Thursday, May 5, 2016

40,000 Parade

From the MT:
"40,000 Russian Servicemen to March in Victory Day Celebrations"

About 40,000 Russian servicemen will march in military parades celebrating the 71st anniversary of victory in World War II on May 9, the independent Ekho Moskvy radio reported Monday.  The Defense Ministry has begun rehearsals of the parades, which will take place in 26 Russian cities, the report said.  Last year, Russia held massive celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War — as World War II is known in Russia — in an effort to promote patriotism amid declining living standards, reports of rampant corruption, and shrinking ties with the West.

^ Last year it was more of a "Wag the Dog" show than the 70th anniversary. I am curious to see how this year's parade will be. It's interesting that both Belarus and Kazakhstan have decided not to hold official parades this year.  ^

Yom HaShoah!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Suffering Survivors

From USA Today:
"On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel's needy survivors still suffer"

Melinda Hershkowitz has to choose between buying groceries or medicine that the 83-year-old Holocaust survivor needs to help her sleep at night. That's when flashbacks return of her father being shot dead by a Nazi officer. “We’ve gone through something that you can’t really describe in words, and then my brother and I waited for years for Romania to allow us to leave to Israel. We dreamt of Israel,” said Hershkowitz, who arrived in 1971. She struggles to meet her monthly expenses after working for 45 years as a cleaner and raising her children in a rundown apartment building in Lod, a gritty city near Tel Aviv that is infamous for gang warfare and a booming drug trade. Wednesday night is the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day around the world. Israel will mark it with a moment of silence and a two-minute air siren to commemorate the 6 million Jews who perished during World War II in Nazi death camps. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a group of survivors on Wednesday. But that is not enough for activists who are prodding Israel to remember that 45,000 Holocaust survivors such as Hershkowitz are living below the country’s poverty line and need more assistance. She and thousands like her witnessed Nazi atrocities in Europe but were prevented from obtaining special help under an Israeli law that until last year had restricted the definition of “survivor” to those who immigrated to Israel before 1953. Yet even for Yaakov Heiblum, 90, who arrived in 1949, receiving benefits has been emotionally complicated in the Jewish state, which has placed a higher priority on helping war veterans and newer groups of immigrants as the Holocaust survivor population rapidly dwindles to a current 189,000.  Heiblum was born in Starachowice, Poland, and has black tattoos on his arm and chest, remnants of two of the four concentration camps where he spent his teenage years. But when he arrived in Israel, which had just been created in 1948, “no one was interested in talking about what we went through. Instead, they took me straight from the boat and drafted me into the artillery corps," he recalled. In the early decades of Israeli history, Holocaust survivors were often regarded with hostility, scorned for their alleged weakness in failing to rebel against the Nazis and given derogatory monikers such as sabon, “soap” in Hebrew, referring to the soap that Nazis made from Jewish corpses, Heiblum said. In a young Israel, where the focus was on building a powerful nationalist identity, even mentioning the Holocaust was “taboo,” an attitude that persisted in the following decades as the country remained consumed by war and efforts to integrate newer waves of immigrants, Heiblum added. Most survivors are in their late 80s, but a few are much older, such as Yisrael Kristal, a 112-year-old Haifa resident who is listed by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man. The group's ranks are quickly declining as more than 13,000 die each year, according to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. The mission to enable survivors such as Heiblum "to have dignity in their remaining years is really a race against the clock,” said Aviva Silverman, an attorney specializing in Holocaust rights and founder of the Spring for Holocaust Survivors, a non-profit organization that seeks to inform survivors on their rights to compensation. Silverman blamed a lack of awareness and a labyrinthine bureaucratic process for depriving tens of thousands of survivors of money they're legally entitled to, especially those without access to the Internet or a lawyer. The Israeli government has attempted to “amend a historical injustice,” according to former finance minister Yair Lapid, who championed a 2014 law ensuring that survivors receive a minimum allotment of $580 a month.  This week, current Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced a $90 million plan to increase annual financial support for Holocaust survivors. While the community of survivors is dwindling, “what is not decreasing is our desire to listen to their stories, which are an inseparable part of the country’s founding, as well as our desire to enable them to grow old with dignity,” Kahlon said. Activists like Silverman hope Israel follows through this time. In the past, as much as $100 million earmarked for survivors hadn't reached them, Welfare Minister Haim Katz recently disclosed. “Israel has the funds, but it hasn’t been able to get those to the people who most need it,” said Tamara More, CEO of the Association for the Immediate Help of Holocaust Survivors.  “Now is already too late for many survivors, and in another few years it will really be too late, but I’m still not optimistic that we’ll really get to see the promises kept that would be necessary to help, and even save lives, of these destitute people.” Hershkowitz is grateful for the financial and emotional support from volunteers such as More. “At my age I have only the one regret of not being able to give my children a little support,” she said. “But, what can I say. There’s no future ahead.”

^ Every year there is the same story: Holocaust survivors needing help and not getting it. The difference this year is there are now a lot less survivors still alive than there was this time last year. Many of those survivors died still struggling to get basic things. There is no reason for any Holocaust survivor today to have to decide between food and their medicines. While it is all well and good to have a day every year to remember the Holocaust, with it's moment of silence, it does little to actually aid the Holocaust survivors so they can live the rest of their time in peace and comfort. ^

Beach Cops

From the MT:
"Volunteer Cops to Raid Moscow Beaches"

Activists will be raiding city beaches in a fight against public order violations such as drinking and smoking, the head of the Moscow City Duma's security committee announced Wednesday. Irina Svyatenko told the Moskva news outlet that members of the Safe Capital organization, a project providing volunteers to help police patrol Moscow's streets, will be carrying out inspections from June 1. "Activists will be ensuring order on the beaches, together with the police,” Svyatenko said. “It is strictly forbidden to smoke or to drink alcohol on the beaches, except the specially designated areas." Safe Capital volunteers will also be maintaining order at potentially rowdy school graduation celebrations, and ensuring that Muscovites aren't tempted to swim away from designated areas, Moskva reported. "We have a list of beaches where swimming is forbidden, but, nevertheless, we see [groups of young people] resting in the water, paying no attention to the warning boards," said Svyatenko. Safe Capital held its first raid in May 2015, and was later registered as a public association aiding law enforcement.

^ I don't understand why Russia feels the need to have these kind of volunteer "cops" to enforce the rules and laws within their country. The regular police force should be used for these purposes and not random citizens. That is a throw-back to Soviet times when "citizen patrols" would go after those they considered in the wrong. Using random citizens without the right training to enforce the laws just leads to a dangerous situation on the streets  - and beaches. ^

More Allied Help

From the DW:
"United States calls on anti-Islamic State allies to do more"

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said countries need to offer more military resources to the fight against "Islamic State" militants. Carter also mooted NATO support and the use of alliance surveillance aircraft. At a meeting of 11 defense ministers from countries involved in the anti-"Islamic State" (IS) coalition, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said there was "common recognition that we must all be prepared to do more." The meeting was with the defense ministers of Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Spain. The US-led alliance comprises 60 countries and has conducted some 12,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq since September 2014. The talks had been planned well in advance of an attack on Tuesday that saw IS fighters overrun a Kurdish town in Syria. IS had been in retreat since December, when the Iraqi army recaptured Ramadi, the largest city in the western region of the country. Last month, the Iraqi army retook the nearby region of Hit, pushing IS militants further north along the Euphrates valley. "I am confident that today's meeting will produce additional military commitments," Carter said at the meeting, which took place at the US European Command headquarters in Stuttgart. "It's going to take more to win. We're going to win, but we all need to do more," Carter told reporters. "This fight is far from over and there are great risks." But "allowing ISIL safe haven would carry even greater risk," he added, referring to IS by an alternate acronym. "To accelerate ISIL's lasting defeat, all must do more." Carter's call comes a week after President Barack Obama urged members of NATO to increase their defense spending to meet the alliance's target of 2 percent of spending. Obama also announced he would send an additional 250 special operations forces to Syria, greatly expanding the US presence on the ground there to help draw in more Syrian fighters to combat IS. Carter said he had proposed that the anti-IS coalition hold another meeting in Washington this summer.

