Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Enlarging NATO

From Yahoo:
"NATO set to invite Montenegro to join alliance: sources"

The Balkan state of Montenegro will on Wednesday be formally invited to join the NATO military alliance, diplomatic sources said, a move which could further strain already difficult ties with Moscow. The offer is expected to come after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28-nation alliance in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. "The proposed text has been approved at (NATO) ambassador level," one source said Monday, asking not to be named. "After that, it would take at most a year and a half for Montenegro to become a member state," the source added. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he could not confirm the decision because it was up to the grouping's foreign ministers but he commented positively on the prospect. "Montenegro has come a long way on its path to join the Euro-Atlantic family," he told a briefing ahead of the meeting. "Extending an invitation to Montenegro to start accession talks would be a historic decision. It would signal our continued commitment to the Western Balkans," he said. The foreign ministers' meeting is expected to be dominated by the Syrian conflict, closely followed by relations with Russia and the Ukraine crisis. Moscow has historic ties with Montenegro's neighbour Serbia and interests in the Western Balkans, while finding itself at loggerheads with NATO over a series of issues. Russian President Vladimir Putin bitterly complains of what he sees as NATO encroachment, especially after the pro-Western Kiev government said it was looking to join the US-led alliance in the future. NATO offered Ukraine membership in 2008, when Russia went to war against another former Soviet state, Georgia, but Kiev opted for what it said was a "non-bloc" policy instead. President Petro Poroshenko however reversed that position last year over Moscow's support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. Most of the former communist states of the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact have joined NATO, starting in 1999. Balkan states Croatia and Albania were the most recent countries to join, in 2009.
^ I have been to Montenegro and heard that the majority of tourists to that country (especially to Kotor and Budva) are from Russia. It is interesting to see the back and forth pull for those countries (like Montenegro) that want ties with both the West and with Russia. Within NATO (and the EU) the countries that were once either part of the Soviet Union or a Soviet satellite country tend to be more pro-Western while others (like Greece, Italy, France, etc) that weren't behind the Iron Curtain tend to be more pro-Russia. I guess it's a matter of having first-hand knowledge vs. an second-hand account of things. With regards to Montenegro: they were part of Yugoslavia and during the Cold War Yugoslavia had good relations with both the Capitalist West and Communist East (although they tended to favor China over the USSR after the Sino-Soviet Split) so Montenegro has some experience working "both sides." ^

Teacher Pay

From Yahoo:
"Here's what teachers earn around the world"

If you're a teacher in Luxembourg, you're in luck. Using data from a recent OECD report, the World Economic Forum put together a chart showing in which 10 countries teachers with 10 years of experience who work in public institutions at the lower secondary level earn the most. Luxembourg was No. 1 on the list. There, teachers with the aforementioned qualifications can earn a salary of $99,900 — or just shy of six figures. That salary trumps that of the second-place country, Germany, where teachers earn around $65,843. Meanwhile, the United States came in sixth place at $53,758.
Notably, seven out of the 10 countries on the list are in Europe. The other three are the US, Australia, and Canada. Interestingly, a working paper by Markus Nagler, Marc Piopiunik, and Martin R. West found that the quality of teachers goes up during recessions in the US. The key factor here is that during recessions a teacher's salary is more attractive relative to the lower (expected) earnings in other professions. Therefore, people who might not otherwise have gone into teaching end up becoming teachers because they expect to earn more in that job than in others. Given those findings, the authors noted that: "Intrinsic motivation seems to be of second-order importance relative to the effects of increasing teacher pay on selection when hiring more effective teachers." And that suggests that if teachers were paid more relative to other professions, perhaps the overall quality of teachers would be improved as more capable people would choose to teach.
^ We all know that teachers don't make much money regardless of the country they teach in. While there are some teachers (especially those with tenure) that do not care about teaching or helping children learn  the majority of teachers tend to be the opposite: they are not in it for the money (clearly) but instead for helping to shape young people's minds. Teachers deserve more than they get. ^


Monday, November 30, 2015

Taped Woman Charged

From News13:
"Woman who duct-taped dog's mouth shut charged in North Carolina"

Police in North Carolina have charged a woman with animal cruelty after a photo she posted on Facebook showed a dog with its mouth wrapped with duct tape and the caption "This is what happens when you don't shut up." The photo was posted Friday by a woman listed on Facebook as Katie Brown of South Daytona, Florida, but police in Cary, N.C., identified the woman as Katharine F. Lemansky, 45.
Cary police said South Daytona police contacted them regarding the photo and the possibility that Lemansky was in North Carolina. Family members reportedly told officials in South Daytona that Lemansky had not lived there for about a year and a half. Detectives then contacted police in Avon, Connecticut, who also said Lemansky no longer lived there. Lemansky was eventually tracked down to a location in Cary, where police said she admitted the photo was taken there. Police charged Lemansky with one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty, which carries a fine and up to 150 days in jail. Lemansky is scheduled to appear in court in Wake County, N.C., on Monday, Dec. 14. "Taping the dog's muzzle shut was a terrible decision on Ms. Lemansky's part, and charging her with animal cruelty under North Carolina law was the right thing to do," said Cary police Capt. Randall Rhyne said in a statement released Monday. Rhyne said the dog, named Brown — which likely explains Lemansky's profile name on Facebook — could not be removed from the home. A physical examination found the dog to be in good health, and there were no signs of injury or even hair loss to Brown's muzzle.

