Startup aims to convert invasive zebra mussels in Lake Michigan into a renewable product
Alex Garner – January 25, 2023
PLYMOUTH, Wisc.— AntiMussel hopes to mitigate trillions of invasive zebra mussels infiltrating the Great Lakes by harvesting them for use in paper and pharmaceutical products.
The Plymouth, Wisc.-based startup, which has raised nearly $20,000 in funding and placed second at county and regional pitch competitions, will launch a pilot program this spring to remove the mollusk from Lake Michigan.
In a 250-square-meter and 80-foot-deep area, AntiMussel will connect a suction to the lake floor and transport them to shore. Wind speed and water temperature data will also be collected.
AntiMussel hopes to use the abundance of zebra mussels as a renewable resource for calcium carbonate, which is typically processed from limestone into varying products like Tums, white melamine paint and plastic.
Ideally, the company wants to create a renewable calcium carbonate product with a corporate partner.
“I want to skip that 6 to 8 million years of geology that it takes to make limestone and instead remove the mussels from the lake where we don’t want them, process them, and we end up with a ground calcium carbonate material that is exactly what is being sold on the market now,” Tyler Rezachek, AntiMussel founder and U.S. veteran, said.
Participating in the pitch competitions helped Rezachek connect with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors, who will take him along on a research boat this spring to study zebra mussels, too.
“I was really kind of an entrepreneur in search of a problem,” Rezachek said about starting AntiMussel. “And zebra mussels (have) been something that I’ve heard about my whole life but never heard anything else about other than how to stop them from spreading.”
Zebra mussels were likely brought to the Great Lakes from Europe and Asia via ship ballast water in the 1980s. Since then, they’ve completely invaded the region and have riddled waterways feeding into the Mississippi River and western states Texas and California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
They negatively impact ecosystems in several ways, like outcompeting and incapacitating native mussel and other aquatic species.
Additionally, a female zebra mussel can release up to 1 million eggs per year once reaching reproductive age of two, according to the National Parks Service.
Not much can be done to remove them once a large population has invaded a lake or river.
“At this point, they’re so well established that I could have boats out there sucking zebra mussels all day every day and probably never put a dent in the population,” he said.
Today, an estimated 300 to 750 trillion zebra mussels are in the Great Lakes.
Rezachek said only 3% of the costs is dedicated to preventing further spread.
According to Rezachek, efforts to get rid of zebra mussels center on taking them off infrastructure, like applying chemicals or pressure washing, rather than completely removing them from the water.
“None of those solutions stop mussels from reproducing or remove the resulting shell,” he said. “They just push them away.”
The remaining shells wash onto beaches.
“We can’t walk on a lot of beaches on Lake Michigan now because they’re covered in mussel shells, and they’re razor sharp and they’ll cut your feet and your dog’s feet,” Rezachek said. “And they’re just going to keep collecting there, and the waves just keep pushing them on the beaches. So, unless we remove those in mass, we can never make beaches reusable for people again.”
Heavily infested water bodies like Lake Michigan are beyond the point for a complete elimination of zebra mussels, but there is still hope for smaller lakes.
While AntiMussel will focus on the Great Lakes, it also hopes to conduct customer surveys to see if landowners across the state need zebra mussel clean-ups on private beaches or in lakes.
“The smaller lakes that maybe only have a few thousand mussels in them, they’re not lost,” Rezachek said. “We can get those back and eliminate the mussels there, but then we have to stop them from getting there.”
To help prevent the spread, the National Parks Service suggests boaters drain boats, motors and livewells (circulating tank) before leaving an area of water, wash boats and trailers, and let them dry for at least five days before taking the boat out again because zebra mussels, dependent on water currents and transportation, can infest boat motors and livewells.
What Happens To Your Body When You Cut Out Carbs? A Dietitian Tells Us.
Georgia Dodd – January 12, 2023
High-carb foods have always been a no-no when it comes to weight loss. You may have been advised to avoid carbs in your diet as much as possible, but health experts stress that this is not necessarily true. Foods high in carbohydrates are a crucial part of any healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is then converted into energy used to support your body and physical activity. We spoke with Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA medical center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of Recipe For Survival, and Jamie Nadeau, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Read on to learn more!
What do carbs do for your body and what you’ll notice without it
It’s no secret carbs are one of the most delicious food groups. But there are some carbs, like pasta, bread, and potato chips (which can lead to inflammation!), that are actually very bad for your health. They can lead to chronic inflammation, gut issues, weight gain, and more.
“Carbs, short for carbohydrates, are long chains of carbon-containing molecules, a.k.a. sugars that are found in plant foods,” Hunnes explains. “When we consume and digest these plant foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, (and dairy) we break them down into more simple, sugars, known as glucose, fructose, and galactose (dairy). Our bodies use these sugars to fuel our cells.”
“Carbohydrates are one of the macronutrients (there are three of them: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). Macronutrients are where we get all of our energy (calories) from. Carbohydrates break down to their simplest form, sugar, to give your body energy,” Nadeau agrees.
While not all carbs are bad for you, there is one specific type of carbohydrate that you should cut out of your diet if you want to lose weight: refined carbs. “Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Foods have different amounts of carbohydrates,” Nadeau notes. “For example, broccoli has fewer carbohydrates than potatoes. You’ll also find carbohydrates in added sugars like table sugar, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, and typical “sweets” like cookies, cakes, and candy. Our bodies also “handle” certain types of carbs differently. For example, you’ll get a bigger blood sugar spike from candy compared to beans.”
Just because some carbohydrates stall weight loss, that doesn’t mean you should never eat carbs again. It’s just not healthy, because, Hunnes says, “our muscle cells and our brain cells live off of glucose. If we do not have glucose in our body, we start to break down muscle and fat and turn them into alternate fuel sources that are not as efficient at being used.” There’s no need to cut carbs out of your diet completely. You need healthy carbs, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in your diet to maintain your energy.
“Carbohydrates, especially high fiber carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, and fruits are full of health-boosting nutrients that are great for our health,” Nadeau agrees. Instead of cutting out carbs, I recommend being mindful of the ones that you’re choosing regularly. Choosing high fiber carbohydrates helps to stabilize blood sugar and helps to make your meal more satisfying.” Good to know!
Well, there you have it! Both experts emphasize that completely removing all carbohydrates from your diet is not only impossible but also extremely unhealthy. Instead, try and cut out refined carbohydrates, like potato chips, that only harm your body. This can reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and promote an overall healthier body!
Barbara Hiebel carries 137 pounds on her 5-foot-11 frame. Most of her life she weighed 200 pounds more.
For decades she tried every diet that came along. With each failure to lose the extra weight or keep it off, her shame magnified.
In 2009, Hiebel opted for gastric bypass surgery because she had “nothing left in the gas tank” to keep fighting. She quickly dropped 200 pounds and felt better than she had in ages.
Over the next eight years though, 70 pounds crept back, and the shame returned.
“I knew everything to do to lose weight. I could teach the classes,” said Hiebel, 65, a retired marketing professional from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She asked to be identified by her first and maiden name because of the sensitivity and judgment surrounding obesity. “I’m not a stupid person. I just couldn’t do it.”
The vast majority of people find it almost impossible to lose substantial weight and keep it off.
Medicine no longer sees this as a personal failing. In recent years, faced with reams of scientific evidence, the medical community has begun to stop blaming patients for not losing excess pounds.
Still, there’s a lot at stake.
Despite decades fighting America’s obesity epidemic, it’s only gotten worse. To try to understand why, USA TODAY spoke with more than 50 experts for this six-part series, which explores emerging science and evolving attitudes toward excess weight.