^ Every country around the world should be in the anti-IS fight since they are all affected in some way by them. It is not only the United States' responsibility to protect the world and so NATO and other countries need to do a whole lot more - especially after the IS attacks in France and Belgium. ^

May The 4th

Korean Abductees

From USA Today:
"Relatives seek rescue of Japanese mother, sister abducted by North Korea"

Yaeko Taguchi was last seen in downtown Tokyo leaving work at a cabaret in 1978. Only decades later did her son learn that she was among an unknown number of Japanese citizens kidnapped and spirited to North Korea to work in captivity for the country's rulers and spy agencies. Now, 37 years later, Taguchi's son, Koichiro Iizuka, 38, says it’s time to bring her and the others home. Iizuka and Takuya Yokota, whose sister, Megumi, then 13, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977, will tell their stories Wednesday at the United Nations in New York to bring attention to 17 confirmed cases of abducted Japanese, a dozen of whom are believed to still be in North Korea. In all, the reclusive nation is suspected of being behind 894 such disappearances since the 1940s, according to the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, a group based in Tokyo.
“We hope the world will use this opportunity to also pay attention to the abduction issue,” said Yokota, secretary general of another activist group, the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea. “We are expecting North Korea to ask Japan for economic assistance, in return for which we hope to rescue the abductees and my mother,” Iizuka said Monday in an interview. Most of the 17 confirmed cases involve disappearances along Japan’s central-west coast, in the area closest to the North Korean mainland, according to a map produced by the Japanese government on the issue. Of the 17 cases, five people were returned to Japan in 2002, during a visit to North Korea by Japan’s then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Japan at the time agreed to provide two years’ worth of food and medical supplies as a humanitarian gesture to the impoverished nation, with promises of further economic assistance if relations improved. North Korea said six of the people it abducted died of heart attacks or in accidents, and no record exists of four others entering the country. It claimed that Yokota’s sister committed suicide and that Iizuka’s mother was killed in a traffic accident. But DNA testing showed that remains returned by North Korea did not belong to the two women, said Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister for the abduction issue. Kato said some victims appear to have been snatched in error, but most abductions were carried out after careful planning and selection. According to evidence provided by defectors and a captured North Korean operative, the victims were chosen so they could provide language and other technical training to North Korea’s spy and terrorist network. Kato said the international community should pressure North Korea to engage in talks with Japan that could lead to normalized relations, payment by Japan of World War II reparations and economic assistance to North Korea, plus the return of abductees to Japan. Japan and South Korea now work together to bring attention to North Korean human rights, including the abductee issue, which also affects South Korea, he said. Many of the victims and their families are aging, and some have died without seeing their loved ones again, Kato said. "We constantly remind ourselves we have no luxury of time to rescue the victims."

^ This is a very sad story that the international community (especially China, Russia, the US and Japan) should press North Korea on. The abductees deserve to be reunited with their families in Japan. ^

Czas Honoru Powstanie

This is Season 7 - called "Czas Honoru: Powstanie" or "Time of Honor:  The Uprising. It is about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 which lasted 63 days (not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.) I thought it deserved a separate post since it was the best season of the entire series and because it was the single most major event in Warsaw (not to mention Poland and Europe) during World War 2. The Polish Home Army wanted to start the Uprising when the Soviet Red Army was close to Warsaw so they (the Poles) could help liberate their city from the Germans. The Soviets saw the Polish Home Army as anti-Communist and didn't want to help them so they waited just outside of Warsaw while the Polish heroes and ordinary civilians were butchered. The Soviets remembered the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 (when the Soviets lost) and also the difficulty they (the Soviets) had when they invaded and occupied eastern Poland from September 1939 to June 1941 when they had to deport, arrest and murder the Polish resistance, Polish soldiers and non-Communist Poles. The Soviets would rather sit and watch as the Germans did the job for them. The Soviets would not even let the other Allies land on Soviet territory so not many supplies or weapons could be airdropped to Warsaw.
This season showed the fight on both sides: against the Germans and the Soviets. It showed the affect on the Home Army as well as the civilians. The Home Army was out-numbered and out-gunned and so didn't do as much for the innocent men, women and children that were caught in Warsaw when the Uprising started as they should have. Of course the Germans used the civilians as human shields and also massacred them for no reason. As with the whole series there was a lot of gun-fights and high-action scenes, but there were also "calmer" scenes that showed how the fighter and the civilian dealt with the Uprising. I thought a little more attention should have been shown on what happened to both the soldiers and the civilians after the surrender. After the 63 day Uprising in which around 10,000 Home Army soldiers and around 200,000 Polish civilians were killed the Germans decided to deport everyone from Warsaw and then went around fire-burning the whole city. Around 15,000 Home Army soldiers and 700,000 civilians were deported to labor, concentration and death camps after the Uprising.
Seasons 5 and 6 of the series showed, a little, how the Soviet abandonment of Warsaw in 1944 during the Uprising helped to keep the Polish people anti-Soviet and Anti-Communist as a whole until the 1990s. Of course there were Polish Communists, but the true die-hard believers were those that had been in the Soviet Union during the war.
I really hope this series continues since it is very well-written, well-acted and action-packed.

Separated By War

From the WP:
"Two brothers were separated by the Holocaust. After 77 years, their families just reunited."

