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Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

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July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment

Qatari Ambassador to US Speaks to Full House in Pensacola

Yesterday, the Qatari Ambassador to the United States, Mohammed Jaham Al Kawari, spoke to a packed house at the New World Landing as the Tiger Bay Club gathered to hear how little Qatar is exerting big influence in the world peace-making arena.

QatarAmbAtTigerBayClub

The ambassador has an impressive biography, and in appearance very polished, very French. He isn’t afraid to tackle the tough questions, and presents Qatar’s position in a way that people can hear and understand.

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Community, Counter-terrorism, Events, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Leadership, Middle East, News, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency | , | Leave a comment

“You’re Not From Around Here”

“Did she just say what I thought she said? my co-leader asked me, and I laughed.

“You mean ‘You’re not from around here?'” I said, which was not exactly what she had said but was exactly what she meant. He laughed.

“Exactly!” he said, and he laughed.

She had not used those exact words, but, uncomfortable with some of the questions our diplomats were asking, and clearly over her head, she had turned to me and asked me how long I’d been here, and dismissing me, told the group she had been here all her life, etc. I hadn’t been arguing with her. I hadn’t said a word. I was just the nearest dog to kick, someone on whom she could vent her frustration.

It’s so human. I’ve never lived anywhere that I didn’t hear some version of it, rarely to my face, usually about others, but it’s a fall-back position and it is present in every culture.

I told him about my many moves – 31 – and my cat theory. When you bring a new cat into a house with cats, you shut the new cat in a room (with food and litter, you know, cat things) until the other cats get used to the smell. Then you allow the new cat among the old cats for a short time and put it away again. You do this for a couple days, and then allow the cat to be among the other cats with you present to see how it goes. Sometimes it takes a while for the new cat to be accepted. Sometimes a cat just fits right in.

I told him I do the same thing, when I get to a new place I just quietly show up, in church, in a new group or two, and stay quiet. I watch who sits with whom, I listen to what they say. Sometimes one time with a group is enough, and I know it’s never going to be a good fit and I don’t go back. Other groups, I just keep showing up but I stay quiet . . you know, letting them get used to my “smell,” LOL.

Most of the time, I fit right in. It doesn’t take that long. Every now and then I run into a cat who doesn’t appreciate my presence, and I have to make a decision. Usually it is a bully-cat who can sniff our my independence and irreverence in spite of my deferential behavior; sometimes I will stick around, sometimes I back away. You’re not going to change a bully-cat, and I am not one for a cat-fight. The bully-cats often do themselves in and implode.

This woman was busy imploding.

My generally enthusiastic group was quiet when they got back on the bus, and I let them be. I really didn’t want to deal with this meeting, either.

The next day, we all talked. I asked what they had learned from the meeting and one diplomat, the most outspoken, said “Learned nothing! She talked and talked and talked (she was doing that hand thing that means a person is talking and talking) and she never answered a single question!”

A second diplomat laughed and said “Like a diplomat, only we are better at it” and everyone laughed.

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Moving, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency, Work Related Issues | 7 Comments

Russians Told Flight 17 Full of Corpses, not People

Fascinating article from Digg, saying Russian press has totally different spin on the Shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17. All part of a big Western plot .  . .

 

When it was the Soviet Union and they told such whoppers, even their own citizens didn’t believe them. Now that they have access to cable news, and other inputs through the internet, how can they hope to pass this one along as truth?

JULY 20, 2014

The Russian Public Has a Totally Different Understanding of What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17And it’s more of a problem than you think.

By Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty

Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH 17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all trueat least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they’re not really getting through to Putin’s subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off.

Western media has been vacillating for days between calling Putin a murdererand peppering their coverage with allegedlys, telling the heart-rending tales of the victims, scrounging for anonymous leaks to link the Russians to the downed jet, and punditizing about exit ramps.

But in Russia, televisionmost of it owned or controlled by the Kremlinis trying to muddy the water with various experts who insist that there is no way that an SA-11 missile system could possibly have downed a plane flying that high. And, mind you, this is not part of a larger debate of could they, or couldn’t they; this is all of Russian television and state-friendly papers pushing one line: the pro-Russian separatists we’ve been supporting all these months couldn’t have done this. Watching some of these Russian newscasts, one comes away with the impression of a desperate defense attorney scrounging for experts and angles, or a bad kid caught red-handed by the principal, trying to twist his way out of a situation in which he has no chance.

