Pandora's box

WELL, it’s been some week! To the shock of everyone, Britain voted to leave the European Union. I was in Britain not too long ago and nobody I knew believed they would leave. But by a whisker, they did. And the consequences are still rolling out all over the world.

All this can be put on the shoulders of one man, David Cameron. What started as an internal party issue was allowed to spin so much out of control that the shockwaves are still being felt.

The pound sterling has dropped, stock markets everywhere are falling and Brits are suddenly waking up to a world vastly different from just last week. A passport that is almost the equivalent of a world passport is no longer theirs.

Along the way people’s emotions got worked up into the nastiest form. Xenophobia suddenly became the norm. People became so divided; one young woman MP even got killed presumably for her views, a tragedy so rare in Britain that it shocked both sides of the divide.

It did not help that the right-wing media whipped emotions up for the Leave campaign with sensational headlines and very few reasoned arguments. In fact there was very little in the way of sensible and factual arguments.

The PM lost his gamble so he stepped down.

History will probably remember him as not only the man who broke up the EU but possibly also Britain because now Scotland is talking about another independence referendum. Perhaps Northern Ire-land too. Who wants to stay with a bunch of insular provincial people when there’s a whole world out there?

Which brings us back to our little country here, which seems to be getting ever more insular every day.

In this holy month, a religious leader, for unfathomable reasons, decided to declare non-Muslims not only infidels but the type of infidels that should be killed. Uncon-ditionally, only because they are not Muslims.

Naturally all right-thinking people, Muslim and non-Muslim, are reacting badly to this. Shockingly, he is not getting admonished by his superiors for such uncharitable talk about fellow citizens in the month of restraint.

At least in Britain when pro-Brexit people start talking about taking back the country for citizens of the white persuasion only, there will be people in high positions who will criticise them sharply.

But as usual in this country, when a man of the turban and long gown says anything nasty, nobody in a position of authority will protest.

They seem to think that God speaks through him so his word cannot be challenged. Someone should send him on a study tour to post-Brexit Britain where they would take one look at him, look up what he just said and promptly deport him for incitement.

Then there was the case of the Ipoh City Council that issued an invitation to an event for its staff and felt the need to detail what people should wear.

Instead of trusting that people would have the common sense to know what would be suitable to wear to such an event, some pea-brained person decided that they needed to underscore what could not be worn, the elegant and graceful saree.

Forgetting that they now live in the age of camera phones and social media, the council got caught out and added insult to injury by giving the lame excuse that the word kecuali does not actually mean “except” but means what you should not wear when you’re out in the field, even though this is presumably an indoor event with food.

In my childhood, my Mum’s friends Dr Sundra and Dr Ranjit wore sarees to work in the hospital and absolutely nobody freaked out about it. When she got married, my mother even wore a saree at one of her nuptial events because her friends had given her a beautiful one.

What I wish most, really, is that one of our leaders has enough of a conscience to step up and say “Enough!” and tell everyone to stop this nonsense.

Not saying anything is like David Cameron letting the Brexit ghouls out of Pandora’s box. Once such hate speech (and there is no other word for it) is allowed out, there is no pulling it back.

But looking at the calibre of our Cabinet in its latest iteration, there is no hope of that ever happening.

There is simply no moral leadership in this country, no one in Govern-ment who has the courage to point out what is patently wrong in our society today.

The tragedy is that nobody does anything that is not self-serving.

If this continues, then they may find they are ruling a country with no people. Sooner or later, (more) Malaysians may decide that it’s time for Mexit.

Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir batin.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 30 June 2016
Getting more insular each day ;
It's time to draw the line and stop all this nonsense before it's too late.
By Marina Mahathir
Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues.

HERE’S a question I wish to pose to our lea-ders: Do you still believe in a multiracial Malaysia?

I ask because as a born and bred Malaysian, I want to know whither lies the future of my country.

It has not gone unnoticed how more and more leaders and government agencies have taken a deeply conservative and hardline stance on various issues.

What has happened to our global brand as “Malaysia, truly Asia” and the much touted Global Movement of Moderates? Do we only “sell” such products overseas, which disillusioned citizens increasingly see as akin to hawking fake goods?

The disillusionment stems from hearing our leaders calling for moderation but when certain institutions and individuals in official positions act or speak in downright extremist and intolerant ways, these leaders keep silent and do nothing.

The harsh reactions to and desire to ban so many things which have long been accepted as part of our cosmopolitan makeup – Valentine’s Day, Oktoberfest, Halloween, among others – to declaring concepts like liberal-ism, progressiveness and pluralism as bad and evil notions started at least two years ago.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Getting the chills under the Malaysian sun
Why is intolerance becoming more pronounced in our officialdom?
Why have we veered off the clear road of mutual trust and collective well-being and into a minefield of doubt and suspicion?
by June H.L. Wong

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English, an endangered species

English could be banned as an official language of the EU after Brexit despite being the most spoken in Europe, an official has admitted.

Although it is the main working tongue of European Union institutions, it might be dropped when Britain leaves the bloc - further reducing the UK's influence on the continent.

Each member state has the right to nominate a primary language in Brussels, but no state other than Britain has registered English.

This means that its legal status would be removed when Britain leaves the EU, despite it being in everyday use in both Ireland and Malta - which chose Gaelic and Maltese respectively as their official languages.

"English is our official language because it has been notified by the UK. If we don't have the UK, we don't have English," Danuta Hübner, chairwoman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee said - in English - at a Press conference on the legal consequences of the British referendum to leave the EU.

The Polish MEP said that English might remain a "working language", adding that keeping it an official language would require agreement by all member states.

Alternatively, Hübner suggested, rules could be changed to let countries have more than one official language.

French was the dominant language in the EU institutions until the 1990s, when the arrival of Sweden, Finland and Austria tilted the balance, amplified by central and east European countries that had adopted English as their second tongue.

EU documents and legal texts are translated into all 24 official languages of the bloc. If English were to lose that status, Britons would have to do the translation themselves.

English is also one of the three languages used to apply for EU patents.

This gives English-speaking researchers and companies an edge over competitors who speak other languages.

France has never digested its linguistic defeat and imposed French as an equal working language, although the number of speakers is shrinking among Brussels officials.

"English can no longer be the third working language of the European parliament," said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a French presidential candidate.

However, the European Commission countered that English remained the primary language used for everyday communication.

"We have a series of member states that speak English, and English is the world language which we all accept," said Günther Oettinger, the German EU commissioner.

Telegraph, 28 JUNE 2016 at 9:24AM
English language could be dropped from European Union after Brexit
By Danny Boyle
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rape metaphor

Donald Trump continued blasting the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, likening it in an evening speech to “rape.”

“It's a rape of our country. It's a harsh word, but that's what it is -- rape of our country,” Trump said at an evening rally in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

Bloomberg, Jun 28, 2016
Trump Likens Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal to Rape

On the U.S. campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump touted Britain’s vote to leave the EU as he called for a rejection of so-called free trade deals. Trump likened the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to rape, saying it was "done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country, just a continuing rape of our country. That’s what it is." Speaking earlier in the day in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Trump vowed to withdraw from the TPP.

Donald Trump: "I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who led us from one financial and foreign policy disaster to another. Our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy, politics and borders."

Democracy Now!, June 29, 2016
Trump Likens TPP Trade Deal to Rape: "That's What It Is"

BEIJING, May 3 (Xinhua) -- Western media and experts have dismissed as "absurd" and "nonsense" U.S. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's accusation that China is "raping" the United States in trade.

Fox News noted on Monday that Trump has long accused China of manipulating its currency to boost the country's exports. However, his remarks in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Sunday mark a graphic escalation in his language. While he's compared the policy to sexual assault before, this is the first time he's done so as a presidential candidate.

Trump's comments are certain to stir controversy, said Fox News.

The Independent said Trump's language "reached a new level over the weekend when he accused China of 'raping' the United States through its trade policy."

The newspaper also cited the U.S. Treasury as saying that none of the U.S. large trading partners had engaged in currency manipulation in the past year.

NBC News also noted that Donald Trump has taken his rhetoric about China to a new level.

Xinhua, 2016-05-03 19:27:22
Spotlight: Western media dismiss Trump's China "rape" metaphor as "absurd"

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Aiding the needy

Perris (United States) (AFP) - Every weekday, year-round, Esteban Yanez rises at the crack of dawn and heads to his job as a construction worker near the largely Hispanic desert town of Perris, south of Los Angeles.

On weekends, he does odd jobs to complement his salary.

Though the 49-year-old father of four pays income tax and social security, he has no annual vacation, no health insurance and no work benefits.

Yanez, who is Mexican, is among the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States at the heart of a contentious debate that has stirred up passions and become a defining issue in the presidential race.

Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman and presumptive Republican nominee, has made deporting America's entire illegal immigrant population and building a wall on the US border with Mexico a centerpiece of his campaign.

His inflamed rhetoric, constantly hammered home at campaign appearances, has resonated with a large part of the US electorate, but has also enraged many, including people like Yanez who call America home.

"I came here 16 years ago in search of the American dream and to offer my kids a better future," Yanez told AFP during a recent meeting at the end of his 12-hour workday.

"And I do the kind of backbreaking work that only immigrants are willing to do. Others don't want to get their hands dirty with this kind of job."

- 'They're here to stay' -

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, almost a quarter (2.67 million) of the nation's undocumented immigrants live in California, where they make up slightly more than six percent of the state's population of nearly 40 million.

The majority hail from Mexico and work in farming, construction, housekeeping, elderly care, landscaping or for moving and transport companies.

"We work, we pay our dues, we take no handouts and we are not hurting anyone," sighed Maria Delosangeles, 52, who arrived in the US from Mexico 18 years ago and works as a housekeeper in the Los Angeles area.

"How does it adversely affect Trump for us to be here?"

Nationwide, undocumented immigrants collectively pay almost $12 billion a year in state and local taxes, with more than $3.1 billion coming from California alone, according to The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Advocates emphasize that they reap no benefits from their contributions.

"These people are as much a part of our landscape and culture as anyone else that's here," said Harold McClarty, a farmer in central California -- a region known as "America's salad bowl" -- and head of the California Fresh Fruit Association.

"We need to recognize that they're here to stay and that it's ridiculous to say we're going to send them back because that's beyond not practical -- it's immoral," he added.

- America would go hungry -

McClarty and other immigration reform advocates emphasize that were millions of undocumented farmworkers kicked out, as Trump would have it, America would essentially go hungry.

They point, as an example, to the state of Georgia, where an immigration crackdown in 2011 backfired, leading to crops rotting in fields and the agriculture industry losing tens of millions of dollars for lack of other "legal" laborers willing to take on such work.

"The country's economy would basically collapse if we didn't have undocumented workers," said Los Angeles-based Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-turned-activist, who came out as an undocumented immigrant several years ago.

Vargas, founder of Define America, a non-profit that tries to humanize the debate over immigration, said if anything, Trump's rhetoric had forced the issue to the forefront and could finally spur immigration reform.

"Trump has opened the conversation and, in some ways, this really is a defining moment for all of us to try and figure out whether we keep hiding, or do we show people who we are," said Vargas, 35, who was born in the Philippines and was raised by his grandparents in the United States from the age of 12.

The community suffered a setback on Thursday, however, when the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to President Barack Obama's plan to spare millions from being deported and to allow them to legally work in the country.

A tie vote by the justices left in place a lower court ruling blocking Obama's plan.

- 'Nothing to hide' -

The mounting frustration of this growing population living in the shadows was evident during interviews with several undocumented workers who willingly shared their identity and their stories, expressing anger at how their community has been demonized.

Jaime and Ana Flores, who arrived in the US from Mexico 27 years ago and now run a landscaping service in Perris, proudly pointed out that their modest success had come by the sweat of their brow.

Their 25-year-old son works in finance and their daughter, 21, hopes to be a vet. Both are American citizens, having been born in the United States.

"We left our country because we had no other choice if we wanted a future," said Jaime, 50, standing under a beating sun as he took a break from mowing a customer's lawn.

"We start work at six every day and stop 12 to 14 hours later," he added. "And every day, we know we risk being deported but we have no other choice."

His wife, Ana, 44, said the hateful speech directed at their community was a bitter pill to swallow.

"Mr Trump needs to take a hard look at himself and consider that every time he eats salad, vegetables or fruit, an immigrant picked and quality-tested that food," she said.

"This country was built by immigrants and this has become our home," she added. "We are proud of who we are and we have nothing to hide apart from the fact that we are undocumented."

AFP, June 26, 2016
American dream turns to nightmare for undocumented immigrants
By Jocelyne ZABLIT

In her modest home in the Gaza Strip, Sahar Sherif's family watches as she ladles out a broth of meat and vegetables for a rare heart-warming meal.

For just a month of the year, a soup kitchen in the Palestinian enclave is offering struggling families like Sherif's a welcome break from daily worries about where they will find their next meal.

During the holy month of Ramadan, the charity provides the 40-year-old divorcee and her five children -- and grandchildren -- with a square meal every day at no cost.

"When we eat food from the tekiyya, we feel better," says Sherif, using an Arabic name for the soup kitchen, an Islamic tradition said to date back to the era of the prophet Abraham.

But during the rest of the year when the kitchen is closed, "I make a pot of tea, I get two tomatoes out and that's it," she says, wearing a black nylon overcoat and complete face veil.

"When there's no food, we constantly feel dizzy."

Residents in the Islamist-ruled territory have lived under a punitive Israeli blockade for the last 10 years, and Egypt has largely kept its border with Gaza closed since 2013.

Nearly half the war-torn enclave's 1.9 million inhabitants live under the poverty line, with 80 percent surviving on humanitarian aid.

- Onions in cauldrons -

During Ramadan, Sherif can carry home a plate of rice and chicken for her family to break the daily fast after sunset -- and a broth to eat before sunrise and another 16 hours of daytime fasting.

For the rest of the year, food is one of many daunting expenses for the head of a poverty-stricken household.

"I have to pay 500 shekels (115 euros) in rent as well as water and electricity bills," says Sherif, whose two sons are unemployed.

"I receive 100 to 200 shekels in support, but I'm supposed to pay the rest on my own," she says.

The Gaza Strip has been ravaged by three wars with Israel since 2008, after the Islamist movement Hamas consolidated its rule over the Palestinian territory.

The Mediterranean enclave's unemployment rate of 45 percent is one of the highest in the world.

Inside the soup kitchen, volunteers pile marinated chicken pieces onto huge trays and stir translucent onions in cauldrons with paddles.

"In the past, families used to ask for chairs, a mattress or a fridge," says volunteer Deeb Abdul Hamid.

"But these days, they just ask for food."

The kitchen gives priority to families without breadwinners such as those headed by widows, divorcees or women whose husbands have emigrated, he says.

- Even government employees -

Today, government employees who haven't received their salaries also depend on the charity, says the 24-year-old graduate, who is unemployed.

The traditional tekiyya is helping to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Hassan al-Khatib, who manages the soup kitchen in Gaza city, says every day 150 to 200 families queue up outside for food. And more families head to another kitchen in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

"The tekiyya is an element of our culture, heritage and history," says al-Khatib, his head covered in a sparkling white scarf and his salt-and-pepper beard neatly trimmed.

Tradition has it that the first soup kitchen opened centuries ago in Hebron in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory now occupied by Israel.

The prophet Abraham -- who is believed to have been buried in Hebron with his wife Sarah and sons -- is said to have left food there for the poor.

The Hebron kitchen -- which is said to stand on the ground where he made the first donations -- is open all year round.

But in Gaza, the end of Ramadan in early July will mean an end to these food handouts.

After the holy month ends, the soup kitchen will only open twice a week -- and only as long as private donations from abroad allow.

AFP, Updated: 03:43 GMT, 26 June 2016
Ramadan soup kitchen offers brief respite to Gaza's hungry

KATRIN Weigmann found her calling in humanitarian work while still in school in Germany and duly began her career with the German Red Cross when she was 28.

Her passion for helping those in need has not waned for the 40-year-old who has undertaken countless humanitarian missions across the globe.

From volunteering with the German Red Cross, she joined the International Red Cross as a desk officer in 2004, overseeing the tsunami responses for Indonesia and Thailand, before moving on to other places after three years.

Her work took her to East Jerusalem and Gaza for four years, working with other humanitarian missions on a community development programme to support women’s groups.

From 2012, Wiegmann was based at the International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) in Kuala Lumpur, where she supported the coordination of the Red Cross Red Crescent humanitarian work in Asia Pacific.

Wiegmann’s job requires her to direct and coordinate the international relief activities conducted by ICRC in situations of conflict.

Four years on, she became the cooperation coordinator for the ICRC Myanmar.

She was involved in the humanitarian work when the country was ravaged by massive floods in mid-July last year.

“More than 120,000 people were affected in the severe floods in Rakhine state. We, the members from the ICRC, and our volunteers, were working things out for them almost immediately.

“When the floods hit, we were already packing relief items and sending our volunteers to the affected areas, although some of them were also affected by the floods and had to settle themselves and their families.”

“We were there ensuring how the volunteers could get to the affected areas. Yes, there were boats, but there weren’t many, so we had to look at the logistics.

“We also needed to look into security and communication as it was very important for those affected,” she said, adding that getting their message across was difficult as the victims spoke a number of languages.

Weigmann said besides getting the relief items to the victims, they (ICRC) also had to keep track of the areas they had covered, as well as liaise with other humanitarian aid organisations to avoid duplicating the relief work.

Wiegmann also spoke of her challenges, struggles and the fulfilment of being a humanitarian worker.

“On a personal level, my challenge was to know that there was a situation happening and you want to respond right away and deliver. I find it easier to deliver in times of emergency as you have the priorities clear.

“In Myanmar, it’s a different situation as the transition in politics makes it a highly complex environment to work in.

“It affects the way we operate as a humanitarian organisation as we have to deal with the higher authorities and the transition affects us.”

However, she said, the most fulfilling part of her work was going into the community and seeing the victims being able to rebuild their lives.

“It is going beyond the giving and putting ourselves in the victim’s shoes and making the best of our resources.

“Being there for them to rebuild their lives keeps us going. It’s all about serving with a purpose,” she added.

The mother of three gives credit to her supportive husband, Max Wiegmann, 37, who worked with the ICRC for 10 years until he took a break to look after their children − Luise, 5, Emma, 3, and 15-month-old Emil.

“Max understands that we are sharing and trying to make it work. We are doing this together and this makes me glad. I know I’m not doing it alone. We’re somehow managing it together.”

Wiegmann said her children were slowly beginning to understand what her job entailed and often asked her questions about the nature of her work. Her advice for budding and aspiring humanitarians?

“There are so many opportunities around you in your own community. You don’t have to start right away in a big organisation.

“Humanitarian work is not about being in a big war zone area. Helping those in need is also humanitarian work.” How long does she see herself doing this work?

“I will always have the humanitarian trait in me. Whether I do it as a job or as a volunteer, I really don’t know. But once you’re in the humanitarian line, there’s no turning back,” she said.

The New Straits Times, Published: 26 JUNE 2016 at 11:00 AM
Going beyond the giving ;
Aiding the needy
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/06/154704/going-beyond-giving

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Peace be upon you

To my Muslim brother,

Peace be upon you, brother. How has this Ramadan been for you so far?

Have you been waking up before the morning prayers to eat something to help you fast the coming day? Same here.

Do you break your fast on time? With dates? Good for you, brother, you’re better than me on this, because sometimes I break it late and not even with dates. Hot tea or barley, and rice with some dishes. So I’m basically having dinner at the same time. Not such a good idea, have been doing this for many Ramadans and wanted to change to the Prophet’s way this time. But there is time yet.

Have you been praying the nightly prayers? You know, what we call terawih? You haven’t started praying – at all? Brother, you have to pray. Fasting without prayer is like coconut without the meat; or is it the water? The husk would be what people see of you; seems intact, but incomplete inside. Ramadan and fasting are empty without prayer, man.

Have you been reading and trying to understand the Quran? Good. Not just reciting it, hoping to be up for the mic at somebody’s wedding, right? As in: “And now, performing God’s number one, all-time greatest hit, Surah Al-Fatihah, let’s give a hand for Abdullah Abdullah!” And the crowd goes wild. I’m sorry; bad joke.

You have to know what you’re reciting. God gave us the Quran to guide us to Him, not to take up space on bookshelves.

Fasting, prayer, Quran, brother. That’s what makes Ramadan work.

And hanging out with brothers in Islam helps. You do that? Cool. I don’t; hard to find brothers who speak my lingo or think on my wavelength. Yeah, yeah, I should get out more, but I like chillin’ with my mum, OK?

Anyway, if you fast, pray and try to understand the Quran’s Message, you would do yourself a whole lotta good. Because doing those things gets us closer to God.

Getting closer to God is why there’s Ramadan, man. Fasting, praying and thinking about His Message makes you more conscious of Him, and makes you more careful too.

As in, you don’t want to lie no more, because lying can get you in trouble with the Creator, man. And you want to put a muzzle on your anger, because anger sometimes comes from Satan. Yeah, watch out for him; he just wants to see you fall and burn.

Ramadan puts the cuffs on that nut job. And all his babies. So you have a month to get strong, brother, strong in your trust in God, strong in living the programme called Islam.

He makes it easy for you, too, more than at any other time of the year. By making you not eat, not drink and not get ambitious with your wife (just your wife, man; don’t even think about others) from sunup to sundown, it’s like God is giving you a super soldier serum, just like in Captain America, only better. And a shield too. A certified anti-Satan shield.

Sorry, man. Do I sound like I’m talking down to you? Not intended. I’m hardly the best Muslim myself. Like, years ago I said to some people in my office that a certain girl was insane. I must have been insane for saying it. I don’t remember what we were all yapping about or why I was insane enough to say it, but I did. This is scary serious, man.

You can read in the Quran that GOD REALLY DOESN’T LIKE IT when we say bad things about other people behind their backs; doesn’t matter if it’s truth or lie. So I gotta repair this somehow. Would you step aside for a bit, brother? Thanks.

Yo Beverley! I’m really sorry I said you were insane. Didn’t mean it. And was stupid to say it. I actually think you’re all right. Please forgive me.

OK, back to you, brother. I hope you never did that….

So I’m not talking down to you. I just want you and me to be part of a community that really puts its trust in God and His Messenger and lives the Creator’s Message. Ramadan is the best time to start building that community; we have a chance every year. Let’s not waste it. Then, hopefully, instead of “Muslim brother”, one day I can call you my brother in Islam. And vice versa.

Peace by upon you, brother. And PRAY.

PS: If you are a sister in Islam, I mean no disrespect; please replace the word “brother” with “sister”, and “man” with … um, a word of your choosing. Peace.

The Star 2, Published: JUNE 27, 2016
What makes Ramadan work ;
Here's our chance to build a community.

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Obama's conservation legacy

CARLSBAD CAVERNS NATIONAL PARK, N.M. − As his professional and parental duties approach a new phase, President Obama is taking a family vacation this weekend to the caverns here and to Yosemite National Park, echoing a similar trip he took seven years ago when his daughters were smaller and his hair not nearly so gray.

The first family headed out a week after the Obamas’ elder daughter, Malia, 17, graduated from high school. Mr. Obama has said many times that Malia’s looming departure − she has been accepted by Harvard but will take a gap year first − is causing him great emotional turmoil, and during the graduation ceremony on June 10 he wept behind dark sunglasses.

The family spent about two hours at Carlsbad Caverns on Friday before flying to California, where they will remain until the afternoon on Sunday, which is Father’s Day. Most of the weekend is devoted to family time.

At the caverns, which were closed for the Obamas’ visit, the family took an elevator down 754 feet. They toured the Big Room, the fifth-largest natural limestone chamber in the world, which maintains a year-round temperature of 56 degrees.

Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama asked their guide questions, but Malia and her sister, Sasha, were quiet, at least while they were near reporters. “How cool is this?” Mr. Obama asked the reporters with the enthusiasm of a father trying to encourage similar excitement in his children. “Spectacular,” he added.

In August 2009, the Obamas took their daughters to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. Pictures from the trip show two little girls; now, Malia is about as tall as her father, and Sasha is not far behind.

Mr. Obama was criticized then for taking a vacation during the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. But administration officials said at the time that part of the reason for the trip was to draw attention and lure tourists to the national park system.

This time, the family vacation came days after the massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Administration officials said the trip was intended in part to highlight the extraordinary economic benefits of national parks in their centennial year. In 2015, more than 305 million people visited national parks in the United States, a record, and spent an estimated $16.9 billion in nearby communities, according to the White House.

The weekend park visits will become part of Mr. Obama’s legacy on conservation. He has given protected status to more land and water combined than any of his predecessors, and while much of that comes from his additions to a huge marine monument in the Pacific Ocean near his native Hawaii, he trails only President Jimmy Carter in the number of acres of public lands that his administration has protected.

Mr. Obama’s designations have largely come under the Antiquities Act, a 110-year-old law that allows presidents on their own to declare places to be monuments. Such declarations sometimes infuriate local residents and conservatives who oppose federal ownership of vast stretches of land.

The president is considering protecting more land, including a possible designation of monument status to 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah that are sacred to at least five Native American tribes.

“What he has done for conservation is good, but what he does next will determine whether his legacy is remembered as great,” said Sharon Buccino, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The New York Times, Published: JUNE 17, 2016
President Obama and Family Tour ‘Cool’ Carlsbad Caverns

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Churchill's European ideal

LAST Thursday, citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) after more than 40 years of being a member of one of the world’s most presti-gious politico-economic unions of 27-member states.

Based on the referendum conducted by the UK government, 17,410,742 (51.89%) of the British people decided to leave the union while 16,141,241 (48.11%) chose to remain.

The decision sent political and economic shockwaves all over the world because the UK, being a developed country, is the world’s fifth largest economy by nominal GDP and ninth largest economy by purchasing power parity.

The UK also remains a great po--wer with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence internationally.

