Saving Privat(izing) Ryan: Mitt Romney selects a running mate

By Glenn Altschuler, Cornell University

On Saturday, August 11, “before the press and just about everyone else” was notified, the Mitt Romney campaign used a mobile phone app to inform supporters that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be the Republican candidate for vice president.

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Romney’s choice is significant. No vice presidential candidate has been a deciding factor in an American election since Lyndon Johnson carried Texas for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Since then the operative principle for Republicans and Democrats in selecting a VP has been the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath for physicians: Do No Harm. Romney was widely expected to make a “safe” choice—of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman, U.S. Senator from Ohio. Instead, he has, uncharacteristically, rolled the dice.

The forty-two year old Ryan is an experienced, articulate and influential legislator, a vigorous campaigner, and the darling of conservative Republicans and Tea Party activists. A key factor in his selection is his ability to energise the party’s base, which has been less than enthusiastic about Governor Romney, a former Massachusetts moderate. Ryan’s supporters suggest as well that he will help the GOP win the 10 Electoral votes of his home state, which has been carried by the Democrats in every presidential election since the 1980s.

But Ryan’s presence on the ticket also gives President Obama an opportunity to change the conversation from the fragile, and some say faltering, economy, to a federal spending plan, authored by Ryan, that Newt Gingrich (of all people) called “right wing social engineering.” First introduced in 2010 and known variously as The Path to Prosperity and The Roadmap, the Ryan budget proposes radical changes in the role of government in promoting and protecting the welfare of American citizens – and an attack on Social Security and Medicare, two of the most popular programs in the United States.

In its current version (which passed the House of Representatives with support from all but four Republicans and died in the Democrat-controlled Senate), the Ryan budget would cut $6 trillion in discretionary spending over ten years, reducing the deficit to about 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product by fiscal year 2014, three years ahead of the White House plan. Favorable to the wealthiest Americans in virtually every provision (Ryan has signed the “no tax” pledge of lobbyist Grover Norquist, who famously aims to shrink the federal government until it’s small enough to be drowned in a bathtub) it collapses individual income tax brackets into two rates— 10% and 25% —and promises to clear out “the burdensome tangle of loopholes that distort economic activity,” without identifying any specific loophole. And it cuts corporate tax rates ten points to 25 percent while eliminating (as yet unnamed) exemptions.

Unlike a previous iteration of his plan, Ryan would not now privatise Social Security. But Democrats will surely remind voters of his earlier views — and will ask Governor Romney if he agrees with them. The latest Roadmap does phase out Medicare, a government guarantee of health care for senior citizens, in favor of vouchers, which would be used by individuals to pay for private insurance premiums – but which, according to critics, will not pay the full freight.

The Roadmap is not popular with voters. When Ryan discussed it at town hall meetings in his home state, he was shouted down. Fearing dire consequences at the ballot box, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer characterized the Ryan Plan, which weighed in at 73 pages with 37 footnotes, as perhaps “the most annotated suicide note in history.” Until recently, Romney, who has endorsed The Roadmap, kept his distance from it.

He will not now be able to do so. And so, the selection of Ryan will make it far more difficult for Republicans to carry Florida, a must-win state with many senior citizens – and 29 Electoral votes.

As Democrats assert that, by jumping on Ryan’s Express, Romney has demonstrated that he is a hostage to Tea Party extremists, they may also take note of Ryan’s record during the presidency of George W. Bush, when he voted for sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, and the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP, and in so doing, helped add $5 trillion to the national debt. Ryan now claims that the experience made him miserable. The GOP faithful will give him the benefit of the doubt, but mainstream voters may be less forgiving.

Whether Ryan’s presence on the ticket proves a boost or a bust, it could inject a substantive discussion of the issues into what hitherto has been a dispiritingly vicious contest. Congressman Ryan could save both Romney’s campaign and his own efforts to privatize the economy. He could also sink them both.

Glenn Altschuler does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

How ethical are hymen restorations?

Because they have had pre-marital sex and risk being ostracised by their family; because they are victims of rape; or because they “want to achieve a sense of a clean slate”.

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These are just some of the reasons why some women are asking cosmetic surgeons like Dr Les Blackstock to restore their hymens.

“I’ve done women from most cultures and most religions; I’ve done women who have been victims of rape, I’ve done women who have no sexual interest, they’ve been returning to be a nun,” he tells SBS’s Insight.

“They want to very much achieve a sense of a clean slate.”

Hymen restoration is the surgical repair of the hymen. There are no hard data on hymenoplasty rates in Australia, but surgeons say there is a steady demand for the procedure in Australia.

CULTURAL DEMANDS

In some cultures, having gynaecologists ‘inspect’ hymens is not uncommon. Sydney-based gynaecologist Dr Wafa Samen often issues doctor’s certificates in English and in Arabic certifying that a hymen is intact.