And that’s when they’re not simply peddling conspiracy theories, which have become a kind of symbiotic feedback loop between state TV and the most inventive corners of the Internet. The best of the bunch is, of course, an elaborate one: MH17 is actually MH370, that Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared into the Indian Ocean. According to this theory, the plane didn’t disappear at all, “it was taken to an American military base, Diego-Garcia.”

Then it was taken to Holland. On the necessary day and hour, it flew out, bound for Malaysia, but inside were not live people, but corpses. The plane was flown not by real pilots; it was on autopilot. Or take-off (a complicated procedure) was executed by live pilots, who then ejected on parachutes. Then the plane flew automatically. In the necessary spot, it was blown up, without even using a surface-to-air missile. Instead the plane was packed with a bomb, just like the CIA did on 9/11.

The theory also notes that the passports of victims at the crash site all look brand new even though there was an explosion and a fire. “That is, the passports were tossed in [after the crash].” And, most damingly, all the victims’ Facebook pages were created in one day and the media is not showing any of the victims’ families, just the crash site. Though this is not true of Western media, Russian television has not featured any of this. “There’s very little talk about the human cost of this catastrophe,” says independent television analyst Arina Borodina, formerly of the prominent Russian dailyKommersant. “Instead we’re seeing these unbelievable versions. For example, that someone had actually been hunting for the president or that some of the locals saw parachutists coming down from a height of 30,000 feet.”

But though it may look unconvincing to us in the West, that is because we have seen and read other things that contradict it. The Russian media space has become so uniform and independent voices so cowed and marginalizedthat there is no counterweight and, when there’s no counterweight, if you repeat a thing often enough, it becomes the truth.

 

This isn’t an innocent you-say-tomato moment; this is a very problematic development. The result of all this Russian coverage is that Russians’ understanding of what happened is as follows. At best, the crash is an unfortunate accident on the part of the Ukrainian military that the West is trying to pin on Russia, which had nothing to do with it; at worst, it is all part of a nefarious conspiracy to drag Russia into an apocalyptic war with the West. So whereas the West sees the crash as a game-changer, the Russians do not see why a black swan event has to change anything or they want to resist what they see is a provocation. To them, after a few days of watching Russian television, it’s not at all clear what happened nor that their government is somehow responsible for this tragedy. And the more we insist on it, the less likely the Russians are to agree.

Floriana Fossato, a longtime scholar of Russian media, says that this, coupled with the media’s conscious use of the Soviet language of crisis“traitors,” “fascists,” “fifth columns”quickly brings to the surface the psychological demons of a society massively traumatized by the 20th century, traumas that society has never adequately addressed. The result, she says, is a kind of collective PTSD-meets-Stockholm Syndrome.

In Russians’ view, “Americans have recreated the situation where they have excuse for intervention,” Fossato says. “No one admits that they are afraid, but they are. They are panicked. And they are right in being afraid because theyknow what happened, and they know there must be an answer to what is going on. And so they lock onto Putin for protection. This is why they don’t turn to Putin and ask him to do something.”

But in addition to the Russian public not clamoring for decisive action from Putin, there is a far more serious problem. As David Remnick noted in hiscolumn on the crash of MH17, Putin has become prisoner to his own propaganda machine, much as he’s become prisoner of the rebels he thought were doing his geopolitical dirty work in Ukraine.

After Putin’s ascent, media became the flexible element that could be readjusted for any twist or turn of the political rudder. “Today, it’s the opposite,” says Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first election and was a Kremlin advisor for years afterwards. “It’s almost impossible to turn the rudder of the picture that’s formed on television because it would mean losing the audience they formed in this year” of sword-brandishing and imperialistic conquest.

This audience is now fired up and brandishing its own swords, and the propaganda apparatus, much like the rebels in eastern Ukraine, has rolled on an on, fed by inertia and paranoia, reproducing and magnifying itself with each newscast. The sensationalized newscasts are now neck-and-neck, ratings-wise, with the sitcoms. “It keeps people in a traumatized state,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s notable in media metrics, and in conversations with people. They lose their sanity, they become paranoid and aggressive.”

