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A threat to humanity and freedom

March 18, 2015



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UK not hiring pinoy nurses

November 22, 2012

MANILA, Philippines – Bad news for Filipino nurses harboring the hope of landing on a job at the United Kingdom.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) announced on Thursday that the UK has not opened new job opportunities for nurses.

“Except for a few, old job orders in our accreditation database, the POEA has not received nor approved fresh job orders for nurses from UK employers,” POEA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said.

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) earlier announced that a total of 27,823nursing graduates passed the June 2012 Nurse Licensure Examination.

A total of 60,895 examinees took the examination nationwide.

Considering that the demand for nurses in the UK has remained stagnant for almost two years now, many Filipino nurses were forced to look for other job opportunities in other countries.

Cacdac said, however, there are a few National Health Services trusts and care homes that were able to hire nurses and senior carers in recent months.

He added that other Filipino nurses can also look for other job vacancies in other host countries like Japan, Saudi Arabia and other European countries.

The end of the flood

April 27, 2012

Partisan Spin Denies Obama Credit for Immigration Success
Obama has used increased funding and enforcement to slow illegal immigration through our southern border to a trickle, but Mitt Romney and conservatives have responded with silence—or more attacks about a lack of border security.

The headline should be striking: U.S.A. Stops Illegal Immigration from Mexico in its tracks.

That’s an underlying insight in a study by the Pew Hispanic Center released days before the Supreme Court heard arguments over the controversial Arizona illegal immigration law.

It represents a rare success on a contentious culture-war topic, driven in large part by economic trends that have driven down demand for undocumented labor but also by dramatically increased border enforcement under President Obama. The bottom line: a four-decade flood of illegal immigration through our southern border has been slowed to a trickle.

If this happened under a Republican president, conservatives would be celebrating. But because it has happened under Obama the reaction has been awkward silence—from liberals as well. The facts don’t fit the established narrative.

All of which places this week’s Supreme Court hearing over the controversial (and often mischaracterized) Arizona illegal immigration bill in an ironic light.

The law has been a lose-lose for the GOP. Its passage has torpedoed Republican approvals ratings with Latino voters—and possibly turning Arizona into a 2012 swing state—while making no impact on the actual problem it sought to address, because it hasn’t been enacted. Simultaneously, the problem is showing signs of being solved—at least for now.

The numbers are staggering:

• 1.5 million deportations in the last 4 years, a record high.
• A 70 percent increase in the number of convicted criminals deported.
• Arrests at the border up 14 percent in the past two years.
• An 85 percent increase in border agents since 2004.
• 31percent more drugs and 63 percent more weapons seized at the border.
• 650 miles of border fence now completed.

It’s true that many of these efforts began under President Bush—but President Obama has increased funding and accelerated enforcement. The talk-radio crowd just doesn’t want to face those facts because it contradicts their stereotypes.

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Iowa Field House, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa., Charlie Neibergall / AP Photo

I was down at the Arizona border a few weeks ago and saw the impact for myself. I drove through three checkpoints in the Sonoran Desert in just a few hours and passed more border patrol units than I could count. Right now, I’d guess that we have more Federales at the southern border than at any time since Woodrow Wilson sent Black Jack Pershing to push back Pancho Villa.

In a different, more sane, political time, perhaps this would be celebrated as a strategic coup—President Obama pulling a Nixon-in-China on the issue of border security and illegal immigration. But there is no talk of triangulation; instead just a fact-defying rush to reinforce old narratives.

Here’s Mitt Romney six months ago: “Three years ago, Candidate Obama promised to address the problems of illegal immigration in America. He failed. The truth is, he didn’t even try.”

In a different, more sane, political time, perhaps this would be celebrated as a strategic coup—President Obama pulling a Nixon-in-China on the issue of border security and illegal immigration.

It is fair to point out that President Obama didn’t try to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. George W. Bush was the last president to attempt it, and Mitt Romney opposed it in a 2008 pander to the far right. The word amnesty would have been slapped on anything President Obama did on this front—hell, Reagan looks like a lefty on this issue now—and so Obama chose to increase enforcement and funding instead. This falls under the category of deeds, not words.

There is some political risk in the president’s decision to get tough on deportations—ironically, from the left, particularly among immigration activists and members of the Latino community who know deportees personally. But because Romney chose to tack to the right of even Rick Perry on illegal immigration—slamming the border-state governor for backing the DREAM Act—tacking back to the center would be difficult even for this proven political contortionist. And so Romney’s current 40-point Latino vote gap is likely to endure for the foreseeable future, unless it is ameliorated by a Rubio-esque VP nominee.

Border security is a perfect example of what should be seen as a bipartisan responsibility. We should be able to agree on increasing legal immigration to our nation while decreasing legal immigration. Here we have a rare example of data-driven good news—a long-standing problem showing signs of being solved. Again, the driving factor might be the supply and demand of economics—but aggressive enforcement is helping as well by literally raising the barriers to entry. It’s too bad we can’t recognize the progress because we are so preoccupied with the same old partisan spin in a political world where narratives matter more than facts.

Shyness

February 12, 2012

The Upside Of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated)

I’m in the bathroom of the American embassy in Tokyo, and I can’t leave. Somewhere in the elegant rooms beyond, the ambassador is holding his annual holiday party. Diplomats from around the world, U.S. military personnel and reporters are mingling, sipping Champagne and picking at hors d’oeuvres. As TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief, I should be there, trolling for gossip or mining potential sources.

And for 20 minutes or so after arriving, despite the usual nerves, I did just that. But small talk with stiff-backed strangers at a swanky cocktail party is by far my least favorite part of my job. Send me to a famine or a flood and I’m comfortable. A few rounds of the room at a social event, however, leave me exhausted. So now and then I retreat into the solitude of the bathroom, watching the minutes tick by until I’ve recovered enough to go back out there.

