After Brexit, will ‘Nexit’ follow?

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AP/Rotterdam
Filed on February 19, 2017 | Last updated on February 19, 2017 at 10.23 pm

The landmark Erasmus bridge, also known as ‘The Swan’. A Netherlands exit from the EU would likely deal a huge blow to Rotterdam, a cosmopolitan city known for its port, one of the world’s busiest.
(AP)

Election candidate calls for Netherlands ‘to be independent again’

For a small nation that has grown hugely wealthy thanks to centuries of doing business far and wide, the political mood in the Netherlands has turned surprisingly inward.

As a March 15 parliamentary election looms in the Netherlands – one of the founding members of the European Union – popular lawmaker Geert Wilders is dominating polls with an isolationist manifesto that calls for the Netherlands “to be independent again. So out of the EU”.

After Britons voted last year to divorce from the EU, could a Dutch departure – known here as “Nexit”, after “Brexit” – be close behind?

“I see the European Union as an old Roman Empire that is ceasing to exist. It will happen,” Wilders said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Wilders’ Party for Freedom is a serious contender to win the popular vote, with most polls a month out from the election showing it ahead of all other parties. Over the past dozen years, the Dutch have already voted in referenda against EU proposals twice.

Few analysts think Nexit would materialise: Despite his popularity, Wilders will struggle to find coalition partners among mainstream parties, which shun him and his strident anti-EU rhetoric.

Then again, few observers predicted last year that Britain would vote to become the first country to leave the EU, so the worries are real about the possible effects of a Nexit – or a further disintegration of European unity driven by the rise of nationalist populism throughout the continent.

An exit from the EU would likely deal a huge blow to Rotterdam, a cosmopolitan city known for its port, one of the world’s busiest. The city employs 90,000 people, and a further 90,000 are directly linked to its activities elsewhere in the country. Port of Rotterdam corporate strategist Michiel Nijdam believed a Dutch exit from the EU seemed unlikely, though not impossible.

“Because we are so dependent on our trade with other countries that it would clearly hurt us so much that I don’t think it’s likely,” he said. “But you never know what happens if a lot of people think it’s a good idea and you vote on a party that is pro-Nexit.”

Nijdam was speaking in the port’s imposing Norman Foster-designed headquarters, which commands views over the port and the Nieuw Maas river that bisects the city. Cranes at container terminals can be seen to the west, while low-slung barges glide past, heading eastward along rivers and canals into the heart of Europe.

The port made a profit of ?222 million last year as it dealt with 461 million metric tonnes of freight. Some 28,000 sea-going vessels and 100,000 inland waterway barges used the port in 2016.

“The effects will be the opposite of the effects we had from the opening of Europe,” Nijdam said. “That means that it’s more difficult to organise your logistics through the Netherlands, so it will clearly have an impact on supply chains that will shift their routes from Rotterdam to other ports. “The Netherlands will be less attractive that’s for sure. For logistics it’s not a good decision to leave the EU.”

Wilders disagrees, pointing to a report his party commissioned that showed the Dutch economy would benefit from an exit. The Netherlands would remain a strong trading nation while saving billions in funding to the trade bloc, it claimed.

“The position of Rotterdam will really be the same after we would leave the EU,” he said. “It will not be that Rotterdam all of a sudden will have moved to Sweden.”

Dutch bank Rabobank published four scenarios this month for the future of Europe and its effects. A scenario in which the bloc disintegrates amid a messy divorce from Britain and growing skepticism about Europe among remaining member states doesn’t look pretty for the Netherlands or Rotterdam. The bank even suggested that a huge new extension to Rotterdam’s port could turn into a “nature reserve”.

One Rabobank economist, Elwin de Groot, said Rotterdam’s port underscores how deeply embedded the Netherlands is in the EU and its single market.

“We are the spider in the logistic web of Europe,” he said. “So if that is affected by, for example, a Nexit… that could have significant consequences for our economy.”

A new economic hit is the last thing this nation of 17 million needs. After being pummelled by the global economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, it was struck again around 2012 but is now bouncing back strongly. Figures released this month showed that the Netherlands’ economy grew a robust 2.1 per cent in 2016. Rabobank researcher De Groot says a Nexit could slam the brakes on that growth.

If the Netherlands were to leave the EU, he said, “suddenly we are confronted with all kinds of trade restrictions. That could have, you know, a very negative impact on the Dutch economy”.