“Culturally and religiously, it is important to preserve the virginity and that applies to woman and men,” says Dr Samen.

In cultures that place a high value on virginity there may be serious consequences for the woman and her family if her hymen is not intact, including being outcast from the community, beatings, mutilations and honour killings.

“One of my standard questions when I interview the woman is: will they be at physical risk?” says Dr Blackstock. “Because in some the cultures the women have told me that they may be physically harmed and there have been deaths reported for lack of virginity.”

He adds: “I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected.”

 

WATCH: The audience receives mystery packages. Can you guess what they are?

ETHICAL DILEMMAS

Surgeons are faced with a moral dilemma: on one hand, they can help women avoid social and mental consquences through hymen reconstruction. On the other hand, performing such an unnecessary surgical procedure might contribute to persisting gender inequality.

One paper published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics writes:

“Gynecologists may oppose hymen reconstruction on grounds that it is deceptive, not medically required, or that the requirement of evidence of virginity discriminates against women and the procedure supports holding them to higher standards of virtue than are required of men.”

However, the paper also writes that gynaecologists “may justify the procedure” if the hymen reconstruction preserves “mental and social wellbeing”, especially if the woman faces violence or death.

So what happens when a gynaecologist, who certifies intact hymens, like Dr Samen, detects a restored hymen?

“As a doctor I should keep the confidentiality of the patient,” she tells Insight.

What do you think about hymen reconstructions? How do you define virginity? Watch the Insight discussion on virginity tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.

 

WATCH A PREVIEW

Srebrenica: Massacre victims reburied

Bosnians buried 520 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, with the two alleged masterminds of the slaughter finally on trial for genocide.

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About 30,000 people gathered at a special memorial centre in Potocari, just outside Srebrenica, for the mass funeral on the 17th anniversary of the worst single atrocity on European soil since World War II.

After speeches and the Muslim prayer for the dead, people began hoisting the simple coffins covered in green cloth to carry them to the freshly dug graves. Clouds of red dust rose over the vast cemetery as relatives covered the caskets with earth under the sweltering afternoon sun.

Mujo Salihovic, 30, had come to bury his father and one of his brothers — his other brother was already among the 5,137 victims already laid to rest there.

“I haven’t told my mother that they will be buried today. She is sick and still believes they will return,” he said tearfully.

“If I tell her, it would kill her. I cannot lose her, she is all that I have left”.

It is the first anniversary being commemorated since the massacre’s alleged architects, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic, went on trial before the UN war crimes court.

In all, around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops who overran the UN protected enclave on July 11, 1995, in the only episode of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to have been ruled a genocide by international courts.

US President Barack Obama in a statement slammed moves to downplay the scale of the massacre in a clear swipe at Serbia’s new President Tomislav Nikolic, who said last month that the killings in Srebrenica constituted “grave war crimes” but not genocide.

“The United States rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalise the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide,” he said.

Holocaust-survivor and US rabbi Arthur Schneier, who spoke at the commemoration, condemned the massacre and also the international silence in the face of grave injustice that allowed it to happen, drawing a comparison with events in Syria.

“Silence is not a solution; it merely encourages the perpetrators and ultimately it pays a heavy price in blood,” he said.

“It is a lesson that the world must learn again today as we witness the massacres being perpetrated by the regime in Syria against its own people. It is time again for humanity to say with one clear voice: these crimes must end,” he urged.

Many survivors and relatives in Srebrenica said Wednesday the trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are too little, too late.

“It hurts me to watch broadcasts of the trials… it does not comfort me. (Karadzic and Mladic) plead not guilty, they say this was not genocide,” Muniba Cakar, who buried her husband, said bitterly.

“It should be enough to come here and see the thousands of graves. If that is not proof, we should give up,” the 63-year-old said, gesturing at the thousands of simple white headstones around her.

The trial of Mladic, who commanded the attack on Srebrenica, resumed in The Hague this week with the first prosecution witnesses testifying, a little over a year since his arrest in Serbia after nearly 16 years on the run.

Karadzic is due to start presenting his defence in October. His trial opened in 2009 after he evaded justice for 13 years.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to genocide charges for masterminding the massacre and all other charges against them over the Bosnian war that left around 100,000 people dead.

So far 38 former Bosnian Serb military or police officials have been convicted, including some for genocide, for their role in the Srebrenica killings, both by the ICTY and Bosnia’s own war crimes court.

In the past 17 years, the remains of 6,800 victims have been identified, but the search goes on as excavations of mass graves continue.

Is Japan’s nuclear-free pathway environmentally friendly?

By Sanghyun Hong, University of Adelaide and Barry W.

