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.


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”.


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.


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?


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.



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.


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.

Disappointment over refugee sponsorship scheme

Transcript from SBS World News Australia Radio.


The pilot will enable community groups to sponsor people in humanitarian need to come to Australia.

But the cost of the visa, which is to be paid by the sponsor, is proving unpopular.

And there is frustration that the up to 500 people to be brought to Australia under the program will not be in addition to Australia’s current refugee quota.

LISTEN: Phillippa Carisbrooke reports.

The private sponsorship scheme is expected to come into effect early next year,

It will enable community groups and charities to apply to sponsor people in humanitarian need to come and live in Australia.

The Refugee Council of Australia has welcomed the concept, but is disappointed at the size of the visa application charge to be paid by the sponsor.

Chief Executive Paul Power says the $20,000 to $30,000 charge is four to five time higher than his organisation had envisaged, and will not be affordable for many community groups.

“For instance if their goal over a couple of years was to resettle four families they would be looking at paying 80-thousand to 120-thousand dollars in visa application charges. And on top of that would have all the other charges associated with a resettlement. The airfares the practical assistance to the families in the early stage and a considerable amount of volunteer effort. Given that this would be being conducted by volunteer organisations and the money would be donated money and that charge is really a bit too steep. But, I think there are groups that are so desperate to resettle people that they would go to any extend to be able to raise funds to resettle people who are close to them who are in desperate need.”

Mr Power says when the Refugee Council consulted with community organisations about the proposed pilot, some expressed concern that it might be simply a cost-cutting measure by the government.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says such concerns have not been raised with him.

“In the consultation that we have done, and which I have done, directly with service providers, with respect not through the Refugee Council, that has not been raised at all. In all the consultations I have done shows people are very keen to be involved in this. They recognise this is a good opportunity to help their communities and they will be doing so.”

Mr Bowen says charging sponsors $20,000 to $30,000 per application will keep the cost to the taxpayer to a minimum.

“We’ll still be providing a range of services to people. People will still have access to Medicare, still have access to certain welfare provisions. And there will be all the processing costs. We will be looking to the service provider to provide accommodation and key settlement assistance and help them into employment etc. So this is about making sure that the Australia taxpayer is not disadvantaged by the implementation of this scheme.”

AMES helps new and recently arrived refugees settle in Victoria.

It fears the private sponsorship program could give rise to a two-tier system.

Chief Executive Cath Scarth says there is a danger smaller, less well established community groups could find themselves excluded from the program due to lack of resources.

“There are clearly those longer established refugee communities who have been in Australia longer, clearly have been working, perhaps are here in larger numbers and so can support something like this. So they have if you like the financial capacity, not just in terms of the 20 to 30-thousand, but also the capacity in terms of providing housing and providing other support but refugees. Where as you look at groups that may have been arriving more recently in the last five-years or so and may not be in that position.”

The announcement the 500 refugees resettled through the pilot will not be in addition to the 20,000 vulnerable and displaced people resettled though the government’s expanded humanitarian intake program in 2012-13, has come as a disappointment to the National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Chief Executive Dr John Falzon says it removes a major incentive for private sponsorship.

“The bottom line is that the incentive to be involved in this scheme has been somewhat dissipated by the fact these are not additional places. One will not be surprised if the response to this pilot is somewhat cynical in the sense that the government may well be perceived as saying well if you want these people to have an opportunity to come here that badly, you the community sector will need to foot to bill. You know it’s a sad day when charity becomes the default position for the provision of services and goods that should properly be the responsibility of government.”

Minister Bowen says he has been contacted by a number of community groups and charities over the years wishing to sponsor refugees, and that the pilot will now allow them to do so.

But asked if the St Vincent de Paul Society would take part in the pilot, Doctor Falzon said the costs involved were prohibitive.

He says the charity is already under financial strain catering for the needs of asylum seekers living in the community while they await decisions on their refugee applications.

“I’d be loathe to say never, because I think that would be a rash response. But I will say that the feedback that I am getting from many sections of my organisation is that in some parts of Australia there has been a great deal of pressure placed on our members to be able to meet the needs of people that the government has basically abandoned in the community without the kind of essential material and social support they need while awaiting a determination on their status.”

Blog: Greek election and Australian impact

We should know just before the end of Monday’s trading day who won the Greek election and gain a better understanding of whether the country will keep or dump the euro currency.


