Dutch health system rated best, U.S. worst – polls

NEW YORK, July 7 (Reuters Life! ) – Americans are the least satisfied with their health care system – and their President –, while the Dutch system is rated the best, according to new research.

Polls about health care in 10 developed countries by Harris Interactive revealed a range of opinions about what works and what doesn’t.

In the United States a third of Americans believe their system needs to be completely overhauled, while a further 50 percent feel that fundamental changes need to be made.

Read moreDutch health system rated best, U.S. worst – polls

Australia faces worse, more frequent droughts: study

PERTH (Reuters) – Australia could experience more severe droughts and they could become more frequent in the future because of climate change, a government-commissioned report said on Sunday.

Droughts could hit the country twice as often as now, cover an area twice as big and be more severe in key agricultural production areas, the Bureau of Meteorology and Australia’s top science organization, the CSIRO, said in a joint report.

The study also found that temperatures currently defined as “exceptional” were likely to occur, on average, once in every two years in many key agricultural production areas within the next 20 to 30 years, while spells of low rainfall would almost double in frequency from current figures.

Australia, suffering its worst drought in 100 years, has seen its wheat exports tumble in the past two years.

The Pacific nation is normally the second-largest wheat exporter in the world, but the harvest has been decimated to just 13 million tonnes last year because of drought.

Read moreAustralia faces worse, more frequent droughts: study

Australia withdraws troops from Iraq

NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – About 500 Australian combat troops pulled out of their base in southern Iraq on Sunday, fulfilling an election promise by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to bring the soldiers home this year.

A British military spokesman in the southern city of Basra said the pullout from Talil base in Nassiriya was under way, but a spokesman for the governor of Dhi Qar province said it had been completed, with U.S. forces replacing the Australians.

“The Australian battle group is pulling out,” the British military spokesman said.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, was one of the first countries to commit troops to the Iraq war. In addition to the combat troops, it also deployed aircraft and warships to the Gulf to protect Iraq’s offshore oil platforms.

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How Japan Helped Ease the Rice Crisis

Prices quickly fell on Tokyo’s call to tap into its huge reserves. But how did the stash get so big, and why does rice-rich Japan import the staple?

With prices now falling, the global rice crisis seems to be subsiding. That’s thanks in part to a policy announcement by a Japanese bureaucrat. On May 19, Japan’s Deputy Agriculture Minister, Toshiro Shirasu, said that Tokyo would release some of its massive stockpile of rice to the Philippines, selling 50,000 tons “as soon as possible” and releasing another 200,000 tons as food aid. The first shipment could reach the Philippines by late summer. Shirasu also left open the possibility of using more of its reserves to help other countries in need.

To understand Japan’s role in deflating the rice market, it helps to visit the warehouses rimming Tokyo Bay. It’s here in temperature-controlled buildings that Japan keeps millions of 30-kilogram vinyl bags of rice that it imports every year. Tokyo doesn’t need rice from the outside world: The country’s heavily subsidized farmers produce more than enough to feed the country’s 127 million people. Yet every year since 1995, Tokyo has bought hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice from the U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Australia.

A Rice Imbalance

Why does Japan buy rice it doesn’t need or want? In order to follow World Trade Organization rules, which date to 1995 and are aimed at opening the country’s rice market. The U.S. fought for years to end Japanese rice protectionism, and getting Tokyo to agree to import rice from the U.S. and elsewhere was long a goal of American trade policy. But while the Japanese have been buying rice from farms in China and California for more than a decade, almost no imports ever end up on dinner plates in Japan. Instead the imported rice is sent as food aid to North Korea, added to beer and rice cakes, or mixed with other grains to feed pigs and chickens. Or it just sits in storage for years. As of last October, Japan’s warehouses were bulging with 2.6 million tons of surplus rice, including 1.5 million tons of imported rice, 900,000 tons of it American medium-grain rice.

Read moreHow Japan Helped Ease the Rice Crisis

Bay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases

The price of a food staple — rice — is rising significantly, NBC11 reported.
The price of rice has increased dramatically in recent weeks due to crop failure overseas and resulting hoarding, NBC11 reported.
And at least one Bay Area store is asking customers to hold back on their rice purchases. Costco has posted signs asking customers to follow their regular rice-buying habits.
The rice price increase is a result of a domino effect, NBC11’s Noelle Walker reported. Drought in Australia led to a severe decline in rice production that in turn led the world’s largest rice exporters to restrict exports. That spurred higher rice prices and hoarding in Asian countries, NBC11 reported.

Now in the United States, rice prices have skyrocketed.
Son Tran owns Le Cheval Vietnamese Restaurant in Oakland.
He said he’s seen the price of rice go from $20 to $40 in a matter of weeks.
And Le Cheval’s stockpiles are dwindling.
Add to that, the price of vegetables has gone up 50 percent, and some of Tran’s regular customers aren’t so regular anymore.

Read moreBay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases

Bush under fire at Paris climate meeting

Leading players in talks to forge a pact for tackling climate change took the lash on Thursday to President George W. Bush’s new blueprint for global warming, with Germany mocking it as “Neanderthal.”

