Lying or equivocation were deemed equally cowardly. The bushi held that his high social position demanded a loftier standard of veracity than that of the tradesman and peasant. Bushi no ichi-gon--the word of a samurai, or in exact German equivalent, Ritterwort--was sufficient guaranty for the truthfulness of an assertion. His word carried such weight with it that promises were generally made and fulfilled without a written pledge, which would have been deemed quite beneath his dignity. Many thrilling anecdotes were told of those who atoned by death for ni-gon, a double tongue.

Professor Dill, the author of Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, has brought afresh to our mind that one cause of the decadence of the Roman Empire, was the permission given to the nobility to engage in trade, and the consequent monopoly of wealth and power by a minority of the senatorial families.

Often have I wondered whether the veracity of Bushido had any motive higher than courage. In the absence of any positive commandment against bearing false witness, lying was not condemned as sin, but simply denounced as weakness, and, as such, highly dishonourable. As a matter of fact, the idea of honesty is so intimately blended, and its Latin and its German etymology so identified with honour, that it is high time I should pause a few moments for the consideration of this feature of the Precepts of Knighthood.


Nitobe Inazo "Bushido" CHAPTER VII















2017年5月29日 20:39 田中龍作ジャーナル




Is Japan now facing to the decandance ? Asian countries hope Japan should play a role to stabilize a peaceful region but a minority has the monopoly of wealth and power. We should learn about the Japan's soul again through Nitobe Inazo:

"one cause of the decadence of the Roman Empire, was the permission given to the nobility to engage in trade, and the consequent monopoly of wealth and power by a minority of the senatorial families"

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The 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth

BOSTON (AP) − Americans turned out by the thousands Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of President John F. Kennedy on the day he would have turned 100.

The U.S. Postal Service commemorated Kennedy’s centennial with a dedication of a JFK postage stamp in Brookline, a Boston suburb where he was born on May 29, 1917.

The image on the stamp is a 1960 photograph by Ted Spiegel of Kennedy when he was campaigning for president in Seattle. Boston Postmaster Nick Francescucci said the stamp was selected because of the way Kennedy was looking up.

“His eyes were high, they were looking to the sky (and) it looked like there was a big bright future ahead of us,” Francescucci said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III gave the keynote speech at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site − JFK’s birthplace and childhood home. His great-uncle, he said, was a man who had honest and infectious pride. He not only implored a generation to serve, but he promised them a country worthy of their service, the congressman said.

A wreath-laying ceremony also was held to honor the 35th U.S. president at his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Kennedy served as president from January 1961 until he was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963. He was 46.

In Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum held a birthday celebration that included a cake made by the family of the baker who made the engagement cake for then-Sen. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier, museum officials said. The celebration capped a long Memorial Day holiday weekend of events to honor Kennedy’s legacy and drew thousands of visitors on his centennial celebration.

“There’s no one issue or one event that we could do to highlight the different facets of (Kennedy),“said Steven Rothstein, the library foundation’s executive director. “Many of his key ideas are timeless. We fundamentally believe that JFK is a visionary who never goes out of style.”

The late president’s commitment to service also was celebrated at a Saturday ceremony co-hosted by the National Peace Corps Association. Association president Glenn Blumhorst said those who have served in the Peace Corps see themselves as “the living legacy of JFK.”

Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961.

“His call to service in asking what we can do for our country is the way that we responded,” Blumhorst said. “We feel that that is one way of completing our national service.”

AP, Published: May 30 2017
Thousands turn out to remember Kennedy on his 100th birthday

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Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods was found asleep at the wheel of his car when he was arrested, police records showed Tuesday as golf legend Jack Nicklaus pledged support for the troubled former world number one.

Woods, who issued a statement on Monday saying alcohol was not involved in the incident, needed to be woken by a police officer, his arrest report showed.

The 14-time major winner has blamed the DUI arrest near his home in Jupiter, Florida on an adverse reaction to prescription medication.

His police report, obtained and published by several media outlets, said Woods was "co-operative" and "confused" when found by police, with "extremely slow and slurred speech."

He initially told officers he had been driving back to Florida from Los Angeles but later stated "he did not know where he was."

The golfer was unable to complete various roadside sobriety tests which included standing on one leg and the "walk and turn" test.

However contrary to reports on Monday which said Woods refused a breathalyzer test, the golfer agreed and "blew zeroes" indicating there was no alcohol in his system.

Woods also told police he had been using four prescription medications including the powerful painkiller Vicodin, which is commonly prescribed following surgery.

Woods has undergone four separate surgeries on his back since 2014, with the most recent procedure taking place in late April.

News of the 41-year-old's arrest has triggered alarm throughout the golfing world. On Tuesday, Nicklaus offered words of support for Woods.

"Tiger's a friend," Nicklaus told the Golf Channel. "He's been great for the game of golf. He needs our help.

"I feel bad for him. He's struggling ... He needs support from a lot of people. I'll be one of them."

A police mugshot of Woods looking bleary-eyed and unshaven rapidly went viral after its release on Monday, underscoring the fall from grace of the superstar athlete once renowned as a clean-living, corporate pitchman.

"I would like to apologize with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans. I expect more from myself too," Woods said in a statement issued late Monday.

- 'He needs our help' -

The arrest is the latest gloomy episode to hit the athlete, who once towered over his sport before being engulfed by turmoil in his private life and a series of debilitating injuries.

His return from a year-long injury layoff was cut short in February when he pulled out of the Dubai Desert Classic after the first round because of back pain.

News of Woods' arrest was pored over in detail by US media on Tuesday, with many commentators unable to resist comparing the golfer's dishevelled mugshot with images of the fresh-faced superstar in his heyday.

"What happened to the young man we all thought we knew...Where has he gone?" asked USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, contrasting the mugshot with an image of Woods from one of his most famous victories, winning the Masters in 1997 at the age of 21.

"What a stunning contrast these two photos are, taken 20 years and seven weeks apart," Brennan added. "They chart the rise and fall of a man who had it all, then watched it crumble away, all of it self-induced."

ESPN writer Jason Sobel commented that the mugshot "offers tangible representation" of Woods' decline in fortunes.

"It offers visual proof of the news, of another public embarrassment," Sobel wrote.

"There is no positive way to spin this story. No silver lining, no beneficial after-effects that might spring from it -- the main takeaway here is sadness. Just pure sadness."

AFP, Published: 30 May 2017
Woods was asleep at wheel, passed breath test - police

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Free school meals to help Indonesian children

SERANG, Indonesia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It was a simple lunch: fried noodles, a piece of fried chicken and a banana. But for Safira, an elfin 11-year-old, this meal is a luxury. Provided free by her school, it's also the first and only meal she will have for the rest of the day.

The daughter of a factory employee and a day laborer who travels hours each day to find work, there is little money to cook meals at home. Dinner is usually a banana or two. When the school does not provide lunch, Safira goes hungry.

"On days without school meals I don't bring anything from home. Then, I don't eat," she said, picking delicately at the chicken with freshly washed hands.

"When I'm very hungry, I can't concentrate on what the teacher is saying," she added. "The food at school is delicious - I usually eat fried rice at home."

Her small primary school in the city of Serang, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, provides three out of six lunches every week.

The menu is a carefully considered mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber and vitamins. The ingredients are sourced from local farmers, and groups of mothers whose children study at the school take turns to prepare the meals.

The school meal program, funded by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) and global commodities trader Cargill Inc, is part of a larger effort by the Indonesian authorities and aid agencies to tackle widespread malnutrition that affects millions of children, stunting their growth and hobbling their potential.

In Indonesia, one in three children between the ages of six and 14 do not eat enough nutritious food, the WFP says.

The situation is worst in eastern areas where the weather is drier, and there is chronic poverty and low development.

The problem has significant implications for the archipelago's future economic growth and resilience, as well as its health needs, experts say.

"Economic losses due to stunting and malnutrition are estimated to be 2 to 3 percent of Indonesia's GDP," said Martha Bowen, deputy country director in Indonesia for the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which runs a $134 million project to reduce stunting in Indonesia.

According to government data, about 37 percent of all Indonesian children under five were stunted in 2013, up from 35.6 percent in 2010. This translates to over 9.5 million stunted children, the fifth highest national figure globally, the WFP says.

Stunting is caused by long-term under-nutrition, combined with sanitation and hygiene problems. It hinders children's cognitive growth and economic potential, experts say.

Stunted children, who are shorter than average height, generally complete fewer years of schooling and earn less income as adults. The effects are largely irreversible.

Government research also found that more than a quarter of Indonesian children aged from five to 14 were anemic in 2013. Usually caused by deficiencies of iron and vitamins in the diet, anemia affects children's cognitive and physical development.


A WFP study comparing schools with the meal program and those without revealed higher attendance rates at the former, said Anthea Webb, the agency's director in Indonesia.

"Kids were skipping school a lot less, anemia rates went down - which means the kids had more energy and were more focused - and their hygiene habits also improved because... we also teach them how to wash their hands and brush their teeth," she said.

Yet for a long time, Indonesians did not realize malnutrition was a problem unless it led to severe wasting, when children are very underweight, experts say.

It was only in the 2009-2014 National Medium-Term Development Plan that the government identified stunting as an issue to be addressed, said the MCC's Bowen.

At that time, there was no word in the Bahasa Indonesia language for the phenomenon except "pendek" (meaning simply "short") used alongside the English term "stunting", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An MCC-funded campaign, in partnership with the health ministry, has been working to popularize a new Indonesian word - "stanting".

Limited breastfeeding, a diet high in carbohydrates and low in proteins and vitamins, and increased consumption of processed foods contribute to the problem, experts say.

There are also worries climate change could make extreme weather more frequent, leading to more volatile food prices and putting nutritious food out of reach for poor households.

Indonesia already has some of the highest food prices in Southeast Asia due to trade restrictions on food imports and other government policies, another factor in its high rates of stunting, according to the World Bank.

More than 28 million Indonesians, just over a tenth of the population, live below the national poverty line of around $27 per month, while nearly 40 percent live just above it.


Indonesia also faces a "double burden" of malnutrition, where under-nutrition and obesity co-exist.

A 2015 World Bank report warned that more and more Indonesians - both adults and young children, and across all income levels - are becoming overweight, and urged steps to mitigate related health risks such as non-communicable diseases.

As Southeast Asia's largest economy and a member of the G20 nations, Indonesia is increasingly leading the drive to tackle these issues instead of relying on donors, aid agencies say.

The WFP, for example, no longer distributes food in Indonesia but provides technical help to the government instead.

It helped design, develop and monitor the school meals program, which now covers 100,000 children across five provinces, in response to a government request in 2015.

The MCC, meanwhile, supports health centers where pregnant women and children receive vaccinations, nutrition supplements and counseling.

Tackling stunting takes a generation, longer than most governments last, so it requires widespread buy-in, said the WFP's Webb.

"It's a really good proxy for how your entire economy and society is developed," she said.

"Each centimeter grown is another few points of IQ and the strength and ability to work really hard and smart."

Reuters, Published: Tue May 30, 2017 - 2:03am EDT
Free school meals help Indonesian children stand tall
By Thin Lei Win

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Taking Everest with Malaysia Boleh mindset

I REFER to your article, “Everest dream come true for climber” (The Star, May 29).

The summit of the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest – 29,029 ft or 8,848 metres above sea level – has been the ultimate challenge for many climbers for over a century.

Only recently, on May 20, Raman Nair, 42, scaled the physically and mentally demanding Everest. We have heard the inevitable tales of tragedy and psychological triumph when our own Datuk M. Magendran and Datuk N. Mohandass became the first Malaysians to conquer Everest on May 23, 1997 under the “Malaysia Boleh” philosophy. That changed the “impossibility” mindset of fellow Malaysian climbers.

The duo’s success opened the floodgates for other Malaysian climbers such as Muhamad Muqharabbin Mokhtarrudin and Ahmed Reduan Rozali, both 22-year-old students, on May 16, 2005, and in 2015, 16-year-old Ishan Siva Ramanathan and a few other Malaysians who were also successful, to name a few. They took up the gruelling journey, facing catastrophic blizzards and frostbite on their fingers and toes, to climb the picture-perfect mountain.

At least, that’s how it looks from the outside but, as they say, looks can be deceiving for Mount Everest has claimed 283 lives between 1924 and 2015 – 170 foreigners and 113 Nepalis – based on reports.

The deadly mountain can wreck the mind and soul, unless the mountaineer has undergone high-intensity workouts in fitness and endurance, mental preparation and safety training, to ascend the world’s tallest peak.

Everest should be open to anyone who wants to climb it in a responsible manner, but one should have spent many years mountain climbing and hundreds of days in crampons before even considering it.

Despite all its problems, for climbers, clients and armchair adventurers, Everest continues to represent hardship and heartache, courage, struggle and sometimes, achievement and endeavour, as a worthwhile challenge.

“Everest still matters because it is and will always be earth’s tallest cathedral,” says professional climber Cory Richards. It is 10 times the height of the tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Kudos to all the Malaysian climbers who were successful on the climb! To date, over 5000 mountaineers from across the globe have successfully scaled Everest since 1953.

Letter to The Star, Published: Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Taking Everest with Malaysia Boleh mindset

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The ugliest, stupidest fashion trend ever

I HAD avoided it like the plague but there I was with my big toe caught in the loose threads of a pair of ripped jeans and doing an impromptu jig to keep my balance.

Okay, it was my fault in the first place to have taken it from the shelves in Uniqlo without noticing the rips, because they weren’t obvious on the white pair of boyfriend-cut jeans.

For older readers who haven’t the foggiest what I am talking about, ripped jeans are those with tears and cuts, especially over the knees. They are also called distressed jeans and it’s easy to see why.

The ripped parts often have loose, exposed threads and that was how my big toe came to grief. Apparently, getting snared is a common occurrence if you put on your ripped jeans in a hurry and forget to point your toes, ballerina-style.

So there I was hopping on one foot, trying to extricate my trapped toe and avoid crashing onto the wall of the tiny fitting room, giving me yet another reason to rail against this disgraceful disfigurement of a wardrobe classic.

Ripped jeans have their roots in the punk-grunge subculture which is basically a rejection of capitalism, and a poster boy for the grunge look was the late Kurt Cobain in the late 1980s-early 1990s. The look, however, never went mainstream.

I first noticed the return of ripped jeans several years ago. It started with modest cuts at the knees but even so, I found the way the wearer’s knees poked out when he or she sat down really odd.

This is not the first time that fashion has made fools out of us. Over the centuries, we have seen many ridiculous trends like metre-high powdered wigs, faint-inducing corsets, foot-binding, gigantic shoulder pads and rolling up one pant leg. But deliberately destroyed clothes must surely be the ugliest and stupidest trend ever.

Still, I figured the fad, like before, would fade.

But horror of horrors, it has become a global trend and no part of the jeans is spared. The look is not limited to mere rips at knee-point but huge tears and holes that can appear from hip to shin and even just below the buttocks, sometimes with flapping bits of denim and jagged, unsewn hems.

When a popular United Kingdom fashion brand described its distressed jeans as “toughened up with rips and tears to add some ‘edge’,” Kirsty Major, writing for vagendamagazine.com, mocked it as a pale imitation of the original edginess of the youth subcultures of punk, heavy metal and grunge who dressed in distressed denim “as a visual symbol of social dissent”.

“For punks, wearing jeans until they ripped was a symbol. They refused to participate in capitalism; wearing jeans until they literally fell off your legs reduced the number of jeans purchased and was a big economic middle finger to shops and advertisers.”

That was the heroic premise then but as Major mused, no one is personally wearing their jeans to death for that reason now.

Instead she wryly observed, “No, you bought them from the high street and those rips were put there by a migrant worker in Mauritius who got paid 22p (RM1.21) per hour.

“There is seriously nothing less edgy in the whole wide world.”

And all that feeds an industry that sells 1,240,000,000 pairs of denim jeans worldwide annually worth about US$56.2bil (RM240bil), according to statisticbrain.com

Making plain old jeans is a highly mechanised process but only up to the point of designing and cutting the cloth. After that, it is heavily dependent on manual labour to sew the pieces together.

It takes many more steps, also by hand, to ruin a perfectly good pair of jeans to give it the washed out, ripped and tattered appearance.

These steps include rubbing away the dye with sandpaper to create crease lines, sandblasting the garment to speed up its wear and tear by weakening the threads and tumbling in giant washing machines full of volcanic pumice rocks for the stonewash effect.

Naturally, all this adds to the cost of the jeans and therein lies the irony: you have to pay more to look poor.

What’s really galling is how celebrities are fuelling this “poverty de luxe” look.

A glamourmagazine.co.uk post on February 2017 gushes: “Be it skinny, mom, boyfriend or cropped, ripped jeans are the denim trend that is still going strong.

“And who better to get inspiration from than the celebs who can’t get enough of cold knees? Whether you opt for a floaty blouse and trainers for a daytime look, or killer heels and a bralet for a night on the town, let these celebs inspire your ripped jeans look...”


Scroll through the photos and you see famous faces teaming their branded ripped jeans (Kanye West’s pair by Saint Laurent, for example, costs about US$600 or RM2,565) with equally expensive coats, shoes and handbags.

People have always strived to improve their wealth so that they could live, eat and dress better.

I cannot recall a time in the history of the world when society deemed it fashionable to dress in mutilated clothes that imitate what desperately disadvantaged people, like the homeless, are forced to wear. What a mockery!

For those who don’t want to buy pre-ripped jeans, they can shred a pair of their own. There are plenty of YouTube DIY videos on that. That may be a better option but it still means joining in a senseless trend.

The look is ripping through other garments; it is also the in-thing to wear tops and shorts with holes, frayed edges and loose threads.

So is this a sign of our times?

Has our world, already losing its marbles grappling with mind-boggling issues like crackpot leaders, corrupt governments, diminishing resources, climate change, melting polar ice caps and terrorism, gone so off kilter that it is now cool, stylish and “edgy” to dress like the poor? Please, enough of this demented denim disaster.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 31 May 2017
The ugliest, stupidest fashion trend ever
Aunty, JUNE H. L. WONG, learnt a lot from videos like How It’s Made Jeans (https://youtu.be/C8vA0UwLS70) and How Denim Jeans Are Made (https://youtu.be/f6Cmx4bjA7c) and was surprised robots haven’t taken over the whole process yet.

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the words of philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard

HOW many calories does one need to survive a day at the Penang state assembly? Thousands, going by the plethora of food served.

A mini food festival goes on there for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and supper.

This is not unique. My fellow journalists in Kedah, Terengganu, Perak and Melaka confirmed that meals go with their assemblies, too.

But the Penang state assembly’s daily menus can raise an eyebrow.

Last year, we once had durians. After that, assemblymen kept burping in the august House. Perhaps not such a good idea on hindsight.

On one morning at the just concluded meeting, cooks whipped up fresh roti canai and tosai, expertly flipping the roti canai dough and spreading the tosai batter onto the grill at the rear of the assembly building.

The cooks said they were making 400 roti canai and 400 tosai. I ate four roti canai (they were very nice and not too oily, okay?).

That same afternoon, for tea, the motorcycle-powered apom balik cart from Downing Street arrived and made hundreds of crushed groundnuts and sweet corn apom balik for everyone.

Also served was ais kacang topped with vanilla ice cream. I ate two bowls of that and two apom balik.

Speaker Datuk Law Choo Kiang told me beef is never ever served, out of regard for Hindus. Pork is also out, to respect Muslims.

He said the caterer proposed the menu and he usually approved it.

He said assemblymen and government department heads could be fussy, filling out the meals questionnaire after the assembly adjourns sine die with long comments.

Caterer Jamal Damanhoori confessed that they wanted to be well-fed.

He tried serving pizza for dinner once and people complained because “it wasn’t heavy enough and couldn’t last them till supper”.

Last year, Jamal brought in basin-loads of the popular mee goreng sotong from the Esplanade Park food court across the street for dinner and everyone ate festively.

The mild F&B excesses of our state assembly are a must. Everyone involved works 12 to 14 hours each day, with little time to step out for meals.

While assemblymen wrangle in the hall, a large workforce must scramble outside to get the little things done.

One group frantically processing information in the state assembly that I respect is the Hansard reporters.

Their job is to transcribe every word uttered by every assemblymen in the house. I wonder how they peel through all that incoherent hollering.

When many assemblymen yell at once, their microphones amalgamate their cries into an unintelligible roar, loud enough to damage the sound speakers outside. I think the dining room speakers are shot already, by the way.

Once, what was said in the British Parliament was top secret. Journalists furtively wrote about the proceedings but in 1809, Thomas Curson Hansard openly published William Cobbett’s ‘Parliamentary Debates’. He kept publishing the periodical even when it caused him to be jailed for three months in 1810. It eventually became the ‘Hansard Parliamentary Debates’.

In 1909, a century later, the British Parliament took over the publication.

This transcription system is now the global benchmark of almost every legislature worldwide, and the texts are simply called the Hansard.

Yes. Those calories are crucial in upholding the separation of powers in Penang.

The legislature is what we need to keep the state government in check, and every time I am at the state assembly, I remember the words of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855):

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion...”.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 30 May 2017
A hearty serving of politics and food

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a feudal monarchy that holds no elections / Hassan Rouhani, winning re-election

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) − For Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, winning re-election may have been the easy part.

His wide-margin victory over a hard-line rival shows a majority of Iranian voters prefer his promises of greater liberalization at home and deeper engagement with the world.

It is a win that brings hope to Iran’s reform-minded urbanites and bulging youth population, who long to see their country move past its image as an oppressive and insular nation cut off from the West. That was clear from the throngs of chanting, clapping and dancing supporters who poured into Tehran’s streets to celebrate his victory.

“I hope we can enjoy more freedom and security in the next four years,” said one, Ramin Mirzai, a 21-year-old Tehran University student.

“I expect Rouhani to lift the house arrest” of opposition leaders, said another, drafting technician Farnoosh Kazemi, 26. “Work with neighboring and other international countries to make a better atmosphere in the country. We need more investment.”

Meeting those expectations will be no simple task.

Among his toughest challenges will be to turn around the OPEC producer’s sputtering economy.

Hard-line critics in parliament and elsewhere berated his administration as it worked to secure the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran accept curbs on its contested nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. They argued it gave away too much for too little.

The economy has improved since the deal took effect last year. But to many ordinary Iranians, the hard-liners’ argument rings true.

Although Rouhani scored some wins in the deal, including multibillion-dollar commercial aircraft agreements, the economy remains hobbled by excessive state control, a prolonged slump in global oil prices and extensive non-nuclear sanctions still in place. Unemployment is in the double-digits. Nearly a third of young people are out of work.

Foreign banks, wary of running afoul of continuing sanctions, remain wary of processing financial transactions involving Iran, let alone lending to or investing in Iranian companies.

“It’s a kind of conditional lifting of sanctions,” complained Shahabedin Yasemi, an executive at Tehran-based mining company Sabanour. “If borders were open, foreign investors would dare to come and start something here.”

Rouhani also pushed boundaries during the campaign by taking unusually pointed swipes at hard-liners within the Iranian establishment.

During one presidential debate, he criticized the launch of a ballistic missile bearing the words “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew − an implicit critique of the Revolutionary Guard that controls the missile program.

It is a delicate path. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Guard has grown into an immensely powerful force with its own navy and foreign operations arm. It controls key domestic sites including the country’s airports.

The Guard also runs a vast, intertwined network of lucrative businesses that could suffer from economic reforms aimed at improving the economy.

That kind of power enables the Guard to sabotage a sitting president’s agenda with embarrassing displays like the missile launch or harassing U.S. Navy ships transiting the Persian Gulf.

It’s not letting up either. The Guard just this week boasted that it opened a third underground ballistic missile production site, mocking the threat of sanctions by saying it has no concern about “U.S. businessmen’s fears.”

Rouhani, no doubt mindful of the Guard’s power, made a point of flattering the force and other conservative power centers such as the Basij volunteer militia during his first postelection news conference.

“The people say no to the downfall of the supreme leader, Guard, Basij and armed forces, because they belong to the entire Iranian nation,” he said.

He also took care not to strain ties with another bastion of hard-line power: the country’s judiciary. As with the Guard, Iran’s president has no direct control over the courts.

That powerlessness is made clear whenever the jailing of Iranian dual nationals ratchets up tension with the West, like the 2014 detention of Iranian-American reporter Jason Rezaian. Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, at the time called the Washington Post journalist a fair reporter while expressing hope the case could be resolved.

Rezaian nonetheless ended up being tried by one of Iran’s toughest judges and convicted of charges including espionage in a closed-door trial. He was eventually released in a prisoner swap with the U.S.

The judiciary’s influence could also make it hard for Rouhani to see through another of his supporters’ goals: securing the release of Green Movement opposition leaders confined to house arrest following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

Rouhani’s supporters frequently broke out in chants supporting detained reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi at recent rallies supporting the president.

Rouhani made clear after the election he remains concerned about the detentions. But he also acknowledged his limits, saying that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government each “have to work within their frameworks.”

Sitting above everything is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, arguably the biggest check on Rouhani. Khamenei has the final say on all state matters. He is not known for his embrace of major reform.

“Khamenei and conservatives in his office still run the show, are close to vested interests, and will make structural change difficult,” Iran watcher Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, wrote shortly after Rouhani’s win.

So too could U.S. President Donald Trump’s renewed push to isolate Iran − a policy likely to embolden hard-liners.

Rouhani seems well aware of that threat. During his news conference this week, he leavened talk of international outreach “based on mutual respect ... and mutual interests” with some biting barbs aimed at the U.S. − perhaps to outdo the hard-liners themselves.

“The U.S. leaders should know that whenever we need missile tests ... we will test. We will not wait for them and their permission,” he said.

As for the Trump administration? He said he was “waiting for this government to become stable intellectually” before making a judgment.

The Washington Post, Published: May 25, 2017
AP Analysis: Rouhani’s hardest challenge may be Iran’s hopes
By Adam Schreck
Schreck is a regional news director for The Associated Press, overseeing coverage of Iran and six Gulf Arab countries. He covered the 2017 Iranian presidential election from Tehran.

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The Great Father comes to Saudi Arabia

The Great White Father came to Saudi Arabia last week to harangue some 50 Arab and African despots on the glories of Trumpism, democracy and the need to fight what the Americans call terrorism.

Having covered the Mideast for many decades, I cannot think of a more bizarre or comical spectacle. Here was Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, hosting the glad-handing US president who hates Islam and the Mideast with irrational passion.

I was amazed to learn that Trump’s speech to the Arab and African attendees had been written by pro-Israel ideologue Stephen Miller, a young senior White House staffer from California who is an extreme Zionist. How very bizarre.

Not only that, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, who are also strongly pro-Israel, were with him. So too was the powerful commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, another ardent pro-Israel cabinet member with whom I spent a weekend last year. Billionaire Ross performed the traditional Saudi sword dance with skill and verve.