There has been a two- week blackout, so there is no recent indication of which party is likely to win, however, earlier polls suggested 78 per cent of Greeks want to still stay in the euro.

For global investors, they’d prefer a straight pro-austerity New Democracy win, which would push through the necessary changes for Greece to continue receiving financial aid, although that straight out election win, may not happen.

What’s more likely, is that the party may get the largest percentage of votes, but not the 151 seats needed to form an outright government. New Democracy would then be asked by the President to form a government by reaching out to other parties, preferably with PASOK which is also pro-bailout.

What the markets won’t want to see is the potential for another election, likely in July or August, which may happen if New Democracy still doesn’t reach 151 seats, even with minority support. That’s because uncertainty would continue, and if there is anything investors don’t like and often use as an excuse to sell their holdings, is uncertainty.

A straight Syriza, anti-austerity win is being seen as a low possibility, although the European Union may renegotiate the bailout terms because it would be just too costly to have Greece leave the euro. On the off chance Syriza will stick to its guns, and not negotiate, it would open the path for a Grexit.

What would likely happen is the EU and IMF would stop funding Athens. The IMF does though, have a fund to bail out non- euro member countries, but that would require further negotiations. That in turn would force Greece to print its own currency, the New Drachma, to pay their loans.

However, the currency would likely immediately depreciate, some predicting as much as 70 per cent.

That would send the country into economic ruin, in the short term.

To get there though, the new anti-austerity government would have to leave the euro in secret, and freeze ATMs and bank accounts. It would be an attempt to prevent Greeks from withdrawing their savings from Greek banks en mass, to either hold physically as cash, or deposit in other European banks to prevent the immediate depreciation.

But Greeks are already taking action, ripping their cash from banks. If it continues to happen, a new banking crisis would emerge resulting in Greece defaulting on its debts.

Shane Oliver from AMP Capital predicts an initial GDP slump of around 15 per cent, pushing unemployment to more than 30 per cent.

The European public sector would also lose out, because of its $380billion exposure to the country.

Even worse, is the threat of contagion, a sense of, if Greece can exit, so can other nations.

Portugal, Ireland, Spain and possibly Italy could be at risk.

So how does all of this impact Australia?

Firstly, it will affect Chinese confidence which in turn impacts demand for Australian commodities; secondly bank funding, potentially driving up interest rates locally as wholesale funding costs rise; and thirdly falling sharemarkets.

The irony is that a Greek exit may, in the long term be good for Greece. Despite the potential of years of recession, and possible social unrest early on, a lower currency would give it a competitive edge in the following decade when it comes to exports, and its biggest contributor to growth, tourism would boom for the simple fact, it would be dramatically cheaper to holiday there.

We will get a clearer indication at the beginning of next week as to the future of Greece.

IG Markets says the Greek polls will close at 2am on Monday AEST, with the first official projections expected at 4:45am. Two-thirds of the votes should be counted by 8:45am with the final results expected just before the markets close locally, at 3pm.

In the words of a former 2009 Greek Eurovision contestant, one Sakis Rouvas, will it be “This is our night, time for a change baby, get rid of the old, take a hold and be free”, or “Counting down, the night of nights, getting now, to stand and fight, don’t back down, just look within, do it now, I know you will”.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Putin vetoes Syria sanctions

And as world leaders Friday voiced fears the violence-wracked nation stood on the brink of civil war, the UN Human Rights Council ordered an independent probe to hunt those guilty of last week’s massacre in Houla.


The London-based Syrian Observatory says as many as 2,300 of the more than 13,400 people killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March last year have died since April 12.

But despite the relentless violence, there are sharp differences between Arab and Western governments and Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow on the way forward.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, warned the situation in Syria was “extremely dangerous” and said he saw emerging signs of a civil war.

But he struck a fiery tone in a joint press conference with Hollande, saying “sanctions hardly ever work in an efficient manner” and indicating that Bashar al-Assad’s departure would not in itself resolve the crisis.

“What is happening in Libya? What is happening in Iraq? Has it become safer there?” he said in Paris. “We propose to act in an accurate, balanced manner at least in Syria.”

But Hollande kept up the pressure for decisive action, insisting that Assad’s departure was “a prerequisite for a political transition” and that “there must be sanctions” against his regime.