My name is Bryan, and I’m an introvert. If this scene sounds familiar to you, then chances are that you’re one too.

We’re not alone, even if it sometimes feels that way. By some estimates, 30% of all people fall on the introvert end of the temperament spectrum–but it takes some explaining to understand just what that label means. For one thing, introverted does not have to mean shy, though there is overlap. Shyness is a form of anxiety characterized by inhibited behavior. It also implies a fear of social judgment that can be crippling. Shy people actively seek to avoid social situations, even ones they might want to take part in, because they may be inhibited by fear. Introverts shun social situations because, Greta Garbo–style, they simply want to be alone.

“Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations,” says Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario. “They just prefer not to engage.” While extroverts draw energy from mingling with large groups of people–picture former President and extrovert in chief Bill Clinton joyously working a rope line–introverts find such social interactions taxing.

Simply being an introvert can also feel taxing–especially in America, land of the loud and home of the talkative. From classrooms built around group learning to open-plan offices that encourage endless meetings, it sometimes seems that the quality of your work has less value than the volume of your voice.

And as if the world weren’t slanted enough toward the extrovert, study after study has made sociability seem like a prerequisite for good health, right along with low cholesterol and frequent exercise. Very shy and introverted people have been shown to succumb more rapidly to diseases like HIV and to be at greater risk for depression than their extroverted counterparts. In schools, it’s the bolder kids who get attention from teachers, while quiet children can too easily languish in the back of the classroom. “Our culture expects people to be outgoing and sociable,” says Christopher Lane, an English professor at Northwestern University and the author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. “It’s the unstated norm, and against that norm introverts stand out as seemingly problematic.”

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But that unstated norm discounts the hidden benefits of the introverted temperament–for workplaces, personal relationships and society as a whole. Introverts may be able to fit all their friends in a phone booth, but those relationships tend to be deep and rewarding. Introverts are more cautious and deliberate than extroverts, but that means they tend to think things through more thoroughly, which means they can often make smarter decisions. Introverts are better at listening–which, after all, is easier to do if you’re not talking–and that in turn can make them better business leaders, especially if their employees feel empowered to act on their own initiative. And simply by virtue of their ability to sit still and focus, introverts find it easier to spend long periods in solitary work, which turns out to be the best way to come up with a fresh idea or master a skill.

Introversion and extroversion aren’t fixed categories–there’s a personality spectrum, and many, known as ambiverts, fall in the gap between the two traits–but they are vital to our personality. “Our tendency to be extroverted or introverted is as profound a part of our identities as our gender,” says Susan Cain, author of the new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “But there’s a subtle bias against introverts, and it’s generating a waste of talent and energy and happiness.” It may be time for America to learn the forgotten rewards of sitting down and shutting up.

Born This Way

If you want to know how tough a society of extroverts can be for introverts and how quiet types can learn to adapt, you could do worse than talk to Cain. A graduate of Harvard Law School–not an institution known for churning out timid folks–she practiced corporate law for seven years before she began writing full time. During most of those years in the legal system, she hated what she did. Not every day–Cain loved research and writing–but it soon became clear that her soft-spoken, introspective temperament might not have been the best fit for a high-powered law firm. Eventually she left law and began working on her own, coaching clients in negotiating skills and working as a writer. “When I started practicing the law, I thought the ideal lawyer was bold and comfortable in the spotlight, but I was none of those things,” says Cain. “I could fake those things, but it wasn’t my natural self.”

Faking it is exactly what a lot of introverts learn to do from an early age. And that masquerade covers up something primal and deep. Scientists have begun to learn that the introverted or extroverted temperament seems strongly inborn and inherited, influencing our behavior from not long after we’re out of the womb.

That was the conclusion of a pioneering series of experiments by Harvard developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan. In a 1989 study, he and his colleagues gathered a sample group of 500 4-month-old infants and exposed them to new experiences in the lab, including popping balloons, colorful mobiles and the smell of alcohol on cotton swabs. About 20% of the infants reacted intensely to the stimuli, crying and pumping their arms. About 40% stayed relatively quiet, and the remaining 40% fell between the two extremes.

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Kagan predicted that the infants who had the most noticeable responses–the group he called high-reactive–would likely be introverted as adolescents, whereas low-reactives would likely be extroverted. When he brought his subjects back into the lab as they grew older, his hypothesis proved true: high-reactive infants matured into more inhibited, introverted teenagers. “There’s a strong footprint on temperament that you see early in life,” says Dr. Carl Schwartz, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a former student of Kagan’s. “It’s not deterministic, but if you’re a highly reactive baby, you’re less likely to become a bond trader or Bill Clinton.”

Psychologist Elaine Aron, author of the 1997 book The Highly Sensitive Person, explains what’s behind this. People who are introverts by nature, she says, may simply have a lower threshold for stimulation than others. It doesn’t take too many popped balloons and crowded rooms before they learn to compensate by keeping a low, quiet profile, conserving their limited energy. The definition of hell for an introvert isn’t other people–not exactly. But people are stimuli, and a cocktail party or brainstorming session full of them can blow their neural circuits. So they limit their exposure. Meanwhile, extroverts are a little bit like addicts who are always in search of a high, seeking out stimuli–in the healthier form of social situations–that would make an introvert’s head ring.

In studies conducted with functional magnetic resonance imagers, Schwartz found that the amygdalae in the brains of those original high-reactive subjects–now adults–tend to light up when they’re shown pictures of unfamiliar faces, while the amygdalae of low-reactive subjects show less activity. That makes sense: the amygdala processes fearful stimuli, among other functions, and the introvert’s first reaction to new people or experiences is usually guarded caution. “It’s not genes or the environment alone that drive this,” says Schwartz. “It’s the environment in dialogue with the genes.”