This has had a noticeable impact on the ruling class, Pavlovsky says, which has to watch this stuff in order to stay au courant. And they become less sane as a result, too, which limits their ability to adequately assess a situation such as this and devise a good way out of it.

“It’s noticeable that the Kremlin is much more tempered than Russian TV but can’t change it,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s fallen into a trap, so it’s now trying to function within the strictures of this picture.” He cites the example of the PR contortions the Kremlin had to use just to announce that it would not send troops into eastern Ukraine. “In this seemingly controlled media, any rational political arguments of the state have to be hidden and packaged in idiotic, jingoistic rhetoric,” Pavlovsky says.

None of this looks very good for the West, which is clearly hoping that MH17 is the thing that will bring Putin to his senses and get him to agree to some kind of off-ramp, or, at least, a deescalation. But that’s hard to do if neither your public nor your political class see it as a game-changer or as anything that should force Russia to end this game.

“Of course it gets in Putin’s way. He has to be the hero of this TV material, he’s not free from it anymore,” says Pavlovsky. “I have a feeling not very comfortable right now.”

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Political Issues, Relationships, Technical Issue, Transparency, Travel | Leave a comment

No Expectation of Privacy as Qatar Installs Closed Circuit TV EVERYWHERE

This kind of gives me the shivers. I guess it is supposed to make everyone safer, but it feels so intrusive. It may be a generational thing; my understanding is that people today have lower expectations of privacy . . . I wonder how their upkeep will be; sand and humidity being hard on security cameras, not to mention deliberate interference with their use?

Qatar steps up enforcement of CCTV surveillance law

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CCTV

With reporting from Ankita Menon

Qatar’s Ministry of Interior is apparently stepping up enforcement of a law that requires businesses around the country to install closed-circuit camera surveillance on their premises.

Law No. 9 of 2011 mandates that surveillance cameras be installed in residential compounds, hospitals, malls, banks, hotels, warehouses and other locations, and is enforced by the MOI’s Security Systems Department (SSD).

The SSD was not immediately available for comment, but Qatar Tribune reports that the MOI has recently made the widespread installation of these cameras a priority.

Speaking to Doha News, a staffer at Lulu Hypermarket on D-Ring said that the store was previously told to install CCTV in its parking lot, but has now been asked to increase the number of cameras to cover the entire parking area.

Meanwhile, an employee at Lulu Gharafa said they are still in the process of installing some 300 ministry-approved cameras, following an instruction from last year. When asked why the extra surveillance was needed, he said it could help aid police investigations into incidents such as thefts from vehicles.

Additionally, the Peninsula reports the owner of a jewelry shop in the Gold Souq as saying:

“This year when I went for company registration renewal was asked of CCTV cameras are installed. Also inspectors are supposed to come to our shops and inspect if the surveillance cameras are functioning properly.

There are only very few places from which we should buy the CCTV cameras, they are very expensive and it cost me more than QR60,000 to purchase and fix the surveillance system,” he added.

However, City Center mall’s director told Doha News that though the SSD consistently comes to inspect the surveillance system, there have been no new requests for additional cameras in the past few months.

Requirements

A law governing the use of CCTV surveillance was passed in 2011. According to the legislation:

  • Businesses must have a control room and operate surveillance 24/7;
  • Recordings must be kept for 120 days, and cannot be altered before being handed over to competent government departments upon request;
  • Recording is prohibited in bedrooms, patient rooms, toilets and changing rooms for women; and
  • Those who violate the law could face up to three years in jail and fines of QR50,000, as well as the suspension or cancellation of their business license.

Last year, the law was brought back into the spotlight when the Supreme Council of Health reminded healthcare facilities to comply with the legislation and install cameras within three months, or face the loss of their business licenses.

 

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Law and Order, Privacy, Qatar, Transparency, Travel | 2 Comments

Hilarious Pensacola Blog: Dicksblog

Note to my Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabian readers – YES. This is legal. This is what free speech looks like. This anonymous blogger can poke fun – and does – at everyone. He probably will want to remain anonymous because he does not discriminate in who he pokes and won’t have any friends if people figure out who he is, but yes. Yes. YES. This is legal, this is freedom of speech. He won’t go to jail.