Obesity increases the risk for about 200 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, sleep apnea and many types of cancer. Obesity was a risk factor in nearly 12% of U.S. deaths in 2019.
Early in the pandemic, pictures from intensive care units repeatedly showed large people fighting for their lives. At Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, the average age for ICU patients was 72 if their weight was in the “normal” range and just 58 if they fit the medical definition for having obesity, said Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity medicine specialist there.
As fat cells expand, the body produces inflammatory hormones. Combined with COVID-19, the inflammation creates a biological storm that damages people’s organs and leads to uncontrolled blood clotting, Aronne said.
The link between obesity and severe COVID-19 is surprisingly strong, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has dedicated his life to combating infectious diseases.
“The data were so strong,” Fauci said of a recent government study. Even for children, every increase in body mass index led to a greater risk of infection with COVID-19 and for a dangerous case of the viral illness.
“The more you learn about the deleterious consequences of obesity, the more reason and impetus you have to seriously address the problem,” Fauci said.
To try to understand why, USA TODAY spoke with more than 50 nutrition and obesity experts, endocrinologists, pediatricians, social scientists, activists and people who have fought extra pounds. The reporting resulted in a six-part series, which explores emerging science and evolving attitudes toward excess weight.
The experts pointed to an array of compounding forces. Social stigma. Economics. Stress. Ultra-processed food. The biological challenges of losing weight.
They agree people need to take responsibility for eating as well as they can, for staying fit, for sleeping enough. But simply promoting individual change won’t end the obesity epidemic – just as it hasn’t for decades.
It’s time to rethink obesity, they said.
Experts offered different ideas to change the trajectory.
Subsidize healthy food. Make ultra-processed foods healthier or scarcer. Teach kids to better care for their bodies. Provide insurance for prevention instead of just the consequences. Personalize weight loss programsto support, not stigmatize. Learn what makes fat unhealthy in some people and not in others.
For real progress to come, they agreed, society must stop blaming people for a medical condition that is beyond their control. And people must stop blaming themselves.
“There’s a lot of misperception among patients that they can somehow ‘behavior’ their way out of this – if they just had enough willpower and they just decided they were finally going to change their ways, they could do it,” said Dr. Sarah Kim, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
For the vast majority, trying to will or work themselves to thinness is just a prescription for misery, she said.
“There’s so much suffering associated with weight that is just so unnecessary.”
Like many people who struggle with weight, Hiebel has a family tree that includes others with extra pounds. Her mother was heavy, as were other female relatives.
In childhood, Hiebel simply loved food. It gave her pleasure. A buzz.
In fourth grade, her mother brought up her weight with the pediatrician. He prescribed amphetamines.
“I was a fat kid who always wanted to be skinny,” Hiebel said. “My whole life. I wanted to be healthy. Thinner.”
She blamed herself. For not pushing away from the table sooner. For enjoying what she ate. For the thoughts about food that popped into her head every 30 seconds all day long. For not being able to throw away the plate of cake until she had devoured every bite.
Even though she was trained as a nurse, Hiebel, was petrified of getting medical care. “I spent 50 years largely avoiding doctors because they’re going to weigh me,” she said.
People who experience and internalize weight stigma are more likely to avoid health care and report lower quality of medical care, research shows.
Many fear the waiting room won’t have chairs strong enough to support their weight. They won’t fit on the examining table. The doctor will mock or criticize them for being overweight without offering realistic advice for how to lose their extra pounds.
“We treat them as if we obviously don’t care because obesity must be their fault,” said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We just tell them to eat less and exercise more, and when that fails, as it does 95% of the time, we don’t do anything about it.”
And people with obesity continue to punish themselves. Stanford tells a story about a patient whose weight kept climbing even after being prescribed medications that are usually effective.
The woman confessed she wasn’t taking the prescription because she hadn’t tried hard enough to lose weight on her own and didn’t deserve it. “I only do 15,000 steps a day,” the woman told Stanford. “I feel like I should be doing 20,000.”
Stanford ended up persuading her to take the medication. She explained that if someone had a disability weakening their legs, it wouldn’t be a failure for them to use a wheelchair.
Hiebel had excellent insurance coverage, but she remembers overhearing her internist arguing with the insurance company to get her weight loss surgery covered. She was required to try Weight Watchers for at least six months and a second weight loss program for another six months, although data shows the vast majority of people can’t lose substantial weight and keep it off.
It felt as if the whole insurance industry was telling her she was guilty for being fat.
Shame and embarrassment led Hiebel to avoid seeking help when she started regaining weight after the surgery. “People did all this work on you. You spent all this time and energy and you’re failing yet again,” she said.
But she didn’t want to let all her progress fall apart. She eventually went back to her surgeon.
He told her to make an appointment with Dr. Katherine Saunders at Weill Cornell – and to wait as long as was necessary to see her.
When Hiebel eventually found herself in Saunders’ office, she heard for the first time in her life the words: “This is not your fault.”
“In my head, I’m going, ‘Of course it’s my fault. I’m weak. I’ve got no willpower,'” Hiebel said.
Saunders told her weight loss would take hard work. Her body was conspiring against her to keep on the pounds. The free snacks in her office break room would be a constant temptation.
She offered Hiebel some new tools, including medication to address metabolic issues and her mental state.
With other weight loss doctors, Hiebel felt embarrassed to return for another appointment until she had lost 10 pounds. That often meant never going back. But Saunders told Hiebel to call immediately if she started to struggle.
“She was inoculating me against that from the beginning,” Hiebel said. “‘This isn’t your fault. I can help. And if you get into trouble, don’t do what you would normally do and actually call me.'”
The medication gave Hiebel some stomach problems. Saunders warned her that might happen and told her to tough it out for a few weeks. They would adjust the dosage or prescription if it got too bad.
Hiebel’s pounds started melting off. She felt great.
Then, for two days, Hiebel found herself repeatedly standing in front of her pantry. “Just looking,” she said. “I’d grab a cracker or shut the door. But you keep going back.”
Without noticing, she had missed two daily doses of Contrave, a prescription weight loss pill that also helps with mood disorders. Hiebel resumed taking the pills, and her pantry-gazing ended. “I went back to my normal habits almost overnight. Literally.”
That’s when she realized the power of the medications – and of the drive she carried within her.
“I always felt controlled by food,” she said. “Everything was about not eating.”
But the metabolic changes from the surgery and the boost from the medications finally changed that dynamic. Raw cookie dough, once her “fifth major food group,” lost its grip on her mind. “I kind of don’t really want it,” she said.
She can throw away a piece of cake after just a few bites, even leaving behind the icing. “Now I’m that person,” Hiebel said, “not because I somehow have the willpower, but because I don’t really want it.
“I feel liberated around food.”
Easy to gain, hard to lose
Weight gain may be as simple as consuming more calories than you burn, but weight loss isn’t as simple as burning more calories than you eat.
The human body evolved over tens of thousands of years to hold on to excess calories through fat.
“The default is to promote eating. It’s very simple, very logical. If it were not this way, you would die after you’re born,” said Tamas Horvath, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine. “When you live out in the wild, you need to be driven to find food, otherwise you’re going to miss out on life.”
Severe calorie restriction is dangerous, said Horvath, who, with his colleague Joseph Schlessinger, has been studying the brain wiring that drives hunger.
“When you engage in such behavior, you are basically playing Russian roulette,” he said.
Restricting calories seems to slow metabolism, meaning the body needs less fuel. “You have to keep restricting more and more to keep losing weight,” said Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital. “This is a battle between mind and metabolism that most people don’t win.”
Genetics play a role, too. Some people seem destined from birth to be thin, like everyone else in their family.