The decision has also crushed an old ambition of then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to create a united Europe, also known as the United States of Europe (USE), where every European could live in peace especially after experiencing the atro-cities of the Second World War (1939-1945).

The term “United States of Europe” was used by Churchill in his speech on Sept 19, 1946, at the University of Zurich, Switzerland: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.”

The greatest uncertainty asso-ciated with leaving the EU is that no country has ever done it before, hence no one can predict the exact result. But whatever that might be, it will surely affect Britain’s place in the world.

The vote by the British people to leave might also influence several EU-member countries to take a similar approach. Several states have political parties and indivi-duals that are currently active in advocating the withdrawal of their own country from the EU.

It might also influence nations which are now waiting to join the union, like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.

The union between Britain and the EU was seen by many to offer long-term benefits to the British people. Many of the EU’s policies were created with the aim of ensuring free movement of the people, goods, services and capital, and maintaining common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development among its members.

The decision to leave may have stemmed from unwillingness to follow the standardised policies of the EU which are seen as no longer effective in facing the challenges of the world today, especially in view of the current economic uncertainty and the influx of immigrants particularly from conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.

Throughout world history, people tended to move towards co--operation in bigger communities. Some individuals may not benefit from this in the short term and may not like the idea in the first place. But it would be better for everyone in the long term.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Britain breaks Churchill’s European ideal
Letter to The Star from MUZAFFAR SYAH MALLOW, Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia

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a tale of two brothers

BUTTERWORTH (Bernama): It is a tale of two brothers, buried here for centuries, but little is known about them.

Kampung Bagan Dalam is the final resting place for 250 years of the brothers who contributed to the history and development of the village and surrounding area.

The graves with their marker stones have been neglected, as few know the remarkable story of Sheikh Akhil Khan Mohammad and Sheikh Ghulam Khan Mohammad, who came from Afghanistan, and were traders and Islamic preachers.

Penang Malays Tourism and Heritage Association (Sahabat) president, Syed Kamalrul Sufian Syed Kadiron Mustafa, said not many people, especially the younger generation, knew about the life of these brothers.

“The only thing left to remind us of their significant contribution to the local community are their graves in Kampung Bagan Dalam.

Unfortunately, these have been neglected.

It is sad that their graves, identified as the oldest in the village, are now surrounded by undergrowth.

“Once in a while, the Rohingya community living nearby would clean up the grave area.

“There should instead be a narrative on the two brothers and a signboard to say that Kampung Bagan Dalam was founded by these two brothers. We have to admit that we have now lost a lot of the history of the local communities in Penang,” he lamented.

Syed Kamalrul urged the relevant authority to put up a signboard at the grave site and pave a path leading to it so that students, historians and tourists can pay a visit.

He also called for the graves to be gazetted as a state heritage site.

Bagan Dalam, which in the old days was a well-known Malay settlement, is located near the mouth of Sungai Perai in the south and facing Tanjong Penaga and near Penang waters in the north.

Bagan Dalam also used to be synonymous with external and domestic trade, especially with the populace living in and around George Town, Seberang Perai and the northern part of the peninsula.

Waka Mohd Nor, 72, a fifth generation family member of the brothers said it was not just trade that was significant to the area at that time, but the presence of Akhil Khan and Ghulam Khan had also changed the lives of the Malay community there.

Waka said he got to know the history of Bagan Dalam from a 100-year-old woman known as Nek Ya when he was in his twenties. “According to her, the brothers had contributed much to its growth.”

He said they were ethnically Pashtuns, who came to Penang by ship in 1765, and later married local women and stayed on until their deaths.

The Star, Published: Monday, 27 June 2016
Afghan legacy forgotten ;
Recovering memories: Syed Kamalrul (left) and Waka visiting the final resting place of the brothers marked by tomb stones at the Kampung Bagan Dalam cemetery.

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I love London !

ONE of the key post-referendum sentiments to emerge on Friday from European Union apparatchiks such as Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, is that the march towards greater political and economic union will continue unabated. It seems that millions of Britons are vindicated in their mistrust not only of their pro-EU politicians but also of their EU counterparts.

Different stakeholders ranging from the Commission to the German Bundestag (parliament) have lost no time in setting out their stores − “Out means Out. You cannot be out and have all the rules of being in”; “The UK should expedite its exit from the EU as quickly as possible”; ‘The UK cannot now be part of the Single Market”; “There will be no favours for the UK from the Commission and Council of Ministers”; “This is a backward step for the UK”, etc.

The reality is that politicians all over Europe have generally become alienated from their electorates − partly due to the outdated nature of the political structures, institutions, bureaucracies and a serious lack of accountability, budget transparency and checks and balances.

The Commission has not even published its financial report for fiscal year 2013, let alone the subsequent years.

The fault lines are evident all over − from the rise of the extreme right wing to the excesses of the ruling elites as manifested in the expenses scandals and above-inflation self-pay awards and the growing inequality between the rich, the squeezed middle classes and the poor.

Yet the ordinary voters have been bearing the brunt of the impact of these excesses and the policy failures especially relating to the financial crisis and its resultant credit crunch through brutal austerity cuts.

Not surprisingly, millions of ordi nary voters have become disillusioned with the electoral process, which is perceived as “bizdemocracy”, an unholy alliance between business and democracy where the lines of separation between business and democratic politics have become so blurred.

One of the key factors that led to Vote Leave win, especially in England, is the support of the working classes in the Midlands and the North, despite the fact that the official Labour Party policy was to remain in Europe. Labour supporters abandoned their party in millions.

Why? Because successive party leaders have failed to reconnect with their core constituencies that have been hammered with the multiple effects of bad economic policies, which were perceived as destroying the industrial base of the country and the communities who worked in them; and a wanton failure to recognise and acknowledge the fears of them in relation to stagnant wages, lack of housing, failing schools, longer waiting lists in hospitals and seemingly uncontrolled immigration.

So what about the immediate and longer term implications of Brexit? The poignant atmosphere immediately after the reality of the result of the referendum dawned was sombre, sober and re-assuring. There was no triumphalism on the part of the Vote Leave supporters.

The great thing about the British electoral process is not only its “free and fair” ethos, which incidentally has to be seen to be such, but its very decorum in which it is conducted. No such thing as partisan electoral commissioners as in the US or a potentially corrupt system of election funding running into obscene a mounts of money.

This is why Prime Minister David Cameron should be commended for the gracious way he accepted the will of the people and decided that it was time for him to resign as premier to make way for someone else to take the UK into the tough negotiations ahead to effect Brexit.

Cameron confirmed that he will remain “to steady the ship in the coming weeks and months” until such time the Conservative Party elects a new leader and prime minister before the party conference in October.

In contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who fought a breathtakingly lacklustre campaign, albeit supporting to remain in the EU, is resisting calls for him to consider his position. After all, it was Labour’s core supporters that “won” it for Brexit.

Brexit politicians such as Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Michael Gove have been measured and generous in their thanks and praise of Cameron, and have rightly stressed that there is no need to rush into enacting Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would precipitate two years of negotiations leading to the British exit from Europe.

We saw the volatility of the financial markets precipitated once again by a fundamentally flawed take by traders and fund managers who initially predicted a Vote Remain victory, which saw sterling momentarily rally, before reality dawned after the first five electoral areas declared a seeming ascendancy of the Brexit Vote.

Sterling took a hammering against the US dollar to finish a 30-year low with the value of the pound reaching US$1.35 at one stage. It was only the reassurance of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that United Kingdom banks are well capitalised and buffered against external shocks compared with the financial crisis in 2008, and in any case the Bank if required would pump in £250 billion (RM1.4 trillion) to support sterling at any cost.

The truth is that with the various assurances and interventions, and the long lead time to Article 50 implementation, not much is going to change on the ground in the short to medium term. Yes, Brits will have to fork out more when they travel to the US, Japan or even the EU. British exports may also be hit by higher costs. But in reverse imports would be cheaper, unless the pound weakens further and crude oil prices increase.

Brexit also raises the possibility of opening the floodgates to a spate of referenda. Already the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that her government would start the legislative process for a second referendum on Scottish independence if and when the situation demands. Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalists, has also indicated that it would push for a referendum on the reunification of Ireland, which is now the only EU country to have a border with the UK. The truth is that the implications of Brexit will be with us for a very long time, which no one can accurately predict at this moment in time.

Yet there are those arch optimists such as Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organisation and now adviser to President Francois Hollande of France, who are still hoping for an end game scenario that may force any British Government to go back on the original decision of Brexit. He contends that exit negotiations would be far more complex and protracted than envisaged and disagreements abundant. His hope is that negotiations would eventually wear down the Brits who would abandon the quest for Brexit.

Monsieur Lamy obviously does not appreciate British history and resolve, especially the “Spirit of the Bulldog”!

New Straits Times, 27 June 2016 at 11:31 AM
The ruling elite misread the mood of the British people
By Mushtak Parker
Mushtak Parker is an independent London-based economist and writer.
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/06/154923/ruling-elite-misread-mood-british-people

LONDON − A tsunami of uncertainty has engulfed Anna Woydyla, a Polish restaurant worker in London, since Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Would her two teenage children, who grew up in the United Kingdom, still qualify for loans to study at British universities? Would she and her husband, after 11 years of working here, have to sell the home they just bought? Leave their jobs? Leave their new country? Try to apply for citizenship?

The 41-year-old is among hundreds of thousands of European Union workers in Britain who are fearful and confused over what happens next as their adoptive country begins the long process of unwinding its many ties to continental Europe.

“If it were just me, I could even return to Poland,” a visibly tense Woydyla said as she stocked a bar in an Italian restaurant in London’s Camden district. “But my kids are more English than Polish. They don’t even want to go to Poland for their holidays anymore. They even speak to each other in English.”

An entire class of cosmopolitan entrepreneurs, workers, students and strivers who have made the U.K. their home since Britain opened its borders to its EU neighbors now see their futures in limbo. The immigrants changed the face of Britain, turning London’s Kensington neighborhood into a suburb of Paris, changing sleepy English towns like Boston into Baltic enclaves, filling supermarket shelves across the nation with Polish lager and Wiejska sausage.

“I personally cannot tell what’s going to change for me,” said Andrea Cordaro, a 21-year-old Italian student who compared the shock of hearing the referendum’s result to the punch-in-the-gut feeling of flunking an exam. “I’ll just have to keep my head up and hope for the best.”

Laurence Borel, a 36-year-old digital marketing consultant from France, isn’t waiting to find out what’s coming next. She asked for her British passport in May after more than 15 years living in the country.

“I’ll bet a lot of people are applying,” she said, explaining that she’d been mulling the idea of a passport for years but the referendum prompted her to act.

“I don’t want to go back to France,” she said. “My life is here.”

At workplaces and schools across the country, managers have sent out emails to worried foreign staffers and students, assuring them that − for now − nothing has changed.

“The formal process for leaving the European Union will take at least two years,” Oxford University said in one such statement. “Our staff and students can be assured that in the short term, we anticipate no disruption to employment or study.”

Over the long term though, the lives of the estimated 3 million EU citizens living in Britain may change in ways big and small. A survey commissioned by the Financial Times found that if Britain’s current immigration rules were applied to EU nationals, the overwhelming majority would lose their jobs and be forced to leave the country − catastrophic news for Spanish barristas, Romanian strawberry pickers, German investment bankers and the industries that rely on them.

The biggest impact may be on the Poles, the largest group of foreign EU workers in the U.K. An estimated 850,000 people from Poland are now in the U.K., seeking wages and opportunities far beyond what they could ever expect in their ex-communist homeland, a flow so dramatic that Polish is now England’s second-most-spoken language.

The fate of the Poles in Britain is such an important domestic issue in Poland that President Andrzej Duda vowed after the British referendum that Polish leaders will “do everything to keep the rights unchanged” in upcoming negotiations with British leaders.

“I trust that the British government will appreciate the contribution the Poles are bringing into the development of the British Islands, into their social and cultural life,” Duda said.

Under British law, EU immigrants who have resided in the U.K. for more than five years can apply for permanent residency. In practice, however, few EU citizens have bothered as their passports already allow them to travel freely and easily access education, health care, pensions and other services in Britain.

The Polish Institute of International Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank, has estimated that still leaves up to 400,000 Poles who arrived in Britain after 2012. Though the path forward is still unclear, it’s possible that they − along with hundreds of thousands more from elsewhere in Europe − may have to apply for work visas and, if rejected, have to leave the country.

Aware of the EU workers’ anxiety, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had backed the failed “remain” side, issued a special message Friday to the nearly one million European citizens living in London alone.

“As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum,” he said. “You are very welcome here.”

To be sure, not all European workers in Britain are panicking or fearful.

“I feel good. Leaving the EU is a good idea,” said Gabriel Ionut, a 24-year-old from Bucharest, Romania, who works as a traffic marshal at a construction site in London. He has worked in the U.K. for four years and, with a residency permit, is confident about his chances of staying.

He says he fully understands native British concerns that their island has been forced to absorb too many immigrants in recent years, with too little control over who can come in due to the EU rules ensuring the free movement of people and labor.

“Now they will have more control over allowing in only the really good people,” he said. “And they will also be able stop more refugees from the Middle East. I am afraid there could be terrorists with them.”

Another Romanian construction worker said he was mostly confused. Iosif Achim, a 32-year-old from Satu Mare, Romania, has been in Britain for six years but never bothered to apply for a residency permit.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” said Achim. “But in my opinion this is going to be bad.”

The concern was mirrored across the Channel by the estimated 1.2 million U.K. citizens living in Europe.

The referendum “shouldn’t affect me too much . but it could,” said Herman Martin, a British composer who has lived in Brussels for the past 24 years. Overall, he said, the British vote to leave the EU would be a disaster for both parties.

“I find it quite disturbing,” he said.

Everyone with foreign ties appears shaken.

“We’re all in shock and deeply saddened,” said Christine Ullmann, a German who works in digital marketing in London, including on the “Hug a Brit” campaign that pleaded with the British to remain in the EU. Ullmann said she cried on the train Friday morning.

Borel, the French consultant, agreed that emotions were still raw.

“I love London. I love the English. I’m heartbroken,” she said.

The Washington Post, Published: June 26
Britain’s EU workers gripped by fear, confusion, heartache
By Vanessa Gera and Raphael Satter, AP

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Trump International Golf Links

Balmedie (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Protesters bearing Mexican flags invaded a Scottish golf course owned by Donald Trump on Saturday as the presidential hopeful visited the estate, which is hugely controversial locally.

Holding home-made signs reading "Love Trumps hate" and "Stop the hating", the protesters rushed onto a hill overlooking the Trump International Golf Links clubhouse in northeastern Scotland.

Trump employees ushered journalists away as the chanting protesters appeared, waving a gay rights rainbow flag and the red, white and green Mexican tricolours.

Neighbours whose properties border the estate have raised the flag in a symbol of opposition and solidarity due to Trump's disparaging remarks about Mexican people and promise to build a wall on Mexico's border with the US.

A Mexican flag waved in the breeze close by as Trump touched down on a golf course green in a helicopter emblazoned with his name.

"I want the American journalists in particular to see it," said David Milne, whose house looks down on the clubhouse and the 18th green, speaking to AFP by phone.

He said the flag was a "little nod of solidarity to the Mexican people" and symbol of opposition to Trump.

"If he gets to be president the US will be at war in a week and bankrupt in two. The man is an idiot," Milne added.

Trump's development was hugely controversial in Scotland as it was built on an environmentally protected coastline of rolling dunes, and he stoked anger by trying to stop a wind farm he said would spoil the resort's view.

Asked about the protesters, Trump compared them to rival candidates for the Republican nomination who he had defeated, such as Senator Ted Cruz.

"I have one or two that are contentious and that's fine because they lost, it's like some of the people I beat in the primaries," to win the Republican nomination for president, Trump told reporters.

Asked if he suffered from a lack of support among European leaders, some of whom have criticised his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Trump was dismissive.

"I don't care. It's irrelevant. I'll tell you who has endorsed me, the people of the United States are endorsing me, that's what relevant to me," Trump replied.

The visit to the resort in the village of Balmedie, north of the oil city of Aberdeen, came at the end of a two-day trip to Scotland, Trump's first international visit since he became the presumptive Republican nominee.

The trip, which coincides with a shock vote by Britain to leave the European Union, stands in stark contrast to the welcome President Barack Obama received on a visit to Germany in 2008, when he was the presumptive Democratic nominee.

At the time, Obama addressed a crowd of tens of thousands about his hopes of closer links to a unified Europe.

Trump has criticised the continent's leaders as "weak", and accused them of allowing uncontrolled immigration and failing to combat terrorism.

AFP, June 26, 2016
Protesters storm Trump golf course in Scotland

Paris – It started with "Grexit" – the long trumpeted but never realised axing of Greece from the European Union. It was then reborn as "Brexit" as Britain started down the – this time voluntary – path of leaving the bloc.

The "-exit" formulation was coined by two economists from US financial giant Citigroup in February 2012 to describe the possible of departure of Greece from the EU.

It has now taken on a life of its own on social media, with eurosceptics across the continent all clamouring for their own vote on EU membership:

- "Frexit":
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for a "Frexit" shortly after the results of Britain's membership referendum were announced. "Victory for Freedom! As I have been asking for years, we must now have the same referendum in France and EU countries," she declared on Twitter.

- "Nexit":
"Now it is our turn," trumpeted Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Islam far-right Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, after Britain opted out of the EU. Wilders has promised to make a referendum on a "Nexit" a central plank of his party's election campaign.

- "Oexit":
Austria's version comes from Oesterreich, the country's name in Austrian. And the idea is gaining ground in a country where far right party leader Norbert Hofer came within a hair's width of being elected to the largely ceremonial but coveted post of president last month. "Outstria" has been suggested as an alternative.

- "Swexit":
The far right Sweden Democrats have floated the idea of a "Swexit", with opinion polls suggesting support for leaving the EU stands at 31%.

- "Fixit":
Although the English version doesn't quite hold the right connotations, a petition calling for a Finnish exit has garnered thousands of signatures.

- "Dexit":
The phrase has emerged in the Danish press, where the populist Danish People's Party (DPP) has been calling for a renegotiation of its EU accords.

- "Gerxit":
It has appeared in French- and English-language media, but the idea of a "Gerxit" has little traction back at home in Germany. Though right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Frauke Petry did describe "Brexit" as a warning to the EU. "If the EU does not abandon its quasi-socialist experiment of ever-greater integration then the European people will follow the Brits and take back their sovereignty," he said.

- "Italexit":
A bid to leave the EU has also not gained much ground at home in Italy, a founding member of the union – apart from with the country's most prominent far-right politician, Matteo Salvini. "Cheers to the bravery of free citizens," the leader of the anti-immigration, anti-EU Northern League wrote on Twitter. "Heart, head and pride beat lies, threats and blackmail. THANKS UK, now it is our turn #Brexit".

AFP, 13:20 27/06/2016
From Grexit to Brexit: Eurosceptics claim their -exit
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Abenomics under control of IMF

TOKYO: The IMF said today that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's eponymous economic revitalisation plan needs to be "reloaded" with steps to increase incomes and achieve labour reforms to meet ambitious growth and inflation targets.

Abe swept to power in late 2012 on a pledge to kick-start the world's No 3 economy with his "Abenomics" policy blitz -- a mix of massive central bank monetary easing, government spending and efforts to slash red tape.

The plan got off to a promising start as it sharply weakened the yen, a plus for Japan's exporters, which set off a stock market rally. But promised reforms have been slow in coming and doubts are growing about its prospects for success.

"Abenomics has made progress in revitalising the Japanese economy but sustained higher growth and inflation remain elusive," the International Monetary Fund said in a report at the conclusion of annual talks in Tokyo.

Jun 20, 2016, 07.45 PM IST
IMF urges 'reloaded' Abenomics for Japan growth targets
Read more at:

For those confused as to whether or not Abenomics was working, all one has to do is glance at the recent export data released by the Ministry of Finance for confirmation that it's been a complete disaster.

Japan's exports fell 11.3% in May on a y/y basis, the eighth consecutive month that exports have fallen according to Bloomberg. Exports to the US fell 10.7% from a year earlier, and exports to China, Japan's largest trading partner plummeted 14.9% y/y.

However, do not be alarmed, as the IMF is all over the matter. In a statement released on Monday, the IMF had a lot of sage advice to provide Prime Minister Abe about his Abenomics policies that have failed to produce literally any of the intended results.
So in summary, the IMF has studied Japan's economy and has come to the conclusion that Abenomics has been a miserable failure.

The advice now is to scrap all of the plans for hitting any kind of economic targets, and just start forcing companies to raise wages, while simultaneously raising everyone's taxes 15%.

The central planners are literally starting to lose their collective minds.

Jun 20, 2016 9:40 PM
The IMF Tells Japan: Abenomics Is A Miserable Failure, Recommends "Forcing Companies To Raise Wages.. Or Else!" (*)
By Tyler Durden

2016年6月21日(火), 天木直人の公式ブログ

2016年6月28日(火), 植草一秀の『知られざる真実』

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Tears from the other side

The Maine governor's salary is the lowest in the United States at $70,000 a year and Maine first lady Ann LePage said she is working at a seafood restaurant in Boothbay Harbor to put aside a little cash to buy a car.

"Oh honey, it's all about the money," she told local TV broadcaster WGME this week. On her Facebook page, she wrote on Monday: "Having a great time. Great food, great view, and great service!"

LePage, 58, who sports a T-shirt, jeans and an apron at work, said customers are often taken aback when they see her at the restaurant.

"People expect something different of you because of whom I am married to, the governor," she told a customer in comments played by the broadcaster.

At a town hall event this month, Governor Paul LePage mentioned his wife's job, saying she was following in the footsteps of their daughter who made about $28 an hour last year as a food server.

"She (my daughter) did so well that, my wife, the first lady, is waitressing this summer," he said in a video played by the TV station. The governor's office was not immediately available for comment.

The Republican governor has faced criticism for comments such as saying out-of-state drug dealers were coming to Maine and impregnating "white girls." Critics called the comments racist, while LePage told reporters he had misspoken.

According to political website Ballotpedia, as of 2014, the top paid governor was in Pennsylvania with a yearly salary of $187,818.

NBC News, Jun 25 2016, 1:04 pm ET
Maine's First Lady Ann LePage Takes Summertime Waitressing Job to Pick Up Cash ;
The wife of Maine's governor has taken a summertime job as a waitress at a dockside restaurant catering to tourists to supplement the couple's income.
By Reuters

TULSA, Okla. − IN the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up.

In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor.

If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate.

I sat in the jail with Rosalind Hall, 53, a warm, mild-mannered woman with graying hair who has been imprisoned for a total of almost 18 months, in short stints, simply for failing to pay a blizzard of fines and fees relating to petty crimes (for which she separately served time). Hall has struggled for three decades with mental illness and drug addictions and has a long history of shoplifting to pay for drugs, but no violent record.

Tears welled in her eyes as she told how she was trying to turn her life around, no longer stealing, and steering clear of drugs for the last two years − but her fines and fees keep increasing and now total $11,258. With depression and bipolar disorder, she has little hope of getting a regular job, so she is periodically arrested for failing to pay.

This time, she had already spent 10 days in jail for failing to pay restitution for five bad checks written eight years ago to a grocery store. The bad checks totaled a bit more than $100, but with fees and charges added on she still owes $1,200 in restitution on them − and that’s after eight years of making payments.

“If I can’t afford to pay it, how can I pay it?” Hall asked me, as we sat in a visiting room in the jail. “I can’t do it.”

Hall survives on food stamps, castoff clothes provided by churches, a friend’s willingness to give her a room, and $50 a month she earns by cleaning a woman’s house. She allocates $40 to paying restitution, leaving her just $10 a month in cash for her and her beloved puppy (whom her neighbor looks after whenever she’s jailed for debts).

“It’s 100 percent true that we have debtor prisons in 2016,” says Jill Webb, a public defender. “The only reason these people are in jail is that they can’t pay their fines.

“Not only that, but we’re paying $64 a day to keep them in jail − not because of what they’ve done, but because they’re poor.”

This is as unconscionable in 2016 as it was in 1830, and it is a system found across the country. In the last 25 years, as mass incarceration became increasingly costly, states and localities shifted the burden to criminal offenders with an explosion in special fees and surcharges. Here in Oklahoma, criminal defendants can be assessed 66 different kinds of fees, from a “courthouse security fee” to a “sheriff’s fee for pursuing fugitive from justice,” and even a fee for an indigent person applying for a public defender (I’m not kidding: An indigent person is actually billed for requesting a public defender, and if he or she does not pay, an arrest warrant is issued).

Even the Tulsa County district attorney, Stephen Kunzweiler, thinks these fines are a ridiculous way to finance his office. “It’s a dysfunctional system,” he says.

A new book, “A Pound of Flesh,” by Alexes Harris of the University of Washington, notes that these modern debtors’ prisons now exist across America. Harris writes that in Rhode Island in 2007, 18 people were incarcerated a day, on average, for failure to pay court debt, while in Ferguson, Mo., the average household paid $272 in fines in 2012, and the average adult had 1.6 arrest warrants issued that year.

“Impoverished defendants have nothing to give,” Harris says, and the result is a system that disproportionately punishes the poor and minorities, leaving them with an overhang of debt from which they can never escape.

The Supreme Court has ruled that people should be jailed only when they refuse to pay, not when they can’t, and in theory safeguards protect the indigent. In practice those safeguards are chimerical, and the poor are routinely jailed for being poor. The way forward is to curb these fees, end the use by courts of private collection companies that add their own charges to the debt, and limit court debt to some percentage of a person’s income.

For now, some of the sums owed are staggering. Job Fields III told me he owes $70,000 in fees and fines. “It seems impossible,” he said, “but I’ve got to think positive.” Cynthia Odom told me that she owes $170,000 and constantly struggles with whether to pay the electricity bill, buy food for her two kids, or pay down the debt and stay out of jail.

