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Saco-Indonesia.com, Tak ada yang lebih indah daripada kehidupan yang penuh dengan kesyukuran. Rasanya semua orang menginginkannya. Berbagai usaha pun dilakukan, mulai dari yang kecil berupa membina hati, kemudian hal yang gampang dan ringan dengan ucapan atau yang berat dan besar dengan tindakan – tindakan nyata. Sayangnya, tak banyak orang yang pada akhirnya dapat merasakan predikat indah itu. Kesyukuran timbul tenggelam di dalam samudera kehidupan ini. Silih berganti. Sebab jumlah nikmat yang tak terhitung dan sifat lupa dan lalai manusia akan nikmat itu sendiri. Alhasil, hidup berlimpah dengan rasa syukur menjadi barang yang sulit ditemukan. Tak jarang, malah terlupakan.
Hal ini diperkuat dengan garis Allah di dalam Kitabnya, dimana Allah menyebutkan bahwa kategori orang yang bisa bersyukur itu sedikit. Dan sedikit sekali dari hamba- hamba-Ku yang bersyukur”. (QS Saba’:13) Konsekuensi dari hukum ini diantaranya adalah susahnya mencari keteladanan dalam bersyukur. Di Quran misalnya hanya beberapa hamba yang tertulis sebagai ahli syukur, Nabi Nuh misalnya seperti yang tertulis di dalam surat al-Israa ayat 3, innahu kaana ‘abdan syakuuron - sesungguhnya dia adalah hamba (Allah) yang banyak bersyukur.

Kemudian Nabi Daud dan keluarganya, yang disebutkan di dalam surat Saba ayat 13, i’maluu aalaa daawuuda syukron - bekerjalah wahai keluarga Daud untuk bersyukur (kepada Allah). Berkenaan dengan masalah syukur ini Nabi Dawud pernah bertanya kepada Allah. “Bagaimana aku mampu bersyukur kepadaMu ya Allah, sedangkan bersyukur itupun nikmat dari Engkau? Allah pun menjawab, “Sekarang engkau telah bersyukur kepadaKu, karena engkau mengakui nikmat itu berasal dari-Ku”.

Berkaitan dengan masalah ini Rasulullah SAW pun menegaskan dengan sabdanya; “Shalat yang paling dicintai oleh Allah adalah shalat nabi Daud; ia tidur setengah malam, kemudian bangun sepertiganya dan tidur seperenam malam. Puasa yang paling dicintai oleh Allah juga adalah puasa Daud; ia puasa sehari, kemudian ia berbuka di hari berikutnya, dan begitu seterusnya”.(Rowahu al-Bukhari, Muslim)

Juga Rasulullah SAW menjelaskan dengan sabdanya; “Tidaklah seseorang itu makan makanan yang lebih baik kecuali dari hasil kerja tangannya sendiri. Karena sesungguhnya Nabi Daud as senantiasa makan dari hasil kerja tangannya sendiri.” (Rowahu al-Bukhari)

Di dalam jalur riwayat lain, Ibnu Abi Hatim meriwayatkan dari Tsabit Al-Bunani bahwa Nabi Daud membagi waktu shalat kepada istri, anak dan seluruh keluarganya sehingga tidak ada sedikit waktupun, baik siang maupun malam, kecuali ada salah seorang dari mereka sedang menjalankan shalat.

Tampilnya keluarga Nabi Dawud sebagai teladan dalam bersyukur memang tepat dan contoh yang diberikan juga gamblang. Bersyukur tidak hanya dengan hati, perkataan dan tindakan sebagaimana yang dicontohkan Keluarga Nabi Daud. Lebih dari itu bersyukur adalah dalam rangka mencari kecintaan - keridhoan dari Allah. 

Demikian juga apa yang telah dilakukan oleh Rasulullah SAW dalam masalah ini. Ketika turun Surat Fath ayat 1 yang menetapkan pengampunan kepada Rasulullah SAW atas dosa yang terdahulu dan yang akan datang, kesungguhan Rasulullah SAW dalam bersyukur semakin menjadi. Shalat malamnya membuat kedua kaki beliau bengkak – bengkak, sehingga Aisyah pun berkata, “Kenapa engkau berbuat seperti ini? Bukankah Allah telah menjamin untuk mengampuni segala dosa-dosamu baik yang awal maupun yang akhir?” Rasulullah menjawab, “Afalam akuunu abdan syakuron - Tidakkah aku menjadi hamba yang bersyukur”. (Rowahu Al-Bukhari).

Dari tiga teladan di atas, kita perlu menelusuri lebih lanjut jalan menjadi ahli bersyukur. Walaupun tertulis sedikit kita berharap dan berusaha menjadi bagian yang sedikit itu.  Sebagai inspirasi cerita berikut layak dicermati. Suatu saat Umar bin Khaththab pernah mendengar seseorang berdo’a, “Ya Allah, jadikanlah aku termasuk golongan yang sedikit”. Mendengar itu, Umar terkejut dan bertanya, “Kenapa engkau berdoa demikian?” Sahabat itu menjawab, “Karena saya mendengar Allah berfirman, “Dan sedikit sekali dari hamba-hambaKu yang bersyukur”, makanya aku memohon agar aku termasuk yang sedikit tersebut.”

Ada hal – hal yang bisa dilakukan untuk menumbuhkan benih – benih kesyukuran agar terpatri di dalam hati. Yang pertama adalah benih hati “tidak merasa memiliki, tidak merasa dimiliki kecuali yakin segalanya milik Allah SWT.” Allah berfirman; “Dan sungguh akan Kami berikan cobaan kepada kalian, dengan sedikit ketakutan, kelaparan, kekurangan harta, jiwa dan buah-buahan. Dan berikanlah berita gembira kepada orang-orang yang sabar. (yaitu) orang-orang yang apabila ditimpa musibah, mereka mengucapkan: "Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji'uun" (QS al Baqoroh 155 – 156).

Sebab makin kita merasa memiliki sesuatu akan semakin takut kehilangan. Dan takut kehilangan adalah suatu bentuk kesengsaraan. Tapi kalau kita yakin semuanya milik Allah, maka ketika diambil oleh Allah tidak layak kita merasa kehilangan. Karena kita hanya tertitipi. Dalam kondisi seperti ini layak direnungi kaidah tukang parkir. Setiap hari di area parkir berjajar mobil mewah dari Mercy, BMW, Toyota, Mazda dan mobil bagus lainnya. Walau dari pagi sampai petang mobil – mobil itu di bawah tanggung jawab si tukang parkir, tetapi apakah dia bisa marah, sedih, ketika mobil – mobil tersebut diambil pemiliknya kala sore hari? Tentu tidak. Bahkan dramawan WS Rendra menulis dengan apik, hakikat harta sebagai titipan seperti dalam puisinya Makna Sebuah Titipan.

