Switzerland Becomes Newest Nation To Ban Face Coverings In Public 

Switzerland has officially voted to approve a ban on full facial coverings in nearly all public spaces. The facial coverings include items like a niqab or burqa, and the policy is not at all in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic or masks that have to do with health and safety protection. 

The vote means that facial coverings will be banned in all publicly accessible places including public offices, transportation, restaurants, shops, and even on the streets. 51% of voters supported the controversial proposal according to the official results published by the federal government. 

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The only exceptions include places of worship and other sacred sites. According to the text of the proposal which was published by the Swiss federal government, “face coverings will also be allowed if worn for health and safety reasons, because of the weather and in situations where it is considered a ‘local custom’ to do so, such as at carnivals. There will be no additional exceptions, for example for tourists.”

The proposal was initially brought about by several right wing groups in the country including the Swiss People’s Party. While the proposal didn’t mention Islam specifically, the media has widely been referring to it as a “burqa ban” for it’s blatant disregard for religious individuals who view facial coverings as a sign of religious freedom. 

Many Swiss religious organizations, human rights/civic groups, and even members of the federal government have criticized the proposal for its attack on the religious freedoms of a very specific group of people who barely make up a full percentage of the population. The fact that the government has gone out of their way to ostracize such a miniscule portion of the Swiss population has many human rights groups calling out the authorities for racism and sexism. 

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The Swiss Council of Religions represents all major religious communities in Switzerland and condemned this proposal at the end of last year, emphasizing that “the human right to religious freedom also protects religious practices such as dress codes.” 

The Swiss Federal Council and the Swiss Parliament, both of which serve as the country’s federal government, also publicly rejected the initiative and advised people to vote against it. The two government bodies have also temporarily tabled a counter-proposal to the ban which states that people would only have to remove facial coverings to show their faces to police or other officials if it’s necessary for identification purposes. 

Andreal Tunger-Zanetti is a researcher at the University of Licerne who has been studying Islam in Switzerland since 2007. He has recently taken to social media to discuss his new book which reveals how “the number of people wearing a niqab is limited to three dozen at most” in Switzerland. Amnesty International claimed the result of the vote was “anti-Muslim.” 

“Swiss voters have once again approved an initiative that discriminates against one religious community in particular, needlessly fueling division and fear.”

Several other European countries have also banned, or partially banned, facial coverings in similar policies that have been regarded as discriminatory and an attack on the religious freedoms of Muslim individuals. France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands all have bans in place currently.

Covid-19 Restrictions

The WHO Claims Covid-19 Restrictions In Europe Are Paying Off 

Covid-19 lockdown procedures in Europe appear to be paying off as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a decline in new weekly cases this week while cases continue to soar in the US. Restrictions across the continent ranged from closing schools and businesses in order to limit person-to-person contact as well as mask mandates to prevent the spread of the virus itself. 

The WHO reported this week that new Covid-19 cases in Europe dropped from 2 million to 1.8 million over the last two weeks. Hans Kluge is the WHO’s regional director for Europe who recently released a statement regarding how the slight improvement is offering all Europeans a glimmer of hope for the rest of the winter. 

“It’s a small signal, but I firmly believe that there is more hope ahead of us than despair behind us. It will be a different Christmas, but that does not mean it cannot be a merry one.”

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Kluge went on to claim that future lockdowns are definitely “avoidable,” however, more individuals need to be on board with mask mandates and the use of contact tracing technology. In total Europe has registered 15.9 million cases of Covid-19 and over 359,000 deaths, according to data from WHO, which accounts for 28% of all global cases.

WHO’s data reveals that on average, one European dies every 17 seconds due to Covid-19 complications. Intensive Care Units in France and Switzerland are being especially overrun and nearing full capacity. 

The UK accounts for the highest death-toll in Europe, hence why the country is currently in the middle of a second national lockdown. Health minister Matt Hancock spoke with the press this week regarding the lockdown, claiming that “there are encouraging signs that the number of cases is starting to flatten and the lockdown brought on earlier in the month is working.”