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Brook, University of Adelaide

On 14 September 2012, the Japanese Government considered a new policy that excited many self-proclaimed environmentalists and anti-nuclear power protestors. Following intense political wrangling, they proposed phasing out the use of nuclear power in Japan by 2040, replacing it with renewable energy (and fossil fuels). This decision, if carried through, has important environmental and financial implications that may come as a surprise to many.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident on 11 Mar 2011, caused by an earthquake-triggered tsunami, consigned the established Japanese electricity-generation plan to the dustbin. Along with it went Japan’s Kyoto-protocol commitments for greenhouse-gas mitigation.

Originally, the Japanese government had planned to increase nuclear power to 45% and renewables (including hydro) to 20% by the year 2030, up from 26% and 10% respectively in 2010. After the accident, the National Policy Unit in Japan hinted that the original plan was likely to be scrapped in favour of a new scenario, whereby the nuclear target was to be reduced to somewhere between 0–35% and the renewables target increased to 20–30%. Even with an increased share of renewables, the shift away from nuclear under any of the proposed scenarios will lead to greater use of fossil fuels.

The Fukushima disaster sparked protests and prompted a move away from nuclear energy for Japan SandoCap

To compare the proposed options fairly, we argue that it makes sense take a holistic view of their relative sustainability. To do this, we need to account for a range of environmental and socio-economic factors, including greenhouse-gas emissions, water consumption, land transformation, health and safety issues, and cost of electricity. One should use an evidence-based auditing method like multi-criteria decision-making analysis (MCDMA), which is transparent and relatively objective.

Our recent research (currently submitted to the journal Energy) uses MCDMA to show that even when the negative consequences of using nuclear power are properly factored in (and costs assigned to waste management, accident consequences, and so on), those scenarios with reduced nuclear power result in a less sustainable future in Japan.

In particular, the greenhouse-gas emissions of the nuclear-free scenario can reach up to about 430kg per megawatt hour. By comparison, in the 35% nuclear-power scenario, it is only 267kg per megawatt hour, in spite of the higher renewable energy share of the former. Except for the differing nuclear capacity, in all scenarios the ratio of coal to gas power had the largest influence on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Unfortunately, a high dependency on renewables without ongoing support for nuclear in Japan cannot cut the electricity generation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions unless some currently undeveloped alternative forms of cheap, large-scale energy storage are deployed in the future.

Nuclear power is a zero-carbon energy technology Michael Kappel

Efforts to increase the penetration of renewable energy in Japan are obviously a better pathway than a fossil-fuel-only future. However, Japan must face a number of realities.

It is not possible to supply 100% of Japan’s current electricity consumption using renewable energy, due to physical limits of generation on the densely populated island nation. As such, the nuclear-free scenario aims to replace a massive “greenhouse-gas free” energy source (nuclear), with other forms of zero-carbon energy sources (renewables). It does not seek to mitigate or displace dependence on coal, natural gas and oil.

The consequences of this choice are, obviously, losing the battle against global climate change. This is more serious than any known nuclear-power-related issues, such as waste management or accidental releases of radioactive material.

We all must understand that there is no “silver bullet” energy source which can solve all problems perfectly without any negative impacts to society and the environment. Trade-offs are, like death and taxes, inevitable.

Some examples:

The life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of photovoltaic power are higher than nuclear power.

According to RenewableUK, in United Kingdom, there had been about 1,500 wind-power-related accidents and four fatalities during 2007–2011.

Manufacture of photovoltaic cells uses a mix of toxic chemicals.

Wind turbines and solar thermal plants use relatively large amounts of concrete and steel per unit of electricity.

Hydro requires massive land transformation.

Intermittent renewable energy sources typically rely on natural-gas backup.

The Japanese government’s original plans for nuclear energy to provide 45% of their total power by 2030 have been abolished. IAEA Imagebank

Moreover, most countries are not able to supply 100% of their own electricity consumption from renewables due to physical limits (such as usable land that is not already dedicated to human use or for nature reserves). For instance, our Energy paper shows that Japan can theoretically meet 20–30% of their electricity consumption using non-hydro renewables. Although some countries are able to achieve a 100% renewable-powered electricity network (for example, Norway or Iceland; they both have plentiful hydro and/or near-surface geothermal resources), other forms of energy must be supplied, for heating, domestic-vehicle fuels, shipping and aviation, and industrial processes.

Even with major improvements in energy efficiency, we will need much more future electricity to manufacture synthetic fuels to replace the currently dominant role of mined liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons.

These comparisons do not mean that renewable energy is worthless, or that nuclear power is the only option. But they do illustrate the risks posed by arbitrarily closing off technology options.

To achieve a sustainable electricity network, the inherent trade-offs and workability of the whole system – now and into the future – need to be carefully balanced. Choosing one or two renewables might be helpful to reduce greenhouse gas emissions somewhat. But substituting renewables for existing and proposed nuclear, while also allowing dependence on fossil fuels to increase rather than diminish, as Japan now proposes, is irresponsible from an environmental and energy-security perspective.