Quiet Babies, Fretful Parents

Caution, inhibition and even fearfulness may be healthy–and smart–adaptations for the overstimulated person, but they’re still not characteristics many parents would want in their children, especially in a society that lionizes the bold. So it’s common for moms and dads of introverted offspring to press their kids to be more outgoing, lest they end up overlooked in class and later in life. That, however, can be a mistake–and not just because our temperaments are difficult to change fundamentally.

The very fact that introverts are more sensitive to their environment often means they’re fully aware that they appear out of step with the expectations of others, and they can easily internalize that criticism. Just about every adult introvert can remember being scolded, even if gently, for being too quiet as a kid. Anytime a teacher grades on classroom participation, introverted kids will be at a disadvantage. There’s nothing wrong with parents’ nudging their shy children into the world, but there is something wrong if it’s more than a nudge. “You don’t want to break the kid by overwhelming their coping capacity,” says Jay Belsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. “The key is sensitive encouragement.”

Outsourced Chores Come Back Home

July 15, 2011
January 17, 2009

A few months ago, as her family’s income fell, Laura French Spada, a real estate agent in Glen Rock, N.J., began dyeing her hair at home and washing the family cars herself. Her husband, Mark, started learning how to do electrical repairs.

Susan Todoroff, a personal trainer in Ann Arbor, Mich., has begun brewing espressos at home and cutting her hair and cleaning her house herself. And Tamar A. Zaidenweber, a health care market researcher in Astoria, Queens, is spending more time walking her dog instead of taking it to day care each week.

All of these consumers could praise themselves for their newfound frugality in the midst of an economic downturn. But every step they take toward self-reliance — each shrub they prune themselves, each cupcake they bake from scratch — hurts the people and small businesses that have long provided these services professionally.

These small, service-oriented businesses are run in storefronts on urban streets and in suburban strip malls, or sometimes just out of pickup trucks. Responsible for roughly 18 million jobs nationwide, according to 2006 Census Bureau data, these companies have long been seen as engines of America’s economic growth. Yet after years of explosive expansion, many beauty salons, dry cleaners, landscapers, dog walkers, nanny services and restaurants experienced slower sales growth or even decline in the final months of 2008.

Their services are suddenly, and painfully, being perceived as nonessential.

The question now for these businesses is whether demand will stabilize or, eventually, drop enough to force them to close. And the answer may depend on whether consumers’ new penchant for self-service is temporary or permanent.

After all, as incomes rose and gender roles changed over the last 50 years, families have become accustomed to outsourcing more and more of their household chores. No longer was it just the very rich who had “servants,” said Jan de Vries, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Household members, particularly women, have been working more in the market,” said Mr. de Vries. “They have had less time and higher money income, and they have been spending a lot of that money income on services they once provided themselves.”

Still, he said, even before the recession, some families had already cited moral reasons for reverting to domestic self-sufficiency, to those good old days when families grew their own food and burped their own babies.

“Families have been creating a discussion over the past decade about value-driven concerns that are now being reinforced by forces in the economy,” he said. As a result of this confluence of moral and financial incentives, “The way households function 20 years from now will probably be sort of surprising to us.”

Indeed, after decades of spendthrift subcontracting, many consumers now say they view such specialist services as indulgences rather than necessities.

“A lot of the way we’d been living was all an illusion, a fantasy,” said Ms. Spada, who has also been cooking more and bathing the family dog instead of going to the groomer. “We’ve been asking ourselves: Can we replicate some of those specialized services, which normally we would outsource, ourselves?”

Even as Americans cut back on restaurant dining, pet care services, professional hair and nail services, house cleaners and landscapers, companies producing some of the do-it-yourself products are seeing higher sales.

According to Information Resources Inc., a market research firm in Chicago, sales of products used in home manicures, home cooking and home medical treatments, among others, have experienced healthy growth in the last year. Dollar sales of cold-allergy-sinus tablets, for example, increased 17.2 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, according to Sageworks, a company that tracks sales at privately held businesses, revenue at physicians’ offices fell by 0.06 percent.

“They’re reducing doctor visits, and trying to treat themselves at home,” says Thom Blischok, president of global innovation and consulting at Information Resources.

Big-box stores that sell these products have been capitalizing on the return to a self-service mentality. Target, for example, recently began its “New Day” marketing campaign, which glorifies the family-friendly, do-it-yourself alternatives to activities households used to outsource. Against upbeat lyrics about how things are “getting better every single day,” the ads show dismal economic headlines, followed by scenes of a father buzzing the hair of his smiling sons (“the new barber shop”) and a child eagerly eyeing his mother’s cookie-filled oven (“the new bakery”).

At the same time, the service providers have been hurting.

“From the moment that the stock market collapsed and the TARP was being talked about, in September, it was like someone turned the switch off for nanny demand,” said Steve Lampert, the president of eNannySource.com, making a reference to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Family subscriptions to eNannySource.com, a national nanny placement company based in West Hills, Calif., are down to 150,000, about a third of the site’s peak in 2007, he said.

James Erath, owner of Puppy Love & Kitty Kat in Manhattan, said, “Business is definitely down, about 25 or 50 percent down.” He has been offering steep discounts on grooming to attract customers who might bathe their pets at home.

Similarly, Rhonda Coop-Piraino, a hair stylist in Dallas, said about 10 percent of her clients had started coloring their hair at home to save money. Many of these clients, she said, return to her salon for color correction when their home kits disappoint.