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In France currently residents are only allowed to leave their homes to buy essential goods or to exercise for one hour a day, and so far there are signs that these lockdown measures are working. Health ministry data for the country showed that there were only 21,150 new cases this past Thursday, which is an improvement when compared to the 28,383 new cases that appeared on Wednesday. 

In the US on the other hand, cases are continuing to climb as the nation nears 12 million total cases and 255,000 deaths, according to media data. CDC official Henry Walke spoke with the media about this dramatic rise and how the country needs to begin shutting down like Europe to curb the spread. 

“We’re alarmed with the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest, ceased all in-person classes due to the dramatic rise in cases and on the other side of the nation California Governor Gavin Newsom is currently working on imposing new stay-at-home orders and curfews to help flatten the curve in the state. Encouraging new vaccine developments from Pfizer and Moderna have the world feeling a lot more optimistic in regard to this pandemic, however, we all must continue to remain diligent with these restrictions to protect ourselves and our loved ones in the meantime.


Top 5 Greenest Countries In The World

Climate change is obviously the largest issue regarding the health of our planet and its rapid deterioration. In the same regard, it’s just as obvious that the only way to reverse even a small percentage of the extensive damage that has already been done would be through serious systematic change brought on by our world leaders. In certain areas of the world, government bodies have finally begun listening to the outcries of the millions of individuals who are fighting for the survival of our planet and all its inhabitants, so much so that they’ve even seen a real shift in their natural environments. Here are some of the greenest countries on the planet currently, maybe we all can learn a thing or two from them. 

Iceland has always taken conserving its environment very seriously, even before climate change became as extreme of a threat as it is today. According to “Conserve Energy Future” a company that’s all about the many ways in which our planet can be more sustainable, Iceland was graded a 93.5 out of 100 on the Environmental Performance Index. They have such a high score due to the fact that they use geothermal landscapes to produce electricity and heat, as well as the fact that they’ve implemented multiple laws and policies that prevent their local waters/the ocean surrounding them from becoming polluted. 

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Switzerland is close behind Iceland on the Environmental Protection Index, with a solid score of 89.1. Switzerland has taken on a multitude of “green projects” within the past decade, such as creating a whole new national park known as Alpine Park, as a means of making the whole country much more sustainable. Multiple bans on industrial and infrastructural expansion into farmland has also allowed the country to maintain clean air and preserve multiple bodies of water. 

Costa Rica scored 86.4 on the Index and if you’ve ever taken a vacation there, you’re sure to know why; there’s a reason those beaches remain so clean and pristine. Costa Rica citizens all use renewable energy for power as a means of reducing their individual carbon footprints, and meeting their goal of being the first carbon neutral country in the world. 

Sweden is up next with a score of 86 exactly. Sweden has a goal of eradicating all fossil fuel use by the end of this year as a way of reducing pollution, and so far they’re on the right track. They’ve also adopted multiple forms of renewable energy to help power their citizens homes and cities, and have passed multiple laws that work to protect the ecosystems/wildlife habitats within the country.

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Norway is one of the few European countries that makes the cut with an index score of 81.1. In Norway residential and commercial facilities are not allowed to release any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by law. Instead, like many other countries on this list, they use renewable energy resources, and also have a goal of being completely carbon neutral by 2030. Norwegian culture has also always emphasized the importance and sanctity of our natural world. Children from a young age are literally taught in school to protect the planet at all costs as it’s the only home we all have. 

As we look down this top 5 list of the greenest countries in our world, according to Conserve Energy Future, there’s a lot of obvious similarities. They all use renewable energy sources to a certain degree, and have adopted an overall attitude as a country to prioritize the environment over anything else. Within the past ten years especially, the planet has seen an intense increase in natural disaster, endangered/extinct species, and general planetary destruction. These countries were able to unite together and create policies that are leading them all on a path of becoming completely carbon neutral. 

However, it won’t matter unless the rest of the world catches up and joins them in the fight to save our planet, so make sure that when it comes to climate change you’re not blaming your friends for using a plastic straw, and instead voting for a greener future when it comes times to hit the polls. Regardless of who you support we can all agree that we’d like to see Earth survive the next 100 years, so reflect that the next time you have a say in your countries policies. 