Only about a quarter of the population, those with a genetic gift for thinness, seem to escape extra pounds in today’s food climate. Even these lucky few can develop the same metabolic problems seen with obesity, becoming “thin outside, fat inside,” according to Jose Ordovas, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
And everybody doesn’t gain the same amount of weight from overeating.
A 1990 study showed that a group of identical twin men fed an additional 1,000 calories a day for three months led some to gain roughly 10 pounds and others to gain 30. The twin pairs varied substantially from each other in how much weight they gained and where, but each twin responded nearly the same as his brother.
Overeating can distort the nerves in the brain that receive signals from hormones, said Aronne, at Weill Cornell.
“As you get more damage there, fewer hormonal signals are able to get through and tell your brain how much you’ve eaten and how much fat is stored,” he said. “As a result, your body keeps expanding your fat mass.”
Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss either. “You can’t easily exercise off obesity,” said Marion Nestle, an emerita professor of nutrition and food science at New York University.
Still, experts agree that regular exercise is crucial to health at any size. And it may help prevent weight gain and regain.
“The Biggest Loser” TV show ran on NBC for 17 seasons, following participants as they lost weight through diet and exercise. In 2016, Kevin Hall, a National Institutes of Health researcher, examined what had happened to 14 of the 16 contestants from the 2009 season.
All but one regained some or all of their lost weight, Hall found. But the contestants who remained the most physically active kept off the most weight, he reported in a 2017 analysis of the results.
“The benefits of exercise when it comes to weight don’t seem to show up so much while people are actively losing weight,” he said, “but in keeping weight off over the long term.”
Adequate sleep also is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight and can help with weight loss, studies show.
To accomplish everything she wanted to do in a day, Hiebel often limited her sleep to five to six hours a night. Her solution to the resulting exhaustion was to snack. She remembers frequent coffee and cookie breaks, “as self-defeating as that is.”
Many people make the same decision to sleep less – and end up eating more.
In a study published earlier this year, people who had extra weight but not obesity were encouraged to sleep 1.2 hours more a night for two weeks. They ended up consuming 270 calories less a day than the volunteers who slept their typical 6½ hours or less a night.
“It’s about sufficient sleep making you feel less hungry, making you want to consume fewer calories,” said Dr. Esra Tasali, who led the study and directs the UChicago Sleep Center. “Basically not eating the extra chocolate bar.”
Even though she knows how to work the system from her years in the insurance industry, Hiebel is struggling again to get her medication covered by insurance.
She may have to switch to two low-cost generics, provided at the wrong dose. “I’m going to have to cut a pill into fourths with a razor blade,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
But Heibel will do what she must to keep off the extra weight.
She feels healthier without those pounds. She used to dread the hills she faced on hikes with her husband. After losing weight, she barely notices them.
“We’re not talking about Everest,” she said. “I’m not running marathons, but I can do this stuff and I don’t huff and puff.”
Before she started weight loss medications, she was heading into pre-diabetes. She had borderline high cholesterol and was managing hypertension. Now, her LDL and HDL hover around 70; 60 to 100 is considered optimal.
Just knowing it was possible to break food’s grip on her life, that there was hope, was transformative.
Hiebel wants to talk publicly about her story, about the shame she endured for decades, because she wants others to know it’s not their fault and help is out there.
The incident with the Contrave made her realize she’ll probably need to take a constellation of medications forever. And they still give her a rumbly tummy sometimes.
It’s a small price to pay, she said, “to do something that for 50 years I wasn’t able to do.”
“I’m happy as a clam, and I’m not looking back.”
Contact Karen Weintraub at email@example.com.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
Aerobic exercise is “any type of exercise that uses oxygen for the production of energy and work by the body,” explains Jason Machowsky, CSCS, exercise physiologist. In more simple terms, aerobic exercise is defined by muscle mechanics, which means any activity that uses large muscle groups (like the legs and core) in a continuous, rhythmic nature to keep the heart rate elevated.
Meet the experts:Jason Machowsky, CSCS, is a board certified sports dietitian and registered clinical exercise physiologist who specializes in working with clients post-rehab. Holly Roser, CPT, is a certified personal trainer and owner of Holly Roser Fitness Studio in San Mateo, California, where she and her team of trainers teach her signature H-Method in person and online.
As for what an “elevated” heart rate means, Holly Roser, CPT, says that number hovers anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate (which varies depending on individual fitness and how intensely you’re working).
Here’s what counts as aerobic exercise, the benefits of adding them to your routine, how to track progress, and more from the experts.
8 Aerobic Exercise Examples
If you’re thinking aerobic exercise sounds a lot like cardio, you’re spot on. “The term cardio is a shorthand phrase that represents steady-state aerobic exercise where the energy for the working muscles is predominantly coming from “aerobic” energy production, or oxygen, which is being shuttled to the working muscles by the heart and blood vessels, or the cardio system,” says Machowsky.
When you’re doing aerobic exercise, you’re working your cardiovascular system. Here are the most common forms of aerobic exercise to add to your routine:
1. Running And Jogging
Any exercise that utilizes large muscle groups in a sustained, submaximal way (meaning you’re not all-out sprinting or hitting your max RPE) over a prolonged period of time counts as aerobic exercise, Machowsky says—which makes running and jogging ideal candidates. That’s because the movement activates a wide swath of lower-body muscles at once—like the hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes—as well as the core.
If you regularly take dance classes, or simply enjoy dropping it low in the kitchen while meal-prepping, you’re participating in aerobic exercise, says Roser. Bonus points: Following the choreography while dancing might also boost your brain function, as some studies show. (Spending all that time rehearsing TikTok dances is worth it.)
While strength training might not seem like an aerobic exercise, Machowsky says it definitely is—if you’re working in a fast-paced circuit style. He notes that you get an aerobic benefit when “strength training is spread across different muscle groups so your body has a raised heart rate to recover from one area working (i.e. legs) while another one is working (i.e. back).” The key, he says, is to keep rest periods to a minimum to ensure your heart rate stays high.
Whether you’re circling the local pond or tapping it back in spin class, cycling—no matter the form—keeps your heart rate high and lower-body muscles working, says Roser. Cycling in particular might be an effective sleep aid when performed roughly two hours prior to getting shut-eye, a 2021 study in Sleep Medicine Reviews found. (Healthy heart and sleep!)
What are the benefits of aerobic exercise?
1. Better endurance.
The primary benefit behind aerobic exercise, says Machowsky, is that your cardiovascular health will improve. “Aerobic exercise improves your endurance by ensuring a more effective transfer of oxygen into the body via the lungs and to the working muscles via the heart and blood vessels,” he explains.
2. Improved brain health.
Aerobic exercise has a direct tie to brain function, Machowsky says. “[Aerobic exercise] improves blood flow to the brain, leading to better cognitive function related to better blood flow and supply of oxygen to the brain,” he says.
A year of aerobic exercise—which included walking and light jogging—helped to increase blood flow to the brain in older adults, a 2022 study from the Journal of Applied Physiology found. Blood flow to the brain is directly tied to memory and decision-making skills, as well as serious disease like dementia.
3. Lower risk of serious disease.
Getting your heart pumping could save you years and make them healthier in the long run, science shows.
Engaging in regular high-intensity aerobic exercise could decrease a person’s chance for developing metastatic cancers, a recent review from the American Association for Cancer Research found. These findings were from data extending a 20-year period and had 2,734 participants. Other studies have noted that aerobic exercise can help stave off cardiovascular disease.
4. Boosted mood.
In addition to managing brain function years down the road, aerobic exercise can also provide an instant mental lift, says Machowsky. “Aerobic exercise can help boost your mood, fight depression, and reduce stress,” he notes. That runner’s high phenomenon has scientific proof.