“They do come in sometimes with some pretty orange hair,” she said. “I have a hard time charging the same amount I once charged for color correction, though. I have clients who have been with me for so many years, and it’s hard for me to charge them $200 in this economy.”

Like Ms. Coop-Piraino’s clients, some consumers say that doing things for themselves has not been as easy as they thought.

After letting their maid go last October, Chris DeCarlo said he and his partner, Chris Toland, realized they had a lot to learn about keeping their Manhattan apartment tidy. Their biggest challenge has been laundry.

“No mishaps yet,” said Mr. DeCarlo, a Web site designer, “but my partner is proud to report that somebody in our laundry room who was watching him struggle felt the need to intervene and show him the proper way to fold a fitted sheet.”

And there are some services that consumers now have trouble duplicating themselves because of technological advances.

When it comes to cars, for example, consumers might be able to refresh their memories about how to change a car’s oil — and some mechanics report a rise in such self-service. Faisal Akram, the owner of service stations in Irvington, Tarrytown and Cortlandt Manor, all in New York, said that for the first time in recent memory customers were bringing in waste oil from home.

But beyond oil changes, there is little most car owners can do themselves because automobiles have become so sophisticated.

Aaron Clements, the owner of C & C Automotive and host of a car-repair radio show in Augusta, Ga., said that in recent months twice as many customers had been calling and asking for advice on how to service their cars themselves. But usually, once they learn what equipment, training and effort would be necessary for self-service, he said, they opt to take the car to a shop.

“Two cars ago, I was able to rebuild the entire engine,” said Vicki Robin, the co-author of “Your Money or Your Life,” a book praising the financial virtues of self-service. “But back then a car was a car. Now a car is a computer with wheels.”

As their former nannies, stylists, landscapers, dry cleaners and maids languish, consumers report mixed feelings. They say they sometimes feel guilty about the ripple effects their penny-pinching is having on the livelihoods of others, but at the same time they feel unexpectedly empowered by their rediscovered self-reliance.

Many say that even when their financial worries abate, they will probably remain self-service converts.

“After doing it yourself, it’s like, ‘Why was I ever spending $200 to pay someone else to do it for me?’ ” said Ms. Zaidenweber, who recently dyed her hair for the first time from an $8 home coloring kit. “It was kind of fun, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I expected, and even it took a couple tries to get it done right.”

Corruption

July 9, 2010

By RKM

First Posted 05:26:00 05/26/2010

Whether it is on the dining table or the national budget, pork is bad and unhealthy. In the body, it clogs the coronary arteries with cholesterol and leads to heart attacks. In the national budget, it fills up the pockets of congressmen with illicit money that belongs to the taxpayers. Even before he assumes the presidency, the pork barrel is already a problem with Noynoy Aquino. It is the age-old problem of thieves fighting over loot.

This is the problem: Noynoy won on a promise of change. People hearkened to his promise that he would eradicate corruption. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there are no corrupt people, there would be no poor people) is his slogan. And since most Filipinos are mired in poverty from which they are trying to get out, the people believe that at last here is a messiah who is going to deliver them from poverty.

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Sounds like Erap’s “Si Erap para sa mahirap,” but Noynoy’s slogan gives the people an idea of what causes their poverty: corruption. And what is more corrupt than the pork barrel?

The pork barrel is the appropriation in the national budget disguised as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance, but are actually a bribe to legislators. The fund is used for projects of congressmen and senators such as roads and bridges, schoolhouses, puericulture centers, basketball courts, waiting sheds, etc. Each senator gets P250 million a year and each congressman P70 million a year in pork barrel. There are at least 250 congressmen, including party-list representatives, and 24 senators. Do the arithmetic and you have an idea of how much of the people’s money is wasted on the pork barrel.

If all the billions and billions of pesos in pork barrel funds is used for public works projects year after year, the entire Philippines would be crisscrossed by concrete highways and there would be no shortage of classrooms every time schools open, as will happen two weeks from now.

But only a small portion of those pork-barrel funds actually goes to the projects. The rest goes into the pockets of members of Congress, public works engineers, private contractors, auditors, cashiers, clerks, etc. The pork contaminates everybody’s hands with unhealthy fat.

For decades, the people have clamored for the abolition of the pork barrel. It is one of the main causes of corruption and waste of the people’s money. Even before I became a journalist, the press was already fighting the pork barrel, but like cigarette smoking, it is very difficult to give up.

Now comes Noynoy Aquino promising heaven for the believers and hell for the sinners. Like a thoroughbred, he comes with a pedigree. His father is a national hero; had he not been assassinated, he would have become president. His mother became the president instead, and she was so loved by the people they would have made her a saint had they the power to do so.

That’s what made people believe in Noynoy. All candidates promise heaven and earth to the voters but Noynoy is different: he comes from good stock. He is the son of Ninoy and Cory, like Superman is the son of Jor El. How can he go wrong?

Now comes his first test: the pork barrel. What will he do with it?

He can abolish it and, in so doing, abolish most corruption and save trillions of pesos that otherwise would be stolen. Imagine what those trillions can do towards the abolition of poverty: a home for every squatter, schools for all students, hospitals for the sick, roads and bridges, financial assistance to the farmers and fishermen, jobs for the jobless. In other words, Heaven with a capital H.

But how will President Noynoy entice senators and congressmen to join his coalition, elect his chosen speaker and Senate president if he doesn’t have the pork barrel with which to bribe them? How can he make them go to Malacañang where he can ask them to do this do and that if he doesn’t have shopping bags filled with money like President Macapagal-Arroyo used to do. This is the surest way for the president to control members of Congress. He either bribes cooperative ones with pork or punishes uncooperative ones by freezing the release of their pork. It is like beating the feeding trough to make the pigs believe that food is coming and then not putting any slop there. The squeals of the hungry hogs are painful to the ears, and that is what we will hear from members of Congress if the president does not release their pork allocations.