Listening to Trump and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, blast Iran as the font of terrorism provided another big joke. Trump’s tirade against Tehran was delivered in Saudi Arabia, a feudal monarchy that holds no elections, cuts off the heads of some 80-90 people annually, and treats women like cattle. While claiming to be the leader of the Muslim world, the Saudi royal family funds mayhem and extreme Muslim obscurantism through the region. The current wave of primitive violence by some self-professed Muslims – ISIS being the leader – was originally funded and guided by the Saudis in a covert struggle to combat revolutionary Iran. I saw this happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let’s recall 15 of the 18 men who attacked the US on 9/11 were Saudis.

Iran has the freest political system in the Mideast except for Israel). Iranian women have rights and political freedoms that are utterly unknown in Saudi Arabia. Iran just held a fair and open national election in which moderates won. Compare this to Saudi Arabia’s medieval Bedouin society. I was once arrested by the religious police in Jeddah just for walking down a street with an Egyptian lady.

Today, US and British equipped Saudi forces are laying waste to wretched Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation. As a result of a Saudi air, land and sea blockade, the UN now reports that famine has gripped large parts of Yemen. US and British technicians are keeping the Saudi air force flying; the US and Britain supply the bombs.

President Trump arrived with a bag of $110 billion worth of arms (some already approved by the Obama administration), and a promise of $350 billion worth in ten years. There was nothing new about this arms bazaar: for over a decade the Saudis have bought warehouses of US arms in exchange for keeping oil prices low and fronting for US interests in the Muslim world. Most of these arms remain in storage as the Saudis don’t know how to use them.

Many of America’s most important arms makers are located in politically important US states. The Saudis were so deeply in bed with the Republicans that their former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, was known to one and all as ‘Bandar Bush.’

Saudi money and influence has flowed far and wide across the US political landscape.

That’s how the Saudis get away with mass killing in Yemen, funding ISIS and ravaging Syria with hardly any peeps of protest from Congress.

By now, it’s perfectly clear that the long secret relationship between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates has finally come into the open. Israel and its rich Arab friends all hate Iran, they oppose Palestinian rights, and fear revolution in the Arab world.

The two most reactionary Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are now close allies, though they compete over who will lead the Arab world. Neither despotic regime has any right to do so. Trump lauded the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sissi who overthrew Egypt’s first ever democratically elected government (with Saudi help), gunned down hundreds of protestors, jailed and tortured thousands. Suspects in Egypt are routinely subjected to savage beatings and anal rape.

As I tried to explain in my second book, ‘American Raj,’ the brutal, corrupt regimes we westerners have imposed on the Arab world and Africa are the main cause of what we call ‘terrorism.’ So too the wars we have waged in the region to impose our will and economic exploitation. It’s blowback, pure and simple. So-called terrorism is not at all about Islam as our politicians, led by Trump of Arabia, falsely claim.

But no shoes were thrown at Trump by his audience. They were too scared of their heads being cut off by our democratic ally.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

This post is in: Saudi Arabia, USA

May 27, 2017
By Eric Margolis

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Bigger role for Japan ?

RECENT developments in Malaysia's international economic policy must be of interest to Japan.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak's working visit to China on May 12 was surely watched closely by Japan. Tokyo must be trying to unwrap what lies within this trip with a view to discerning the implications.

Najib was unapologetic about his choice of China as an investment partner and his determination to launch infrastructure projects in Malaysia with its assistance.

If China's past records are to be set aside, it does not matter whether China, the US, or even Zimbabwe build Malaysia's mega projects; all would be fine so long as the financing is in Malaysia's favour, jobs are created for Malaysians and the economy grows. But nothing is as straightforward as that. Besides, China's ambitions in the global landscape are clear – China seeks to establish a centre of gravity of its own – and this alters the complexion of China's grand initiatives as it also tinges Malaysia's attempts to tilt closer to the Eastern giant.

Why does Malaysia's tilt to China matter to Japan? For one, Japan has had a long and comfortable relationship with Malaysia. Japan has been a partner in Malaysia's development history. Right from the late 1950s, Japan has assisted Malaysia in innumerable ways through its many agencies, the Japan International Cooperation Agency being one of them.

Japanese foreign direct investment in Penang in the 1960s helped establish the country as a hub for the electrical and electronics industry. Japanese manufacturers in the E&E and automotive sectors have been committed investors in Malaysia. The "Look East" policy that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad heralded marked the zenith of Malaysia-Japan ties. The extent of Japanese involvement in Proton may have come as a disappointment to Mahathir, but that did not mar the relationship. In the context of this background, it is only natural that they be worried if their business interests can continue to enjoy good days.

Following the turn of the century Japan may have turned towards China and Africa. This is not to say that Malaysia was discarded; it may have lost the spotlight during that period since there were more rewarding and fresh opportunities in other countries.

But now the situation has changed. The question for Japan is whether it has changed too much.

Malaysia is tightly caught up with China. Innumerable joint ventures are in the works. Some exciting and possibly high yielding projects have been signed between Malaysia and China, with, perhaps, more to follow. A project like the Digital Free Trade Zone is not within Japan's expertise on the software side, but the communication, electrical and electronic aspects are up its alley. Other infrastructure projects could be undertaken by Japanese companies.

In many areas its expertise is as good as that of China's, maybe with a longer history of experience. It was reported that Japan failed to clinch the Bandar Malaysia deal. However, it is expanding its efforts to win the proposed 350km Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail.

The new kid on the block could grapple with the technological giant and bring it down on the mat. Japan will have to review its policy towards Malaysia. It will have to be sprightly in its moves.

Some of the strategies that China can follow in its dealings with Malaysia are ruled out for Japan because it has to face a more demanding parliament. But other actions are possible and they must be taken up with more verve. This is necessary as the competitive pressures increase.

Japan must take and be seen to be taking a more active interest in Malaysia, guiding its path to developed country status. There is no doubt that JICA, for instance, has assisted Malaysian companies. New avenues must be identified that are in line with national development goals. The needs of the private sector, specifically the SME sector, have to be identified and their requirements served.

Japanese companies can contribute towards technology transfer, technology upgrading and research and development. This can be done by establishing research and high-tech training centres. It will have to serve defined markets, for instance, the automotive or air-condition industries.

Collaboration with third party countries will also be very useful. Japan can collaborate with India, for example, to provide expertise and skill-upgrading in space technology. Joint ventures with Australia can, in a similar vein, be explored.

At a softer, but no less effective level, Japan can set up research centres in Malaysia that will explore science and technology policy, national security, trade and economic cooperation.

Japan's involvement in Malaysia has to change course. It is seen as a passive executor of US policies. This is insufficient; it has to be seen as having a mind of its own and having an interest in guiding Malaysia towards developed country status. The image of Japanese companies in Malaysia is one of MNCs that are here for their self-interest. The corporate social/national responsibility component has to be stepped-up and given more prominence.

It is only with greater presence and one that is more visible that Japan will be able to stand out as a partner in Malaysia's development.
The competition with China cannot be won only with lower prices; there are other aspects that have to be tapped.

The Sun DAily, Last updated on 30 May 2017 - 07:40am
Bigger role for Japan?
By Dr Shankaran Nambiar

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Reporting From Riace, Southern Italy


From the kitchen of their new apartment, Mohammed Ali and Kinda Nonoo watched their children run across a rooftop terrace with a view of the rolling green hills of southern Italy. They could see a shining sliver of the Mediterranean Sea, four miles away.

The tranquility of the scene was a marked change from war-torn Aleppo, Syria, which Ali and his family had fled nearly five years ago, and the chaotic situation they had found in Lebanon afterward.

And unlike in Lebanon, where the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees were seen as pulling jobs away from the local population, leaders in this Italian community were pinning their hopes on the refugees helping to rebuild its economy.

The family from Aleppo had landed in the southern province of Reggio Calabria, an area that young Italians have largely abandoned in search of better economic opportunities in the north and abroad, leaving behind shuttered schools and fallow fields. In the four-story building the Syrian family now occupied, the two floors below were empty.

Over the last decade, a flood of migrants and refugees have begun to replace the Italians who left. From 2008 to 2013, the percentage of foreign migrant workers in the Italian farm industry nearly doubled to 37% from 19%, according to the National Institute of Agricultural Economics.

The town of Riace, where Ali and his family settled when they first arrived in Italy, has garnered international attention in recent years for making a deliberate effort to attract migrants from around the world. Immigrants from more than 20 countries now make up one-third of the town’s population of 1,500, said Mayor Domenico Lucano.

A safer journey

The transition, for some, has not been easy.

The Syrian couple and their five children arrived in Italy in late February via the “humanitarian corridors” program launched a year ago by a pair of nongovernmental organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church and a coalition of Protestant churches.

The project, funded by the money Italian citizens divert from their taxes to the churches, has brought about 800 Syrian refugees from Lebanon to communities throughout Italy since February 2016. It will bring 200 more refugees from Lebanon and possibly Morocco, along with about 500 Africans now living in Ethiopia.

Many new arrivals cross the Mediterranean on smuggler boats − and many more don’t make it. Last year, more than 5,000 people died in the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The main aim of the new humanitarian corridors project was to prevent refugees from attempting the dangerous sea crossing, said Paolo Naso of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, one of the architects of the program.

Under the new initiative, the church organizations fly the refugees to Rome and take them to their new homes in communities around the country.

Naso and others hope, in part, that a new generation of workers from abroad could help replace the nation’s shrinking workforce if they can be integrated into Italian society. “Our population is aging and declining and the decay is very severe, especially in the rural areas,” he said.

Italy has taken in fewer than 1,000 refugees through the official U.N. resettlement program since 2015, but has seen much larger numbers arriving in smuggler boats.

The arrivals have been met with some surges of anti-immigrant sentiment. Last year, residents of the central town of Gorino put up barricades to block the arrival of a small group of refugee women. But migrants and refugees have also had an influential defender in Pope Francis, who has brought a few Syrian refugees to the Vatican and urged Catholic parishes to take in more.

In Riace, the migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and, now, Syria. Immigrants herd sheep in the rolling hills surrounding the town, drive tractors on the winding road leading up to it, sweep the streets in the town square and work alongside Italian residents in the handful of artisan shops in the town’s center.

A ‘humane alternative’

The push to welcome migrants earned Lucano, the mayor, a spot on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders last year.

“We are basically proposing a humane alternative,” the mayor said in an interview at Riace’s City Hall. “This is the message we are sending to this world where closures and barriers are prevailing.”

On a recent afternoon, Gabriel Effah, a Ghanaian who came in a smuggler’s boat from Libya eight months ago, sat on a bench outside the town’s park chatting with a friend as a gaggle of newly arrived African teenagers passed by on the road leading into the town’s center.

“Bambinos,” Effah said, using his new Italian. “Every day people come.”

Stella Awini, 30, also from Ghana, left her young son with relatives and made the sea journey three years ago. After the boat landed on the island of Lampedusa, police brought her to Riace. When she first arrived, she swept the streets, then helped supervise children in the local school until it closed because of a lack of enrollment. Now she cooks for unaccompanied minors living in a group home.

“The life in Riace is very good for me,” she said. “They take immigrants as their own, as Italian people.”

About 100 of the migrants in Riace have settled as long-term residents, Lucano said. Others, like the newly arrived Syrian families, find the situation less welcoming and move on.

Tears of happiness

When Ali and Nonoo unloaded their luggage at the airport in Beirut in preparation for their flight to Italy, their 15-year-old daughter, Mais, broke down in tears of happiness and relief.

In Aleppo, Mais had watched her aunt − Ali’s sister − and five cousins die in an airstrike below the family’s apartment.

Ali and his family fled to Lebanon, where they escaped the bombs, but not all violence. Mais’ brother Ali, a plump and cheerful 14-year-old, bears a scar below one knee from a knife attack by a group of older boys. The young men were affiliated with Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim political party and militia that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad and sees the refugees as enemies, Nonoo said.

“There was no security there, never, never,” she said. “Even if we wanted to go out to see the doctor, we tried to make sure no one would see us. Here, the first thing that has improved is that there is security.”

But in other ways, the transition has been difficult. In Riace, few of the other immigrants spoke Arabic, and the family didn’t get along with the two Ethiopians who served as interpreters and go-betweens with the local authorities.

After a month in Riace, Ali and his family asked to be relocated to a nearby town, Gioiosa Ionica, where they joined another Syrian family.

Gioiosa Ionica has a smaller immigrant population − about 100 among 7,000 inhabitants − but some local leaders are hoping to attract more.

Maurizio Zavaglia, president of the town council, hopes the Syrian families and other migrants will help revive the local farming industry and bring in tourists looking for a quiet retreat amid vineyards and olive groves.

“Before, the people who came here stayed for just a little time because after a while they saw the condition of this area, that we are not very rich, there is a high rate of unemployment,” he said. “After a while they went, some to Germany, Switzerland, all over. The challenge with these families is to give them a sense of stability and a longer permanency.”

‘My head is hurting’

In Gioiosa Ionica, Ali and Nonoo said, the people were kind, but the family still felt isolated, and the language barrier became an additional problem as Mais was suffering from a perplexing medical issue. In Riace, she had begun to complain of persistent severe headaches and dizziness. Eventually, the family was able to get her to a hospital, where a doctor gave her medication. It didn’t help.

A week after the move to Gioiosa Ionica, Mais collapsed in the hallway one afternoon, screaming, “My head is hurting me!” Zavaglia and an Italian friend happened to be present. The Italians called paramedics, who took the girl to a hospital in another town.

The family came home several hours later with a referral to another hospital and no answer to what was causing the problem.

The next day, with the children playing on the terrace after dinner, Ali and Nonoo talked anxiously about the difficulty of accessing medical care in the remote area and in another language, and about the prospects of finding work that would sustain them once they stop receiving the small amount of aid they were getting via the program.

In Syria, Ali had run a restaurant and bakery. He hoped to do the same in Italy, but without enough money or a grasp of Italian, the prospect seemed far-fetched.

“We can work, but without the language it’s difficult,” Nonoo said. “We love Italy and the Italian people and the language, but if they give us low wages, I don’t know.”

Could they go to Canada instead? Ali asked. Or Germany?

But the children were happy with their new home. In Lebanon, they hadn’t gone to school for most of the last five years. Now after a few weeks of Italian lessons, they had learned to rattle off numbers, months, names of fruits and vegetables and were excited to start attending the local public school.

“It’s much better here,” said Ali, the couple’s son. “Here, there is hope.”

A Moroccan man passing by as the boy and one of his younger sisters stood outside a neighbor’s house one afternoon stopped and asked in Arabic, “Are you Arab?”

Yes, Ali told him, from Syria.

“Thank God for your safety,” the man said, and smiled as he continued down the otherwise empty street.

Los Angeles Times, Published: May 1, 2017 - 3:00 am

A small town in Italy was losing population.

Now Syrian refugees are key to its survival

By Abby Sewell

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Reporting From Mosul, Iraq


It is only days before he is due to return home on leave, and commanders have sent him behind enemy lines for one last mission: take some of the explosives the Iraqi army has salvaged from Islamic State and resow them like deadly seeds in the no man’s land they call ard al haram − the forbidden zone.

Islamic State infiltrators have been stealthily crossing through the deserted stretch of abandoned homes and barricaded businesses to mount attacks against Iraqi troops; the explosives are meant to stop them.

Like many young soldiers, Wissam Daoud, a bomb technician with the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Division, has been fighting alongside his army colleagues for three years to drive the militants out. He has tracked the evolution of their explosives through a half dozen offensives, and can identify them at a glance: the lemsawi, modified mortar rockets; kamala, which can be triggered remotely or by applying pressure; bottle bombs attached to doors; plasma bombs camouflaged as household items or debris.

His job is to render them harmless, or turn them back against the enemy, or die trying.

Daoud’s army is no longer the one that turned and fled when fast-moving jihadi militants seized Mosul in 2014. Just as the Iraqi military has hardened through training and combat, so has he.

Dying in an explosion is no longer the 25-year-old Daoud’s worst fear. That, he’s come to realize, would be painless − he carries an Iraqi flag in his pants pocket, to be draped over his body should the need arise.

What Daoud has learned to fear is a sniper’s bullet. Bombs you can see. Snipers are elusive. Their bullets leave soldiers bedridden, permanently disabled.

“Better to die than to be injured,” Daoud says. “No one cares about you in Iraq when you are injured.”

More than a dozen of his friends have been shot by snipers, and he knows how it goes. Bomb defusers are paid about $1,000 a month, the same as other soldiers, and when they’re injured and off duty, the pay gets reduced. Daoud has helped cover injured comrades’ hospital bills, and has still seen them languish at home, unable to afford surgeries, medicine and other care the government would not provide.

Daoud’s father was also a bomb defuser; he lost three fingers during the bloody war with Iran in the 1980s. He told Daoud not to come home injured. They laughed, but neither considered it a joke.

Iraqi commanders have refused to release military casualty figures since the Mosul offensive started Oct. 17, saying they’re bad for morale. But Daoud knows they are high: 200 of his friends have died, many of them young defusers with families.

Daoud prepares his 10-man team for the possibility of a bad outcome each time they set out. “Either I will hold you,” he tells them, “or you will hold me.”

His longtime mentor will be shot by a sniper on an upcoming mission. His assistant will die before his eyes. And Daoud, a devout Shiite Muslim who joined the military out of religious duty, will have to decide the price he is willing to pay to defeat the elusive, black-flagged Sunni extremists who have declared his country their caliphate.

Since the offensive to retake Mosul started last fall, Daoud has defused hundreds of incendiary devices. He kept them around the abandoned home where his unit was billeted at the edge of West Mosul.

Before setting off for the forbidden zone, Daoud dumped a salvaged suicide belt next to his bed, set a sausage-shaped IED in the living room and stacked mortar rounds by the front door. He paused to demonstrate Islamic State bomb triggers fashioned from syringes and clear plastic fishing line. This is why he cautions children he sees in freed areas of west Mosul not to play with junk they find in abandoned storefronts.

“One small mistake,” said the shaggy haired, chain-smoking, veteran bomb technician, “and you’re dead.”

Daoud’s two brothers are also bomb defusers. He grew up tinkering with electronics in Baghdad, later volunteering to defuse bombs militants planted in his blue-collar Shaab neighborhood.

West Mosul’s bombs have been the toughest and most plentiful of any offensive so far, he said.

“Many bombs here are hard to see,” he said, picking up bomb triggers his team salvaged from booby-trapped homes. “Soldiers can’t find them. We call them ‘stupid traps.’ Clear plastic wire is attached to a door. You won’t see it until you pull it with your hand or your head.”

Daoud recommends handling a bomb like a baby (“Don’t wake it!”) or a dog (“Don’t frighten it!”).

He has seen plenty of civilians killed by Islamic State explosives. In January, his team was pinned down by snipers while trying to rescue a family fleeing east Mosul, who then set off a booby trap. He found their bodies in the street, including a newborn.

Daoud has been injured twice. Two years ago, he stepped on a bomb while fleeing an Islamic State sniper south of Mosul in Baiji, breaking bones in his chest. He still has trouble sleeping because of the injury. More recently, he cut his right leg while destroying a bomb he found at west Mosul airport.

Before Daoud ventured into the forbidden zone, his mother called him, distraught. She’d just seen the bodies of several soldiers killed in Mosul returned to neighbors.

“I’m worried about you,” she sobbed. “I saw on the TV the troops reached Ashur Hotel.”

Daoud had been at the hotel the day before, defusing bombs. That morning, his team had removed a half dozen mortar rounds and homemade bombs from a Mosul house, and he had joked, “If I keep doing this, I won’t ever have any babies!” He was still single, having postponed marriage until after Iraqi forces recapture Mosul.

But he didn’t want his mother to worry. So he smiled, and reassured her in a soft voice that he was not on the front lines.

On the day things fell apart in the forbidden zone, Daoud was defusing bombs in a hotel in what was once Mosul’s city center.

Later, smoking in his bedroom, he would recall how it started.

By 4 p.m., he was itching to leave, afraid militants were lurking nearby.

“I think it’s time to go back,” he told his commander.

But Maj. Hussam Hashash, 38, chubby and balding with a thick mustache, wanted to stay another half hour to check a house.

Daoud’s fresh-faced mentor, Emir Abdel Mehdi, 24, suggested they avoid approaching the house from the street. So they slipped in through a hole in the wall. Soldiers stood guard outside.

The defusing team advanced in a line, wary of militants to their right.

Then came the shots − from the left.

Mehdi was hit in the left hand and leg. Before Daoud could reach him, sniper fire dislodged a cinder block, pinning Mehdi to the ground. As Daoud watched, his mentor was shot again, in the belly.

Daoud, the major and his slender young assistant, Ali Motar, 36, ran to the wounded soldier. They freed, then carried Mehdi through another hole in a wall to safety while calling for help on their radios.

The assistant was shot in the head as he stood next to Daoud in the house. He died almost immediately.

“Ali was slow,” Daoud later recalled. “That’s when the sniper shot him.”

Mehdi was bleeding heavily. Daoud had to slap his mentor’s face to keep him from losing consciousness.

He called an American officer he knew at the joint U.S.-Iraqi military base in nearby Qayyarah. Daoud often helped U.S. forces defuse bombs in his spare time, and had gotten to know the U.S. soldiers. If anything ever happens to a member of your team, the officer had said, call me.

Mehdi was more than just a battle buddy: He had taught Daoud the job, then named his 4-year-old son after him.

Now Daoud was asking the American officer if he could bring Mehdi to the base’s clinic. The officer agreed. Mehdi was still alive when they arrived.

He survived. Daoud and his teammates told the medics to notify Motar’s young wife that he had not.

“We didn’t have the courage,” Daoud said later, feeling guilty for having brought the assistant with him.

Mehdi was sent home to Baghdad for surgery.

Days later, Daoud headed home, too. He carried with him the backpacks of his injured and fallen colleagues, to deliver to their families.

Daoud found Mehdi propped up on a borrowed hospital bed in his family’s bare living room near the military base in Taji, a poor area north of Baghdad. Mehdi was coughing, sleepless, barely able to eat.

Daoud unfurled his friend’s Iraqi flag and draped it over him. Then he sat by his side, prayer beads looped through his fingers, beneath a portrait of the Shiite martyr Hussein ibn Ali. He took Mehdi’s face in both hands and prayed.

“Cure him,” he said, quietly. “Because nobody is helping.”

Mehdi, who worked for seven years as an interpreter for U.S. forces at the nearby base, had paid more than $500 for three surgeries with assistance from Daoud and other soldiers. But the injured defuser still could not move his left leg. He needed another surgery, doctors said.

Sons Wissam, 4, and Muntadar, 2, toddled to their father’s side. Mehdi predicted the baby would one day be a defuser, too.

Daoud had been sharing tips with newly trained defusers during his time at home, and promised to teach Muntadar. He slipped Mehdi’s father some cash before leaving to visit another injured friend across town in a neighborhood called Hurriya, “Freedom.” On the way, he passed several signs honoring fallen soldiers.

“Can you feel this?” Daoud asked the injured man after he arrived, touching the fingers of his bandaged right hand.

Ali Raad Atta’s hand had been nearly blown off. He had spent nearly $2,000 on surgeries. Metal pins jutted from the 20-year-old’s arm. Several of his fingers were black. He said he could feel all but one.

Atta, who had been employed as a driver, was injured after he volunteered to defuse a bomb on the first floor of a west Mosul hotel. Daoud had been downstairs, dismantling bombs in the basement.

“We were in a hurry to take control. We had to clear it quickly. We could see Daesh in the street shooting at us,” Atta recalled, using a common Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“You should have left,” Daoud said quietly.

“We were under pressure. There was fire,” Atta said.

“The first mistake is the last mistake,” Daoud said, and he wasn’t just talking about Atta: He blamed himself and his team for not stopping the young driver.

Before Atta had been injured, a general had seen him defuse a bomb and awarded him about $2,000 plus a bedroom set. Iraqi officials sometimes give defusers cash, furniture, even property if they spot them doing something daring.

But the payments don’t help with spiraling medical bills. Those with disabling injuries like Atta’s can apply for a pension, but if they’re young with few years of experience, they won’t receive much. Atta said he knows a veteran who recently sold his phone to pay for medicine. Atta’s brother said the family was prepared to sell their house to save his hand.

Daoud promised to help. Before he left, they noticed a new posting on Facebook: A fellow soldier who had visited Atta in the hospital had been killed by a car bomb in Mosul. His family couldn’t afford to pick up the body. Daoud said his friends would.

On the highway south of Baghdad, Daoud turned up the radio when a popular song came on: “I miss Mosul,” it went. “Take me back, whether I’m wrapped in the flag or carry it.”

He pulled into the massive cemetery in Najaf known as Wadi Salam − “Valley of Peace” − and began threading his way through fresh graves.

Already the largest in the world with more than 5 million plots, the cemetery is adding an average of 20 Mosul soldiers’ graves a day, sometimes up to 190, a gravedigger said.

Making his way through the resting places of fallen comrades, Daoud recalled how each one had landed there. One was cut in half by a blast after sitting on a bomb, two others were blown apart when they triggered a booby-trapped house.

“I couldn’t save them,” he said, falling silent as birds chirped from the rafters of the mausoleum.

Later, Daoud visited his family plot and rubbed the polished wood doors of the nearby shrine of Imam Ali, among the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims. Outside the golden shrine, Daoud paused to chat with vendors selling winding sheets for burial. He already had his.

Soon after, as he prepared to return home, Daoud’s phone rang with bad news.

“No, no, no!” he shouted, and then, “Did they get the body yet? Are they in Najaf?”

The body of the latest of Daoud’s friends to be killed in Mosul had not reached Baghdad yet.

Daoud had just talked to the soldier, Mustafa Ali Naji, by phone that morning: He was supposed to replace him in Mosul. But before Daoud returned from leave, the 28-year-old had been killed defusing a mortar.

Daoud called the man’s family, who said they couldn’t afford a funeral.

“He was killed for the government, but there’s not enough money to bury him,” Daoud fumed as he headed for the military base where the body would be delivered.

Scores of empty wooden coffins lined the area where relatives and friends awaited the bodies.

“Maybe I will be like him, a martyr,” Daoud said. “That’s how it is here. We have to accept it. I’m going to the front lines the day after tomorrow.”

The body arrived, and the motorcade left for Naji’s neighborhood of Utafiyah on the banks of the Tigris River. Military truck lights flashed. Sirens blared. Bystanders stopped to wave.

In the blue-collar neighborhood, hundreds of families lined the streets. Daoud was smiling as he clambered out to join the swelling procession. A trumpet crooned traditional upbeat funeral music as mourners marched, a few firing automatic rifles into the night sky.

Daoud would not weep until he was driving back over the river, going home to pack. For his work in the forbidden zone, he had received a promotion to first sergeant, commander of the defusing team. But he had made a decision: He didn’t want to return. He called his commanders to say he would not be going back.

Then the major called. He had a new group of novice defusers arriving soon. He needed help training them. Daoud felt responsible. And so, despite his misgivings, he agreed.

He returned to Mosul.

Los Angeles Times, Published: MAY 5, 2017

Dismantle bombs − or die trying.

The life of a bomb defuser in Iraq


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'Dubai of Malaysia' project

ALOR SETAR: The decision by the Depart-ment of Environment (DoE) to issue a stop-work order to the developer of a RM1.2bil coastal reclamation project dubbed “The Dubai of Malaysia” in Kuala Kedah is a good move, says environmentalist group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).

