public health measures proposed by the Great Barrington Declaration.
  • Open schools and universities with in-person teaching of all children and students.
  • Less collateral public health damage.
  • Less devastation on the poor and working class worldwide.
  • Rapidly conducted NIH/NIAID-funded randomized clinical trials of generic drugs to determine what works to treat COVID patients early. If as much effort had been poured into these evaluations as was devoted to vaccines, many lives might have been spared.
  • Recognizing the natural immunity of the COVID recovered and using them to protect nursing home residents and frail hospital patients.
  • More targeted vaccinations instead of vaccine passports, and a faster and more thorough evaluation of vaccine safety to increase public confidence in vaccines.

    Unfortunately, sitting atop the world’s largest stash of infectious disease research money, with an annual NIAID budget of over $6 billion, Dr. Fauci was able to command the nation’s pandemic strategy with little opposition from other infectious disease scientists.

    As the pandemic ends, as all pandemics do, the scientific community has much work to do to regain public trust. The collateral damage arising from the failures of pandemic management includes a broader distrust by the public of the academic community. While only a few scientists are responsible for the misguided pandemic strategy, all scientists—whether we are chemists, biologists, physicists, geologists, economists, sociologists, psychologists, public health historians, clinicians, epidemiologists or in some other field—now share a responsibility to restore trust in science and academia. The first step is to acknowledge the mistakes made.


    Source : Brownstone Institute

  • Chart: Chinese Developers’ Sales Tumble in January 2022

    Source : Wall Street Journal

    What Are the Key Parts of Ukraine’s Peace Deal?

    Vladimir Isachenkov wrote . . . . . . . . .

    A peace agreement for the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that has never quite ended is back in the spotlight amid a Russian military buildup near the country’s borders and rising tensions about whether Moscow will invade.

    Top officials from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting Thursday in Berlin to discuss ways of implementing the deal that was signed in Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015.

    Here is a look at the document’s key points and the contested issues regarding its implementation:

    CONFLICT IN THE EAST

    Russia responded to the February 2014 ouster in Kyiv of a Kremlin-friendly president by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing a separatist insurgency in the country’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial region known as the Donbas.

    Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions engaged in ferocious and devastating battles with the rebels involving heavy artillery, armor and combat aircraft.

    Ukraine and the West accused Russia of backing separatists with troops and weapons. Moscow rejected the accusations, saying that any Russians who fought in the east were volunteers.

    Amid the fighting, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. An international investigation concluded the jetliner was destroyed by a missile fired from a rebel-controlled area. It said the weapon was brought into Ukraine from a military base in Russia, but Moscow categorically denied any involvement.

    Leaders of France and Germany began efforts to negotiate a truce in talks with Russia and Ukraine when they met in Normandy, France, in June 2014, in what became known as the Normandy format.

    FIGHTING AND NEGOTIATIONS

    After a massive defeat of Ukrainian troops in August 2014, representatives from Kyiv and the rebels signed a truce in Minsk in September 2014.

    The document, dubbed Minsk I, envisaged a cease-fire monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a pullback of foreign fighters, an exchange of prisoners and hostages, an amnesty for the insurgents and a promise that rebel regions could have a degree of self-government.

    The agreement collapsed quickly and large-scale battles resumed. In January and February of 2015, Ukrainian troops suffered another major defeat in the battle of Debaltseve.

    France and Germany moved quickly to help broker another peace agreement, and on Feb. 12, 2015, representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the rebels signed a deal that envisaged a new cease-fire, a pullback of heavy weapons from the line of contact between the troops and the rebels, and provisions for a political settlement. A declaration in support of the deal was signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

    MINSK DEAL PROVISIONS

    The deal, dubbed Minsk II, included an OSCE-monitored cease-fire, a pullback of heavy weapons and foreign fighters from the line of contact and an exchange of prisoners.

    In a major diplomatic coup for Russia, the document obliged Ukraine to grant special status to the separatist regions, allowing them to create their own police force and have a say in appointing local prosecutors and judges. It also required Kyiv to offer a sweeping amnesty for the separatists and negotiate details of holding local elections with rebel leaders.

    It stipulated that Ukraine could only regain control over the border with Russia in rebel regions after they get self-rule and hold OSCE-monitored local elections — balloting that would almost certainly keep pro-Moscow rebels in power there.

    In another gain for the Kremlin, the document didn’t contain any obligations on the part of Russia, which insisted it’s not a party to the conflict and cast it as part of Ukraine’s internal affairs.

    Many in Ukraine resented the deal, seeing it as a betrayal of national interests and a blow to the country’s integrity. The widespread public dismay has effectively blocked the deal’s implementation.

    MOSCOW AND KYIV TRADE BLAME

    While the Minsk deal helped end large-scale battles, frequent skirmishes have continued, with both sides blaming each other. The parties have negotiated a long series of renewed cease-fires, but all have been quickly violated.

    Ukraine has accused Russia of failing to withdraw its troops from the conflict areas. Moscow has staunchly denied their presence there and pointed to the deployment of Western military instructors in Ukraine.

    While denying any military involvement in eastern Ukraine, Russia has offered political and economic support to the rebels and granted citizenship to more than 700,000 residents of the region.

    The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany pledged adherence to the Minsk agreement when they last met in Paris in December 2019 but made no visible progress.

    MORE TALKS

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for another four-way summit, but the Kremlin said it would serve no purpose until Ukraine agrees to abide by the deal’s obligations.

    Amid soaring tensions over the Russian military buildup near Ukraine, France and Germany have intensified their efforts to broker more four-way talks on the conflict in the east, seeing that as a possible way to ease tensions in the larger crisis.

    Representatives from the four countries met in Paris on Jan. 26, securing no progress but they agreed to hold the session in Berlin on Thursday, with a goal to agree on a common interpretation of the Minsk agreements.

    French President Emmanuel Macron sought to revive the Minsk deal during his visits to Moscow and Kyiv this week, describing it as “the only path allowing to build peace … and find a sustainable political solution.”

    THE PRESSURE ON UKRAINE

    Facing Western calls for the implementation of the Minsk deal, Ukrainian officials have become increasingly critical of the document.

    Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press last week the deal was signed “under a Russian gun barrel,” and warned that “the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement means the country’s destruction.”

    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba argued that Moscow aims to use the deal to have the rebel regions reintegrated into Ukraine and use them to block the country’s pro-Western aspirations, vowing: “This is not going to happen.”

    Zelenskyy was more diplomatic but noted that he dislikes every point of the Minsk document, a comment that drew a taunting and crude remark from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    “Like it or not, you have to bear with it, my beauty,” Putin quipped, using a coarse verse from Russian folklore. “You have to fulfill it. It will not work otherwise.”


    Source : AP