Real Estate Scam

The Tiny Detail That Led to a Million Dollar Real Estate Scam

Many of us would like to believe we could spot a scam from afar, especially an email scam. There are only so many people that the Prince of Nigeria can give money to!

However a multinational fraud ring were able to swindle nearly $1 million out of the CEO of an unidentified Swiss company.

“S.K.” was purchasing some beachfront property in Belize when the fraud was committed, according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed recently.

The seller had been in discussions with S.K. with the buyer already paying a deposit on the $1,020,000 property. So when S.K. received a further email from the seller’s lawyers requesting the remaining $918,000 he wired the money across to the bank account he thought was also in Belize. However the money was sent to a Citizens Bank in Boston.

The complaint states, “The lengthy email which S.K. received included lawyerly verbiage that gave it the appearance it was from the attorney in Belize. The author included information about Belize-specific regulations on the purchase of property by a foreign company. The email included the standard confidentiality notice and legal disclaimers that are commonly part of emails from attorneys. Lastly, it included a professional signature block with the attorney’s name and contact information.”

It was when the real lawyer got in contact with S.K. to query why the money had not been sent across to them that the scam was discovered.

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An investigation revealed that the email from the “lawyer” had an extra “s” in the address, meaning the fake email was “deliberately created to deceive the recipient into believing he was communicating with the seller’s attorney.”

Recent data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center shows that “CEO fraud” – or business email compromise – was responsible for a loss of over $26 billion for businesses during June 2016 and July 2019, and affected all 50 US states as well as nearly 180 countries.

In 2015 Christopher Sinclair – Mattel’s CEO – emailed an employee requesting $3 million be transferred to a new Chinese vendor. As their company policy demanded any transfers of money required approval by two upper-level managers the employee complied. However when mentioning the payment to Mr. Sinclair later he was unaware of the incident. And while the bank, police and FBI were promptly called it took a long time for the company to have their money returned.

Similarly, an unidentified US defense contractor was conned into sending sensitive military equipment worth millions of dollars to a gang of international con artists. Court filings show that some of the equipment was so top secret nobody was supposed to be aware it existed with the “highly sensitive” equipment was valued at $3.2 million.

Scammers usually create false email accounts with similar addresses to the legitimate accounts that they have hacked into and generally target employees who have access to the business’s accounts, high-level executives and sometimes celebrities.

Once the information has been removed from the hacked email accounts the scammers not only steal names, account details and information about the financial transaction, they also analyze the style and tone of the messages to ensure their fake email is plausible.

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They then email the buyer requesting the next payment be wired to a bank account they look after, with the money disappearing immediately.

Online crime has been around for many years however these scams have only been noticed in the last five years. An FBI supervisory special agent was quoted as saying, “There are always digital artifacts left behind in online scams – IP addresses used to illicitly access someone’s email, for instance – and this data is often used not only to track down individual suspects but also to make connections between schemes that may not otherwise appear to be linked.”

The stolen money from S.K. was transferred almost immediately to corporate accounts at JPMorgan Chase as well as Bank of America in Atlanta. A further $200,000 was then sent to banks in Nigeria and China while a suspect was spotted withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash at several JPMorgan Chase branches.

Investigators discovered the accounts in Atlanta had been opened by “Prince Okoli” who had also paid $10,000 into his own personal account. Surveillance photos at the Atlanta banks were compared to Okoli’s driving license and they realised they had a match. When pushed for a comment Andrew Wong, Okoli’s court-appointed lawyer – would not respond.

Although scammed consumers have limited liability with losses often covered by the financial companies involved, corporations sending money to incorrect recipients are not normally covered. When filing for Chapter 11 protection earlier this year, fashion brand Diesel USA cited cyber fraud losses as one of their reasons for bankruptcy.

There are recommendations from the FBI for companies to have protocols in place so that requests for large sums of money require strict verification, such as two-factor authentication.

They also recommend you always inspect your emails for incorrect or misspelled URLs, misspelled names or information that does not quite look right. Never give out information that could be used against you to new contacts without vetting them independently first.