SAM now wants the department to reject the Environment Impact Assessment report and scrap the project.

In a statement issued by its president SM Mohamed Idris, SAM said it had brought this matter up with the DoE in mid-March after discovering that reclamation work for the Aman Laut project had started even while the EIA was being displayed for public review.

The ambitious Aman Laut project compri-ses high-end bungalows, chic condominiums, malls and luxury eateries, which will radically change the skyline beside the seafront.

“The Kedah state government, as the landowner, should have adhered to environmental laws and not start the project before getting all the approval,” he added.

SM Mohamed said the EIA report states mitigation measures would be undertaken to ensure that the marine resources are not affected by the reclamation.

However, he added that the project would lead to a total loss of mudflats and mangroves in the project site.

“In addition to threatening the fishery resources in the waters off Kuala Kedah and adversely affecting the livelihoods of fishermen, the mangroves here – the breeding grounds of marine life – will be permanently destroyed.

“The mudflat also serves as source of nu--trients for fish for a much larger area.

“Since the estimated 5.6ha of mudflat habitat that would be lost because of the proposed reclamation project here serves as a source of nutrients for fish, all fish species would be affected,” he added.

He said the impact to the environment, specifically the coastal and marine environment, marine resources and coastal birds, would be significant.

“The coastal communities here, in particular the fishermen, have raised their objections. We call upon the DoE to reject the EIA of the proposed reclamation project,” he said.

On Sunday, DoE director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajib Che Ibrahim confirmed that his department had issued the stop-work order through a notice dated May 15.

He said the project has yet to obtain the approval of the DoE but reclamation work at the site had started.

Kedah Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yong Long said yesterday that the decision made by the federal department was temporary until further notice.

“It is a big project and the decision taken by the ministry was done to protect the coastal and sea environments in the area. This is also for the developer to comply with the pre-requirement of an EIA report before proceeding with the project,” Dr Leong said.

Meanwhile, attempts to obtain comments from the developer were futile.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 30 May 2017

‘Good move to stop project’

SAM: 'Dubai of Malaysia' will damage environment badly


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organ trafficking

A KUWAITI recipient, a Pakistani donor; an Israeli recipient, a Ukrainian donor; an American recipient, an Indian donor; and so on. The global dimensions of organ traffic-king were exposed in shocking detail at an international summit on the subject at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.

Every region, encompassing more than 50 countries, was represented. Disturbing accounts emerged of organs being traded in every corner of the world, with medical professionals, police, middlemen (or agents), immigration officials, etc, all playing a role.

There are two elements that underpin this transnational racket – greed and poverty.

There is no shortage of either in the subcontinent. A woman in Karachi looking for a liver donor for her father was horrified to find that a prospective candidate had already sold one of his kidneys.

In India, a labourer was persuaded to sell a kidney by three doctors at a private hospital who told him it “was like donating blood”. He went ahead and over time, became an agent himself.

In the Bangladeshi village of Tebaria, the body of a six-year-old boy was discovered some days after his kidnapping, with both his kidneys removed.

Yet all these countries have laws against organ trafficking.

In India, the practice has been illegal since 1994; in Bangladesh since 1999, where pu-nishment for organ trade is between three and five years’ imprisonment and a fine of around US$3,850 (RM16,000).

Pakistan’s legislative history on the issue began with an ordinance in 2007 that was legislated upon by the parliament in 2010 as the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act 2010. This law prescribes impri-sonment of up to 10 years, and loss of licence for the medical personnel involved.

The problem in all these countries, where the states do not expend themselves in protecting the poor, is lack of implementation.

That has had a number of adverse consequences, of which the situation in Pakistan is a good illustration.

For one, pushing the racket underground has made it ever more lucrative. From US$5,000 (RM21,000) earlier, transplants now cost between US$15,000 and US$20,000 (RM64,000 and RM85,000). And that is only for locals. Those who come from outside Pakistan to buy an organ and undergo the procedure here – known as transplant tourists – can expect to pay up to US$100,000 (RM427,000).

Not realising that he was speaking to an un--dercover journalist, a doctor at a Rawalpin-di hospital, long notorious for organ traffic-king, told Dawn: “Unrelated donors become a complicated issue, there are lots of legal aspects which we have to cover. Because of all this, the cost has gone up.”

A number of creative solutions have been found to evade the law in Pakistan.

The transplants usually take place in the dead of night, in rented villas where rooms are kitted out as operation theatres.

Agents, who scour the countryside looking to lure people into selling their organs, change their mobile numbers frequently and smuggle people to the locations where their transplants are to be carried out.

At the same time, the clandestine nature of the business means that the quality of transplantation has deteriorated sharply.

Dr Mustafa al-Mousawi, president of the transplantation society in Kuwait, said that most Kuwaiti patients who have been transplanted in Pakistan are sent home soon after surgery, “often with catheters and drains still in place”.

Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous for transplant patients whose immune systems are deliberately suppressed to reduce the chances of the body’s natural response of rejecting the transplanted organ.

However, the treatment meted out to the so-called donors is far worse.

These are desperately poor people, many of them bonded labourers trying to pay off crushing debts that keep them in servitude for generations.

The unscrupulous individuals in the organ trade consider them no more than mere commodities.

Unbeknown to her, Halima was three months pregnant when she sold her kidney.

However, no one bothered to give the young married woman a pregnancy test; if they did discover that she was with child, they did not bother to inform her.

Also, donors are usually dispatched – by public transport – to their home village between 48 and 72 hours after their kidneys have been harvested, with no more than a few painkillers.

If their stitches become septic, or complications occur, they are on their own.

Meanwhile, the impunity with which organ traffickers operate means that those who need a transplant often opt for purchasing an organ (sometimes at the suggestion of their doctors themselves), rather than testing for a compatible donor within the family, the legally permissible route.

Organ trade also undermines efforts by advocacy groups to promote deceased organ donation, which is the way forward to ensure that more organs become available for ethical transplantation.

Objections to deceased organ donation on religious grounds are unfounded. Many Muslim countries allow the practice. There have been a number of fatwas (edicts) by religious scholars stating that the medical procedure does not violate Islamic tenets.

Despite this, there have so far been fewer than 10 instances of deceased organ donation in Pakistan, where 150,000 people every year die of end-stage organ failure. In Bangladesh, there is no deceased organ donor programme as yet.

India, that sees 500,000 people dying each year while waiting for transplants, is showing some results, even though the overall rate of 0.5 donors per one million is far below that of many countries in the West.

In Pakistan, there have been of late some encouraging developments after the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), less prone to being compromised than the local police, acquired the mandate to take action against this crime.

On April 29, an FIA team carried out a raid on a rented house in the city of Lahore while two transplants were in progress.

The ruthless greed of the traffickers can be gauged from the fact that the doctor who was caught red-handed carrying out the operation was not even a kidney specialist; he was a plastic surgeon.
- Dawn

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 30 May 2017
Business as usual for organ traffickers
The writer heads The Dawn’s investigation unit. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Nuclear energy shows its age

HOMESTEAD: A gray dinosaur statue outside South Florida’s largest power plant is meant to symbolize two decommissioned fossil fuel reactors but it also could be seen to represent a nuclear industry crumbling under mounting costs.

Almost a decade ago, Turkey Point was aiming to become one of the country’s largest nuclear plants.

Florida Power and Light (FPL) had argued that such expansion was needed to maintain diverse energy sources and to supply Florida’s booming population for years to come while touting nuclear as a clean form of energy.

But now, just three reactors are in operation − one natural gas and two nuclear reactors, built in the 1970s.

And plans to build two more nuclear reactors − first announced in 2009 − are essentially on hold for at least four years, according to filings with the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC).

“Right now our only focus is on getting all the approvals we need,” company spokesman Peter Robbins told AFP.

“We are not buying construction materials.”

Earlier this year, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, builder of the AP1000 reactor − the model scheduled for use at plants in South Carolina and Georgia as well as Turkey Point − rattled the industry.

Both projects are now years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

“We are very closely monitoring the two new nuclear projects going on,” Robbins said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) estimates that construction on Turkey Point has been delayed until 2028 at the earliest, with costs expected to balloon to over $20 billion.

FPL has refused to publicly revise its projections at Turkey Point, for now.

“We do not think there is value in coming up with a new cost or schedule until those reactors are closer to completion,” Robbins said.

The project has been controversial from the start and casts the spotlight on wider concerns about nuclear power.

Critics have pointed to the rising seas from climate change, risks of storm surge, radioactive waste and threats to drinking water and wildlife at the site, nestled near Everglades National Park, as reasons to stop the nuclear expansion.

Complaints have also centered on the difficulty of evacuating the densely populated area around the plant in case of emergency. Miami-Dade County is home to 2.6 million people.

“Investing tens of billions of dollars in a power plant that will be underwater one day, along with the highly radioactive waste it will produce, makes no sense,” said fishing captain Dan Kipnis, one of the activists who is fighting to stop the project.

Legal challenges to the plant’s planned expansion began in 2010 and continued this month with a hearing before the Atomic Safety Board (ASB).

Over the course of the two-day hearing, environmental scientists and lawyers wrangled over whether the porous limestone in Florida could really contain wastewater injected underground, without allowing toxic chemicals to seep upward into drinking water.

Currently, Turkey Point’s two nuclear reactors use a series of cooling canals to treat wastewater.

These canals were confirmed last year to be leaking into a nearby national park, after a radioactive isotope, tritium, was found at up to 215 times the normal levels in the waters of Biscayne Bay.

The three-judge safety board panel is expected to rule by year’s end on whether an operating license should be granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Throughout Florida, FPL is expanding its solar installations and is shuttering coal plants.

Its energy mix is 70 percent natural gas, 17 percent nuclear, with the rest divided between solar, oil and coal.

Meanwhile, the ever-dropping cost of natural gas is making nuclear less attractive every day, analysts say.

“Most people think Turkey Point will never get built,” said Mark Cooper, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, referring to FPL’s proposed two new nuclear reactors.

“It turns out it was not the environmentalists, it was not the lawsuits,” Cooper told AFP.

“They could not deliver a safe, economically viable product. They could not do it in the ‘80s and they cannot do it today,” said Cooper.

“Nuclear power is a technology whose time never came.”

Arab News, Published: Monday 29 May 2017
Why nuclear could become the next ‘fossil’ fuel

To those who have watched the nuclear industry collapse, the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Corp. is nothing short of the industry’s death rattle and the final chapter in the 20th century’s deluded affair with nuclear power.

The company’s demise can only be read as decisive proof: There is no economic future in nuclear power.

For decades, Westinghouse was the goliath of nuclear reactor design and construction. Approximately half of the world’s nuclear power reactors are based on Westinghouse technology.

In 2006, when Toshiba bought Westinghouse for $5.4 billion, the seller projected that by 2020 the global market for nuclear power generation was expected to have grown by 50 percent.

Westinghouse was set to be the king of what Toshiba thought would be the golden age of nuclear power. Toshiba’s president and CEO envisioned a market where 10 large nuclear reactors would be built each year until 2020, amounting to 130 gigawatts of new reactor capacity.

Just 10 years after forecasting billions in profit, Westinghouse’s bankruptcy filing cited as much as $10 billion in debt.

As part of the new golden age, Westinghouse proposed a new, commercially unproven reactor design − the AP1000. The company touts the reactor as “the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace.”

In the U.S., four of these reactors are under construction. But the reality is this: These projects are so far behind and so over-budget that they triggered the bankruptcy of the world’s premier nuclear contractor.

The four reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina were scheduled to be completed by 2019-2020, but are seriously behind schedule. The projects are only between 30 percent to 40 percent compete.

According to a Morgan Stanley analyses, the owners of the reactors face billions of dollars in cost overruns, and with the bankruptcy, it is very possible the projects may never be completed.

In South Carolina, the completed project could be as much as $5.2 billion over budget, while Southern Co. in Georgia faces cost overruns that could reach $3.3 billion.

It is no wonder that Stan Wise, the chairman of Georgia’s state Public Service Commission, said “If I had known any of this a decade ago, we could have gone a different way.”

It was just last year when the “newest” nuclear reactor in the U.S. went online. It used 1960s technology, took 43 years to complete and cost $6.1 billion. In March of this year, the reactor went down and has yet to be fixed.

The news of Westinghouse’s death rattle comes at the same time that California’s consideration of the historic proposal to close the state’s last nuclear power plant and replace it with greenhouse gas-free renewable energy.

The agreement to close the last remaining nuclear power plant in California − Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) Diablo Canyon – was released in June 2016. The landmark agreement was a product of a proposal by PG&E and Friends of the Earth, with other environmental, labor and community groups.

As the plant goes offline, the needed power would be replaced with renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage resources free of greenhouse gasses (GHG).

The renewable energy alternatives cost less than continuing to operate the controversial, aging reactors at Diablo Canyon.

In the agreement, PG&E, which owns and operates the nuclear reactors, unions representing workers at the plant, the local communities, and environmental organizations agreed: “Orderly replacement of Diablo Canyon with GHG-free resources will be the reliable, flexible and cost-effective solution for PG&E customers.”

“Cost-effective.” Two small words, but a historic end to the perilous age of nuclear power in California.

The agreement to close Diablo Canyon sets to rest the economic question: operating outdated, aging nuclear power plants is more expensive than procuring cheaper, more efficient and cleaner technologies.

This is what 21st-century clean energy looks like. It’s cheaper, cleaner, safer and does not produce proliferation-related and terrorism-related risks of nuclear power.

What happened in California needs to be repeated across the country. The intransigent nature of nuclear power, which must operate full blast, 24 hours a day, is impeding the increased uptake of solar and wind power.

We have a technical and ethical imperative to massively increase our use of GHG-free energy to combat climate change. Renewable energy sources can and will get the job done cheaper and faster than nuclear power.

Westinghouse’s bankruptcy isn’t just the death of the nuclear industry, it is the beginning of our greener, cleaner and safer future.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, Published: April 28, 2017 - 4:35 PM
Why nuclear power has no future in California or U.S.
Moglen is senior strategic adviser at Friends of the Earth, U.S.

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Colours of China

IN late 2013, China proposed an ambitious strategy to connect two-thirds of the world’s populations via the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road sea route, later known as the Belt and Road initiative.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has said that the project would bring enormous benefits that would lead to the prosperity of the people and countries along the routes.

Almost four years on, the world’s third largest country has shown that it is not just empty talk.

From the launch of the China-Europe cargo train to Africa’s first transnational electric railway, and the assortment of products from around the world on the shelves of local stores, China is making progress in reviving the ancient Silk Road.

In his keynote speech at the opening of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation recently, Xi said the past four years have seen the increase of trade and financial activities as well as people-to-people connectivity between China and countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.

As he has pledged, the initiative would bring more pleasant surprises but what would the ordinary Chinese citizens – the working class, the da ma (elderly housewives) and da ye (elderly men) – hope to gain from it?

Backpacker Xiao Lu wants to see more countries offer visa-free privileges to the Chinese.

“It would be great if I could travel to all countries along the Belt and Road without a visa; this would save me a lot of time and money,” she said.

The young woman also believes that improving road connectivity via rail links means she could travel to more places more cheaply, compared to taking a flight.

Liu Lan hopes the project will raise the standard of living and eradicate poverty, especially in the rural mountainous regions.

The cab driver, who was not very keen on discussing the topic, is one of about 10 million bei piao in the capital city.

Bei piao refers to those who have relocated to Beijing to work or study. They make up almost half of the city’s population of over 21 million.

Liu’s wish is also what most of the bei piao want to see in the future.

Currently unemployed and in his 50s, Liu said he came to Beijing looking for a job with his son and daughter-in-law.

‘I would not want to leave if there were more opportunities back home and I was able to earn more money,” he added.

As China is such a huge country, the journey home for some people could mean a few days of travelling on various transportation modes.

Office worker Xian Yan, who said she spent more than half her salary on shopping, hopes that imported goods, especially clothing and fruits, would be cheaper.

Fruit trader Li Yunping from Urumqi told tianshannet.com, an online news portal about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the northwest of China, that he was excited and had plans to sell his fruit to the Belt and Road countries.

Li said he got to know about the Belt and Road initiative through television programmes.

“And my son suggested that we set up our online store and expand our business overseas,” he added.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, held two weeks ago, was the largest diplomatic event hosted by China.

When all eyes were trained on this ancient and modern city, proud Beijing denizens chipped in to make the event a successful one.

Volunteering to become public guides, they strived to give the best impression and memories of the city and its people to their guests.

A friendly da ma whom I met while struggling to find my way out of the winding maze of hutongs (alleyways) has lived up to the slogan “Be a good host and civilised citizen”.

Dressed in a striking yellow shirt and a red armband, this 60-ish woman had an answer to everything I asked about her hometown, from history to food and the Chinese language.

Not only did she lead me out of the lines of siheyuan (courtyard homes), a traditional type of residence in China, but she also reminded me to drink more water to beat the summer heat.

One thing she didn’t know was that I’m from Malaysia and our “summer” lasts from January to December.

Da ma thought I was from southern China and I did not correct her, a strategy used to blend in.

During the forum, there were some 9,000 of these volunteers stationed at major roads and public transport stations to provide assistance, reminding the public to adhere to traffic rules, especially the traffic light signals.

Many of them carried a small booklet, with basic English phrases such as “Welcome to Beijing”, to greet their foreign guests.

The city cleaners were also required to maintain the city’s cleanliness at its highest standard.

Retiree Madam Zhang, who is also a social worker in her community, said she had recruited her fellow friends and neighbours to volunteer for the programme.

“As the Chinese saying goes, helping others is the source of happiness,” she said. “Welcome to Beijing.”

The Star, Published: Monday, 29 May 2017
What’s in it for the man on the street?
By Beh Yuen Hui

IMAGES of the illuminated night views of Beijing during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation flooded China’s social media sites and online news channels.

A rare scene in this capital city, the jaw-dropping lighting extravaganza took place after an “eight-day light up order” was given to all landmarks and tourist attractions, to welcome the guests attending the forum.

Beijing is a city that strictly controls its lighting, and this was the highest level of lighting permission given, the same as for important celebrations such as the National Day and Spring Festival.

All landmarks – including the two main venues for the forum, the China National Convention Centre and the Yanqi Lake International Conference Centre – were required to light up between 7.30pm and midnight, from May 11 to May 18.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, touted as a project of the century aimed at pooling knowledge and resources to boost the global economy, has ended successfully with fruitful results.

The first of its kind since China proposed the concept in 2013, the event – held last Sunday and Monday – attracted heads of state and government from 29 countries, including Malaysia.

Also present were about 1,500 representatives of over 70 international organisations and 130 countries, as well as more than 4,000 media workers.

As it was the biggest international event hosted by China after the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese were excited, with national televisions and most of the provincial--based stations broadcasting the opening of the forum live on both days.

Apart from the speeches delivered by Chinese president Xi Jinping and the achievements reached at the two-day event, dubbed the “New Silk Road forum”, food was the most talked about topic.

As an old Chinese saying goes, min yi shi wei tian (food is the prime concern of the people), and the Chinese have taken food as an art and not just something to fill hungry stomachs.

This can be seen from the variety of Chinese cuisines and their cooking methods, which range from steaming, pan-frying, deep-frying, stewing and braising to roasting and toasting.

So, what did their supreme leader offer his guests at the welcome banquet at the Great Hall of the People on May 14?

According to the menu, the guests were served four dishes during the main course, as well as a cold dish as the starter, a variety of desserts and fruits.

Among the main courses, there was a soup cooked with quail eggs and scallops in chicken broth. It is named hua hao yue yuan (blooming flowers and full moon, which indicate perfection and happiness).

The rest were prosperity lobster, braised beef in brown sauce and vanilla cod fish – a combination of native Huaiyang cuisine and a contemporary recipe.

Huaiyang cuisine originates from the Yangzhou and Huaian regions along the Yangtze river delta. Together with Cantonese, Shandong and Sichuan dishes, they are known as the four main Chinese cuisines.

Among the popular Huaiyang dishes in Malaysia are Yong Chow fried rice, pan fried dumplings, siew mai and beggar chicken.

A senior chef, who has participa-ted in several state banquets, said they would pick food and ingredients that could be largely accepted by most leaders from around the world.

“Fish is a must-have, but one very important requirement is that the fish must be boneless,” he said, adding that the cooking should not be oily and spicy.

Chinese writer Jun Dui Xiao Ba Wang, who has been closely following news of the forum, has named Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as the “King of Social Media”.

“From his departure from Malaysia on May 11 until the morning of May 15, in a short 100 hours, (Malaysian) Prime Minister Najib has posted 22 times on social media.

“He is no doubt the No. 1 ‘screen swiper’ of all heads of state and government, applause,” he wrote.

A check on his Twitter page shows that Najib shared about his visit to Hangzhou and Beijing, from May 11 to May 16, more than 30 times with his followers.

Among the posts were his meetings with Xi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, leaders of various countries, Chinese e-commerce giant Jack Ma, Malaysian businessmen, embassy staff and journalists.

Najib also tweeted a photo message of a cup of Chinese tea, in which he wrote: “Had Longjing or the Dragon Well tea this morning. Very smooth and refreshing.”

Despite his busy schedule, he did not forget to show his appreciation to all mothers and teachers, wishing them a Happy Mothers Day and Happy Teachers Day on May 14 and 15 respectively.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has been shortlisted by China Daily, an English newspaper in China, as one of the Top 10 Belt and Road tourism destinations for Chinese, taking the sixth place in the list.

Quoting Lvmama.com, a Chinese online travel agency, the daily reported that the number of Chinese tourists visiting Asean countries last year rose to nearly three times from 2015, based on bookings made on the website.

The Star, Published: Monday, 22 May 2017

City of lights and regional cuisines

The Belt and Road Forum was a feast for the eyes and tastebuds, as well as the mind.

By Beh Yuen Hui

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Penang seeks‘small loan’from China

GEORGE TOWN: Penang will only be borrowing “a very small amount” from China, said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

“But to get the loan from China, the state government has to get approval from the Federal Government, and the state can only borrow the money for five years.

“Because of the short period, I believe the amount that we can borrow is very small, maybe not even RM1bil,” he told a press conference after attending a corporate social responsibility (CSR) event at a hotel in Batu Ferringhi yesterday.

Although Penang has a reserve of RM1.6bil, he said the state wanted to get the loan because of the low interest rate and as recognition that Penang has good credibility and a sound financial standing.

“This will also give confidence to investors and also the public.”

He added that Penang had the lowest debt compared to other states in the country.

“The debts of all the states, as of March 31 is RM17.877bil, with Pahang, Sabah, Sarawak, Kedah and Kelantan owing the most.

“On the other hand, Penang has the lowest with only RM64.49mil or 0.4% of the total debts.”

Lim said the Federal Government would never approve loans from local and even foreign banks to states.

“But this time, it’s different as the loan was offered by a country, that’s why they (Federal Government) are willing to consider. However, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has yet to give his blessing to the state government.

“Najib had said that the state wanting such a loan has to first pass a law, which was unanimously passed this week,” he said.

In an earlier report, Lim said the loan was primarily for the funding of investment and implementation of physical development, economic and social programmes for the state, including the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) and other related projects.

“Although the loan will be from a country, all the projects will still undergo open tender process. They will not be monopolised by one country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Penang Front Party chairman Datuk Patrick Ooi said a public poll should be conducted whether the state government should borrow money from state-owned bank in China to fund any investment and implementation of physical development, economic and social programmes of the state.

He told a press conference that such a major decision should not be decided only by the state executive council, adding that there should be a public poll.

Commenting on the incident where his information officer was slapped outside a mosque in Macalister Road, Lim said he had contacted Zaidi Ahmad who indicated that he wanted to settle the incident by himself.

“I respect Zaidi’s decision but I hope such an incident will not recur as this is not Malaysian culture”.

Zaidi was slapped by a PAS supporter on Friday during a demonstration on the Islamic edict (fatwa) issue.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 May 2017
Penang seeks‘small loan’from China

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Proton's partnership with Chinese carmaker Geely

I WAS in Seoul last week listening to a briefing by a Korean scholar who spoke about the South Korean economy, including the development of its automotive industry, which reminded me of our own Proton.

Point number one: South Korea’s top automobile brands Hyundai and Kia sold almost 7.88 million cars globally, a large part of these to the international market, with China and the United States making up the bulk of it.

Together, the two carmakers only sold about 1.2 million cars domestically, or 15% of the total.

This tells us that even for an economy the size of South Korea, the automotive industry will still need to depend on the international market and not the domestic market alone.

Proton today sells about 80,000 cars a year, just a fraction of Hyundai and Kia. To make things worse, it has an almost zero overseas market.

No market, no sale, no capital and technology, and therefore no future.

To count on only 15% of Malaysia’s domestic market to keep the national carmaker alive is a wild dream; in fact, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unfulfilled dream.

Point number two: South Korea’s car-making industry used to thrive on only the domestic market. In the past, you would see only Hyundai and Kia running in the streets of Seoul, but today, imported cars are everywhere, from Germany’s Volkswagen, Audi and BMW, America’s Ford and General Motors, to Japan’s Toyota and Honda.

The national car market share used to be as high as 80% at one point. Today, it is merely 60%.

In the past Koreans treated buying locally-made cars as a national obligation, something they would take tremendous pride in. Not today, especially among the youngsters who fancy driving imported cars.

Proton is not much different. We used to see Protons running all over the country. Buying Proton was something Malaysians, in particular the kampung folk, would feel very proud of.

If there is anyone who still thinks this way today, that must be our Dr Mahathir.

He wrote in his tearful blog posting that he would cry for the loss of his “child” and soon his country.

I was thinking, other than Dr Mahathir who would cry over Proton, the rest of the country would just smile.

The car-making industry and nationalism are two very different things. Forcing the two together will not make things happen but will ruin them instead.

Proton’s loss is also the loss of the nation and her people. Endless assistance and subsidies to Proton will only sacrifice the country’s resources which could be otherwise used for more productive purposes and not dropped into this bottomless pit.

Supporting an impractical car-making industry through nationalism will hurt the country, a reality Dr Mahathir is still reluctant to come to terms with today.

Selling Proton’s share to China’s Geely will de-peg Proton from the national car label and dissociate it from the country. Proton will have to stand on its own feet from now on.

Proton is finally free, 30 years on!

– Sin Chew Daily/Asia News Network

The Star, Published: Monday, 29 May 2017
Breaking free from the Proton shackles
By Tay Tian Yan
Tay Tian Yan is the deputy editor-in-chief of Sin Chew Daily.

IPOH: The decision by Proton to embark on a partnership with China’s Zheijiang Geely Automotive Co Ltd is timely because cars are predicted to be next in line to undergo sweeping innovations.

International Trade and Industry Minister II Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan said that in light of Industrial Revolution 4.0, bringing in Geely as Proton’s strategic partner would ensure the Malaysian company’s survival as cars increasingly adopt digital technology.

Industrial Revolution 4.0, or Industry 4.0, is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies which include cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and cloud computing.

“After attending the Hannover Messe, the world’s biggest trade fair for industrial technology, I learned that self-driving cars are the next big thing.