Sering kali aku berkata, ketika orang memuji milikku,
bahwa sesungguhnya ini hanya titipan
Bahwa mobilku hanya titipan Nya, bahwa rumahku hanya titipan Nya,
bahwa hartaku hanya titipan Nya
Tetapi, mengapa aku tidak pernah bertanya, mengapa Dia menitipkan padaku?
Untuk apa Dia menitipkan ini padaku?

Dan kalau bukan milikku, apa yang harus kulakukan untuk milik Nya ini?
Adakah aku memiliki hak atas sesuatu yg bukan milikku?
Mengapa hatiku justru terasa berat, ketika titipan itu diminta kembali oleh Nya?

Ketika diminta kembali, kusebut itu sebagai musibah,
kusebut itu sebagai ujian, kusebut itu sebagai petaka,
kusebut dengan panggilan apa saja yang melukiskan bahwa itu adalah derita

Ketika aku berdoa, kuminta titipan yang cocok dengan hawa nafsuku,
aku ingin lebih banyak harta, lebih banyak mobil, lebih banyak rumah,
lebih banyak popularitas, dan kutolak sakit, kutolak kemiskinan.

Seolah semua “derita” adalah hukuman bagiku
Seolah keadilan dan kasih Nya harus berjalan seperti matematika:
“aku rajin beribadah, maka selayaknyalah derita menjauh dariku,
dan nikmat dunia kerap menghampiriku

Kuperlakukan Dia seolah mitra dagang, dan bukan kekasih
Kuminta Dia membalas “perlakuan baikku” dan
menolak keputusan Nya yang tak sesuai keinginanku,

Gusti, padahal tiap hari kuucapkan, hidup dan matiku hanyalah untuk beribadah…
“Ketika langit dan bumi bersatu, bencana dan keberuntungan sama saja”

Rahasia benih kedua menjadi ahli syukur adalah “selalu memuji Allah dalam segala kondisi. " Kenapa? Allah berfirman; “Dan jika kamu menghitung-hitung nikmat Allah, niscaya kamu tak dapat menentukan jumlahnya. Sesungguhnya Allah benar-benar Maha Pengampun lagi Maha Penyayang.”  (QS An-nahl 18). Karena kalau dibandingkan antara nikmat dengan musibah tidak akan ada apa-apanya. Musibah yang datang tidak sebanding dengan samudera nikmat yang tiada bertepi.

Ini seperti cerita seorang petani miskin yang kehilangan kuda satu-satunya. Orang-orang di desanya amat prihatin terhadap kejadian itu, namun ia hanya istirja dan mengatakan, alhamdulillah, cuma kuda yang hilang. Bukan lainnya. Seminggu kemudian kuda tersebut kembali ke rumahnya sambil membawa serombongan kuda liar. Petani itu mendadak menjadi orang kaya. Orang-orang di desanya berduyun-duyun mengucapkan selamat kepadanya, namun ia hanya berkata, alhamdulillah.

Tak lama kemudian petani ini kembali mendapat musibah. Anaknya yang berusaha menjinakkan seekor kuda liar terjatuh sehingga patah kakinya. Orang-orang desa merasa amat prihatin, tapi sang petani hanya mengatakan, alhamdulillah cuma patah kakinya. Ternyata seminggu kemudian tentara masuk ke desa itu untuk mencari para pemuda untuk wajib militer. Semua pemuda diboyong keluar desa kecuali anak sang petani karena kakinya patah. Melihat hal itu si petani hanya berkata singkat, alhamdulillah. Allah telah mengatur segalanya.

Apa yang harus membuat kita menderita? Adalah menderita karena kita tamak kepada yang belum ada dan tidak mensyukuri apa yang ada sekarang.

Benih ketiga untuk menjadi ahli syukur adalah “manfaatkan nikmat yang ada  untuk mendekatkan diri kepada Allah SWT”. Allah berfirman; “Hai orang-orang yang beriman, makanlah di antara rezki yang baik-baik yang Kami berikan kepada kalian dan bersyukurlah kalian kepada Allah, jika benar-benar hanya kepada-Nya kalian menyembah.”  (QS Al-Baqoroh 172)

Alkisah ada tiga pengendara kuda masuk ke dalam hutan belantara, kemudian dia tertidur. Saat terjaga dilihat kudanya telah hilang beserta semua perbekalannya.  Betapa kagetnya mereka, karena alamat tidak bisa meneruskan perjalanan. Pada saat yang sama dalam keadaan kaget tersebut, ternyata seorang raja yang bijaksana melihatnya dan mengirimkan kuda yang baru lengkap dengan perbekalan untuk perjalanan mereka.  Ketika dikirimkan reaksi ketiga pengendara yang hilang kudanya itu berbeda-beda.

Pengendara pertama si-A kaget dan berkomentar; "Wah ini kuda yang hebat sekali, bagus ototnya, lengkap perbekalannya dan banyak pula!” Dia sibuk dengan kuda dan perbekalannya tanpa bertanya kuda siapakah ini? Pengendara kedua Si-B, gembira dengan kuda yang ada dan berkomentar; "Wah ini kuda yang hebat, dan saya benar – benar membutuhkannya. Terima kasih, terima kasih.” Begitulah si-B bersyukur dan berterima kasih kepada yang memberi. Sikap pengendara ke tiga, si-C beda lagi. Ia berkata; "Lho ini bukan kuda saya, ini kuda milik siapa?” Yang ditanya menjawab; " Ini kuda milik raja."
Si-C bertanya kembali; "Kenapa raja memberikan kuda ini ?” Dijawab; "Sebab raja mengirim kuda agar engkau mudah bertemu dengan sang raja". Dengan bersuka cita si-C menjawab; “Terima kasih atas semuanya, sehingga saya bisa sampai ke sang raja.”
Dia gembira bukan karena bagusnya kuda, dia gembira karena kuda dapat memudahkan dia dekat dengan sang raja.

Begitulah, si-A adalah gambaran manusia yang kalau mendapatkan mobil, motor, rumah, dan  kedudukan sibuk dengan semua itu, tanpa sadar bahwa itu semua adalah titipan. Yang B mungkin adalah model orang kebanyakan yang ketika senang mengucap Alhamdulillah.  Tetapi ahli syukur yang asli adalah yang ketiga yang kalau punya sesuatu dia berpikir bahwa inilah kendaraan yang dapat menjadi pendekat kepada Allah SWT. Ketika mempunyai uang dia mengucap alhamdulillah, uang inilah pendekat saya kepada Allah. Ia tidak berat untuk membayar zakat, dia ringan untuk bersadaqah, karena itulah jalan mendekatkan diri kepadaNya.

Benih syukur yang keempat adalah “berterima kasih kepada yang telah menjadi jalan perantara nikmat.” Seorang anak disebut ahli syukur kalau dia tahu balas budi kepada ibu dan bapaknya. Benar orang tua kita tidak seideal yang kita harapkan, tetapi masalah kita bukan bagaimana sikap orang tua kepada kita, tetapi sikap kita kepada orang tua. Sama halnya dengan nikmat lainnya, kadang datangnya melalui perantara, maka yang terpenting adalah bagaimana kita bisa bersikap yang baik kepadanya.