Source : Khaleej Times

French artist is entombed inside rock for a week

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French artist Abraham Poincheval performs ‘Pierre’ (Stone), at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris
(AFP)

A French artist was entombed on Wednesday inside a 12-tonne boulder for a week, saying: “I think I can take it.”

With the world’s press looking on, the two halves of the limestone rock were closed on Abraham Poincheval by workmen in a Paris modern art museum.

The 44-year-old had hollowed out a hole in the rock just big enough for him to sit, with a niche to hold supplies of water, soup and dried meat.
If he survives the ordeal, the artist will then attempt to hatch a dozen eggs by sitting on them for weeks on end.

Just before he stepped inside the rock at the Palais de Tokyo museum, Poincheval said that claustrophobia was the least of his worries.

“We are already locked into our own bodies,” he said.

Instead he was more anxious about stopping his mind running riot during his confinement.

“We did a little test yesterday and it was absolutely incredible. It felt like like I was being carried off on a raft,” the artist said.

“One of the big challenges will be to hold onto reality.”

Poincheval had earlier been cagey on the rock’s toilet facilities.

But as the clock ticked down he came clean, admitting he would have to sit on a small container and pee into his water bottles once he had drunk them.

He was stoic about living with his excrement. “The stone will absorb some of the smell,” he said. “I think I can take it.”

The artist has spent months mentally and physically preparing himself for the practicalities of life inside the rock, where he will sit up with his arms outstretched.

Holes have been bored for air and cables for a heart monitor and an emergency video link.

“We found a way of slipping the toilet container underneath me that works almost to the millimetre,” Poincheval said.

His only other comforts are a cushion and a couple of books “for helping to pass the time, although I don’t think I will be able to read all the time”.

His reading material is certainly not light. He has packed the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman’s classic text Liquid Modernity and a new novel by French author Celine Minard, Le Grand Jeu (The Great Game), about a women who cuts herself off from modern life in a hi-tech mountain refuge.

 

 

Source : Khaleej  Times

Hilarious: Men hold competition to celebrate baldness

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The event is held every year on Feb. 22.

More than 30 bald men gathered at a hot spring facility in Tsuruta City, Japan, on Wednesday to show off their hairless heads and have fun.

Members of the city’s Bald Men Club took turns competing in a unique game of tug-of-war by sticking a suction cup, which is attached to a single red rope, to each of their heads. Both sides then attempt to pull the cup off of their opponent’s head.

“My head still hurts,” Toshiyuki Ogasawara, 43, said with a smile. “I think I need to ice it!”

Masatomo Sasaki, 64, a first-time participant at the tournament, said he used to feel insecure about his baldness but now feels differently.

“I feel proud. Or maybe I should say, I feel good about being a bald man,” Sasaki said, adding that he started losing his hair when he was 40. “And that is thanks to this bald men’s club.”

The club, which has attracted roughly 65 members from all over the country since its founding in 1989, encourages people to “view baldness in a positive manner, to have fun, and to brighten the world with our shiny heads,” according to its website.

Teijiro Sugo, 70, the club’s chairman, hopes the gathering will turn into something much larger.

“I want all the bald men all over the world to gather here so we can organize a bald men’s Olympic tournament,” Sugo said.

The event is held every year on Feb. 22.

 

Source : Khaleej Times

Japan PM caught up in scandal over pre-school

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TOKYO • At the ultraconservative Tsukamoto Kindergarten, caught in a swirling political scandal in Japan, children receive the sort of education their pre-war great-grandparents might have recognised.

They march in crisp rows to military music. They recite instructions for patriotic behaviour laid down by a 19th-century emperor.

The intent, the school says, is to “nurture patriotism and pride” in the children of Japan, “the purest nation in the world”.

Now Tsukamoto and its supporters – including the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – are under fire. The school has been accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans and of getting illicit government financial favours.

A growing outcry has put Mr Abe’s conservative administration on the defensive and drawn attention to the darker side of an increasingly influential right-wing education movement in Japan.

Mr Abe told Parliament on Friday that his wife, Mrs Akie Abe, had resigned as “honorary principal” of a new elementary school being built by Tsukamoto’s owner.

The school sits on land that the owner, a private foundation, bought from the government at a steep discount – a deal that invited charges of special treatment after details surfaced this month.