Recognising this reality, talk is already emerging that the zero-nuclear policy may be shelved.

Climate change and its many consequences are arguably the greatest environmental threat facing humanity this century. Fossil-fuel combustion for electricity production is a major cause of the buildup of greenhouse gases, and its use must be mitigated heavily and eventually eliminated.

Nuclear fission, an abundant and zero-carbon energy technology, has an enormous potential to supply reliable baseload electricity and displace coal and gas power plants directly. Energy plans that expand the role of both nuclear and renewables make sense.

Policies that result in a swap of nuclear for coal and gas, and so increase emissions intensity, put us on the road to disaster.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

BT takes on BSkyB sport to protect broadband business

The former telecoms monopoly, which has committed around 1 billion pounds to the project, is stepping into an arena where others have failed, invariably outmanoeuvred by BSkyB in the battle for programming and subscribers.

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But the deep-pocketed, 168-year-old BT has learnt from the master. While the battle over sports rights grabs the headlines, the underlying struggle is for supremacy in the triple play market – the bundling of television, telephone and broadband.

“This is all about broadband,” Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said. “BT are not in this to get a new stream of revenues, what they’re in this for is to persuade their customers not to churn (switch) to Sky on broadband.”

Sky, 39-percent owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, has dominated the British pay-TV market in the last decade and seen off rivals like the Disney-owned ESPN and the Irish-based challenger Setanta, by using revenue it gets from more than 10 million households to outbid rivals for content.

For years it built up its business by luring customers with the offer of high-quality sports and movie programming. Eyeing an eventual saturation of the pay-TV market however and rapid changes in technology, it moved into BT’s territory in 2006 to offer broadband and telephony services.

The move has helped to grow the firm’s market value to more than 13 billion pounds and its steady growth stands in contrast to the roller coaster ride endured by BT which suffered two major profit warnings in 2008 and 2009.

Having shed costs, the telecoms group has started to rebuild itself by launching a superfast fibre broadband network and an online TV service that was designed to persuade customers to upgrade to the quicker, more expensive offering.

The surprise acquisition of Premier League rights is the icing on the cake for a group that is now valued at double that of BSkyB.

DAVID BECKHAM EVERYWHERE

The clash between two of Britain’s biggest media companies is already evident on billboards around the country.

Determined to protect its leadership of the broadband market, BT is offering its sports service free to consumers who take its broadband. It has 6.8 million customers, which includes some small businesses, compared with BSkyB’s 4.9 million.

BT, whose adverts feature current Premier League players Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie, said last week that more than half a million customers had signed up to take the sports service. It said the number of lines being dropped by consumers preferring its rivals was at its lowest level in five years.

BSkyB has responded by offering free broadband to consumers who subscribe to its sports channels for the next year. Its own ad campaign features former England captain David Beckham following its Premier League coverage everywhere from his sofa to his local cafe.

“We feel very good about where Sky Sports is and what we have got planned,” Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said last week.

The BT service will go live at 1700 GMT on Thursday, with football action from a pre-season tournament involving Manchester City and European champions Bayern Munich.

Two weeks later it will help launch the new Premier League season, the main attraction for many sports fans, with its rights to 38 live Premier League games per season at a cost of 246 million pounds a year.

BSkyB retains the lion’s share of the rights, with 760 million pounds spent on 116 games per season, and while analysts do not expect Sky customers to depart in droves for BT, it may make it harder for the pay-TV group to sign up new customers.

BT has made much of the fact that it will have the first choice of matches for almost half of its games, an advantage that ESPN did not enjoy. However, BSkyB will show some of the plum early fixtures including the first three games for champions Manchester United.

BT, which is basing its studios on the London 2012 Olympic Park, has signed up for three years for the Premier League and believes its service will gain momentum as the season goes on. It has also taken a leaf out of BSkyB’s sporting playbook by boosting its content by buying ESPN’s UK operations and acquiring rights to English club rugby.

BSkyB says its rights to English cricket, Formula One motor racing and Champions League football mean it remains a must-have service for British sports fans.

It has seen off past threats but BT has deep pockets and big ambitions, making this clash one to watch.

“BT has laid down a marker,” Liberum’s Whittaker said. “It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s got plenty of cash. We’ll have to wait and see but BSkyB is used to dealing with big threats.”

($1 = 0.6530 British pounds)

(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Bailout may not be the last for Greece

The dark clouds hanging over the eurozone have receded along with the threat of a Greek default, but the latest bailout for Athens may not be the last.

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After nine long months of negotiations, a large majority of Greece’s private creditors agreed to a bond swap that will see them accept huge losses and wipe some 100 billion euros ($131 billion) off Athens’ debt.

Eurozone finance ministers immediately unblocked part of a second aid package of 130 billion euros and were expected to approve the rest in the coming week.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde welcomed the debt deal as “an important step that will dramatically reduce Greece’s medium-term financing needs and contribute to debt sustainability”.