Diriwayatkan dari Usamah bin Zaid r.a. dia berkata, “Rasululloh SAW bersabda; ’Barangsiapa diberi suatu kebaikan, lalu dia berkata kepada pemberinya – Jazaakallohu khairo/Semoga Allah membalas kebaikan (yang lebih baik) kepadamu – maka dia telah sampai (sempurna) di dalam memuji.”(Rowahu at-Tirmidzi, dia berkata hadist hasan ghorib)

Dari al-Asy’ats bin Qois r.a. dia berkata, “Rasululoh SAW bersabda tidak bersyukur kepada Allah orang yang tidak bersyukur (berterima kasih) kepada manusia.” (Rowahu Ahmad)

Dari Abu Huroiroh r.a, dari Nabi SAW beliau bersabda,”Tidak bersyukur kepada Allah orang yang tidak bersyukur kepada manusia.” (Rowahu Abu Dawud dan at- Tirmidzi dia berkata hadist shohih)
Sebagai pelengkap benih – benih di atas, tentunya adalah memperbanyak doa untuk menyirami benih – benih itu. Berdoa untuk menjadi hamba yang penuh kesyukuran, sebagaimana yang diajarkan oleh Rasulullah SAW kepada sahabat Muadz bin Jabal.  Hadist itu diriwayatkan oleh Sunan Abu Dawud (Kitabu Sholah) dan Sunan Nasa’i (Kitabu as-Sahwi), juga terdapat dalam Musnad Ahmad, yang dishohihkan oleh Ibnu Hibban dan al-Hakim. Dari Muadz bin Jabal r.a. sesungguhnya Rasulullah SAW memegang tangannya Muadz dan berkata; ”Ya Muadz, Demi Allah sesungguhnya aku benar-benar mencintaimu, Demi Allah sesungguhnya aku benar-benar mencintaimu.” Seterusnya Beliau berkata, ”Aku wasiat kepadamu hai Muadz, jangan meninggalkan sungguh engkau di dalam setiap habis sholat untuk berdoa - Allohumma a’innaa ’alaa dzikrika, wasyukrika wahusni ’ibadatik - Ya Allah tolonglah kami untuk senantiasa berdzikir kepadaMu, bersyukur kepadaMu dan beribadah kepadaMu dengan baik”.
Setelah menjadi orang iman, tantangan berikutnya yang menghadang adalah berpacu untuk menjadi orang yang berkelimpahan kesyukuran. Walaupun kesempatannya kecil, kita masih punya peluang meraihnya bukan? Nah, sebagai parameter penutup bisa dirujuk cerita tentang seorang pengembala yang ditanya oleh tuannya. “Bagaimana cuaca hari ini?” “Hari ini cuacanya sangat menyenangkan”, jawabnya. ‘Apakah kamu tidak melihat bahwa dari pagi mendung dan tak tampak matahari? ” “Betul tuan, tetapi kehidupan ini telah mengajarkan kepada saya bahwa banyak keinginan yang tidak saya dapatkan, oleh karena itu saya mulai mensyukuri apa saja yang saya dapatkan.”

Lalu, dimanakah kita sekarang?

Oleh :Ustadz.Faizunal Abdillah
Sumber:LDII

Editor:Liwon Maulana(galipat)

BERSYUKUR

saco-indonesia.com, Enam bandit jalanan pembacok Kapolsek Astananyar Kompol Sutarih, telah dijerat pasal berlapis. Bahkan, tersangka Evi dan Ali telah dihadiahi satu pasal bonus karena diduga kuat sebagai otak dan orang yang telah menyuruh tersangka lainya membacok Kapolsek.

Keenam tersangka tersebut diganjar dengan pasal berlapis mulai dari penganiayaan, pengeroyokan, melawan aparat, dan percobaan penjambretan. “ Pasal yang dikenakan ke tersangka berlapis,“ ungkap Wakasat Reskrim Polrestabes Bandung Kompol Indra Gunawan.

Tersangka, lannjutnya telah dijerat dengan pasal 170 KUH Pidana dan pasal 351 KUH Pidana tentang pengeroyokan dan penganiayaan. Penyidik juga telah menjerat tersangka dengan pasal 212 dan 214 KUH Pidana tentang melawan aparat. “ Tersangka membacok Kapolsek saat menjalankan tugas,“tegasnya.

Untuk dua tersangka Evi dan Ali penyidik telah memberikan bonus pasal 53 KUH Pidana, percobaan melakukan tindak pidana. “ Para tersangka tersebut beraksi dibawah kendali minuman keras. Terbukti saat ditangkap mereka tidak mengaku dan merasa membacok Kapolsek,“ tambahnya.

Diberitakan, Minggu subuh pukul 03.30 dini hari Kapolsek Astanaanyar Kompol Sitorih, telah dibacok oleh kawanan pemuda mabuk di tempat Karoke Anggun, Jalan Sudirman Bandung. Saat ingin melerai Kapolsek malah dihadiahi bacokan oleh tersangka. Dalam tempo dua jam polisi telah berhasil menangkap enam tersangka masing masding Evi Rudianto,28, Ali Apriansah,34, Ikar alias Haikan,22, Anggra Jayaningrat alias Sanif,23, Irfan,20, dan Ade Ogi,22,. Dari keenam tersangka tersebut satu diantaranya Ikrar, terpaksa harus ditembak kaki kananya karena telah melawan saat ditangkap. (Dono)


Editor : Dian Sukmawati

 

ENAM TERSANGKA PEMBACOK KAPOLSEK TELAH DIJERAT DENGAN PASAL BERLAPIS

Saco- Indonesia.com - Anak batita perlu belajar menghibur orang yang sedang bersedih, menolang orang yang sedang berduka. Ia perlu belajar empati. Seperti yang dijelaskan Shari Young Kuchenbecker, PhD dari Chapman University, Orange, California, Amerika Serikat, empati akan mencegah seseorang berperilaku buruk yang dapat melukai orang lain.

Anak yang memiliki empati tinggi akan selalu memelihara sikap dan kata-katanya, mudah menolong, dan tidak berbuat semena-mena kepada orang lain dan semua makhluk hidup.

Mengasah empati merupakan salah satu tugas orangtua. Mengenalkan kecerdasan emosional pada batita memang memberikan tantangan tersendiri. Jangankan diminta memahami perasaan orang lain, memahami perasaannya sendiri saja kadang si batita belum mampu. Namun justru sifat batita yang masih egois dan menjadikan dirinya sebagai pusat segalanya, inilah yang membuat mengajarkan nilai empati menjadi penting, karena dari situ si kecil akan dapat melihat dunia lain selain dunianya sendiri.

Pengajaran empati paling efektif saat anak berumur 1-3 tahun. Pemahaman reseptif (kemampuan untuk mengenal dan bereaksi terhadap seseorang/kejadian/lingkungan) anak batita mulai berjalan karena kemampuannya dalam mengeksplorasi, observasi, untuk kemudian meniru sedang berkembang. Jadi inilah saat yang paling tepat mengajari anak mengenal nilai-nilai empati.