For example, running for as little as 15 minutes per day, or walking for an hour per day, could help reduce the risk of developing depression, a 2019 study from JAMA Psychiatry found.
5. Better blood sugar management.
Aerobic exercise can help increase your body’s demand for glucose and receptiveness to insulin, Machowsky says. In other words, aerobic exercise can help your bod manage your blood sugar.
Moderate to intense aerobic exercise performed three times per week helped participants improve their insulin levels after an eight-week period, according to a 2015 study from the Global Journal of Health Science (a Canadian academic publication).
Moving daily is the best way to divide that exercise time up throughout the week, Roser recommends. “Ideally, you would be able to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day,” says Roser. “It doesn’t have to be all at once though. If possible, do 10-minute spurts of cardio at a time [three times per day], working up to a full 30 minutes.”
So, if your goal is strictly to lose weight, relying only on aerobic exercise isn’t your best bet.
How To Progress Your Aerobic Exercise
There are three main ways to track your aerobic exercise progress, according to Machowsky. These variables include: frequency (how many times per week you’re working out), intensity (speed or similar measurement), and duration (how long each individual session is).
“Try to only increase one variable at a time so you don’t do too much too soon and increase your risk for injury,” he explains. For example, when running, maybe you boost your mileage each week (or duration) or, when engaging in circuit training, try to perform additional reps each week in the allotted workout timeframe (intensity).
Another key factor in tracking progress: writing it down. “Keeping a training log can allow you to gradually increase some of these variables so you can see your progress over time,” Machowsky says. “Some people find it satisfying to go to an older workout from a few months ago and repeat it to see how much better you feel doing it after a few months of training.” Dropping the intel in a basic spreadsheet can work.
It also helps to hone in on what kind of benefit you want to get out of aerobic training, as Machowsky says that a boosted mood can be felt in as few as one to two sessions, while improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels requires six to 12 weeks of regular aerobic exercise.
Iranian soccer player sentenced to death after protesting against the death of Mahsa Amini
Barnaby Lane – December 13, 2022
An Iranian soccer player has been sentenced to death after protesting against the death of Mahsa Amini, according to Iran Wire.
Amir Nasr-Azadani was arrested in November in relation to the killing of a police colonel.
He has been accused of “waging war against God” and will be hanged.
An Iranian professional soccer player has been sentenced to death after protesting against the death of Mahsa Amini, according to Iran Wire.
Amir Nasr-Azadani, 26, was arrested in November in relation to the killing of a police colonel and two volunteer militia members.
He has been accused of “waging war against God” and will be hanged, according to Iran Wire.
FIFPRO, the international soccer players union, said in a statement on Monday that it was “shocked and sickened” by the news.
“We stand in solidarity with Amir and call for the immediate removal of his punishment,” it said.
There have been widespread protests in Iran since the September death of 22-year-old Amini, who died in custody after being detained by morality police on suspicion of breaking the country’s strict rules around head coverings.
Rock Ulibarri had a vision for his ancestral homestead nestled in a canyon in the mountains of northeast New Mexico: Open it up to tourists, who would pay for pit-smoked pork, mountain bike tours of the craggy terrain and works by local artisans.
He wanted to build the sort of business that could raise local income levels and help rural residents stay on their land, rather than sell to outsiders. That aligned with the state’s plans, too: The governor had created a division in her economic development department to promote outdoor recreation.
So Ulibarri started building campsites and a small guesthouse, even retrofitting the one-room cabin where his father was born. Early this year, he was ready to book a summer of visits.
Then, on an April day with blistering winds following months of only trace rainfall, the mountain went up in flames.
Ulibarri and his partner, Becky Schaller, held out as long as they could, even as the electricity failed and smoke clouded the sky. When the winds turned in their direction and they saw the blaze creeping over the mountain, they loaded up their goats, dogs, horses and parrots into a big trailer and drove slowly down to safety.
Surveying the damage later, they saw their buildings had been spared, but the trees on the ridges were gone — along with the fences they needed to confine their animals, and the trails in the surrounding forest they were counting on for bikers and hikers. Also, the river was running inky black with ash. A year’s worth of food in their freezer had perished. And the business plan was on ice.
By the end of the season, they were able to host one group, and they plan to try again next year. But Ulibarri wonders whether the business model he’d hoped his neighbors could emulate is viable. Even before the fires, he noticed less snow on the mountains and fewer fish in dwindling streams. For years, fire managers had suppressed natural blazes, so there’s still plenty of timber left to burn again.
“Climate change does scare me, a lot, because we really don’t know what it’s going to look like, you know?” he said. “Just what I’ve seen so far in my lifetime, the changes are incredible.”
The changes are indeed incredible. So are the costs.
The study of how climate change affects economies is still relatively nascent, but evolving fast. Economists are grappling with bigger shocks than even scientists had anticipated, in the form of catastrophic events like hurricanes and wildfires, as well as the slow, creeping influence of drought, extreme heat and rising sea levels.
Unlike its neighbors to the east and west, New Mexico is tackling the economic challenge head-on, passing legislation and funding programs to mitigate the effects of climate change. Complicating that effort: The state’s primary taxpayer, the oil and gas industry, is also the main source of the disruption.
For that reason, New Mexico faces what economists call “physical risk” and “transition risk”: the financial damages of extreme weather and shifting temperatures, and the damage caused by doing something about it. To offset those risks, the state is working to diversify into other industries. The problem is, some of those that offer the most potential are vulnerable to climate change themselves.
“In looking for alternatives to extraction as ways to fuel New Mexico’s economy, the two that always jump out most immediately are tourism or outdoor recreation and agriculture,” said Kelly O’Donnell, an economic consultant. “And obviously those are two of the industries that very likely will suffer extreme damage from fires, floods and drought.”
Getting ‘Hit Over and Over’
The days before the fire carried a sense of foreboding — different, Phoebe Suina remembers, from years past. She had dealt with the aftermath of many blazes before, as an environmental engineer who helps communities respond to natural disaster. This time, it had barely rained in the northern part of the state in months, the snowpack was already gone, humidity was minimal and the winds were so intense that it was hard to walk outside.
“This April, I remember having that sinking feeling — how I can explain it in English is, all the elements of a major imbalance were occurring,” Suina said. “And it wasn’t going to be a one-time thing. We have to figure out how we’re going to survive.”
The Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires started in April, after the U.S. Forest Service conducted what was supposed to have been a controlled burn to thin the dense undergrowth. High winds whipped both fires into a megacomplex that ultimately torched 342,000 acres across three counties, and wasn’t fully controlled until mid-August.
Then came the flooding. With no trees to hold back the mountains, monsoon season sent rivers of sediment coursing through the gullies, spilling over roads and onto the homes below. Irrigation channels have been filled with dirt and rocks, but there’s no point in dredging them until the deluges stop.
Michael Maes’ home in Mora, an Edenic valley town a few canyons away from Ulibarri’s place, stands right in the path of this water. At one point, it rose to his waist, and even after clearing out all the mud, he had to scramble repeatedly to channel fresh flooding around the structure instead of through it. Water pressure has remained low, so he’s had to carry buckets around just to flush toilets.
“We just get hit over and over,” Maes said. All of that work kept him from his day job, cutting hair about 40 minutes down the valley, and drained his savings. Every time the sky darkens, he keeps in touch with friends on a text chain, dreading the wreckage that follows. “There’s a cloud that rolls over, all of a sudden,” he said, and the question is: “Who’s going to get it today?”
Because the U.S. Forest Service took responsibility for the fire, it is footing the bill for reconstruction and compensating those who suffered financial losses with an aid package worth $2.5 billion. Eventually, if people are able to prove their claims — a complicated endeavor in a place where property ownership often isn’t fully documented — they should be made whole. Meanwhile, the White House is asking for $2.9 billion more, as part of a $37 billion package for victims of the year’s natural disasters across the country.