And US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that thanks to the measures taken by Europe to tamp down the debt crisis, the continent no longer posed major risks to the global economy.

“We are not out of the woods but we have taken an important big step,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

The comments highlighted that the worst-case scenario — the debt crisis spreading to the rest of the world — was no longer expected.

The swap, which was taken up by 83.5 percent of Greece’s private creditors, was a key condition for the bailout to go forward, with the Greek parliament having already approved further spending cuts and reforms to liberalise the economy.

European leaders are now waiting for the International Monetary Fund to say how much it will contribute to the second aid programme.

Even within the 17-member eurozone another spike in the financial crisis was seen as unlikely and contagion of Greece’s endebted neighbours as less probable.

An upbeat French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that “the page of the financial crisis is turning”.

Still, the second bailout which covers the period to the end of 2014 leaves Greece fragile and Athens may need to soon ask for more aid, diplomats warned.

Basing itself on a joint report by the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF, the German news magazine Der Spiegel said Greece may need 50 billion euros in 2015.

A preliminary version of the latest report by the troika of EU, ECB and IMF did not expect Greece to return to the bond markets in 2015. However, Greece may need up to 50 billion euros between 2015 and 2020, and could be struggling to find the funds.

Schaeuble has warned German lawmakers, who voted on the aid packages, that they may have to look at helping out Greece again, but has not mentioned a figure.

And Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker has said: “Nobody should think Greece is going to be on its feet again quickly but nobody should also think that Greece is getting back on its feet without our solidarity and without organised growth policy”.

Juncker warned in an interview last month that a third aid package may not be totally ruled out but added “…we should not have as a starting assumption that a third programme will be” needed.

Along the same line, a European government source said that a third package “seems quite logical” as there was only a small chance for Greece to return to the markets.

But more aid will be less of a problem as the amount of money needed will not be the same, the source added.

The debt swap was aimed to reduce Greek debt to a sustainable level of about 120 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020, against 160 percent now.

But experts see even that reduced level as far too optimistic in a deteriorating economic environment.

“Weak business and consumer sentiment, a rapidly rising unemployment rate and scarce credit all suggest that the economy is likely to continue to contract sharply this year,” said economist Ben May from Capital Economics.

“By contrast, the troika seems to think that the recession is almost over. What’s more, we think that real GDP and inflation will be weaker than the troika assumes in the medium term.”

The latest data released Friday showed the Greek economy shrank by a worse than expected 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Based on the quarterly figures given, the Greek economy shrank by 6.9 percent in 2011.

The economy was initially expected to shrink by 5.5 percent in 2011 and by 2.8 percent this year, according to budget forecasts.

Murray-Darling plan: Indigenous nations ‘not consulted’

Fred Hooper, the chairman of the Northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations says he’s saddened that representatives of the more than 30 nations who live in the basin were not involved in discussions which led to the Murray-Darling basin plan announced today.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged an extra $1.7 billion to deliver an additional 450 billion litres, or gigalitres, to the ailing river ecosystem.

Most of the $1.77 billion will be earmarked for water recovery projects on farms instead of buying back water from irrigators, a strategy staunchly opposed by many in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Up to $200 million will be used to remove river constraints, such as low-lying bridges and undersized dam outlets, to help free the additional 450GL for the environment.

It follows a model proposed earlier in October by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

“If you’re a blackfella today you should be very disappointed in the announcement today and left out of the whole consultation process. The minister said that he spoke to the peak bodies last night. We’re a peak body. We didn’t get a call from the minister and we’re being treated like mushrooms”.

Mr Hooper has also challenged the Prime Minister to meet him to discuss cultural flows.

“It’s all about putting money into ways to save water for irrigation and there’s no money for anything such as research into cultural flows and what they mean to Aboriginal people of the Murray Darling Basin”.

Mr Hooper has called on the federal government to provide support for future projects along the system involving Indigenous Australians.

The Murray-Darling Basin plan will be funded from existing government resources and cash set aside in this week’s mid-year economic outlook.

Legislation to set up the special account for the plan is expected to be introduced to parliament by the end of the year.

Bird flu traced to Shanghai market

Shanghai ordered all live poultry markets in the city closed on Friday after culling more than 20,000 birds to curb the spread of the H7N9 flu virus, which has killed six people in China.

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The latest fatality was a 64-year-old farmer who died in Huzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, local officials said according to the state Xinhua news agency.

He was the second person from Zhejiang to die from the bird flu strain, with the other four fatalities in Shanghai, China’s commercial hub.

The number of confirmed infections rose to 16 with two new ones in neighbouring Jiangsu.

Tests on a seven-year-old girl quarantined in Hong Kong after showing flu-like symptoms following a trip to Shanghai came back negative, officials said.

