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.

Israel says no decision on Middle East nuclear conference

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But the envoy, Ron Prosor, insisted there could be no accord on a weapons free zone until there is a “comprehensive peace” in the region.

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The United Nations is pressing for a conference this year and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has previously said he hoped Israel would attend.

While there are many doubts about whether Israel would go, Prosor told AFP: “No decision has been made regarding Israel’s participation in the international conference at the end of 2012.” He clarified comments made earlier to reporters.

Israel would only be willing to join a nuclear free zone “when there will be comprehensive peace in the region. Before that we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant,” he said earlier.

Prosor said there had been too many cases of nuclear programs in the region where “the international community had very little ability” to act. He cited Iraq and Syria, where Israel has attacked nuclear facilities in the past.

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has a policy of neither confirming nor discussing the country’s atomic capabilities.

UN leader Ban has sought a conference on Middle East nuclear disarmament this year and he asked Finland’s undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, Jaakko Laajava, to be the main planner.

Finland agreed to host the event but no official date has been given.

Diplomats consider the presence of Israel and Iran crucial to the success of any conference, which was called for by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Review held in 2010.

Ban said last month that he wanted Israel to attend.

“Israel will be invited and they should be there but nothing has been decided yet,” he said while in Jerusalem.

Preparations are going ahead amid mounting Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Egypt buzzing ahead of landmark poll

A buzz of excitement swept through the Egyptian capital, a day before its first presidential election since an uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak and ushered in a tumultuous military-led transition.

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The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, on Tuesday repeated its earlier calls for Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any “violation.”

“The participation of citizens in the presidential election is the best guarantee of the transparency and security of the electoral process,” Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the SCAF, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.

“We will not allow any violation or (attempt) to influence the electoral process or the voters,” he added, saying that any person who broke the law would be treated “firmly and decisively.”

Despite the tone of the warning, the sentiment in Cairo’s streets ahead of the election was dominated by excited anticipation and last-minute discussion about candidates.

“This is the first time I’ll be going to vote in any election, and it’s definitely a big deal. My family has been talking about it for weeks,” said Ibrahim Farrag Hassan, 64, who sells toys in a small market in central Cairo.

Around 50 million eligible voters are being called to choose Mubarak’s successor on Wednesday and Thursday with a run-off scheduled for next month should there be no outright winner.

“This election will change things, whoever is coming will be scared of the people and will have to listen to them,” said Hind Ahmed, 25, a shop assistant at a lingerie store.

“All my friends and family are talking about the elections all the time. It’s the first time in their lives that any of them are voting in a presidential election because this time the result isn’t known in advance.”

Campaigning for the landmark poll ended on Sunday night, with candidates banned from giving any media interviews or making public appearances for 48 hours before the election.

But the “campaign silence” did little to dim the excitement in Cairo.

“Tomorrow is the big exam, I have knots in my stomach and can’t sleep,” giggled Warda, 25, an attendant at an upmarket sports club in Cairo.

After decades of pre-determined results, for the first time, the outcome of the vote — which pits Islamists against secularists and revolutionaries against old regime members — is wide open.

The main contenders are former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, Ahmed Shafiq, the last premier to serve under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi, independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri on Tuesday called for calm during the election and urged political forces to accept the results of the historic vote, echoing a call a day earlier by the ruling military.

Ganzuri asked Egyptians to “stand together to ensure the success of the electoral process and to accept the decision of the majority of Egyptians who will express their will through the ballot boxes.”

In a statement, he expressed hope that “the elections proceed with calm” and called on “candidates, political forces, parties to urge their supporters to respect the will of others and accept the results of the election.”

In Cairo, an army vehicle rumbled through Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak– urging Egyptians to vote.

“Rise, Egyptian; Egypt is calling you,” the soldier shouted through a loudspeaker, borrowing the lyrics from a popular nationalist song by iconic composer Sayyed Darwish.

“It’s the first time your vote will count, don’t stay at home,” he pleaded.