When kids are affected like that, as they often are, this system of jailing people who can’t pay fines is grotesque as well as Kafkaesque.

Amanda Goleman, 29, grew up in a meth house and began taking illegal drugs at 12, and her education wound down after she became pregnant in the ninth grade. For a time, she and her daughter were homeless.

But Goleman has turned herself around. She has had no offenses for almost four years and has been drug-free for three. For the last year, by her account and her employer’s, she has held a steady job in which she has been promoted − but she is still a single mom and struggles to pay old fines while also raising her three children, ages 2, 10 and 13.

“It’s either feed my kids or pay the fines,” Goleman said, “but if I don’t pay then I get a warrant.” Four times she has been arrested and jailed for a few days for being behind in her payments; each time, this created havoc with her children and posed challenges for keeping a job.

Webb thinks that these modern debtors’ prisons are so punitive that the underlying motivation is to stigmatize and punish the poor. “It hurts their families, it doesn’t make us safer, it’s expensive,” she says. “I can’t think of another reason other than animosity toward the poor.”

The New York Times, Published: JUNE 11, 2016
Is It a Crime to Be Poor in America?
Local authority fines in the US are becoming a symbol of animosity towards the indigent
By Nicholas Kristof


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Cello from the other side

Call it a gift − or an affliction − but part of why Yo-Yo Ma is so in demand is that he’s so darn likable. The megastar cellist who once made headlines when he forgot his cello in a cab − see, he’s human just like us (and, yes, it was returned) − is perhaps the world’s most well-known classical musician.

But these days he’s not content to knock out one concerto after the next. In 2000, he formed the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of international musicians whose concerts, outsize personalities and outreach to struggling populations are chronicled in a new documentary, “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble,” which opens on Long Island on June 24. Moving, maddening and inspirational, the film follows Ma and other Ensemble members, chronicling their lives, motivation and music made on a variety of odd-shaped instruments. (The group’s latest album, “Sing Me Home,” is out on Amazon and iTunes.)

Born in Paris to Chinese musicians, Ma was a child prodigy, playing cello for President John F. Kennedy at age 7, attending Juilliard at 9. Now 60, he is married with two grown children.

How are you?

Good. So tell me . . . [He pauses.] “What’s your beat?”

My . . .? Ohhh . . . very clever, sir. You actually read my bio.

[He unleashes a big laugh.] You’re thinking, “Youuu rat.”

When your PR team asked for my bio, they said you like to know who you’ll be talking to. That’s smart. And unusual. So, yes, you saw in my bio how I hate being asked that question: “What’s your beat?” I don’t have one, I like writing about many subjects, but people expect you to stick to one thing. I guess you know that − you got some flak when you started this group, venturing into territory where others thought you didn’t belong.

Just do the off beats. Like you’re really swinging. Oom-CHUCK, oom-CHA-chahh, oom-CHUCK. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time − I don’t know that we can discuss all the details of my work, but if we just do the OFF-beats . . .

Then we’ll cover a lot of ground. OK, let’s jump right in − early in the film, on first forming this ensemble, you said, “I was scared to death.” I bet people assume not much fazes you, performance-wise. Is that not true?

Actually . . . I think every time we go to the edge of something, it gets scary. I’m sure you write a lot. But say you’re writing a novel, and you think, “Wait, that’s longer than what I usually write.” It’s still words, but it’d be scary. Same with music, and dealing with different cultures − suddenly, I had no idea how things would turn out. You have to find a way to conquer that fear that says, “Gee, this whole thing may crash and burn.”

How does Silk Road find music to perform?

In every possible way music is made. We just made a CD called “Sing Me Home,” and each member took the lead on a track with a piece of music they loved deeply. Johnny Gandelsman [a Silk Road Ensemble violinist from Moscow and the album’s producer] took the lead on “Heart and Soul.” It’s a beautiful song, but it’s important to Johnny because it gives him this sense of “home” − when he arrived in Israel from Moscow, it was the first song he heard, so it’s seared in his memory. We do another wonderful song called “Ichichila,” with Balla Kouyate [a guest artist from Mali], who plays an instrument called a balafon. It’s been in his family for 400 years − they invented it, so he’s like a direct descendant of that instrument. So we’re all leaders all followers, at different times. That’s what makes this group great.

So you’re all . . . as curious as you are musical?

Absolutely. That’s the fundamental thing binding us together. Each person is an incredible virtuoso in their own area, and also incredibly interested in the rest of the world. I’ve gotten to know many swaths of music I wouldn’t have been able to learn by myself because of these friends. We’re like family to each other. A creative family.

And a daring one. I was touched by the scenes in the film where we see your musicians teaching music classes to kids in troubled areas.

Right now there are two members out in Jordan at a refugee camp, committed to putting a human face on the refugee situation there.

It’s incredible − there are 80,000 refugees living at that camp. That’s . . . insane.

We hope what we do is socially impactful and meaningful. We’re doing music, and when things are not in great shape, we do what we do with even more passion than before.

June 14, 2016 10:17 AM
Yo-Yo Ma talks new documentary, ‘The Music of Strangers’
Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma on performing with his group of international musicians.
By Joseph V. Amodio Special to Newsday

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Soo Ewe Jin

I AM a hopeless romantic. On June 7, as my wife and I walked into the oncology ward for my chemothe-rapy session, the florist was waiting with a basket of 30 roses that I had ordered for her.

It was our 30th wedding anniversary. And at my usual spot in the ward, there was a banner which read, “Ewe Jin & Angie – 30 wonderful years”.

I had planned to have a little celebration with food and drinks but because it was Ramadan and many of the hospital staff were Muslim, I decided to put that on hold.

Thirty years is a good reason to celebrate. The banner proclaimed them as wonderful years, and the editor in me added another accurate adjective – “eventful”.

Five years ago, our plans to celebrate our 25th anniversary with a nice holiday abroad went awry because I was similarly stuck in the middle of a medical journey.

So, we celebrated in a different way, with a sumptuous feast at a nearby restaurant with family members.

I could still eat normally then and the fellowship certainly made the day special.

Fast forward to today and the circumstances are a little different. Eating normally is no longer an option but that does not mean that we can no longer celebrate.

For when we rejoice it’s not about the food and revelry, but in thanksgiving for a relationship that has withstood many trials and tribulations, and the test of time.

As the chemo drug flowed into my veins with my wife at my side holding my hand, I marvelled at this woman who has stood by me for 30 years.

She has walked alongside me through four cancer journeys, and has been a steady anchor in my life.

I have been blessed with much support from family and friends but only my wife can be there at those intimate moments when I need a shoulder to cry on, or when I wake up in the middle of the night, anxious and frightened, wondering what tomorrow holds.

Friends have asked me how I can maintain this column weekly despite what I am going through and if I may have been too per-sonal in my sharing.

I write in the hope that I may encourage others who are also on difficult journeys.

I believe every journey is diffe-rent. It is not my purpose to tell others that they will have similar experiences.

As far as the ailment is concerned, every person reacts diffe-rently to treatment even if the same regime is used.

But it is not about cancer. My message really is that life is a journey of hope, especially when we go through it with support from loved ones and the assurance that God is fully in charge.

We associate wedding anniversaries with romance and love. Paris, the City of Love, would have been a nice destination for the 30th year.

But celebrating it with my wife at an oncology ward was every bit as meaningful.

While I had taken the easy way out and ordered flowers, my dear wife made time to paint me a lovely plaque with the words, “Loving Ewe – 30 years”. Indeed, she has told me as much through her actions.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 19 June 2016
Standing the test of time ;
Love means journeying together through good times and bad.
By Soo Ewe Jin

I ENVY those who stay in temperate countries because weather talk there is so much more interesting. You could have conversations about spring in the air, lazy summer days, trees dressed in fall colours or sub-zero winters.

And if you are in Melbourne, you are bound to hear the remark: “In Melbourne, you can experience four seasons on the same day.”

For us in Malaysia, talking about the weather usually centres on how hot and humid the day is, or why there are flashfloods every time it rains.

Events that hinge on seasonal changes do not excite us much. But recently, there was an exception that raised some interest, at least on social media.

Have you heard about the strawberry moon?

It emerged on June 21 when the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, coincided with the full moon.

The strawberry moon was named by early Native American tribes.

It is a full moon like any other, but marks the beginning of the strawberry season.

The two events coincide once every 70 years.

Thanks to a Facebook posting by a friend on Monday night about the bright full moon viewed from her apartment, I quickly went to my garden and looked upwards.

Yes, it was bright and certainly full, though I had no clue that it was the strawberry moon.

I took a few pictures with my camera and suitably impressed some of my Facebook friends with my 50X close-up shots.

The following night, I thought the moon would be hovering in the same area in the night sky, but it was not there.

So at the spur of the moment, my wife and I decided to go moon hunting, along with my sister-in-law who was at the wheel.

I suspect it was a way to distract me from the after-effects of the chemotherapy session I’d had just two days earlier.

We drove to a quiet area along an elevated portion of Jalan Pantai area near Bangsar, where one could view the Kuala Lumpur skyline from afar.

We found a spot amidst some huge mansions in the upmarket neighbourhood, with breathtaking views of Kuala Lumpur by night.

And the full moon in all its splendour was right there, suspended in the dark sky.

I had my camera in hand but did not think it necessary to bring along the tripod to capture better images.

Still, I managed to take some decent shots of the moon, and also of the Twin Towers and the KL Tower.

Looking upwards often provides a source of inspiration.

On the drive back, I reflected on the difference between man-made wonders and God’s creative work.

We often go ga-ga over record-breaking man-made structures all over the world. Some people even splurge on a trip to Dubai just to perch atop the tallest building in the world.

The 828m (2,717 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai has been the world’s tallest building since 2008. Our Twin Towers did have the honour from 1998 to 2004, and still remains the tallest twin towers in the world today.

But I believe no built structure, whether in Dubai or Kuala Lumpur or anywhere else on earth, can compare with the celestial bodies that present themselves as we look upwards.

Long before modern tools of astronomy became available, men were able to navigate great distances just by looking at the patterns and pathways of the sun, moon, planets and stars above.

I remember when my boys were very young, I would take them to the nearby park where there is less artificial lighting and we would gaze upwards to identify constellations.

The Orion, with three stars in a row representing the belt of the hunter, was easy to pick out.

Being an early riser, I am able to appreciate the sunrises in my neighbourhood, when the sky bursts into a kaleidoscope of colours in the hands of the Master Painter.

Modern instruments may enable us to calculate with great precision celestial events, such as the sighting of the new moon that will herald the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Syawal.

But I believe it is the significance of the event that’s more important – and moments of reflection that give us the right perspective on our human frailties and where we stand before the Almighty Creator.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 26 June 2016
Looking up for inspiration
By Soo Ewe Jin

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Eyeing the UN Secretary General post

THE hour is late, says Helen Clark. The world is beset with a myriad of problems, and the time to deal with them is now.

Clark is no doomsday prophet foretelling ruin. Rather, she is championing a progressive, proactive United Nations, which seeks to pre-empt problems rather than fix them.

Her firm stance anchors her campaign platform, as Clark seeks to be the first woman secretary-general of the UN.

Her urgency extends across issues, from climate change to global peace and security, says the former prime minister of New Zealand and current administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“By the time the peace-keepers have to be sent, we have failed,” says Clark, referring to the blue-helmeted personnel tasked with creating the “conditions for lasting peace” in conflict-ridden areas.

Although she acknowledges the important role peace-keepers play globally, Clark would much rather they never need deployment in the first place.

“You need to be much more proactive when it comes to the long-term building of a peaceful society, to look at implementing early warning systems and mediation processes,” she says.

“For the next sec-gen, peace and security issues are very, very pressing,” says Clark.

“But it must be remembered that they’re so related to development issues – because where you see the very serious conflicts, there is always a significant development deficit.”

During Clark’s tenure with the UNDP, she has been in a unique position to witness this first-hand.

“When I travel as UNDP administrator, one of the things I really find interesting has been to see the issues that are on the interface of poverty and environment, very challenging issues like conflict and climate change, seeing how they impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people – first, and most of all.

“I have travelled to more than 120 countries in my life and seen first-hand the power of positive change that comes when people work together. I have also seen the immense suffering and extreme poverty that many people live in today. I believe the UN can do better – but we have to work together.”

The role of the UN sec-gen has historically been quite fluid in definition.

Clark sees the position as being one with great convening power; it’s about surrounding yourself with the right people and then allowing/enabling them to do their jobs.

“The sec-gen role is a bit like the role of Prime Minister, which usually isn’t terribly well-described in a country’s Constitution – New Zealand doesn’t even have a Constitution! You have to find the role through personality and the way that you operate.”

“While being sec-gen is not about being a general – we don’t have a standing army – there is certainly space created around the role for good officers!

“I am a bridge-builder and understand the power of consensus and bringing people with me,” she says.

“Plus, I come from a diverse country, in a diverse region, and know how to work with people to get things done.”

Clark’s view of a leadership role involves having a “helicopter view” across issues, rather than specialising in just one. It’s a matter of strategic guidance, versus niche specialisation.

“When you enrol in a public life career, you tend to focus on particular issues, a portfolio of sorts or designated responsibilities. But it’s different when you lift to a leader level.

“As a leader, it’s important to be surrounded by a strong team. You have to support others on your team across their duties, whether that’s a team of Cabinet Ministers or a team of major departmental heads.”

“The UN’s new global development agenda is (comparatively) much more comprehensive – we are looking at what the ingredients of a peaceful, inclusive, harmonious society are. And I think we need to look at peace and security much more holistically,” she says.

In person, Clark’s charisma is formidable and her resolve, firm. But the plain-speaking politician also exudes a disarming warmth, and her vision of a “strong and relevant” UN “that unites us to make a better, fairer and safer world for all” is certainly seductive.

Clark has a long history of public service and a documented passion for a host of social causes, from the environment to affordable public housing.

“I’m also task-focused, decisive, and results-oriented,” she adds, as well as savvy with and active on social media.

Stir her work with the UNDP into the mix, and it’s no wonder that Clark is widely-acknowledged as the front-runner in the race to replace current UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon at the year-end.

Historically, this latest round of contenders for the UN secretary-general post has already made history, with Clark up against no less than four other women (and six men).

The other female contenders include Bulgaria’s Irina Boskova, the country’s former acting Minister of Foreign Affairs (1996 to 1997) and current Unesco director-general and Susana Malcora, Argentina’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has previously held posts as Undersecretary General of the United Nations for Field Support and Chef de Cabinet of the United Nations Secretariat.

As a woman leader, Clark is no stranger to punching her way through the glass ceiling, albeit in a fairly genteel manner.

Between 1999 and 2008, she was New Zealand’s first female prime minister elected in her own right; predecessor Jenny Shipley got the post by issuing a mid-term leadership challenge to then-prime minister Jim Bolger, in 1997.

Under Clark’s steerage, unemployment levels fell, and there was significant investment in education, health, family and senior citizen issues. As involved as she was in domestic issues, she kept an eye on foreign affairs, always a large part of her career.

After three consecutive terms as prime minister, Clark became the administrator for the UNDP – once again, the first woman to be so.

“For the last seven years, I have devoted myself to development issues across all regions of the world – Africa, Asia, Latin America, Central Asia – and worked with many of the donor countries which provide substantial funding for the UNDP,” she says.

She also chairs the United Nations Development Group, a committee which works on development issues, and which consists of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments.

“It’s clearly accepted that a woman can do any job, across all spheres,” says Clark.

“Take the central banks, in America and Russia, large companies etc. Certainly, there are not enough (women in leadership roles), but the trend is there. And I think as the base of women coming through the education systems start to shift up the ranks, you will see significant proportions of women in top positions in the next 15 to 20 years.”

In interviews, she has stressed that she is not seeking – and has never sought – election as a woman. Rather, she says, she is simply the best person for the job.

Clark’s advice to women, in public roles especially, is to be very centred and maintain a balance between career and personal life.

“The truth is that even if they are at the top of a government, or heading a major business, women still take more responsibility for family life and issues, and they need time for that,” she said.

“Getting that balance is very important. Women tend to be very good time managers, so they also tend to take on a lot – but it’s important to focus on one’s own health and well-being and time away. These jobs at the top, they won’t last forever. One day, you’re going to walk out of your positions – and you want your family and circle of friends to still be there when you do.”

The Star, Published: Sunday, 26 June 2016
Step ahead to keep the peace ;
Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who is eyeing the UN secretary-general post, tells Sunday Star why she seeks to pre-empt problems rather than fix them.
By Suzanne Lazaroo

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Homeless people

IT is well after dark in downtown Tokyo and away from the bright lights of the humming shopping and restaurant districts, the invisible people are shuffling in a line.

Almost all are men. Most are former construction workers; years ago they helped build this city – in whose parks and doorways they sleep now in cardboard boxes.

During the day they blend in with the busy people on the pavements, leaving their cardboard boxes neatly folded and tied, concealed behind a tree or in bushes.

The homeless men queue and collect their food from a group of volunteers before quickly melting back into the anonymity of the Japanese capital’s streets.

The volunteers are from Tenohasi, one of a group of six local non-profit organisations that arrange food handouts and outreach.

Once a week, the groups zigzag through the streets of the Ikebukuro neighbourhood, visiting the homeless. They have around 200 names in their records, just a fraction of the 1,700 living on Tokyo’s streets, according to a 2014 government estimate. Non-governmental organisations say the total number is much higher.

“Some of these people have been living on the streets for years,” Kentaro Miura, one of the volunteers, explains to me. A bachelor in his 40s, Miura volunteers with Tenohasi every Wednesday.

“We help them deal with the consequences. They feel alienated, they don’t have friends, they find the government’s paperwork overwhelming.”

Another volunteer, Dr Makato Nishiyoka, tells me: “Many suffer from mental illness but also have heart diseases, diabetes, they smoke a lot, some have tuberculosis.”

When homeless people first emerged as a social phenomenon in Japan some 10 years ago, they were looked upon as lazy drunks who chose not to work. That view has not changed much.

They are marginalised and socially isolated – “invisible”, the volunteers say – in a society where the concept of shame is very strong.

None gives permission to be interviewed or photographed in any way that could identify them.

The homeless are not unique to Tokyo; major cities elsewhere, such as London, New York and Washington DC, also have significant populations of people who live rough. In Las Vegas, the homeless sleep under bridges while millions of dollars are flushed through the glittering bars, hotels and casinos of the city above them.

But in Japan, the dissonance between homelessness and the country’s affluence, strong sense of pride, nationalism and social order is stark.

Homelessness is only the tip of what analysts caution is a slow-moving tsunami of often solitary poverty as the population ages – one in four Japanese is now over 65 and soon, it will be one in three. And after years of idle economic growth, the country struggles to find a new wave to surf.

“Homelessness was the first sign of a poverty problem,” says Dr Aya Abe, a professor of social policy at Tokyo Metropolitan University. “Back then, everyone thought Japan was an egalitarian society with no poverty. In the mid-1990s Japan did not even have a ‘poverty rate’,” she says.

“That changed in 2009, when the poverty rate for youth surpassed the poverty rate for the elderly – in men – for the first time.”

Poverty has crept up as the economy stagnated, job opportunities shrank, fewer men and women got married and had children, and the population aged.

Demographic and social trends are against the middle and working class. The poverty rate for one-parent families is 59%. And the percentage of one-parent families in the population has gone up from 14.4% in 1986 to 23.2% in 2013.

Japan’s biggest safety net was always the family but, by 2013, 49.7% of the population was in either single-person households, or one comprising a single parent and child.

Couple this with Japanese society’s expectations that make it difficult for people trying to “downshift’’ or drop out of the rat race and seek alternative lifestyles, and the marginalisation of the poor and homeless falls into context.

“There’s a notion that there is a right career path and, if you don’t do that, you’re a loser,’’says Prof Emeritus Yoko Ishikura of Hitotsubashi University, who focuses on global competitiveness and talent.

The government has a pension scheme, but it is not adequate, adds Dr Abe. “It is broken.... The government is running a deficit and doesn’t have the money.”

While she acknowledges that there is some progress – in 2013, the word “poverty’’ appeared for the first time in a law on child poverty – she says the country still doesn’t have many schemes to help the poor.

There are some bright spots. Japan’s economy picked up a bit in the first quarter of this year, growing at a better-than-expected annualised rate of 1.7%.

In the southern city of Fukuoka, far from Tokyo, the economy is picking up, powered by tourism and an energetic 41-year-old mayor, Soichiro Takashima. He is willing to try new things – including a city-sponsored “Start-up Cafe” in the popular Tsutaya bookstore in downtown Fukuoka’s Tenjin district, set up as a space for young people with ideas. The scheme has already produced some 50 new companies.

At the port, an enormous cruise ship is berthed while another glides slowly in. The cruise ship industry has exploded on the back of Chinese tourists; Shanghai is less than 1,000km away. New building deregulation means over the next 10 years, 30 older buildings in the district will be demolished and newer, taller ones constructed; it is called the Tenjin Big Bang Project. And Fukuoka’s population is increasing, not decreasing.

But even here, the underlying, tectonic demographic shift can be seen a few kilometres from the city, on Shikanoshima Island, a seaside community hollowed out. Dozens of houses stand empty, the owners of many of them having died without heirs.

In Kashiwa, near Tokyo, where 19% of the community is above the age of 65, doctors have started making house calls again under a pilot scheme. A nursery and kindergarten employ some people long past retirement. The model is a success, proving that the productivity of the elderly can be harnessed. Japan is learning how to adapt to a society of the ageing and the solitary.

But it may be too late for some of the homeless men huddled in the cracks of vast Tokyo.

Tenohashi, founded by a psychiatrist, focuses on homeless people with mental illnesses who make up 30% to 40% of all the homeless in Tokyo, according to research done six years ago. The group – and others – gives out food at a fixed location twice a month.

Another group, Housing First Tokyo, tries to move homeless people off the streets into shelters, and then into proper housing.

It is difficult to gauge the success of the NGOs’ efforts because the hurdles are many. One of the problems is that government shelters are dismal places, with no privacy and strict rules. For those living rough on the streets, there is more freedom, if not much else.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 26 June 2016
Precarious plight of the ‘invisibles’ ;
They helped build a city, but now they live in the cracks
By Nirmal Ghosh
Nirmal Ghosh, who is Indochina Bureau Chief for The Straits Times, visited Japan on a 2016 Jefferson Fellowship.

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Over 1.5 billion people observe Ramadan !

The fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate. Muslims often donate to charities during the month and feed the hungry.

Fasting is an exercise in self-restraint. It's seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify by kicking impulses like morning coffee, smoking and midday snacking.

Ramadan is a time to detach from worldly pleasures and focus on one's prayers. Many Muslims dress more conservatively during Ramadan and spend more time at the mosque than at any other time of the year.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity, and performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

Observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk for the entire month of Ramadan, with a single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette considered enough to invalidate the fast.

Muslim scholars say it's not enough to just avoid food and drinks during the day, though. Spouses must abstain for sexual intercourse during the day, and Muslims should not engage in road rage, cursing, fighting or gossiping.

Muslims are also encouraged to observe the five daily prayers on time and to use their downtime just before breaking their fast at sunset to recite Quran and intensify remembrance of God.

To prepare for the fast, Muslims eat what is commonly called "suhoor," a pre-dawn meal of power foods to get them through the day.

Muslims traditionally break their fast like the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago, with a sip of water and some dates at sunset. That first sip of water is by far the most anticipated moment of the day.

After a sunset prayer, a large feast known as "iftar" is shared with family and friends. Iftar is a social event as much as it is a gastronomical adventure. Across the Arab world, juices made from apricots are a staple at Ramadan iftars. In South Asia and Turkey, yogurt-based drinks are popular.

Across the Muslim world, mosques and aid organizations set up tents and tables for the public to eat free iftar meals every night of Ramadan.

Yes. There are exceptions for children, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant or menstruating and people traveling, which could include athletes during tournaments.

Many Muslims, particularly those who live in the U.S. and Europe, are accepting and welcoming of others around them who are not observing Ramadan. They also are not expecting shorter work hours, as is the case in the public sector across much of the Arab world during Ramadan.

However, non-Muslims or adult Muslims who eat in public during the day can be fined or even jailed in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, home to large Western expat populations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, minority Chinese Uighur Muslims complain of heavy restrictions by the Communist Party, such as bans on fasting by party members, civil servants, teachers and students during Ramadan, as well as generally enforced bans on children attending mosques, women wearing veils and young men growing beards.

Typically, the start of the month is welcomed with greetings such as "Ramadan mubarak!" Another hallmark of Ramadan is nightly prayer at the mosque among Sunni Muslims called "taraweeh."

In Egypt, a common sight during Ramadan is a lantern called the "fanoos," which is often the centerpiece at an iftar table and can be seen hanging in window shops and balconies.

In the Arabian Gulf countries, wealthy sheikhs hold "majlises" where they open their doors for people to pass by all hours of the night for food, tea, coffee and conversation.

Increasingly common are Ramadan tents in five-star hotels that offer lavish and pricey meals from sunset to sunrise. While Ramadan is a boon for retailers in the Middle East and South Asia, critics say the holy month is increasingly becoming commercialized.

Scholars are also disturbed by the proliferation of evening television shows during Ramadan. In Pakistan, live game shows give away gifts promoting their sponsors. In the Arab world, monthlong soap operas starring Egypt's top actors rake in millions of dollars in advertising.

The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as Muslims seek to have their prayers answered during "Laylat al-Qadr" or "the Night of Destiny." It is on this night, which falls during the last 10 nights of Ramadan, that Muslims believe that God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed the first versus of the Quran.

Some devout Muslims go into reclusion those final days, spending all of their time in the mosque.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Children often receive new clothes, gifts and cash.

Muslims attend early morning Eid prayers the day after Ramadan. Families usually spend the day at parks and eating − now during the day.