In New Mexico, the physical risk from climate change comes in two forms. One is the creeping loss of prosperity brought on by prolonged drought, which in the Mora area had already completely dried up the system of ditches that had irrigated crops and watered cattle for generations. Catastrophic fire exemplifies the other kind: a destructive event that vaporizes assets all at once.
Mora County, population 4,200, has seen both. Long sustained by small-scale agriculture and logging, local nonprofits had been working to develop a tourism economy. They were building up a social media presence, and one group even talked to film studios drawn by the sweeping views and ranches that seem right out of the Old West.
The vision is to become something more like Colorado, where the Commerce Department reported that outdoor recreation generated $6.1 billion in salaries in 2021; New Mexico brought in only $1.2 billion.
This year, rather than promote economic development, Mora officials tried to just keep people alive and restore what they had lost. Airbnbs burned alongside primary residences, the few hotels filled up with reconstruction workers and the landscape was left so scarred that film studios would have to rewrite their scripts.
In Taos, Awaiting Disaster
On the other side of the mountain from Mora, Taos has been watching closely.
Although the fires never reached the posh ski town or its magnificent surroundings, Sanjay Poovadan, a real estate broker and landlord, saw the fires’ effect immediately in bookings of his rental properties. “People said, ‘We hear there’s a fire in the Hermit’s Peak area, and it’s near Taos, so we’re canceling; we don’t want to be breathing that air,’” Poovadan recalled. “And, of course, why do you come to northern New Mexico? Because you get clean air.”
That kind of hit is particularly hard for the outdoor economy, given its seasonality — a forest that’s closed for one month can wipe out one-third of a business’ profits.
A direct hit from a wildfire would multiply that effect many times over. And although there’s more forest-thinning activity around Taos than there had been around Mora — in part because of a billion-dollar effort led by the Nature Conservancy — the task is so vast that a major fire seems inevitable.
In an explicit acknowledgment of the risk, the city has devoted $10,000 of the revenue from its lodgers tax — which by statute has to fund tourism promotion — for forest restoration. “We’re making the argument that if the fire had come over to our side of the mountain, we would’ve had no tourism at all,” Mayor Pascualito Maestas said.
The Taos Ski Valley, a resort that’s been operating since the 1950s, is at a relatively high elevation and says it has more snow than other increasingly desperate ski areas across the West. But it hasn’t been unscathed: Last year, a freak windstorm took out a huge swath of mature trees, as if mowing the lawn.
Regardless of whether another fire erupts, climate change has already made living in Taos more difficult, and more expensive. Air conditioning is now needed to stay comfortable in the summer, and home insurance premiums are skyrocketing, given the likelihood of having to rebuild a burned home. Meanwhile, Taos’ relative isolation and lack of other disasters like hurricanes has attracted a new influx of high-income, part-time residents who have created a housing crunch for locals.
Poovadan sees both sides of that squeeze. He worries that when a big fire does come, the most harmed will be those with no other place to go.
“The folks who can afford to leave will leave,” Poovadan said. “And the people here will be picking up the pieces.”
From Drought to Flood
The extremes that increasingly characterize New Mexico’s climate are even harder to deal with when you don’t know when they’ll arrive. That especially applies to water: There’s not enough, except for when there’s too much.
Consider Nick Baefsky and Amy Wright, who have more food than they need for the number of mouths they have to feed. Six months ago, they had the opposite problem.
The couple, who manage cattle on a 96,000-acre ranch on a vast plain beneath the mountains that burned over the summer, had to sell 10% of their hundreds of cow-calf pairs in the spring. Rains hadn’t arrived to green up the fields, and brutal winds sheared off the grass left standing, so there wasn’t enough for them to eat.
“It felt like it was the worst it could be,” said Wright, relaxing after a long day fixing fences. They kept checking the weather forecasts but couldn’t see a safe path through to the rainy season.
The other snag: Despite investing in pipes and troughs to supplement natural watering holes, some of the 40 wells that the ranch has to keep the cows hydrated are producing less water, as the aquifers beneath them dry up. “Even if there was good grass, if you can’t water them, you can’t run them,” Baefsky said.
Then, at the end of June, it started raining. And raining. At that point, they could easily have supported the extra cattle. But buying them back is expensive.
Not everyone is so much at the mercy of rain. Some farmers of high-value cash crops have more control over their water supply, through deep aquifers and rights to divert from the state’s major rivers. They have figured out ways to maintain their yields.
Expansive pecan groves, whose owners drilled deep wells in the 1950s and which produce more of the nuts than any state save Georgia, would pay any price to avoid having to rip out their trees. Farmers of New Mexico’s iconic chiles, under pressure from drought, have invested in technology to get more from less acreage.
There are limits to even that degree of control, however.
Mike Hamman, the state engineer, is in charge of maximizing the water supply when nearly all of it is spoken for and the total pool is shrinking. After years of increasing efficiency, returns are diminishing.
“I would say we’ve squeezed that sponge out pretty good by now,” Hamman said.
What Climate Change Costs
The fires in the spring are just a snapshot of climate change’s economic impact in one year, in one corner of the state. To add it all up beyond that is a daunting task, but there have been attempts.
In 2009, Ernie Niemi, an environmental and economic development consultant, worked up a forecast for how climate change would affect New Mexico’s economy at various points in the future. It was part of a project housed at the University of Oregon that aimed to show state legislators, wary of hurting their economies by easing off fossil fuels, the cost of doing nothing.
He found the cost would be about $1.7 billion by 2020 — including $488 million for wildfire costs, $421 million for health-related expenses and $286 million for lost recreation opportunities. He imagined the figure would be much larger, in ways they couldn’t calculate. The list includes costs from more frequent and intense storms — and items like regulations for protecting additional endangered species.
In an update for the state of Oregon in 2018, Niemi found that costs had significantly escalated, and the same was likely true for New Mexico.
Now, estimates are piling up for how climate change will affect the national and even global economy — moving beyond the cost of an individual hurricane or fire, and ballparking the economic drag from rising temperatures. The World Meteorological Organization, for example, has calculated that the U.S. economy has lost $1.4 trillion to climate-related weather events over the past 50 years, while Deloitte says it stands to lose an additional $14.5 trillion over the next 50, if further warming isn’t averted. For the first time, this year the draft U.S. National Climate Assessment includes a chapter on economic effects.
But the economic damage of climate change isn’t always measurable by traditional methods, because the full value of nature isn’t computed in gross domestic product. A forest doesn’t have statistical worth until it’s cut down — even though it cleans the air and sequesters carbon in a way that blunts the damage to human civilization down the line.
That’s why the federal government is developing “natural capital accounts,” a standardized way of valuing healthy ecosystems. A state can figure out what it’s worth to keep forests thinned so they’re less likely to erupt in flames and more likely to stay in place to keep mountaintops from washing into valleys.
That’s the kind of math Joshua Sloan is doing. The associate vice president at New Mexico Highlands University, he has tried to convince the state legislature that it’s worth spending $68 million on a reforestation center. If built, it could supply seedlings to burned acreage across the western United States, generating both revenue and the forests on which communities depend.
So far, lawmakers haven’t agreed.
“Typically direct costs are much more immediately felt than those more diffuse social and ecological benefits,” Sloan said.
Predicting the Future
Two and a half billion dollars: That’s the budget surplus New Mexico ended up with for fiscal year 2024, most of it from higher gas prices that increased royalties from oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin, the nation’s most productive oil field. All in all, the industry supplied about 40% of the state’s general fund revenues in 2022.