On Monday, the SCAF urged Egyptians to accept the results of the looming election.

Comment: Defence force sex scandals – can the culture be changed?

By Ben Wadham, Flinders University

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is again confronted by allegations of sexual humiliation and denigration of serving female members.

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The latest scandal involves claims that emails containing explicit images of women were circulated between up to 100 or more Defence Force personnel. A number of the members involved have already been suspended, including several senior officers.

In a video message, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutentant-General David Morrison, vowed to rid the Australian Defence Force of those guilty of the damaging behaviour:

On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.

If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.

The Conversation spoke with Flinders University’s Ben Wadham, an expert on military culture, on what the ADF is doing to combat such behaviour and whether some cultural problems are perhaps beyond reform.


Are these recurring scandals a demonstration of systematic cultural problems within the ADF?

Yesterday was the latest scandal since the Skype affair in April 2011. The Skype affair led to a range of cultural reviews to address the treatment of women within the Australian Defence Force. The reviews found there was a culture of misogyny and an environment in which it was difficult for women’s careers to proceed.

There was also a culture where demeaning women and objectifying women, and others of different ethnic and social backgrounds, was part of the tradition. So yesterday’s incident is not a surprise, but it still is shocking. It demonstrates, for various reasons, the intensity with which these sorts of values pervade the Australian Army.


Do we have to accept that perhaps there are intractable cultural problems within the ADF?

I think there is a structured element to the way in which militaries operate in a liberal-democratic society, and more specifically, an Australian society. When you are trained to be a soldier you are taken away from your civilian background. You are then re-made and it is a very profound remaking of someone. People in the Australian Defence Force, or in any military, seem to see themselves as quite separate from broader society.

That sense of separation tends to form a part of the culture. It gives some military members a sense of license, a sense that they are above broader Australian standards, a sense they are above the law and in order to reassert that sense of self they end up engaging in sexually, racially or ethnically objectifying practices. These often lead into criminal practices as well.


Are we wrong-headed in expecting an HR code more applicable to a modern office to also fit an organisation that has the ultimate objective of killing others?

No, I don’t think so. If you look at the Australian Defence Force, in particular the Australian Army, it is only a very small percentage of those military personnel that are engaged in a “more-heated” environment. The Australian Defence force is more a giant support network or service institution than simply a combat institution.

These sorts of activities tend to happen more where the combat imperative is stronger, that culture still does pervade throughout the whole institution. There is no correlation between training people in a particular way to be good and effective combatants and this sort of behaviour. In fact they are the antithesis of the professionalism that the Australian Defence Force espouses.


Could the ADF be doing more to curb these cultural issues?

I think there are two sides to this. Firstly, the Australian Defence Force is engaging with broader civic initiatives, such as generation and the development of equity-type organisations – cultural diversity, general awareness, reporting and recording activities – so that when things do happen they are effectively dealt with. These sorts of things indicate the Australian Defence Force is serious.

But the Australian Defence Force, by its very nature, sees itself as quite separate from broader Australian society and is therefore unable to see the root cause of its problem. This is partially because the root cause is the development of core and military effectiveness. It is unwilling to address that part of its core business and that means that within the service, there is great ambivalence about taking on civic initiative and interventions.


Do you think scandals like this damage the ADF’s self-imposed goal of increasing the number of women in the army by next year?

I think it does. But I think it affects moreso how parents consider allowing their children to enter the defence force. I think that the defence force provides an adventurous and exciting career path for young people making the transition from school into the workforce.

From my research it doesn’t seem to be dissuaded by these sorts of events. But it does dissuade parents, and parents do have a strong influence on children as they are leaving school and entering the workforce.

Ben Wadham 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.

Data-retention plan like ‘punching at a cloud’

The Federal Government’s plan to effectively reverse existing privacy legislation by endorsing a two year data-retention policy for internet service providers has been called “Gestapo” tactics by one Liberal MP.

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Yesterday, Attorney General Nicola Roxon told a Security in Government conference that the “proposed reform is to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigating crime in light of new technologies.”