But already Arroyo is getting ready to fight Noynoy for control of the pork barrel. She warned the incoming president that there is a provision in the P1.54 trillion 2010 national budget that prohibits the president from impounding pork barrel funds without the approval of Congress. For the first time, control of the pork will be in the hands of the speaker, and that is the position that Arroyo may run for next. (She said she is not running for speaker, but do you believe her?)

And it turns out that Noynoy himself had filed a bill in the Senate that prohibits the president from withholding the release of budget allocations. In short, President Noynoy cannot use the pork as a carrot to attract members of Congress to elect his chosen Senate president and speaker, and pass his legislative agenda. What a quandary Noynoy has boxed himself in.

So I don’t expect President Noynoy to get anywhere in the anti-corruption drive, at least in the first year. Many people would be disappointed. The poor would still watch helplessly as the corrupt run laughing all the way to the banks abroad.

Banned at last

May 2, 2010
Belgian lawmakers pass burka ban

Belgium’s lower house of parliament has voted for a law that would ban women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public.

The law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street. No-one voted against it.

The law now goes to the Senate, where it may face challenges over its wording, which may delay it.

If passed, the ban would be the first move of its kind in Europe.

Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million.

The BBC’s Dominic Hughes in Brussels says MPs backed the legislation on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people.

Other MPs said that the full face veil was a symbol of the oppression of women, our correspondent says.

Senate approval

Thursday’s vote was almost unanimous with 134 MPs in support of the law and two abstentions.

They chose to live with us in Christian countries so they must obey our customs
J M Badoux-Gillbee, Netherlands

It is expected to pass through the Senate without being blocked, with initial reports saying it could come into law as early as June or July.

But the Liberals and Christian Democrats – both represented in the Senate – say they will question the phrasing of the law, which could cause delays.

It will also take longer to become law if elections are called, as parliament would have to be dissolved. The Belgium government collapsed last week.

The Muslim Executive of Belgium has criticised the move, saying it would lead to women who do wear the full veil to be trapped in their homes.

Amnesty International said a ban would set a “dangerous precedent”.

In a statement, the human rights group said it would “violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or niqab as an expression of their identity and beliefs”.

The ban would be imposed in all buildings or grounds that are “meant for public use or to provide services”, including streets, parks and sports grounds.

Exceptions could be made for certain festivals.

Those who break the law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£27) or a seven-day jail sentence.

Swiss minarets

November 29, 2009

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GENEVA  — The campaign posters are inflammatory: Minarets rising like missiles from the national flag.

A proposal championed by right-wing parties to ban minarets in Switzerland goes to a nationwide vote on Sunday in a referendum that has set off an emotional debate about national identity and stirred fears of boycotts and violent reactions from Muslim countries.

With tensions running high, the Geneva Mosque was vandalized Thursday by unidentified individuals who threw a pot of pink paint at the building’s entrance.

It was the third incident against the mosque this month: earlier, a vehicle with a loudspeaker drove through the area imitating a muezzin’s call to prayer, and vandals threw cobble stones at the building, damaging a mosaic.

Business leaders say a minaret ban would be disastrous for the Swiss economy because it could drive away wealthy Muslims who bank in Switzerland, buy the country’s luxury goods, and frequent its resorts.

The vote taps into anxieties about Muslims that have been rippling through Europe in recent years, ranging from French fears of women in body veils to Dutch alarm over the murder by a Muslim fanatic of a filmmaker who made a documentary that criticized Islam.

Polls indicate growing support for the proposal submitted by the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party, but it was doubtful it will gain enough momentum to pass. Muslims in Switzerland have kept a low profile, refraining from a counter-campaign.

“Switzerland’s good reputation as an open, tolerant and secure country may be lost and this would bring a blow to tourism,” said Swiss Hotel Association spokesman Thomas Allemann.

The nationalist Swiss People’s Party has led several campaigns against foreigners, including a proposal to kick out entire families of foreigners if one of their children breaks a law and a bid to subject citizenship applications to a popular vote.

The party’s controversial posters have shown three white sheep kicking out a black sheep and a swarm of brown hands grabbing Swiss passports from a box.

The current campaign posters showing missile-like minarets atop the national flag and a fully veiled woman have drawn anger of local officials and rights defenders.

The cities of Basel, Lausanne and Fribourg banned the billboards, saying they painted a “racist, disrespectful and dangerous image” of Islam.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee called the posters discriminatory and said Switzerland would violate international law if it bans minarets.

The Swiss People’s Party joined forces with the fringe Federal Democratic Union in the campaign. They say they are acting to fight the spread of political Islam, arguing the minaret represents a bid for power and is not just a religious symbol.

The four minarets already attached to mosques in the country would remain even if the referendum passes. Minarets are typically built next to mosques for religious leaders to call the faithful to prayer, but they are not used for that in Switzerland.

Construction of traditional mosques and minarets in European countries has rarely been trouble-free: projects in Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia have met protests but have rarely been blocked.

In Cologne, Germany, plans to expand the city’s Ditib Mosque and complete it with a dome and two 177-foot-tall minarets have triggered an outcry from right-wing groups and the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop.

People’s Party lawmaker Walter Wobmann said minarets are part of Muslims’ strategy to make Switzerland Islamic. He said he feared Shariah law, which would create “parallel societies” where honor killings, forced marriages and even stoning are practiced.

Organizers collected more than the 100,000 signatures required for any Swiss citizen to put a constitutional initiative to a nationwide vote.