Shanghai is China’s biggest city with a population of 23 million people and municipal government spokesman Xu Wei said its live poultry markets were being shuttered temporarily for “public safety” purposes, and all trade in live poultry banned.

The moves came after the virus was found in pigeon samples from the Huhuai market in Shanghai, officials said, where a total of 20,536 chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons had been slaughtered.

Local television showed men in protective clothing and facemasks entering the market in the city’s western suburbs during the night, and dozens of empty birdcages.

On Friday, the entrance to the poultry section was concealed with wooden boards and sealed off with plastic tape, with a police car parked nearby and white disinfectant powder sprinkled in the street.

Two staff members at the market told AFP the slaughter was completed overnight.

Consumers in the city snapped up banlangen, a traditional Chinese medicine for colds made from the roots of the woad plant, used as a blue dye in ancient times.

“We sold out. People are buying it one after another. Everyone is afraid of bird flu,” said an employee at the SPH drugstore in downtown Shanghai.

The outbreak was among the most popular topics on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, with 4.7 million posts referring to H7N9. “H7N9 is really frightening, I think you can easily catch it and easily die,” said user Zhou Linlinlin.

The United Nations on Friday drew up a list of recommendations to try to curb the spread of H7N9.

Advice given to those handling birds stressed the importance of regular hand washing, keeping animals away from living areas and avoiding eating sick animals.

“With this virus we don’t have a red flag that immediately signals an infection. This means farmers may not be aware that (the) virus is circulating in their flock,” said Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“Biosecurity and hygiene measures will help people protect themselves from virus circulating in seemingly healthy birds or other animals.”

Hong Kong stocks tumbled 2.73 percent as investors fretted over the flu, with airlines the hardest hit.

The World Health Organisation has played down fears over the H7N9 strain, saying there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, but that it was crucial to find out how the virus infects humans.

Like the H5N1 variant, which can spread from birds to humans through direct contact, experts fear such viruses could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

Shanghai city health official Wu Fan also said Friday there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. One person who had been in close contact with a victim had shown flu-like symptoms but tested negative for H7N9, she said.

The first two deaths from the virus, which had not been seen before in humans, occurred in February but were not reported by authorities until late March. Officials said the delay in announcing the results was because it took time to determine the cause of the illness.

In 2003 Chinese officials were accused of trying to cover up the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people around the world.

But the state-run China Daily on Friday quoted the ministry of health in Beijing as pledging “open and transparent exchanges with the WHO and other countries and regions”.

US health authorities said Thursday they were liaising with domestic and international partners to develop a vaccine for the virus.

Experts are concerned that the virus appears to have spread across a wide geographical area, with people sickened not only in Shanghai, but also the nearby provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.

“I am cautiously worried,” virologist John Oxford of the Queen Mary University of London told AFP. “Because it is so geographically widespread I think it is trying to tell us something.”

The Grim Reaper died in the 80s: Time for a new approach to HIV?

By Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

The Grim Reaper television commercial is infamous in Australia.

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Reminiscent of B-grade gothic horror flicks, the cloaked reaper stands in a foggy bowling alley poised to strike down a group of deadpan, but “ordinary” looking, people. As the people are bowled down, a voice booms, “at first only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS, but now we know every one of us could be devastated by it”.

The Grim Reaper appeared on Australian television in April 1987. It was a phenomenal marketing success. Some 25 years on, just about everyone who saw it remembers it. In my mind, the Grim Reaper was part of pre-bedtime viewing throughout my childhood. In reality, the ad ran for less than three weeks. I probably watched it only a handful of times.

The Grim Reaper has come to symbolise HIV/AIDS in Australia. It captured the fear and uncertainty of a time when people were not sure what would happen with this virus. It wasn’t clear how large the epidemic might grow in Australia; there was certainly no sign of a cure and available treatments at the time were not particularly effective.

The Grim Reaper campaign was not without controversy. In some communities, gay men came to be associated with the Grim Reaper and were seen as a threat to the community, rather than being victims of the disease.

The campaign was immensely effective at drawing attention to HIV/AIDS. Politically this was important. The Commonwealth government had directed a lot of funds toward HIV prevention and, although the Grim Reaper was not devised as a political tool, the response to it justified this spending.

The Queensland government has decided to resurrect the Grim Reaper imagery in a soon-to-be-screened television campaign designed to inform Queenslanders that HIV infection rates are again on the rise. The ad features an actor dressed as the Grim Reaper costume while the voice-over laments, “we shouldn’t be having this conversation”.

The Annual Surveillance Report indicates that in 2010 Queensland recorded its highest ever rate of new HIV infections, having more than doubled in the past decade, from 2.8 per 100,000 people in 2001 to 5.4 in 2010.

The Queensland government has responded to this with a new HIV strategy, beginning with the Reaper ad. But at the same time, it has withdrawn funding from the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC, the former Queensland AIDS Council) – the very organisation that leads HIV prevention targeting gay men in Queensland.