The statement moves away from Ms Roxon’s previous statement about the plan and has met with opposition from privacy groups and the IT sector.

They fear that the plan does not address the need for extended powers, will effect e-business and will expose civilian data to risk.

Making a submission at today’s conference on behalf of Blue Print for Free Speech, Simon Wolfe said the Attorney General’s proposed reforms were “vague” and likened them to “punching at a cloud”.

“The onus should be on those proposing the reforms to justify what they should be,” he said.

“They are talking about the merits of increased powers without actually talking about why they are needed in the first place.”

Mr Wolf’s submission also said the plan imposes unreasonable costs, requiring private providers to carry out public surveillance, a sentiment echoed by others in the technology sector.

Pete Cooper is co-founder of Fishburners, the largest collective of tech start-ups in Australia.

He says that the government’s data-retention plan will be a hurdle for international businesses looking to invest here.

“There is a mini boom going on in the data centres at the moment,” he said.

“The one selling point Australia has going for it is a perception of quality and force of law – one tiny security breach would have a dire effect on that perception.”

“There are thousands of layers to this thing and it’s full of holes – none of them good and none of them good for commerce.”

But despite fears about costs, some companies will benefit from the plan — the data-retention industry, as with the data-mining industry, is a multi-billion dollar sector.

Rob Livingstone is a UTS fellow and an information technology expert who says private industry is set to gain – with potential risks to the privacy of Australian citizens.

“The government puts out a tender for the storage of so many exabytes of data, then private markets rub their hands with glee trying to get their hands of that pot of gold,”

“If you get Australian data from citizens in an Australian jurisdiction and you sign a contract to an Australian data host to provide it, and three months after the contract is signed they [could] get bought out by a Chinese or American firm.

“The government cannot mandate that you will always be an Australian-owned company.”

Mr Livingston is also concerned about the security of systems the Government would put in place for data-retention.

“Data-retention is data-sovereignty,” he said.

“The data is resident in a data centre somewhere. That data is very portable; it could be striped across multiple data centres for redundancy and availability purposes.”

In the rapidly changing data industry, Mr Livingstone says the ultimate destination of Australians’ data could be far away from where the government intends.

Also, sophisticated crime syndicates or terrorist groups, the intended targets of the government plan, are already using advanced ISP masking and protocols that circumvent the proposed measures, he said.

“It’s fine for politicians to get up and make grand statements but the potential complexity of this thing in application and practicalities needs to be serious considered,” he said.

Speaking from today’s conference, Mr Wolfe said his biggest concern about the proposed changes was the privacy of individuals.

“Our objection is that they unreasonably interfere with people’s privacy, they have a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” he said.

US discloses list of Guantanamo inmates

The US government has published for the first time a list of 55 Guantanamo detainees cleared for release but still held amid challenges identifying a willing host country or concerns about sending them home.

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The list, which includes names and serial numbers, represents about a third of the 167 “war on terror” suspects who still linger at the US naval base in southern Cuba more than 11 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil.

A significant number of the men listed are Yemenis, reflecting US concerns over sending Guantanamo detainees to the troubled nation, where they could become involved in terror-related activities.

President Barack Obama suspended transfers to Yemen in January 2010, citing the “unsettled” security situation there.

Since 2009, government officials have kept secret the identities of detainees approved for release or transfer, saying a public release would hinder diplomatic efforts to arrange for the men to be moved to “safe and responsible” locations.

“The United States originally sought protection of this information in order to maintain flexibility in its diplomatic engagements with foreign governments on potential detainee transfers, especially in cases of resettlement in third countries, rather than the detainees’ respective countries of origin,” a Justice Department spokesperson said Friday.

But in a court filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in the capital Washington, government lawyers said “circumstances have changed” such that prisoners’ names “no longer warrant protection.”

The efforts of the United States to resettle Guantanamo detainees have largely been successful,” they said, noting that 28 prisoners have been sent to their home countries since 2009, while 40 prisoners have been transferred to other countries.