That money is a huge windfall for a historically poor state that has few other major industries. But it also represents “transition risk”: the collateral damage incurred by decline in the use of fossil fuels.
That dynamic was on display in October in Santa Fe, in the stately round building that houses New Mexico’s all-volunteer Legislature. Oil and gas revenues pay for lots of things, including addressing what emissions can lead to: For fiscal year 2023, out of an $8.4 billion budget, the Legislature appropriated $36.7 million for climate change resilience, mostly in drought mitigation; $42 million for energy-efficiency initiatives; and $105.8 million in water infrastructure and wildfire prevention. In the halls of the Capitol, agriculture lobbyists and environmental advocates were asking for hundreds of millions more.
Despite the riches the industry pumps into state coffers, legislators are uneasy.
“I support oil and gas, but I am concerned that they have an inordinate place in our revenue structure,” said state Sen. Patty Lundstrom, who heads the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Lundstrom is from Gallup, in the northwest part of the state. The region is facing the retirement of two coal plants required by the Energy Transition Act of 2019, which committed the state to meeting aggressive renewable energy targets for its own utilities. The state is pursuing federal funding to potentially convert some of that infrastructure to produce hydrogen. The resulting fuel emits zero carbon, but it would likely require lots of natural gas — and water — to run. For that reason, the state’s environmentalists have been dead set against the idea, which Lundstrom finds confounding.
“Because we’re looking at reducing carbon emissions, we need to embrace things like hydrogen so we can get to that point,” she said. “If we don’t, we’ve lost everything. We’ve lost not only those industrial jobs, but the opportunity for industrial jobs.”
Rather than a complicated, energy-intensive project like hydrogen, environmentalists say the state should focus on conserving land for outdoor recreation, investing in more sustainable agriculture methods such as those practiced by Native communities, and pursuing the billions of dollars unlocked by the Inflation Reduction Act for wind and solar energy.
While in-state energy needs are mostly met, demand across the West could support thousands more megawatts per year. New Mexico has the land, wind and sun for it. It also has an untapped resource: a relatively high share of people who aren’t working, which means thousands of people who could be deployed to build things.
However, even if wind and solar installations were erected as rapidly as possible, when the construction phase is over, the industry couldn’t employ everyone who might want to leave jobs in oil and gas.
“If we expect renewables to replace oil and gas 1-to-1, we will never be satisfied,” said Rikki Seguin, the executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade group of wind and solar developers.
Dealing with physical risk and transition risk at the same time is a dizzying task. One way to tackle both at once is employing people to fix the problems caused by climate change, whether it’s planting seedlings or developing drought-tolerant crops.
Getting that started is expensive, but there’s probably no better time to do it. With billions of dollars filtering down from the federal government, New Mexico has the potential to develop whole new industries devoted to restoring fire-scarred lands and adapting to survive with ever-shrinking supplies of water. Other regions face similar challenges. Such expertise could even become an export itself — partially replacing the revenues that oil and gas now supplies in abundance.
Nathan Small, a state representative from the Las Cruces area, has been among those trying to smooth New Mexico’s transition to an economy that’s viable. Its best chance to get there, he thinks, goes beyond resilience inside the state. It’s marketing techniques for how to live on a hotter planet. It is, in his view, a growth industry.
“We have to reckon with the challenge that in 10, 15, 30 years, that these might be considered pretty good years,” he said.
Just 1 minute of exercise a few times per day may help you live longer, a new study suggests
Gabby Landsverk – December 9, 2022
Getting your heart rate up for a few minutes each day could help stave off disease and early death.
A study suggests quick activities like taking the stairs were linked to similar benefits as a gym session.
Regular exercise reduces the risk of dying from cancer and heart disease, and every minute could count.
If you struggle to find time for the gym, you may be able to reap some benefits of exercise in just minutes a day, new research suggests.
Short, vigorous activities in your daily routine — like power walking, intense housecleaning, or playing with kids or pets — may significantly reduce your risk of dying from cancer or heart disease, according to a study published December 8 in Nature Medicine.
Researchers from the University of Sydney looked at data from 25,241 UK residents who were self-described “non-exercisers” over seven years of follow-up, to analyze their habits and health outcomes.
They found that without going to the gym, some participants still got a daily dose of exercise in the form of brief, strenuous actions like running to catch a bus, taking the stairs, or doing high-energy chores.
Despite being just one to two minutes at a time, the short activities were linked to similar health benefits as more structured exercise. Typical exercise recommendations call for 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity.
But as little as 4 to 6 minutes a day of vigorous activity (spread out across 3 sessions) was linked to up to 49% lower risk of dying from heart disease and up to 40% lower risk of dying from any cause during the study.
More activity was even better, researchers noted. Up to 11 short sessions per day was linked to 65% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and 49 lower risk of dying from cancer, compared to people who didn’t do any vigorous activity.
A caveat to the research is that it doesn’t directly show that short bursts of movement cause better health outcomes, but does indicate a connection.
More research is needed, but the study results suggest that getting more movement in your daily routine may be a useful strategy for improving your health, even if you can’t make it to the gym, according to the researchers.
“A few very short bouts totaling three to four minutes a day could go a long way, and there are many daily activities that can be tweaked to raise your heart rate for a minute or so,” Emmanuel Stamatakis, lead author of the study and professor of physical activity, lifestyle, and population health at the University of Sydney, said in a press release.
Exercise is one of the best strategies for better health, and every little bit counts
Studying smaller doses of exercise, especially outside the gym, could help bring the benefits of fitness to people without the time, money, or access to keep up with other workout routines, according to the study authors.
“Upping the intensity of daily activities requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships, no special skills. It simply involves stepping up the pace while walking or doing the housework with a bit more energy,” Stamatakis said.
Who is Viktor Bout? Infamous arms dealer swapped for Brittney Griner
Michael Weiss, Sr. Correspondent – December 8, 2022
“She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held in intolerable circumstances.” So President Biden announced today from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, alerting the press to the news that Brittney Griner has finally been released from a Mordovian penal colony. Biden spoke next to Cherelle Griner, the American WNBA basketball player’s visibly affected wife.
Following months of intense negotiations, the United States managed to secure Briner’s freedom in a one-to-one swap for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer. Not included in the deal was another American prisoner of the Kremlin, Paul Whelan, who had been rumored to have been included in the high-profile negotiations over Griner.
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and Michigan police officer, was arrested in Russia in December 2018 on espionage charges, which he denied; he was sentenced to 16 years in June 2020. Griner, an Olympic gold medalist, was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, exactly one week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on charges that she was trafficking cannabis oil — a banned substance in Russia — inside vape canisters. She pleaded guilty on July 7 and was sentenced to 9 years in prison.
Few U.S. officials take the Russian prosecutors’ allegations at face value; the prevailing view is that both Whelan and Griner were snatched as hostages for exactly the kind of swap now under consideration, or as bargaining chips for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. “The Russian security services watched Griner closely and knew they could compromise her,” a former U.S. intelligence officer told Yahoo News earlier this year. “She’s a Black gay woman who could be portrayed as carrying drugs, and they waited until she departed. This was not legitimate law enforcement but cynical power games by the Kremlin.” John Sipher, the former deputy head of “Russia House” at the CIA, said Whelan would have been unlikely to be recruited by any U.S. intelligence service owing to his compromised history: He was given a bad-conduct discharge from the Marine Corps after being court-martialed on larceny-related offenses in 2008.
Even by the Kremlin’s suspect characterization of Whelan and Griner, the allegations against Bout are far worse.