The government has urged voters to reject the initiative, saying it would violate religious freedom. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has warned it would lead to a security risk for Switzerland; other members of the multiparty government have spoken out against the proposal.

Between 350,000 and 400,000 of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people are Muslims. Many are from families who came to Switzerland as refugees from former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

Less than 13 percent of the Muslims living in the Alpine nation are practicing and most are well integrated, said Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. She said initiative would “endanger religious peace in our country.”

A survey by the respected polling institute gfs.bern last week indicated that 53 percent of voters reject the initiative, although support has grown by 3 percentage points to 37 percent since last month. Typically in Switzerland the margins on such votes narrows as balloting nears. Ten percent of the 1,213 people polled were undecided. The survey had an error margin of 2.9 percent.

“The problem is not so much the minarets, but rather what they represent,” said Madeleine Trincat, a retiree from Geneva. “After the minarets, the muezzins will come, then they’ll ask us to wear veils and so on.”

Carlo Adler, the director of a luxury jewelry shop in Geneva, called the initiative xenophobic.

“I don’t see why they should be banned,” he said about minarets. “We might as well take off the spires from churches.”

The Swiss business organization economiesuisse said it fears a minaret ban would harm Switzerland’s image in the Islamic world. The exporting nation sold goods of around 14.5 billion Swiss francs (about $14 billion) to Muslim countries last year, according to economiesuisse.

Peter Spuhler, the head of Swiss Stadler Rail Group, a train and tramway exporting company with markets in Muslim countries, said, “reactions can be very emotional and fierce” if the initiative is accepted.

“This can lead to boycotts,” he told weekly SonntagsZeitung.

Switzerland votes on minaret ban

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Berne, Switzerland
Swiss voters are going to the polls to decide on a proposal to ban the building of minarets in their country.

The proposal is backed by the Swiss People’s Party, the largest party in parliament, and by Christian groups.

They say minarets would be the first sign of the Islamisation of Switzerland.

The Swiss government is urging voters to reject a ban. There are 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and just four minarets across the country.

Islam is the most widespread religion after Christianity, but it remains relatively hidden.

There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning for new minarets is almost always refused.

The proposal is for a one-line addition to the Swiss constitution, stating that the construction of minarets is forbidden.

Supporters of a ban claim allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system – Sharia law – which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.

I have a real problem with Islam, with the Islamic law, with the political and legal aspect of this religion
Oskar Freysinger Swiss member of parliament

Opinion polls ahead of the vote are close, with signs that a small majority would reject the ban.

That would be a relief to the Swiss government which fears banning minarets would cause unrest among the Muslim community, and damage Switzerland’s relations with Islamic countries.

Amnesty International has warned that the ban would violate Switzerland’s obligations to freedom of religious expression.

Swiss Muslim Elham Manea points to the recent construction of Sikh temples and Serbian Orthodox churches and says a ban just on minarets is discriminatory.

“If you are telling me that we are going to ban all religious symbols from all religious buildings, I would not have a problem with that.

“But if you are just telling me that we are going to target only the Muslims, not the Christians, not the Jews, not the Sikhs, only the Muslims, then I have a problem with it because it is discrimination.”

Muslim respect

Most of Switzerland’s Muslims come from former Yugoslavia, and there is no history of Islamic extremism, but supporters of a ban say minarets are far more than religious architecture.

They claim allowing them would be a sign that Islamic law is accepted in Switzerland.

Member of parliament Oskar Freysinger rejects the charge of discrimination.

“The Muslims as normal human beings are worth my respect – it is not a problem.

“I have a real problem with Islam, with the Islamic law, with the political and legal aspect of this religion.”

In recent years many countries in Europe have been debating their relationship with Islam, and how best to integrate their Muslim populations.

France focused on the headscarf; in Germany there was controversy over plans to build one of Europe’s largest mosques in Cologne.

Thank You God, that evil is prevented!


Swiss voters back ban on minarets

Swiss voters have supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, official results show.

More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons – or provinces – voted in favour of the ban.

The proposal had been put forward by the Swiss People’s Party, (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation.

The government opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland’s image, particularly in the Muslim world.

But Martin Baltisser, the SVP’s general secretary, told the BBC: “This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power.”

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, in Bern, says the surprise result is very bad news for the Swiss government which fears unrest among the Muslim community.

Our correspondent says voters worried about rising immigration – and with it the rise of Islam – have ignored the government’s advice.

In a statement, the government said it accepted the decision.

It said: “The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted.”

This will cause major problems because during this campaign mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland
Tamir Hadjipolu Zurich’s Association of Muslim Organisations

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said: “Concerns [about Islamic fundamentalism] have to be taken seriously.

“However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”

She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”.

Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets.

After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.

There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.

Supporters of a ban claimed that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system – Sharia law – which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.

But others say the referendum campaign incited hatred. On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.

Amnesty International said the vote violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.

‘Political symbol’

The president of Zurich’s Association of Muslim Organisations, Tamir Hadjipolu, told the BBC: “This will cause major problems because during this campaign mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland.

“Islamaphobia has increased intensively.”

And there was dismay among Switzerland’s Muslims upon hearing the result.

It’s a message that you are not welcome here as true citizens of this society
Elham Manea, co-founder of the Forum for a Progressive Islam

Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said: “The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets but the symbol sent by this vote.

“Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.”

Elham Manea, co-founder of the Forum for a Progressive Islam, added: “My fear is that the younger generation will feel unwelcome.

“It’s a message that you are not welcome here as true citizens of this society.”

Sunday’s referendum was held after the SVP collected 100,000 signatures from voters within 18 months calling for a vote.

In recent years countries across Europe have been debating how best to integrate Muslim populations.

France focused on the headscarf, while in Germany there was controversy over plans to build one of Europe’s largest mosques.