Among the prisoners cleared for release was Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at Guantanamo, and the prison’s five remaining Tunisians. London has repeatedly called for Aamer to be freed.

Missing from the list was Adnan Latif, a 32-year-old Yemeni man who died at Guantanamo earlier this month, the ninth prisoner to pass away since the prison camp was opened in 2002.

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued an order to shutter the facility by January 2010. But his plans quickly fell apart amid staunch opposition from Congress, as lawmakers raised security concerns.

Although Congress has placed restrictions limiting prisoner transfers to other countries or on US soil, the Obama administration has sought help from allies willing to take in qualified detainees.

Rights groups were quick to hail the new list’s publication, with the American Civil Liberties Union calling it a “partial victory for transparency” that should also be a “spur to action.”

“These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released,” ACLU senior staff attorney Zachary Katznelson said in a statement. “It is well past time to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.”

Amnesty International USA executive director Suzanne Nossel said the cleared detainees “should be immediately transferred out of Guantanamo to countries that will respect their human rights… Indefinite detention is a human rights violation and it must end.”

The disclosure “dispels the myth that the remaining detainees who are trapped at Guantanamo are too dangerous to be released,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some Guantanamo prisoners.

“The list announced today, however, is incomplete, and not appearing on the list is no indication of wrongdoing,” CCR executive director Vincent Warren added.

Jeremy Lin inspires Asian-Aussie basketballers

The global buzz around New York Knicks’ star Jeremy Lin has been dubbed “Lin-Sanity”, with the unassuming Harvard graduate this week named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for 2012.

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“From a NBA perspective, which is obviously something we all follow, you didn’t hear anything else but Jeremy, so obviously he’s highly influential,” says Boon Tan, CEO of the Australia Chinese Basketball Association.

Lin’s fame has also boosted interest in Australia’s National Basketball League, said Aaron Flanagan, the NBL’s sales and marketing manager.

“The media coverage that Jeremy Lin has created here in Australia has been fantastic. It makes sense that, that is going to… have a positive impact on the amount of Chinese basketballers who want to play in our competition,” he said.

Lin is also changing the way Asians perceive basketball, and their abilities.

“The Asian physique isn’t that outstanding compared to westerners but after Jeremy Lin proved himself, everyone feels that if we have a dream, with basketball in our hands, we can be the same as everyone else,” says basketballer Michael Zhang.

But following one’s dream isn’t always easy in the Asian culture, which tends to value academic success over sporting achievements.

“If you’ve got your head in the books you’re not out there shooting at the basket and getting your shot developed. Personally, I think there needs to be a balance and Jeremy Lin has shown that. He went to Harvard, for goodness sake,” said Mr Tan.

For young basketball enthusiasts, the weekly Australian Chinese Basketball Association tournament is like their own NBA competition. It’s also a stage where they can showcase their skills.

But to reach that next level, players need to change their mindset, says basketballer Billy Wang. He says Asian often have the capability, but don’t dare go full out and often shy away from dunking.

“Whereas the Caucasians, when I play with them, no matter how short they are, the more [they dunk] the stronger they become,” Mr Wang said.

The CEO of Australia’s largest Chinese basketball association believes the NBL can utilise “Lin-sanity” to boost its domestic following.

The NBL though is also eyeing the world’s largest basketball fan base – China – where an estimated 300 million people play the sport.

Mr Flanagan said there had been talk about establishing a champions’ trophy concept, where the top two Chinese Basketball Association teams take on the best from the NBL.

As for Jeremy Lin, a partial meniscus tear in his left knee may see him out for the remainder of the NBA season, but there’s little doubt his popularity will remain a source of motivation for local basketball enthusiasts.

Chen to get US passport ‘within 15 days’

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng said Thursday China had agreed to issue him a passport within 15 days, allowing him to go to the United States after a bitter row between Beijing and Washington.

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It was the first indication of when Chen would be allowed to leave the country since he left the US embassy more than two weeks ago after seeking refuge there following his dramatic escape from house arrest.