“In the late 1990s,” Jonathan Winer, a senior official in the State Department during the Clinton administration who tracked Bout’s movements, told Yahoo News, “Bout was the No. 2 target for the United States, after Osama bin Laden.” In fact, the infamous arms dealer, widely known as the “merchant of death,” has even been accused of arming al-Qaida.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union until his capture in a 2008 Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation in Bangkok, Bout supplied a rogue’s gallery of governments and militias with guns, ammunition and aircraft. Nicolas Cage played a thinly veiled version of him in the 2005 film “Lord of War,” although the real-life version’s antics were more cinematically uncanny. Even Bout’s aliases — “Viktor Budd,” “Viktor Butt” and, simply, “Boris” —might have stretched credulity for a Bond villain.
Bout was chummy with a succession of African dictators, including Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Liberia’s Charles Taylor, the latter of whom paid him in conflict diamonds and whose child soldiers operated the antique Antonov cargo planes that Bout sold him. Warlord Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie committed crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone with Bout-proffered weapons. Some of these clients would object to Bout’s apparent racism and peremptory behavior: a pushy Russian in the midst of anticolonial (or postcolonial) leaders. But that hardly affected his bottom line or their willingness to enrich it.
The Tajikistan-born weapons merchant could play both sides of any war to his advantage. He equipped the Taliban with an air force before 9/11 and also sent weapons to their mortal enemy, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the commander of the Northern Alliance and onetime Afghan defense minister, with whom he liked to hunt the finely horned Marco Polo sheep of the Pamir Mountains. Both the Taliban and Massoud evidently knew their broker was double-dealing, but they put up with it because they had no choice, as one Bout associate later recounted to his biographers: “No one else would deliver the packages.”
Astonishingly, even after being hunted by the U.S. government for years, Bout’s flagship company Irbis (“snow leopard” in Russian) even secretly acted as a private airlift courier for supplies intended for the U.S. military and contractors in occupied Iraq in 2004.
For all Bout’s blood-boltered infamy, some former national security officials think the Biden administration made the right call. “It’s a trade that has to be made, despite all the pitfalls,” according to Marc Polymeropoulos, who oversaw the CIA’s clandestine operations in Europe and Eurasia. “The pressure from the families on the White House is immense.” Polymeropoulos acknowledged that the trade would amount to “rewarding terrible Russian behavior” — equating an international arms trafficker with Whelan and Griner — but that the cost would be worth it. “Make no mistake, the Americans have no hope of release save for this swap. Also, let’s not forget that the Israelis have for decades swapped Palestinian terrorists for their imprisoned soldiers, and sometimes just their remains.”
Sipher agrees. “First, it’s a hard policy call, and I’m glad that Americans that were wrongly held as hostages will be freed. I understand why an American president makes such a deal. However, we should admit that we played Vladimir Putin’s game. He got what he wanted in his typical bullying manner. He knows he can push the West around and will do it until he is stopped.”
The U.S. sanctioned Bout in 2004 due to his gunrunning to Liberia; a year later, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned four of his associates and 30 of his companies.
According to the 2008 sealed indictment against Bout, filed in the Southern District of New York, he agreed to provide advanced weapons systems to FARC, the Colombian terrorist organization, knowing that they would be used to target Americans and U.S. military personnel.
The Russian “assembled a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East,” the indictment read. Everything from AK-47s to attack helicopters wound up in the holds of Bout’s cargo planes, of which there were scores, under different national flaggings. He maintained the largest private fleet of post-Soviet cargo aircraft in the world at one point, administering it under a veneer of legitimacy by transporting food, medicine and other licit goods along with lethal contraband.
Bout was found guilty in 2011 on all four counts of the indictment: conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the U.S., conspiracy to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization. He is now in the 10th year of a 25-year sentence.
Peter Hain, the former minister of state for Africa at the British Foreign Office, told the London Sunday Telegraph in 2002 that Bout was “supplying the Taliban and al-Qaida,” an allegation that Bout always denied, portraying himself as an honest businessman toting innocent wares such as textiles and furniture to places like Afghanistan. (It was Hain who coined Bout’s unshakable moniker, the “merchant of death.”)
Bout has for years also loudly denied any connection to the Russian government or its military intelligence service, still known by its Soviet-era acronym, the GRU.
However, in “Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possibile,” a 2007 chronicle of Bout’s malign activities, authors Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun quote one of his associates: “The GRU gave him three airplanes to start the business. The planes, countless numbers of them, were sitting there doing nothing. They decided, let’s make this commercial. They gave Viktor the aircraft and in exchange collected a part of the charter money. It was a setup from the beginning.” An unnamed analyst who worked with British intelligence also told the authors that MI6, the U.K.’s foreign intelligence service, “never had any doubt Bout was GRU material.”
U.N. officials placed Bout’s earlier career as that of an interpreter for Russian peacekeepers in Angola; he had trained at the Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, a favored stalking ground for GRU recruitment. Military translators are often GRU officers stationed under diplomatic cover owing to the spy service’s polyglot job requirement. Bout has said he speaks six languages. His bodyguards in his heyday were also reportedly all veterans from GRU Spetsnaz, or special forces.
Russia’s military intelligence agency has come under international scrutiny in the last several years, particularly after U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that a team of now-indicted GRU officers in Moscow were responsible for the hack-and-leak operation against the Democratic Party email servers in 2016, with the express intent of influencing the outcome of that year’s presidential contest.
GRU operatives have been busy outside the digital domain too.
Operatives attached to an elite assassination-and-sabotage cell known as Unit 29155 were sent to Salisbury, England, in 2018 to poison a GRU defector, Sergei Skripal, along with his daughter, Yulia, with a Russian-manufactured nerve agent.
Unit 29155 has also lately been linked to a string of earlier mysterious poisonings over the last decade, including that of another arms dealer, the Bulgarian Emilian Gebrev, who succumbed to Skripal-like symptoms in 2015 along with his son and his factory manager near his office in central Sofia. A series of explosions of factories and depots elsewhere in Bulgaria and also the Czech Republic, both of them NATO and EU member states, have been attributed to Unit 29155 operatives, leading to expulsions of Russian intelligence officers from embassies in both countries. Tellingly, these sites are believed to have contained Soviet-era ammunition bound for Ukraine.
Given the unprecedented access Bout had to surplus weapons and ammunition stocks, not to mention the enormous Antonov freighters scattered like metal carcasses across airfields of the fallen Soviet empire, it beggars belief that he was not in some way linked to Russian intelligence.
That would certainly account for why Vladimir Putin’s regime has so desperately sought for his repatriation to Russia and why the U.S. side apparently believes Bout would be a tempting trade amid caustic tensions between the two countries. The Kremlin, said Winer, the former State Department official, “moved heaven and earth” to first prevent Bout’s extradition to the U.S. from Thailand and then to secure his release from prison. The Russian Foreign Ministry has classed him as a political prisoner and, for more than a decade after his capture, serially raised his release with Washington in some kind of exchange. “The big question was whether he was basically state-sponsored or a rogue operator whom the Russian government found useful,” Winer told Yahoo News. “Was he an agent of the GRU when we caught him?”
Given Bout’s conviction in a U.S. court for aiding and abetting FARC, it’s a slightly awkward question for the Biden administration, now facing a mounting chorus to label Russia itself a state sponsor of terrorism. On Thursday, the Senate unanimously adopted a nonbinding resolution urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Moscow as such.
The text of the resolution not only cites Russian military atrocities against civilians in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and Ukraine but also names the Wagner Group, a U.S. sanctioned Russian mercenary outfit. Financed by the U.S.- and EU-sanctioned oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin — a catering magnate and architect of the St. Petersburg “troll farm” implicated by Mueller in the 2016 U.S. election interference scheme — the Wagner Group has committed “serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique,” according to the European Union. The allegations include torture and extrajudicial killings. The Senate also accuses the group of having tried to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the start of Russia’s invasion in February.