The five women crowded together around the kitchen table in New Jersey, their eyes fixed on a laptop screen. It was 7 a.m., and none of them had slept well the night before; they were too anxious and excited for this moment. Jess Katz logged into Skype as her mother and three sisters watched. A face flickered into view: their cousin, the son of a long-missing uncle, the family they thought they had lost forever in the Holocaust. On the other side of the screen, on the other side of the world, Evgeny Belzhitsky sat with his daughter, his granddaughter and a translator in his home on Sakhalin Island, Russia. The eight family members smiled at each other, speechless. Then, Katz recalls, they all started to cry. “What do you say to someone you’ve been searching for your whole life?” Katz says. More than 70 years had passed since Katz’s grandfather, Abram Belz, first tried to find his younger brother, Chaim. Abram last saw Chaim in 1939, the year their family was relocated along with thousands of other Polish Jews to the Piotrków Trybunalski ghetto at the start of World War II.
The brothers died without seeing each other again, but on April 20 their families had been joyfully reunited.  The young men were separated soon after the family was forced into the ghetto following the Nazi invasion of Poland.  Abram’s mother had begged her two sons to escape and save themselves, Katz says. “My grandfather, because he was the oldest son, felt an obligation to stay,” she says. “But it was important to their mom that Chaim try to escape.” With his mother’s help, Chaim slipped through a gap in the ghetto wall and fled across the border to the Soviet Union. The family knew he made it there, Katz says, because he sent letters and packages to his family. But then the letters and packages stopped coming.  Abram described what happened next in a 1990 testimonial for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation project: Less than a year after we moved into the ghetto, my grandfather dropped dead in the house. Two weeks later, my 24-year-old sister died of tuberculosis. My uncle who was 26 years old was shot, his wife and baby were sent to Treblinka where they were gassed to death by the Nazis. The rest of my family was exterminated. My parents were sent to Treblinka and were killed in the gas chambers. Of more than 60 relatives, Abram and one of his cousins were the lone survivors of the concentration camps. Abram was liberated from the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in 1945, and eventually resettled in Brooklyn, NY. He never stopped looking for Chaim. When Abram moved to the U.S. after the war, he wrote to the Polish government and sought the help of nonprofits that worked to connect survivors to their families. In the 1980’s, his daughter — Katz’s mother, Michelle Belz Katz — penned letters to the Red Cross, Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center), and Russian and Polish officials, to no avail. Last month, Katz — a tech-savvy 25-year-old who works for a software company in New York City and has blogged about her family’s Jewish roots — had extra time on her hands as she recovered from minor surgery at home. She decided to take up the search. After decades of tedious research and letter-writing, it took Katz two weeks to find Chaim’s son. With the help of a Jewish heritage website,, Katz contacted a genealogist who quickly tracked down Russian military documents with Chaim’s name and army unit, dated 1942. Katz shared the documents in a Jewish Facebook group, where she was directed to another Russian forum, where — with the help of Google Translate — Katz’s post caught the attention of an Israeli woman who matched Chaim’s last name to a man on a Russian social networking site called Classmates. That man, it turned out, was Evgeny Belzhitsky. On different continents, the lives of the two brothers followed remarkably similar paths: both became successful tailors after the war. Both married women eight years younger. Both were gentle, doting fathers. And each had searched for the other, writing letter after letter, hoping his sibling had somehow survived.  Neither lived to see last month’s reunion. Abram died five years ago at age 95; Chaim succumbed to a brain tumor at 51. Belzhitsky showed his American relatives a photograph of his father’s grave.

^ This is one of the stories that started out sad (the brothers lost during the war) and ended sad (the brothers were both dead before their families were reunited. It shows that World War 2 not only disrupted families and lives back in the 1940s, but continues to do so today. That is why people still place blame on Germany and Japan for starting the war and think both countries and their collaborators need to do more to atone for the horrors they did. ^

Czas Honoru (3-6)

I already wrote about Seasons 1 and 2 of Czas Honoru (Time of Honor.) So now I'll write about Seasons 3, 4, 5, and 6. Seasons 3 and 4 continue to deal with the German occupation of Warsaw. It jumps a few years (from 1941 to 1944) and so they skip certain key events like the Grossaktion Warschau (in which the Germans deported around 265,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the gas chambers at Treblinka in 1942) and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Those are very important events when talking about the city of Warsaw. Those seasons did deal with the everyday horrors of life in Warsaw under the Germans as well as briefly deals with the Poles fighting with the rest of the Allies in Italy.
Seasons 5 and 6 deal with the end of World War 2 in 1945 and the beginning of the Soviet and Communist occupation of Warsaw in 1945-1946. The main characters have been displaced throughout Europe and make their way back to Warsaw. There was a different dynamic with these seasons since the Germans were taken out and replaced by Soviet and Polish Communists. The Germans considered all Poles to be "sub-human Slavs" while the Communists (Slavs themselves) were against any non-Communist and anyone who had fought for Poland's freedom - even if only against the Germans. The UK and France abandoned Poland in 1939 when western Poland was invaded by the Germans and eastern Poland by the Soviets and the UK, France and the US abandoned Poland in 1945 by giving the Soviet Union free-reign (that lasted until the 1990s.)
Seasons 1-6 were very action-packed with storylines that inter-twined, but were still easy to follow and gave a realistic interpretation of what the Polish people (in Warsaw and around Poland) had to go through under both the Germans and the Soviets.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Turkey Adds Cyprus

From the DW:
"Turkey to ditch visa demands for Greek Cypriots"

The government in Ankara will stop demanding visas from Greek Cypriots visiting Turkey, but it will not recognize the Cypriot government in Nicosia. Turkey is hoping for far greater visa-free perks of its own, very soon.  Turkey announced on Tuesday that Greek Cypriots would be able to visit the country without a visa in future. "This doesn't mean the recognition of Cyprus. If the EU abolishes visas for Turkish citizens, then we will also abolish visas for the remaining EU countries," said a Turkish official. The island nation has long been arguably the single greatest obstacle to Turkey’s dealings with the European Union. Divided for decades, Ankara only recognizes the Turkish-controlled north while the majority-Greek southern half of Cyprus is internationally recognized and a member state of the EU. EU member states can veto another country's bid to join the Union without any further support within the bloc. As part of the refugee relocation deal with the EU, Turkey negotiated the chance of visa-free travel for its citizens in Europe. A deadline for the European Commission to decide whether to grant Turkey this, a deal that in theory is dependent on Ankara meeting 72 preconditions, falls on Wednesday. According to Germany's "Bild" newspaper, the BBC and others, citing EU sources, Europe would approve the move on Wednesday despite Turkey not having fulfilled every condition. Under the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, Ankara would take back migrants who had crossed into Europe illegally, in exchange for a number of concessions, including reigniting the review process for Turkey's EU membership and entry into the Schengen free movement zone for short-term travel without visas for the country's 79 million inhabitants. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened the EU in early April that Turkey would pull out of its commitments if these parts of the agreement were not implemented by June. "Some three million people are being fed on our budget," the president said back then. "We have received a lot of thanks for our actions on the refugees and in the fight against terrorism. But we are not doing this for thanks." Among other perks, Turkey was also promised between 3 billion and 6 billion euros to accommodate refugees, and a restart to its long-stalled bid to one day join the EU.

^ This was a fore-gone conclusion the minute the Greek-controlled part of Cyprus became a member of the EU. The Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus is officially part of the EU too, but it was put on hold because of mainland Turkey's control over that portion of the island. The Turks want visa-free travel within the EU and so have to give Greek Cyprus the same travel status as other EU member states. That is de facto recognition no matter how you slice it. The EU wants Turkey to take the migrants and keep them out of the EU so both sides see an understanding. It's clear (from a past referendum and recent actions) that the Turkish Cypriots (not to be confused with mainland Turks who were moved to the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion) want better ties with both the Greek Cypriots and the EU. The Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, seem to know they hold all the cards now since the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus is not recognized by any country except Turkey and the Greek Cypriots now hold more swing within the EU since they are a member state. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the end between the EU and Turkey, Cyprus and Turkey, Greek-controlled Cyprus and Turkish-controlled Cyprus. ^

Chce się żyć (2013)

This is a Polish movie (called "Life Feels Good" in English) in Polish with English subtitles. It is about the real life (from the 1980s to 2000s) of Mateusz Rosiński who has cerebral palsy. It is one of those movies that everyone just has to see. It is so well-made and also a great story. Dawid Ogrodnik portrays the older Mateusz. I have worked with the disabled - focusing on those with cp) and  it is so uncanny how he acts and moves just like a person with cerebral palsy.
The film shows the differences in care the disabled receive  - especially in Eastern Europe from Communist to modern times. The Communists saw the disabled as "unproductive" and so did everything to hide them from others in the "workers' paradise." Mateusz's parents were told to put him in an institution, but they didn't and instead he lived with the rest of his family (a sister and brother) in their Soviet-style apartment complex. Things happen throughout the film that test both Mateusz and his family- I won't give them away  - but Mateusz goes from being treated as someone with no mental abilities to a "regular" person.  There is one scene in the film were Mateusz makes himself known - without speaking - and it is one of the best in any movie I have ever seen.
To know that this is based on a true story and that Mateusz actually went through all of this is even more compelling. It really makes you stop and think about the people around you - the disabled and the non-disabled - and how you see them.