AP, June 17, 2015
Q&A: What is Ramadan and why do Muslims fast all day?
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Russian oligarchs and Chinese billionaires
The dramatic slump in sterling – it lost more than 7% of its value against the dollar on Friday – could benefit foreign investors in property, and there have been predictions of a “Brexit bubble” in some housing hotspots. A slump in house prices could also benefit first-home buyers, who might find it easier to get on the property ladder.

The weaker value of the pound could mean wealthy foreigners are not only able to invest in UK property, but also more able to send their children to independent schools in Britain.

“We do think there will be some overseas people for whom some British school fees become more affordable,” said Julie Robinson, the general secretary of the Independent Schools Council.

Children whose parents live overseas make up roughly 5% of the overall student population and roughly a third of the boarding population at independent schools, where fees can reach as much as £35,000 a year. The largest number of overseas boarding students come from Hong Kong, followed by China and Russia.

“The kinds of people who are looking at sending children across the world tend to be high net worth individuals,” said Robinson. “That’s quite a strong market. The brand in English schools is valued for them.”

Donald Trump
Donald Trump released a statement praising Britons for exercising “the sacred right of all free peoples”.

“They have declared their independence from the European Union and have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy,” he said.

Trump suggested there might be parallels with a vote him by the American people for in November.

“Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first,” the statement said. “They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again.”

Guardian, Last modified on Friday 24 June 2016 19.21 BST
So who are the winners from Brexit? ;
Small-time punters, Donald Trump and the poets of Ukip may be among those who benefit from the UK’s momentous decision
By Kate Lyons

I haven’t been an expatriate very long. I came to America in February, when London and New York were the same temperature. Now, the city I moved to is hotting up, the one I left behind sloshed with rain, easing itself imperceptibly into the pattern of tepid weekends we call summer. I watch videos of submerged streets half smug, half wistful.

I’m still yet to shed the cultural habits – such as talking about the weather – that mark me out as British. I won’t list them, but all the cliches are still very much in evidence. I haven’t minded, because it’s not a bad brand to be associated with: small but big, ancient but modern, and island but one open to the world.

Suddenly, that image has been destroyed, and I feel a sense of grief which is entirely new to me. This is not a personal tragedy. It’s a constitutional melting, out of which something different will eventually be fashioned. But I can usually put political events into a box marked: “it’s fine no one died”. Tragically, that bromide quite doesn’t hold this time. Even so, I didn’t expect to find myself, as I wandered through the streets of Manhattan yesterday evening – glued to my phone, overshooting my destination by several blocks – shaking with tension.

Separated from my lifelong friends and family by thousands of miles, but desperate to express myself, I tweeted a bit too much. I railed and ranted in disbelief, and wrote “If this is really happening I have to fundamentally rethink how I relate to the world in terms of citizenship, fellowship, my ‘nationality’”. Melodramatic, huh? But as I look at it now, in the air-conditioned morning, it seems about right. Citizenship, fellowship, nationality – these are all inventions, things in the mind. But we’ve brought them into being again and again through history because we have a yearning for a sense of home that goes beyond the concrete. A sense not so much of where you belong – but of who you belong with. The elements of personhood you pick from a menu written by all the people who occupied this space before you: a sense of humour, solidarity with the weak, eccentricity, liberalism, self-deprecation, an addiction to shit tea from dusty teabags.

When I was at high school – in what was revealed last night to be one of the most solidly anti-EU parts of England – we felt European. There was an exchange programme to Spain, we went on coach trips to Austria, the headmaster flew the European flag from the top of one of the buildings. And all of that felt good. We weren’t just some irrelevant bunch of kids in the sticks, we were connected. In politics classes we learnt about the European institutions. How they were built on hope, with idealism, underpinned by a belief that human beings can organise themselves better. What a contrast with the Conservative rump still leading us in little England: refusing to consider constitutional reform, refusing to appoint a minister for Europe, refusing to take responsibility for selling arms to Iraq, refusing to scrap homophobic laws.

Those of us who believed in human rights and collective endeavour thanked god for the European Union – it was the political saving grace of the United Kingdom, as far as we were concerned.

Now, it’s gone.

And I thought I was going to be covering a topsy-turvy time in American politics. That has proven to be the case. But I believe voters here will elect Hillary Clinton in five months time. I never thought that, more rapidly than I could have imagined, British politics would eclipse anything I’ve seen here in terms of tragedy and farce. The Leave campaign peddled shameful lies, lies that have permanently damaged us. They will now have to reckon with people angry at their failure to deliver what they promised. It is going to be ugly.

The worst of it is that the catastrophe was entirely preventable. David Cameron did not have to call a referendum. A referendum with a simple majority is a stupid way to decide on far-reaching constitutional change. As my politics lessons also taught me, here in the states you need a two-thirds majority in two-thirds of the states to carry out that kind of major surgery. And it’s still democracy.

Tonight I will go drinking, and talk with my British pals about how we can’t believe what’s happened. What will we be returning to when our time here comes to an end? I turned my back for what seems like a second, and my country seems to have voluntarily dismembered itself. Where’s home now?

Guardian, Published: Last modified on Friday 24 June 2016 21.03 BST
The Britain I knew is gone: what Brexit feels like from abroad ;
I turn my back for what seems like a minute and the country I grew up in no longer exists. And worst of all, it need never have happened
By David Shariatmadari

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National Security Council Act

THE National Security Council Act is now law. What a surprise.

There has been a lot of noise being made because, despite the Conference of Rulers asking for some provisions of the National Security Council Bill to be refined, there were no changes and the Bill became law anyway. Many voices cried that the Rulers were side-stepped and not respected.

The Government said it did nothing wrong, and as odd as this may sound, it may be correct in saying so.

You see, in the past, the King had a veto on any laws made. He never used this veto power but it was there nonetheless. In the 1980s, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, this power was taken away via a constitutional amendment.

Anyway, nowadays after Parliament has passed a Bill, the King can only delay it for 30 days, after which it becomes law. The 30 days have passed and thus the National Security Council Act (NSCA) is law.

What about the Conference of Rulers, you asked. Well, they should have had nothing to do with the passing of this law in the first place.

The only laws that need their approval, according to the Constitution, are laws that affect religion, state boundaries, Malay and Sabah and Sarawak Native “special positions” and laws that affect the Rulers themselves.

The NSCA is ostensibly about national security, so it does not touch the matters I mentioned above. Unless, of course, the NSCA does affect the Rulers because it is akin to a law that empowers the Prime Minister to declare an emergency-like situation, a power that used to be in the hands of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

So I guess, indirectly, it does affect the Rulers because they all take turns being the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

If this is so, then the Act really does need the King’s approval before it can be made law. If this is not so, then why did the Government ask the Rulers for their opinion in the first place? Oh dear, now I am all confused.

Anyway, for now, this is the latest law to join our pantheon of laws and amid the noise about whether the Rulers are given due respect or not, it is forgotten that this is a terrible piece of legislation.

It empowers the Prime Minister (whoever he or she may be) to basically declare any part of the country or the entire country as a security area.

Within this area, the usual rules that protect our civil liberties are gone and the armed forces have tremendous powers.

In short, it would be like living under martial law.

The only check is Parliament. After six months of an area being declared a security area, Parliament may oppose it.

This is assuming Parliament is sitting and this is also assuming that the majority of MPs, including those in the ruling party, act accor-ding to their conscience.

The thought of an ice kacang trying not to melt in Hades pops into mind.

There are some who think that this new law is a sort of backup plan for a desperate government.

That is to say, in the event of a loss in a gene-ral election, instead of peacefully giving up power, a Prime Minister can declare the nation a security area and democracy can go flying out of the window.

I must admit that this theory held some attraction to me. However, looking at the last by-election results – where the number of people who care about promises of a bridge or a road and a few goodies, outnumbered those who care about good governance and justice; where constituencies are so heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party; where PAS can be seduced by promises of mass amputation; and where the only opposition we have is having to rebuild itself – I don’t see why there is a need to resort to any such measure.

Why should they, since enough Malaysians are already so easily wooed.

The Star, Wednesday, 22 June 2016
New law gets noisy reaction ;
Should there have been a royal assent for National Security Council Act?
By Azmi Sharon, law teacher

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LAST week, British MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her constituency. She was shot twice and stabbed several times.

According to reports, when brought to court and asked for his name, her murderer exclaimed, “Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain”.

I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about what his possible motives were. Investigations are ongoing.

For context, however, Cox was known for her pro-refugee stance and the murder happened less than two weeks before a bitterly fought referendum for whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union.

The campaign has been toxic. Considering the refugee crisis in Europe, it is no surprise that migration and crossing of borders have been a hot topic.

Just a few days ago, UKIP’s Nigel Farage – a strong proponent to leave – posed with a poster that looked similar to material from Nazi propaganda. On the other side, the “remain” camp has been accused of orchestrating a campaign dubbed “Project Fear”.

Tensions are high, vitriol is being spewed and an MP has just been murdered.

The weekend before, the Pulse club in Orlando, known to be an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) venue, was the scene for one of the worse mass murders in American history.

Forty-nine people died that night, and dozens more were injured in the homophobic attack, bringing out more outrage for the lack of gun-control laws in the US.

While many people the world over came together in solidarity to condemn the attack, others – like US Republican presumptive-nominee Donald Trump – chose to perpetuate Islamophobia instead.

These are just two examples of incidents of hate crimes that happen around the world on a daily basis.

From Australia to the Middle East, Russia to Paris, many people live in constant fear that they might one day fall victim to the manifestation of someone’s hate based on their ideologies, belief structures and lack of respect for diversity.

This is not a difficult phenomenon to understand – we discriminate against people who are different from us and who we don’t know about whether it is due to their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender or more.

What is difficult to understand, however, is why we as human beings lack such humanity for one another. We all know that everyone is different – my siblings and I always talk about how different we are although born and raised by the same parents in the same household.

In a country like Malaysia, we also grow up knowing that there are people who are different from us in other ways.

Multiracial, multiculturalism and multi-religious are keywords drilled into us from a very young age. We also see each other on a daily basis.

We also know that within each of our categorisations of race, there is much diversity whether in history, heritage or culture. Just look at how many different kinds of laksa exists and the various dialects or accents in our respective languages!

Despite this, many people – from our leaders to the average layperson – seem increasingly comfortable in pitting people against one another by focusing on our differences.

This breeds ignorance and intolerance, which will eventually lead to hate. Heaven forbid, this hate manifests physically the way I have illustrated in the examples in Britain and the US above.

Of course, some people I’ve spoken to feel that I’m overstating things, and not factoring in the context of our society, which is generally peaceful and non-violent.

Unfortunately, history has shown otherwise. In Malaysia, we have already seen attacks on religious houses from different faiths in the past. We have watched a YouTube video of a young boy having to beg for forgiveness from a fellow classmate who was just “defending her rights”.

We have resorted to name-calling in our attempts to “other-ise” one another.

In the wake of brutal tragedies – especially those that involve the loss of lives – we always hear that clarion call for love to triumph over hate. Not many people will disagree with that call, but unless all of us do something meaningful to perpetuate that love, it remains a slogan.

Whether liberal or conservative, left or right wing, we all need to ask ourselves difficult questions about humanity and how are we contributing to this culture of hate.

We need to ask ourselves if we are ignorant and how much more do we have left to learn about other people, or if we truly respect diversity, or what do we lose from allowing people to be themselves or have their own opinions and views?

Most importantly, we need to acknowledge that each and every one of us is different and that is something to be celebrated instead of being used as an excuse to exclude the other.

Otherwise, more and more tragedies will happen and soon we’ll all have blood on our hands.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Consciously putting a stop to culture of hate ;
We need to acknowledge and celebrate our differences if we are to avoid the brutal crimes taking place elsewhere.
By Niki Cheong, PhD researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK

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Japan's fragile economic recovery

JAPAN’S multi-billion-dollar pornography industry has issued a formal apology and promised change in response to allegations that women have been forced to perform sex acts on film against their will.

The move comes after the arrest this month of three talent scouts accused of coercing a woman to perform in more than 100 pornographic films over several years.

While the high-profile case sparked the industry’s response, campaigners say the practice is more widespread and welcomed the apology as “the first of its kind”.

The Intellectual Property Promotion Association, which represents Japan’s adult film industry, said in a statement on Wednesday that it would “encourage producers to take action to quickly improve the situation and restore the soundness of the entire industry”.

“The association deeply regrets that we had failed to take initiatives (to deal with the problem before). We are very sorry.”

This month, police arrested the three men on suspicion of violating the country’s labour laws.

The talent agency pressed the victim to perform in adult videos by allegedly warning her that she had to pay penalties for breach of contract if she refused, local media reported.

The unnamed woman thought she would be working as a model.

Pornography is widely available in Japan, but the dark side of the industry is seldom discussed openly and the rights of its workers even less so.

In an attempt to shine a light on abusive aspects of the business, campaigners and attorneys have urged authorities to crack down on sexual mistreatment.

Activists point to abuses such as coercive or fraudulent signing of contracts, sometimes targeting minors. Some actresses have said they were forced to engage in intercourse without protection and were even gang-raped during filming.

Shihoko Fujiwara of Lighthouse, a non-profit group that helps human trafficking victims, applauded the apology but said not all porn producers are in the industry lobby.

“Some 20% of adult film producers do not belong to the group, while others run underground operations,” she said.

The Star, Published: Friday, 24 June 2016
Japan porn trade sorry for coercion

Lifetime employment sounds like a great thing, but not if you hate where you work. That seems to be the plight of Japanese “salarymen” and “office ladies.”

Only 22 percent of Japanese workers have “a great deal of trust” in their employers, which is way below the average of eight countries surveyed, according to a new report by EY, the global accounting and consulting firm formerly known as Ernst & Young. And it's not just the companies: Those employees are no more trusting of their bosses or colleagues, the study found. By contrast, about two-thirds of workers in India and Mexico had a great deal of trust in their employers.

The EY study confirms other research, including Aon's employee engagement survey and Edelman's annual trust barometer, and comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been looking to shake up Japan's hidebound corporate culture. The irony is that Japan was identified as a high-trust society by Francis Fukuyama in his 1995 book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. That may have been true once, but Japan's long economic slump, which had already begun by the time Fukuyama's book came out, seems to have worn away that goodwill. (Fukuyama, a professor at Stanford University, didn't immediately reply to an e-mail about the findings.)

In Japan's hierarchical workplace, employees are often expected to linger in the office as long as the boss is still there, even if they have nothing to do. “This follow-the-leader ethic starts to look a little sketchy if your boss is not delivering,” says Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who analyzed the survey findings for EY.

On the other side of the scale, economic growth in India and Mexico may be a key reason why workers there feel better about their employers. The U.S. was close to the average of the eight countries studied.

Karyn Twaronite, EY's global diversity and inclusiveness officer, said the survey found that one of the worst destroyers of trust was employer failure to keep promises made to their workers. The obvious solution, she said, is for employers to keep their promises−and to “be transparent” when things aren't going well.

Bloomberg, June 23, 2016 − 5:47 AM HKT
Japanese Workers Really Distrust Their Employers ;
A long economic slump has broken the once-unshakable devotion of the "salarymen."
By Peter Coy

KANAZAWA, Japan, June 23 (Reuters) - Dissenting Bank of Japan board member Takahide Kiuchi said the central bank should review its negative interest rate policy and inflation target timeframe, while warning there wasn't much it could do to help the economy in the event of a severe market shock.

With markets nervous as polls opened in Britain's referendum on membership of the European Union, Kiuchi said the BOJ was ready to offer emergency liquidity via market operations if turmoil follows a vote to leave.

But he said the central bank, which is already nearly three years into a huge asset-buying stimulus programme and in January adopted negative interest rates, had little left in its tool-kit to boost growth if market mayhem threatened Japan's fragile economic recovery.

"I don't think the BOJ has technically reached the limits (of monetary easing). But it's hard to come up with steps with positive effects that outweigh the long-term demerits," he told reporters after meeting with business leaders in the western coastal city of Kanazawa on Thursday.

Earlier he said the prolonged period of ultra-low interest rates brought about by the BOJ's asset purchases and the negative rates decision had destabilised the bond market and damaged the central bank's credibility.

"The additional (positive) effects of quantitative and qualitative easing have been diminishing," he told the business leaders. "On the other hand, numerous side effects of QQE seem to be increasing steadily," he said.

Kiuchi's views are not shared by the majority on the BOJ's nine-member board, but his doubts over Governor Haruhiko Kuroda's radical stimulus policies are gradually gaining support among lawmakers and policymakers, including some at the bank.

The BOJ's policies are aimed at ending two decades of deflation and stagnant growth, but nearly three years of aggressive money printing has failed to accelerate inflation, which fell for the second straight month in April as external headwinds discouraged firms from raising wages and keep households from spending.

The shock decision on negative interest rates, which Kiuchi voted against, had impaired the credibility of the bank's monetary policy by reducing the predictability of its actions, he said.

The move has also failed to address an unwelcome rise in the yen, while Japanese shares have weakened, drawing criticism that the BOJ had succeeded only in confusing rather than calming markets.

By persisting with its pledge of hitting 2 percent inflation at the earliest possible date, Kiuchi said the BOJ was creating "overly heightened market expectations" of additional easing.

"The BOJ shouldn't aim at achieving its 2 percent inflation target with monetary policy alone in the short term," he said.

"Rather, it should reset the timeframe for achieving the target to a medium- and long-term one, and conduct monetary policy in a flexible manner."

Over-reliance on ultra-loose monetary policy has also hampered necessary structural reforms and may be working to push down, not boost, Japan's already low productivity and potential growth, Kiuchi said.

"Japan's economy is suffering from supply-side problems rather than a lack of demand ... and supply-side problems can't be solved by monetary policy," he said.

A former market economist, Kiuchi has been the sole opponent of the BOJ's massive asset-buying programme and has called for it to be tapered.

Reuters, 20 hours ago
BOJ's Kiuchi warns of dwindling tool-kit, urges review of negative rates
By Leika Kihara
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Will Waterman)

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to wear high heels

TOKYO: Feminists, look away! Fashion police in Japan want to ‘empower’ women by persuading them to wear high heels, insisting the country’s historic ‘kimono culture’ has led to many women having poor posture.

The Japan High Heel Association (JHA) is calling on women across the country to trade sensible shoes for a pair of stilettos, insisting that standing tall will give them ‘confidence’ -– and improve their gait.

“Japanese women walk like ducks,” JHA managing director ‘Madame’ Yumiko said in an interview at her plush Tokyo salon.

“They waddle along, pigeon-toed, with their bottoms sticking out as if they’re bursting to use the toilet. It looks ghastly,” she added.

In an apparent bid to improve this situation, the all-female organisation charges thousands of dollars for etiquette lessons, including special classes where women are taught to walk correctly, and particularly in high heels.

The “walking etiquette classes” are proving hugely popular.

At JHA, students pay \400,000 (RM15,181) for a six-month course – and so far 4,000 have taken part, while similar lessons and schools are popping up nationwide.

The 48-year-old former ballerina blames the countries sartorial heritage for the posture problem.

“Chinese or Korean ladies don’t have these problems,” she said.

“It’s a result of Japan’s kimono culture and shuffling about in straw sandals. It’s ingrained in the way Japanese walk.”

“But very few Japanese wear a kimono all day anymore. We should know about Western culture and how to wear heels correctly,” Yumiko added.

The shift away from traditional Japanese clothes happened gradually from the late 19th century, but only since the 1980s have stilettos become a fashion staple.

This ‘call to heels’ comes at a time when the West is experiencing a feminist fightback against dictates on how women should dress. Hollywood star Julia Roberts went barefoot on the red carpet during the Cannes Film Festival in May, in protest after organisers ejected women for wearing flat shoes at the previous year’s event.

Last month, more than 100,000 British people petitioned parliament in the UK, calling for a change to a dress code law that allowed employers to require women to wear high heels in the work place.

The campaign, now backed by several politicians, was launched by a receptionist who was sent home by a firm for wearing flat shoes. But Yumiko argues wearing heels will help “Japanese women become more confident”.

“Many women are too shy to express themselves. In Japanese culture, women are not expected to stand out or put themselves first.”

Her solution is for women suffocated by such strict protocols to simply “throw on a pair of heels,” arguing the freedom it brings can unlock the mind.

Critics have branded the idea sexist and laughable, particularly as women are still battling against a deeply ingrained patriarchal culture that once expected them to pace three steps behind men.

Prominent Japanese social commentator Mitsuko Shimomura dismissed the idea as “nonsense” that most would laugh at.

“There’s no relationship between wearing high heels and women’s power; it sounds crazy,” she said.

Yumiko gives short shrift to accusations of sexism – she wants men to change their footwear too. “As in the Renaissance period, men want to look taller and more stylish. Men should wear heels, so they can preen majestically like King Louis XIV,” she explains.

Heels have been in and out of vogue – for men and women – for centuries, with murals on ancient Egyptian tombs dating them back to around 4,000 BC − AFP

The Star, Published: Friday, 24 June 2016
Learning to heel one’s sole ;
New trend sees Japanese women striving to walk well in stilettoes

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Prof Takuji Shirasawa

In his youth, he drank lots of beer. In his 40s, he decided to give it up. That was perhaps one of the biggest lifestyle changes made by Prof Takuji Shirasawa, 58, one of Japan’s top specialists in preventive medicine for ageing.

“When I was a doctor doing research work in the laboratory, I drank plenty of beer when writing scientific papers,” says Prof Shirasawa. “I did not smoke then because I was a pulmonary physician.”

At 45, he began his anti-ageing research work and switched from drinking beer to red wine.

“I recommend red wine but I also like champagne and sparkling wine. I restrict myself to three glasses a day. Too much alcohol can adversely affect the brain,” says Shirasawa, who is professor of physiology at Dokyo University, and visiting professor of neurology at University of Michigan, the United States.

Prof Shirasawa obtained his PhD in immunology at Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine in 1990. His research work on molecular pathology and the molecular genetics of gerontology spanned over 20 years. When he was researching Alzheimer’s disease, he conducted brain autopsies on Alzheimer’s patients. He also explored the possibility of slowing the ageing process to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Asked about the secret behind his youthful looks, Prof Shirasawa brushes off the compliment with a smile: “The Japanese look young. It’s the main reason why I look young, too. No, I don’t take any (health) supplements.”

As an anti-ageing authority, people are naturally curious to know what Prof Shirasawa eats.

“I take coffee with coconut oil (or coconut milk) first thing in the morning,” shares Prof Shirasawa. That’s all he has for breakfast.

Creamers are a definite no-no. That’s bad fat to him. This artificial fatty acid, he believes, can impair brain function. Trans fats are commonly used in doughnuts and as shortening for cakes and pastries.

On food, he has this to share: “I go for traditional Japanese food like miso and natto (both are fermented soy beans), nukazuke (Japanese pickle) and kimuchi (Japanese-style kimchi). I also take brown rice mixed with millet.”

For lunch, he has brown rice, miso soup and salad. For dinner, he likes steak or other meats (including game meat like wild boar and venison) and ethnic dishes such as curry cooked with coconut milk. Once a week, he heads to the sushi bar.

He prefers grass-fed beef steak from New Zealand as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. “Japanese beef is grain-fed and has no omega-3,” he adds. Prof Shirasawa is trying to propose to the Japanese government to produce grass-fed beef instead of importing grain-fed beef.

Wheat woes
He opines that genetically-modified wheat imported from the United States is unhealthy and is one of the causes of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We need more farmers in Japan to produce the variety of wheat that was produced 100 years ago (and not modern wheat),” he says. Apparently, modern wheat is super-hybridised, less nutritious, and unhealthy.

Prof Shirasawa organises seminars and symposiums in the countryside to educate farmers and encourage them to produce old wheat, and get associations to support the farmers. Following his initiative, many farmers are now switching to growing old wheat..

Prof Shirasawa recommends the intake of omega-3 and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) as part of healthy eating.

“Even though the Japanese eat fish, they take five times more omega-6 than omega-3. That’s because we use vegetable oil as cooking oil and the majority of these oils contain omega-6 which is unhealthy. Processed food and convenience foods also have lots of omega-6.”

Spices are good for health, says Prof Shirasawa who consumes turmeric (a good source of curcumin) and many other spices as well. The traditional diets of the Japanese are known to promote good health and longevity. The most notable of this is the Okinawan diet.

“Traditionally, the Japanese favour the Okinawan diet (more than 96% plant-based food and less than 1% each of fish, meat, dairy and eggs). But these days, only the elderly are taking this sort of diet. Young people go for fast-food. As a result, life expectancy has dropped in recent years,” says Prof Shirasawa.

Located in a mountainous area, Nagano prefecture has the highest life expectancy for both men and women in Japan. People here eat lots of vegetables, mushrooms and fermented foods like miso. Prof Shirasawa has published several books based on his research in the Nagano prefecture. One of these is Takayama – The Village Of Longevity With Local Longevity Recipes.

Work aside, Prof Shirasawa is a voracious writer. He writes about 30 books every year, half of which are recipe books. In all, he has authored about 230 books to become the most published doctor in Japan. Over two million copies of his books have been sold in Japan and many have been translated and published abroad.

Among his bestsellers are Prevention And Improvement Of Alzheimer’s! Be Healthy Without Mental Decline By Using Coconut Oil and Dr Shirasawa’s Coconut Milk Diet (both books with recipes by Daniela Shiga, a functional foods researcher with Juntendo University Graduate School of Medicine).

In 2013, Prof Shirasawa translated Dr Mary Newport’s book Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure? on coconut oil remedy, into Japanese.

“When I introduced this book to the Japanese, no coconut oil was available in supermarkets in Japan. I approached importers to bring in coconut oil from Asian countries. Today, coconut oil is available in every corner of Japan and many Japanese have begun to use coconut oil for eating and cooking,” says Prof Shirasawa. “Studies in the United States show that 80% of Alzheimer’s patients who took coconut oil displayed an improvement in symptoms.”