“My wife and I are not involved at all in the school’s licensing or land acquisition,” Mr Abe said. “If we were, I would resign as a politician.”

Mr Abe and other Japanese conservatives often accuse the education system of liberal bias, seeing it as a place where left-wing teachers spread “masochistic” narratives about Japanese war guilt and promote individualism and pacifism over sturdier traditional values.

Tsukamoto is at the extreme edge of an effort by rightists to push back, said Professor Manabu Sato, who studies education at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. “It’s a rejection of the post-war eduction system, whose basic principles are pacifism and democracy.”

At Tsukamoto, displays of old- style patriotism have sometimes shaded into prejudice. The school apologised on its website last week for statements that contained “expressions that could invite misunderstanding from foreigners”.

Parents said complaints about mundane-seeming matters like parent-teacher association fees would be met with chauvinistic diatribes, with school officials accusing “Koreans and Chinese with evil ideas” of stirring up trouble. They said the school’s principal, Mr Yasunori Kagoike, accused parents who challenged the school of having Korean or Chinese ancestors.

“The problem,” Mr Kagoike said in one notice, was that people who had “inherited the spirit” of foreigners “exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people”.

Mr Abe has made overhauling Japanese education a priority throughout his career, championing a similar if softer version of the traditionalism practised at Tsukamoto.

In early pamphlets for its new elementary school obtained by the Japanese media, Mr Kagoike proposed naming it after Mr Abe.

Mr Kagoike later opted for a different name, a change that the Prime Minister said had been made at his request.

Mr Abe has supported a drive to amend history textbooks, toning down depictions of Japan’s abuses in its one-time Asian empire, and he passed legislation to make “moral education” – including promoting patriotism – a standard part of the public school curriculum.

Tsukamoto has taken the patriotic approach to schooling further. It first gained notoriety a few years ago for having pupils recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, a royal decree issued in 1890 that served as the basis for Japan’s militaristic pre-war school curriculum and that was repudiated after World War II.

Conservatives see the rescript as a paean to traditional values; liberals as a throwback to a more authoritarian era. It encourages children to love their families, to “extend benevolence to all” and to “pursue learning and cultivate arts” – but also to be “good and faithful subjects” of the emperor and to “offer yourselves courageously to the state” when called upon to do so.

Mr Kagoike is also a director of the Osaka branch of Nippon Kaigi, a prominent right-wing pressure group that includes Mr Abe and other influential conservative politicians as members.

Source : The Strait Times

China firms scramble to stamp ‘Ivanka’ on their products

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BEIJING • China is still coming to terms with United States President Donald Trump, but his daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump, has never been more popular here.

Chinese companies have been scrambling to add her name to their products since her father won the US presidential election in November. An incredible 258 trademark applications were lodged under variations of Ivanka, Ivanka Trump and similar-sounding Chinese characters between Nov 10 and the end of last year, records at the China Trademark Office show.

None appears to have a direct business link with the US President’s daughter.

The trademark applications cover a dizzying array of products, including diet pills, anti-wrinkle cream, spa services, massage machines, cosmetic surgery, underwear and sanitary napkins.

Then there are the applications for women’s blouses, jewellery, swimwear and towels, as well for a whole range of products that seem to bear little relation to the business executive and former model: milk powder, canned food, honey, sweets, coffee, wine and beer; mirrors, mattresses and sofas; medical equipment; and even agricultural technology.

Ms Trump has her own line of fashion items and has registered nine trademarks in China, with 26 applications pending and three rejected. Her applications include items such as skincare and cleansing products, leather goods, purses, suitcases, umbrellas, dresses and other clothes.

Ms Trump, of course, has her own line of fashion items and has registered nine trademarks in China, with 26 applications pending and three rejected.

Her applications include items such as skincare and cleansing products, leather goods, purses, suitcases, umbrellas, dresses and other clothes.

But many other companies want to take advantage of her fame.

Mr Li Jun, founder of Foshan Bainuo Sanitary Products, has applied for the trademark for Chinese characters for a range of women’s sanitary napkins, underwear and incontinence pads, using the usual transliteration of Ivanka’s name in Chinese, yiwanka (pronounced ee-wan-ka).

“I first saw her giving a speech on television to support her father’s election,” he said. “I was captivated by her incomparable disposition and air… Her speech was full of elegance and charisma.”

Ms Trump was popular even before the election, admired for her fashion sense and what Chinese netizens call her “goddess” good looks.