(Tabloid Nakita/Irfan Hasuki)

 

Editor :Liwon Maulana(galipat)
Sumber:http://female.kompas.com/read/2013/06/05/09411098/Usia.Terbaik.Melatih.Empati.Anak< /div>
Usia Paling Baik Melatih Empati Anak

JAKARTA, Saco- Indonesia.com — Ketua Majelis Pemusyawaratan Rakyat Taufiq Kiemas meninggal dunia setelah menjalani perawatan di Singapura pada Minggu (8/6/2013) malam.

Politisi senior yang meninggal di usia 70 tahun itu selama hidupnya dikenal sebagai politisi yang berkomitmen memperjuangkan empat pilar, yakni Pancasila, UUD 1945, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, dan NKRI.

Wakil Ketua MPR Hajriyanto Y Thohari mengaku sangat kehilangan dengan meninggalnya Taufiq. Menurutnya, tidak hanya MPR yang kehilangan, tetapi juga bangsa Indonesia.

"Kepeduliannya kepada Pancasila, UUD 1945, NKRI, dan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, sangat luar biasa mengesankan. Untuk keempat pilar negara itu, Pak Taufiq Kiemas siap melakukan apa saja, berkorban apa saja," ujar Hajriyanto di Jakarta, Minggu (8/6/2013).

Politisi Partai Golkar itu mengaku, meski kondisi fisik Taufiq semakin menurun, semangat suami dari mantan Presiden Megawati Soekarnoputri itu selalu menyala jika sudah berbicara Pancasila.

"Bagi beliau, Pancasila dan NKRI adalah segala-galanya. Dan untuk dasar negara dan falsafah bangsa ini, Pak Taufiq Kiemas tidak mentolerir pandangan-pandangan yang mengukurnya secara finansial," kata Hajriyanto.

Sebagai salah satu politisi senior PDI Perjuangan, Taufiq juga dikenal sebagai sosok pemimpin yang sangat mengayomi semua golongan. Hajriyanto menuturkan, Taufiq mampu menyatukan semua kelompok, aliran, dan golongan ideologis apa pun.

"Pak Taufiq selalu menjadi rujukan para politisi Indonesia dari partai politik manavpun, apakah parpol berdasar agama ataukah parpol nasionalis-kebangsaan. Semuanya menjadi Pak TK (panggilan akrab Taufiq Kiemas) sebagai seniornya, kakaknya, ayahnya, bahkan rujukannya. Pak Taufiq Kiemas bukan hanya milik PDI-P, melainkan milik bangsa dan negara Indonesia," papar Hajriyanto.

Sebelumnya diberitakan, Taufiq Kiemas tengah menjalani perawatan di sebuah rumah sakit di Singapura sejak kemarin. Taufiq menjalani perawatan setelah mendampingi Wakil Presiden Boediono meresmikan Monumen Bung Karno dan Situs Rumah Pengasingan Bung Karno di Ende, Nusa Tenggara Timur pada Sabtu (1/6/2013). Peresmian dilakukan bertepatan dengan Peringatan Hari Lahir Pancasila 1 Juni 1945.

 
Editor :Liwon Maulana
Sumber:http://nasional.kompas.com/read/2013/06/08/1942082/Taufik.Kiemas..Tokoh.Pejuang.E mpat.Pilar.Negara
Putra Terbaik Bangsa Taufiq Kiemas Telah Dipanggil Sang Pencipta

A lapsed seminarian, Mr. Chambers succeeded Saul Alinsky as leader of the social justice umbrella group Industrial Areas Foundation.

Edward Chambers, Early Leader in Community Organizing, Dies at 85

Mr. Paczynski was one of the concentration camp’s longest surviving inmates and served as the personal barber to its Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss.

Jozef Paczynski, Inmate Barber to Auschwitz Commandant, Dies at 95

Under Mr. Michelin’s leadership, which ended when he left the company in 2002, the Michelin Group became the world’s biggest tire maker, establishing a big presence in the United States and other major markets overseas.

François Michelin, Head of Tire Company, Dies at 88

A 214-pound Queens housewife struggled with a lifelong addiction to food until she shed 72 pounds and became the public face of the worldwide weight-control empire Weight Watchers.

Jean Nidetch, 91, Dies; Pounds Came Off, and Weight Watchers Was Born
Photo
 
United’s first-class and business fliers get Rhapsody, its high-minded in-flight magazine, seen here at its office in Brooklyn. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Last summer at a writers’ workshop in Oregon, the novelists Anthony Doerr, Karen Russell and Elissa Schappell were chatting over cocktails when they realized they had all published work in the same magazine. It wasn’t one of the usual literary outlets, like Tin House, The Paris Review or The New Yorker. It was Rhapsody, an in-flight magazine for United Airlines.

It seemed like a weird coincidence. Then again, considering Rhapsody’s growing roster of A-list fiction writers, maybe not. Since its first issue hit plane cabins a year and a half ago, Rhapsody has published original works by literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and Mr. Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two weeks ago.

As airlines try to distinguish their high-end service with luxuries like private sleeping chambers, showers, butler service and meals from five-star chefs, United Airlines is offering a loftier, more cerebral amenity to its first-class and business-class passengers: elegant prose by prominent novelists. There are no airport maps or disheartening lists of in-flight meal and entertainment options in Rhapsody. Instead, the magazine has published ruminative first-person travel accounts, cultural dispatches and probing essays about flight by more than 30 literary fiction writers.

 

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Sean Manning, executive editor of Rhapsody, which publishes works by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Bloom and Anthony Doerr, who won a Pulitzer Prize. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

 

An airline might seem like an odd literary patron. But as publishers and writers look for new ways to reach readers in a shaky retail climate, many have formed corporate alliances with transit companies, including American Airlines, JetBlue and Amtrak, that provide a captive audience.

Mark Krolick, United Airlines’ managing director of marketing and product development, said the quality of the writing in Rhapsody brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent.

“The high-end leisure or business-class traveler has higher expectations, even in the entertainment we provide,” he said.

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Some of Rhapsody’s contributing writers say they were lured by the promise of free airfare and luxury accommodations provided by United, as well as exposure to an elite audience of some two million first-class and business-class travelers.

“It’s not your normal Park Slope Community Bookstore types who read Rhapsody,” Mr. Moody, author of the 1994 novel “The Ice Storm,” who wrote an introspective, philosophical piece about traveling to the Aran Islands of Ireland for Rhapsody, said in an email. “I’m not sure I myself am in that Rhapsody demographic, but I would like them to buy my books one day.”

In addition to offering travel perks, the magazine pays well and gives writers freedom, within reason, to choose their subject matter and write with style. Certain genres of flight stories are off limits, naturally: no plane crashes or woeful tales of lost luggage or rude flight attendants, and nothing too risqué.

“We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,” said Jordan Heller, the editor in chief of Rhapsody. “Despite those restrictions, we’ve managed to come up with a lot of high-minded literary content.”