Uber Service Animals

From Disability Scoop:
"Uber Settlement Requires Drivers To Accommodate Service Animals"

Uber is settling a discrimination suit brought by blind passengers with an agreement to carry the passengers’ guide dogs in their vehicles and to fire drivers who refuse, advocates for the blind said over the weekend. The suit, filed by the National Federation of the Blind in September 2014, said many Uber drivers have refused to take passengers with dogs. For example, the suit said, one Uber driver agreed by phone to take two passengers to a home in Menlo Park but when he arrived and saw a guide dog, he shouted, “No dogs,” and sped away. Another driver locked a Sacramento passenger’s guide dog in the trunk, the suit said, and Uber tried to charge cancellation fees to some blind passengers after its drivers refused to transport them.  Uber denied discriminating and said it had a policy of accommodating passengers with disabilities. Uber also argued that, as a ride-hailing service that merely connects drivers and passengers, it wasn’t covered by laws that require taxis and other transportation services to carry a passenger’s service animal. But a federal magistrate in San Francisco refused to dismiss the suit last year, leading to a settlement before the case was scheduled for trial. With court approval, it will be the first nationwide settlement of a disability suit against such a company, advocates said. The agreement announced Saturday requires Uber to tell drivers about their obligation to carry guide dogs, the advocacy groups said. They said Uber will also be required to dismiss any driver who knowingly violates that policy a single time, or violates it for any reason more than once. Uber will also pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees, in an amount yet to be determined. “Uber and similar services can be a great asset to the blind when they are fully and equally available to us,” Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a statement. Michael Hingson, one of the blind plaintiffs, said in a statement through his lawyers that he was “looking forward to being able to use the Uber services when Uber makes the changes needed to fix its discrimination problem.” Larry Paradis, executive director of the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates and a lawyer for the passengers, has said his organization is also negotiating with Uber’s competitor, Lyft, without filing a suit. He said Lyft passengers have reported similar problems.

^ This would be considered a good thing if Uber hadn't been forced to allow service animals by the courts. It just shows they didn't want to help the disabled and are now being forced to. ^

20 Years: First Flight

It is 20 years since my first, solo plane trip. I was a teenager and flew from Europe to North America and had a lot of issues and problems along the way:  I  had worked Summer Hire at the Post Office on base  I used that money and bought a plane ticket to visit a friend I had known back in New York – after my mom spoke to my friend’s mom on the phone. They lived in Plattsburgh, NY (right on the Canadian border) and so I flew from Frankfurt to Montreal. My friend’s family was then supposed to pick me up at the Montreal Airport.  The flight over to Montreal was fine. I went through Canadian Immigration (I wasn’t a Canadian citizen back then) and waited for my friend and her family. A few hours later I used a pay phone  - most people didn’t have a cell phone back then – and my friend answered. She put her mom on the phone and her mom thought it was a joke – even though all the plans had been discussed between her and my mom. She reluctantly agreed to drive to the airport to get me. Needless, to say I was not very welcomed at their house. My friend refused to talk to me  - because she got in trouble from her parents since I was there  - and so her younger brother hung out with me as did the pig they allowed to run through their house. After a day I decided I’d had enough and called my Great-Aunt who lived several hours away. I decided to take the bus there and spend the rest of my trip with people who weren’t ignoring me. I told my friend and her family my plans and they didn’t even offer to drive me to the bus stop so I took a taxi. The rest of my trip was fine  - until I had to go home. Since I was scheduled to fly out of Montreal and not Albany I had to buy a ticket from Albany to JFK and then to Montreal. I had a 10 hour layover in Montreal before my direct flight to Frankfurt. There were some mechanical problems with the Air France plane I was supposed to take and so I was bumped off that flight and put on one to Amsterdam – and was given no food or hotel vouchers since I was “only a minor” - - of course now I know my rights. The flight to Amsterdam was fine and I made it onto my connecting flight to Frankfurt.  The plane took off and a few minutes later we made an emergency landing because one of the engines caught fire. We had to evacuate the plane by jumping on those door-ladder chutes. Back in the terminal I was rebooked on a later flight. Since I was a minor the KLM crew decided I should stay in the children’s waiting room where I watched “Aladdin.” I asked them to let Frankfurt Airport know about me and to make an announcement to my parents – who were already at the airport waiting for the first flight.  Hours later (well a day later with the first plane trouble back in Montreal) I arrived in Frankfurt. My parents hadn’t been told anything and had waited there the whole time. As you would expect my bags were lost (probably in Montreal or maybe from the emergency in Amsterdam.) Two days later my bags arrived. I had just enough time to wash everything and repack it for our Emergency Leave military flight back to New York – because the Red Cross said my Grandfather was dying. We flew on a large military cargo plane with no movies and that was very cold and noisy. After a week my Grandfather was still holding on and school had just started back in Germany so my mother stayed in the States while we took another military cargo plane back to Germany where I started 9th grade in Wiesbaden a few weeks late.  As you can see, it was a very interesting trip (or trips.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Free Russian Land

From the MT:
"Russians Given Free Land in Country's Far East"

President Vladimir Putin has approved a law giving Russian citizens free plots of land in the country's Far East, the Interfax news agency reported Monday. All citizens will be entitled to apply for up to hectare of land in the Kamchatka, Primorye, Khabarovsk, Amur, Magadan and Sakhalin regions, the republic of Sakha, or the Jewish and Chukotka autonomous districts. The land can be used for any lawful purpose but can only be rented, sold, or given away after an initial five-year waiting period, according to the bill. The program is one of a number of initiatives aimed at boosting the economy in Russia's Far East, including the construction of the new Vostochny cosmodrome. A recent deal also saw a number of Chinese companies set on relocating to the area.

^ This is sort of like what the US did  in the Old West of the 1800s with the Homestead Act. It worked back then. I am curious to see how many Russians take up this law. ^

Military May

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Name Ban

From the MT:
"Russian Surnames Officially Banned In Tajikistan"

Authorities in Tajikistan have officially banned patronymics and surnames with “Russian” endings, such as “-ov,” “-ev,” “-ovich” and “-ovna,” the RBC news website reported Friday.  In an interview aired on Tajikistan's Radio Svoboda service, deputy head of the state registry office Dzhaloliddin Rakhimov said the law was signed by President Emomali Rahmon in March.  Rakhimov said that many citizens want to keep the Russian versions of their children's names.  However, he said the authorities are making an effort to explain to the public that the main goal of the new law to is to make sure that all surnames in the country are written in Tajik in order to avoid having children “separate in two groups, one of which will be proud of their Tajik names while the other will have to carry foreign ones.”  “In Tajikistan, names and the way they are written is done in accordance with culture, national traditions and the Registry of Tajik national names, approved by the government,” he said.  The new law states that all patronymics and surnames will now be formed — and written in official and personal documents — using the Tajik language, using endings such as “-zod,” “-zoda,” “-y,” “-yon,” “-far” and “-pur.”  Traditional Russian patronymic “Ivanovich” must now be written as “Ivanfar” or “Ivanzod,” or “Ivan.”  Tajikistan's long-time president suggested the ban on Russian endings in names in 2007 and has changed his name from Emomali Sharifovich Rakhmonov to Emomali Rakhmon.