Israelis United on War as Censure Rises Abroad

January 13, 2009
January 13, 2009

JERUSALEM — To Israel’s critics abroad, the picture could not be clearer: Israel’s war in Gaza is a wildly disproportionate response to the rockets of Hamas, causing untold human suffering and bombing an already isolated and impoverished population into the Stone Age, and it must be stopped.

Yet here in Israel very few, at least among the Jewish population, see it that way.

Since Israeli warplanes opened the assault on Gaza 17 days ago, about 900 Palestinians have been reported killed, many of them civilians. Red Cross workers were denied access to scores of dead and wounded Gazans, and a civilian crowd near a United Nations school was hit, with at least 40 people killed.

But voices of dissent in this country have been rare. And while tens of thousands have poured into the streets of world capitals demonstrating against the Israeli military operation, antiwar rallies here have struggled to draw 1,000 participants. The Peace Now organization has received many messages from supporters telling it to stay out of the streets on this one.

As the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, the world must be wondering, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?

The answer is yes.

“It is very frustrating for us not to be understood,” remarked Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper called Calcalist. “Almost 100 percent of Israelis feel that the world is hypocritical. Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped? Why should we care about the world’s view now?”

Israel, which is sometimes a fractured, bickering society, has turned in the past couple of weeks into a paradigm of unity and mutual support. Flags are flying high. Celebrities are visiting schoolchildren in at-risk areas, soldiers are praising the equipment and camaraderie of their army units, and neighbors are worried about families whose fathers are on reserve duty. Ask people anywhere how they feel about the army’s barring journalists from entering Gaza and the response is: let the army do its job.

Israelis deeply believe, rightly or wrongly, that their military works harder than most to spare civilians, holding their fire in many more cases than using it.

Because Hamas booby-traps schools, apartment buildings and the zoo, and its fighters hide among civilians, it is Hamas that is viewed here as responsible for the civilian toll. Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and gets help and inspiration from Iran, so that what looks to the world like a disproportionate war of choice is seen by many here as an obligatory war for existence.

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

It is true that there are voices of concern here that the war may be outliving its value. Worries over the risk to Israeli troops and over even steeper civilian casualties as the ground war escalates have produced calls to declare victory and pull out.

For many of the 1.4 million Israelis who are Arabs, the war has produced a very different feeling, a mix of anger and despair. The largest demonstration against the war so far, with some 6,000 participants, was organized by an Arab political party. But that is still distinctly a minority view. Polls have shown nearly 90 percent support for the war thus far, and street interviews confirm that Israelis not only favor it but do so quite strongly. The country’s leaders, while seeking an arrangement to stop Hamas’s ability to rearm, do not want a face-saving agreement. They want one that works, or else they want to continue the war until Hamas has lost either its rockets or its will to fire them.

Boaz Gaon, a playwright and peace activist, said he found it deeply depressing how the Israeli public had embraced the military’s arguments in explaining the deaths of civilians. But he was livid at Hamas, both for what it had done to its own people and civilians in the south, and for its impact on the Israeli left.

“Hamas has pushed Israeli thinking back 30 years,” he said. “It has killed the peace camp.”

Moshe Halbertal, a left-leaning professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, helped write the army’s ethics code. He said he knew from personal experience how much laborious discussion went into deciding when it was acceptable to shoot at a legitimate target if civilians were nearby, adding that there had been several events in this war in which he suspected that the wrong decision had been made.

For example, Israel killed a top Hamas ideologue, Nizar Rayyan, during the first week of the war and at the same time killed his four wives and at least nine of his children. Looking back at it, Mr. Halbertal disapproves, assuming that the decision was made consciously, even if Mr. Rayyan purposely hid among his family to protect himself, as it appears he did. Yet almost no one here publicly questioned the decision to drop a bomb on his house and kill civilians; all the sentiment in Israel was how satisfying and just it was to kill a man whose ideology and activity had been so virulent and destructive.

But Mr. Halbertal takes quite seriously the threat that Hamas poses to Israel’s existence, and that issue affects him in his judgments of the war.

“Rockets from Hamas could eventually reach all of Israel,” he said. “This is not a fantasy. It is a real problem. So there is a gap between actual images on the screen and the geopolitical situation.

“You have Al Jazeera standing at Shifa Hospital and the wounded are coming in,” he continued, referring to an Arab news outlet. “So you have this great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is: who is the David here?”

The war, of course, is portrayed differently here and abroad. What Israelis see on the front pages of their newspapers and on their evening broadcasts is not what the rest of the world is reading and seeing. Israeli news focuses on Israeli suffering — the continuing rocket attacks on Israel, the wounded Israeli soldiers with pictures from Gaza coming later. On a day last week when the foreign news media focused on Red Cross allegations of possible war crimes, Israeli news outlets played down the story.

But the Israeli news media are not so much determining the national agenda as reflecting it. Even the left and what was long called the peace camp consider this conflict almost entirely the responsibility of Hamas, and thus a moral and just struggle.

“By this stage in the first and second Lebanon wars, there were much larger street demonstrations, vigils and op-ed pieces,” said Janet Aviad, a former sociologist and peace activist. “But in this case, the entire Israeli public is angry at the immoral behavior of Hamas.”

The writer A.B. Yehoshua, who opposes Israel’s occupation and promotes a Palestinian state, has been trying to explain the war to foreigners.