^ This is just plain wrong. She is clearly a woman who should never own a pet. I have dogs that bark and while it can be annoying at times you can't tape their mouth shut. If you can't do it to a child then you can't to it to a pet. Maybe the woman should have her mouth taped while she serves her jail time? Just a suggestion. ^


Waiver Changes

From Yahoo:
"U.S. tightens visa waiver program in wake of Paris attacks"
The White House announced changes to the U.S. visa waiver program on Monday so that security officials can more closely screen travelers from 38 countries allowed to enter the United States without obtaining visas before they travel. Under the new measures, which were prompted by the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by Islamic State militants, the Department of Homeland Security would immediately start to collect more information from travelers about past visits to countries such as Syria and Iraq, the White House said. The changes will "enhance our ability to thwart terrorist attempts to travel on lost or stolen passports," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Paris, where President Barack Obama is attending U.N. talks on climate change. The DHS would also look at pilot programs for collecting biometric information such as fingerprints from visa waiver travelers, the White House said. The DHS would also ask Congress for additional powers, including the authority to increase fines for air carriers that fail to verify passport data, and the ability to require all travelers to use passports with embedded security chips, the White House said. The White House also wants to expand the use of a "preclearance program" in foreign airports to allow U.S. border officials to collect and screen biometric information before visa waiver travelers can board airplanes to the United States. The White House urged Congress to pass legislation before leaving Washington later in December for a holiday recess. A task force in the House of Representatives plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss the program and wants to craft legislation to pass "by the end of the year," Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, said on Monday. McCarthy told reporters that lawmakers were interested in requiring all countries in the waiver program to issue “e-passports” with chips and biometrics. One change would be to make sure that passengers were screened against a database of lost and stolen passports. After the Paris attacks, the House passed a bill that would bar refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States until security officials certify that they are not threats. The bill would cripple Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees in the next year and he has vowed to veto it. But the White House has decided to give regular updates to state governors about refugees who resettle in their states, Earnest said. U.S. officials have quietly acknowledged that they are far more worried about the possibility that would-be attackers from the Islamic State or other militant groups could enter the United States as travelers from visa waiver countries rather than as Syrian refugees. The U.S. government routinely takes 18 to 24 months to screen would-be Syrian refugees before they are allowed to board flights to the United States. In contrast, an estimated 20 million people fly to the United States each year from visa waiver countries such as France and Britain.
^ It makes sense to make changes especially after the attacks. I wasn't sure what they mean about pilot programs to gather biometrics because every foreigner whether they need a visa or not (except for Canadians) has had their fingerprints and pictures taken for years now. Those who need visas give theirs at an embassy and then again at the US airport. I guess they mean that that Visa Waiver Program visitors will need to give their biometrics at an embassy before travelling to the US and then at the US airport. I think the Pre-Clearance program should be expanded so that criminals and terrorists are kept from even touching American soil. ^