“Bashar al-Assad’s regime has conducted itself in an unacceptable and intolerable manner. It has committed acts that disqualify itself” from governing, said Hollande.

Earlier, Merkel and Putin found common ground on backing the peace mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan but the former UN chief himself admitted to frustration at the slow progress he was making in staunching the bloodshed.

After his talks in Berlin, the Russian president underlined his opposition to military intervention to stop the bloodshed.

“You cannot do anything by force,” Putin told reporters.

He also hit back at suggestions Moscow was supplying arms for use in Syria. “As far as arms supplies are concerned, Russia does not supply the weapons that could be used in a civil conflict,” Putin said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, charged that Russia has continued to supply arms to the regime of Syrian President Assad.

“We know there has been a very consistent arms trade, even during the past year, coming from Russia to Syria” and that this had strengthened the Assad regime, she said in Oslo.

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council ordered an independent probe to hunt those guilty of the massacre in Houla that rights chief Navi Pillay said could constitute a “crime against humanity”.

Forty-one of the 47-member council backed a call urging an investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, set up by the council last year to gather evidence on alleged rights abuses.

Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution, which they said was “unbalanced” as it presumed the guilt of the Syrian authorities for the May 25 massacre of 108 people, mostly children and women, in the central Syrian town.

Speaking in Lebanon, Annan spoke of his frustration at the slow progress in implementing his six-point peace plan that was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12 but that has been violated daily.

“We are all impatient and frustrated over the violence, over the killings. I am frustrated even more maybe than most of you,” said Annan.

“Bold action has to be taken by President Assad in Syria to put real energy into the implementation of the six-point peace plan.”

But the rebel Free Syrian Army said the Annan plan had failed and announced that it would resume “defensive operations” after the expiry of a noon (0900 GMT) ultimatum for the regime to adhere to the plan.

FSA spokesman Kassem Saadeddine told AFP that “we will not go on the offensive because we do not want to be singled out as the ones responsible for breaking the peace initiative.”

China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Liu Zhenmin told the rights council meeting that an immediate ceasefire was necessary, otherwise the situation could lead “perhaps even to civil war.”

And after talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Istanbul, British Foreign Secretary William Hague voiced similar concerns.

“Both the secretary general and I — and also the opposition in Syria — think that Syria is on the edge of a catastrophic situation… on the edge of an all-out civil war and the collapse of Syria into sectarian strife,” Hague said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least another 45 people, including 12 soldiers and eight people in the Damascus region, were killed across the country.

The UN ceasefire observer mission in Syria is now at “full strength,” with nearly 300 military monitors in the conflict-stricken country, a UN peacekeeping spokesman said Friday.

23 killed in attack on Pakistan Shiites

A suicide attack on a Shiite Muslim procession in Pakistan’s city of Rawalpindi overnight killed 23 people and wounded another 62, a police rescue spokeswoman told AFP.


The attack came as Pakistan welcomed Muslim leaders for a rare international summit in Islamabad. Deeba Shehnaz said the death toll rose from 16 after patients, who were critically wounded in the attack, died from their injuries in various hospitals.

Police used lamps and torches to work through the night, bagging evidence at the scene after the Shiite procession was hit en route to the mosque where it was heading for the holy month of Muharram — a magnet for sectarian attacks.

In addition to the 23 people killed, rescue service spokesman Waqas Rehman told AFP that another 32 people were wounded including nine children.

Rawalpindi is adjacent to Islamabad, where thousands of extra police and paramilitary forces have been mobilised for the Developing 8 (D8) summit starting later on Thursday.

Leaders from Egypt, Iran and Turkey are among those at the summit of mainly Muslim nations which is meant to promote trade and investment. But Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza is set to loom large, even if a truce is now in effect.

The ceasefire was agreed in a deal between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas that was announced in Egypt on the eighth day of violence in and around Gaza. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was slated to join the Islamabad talks.

As well as the hosts Pakistan, the D8 also comprises Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria — the only member which is not majority-Muslim. Its population is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Pakistan wants the summit to strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions (about the country) created in a section of international media”, a government statement said in the buildup to the gathering.

In addition to the security deployment, construction work has been suspended around the diplomatic enclave to provide “God willing, foolproof security”, Islamabad police chief Bani Amin told AFP.