Speaking to AFP by telephone from the hospital where he is being treated, Chen also said authorities had promised to investigate murder charges brought against his nephew that he has said are motivated by revenge.

“Officials visited yesterday, we filled out passport application forms for myself, my wife and children,” said the 40-year-old legal campaigner, who triggered a diplomatic crisis when he fled to the US embassy last month.

“They said the passports should be issued within 15 days,” he added. The couple have a nine-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter.

Chen, one of China’s best-known dissidents, has won plaudits for exposing rights abuses including forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China’s “one-child” family planning policy.

His activism earned him a four-year prison sentence that ended in 2010 when he was placed under extra-judicial house arrest in his home village of Dongshigu in the eastern province of Shandong, where he languished until his escape.

Wednesday’s meeting with government officials was his first since May 7, when they told Chen they were processing papers for him to leave for the US, where he has been offered fellowships to study law.

Details of his dramatic flight from house arrest have gradually emerged during his time in hospital, and on Thursday, he told how he feared for his life and for the safety of the villagers who helped him.

“After I escaped from home, that is when I was the most worried,” Chen said.

“There were at least 60 or so people guarding me in the village. If they had discovered I had escaped they could have beaten me to death. At that time it was very, very dangerous.”

News of Chen’s escape broke just days before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing for pre-arranged talks and made headlines around the world, causing major embarrassment for the Chinese government.

As Clinton arrived in China, Chen left the US embassy and was taken by diplomats to a Beijing hospital after Chinese authorities guaranteed his safety.

Since then, he has accused local officials in Shandong of targeting his relatives out of revenge for his escape.

His nephew, Chen Kegui, is in detention charged with “intentional homicide” over an attack on a local official who broke into the family’s home after discovering that Chen had escaped from under the noses of his guards.

The official was said at the time to have survived the attack and the charge has baffled lawyers representing Chen Kegui, who say it will not stand up in court. Police in Yinan county, which includes Dongshigu, refused to comment on the case when contacted by AFP.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a rights group, said police had detained and tortured Chen Guangcheng’s older brother Chen Guangfu, the father of Chen Kegui, on April 27 — the day of the break-in.

“Authorities handcuffed Chen Guangfu and shackled his legs, and then whipped his hands with a leather belt, struck him in the ribs, and stomped hard on his feet,” the group said in a statement late Wednesday.

“The abuses against Chen Guangfu represent the most physically violent treatment to surface so far among the spate of retaliatory acts towards those with links to Chen Guangcheng after his flight from house arrest.”

Chen Guangfu remains “under strict control” and cannot contact other family members, including many who are also being monitored by authorities, the group said, citing local sources in Yinan.

Chen Guangcheng said the government officials who visited him on Wednesday had promised to investigate the situation.

Two lawyers had tried to visit Chen Kegui on Wednesday but were turned away by police.

“Yinan police said the person in charge was not there and did not allow them to see Chen Kegui,” Chen Guangcheng told AFP, adding he feared authorities were refusing visits because his nephew had been beaten.

Comment: Vaccination and the art of gentle persuasion

By Julie Leask, University of Sydney

Dr Seuss’ book Green Eggs and Ham is built around the urgings of a weird creature, Sam I Am, who insists the narrator eat the food of its title.

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When the narrator refuses, Sam issues an ever-widening range of appeals – Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox? But Sam’s insistence fails to convince an increasingly vehement narrator.

The story provides a light-hearted analogy to the plight of anyone who has tried to persuade another person to abandon an entrenched position – especially a parent’s decision to not vaccinate their child. In fact, psychologists have found that too much urging can result in a backfire effect, with the person becoming more committed to their beliefs.

When herd immunity hangs by a narrow margin, the decisions taken by a small group of parents matter. With too view children vaccinated, a disease such as measles can easily spread. This impacts on the whole community, including those too young to be vaccinated and those who can’t have a vaccine for medical reasons.

