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Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Dead at 87

Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become UK Prime Minister, has died at age 87 following a stroke. Praised and despised in equal measure for her free market reforms and tough curbs on union power, Thatcher shifted UK politics to the right, with most of her changes accepted as improvements by current mainstream British politicians. Known early in her political career as “Thatcher the milk snatcher” over her decision as Education Secretary to end free school milk for older primary school pupils in 1970, she was elected prime minister with a majority of 43 seats in 1979. During her tenure as the longest-serving British prime minister in modern times she sent a military task force to recapture the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982 and led a ferocious attack on union power during the national miners’ strike of 1984, when riots and strikes dominated the country. Her end came after the introduction of a community charge known as the “poll tax”, which charged a single flat-rate tax from every adult to fund local governments in England, Wales and Scotland in 1990. Protests over the poll tax turned into riots, with the Conservative Party forcing her from the leadership in November 1990 amidst fears of a backlash in the upcoming elections. “She didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country“, said Prime Minister David Cameron while former Mayor of London, Labour politician Ken Livingstone, countered that “in actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong”.

Court Ruling Forces Portugal Into Further Cuts to Health, Education

The Portuguese constitutional court has ruled that civil servants benefits such as holiday bonuses would not be affected by austerity measures, forcing the country’s government into cutting deeper into services such as national health and education to meet the demands of the international bailout programme. The ruling said some of the government’s budget measures, such as the scrapping of a 14th month of salary for civil servants, were unlawful. Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said he respected but disagreed with the court’s decision, saying it would have consequences for the country and that he would be forced into containing “public spending in the areas of social security, health and education”. The European Union has already urged Portugal to come up with new savings in order to keep the bailout payments on schedule. Although public sector pay has dropped alongside other wages in the country, Portuguese civil servants still earn on average double the wages of those working in the private sector.

US Says Iran Nuclear Talks ‘Not Interminable’

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that nuclear talks with Iran were “not an interminable process” after negotiations failed at the latest round of talks in Kazakhstan, with no new future talks scheduled. He added that US President Barack Obama was still committed to finding a diplomatic solution even if the upcoming presidential elections in Iran changed the country’s internal politics. “Obviously there is an election and that complicates the choices with respect to the politics of Iran, and we are aware of that. But we will continue. We remain open and hopeful that a diplomatic solution can be found”, said Kerry. The P5+1 group, composed of Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany, wanted Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment work in exchange for a loosening of international sanctions, an offer that was not accepted by the government in Tehran. “The Islamic Republic will never stop its enrichment work”, said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Iran’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee.

Red Meat ‘Damages Heart’

A research paper published in Nature Medicine has shown that eating high quantities of red meat can cause heart disease, despite lean steak being low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. Researchers say the problem lies in the fact that bacteria in the human intestinal tract convert a nutrient found in beef into a compound that can clog arteries. This, says study co-author Stanley Hazen, head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, could point to new approaches to diet and health and that a person’s individual bacterial flora may be as important as food’s nutritional contents. “Bacteria make a whole slew of molecules from food and those molecules can have a huge effect on our metabolic processes”, said Dr Hazen. A faecal study of the 77 volunteers in the study also showed that meat eaters and non-meat eaters have different types of bacteria in their systems, with meat eaters having bacteria that produced compounds linked to developing arterial plaques.

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