Nutrition aside, Prof Shirasawa plays musical instruments as part of his anti-ageing regime. He learnt to play the piano at the age of 40 and the flute at 50.

“Playing the piano helps to stimulate the brain. Playing flute helps to exercise lungs and keep the fingers nimble,” he says. “Looking young and being happy promote longevity.”

Recently, Prof Shirasawa set up the Shirasawa Memorial Clinic, “a happiness clinic” in Shinjuku, where people can get transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy to fight depression without drugs. This non-invasive procedure uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression.

“Depression is one of the leading causes of Alzheimer’s. Making the Japanese people happy is one of the most practical ways to reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases in Japan,” says Prof Shirasawa.

The Star2, Published: June 24, 2016
Here’s how you can eat your way to a healthy old age
By Majorie Chiew

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Japan has a rich coffee culture, thanks to the kissaten which is famous for good quality coffee. Rebecca Ilham gets to sample some in Tokyo

ARRIVING in Tokyo on a wet, gloomy Monday, I am immediately ready for some excellent coffee action. The capital city of Japan may sound like an unlikely location to search for good coffee. After all, the country has a fascination with over-sweetened canned coffee, conveniently available from numerous vending machines in every corner of the street.

However, what many people don’t know is that Japan has a rich coffee culture, thanks to a kissaten (coffee house) explosion in the 1960s. A kissaten is usually family-owned and serves good quality coffee.

Most kissatens serve dark roast single origin beans, usually roasted in-house and brewed using meticulous methods such as siphon and nel drip. The coffee houses are easily recognised by their old school, retro interior, dimmed lighting, liberal smoking policy and jazz music playing in the background. At its peak of popularity, kissaten was a sanctuary for office workers, college students and locals alike.

Kissaten started to lose its popularity with the emergence of chain coffee shop Doutor, which offered cheaper coffee and faster service. The blow was intensified when foreign chains such as Starbucks and Tully’s entered the Japanese market. Suddenly, traditional coffee shops were no longer perceived as cool, resulting in a lot of businesses going under.

Interestingly however, in the past few years, the kissaten culture has seen a revival − in a different, modernised form. Independent coffee shops serving single origin, specialty coffee with unique, distinctive concepts are rapidly taking over some areas in big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

Even small towns like Kanazawa and Toyama in the relatively more remote region of Hokuriku, are not spared. But no matter how different they are in appearances, these shops are united at the very core of their business. Just like the original kissaten, they serve good coffee. Only coffee.
The next destination is Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, where there is a beeline at Blue Bottle Coffee, even after six months since its opening. This American coffee shop originates from Portland. Its owner and founder, James Freeman, is a big fan of the Japanese coffee culture which explains the location for his maiden venture overseas.

As it is getting hotter in the afternoon, I settle for an iced coffee, a single origin Ethiopian. I am not surprised that the coffee turns out to be unmemorable. There is nothing wrong with Blue Bottle but Tokyo has spoilt me with better cups.

New Straits Times, Published: 23 June 2016 at 2:01 PM
well-roasted for coffee lovers
By Rebecca Ilham

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Strong support for Assange

London (AFP) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange started his fifth year camped out in the Ecuadoran embassy in London on Sunday, an occasion marked by his supporters with events celebrating whistleblowers.

Supporters held talks in European cities including Athens, Berlin, Brussels and Madrid, which Assange addressed through a live video stream from inside the embassy.

"I am normally very isolated here at the embassy," Assange said, noting it was strange to address so many people.

"It's quite incredible to see this extent of support."

The 44-year-old is wanted for questioning over a 2010 rape allegation in Sweden but has been inside Ecuador's UK mission for four full years in a bid to avoid extradition.

The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies the allegation, walked into the embassy of his own free will on June 18, 2012, with Britain on the brink of sending him to Stockholm, and has not left since.

His lawyers say he is angry that Swedish prosecutors are still maintaining the European arrest warrant against him.

The Australian former computer hacker fears that from Sweden he could be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' release of 500,000 secret military files, and could face a long prison sentence there.

Figures including musician Brian Eno, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and academic Noam Chomsky sent video messages of support that were screened at the events.

"Julian Assange's crime is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating," Chomsky said in a video message.

"We should all thank Julian for his courage and integrity in providing us with this precious gift at great cost to himself, much to our shame."

- 'Political persecution' -
In Madrid, news site eldiario.es organised a panel discussion with judge Baltasar Garzon, who described the WikiLeaks founder as a victim of "political persecution".

An event in Brussels event was addressed by the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who said the treatment of Assange was aimed at "killing off... the chance of democracy," the economist said.

French composer Jean Michel Jarre and British left-wing filmmaker Ken Loach both called on Assange to be freed.

"He should be able to leave his place of safety without fear of deportation or being handed over to those who intend him harm," Loach said.

A hero to supporters and a dangerous egocentric to detractors, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been portrayed in two movies in recent years.

Assange has compared living inside the embassy -- which has no garden but is in London's plush Knightsbridge district, near Harrods department store -- to life on a space station.

His 15 feet by 13 feet (4.6 by 4 metre) room is divided into an office and a living area. He has a treadmill, shower, microwave and sun lamp and spends most of his day at his computer.

He got a cat in May to give him some company.

- Assange backs Brexit -
Last month a Stockholm district court maintained a European arrest warrant against Assange, rejecting his lawyers' request to have it lifted.

"The court considers that Julian Assange is still suspected of rape... and that there is still a risk that he will abscond or evade justice," it said in a statement.

Assange will appeal the ruling, one of his Swedish lawyers, Per Samuelsson, told AFP.

"He is not surprised but very critical and angry," he said.

Assange's lawyers requested the lifting of the warrant after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a non-binding legal opinion on February 5 saying his confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy amounted to arbitrary detention by Sweden and Britain.

London and Stockholm have angrily disputed the group's findings.

The alleged crime dates back to 2010 and the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

Assange is calling for Britain to leave the European Union in Thursday's closely-watched referendum on its membership of the bloc.

He alleges that British authorities "repeatedly use the EU as political cover for its own decision-making", highlighting the European arrest warrant.

AFP, Posted: June 20, 2016
Angry Assange starts 5th year cooped in London embassy
By Robin Millard

Ecuador has received a formal request from the Swedish authorities to interview Julian Assange, inside its London embassy, in a potential breakthrough to the long-running saga.

The WikiLeaks founder, 44, is wanted for questioning over a 2010 rape allegation in Sweden, which he has always denied. He has been living inside Ecuador’s UK mission for four years in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, saying he fears he would then be transferred to the US to face political charges for orchestrating leaks of diplomatic cables.

Ecuador has been asking throughout Assange’s stay that he be interviewed inside the embassy, and said it welcomed the apparent Swedish “change of heart, and signs of a new political will”.

Guardian, Last modified on Monday 20 June 2016 19.57 BST
Sweden asks to meet Julian Assange inside Ecuador embassy ;
Swedish authorities request interview in London mission so they can question WikiLeaks founder over rape allegation
By Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor

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65.3 million people

Geneva (AFP) - The number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015, the United Nations said Monday.

Europe's high-profile migrant crisis, its worst since World War II, is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans.

Globally, close to one percent of humanity has been forced to flee.

"This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed," the UN refugee agency said.

The figures, released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis.

As conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the willingness to resettle refugees, said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.

"Instead of burden-sharing, we see borders closing. Instead of political will, there is political paralysis and humanitarian organisations like mine are left to deal with the consequences and struggling to save lives on limited budgets," Grandi told reporters in Afghanistan's capital Kabul.

- Unprecedented risk -
The number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015, according to the UN figures.

Counting Earth's population at 7.349 billion, the UN said that one out of every 113 people on the planet was now either internally displaced or a refugee.

They now number more than the populations of Britain or France, the agency said, adding that it is "a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent."

"Every 24 minutes a person is forced to choose exile from his home," Grandi said in Kabul.

Displacement figures have been rising since the mid-1990s, but the rate of increase has jumped since the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011.

Of the planet's 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country, 21.3 million have fled across borders and are now refugees, while the remainder are asylum seekers.

Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million, including those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants.

Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million refugees, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).

- Rising conflict, shrinking solutions -
A mixture of worrying factors has led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee resettlement.

"Situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer," the agency said, including more than 30 years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan.

New and intense conflicts as well as dormant crises that have been "reignited" are further fuelling displacement, UNHCR said, pointing to South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi and the Central African Republic, aside from Syria.

Beyond the refugee hotspots in the Middle East and Africa, UNHCR said there were also troubling signs in Central America, where growing numbers of people fleeing gang violence led to a 17-percent rise in those leaving their homes through 2015.

Faced with an increasing need to resettle those facing persecution, the answers are not always obvious.

"The rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War," the UN agency said.

"We simply do not have the option of turning our backs and walking away," Grandi warned in Kabul, echoing wider calls among humanitarian chiefs for world powers, especially in the West, to be more welcoming of migrants and refugees.

Turkey -- which struck a controversial deal with the European Union in March to stem Europe's migrant crisis -- hosted the highest number of refugees through 2015 at 2.5 million, mostly Syrians.

Germany received the highest number of asylum requests (441,900) over the 12-month span, demonstrating the country's "readiness to receive people who were fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean."

AFP, Posted: June 20, 2016
Global migrant tide swells to record 65 million
By Ben Simon

Read more :

Reuters, Posted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:57am EDT
Record 65.3 million people displaced, often face barriers: UNHCR
By Stephante Nebehay in Geneva

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South China Sea

CANBERRA, June 17 (Xinhua) -- China has been consistent in seeking a peaceful and negotiated solution to the South China Sea disputes, Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye said in an article published Friday in one of Australia's top newspapers.

In the article carried by The West Australian, Cheng wrote the issue of the South China Sea has attracted a lot of recent attention. "Though this is a complicated issue concerning territorial sovereignty, China remains committed to a negotiated solution."

"China's indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters has long been established," the article said. "As the first to discover the islands, China has exercised sovereign jurisdiction over them through various means."

"During World War II, Japan illegally seized some parts of the islands. After the war, China recovered those islands in accordance with the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Proclamation. For several decades afterwards, it was widely acknowledged by the international community that the South China Sea islands belong to China."

The ambassador explained in the article the root cause of South China Sea disputes, which originated in the 1970s when some countries around the South China Sea began to occupy illegally part of China's Nansha islands and reefs.

"In the interests of peace and stability in the region, China has exercised the utmost restraint," he said.

While adhering to its position of upholding sovereignty over the islands, China put forward the proposal of "shelving differences and engaging in common development." China has had active discussions with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries for an effective way to manage the disputes.

With concerted efforts, China and the 10 ASEAN countries signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002. In the DOC, all relevant parties undertook to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly consultations and negotiations by countries directly concerned.

In September 2013, China and ASEAN countries launched consultations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), and they have made significant progress.

"During the recent Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting, China and ASEAN countries, by reaffirming their commitment to a full, effective and comprehensive implementation of the DOC, agreed to advance the process of COC consultations with a view to reaching an early conclusion based on consensus."

"It is China's consistent policy to settle territorial and maritime entitlement disputes through negotiations and consultations. In this spirit, China has solved boundary issues with 12 out of its 14 land neighbors in the past decades, with about 20,000 km of borderlines delineated."

In addition, China and Vietnam have set the maritime boundary in the Beibu Gulf.

"These remarkable achievements fully demonstrate that bilateral negotiations and consultations are an effective means to solve territorial disputes. The Chinese government will continue to adopt this approach," he said in the article.

Cheng said in the mid-1990s, China and the Philippines reached a clear agreement on settling their disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation. This has been reaffirmed in many other bilateral documents since then, including the joint statement the two countries issued in September 2011.

However, "in total disregard of this agreement," the Philippines unilaterally initiated arbitration against China on the South China Sea dispute in early 2013.

"Such a move again goes against the provisions of the DOC. China has every right not to accept or participate in the arbitration. In spite of all this, the door of dialogue is always open. China is committed to resolving the disputes through negotiation with the Philippines."

"The South China Sea is an important shipping lane. As the largest country around the South China Sea and the world's biggest trading nation in goods, China has a high stake in the South China Sea with 80 percent of its total trade traversing the area. Peace and stability in the South China Sea are critical to China."

"It stands ready to work with other parties concerned to safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea which all countries are entitled to in accordance with international law."

"On the other hand, China remains firmly opposed to any provocative acts to ratchet up tension under the cover of navigation freedom," Cheng said in the article.

Xinhua, Posted: 2016-06-17 16:22:02
China sticks to peaceful negotiation in resolving sea disputes: ambassador

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US bases on Okinawa

Tens of thousands of people on the Japanese island of Okinawa have taken part in one of the biggest protests against US military bases in recent years, weeks after the arrest of an American base worker in connection with the murder of a 20-year-old local woman.

The protesters, many of whom wore black, braved scorching heat to call for an end to the island’s role as host to more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan.

Organisers claimed 65,000 people joined the demonstration at a park in the island’s capital, Naha, while the police did not give a figure.

The protesters also urged the Japanese and US governments to abandon the controversial relocation of a marine airbase from a crowded city on Okinawa to a more remote coastal location on the island, about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.

Okinawa’s anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, told the crowd he regretted being powerless to prevent crimes by US military personnel, two decades after the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen.

That crime prompted mass protests and forced Tokyo and Washington to discuss reductions in the US military footprint on Okinawa, including the relocation of Futenma to a district in the coastal town of Nago, and the transfer of 8,000 marines and their dependents to the US Pacific territory of Guam and other locations.

“We had pledged never to repeat such an incident,” Onaga said. “I could do nothing to change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret as a politician and as governor of Okinawa.

“The government … must understand that Okinawa residents should not suffer any more from the burden of the bases.”

While the US military has pointed out that the crime rate among personnel serving in Okinawa is lower than that of the local civilian population, serious crimes by soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen periodically ignite opposition to the US military presence.

Earlier this month, the US navy imposed a Japan-wide drinking ban after an American sailor based on Okinawa was arrested on suspicion of drink-driving and causing an accident in which two people were injured.

The restriction was eased last Friday, permitting sailors to drink alcohol on base until 10pm and in their homes if they live off base. The ban on drinking in civilian bars and restaurants remains in place, the US navy said in a statement.

Under its conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan has established closer security ties with the US, with Okinawa regarded as a key geopolitical asset as the allies struggle to respond to Chinese naval activity in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo have competing claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

US officials insist that a military presence on Okinawa is of vital strategic value in the face of an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a former marine who worked as a civilian contractor at the US air force’s Kadena airbase, has reportedly confessed to raping and killing Rina Shimabukuro in April, although he has so far been arrested only on suspicion of abandoning her body.

One protester carried a banner that said: “Murderer Marines. Out of Okinawa”, while others read: “Our anger is past its limit” and “Pull out the Marines.”

Chihiro Uchimura, 71, said she was filled with sadness at Shimabukuro’s death. “As long as there are US military bases this kind of incident will continue to happen,” she said.

While both governments have stressed the importance of bilateral security ties, some observers believe the recent crimes and the insistence on pushing ahead with the Futenma relocation will only strengthen the resolve of Okinawan residents.

“I think they just feel so frustrated,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian history at Temple University in Tokyo. “These protests are not just going to go away.”

Noboru Kitano, a teacher, described Japan as a “military colony of the United States,” symbolised by the Futenma base.

Okinawa was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, and remained under American occupation until 1972. About a fifth of the island is still under US military control.

In an attempt to quell local anger, Washington is reportedly considering returning a 10,000 acre (40.5 sq km) tract of jungle early next year, which would be the biggest return of land since the 1972 reversion.

Guardian, Last modified on Sunday 19 June 2016 22.00 BST
Thousands protest at US bases on Okinawa after Japanese woman's murder ;
Protest marks new low for US and Japanese relations over Okinawa with threats to have US air station moved to another part of the island
By Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies

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Referendum roundabouts

LOOKING around, there seems to be a sense of resignation and apathy that might not have seemed credible a few years ago.

Barrack Obama’s eight-year presidency is coming to an end, and despite his best efforts, he spent far too much time fighting a belligerent congress to accomplish as much as we could have hoped. Even when it comes to a blatantly obvious issue such as gun control, common sense is buried under an avalanche of misguided patriotism.

“Why are things so violent in America?” my pre-teen daughter asked me in reference to this past week’s slaying of the beautiful singer Christina Grimmie followed by the mass murder of 50 Americans in a Florida gay nightclub.

“Every country has its psychos,” I replied.

“It’s just that the Americans insist on making it easy for their psychos to get access to assault riffles and other weapons that enable mass murders.”

“Why don’t they just change it?” was her obvious follow-up.

“Well that’s the way of the world. A lot of people are resistant to changing things. That’s why it’s tempting to give up and accept things the way they are. Instead of fighting for change, you run away from the battle.”

I can’t say it was the most optimistic conversation we’ve had, but surely a dose of realism is necessary.

The truth is, it’s not always easy to put a positive spin on developments.

Sometimes, we have to take what we can get. I remember the excitement when Obama broke through the colour barrier to assume what we thought was the most powerful post in the world.

Even last week, I was amused when the second round of Peru’s presidential elections saw a person of Polish descent (Kuczynski) narrowly defeat one of Japanese descent (Fujimori) to replace a native of Quecha descent (Humala).

It feels like a kind of colour blindness when it comes to race and religion that we can only dream of in Malaysia right now.

But you know, we turn the page and what do we see? Humanitarian Jo Cox shot and stabbed to death by a right-wing lunatic.

This woman was the first university graduate in her family and made it to Cambridge.

Eschewing the corporate world, she joined the charity Oxfam before her activism took her into local politics.

She ran for and won the West Yorkshire seat of Batley and Spen handsomely for the Labour Party.

She was a fierce advocate for migrants, founding the Friends of Syria parliamentary group. She was the mother of two young children, fighting for her beliefs, fighting for a better world. And what did it get her?

Some low-life loser came along, shot and stabbed her to death, seemingly over her political beliefs.

Should Cox have used her brains to make big money sipping cocktails at corporate functions instead?

The latest fad that makes it seem as if all our political manoeuvring is just designed to leave us moving in circles is that of the referendum. How many have we seen of late?

From Kiwi flags to Scottish independence to Italians on oil and gas, they have been a series of non-conclusive referendums in recent times.

The Italian referendum in April even saw 86% voting in favour of repealing a law, only to fail because overall turnout was low.

And then there were a series of Greek referendums which ended up being worthless.

I admit to a strong feeling of disappointment when I see how Syriza and Podemos have been backed into a corner.

Basically the new wave of protests movements (also represented by the likes of Five-Star in Italy) do enough to dent the status quo, but not enough to change it.

Podemos faces voters in Spain next week and it looks like they will come in first but without a mandate to govern. In trying to resolve the “hung parliament” scenario, they end up compromising to such an extent that they emerge little different from the regimes they aimed to overhaul.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (The more things change, the more it’s the same thing) wrote French journalist Alphonse Karr in 1849.

Honestly, you wonder if it’s worth doing anything more than keeping your head bowed and plodding on.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 19 June 2016
Referendum roundabouts ;
Sometimes, we ask if it’s better to just plod on. After all, the more things change, the more it’s the same thing.
By Martin Vengadesan

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I've not seen my sister for nearly four years, which is why I'm looking forward to the next two weeks.

We have planned a family holiday in Edinburgh and London.

She, her husband and two children will be flying in to Heathrow Airport from the United States to meet my mother, H and me. H's daughter from Wales will also be joining us.

We've booked two Airbnb houses with kitchens, so I'm packing some Singapore goodies that we can cook and eat there.

I've bought Prima Taste Singapore Curry mix and will be getting Bengawan Solo pineapple tarts, Ya Kun kaya, Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa and Spring Home frozen roti prata.

There's nothing like the taste of Singapore to bond two Singaporean sisters, right?

Actually, it's more likely going to be the sound of Singapore - Singlish - that does it.

This is probably going to be the conversation at the airport:

Me: Hey hi, how you?

She: Okay lah.

Me: Wah, haven't seen you for so long!

She: Ya, I know!

Me: The flight, how?

She: Okay lah. Tiring.

Me: Ya, we're tired too. We came at 5.30am. So sian lah, waiting so long for you guys to come out.

She: Sorry lah.

Me: It's okay. Why delay until like that?

She: I left something on the plane.

Me: Aiyah, blur lah you. You guys hungry or not? Want to ta pau back to the Airbnb?

If we are to speak proper English, the conversation would go like this:

Me: Hey hi! How have you been?

She: I've been well.

Me: It's been years since I saw you!

She: I know!

Me: How was the flight?

She: It was all right, but tiring.

Me: Ya, we're tired too. We arrived at 5.30am and it's been exhausting waiting so many hours for you guys to arrive.

She: Sorry about that.

Me: It's all right. What caused the delay?

She: I left something on the plane.

Me: Oh dear, you're such a muddlehead, aren't you? Are you guys hungry? Shall we do a takeaway for dinner back at the Airbnb?

I wouldn't say my sister and I are hardcore Singlish speakers. We're not fans of Singlish because we don't regard it as proper English and believe we should be speaking standard English.

Most times, we make sure our sentences are properly structured, that we use the correct tenses and avoid words that only Singaporeans understand. She has to do so in any case, or people in America won't be able to understand her.

But we do speak Singlish and, when we do, it's like a guilty pleasure, akin to wearing a favourite pair of tatty pyjamas around the house the whole day.

We do it as a half-proud, half-mocking signifier of how Singaporean (and special) we are. It's a secret code which locks the rest of the world out.

More pragmatically, we also use it to save time. A key feature of Singlish is how verbs are dropped and single words loaded with meaning. It is a curt, staccato language suited for the linguistically lazy.

My niece says Singlish is "like a foreign language - I can understand some of it, but not all". Singlish, she adds, is "something you've got to really be a part of the culture to appreciate".

My nephew finds Singlish a hoot and does a good imitation of it. Some years back, when we went ice-skating and H fell down while showing off some moves, my nephew shocked us by shouting "yaya papaya".

H's daughter, too, finds Singlish hilarious and cracks us up whenever she acts out how a Singaporean speaks.

Singlish is not standard English. Native English speakers like my nephew, niece and H's daughter find it incomprehensible and funny, as in silly-funny. (Guess they liak bo kiu, huh?)

Linguists define Singlish as an English creole, or a language that originated as a mixed language. In Singlish's case, we're talking English jumbled with words and syntax from native languages such as Malay, Mandarin, Chinese dialects and Tamil.

Singlish has its own vocabulary (kena/Malay, kiasu/Hokkien, see first/English). It loves particles (lah, leh), but doesn't like verbs (You bad boy). Vowels are shortened (feet becomes fit) and sentence structures borrowed from Mandarin and Chinese dialects (She eat already? He go where?)

The pro-Singlish and anti-Singlish camps have strong views which they have voiced loudly over the years.

Proponents see it as something unique that binds the different cultures and gives Singaporeans an identity. Interestingly, many can switch effortlessly from fluent English to Singlish and I have yet to come across anyone advocating Singlish as a written language.

Opponents - including the Government - say Singlish impedes the learning of standard English, which is the country's working language and which gives Singaporeans a competitive advantage. Already, some say, the level of standard English has dropped and Singlish will drag it down further.

They point out how large swathes of Singaporeans can speak neither standard English nor standard mother tongue. They are monolingual in Singlish, which makes you worry about how they compete in the working world.

It is unlikely the two camps will agree, or that Singlish will disappear and die.

What we should aim for is a higher standard of English all around, so more people know when and how to switch between that and Singlish.

It has to start in schools, where Singlish remains prevalent and, in fact, passes off as English. Teachers speak it (How can you answer like that?) and students speak it (Teacher, can give model answer or not). At home, parents speak it too (Boy, why your results like that?)

More must be done to improve the teaching of English. I don't mean students should be taught fanciful words or an accent. Rather, basic things like how to speak in proper sentences and how to get the subject-verb agreement right and the idioms correct. The differences between English and Singlish should be made clear.

Like it or not, and speak it or not, Singlish will be around.

We just have to make it work better for us and try not to quarrel about it, because it's really jialat when Singaporeans fight over old issues.

Straits Times, Published: Jun 5, 2016, 5:00 am SGT
Singlish: Friend or foe?
I don't think we should celebrate Singlish, but there's no escaping how it identifies and brings Singaporeans closer together.
By Sumiko Tan,
Deputy Editor

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Once retirement comes

Many of us who have retired wonder how long our EPF savings will last. For those with financial commitments, life gets a little more difficult.

A group of friends who bought houses late in their careers, are still servicing housing loans. The monthly instalments were manageable when they were still working. However, it becomes a nightmare once they have retired. Even government pensioners who draw half their monthly salaries will find it difficult to make ends meet if they are still servicing a loan.

I have an acquaintance who used up his EPF savings to send his three sons overseas for medical courses. When he could not cover the high fees, he sold his house and moved to a rented apartment, hoping that when the children return they would provide for him and his wife.

The children returned with their medical degrees, and foreign wives, and moved into their own homes. To show their love for their parents, the sons, their spouses and their children, would spend the weekends in the parents’ rented house. The retiree’s wife was kept busy cooking and caring for the grandchildren.

This went on for months. One day, the retiree called his sons and told them of his financial difficulties. He asked every son to provide a monthly allowance for him to meet household expenses. He told them he had used up all his savings and the proceeds from the sale of the house for their education. He explained that it was now their duty to help him out as they were doing well.

All three sons then poured out their woeful tales – their incomes were barely enough to meet their expenses. They thanked their father for providing them with a good education and assured the retiree that they in turn would do the same for their children.

The retiree was dumbstruck. Today he lives in a low-cost apartment. Visits from the children have become rare as their spouses and the grandchildren find it unbearable to spend time in the small apartment located in the poorer quarters of town.

Another acquaintance had substantial savings in his EPF account when he retired. As soon as word got around that the old man had retired and had withdrawn his EPF savings, there were requests for loans.