The Treasury Department sanctioned the Wagner Group as a “Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force.” The mercenaries maintain a camp in the Russian region of Krasnodar, right next door to a well-guarded training facility for GRU Spetsnaz, of whichWagner’s leader, Dmitry Utkin, was once a brigade commander. According to Polymeropoulos, the former CIA officer, “there was never any doubt that Wagner functions as an arm of the GRU.”
Might the same be said of the man now sitting in a medium-security penitentiary in Marion, Ill., awaiting his plane back to Moscow?
“They will try to lock me up for life,” the then-45-year-old Bout told the New Yorker before his sentencing. “But I’ll get back to Russia. I don’t know when. But I’m still young. Your empire will collapse and I’ll get out of here.”
Biden says Brittney Griner is ‘safe’ after release from Russia in prisoner swap
Dylan Stableford, Senior Writer – December 8, 2022
President Biden on Thursday said Brittney Griner is “safe” and on her way home after being freed from Russian custody in a prisoner exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said in brief remarks at the White House, where he was joined by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “After months of being detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should’ve been there all along.”
Biden said he spoke with Griner and that she is in “good spirits.”
“The fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced needless trauma,” he said. “She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained.”
Griner has been held in Russia since February, when she was detained in Moscow after being found carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time,” Biden said. “We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstakingly intense negotiations.”
The president thanked those in his administration who worked to secure her release as well as the United Arab Emirates, where a plane transporting Griner back to the United States landed.
“These past few months have been hell for Brittney and Cherelle and her entire family,” Biden said. “People across the country have learned about Brittney’s story, advocated for her release throughout this terrible ordeal. And I know that support meant a lot to her family.”
The president also said the U.S. has not given up on Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive who has been jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.
“We did not forget about Brittney, and we have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year,” the president said. “Sadly, for illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
In a statement, the Whelan family said the Biden administration “made the right decision” in securing Griner’s release and “to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to [happen].”
In brief remarks, Cherelle Griner thanked Biden for helping secure Brittney’s release.
“Today my family is whole,” Cherelle Griner said. “But as you all are aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole.”
She added: “Brittney and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.”
Harnessing the brain’s immune cells to stave off Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases
Kristine Zengeler, University of Virginia – December 7, 2022
Many neurodegenerative diseases, or conditions that result from the loss of function or death of brain cells, remain largely untreatable. Most available treatments target just one of the multiple processes that can lead to neurodegeneration, which may not be effective in completely addressing disease symptoms or progress, if at all.
But what if researchers harnessed the brain’s inherent capabilities to cleanse and heal itself? My colleagues and I in the Lukens Lab at the University of Virginia believe that the brain’s own immune system may hold the key to neurodegenerative disease treatment. In our research, we found a protein that could possibly be leveraged to help the brain’s immune cells, or microglia, stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
Challenges in treating neurodegeneration
No available treatments for neurodegenerative diseases stop ongoing neurodegeneration while also helping affected areas in the body heal and recuperate.
In terms of failed treatments, Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the most infamous of neurodegenerative diseases. Affecting more than 1 in 9 U.S. adults 65 and older, Alzheimer’s results from brain atrophy with the death of neurons and loss of the connections between them. These casualties contribute to memory and cognitive decline. Billions of dollars have been funneled into researching treatments for Alzheimer’s, but nearly every drug tested to date has failed in clinical trials.
Another common neurodegenerative disease in need of improved treatment options is multiple sclerosis. This autoimmune condition is caused by immune cells attacking the protective cover on neurons, known as myelin. Degrading myelin leads to communication difficulties between neurons and their connections with the rest of the body. Current treatments suppress the immune system and can have potentially debilitating side effects. Many of these treatment options fail to address the toxic effects of the myelin debris that accumulate in the nervous system, which can kill cells.
A new frontier in treating neurodegeneration
Microglia are immune cells masquerading as brain cells. In mice, microglia originate in the yolk sac of an embryo and then infiltrate the brain early in development. The origins and migration of microglia in people are still under study.
Microglia play important roles in healthy brain function. Like other immune cells, microglia respond rapidly to pathogens and damage. They help to clear injuries and mend afflicted tissue, and can also take an active role in fighting pathogens. Microglia can also regulate brain inflammation, a normal part of the immune response that can cause swelling and damage if left unchecked.
Microglia also support the health of other brain cells. For instance, they can release molecules that promote resilience, such as the protein BDNF, which is known to be beneficial for neuron survival and function.
But the keystone feature of microglia are their astounding janitorial skills. Of all brain cell types, microglia possess an exquisite ability to clean up gunk in the brain, including the damaged myelin in multiple sclerosis, pieces of dead cells and amyloid beta, a toxic protein that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. They accomplish this by consuming and breaking down debris in their environment, effectively eating up the garbage surrounding them and their neighboring cells.
Given the many essential roles microglia serve to maintain brain function, these cells may possess the capacity to address multiple arms of neurodegeneration-related dysfunction. Moreover, as lifelong residents of the brain, microglia are already educated in the best practices of brain protection. These factors put microglia in the perfect position for researchers to leverage their inherent abilities to protect against neurodegeneration.
New data in both animal models and human patients points to a previously underappreciated role microglia also play in the development of neurodegenerative disease. Many genetic risk factors for diseases like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis are strongly linked to abnormal microglia function. These findings support an accumulating number of animal studies suggesting that disruptions to microglial function may contribute to neurologic disease onset and severity.
This raises the next logical question: How can researchers harness microglia to protect the nervous system against neurodegeneration?
Engaging the magic of microglia
In our lab’s recent study, we keyed in on a crucial protein called SYK that microglia use to manipulate their response to neurodegeneration.
Our collaborators found that microglia dial up the activity of SYK when they encounter debris in their environment, such as amyloid beta in Alzheimer’s or myelin debris in multiple sclerosis. When we inhibited SYK function in microglia, we found that twice as much amyloid beta accumulated in Alzheimer’s mouse models and six times as much myelin debris in multiple sclerosis mouse models.
Blocking SYK function in the microglia of Alzheimer’s mouse models also worsened neuronal health, indicated by increasing levels of toxic neuronal proteins and a surge in the number of dying neurons. This correlated with hastened cognitive decline, as the mice failed to learn a spatial memory test. Similarly, impairing SYK in multiple sclerosis mouse models exacerbated motor dysfunction and hindered myelin repair. These findings indicate that microglia use SYK to protect the brain from neurodegeneration.
But how does SYK protect the nervous system against damage and degeneration? We found that microglia use SYK to migrate toward debris in the brain. It also helps microglia remove and destroy this debris by stimulating other proteins involved in cleanup processes. These jobs support the idea that SYK helps microglia protect the brain by charging them to remove toxic materials.
Finally, we wanted to figure out if we could leverage SYK to create “super microglia” that could help clean up debris before it makes neurodegeneration worse. When we gave mice a drug that boosted SYK function, we found that Alzheimer’s mouse models had lower levels of plaque accumulation in their brains one week after receiving the drug. This finding points to the potential of increasing microglia activity to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
The horizon of microglia treatments
Future studies will be necessary to see whether creating a super microglia cleanup crew to treat neurodegenerative diseases is beneficial in people. But our results suggest that microglia already play a key role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases by helping to remove toxic waste in the nervous system and promoting the healing of damaged areas.
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, though. Excessive inflammation driven by microglia could make neurologic disease worse. We believe that equipping microglia with the proper instructions to carry out their beneficial functions without causing further damage could one day help treat and prevent neurodegenerative disease.