Guiding writers toward the right idea occasionally requires some gentle prodding. When Rhapsody’s executive editor asked Ms. Russell to contribute an essay about a memorable flight experience, she first pitched a story about the time she was chaperoning a group of teenagers on a trip to Europe, and their delayed plane sat at the airport in New York for several hours while other passengers got progressively drunker.

“He pointed out that disaster flights are not what people want to read about when they’re in transit, and very diplomatically suggested that maybe people want to read something that casts air travel in a more positive light,” said Ms. Russell, whose novel “Swamplandia!” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

She turned in a nostalgia-tinged essay about her first flight on a trip to Disney World when she was 6. “The Magic Kingdom was an anticlimax,” she wrote. “What ride could compare to that first flight?”

Ms. Oates also wrote about her first flight, in a tiny yellow propeller plane piloted by her father. The novelist Joyce Maynard told of the constant disappointment of never seeing her books in airport bookstores and the thrill of finally spotting a fellow plane passenger reading her novel “Labor Day.” Emily St. John Mandel, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction last year, wrote about agonizing over which books to bring on a long flight.

“There’s nobody that’s looked down their noses at us as an in-flight magazine,” said Sean Manning, the magazine’s executive editor. “As big as these people are in the literary world, there’s still this untapped audience for them of luxury travelers.”

United is one of a handful of companies showcasing work by literary writers as a way to elevate their brands and engage customers. Chipotle has printed original work from writers like Toni Morrison, Jeffrey Eugenides and Barbara Kingsolver on its disposable cups and paper bags. The eyeglass company Warby Parker hosts parties for authors and sells books from 14 independent publishers in its stores.

JetBlue offers around 40 e-books from HarperCollins and Penguin Random House on its free wireless network, allowing passengers to read free samples and buy and download books. JetBlue will start offering 11 digital titles from Simon & Schuster soon. Amtrak recently forged an alliance with Penguin Random House to provide free digital samples from 28 popular titles, which passengers can buy and download over Amtrak’s admittedly spotty wireless service.

Amtrak is becoming an incubator for literary talent in its own right. Last year, it started a residency program, offering writers a free long-distance train trip and complimentary food. More than 16,000 writers applied and 24 made the cut.

Like Amtrak, Rhapsody has found that writers are eager to get onboard. On a rainy spring afternoon, Rhapsody’s editorial staff sat around a conference table discussing the June issue, which will feature an essay by the novelist Hannah Pittard and an unpublished short story by the late Elmore Leonard.

“Do you have that photo of Elmore Leonard? Can I see it?” Mr. Heller, the editor in chief, asked Rhapsody’s design director, Christos Hannides. Mr. Hannides slid it across the table and noted that they also had a photograph of cowboy spurs. “It’s very simple; it won’t take away from the literature,” he said.

Rhapsody’s office, an open space with exposed pipes and a vaulted brick ceiling, sits in Dumbo at the epicenter of literary Brooklyn, in the same converted tea warehouse as the literary journal N+1 and the digital publisher Atavist. Two of the magazine’s seven staff members hold graduate degrees in creative writing. Mr. Manning, the executive editor, has published a memoir and edited five literary anthologies.

Mr. Manning said Rhapsody was conceived from the start as a place for literary novelists to write with voice and style, and nobody had been put off that their work would live in plane cabins and airport lounges.

Still, some contributors say they wish the magazine were more widely circulated.

“I would love it if I could read it,” said Ms. Schappell, a Brooklyn-based novelist who wrote a feature story for Rhapsody’s inaugural issue. “But I never fly first class.”

Rhapsody, a Lofty Literary Journal, Perused at 39,000 Feet

Mr. Tepper was not a musical child and had no formal training, but he grew up to write both lyrics and tunes, trading off duties with the other member of the team, Roy C. Bennett.

Sid Tepper Dies at 96; Delivered ‘Red Roses for a Blue Lady’ and Other Songs

Mr. Fox, known for his well-honed countrified voice, wrote about things dear to South Carolina and won over Yankee critics.

William Price Fox, Admired Southern Novelist and Humorist, Dies at 89

Late in April, after Native American actors walked off in disgust from the set of Adam Sandler’s latest film, a western sendup that its distributor, Netflix, has defended as being equally offensive to all, a glow of pride spread through several Native American communities.

Tantoo Cardinal, a Canadian indigenous actress who played Black Shawl in “Dances With Wolves,” recalled thinking to herself, “It’s come.” Larry Sellers, who starred as Cloud Dancing in the 1990s television show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” thought, “It’s about time.” Jesse Wente, who is Ojibwe and directs film programming at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, found himself encouraged and surprised. There are so few film roles for indigenous actors, he said, that walking off the set of a major production showed real mettle.

But what didn’t surprise Mr. Wente was the content of the script. According to the actors who walked off the set, the film, titled “The Ridiculous Six,” included a Native American woman who passes out and is revived after white men douse her with alcohol, and another woman squatting to urinate while lighting a peace pipe. “There’s enough history at this point to have set some expectations around these sort of Hollywood depictions,” Mr. Wente said.

The walkout prompted a rhetorical “What do you expect from an Adam Sandler film?,” and a Netflix spokesman said that in the movie, blacks, Mexicans and whites were lampooned as well. But Native American actors and critics said a broader issue was at stake. While mainstream portrayals of native peoples have, Mr. Wente said, become “incrementally better” over the decades, he and others say, they remain far from accurate and reflect a lack of opportunities for Native American performers. What’s more, as Native Americans hunger for representation on screen, critics say the absence of three-dimensional portrayals has very real off-screen consequences.

“Our people are still healing from historical trauma,” said Loren Anthony, one of the actors who walked out. “Our youth are still trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in this society. Kids are killing themselves. They’re not proud of who they are.” They also don’t, he added, see themselves on prime time television or the big screen. Netflix noted while about five people walked off the “The Ridiculous Six” set, 100 or so Native American actors and extras stayed.

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But in interviews, nearly a dozen Native American actors and film industry experts said that Mr. Sandler’s humor perpetuated decades-old negative stereotypes. Mr. Anthony said such depictions helped feed the despondency many Native Americans feel, with deadly results: Native Americans have the highest suicide rate out of all the country’s ethnicities.

The on-screen problem is twofold, Mr. Anthony and others said: There’s a paucity of roles for Native Americans — according to the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 they accounted for 0.3 percent of all on-screen parts (those figures have yet to be updated), compared to about 2 percent of the general population — and Native American actors are often perceived in a narrow way.

In his Peabody Award-winning documentary “Reel Injun,” the Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond explored Hollywood depictions of Native Americans over the years, and found they fell into a few stereotypical categories: the Noble Savage, the Drunk Indian, the Mystic, the Indian Princess, the backward tribal people futilely fighting John Wayne and manifest destiny. While the 1990 film “Dances With Wolves” won praise for depicting Native Americans as fully fleshed out human beings, not all indigenous people embraced it. It was still told, critics said, from the colonialists’ point of view. In an interview, John Trudell, a Santee Sioux writer, actor (“Thunderheart”) and the former chairman of the American Indian Movement, described the film as “a story of two white people.”