Poking fun at appearance-over-substance Mayor Ashton Hayward, who made national news this week as he prayed, and rethought his ban on homeless people using blankets in Pensacola: Dicksblog goes viral:

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 4.18.14 PM

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Florida, Free Speech, Living Conditions, Marketing, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency | Leave a comment

Qatar MOI States Employers Will Be forced to Abide by the Rules

It doesn’t matter how enlightened the legislation – if the law is not enforced, the rules on the book are laughable. It gives the illusion of a lawful society, but if citizens know that they will not be penalized for breaking the law, they will scoff at the law and do as they please. People who came to the country expecting to make a fair wage and be treated decently and with dignity find themselves without proper paperwork due to the corruption of their employer or recruiter.

If the MOI in Qatar enforces this law, a terrible situation will be slightly better. This, from The Qatar Gulf Times:

 

By Ramesh Mathew/Staff Reporter

 

With the Ministry of Interior (MoI) taking a firm stand on ID cards, residents believe that this will safeguard the interests of workers as their employers will now be forced to abide by the rules.

A report in the Tuesday edition of Gulf Times had quoted a senior official as saying that residents should always carry their residence permit ID cards and produce the same whenever asked by the authorities concerned. Those failing to do so would be fined up to QR10,000, the report had said, adding that the MoI could also transfer the sponsorship of expatriates if they proved that they were abused by sponsors under Law No 4/2009.

Welcoming the MoI’s decision, legal expert and rights activist Nizar Kochery said this would make employers more accountable as any long delay or failure on their part to stamp the visas of their staff would invite a hefty fine.

“There have been cases of companies refusing to stamp visas for long periods and workers being picked up by the law-enforcing agencies for failing to produce valid residence proof,” said Kochery, adding that the ministerial reaffirmation would force employers to stamp visas promptly.

Reacting to the report, an Asian diplomat said his country’s mission frequently received complaints from people alleging that their employers had not stamped their visas even months after their arrival in Qatar.

“The embassy receives such complaints from expatriates every week though there has been a drastic fall in their numbers in recent times due to strict enforcement of the rules by the local authorities,” he added.

Kochery said there should also be stringent implementation of the rules pertaining to expatriates’ passports. “Though the ministry issued guidelines more than three years ago on the issue of custody of passports, complaints of violation of this norm continue,” the legal expert said.

The ministry had instructed employers to hand over the passports of employees after the completion of formalities. However, there have been cases of some employers retaining the passports in violation of the local rules.

“A similar fine (like the one for not carrying IDs) should be imposed on erring employers for illegally keeping their workers’ passports,” he said.

A few years ago, this newspaper had reported about a theft in a manpower company’s office in Musheireb. More than 150 passports of workers, which the firm had kept in its custody in violation of rules, went missing in the incident. Meanwhile,  residents have also said similar penalties were required to curb violations regarding exit permits as well. A social activist in the Indian community said there have been complaints of employers failing to arrange exit permits for their workers on time even during emergencies.

There have also been reports of residents, mainly drivers, lodging complaints with embassies, alleging that their sponsors take away their licences when they go on vacation.

“The MoI should consider imposing hefty fines on such employers as well. Like a passport, a driving licence is not only the property of an individual, but is also a proof of identification under the local rules,” said Kochery.

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Kuwait, Law and Order, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Pet Peeves, Qatar, Relationships, Scams, Social Issues, Transparency, Work Related Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

New Driving License Restrictions to Ease Traffic in Qatar

It looks like rather than investing in better highways, Qatar will follow in Kuwait’s footsteps to restrict driver’s licenses. This is another example of a law that invites unequal enforcement. “Ambiguous” implies that the rule will not be applied to everyone, but will be subject to bribery and connections to the right people.

Why do I even care, you might ask. As a white Western woman, this rule won’t apply. I won’t be stopped in traffic stops; if I am, and can’t show a valid license, I will politely be told I need to get one. But I publish this because it isn’t fair. It applies to my fellow expat wives, as well as to the hairdresser who would come to my home to cut my hair, or the carpenter with his own little business who wants to deliver the new couch he made for me. And, if the traffic doesn’t get better by eliminating catagories of employment, the next step considered is often eliminating licenses for WOMEN.