^ I can understand promoting your own language over all others (especially one that was forced upon you), but am not sure if completely banning Russian names and spellings is a good idea - especially when the government officially recognizes the Russian language as a " language of interethnic communication." Tajik authorities should encourage the spelling/name transition, but not force it. ^

Христос воскрес!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

US' Kyiv Bill

"U.S. bill links Russia sanctions relief to Crimea's return to Ukraine – RFE/RL"

A new bill in the U.S. Congress would prevent the White House from lifting a raft of sanctions against Russia until Ukraine restores control over Crimea, which Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014, or settles the peninsula's status to Kyiv's satisfaction, Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. 
The legislation, announced on April 29 by U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York) and Adam Kinzinger (Republican-Illinois), aims to bolster U.S. support for Kyiv with measures that include tightened sanctions against Russia and a push for greater private investment in the Ukrainian economy, according to RFE/RL. "We need to build on our sanctions regime against troublemakers in the Kremlin, while working to preserve transatlantic unity," Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "And we need to find ways of shoring up Ukraine and deterring [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that go beyond just throwing more money at the problem," Engel added. The bill would require that the U.S. president, prior to lifting a raft of Ukraine-related sanctions, submit "certification" to Congress that Ukraine has restored "sovereignty" over Crimea or that the peninsula's status has been resolved to the satisfaction "of a democratically elected government" in Kyiv, the statement reads. "As we have seen time and again, there is no stopping Vladimir Putin's disrespect for global order, especially in regards to Ukraine," Kinzinger said. "It's time for the United States to stand up and reiterate that it will not tolerate Russia's aggression," he said. Called the Stability And Democracy For Ukraine Act, the legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 28 by Engel, Kinzinger, and 14 other co-sponsors, RFE/RL writes.

^ I completely agree with this. While sanctions haven't been the "cure-all" to stop the fighting in the Donbass or return the Crimea to the Ukraine it has made some impact and shouldn't be stopped until the original conditions have been met. Doing otherwise would only show Russia that they can invade, occupy and annex anything they want. It would also be a huge political defeat for the US and the other countries/organizations (ie. the EU, Canada, etc.) that have also placed sanctions. ^

Confederate Removal

From USA Today:
"Confederate memorial at Ky. university to be removed"

Saying it no longer has a place here, Louisville's mayor and its university's president announced that a 121-year-old Confederate monument on the University of Louisville campus is being removed. Mayor Greg Fischer and President James Ramsey of the University of Louisville gathered Friday at the monument across from the Speed Art Museum, joined by several city and university officials and students. "I recognize that some people say this monument should stay here because it is part of history, but I also appreciate that we can make our own history," Fischer said. The decision came less than two weeks after Ricky L. Jones, professor and chairman of Pan-African Studies at the university, wrote a column calling for the monument to be removed.  "We don't consider ourselves in Louisville to be part of the South," Fischer said in an interview after the announcement. In the Civil War, Kentucky was a border state. Since it became a state in 1792, residents were allowed to own slaves, and many fought for the South. But the state never joined the Confederacy.  Both Fischer and Ramsey’s offices said they had been working on moving the memorial for several weeks. Whatever motivated the decision, Jones said he is elated the monument will no longer be on campus. "Let's see the Confederacy for what it is, not some lost cause; it was a war about slavery," Jones said. "And that is fundamentally inhumane, so if that's a part of Kentucky history, place it in a part of Kentucky where people still have those beliefs." The memorial’s statues will be held in storage until an appropriate location is selected, the mayor's office said. The monument will be disassembled, and the bronze figures and embellishments will be cleaned and repaired — something that has not been done since the monument was erected in 1895. The Confederate monument has been a point of contention on U of L's Belknap campus for at least the past two decades, prompting student protests on several occasions.  In 2002, Ramsey's administration renamed Confederate Hall, which sat across from the monument, as Unity Hall. Later that same year, the university's board of trustees unanimously approved a $2 million plan to rename the area surrounding the monument as Freedom Park, honoring Louisville civil-rights leaders. A study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in April found at least 1,500 symbols across the USA honoring the Confederacy in public spaces. Most are in the 11 states that formed the Confederacy, but some are located as far away as California and Massachusetts. The law center's report said outside of the seceding states, Kentucky has the most Confederate monuments on public property with 41, far ahead of Missouri, which comes in second at 14. Removing the memorial was an easy decision and part of a larger conversation about race and symbolism in the country, Fischer said.

^ This is a great step in the right direction. There should be NO memorials to the Confederacy. They should all be removed and placed in a museum in the same way Nazi and Soviet symbols are. It's true you can not change the dark parts of your history, but you don't have to glorify them with memorials and naming things after them. ^

Medical NH

From WMUR:
"Medical marijuana dispensary opens Saturday morning"

Granite Staters with medical marijuana cards will be able to get therapeutic cannabis in the state Saturday morning after the state Legislature legalized medicinal cannabis in July of 2013.  Sanctuary ATC announced Friday that it would open its dispensary in Plymouth at 11 a.m. The company said there could be long lines throughout the weekend. Dr. Syrek is the pathologist on staff with Sanctuary ATC. He said 147 patients and caregivers have qualified to receive cannabis at their center. New patients will have to fill out intake forms, and only people who have a therapeutic cannabis card will be able to enter the facility. "These patients have serious conditions and they want their medical cannabis to really help them," said Syrek, "I've talked to patients that have stage 4 cancer and it's terminal, and they say that cannabis is the only thing that helps them with their pain." Syrek sees therapeutic cannabis as a safer, non-addictive alternative to opioids prescribed to numb pain. "First of all, you can't overdose or die from marijuana. It's impossible," he said, "Because your brain stem, which controls your breathing and your cardiovascular functions, has no receptors to where the cannabinoids can bind to." John Martin with the Department of Health and Human Services said more than 800 people have already applied to receive medical marijuana in the therapeutic cannabis program, but he expects more after tomorrow. "Our anticipation is that numbers will tick up now that people know that there is a place I can actually purchase products," Martin said. Three others dispensaries have licenses. Temescal Wellness will open its dispensaries in Dover and Lebanon in the next few weeks, and Prime ATC expects to open its Merrimack dispensary this summer.

^ This is long-overdue. There is no excuse that it took nearly 3 years for New Hampshire to go from making medical marijuana legal to giving people access to it. The state is just slow to get anything done and that means that people who are in extreme pain have had to suffer for that incompetence - especially after the tightening of opioid prescriptions. ^

Baghdad Storm

From the BBC:
"Iraqi Shia protesters storm Baghdad parliament"

Hundreds of Shia Muslim activists have stormed Iraq's parliament in protest against ongoing deadlock in approving a new cabinet.vSupporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through barricades of the protected Green Zone in Baghdad after MPs again failed to convene for a vote. A state of emergency has been declared in the city, but not a curfew. Security forces near the US embassy later fired tear gas to stop more protesters entering the Green Zone. Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone, the most secure part of Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings, to protest against the political deadlock.  A new protest outside the zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum on Saturday. Groups marched on the district soon after the end of a televised appearance by Mr Sadr, although he did not call for the storming of parliament. One protester, Ali Mohammed, said they were angry at the politicians' failure to act. This is a major escalation of a political crisis that's been brewing for months. The Iraqi prime minister set out an ambitious programme for reform last year - intended to foster a sense of political unity and accountability to help Iraq tackle the challenge of a failing economy and even more urgently, the battle against IS. But he's met fierce opposition at every turn in his attempt to cut off the political and financial corruption that's enriched and empowered the elite for so long. Moqtada Sadr has ostensibly supported him in this aim - having reinvented himself as the voice of the angry Iraqi people, fed up with the status quo. But with the storming of parliament by his followers, there must now be a big question over whether he offers support to the beleaguered prime minister, or a challenge.  The protesters are reported to have begun ransacking parliament buildings. United Nations and embassy staff were on lockdown inside their compounds, Reuters reported. Iraq's system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