While a measles epidemic cannot be solely blamed on people who actively forgo vaccination – waning immunity in adults also contributes – it can be an important factor. We saw this play out in the United Kingdom in the late 2000s, when the now-debunked theory that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism drove immunisation rates down to 80%.

Avoiding a disease tragedy

The most important strategy to prevent the avoidable spread of infectious diseases lies on the supply side, with governments maintaining well-oiled systems. Free, easily accessible, safe and effective vaccines need to get to those who actually want them. It’s a tragedy when parents who want to vaccinate their children can’t do so because of external impediments.

The second strategy is to target those who are hesitant about vaccination. People in this group usually vaccinate but might delay or decline a stigmatised vaccine such as MMR or human papillomavirus (HPV).

Australia could do more to meet the needs of these active information seekers. Just this week, the Academy of Science released a high-end publication The Science of Immunisation: Questions and Answers. It sets out to explain the current situation in immunisation science, including where there is consensus in the scientific community and where uncertainties exist.

The third approach to preventing a disease outbreak is to minimise the proportion of people who refuse vaccines. Even though they represent about 2% of Australian parents, they cluster in certain regions where up to 35% may be unvaccinated. An outbreak of whooping cough or measles in those communities would result in a much more sustained spread.

Parents often form views about vaccination during pregnancy or in their child’s first year. Flickr/stephanski

Talking with vaccine refusers

One of the most important times to address this problem is when parents are forming or solidifying their views on vaccination – usually during pregnancy or in the child’s first year. At this time, their family doctor or child health nurse has a crucial role in discussing concerns.

These discussions can be challenging for health professionals. With this in mind, I worked with an international group of clinicians and communication scientists to develop a framework for health professionals in communicating about vaccination. We recognised these health professionals posess a good deal of training, experience and skill in communicating – that they already had a collection of communication tools. The trick is often knowing which tools to use and when.

The framework involves a tailored approach and is informed by evidence in the areas of communication science and motivational interviewing. It begins with a spectrum of parental positions: unquestioning acceptance, cautious acceptance, hesitance, delay/selective vaccination, and refusal. The goals and strategies will differ across these positions.

The common theme is listening and acknowledgement, and, as even Dr Seuss himself inferred, this approach is far more likely to produce a positive result than talking at cross-purposes.

Seuss showed us that a simple acknowledgement and a more respectful plea is part of the art of gentle persuasion. AdolfGalland

When mum “Kate”, for example, declares her intention to her doctor to give her baby homoeopathic preparations instead of vaccination, he may immediately try to put her right, knowing homeopathy won’t protect the baby at all. This “righting reflex” is the natural response of health professionals to instinctively leap in and “put right” health-care problems.

With parents such as Kate who are often fixed in their views, the discussion can descend into a game of scientific ping-pong, arguing back and forth about the evidence. These discussions are usually time consuming and are likely to further entrench Kate who, feeling cornered, will defensively rehearse and reinforce her arguments.

In this situation, a better goal would be to build a rapport that may have gains further down the track, including further discussion, partial vaccination and, perhaps eventually, full vaccination. This would be done by acknowledging her concerns, asking permission to discuss, encouraging her to explore the pros and cons of her decision, and eliciting her own possible motivations to protect her baby from diseases such as whooping cough, particularly since her decision to use homeopathy has already demonstrated some desire for active protection.

This approach draws from motivational interviewing that uses a guiding style, rather than a directing style, for discussions where there is ambivalence and resistance to change. The method has shown to be effective for a range of health behaviours.

Our framework also sets out strategies for parents who want to delay or select-out some vaccines, are hesitant, or generally accepting of vaccination. Across all such scenarios, it is more effective if professionals build rapport, accept questions and concerns, and facilitate valid consent by discussing both benefits and risks of vaccination.

In Green Eggs and Ham, it’s not until Sam I Am finally acknowledges, “You do not like them, so you say. Try them try them and you may” that the winds of refusal change. The narrator tries the strange dish and, by book’s end, happily declares his love for it, and his gratitude to Sam.