“God bless ‘Dances with Wolves,’ ” Michael Horse, who played Deputy Hawk in “Twin Peaks,” said sarcastically. “Even ‘Avatar.’ Someone’s got to come save the tribal people.”

Dan Spilo, a partner at Industry Entertainment who represents Adam Beach, one of today’s most prominent Native American actors, said while typecasting dogs many minorities, it is especially intractable when it comes to Native Americans. Casting directors, he said, rarely cast them as police officers, doctors or lawyers. “There’s the belief that the Native American character should be on reservations or riding a horse,” he said.

“We don’t see ourselves,” Mr. Horse said. “We’re still an antiquated culture to them, and to the rest of the world.”

Ms. Cardinal said she was once turned down for the role of the wife of a child-abusing cop because the filmmakers felt that casting her would somehow be “too political.”

Another sore point is the long run of white actors playing American Indians, among them Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson, Audrey Hepburn and, more recently, Johnny Depp, whose depiction of Tonto in the 2013 film “Lone Ranger,” was viewed as racist by detractors. There are, of course, exceptions. The former A&E series “Longmire,” which, as it happens, will now be on Netflix, was roundly praised for its depiction of life on a Northern Cheyenne reservation, with Lou Diamond Phillips, who is of Cherokee descent, playing a Northern Cheyenne man.

Others also point to the success of Mr. Beach, who played a Mohawk detective in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and landed a starring role in the forthcoming D C Comics picture “Suicide Squad.” Mr. Beach said he had come across insulting scripts backed by people who don’t see anything wrong with them.

“I’d rather starve than do something that is offensive to my ancestral roots,” Mr. Beach said. “But I think there will always be attempts to drawn on the weakness of native people’s struggles. The savage Indian will always be the savage Indian. The white man will always be smarter and more cunning. The cavalry will always win.”

The solution, Mr. Wente, Mr. Trudell and others said, lies in getting more stories written by and starring Native Americans. But Mr. Wente noted that while independent indigenous film has blossomed in the last two decades, mainstream depictions have yet to catch up. “You have to stop expecting for Hollywood to correct it, because there seems to be no ability or desire to correct it,” Mr. Wente said.

There have been calls to boycott Netflix but, writing for Indian Country Today Media Network, which first broke news of the walk off, the filmmaker Brian Young noted that the distributor also offered a number of films by or about Native Americans.

The furor around “The Ridiculous Six” may drive more people to see it. Then one of the questions that Mr. Trudell, echoing others, had about the film will be answered: “Who the hell laughs at this stuff?”

Native American Actors Work to Overcome a Long-Documented Bias

With 12 tournament victories in his career, Mr. Peete was the most successful black professional golfer before Tiger Woods.

Calvin Peete, 71, a Racial Pioneer on the PGA Tour, Is Dead

WASHINGTON — The former deputy director of the C.I.A. asserts in a forthcoming book that Republicans, in their eagerness to politicize the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, repeatedly distorted the agency’s analysis of events. But he also argues that the C.I.A. should get out of the business of providing “talking points” for administration officials in national security events that quickly become partisan, as happened after the Benghazi attack in 2012.

The official, Michael J. Morell, dismisses the allegation that the United States military and C.I.A. officers “were ordered to stand down and not come to the rescue of their comrades,” and he says there is “no evidence” to support the charge that “there was a conspiracy between C.I.A. and the White House to spin the Benghazi story in a way that would protect the political interests of the president and Secretary Clinton,” referring to the secretary of state at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But he also concludes that the White House itself embellished some of the talking points provided by the Central Intelligence Agency and had blocked him from sending an internal study of agency conclusions to Congress.

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Michael J. Morell Credit Mark Wilson/Getty Images

“I finally did so without asking,” just before leaving government, he writes, and after the White House released internal emails to a committee investigating the State Department’s handling of the issue.

A lengthy congressional investigation remains underway, one that many Republicans hope to use against Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 election cycle.

In parts of the book, “The Great War of Our Time” (Twelve), Mr. Morell praises his C.I.A. colleagues for many successes in stopping terrorist attacks, but he is surprisingly critical of other C.I.A. failings — and those of the National Security Agency.

Soon after Mr. Morell retired in 2013 after 33 years in the agency, President Obama appointed him to a commission reviewing the actions of the National Security Agency after the disclosures of Edward J. Snowden, a former intelligence contractor who released classified documents about the government’s eavesdropping abilities. Mr. Morell writes that he was surprised by what he found.

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“You would have thought that of all the government entities on the planet, the one least vulnerable to such grand theft would have been the N.S.A.,” he writes. “But it turned out that the N.S.A. had left itself vulnerable.”

He concludes that most Wall Street firms had better cybersecurity than the N.S.A. had when Mr. Snowden swept information from its systems in 2013. While he said he found himself “chagrined by how well the N.S.A. was doing” compared with the C.I.A. in stepping up its collection of data on intelligence targets, he also sensed that the N.S.A., which specializes in electronic spying, was operating without considering the implications of its methods.

“The N.S.A. had largely been collecting information because it could, not necessarily in all cases because it should,” he says.

The book is to be released next week.

Mr. Morell was a career analyst who rose through the ranks of the agency, and he ended up in the No. 2 post. He served as President George W. Bush’s personal intelligence briefer in the first months of his presidency — in those days, he could often be spotted at the Starbucks in Waco, Tex., catching up on his reading — and was with him in the schoolhouse in Florida on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Bush presidency changed in an instant.

Mr. Morell twice took over as acting C.I.A. director, first when Leon E. Panetta was appointed secretary of defense and then when retired Gen. David H. Petraeus resigned over an extramarital affair with his biographer, a relationship that included his handing her classified notes of his time as America’s best-known military commander.

Mr. Morell says he first learned of the affair from Mr. Petraeus only the night before he resigned, and just as the Benghazi events were turning into a political firestorm. While praising Mr. Petraeus, who had told his deputy “I am very lucky” to run the C.I.A., Mr. Morell writes that “the organization did not feel the same way about him.” The former general “created the impression through the tone of his voice and his body language that he did not want people to disagree with him (which was not true in my own interaction with him),” he says.

But it is his account of the Benghazi attacks — and how the C.I.A. was drawn into the debate over whether the Obama White House deliberately distorted its account of the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — that is bound to attract attention, at least partly because of its relevance to the coming presidential election. The initial assessments that the C.I.A. gave to the White House said demonstrations had preceded the attack. By the time analysts reversed their opinion, Susan E. Rice, now the national security adviser, had made a series of statements on Sunday talk shows describing the initial assessment. The controversy and other comments Ms. Rice made derailed Mr. Obama’s plan to appoint her as secretary of state.

The experience prompted Mr. Morell to write that the C.I.A. should stay out of the business of preparing talking points — especially on issues that are being seized upon for “political purposes.” He is critical of the State Department for not beefing up security in Libya for its diplomats, as the C.I.A., he said, did for its employees.