“This means that you are looking at a future where cars will have no steering wheel.

“With just the touch of a panel, the car will bring you to your destination,” Ong said after witnessing the swearing-in of the new committee of the Perak Chinese Cemeteries Management Association yesterday.

He said Geely would be Proton’s channel to embracing technological innovations.

“I’m not saying to expect Proton to be a frontliner in this, but at least with a strategic partner it can move along with the times,” he added.

He said Geely would also open a new market for Proton, which was important for the national carmaker’s survival.

He said it was not a decision made purely in favour of China.

“Over the years, it’s been no secret that Proton accumulated losses and will need a big market to cater to in order to settle all the debts. This is the reality.

“Proton only narrowly met its sales target of 580,000 units last year, while Chinese brands sold 28 million units,” he said.

In view of its small volume, Ong said it would be difficult for Proton to fund sophisticated research and development initiatives.

“We need a larger market for things to work out. The Industrial Revolution 4.0 is all about innovation. We can’t do it ourselves, which is why working with advanced nations is our best bet,” he added.

The Star, Published: Monday, 29 May 2017
‘Geely to help Proton drive into future’
By Amanda Yeap

LET’S be frank – it isn’t wrong to suggest that most Malaysians have long grown tired of using taxpayers’ money to keep the national car project afloat.

In other businesses, when a company is bleeding, immediate steps are taken to cut losses – either shut it down or sell it to another entity. In some cases, even firms which are making money are sold if the offer price is just too good to resist.

In the case of Proton Holdings Bhd, however, money has been continuously pumped in to keep the company alive, even when it was languishing in the intensive care unit.

We were just too afraid of offending Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad because he is regarded as the brain behind the national car. But we need to face the truth. As much as we tried to keep Proton alive in the name of national pride, we all knew, deep in our heart of hearts, that Proton had become a national liability.

Since DRB-Hicom Bhd acquired Proton Holdings Bhd for RM1.29bil (or RM5.50 a share), it hurt the former’s earnings badly.

In the three years following the acquisition, Proton incurred RM1.93bil in after-tax losses for DRB-Hicom (as at March 31, 2015) as revenue fell on weakening sales volume.

The reality is that DRB-Hicom would have performed well if not for Proton. In the past four years, DRB-Hicom reportedly managed to almost double its Honda sales – from around 46,000 units a year to over 87,000 in 2015.

During that period, Proton’s sales declined about 33% to 102,175 units as at December 2015, according to a report.

Last week, following the announcement of the deal with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the share prices of DRB-Hicom shot up.

The DRB-Hicom shares rose to a high of RM1.86 early Thursday, when it resumed trading following the announcement of the deal.

The fact is this: Malaysia is just too small a market for a national car, and it doesn’t help that many Malaysians find other car brands to be more attractive than Proton.

In short, Proton’s acquisition was a huge burden on DRB-Hicom and its balance sheet. DRB-Hicom’s gross gearing – or borrowings – shot up to 0.91 times from only 0.26 times before the acquisition of Proton.

Last week, the former prime minister lamented the sale of Proton Holdings to foreigners and with some cynicism, remarking that the sale was just the beginning of having Malaysian assets, including land, sold off to foreigners.

“They say Proton is my brainchild. Now the child of my brain has been sold. Yes. I am sad. I can cry. But the deed is done. Proton can no longer be national. No national car now,” he was quoted as saying.

“Proton, the child of my brain, has been sold. It is probably the beginning of the great sell-out. The process is inexorable. No other way can we earn the billions to pay our debts. The only way is to sell our assets. And eventually, we will lose our country, a great country no doubt, but owned by others.”

Dr Mahathir must accept the reality that Malaysia is too small a market to support Proton’s growth. He cannot deny the fact that China is a huge market, selling 28 million cars a year, and with Geely’s stake in Proton, that door is now open to Proton.

The former premier is understandably sentimental about Proton, as it started with much optimism and hope. Every Malaysian wanted it to succeed, and most of us have, at some point in our lives, owned a Proton car.

But we need to look at the hard facts. Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton) was incorporated on May 7, 1983, to manufacture, assemble, and sell motor vehicles and related auto products. It produced Malaysia’s first commercial car, the Proton Saga, in July 1985.

Soon after its launch, Proton commanded the lion’s share of the local automotive market, but in the last 15 years, the market share has dropped. Last year, it fell to 12.5% of the local market share from 15.3% in 2015. Its total sales fell 29% year-on-year to 72,300 units due to deteriorating market conditions, said Hong Leong Investment Bank Research in a recent report.

We should be crying over this sad state of affairs and rejoicing that the financial burden of DRB-Hicom has now become lighter after Geely, which owns the Sweden-based Volvo Cars, agreed to buy 49.9% of Proton and a 51% stake in Lotus Cars from DRB-Hicom Bhd.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that if the Chinese had their way, they would just take Lotus, as it is a premium brand name, surely desiring the technology from this James Bond car. But the deal was crafted in such a way that, if the Chinese wanted Lotus, it would need to take 49.9% of Proton.

It’s a clever trade off because DRB-Hicom is still the majority shareholder, and the national car remains in Malaysian hands.

More importantly, the 60,000 members of Proton’s staff and its 240,000 vendors, distributors, and suppliers, still get to keep their jobs. Surely the negotiators must be praised for pulling this off – it was not easy to do.

Ironically, the people of Sweden didn’t turn the Volvo deal into a political issue when Geely acquired 100% of the iconic car, which is a global name and, most certainly, the pride of Sweden.

The 240,000 vendors now, in fact, have a chance to provide their expertise to Volvo as well as the London Taxi Company, which produces the city’s famous black cabs, through its list of Global Sourcing Purchasing System.

That means that if Volvo in Sweden wishes to source for components producers, our Malaysian vendors will have a chance to be selected to manufacture automotive components for Volvo.

London Taxi has been acquired by the Chinese company, which recently opened a new factory in Coventry, Britain, investing some £300mil (RM1.67bil).

Were the British complaining that the black cab, a national symbol, has been taken over by the Chinese? Not at all. In fact, unless one follows the business transaction in the financial pages of the media, the average British bloke would have no idea at all.

It is really not unusual to see big foreign companies changing owners. The iconic Harrods in London is Egyptian-owned, don’t forget.

As a prominent retired official told me, the same argument can be applied to the Proton sale.

He said Proton would now grow bigger, produce more new models, sell in the Asean market, and employ more workers at its underutilised facility in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

The Jaguar, a British brand, has been owned by India’s Tata Motors since 2008. Vauxhall, one of the oldest British carmakers, was sold to the French.

Proton has the capacity to produce 400,000 vehicles but is currently being utilised at below 20%. Presently, its sales hovers around 6,000 units monthly, which is a pathetic figure.

To suggest that Proton has been sold off to a foreigner is preposterous. It is normal for any business entity to be on a 51:49% ratio.

Malaysia has lost nothing with the sale of a 49.9% equity to a strategic partner. It would be worse if we lose our sense of rationality and practicality in the name of national pride. Let’s get real.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 May 2017

When national pride is too costly ...

Malaysia is not losing anything with the sale of a 49.9% equity in Proton to a strategic partner

By Wong Chun Wai

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Everest dream comes true for climber

PETALING JAYA: For more than 10 years, Raman Nair Hachoodan dreamt of scaling the peak of Mount Everest, located 8,848m above sea level.

The 42-year-old from Shah Alam, managed to make his dream come true on May 20, when he set foot on the summit of the world’s highest mountain under extremely difficult circumstances.

He started his expedition on April 5, from the Nepali town of Lukla.

“It was a great feeling to touch the roof of the earth. My hard work and training paid off. It is the most difficult thing I have done in my life,” an ecstatic Raman told The Star.

Raman, who was desperate to complete his climb on his first attempt, said the most important thing for success was courage.

“You need to be confident. You have to be strong in both heart and soul. One mistake and you could slip to your death,” said Raman, adding that the most difficult part of the task was the descent.

During the current “weather window” to reach the summit, 10 people, including popular Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck, died.

The Malaysian had come across Steck several times prior to his death.

Raman, who is in the automotive business, also paid a price: the extreme cold caused frostbite on one finger and toe. He is being treated for the injuries.

“But it was worth it. We risked our lives, underwent high intensity training, and spent our life savings, for Everest.

“Mountaineering is something special which you can’t understand until you are in the game,” said Raman, who admitted that he was drawn to the mountain after seeing others climb it.

While there were those who dissuaded him because of the dangers involved, he kept his cool and resolve.

Training for the expedition began last year, with him climbing Mount Lobuche (6,145m) in Nepal.

Back home, Raman concentrated on endurance and fitness training.

Other challenges in this year’s climbing season include waiting for the fixing of ropes to the mountain.

Raman said the ropes were normally fixed before May 1, but this was done much later this year.

As a result, he was stuck at the base camp for almost two weeks.

“Once you acclimatise, you are ready to climb to the summit. Mentally, you have to be strong. Many left the campsite because of the delay. For me, I wanted to do the climb,” he said.

Over 200 people have died climbing Everest ever since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit on this day in 1953.

The Star, Published: Monday, 29 May 2017
Raman sets foot on world’s highest peak despite delays
By Rashvinjeet S. Bedi

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Fighting terrorism with moderation

ANOTHER callous attack. Another backlash. Outside the Muslim world, the belief that there are many more young Muslims like the alleged Manchester Arena bomber just waiting to pounce and cause mayhem, all in the name of God, is even more prevalent.

Muslims are reeling again from a state of shock, disbelief, even shame about what happened. Not again.

They have gone through this many times before. In defence, Muslims are saying that Salman Abedi does not represent their faith.

Islam does not propagate violence. Islam is a religion of peace. The radicals in our midst are aberrations rather than the norm.

Five days after the bombings on July 7, 2005, I arrived in London. It was one of the worst carnages imaginable – 53 people were killed and more than 600 injured when bombs exploded in the subways and a bus.

I was expecting the worst. But Londoners went about their business as usual. British stoicism or fortitude ruled. Like all things London, the vibrancy prevailed and so did the spirit of its inhabitants.

It is a sad thing, what happened last week in Manchester. Hardly a month ago, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians in London, killing five and injuring 50 others, and then stabbed a policeman to death near the Parliament building.

Abedi did it for reasons only he knew, or perhaps there is a bigger terror “network” at large supporting him. Britain’s Interior Minister Amber Rudd said it was likely that he wasn’t acting alone.

Abedi, like the London bombers in 2005 and Masood, were all “homegrown terrorists”, born and bred in the United Kingdom. And more worryingly for the authorities, these young men wore jeans, attended concerts and enjoyed pop music.

They did not portray an image of Taliban on the loose. But hatred goes beyond attire and social trappings.

“The Muslim world in Britain has been blown apart,” wrote a Muslim columnist soon after the 2005 attack in London. I cannot imagine what will be discussed in the newspapers and the airwaves after the Manchester attack.

Islamophobia will understandab-ly be on the rise. Innocent Muslims will be targeted. Finger-pointing and the blame game will start again. And worse, the good name of Islam will be further sullied.

What drove young people to such rage? I am not just talking about radicalised Muslim youths but others as well, driven by some misguided cause in the name of race or religion.

The book Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra is an eye-opener, as much as it is provocative. It is not easy to explain the origin of what he labelled “the great wave of paranoid hatreds” that seems inescapable in our close-knit world today.

It is an irony that as humans became more globalised, over-socialised and more informed, they also became more racially or religiously obsessed.

We have perfected the art of drawing lines in the sand to differentiate one from the other.

Extremism begins with the belief that we are right and others are wrong. It leads to feverish nationalistic demands, religious zealotry or worse. The world is not getting any safer.

But generalisation can also be a dangerous game. In a feeding frenzy, the Western media is portraying the London and Manchester bombers as typical young Muslims. They are not.

Muslims are saying, “Look at the root cause.” It is unthinkable that young, Westernised and educated youth could perpetrate such wanton acts of terror. They simply couldn’t have volunteered to fight alongside al-Qaeda or embrace the philosophy of the Islamic State. But they did. The root cause must be identified.

We are used to a caricatured depiction that Muslims in Europe are refusing to be integrated. The term “Eurabia” to mean the Arab-isation of Europe is both misleading and demeaning.

The fact that Islam is not Arab and Arab is not necessarily Islam is somewhat lost in translation. The Malays, too, are facing the same dilemma here – rampant Arabisa-tion is deconstructing the Malay psyche and culture.

I believe we have a role to play. Our position on the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) speaks volumes of our aspiration to address misconceptions about Islam.

We want to show what progressive Islam is all about. As stated by the Prime Minister when he spoke at the United Nations Security Council in 2010, GMM is an approach to address extremism in whatever form. The voices of moderation should be from all religious beliefs and faiths.

However, we must also remember that moderation is an attitude. It should not merely be a state policy. It must be backed by deeds, not words.

Moderates in the country must stand up to be counted; their voices should not be silenced by the noisy few.

One should not be a closet moderate when it matters most. And the Government must take a strong stand in supporting the discourse on moderation. I believe combating terrorism begins with propagating moderation.

We need a collective desire to fight extremism, for the aftermath of the Manchester bombing will be painful to Muslims the world over. Muslims’ lives have not improved even after 9/11 or 7/7.

Sadly, it will get worse now.

The Star, Published: Monday, 29 May 2017
Fighting terrorism with moderation
By Johan Jaaffar
Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts.

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People at risk in Mosul, Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq - Iraqi forces are steadily closing in on the remaining pockets of territory held by the Islamic State group in Mosul, inching toward a victory that U.S.-led coalition officials say is "only a matter of time."

But unlike past urban battles against IS in Iraq, the militants in Mosul are under siege by Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi government on Friday announced a call for all civilians in the Old City to flee, but human rights groups warned the orders could force tens of thousands into deadly frontline clashes.

The decision to surround the remaining IS holdouts is prolonging an already grueling fight, according to Iraqi commanders, and is punishing civilians being held by IS as human shields.

In the fight for Fallujah and Ramadi, cities that were also overrun by IS in 2014 as the group seized vast swaths of territory in Iraq, there was a tipping point in the battles − the moment when the militants' hold on a city had shrunk to only a handful of neighborhoods. At that point, senior IS fighters began to flee in greater numbers, the extremists' command and control dissolved, defenses crumbled and Iraqi ground forces racked up a series of swift gains.

But in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city after Baghdad, Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition have shrunk IS-held territory to less than 5 percent of the city and still resistance has remained stiff.

In what was meant to be a simple clearing operation last week, Iraqi Maj. Ihab Jalil al-Aboudi and his unit were pinned down for hours at a residential intersection in western Mosul just a few hundred meters from the Old City.

By afternoon, at least three coalition airstrikes were called in to clear IS fighters armed with medium machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"Because the enemy cannot flee, the area is completely sealed off," said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of Iraqi special forces. He said it's impossible to predict how the next few weeks of the Mosul operation will play out, but so far the siege of the Old City is slowing progress on the ground.

"We are noticing that the closer we get to the Old City, the greater the resistance," he added, looking over the roughly 8 square kilometers (3 square miles) of Mosul territory still in IS hands on a satellite mapping app.

The Old City − a warren of tightly packed homes and roads that shrink to the width of footpaths − holds special significance for Mosul's residents and IS. The district is home to much of Mosul's ancient heritage, including the Iconic leaning minaret of the al-Nuri Mosque where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamic caliphate stretching across IS-held lands in Syria and Iraq in June 2014.

U.S. defense officials say "taking the time" to surround Islamic State strongholds is part of a new approach in the war against IS under the Trump administration, aimed at preventing militants from regrouping after territorial losses and foreign fighters from fleeing.

"The foreign fighters are the strategic threat, should they return home," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Pentagon briefing on May 19. "So by taking the time to de-conflict, to surround and then attack, we carry out the annihilation campaign so we don't simply transplant this problem from one location to another."

Iraq's fight to retake Mosul began last October. By November, Iraqi forces had punched into the city limits along Mosul's eastern edge. In January, after 100 days of fighting, eastern Mosul was declared "fully liberated."

All the bridges spanning the Tigris River, which roughly divides Mosul into its eastern and western half, has been destroyed by coalition airstrikes, but residents reported IS fighters still managed to flee west, ahead of the Iraqi advances.

In February, Iraqi forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition launched the operation for western Mosul, initially planning to clear it of IS fighters south-to-north. But after the federal police stalled on the southern edge of the Old City just weeks into the push, the joint command center adjusted the plans, ordering Iraqi forces to first sweep up and around the congested Old City.

The slow military approach may be helping Iraqi and coalition forces kill and capture more IS fighters but it has put trapped civilians at greater risk, according to residents who recently fled neighborhoods still in IS hands.

A woman from al-Rifai neighborhood, who fled with her daughter after their house collapsed in an explosion, said her two sisters and their families were still inside the Old City.

It had been weeks since she heard from them, she said, speaking to The Associated Press from a civilian screening center south of Mosul on condition of anonymity, fearing for her relatives' safety.

Smugglers who deliver food into the district told her that months of Iraqi artillery and airstrikes have killed hundreds, she said. "In a single day they buried 30 bodies," she said.

Iraq's military dropped leaflets over the Old City Friday asking civilians to flee "immediately" to "safe passages" where they will be greeted by "guides, protectors and (transportation) to reach safe places," according to a government statement.

But human rights group Save the Children warned the order would likely lead to "deadly chaos" as the Iraqi government has not negotiated safe passage for civilians with IS.

Over the past two weeks IS has begun barricading families inside their homes, said Khaled Ahmed Aziz, also from al-Rifai. He said IS recently welded the doors to his sister's home shut.

"Now, even if she wanted to flee, she cannot," he said.

Ayad Sayyid, a doctor working at a clinic treating civilians fleeing Mosul said as the battle has ground on he is seeing more children and elderly patients suffering from malnutrition.

Last month there were about five cases a week, now he says he sees 20. Mosul residents have been suffering from food shortages for months, a hardship expected to be exacerbated during the holy month of Ramadan that began Friday night, when Muslims fast during daylight hours.

"It's a disaster," he said, adding that even before the battle, the residents of the Old City were among Mosul's poorest.

Since the push on western Mosul began, the United Nations says more than 580,000 people have been forced to flee.

"Please save the Old City as soon as possible," the woman from al-Rifai pleaded. "But, please stop the airstrikes, there are already enough bodies under the rubble."

AP, May 27, 2017, 2:26 AM ET
Mosul siege extends IS fight in Iraq, puts civilians at risk
By Susannah George, associated press

MOSUL, Iraq - Ahmed Abdelsattar was 14 when Islamic State swept into Mosul and declared a caliphate in 2014. Fearing he would be indoctrinated and sent to fight by the militants, his parents took him out of school.

Three years later, he sells ice cream at a refugee camp for internally displaced Iraqis. His family have lost their home and his father is too old for the manual labor positions at the camp, which means he is his family's sole breadwinner.

Coupled with a shortage of teachers, books and supplies, the 17-year-old sees no reason to go to the makeshift schools set up in the Khazar camp near Erbil.

"Going to school is now useless. I am helping my family," he said. He adds that it is too late for him anyway. Had his education not been interrupted, Abdelsattar would be graduating in a few weeks.

Abdelsattar is one of tens of thousands of children orphaned or left homeless by the war on Islamic State and forced to work to support their families in Mosul, the militant's last major city stronghold in Iraq.

Returning these children to school is a priority for Iraq to end the cycle of sectarian violence fueled in part by poverty and ignorance, the United Nations says.

"Investment in education is urgently needed, without which Iraq could lose an entire generation," said Laila Ali, a spokeswoman for the UN's children agency UNICEF.

"Children from different ethnicities and religions, in the same classroom, will promote a cohesive society and will get children to think differently."

Even in the half of Mosul east of the Tigris River that has been retaken by Iraqi forces, where 320 of the 400 schools have reopened, Reuters interviewed dozens of children working as rubbish collectors, vegetable vendors or mechanics.

"I did not go to school because Islamic State came and they would teach children about fighting and send them to fight," says 12-year-old Falah by his vegetable cart in Mosul.

Within earshot, fighting was still raging. Just across the river, government troops, artillery and aircraft were attacking Islamic State's last stronghold in western Mosul.

Falah has four younger brothers. None of them have ever been to school.


Huzayfa studied up to the fifth grade but stopped when Islamic State came. The militants taught math using bullets, rifles and bombs, said the 12-year-old, who sells scrap metal.

"They taught us 'one bullet plus one bullet' and how to fire weapons," he said.

The local education department in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, estimates 10 percent of children in east Mosul are still out of school. There has been no official count for almost four years, it said.

There are also no official statistics on the dropout rate, a spokesman for Iraq's Education Ministry said, especially as many families have fled Mosul or Iraq altogether.

"We are counting on parent-teacher conferences and local officials to convince parents to send their kids back to school," said Ibrahim al-Sabti.

Government funds normally allocated to education have been depleted by corruption and mismanagement, lawmakers and non-governmental organizations say, citing the results of investigations in 2014 and 2016.

Oil-rich Iraq historically had very high literacy rates and primary school enrolment was 100 percent in the 1980s.

Illiteracy became rampant after international sanctions were imposed due to the August 1990-1991 occupation of Kuwait. Economic hardship was made worse by the civil war that broke out after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.


Schools in east Mosul started reopening in January and so far around 350,000 students are back in class, compared to 183,229 in 2013, with much of the increase due to displaced people from west Mosul and surrounding villages.

UNICEF estimates around 1.2 million Iraqi children are not in school nationwide.

The Iraqi military expects to dislodge Islamic State from the rest of Mosul in May but the militants are mounting a strong resistance in the densely populated Old City.

Iraqi troops began their offensive in October backed by a U.S.-led international coalition providing air and ground support. The militants are fighting back using booby traps, suicide motorcycle attacks, sniper and mortar fire and sometimes shells filled with toxic gas.

For children like Ahmed Abdelsattar, whether or not the group is finally ousted from Mosul has little bearing on their fate.

If he is lucky, he will return to where his home used to be in western Mosul's Al-Jadida district, an area where local officials and eyewitnesses have said as many as 240 people may have died in March when a building collapsed after a blast, burying families inside.

"The future is lost," he said with an air of resignation.

Reuters, Published: Tue May 2, 2017
Without school, children of Mosul feared lost to poverty and conflict
By Ahmed Aboulenein

Read more:
Crisis in Mosul
What's happening in Mosul and how is Unicef helping children?


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Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7

Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7 at the summit in Sicily have become so broad and deep that they may be forced to issue a brief leaders’ statement rather than a full communique, dashing Italian hopes of engineering a big step forward on migration and famine.

With the US president apparently reluctant to compromise with European leaders over climate change, trade and migration, the European council president, Donald Tusk, was forced to admit on Friday that this would be the most challenging G7 summit in years and there was a risk of events spiralling out of control.

A draft statement shown to the Guardian reveals Trump wants world leaders to make only a short reference to migration and to throw out a plan by the Italian hosts for a comprehensive five-page statement that acknowledges migrants’ rights, the factors driving refugees and their positive contribution.

The Italian plans – one on human movement and another on food security – were set to be the centrepiece of its summit diplomacy. Italy had chosen Taormina in Sicily as the venue to symbolise the world’s concern over the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa.

It had hoped the summit would end on Saturday with a bold statement that the world, and not just individual nations, had a responsibility for the refugee crisis. Italy is expected to take in 200,000 refugees in 2017; more than 1,300 have drowned so far this year while trying to make the perilous crossing from north Africa.

Trump’s negotiators brought a new brief text of the final communique to a pre-meeting of the G7 on 26 April and said they were vetoing the Italian “human mobility” plan, which had been the subject of careful negotiation for months.

The new text, offered by the US on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, acknowledges the human rights of migrants, but affirms “the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels as key elements of their national security”.

It also asserts the need for refugees to be supported as close to their home countries as possible.

Diplomatic sources said intense talks were under way to rescue some of the Italian agenda on migration.

Italian officials, faced with little option, insisted the brief wording on migration in the draft represented a good compromise and said there was no problem with the Americans. The communique did reference the idea of “upstream” action on the issue – but also supporting legal pathways to return individuals to their country of origin.

In a sign of the immediacy of the refugee crisis, the Libyan coastguard said as many as 20 boats had been spotted off the Libyan coast on Friday carrying thousands of migrants.

Large rescue and interception operations were under way with the help of the Libyan coastguard, fishing and commercial boats and in coordination with the Italian authorities, the navy spokesman Gen Ayoub Qassem said.

“Today is the day of a massive exodus of illegal migrants toward Europe,” he added.

The disagreements between Trump and other world leaders have spread to climate change, trade and food security, revealing the philosophical gulf about how to handle globalisation and security.

One source said that with four leaders attending their first summit – Trump, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK and Italian prime ministers, Theresa May and Paolo Gentiloni – the emphasis was being placed on the politicians building a personal bond of trust rather than delivering lengthy communiques.

Speaking at the end of the first day’s formal session, Gentiloni said agreement had been reached on terrorism and Syria, but Trump was holding out on climate change.

“There is one open question, which is the US position on the Paris climate accords … All others have confirmed their total agreement on the accord,” he said. “We are sure that after an internal reflection, the United States will also want to commit to it.”

Trump has come under pressure from other world leaders to stick with the UN climate change treaty signed by Barack Obama’s administration in Paris. He has deferred a decision on whether the US will pull out of the 2015 deal. The Trump administration is internally divided and might simply reduce the level and timescale of US commitments made at Paris on emission cuts.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said “we put forward very many arguments” for the US sticking with the agreement.

May also raised the issue of climate change admitting that “the US is considering its position in relation to these matters” but claiming all seven countries agreed on the importance of the Paris agreement.

Late on Friday, a senior White House official said Trump’s views on climate change were “evolving” following the talks. “He feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today,” said Gary Cohn, Trump’s top White House economic adviser. “He came here to learn; he came here to get smarter.”

In a sign of the tensions over trade, a senior Trump adviser confirmed that the president had criticised Germany as “very bad” on trade at a meeting with EU officials in Brussels on Wednesday.

“He said they’re very bad on trade, but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany,” said Cohn.

A White House adviser said Trump told the G7 that America would treat other countries on trade in the same way that the US was treated, adding the President’s goal is “free and fair trade, not high tariffs”.

On Friday night, Gentiloni said the leaders had made progress on the issue of foreign trade, but that the wording of the final communique still needed to be worked out. Trump has previously promoted a protectionist agenda that alarmed his G7 allies.

Gentiloni said: “On the major theme of global trade, we are still working on the shape of the final communique, but it seems to me the direct discussions today have produced common positions that we can work on.”

Germany and Japan are trying to pin Trump down to define his version of fair trade by making him accept there has to be a rules-based system in which the World Trade Organisation has a leading role. Trump has vowed that he will cut the US deficit and has pointed the finger of blame at countries such as Germany and China. He has accused China of using exchange rate manipulation to sell goods in the US.

The German trade surplus, which reached a record $283bn (£220.9bn) in 2016, has also been a source of contention within Europe, with Berlin’s partners encouraging it to do more to promote domestic demand.