If the taxi situation in Doha were not so abysmal, it could be bearable not to have a license, but once the state took over the taxi business and ruthlessly clamped down on independently owned and operated taxis, taxi transportation was no longer the blessing it once was. Even at the most posh hotels in town, you might wait an hour for a taxi to show up. Or maybe things have radically improved in the time since I have been gone, but I somehow doubt it.

From the Qatar Gulf Times:

Driving schools in Qatar have started  “implementing” the Traffic Department’s decision to make certain categories of expatriate workers ineligible for driving licences but there was some ambiguity in the whole exercise as the plan is in its initial phase, sources yesterday said.

According to an unofficial list those who are eligible include sales representatives, accountants, administrators, representatives, sales supervisors, receptionists, clearance agents and fitness trainers. Also, professionals like doctors, engineers, pilots, architects and lawyers will find no problem in getting a licence.

However, people who work as clerks, stewards, cashiers, salesmen, foremen, tailors, blacksmiths, masons, cooks, carpenters, plumbers, painters, electricians, mechanics, computer technicians, waiters, barbers, beauty saloon workers, store keepers, photographers and secretaries will not be issued driving licences.

People who are brought to the country on driver visas, whether they are sponsored by companies or individuals, will not find it difficult to get a licence, the source said.

An employee of a driving school said the Traffic Department had yet to issue an official and final roster of categories that will be allowed to apply for a licence.

“Right now, they are in the process of  implementing the new rule and so there is some ambiguity,” he said.

The licensing section of the Traffic Department had earlier issued a circular limiting the issuance of driving licences to certain categories of expatriate workers. The move is aimed at easing traffic congestion on Qatar roads.

The source also referred to  another change in policy where students who failed the road test four times might  not be given a fifth chance anymore.

He  disclosed that there was a plan to ban  old cars on Qatar’s roads. “The new rules will be implemented very strictly.”

Earlier reports said that the Central Municipal Council (CMC) members had welcomed the move, saying it would significantly contribute to reducing the growing number of new vehicles on roads, which was cited as one of  the major causes of traffic jams.

The source said the Traffic Department will also study the impact of the new rule  in the coming months.

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Qatar, Social Issues, Survival, Technical Issue, Transparency, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

New Driver License Enforcement in Kuwait? – Maj Gen Abdulfattah Al-Ali

When you read this article from the Kuwait Times, you will see that the requirements for obtaining a Kuwait driver’s license are not new, but enforcing the requirements – if it happens – will be new. It will make Kuwait more like Saudi Arabia for expat wives, where women cannot drive their own car to pick up the laundry or drop the kids off at school or go grocery shopping – unless, in the case of Kuwait,  she has a university degree AND has lived in Kuwait for two years AND is employed earning 400KD. No mere expat wife will have a driver’s license under these guidelines.

But these are the same guidelines that were in effect when I arrived in Kuwait. When I was in Kuwait on a house hunting trip before moving there, I asked how this would work, with me not being able to have a license, according to the rules. I was asking Kuwaiti officials. They said that the rules did not apply to me. (This answer still stuns me.)  So where is it written to whom the law applies? The office of the Interior Ministry for Traffic Affairs will have a great deal of leeway making their approvals – will they apply this law equally to all peoples of all nationalities?

No licenses without traffic chief’s nod

KUWAIT: The Interior Ministry’s Assistant Undersecretary for Traffic Affairs Maj Gen Abdulfattah Al-Ali issued a decision yesterday to stop the acceptance of applications for driving licenses from non-Kuwaitis (expatriates and bedoons) unless they are approved by his office. The decision number 61/2013 went into effect from July 1, 2013, and allows the undersecretary’s office to inspect every application forwarded by foreigners and stateless residents in order to verify whether they meet the conditions to apply for a driving license. Ali reportedly threatened traffic department officials with retribution if they fail to abide by the new instructions.