But he concludes that the assault in which the ambassador was killed took place “with little or no advance planning” and “was not well organized.” He says the attackers “did not appear to be looking for Americans to harm. They appeared intent on looting and conducting some vandalism,” setting fires that killed Mr. Stevens and a security official, Sean Smith.

Mr. Morell paints a picture of an agency that was struggling, largely unsuccessfully, to understand dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa when the Arab Spring broke out in late 2011 in Tunisia. The agency’s analysts failed to see the forces of revolution coming — and then failed again, he writes, when they told Mr. Obama that the uprisings would undercut Al Qaeda by showing there was a democratic pathway to change.

“There is no good explanation for our not being able to see the pressures growing to dangerous levels across the region,” he writes. The agency had again relied too heavily “on a handful of strong leaders in the countries of concern to help us understand what was going on in the Arab street,” he says, and those leaders themselves were clueless.

Moreover, an agency that has always overvalued secretly gathered intelligence and undervalued “open source” material “was not doing enough to mine the wealth of information available through social media,” he writes. “We thought and told policy makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage Al Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative,” he writes.

Instead, weak governments in Egypt, and the absence of governance from Libya to Yemen, were “a boon to Islamic extremists across both the Middle East and North Africa.”

Mr. Morell is gentle about most of the politicians he dealt with — he expresses admiration for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, though he accuses former Vice President Dick Cheney of deliberately implying a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq that the C.I.A. had concluded probably did not exist. But when it comes to the events leading up to the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, he is critical of his own agency.

Mr. Morell concludes that the Bush White House did not have to twist intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged effort to rekindle the country’s work on weapons of mass destruction.

“The view that hard-liners in the Bush administration forced the intelligence community into its position on W.M.D. is just flat wrong,” he writes. “No one pushed. The analysts were already there and they had been there for years, long before Bush came to office.”

Ex-C.I.A. Official Rebuts Republican Claims on Benghazi Attack in ‘The Great War of Our Time’

Mr. Pfaff was an international affairs columnist and author who found Washington’s intervention in world affairs often misguided.

William Pfaff, Critic of American Foreign Policy, Dies at 86

The career criminals in genre novels don’t have money problems. If they need some, they just go out and steal it. But such financial transactions can backfire, which is what happened back in 2004 when the Texas gang in Michael

Take the Money and Run

WASHINGTON — A decade after emergency trailers meant to shelter Hurricane Katrina victims instead caused burning eyes, sore throats and other more serious ailments, the Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of regulating the culprit: formaldehyde, a chemical that can be found in commonplace things like clothes and furniture.

But an unusual assortment of players, including furniture makers, the Chinese government, Republicans from states with a large base of furniture manufacturing and even some Democrats who championed early regulatory efforts, have questioned the E.P.A. proposal. The sustained opposition has held sway, as the agency is now preparing to ease key testing requirements before it releases the landmark federal health standard.

The E.P.A.’s five-year effort to adopt this rule offers another example of how industry opposition can delay and hamper attempts by the federal government to issue regulations, even to control substances known to be harmful to human health.

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Document: The Formaldehyde Fight

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can also cause respiratory ailments like asthma, but the potential of long-term exposure to cause cancers like myeloid leukemia is less well understood.

The E.P.A.’s decision would be the first time that the federal government has regulated formaldehyde inside most American homes.

“The stakes are high for public health,” said Tom Neltner, senior adviser for regulatory affairs at the National Center for Healthy Housing, who has closely monitored the debate over the rules. “What we can’t have here is an outcome that fails to confront the health threat we all know exists.”

The proposal would not ban formaldehyde — commonly used as an ingredient in wood glue in furniture and flooring — but it would impose rules that prevent dangerous levels of the chemical’s vapors from those products, and would set testing standards to ensure that products sold in the United States comply with those limits. The debate has sharpened in the face of growing concern about the safety of formaldehyde-treated flooring imported from Asia, especially China.

What is certain is that a lot of money is at stake: American companies sell billions of dollars’ worth of wood products each year that contain formaldehyde, and some argue that the proposed regulation would impose unfair costs and restrictions.

Determined to block the agency’s rule as proposed, these industry players have turned to the White House, members of Congress and top E.P.A. officials, pressing them to roll back the testing requirements in particular, calling them redundant and too expensive.

“There are potentially over a million manufacturing jobs that will be impacted if the proposed rule is finalized without changes,” wrote Bill Perdue, the chief lobbyist at the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a leading critic of the testing requirements in the proposed regulation, in one letter to the E.P.A.

Industry opposition helped create an odd alignment of forces working to thwart the rule. The White House moved to strike out key aspects of the proposal. Subsequent appeals for more changes were voiced by players as varied as Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, as well as furniture industry lobbyists.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped ignite the public debate over formaldehyde, after the deadly storm destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf of Mexico, forcing families into temporary trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The displaced storm victims quickly began reporting respiratory problems, burning eyes and other issues, and tests then confirmed high levels of formaldehyde fumes leaking into the air inside the trailers, which in many cases had been hastily constructed.

Public health advocates petitioned the E.P.A. to issue limits on formaldehyde in building materials and furniture used in homes, given that limits already existed for exposure in workplaces. But three years after the storm, only California had issued such limits.

Industry groups like the American Chemistry Council have repeatedly challenged the science linking formaldehyde to cancer, a position championed by David Vitter, the Republican senator from Louisiana, who is a major recipient of chemical industry campaign contributions, and whom environmental groups have mockingly nicknamed “Senator Formaldehyde.”

Continue reading the main story

Formaldehyde in Laminate Flooring

In laminate flooring, formaldehyde is used as a bonding agent in the fiberboard (or other composite wood) core layer and may also be used in glues that bind layers together. Concerns were raised in March when certain laminate flooring imported from China was reported to contain levels of formaldehyde far exceeding the limit permitted by California.

Typical

laminate

flooring

CLEAR FINISH LAYER

Often made of melamine resin

PATTERN LAYER

Paper printed to resemble wood,

or a thin wood veneer

GLUE

Layers may be bound using

formaldehyde-based glues

CORE LAYER

Fiberboard or other

composite, formed using

formaldehyde-based adhesives

BASE LAYER

Moisture-resistant vapor barrier

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a common chemical used in many industrial and household products as an adhesive, bonding agent or preservative. It is classified as a volatile organic compound. The term volatile means that, at room temperature, formaldehyde will vaporize, or become a gas. Products made with formaldehyde tend to release this gas into the air. If breathed in large quantities, it may cause health problems.

WHERE IT IS COMMONLY FOUND

POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS

Pressed-wood and composite wood products

Wallpaper and paints

Spray foam insulation used in construction

Commercial wood floor finishes

Crease-resistant fabrics

In cigarette smoke, or in the fumes from combustion of other materials, including wood, oil and gasoline.

Exposure to formaldehyde in sufficient amounts may cause eye, throat or skin irritation, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems like coughing, wheezing or asthma.