A video of her young daughter, Arabella, reciting a Chinese poem to celebrate Chinese New Year last year went viral, garnering nearly nine million views in just a few days.

 

Source : The Straits Times

Addicts turn to peddlers for sleeping pills

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In 2013, a Singaporean man was caught trying to smuggle 90,000 nitrazepam tablets at the Woodlands Checkpoint. He had attempted to hide the pills in a secret compartment in his car between the boot and rear passenger seat. He was sentenced to 16 months’ jail last November.PHOTOS: HEALTH SCIENCES AUTHORITY

Most people who need sleeping pills to help them sleep take just one, but some are so hooked they take up to 50 pills to get them through the day.

Whether to reduce their anxiety or to get high, addicts of these prescription drugs are fuelling a thriving black market for them.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) told The Sunday Times it investigated an average of 200 cases a year in the last three years of the illegal importation or sale of benzodiazepines, the class of drugs under which many sleeping pills fall.

In the past three years, 46 people were convicted of this offence and the HSA seized about 170,000 sleeping tablets, such as Valium, Dormicum and Epam.

Most of those convicted were peddlers who sold the pills on the black market. As with most illegal drugs, one has to know other users to be referred to a peddler.

In the past three years, 46 people were convicted of the illegal importation or sale of benzodiazepines and the HSA seized about 170,000 sleeping tablets, such as Valium, Dormicum and Epam. Most of those convicted were peddlers who sold the pills on the black market. As with most illegal drugs, one has to know other users to be referred to a peddler.

The others convicted included those who had smuggled the pills into Singapore for their own consumption or for other people in exchange for a monetary reward.

The HSA spokesman said: “Smugglers have been found to have hidden the tablets inside vehicles or their luggage upon entry to Singapore.”

Drug addicts and counsellors say many of these pills are smuggled into Singapore from Johor Baru in Malaysia and Thailand. The latest case to be dealt with in court involved a 37-year-old Singaporean who tried to smuggle almost 4,000 nitrazepam tablets from Malaysia.

The man, who works as a supervisor, had bought the sleeping pills from a clinic in Johor Baru for RM$1,800 (S$570) and hidden them in his car but was stopped at the Woodlands Checkpoint by immigration officers in 2014.

He said loan sharks had told him the clinic sold sleeping pills which he could buy and sell in Singapore to clear his debt. He was sentenced to nine months’ jail on Jan 31.

Under the law, importers and sellers of benzodiazepines, which are prescription-only drugs, have to be licensed by the HSA.

In November last year, the law was amended to toughen the penalties for illegally importing or supplying medicine like sleeping pills. Now, those convicted face a fine of up to $50,000 – up from a maximum of $10,000 – or a jail term of up to two years or both.

Dr Dorothy Toh, assistant group director of HSA’s health products regulation group, said the stiffer penalties are to send a strong deterrent message.

The HSA says it works with law enforcement agencies to conduct targeted operations against the illegal supply chain, and monitors the sale of medicine through intelligence gathering and regular surveillance.

The largest number of pills seized in recent years was when a 38-year- old Singaporean was caught trying to smuggle 90,000 nitrazepam tablets at the Woodlands Checkpoint in 2013. He was sentenced to 16 months’ jail in November last year.

Drug addicts say the black market prices have shot up in the past few years as it is much harder to obtain sleeping pills from doctors now.

A tablet of Dormicum now costs between $8 and $10 – double what it used to cost five years ago.

Nitrazepam has also gained popularity in recent years as it is the cheapest sleeping pill around and easily available, those interviewed said. It costs between $0.30 and $0.40 per pill on the black market.

According to these sources, the profit margin is substantial, up to eight to 10 times the price at which the drug is obtained in Malaysia.

With enforcement tightened against doctors who overprescribe these drugs, it is now much harder to get even a week’s supply from a clinic, addicts said.

The Singapore Medical Council said of the 26 doctors disciplined between 2011 and 2014 for the “excessive or inappropriate” prescription of drugs, 19 were disciplined for overprescribing sleeping pills and all but one were suspended from practice and censured.

No doctor was rapped over sleeping pills in 2015, and one doctor was suspended from practising for four months last September.

•HSA said members of the public who have tip-offs on the illegal sale of sleeping pills or other medicine can contact its enforcement branch on 6866-3485 or e-mail hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg

 

Source : The Straits Times