^ Maybe the Iraqis should focus on destroying ISIS and freeing their own country that currently live in areas occupied by them. These same protesters should be sent to liberate Mosul. Once the whole country is free then they can talk about reforms. I'm also not sure that it is wise to storm the Green Zone or the Parliament. Baghdad should be trying to protect itself from more violence and bombings. How would those protesters feel living under ISIS? The Iraqi Government has always been corrupt and pretty weak, but when there's a greater threat you should band together to get rid of it first. ^

Friday, April 29, 2016

Silent Big Ben

From Yahoo:
"London's Iconic Big Ben Going Silent for $42 Million Makeover"

Big Ben, the U.K.’s most famous clock, will fall silent for several months in preparation for the start of much-needed repair work. The three-year job will cost about $42 million and is scheduled to begin in early-2017. The clock is in such need of repair that it’s at risk of not functioning without the work, the British parliament says in a Q&A about the project on its website. The Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, will also be refurbished during the period. “The Elizabeth Tower is a symbol of the UK’s democratic heritage and forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” member of Parliament and House of Commons Commission spokesman Tom Brake said in a statement. “We have a duty to ensure that it is safeguarded for future generations to appreciate, just as we owe it to our predecessors to restore their masterpiece to its former glory. While these works are much needed in the short-term, they will also ensure the long-term future and sustainability of Big Ben.”  The last time Big Ben’s bells stopped ringing for several months was 40 years ago. The bells were also stopped in 2007, but only for six weeks. Starting next year, the clock will be stopped at different times within the three-year repair period. The bells will still chime for important events. “This historic clock is loved by so many people,” Steve Jaggs, keeper of the clock, said in a statement. “It is both an honor and a great responsibility to keep it in good working order for public enjoyment. Every day our team of highly skilled clock mechanics cares for this Victorian masterpiece but, in order to keep the Clock ticking, we must now take the time to thoroughly inspect and restore it.”

^ I've been to London numerous times and have heard Big Ben many times. The quicker they fix the problem and get it back to working correctly - the better. ^

Female Draft Closer

From the Stars and Stripes:
"In surprise turn, House panel backs women in the draft"

A House Republican’s attempt to take a stand against women in combat took an unexpected turn Wednesday. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a vocal opponent of infantry and special operations integration, proposed opening up the Selective Service — and future military drafts — to women during a House committee debate over next year’s defense budget. The Marine veteran hoped to raise opposition to combat integration by forcing fellow lawmakers to consider young women dying on the front lines of a major war. “This is about a big war, meaning when you have tens of thousands of people dying — tens of thousands — that is when you have a draft,” said Hunter of California, who vowed to vote against his own draft proposal. Instead, the proposal whipped up enough support for female integration that members of the House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of opening the Selective Service and the draft. “I actually support your amendment and will be delighted to vote for it,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. The Selective Service measure is now part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved by the committee early Thursday, and heads for a vote on the House floor. If passed by both chambers of Congress in a final defense bill, women ranging in age from 18-26 would for the first time have to join men in registering and could potentially be forced into combat. The question of the draft suddenly looms because the Defense Department decided in December to open all remaining gender-segregated combat jobs — about 225,000 — to female troops. “If we want equality in this country, we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” Speier said. In February, Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., chairman the Senate Armed Services Committee, came out in support of requiring women to sign up with Selective Service, though he said a future draft is highly unlikely. Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have testified on Capitol Hill that there should be no exemption for women now that the military is all inclusive. Men are required to register with Selective Service when they turn 18 years old. In 1981, the Supreme Court backed the exemption for women because at the time they did not fill combat roles. The NDAA bill passed early Thursday also orders the Pentagon to study the issue of the draft and report back to Congress, he said. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the all-male draft is working its way through the U.S. court system and might ultimately decide who can be drafted.

^ Women should be allowed in every role (combat or supportive) that men are as long as they pass the same tests and fulfill the same requirements. With that said women should also have to register for the Selective Service in case the Draft is ever brought back (I don't think it will be since it completely divided the country for a decade during the Vietnam War.) Any one who says women should be treated equal  - which I think they should be - then there can be no exceptions. ^

Romania Speeding

From Yahoo:
"Romania to speed up Holocaust-era property restitution"

Romania is to fast-track claims from Holocaust survivors under an amended law on property restitution which is expected to be passed by parliament next week, legislators said on Tuesday. Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany during World War Two until it changed sides in August 1944, and much of the property seized during the war was later nationalized under communist rule which followed. After the collapse of communist rule, Romania passed laws for returning property to the original owners in the 1990s but red tape prevented legislation from having any real effect. The country used to have a pre-war Jewish population of about 800,000 but now only up to 11,000 Jews live in Romania. An international commission, in a 2004 report, put the total number of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews who perished in territories under Romanian administration at 280,000 to 380,000 people. A draft law, published on parliament's website, said that in processing applications for the return of property priority would be given to "requests by people certified as Holocaust survivors by entities designated by the Romanian state or other European Union states ..." The draft easily cleared the upper house of parliament last week and will go to a final vote next Wednesday in the lower house, legislators said. Politicians expected it to win overwhelming support in the lower house.

^ This is long over-do. I understand that the Communists didn't allow the property taken by the Nazis to go back to their rightful owners, but Communism ended in Romania in 1989  - 27 years ago - so there is no reason it has taken this long. Hopefully, now the survivors and their families will get what should never have been taken from them during World War 2 or kept from them during Communist times. ^

Equal Colombia

From the DW:
"Colombia legalizes same-sex marriage"

Colombia's constitutional court has given the go-ahead for gay couples to marry. The decision is a milestone in the traditionally Catholic country.  The court ruled in favor of gay marriage on Thursday in a widely expected decision. "The judges affirmed by a majority that marriage between people of the same sex does not violate the constitutional order," judge Maria Victoria Calle said. The ruling gives gay couples for the first time ever the ability to wed the same as heterosexual couples, although they were already allowed to form civil unions. Earlier this month, the court rejected a justice's opinion that would have denied public notaries the right to recognize same-sex marriages, paving the way for Thursday's ruling. Other Latin American countries that have legalized gay marriage include Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

^ It seemed that gay marriage had stalled around the world after last year's whirlwind. It's nice to see it is still being discussed. ^

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Large Millenial

From  USA Today:
"Millennials become largest generation in U.S., surpass baby boomers"

Baby Boomers are no longer America’s dominant generation. According to information published by the Pew Research Center April 25, and 2015 U.S. Census population estimates, there are 75.4 million Millennials versus 74.9 million Baby Boomers in the United States. Millennials were identified as those born between 1981 and 1997 and are between the ages of 18-34 years old, while Baby Boomers were identified as those born between 1946 and 1964 and are between 51-69 years old. The Research Center reports that young immigrants and Baby Boomer deaths are reasons for why the Millennial number continues have surpassed those of Baby Boomers. It is predicted that by 2050, the Millennial count will reach 79.2 million, and the Baby Boomer population will drop to 16.6 million. Over the last several years, Baby Boomers have consistently dominated other generations. In 1999, it was reported that there were 78.8 million boomers in the United States. Generation X, the smaller generation born between 1965 and 1980, are expected to surpass Baby Boomers in 2028.