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In Australia, the vast majority of HIV transmission occurs between men who have sex with men. This has always been the case. While heterosexual transmission accounts for several hundred new diagnoses each year, a large proportion of these occur among people who have come to Australia from high-prevalence countries, or whose partner does.

A population-based HIV prevention campaign makes no sense if the flip side includes withdrawing funding to the organisation that targets people most at risk.

The government argues that de-funding QAHC was a response to rising HIV rates — evidence of QAHC’s lack of effectiveness — not an anti-gay agenda. But it would be a concern if HIV prevention in Queensland was to become more conservative, with little acknowledgement of the needs or interests of gay men.

Australia is known as a world leader in HIV prevention largely because the federal government at the time had the foresight to see that community-led organisations such as QAHC were best placed to deliver targeted HIV prevention campaigns to the communities most at risk.

Alongside this, state and federal governments (for the most part) have resisted heavy censoring of safer-sex messages. Health educators have been able to talk openly about sex and produce sex-positive education campaigns. This has been more effective — particularly with lesbian and gay communities — than conservative or morally-driven strategies, such as abstinence education.

The Grim Reaper campaign worked at the time because of its shock value, and because it was accompanied by funding for targeted, community-led prevention campaigns.

The recent rise in HIV rates has occurred in a very different context. A complex combination of issues are contributing to increasing HIV infections, including “safe-sex fatigue” or people’s lowered perception of “risk” in an era where anti-viral treatments are so effective.

The Queensland government may have some success in putting HIV/AIDS back on the public agenda. But debate alone will not curtail HIV infections. What’s needed now are sophisticated prevention campaigns, driven by people and organisations, such as QAHC, that understand the complexities of HIV transmission patterns in Australia at this point in history.

Jennifer Power currently works on project funded by the Australian Research Council, VicHealth, Relationships Australia (National and Victoria) and ACON. In kind (non-monetary contribution) partners on this project include the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

Fyfe stars as Dockers down Crows

Fremantle midfielder Nat Fyfe put on a five-star performance as Adelaide’s finals hopes went up in smoke in Saturday night’s AFL clash at Patersons Stadium.

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Fyfe booted four goals from 29 possessions to inspire Fremantle to the 22-point win – 11.9 (75) to 7.11 (53).

In an added blow for the Crows, forward Josh Jenkins was stretchered off in the final quarter with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury.

Jenkins was left writhing in pain after his ankle twisted at a bad ankle after he landed awkwardly following a marking contest.

Fellow big man Shaun McKernan was also left nursing an ankle injury and was subbed out at three-quarter time.

The defeat means Adelaide (7-10) will end the round at least two wins and percentage adrift of eighth spot.

That gap will be three wins if Port Adelaide beats Brisbane on Sunday.

Adelaide enjoy a soft run home with games against Port Adelaide, North Melbourne (home), Bulldogs (away), Melbourne (home) and West Coast (away).

But they will need to win all of them and rely on other results to fall their way if they are to scrape into the top-eight.

Adelaide only had themselves to blame for the loss.

They won the inside-50m count 45-33, had more tackles, more disposals, and won the clearances 34-25.

But their return of 3.8 from set shots was their undoing.

Fremantle’s 12th win of the season brought them back to within percentage of fourth spot, although Sydney can extend that gap with a win over Richmond on Sunday.

Fyfe was simply sensational throughout the match, with the 21-year-old particularly important when Adelaide threatened to take the lead in the third quarter.

The Dockers led by 23 points at half-time, but saw that advantage whittled down to five points on the back of an inspired performance from Crows midfielder Rory Sloane, who tallied 10 disposals in the third term.

However, Fyfe was up to the challenge, booting two crucial goals late in the quarter to give Fremantle vital breathing space.

Sloane finished with 30 possessions and seven clearances, but it was Fyfe who snared the honours as best afield.

Dockers defender Michael Johnson was also important in the win, while midfielders Michael Barlow and Stephen Hill also played their part.

Crows midfielder Bernie Vince was counting his lucky stars after escaping with just a minor cut despite copping a knee to the head while running back with the flight of the ball.

Dockers tagger Ryan Crowley restricted Richard Douglas to just 16 possessions in the absence of star Crows midfielder Patrick Dangerfield (shoulder).

Jenkins was sent to hospital for scans to determine whether he’d broken either his ankle or leg.

Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson conceded his team’s wayward kicking for goal cost them dearly.

“They weren’t really hard shots either. That’s the thing that was most disappointing,” Sanderson said.

“Fremantle won the game, but you shouldn’t win a game when you have 33 inside 50s.”

Dockers coach Ross Lyon thought his team made the most of their chances.

“I thought we counter-punched them really well,” Lyon said.

“Both teams had a number of players back all night, so it was whoever used the ball best would be able to find targets inside 50.”