The Guardian, Published: Friday 26 May 2017 20.43 BST

Hopes for refugee crisis plan fall into chasm between G7 and Trump

Disagreements with US are so fundamental that Sicily summit might not be able to issue communique

By Patrick Wintour in Taormina


2017-05-28 天木直人のブログ

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It will only make America late!

President Donald Trump said Saturday he would decide next week whether the United States would abide by the 2015 Paris agreement on cutting global carbon emissions.

His announcement came as a summit of G7 leaders in Sicily wrapped up in deadlock on the issue, with US partners voicing frustration at the president's failure to commit to the deal aimed at stemming global warming.

"I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!" Trump tweeted.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis, in comments to be aired fully in a TV interview Sunday, said Trump -- famously skeptical of global warming -- is now "wide open" on the issue.

The US leader, concluding his first overseas trip in office, later left for home without giving the customary close-of-summit news conference.

The meeting's final declaration reflected a stalemate between the US and the six other participating countries, who are all strongly committed to the Paris accord.

"The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics," it stated.

"Understanding this process, the (other participants) reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement...

"In this context, we all agree on the importance of supporting developing countries."

But Mattis, in an interview to air Sunday on a CBS talk show, said Trump was "wide open" on the Paris climate deal.

"I was sitting in on some of the discussions in Brussels, by the way, where climate change came up, and the president was open, he was curious about why others were in the position they were in – his counterparts in other nations," he said.

"And I’m quite certain the president is wide open on this issue as he takes in the pros and cons of that accord."

Earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised what she called "a very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory" discussion with Trump on the issue.

"Here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the US will remain in the Paris accord or not," she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron struck a more positive note, saying the talks had been useful. "I think there was progress and there was a real discussion and exchange of views," he said, voicing hope that Trump would decide to keep his country within the Paris framework.

Other delegates concurred that it was "six against one" at the gathering of leading democracies spanning North America, Europe and Japan.

Under Trump, who once called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by China and wants to boost the US coal industry, Washington has resisted intense pressure from its partners to commit to respecting the global 2015 accord on curbing carbon emissions.

But Gary Cohn, Trump's economic advisor, on Friday said the president had told his G7 colleagues that he regarded the environment as important.

"His views are evolving, he came here to learn," Cohn said. "His basis for decision ultimately will be what's best for the United States."

The United States is the world's biggest carbon emitter after China.

Trump had said he would listen to what US partners have to say at the G7 before making a decision on how to proceed.

- 'Make the right decision' -

Abandoning the Paris agreement would carry a high political cost internationally, with Europe, Canada, China and Japan all strongly committed to the deal.

It would also be fiercely opposed at home by environmental activists and by American corporations that are investing heavily in cleaner technology.

French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, in an interview to be published on Sunday in Le Parisien newspaper, said he found it unlikely "Trump would want to put his country in such an impasse."

"If Donald Trump decides to pull his country out of the Paris climate agreement, it would provoke a strong reaction from many American states, cities and economic players who are committed to developing renewable energy," Hulot said. "(...) It would be going tragically against the grain of history."

Greenpeace regretted the outcome of the summit but held out hope that Trump might change tack.

"Europe, Canada and Japan stood up today and made a stand, revealing again how far Trump is out of step with the rest of the world on climate change," Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace's international executive director, said in Sicily.

Nevertheless, the clean energy revolution is "unstoppable" with support from other governments and from industry, she said.

"Leaders must now keep resolve... President Trump should now return to Washington and make the right decision, take climate change seriously and take action with the rest of the world."

Iain Keith, campaign director of Avaaz, an activist network, said: "Today, G6 leaders put our planet first, showing that even the US president cannot stop the inevitable clean energy revolution."

"Trump's attempts to derail global climate action won't make America great, it will only make America late."

AFP, Published: 28 May 2017
Trump promises climate decision next week after G7 stalemate

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World No Tobacco Day 2017

IT IS tragic that a sizeable portion of our smokers are as young as 15. I should add that a good number of even younger ones are being enticed by that deadly habit.

Tobacco use is a threat to any person, family, society and nation, regardless of gender, age, race, cultural or educational background. It brings suffering, disease and death, impoverishes families and national economies.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about six million people, of whom 1.5 million are women, die from tobacco use every year, a figure that is predicted to grow to more than eight million a year by 2030 without urgent and proactive action by governments, businesses and civil society.

In Malaysia, statistics show that smoking-related death accounts for about a fifth of all deaths annually and more than 15% of total hospitalisations were from smoking-related illnesses. The National Health Morbidity Survey 2015 showed about five million or 22.8% of the Malaysian population aged 15 and above were smokers.

While smoking rates have levelled off in industrialised countries - in the United States the number of smokers dropped from 42% of adults in 1965 to 18% by 2012 - tobacco consumption is rising in developing countries.

Today, 80% of all smokers live in countries with low or middle incomes, and 60% in just 10 countries, a list headed by China. Smokers are half or more of adult males in Indonesia (57%, mostly kretek) and China (53% estimated), and nearly half in Bangladesh.

Malaysia has taken a number of steps to deal with smoking as a practice detrimental to our people and the nation. In 1976, legislation was introduced requiring a general warning message on all Malaysian cigarette packaging.

Then, in the 1980s, smoking bans were implemented in all public places. Since 1994, selling of cigarettes to persons under the age of 18 has been forbidden. And, since 1995, tobacco advertising, in various forms, was restricted or totally outlawed.

Malaysia, along with 180 countries at last count, is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it ratified and enforced in 2005.

As steps to bring policies and practice in conformity with the tenets of the WHO Convention, Malaysia set itself two goals: to reduce smoking prevalence to 15% or less by 2025 and achieve a smoke-free Malaysia (to less than 5% ) by 2045, as stated in the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control 2015-2020.

It must be recognised that the tobacco industry aggressively targets youth and women to increase its consumer base and to replace those who quit or who die prematurely from cancer, heart attack, stroke, emphysema or other tobacco-related disease.

Increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes has been prescribed for long as a panacea to contain the smoking “epidemic”. But, regrettably, that can have even more deleterious effects on the young and diehard smokers, in particular on their households.

Many young miscreants are driven by their craving to smoke or to keep up with their peers. The “seasoned” smoker will sacrifice his family just to fulfil his insatiable urge to puff. Sure, higher cost of any commodity is an obstacle to consumption, but to prevent new “recruits” and wean away those caught in its vice, making the “smoke” more expensive must go hand-in-hand with deliberate policies and specific measures.

On May 31, when WHO and its partners mark World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), they will highlight the health and additional risks and advocate programmes/activities to reduce tobacco use.

The theme for WNTD 2017 is “Tobacco - a threat to development.”

Every WHO member-nation, including Malaysia, is being called upon to introduce and strengthen policies and implement actions to protect their citizens from the harms of tobacco use and reduce its toll on the nation’s economy.

It is not only governments, but people, too, can contribute in significant ways to this effort. On an individual level, people can commit to never take up tobacco products.

Those who do use tobacco can quit, or seek help in doing so, which will in turn protect their health as well as people exposed to second-hand smoke. Money not spent on tobacco can be used for other essential uses, including the purchase of healthy food, healthcare and education.

In the end, it boils down to the will of the leaders and the people. Parents and older siblings must be good examples at home; schools should openly and deliberately address this life-and-death issue; business and community leaders can motivate and encourage their employees, and in particular the youth, to stay away from, or to “kick” the habit; and leaders must have the courage, dedication and commitment to make Malaysia a truly tobacco-free society.

Letter to The Star, Published: Tuesday, 23 May 2017
80% of smokers live in poorer countries
By RUEBEN DUDLEY, Petaling Jaya

A FEW decades ago, many Malaysians literally lived amidst smoke. Cigarette smoke pervaded the air in buses, clinics, shops, restaurants, and even on air planes. People puffed everywhere, some all day at work. There was little escape. Someone could light up in your house next to your children – and you’d be expected to provide an ashtray. On TV, actors smoked on screen, and images of cigarette brands even infiltrated sports broadcasts, as major sponsors.

As a young journalist at The Star in the early 1990s, I remember our own smoky newsroom. One night, when working late, I looked up to see a thick white cloud floating above the area where the sub-editors sat chain-smoking.

Smoke-free zones were still radical then. The winds of change came with emerging evidence about the dangers of second-hand smoke – and sometimes, through the action of individuals like my colleague June H.L. Wong, then a chief reporter.

“I had worked in a smoke-filled environment for some years and always resented that we nonsmokers had to endure second-hand smoke, smelly cigarette butts left in used coffee cups, and ash-covered keyboards,” she recalls. “Also annoying was how our hair and clothes stank at the end of the day.”

Many of The Star’s women journalists then were starting families, including June herself.
“I felt enough was enough. Pregnant colleagues shouldn’t have to endure such an unhealthy workplace.”

June drew up a simple petition calling for a ban on smoking in the newsroom. Nonsmokers, especially women, rallied round. But some smokers were hostile and initially refused to sign it.

“They were concerned about how it would affect their ability to work, as they were used to puffing at their desks,” explains June, now Star Media Group’s chief operating officer for content development.

Eventually, though, most realised the benefits of a ban, and it was adopted – and not just in the newsroom but across the whole company.

Not long after, in 1994, Malaysia’s first national law on tobacco control was enforced with smoke-free zones and tighter controls on cigarette sales to minors.

Numerous studies have shown that smoking bans lead to a drop in deaths from heart disease. After Scotland introduced a smoking ban in public places in 2006, hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome fell by 17%. In New York City, a year after its ban in 2004, heart attacks fell by 8%, with nearly 4,000 fewer admissions and savings of US$56mil (RM240mil at today’s rates) in hospital costs. These studies – and others showing improvements in asthma and respiratory symptoms – are described on the website of the US Centers for Disease Control, cdc.gov.

I’m sure the smoking ban in The Star’s newsroom prevented some heart attacks, especially among those smoking subs. Tobacco smoke is simply toxic: it contains at least 250 chemicals known to be harmful, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). Consider this. If we had a vaccine that could cure a third of cancers and improve the outcome of most major diseases, wouldn’t you support it?

Well, that vaccine is tobacco control.

Earlier this year, the Government designated all playgrounds, camp sites, and public parks on the peninsula as no smoking zones. Smoking will only be permitted in open car parks. The Government has also extended the smoking ban to 3m around a building and plans to hike cigarette prices, which are currently lower than WHOrecommended levels. According to the Health Ministry, smoking-related deaths account for one in five of all deaths annually in this country and more than 15% of hospitalisations. The Government spent some RM3bil treating three major smoking-related diseases, including heart disease, in 2010.

More needs to be done to help smokers quit. Some 43% of Malaysian adult men still smoke, according to the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey. Among Malay men aged 21 to 30 years, the prevalence was 55% in 2013, the study found.

What’s particularly worrying is that young people are still taking up the habit. In some rural areas and in boys’ vocational schools, smoking rates are very high, according to a review of studies by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia researchers. One study on three schools in Kota Baru found about 30% of teenage boys smoked. Another study found 43% of lower secondary students in schools in Felda settlement areas smoked.

The planned cigarette price hike will help deter the young, but, clearly, more needs to be done. Rather than rely on laws, we need a sea change in attitudes. Indeed, that was what helped shift the smoking culture in Australia and the United States, where smoking is now seen as shameful.

Individuals need to lead the way here. On World No-Tobacco Day on Wednesday, it’s worth bearing in mind how each of us, as individuals, can help stub out a habit that kills so many. In June’s case, it took just one person to get the ball rolling on changing the policy of an entire company.

Star 2, Published: 28 May 2017

Stub out this killer habit

On World No-Tobacco Day on Wednesday, it’s worth bearing in mind how each of us, as individuals, can push for a sea change in attitudes towards smoking.

By Mangai Balasegaram
Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.
After Scotland introduced a smoking ban in public places in 2006, hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome fell by 17%.

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Malaysians are eating too much sugar

In the waiting room of my dentist in Kuala Lumpur, there is a grim and shocking display for patients to mull over. No, it’s not rotting teeth. It’s something apparently innocuous: a row of popular drink packets and cans. Below each one, in transparent plastic, is the amount of sugar each contains.

The fizzy sweetened drinks, the sodas, contain – gulp – as much as 13 teaspoons of sugar. The isotonic “sports” drinks have close to 11 teaspoons, and the “healthy” fruit juice and blackcurrant drink for children, nine teaspoons each. The well-loved chocolate milk and the flavoured milks contain three to four times as much sugar as normal milk.

Tops is an iced coffee drink from an upmarket coffeehouse chain that has a whopping 20 teaspoons of sugar. But most alarming is the popular baby formula, which has a horrific 13 teaspoons of sugar.

Any unfortunate babe having that formula twice a day is getting loaded with a killer 26 teaspoons of sugar – and yes, “killer” because sugar kills.

The recommended daily limit for added sugar for a preschooler is three to four teaspoons, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) – and it should be even less for a baby, given their organs are less equipped to handle the toxic effects of sugar.

The limit for women is five teaspoons and for men is eight to nine teaspoons, says the AHA, which would mean yes, one can of soda puts us over our daily limit. The baby on the killer formula is so far over the limit that I hate to even think about it.

Actually I don’t need to think. Just look around, waist-level. We’re getting wider and wider. We have an epidemic of obesity in Malaysia, and a host of diseases with it. A shocking one in five adult Malaysians has diabetes.

And of course, there are a lot of decaying teeth, especially among children, as my dentist regularly sees, which was what led to his display.

Our sugar consumption is one of the highest in the world, data from the Food and Agricultural Association show. And a major part of that sugar comes from drinks. Tea, coffee, chocolate drinks and sweetened condensed milk are big contributors towards our sugar intake, a review article published in the Asia-Pacific Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found.

The article, by Malaysian and Singaporean researchers, also highlights research that found nine out of 10 primary school children in Selangor drink canned or bottled drinks weekly, while almost half of preschoolers, aged five to six years, have sweet drinks daily.

How can we allow this? Do we really want to plan a future of more insulin injections and kidney dialysis machines?

Plenty of damage control measures are possible, including a ban on advertising sweet foods and drinks to children, marketing controls, a ban on sugary drink sales in schools – and for heaven’s sake, let’s put a limit on sugar levels in baby formula.

There’s another control measure that a World Health Organisation (WHO) report earlier this month urged countries to take on: a sugary drinks tax.

Hike the price of sugary drinks with a tax of 20% or more and consumption goes down, the WHO report says.

And that, in turn, brings down obesity and disease rates, and of course tooth decay, which ultimately saves us huge health care costs. And suffering.

Why drinks? Because they’re consumed often and not seen as a treat. And because they’re often just “empty calories”.

It’s not a novel idea. Chile, Finland, France and Mexico are already doing it. Portugal will start in 2017, and will use the money from taxes for the public health service.

Britain, too, after pressure from celebrities such as chef Jamie Oliver, plans to start a tax in 2018.

The delay will allow manufacturers to adjust sugar levels in their products. Just this month, PepsiCo said it will cut at least 100 calories from two-thirds of its drinks by 2025.

The British tax will vary by sugar content, with a higher band for sweeter drinks like sodas. It will not include pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks, though. The half a billion pounds raised by the tax will be put towards primary school sports.

Considering we already have a hefty “sin” tax on alcohol and also on cigarettes, a tax on sugary drinks is only logical. And the tax must include sweetened condensed milk, a key culprit in sweetening our diets. You never know, it might eventually result in a tweak to our teh tarik so it actually tastes better.

The Star, Published: OCTOBER 23, 2016
Malaysians are eating too much sugar

It’s not this year’s price crash that haunts the $150 billion sugar industry. It’s the fear of worse to come.

Raw sugar’s 16 percent drop ranks it bottom of the 22 raw materials on the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Shocks to demand in top consumer India and prospects of more European supply are helping shift the market to a surplus, hurting prices. Yet beyond such market dampeners, hang darker clouds.

After decades of stable demand growth, almost doubling per person since 1960, the world is heading for a tipping point as shoppers turn against the cola and candy blamed for an obesity epidemic in the rich world. At the same time, sugar has to compete with cheap syrups increasingly used in processed food.

Demand is rising by some estimates at the slowest since at least the global financial crisis as companies like Coca-Cola Co., consuming about 14 percent of all sugar traded, and Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, react to such trends. Group Sopex and Green Pool Commodity Specialists see growth in 2017-18 below the average 2 percent a year of the past decade or so. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sees the first drop in demand in a quarter century.

"Growth is not what it’s been," Tom McNeill, managing director of Green Pool, said in an interview. "There is undoubtedly a move by global bottlers and by a lot of global food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their products."

Consumption may sink below 1 percent for a second year in the 2016-2017 season, less than half the average pace in the previous decade, Sopex figures show. The slowdown may mark a turning point for an industry that’s seen near linear growth for half a century on an expanding world population and rising wealth, concentrated most recently in dynamic economies like China.

Indeed, food giants are only just beginning to respond to noisy calls from customers, lobby groups and lawmakers to cut empty carbs from products.

Coca-Cola has 200 reformulations of products in the works to lower sugar content, Chief Executive Officer James Quincey said in October. PepsiCo Inc. has vowed that at least two-thirds of the company’s volume will have no more than 100 calories from added sugars per 12-ounce serving by 2025.

Coca-Cola’s Biggest Challenge Under Next CEO: Cutting Calories

Nestle said late last year it had found a way to reduce sugar in chocolate as much as 40 percent and would lower sugar in the chocolate and confectionery it sells in the U.K. and Ireland by 10 percent. Globally, companies curbed ingredients that raise health concerns such as sugar and salt in about a fifth of their products in 2016, says the Consumer Goods Forum, a retailing lobby.

"We are hearing from right, left and center all the intentions of the industrial users -- food and beverage companies -- to reformulate their products," said Sergey Gudoshnikov, senior economist at the International Sugar Organization, representing producing nations. "Sooner or later it will work."

U.S. cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco and countries such as France and Mexico have added "sin taxes" previously reserved for tobacco or alcohol to sugary sodas, with others lining up to join them. The World Health Organization says its research shows that a 20 percent increase in the retail price of fizzy drinks results in a proportional drop in demand.

The industry is now having to adapt to what some have dubbed a war on sugar.

Cutting sugar alone won’t solve obesity concerns, according to Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, a Washington-based lobby group. Replacing sugar with starches or fat doesn’t reduce total calories, she said.

Blame Game

"It’s very important that the sugar industry preaches moderation and doesn’t say, ‘Hey, it’s not our problem’ because it’s the whole food and beverage industry’s problem to try and help the world be a healthier place," Gaine said. "I would like for sugar not to be blamed as the sole cause, but we are also not innocent."

Beyond the developed world, consumption of sugar isn’t going to fall off a cliff as long as the world’s population is still expanding and there are burgeoning middle classes in Asian and African cities, according to Rabobank International.

Trends in richer countries with more money to spend are significant, nevertheless. Demand is set to sink in Germany, France and the U.K., according to Tropical Research Services data for the season that starts in October.

Some middle-income nations are also hurting from weak economies. Brazilian demand has dropped by about 1 million metric tons over the past three to four seasons, according to Sopex. It’s also down in Argentina.

More significantly, sugar is losing out to cheaper sweeteners as food manufacturers protect profit margins. Soda makers in China and the Philippines are using more high-fructose corn syrup. The processed sweetener, made from corn starch, is about 3,680 yuan ($534) a ton cheaper than sugar, Sopex says.

"That’s seriously eroding demand," said John Stansfield, an analyst at Sopex who has worked in the sugar industry for two decades.

High-fructose corn syrup displaced 3.3 million tons of sugar in China alone in 2016, according to the USDA.

The drop in raw-sugar futures prices this year in New York to 16.26 cents a pound can mostly be blamed on short-term problems such as the weak Brazilian economy and currency policies in India that disrupted demand.

But beyond such squalls, others hear distant thunder.

"Some of the changes are temporary, others are not," said Sean Diffley, head of sugar and ethanol research at TRS, which advises hedge funds. "I suspect the food and beverage industry doesn’t go back to larger bars of chocolate or full-sugar Coca-Cola."

Bloomberg, Updating on: May 23, 2017, 4:08 PM GMT+8
War on Sugar Turns Years of Growth Into Market Tipping Point
By Agnieszka De Sousa and Isis Almeida

PUTRAJAYA: There will be no further hike in the price of sugar, assures Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin.

He said the top executives of a sugar company met with him recently and asked to consider increasing the price.

“The sugar company that wanted an increase in the price of sugar sent their CEO, their board members, their officers to see me.

“I told them, no way! Unless (the current situation) is affecting their factories and mills, I think it is only fair to maintain the current price,” said Hamzah at a press conference after his ministry’s monthly assembly.

He was responding to reports that MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd, a top sugar producer in the country, wanted to increase the local sugar price by another 29 sen per kg to ensure profitability.

Hamzah said the request was unreasonable, especially after the Government sanctioned a hike of 11 sen last March.

The minister said global price of sugar was on the decline.

“I will not increase the price of sugar. Why must I increase the price when everybody knows that at the moment, the world market price is going down?

“Last year in November and December, it was true that the global price of sugar went up to about US$0.22 (95 sen) per pound. But now it has gone down to about US$0.17 per pound. So why are the suppliers asking for an increase in sugar price?

“When we allowed the 11 sen hike last March, the increase should be enough to help the companies to cover their costs. Now that the world price has gone down, they should be able to cover previous losses.

“If businesses do not know how to manage their profit and losses, it is not my fault or the consumer’s. It is not for us to ensure producers make money all the time,” said Hamzah.

Earlier, Hamzah launched a ministerial campaign dubbed #janganlebihlebih aimed at educating consumers not to be excessive, especially with the fasting month coming up.

Hamzah said there was a tendency for consumers to splurge when shopping or to waste food during Ramadan and the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations.

“The campaign’s slogan of #janganlebihlebih is short yet catchy, and we hope it will educate consumers to practise moderation,” he added.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 24 May 2017
That’s sweet – there’ll be no hike in sugar price

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Japanese troops fighting in a Malayan city street on Jan 31, 1942

As a run-up to our 60th Merdeka Day in August, this is the fourth of a fortnightly 10-part series of articles on Malaysian novels in English, Writing The Nation.

Malays writing and publishing in English have always played a significant role in the local literary scene, but until recently most have preferred to write poems, plays, short stories, memoirs, and sociopolitical commentaries. As a result, English-language novels by Malay authors came relatively late to the scene.

The first novel in English by a Malay author appeared in 1984 – Mohd Tajuddin Samsuddin’s The Price Has Been High. From then till 2005, only two others were published. From 2006 onwards, though, there has been a steady stream of Malay novelists entering the scene

Of the novels published between 1984 and 2006, six have historical settings. Three are true historical novels – the novels are set in the past and the narrative stays within that timeframe. These are Tajud-din’s novel, Iskandar Al-Bakri’s The Beruas Prophecy (2011), and Kamsiah Bostock’s Malacca: A Romance (2011). The other three are “heritage” novels – looking back to the past from a later timeframe. These are Adibah Amin’s This End Of The Rainbow (2006), Shahriza Hussein’s Legacy (2008), and Shaari Isa’s Kirkby: The Life And The Loves (2009).

This week, we explore The Price Has Been High.

The novel is set in the jungles and villages of Perak during World War II’s Japanese Occupation of Malaya. The central character is Rahim Yusuf. The narrative opens with the brutal killing of his parents by a Japanese major. Then only 16 years old, Rahim sets out to hunt down and kill the major but ends up joining the Kinta One Hundred, a guerrilla group led by Hassan Amin. The rest of the novel tells of his experiences as a guerrilla fighter until his death a couple of years later.

This might sound like an adventure story, but it is much more than that.

For one thing, it is the first English-language novel about the unofficial Malay anti-Japanese resistance. Until its appearance, most books about anti-Japanese resistance in Malaya were by British, American, and non-Malay local authors, all of whom had little to say about Malay freedom fighters. Also, in his “Acknowledgements”, Tajuddin tells us that events in the novel are based on his older sister’s recollections of their father’s experiences during the Occupation – the novel is therefore not pure fiction; it is part of our national history.

As history, the novel gives a more inclusive picture of the resistance than official accounts. Through Rahim’s experiences, we learn that all kinds of people were involved: the orang asli who passed on information about the movements of Japanese soldiers, the Chinese herbalist who healed wounded combatants, the wealthy Indian who made his car and motorbike available for the cause, the Chinese shopkeeper whose wife had been raped but who chose to stay alive and fight rather than die of shame, the Indian chapati-maker who fed those stranded by curfews.

The novel can also be read as a discourse on Islamic values. To understand the national significance of this discourse, we have to remember that by the early 1980s, Islam and politics had become intricately entwined, and many Malaysians were apprehensive about the rise of religious fundamentalism.

With this as background, the portrayal of Rahim and Hassan stands out as a reminder that there are principled and humane rules of engagement governing the waging of a defensive war or jihad. Young Rahim, new to guerrilla warfare, constantly asks how one can be just and honourable when dealing with invaders, oppressors, fellow Muslims, and non-Muslims.

As a good Muslim, he bravely confronts those who break the rules, including his leader, Hassan. Acting contrary to Malay custom, he voices his disapproval of Hassan’s order to kill 14 Japanese in their sleep, which he sees as murder. When some women wishing to join the group are laughed off by the men, he stands up for the women and gives the men a lecture on gender equality.

Hassan is not a bad leader. Although irritated by Rahim’s confrontational manner, he accepts the criticisms as justified, apologises, and makes Rahim his second-in-command. Throughout the novel, we are also reminded that it is not colour or creed – sometimes not even actions – that defines a person’s worth, but rather, intention. In the broad canvas of the fictional world, we find combatant and civilian collaborators, informers, procurers, Japanese sympathisers, brutal killers, and torturers from all communities. And we find nobility among those perceived as invaders and oppressors, such as Australian Alec Harding and Japanese Colonel Keiko Mimura, who lose their lives in pursuit of peace.

The novel’s message is summed up in the episode of a mass burial for the victims of war: “… Bahar’s prayers were for every one of them, Muslims and non-Muslims. They were, after all, the children of God.”

That Tajuddin chose to write in English suggests that he intended his message to reach not just the Malays but the non-Malays as well.

Japanese troops fighting in a Malayan city street on Jan 31, 1942. The ensuing occupation was opposed by local resistance fighters of all races, Tajuddin writes in his novel.

The Star 2, Published: MAY 28, 2017
A Malay take on anti-Japanese resistance

Chuah Guat Eng is a Malaysian author whose works include two novels (Echoes Of Silence and Days Of Change) and three collections of short stories (Tales From The Baram River, The Old House And Other Stories, and Dream Stuff). She currently teaches fiction writing at two universities in Malaysia.


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CHINESE people known for their love for food

CHINESE people, known for their love for food and exquisite cuisines, were naturally drawn to reports on two seafood products in foreign countries.

In late April, a post in the official account of Denmark’s embassy in Beijing on Weibo, a Twitter-like Chinese website, said the coastline of the Scandinavian country has been plagued by a large number of “wild” oysters from the Pacific.

The post also said local residents don’t know how to deal with the oyster “invasion” and asked Chinese tourists to visit the country on a special “oyster-eating tour”.

And earlier this month, a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation also drew the attention of many Chinese.