Seuss showed us that a simple acknowledgement and a more respectful plea is part of the art of gentle persuasion.

Julie Leask participated in an ARC Linkage grant that received partial funding from Sanofi Pasteur. She contributed to the Science of Immunisation booklet.

Champions League: Aussie fans on edge for all-German final

This will be Bayern Munich’s third Champion League final in four years after losing to Chelsea last year and to Inter Milan in 2010.

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The Bavarian giants, who are hoping to end a 12-year wait for the biggest prize in European club football, are widely regarded as favourites to claim their fifth continental title.

There’s also a lot on the line for Borussia Dortmund.

The 1997 European Champions have yet to beat Bayern this season after two losses and two draws in their four previous encounters.

And the significance of the moment is not lost on 24 year-old Emerald born goalkeeper Mitch Langerak.

He will become the third Australian to take part in the Champions League final, following in the footsteps of Frank Juric and Zjelko Kalac.

For his junior coach, who travelled all the way from Bundaberg to London for the game, it’s a moment of great pride.

“It’s a dream come true. I always knew he would make it,” says Richard Shortman.

Just like Mitch Langerak, Borussia Dortmund have overcome enormous odds to reach the final.

They will again be underdogs against their more illustrious German rivals Bayern Munich, who finished 25 points ahead of them in the Bundesliga and have a budget double that of their opponents.

But under the stewardship of wily coach Jurgen Klopp Dortmund, they have upset their giant neighbours a number of times.

Most notably in last season’s German Cup final, where Dortmund thrashed Bavarian giants 5-2.

Klopp may appear eccentric but he has an eye for detail and that will be crucial in their bid for a second European crown.

“The game can be decided by a small moment,” says Jurgen Klopp.

For Bayern Munich the new Wembley represents a chance at redemption.

The memories of last season’s heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat on home soil by London club Chelsea, could be swept away by claiming European football’s biggest prize in the English capital.

Thousands of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich will fill the football cathedral that is Wembley Stadium for the first all-German Champions League final.

“It’s a special game, if this is to be my only UCL final, I want it to be this one,” Jurgen Klopp says.

While it might be a celebratory mood off the field, on the pitch the final is set to be a tight, tense affair between two sides that have a long history of intimate battles.

SBS ONE will broadcast live coverage of the Champions League final from Wembley from 4:15am AEST on Sunday, 25 May.

McKeon flops in 400m free at world titles

Rising Australian swimmer David McKeon was shattered after becoming a surprise casualty in the 400m freestyle heats on day one of the world championships.

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The national champion, who was ranked second in the world coming into the event in Barcelona, was 12th fastest in Sunday’s heats to miss out on a spot in the eight-man final.

Compatriot Jordan Harrison, just 17, had no such problems as he impressed to qualify third fastest for Sunday night’s final behind Chinese superstar Sun Yang.

NSW swimmer McKeon appeared to tire badly late in his heat as he clocked three minutes and 49.51 seconds, almost six seconds slower than his winning time at selection trials in April.

The 20-year-old was so disappointed he had only a few words to offer reporters after the race.

“Pretty s***. I just don’t know what happened,” said McKeon, the son of former Olympian Ron McKeon.

Harrison said he tried not to watch McKeon’s race before contesting the final heat.

The teenager, who is also competing in the 800m and 1500m events in Spain, was delighted to progress into his first major international final.

He clocked 3:46.85 to go through behind Sun 3:44.67 and Canadian Ryan Cochrane (3:45.74).

“It was pretty overwhelming,” said Harrison.

“I didn’t really think much during the race. I was just trying to stick with Sun Yang and Ryan next to me. I was kind of just going for it.

“To come out third fastest, that’s really good. It’s been a really great experience so far.”

Australian star Alicia Coutts said McKeon’s exit showed paper rankings meant nothing when it came to big meets.

“I don’t really pay too much attention to paper rankings, you never know what’s going to happen,” Coutts said after progressing to the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley semis.