Indian opinions towards Australia warm: study

The Lowy Institute and Australia-India Institute opinion poll shows 75 percent of those surveyed believe Australia is a good place to be educated, ranking second only to the United States.

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A further 60 percent of the 1233 adult respondents also said they would like India’s government and society to be more like Australia’s.

Overall, Indians ranked Australia among the top four countries they felt closest to, with the United States, Japan and Singapore taking out the top three.

“It reveals that ordinary Indians quite like Australia despite all the trouble that’s happened,” said the study’s co-author and Director of the Lowy Institute, Professor Rory Medcalf.

“All the trouble” refers to series of much-publicised attacks on Indian students, studying in Australia, in 2009 and 2010. And these events have still left their mark on Indians’ opinions of Australia.

The poll found 62 percent of Indians still considered Australia a dangerous place for students, and 61 percent also felt the attacks were racially motivated.

“There’s still some fragility in the relationship and if there was another crisis it wouldn’t take much to raise these ghosts about racism and danger,” said Professor Medcalf.

According to Professor Medcalf, the main difference between Australia-India relations now, compared to five years ago, is that “champions of the relationship” have emerged.

The poll also found Indians wouldn’t be nearly as interested in Australia if it weren’t for the countries’ mutual love of cricket.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said the game projected a positive image of Australia and helped the countries grow closer.

“It shows the Australian cricket team is still good for one thing, and that is projecting a positive image of Australia in India.”

Aust science prepares for pandemic

Australian researchers are joining forces with scientists overseas to prepare for the next human pandemic.

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A new SARS-like virus has emerged in the Middle East and killed 45 people, and in China a new strain of bird flu is killing people instead of chickens.

CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Director Gary Fitt will tell Australia’s leading biosecurity researchers on Thursday recent global events highlight the need to ramp up research into viruses that spread from animals to humans.

“We now know that 70 per cent of new diseases in people have originated in animals,” he says in a statement.

“We are lucky to have a strong biosecurity system, backed by world-class science, but we live in an increasingly connected world with trade and people movements putting us at greater risk.”

He says CSIRO and Duke-NUS (an alliance between Duke University in the US and the National University of Singapore) have signed a relationship agreement with a view to forming an International Collaborative Centre for One Health.

That $20 million partnership would take a new approach to tackling these deadly viruses, he says.

The virus in the Middle East has already killed 45 of 82 people infected since September 2012. Dr Fitt says it is still unknown how the new strain in China of the highly pathogenic bird flu, known as H7N92, is spreading undetected.

CSIRO Science Leader and Director of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS, Linfa Wang, says responding to the emerging threats needs a new approach that integrates medical, veterinary, ecological and environmental research.

“Bringing all of these disciplines together to develop a One Health approach rather than working independently is what our new international partnership is all about,” he said in a statement.

They are already combining CSIRO’s world-leading bat virology research with Duke-NUS medical expertise in the development of new and more effective methods for the discovery, treatment, prevention and control of new and emerging diseases in people.

Ricciardo given Red Bull warning

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has warned Daniel Ricciardo to be prepared for “a rough ride” should he become Sebastian Vettel’s new teammate at Red Bull.

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Ricciardo is firmly in the running to fill the void to be left by Mark Webber when his fellow Australian retires from Formula One at the end of this season, alongside Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.

Although Tost is convinced Ricciardo has the talent to succeed, he also feels such a move would come “early” given the 24-year-old’s lack of success to date.

Overall, however, Tost claims Ricciardo – or any new teammate – “has to bring a lot to the table” if he is to compete with Vettel.

“Let’s have a look at Seb: he’s a three-time champion – at least per today – which indicates his huge talent,” said Tost, speaking to the official Formula One website.

“He’s extremely disciplined; he’s a sharp technical understanding – probably one of the best in the paddock; he can fight ferociously – he’s proven that time and again, and he is established in a winning team that he has built up with.

“Remember, when Seb left Toro Rosso to join Red Bull Racing the team was in no way the winner that it is today. Seb has contributed a lot to make it happen.

“So if you want to be the new kid on the block you better have all these facts in mind and show even more commitment to come at least close to Seb. That will be a rough ride.”

If Ricciardo does get the nod, with an announcement expected at the end of this month or early next, Tost will urge him to “prepare mentally” up until finally going head to head with Vettel next year.

Asked as to how Ricciardo would achieve that, Tost added: “That in the second half of the season he is inhaling that amount of self-confidence that he needs to survive in a team like Red Bull Racing.

“A simple example: if the car is not perfect, you override it and don’t lament. You work with what you’ve got as what you got is probably down to your own mistake – so go out and fight.

“You start to understand all the others are also putting on their pants one leg at a time – even a Sebastian Vettel.

“That he is moving over with a high fighting spirit and not settling for a passive role. Our talks move alongside these topics.”