A son-in-law was fed up working for a wage and wanted to go into business. The old man was gullible and parted with a large sum to help the son-in-law. After all, it was a loan and the money would be repaid.

Another son had the urge to read law in a foreign land and sought the father’s assistance for his expenses. The son’s sob story resulted in the loss of whatever was left over.

The son-in-law’s business never took off. The son never came back after failing his exams. He is now working as an illegal immigrant in a foreign land. And the old man gets by with a small payout from the Welfare Department.

Parents should realise that they cannot rely on their offspring to support them in their old age. No doubt they had made sacrifices for their children, but they can’t use this to blackmail their children to provide for them.

Leaving financial management aside, many retirees have too much time on their hands. They used to spend 10 to 12 hours a day working and commuting to work. How they wished they had more time on their hands.

Once retirement comes, they have 24 hours at their disposal. In today’s nuclear families, once the children grow up and leave the nest, the elderly parents find themselves alone in the house. With too much time on their hands, some end up watching too much TV. This may take a toll on their health. Instead of watching the idiot box the whole day, we could join a neighbourhood library and read some good books to keep ourselves mentally active.

Look up old friends whom you were not able to meet whilst working. Re-establish friendships.

You could also volunteer with some organisations that may need help with basic issues. For example, you could read to the blind university students or join a senior citizens club and participate in activities. This can be very fulfilling and it will also give you an opportunity to make new friends.

Retirees should lead healthy lifestyles. They should look after their health as old age can bring a host of ailments. They could indulge in activities that keep them fit. Care must be taken to ensure they do not overdo it.
Robust games have killed many of my acquaintances.

Two acquaintances collapsed and died while out jogging. I have also lost friends who collapsed in the badminton court. These were healthy people who overstrained themselves.

Eat in moderation. As we age, we should go for simpler and healthier food. Small, healthy snacks throughout the day can keep your energy level consistent.

Rest and adequate sleep are essential for maintaining a healthy mind and body. If we take good care of ourselves, we can enjoy more quality of life by keeping sicknesses at bay.

The Star2, Published: JUNE 17, 2016
Is it rest or more stress? ;
Will your retirement be a time of rest or money stress?
By Ganapathy Ramasamy

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sugar must be made expensive

Civil servants are unhealthy; if they were not, then the government would not be spending RM2 billion for their medicines.

Why are they unhealthy? Says the president of the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs), this condition is stress-related caused by overwork and understaffing.

At more than a million public sector employees for a country of some 30 million, one would have thought that overstaffing is the problem.

Nevertheless, in giving the Cuepacs president the benefit of doubt, he suggested that exercise be made mandatory.

Indeed, that may be part of the solution to overcome the problems caused by a sedentary work environment.

After all, occupational health experts are saying that too much sitting can kill.

And, too, the Cuepacs president is blaming the stress for contributing to bad eating habits − over indulgence − which could be the cause of increasing obesity among Malaysians, a condition that is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little.

Obesity does definitely reflect the country’s growing prosperity, hence, the burden of blame affluence carries.

But obesity triggers type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar (glucose) level to become too high.

Over time, it causes the organs of the body to degenerate.

Hence, the connection between high-blood sugar levels in heart and kidney patients with the body’s inability to repair itself efficiently.

It can damage the nerves, it can cause blindness.

In short, it shortens a sufferer’s lifespan quite substantially.

And, of course, treatment is costly, for, in most cases, the sufferer is never cured because the drugs merely alleviate the symptoms, thus prolonging the degeneration.

Nearly 10 per cent of the world’s adults are diabetic.

The body is not unlike the ecosystem.

Abuse is not sustainable and abuse, in this case, equals to inadequate exercise or strenuous physical activity and a bad diet.

It is a lifestyle disease aggravated by such bad habits as smoking − another killer.

In fact, smoking is said to cause impotence, lung cancer and helps increase risks to many diseases. The list is printed on cigarette packets.

That the human body degenerates over time is not disputed, but lifestyles can help speed or retard decay.

That is the crux of the problem.

Most diseases are preventable, including infectious diseases, and a healthy diet, according to scientists, makes for 80 per cent of good health.

That said, good eating habits should be the mantra for civil servants and generally all Malaysians, too.

Mindset and attitude have to be changed and bad habits thrown out the window.

Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat a diet rich in fibre − in short, adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps, for good measure, implementing a system to price foods according to their health hazard level.

For example, sugar must be made expensive.

Starches and unhealthy carbohydrates should cost enough to discourage over-consumption.

Ban processed foods for children and cigarettes for adults.

Price of fruits and vegetables should be subsidised, so should fish and meats.

The aim is to promote good health through purchasing power.

New Straits Times, Published: 18 JUNE 2016 at 11:00 AM
Go for a healthy lifestyle
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/06/152732/go-healthy-lifestyle

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Soda tax

PHILADELPHIA − Forty times, city or state governments had proposed taxes on sugary soft drinks, failing each time. Then, in 2014, liberal Berkeley, Calif., passed such a tax, but most people saw it as an aberration. Several measures, including one in New York, never won much support.

But on Thursday, a measure to tax sweetened drinks passed in Philadelphia, one of the country’s largest cities − and also one of its poorest. Indeed, raising revenue was the winning argument in Philadelphia.

Jim Kenney, the mayor, took a different tack from that of politicians who have tried and failed to pass sugary-drink taxes. He didn’t talk about the tax as a nanny-state measure designed to discourage sugar-saturated soft drinks. And he didn’t promise to earmark the proceeds for health programs. Instead, he cast the soft drink industry as a tantalizing revenue source that could be tapped to fund popular city programs, including universal prekindergarten.

“This is the beginning of a process of changing the narrative of poverty in our city,” he said in a news conference after the vote.

The advocates who have pushed for the policy say the victory is a sign of growing public acceptance of soft drink taxes and presages more such measures around the country. Though city officials didn’t talk much about the health consequences of soda, experts said that sugary drinks’ increasingly bad reputation made it an appropriate political target.

“If we go five years ahead and look back, I think this is going to be a watershed moment,” said Jim Krieger, executive director at Healthy Food America, an organization that is helping cities around the country that are considering soda taxes. “This is going to really provide momentum.”

San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; and Boulder, Colo., are considering soft drink taxes this year. Mr. Krieger said the list of interested cities included some that were as large and diverse as Philadelphia.

Mr. Kenney said he hadn’t yet spoken directly with officials from other cities, but he had advice for them. “Tie your efforts to tangible initiatives that people care about,” he said in his news conference. “When it comes up, acknowledge that it is a good thing to drink less sugar-sweetened beverages, but tie it to things that people care about.”

The Philadelphia tax of 1.5 cents an ounce will apply to all sugary or artificially sweetened drinks sold by distributors in the city. It is expected to increase prices − the tax is about 30 cents for a 20-ounce drink, or $2.16 for a 12-pack. If passed on to consumers, the increase is expected to substantially reduce sales of sweetened drinks. The city finance department estimates it will raise $91 million a year.

Sugary drinks have been linked to health problems, including obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, but the public health effects of the taxes are still unclear. Philadelphia is likely to become the site of public health research. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said the city had already planned to measure the tax’s immediate effects on sales. Longer-term studies will measure any impact on obesity.

The soft drink industry and its allies, including the Teamsters union and local grocers, spent nearly $5 million on lobbying and advertising to fight the tax in Philadelphia. They held rallies and demonstrations downtown and ran anti-tax ads on television and the radio, right up until Thursday’s final vote. They branded the drinks tax measure a “grocery tax,” suggesting that more food products were next.

The soda industry has argued that Philadelphia’s politics are unusual and that the vote here can’t be seen as predictive. The American Beverage Association, a trade group, has vowed to fight the measure in the courts. “It’s still a bad idea,” said Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the group. “People still oppose it. Nothing has changed.”

Thursday, the industry and its allies vented frustration. Daniel Grace, the secretary and treasurer of the Teamsters local, said advocates had “snookered City Council,” and he described the tax as a “brazen cash grab from one industry.”

The promise of prekindergarten energized the city’s education advocates, who joined with public health advocates. The coalition spent about $2 million on advertisements, according to Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a group supporting the tax. That total included $1.6 million in donations from Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, who has long supported soda taxes. But Mr. Kenney’s focus on revenue also allowed him to help cut deals with skeptical city councilors. Ultimately, the soft drink tax revenue won’t pay just for prekindergarten, but for a host of city programs, reflecting the priorities of the council members who voted for it.

New Tork Times, Published: JUNE 16, 2016
Soda Tax Passes in Philadelphia. Advocates Ask: Who’s Next?
By Margot Sanger-Katz

It will become the first major US city to implement a so-called "soda tax", which supporters say will improve the health of 1.5 million residents.

But opponents say it will hurt small businesses and poorer people.
The measure will come into force in January and is expected to raise $90m (£63m) next year.

The city's Democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, says the tax revenue will be spent on pre-nursery and community schools, and recreation centres.

He said: "Philadelphia made a historic investment in our neighbourhoods and in our education system today."

The tax will be set at 1.5 cents per ounce (about 50 cents, or 35 pence per litre). Distributors will be required to pay it on all sugary or artificially sweetened drinks, and may choose whether or not to pass it on to consumers.

"Soda tax" proposals have failed in more than 30 states and the only other city in the US with a similar tax is Berkeley in California.

The beverage industry paid for advertising against the tax proposal, saying the tax would be costly to consumers.

Multimillionaire Harold Honickman, who made his fortune in the soft drink bottling industry, spent an estimated $1.7m (£1.2m) fighting the tax and said he would file a lawsuit against the case.

In Philadelphia, more than 68% of adults and 41% of children are overweight or obese.

The council had already approved the measure in a previous vote, and Thursday's 13-4 vote rubber-stamped the proposal.

BBC News, 16 June 2016
Philadelphia to bring in 'soda tax' to fight obesity ;
Philadelphia has introduced a levy on carbonated sugary drinks, despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it.

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Baby boomers

Old age isn't what it used to be.

"Our expectations have changed from dying at 75 to living well into our 90s and even to 100," says Robin Robertson, a gym owner and trainer in Bellingham, Wash., who specializes in fitness for those 55 and older. "We could all use tips on how to make those years healthy and vibrant rather than burdensome."

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of 100-year-olds increased 66 percent. Baby boomers are now ages 52 to 70. By 2029, more than 20 percent of Americans will be over 65.

It's not how long we will live, but how well.

The key is maintaining functional fitness, says Dan Ritchie, who, in 2013, co-founded Functional Aging Institute, a business that teaches fitness professionals how to train mature clients. Functional fitness means movements that help you in everyday life. Think cross-body and full-body motions, bending or picking something up off the floor. The goal is to build a body capable of real-life activities.

"This has huge implications for older adults," says Ritchie. "What do you need to do, want to do or dream of doing? You need to get groceries, empty a dishwasher, clean your house. You want to hike, cycle or play with grandchildren. Not everybody dreams of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 70, but whatever you dream of, it will require functional abilities."

How to make your later years robust and independent?

Exercise. Find activities you love, and do them several times per week. Incorporate strength-training and cardio.

Low-impact activity is kind to joints and promotes longevity, says Robertson, a USA Cycling Coach and author of "Healthy & Fit Body." "We can beef up our joints through muscle and ligament strengthening. Cycling does this without impact or lateral movement."

Lose excess weight. An overweight woman who drops as little as 11 pounds reduces the chance of getting arthritis in her knees by 50 percent. Ten pounds of excess body weight delivers an extra 20 to 30 pounds of stress to your knees with every step.

Change your view of aging. Aging isn't bad; it's natural. Think of the positives, Ritchie says: You don't do the stupid stuff you did when you were 25; you can enjoy grandchildren; and you can focus on what's important to you, such as charities or volunteering.

Take responsibility. You control exercise, eating, stress, sleep. Is your trajectory of aging leading to frailty or independence?

It's never too late to start, Ritchie says. "But that doesn't mean you should wait! We can get you fit at 60, but if you've taken care of yourself from 50 to 60, it's a whole lot easier."

Ritchie tells this story:

"A 79-year-old came to us last year. He wanted to hike Son Doong Cave in Vietnam with his son-in-law and grandson. It's one of the largest caves in the world, and you get to its entrance via a six-hour hike through virgin jungle. If you don't do well on the jungle hike, tour operators don't let you go into the cave. This 79-year-old was fit but lacked balance and coordination, so we helped him train to achieve it before the trip.

"When they arrived at the cave entrance, the 79-year-old did not go into the cave. But it wasn't him; it was the lack of fitness in his 49-year-old son-in-law. The younger man had struggled with shortness of breath on the hike, and his father-in-law wouldn't go in without him.

"It wasn't age; it was functional capacity."

Functional fitness supports life's activities, including strength and balance. Instead of using a weight machine that works one motion in one plane, seek complex training movements that engage multiple joints, Robertson advises. Stay fit enough to get out of a chair without using the chair arms.

"If we don't stay active, we lose muscle," she says. "If we get weaker, we become vulnerable to injury. If we get injured, we lose motivation to do what we used to enjoy. Fear of falling is huge as we get older."

Robertson regularly sees clients use diet and exercise to reduce or eliminate medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, and employ strength training to avoid or delay knee or hip replacement.

Others improve quality of life. Husband and wife Mike Addison, 72, and Marcela Berg, 79, who moved to Bellingham in 2014, built a no-ledge shower in their home because they anticipated future entry via wheelchair. At that time, Marcela wouldn't shower without Mike in the room, in case she fell. She expected leg strength and balance to lessen further as she aged. "I thought I'd be on a slow downhill slide. But it didn't happen that way, because I joined this gym! Now I walk to the bathroom and take a shower by myself."

Marcela used to clutch Mike's arm as she shuffled into the gym. After nine months of functional training, she regained the ability to walk confidently alone. She can do squats, and lift both arms straight overhead, abilities that had deteriorated. Marcela says frequent social events at this facility add an emotional lift. "All of it comes together to maintain quality of life."

Mike credits the success of his 2015 knee replacement to exercise. Now post-surgery, he can perform deep squats and walk 5 miles without fatigue. At one point, he and a similar-age friend were loading wood. "He couldn't lift it, but I lifted the wood, no problem. And he's bigger than I am! That encourages me to continue exercising."

The number of Americans 62 and older is growing, with most of the increase expected by 2030. Plus, Americans ages 62-plus have a net worth 40 percent higher than that age group did 25 years ago. "There's a gigantic need for fitness," Ritchie says. "They don't want to get old and wait to die. They want to go on adventures, live life to the fullest. And they can afford to − if they have the functional capacity. That's key."

Chicago Tribune, Published: April 8, 2016, 11:12 AM
Baby boomers, are you fit for everyday life? ;
Tips on how to stay healthy and independent
By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy

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meeting with a former varsity mate

“GULI!” − My head made an abrupt and automatic turn to look at the man who had just uttered my nickname during my university years, almost three decades ago.

Not many people know that name and not many of my ex-college mates know my full name until now.

There he was, sitting alone at a table in front of the cashier of the restaurant where moments earlier, I had just walked past him, not recognising him, for my pack of cigarettes.

“Kulup?” I replied, feeling awkward and guilty at the same time as I wasn’t sure whether I had got his nickname right when it was my turn to greet him.

He nodded, with a smile, his arm extended for a handshake, which ended in me ordering a glass of teh tarik and us reminiscing about our glory years in college and, later on, of course, about our current life status.

Once a plump and chirpy young man, he now cuts a frail figure, a mark of a sickly man, which explained why I had failed to spot him earlier and my struggle for a few seconds to match his face to a name.

He had recovered from a heart attack last year and has since started on a healthy lifestyle regime.

He also told me that he had quit smoking, exercised regularly and ate well.

As if it would make him feel better, I told him that I, too, was in a not-so-good condition as I had been diagnosed with borderline hypertension five years ago, and had been on pills since and will be for the rest of my life.

I have yet to stop smoking, but I try my best to pantang (eat well), which many a time, I have failed to discipline myself, and sweat it out once a week.

Not good enough, he said, and I had to reluctantly agree with him.

Like him and me, and many Malaysians, especially city dwellers, we always blame a hectic lifestyle, work stress and unhealthy eating habits for our not-so-good condition.

My neighbour died of a massive heart attack at his house while having dinner. He was 47. My cousin, too, while jogging in a park. He was 48.

A dear colleague is now bedridden at home after a stroke. My mother is a stroke survivor, and like my father and me, she is on a barrage of pills.

Like Kulup and me also, studies show that most Malaysians begin exercising only between the ages of 40 and 50, and adopting a healthy lifestyle only after receiving the bad news that they have health problems.

In a recent report, the government said it spent about RM2 billion on medicines for civil servants, prompting Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam to raise the alarm. The health minister also urged them to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

The cost of preventing a disease was cheaper than treating someone in hospitals or clinics, and providing medication, he said.

The National Health Morbidity Survey 2015 findings released earlier this month revealed more shocking figures for Malaysians to ponder over, if they ever do so.

The survey found that 9.6 million people, aged above 18, or nearly half the population at 47.7 per cent, had high cholesterol levels. The figure was more than double the findings in 2006, it was reported.

The survey also showed that 3.5 million adults had diabetes and 6.1 million people suffered from hypertension.

Our next generation is not spared: child obesity is on the rise, with 11.9 per cent of those aged below 18, or about one million people, overweight.

Malaysia is turning into a sickly nation.

It was reported that a government committee, chaired by the deputy prime minister, would meet this month to find ways to address the problem.

On this, there is only so much that the government can do, including subsidising medicines and the cost of treatments and surgeries in government clinics and hospitals.

The billions of ringgit spent annually can be put to better use elsewhere, like helping the poor and development, if only Malaysians adopted a healthier lifestyle.

But, I can attest that it is easier said than done.

The chance meeting with Kulup, and listening to his problems and determination to be fit and healthy again, affected me for only several days.

The office gym is just around the corner. It takes no more than 200 steps from my room to the gym, but I have never set foot in it. Never mind the other sports facilities in the building. Come to think of it, I don’t even have a pair of running shoes!

Unless and until we are highly disciplined in adopting a healthy lifestyle and make the time to exercise, no one, even with the best of techniques and facilities, can help us.

Meanwhile, like the majority of Malaysians, I guess I will continue pondering over how to become disciplined and exercise regularly. Or, continue to wait until the bad news is delivered to me.

Ramadan has so far been good to me when it comes to food, as I have not been eating junk food. I have also been smoking less.

Maybe, after Hari Raya, after I am done feasting on rendang, laksa, mee kari, nasi briyani kambing, sambal goreng and other foods, I’ll start on that regime. Maybe.

Meanwhile, I have to admit that I’ve been living on borrowed time.

New Straits Times, Published: 17 June 2016 at 11:01 AM
I've been living on borrowed time ;
A chance meeting with a former varsity mate, who had a heart attack, shows the importance of living a healthy lifestyle
By Muzli Mohamad Zin

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La Grande Illusion

Last night, Mr Yahho visited the Star Pitt St in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang to attend French Movie Show organized by Alliance Francaise:

La Grande Illusion by Jean Renoir (1937)


Ce grand classique continue de tenir admirablement sa place.

Pendant la première guerre mondiale, une amitié profonde se tisse entre des prisonniers aux origines sociales très diverses.

Bien que les conditions de détention ne soient pas trop draconiennes, ils ne pensent bien évidemment qu’à s’évader.

Et c’est Boeldieu, le bourgeois parisien, qui se sacrifie pour Maréchal issu d’un milieu populaire et son comparse juif. Les apparences sont trompeuses.

De même que Renoir montre que, en dehors des lois de la guerre, des hommes tels Von Stroheim ou la jeune femme allemande peuvent éprouver de l’amitié et de l’amour à l’égard de leurs ennemis français.

Une belle leçon d’humanisme.

Gabin, Fresnay, Dalio, Carette y sont remarquables.

05 novembre 2006

When I was 15, my father took me to the old Academy cinema in Oxford Street to a Renoir (1894-1979) film called La Grande Illusion.

I'd been brought up, as most people had, on British films that had a lot to do at that stage with light comedy or winning the war. Nothing had prepared me for a foreign-language movie with subtitles. This came out of a clear blue sky; I had no idea what I was going to be watching and it was a great surprise.

First there was Jean Gabin (1904-1976) who obviously was a huge slug of star power. There were then all these other wonderful actors and a take on a subject that you sort of thought you knew – the first world war – that was unlike anything you could possibly begin to expect.

The movie has such a broad, generous view of what happens to human beings when they're changing, when the world is changing around them and there's nothing they can do about it, I was knocked sideways by it. I never could think outside the little, home counties, middle-class box in which I found myself and suddenly there was this film. It was a subject that absolutely plugged into a view of things that hadn't yet formed in me but was beginning to take shape.

There are three or four great big stars in that movie, but it's a story that won't work unless the ensemble is also very, very good. It was stunningly shot in black and white – the French were very good at that – but the thing that got me was that there could be this film about people who respected one another and yet found themselves utterly on opposite sides.

The understanding of the human beings involved in that inescapableness being devoted to one another was something I'd simply never come across before. It was a humaneness that I'd never seen and that was something that shifted my plates.

Guardian, Sunday 19 September 2010 00.05 BST
The film that changed my life: Mike Newell
Director Mike Newell is a judge in this year's Virgin Media Shorts competition (www.virginmediashorts.co.uk)

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a massacre

IS it too much these days to expect Ramadan to be the month of restraint, reflection and rest? In the past few years it has been anything but, both domestically and internationally. This year, sadly, is no exception.

This week in Florida a gunman allegedly shot and killed 49 people in a club and wounded another 53. That alone is tragedy enough.

After sending condolences to the families of the victims, the conversation should then turn to dealing with what is an obvious crime. Isn’t murder a crime in every country in the world?

Yet the conversation about a crime and its motives has been diverted towards other things. The fact that the gunman was allegedly Muslim. The fact that the victims were presumably gay.

Not the fact that an American citizen with an assault rifle massacred and wounded a lot of other American citizens. When it boils down to it, those are the bare facts.

But as things are these days, everyone wants to make a meal of it. The presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump basically used the tragedy to praise himself for having “warned” Americans about this danger. Never mind that the shooter is a United States-born citizen who, despite a record of being a wife-beater and being questioned by the FBI, had purchased his guns legally.

Various Republican politicians tweeted their sympathies to the victims, blamed Muslims and said nothing about the ease with which people can get guns in America. But then many of them had received money from the National Rifle Association to not vote for any legislation that would make it tougher to buy guns. Basically they helped put in place an environment which made it easier for these massacres to happen.

Most also ignored the specific targets of the shooter who were LGBT people, not the Republicans’ favourite people. The same people whom they have condemned and discriminated against for a long time.

In this, they may have been more aligned with the views of the shooter. But alas, he happens to belong to a faith that some of them, especially current and past presidential candidates, are also prejudiced against. What a dilemma!

It is a dilemma for American Muslims as well. On the one hand, here was another incident where the predictable reaction would be more general condemnation of all Muslims as if all are responsible for the murders. As has happened with past violence, a rise in Islamophobic incidents will no doubt occur.

On the other hand, many Muslims are uncomfortable with the LGBT community, believing that they are sinful aberrations of God’s creations. Still, discomfort does not mean that Muslims believe that they should be killed, hence for many American Muslim organisations, their position is clear.

The largest Muslim organisation in North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), immediately issued a statement expressing sympathy with the victims’ families and calling on Muslims to donate blood to the injured survivors.

The Executive Director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, was quoted as saying that the attack was “a hate crime, plain and simple”.

He said CAIR’s sympathies lie with the LGBT community, and that the goal of extremism is to create divisions among as many social groups as possible.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away, Muslims living in a Muslim country where they should be fasting and doing charitable things are instead taking to applauding the shooter for killing those 50 people and hoping that the other 53 will die too. Easy for people who live in their own little bubble to say things like this when it isn’t their own family and when they have never felt the fear such violence evokes.

How many Malaysian Muslims have truly experienced what it means to be in extreme danger? And how many Malaysian Muslims have ever experienced out-and-out Islamophobia?

So easy to express outrage at people marching against Muslims in Europe, yet even easier to hypothetically tweet that even a gay sibling should be killed. What is all this murderous talk in this holy month?

Our ignoramuses in Malaysia should take heed of what Nihad Awad, at the frontline of so much hate, said: “ Homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia are interlocked systems of oppression. We cannot fight one and accept another.”

They need to understand that all Muslims are being unjustly blamed once again for the act of one man. By applauding his act, they are agreeing with the Islamophobes that we are inherently a violent people.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the police have caught another heavily-armed man who was hoping to “harm” the gay pride parade there. He is neither coloured nor Muslim.

Perhaps the most pertinent comment comes from the activist filmmaker Michael Moore: “This is the 163rd day of a year in which there have already been 173 mass shootings in the US.”

The Star, Published: Thursday, 16 June 2016
Diverting the blame for a massacre ;
Instead of looking into how a man with a record could easily get a gun, some have focused on his religion and the alleged sins of the victims.
By Marina Mahathir

• Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.


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Be like mountains

MOUNTAINS have always captivated me. They have a magnetic spell that is irresistible.

There, I can experience a vast panorama of grandeur. They are a nature sanctuary blessed with fragile beauty.

Being a mountaineer, I can ensure trekkers will revel in the spectacle of stunning vistas.

The call of the wild, especially to explore mountains, will offer climbers incomparable paradise.

Trekkers know that every journey is an individual battle with a mountain.

With its majestic heights, it remains formidable, yet humble.

It is always ready to provide the bliss of enchantment to those willing to accept the call for adventure.

Mountains, too, provide many mysteries. You have to tread cautiously to unravel the source.

Recently, I entered into a “time-zone human mystery.” I was filled with suspense, elation and excitement. I found it difficult to unearth the answer.

A lady came to my flat at night. I was out.