Long-term exposure to high levels has been associated with cancer in humans and laboratory animals.

Exposure to formaldehyde may affect some people more severely than others.

By 2010, public health advocates and some industry groups secured bipartisan support in Congress for legislation that ordered the E.P.A. to issue federal rules that largely mirrored California’s restrictions. At the time, concerns were rising over the growing number of lower-priced furniture imports from Asia that might include contaminated products, while also hurting sales of American-made products.

Maneuvering began almost immediately after the E.P.A. prepared draft rules to formally enact the new standards.

White House records show at least five meetings in mid-2012 with industry executives — kitchen cabinet makers, chemical manufacturers, furniture trade associations and their lobbyists, like Brock R. Landry, of the Venable law firm. These parties, along with Senator Vitter’s office, appealed to top administration officials, asking them to intervene to roll back the E.P.A. proposal.

The White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews major federal regulations before they are adopted, apparently agreed. After the White House review, the E.P.A. “redlined” many of the estimates of the monetary benefits that would be gained by reductions in related health ailments, like asthma and fertility issues, documents reviewed by The New York Times show.

As a result, the estimated benefit of the proposed rule dropped to $48 million a year, from as much as $278 million a year. The much-reduced amount deeply weakened the agency’s justification for the sometimes costly new testing that would be required under the new rules, a federal official involved in the effort said.

“It’s a redlining blood bath,” said Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University Law School professor and a former E.P.A. official, using the Washington phrase to describe when language is stricken from a proposed rule. “Almost the entire discussion of these potential benefits was excised.”

Senator Vitter’s staff was pleased.

“That’s a huge difference,” said Luke Bolar, a spokesman for Mr. Vitter, of the reduced estimated financial benefits, saying the change was “clearly highlighting more mismanagement” at the E.P.A.

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The review’s outcome galvanized opponents in the furniture industry. They then targeted a provision that mandated new testing of laminated wood, a cheaper alternative to hardwood. (The California standard on which the law was based did not require such testing.)

But E.P.A. scientists had concluded that these laminate products — millions of which are sold annually in the United States — posed a particular risk. They said that when thin layers of wood, also known as laminate or veneer, are added to furniture or flooring in the final stages of manufacturing, the resulting product can generate dangerous levels of fumes from often-used formaldehyde-based glues.

Industry executives, outraged by what they considered an unnecessary and financially burdensome level of testing, turned every lever within reach to get the requirement removed. It would be particularly onerous, they argued, for small manufacturers that would have to repeatedly interrupt their work to do expensive new testing. The E.P.A. estimated that the expanded requirements for laminate products would cost the furniture industry tens of millions of dollars annually, while the industry said that the proposed rule over all would cost its 7,000 American manufacturing facilities over $200 million each year.

“A lot of people don’t seem to appreciate what a lot of these requirements do to a small operation,” said Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, whose members are predominantly small businesses. “A 10-person shop, for example, just really isn’t equipped to handle that type of thing.”

Photo
 
Becky Gillette wants strong regulation of formaldehyde. Credit Beth Hall for The New York Times

Big industry players also weighed in. Executives from companies including La-Z-Boy, Hooker Furniture and Ashley Furniture all flew to Washington for a series of meetings with the offices of lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and about a dozen other lawmakers, asking several of them to sign a letter prepared by the industry to press the E.P.A. to back down, according to an industry report describing the lobbying visit.

Within a matter of weeks, two letters — using nearly identical language — were sent by House and Senate lawmakers to the E.P.A. — with the industry group forwarding copies of the letters to the agency as well, and then posting them on its website.

The industry lobbyists also held their own meeting at E.P.A. headquarters, and they urged Jim Jones, who oversaw the rule-making process as the assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to visit a North Carolina furniture manufacturing plant. According to the trade group, Mr. Jones told them that the visit had “helped the agency shift its thinking” about the rules and how laminated products should be treated.

The resistance was particularly intense from lawmakers like Mr. Wicker of Mississippi, whose state is home to major manufacturing plants owned by Ashley Furniture Industries, the world’s largest furniture maker, and who is one of the biggest recipients in Congress of donations from the industry’s trade association. Asked if the political support played a role, a spokesman for Mr. Wicker replied: “Thousands of Mississippians depend on the furniture manufacturing industry for their livelihoods. Senator Wicker is committed to defending all Mississippians from government overreach.”

Individual companies like Ikea also intervened, as did the Chinese government, which claimed that the new rule would create a “great barrier” to the import of Chinese products because of higher costs.

Perhaps the most surprising objection came from Senator Boxer, of California, a longtime environmental advocate, whose office questioned why the E.P.A.’s rule went further than her home state’s in seeking testing on laminated products. “We did not advocate an outcome, other than safety,” her office said in a statement about why the senator raised concerns. “We said ‘Take a look to see if you have it right.’ ”

Safety advocates say that tighter restrictions — like the ones Ms. Boxer and Mr. Wicker, along with Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, have questioned — are necessary, particularly for products coming from China, where items as varied as toys and Christmas lights have been found to violate American safety standards.

While Mr. Neltner, the environmental advocate who has been most involved in the review process, has been open to compromise, he has pressed the E.P.A. not to back down entirely, and to maintain a requirement that laminators verify that their products are safe.

An episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” in March brought attention to the issue when it accused Lumber Liquidators, the discount flooring retailer, of selling laminate products with dangerous levels of formaldehyde. The company has disputed the show’s findings and test methods, maintaining that its products are safe.

“People think that just because Congress passed the legislation five years ago, the problem has been fixed,” said Becky Gillette, who then lived in coastal Mississippi, in the area hit by Hurricane Katrina, and was among the first to notice a pattern of complaints from people living in the trailers. “Real people’s faces and names come up in front of me when I think of the thousands of people who could get sick if this rule is not done right.”

An aide to Ms. Matsui rejected any suggestion that she was bending to industry pressure.

“From the beginning the public health has been our No. 1 concern,” said Kyle J. Victor, an aide to Ms. Matsui.

But further changes to the rule are likely, agency officials concede, as they say they are searching for a way to reduce the cost of complying with any final rule while maintaining public health goals. The question is just how radically the agency will revamp the testing requirement for laminated products — if it keeps it at all.

“It’s not a secret to anybody that is the most challenging issue,” said Mr. Jones, the E.P.A. official overseeing the process, adding that the health consequences from formaldehyde are real. “We have to reduce those exposures so that people can live healthy lives and not have to worry about being in their homes.”

The Uphill Battle to Better Regulate Formaldehyde

Mr. Bartoszewski was given honorary Israeli citizenship for his work to save Jews during World War II and later surprised even himself by being instrumental in reconciling Poland and Germany.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 93, Dies; Polish Auschwitz Survivor Aided Jews

The bottle Mr. Sokolin famously broke was a 1787 Château Margaux, which was said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Sokolin had been hoping to sell it for $519,750.

William Sokolin, Wine Seller Who Broke Famed Bottle, Dies at 85
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