The report said tens of thousand of “wild” salmon swim close to the Parry Beach in southwest Australia to spawn every autumn.

And since fishermen catch tons of salmon and local residents, who find it hard to bear their fishy smell, use them as bait for lobsters, most of the huge salmon catch goes to waste.

Many Chinese lamented the huge waste of oysters and salmon. Chinese people’s diet consists of perhaps the widest variety of food, from vegetables and fruits to meat and seafood.

And that might be the reason why reports saying that Danes and Australians don’t know what to do with the huge “cache” of oysters and salmon seem so ludicrous to the Chinese people.

Some people even jokingly posted comments on the Denmark embassy’s account, saying that once Chinese arrived in groups in Denmark, the bivalve molluscs would soon make it to the list of endangered species.

Jokes aside, one of the main reasons the two news reports caught the attention of Chinese people was the word “wild”.

To begin with, most of the oysters in the markets are farmed – oyster farming started decades ago – and several years ago, the United States started captive breeding of salmon.

The word “wild” also has a fascinating effect on Chinese people because hardly any animal survives in large numbers in the wild in China.

They see the abundance of “wild” oysters and salmon in Denmark and Australia, respectively, as not only a gift of nature, but also a sign of good environmental protection.

China has lost much of its wildlife population thanks partly to its rapid economic growth, which has had a huge impact on its environment because of severe air, water and soil pollution.

Because of the insatiable appetite of some people, many wild animals have entered the list of endangered species or have become extinct.

For example, the Chinese pangolin, whose scales many falsely believe have health benefits, can no longer be found in the wild because of over-hunting.

The wild yellow croaker fish, which was abundant in the East China Sea in the 1950s, has become a memory for many due to over-fishing. And the Yangtze River’s knifefish, a delicacy for many Chinese, is fast moving toward extinction.

The reports on the oysters and salmon which unwittingly highlighted the sharp contrast between China and some foreign countries, should also be a warning that if China does not better protect the environment, it could soon lose all the wild animals in the country.

Given that hunger and starvation have haunted Chinese people down the ages, right up to the 1970s, many people’s mouth-watering response to the two news reports is not surprising.

But times have changed. Although China still has a relatively large number of poor people, starvation is a thing of the past.

Therefore, the consumption of wild animals to satiate hunger too should become a thing of the past.

Chinese people should also abandon their superstitious belief that some wild animals’ parts have health benefits, and allow wildlife to survive.

Hence, instead of embarking an oyster-eating tour to Denmark or paying a visit to Australia to savour salmon, they should make more efforts to repair the environment and protect wildlife. This will eventually save them from extinction.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 May 2017
A culinary warning to protect wildlife

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the yellow caution light in Malaysian society

IF the state of Malaysian society could be likened to a set of traffic lights, it’s the yellow caution light that is blinking now, says Dr Shahreen Mat Nayan, 42.

“I don’t see a red or green light but a yellow one, and that is a warning sign if we don’t nip things in the bud. It means we can still live in this environment but we shouldn’t let it get worse,” says the Universiti Malaya senior lecturer who teaches journalism, rhetoric, and current issues and does research on inclusivity, diversity, and women activism.

She says Malaysians need to work harder at being civil to each other. Civility, she explains, means politeness and having empathy and the willingness to be open and listen to what the other person is saying and where he is coming from, even though you may disagree with his point of view.

What is uncivil are incidents such as the one in which comedian-actor Sulaiman Yassin (aka “Mat Over”) slapped filmmaker David Teo in front of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during a Transformasi Nasional 2050 dialogue session earlier this month.

"It was an open platform. People went to listen and ask questions. Isn’t that what dialogues and meetings with leaders are for? The fact is that guy (Teo) was trying to ask a question so he was just playing his role as a citizen.

"If you (Mat Over) think he (Teo) was rude and being disrespectful to the Prime Minister, there are better ways to voice your dissatisfaction. You (Mat Over) can go up to him and tell him to calm down, to tone down his voice and not be rude. Malaysians need to learn to disagree with maturity.

"You shouldn’t resort to physical force and slapping him. That is totally unnecessary. If we want the younger generation to deal with conflict in a more mature way we need to set a good example."

Shahreen says it is good that, after the altercation, Mat Over and Teo made up and put in an appearance at another function the PM attended a week later where they sat peaceably next to each other.

That even drew Najib’s attention, and he said he does not want quarrels and wants people of all races and religions in the country to get along and help each other so that the country can be peaceful and prosperous.

Shahreen says it is good that the PM took the time to highlight the civility and that the two men are “friends” again.

“We shouldn’t make just controversial issues ‘news’. Good actions and anything that highlights progress should also be made news. We should balance the narratives so that not only one – especially not the negative – dominates.”

Shahreen says she finds it rather troubling that two days after the slapping episode, the Terengganu State Government had Mat Over as a guest and a youth icon at a function in the state.

"What kind of message are they trying to send there? There are so many other people who can be role models for youth. Why use someone so controversial?” she asks.

Even if the invitation had been issued to Mat Over before the slapping incident, Shahreen feels it should have been withdrawn.

"It’s a bit like advertising. When a company chooses a spokesman for their product, as soon as that person messes up, you can bet that the company is going withdraw its sponsorship. It doesn’t matter if you are Jennifer Aniston. I think that needs to apply in this context as well.

"If you are going to present someone as a youth icon, you have make sure it is someone with a clean record who youth can identify with and who can set a good example."

It is now essential to redefine what a "a hero" is, she says.

“Just because someone is in the spotlight, has his 15 minutes of fame on YouTube, and looks macho and gung-ho, it doesn’t mean that he deserves to be called a hero. We need to set higher standards for what we consider a hero."

It also concerns her how people tend to view incidents such as the Mat Over-Teo scuffle through a race-based lens.

When you want to criticise a person, make sure the criticism is about something within his control that he can change, like a behaviour or attitude, she says.

"Don’t bring race into the issue. We did not choose to be born a Malay in Malaysia or a Chinese in Malaysia. So don’t vilify a person for things that cannot be changed like race. Nobody should have to apologise for being born a Chinese, Malay, Indian or whatever."

Another recent issue that has been making the rounds of social media caught Shahreen’s attention: Universiti Utara Malaysia senior lecturer Dr Kamarul Yusoff read Selangor state assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh’s autobiography and then complained that the book contained too many stories and quotations from the Bible which could influence readers, including himself, to feel admiration for Yeoh’s God. He lodged a police report accusing Yeoh of proselytising and asked for the book to be sold only in Christian bookstores.

"When you choose to read a book written by a person who is different from you, you have to be ready to see things differently,” points out Shahreen.

“If you want to read a book that makes you feel comfortable why don’t you read a book written by a Malay Muslim which only quotes the Quran? Then you wouldn’t risk falling in love with someone else’s God! You would fall in love with your own God."

Shahreen says that such remarks coming from an academic is "a bit sad and disappointing".

"If he is so sure her book is out to convert people, a better way to counter it would be with his own book voicing his faith with verses from the Quran.”

Finally, she says that for the country to be "happy, whole and accepting" we need to move beyond tolerance.

"We need to accept and celebrate diversity."

The Star, Published: Sunday, 28 May 2017
Moving beyond tolerance

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Refine, Not Retire

Retirement is the perfect phase to re-energise and give back?

Seeing elephants in the wild remains a huge privilege and capturing them in a photo is something special. On a recent trip to a game reserve, we were lucky enough to come across a very large lone elephant bull.

The bull was in musth – meaning he was primed to mate. As a result, he was potentially very aggressive and dangerous. For this reason, we made sure we stayed out of his way and out of his path.

As the tusker turned to amble away from us, the sun rose behind him, bathing him in a flood of golden light. It was an incredible experience, which had literally unfolded as we sat in silence, quietly observing.

Purposefully using the variables around us such as the time of day, the light, objects and correct positioning, one has all the ingredients for a great wildlife or landscape photo.

Taking the time, making the effort and spending many hours practising prepares the way for that perfect moment when things seem to fall into place and the magic happens.

I often hear of long serving employees entering into their “sunset assignments”. Usually it refers to that last assignment or position before retirement.

Personally, I am not very fond of such a term as it sounds like the end is near and it is a fast track downhill from here.

We spend many years in our careers, working hard and gaining a lot of life lessons. Some lessons teach us more than others. As we get older we get wiser and find ways to effectively apply our knowledge and learning for both our own and other people’s benefit.
In their book – Refire! Don’t Retire, Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life – Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz say that at this stage of our life, we should focus on significance as well as success.

In this context, significance has three aspects: generosity, service and loving relationships. Additionally, refiring (rather than retiring) means recharging yourself, being enthusiastic, taking risks and facing life with zest.

The refiring philosophy addresses the heart, head, body and soul to reinvigorate the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual dimensions of our life.

Rather than refusing to let go, is this not an opportunity for us to make a conscious decision to reciprocate and give back to others? It is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

People entering into their “sunset assignment” should think about doing the following:

Put your experiences to good use

People at this point in their lives have put in a lot of practice and effort, and gained a lot of experience. Some things worked out well, others invariably not so well. Put your experiences to good use. Go do what you love doing, you have all the experience you will ever need.

Give back

Now is the time to give back – to yourself, your community and the younger generation. Mentorship and coaching are incredibly rewarding tools to help others on their way.

Stay active

Staying active means active for body, mind and soul. Read, learn, and find new things to study and to think about. Keeping physically active provides energy and longevity and does wonders for a general sense of well- being.

Just as the old bull walks off into the sunset, new horizons open up. There are new places to go to and new experiences waiting. The “sunset assignment” is about to become the next “sunrise assignment!”

Look at this time in your life as a new beginning rather than the end of a chapter. Set yourself up on a path of huge opportunity and rewarding work. You will never regret this.

After all, this evening’s sunset is tomorrow’s sunrise.

www.leaderonomics.com, Published: Saturday 27 May 2017

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'Medical City' project by a private hospital

THE Consumers’Association of Penang is very concerned that more and more public lands are being transferred to private hands without transparency and public knowledge.

We have come to learn that the Penang state government’s 6.4-acre land owned by Chief Minister Incorporated at Peel Avenue was sold for RM156mil on a 99-year lease for the construction of a RM2bil “medical city” project by a private hospital.

The Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, announced last week the deal was signed last year and kept under wraps to “respect non-disclosure agreements” as the principal investors were foreigners and were part of listed companies.

We are disappointed details of the project did not come sooner so the public could have provided their feedback in line with the principles of good governance and transparency.

Given the location of the project, we are concerned about its social impact. We also have grave concerns about the trees that line Peel Avenue and are worried about any possible dislocation or tree cutting that may result.

We call on the state government to ensure the following:

1. A proper traffic impact assessment is done and is made public for feedback.

2. Provide details as to the fate of the trees lining Peel Avenue.

3. Provide further details on what the plans are.

4. Ensure that the healthcare facilities are truly beneficial and affordable to the local people of Penang and not just to cater to foreigners. We urge the Penang State Government to be more transparent and conduct meaningful public consultation with regards to issues of public interest such as this.

Letter to The Star, Published: Saturday, 27 May 2017
Be open about‘Medical City’
By SM MOHAMED IDRIS, President, Consumers’Association of Penang (CAP)

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Dr Tedros – a malaria specialist

PETALING JAYA: Impressed with Ma--lay--sia’s medical research work and making medicine more accessible and affor--dable, the World Health Organisation has expressed interest in harnessing its expertise, the Health Ministry said.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said on his Facebook that newly elected WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was particularly fascinated with the progress of Malaysia’s work on Hepatitis C curative treatment in collaboration with Drug for Neglected Disease initiatives.

“WHO is looking into harnessing our expertise based on this unique model of the research ecosystem in Malaysia to bring down the cost of medicine.

“We highlighted crucial issues close to the heart of many in developing countries such as cost and access to diagnostics and medicine, where we are con--vinced that this new partnership model can close the gap of equitable access to medicine,” Dr Noor Hisham said.

Dr Noor Hisham, together with Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam and Malaysia’s Permanent Representa-tive to the United Nations Office in Geneva Datuk Amran Mohamed Zin, had a private session with Dr Tedros at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Thursday.

He said Dr Tedros – a malaria specialist – is the first Ethiopian and African to head the agency.

“Dr Tedros was impressed with the active involvement of the ministry in WHO and WHO’s regional office for the Western Pacific,” he added.

The Star, Published: Saturday, 27 May 2017
WHO wants to tap Malaysia’s medical expertise, says Health D-G

Key facts of Hepatitis C

* Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus: the virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
* The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
* Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection.
* A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
* Approximately 399 000 people die each year from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
* Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
* There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C; however research in this area is ongoing.


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Japan's disaster theme parks

KOBE, Japan − Somehow, it’s not surprising that the country that gave us Godzilla and elevated fake food to a fine art has also found a way to make earthquake preparedness entertaining.

Guided by the philosophy that experience is the best teacher, Japan wants its citizens to know what it will feel like when the ground under their feet starts to heave − and how to protect themselves. So cities across the country have constructed disaster education centers that combine theme-park-style simulations with sober lessons in survival.

Many of the more than 60 centers feature large shake tables where visitors can ride out fake quakes as powerful as the real thing. In some centers, visitors navigate life-size dioramas of crushed cars and teetering power poles while being quizzed on the best response to dangerous situations. Typhoons, floods and fires get hands-on treatment as well.

The centers even earn high marks from tourists on travel sites like TripAdvisor.

Some civic leaders in Seattle have long wanted to import the concept to quake-prone Western Washington, where many residents have only a vague understanding of the risks and tend to shrug off the nagging knowledge that they really ought to put together an emergency kit … one of these days.

“We thought something like this in Seattle might help light a fire under people and government,” said Bill Stafford.

Now retired, Stafford was director of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle a decade ago when he visited a disaster learning center in southern Japan and was stunned to see a line of kids and parents stretching across the parking lot.

Stafford assumed the adults were dragging their kids to an educational outing, but it turned out to be the other way around.

“Every year, every student in the schools has to visit − and they bring their parents,” Stafford said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited Kobe’s Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in 2015 and came away with one image seared into his memory: a vertical banner, several stories tall, that marks the height of past tsunamis and the expected size of a future tsunami from Japan’s infamous Nankai Subduction Zone.

With a similar quake and tsunami looming on the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Washington coast, Inslee said he left convinced that one of the best ways to save lives is to educate coastal residents about where − and how − to evacuate before a wall of water slams into the shore.

“You stand there and see a wave 60 feet high in the atrium of that building, and you look at the devastation to the community,” Inslee said last week at a meeting of his Resilient Washington Subcabinet. “It’s mind-bending − the forces involved in a tsunami.”

[picture 1]
Visitors to the typhoon room at Tokyo’s Honjo Disaster Learning Center can don slickers and grip safety bars before getting blasted with typhoon-force winds and rain. It’s just one of the preparedness theme..

[picture 2]
After watching a film that re-creates scenes from the 1995 quake, visitors to the disaster center in Kobe, Japan, find themselves in a life-size diorama of a battered neighborhood.

The Seatle Times, Published May 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

Japan has disaster theme parks where you can ride out fake earthquakes.

Should we try it in Seattle?

By Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times science reporter

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Thousands protest Japan’s controversial ‘anti-conspiracy bill’

Thousands of Japanese protesters flooded the streets of Tokyo to condemn Japan’s lower house’s approval of a so-called “anti-conspiracy” bill designed to crack down on organized crime and punish those planning to commit “serious crimes” against the state.

On Tuesday, Japan's House of Representatives, approved the so-called “conspiracy bill,” which lists 277 new types of offenses which lawmakers say threaten Japanese national security.

Tokyo argues the legislation needs to be adopted ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 to fight terrorism and organized crime. The Japanese government also says that the bill is necessary to ratify United Nations' Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Opponents of the new measures argue that the government will now be able to prosecute those who have nothing to do with terrorism or serious crime enterprises. Critics further fear the legislation could equate such offenses as sit-in protests and violations of copyrights to “serious crimes.”

The proposed bill needs to be ratified by the upper house, the House of Councillors, before it becomes a law. It is expected to be enacted as the ruling coalition also has a majority in the upper house.

Recalling the Japanese police state policies of the 1930-1940’s, thousands of Japanese took to the streets to decry the erosion of their civil liberties and to protest increased police powers.

Protesters carried placards condemning Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government. They also chanted slogans venting their opposition to several other issues, including Japan's nuclear power policies, the American presence in Okinawa and an increase in the hourly wage.

A recent survey by the Kyodo News agency revealed a public split over the bill, with 39.9 percent supporting the legislation and 41.4 percent opposing it.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy also voiced concern over the new bill in an open letter to Abe, arguing the law would include offenses that have nothing to do with organized crime or terrorism.

“Serious concern is expressed that the proposed bill, in its current form and in combination with other legislation, may affect the exercise of the right to privacy as well as other fundamental public freedoms given its potential broad application,” the letter from rapporteur Joseph Cannataci said.

In response, the Japanese government sent a letter of protest to the UN. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has also dismissed UN concerns over possible violations of privacy as “utterly incorrect.”

rt.com Edited time: 25 May, 2017 12:48
Thousands protest Japan’s controversial ‘anti-conspiracy bill’

プライバシー権に関する国連特別報告者ジョセフ・ケナタッチ氏が公開書簡で、「共謀罪」の趣旨を含む組織犯罪処罰法改正案に懸念を示したことを巡り、日本政府が火消しに懸命になっている。法案の問題点の核心を突かれ、国会審議に影響が出かねないからだ。ただ、懸念を払拭(ふっしょく)するために丁寧に説明するというよりも、「国連の立場を反映するものではない」(菅義偉(すがよしひで)官房長官)といった切り捨て型の反論が目立つ。 (生島章弘、宮尾幹成)

2017年5月24日 東京新聞朝刊
「共謀罪」プライバシー置き去り 国連特別報告者「深刻な欠陥ある法案」

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Shinzo Abe and wife, Akie Abe

Japan’s prime minister and his wife have been drawn directly into the growing scandal over an ultra-nationalist kindergarten, with a central figure claiming under oath that the pair made a secret donation.

The kindergarten operator testified to parliament that the first lady, Akie Abe, gave him an envelope containing 1m yen (£7,100) and said it was from Shinzo Abe. The government denies the claims.

Yasunori Kagoike, president of the Moritomo Gakuen group, also said there “probably” was political influence behind it securing a huge discount on public land in Osaka earmarked for its proposed new school.

The scandal, which has already taken a toll on the Abe government’s popularity, began with revelations that Moritomo Gakuen had purchased land at just one-seventh of the appraised value.

Abe denies any connection to the land deal and has said he would resign if he was shown to be personally involved. The first lady was originally listed as the honorary principal for the planned school, but stood down after the controversy broke.

Kagoike claimed he received the envelope when Akie Abe gave a speech at the kindergarten in September 2015. The two were allegedly alone in a room.

“She said, ‘please, this is from Shinzo Abe,’ and gave me an envelope with 1m yen in it,” Kagoike told a parliamentary committee on Thursday. “Abe’s wife apparently says she doesn’t remember this at all, but since this was a matter of honour to us, I remember it quite vividly.”

The prime minister last week categorically rejected the donations claims, but Kagoike’s statement may carry greater weight with the public now he has repeated it under oath to parliament. Kagoike is the first sworn witness summoned in nearly five years and false claims can attract perjury charges.

The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, repeated the denials on Thursday and played down the possibility of Akie Abe being asked to testify to clear up the contradiction.

“We have to be cautious about summoning people over acts that present no legal issue,” Suga told reporters.

Kagoike is linked to Nippon Kaigi, a nationalist lobby group that wants to rewrite the US-authored pacifist constitution and whose members include Shinzo Abe and more than a dozen cabinet colleagues.

In an address to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan later on Thursday, Kagoike gave an insight into why he had decided to speak out so forcefully against a prime minister whom he believed was doing a “wonderful job” overall.

Kagoike said he did not want to be “used as a scapegoat” for the land discount scandal and was angry that the Abes had backed away from their previous messages of support for the group’s educational philosophies.

The kindergarten has attracted attention for requiring its young pupils to bow before portraits of the imperial family, sing the national anthem daily, and learn the 1890 imperial rescript on education, which emphasises sacrifice for the country.

Parents of some former pupils have asked officials in Osaka to investigate claims of borderline abuse and racism.

The finance ministry has said the land price was cut from 956m yen to 134m yen to take account of the cost of removing industrial waste on the site. But the school plans have been withdrawn amid conflicting claims about construction costs, and the ministry plans to buy back the block.

The defence minister, Tomomi Inada, was drawn into the saga last week when the former lawyer apologised for wrongly denying to parliament that she had represented the school operator in a 2004 case.

Opinion polls published this month show the cabinet’s approval ratings have fallen by between three and 10 points, but still remain at about 50%. An election is due late next year.

The Guardian, Last modified on Thursday 23 March 2017 22.00 GMT

Shinzo Abe and wife accused of giving cash to ultra-nationalist school

Kindergarten operator testifies that Akie Abe handed him 1m yen saying it was from her husband

By Daniel Hurst in Tokyo

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Melania Trump and/or Brigitte Macron

If there was ever going to be another First Lady to out-glam Melania Trump, then Brigitte Macron was the woman for the mission.

Recently installed in the Elysee Palace, Macron has fast gained a reputation for her Louis Vuitton wardrobe, glossy Lob (that's long bob, by the way) and nonchalantly modern yet elegant way of putting a look together. Indeed, she has been hailed as having the credentials to reinvent notions of Parisian chic.

Mrs Trump's glamazon polish by now needs little introduction, but has been confirmed over the past week via a series of cinched-waist suits, ultra-feminine Dolce and Gabbana lace dresses and an unerring dedication to immaculate grooming as she has accompanied her husband on his first foreign tour.

So if the diplomatic stakes were high for the meetings of the Presidents of France and America this afternoon, then just imagine the meticulous planning which will have gone into prepping Macron and Trump for their wives summit.

In pure first impression terms, Melania Trump reigned supreme. She had chosen a custom-made beige leather suit by Belgian design house Maison Ullens for the Brussels meeting. Yes, 'leather' and 'beige', in front of all the world's cameras. Quite a feat. Paired with her carefully touselled, honey-hued locks and dazzling smile, the chances of anyone else getting a look in were about as tiny as the prospect of President Trump being able to hold his wife's hand for even one walk down a set of aeroplane steps.

There was hope yet though for Brigitte Macron who had once again been outfitted by Louis Vuitton, the French label with which she has become closely linked since she began frequently borrowing their pieces after meeting Delphine Arnault- Executive Vice President of the house- in 2014.

Opting for a chic LBD with a low slung, Vuitton-branded belt, Macron's tactic seemed to be that it was pointless trying to compete with Trump, instead taking the 'effortless' route, a word not in Melania's vocabulary. In many ways, it worked. She looked cool (especially with a monogrammed Vuitton 'Twist' bag slung over her shoulder) and not too-try-hard, qualities one could never pin against La Trump. Some observed that there was grumpy look about Macron's wife, perhaps not surprising given her own political differences with the American contingent.

But then Melania pulled her, excuse the pun, Trump card. Meeting again later in the day, most of the other NATO wives, among them Ermine Erdogan of Turkey, Amélie Derbaudrenghien of Belgium and Madame Macron herself had remained in the same versatile, sophisticated looks as before.

Melania, however, emerged in a sleek black off-shoulder cocktail dress (another Dolce and Gabbana concoction). No amount of breezy nonchalance could hide Macron's irked expression at this point, which means round two- when it comes- will be all the more fascinating.

The Telegraph, Published: 25 MAY 2017 • 8:36PM
When Melania Trump met Brigitte Macron: which First Lady won in the style stakes?
By Bethan Holt, digital fashion editor

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No rest for the ambitious

I was upset to hear that my child’s piano teacher had moved the class’s end-of-term exam to the evening so she could have an additional day off for the upcoming National Reunification–Labour Day holiday weekend. The 12 children will thus have to take the exam at 8.30pm on Sunday.

On the one hand I was angry because 8.30pm should be bedtime for these kids, who are not yet 11 years old. And after a long day of play and activities, they should not be put under the pressure of taking a music exam when they cannot perform at their best.

When I spoke up against this decision, I was even more surprised by the other parents’ attitude. They agreed with the teacher and I felt ridiculous.

After the class, one of the parents came up to me and agreed that 8:30pm was too late for the children to take an exam.

This is only an extra-curricular music class. These kids are not training to go to music schools or become musicians. Music for them is fun, not supposed to be an ordeal. It’s not something they have to do to please others, only themselves.

At a conference held in Hồ Chí Minh City last year, Dr Jonathan Halévy issued a warning about sleep deprivation among children and adolescents in Việt Nam. Halévy is a pediatrician at Family Medical Practice, a private foreign-owned clinic.

“Sleeping is very important for normal brain development, for body growth and for normal hormonal function (such as growth hormones). Even bodybuilders know that muscles grow during sleep, not only in the gym," he tells Việt Nam News in an e-mail interview. "Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive impacts.”

On a national scale, it seems that parents are stretching their children’s bed times later and later. In the past, when electricity was scarce and expensive, children were told to go to bed early. Now it is available and affordable, and parents can enjoy late TV shows or go online into the night, and their children follow suit.

On a regular weekday evening one sees young children on motorbikes or taking a walk with their parents or going with them to a cafe or beer hall well past their bedtime.

“Việt Nam is the only place I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen babies taken to the movie theater at 10pm, toddlers hanging out with their parents at a night club, surrounded by people who smoke and drink alcohol. I can’t understand how irresponsible parents can be.

"In any other country, places like this will not allow people younger than 18 or 21 to enter, but in Việt Nam it seems there is no age limit.”

At the HCM City conference, the doctor said an alarming rate of nearly 40 per cent of children in Western societies lack sleep. “Statistics in Western countries talk about close to 40 per cent of teenagers suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. I don’t know accurate numbers in Việt Nam, but I suspect the situation here is even worse.”

Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to psychological disorders.

Every time I hear a mother complain about her child going to sleep late, say after 9.30pm, another pops up and says her kids go to bed as late as 11pm, as if to comfort the first woman.

Urban parents wanting to go out for an evening’s entertainment but not having a babysitter simply take their kids with them. Some, or even most restaurants, bars, cafes do not have rules banning children.

During the children’s International Day on June 1, many children’s music and game shows only started at 8pm. By the end, at 10pm, some of the kids had already fallen asleep or were too excited long after the show to fall asleep.

Dr Halévy thinks Vietnamese children are overworked by their tight study schedule. “Vietnamese parents are very dedicated and they want to give their child the best education possible. Many teenagers take supplemental lessons in mathematics, English etc. after school hours.
Then they return home to have a quick dinner and do their homework. By the time they get to bed it’s already close to midnight (or even past midnight).

“Some schools in Việt Nam work in “shifts” and classes start very early, which means children must wake up at 5am to get to school on time. That leaves the child with very little time to rest.”

Dr Halévy writes that he had many teenage patients that were sleeping less than six hours a day.

“Parents should understand that children need sleep as much as they need food to function and stay healthy. The same way a parent will never think of depriving his child of food, he shouldn’t deprive his child of sleep. And if parents want their children to excel in their studies − they need to make sure they get enough sleep.”