At a ministerial-level meeting of major carbon emitters, South Africa blasted the Bush proposal as a disastrous retreat by the planet’s number-one polluter and a slap to poor countries.

The European Union — which had challenged the United States to follow its lead on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 — also voiced disappointment.

His proposals “will not contribute to the fight against climate change,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told AFP, adding he hoped the US would “reconsider its options and policies.”

“Time is running out and we have the duty to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009,” said Dimas.

Germany accused Bush of turning back the clock to before last December’s UN climate talks in Bali and even to before last July’s G8 summit.

In a statement entitled “Bush’s Neanderthal speech,” German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: “His speech showed not leadership but losership. We are glad that there are also other voices in the United States.”

Read moreBush under fire at Paris climate meeting

Chertoff Says Fingerprints Aren’t ‘Personal Data’

Our guest blogger, Peter Swire, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as the Clinton Administration’s Chief Counselor for Privacy.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has badly stumbled in discussing the Bush administration’s push to create stricter identity systems. Chertoff was recently in Canada discussing, among other topics, the so-called “Server in the Sky” program to share fingerprint databases among the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

In a recent briefing with Canadian press (which has yet to be picked up in the U.S.), Chertoff made the startling statement that fingerprints are “not particularly private”:

QUESTION: Some are raising that the privacy aspects of this thing, you know, sharing of that kind of data, very personal data, among four countries is quite a scary thing.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, a fingerprint is hardly personal data because you leave it on glasses and silverware and articles all over the world, they’re like footprints. They’re not particularly private.

Many of us should rightfully be surprised that our fingerprints aren’t considered “personal data” by the head of DHS. Even more importantly, DHS itself disagrees. In its definition of “personally identifiable information” — the information that triggers a Privacy Impact Assessment when used by government — the Department specifically lists: “biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprints).”

Chertoff’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from Jennifer Stoddart, the Canadian official in charge of privacy issues. “Fingerprints constitute extremely personal information for which there is clearly a high expectation of privacy,” Stoddart said.

There are compelling reasons to treat fingerprints as “extremely personal information.” The strongest reason is that fingerprints, if not used carefully, will become the biggest source of identity theft. Fingerprints shared in databases all over the world won’t stay secret for long, and identity thieves will take advantage.

A quick web search on “fake fingerprints” turns up cheap and easy methods for do-it-at-home fake fingerprints. As discussed by noted security expert Bruce Schneier, one technique is available for under $10. It was tried “against eleven commercially available fingerprint biometric systems, and was able to reliably fool all of them.” Secretary Chertoff either doesn’t know about these clear results or chooses to ignore them. He said in Canada: “It’s very difficult to fake a fingerprint.”

Chertoff’s argument about leaving fingerprints lying around on “glasses and silverware” is also beside the point. Today, we leave our Social Security numbers lying around with every employer and numerous others. Yet the fact that SSNs (or fingerprints) are widely known exposes us to risk.

There have been numerous questions raised about how this Administration is treating our personal information. Secretary Chertoff’s comments show a new reason to worry — they don’t think it’s “personal” at all.

Peter Swire

Source: thinkprogress.org

Aboriginal children ‘injected with leprosy’

ABORIGINAL children were injected with leprosy treatments in a medical testing program that used members of the Stolen Generation as guinea pigs, a Senate Committee has heard.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said he was “shocked and alarmed” by the claims, heard today by the Senate legal and constitutional committee’s inquiry into a Stolen Generation Compensation Bill 2008.

On the first day of hearings in Darwin today, Kathleen Mills from the Stolen Generations Alliance said the public did not know the full extent of what happened to some children.

And efforts to obtain records that support the claims, such as that children were injected with serums to gauge their reaction to the medication, had been hampered, she said.

“These are the things that have not been spoken about,” Ms Mills told the inquiry.

“As well as being taken away, they were used … there are a lot of things that Australia does not know about.”

Outside the inquiry, Ms Mills said her uncle had been a medical orderly at the Kahlin Compound in Darwin.

She said he told her that children were used as “guinea pigs” for leprosy treatments.

“He said it made our people very, very ill … the treatment almost killed them,” she said.

Read moreAboriginal children ‘injected with leprosy’

Migratory bird numbers plummeting, study shows


Taking flight: Magpie Geese migrate across the Northern Territory after
arriving from Indonesia (file photo) (Getty Images: Ian Waldie)

Birds are considered an accurate barometer of the state of the environment, so when the numbers of migratory birds fall, scientists consider it cause for concern.

Now the first major long-term survey assessing shore birds from Broome to Sydney has found that Australia’s massive migratory population has plummeted by up to 75 per cent over the last 25 years.

Read moreMigratory bird numbers plummeting, study shows

Warming withers Aussie wine industry

High cost of water adds to pressure to sell, change grapes or even move

MELBOURNE – Australian grape growers reckon they are the canary in the coal mine of global warming, as a long drought forces winemakers to rethink the styles of wine they can produce and the regions they can grow in.

The three largest grape-growing regions in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on earth, all depend on irrigation to survive. The high cost of water has made life tough for growers.

Some say they probably won’t survive this year’s harvest, because of the cost of keeping vines alive. Water prices have more than tripled.

Read moreWarming withers Aussie wine industry