But Wednesday’s long day of militant violence was an unwelcome reminder that Pakistan remains in the grip of unrest largely orchestrated by homegrown Taliban extremists bitterly opposed to the country’s US-allied government.

In the southwestern city of Quetta, bombers hit an army vehicle escorting children home from school, killing four soldiers and a woman, police said.

More than 20 people were wounded when the bomb, planted on a motorcycle, was detonated by remote control, said city police chief Hamid Shakeel.

Shopkeeper Mohammad Talib said he was returning to his shop after prayers at a nearby mosque.

“Soon after, I heard a huge blast. There was dust and smoke. I saw an army vehicle in flames. Shards of glass were littered on the road. There was panic, people were screaming, others were fleeing the area,” he said.

Two people were killed in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi when a bomb-laden motorcycle collided with a rickshaw near a Shiite mosque, city police chief Iqbal Hussain told AFP.

In northwest Pakistan, four police died when gunmen ambushed a patrol in Bannu district, police official Nisar Ahmed Tanoli said. And a roadside bomb elsewhere killed another police official.

Because of such violence in the years since the September 11 attacks of 2001, Pakistan has rarely had a chance to host major international gatherings, and the government had hoped to use the D8 summit to present a different image.

Having received thanks from US President Barack Obama for helping to broker the Israel-Hamas truce, Egypt’s Morsi is scheduled to address a joint session of the Pakistani parliament on Friday.

EU budget summit ends in failure

EU President Herman Van Rompuy insisted however that progress had been made in the two days of bitter bargaining.


He forecast that a deal would be made when leaders meet again next year.

Tensions between rich and poor states over funding for economic development and Britain’s strident demands for cuts in the mammoth budget — covering seven years from 2014 to 2020 — had set the summit on a rocky course from the start.

Britain was cast as the chief spoiler, with Prime Minister David Cameron arriving with a threat to wield his veto unless spending was frozen in real terms. He argued that in times of economic crisis, the EU too must make deep cuts.

But Cameron said as leaders went home without a deal that his country was not alone in seeking to reduce EU spending.

“The deal on the table was not one I was prepared to accept, nor were a number of other countries,” he said of talks that a former European premier described as “like a Turkish bazaar”.

The last time the EU had to agree on seven-year budget negotiations was in 2005, when it took six months and a failed summit during which Britain deployed its veto.

Nearly a year after angering his European counterparts by vetoing a pact to resolve the eurozone crisis, Cameron irritated many by demanding cuts to perks enjoyed by so-called “eurocrats” — the well-paid EU civil servants frequently lampooned by the British press.

He failed to get them.

“The (European) Commission did not offer a single euro in savings (on perks) and I just don’t think that was good enough,” he said.


An EU diplomat said the main obstacle at the summit was Cameron’s demand for reductions in the planned trillion dollar budget, with Sweden and The Netherlands the other “virulent” countries seeking cuts.

Cameron had vowed to bring down the budget from a proposed 1.047 trillion euros ($1.347 trillion) to 886 billion euros.

Van Rompuy submitted new proposals Friday to bring the budget to 972 billion euros, or just over one percent of the total economic output of the union that is home to 500 million people.

Those proposals aimed to meet demands to maintain so-called “cohesion” funds to help poorer nations and regions catch up with richer ones, as well as spending on the Common Agricultural Policy, the farm subsidy programme cherished by France that is the budget’s biggest single item.

But that was not enough, and EU leaders threw in the towel.

As recriminations began to fly, a British source criticised a lack of preparation by Van Rompuy for the summit, saying it made negotiations more difficult.

French President Francois Hollande took a pop at Cameron, saying he had come to the summit with a “set priority” to protect the British rebate.

“I too could say that I want my discount,” he said, adding that Britain was a smaller net contributor to the EU budget than France, which does not claim a rebate.

Britain has claimed that right since then prime minister Margaret Thatcher obtained one in 1984 on the grounds that London was paying too much into the bloc’s coffers.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which forks out by far the most money to keep the EU running, had been sceptical even before arriving in Brussels that a deal might be reached at the summit and played down the importance of failure.

She said Friday she was “satisfied” at the progress made and confident a deal would eventually be achieved.

Is Japan’s nuclear-free pathway environmentally friendly?

By Sanghyun Hong, University of Adelaide and Barry W.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”