She inquired from my son whether it was my residence. He replied in the affirmative.

She then handed him an envelope without disclosing her identity. All she said was that it came from Petaling Jaya.

The lady, around 40 years old, then just smiled and walked away politely.

My wife called me to inform of this “human angel” who took the trouble to search for my place.

I told her to unseal the small envelope. It contained RM200 and RM300 denomination gift vouchers from two supermarkets. It contained no note.

My head reeled with wonderment. It was not a fairy tale happening. Yet it happened in reality.

I asked her to check whether the vouchers were genuine to ensure no one had pulled a prank.

In life, we always expect the unexpected – whether it is in the positive or negative form.

There is always some kind soul in this world who becomes the torchbearer to bring brightness and happiness to the lives of others, a shining example who does not want to take credit for his or her generosity.

These human beings are like mountains. They prefer to show only their shadow to provide the shade.

Propelled by curiosity, I had to become an amateur Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of this shrouded mystery.

My efforts paid dividends. It just took me two weeks “to nail the culprit” who shyly made the “confession.”

I admire this unique individual who in real life has risen from the ashes, gone through pain and suffering, trials and tribulations.

This person is endowed with a special interest and talents to bring sunshine for the benefit of others.

I learnt that this particular personality always hungers to conquer a new world, and to experience new life and new ways to give to the people.

It deepens my knowledge to learn from this human trait that to live happily, you have to come to grips with reality.

True, material wealth cannot compensate for the loss of one’s good health.

Yes, a god-sent person on this earth brings and offers good tidings to fellow brethren and sisters.

May my good friend be blessed and bring more blessings to others.

Let us emulate this unselfish act and make this world a better place to live.

This incident will always be ingrained in my mind.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 16 June 2016
Winging it like a human angel ;
We should be like mountains that show their shadow to provide the shade.
By A.R. Amiruddin
A.R. Amiruddin is a former journalist with The Star for 19 years and the defunct National Echo for 10 years. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Could you please enjoy the photo attached in this article "Mount Kinabalu in Sabah has a mystical and mesmerising charm" !

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Haze-linked firms

JAKARTA: Despite wreaking environmental havoc and causing more than US$16bil (RM65.35bil) in economic losses, hundreds of companies behind last year’s massive peatland and forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan have still not been held accountable for their negligence.

Recently, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) released a list of 531 companies, mostly agroforestry companies, on whose concessions in peatland areas fires were reported and who thus had an obligation to restore their concessions.

The list only constitutes companies with concessions in peatland areas, therefore the total number of companies on whose lands fires occurred must greatly exceed 531.

However, only three civil lawsuit cases are being heard in courts at the moment with five more lawsuits still in the process. Civil lawsuits are handled by the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s law enforcement directorate-general.

As for criminal lawsuits, only four cases are on trial at the moment, with the dossiers on six cases currently incomplete while the dossiers on three other cases have been completed. Criminal lawsuits are handled by the police.

“We hope that the companies on the BRG’s list are not only held accountable for restoring their concessions, but there needs to be law enforcement as well against them because they failed to make sure that their concessions weren’t burned,” law researcher Syahrul Fitra, from the NGO Auriga, told The Jakarta Post.

Syahrul said that while the 531 companies on the BRG’s list were responsible for the restoration of areas that had been damaged by years of peatland fires, without law enforcement there would be no guarantee that they would actually carry out the restoration work.

“I’m not sure they will carry out the restoration. Maybe there will be administrative punishments, but even the government decided to revoke administrative punishments recently,” Syahrul said.

He was referring to the government’s decision to slap administrative sanctions on 23 companies last year.

These companies had their landclearing licenses either revoked or frozen for their failure to act to prevent last year’s land and forest fires, which led to the worst pollution in the region for almost two decades.

The firms facing punishment were mostly pulp wood and palm oil plantations operating on Sumatra and Kalimantan. As a result, three companies shut down operations altogether.

However, the government decided to unfreeze the licenses for 17 companies recently, reasoning that they had improved their fire-prevention management on the ground.

“After this, they will have to give their burned concessions to the government. The ministry’s sustainable forest management directorategeneral is currently mapping the burned concessions that will be taken over by the government to be restored and managed,” the ministry’s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, told the Post.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) spokeswoman Khalisah Wahid said the sanction revocations would have no deterrent effect on the companies.

“It’s an extraordinary environmental crime with a large number of victims, even deaths and it keeps recurring,” Khalisah told the Post.

The government should not have taken over the burned concessions either as that shifted the responsibility for restoring the damage caused by the companies to the government, she said.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Haze-linked firms go unpunished
The Jakarta Post


Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) was founded in 1980 and joined FoEI in 1989.

WALHI is the largest and oldest environmental advocacy NGO in Indonesia.

WALHI unites more than 479 NGO's and 156 individuals throughout Indonesia's vast archipelago, with independent offices and grassroot constituencies located in 27 of the nation's 31 provinces.

Its newsletter is published in both English and the native language.

WALHI works on a wide range of issues, including agrarian conflic over access to natural resources, indigenous rights and peasants, coastal and marine, and deforestation.

WALHI also has several cross cutting issues such as climate change, women and disaster risk management.


* Syahrul Fitra:

JAKARTA − A leading anti-haze activist in Indonesia has accused the chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly of allowing corporations to burn forests and causing the haze crisis.

Mr Zulkifli Hasan, former Forestry Minister from 2009 to last year under president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration, allegedly granted permission to various corporations to burn over 1.3 million hectares of forest areas to be used for plantations, said Mr Syahrul Fitra, organiser of the #MelawanAsap (#FightHaze) campaign through the online petition platform change.org.

“All of the permissions had been signed by Zulkifli Hasan who, at that period of time, was serving as the Forestry Minister in the [Second] United Indonesia Cabinet,” Mr Fitra said yesterday (Oct 31), as quoted by tempo.co.

Mr Fitra says the finding is based on ministerial data from 2010 to 2013. He has called on law enforcers to investigate and punish all officials allegedly responsible for the months-long disaster.

“Don’t let this disaster continue repeating every year without anyone being responsible for it,” he said, while also urging the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to investigate possible graft related to the granting of permission.

Mr Fitra’s online petition was launched on Friday and has so far attracted 6,355 supporters.

“When I was still at the office, I did not do it. If they want me [legally processed], I will face it,” Mr Hasan, also the National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman, said yesterday.

Over 2 million hectares of forest area across Indonesia has been reduced to ash in the past five months, according to National Space and Aviation Agency (Lapan) data. The final figure is expected to grow.

Today, Updated: 8:14 PM, NOVEMBER 1, 2015
Former Indonesian Forestry Minister blamed by activist for haze crisis

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New Delhi (AFP) - Malnutrition is becoming the "new normal" as rising rates of obesity across the world coincide with persistent undernutrition in many poorer countries, according to a major study released Tuesday.

The Global Nutrition Report says the number of people who are obese or overweight is rising almost everywhere, fuelling an increase in diabetes and other diseases.

Malnutrition covers a range of problems -- from deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals for the undernourished to excessive levels of sugar, salt, fat or cholesterol in the blood for the obese.

At least 57 of the 129 countries studied were experiencing serious levels of both undernutrition and adult obesity, putting huge pressure on health services, said the study.

"We now live in a world where being malnourished is the new normal," said Lawrence Haddad, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of the report.

"It is a world that we must all claim as totally unacceptable."

The study found some progress was being made, with the number of stunted children under five declining on every continent except Africa and Oceania.

Stunted children grow up to be weaker than their well-nourished counterparts, with their brains and immune systems compromised.

But the report's authors said there had been too little progress in the fight against all forms of malnutrition.

Almost every country studied was falling behind in reducing levels of diabetes and of anaemia in women, for example.

One in 12 people globally now has diabetes and nearly two billion people are obese or overweight, according to the authors, who called for more funding for government initiatives on nutrition.

Their analysis found a $70 billion global funding shortfall to meet 2025 milestones to tackle stunting, severe acute malnutrition and anaemia.

The report highlighted the cost of malnutrition, which it said was "the number one driver of the global burden of disease".

Africa and Asia lose 11 percent of gross domestic product every year due to malnutrition, it said.

Haddad said the key to success was political commitment.

"Where leaders in government, civil society, academia and business are committed -– and willing to be held accountable -– anything is possible," he said.

"Despite the challenges, malnutrition is not inevitable -− ultimately, it is a political choice."

The Global Nutrition Report is an annual assessment of countries’ progress in meeting global nutrition targets established by the World Health Assembly -- the world's highest health policy body -- in 2013.

These include a 40 percent reduction in the number of children under five who are stunted; a 50 percent reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age; and a halt in the rise in the number of adults who are overweight, obese or suffering from type two diabetes.

AFP - June 14, 2016
Malnutrition becoming 'new normal' amid obesity boom: study

Food systems are increasingly recognised as the driving force behind malnutrition in all its forms. Healthy diets are as fundamental to resolving stunting and vitamin and mineral deficiencies as they are to preventing obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. And healthy diets are made possible through healthy food systems.

The 2014 international conference on nutrition – where the focus was “better nutrition, better lives” – and a plethora of recent reports are testament to this. However, attempts to modify or influence food systems in ways that are more supportive of good nutrition have been stymied by a lack of relevant data.

The world is short of good information on what healthy food systems look like and lacks the data policymakers need to make food systems more effective in reducing malnutrition.

Two initiatives that we are involved with – the annual global nutrition report (GNR) and the global panel on agriculture and food systems for nutrition – seek to address this problem by highlighting what works in improving nutrition, and pointing out where data is simply lacking. The call for a “data revolution” is not empty rhetoric; evidence-based decisions can only be made with credible proof. Not all data gaps need to be filled – just those that hinder choices about improving nutrition and those that are needed to hold decision-makers accountable.

The Guardian, Last modified on Tuesday 20 October 2015 14.39 BST
To end malnutrition, we must step up to the plate with data on what people eat ;
With one in three people malnourished globally, there is a clear need to serve up better information on food consumption and the systems that shape it
By Lawrence Haddad and Patrick Webb

* Lawrence Haddad is a senior research fellow in the International Food Policy Research Institute's poverty, health and nutrition division. He was director of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, from 2004 to 2014
* Patrick Webb is a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

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A revisit after 21 years in Beijing

AH, Mao Zedong! At last I glimpsed something that I could recognise. The giant portrait of the father of communist China on Tiananmen Gate looked exactly the same as it did 21 years ago.

That was when I first and last visited Beijing and my memories of that time have dimmed considerably.

Almost everything else about this city of 21 million people was new and unfamiliar to me.

What brought me to the Chinese capital a fortnight ago was the annual board meeting of the Asia News Network comprising 21 news organisations, including the Star Media Group.

My visit two decades ago was also for a meeting, a really big one; the United Nations Fourth World Confe-rence on Women.

While I spent most of the time covering the event that involved 40,000 women from government and civil society from all over the world, I also managed to play tourist. I visited the Forbidden City, the Great Wall at Badaling, the Summer Palace and the Ming Emperor Tombs.

Now with hindsight, I realised how lucky I was to have done so. I could explore the Forbidden City, now also known as the Palace Museum, at leisure and there were many parts where I found myself quite alone.

As for the Great Wall, I was so unnerved by the extremely steep steps and strong wind, I did not walk but slowly sat my way up and down. That I could do because there were no hordes of tourists who might have elbowed me off the wall.

I thought of revisiting these famous places but was warned by Tho Xin Yi, my Beijing-based colleague, against it. Long queues and huge crowds of local tourists are a permanent feature.

Well then, if sightseeing wasn’t a good idea, then I’d eat my way through Beijing.

Twenty-one years ago, I didn’t have a good impression of Beijing food. It was over-salty and oily so I was keen to see if that had improved.

My first stop was Xian Lao Man restaurant, famous for jiaozi (dumplings), that Xin Yi recommended.

The place was certainly popular and the portions extremely generous but I came away feeling that taste-wise, it was overrated.

Thanks to China Daily, the excellent host and organiser of the ANN meeting, I had two banquet dinners.

The first was at the award-winning Dadong that is famous for its roast duck a.k.a. Peking duck. The other was at the slightly surreal China Red Sandalwood Museum.

Our host for the evening was the museum owner, Madam Chan Laiwa, the second richest woman in China and a well-known philanthropist, who served an elegant eight-course dinner, starting with organic cucumbers and tomatoes from her own farm.

But we were more agog at the news that the 70-something Chan was married to Chi Zhongrui, an actor famed for his role as Xuanzang in the popular 1980s television series, Journey to the West, and 20 years her junior! Which goes to show veteran editors are just as fond of celebrity gossip as the aunty on the street.

For something western, Xin Yi took me to the upscale Temple Restaurant Beijing which is in the compound of a 600-year-old temple complex, hence the name. The food was certainly stylish and inventive but again, the taste was just so-so. The service was fabulous, though.

I am convinced I have been thoroughly spoilt by the food we have in Malaysia. That’s why to me, something was a bit off in the taste and texture of most of what I ate in Beijing. And it was still often over-salted.

My vain attempt to relive the only memorable meal from 21 years ago – the mouth-numbing spicy Sichuan noodle dish, dan dan mian – was a failure.

As it turned out, my best dining experience was at a Yunnanese restaurant called Dianke Dianlai. I wouldn’t have been able to find it without Xin Yi because it’s located in a nondescript row of shops and it doesn’t have a signboard.

The food comes in sets and you choose whichever fits your budget. Every set offers a range of meats and vegetables that were flavourful and well cooked in a variety of ways.

As with any city, walking is the best way to get a feel of it. Two decades ago, Beijing was a city of cyclists. Today, its streets are full of expensive cars but there are still lots of two-wheelers, mostly of the electric moped kind.

I didn’t enjoy walking in Beijing though. I feared being run over by honking cyclists and delivery bikers who ruled the sidewalks and was confused by traffic coming in all directions at pedestrian crossings. It’s actually saner taking the subway or the taxi. I was bumped, elbowed and knocked into and never got an apology.

Sadly, there is little of the professional and polished service you get in Japan and I found people in Beijing a generally unhelpful lot.

I lost my much-loved hat at Silk Street, which was a lane full of small shops and stalls 21 years ago.

Today, it is the name of a 10-storey building with 1,700 boutiques and outlets. It’s as modern as shopping malls can get, but the service borders on surly.

As I went from shop after shop, asking the sales staff whether they had seen my hat, none was helpful and all were defensive, as if I was accusing them of theft or something.

Architecturally, Beijing is interesting with its wide streets, narrow hutongs (back alleys), tiny shops, big malls, ancient edifices and swanky modern buildings like the landmark CCTV headquarters and the curvaceous Galaxy Soho by the late great Zaha Hadid.

Yet, Beijing, despite its smog-free blue skies, didn’t win me over like New York, Tokyo, Seoul or Busan and I am in no hurry to return.

Maybe because my most memorable experience over those five days was in a public toilet.

These are everywhere, tucked into whatever little spaces there are between shops and buildings. I nipped into a public women’s loo. Facing me were three open squatting toilets without partition or door.

There was no lock on the main door. I had to decide: pee or leave. Since I was alone, I decided to just do it. And that was when a woman walked in and as cool as a cucumber, pulled down her pants and squatted right next to me.

I finished as fast I could, flushed using the foot pedal and vamoosed without a backward glance.

That’s a first for me: peeing with a total stranger. Thank you, Beijing!

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Going potty in Beijing ;
A revisit after 21 years didn’t win over the writer’s heart or tastebuds.
By June H.L. Wong

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Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty

FOR centuries, the imperial palace of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty was shrouded in mystery.

After the dynasty collapsed, there were no clues as to where it was and it lived on only in legend through writings such as those of 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo.

If Polo is to be believed, the walls of “the greatest palace that ever was” were covered with gold and silver and the main hall was so large that it could easily seat 6,000 people for dinner.

The palace was made of cane supported by 200 silk cords, which could be taken to pieces and transported easily when the emperor moved,” he wrote in his travel journal.

It was a vision of grandeur but the palace disappeared, seemingly without trace.

The Yuan dynasty lasted for less than a century, spanning the years from 1279 to 1368, and it is widely believed that the capital of the empire was Beijing.

But in the centuries since, one question has dogged historians and archaeologists in China: just where was the dynasty’s palace?

Now experts at the Palace Museum in Beijing believe that they have some answers, clues they stumbled upon during upgrades to the heritage site’s underground power and fire-extinguishing systems.

According to historical records, the Yuan palace in Beijing was abandoned by its last emperor, Toghon Temür, who was overthrown by rebel troops that established the Ming dynasty in the 14th century.

Some experts believe the palace was razed by Ming soldiers who took over the city, while others insist the buildings were removed by Ming workers on the site of what was to become the Forbidden City.

The foundations for the sprawling Forbidden City were laid in 1406 and construction continued for another 14 years. It was the imperial palace for the Ming rulers and then the Qing dynasty until 1912.

The complex has been built up, layer by layer, but researchers sifting through the sands of archaeological time said last month that they had found evidence that at least part of the Yuan palace was beneath the site.

The researchers from the museum’s Institute of Archaeology said the proof was a 3m thick rammed earth and rubble foundation buried beneath the layers of Ming and Qing dynasty construction.

Institute deputy-director Wang Guangyao said the foundation unearthed in the central-west part of the palace was in the same style as one uncovered in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, in the ruins of Zhongdu, one of the four capitals of the Yuan dynasty.
The new discovery would be open to the public soon, Wang said.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 12 June 2016
The greatest palace that ever was ;
Chinese archaeologists find evidence of the fabled imperial home of Kublai Khan’s dynasty.
- South China Morning Post

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Kevin Kruse

Most leaders have been taught the same old precepts: have an “open door” policy, rally around a common vision, make your employees happy and on and on.

What if there was a better, faster, easier way to succeed as a leader? Based on my experience as a serial entrepreneur−having built and sold several multimillion dollar companies−and on a decade of research, this article offers simple but highly effective strategies to overcome the most common leadership traps. I consider it my leadership “stop doing” list.

One: Successful leaders don’t have an open door policy

An open door policy is a traditional means to foster communication amd problem-solving. Among the many problems with this policy are that most employees don’t have the professional courage to approach a senior executive, it negatively impacts the productivity of leaders, and it can stunt the initiative and problem-solving skills of the individuals.

Successful leaders know that are better ways to facilitate communication including having weekly “open office hours”, recurring one-on-one meetings, and requiring individuals bringing problems to also bring at least one solution.

Two: Successful leaders don’t have rules

As companies grow in size, so too grows the size of the employee handbook and the number of procedures and rules that must be followed. While these rules are designed to mitigate risk, every rule takes away the ability for an individual to make a choice; with less choice, employees feel less ownership.

Successful leaders know that you don’t need rules if you focus on hiring the right people, hold them accountable for performance, and give them “guardrails” to make decisions with. Errors in judgement are viewed as coaching opportunities rather than infractions.

Three: Successful leaders don’t care about being liked

We all have a need to be liked, and many of us are also conflict-adverse; some leaders think if they are liked, they will be respected. But this need often leads to the losing game of accommodating individual needs over team needs, and

Successful leaders know that it’s OK to have a likeable personality and to get to know team members personally, but they don’t have a need to be liked. Instead, they strive to be trusted and respected. Great leaders know their first loyalty is to the organization, not to their direct reports. Decisions must be made and explained from the perspective of what’s good for the future of the organization, not based on keeping everyone happy or making the leader popular.

Four: Successful leaders don’t treat team members the same

Traditionally leaders are taught to treat their team members the same, due to HR and other reasons (i.e., don’t play favorites). This can foster low engagement as high performers are not recognized or rewarded, and inefficiently allocates the leaders time across everyone equally.

Successful leaders know that know that organizational performance is maximized when they invest more time with high potential employees and less with poor performers, match people’s strengths to opportunities, and activate different engagement drivers based on individual preference.

Five: Successful leaders don’t keep secrets

Many leaders only share the good news because they think their team members “can’t handle the truth”. These leaders are concerned that “being negative” may hurt morale. Problems associated with only sharing good news in the spirit of protecting morale include deteriorating trust from a lack of authenticity, and the inability to tap the “wisdom of the crowd” for problem solving.

Successful leaders know that they build trust, instill a greater sense of ownership and engagement, and generate more problem-solving ideas when they are fully transparent and share the bad with the good.

Six: Successful leaders don’t do meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of corporate life and can be vital to information sharing and decision making. Yet, “too many meetings” is the top complaint of working professionals today. Must meetings are goal-less, include the wrong participants, and are time-inefficient.

Successful leaders hold very few traditional meetings and instead work quickly and efficiently with daily huddles (i.e., standup meetings), walk-and-talks, or meetings that are less than 10 minutes in duration. Additionally, successful leaders rarely attend meetings that their direct reports are holding because they know their presence will disempower the meeting-leader and may change the dynamics of the conversation.

Seven: Successful leaders don’t bring their smartphones to meetings

Smartphones are ubiquitous and are commonly seen and used during workplace meetings. However, research indicates that most people think bringing a smartphone to a meeting is rude, distracting and unprofessional.

Successful leaders leave the smartphone behind, or turn it off and leave it in their pocket during meetings, in order to remain focused, to practice active listening, and to convene meetings in as short a time as possible.

Eight: Successful leaders don’t care about executive presence

Many leaders wear their “leadership mask” each day as an attempt to exude executive presence, to hide their weaknesses, to appear strong and worthy of respect, or to mimic a leader they admire. Yet, followers are aware of masks sense a lack of genuineness, and in turn may put on their own masks, to try to hide problems and developmental areas.

Successful leaders know that being authentic is the key to earning trust and confidence. Rather than hiding failures and weaknesses, great leaders share their own mistakes and admit when they don’t know the answer to something.

Nine: Successful leaders don’t want perfection

The pursuit of quality, perfection and excellence are goals that are laudable, whether to produce competitive products or to take pride in our work. However, it’s easy for managers to cross the line from “coaching for performance” to fixing for perfection. Sometimes quality is just a cover for micromanagement. A leader’s feedback may improve a project by 10%, but if it also decreases ownership and motivation of the team members, it’s not worth it in the long run.

Successful leaders know that poor quality is unacceptable, but also that long-term success is based on shipping a good product today rather than a perfect product later. They have a bias for action, let people struggle and even fail in order to learn, and they focus on continuous improvement.

Ten: Successful leaders don’t put up walls

Traditional wisdom is that managers need to maintain a distance from their team members in order to preserve the manager-worker relationship. This helps the manager to maintain objectivity, and you never know when you might need to reprimand or fire someone; the job will be easier if feelings aren’t involved.

Successful leaders know the real secret is that a “caring” approach to leadership drives massive employee engagement, which in turn leads to loyalty and dramatic increases in discretionary effort. Whether in the military, public sector or in corporations, leaders who care attract the best talent, keep them longer and get the most out of them.

May 18, 2016
10 Things Highly Successful Leaders Don’t Do
By Kevin Kruse

Lizette Breytenbach worked in professional service firm that supported retail stores. She wrote:
"It was the most frustrating experiences of my life. I didn't get fired, but I was told that if I can't handle the pressure, I should get another job. When I tried to explain that I am just trying to improve the process for everyone, I got the 'hysterical woman' speech. And I was calm and completely under control. In my opinion, if your boss doesn't have a clue about management and doesn't understand productivity himself, you're wasting your time."

Another woman I'll call "Natalie" shared her frustrating encounter with her boss:
"When I've brought up the demands of the workload, versus the time I have to do it in, she didn't even pretend to be empathetic... I was so mad in this meeting; I was shaking. I started to explain, but felt like I banged my head on that wall long enough. If it weren't for the fact that I'm already leaving, I would have quit on the spot."

Luis provided remote support for a boss who just reverted to his old ways:
"I had a boss that would be picking on me every five minutes, even asking me to respond to emails immediately when I haven't even researched correctly for a response, just because he wants to look good to the customer. I had to ask him very politely that I needed some time to respond appropriately instead of immediately-and he understood, but after a while he was doing it again."

So is it hopeless?

06/08/2016 03:35 pm ET
What to Say When Your Boss Kills Your Productivity

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world’s largest empire in 12th century

Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
David Chandler, emeritus professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, the foremost expert on Cambodian history and the author of several books and articles on the subject, said the work was thrilling and credited Evans and his colleagues with “rewriting history”.

Chandler said he believed it would open up a series of perspectives that would help people know more about Angkorian civilisation, and how it flourished and eventually collapsed.

“It will take time for their game-changing findings to drift into guide books, tour guides, and published histories,” Chandler said. “But their success at putting hundreds of nameless, ordinary, Khmer-speaking people back into Cambodia’s past is a giant step for anyone trying to deal with Cambodian history.”

David Kyle, an archaeologist and ecological anthropologist has conducted projects at Phnom Kulen, the location of the biggest findings, the massive city of Mahendraparvata, the size of Phnom Penh, beneath the forest floor.

He said the “survey results have revolutionised our understanding and approaches. It’s impossible not to be excited. It facilitates a paradigm shift in our comprehension of the complexity, size and the questions we can address.”

While the 2012 survey identified a sprawling, highly urbanised landscape at Greater Angkor, including rather “spectacularly” in the “downtown” area of the temple-city of Angkor Wat, the 2015 project has revealed a similar pattern of equally intense urbanism at remote archaeological ruins, including pre- and post-Angkorian sites.
What is a lidar survey?

An airborne laser scanner (ALS) is mounted to a helicopter skid pad. Flying with pre-determined guidelines, including altitude, flight path and airspeed, the ALS pulses the terrain with more than 16 laser beams per square metre during flights. The time the laser pulse takes to return to the sensor determines the elevation of each individual data point.

The data downloaded from the ALS is calibrated and creates a 3D model of the information captured during the flights. In order to negate tree foliage and manmade obstacles from the data, any sudden and radical changes in ground height are mapped out, with technicians who have models of the terrain fine-tuning the thresholds in processing these data points. Once completed, the final 3D model is handed over to the archaeologists for analysis, which can take months to process into maps.