It’s about time the National Committee to Protect Children takes action on behalf of the children by issuing instructions on suitable time frames for public activities geared toward children, and warning parents about the danger of sleep deprivation.

Theatres usually do not even have matinee shows for children during weekends.

Back to my child’s music exam. The teacher said it’s only a three-minute exam. But after a full-day of activity, topped by a late evening exam, it takes at least an hour for their nerves to calm down and switch to sleeping mode.

She has already offered to move my child to another exam day.

“To take the exam with strange kids and without my teacher being there?” my child asked. “I’d rather take the 8.30pm exam.”

On Sunday, as we arrived at the test hall, we saw not only kids taking their test with an accompanying parent, but whole families: father and mother, the child taking the test, and worst of all, toddlers in the arms of older relatives.

It was more than just an exam, it was a special occasion marking the progress of a child taking music lessons.

It was a festive opportunity too, as many of the young musicians received a bouquet of flowers congratulating them on their achievement, whether they passed or failed.

After previous tests, we would go out for an ice-cream as a reward for all the kids’ work and commitment. The kids appreciated the treat, and the parents had an opportunity to get to know each other, with the music bringing children and their families closer.

It’s important for the children to feel content after the stress of an exam. The chance to relax with ice-cream is part of making the kids feel happy, and helps with a sound night’s sleep. Happiness, after all, is the main reason for children to learn music.

Viet Num News, Update: April, 30/2017 - 09:00
Vietnamese children don’t get enough sleep
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Parents are rushing to enroll their children in reading and writing classes to prepare for the new academic year.

Yen, a parent in Thu Duc district in HCMC, had decided to send her daughter, who has finished preschool, to her mother's house in Tra Vinh province, so the girl could enjoy the summer holiday in the countryside. However, she later changed her mind.

“I have to send my daughter to reading and writing class, or she will lag behind classmates when entering the first grade,” she explained.

Many Vietnamese parents, like Yen, say their children have to learn reading and writing before entering the first grade.

When reporters visited the Children’s Cultural House, they saw many parents waiting for their children in front of classrooms. A parent said her 5-year-old daughter was practicing spelling in the class.

“Educators say children should only begin learning reading and writing at the age of six. But I believe that it would be better to begin at five. There are child prodigies who can read at the age of 3-4,” she said.

A teacher at the cultural house said most of the children could recognize letters, including preschoolers.

The classes admit children of different ages, including preschool children. Some parents hire private tutors to teach their children at home.

Pham Thuy Ha, headmaster of Nguyen Van Troi Primary School, commented that the majority of parents believe that it would be better for their children to learn reading and writing in advance.

“Getting children to learn reading and writing in advance may bring some immediate benefits but will cause long-term negative effects,” she said.

Vo Van Nam, a lecturer at the HCMC University of Education, said the children who can read and write before entering the first grade, will not be able to concentrate in class because they think they already have the knowledge.

Nam went on to say that it is necessary to prepare children for the first grade. However, this does not mean that children need to learn to read and write in advance. Parents should help their children have self-confidence, energy and enthusiasm to speak their mind in the class.

“Let children grow up in a natural way and don’t force them to do things before the appropriate age,” Nam concluded.

Vietnum Net, Last update 08:10 - 25/05/2017
Kids spend summer learning how to read and write before entering first grade

Updated sleep recommendations for children and teens point to the benefits of getting enough sleep and the dangers of getting too little.

“At least 25 per cent of 12-year-olds get less than the recommended nine hours of sleep per night and there is increasing evidence that this impacts learning and memory,” said Dr Stuart F. Chan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, a co-author of the new American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guidelines.

The new recommendations, online now on the AASM website and scheduled for publication in the Journal Of Clinical Sleep Medicine, “use a more rigorous evaluation of the scientific literature than was used previously,” said Chan. “The range of recommended hours of sleep for each age grouping is wider than before,” but the guideline still stresses that children and teenagers “need substantial amounts of sleep.”

For optimal health, children and teens should get the following hours of sleep (per 24 hours) on a regular basis:

– Infants four months to one year of age: 12-16 hours, including naps;

– Children one to two years-old: 11-14 hours, including naps;

– Children three to five years-old: 10-13 hours, including naps;

– Children six to 12 years-old: 9-12 hours;

– Teenagers 13-18 years-old: 8-10 hours.

Sleep disorders that keep youngsters from meeting these recommendations take a toll on their health, Chan notes. For example, he said, “sleep apnea is associated with poor school performance, mood and behaviour problems, misdiagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and, if severe, potentially heart problems.”

Insomnia, which affects up to one in four adolescents and one in three preschoolers, is associated with “poor school performance, increased mood and health problems and risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation,” said Chan. It’s also associated with increased risk of developing a new medical problem and starting the use of a new psychiatric medication.

The biggest challenge is making sure the child has enough time in bed, Chan said. “Frequently, a child or teen will not go to bed early enough or they are awakened too early. The reasons for this are varied, but revolve around family dynamics, social issues and, in the case of teens, school start times.”

Here are some suggestions to promote better sleep:

– Don’t allow TV, cell phones, tablets or other electronic devices in the bedroom; in addition to distracting children and teens, they often emit light that delays sleep onset, according to Chan.

– Schedule homework, social and extracurricular activities at times that still permit adequate sleep.

– Limit intense activity in the hours before bedtime.

– Keep sleep schedules the same on weekdays, weekends and during school vacations. Adopting an irregular schedule during holidays means it will be harder to re-adapt when school starts again.

Chan advises parents to talk with their family doctor or a pediatrician if sleep problems persist.

“Given the increasingly busy schedules of children, particularly teenagers, parents can use the guidelines to determine if their child even has enough opportunity (time in bed) to get the recommended amount of sleep to optimise their health,” said Dr Dan Combs, an assistant professor of sleep medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, US.

“Likewise, if children are getting the right amount of sleep, but are still sleepy during the day, or if they are sleeping more than recommended, this should raise a red flag that there may be an underlying sleep disorder that is affecting the child’s health.”

The Star2, Published: June 15, 2016
Kids who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of suicide

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Western accent and/or Malaysian accent

I VERY vividly remember being bored along with the rest of my university class while a group presented their assignment. The five presenters took turns to read off their slides but everything they said just flew over our heads.

Then, one of them took the PowerPoint remote and started speaking – and suddenly everyone in the class, including the lecturer, lifted their heads in attention. This guy, who is a friend and now a successful radio deejay, wasn’t saying anything ground-breaking or interesting or with much charisma or presence, he was just saying it with a Western accent.

I remember this because it was one of my “Why did I just do that?” moments – like when I catch myself closing Facebook, only to reopen Facebook again or stop singing in the car when someone pulls up next to me. Why did his accent trigger attention, maybe even respect for his time, in me and the rest of the class?

I’m the last third-generation Cheng kid to move overseas for either work or studies. During my visits to my sister and cousins (whom I love), I enjoy making fun of how they put on accents when they are in the United Kingdom or Australia. This may sound a littletoo much, but come on. Who are you fooling? You’re a born-and-bred Malaysian. Speak like a Malaysian.

The common reasons they and those that I have confronted with this petty pet peeve give are usually:
1. I’m adapting to the culture here.
2. I refine the way I speak because the orang putih won’t understand my Malaysian accent.

That is understandable, according to University Sains Malaysia associate professor in sociology Dr Azrina Husin.

“There’s this concept of the out group and the in group. When Malaysians are overseas, they are the out group, the minority to the in group who are the locals. It’s a natural thing to want to adopt the culture, including the way the more dominant group speaks,” she told me over the phone.

Fair enough. But I had an observational follow-up question.

I know foreigners who have lived in Kuala Lumpur for years and never lost their foreign accents. And I have also known Malaysians who have gone overseas and returned with changed accents – and kept speaking that way. Why does the principle of out group/in group seemingly not apply when the Western accent is the out group here?

“It becomes a mark of status,” she replies. “It distinguishes them from the rest of us. It’s a symbol. That I have been to the UK or the US and it speaks for the person’s superiority. It’s not true but that is the way cultures are perceived.”

I’ve always had that theory, but it’s just so much nicer having it come from a professor isn’t it? So aha! I caught you!

The elation of having my inner demon validated quickly turned to melancholy. And then more questions came.

Why do we think our accents are less “superior” to a Westerner’s? Why are some Malaysians not proud of how we sound?

I took those questions to Kevin Chong, the deejay I started the column with. What Chong told me was he consciously chose a “global” accent, something he had been refining since he was 16, because he felt it made him sound more professional and gave him a better chance for a job on-air, which worked.

He’s at least right on the job part. A 2010 University of Chicago study found that people perceived those who speak with “non-native” accents as being less credible. And that doesn’t apply to just jobs.

It also extends to how much we are willing to trust a person, be it an eyewitness and even a journalist.

“The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent,” the study said.

Azrina said this inherent bias towards the West was because we have been conditioned through years of television and movies that they are the good guys. That their identity is the benchmark to strive for. The West essentially won the cultural war.

The problem is even worse for Malaysians, Azrina continues, because due to decades of racial segregation, we do not have a strong uniform national identity and sense of belonging – which makes it very easy for us to adopt and switch cultures or accents. That’s particularly telling, considering even in The Star’s Moderation survey, 21% of Malaysians say they identify themselves as a race first before they do as a Malaysian.

I would say I was one of those in that 21%. And then I went over to the United States.

My accent became one of the few things I had that reminded me of a home I didn’t realise I would miss this much. You know, I was actually very afraid that at least subconsciously, I too would begin to change it to fit in or to gain status, or whatever. That would mean I’d have to admit I’m a hypocrite and my millennial self-esteem cannot take such a beating.

Then, one day an editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, where I’m working under my press fellowship, asked me this: “Are you Singaporean? You speak like my Singaporean ex-wife”. That was the only time I was happy being compared to a Singaporean.

My accent doesn’t change the words that come out of my mouth or my ability to learn or earn my keep. My Malaysian identity doesn’t alienate me from the global community.

It is that diversity that the community celebrates. Any community where you feel the need to change who you are to gain acceptance isn’t a community worth being a part of.

So be proud of our accents and origin. We wouldn’t have gotten this far if not for where we came from.

The Star, PUblished: Friday, 26 May 2017
Why do we lose our accents overseas?

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Learn history through objects

THROUGHOUT history, there have been many diplomatic feats. The admission of the Federation of Malaya into the United Nations in 1957. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein’s visit to China in 1974. The Look East policy which gave birth to our national car.

But among all, the greatest of them was the negotiation that won Malaysia’s independence.

Led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the delegation spent eight days at the British Colonial Office in London in 1957. Upon their return, they were greeted by a crowd of 2,000 at the Sungai Besi Air Force base in Kuala Lumpur.

This momentous fact is the first thing greeting visitors at the “Diplomacy@60: Then and Now” exhibition at Museum Negara.

Eighteen embassies were also assigned individual booths to showcase their 60 years of relations with us.

Among the interesting artefacts on display is a letter of credence from US President Dwight David Eisenhower to the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad on the appointment of its first ambassador Homer M. Byington Jr to Malaya in 1957.

This format of flowery prose, said Foreign Ministry communications and public diplomacy principal assistant secretary Mimi Kaur Ramday, is still practised today, reflecting the country’s desire for multilateral advancement in global peace, security and prosperity.

Another juicy bit of trivia reveals how the late Tun Ghazali Shafie, who had been a member of the Cobbold Commission as the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s permanent secretary in 1962, had earned the moniker “King Ghaz”, after the bludgeon-wielding character of King Guzzle, from syndicated comic strip Alley Oop.

Those who can still recall the excitement of man’s first step on the moon should look out for a plastic plaque at the United States booth.

Encased in this plaque is a Malaysian flag which was flown to the moon on the Apollo 11 rocket.

Together with the flag are fragments of moon rock brought back by the crew on its return. Put together by the technical team of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) it was presented to Malaysia by then US president Richard Nixon.

Ramday said the idea for the exhibition was hatched as far back as 2008 when all Malaysian embassies abroad were asked to send back their obsolete machines. But because of financial constraints, the exhibition could not be realised, until last year.

The mission started at the storerooms to retrieve old photo albums.

Ramday said Foreign Ministry staff had to brave cobwebs and the smell of rats for the task. Their most elating find?

A copy of Ghazali’s identity card when he was in his 20s.

Credit also goes to division under-secretary Dr Shazelina Zainul, who undertook the task of captioning the photos, giving names to faces and description of events.

“Diplomacy@60: Then and Now” is on until July 15 at from 9am to 5pm, daily.

Admission is free.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 25 May 2017
Learn history through objects of diplomacy

YINCHUAN, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Two ancient tombs were discovered at a construction site in the city of Wuzhong in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, officials confirmed Wednesday.

A tomb dating back to Song Dynasty (960-1127) was found Sunday when workers were digging a cable duct in Litong District, said Ren Shufang, head of the city's cultural heritage authority.

The tomb, containing a female skeleton, was buried three meters deep. A bronze mirror and dozens of coins were also found, Ren said.

The four Chinese characters, chang ming fu gui, meaning longevity and wealth, were carved on the back of the mirror, she said.

Another tomb was unearthed three meters away under a major city road Tuesday. A blue and white porcelain bowl and a black glazed pot were found, based on which the tomb was estimated to be from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), said Ren.

Archaeologists concluded that there was no connection between the two tombs.

Multiple tomb clusters have been unearthed around Wuzhong and rare artifacts from various dynasties have been found.

The largest cluster discovered so far included 123 tombs from the Northern Wei (386-557) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. It was excavated in 2005 and 2006 in the city's northern suburbs.

Xinhua Net, Posted: 2017-05-25 16:14:39
Ancient tombs found in construction site

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WHO elects first African head

The governing body of the World Health Organization on Tuesday elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health minister, to head the global health agency responsible for marshaling the international response to infectious disease epidemics such as Ebola and Zika.

He is the first WHO director-general from Africa.

During the third and final round of balloting in Geneva, members of the World Health Assembly voted 133 to 50 to pick Tedros, as he is known, to be the next director-general, according to unofficial tallies. Cheers broke out, observers said, as he beat out David Nabarro, a 67-year-old physician and longtime United Nations official from Britain, and Sania Nishtar, a 54-year-old cardiologist from Pakistan. It was the first time member states took part in a secret ballot that gave each member state an equal vote. In the past, leaders were chosen by an executive board and voting took place behind closed doors. Nishtar was eliminated during the first round of voting.

There were 186 member states eligible to cast ballots. Eight others had not paid their dues in time or were not represented at the 10-day gathering. In the final round of voting, there were two abstentions, observers said.

Tedros told the delegates that it was “pure luck” that he was competing to lead the WHO, noting that when he was growing up in Ethiopia, he was seven years old when his younger brother was killed by a common childhood disease and that it could easily have been him. “While WHO has never had a director from Africa, no one should elect me because I am from Africa,” he said. Observers tweeted that Ethiopian delegates could be seen hugging and high-fiving one another after their countryman made it to the second round, which Tedros went on to win with 121 votes versus Nabarro's 62.

The election comes at a critical time for the WHO. It has experienced huge budget cuts over the years, lost many talented staff members and was heavily criticized for its slow and ineffective response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in three West African countries that killed more than 11,000 people. A recent editorial in the Lancet said the election comes at a time of “unparalleled uncertainty” for the organization. It said: “Vastly more is expected of WHO while its role is contested and constrained.”

All three candidates had pledged deep changes to the U.N. agency, promising greater accountability and transparency. The winner, who will serve a five-year term, takes office July 1, succeeding Margaret Chan, who has held the post since November 2006.

The United States, its largest donor, was represented by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He congratulated Tedros and called on the WHO to reform and strengthen the organization and “enhance the ability of all nations to protect the health of their people.” Even as he noted that “global health security begins at home,” the Trump administration's budget for 2018 calls for massive cuts in spending on U.S. scientific research, global health, disease prevention programs and health insurance for children of the working poor.

As the cash-strapped WHO seeks more money to fund responses to worldwide crises, it has also been struggling to control its travel costs. The WHO, with a $2 billion annual budget, routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel, far more than what it spends to fight some of its biggest problems in public health, according to the Associated Press. The WHO said nearly 60 percent of the cost is for travel of external experts to support countries and for representatives of member states to travel to technical meetings and sessions of WHO governing bodies.

Only the WHO can declare a global public health emergency. But dealing with epidemics is only part of its responsibilities. It has considerable influence in setting medical priorities that affect billions of people. Its mission includes tackling antimicrobial resistance, confronting the growing problems of obesity and diabetes, and reducing maternal and infant mortality during childbirth.

Public health experts say one of the biggest challenges facing the WHO is getting rid of the deeply entrenched politics that affects the selection, promotion and support of its staff. One primary reason that the WHO’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak was “not competent” is that “they didn’t have the right people in the right places,” said Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Highly competent representatives were later appointed in the three West African countries. With good representatives, the “WHO can accomplish amazing things,” he said in an interview before the election.

But senior positions, such as the WHO assistant director-generals, are appointed on a “geographic quota system,” Frieden said. “Many have little technical expertise in the area they are overseeing. Whoever becomes the next will only succeed if they make their key human resource decisions on the basis of technical and operational excellence.”

Several global health organizations welcomed his selection.

Jeremy Farrar, who heads the Wellcome Trust, a London-based global biomedical research charity, which did not endorse a candidate, said Tedros “will bring great insight and the political leadership necessary to restore trust in the WHO at a critical moment in its history.” He said the new WHO chief “has the power to herald a new era in how the world prepares for and responds to epidemics, including building partnerships, strengthening public health systems, and developing new vaccines and therapies that are available to all who need them.”

Steve Davis, the chief executive of PATH, a Seattle-based international health technology nonprofit, also said it will be important for Tedros to act on lessons learned from Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo so the global community is better prepared to respond swiftly to future outbreaks before they spiral out of control. He also urged the new leader to increase global access to lifesaving medicines and technologies and continue progress toward ending HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and preventable maternal and child deaths.

In the run-up to the vote, the battle seemed to narrow to a race between Tedros and Nabarro, who has wide experience on the front lines of global health and in the U.N. system, where he has spent much of his career. Tedros, 52, was Ethiopia’s health minister from 2005 to 2012 and foreign minister until 2016. He was the only nonmedical doctor among the three candidates. He was backed by the African Union as well as countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean. He presided over a dramatic expansion of Ethiopia’s health system and reductions in infant and maternal mortality as well as deaths from malaria. He also extended the reach of the health system deep into remote rural areas.

But just before the election, he and the Ethiopian government were accused of covering up cholera outbreaks, referring to them instead as “acute watery diarrhea.” It is not clear whether Tedros had any input in the government’s decision, but the change occurred during his tenure as health minister. He has denied any coverup.

The accusation against Tedros prompted Frieden to point out last week that while “not optimal,” many countries report cholera to the WHO as acute watery diarrhea. After Tedros's election, Frieden praised him. “Tedros is an excellent choice to lead WHO,” he said in an email. “He succeeded in Ethiopia, making remarkable health progress by rapidly reforming a sclerotic bureaucracy and implementing effective community-based services,” Frieden wrote. “Precisely the same thing is needed to make WHO effective providing technical guidance and improving support to countries.”

Tedros has also been criticized by human rights groups because of his ties to a government known for its poor human rights record.

Nabarro has had years of experience dealing with outbreaks and crises for the United Nations, including avian flu, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and Ebola. But critics say that as a longtime insider, he would have difficulty introducing the radical change needed to overhaul the agency.

Nishtar, the Pakistani doctor, had the least amount of management experience and experience with outbreaks. She served briefly as health minister and has worked on noncommunicable diseases for years as head of a nongovernmental organization. She is the only candidate who promised to serve a single five-year term.

The Washington Post, Published: May 23, 2017
WHO chooses first African to head the global health agency

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Enjoy each moment

ONE of the funny things in life is how our perspective changes as we grow older. When we are in our teens, we are hugely influenced by the media. Pretty things to wear, funky things to own or cool crowds to belong to would drive us towards our career goals. In our 20s, once settled in our career, some might realise that the swanky homes or flashy cars they wanted don't bring them the joy or fulfilment they thought they would. Their career becomes "just a job" .

As we grow older, many of us find that ageing well without growing old is important. Yet there is a struggle, because of all the cynicism and negativity we have absorbed along the way; the failed promotions, the office politics, the disappointment in marriage and children, all these things might sour us to the point that we feel 50 when we are only 40.
These feelings are now apparently proven to be a reflection of our ageing process. Scientists have discovered that our ageing is dictated not just by our genes, but also what we feed our body, how much we exercise, and our thought patterns.

To cut the long scientific story short, at the end of each chromosome of our cells are the telomeres. Telomeres determine how fast a cell ages; short telomeres are one of the reasons human cells grow old. Scientists have discovered that a few thought patterns shorten the length of telomeres, the first being cynical hostility. This goes beyond being cynical or hostile, but more along the lines of "This guy cut queue on purpose just so that I can't go ahead first". Sounds familiar? How many of you have these thought patterns when in traffic or in a supermarket queue? Or how about the time that woman didn't say hello to you? She did it on purpose right?

How many of you experience this kind of thought patterns throughout the day? Or how many of your friends who are your age but look 20 years older are like this?

The second thought pattern that ages people is pessimism. This also tallies with other research that pessimism is a risk factor for health. You and I both know these kinds of people. They'll say, "If only I could do this or that" and then you support them by saying, "Go for it!" Then all the excuses come up: they are too old, they have a family, they have responsibilities, nobody understands. Well, Donald Trump has all those things and he became the president of the United States. If that can happen, so can all your dreams!

The third thought pattern that adversely affects the length of your telomeres is rumination. Rumination is rehashing your problems in your mind. That woman didn't say hello to you? Must be because she is jealous. She is plotting your downfall. No, wait, not just your downfall, but the downfall of your entire family. What could you do to beat her? Wait, beat only her? Why, you need to beat her and all her descendants until the end of time. Sounds familiar? All of us know at least one person like this. Their telomeres are short, by the way.

With Mother's Day just over, and reading of the sad stories of mothers abandoned in old folks homes, I'm motivated to at least try to be at peace with myself, eat right, exercise enough and foster enough goodwill within so that, among other things, my telomeres don't shorten.

It's a tough life, but sometimes how we view the toughness makes a world of difference, not just to our wellbeing in our mind, but also in our body. Give yourself and those around you a break: let go of things you can't control and enjoy every moment. Your telomeres will thank you!

The Sun Daily, Posted on 25 May 2017 - 08:35am
Enjoy each moment
By Daniel Chandranayagam

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The First Lady

WASHINGTON (AP) − To cover up or not to cover up?

Melania Trump wore a veil to the Vatican on Wednesday to meet the pope, but no head covering a few days earlier to meet the king of Saudi Arabia, a religiously conservative country where most women cover themselves up from head to toe.

Why the difference? The answer is a complicated mix of personal preference, diplomatic protocol and religious dictates.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said Mrs. Trump’s decision to wear a black lace veil known as a mantilla followed Vatican protocol that women who have an audience with the pope must wear long sleeves, formal black clothing and a veil to cover their head. In Saudi Arabia, however, the government did not request that Mrs. Trump wear a head covering known as a hijab, or a headscarf, Grisham said.

The Vatican’s rules of attire are not strictly enforced. Many women, including high-ranking dignitaries, have visited the pontiff with their heads uncovered, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 and Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s top civilian leader, this month.

Many women wear veils out of respect. Mrs. Trump is Catholic, which likely made accompanying President Donald Trump for a meeting with the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Roman Catholics all the more meaningful to her.

When a Vatican official handed her a rosary, the first lady immediately gave it to the pope to bless. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet. She also prayed in the hospital chapel.

Every woman in the U.S. delegation wore a veil, including Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who converted to Judaism before marriage.

In Saudi Arabia, the first lady dressed conservatively for her arrival Saturday in the capital of Riyadh. She wore a long-sleeved, high-necked, black pantsuit that mimicked the loose, black robes, or abayas, that Saudi women and female residents wear. Her attire during the two-day visit hewed to the protocol for high-level female visitors: modest dress, longer sleeves, higher necklines, pants and long dresses.

Ivanka Trump also dressed modestly, and left her head uncovered.

Most Western VIP women who visit Saudi Arabia don’t cover their heads, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and Merkel. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama also left their heads bare when they visited as first ladies. Then-citizen Donald Trump criticized Mrs. Obama for doing so in 2015.

In Riyadh, Mrs. Trump didn’t visit any Muslim holy sites or mosques where head coverings and other steps such as removing one’s shoes would have been required.

In Israel, the Trumps visited the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Donald Trump, who became the first U.S. president to visit the wall while in office, donned a yarmulke − a skullcap − which is customary; the site keeps stacks of them for visitors to wear.

The president also wore a yarmulke at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, where it is not required. Trump likely wore one out of respect.

In keeping with Orthodox Jewish tradition, men and women pray separately at the wall. Ivanka Trump wore a black head covering to the wall, while Melania Trump wore no head covering. Many Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair as a sign of modesty.

At the Vatican, while Mrs. Trump strictly followed tradition and protocol by wearing black and a mantilla, other high-profile visitors have taken liberties with their attire.

In 2006, Cherie Blair, a practicing Catholic and wife of then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, violated protocol outright when she wore white for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Only royals are allowed the “privilege du blanc” − the so-called white privilege that dictates white outfits and white head coverings for queens and other royals when meeting the pontiff.

In 1989, during the landmark audience between Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was the Soviet leader’s wife, Raisa Gorbachev, who stole headlines: She wore a bright red dress.

AP News, May 25, 2017
Why Melania Trump covers her head one day and not the next

Seven years after dating a man who was put behind bars twice for staging pro-democracy protests, Ms Kim Jung Sook went up to him and did something almost unheard of for a woman in the 1970s.

"Are you going to marry me or not? Tell me now," she boldly proposed - to which Mr Moon Jae In, who is now President, said yes.

More than three decades later, the 62-year-old is still breaking tradition, this time as South Korea's new First Lady, and winning over the country along the way.

Her choice of a trendy white jacket over a matching knee-length dress at Mr Moon's inauguration on May 10 - instead of the traditional hanbok - is seen as a signal that she might not stick to the traditional role of first ladies who just stayed quiet beside their husbands.

Political observers noted how she played a pivotal role in Mr Moon's landslide win on May 9 by helping him to win over voters in Jeolla, where his support base was weak. She visited Jeolla every week to talk to voters and understand their concerns.

Yonhap news agency said her cheerful disposition has helped soften the image of Mr Moon, 64, who is often seen as rather brusque.

In a society that is still very much male-dominated and has progressed little in terms of gender equality, Ms Kim's vivacious and outspoken ways could set a good role model for young women.

"I aim to be just myself, as I have always been. A first lady who can communicate with people, like anybody else, in what I call Kim Jung Sook style," she told the Korea Herald newspaper. "I will always keep myself close to the ordinary citizens as first lady."

Social media has been captivated by the story of how she fell in love with Mr Moon and stood by him through his toughest times.

An old video of her laughing next to Mr Moon and holding his arm, like a couple very much in love, has garnered 1.1 million views on Facebook in a week, with over 3,000 raving comments.