According to security sources who spoke to a local daily, the decision came after cases were discovered in which manipulations were found in some departments where licenses were issued to expatriates who do not meet the requirements. A foreign resident in Kuwait must have a university degree, a minimum monthly salary of KD 400 and have been residing in Kuwait for at least two years among other conditions to apply for a driving license.

The sources also argued that the new decision does not take away the authority of traffic departments around Kuwait. “The departments’ main role is to issue licenses to Kuwaitis, while issuing licenses to expatriates is the exception,” they said, adding the decision means transferring the exception to the assistant undersecretary’s office so that traffic department officials can focus on their jobs of serving citizens and putting more traffic police officers on the streets.

“Any decision – even if it’s for the safety and organization of traffic regulations in the country – issued suddenly without informing the public in advance will surely create hostility,” said attorney Labeed Abdal, a Kuwaiti columnist. “I advise the good undersecretary to hold a press conference to explain to the people why such a regulation is needed. In this way you send the message correctly to people who will not be angry or surprised,” he added. Abdal agreed that the decision is directed to ease traffic jams in the country blamed on reckless drivers. “I think the decision is good. Be informed that he (Ali) did not stop it completely – he said he will give a chance, under his ultimate mercy. He did this to avoid license forgery and wasta (influence),” he stressed.

Another Kuwaiti was not very happy about the new decision. “(A driving license) is the right of every human being…why can’t they understand this. This decision is short of saying ‘just terminate all the services of expatriates in Kuwait’. Why are expats here if you cannot provide the facilities they need. I ask the official (Ali) to try at least once to ride in a bus or even wait for a taxi. If he can stay for one minute under the scorching heat of the sun, then OK, cancel the licenses of expats. If not, forget about your decision – it’s inhuman and cannot be accepted,” he fumed.

 I do not agree that a driving license is a right of every human being. I do believe that those under 18 should not be driving on the roads of Kuwait – I don’t mind them learning how to drive out in the desert, but save the testosterone driving for way out there where you can’t endanger the rest of us. I don’t believe people who don’t know the laws should have a license. I think there should be a test that every person can study for and must pass to have a driver’s license, otherwise you are simply saying that every human being has a right to a license to kill! I believe that every driver must be adequately insured to be licensed, and that the police must be impartial when determining fault in an accident. These are the rules that hold those responsible enough to drive the wild roads of Kuwait to be held accountable for their driving.
I applaud the sincerity with which Maj Gen Abdulfattah Al-Ali is striving to make the roads in Kuwait safer for all, and enforcing the law equally against all nationalities, even Kuwaitis. I hope he will remember transparency and accountability as he builds a truly modern and enforceable traffic system in Kuwait.

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Law and Order, Satire, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues, Transparency, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | , | Leave a comment

Police Know Where We Are and Where We Go

This is not good news for people who don’t want other people knowing where they have been. I don’t see how it’s any different from cameras in big cities that are used by the police to see what cars went through at a time of a crime, for example. If you don’t have anything to hide, is this invasive? Where property crimes are increasing, where there is an increase in violent crime or assaults, these re tools to keep the majority of the population safer from the predators – in my opinion. Can you change my mind?

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From AOL Auto News:

Police License Plate Scanners Record Driver’s Locations

Unregulated cameras store information indefinitely

 

Government surveillance isn’t just in our phone records and search engine history, but on our roads as well.

That’s what the Center For Investigative Reporting found when researching the small cameras popping up on police cars across the country known as license plate scanners. License plate scanners allow police officers to quickly scan thousands of license plates a day, looking for runaway criminals or stolen cars. In California there are very few limits on these readers and almost no transparency. These cameras record time and place of your vehicle, and even can store a picture record of your whereabouts.

Michael Katz-Lacabe, a security consultant, requested the records from the San Leandro, Calif., police department of every time his car was scanned. He was amazed at the frightening amount of information police had recorded. His two cars were scanned 112 times since 2009, and average of about twice a week. There was even a picture of him and his two daughters getting out of his Toyota Prius in their driveway.

The Center For Investigative Reporting points out that the use of license plate scanners has been growing quickly and quietly across the country. Read their fascinating story here to learn more.

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Crime, Cultural, Customer Service, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Photos, Privacy, Safety, Transparency | Leave a comment