Guardian, Last modified on Sunday 12 June 2016 15.17 BST
Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle ;
Laser technology reveals cities concealed under the earth which would have made up the world’s largest empire in 12th century
Lara Dunston in Siem Reap

See more in video:
New technology reveals hidden cities in the Angkor region

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naked restaurant

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's first "naked restaurant" opens in Tokyo next month with draconian rules of entry -- podgy prospective diners will be weighed and ejected if found to be too fat.

Following the lead of establishments in London and Melbourne, "The Amrita" -- Sanskrit for 'immortality' -- also has strict age restrictions, with only patrons between 18 and 60 allowed in, after they check in their clothes and put on paper underwear provided by the restaurant.

"If you are more than 15 kilos (33 pounds) above the average weight for your height, we ask you refrain from making a reservation," a list of rules posted on the restaurant's website states, explaining that patrons could be weighed if they do not appear to be within the correct weight range.

Guests found to be "overweight" will be refused entry to the restaurant, which opens on July 29, and will not be entitled to a refund, its website points out. All payments must be made in advance on an online booking page.

The list of rules asks visitors not to "cause a nuisance to other guests" by touching or talking to fellow diners. Tattooed customers are barred from entry.

Those who meet the restaurant's entry requirements will be asked to lock away mobile phones and cameras in a table-top box.

The restaurant owners were not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP.

Guests will fork out up to 80,000 yen ($750) for tickets entitling them to eat food served by muscle-bound men wearing g-strings and watch a dance show featuring male models.

Meal tickets, not including a show, will cost from 14,000 to 28,000 yen depending on choice of menu.

AFP, June 10, 2016
Japanese 'naked restaurant' to ban overweight diners
(AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno) Diners will fork out up to 80,000 yen ($750) for tickets at Tokyo's first naked restaurant

Read More: New Straits Times, published: 10 June 2016 at 4:33 PM

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In date paradise

One of the oldest fruits in the world, the date can trace its origins back to 3,000 BC and has been harvested in the Middle East and North Africa for over 5,000 years. In Islam, the date is significant as Muslims break their fast with it during the holy month of Ramadan.

This is in tandem with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, who initiated the practice of breaking fast with dates and advocated for all Muslims to do the same. In Islam, dates are revered and described as one of the “fruits of paradise”.

The age-old tradition of eating dates for the breaking of fast has continued in the modern world, and the length and breadth of dates in the market have diversified greatly.

Dates are grown primarily in the Middle Eastern and North African belt, with Egypt leading the pack in terms of production, according to 2014 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. The other top-producing date countries include Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Interestingly, while dates have long proliferated in arid deserts and require little rainfall to thrive, the date palm tree needs plenty of underwater irrigation to grow.

According to the article “Date Palm: Biology, Uses and Cultivation”, published in HortScience, dates go through four growth stages, and change colour from green to brown once totally matured. The sugar content in dates increases as it ripens, changing from about 20% of the date content to a whopping 88% of dry matter at maturation.

Dates are available in many forms, and are largely divided into three categories: soft, semi-dry and dry. The classification simply refers to the ripening stages of the fruit, meaning that a dry date has less moisture than a soft date.

The texture of a soft date is soft and pillowy while a dry date is one that is harder, with a more wrinkled exterior and a higher percentage of sugar.

In contrast, the term “dried dates” refers to a completely different process where dates are dehydrated to disperse the moisture content.

There are an estimated 3,000 cultivars of date palm worldwide, but just a few are important in the global market.

The Medjool (or Medjoul) is one of the best known for quality and taste and for its large fruit. Known as the King of Dates, it is a soft date that is luscious and has a rich, caramel-like flavour.

The Queen of Dates is the Deglet Nour, a high yielding, semi-dry date that is the leading date in terms of export, according to the FAO.

The names of dates sometimes originate from the point of source – Bam, for instance, is a date variety named after the region that it is grown in Iran. But this isn’t a blanket rule as not all date names have a geographical indication. Safawi, for instance, is a popular date that doesn’t have a corresponding namesake city or region.

In Malaysia, the dates that tend to be popular during Ramadan are reflective of how much people are willing to spend, depending on their income levels, according to Mydin division manager Muthu Krishnan.

“I would say the middle and lower income group go for budget ranges like the Boostan Bam and Tunisian branch dates whereas for middle and upper income groups, they go for Ajwa dates, Medjool and Mariami that are more premium,” he says

The Star, Published: June 12, 2016
Dates, ‘fruit of paradise’, are here for Ramadan
By Abirami Durai

However Mr Yahho who has not yet diabetics, decides to avoid over consumption of dates after reading the article "Sugar control during Ramadan" written by Datuk Dr Ashikin Mokhtar in today's same newspaper "The Star":

Diabetics are advised to limit their date consumption to only one or two dates a day! and only to break fast, as they are very high in sugar!

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Mont Blanc

Today's topic is not related to Mt Kinabalu but Mt Blanc.


I am standing stock-still on a twisting path high above Chamonix, open-mouthed and agog. All around me are the soaring peaks of the Mont Blanc massif, but they are not the reason for my astonishment. Just ahead of us on the trail – which has risen thrillingly through cliffs, pinnacles and precarious paths – two ibex are mating, each notch of the male’s enormous curving horns lit up by the afternoon sun.

Wild alpine goats weren’t the only exotic creatures I met on the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of the world’s greatest walks, a high-altitude trail around the entire massif that takes the hiker anti-clockwise from France to Italy to Switzerland, then back into France for a climactic ascent to the beautiful Lac Blanc. As well as jumping fish, lizards and snakes (one practically slithered over my boot), there were so many marmots I eventually stopped taking photos of them.

The TMB is 170km long with 10,000m of ascent (that’s 1km more than climbing Everest from sea level) and is usually trekked in 11 daily stages. My sister Jackie walked the first day and a half with me and we arrived in mid-June, a week before it is deemed properly safe to go, given the risk of snow high up. Although it was still low season, Chamonix was gearing up for a party. This summer, the French town is celebrating the “golden era of mountaineering”, this being the 150th anniversary of the year climbing literally reached new peaks: a whopping 65 alps were conquered in 1865, seven on the Mont Blanc massif. There will be films, plays, books, paintings, photographs and commemorative climbs.

It seemed unlikely anyone would ever commemorate our exploits as we set off in drizzle from the start in Les Houches, just south of Chamonix, the spectacular views up the valley non-existent. But by the time we’d fixed up our poles and clacked into the gloom, the tips of the mountains enclosing us had begun to emerge, tantalisingly, through wisps of cloud. Only then did the sheer scale of what we were now in the heart of begin to dawn on us: this was an extraordinary, elemental new world, a place where the horizon had shifted 2km upwards.

Through pine-scented woodland we puffed, before bursting out at a fabulously shaky suspension bridge over the raging Bionnassay river. It’s fairly new, avalanches and floods having swept away its predecessors, something we tried not to think about as we crossed one by one, hearing and feeling the meltwater thundering by underneath. Then we turned right at a glacier and had our next big surprise, entering vast breezy meadows that seemed to be turning ever-richer shades of pink, yellow and blue, thanks to the sun now streaming down on the gently swaying flowers coming into bloom. “Let me tell you a secret,” an exhausted Swiss woman told me later as she undid her boots. “Many of us prefer the flowers to the summits.”

When the TMB stays high, people tend to spend the night in refuges that dot the route. Most are great and some are stupendous: what they lack in space and comfort, they make up for with food, booze, company, locations and sunsets. But when the trail dips into villages and hamlets, most hikers rough it in hostels. However, if you go unguided (the trail’s well marked) and carry your bag instead of having it transported (don’t go over 10kg), you’ll save a fortune – meaning you can treat yourself, as I did, to a fancy hotel or a charming B&B. After all, nothing gets you up an alp like a good sleep and a triple-red-berry tea infusion.

So on our first night, in the delightful village of Les Contamines-Montjoie, we stayed at La Ferme du Bon Papa (doubles €75 B&B). This is a family-run B&B in a recently renovated yet gloriously rustic 17th-century farmhouse, still retaining its original timbers, with lots of old farming tools adorning the walls – and acorns, acorns everywhere.

I was glad I’d got fit because stage two was a 20km monster taking in the imposing peak of the Tête Nord des Fours. One minute I was saying goodbye to Jackie and hiking past superb horseshoe ridges, heading for where snow still lay. The next, I was cowering in a tiny hut as a freezing wind howled outside, pulling on two fleeces, three pairs of gloves, a woolly hat and a waterproof. Then, as quickly as it had blown in, the blizzard blew off – and I reached the Tête.

“Fancy some crackers and hummus?” a Californian called Duane asked me after we had descended, shivering, from the summit. As we tucked in, I could hear the clanking of cowbells rising up from the valley below. Then I gazed to the right of some peaks swaddling a distant glacier – and realised I was looking at Italy, tomorrow’s destination.

“Welcome to Refuge des Mottets,” (from €43pp half-board) said a sign on the door of this former dairy farm where I was to spend the night. “We don’t have the phone.” What it did have, though, was a huge tavern-like dining area with a crackling wood-burner and a wonderful collection of dairy bric-a-brac hanging from the ceiling: pots, pans, flasks, vials, giant cowbells, chicken coops and even some old-fashioned underwear.

It was a fabulous introduction to the world of the refuge, fun and friendly, but it was nothing compared to the sublime Rifugio Elisabetta (from €37pp half-board), a mercifully easy three-hour hike away the next day (though I hung around the pass that separates France and Italy for ages, looking down in awe at valley after sweeping valley, and watching clouds drift across Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe, standing 4,810m tall).

Nestling in the shadow of the Aiguille de Tré La Tête, which could be seen through the window from my bunk-bed, the refuge served us a herb risotto followed by pork and courgettes, before letting us loose on its grappa cabinet. I spent the night drinking with Britton, a bear-hunter from Montana. “That was two grappa,” said Mauro, the manager, as he totted up my bill in the morning. “I think it was three,” I said. “Actually,” he smiled, “it was four.”

A lake-lined Roman road threads down from Elisabetta and it’s a magnificent walk, a boulevard of buttresses, an avenue of aiguilles, so near the massif’s southern flank you can practically lean against it for a breather. And then it got even better: the route swung up a mountain to the right, rose sharply through a forest ringing with birdsong, then spilled out into meadows shimmering with golden flowers, every step upwards giving an even better view of the massif thrusting up into a perfect blue sky.

I’d arranged a terrific halfway treat for myself that night: a stay at the Auberge de la Maison (doubles from €159 B&B) in Entrèves, near Courmayeur. This is an outstanding hotel that oozes alpine atmosphere: paintings of mountains and mountain folk hang on every wall, giant ibex-horn chandeliers hang from every ceiling, the foyer has a larch-block floor that clacks softly as you walk across it, and the pool is overlooked by the brooding Aiguille Noire, as are its balconies.

The Guardian, Last modified on Monday 27 July 2015 10.41 BST
Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc ;
Covering 170km and 10,000m of ascent, and taking in France, Italy and Switzerland, the TMB is one of the world’s greatest walks, offering trekkers a tough challenge with spectacular scenery
By Andrew Gilchrist



Montblanc, synonymous with exquisite writing culture for the past 100 years, follows lasting values such as quality and traditional craftsmanship. Its uncompromising demands on shape, style, materials and workmanship are reflected in all its products.

The start of the "modern" new century had a simulating effect on inventors and craftsmen. Ingenuity and imagination helped the fountain pen to make its technical and commercial breakthrough as a writing instrument. It was a Hamburg banker, Alfred Nehemias, and a Berlin engineer, August Eberstein, together who recognised the signs of time and decided to produce simplicissimus pens. After a short period of time Wilhelm Dziambor, Christian Lausen and later Claus Johannes Voss took over the business and thus laid the foundation for the future internationally successful company Montblanc.

“Manufacturers of high-class gold and fountain pens” - Montblanc started its history by making this confident claim for itself. For the time being, the partners took the name “Simplo Filler Pen Co.”. “Simplo” referred to either the idea of the simplicissimus pen or the word “simple,” which described new pen design, including a “build-in” ink-well. After the Hamburg businessman Claus Johannes Voss joined the company, the “Simplo Filler Pen Co.” was established with its headquarter situated in the “Industriepalast” on Caffamacherreihe in Hamburg and received entry into the commercial register.


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agriculture vs agribusiness

One of my core beliefs is the importance of acting as a conscious consumer.

It’s dictated everything from my fashion choices to my diet, and it’s something I’m always working to improve.

As such, I’m a strong believer in supporting small, local farms.

I believe they are better for the environment, better for the farmers, and they produce healthier, tastier food.

Not like some of those industrial farms who exploit their workers, abuse their animals, and pollute our planet.

In the battle of small, local farms vs. large agribusiness, I assumed the former were the victor- case closed. But you know what they say about assumptions…

A shocking conversation with my respected colleague, Tom Blake, shattered everything I knew to be true. Always playing the devil’s advocate, he argued that large farms could actually be better for the planet and its people. I thought it was just him, but a little research proved I was wrong again.

So who’s right- Tom, or me?

As it turns out, maybe neither of us are right. It’s a complicated issue, with a lot of factors that sometimes seem to contradict one another.

The best I can do is lay out the information I have, and let you draw your own conclusions:

1. Small farms that grow multiple crops are less efficient than large ones
There are a few reasons for this. For one, large farms can afford fancy machinery. They also tend to engage in monocropping- growing the same crop year after year- which is, well, more efficient for a lack of a better word.

2. Large farms make food more affordable

3. Large farms have a bad rep for exploiting their workers in order to turn a profit

4. Small farms benefit their communities

5. Large farms that use lots of chemicals have damaged the environment

6. Shipping food internationally is bad for environment

7. BUT food that is shipped from other countries tends to be cheaper than food produced in the US, for example

8. We rely on large farms to produce the food that goes to to countries in need since they are the most efficient and the most affordable

As for the conscious consumer, I’ll just say this: I still stand by my belief that supporting small, local farms is best- when possible. Realistically, it’s not affordable for everyone- and no one should feel bad if they can’t make that choice. All we can do is make the best choice available to us.

Global Citizen on Feb. 16, 2015
What’s better for the world: local farms or large agribusiness?
By Christina Nuñez

Read more :

A new review carried out by the organization GRAIN reveals that small farms produce most of the world’s food. However, they are currently squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world’s farmland. The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of the rich and powerful. If we do nothing to reverse this trend, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself.

This claim is based on the findings of the report, ‘Hungry for Land’, which states that small farmers are often much more productive than large corporate farms. For example, if all of Kenya’s farms matched the output of its small farms, the nation’s agricultural productivity would double. In Central America, it would nearly triple. In Russia, it would be six fold.

Global Research, May 30, 2014
How Global Agri-Business Destroys Farming ;
Forget the Propaganda from Big Agritech, the Key to Reducing Poverty and Ensuring Food Security Lies with Small Farmers
By Colin Todhunter
Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher. Originally from the UK, he has spent many years in India.

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Japan abetting illegal ivory trade

Japan is fuelling the trade in illegal ivory and undermining international efforts to protect Africa’s elephants by failing to crack down on illegal registration practices, according to a report released today.

Although Japan signed a 1989 convention banning the global trade in ivory, traders are registering tusks that are of undetermined origin, including those that could have been imported illegally after the ban, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said on Thursday.

One-off sales of ivory stockpiled before 1989 are permitted and trade in old ivory is also allowed, but those concessions also enable smugglers and traders to cover the illegal trade in tusks, according to conservation groups.

The UK-based EIA said its undercover investigation, conducted this summer, had revealed widespread fraud in the tusk registration system in Japan, where more than 5,500 tusks have been registered as “legal” over the past four years, despite doubts about when they were procured.

“Japan is awash with ivory of dubious origin and not a shred of real evidence is required by law to ensure that ivory is of legal origin and acquisition,” the report, Japan’s Illegal Ivory Trade, said.

The EIA said that of 37 Japanese ivory traders approached by Japanese investigators posing as sellers of whole tusks, 30 offered to engage in illegal activities, including buying and processing unregistered tusks of unknown origin, and registering tusks using false information.

“Traders talked freely about how to evade or defraud the system and clearly had no reason to believe the government of Japan would ever look very carefully at their activities,” the report said.

Japan is obliged under the 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ban on the global ivory trade to require that all whole ivory tusks imported prior to that year be registered by the government. It also agreed to require proof of legal origin and acquisition to prevent illegal ivory from entering the domestic market, where demand is growing.

The EIA said its investigation had raised doubts about Tokyo’s commitment to ending the illegal trade in ivory. “Japan’s weak wildlife law does not require a shred of real evidence for tusk registration,” said Danielle Fest Grabiel, EIA’s senior wildlife policy analyst. “The system is wide open to abuse and laundering of illegal ivory into the legal market.”

Investigators working undercover on the agency’s behalf said they routinely encountered traders willing to break the law to register tusks. The report quoted traders as saying: “We have to lie on these statements,” and, “If you want a (registration) certificate, you can’t tell the truth.”

Several traders encouraged the investigators to record in documents that the ivory had been procured before the global trade ban was imposed 16 years ago. “If you write anything past 1990, you won’t be able to get the certificate,” a trader was quoted as saying.

The EIA said Japan’s conservation law for endangered species was not being properly enforced, meaning tusks could be registered as “legal” – that they were procured before the ban and stockpiled in the country of origin – based on a simple written declaration by the tusk’s owner, or even a relative or neighbour.

Although the law requires traders to provide documentation, such as a customs form, confirming a tusk’s origins, Japan’s environment ministry rarely asks for such evidence, thereby encouraging the submission of fraudulent declarations, the report said.

The revelations coincide with a rapid rise in ivory trade in Japan, amid a poaching epidemic in Africa, where more than 30,000 elephants are slaughtered every year for their tusks.

“Africa’s elephants are paying for Japan’s shocking failure to enact its legal commitments to enforce rigorous controls to prevent the illegal ivory trade,” said Allan Thornton, president of the EIA. “Only a ban on Japan’s domestic ivory trade and permanently ending registration of tusks can rectify the damage.”

Last year the EIA named the Japanese firm Rakuten as the world’s biggest online retailer of elephant ivory. About 80% of tusks in Japan are used to make hanko, personal seals that are commonly used to sign documents.

In China, however, the value of Illegal ivory has halved, according to a recent report by the Kenya-based organisation Save the Elephants, raising hopes that weaker demand could make poaching in Africa less profitable.

The EIA urged the Japanese government to join the US and impose an immediate ban on all domestic trade in ivory in response to appeals by African nations to protect their remaining elephants.

The EIA also appealed to Japanese internet-based retailers to ban all online ads or auctions from offering elephant ivory for sale.

The Guardian, Last modified on Friday 11 December 2015 00.01 GMT
Japan's inaction fuelling illegal ivory trade as demand rises, study finds ;
Investigators uncover widespread fraud which allows traders to register ivory as ‘legal’ despite coming from endangered sources
By Justin McCurry in Tokyo

See More:
France 24, 09 June 2016 - 10H05
Video hints Japan abetting illegal ivory trade: conservationists

Read more:
Press Conference done by Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) on 3 June 2016
Malaysian wildlife trade hampering conservation efforts

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plastic waste in Indonesia

Indonesia produces 260 million tons of plastic waste a year, making it the second-biggest contributor of plastic waste in the world after China, a minister says.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said Indonesian waters would be full of plastic waste in the future if fishermen continued to dump garbage into the sea and urbanites did the same in rivers.

“Garbage dumped into rivers across Indonesia ends up in the sea and piles up. When it gets caught on reefs, fish and shrimp will definitely not lay eggs there,” Susi told a gathering of hundreds of fishermen in Labuan Bajo subdistrict, Komodo district, West Manggarai regency, Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara ( NTT ), on Monday.

Susi expressed admiration for the natural beauty of Flores Island on land in the sea and the friendliness of its people. Yet despite the natural beauty, there was a problem with plastic waste that was not being managed properly.

She said she had arrived at Komodo Airport on Sunday and had the chance to observe West Manggarai regency from the air in a helicopter.

“I saw so much plastic garbage on Labuan Bajo waters. West Manggarai should indeed act as a good example in plastic waste management,” said Susi, adding that a regency bylaw on fines for dumping garbage recklessly was urgently needed in the regency to prevent people from littering.

Susi said garbage in the Komodo National Park had to be managed properly because it was visited by thousands of domestic and foreign tourists, including those arriving on cruise ships, to see Komodo dragons.

“I admire Flores Island and the magical Komodo. Yet, the tourism and fishery sectors have to work in synergy,” the minister said.

Dahlan, a local fisherman, said local people managed plastic waste on West Manggarai waters. He said locals had eventually stopped dumping waste into the sea and rivers, while a number of non-governmental organizations and the regency administration trained people on how to manage plastic waste properly.

“We have been trained to manage plastic waste and frequently remind people to leave behind the bad habit of littering,” he said.

Asma, a local fish employer, said West Manggarai was rich in marine resources, with fishermen in the regency catching fish from January to December.

“What the minister said is very useful for the sustainability of marine resources in West Manggarai,” said Asma, expressing gratitude that she could directly speak to Minister Susi, whom she had previously only seen on television.

Nurhayati, a local creative economy practitioner, said plastic waste had long been in the spotlight and discussed by both local and foreign visitors, as well as ministries in Jakarta and local institutions. Still, people remained oblivious to the need to discard of rubbish properly.

“Plastic waste can always be seen on West Manggarai waters and rivers both in urban and rural areas. Multi-party cooperation is needed to deal with plastic waste,” she said.

The Jakarta Post, Published: Wed, June 8 2016 at 07:16 am
World’s second-biggest plastic waste contributor
By Markus Makur

Indonesia produced 3.2 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, with around 1.29 million tons of that ending up in the ocean, according to a study published in the journal Science. The figure places Indonesia second only to China, with its 8.8 million tons of waste, or 27 percent of global plastic waste.

About 1.3 million to 3.5 million tons of China'™s plastic waste ends up in the ocean.

Tempo.co reported that the study found that around 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world'™s oceans every year, or, as the report mentions, enough plastic to cover an area 34 times the size of Manhattan with an ankle-deep layer. It is also the total amount of plastic waste produced globally in 1961.

Researchers said that there could be even more waste in the ocean, since the estimated 8 tons only came from coastal populations in 192 countries.

The research team, led by Jenna Jamback from the University of Georgia, estimated that people who lived within about 50 kilometers of the coast produced around 275 million tons of plastic in the year 2010. Approximately 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that ended up in the ocean.

Jambeck and colleagues composed a list of 20 countries that dumped the most plastic waste into the ocean. The US ranked 20th, dumping 300,000 tons of plastic in the ocean.

Experts say without any improvement in waste management, the amount of plastic waste could increase tenfold by 2025. Increasing waste processing by up to 50 percent in the 20 worst offending countries could reportedly reduce ocean waste by 41 percent within 10 years. Improvements in waste processing in the 10 worst offending countries could reportedly reduce plastic waste dumped in the ocean each year by up to 6.4 tons by 2025.

Plastic garbage heaped at the bottom of the sea has been studied by researchers from the Natural History Museum in London. In December 2014, a team led by Lucy Woodall found micro plastic waste accumulated in deep-sea sediments at depths of 3,000 meters.

'œWaste in the ocean is a serious problem. There are many pollutants and many more dangers than ever imagined,' said Woodall. 'œWe must start managing it by reducing, recycling and re-using plastic products.' ( liz/bbn )

The 10 biggest marine polluters are:

( By millions of tons of plastic waste dumped in the ocean each year )
1. China 8.8 million tons
2. Indonesia 3.2
3. Philippines 1.9
4. Vietnam 1.8
5. Sri Lanka 1.6
6. Thailand 1.0
7. Egypt 1.0
8. Nigeria 0.9
9. Malaysia 0.9
10. Bangladesh 0.8

The Jakarta Post, Published: Fri, November 6 2015 | 09:11 pm
Indonesia second biggest marine pollutant, after China

Some residents of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, frustrated by the mounting trash problem across the sprawling metropolis, have started taking matters into their own hands.

Hamidi, a young "green entrepreneur" became so concerned by the overflowing Jakarta city dump that he began turning discarded plastic into fuel.

"At the very beginning I just wanted to start a business," said Hamidi, who started his waste-to-energy initiative a year ago in Tangerang, a satellite city about 25 km (15 miles) west of Jakarta.

"But through the process I learned about the increasing trash problem in the environment and I thought this is a problem that needs to be resolved," said Hamidi.

He is one voice among a only a small group of individuals and non-government organizations who have stepped in to manage waste and who have called on local authorities to help fund similar projects.

Hamidi recycles 25 kg (55 lb) of waste daily by burning plastic and distilling the resulting vapor into liquid fuel. Most households in metropolitan Jakarta either don't recycle at all or are serviced by individual scavengers who pick up trash to sell to recycling plants.

Indonesia is among the world's biggest generators of plastic waste. Greater Jakarta alone, with more than 10 million residents, generates enough trash to fill several soccer fields every day.

A landfill on the outskirts of the city receives more than 6,000 tonnes of trash from Jakarta every day but its waste-treatment facilities are struggling to keep pace, resulting in mountains of trash that pose environmental and health risks.

With Jakarta and other cities facing growing problems as they run out of space, the central government plans to open up the waste management sector to foreign investment.

Experts say such a move could bring much-needed new technology and expertise.

Last month, the government rolled out rules requiring stores in several cities to charge customers for plastic bags. However, the fee of just 200 rupiah ($0.01) per bag is unlikely to be an effective deterrent.

"The government is doing too little not just with plastic, but also general waste management," said Marco Kusumawijaya of the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta.

"Plastic bags should be banned totally at this point ... and the government should make it possible for small-scale initiatives to be upscaled," he said.
Reuters, Thu Mar 17, 2016 9:29am EDT
Green entrepreneurs tackle Indonesia's growing trash mountains

By Johan Purnomo
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