They met in college in 1974, where he was studying law and she was a music student. The story goes that their senior wanted to introduce to her someone resembling French actor Alain Delon.

But it was not love at first sight - Mr Moon, whose family was poor and had escaped from the North because of the Korean War of 1950-53, was wearing an old-fashioned jacket that failed to impress.

Things changed after he joined a protest against then authoritarian president Park Chung Hee in 1975 and was hit by tear gas.

"When I opened my eyes, I saw her anxiously wiping my face with a handkerchief," Mr Moon said of the fateful moment worthy of a romantic Korean drama serial.

They became a couple soon after, but her father did not approve of him, and they spent more time apart than together.

Their dates consisted of brief visits she made to see him while he was in prison, while he was in the special forces during his national service and while he was holed up in a hostel cramming for his bar exam.

They married in 1981, and went on to have a son and daughter, now 35 and 34 respectively.

After marriage, Ms Kim gave up her dream of becoming a pianist in order to raise her children - a practice that many South Korean women follow even today.

She was her husband's best supporter, companion and adviser throughout his career as a human rights lawyer, presidential aide and opposition politician.

During his first bid for presidency in 2012 - he lost to Park Geun Hye - she set up social media accounts to campaign alongside him.

Mr Moon has said in interviews that she would sometimes deliver "bitter advice" to him, something unimaginable for traditional wives.

Political commentator David Lee expects Ms Kim to play an active role campaigning for issues that came up during the election, such as gender equality.

Mr Moon pledged during his campaign to tackle discrimination against women, break glass ceilings at work and protect women against violence.

Said Mr Lee: "Moon's wife comes across as very friendly and humble, and she can really mingle with the people, but she's also a very strong-minded lady.

"She has the face of a baby lion. Given how strong a lion is, maybe she can push for a better gender policy in Korea."

Ms Gaye Kim, 28, who works at an Internet firm, hopes that the First Lady can continue to help her husband communicate with the people. "I hope that she can use her power to do something good for the country."

Ms Kim herself has indicated that she will fight for equality.

"I am willing to contribute to building a society where no single person falls victim to injustice or discrimination, but where everyone can have a voice and be respected as much as any other," she said.

The Straits Times, Published: MAY 22, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT
South Korea's vivacious new First Lady charms the nation

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'Fantastic meeting' at the Vatican

Donald Trump vowed Wednesday to use his US presidency to promote global peace after meeting Pope Francis, before heading into a high-stakes summit of the world's biggest military alliance.

Meeting for the first time, the president and the pontiff sidestepped deep differences over issues ranging from the environment to the plight of migrants and the poor.

"Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis," a star-struck Trump wrote on Twitter before leaving Rome for Brussels and the next leg of his first overseas trip as US president.

"I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world," the billionaire former reality TV star said.

In Brussels, a city he once dubbed a "hellhole", Trump however faced thousands of protesters ahead of his first summits on Thursday with wary leaders of NATO and the European Union.

Trump sparked fears of an end to the transatlantic alliance when he dismissed NATO as "obsolete" while on the campaign trail and mortified the EU by backing Brexit.

Trump said that the most important issue during his time in Belgium was terrorism after the "horrible situation" in Manchester, England, where a suicide bomber killed 22 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State.

"We are fighting very hard, doing very well under our generals. Making tremendous progress," Trump told Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

"But when you see something like what happened a few days ago you realize how important it is to win this fight. And we will win this fight."

- 'Fantastic meeting' -

Trump had left Rome declaring his determination for peace following his keenly anticipated encounter with Pope Francis, the 80-year-old former Jesuit priest who has made championing the poor and the third world major themes of his papacy.

In their world view and tastes, the Argentine pontiff who eschews the use of the palaces at his disposal and the luxury hotel tycoon appear worlds apart.

But despite the pope looking initially grim-faced, both men ended up mostly all smiles, relaxed and even jovial.

Accompanied by his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, Trump met Francis in the private library of the Apostolic Palace, the lavish papal residence that the current pope eschews in favour of more modest lodgings.

"He is something," Trump later said of his host. "We had a fantastic meeting."

There was even a light-hearted moment when Francis made an apparent allusion to Trump's imposing physical size.

"What do you feed him on? Potica?" Francis asked Melania, in a reference to a calorie-laden cake that comes from her native Slovenia and is pronounced "potteezza". Reporters initially thought he said "pizza".

Trump also told the pope he was committing more than $300 million (270 million euros) to help prevent or tackle famine in Yemen and several countries in Africa.

The Vatican described the discussions as "cordial" and emphasised the two men's joint opposition to abortion and shared concern for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The pope presented Trump with a medallion engraved with an olive tree, the international symbol of peace.

Francis also gave Trump copies of the three major texts he has published as pope, including one on the environment which urges the industrialised world to curb carbon emissions or risk catastrophic consequences for the planet.

Trump, who has threatened to ignore the Paris accords on emissions and described global warming as a hoax, vowed to read them.

- 'An instrument of peace' -

Trump told his host as he left, "Thank you. Thank you. I won't forget what you said."

"I give it to you so you can be an instrument of peace," the pope said in Spanish. "We can use peace," Trump replied.

Trump's gifts included a collection of first editions by Martin Luther King and a bronze sculpture.

A Vatican statement on the meeting highlighted "the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."

Afterwards, the US first couple were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica.

In Brussels, Trump met Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and held talks with Michel, while around 6,000 people rallied against his policies in the centre of the city.

On Thursday, he first meets EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, having previously backed Britain's shock Brexit vote and saying the EU was a doomed would-be superstate.

He will then hold his first summit with NATO leaders, who are holding out for a public show of Trump's commitment in return for joining the US-led coalition against Islamic State in the wake of the Manchester attacks.

Trump's Vatican visit was the third leg of his overseas trip, after stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The high-profile trip has diverted attention from Trump's domestic pressures over alleged campaign collusion with Russia.

AFP, Published: Wed 24 May 2017
Trump promises peace push after 'fantastic' pope talks

Read more:
After two days lecturing a collection of head-choppers, dictators, torturers and land thieves, Donald Trump at last met a good guy on Wednesday. Pope Francis didn’t ask for a $100bn (£77.2bn) arms deal for the Vatican. He wouldn’t go to war with Iran. He didn’t take the Sunni Muslim side against the Shia Muslim side in the next Middle East conflict. He didn’t talk about Palestinian “terror”. And he looked, most of the time, grim, unsmiling, even suspicious.

The Independent, Published: May 25, 2017
By Robert Fisk

Read more:
The two global leaders, vastly different in temperament and views of the world, talked seriously and extensively in a 30-minute private meeting about terrorism, the radicalization of young people, immigration and climate change, officials said. Details were not revealed.

The Associated Press, Published: May 25, 2017

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Wars in the Middle East

President Trump leaves the Middle East today, having done his bit to make the region even more divided and mired in conflict than it was before.

At the same moment that Donald Trump was condemning the suicide bomber in Manchester as “an evil loser in life”, he was adding to the chaos in which al-Qaeda and Isis have taken root and flourished.

It may be a long distance between the massacre in Manchester and the wars in the Middle East, but the connection is there.

He blamed “terrorism” almost exclusively on Iran and, by implication, on the Shia minority in the region, while al-Qaeda notoriously developed in the Sunni heartlands and its beliefs and practises primarily stem from Wahhabism, the sectarian and regressive variant of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

It flies in the face of all known facts to link the wave of terrorist atrocities since 9/11 on the Shia, who have most usually been its target.

This toxic historical myth-making does not deter Trump. “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” he told an assembly of 55 Sunni leaders in Riyadh on 21 May.

In Israel, he informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 is “a terrible, terrible thing... we gave them a lifeline”.

By furiously attacking Iran, Trump will encourage Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchs to escalate their proxy wars throughout the central core of the Middle East. It will encourage Iran to take precautions and assume that a long-term understanding with the US and the Sunni states is becoming less and less feasible.

There are already some signs that Trump’s endorsement of Sunni states, however repressive, is leading to an escalation of hostilities between Sunni and Shia.

In Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules a Shia majority, the security forces attacked the Shia village of Diraz today. It is home to the island’s leading Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who has just received a one-year suspended sentence for financing extremism.

One man in the village is reported to have been killed as the police moved in, using armoured vehicles and firing shotguns and tear gas canisters.

President Obama had frosty relations with the Bahraini rulers because of the mass incarceration of protesters and use of torture when the security forces crushed democratic protests in 2011.

Trump backed away from past policy when he met Bahraini King Hamad in Riyadh at the weekend, saying: “Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration.”

The bombing in Manchester – and atrocities attributed to Isis influence in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin – are similar to even worse slaughter of tens of thousands in Iraq and Syria. These get limited attention in the Western media, but they continually deepen the sectarian war in the Middle East.

The only feasible way to eliminate organisations capable of carrying out these attacks is to end the seven wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north east Nigeria – that cross-infect each other and produce the anarchic conditions in which Isis and al-Qaeda and their clones can grow.

But to end these wars, there needs to be political compromise between main players like Iran and Saudi Arabia and Trump’s belligerent rhetoric makes this almost impossible to achieve.

Of course, the degree to which his bombast should be taken seriously is always uncertain and his declared policies change by the day.

On his return to the US, his attention is going to be fully focused on his own political survival, not leaving much time for new departures, good or bad, in the Middle East and elsewhere. His administration is certainly wounded, but that has not stopped doing as much harm as he could in the Middle East in a short space of time.

The Independent, Published: Wed 24 May 2017

The only real way to stop atrocities like the Manchester attack is to end the wars which allow extremism to grow

To end these wars, there needs to be political compromise between main players like Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Donald Trump's belligerent rhetoric this week makes this almost impossible to achieve

By Patrick Cockburn

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White House

WASHINGTON − The poor and the disabled are big losers in President Donald Trump's $4.1 trillion budget proposal while the Pentagon is a big winner.

Trump's plan for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 makes deep cuts in safety net programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. The proposal also includes big cuts in Social Security's disability program.

Defense spending and border security would get significant boosts.

The winners and losers:

− The military: Trump's budget proposal would add $469 billion to defense spending over the next decade.
− Border security: The proposal includes $2.6 billion for border security technology, including money to design and build a wall along the southern border. Trump repeatedly promised voters during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, a notion that Mexican officials rejected. Instead, the U.S. taxpayer will foot the bill.
− The elderly: Trump's budget plan does not address Social Security or Medicare benefits for retirees, even though both programs are on track to become insolvent in the coming decades.
− New parents: The budget plan includes a new paid leave program for the parents of newborn children. Under the program, mothers and fathers could take up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Trump's budget summary says the program is fully paid for but includes only $19 billion over the next decade.
− Veterans: The budget proposal calls for an increase for the Veterans Administration, including $29 billion over the next decade for the Choice program. The program allows veterans to seek outside medical care from private doctors.
− Doctors: The budget proposes to cap jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.
− Medicare and Medicaid fraud prevention efforts would get a $70 million increase next year.

− The Poor: Trump's budget would slash Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program by $616 billion over the next decade. These programs provide health insurance for millions of poor families.
− The Poor, Part II: Trump's budget would cut the food stamp program by $191 billion over the next decade.
− The Poor, Part III: Trump's budget would cut funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by $22 billion over the next decade.
− The Disabled: Trump's budget calls for cutting Social Security disability benefits by nearly $70 billion over the next decade by encouraging and, in some cases, requiring people receiving the benefits to re-enter the workforce.
− College Students: Trump's proposal would cut student loans by $143 billion over the next decade.
− Farmers: The budget plan would cut farm subsidies by $38 billion over the next decade.
− Young Workers: By not addressing Social Security or Medicare benefits for retirees, Trump's budget increases the likelihood that young workers will eventually face either significant benefit cuts or big tax increases. Social Security's trust funds are projected to run dry in 2034 and Medicare's is projected to run out of money in 2028. If Congress allows either fund to run dry, millions of Americans living on fixed incomes would face steep cuts in benefits.
− The Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay: Trump's budget would eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program, saving $427 million next year.
− Planned Parenthood: The budget would prohibit any funding for certain entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood.
− The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The agency, which fights everything from AIDS to Zika, would have its budget cut about 18 percent, to $6.3 billion.
− The National Institutes of Health: The budget for the premier medical research agency would be cut by 18 percent, to $26 billion.
− Science: The American Association for the Advancement of Science estimates the budget proposal would cut overall federal spending on scientific research by 16.8 percent.

The New York Times, Published: MAY 23, 2017, 2:37 P.M. E.D.T.
Poor and Disabled Big Losers in Trump Budget; Military Wins
By Associated Press, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Hope Yen, Lauran Neergaard and Seth Borenstein

Read more:
The New York Times, Published: MAY 22, 2017
Trump’s Budget Cuts Deeply Into Medicaid and Anti-Poverty Efforts

Read more:
Donald Trump's revised American Health Care Act (AHCA) - the Republican's replacement for Obamacare - would leave 23 million Americans without health insurance by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found.
The Independent, Published: May 25, 2017
By Emily Shugerman, Mythili Sampathkumar in New York

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White Elephant

RIO DE JANEIRO − A federal prosecutor looking into last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics says that many of the venues "are white elephants" that were built with "no planning."

The scathing report offered Monday at a public hearing confirms what The Associated Press reported several months after the games ended. Many of the venues are empty, boarded up, and have no tenants or income with the maintenance costs dumped on the federal government.

"There was no planning," federal prosecutor Leandro Mitidieri told the public hearing on the Olympics. "There was no planning when they put out the bid to host the Games. No planning.

"They are white elephants today," Mitidieri added. "What we are trying to look at here is to how to turn this into something usable."

Rio de Janeiro spend about $12 billion to organize the games, which were plagued by cost-cutting, poor attendance, and reports of bribes and corruption linked to the building of some Olympic-related facilities.

The Olympic Park in suburban Barra da Tijuca, which was the largest cluster of venues, is an expanse of empty arenas with clutter still remaining from the games. The second largest cluster, in the northern area of Deodoro, is closed despite plans to open it as a public park with swimming facilities for the mostly poor who live in the area.

Patricia Amorim, the undersecretary for sports in the city of Rio, said highly publicized plans were on hold to dismantle one arena and turn the remains into four schools. The arena was the venue for handball.

"It will be dismantled," she said. "We are just waiting to know whether we will actually have resources to build these schools on other sites, or whether we will dismantle it and wait for the resources to come. Our schools need to be reformed and that's our priority, not new schools."

Nine months after the Rio Olympics ended, the local organizing committee still owes creditors about $30 million, and 137 medals awarded during the games are rusting and need to be repaired.

Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, the moving force with the International Olympic Committee behind organizing last year's Olympics, is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games.

He denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement to AP, the IOC said "Rio had a strong legacy plan in place," and it urged there be no "hasty judgment."

"What we know is that Rio is a better place after the Olympic Games," the IOC said.

It said London was slow using its venues after the 2012 Olympics, and blamed Brazil's economic problems for the abandoned venues.

"It is difficult for a country to implement these legacy plans as a first priority when the basic needs of the population need to be urgently addressed," the IOC said.

Organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said more than 100 medals awarded at the Olympics showed signs of rusting. He said many were bronze medals, and said many of the tarnished medals had been awarded to Americans.

"Most of the problems were due to handling, poor handling," Andrada said. "Either they fell on the floor or they were touching each other so, it was a problem of handling. Whatever was the problem with the poor handling, it took the gloss off the medal and then you see rusting."

He said the medals would be repaired at Brazil's mint, called the Casa da Moeda.

He said more than 2,000 medals were awarded at the Olympics and said "several other games had problems with medals."

The New York Times, Published: MAY 22, 2017, 11:55 P.M. E.D.T.
Rio Olympic Planning Assailed for 'White Elephant' Venues

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Penang Free School

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Free School (PFS) is the first school in the country to be adopted by the National Archives of Malaysia to preserve its historical documents, relics and artefacts.

National Archives of Malaysia director-general Azemi Abdul Aziz said the many historical treasures at the oldest English school in Southeast Asia should be preserved for the future generation.

The idea was mooted during the school’s bicentenary celebration in October last year.

“We realised the school is rich with its own historic materials.

“Through the signing of Memorandum of Collaboration, more documents and artifacts can be preserved,” he told a press conference after the signing of MoC at the school yesterday.

Azemi said the next move would be to ‘digitise’ the materials.

“Once they are available in digital form, it can help to preserve the materials of which some them are old or in fragile conditions.

“We can also share these materials not only with Penangites, but whole country and the world once the digitised documents are uploaded onto a website,” he said.

Azemi said PFS already had its own archives department, where it stores and preserves the historical items.

However, he said the school still needs guidance from the experts to preserve it.

PFS principal Omar Abdul Rashid said some of the documents dated back to 1885. The materials include student register, magazines, account registration and collection of photographs.

He said the school was excited and honoured to be adopted by the National Archives of Malaysia.

“We need proper assistance and guidance to preserve the historical materials in a systematic way.

“The MoC is valid for three years and it will be renewed upon expiry,” he said.

Also present to witness the signing were National Archives deputy director-general (research and development sector) G. Savumthararaj and deputy director (administrative and planning) Ihsan Hassan.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 25 May 2017
Penang Free School scores another first

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Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

SAHABAT Alam Malaysia (SAM) is strongly opposed to the exploitation of wildlife for the exotic skins trade, mainly for the luxury fashion industry. The trade in exotic animal and reptile skins, in particular, generates thousands of animal victims to fulfil the demands of luxury fashion houses.

The recent decision by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to expand the python skin trade into the European market once the ban imposed by the European Union is lifted shows that monetary gains overrides all other concerns.

The python trade raises concerns for wildlife conservation, sustainability, illegality, the trade chain and animal welfare issues, among others. Python skin is much in demand for its unique irregular spots and stripes. That makes the species more valuable to people which in time to come may lead to its unbridled use and eventual extinction.

Are snake farms the solution in tackling the black market for python skin and conserving the species – while at the same time stocking fashion houses with the luxury diamond-patterned leather? There is much fear that the increasing demand for python-skin accessories from Europe’s fashion houses will put pressure on wild populations, thus fuelling underhand activities. Besides, there is no certainty in knowing whether a skin is farmed or taken from the wild.

On the other hand, captive breeding can be questionable because farms could act as fronts for people to catch wild snakes, then trade their skins as captive bred. So long as there is demand, there will always be a supplier.

The illegal trade in exotic skins – like all wildlife – is a high-profit, low-risk endeavour. There is easy money to be made, without worrying too much about getting caught. There are ways to avoid the legal system, either through falsification of permits or forgery of other documents.

The move for reform by the Wildlife and National Parks Department – tackling sustainability and traceability and the illegal network – may be good but it does not tackle the issue of animal welfare.

SAM believes that no sentient being deserves to be killed for something as frivolous as fashion. For behind the luxury fashion accessories lies a dark truth.

The barbaric, cruel, stomach-churning insights by witnesses of the skinning of snakes alive could make for gruesome reading. Snakes are commonly skinned alive in the belief that live flaying keeps the skins supple. Furthermore, laws to protect reptiles from such abuse are almost non-existent.

Equally pertinent are the growing concerns about the impact the reptile skin trade is having on fragile species and the eco-systems in which they live. Conservation of snakes is vital, due to the role they play within their ecosystems. If allowed to disappear from rice fields, their prey could cause devastating effects on agricultural production, food security and national economies.

People have come to fear these stunning animals, because of their unearned negative reputation. It is high time to consider the plight of the reticulated python, the most popular when it comes to the manufacture of shoes and handbags. There is fear that it cannot cope in the long term with the high out-take by the commercial skin trade.

Reptiles are cold-blooded but wearing their skins is cold-hearted. Leave the skins where it belongs – on its “original owner”.

Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 25 May 2017
Leave snake skins alone
By SM MOHD IDRIS, President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

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Forging the ties that bind

Being there for our children extends beyond physical proximity.

For instance, a housewife who is home with the children will not interact much with them if she is always playing Candy Crush on her smartphone, or is pre-occupied with other pursuits.

And it is worse when her children ask her to play with them, and she brushes them off with: “Ask kakak to play with you.”

If you are a working parent, you’d understandably have limited time to spend with your children.
But give them your attention at night, during weekends and public holidays. Play with them, talk with them. Make those moments count.

American writer Robert Brault hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Enjoy the little things, for one day, you may look back and realise they were the big things.”

Raising children involves more than just providing physical sustenance and a good education. It is also about doing little things together, and talking about weighty issues and trivial stuff.

Imagine baking a macaroni pie. You assemble the onions, meat, carrots and boiled macaroni in the casserole dish.

Then you pour in the eggs to bind the ingredients together. Without the eggs, the pie would not hold its shape.

The meat, vegetables, and macaroni are the important elements such as sustenance and education; the eggs that bind everything together is the time spent as a family unit in cementing the relationship.

And to the Jeannies out there, I want to quote American author Robert Fulghum: “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Your children will be watching and learning from you. Do you want them to treat you the way you have treated your own parents?

The SunDaily (Malaysia), Published: 23 May 2017

Forging the ties that bind

Spending quality time with your children when they are growing up helps to cement that emotional bond that often lasts a lifetime

By Lydia Teh
Lydia Teh is a mother of four and author of nine books, including the latest, Cow Sense for Young People.

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Slave husbands of Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Shahid Sandhu’s sense of loss and anxiety from his loveless marriage knows no bounds. But his is more than a bad connection.

From the time he left Pakistan to join his new wife overseas four years ago, she, her brothers and her parents have been controlling his every move.

They force him to work round the clock, seven days a week – as a bonded labourer at a construction site during the day and as an indentured servant at home on evenings and his day off. They beat him and verbally abuse him at any sign of exhaustion or dissent. They take all his money, refuse him food and have even threatened to kill him.

Sandhu knows what they are doing is wrong and illegal, but the endless abuse has broken him down. He battles severe depression and nightmares, too exhausted, afraid and ashamed to speak out.

Sandhu’s situation sounds as if it’s from a bygone era, but it is happening today, in one of the world’s most advanced cities: Hong Kong. And his plight is not unique.

Lawyers and NGO outreach workers in the city’s South Asian community say Sandhu is just one of dozens of known cases in which men have been tricked into arranged marriages before being trafficked to Hong Kong and forced into indentured labour by their bride’s family.

Typically, the men are preyed upon by future in-laws who select them for their vulnerability and promise them first-world lives that will enable them to support loved ones back home.

Once in Hong Kong, a combination of isolation, fear of retribution towards their families and a profound, culturally ingrained sense of shame prevents them from speaking out.

For every man who does come forward, untold numbers hold back, preferring to live out their miserable, hellish lives in the shadows rather than risk disgrace.

Campaigners have a term for these men: slave grooms.

The nightmare Sandhu found himself living is a far cry from the charmed lifestyle the 34-year-old had imagined when he was approached by a matchmaker about marrying a Hong Kong-born Pakistani woman.

Hearing about her wealthy family helped seal the deal for Sandhu and his impoverished parents, who are farmers in the Punjab region of Pakistan. Sandhu, who has a university degree in commerce, had a respectable job at a bank in Pakistan, but his salary was meagre and the prospect of a prosperous life in Hong Kong meant financial security for his parents. He married his bride in Pakistan, arriving in Hong Kong months later on a dependant visa.

The post-wedding bliss vanished immediately. Sandhu’s in-laws and wife locked away his passport and identity papers for “safe keeping” – something that is against the law – then informed him that he would be working overtime at a construction site six days a week to earn money for his bride and her entire family.

Every night, and on his one day off each week, he would do the domestic work. Whenever Sandhu complained, verbal and physical abuse kept him in his place.

“My in-laws were always bullying me. Although I am a university graduate, I was always called illiterate and a jungle man. Once I shouted back at them and they beat me. After that I was resigned to my fate and work,” he said.

Broken though he was, Sandhu did manage to reach out to Richard Aziz Butt, a sought-after immigration consultant in the South Asian community, having got his number from a work colleague.

“I need to get out,” Sandhu told Butt. However, Sandhu was not willing to go to the police. Like many other slave grooms, he feared deportation, repercussions from his in-laws and shame.

“I would call him a slave groom,” said Butt. “His marriage was arranged so that he could be brought here to work as a machine to earn money for the bride’s family. All these things are elements of slavery,” Butt said. “The (victims) are monitored 24 hours (by their tormentors). These people will not talk (to the police) even if they are abused.

Once in Hong Kong the slave grooms are forced to work round the clock at construction sites and carry out domestic work on their day off.

Butt has met more than 100 South Asian men trafficked to Hong Kong through marriages since 1997. Their visas are usually processed directly by the family without a consultant or lawyer, to keep a low profile.

“I believe 20% of the husbands are slave grooms,” said Butt.
− South China Morning Post

The Star, Published: Monday, 22 May 2017
Slave husbands of Hong Kong

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Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid

ALOR SETAR: Two years after 106 bodies of human trafficking victims were exhumed in Wang Kelian, Perlis, the Malaysian Consul-tative Council of Islamic Organisation (Mapim) has expressed its dismay that only four people were charged in court over the matter.

Its president Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid said more could be done by the authorities as he believed those charged in court could be just the ikan bilis (small fry).

“The authorities should go after the big fish as some of the trafficked victims had furnish-ed the authorities with details about who were involved.

“We hope to have a dialogue session with the Federal Government and all the relevant agencies, including the Prime Minister, as we want to know what they have done to keep such incidents in check,” he said.

Mohd Azmi was speaking to reporters du-ring the Wang Kelian second anniversary memorial where prayers were held for the 106 human trafficking victims who were bu-ried in a plot at Kampung Tualang, Pokok Sena, about a 30-minute drive from here.

In Ops Wawasan Khas conducted from May 11 to 23 in 2015, police found 139 graves scattered around 28 transit camps abandoned by a human trafficking syndicate in Wang Burma hill and Wang Perah hill at the Malaysia-Thailand border.

The victims were believed to be Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis. They were suspected to have died of abuse or malnou-rishment.

The memorial was held by Mapim and Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign, and attended by representatives of NGOs.

Mohd Azmi said they had heard the horror stories and first-hand accounts from the victims who were trafficked from Myanmar to Thailand and then to Malaysia.

“The deaths of human trafficking victims that we were told about could be just 1% or 2% as there could be many cases that went unreported.

“The victims were simply hurled into the sea or left abandoned in the jungles. Worse, this had been going on for years,” he added.

Mohd Azmi said the issue here was not about giving these victims a proper burial but about closure when the human trafficking masterminds were brought to book.

“Those involved in this trade could always use new trails to bring in their victims,” he said.

“The authorities should work closely with Suhakam (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) and Penang Stop Human Traffic-king Campaign to tackle the issue.”

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said they would interview another batch of human trafficking victims to get to know the latest on the syndicate members.

“We need to cripple the networking of these syndicates. For example, some of the victims were ferried around by the syndicate members from Kuala Lumpur and Penang. We can put a stop to the chain by picking up the drivers,” he said.

Jerald said more hard-pressed issues inclu-ded refugees who have been here for more than 20 years.

“They should be given the basic human right to carry on with their lives here, such as the opportunity to study.”

The Star, Published: Monday, 22 May 2017
NGO: Police should go after the big fish involved in Wang Kelian human trafficking deaths

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