^ Of course the older generation (the Baby Boomers) is going to decline as they pass away. ^

Ed Rising

From Disability Scoop:
"Special Education Enrollment Rises"

An increasing number of American students are reportedly utilizing special education services in the nation’s public schools. The number of students ages 6 to 21 covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grew to 5.83 million in the fall of 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available. By contrast, just three years earlier, that count was at 5.67 million, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data conducted by Education Week.  A single state — New York — accounted for a third of the uptick, though it’s unclear why, the publication found. Nationally, the analysis indicates that the number of children receiving services for an autism diagnosis ballooned 165 percent between the 2005-2006 and 2014-2015 school years and those classified with “other health impairments” grew 51 percent. At the same time, the report suggests that students classified as having specific learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, emotional and behavioral disturbance or intellectual disabilities are on the decline.

^ We are learning more and more about different disabilities and how to educate people with them. It's good that those that need special education are getting it. ^

Kyiv Remembers

From the BBC:
"Ukraine marks 30th anniversary of Chernobyl disaster"

Ukraine has begun commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Sirens were sounded at the same moment as the first explosion at the reactor, in the early hours of 26 April 1986. The meltdown at the plant remains the worst nuclear disaster in history. An uncontrolled reaction blew the roof off, spewing out a cloud of radioactive material which drifted across Ukraine's borders, into Russia, Belarus and across a swathe of northern Europe.  A memorial service was held in the town of Slavutych, built to re-house workers who lived near the nuclear plant.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is due to attend a ceremony near the site and a church service will be held in Kiev for the families of victims. Some former residents returned to the area, now derelict and overgrown, ahead of the anniversary. Zoya Perevozchenko, 66, lived in Pripyat, the town inhabited by Chernobyl workers which was abandoned in the wake of the accident.  She told Reuters news agency: "I barely found my apartment, I mean it's a forest now - trees growing through the pavement, on the roofs. All the rooms are empty, the glass is gone from the windows and everything's destroyed. Levels of radioactivity remain high in the surrounding area. A charity, Bridges to Belarus, is warning that a number of babies in a region close to Ukraine's border are still being born with serious deformities, while an unusually high rate of people have rare forms of cancer.   Donors around the world pledged €87.5m (£68m; $99m) on Monday towards a new underground nuclear waste facility in the region. Ukraine will need to commit a further €10m in order to complete the new storage site. Work began in 2010 on a 25,000-tonne, €2.1bn sarcophagus to seal the uranium left in the damaged reactor, thought to be about 200 tonnes. Experts fear that if parts of the aging reactor collapse, further radioactive material could be spewed into the atmosphere. The number of people killed by the disaster remains disputed. It is thought that about 30 people died in the initial meltdown and rescue operation, and a UN report published in 2005 estimated that up to 4,000 people could eventually be killed by related illnesses. But Greenpeace has said the UN figure is a underestimate.

^ People should never forget are the men and women (first responders) who did their job despite the extreme danger, lack of equipment, etc. and risked their lives and their health so that even more innocent people didn't get killed or sick. ^

Another German Strike

From the DW:
"Lufthansa strike to impact 'tens of thousands'"

A German trade union has called for a strike at airports across the country on Wednesday. All intercontinental flights to and from Munich will be canceled; Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Frankfurt airports will also be hit.  A Lufthansa official said the upcoming strike shows "that we desperately need rules for labor disputes in the air transport industry," as six airports across Germany prepare for cancellations of both international and domestic flights on Wednesday. The airline said that all intercontinental flights leaving from Munich will be cancelled, as will many domestic and European flights. The airports in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dortmund and Hannover will also be affected. Tens of thousands of passengers will be impacted by the strike, which will end later on Wednesday. Lufthansa said that in Frankfurt flights will resume as normal after 3 p.m. (1300 UTC).
The German trade union Verdi is demanding a six percent wage increase for some two million public service employees, as well as an pay increase of 100 euros per month for trainees, according to The next round of negotiations between the union and the government will take place on April 28 and April 29. Verdi had earlier rejected the offer of a three-percent wage increase over a period of two years. German airports were massively disrupted last year after Lufthansa flight attendants organized a mass protest that lasted for seven days. The strikes cost the company an estimated 140 million euros, not including a separate series of strikes by Luftahnsa pilots. The pilots' labor dispute remains unresolved.

^ This is beyond ridiculous. Germany needs to do what Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s - fire anyone who strikes. They have everything and yet they still "fight"  - probably because they get paid while they are on strike and don't care about the millions of people around the world that their actions. Germans, in general, don't seem to care when their actions affect millions of innocent people. Lufthansa should fire the strikers and give their jobs to the refugees - it's a win-win for everyone.  ^

Monday, April 25, 2016

US Chernobyl Aid

"U.S. pledges additional $10 mln to ensure Chornobyl safety"

 The U.S. Department of State announces it marks the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster by additionally pledging $10 million to ensure "the safety of future generations" who live in the Chornobyl exclusion zone.  "The United States marks this anniversary with a pledge of an additional $10 million to help ensure the safety of future generations who live in the affected area," U.S. Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson for the Bureau of Public Affairs John Kirby said in a statement on Monday, April 25. This pledge comes on top of the more than $400 million the U.S. has already committed to the international effort to help Ukraine restore the site of the accident to an environmentally safe and secure condition. "As we reflect on the tragedy of Chornobyl, so too must we recognize the progress that has been made to complete a new confinement structure for the destroyed reactor, which should soon be moved into place," he said. The structure is designed to protect the surrounding environment for the next 100 years and allow for the safe clean-up of Chornobyl. "We look forward to continuing our work with the Ukrainian Government and our international partners to improve the lives of Ukrainians there and across Ukraine," he added.

^ Both the Ukrainian and Belarussian Governments have been dealing with the Chernobyl disaster for 30 years. While they have received help from around the world in the past more is needed to both contain the nuclear plant as well as help the survivors. ^

Windows 10

Last night my computer randomly and without my permission upgraded itself to Windows 10. I upgraded to 10 several months to check it out and didn't like it and so went back to what I had. I don't seem to be able to do this time. I really don't not like anything that Windows 10 has to offer. It would be nice if Bill Gates let us decide which version we use rather than force it on us. I was fine with what I had and now I have to deal with this new, screwed-up version called Windows 10. My sister has a Mac and has been saying I should get one of those. Maybe I will look more seriously into that option - where at least I have a choice - something that Windows didn't give me.

250 More Troops

From USA Today:
"Obama To Send Up To 250 More Military Personnel To Syria"

President Obama announced Monday that he was authorizing the deployment of up to 250 additional military personnel for the 5-year-old conflict in Syria as the U.S.-led coalition tries to "keep up momentum against the Islamic State." Obama said in a well-received speech here predominantly about the future of Europe that the additional U.S. troops would provide training and assist local forces in the fight against the extremist group but not play an active combat role. The move raises the number of U.S. special forces in Syria to 300. “They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential," the president said in Germany, where he attended a manufacturing technology trade show. The address capped a week-long foreign trip for the president, who also visited Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom  Obama said he would ask Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy for more equipment and troop contributions to aid the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State militants. “Europe and NATO can still do more,” he said. “We need to do everything in our power to stop them."