“ ‘Imagine,’ I tell a French reporter, ‘that every two days a missile falls in the Champs-Élysées and only the glass windows of the shops break and five people suffer from shock,’ ” Mr. Yehoshua told a reporter from Yediot Aharonot, a Tel Aviv newspaper. “ ‘What would you say? Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you send missiles at Belgium if it were responsible for missiles on your grand boulevard?’ ”

Failure to meet

November 10, 2008

Analysis : Snubs show Obama is no RP friend

By Amando Doronila
Editorial Consultant
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 10, 2008

In the first blush of victory, US President-elect Barack Obama accepted congratulations from nine presidents and prime ministers and returned their calls. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, one of the numerous early callers, was not one of the chosen few.The favored world leaders were Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

All are leaders of democracies known as important allies of the United States. Two are Asians—Aso and Lee; one is leader of the centerpiece of US policy in the Middle East, Olmert of Israel; Calderon heads Mexico, the most strategic US neighbor in Latin America; and the rest are leaders of Europe’s most important democracies.

Their talks ranged over a number of issues indicating the priorities of Obama as he moved swiftly to revamp the focus of US foreign policy, including the global financial crisis, the Afghanistan war, and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear crisis.

Sarkozy’s office said he and Obama spoke for 30 minutes, characterized as “extremely warm,” as they discussed the financial crisis and agreed to meet in the “quite near future.” It said they spoke about an international financial summit in Washington.

A second round of calls to world leaders quickly followed on Saturday when Obama spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

After this second round, Ms Arroyo was pushed back on the queue of the waiting list. Malacañang has been waiting in vain for a return call. None, at the time of this writing, had been received.

Not on radar screen

These telephone chats over the past few days gave a first glimpse into the “world view” of the incoming administration—the countries that mattered to it, the countries Obama have downgraded and the issues that concern it most as he redefines US foreign policy in the post-Bush era.

From the looks of it, the Philippines is not on the Obama radar screen, no matter how our humiliated leaders on the waiting list claim our strategic importance is to the United Sates in the Asia-Pacific region and our historic ties with Washington.

Obama has barely a couple of years experience as junior senator from Illinois and has only a brushing acquaintance with foreign policy. It’s very likely the Philippines struck him as just a speck on the map.

And so, if his team received an early call from Ms Arroyo congratulating him for his election, one of his ignorant staff could have asked: “Where is the Philippines?”

American presidents take seriously countries whose leaders create trouble for the United States and who assail its authority as the lone superpower after the collapse of communism in the 1990s. They scorn obsequious vassal poor countries although they may have historical special relations with the United States.

Take Sarkozy. Amid the financial crisis of Wall Street in October, Sarkozy seized the Wall Street turmoil as an opening wedge to revamp the free-enterprise US model along the lines of the state-interventionist style of France. This has been seen in Washington as a revival of neo-Gaullism in France challenging the American model of capitalism.

The Canadian prime minister’s office said Obama and Harper emphasized there could be no closer friends and allies than the United States and Canada and vowed to strengthen their relationship.

President Calderon’s office said Obama pledged continued US support for Mexico’s fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. The office of Olmert said he and Obama “discussed the need to continue and advance the peace process, while maintaining Israel’s security.” Australian Prime Minister Rudd said he and Obama talked about national security and climate change.

Constructive interaction

In his conversation with Lee, Obama said the US-South Korean alliance was a “cornerstone” of Asia’s peace and stability and promised improved relations between the two countries.

In the second round of telephone talks, Obama and Russian President Medvedev “expressed the determination to create constructive interaction for the good of global stability,” and agreed their countries had common responsibility to address “serious problems of global nature.”

On Wednesday, after Obama’s election, Medvedev threatened to move short-range missiles on Russia’s borders with NATO allies, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama’s talk with China’s Hu covered a range of issues, including the global financial turmoil and the sensitive issue of Taiwan. China opposes independence for Taiwan, saying that the proper handling of the issue was the key to good relations between Beijing and Washington.

‘Fairer’ Middle East policy

In his first foreign policy pronouncement as president-elect, Obama called for an international effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The pronouncement came a day after Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Obama to implement a “fairer” policy in the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad congratulated Obama on his election—the first time an Iranian leader had offered such wishes to a US president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Obama acknowledged the letter, but said Iran’s development of nuclear weapons was “unacceptable” and Iran must end its “support of terrorist organizations.”

By contrast, the Philippines encountered a frosty reception from the incoming administration. Ms Arroyo put in a call to Obama at 2-3 a.m. to congratulate him, and Obama did not receive her call.

Instead, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney offered an explanation that failed to mask the snub. In Bacolod City, Kenney said Obama was “a fan of the Philippines,” and she expected the two countries to have “extraordinarily good relations” during the Obama presidency.

Kenney said she did not foresee any major changes in the security relations with the Philippines, where US Special Forces are training Filipino troops in fighting Moro rebels linked to Osama bin Laden’s terror network in Southeast Asia.

RP not in charmed circle

Kenney said the Philippines would continue to be a “strong ally” of the United States, and acknowledged that the Philippines increasingly had a “great regional role to play.”

She said that when Ms Arroyo put in a call to Obama, his team told her that the President’s call was one of “the first and most gracious calls,” and they were taking down names and numbers and they would “call back when they get a chance.”

They never did.

Kenney said it was not likely that Ms Arroyo would be able to meet Obama when she goes to the United States next week to attend a UN function.

“I think [an Obama-Arroyo] meeting is unlikely because the president-elect, as I understand it, is not yet meeting with foreign leaders. He is busy assembling his Cabinet,” the US ambassador said.

The sidelining of the Arroyo call gave a glimpse of the importance of the Philippines to the United States at a moment of change of administration.

It is clear that the Philippines stands on the outer perimeter of US concerns in world affairs.

The first telephone conversations reveal the Philippines is not within the charmed circles of the Obama administration. It is a leper outside looking in.

It is imperative that Manila should rearrange its priorities vis-à-vis Washington. Obama is not our friend.