^ I'm not sure why Obama is being praised around Europe - probably because he hasn't done as much damage there as he has at home. It seems that there really is no strategy in our fight against IS either in Iraq or Syria (or anywhere for that matter.) Hopefully, the next President will have more global and domestic sense and can how fix the numerous problems Obama either created or couldn't fix. ^

IS Hostages

From the BBC:
"How four men survived as hostages of IS"

In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell writes about Room 101 - a torture chamber where you are subjected to your worst nightmare, the worst thing in the world, to break your resistance.  To survive any such place of profound pain is the greatest of gifts, a triumph of the human spirit. In our time, surviving brutal captivity at the hands of so-called Islamic State in Syria must certainly count as such a triumph.  When four former hostages came together this month for their first reunion since they were freed, at different times, two years ago, it was a celebration of friendship forged in the most threatening of circumstances, a remembrance of an agonising ordeal. In the BBC radio programme Held Hostage in Syria they recall months without sunlight, weeks chained together, days upon days of beatings. There was too little food, and so much longing for clean clothes, a proper toilet, and most of all, freedom. But it was also an affirmation of extraordinary resilience. They had all won what they call a "game of survival" which lasted about one long terrible year of torment for all of them.  They played this game in their own individual ways to preserve themselves, and some semblance of human dignity. Federico Motka, an Italian aid worker, lowered his gaze and raised his guard to avoid his captors' efforts to demean him. French war correspondent Didier Francois pushed back and stared them straight in the eye. Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen, an elite gymnast, did the splits to convince them he was not a spy. French blogger Pierre Torres took beatings, but satisfaction, from ignoring their orders.  And they played this game together, helping each other endure their ordeal, as IS guards of different nationalities deployed diverse tactics of physical and psychological torture to try to break them. Only one, Daniel Rye, was subjected to such brutality that he tried to take his own life - but the guards stopped him, and his fellow hostages brought him back to health.  There were real games too: chess, with pieces fashioned from cheese cartons with nail clippers; draughts (checkers), with the seeds of olives and dates; a self-styled lecture series on everything from carp fishing, to sailing, and how to dive into a small pool. This is how they escaped in their mind. At one point in 2013-2014 19 men carrying a Western or a Russian passport were held hostage together in one small room. An adjacent room was a cell for five women. One by one, they have been freed for ransom or executed. Of this group of male hostages only one, British journalist John Cantlie, is left and one woman whose name has not been made public. Several journalists and aid workers, and hundreds of Syrians, have not lived to tell of their ordeal. We know of their fate from grotesque videos on social media which have brought a sickening cinematic slickness to medieval beheadings.

The 19 hostages

  • Federico Motka, 33, Italian aid worker - captured March 2013, released May 2014
  • Daniel Rye Ottosen, 26, Danish photographer - captured May 2013, released June 2014
  • Pierre Torres, 31, French blogger - captured June 2013, released April 2014
  • Didier Francois, 55, French journalist - captured June 2013, released April 2014
  • Six of the men held with them were beheaded by IS - James Foley, Sergey Gorbunov, David Haines, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and Steven Sotloff
  • Eight were released - Edouard Elias, Javier Espinosa, Nicolas Henin, Marc Marginedas, Ricardo Vilanova, Toni Neukirch and two un-named aid workers
  • One remains in captivity - the British journalist, John Cantlie
  • Of five women held captive separately at the same time, aid worker Kayla Mueller was killed, three were released and one remains in captivity
  • No-one was released without the payment of a ransom

^ I watched the documentary "The James Foley Story" and heard some of this from some of the freed hostages. No one can imagine what it is like to go through such an ordeal unless you go through it yourself. Then to be freed while others held with you are murdered. Governments around the world handle hostage situations differently - especially those held outside their home country. I don't agree with how the US handles (or I should say doesn't handle) an American being taken hostage. It is a policy that needs to be changed. You can sometimes compromise with a hostage taker without giving into their full demands. Of course sometimes you can't and there should be a special hostage rescue team created for those situations. ^

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chernobyl Lessons

From Yahoo:
"Lessons of Chernobyl disaster, 30 years on"
 Ukraine next week marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, when human error and flawed Soviet reactor technology led to the world's worst nuclear accident. Ahead of the April 26 anniversary, AFP looks at the steps taken since 1986 to improve nuclear safety around the world and -- as Fukushima showed in 2011 -- the challenges that remain. Experts say a big factor behind the disaster was the unusual and poor design of the reactor, known as RMBK, particularly its propensity to sudden power surges -- as happened at Chernobyl. In addition, and unlike elsewhere outside the Soviet Union, there was no containment structure shielding the reactor to stop radioactivity escaping.
But there was also human error. According to the World Nuclear Association, the accident was also due to "the violation of operating procedures and the absence of a safety culture". The aftermath was also poorly handled, with officials slow to evacuate locals and Moscow sending 600,000 "liquidators" with little or no protective gear to put out a fire that raged for 10 days. The first alarm was raised on April 28, 1986, not by Russia but by Sweden after it detected an unexplained rise in radiation levels. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did not admit the disaster had occurred until May 14. With enormous public outrage around the world Chernobyl, suddenly a household name, spurred an international push -- even overcoming Cold War divisions -- to improve atomic safety and reassure the public. One of the most important steps was the 1989 creation of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which carries out "peer reviews" of 430 reactors around the world to detect problems. "The industry has undoubtedly learned the lesson that we are stronger together," WANO chief executive Peter Prozesky told AFP. The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of its Cold War isolation has also removed barriers to international cooperation. Ex-communist eastern European countries, many now EU members, have also been helped to adapt their Soviet-built plants. Of the 17 RMBK reactors in operation in 1986, six have been permanently shut down. In addition the role of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency was beefed up. It expanded and revised safety standards and member states were required to report swiftly any incidents with potential cross-border effects. A number of international agreements were signed, the most important being the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS). Others covered nuclear waste and early warning systems for accidents.
^ Chernobyl is the embodiment of the Soviet Union and Communism in general. Soviet Communists were more concerned with quantity than quality and so rushed the building of the Chernobyl without regards to safety . It was more important to them that they build it quickly to show how "great" Communism was. The fact that Chernobyl occurred a few years before the Soviet Union itself collapsed enhances its symbolism. From the 1970s to the early 1990s the Soviet system was stagnant with poorer quality products, buildings, food, etc. available. The Soviets focused their attention on military means (which Chernobyl was part of) but they kick corners so they could meet their quotas and not look bad to their superiors back in Moscow. Even after the disaster at Chernobyl the Communists tried their best to act as though nothing happened. They risked the lives of millions of their own people (as well as people in the rest of Europe) just so no one would question the achievements of Communism or the Soviet state. That was part of their own downfall. The world came together to stop the spread of radioactivity from Chernobyl and while that was happening internationally the Soviet people themselves saw first hand how inept their Communist leaders were and how their were out-rightly lied to. Those were not that new to the Soviets since their Communist leaders had lied and censored them from the beginning (1917) but this time it was not over a political prisoner arrested in the middle of the night and sent to the Gulag or about the world around them, but of something as extreme as a radioactive disaster that risked everyone's life and from which there was very little escape from. Chernobyl is the beginning of the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of Communism working in practice. Both were explosive, affected millions of people and still haunt the world 30 years later (for Chernobyl) and 25 years (for the Soviet Union.) ^