British Malta

From the BBC:
"A legacy of fry-ups and red postboxes"
The Queen has spent the past few days in Malta, where she opened a summit for the leaders of Commonwealth nations. She has soft spot for the place where she lived in the 1950s, when it was a colony. Although Malta is now an independent country the British legacy is still visible, writes Juliet Rix. "Why are you looking at my house?" demands a not-particularly-friendly, grey-haired lady leaning out of an upper-floor window of the once-elegant Villa Guardamangia.  It's a crumbling, creamy limestone building, its green-painted woodwork peeling. What, I wonder, would she make of it if the Queen came tapping at the traditional dolphin door knocker asking to look at her old home?  The Queen, then still Princess Elizabeth and newly married to the Duke of Edinburgh, lived here in a quiet suburb of Malta's capital Valletta. Her husband was posted here with the Royal Navy and she is said to have been extremely happy living as an ordinary - well, relatively ordinary - officer's wife, shopping, socialising and driving herself around this Mediterranean island in an open-topped MG.  The Queen's continuing affection for Malta is very much reciprocated, at least by older Maltese. They associate her with the best of British Malta mentioning politeness to the solidarity of the war years.   "The most important British legacy is doing things properly," a senior Maltese journalist tells me, as we sit over coffee in the heart of the capital, under the stony stare of Queen Victoria. I ask what he means. "Good manners and low levels of serious corruption," he says. An antidote to the more typically Mediterranean, "laid-back, anything goes, approach".  It is certainly true that despite very close historic ties to Sicily, Malta has none of the problems with the Mafia that so hobble its nearest neighbour, and its economy is doing very much better than Italy's - perhaps, in part, due to the undoubted advantage in this globalised world of everyone speaking English.  Malta's civil service and its politics are still modelled on the British system. Indeed, some Maltese blame Britain for their adversarial nature and even accuse the UK of having fostered a policy of divide and rule. In my experience though, the Maltese are perfectly capable of being passionately confrontational with each other without any help from the British  An accusation with more glue perhaps, is that Britain bears some responsibility for Malta sharing its top spot in the European obesity league. Most of Britain's culinary legacy has long gone as Malta has returned to its healthier, tastier Mediterranean diet, but, insists a friend "the problem is the frying - and the popularity of the full English breakfast".  There are more obvious remnants of British rule of course: red postboxes and phone boxes (incongruous against baroque limestone facades that glow in the Mediterranean light), marching bands (one in every parish!), polo still played at the Marsa Sports Club, and panto - which, to the disgust of the artistic director of Valletta's main theatre, is hugely popular with the Maltese.   There is British architecture too: 19th Century forts, neoclassical law courts, dockyards, and barracks including the one inside Malta's oldest fortress, Fort St Angelo which the Commonwealth dignitaries were due to visit.  St Angelo has stood firm on the banks of the Grand Harbour for at least 800 years. It was the first base of the Knights of Malta and, for over a century, the headquarters of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, which is how Prince Philip will undoubtedly remember it. A just-completed 15m euro project has seen it beautifully restored and almost ready to open to the public.  This is just one of many heritage projects currently underway. Malta, in fact, seems in the grip of renovation fever. Bastions, palazzi, fortresses, squares and citadels are all being painstakingly restored.   And no period distinctions are made. British monuments are as carefully cared for as any other. There isn't any serious nostalgia here for British times - no Maltese would want a return to colonial rule. But nor is there the slightest trace of hard feeling.  "The British period is part of our heritage," my friends tell me, "and the Queen is always very welcome here."  Perhaps the next restoration project should be Villa Guardamangia. Apparently the Queen asked to see it last time she was in Malta but was refused because of its dire state of repair. Maybe, one day, Her Majesty should drop by and have a private word with the grumpy lady at the top-floor window.  In recent years Malta has challenged its conservative image, legalising divorce and same-sex partnerships. The spirit of reform has also breached the imposing walls of the capital, Valletta. The 16th Century city was built in the local honey-coloured limestone by the Knights of St John but the entrance and the square just inside it have been dramatically redesigned by Renzo Piano, the innovative Italian architect of the London Shard.
^ I love Malta and had a great time when I was there. Malta is a great place for English-speakers to visit because it both familiar as well as exotic. People there speak fluent English and many places have a British feel to it (as the article states) and yet it is very Mediterranean feel to it. Malta does a good job of blending the old with the new. Despite being such a small group of islands very close to Italy, being the most bombed place during World War 2 (the Maltese were even awarded the George Cross by the King) and living on near-starvation rations it was never occupied by the Italians or the Germans. That shows the commitment of both the Maltese and British people. Malta could have been easily surrendered and occupied the way the British Channel Islands were, but it wasn't. The Maltese seem to view their British history as a welcomed part of their own history. While they are an independent country in their own right they don't want to forget the sacrifices or the opportunities being part of the British Empire once gave them. I would go back to Malta in a heartbeat. ^


College Disabled

From Disability Scoop:
"Greater Transparency Urged For College Disability Services"
Amid concerns from advocates, a U.S. senator is calling on federal education officials to make information about disability services at the nation’s colleges more readily available. In a letter this week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., asked the U.S. Department of Education to offer better guidance for those with disabilities and their families as they investigate postsecondary education options. “As colleges admit greater numbers of students with disabilities … it is vital these students have transparent disability services information,” Casey wrote in the letter addressed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and John King, who is slated to take over Duncan’s job later this year. Sixty percent of students with disabilities pursue postsecondary education within eight years of high school, according to a 2011 federal report. But, just 40 percent of these students complete college programs compared to 52 percent of students without disabilities.  Advocates say that a lack of information is partly to blame. While all schools are obligated to provide a minimum-level of assistance to students with disabilities, some colleges and universities do more than others to highlight their offerings, according to Lindsay Jones, vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “We’ve received increasing parent concerns about the transition to college,” Jones said, adding that families are struggling to find answers to basic questions like what services are available and what type of documentation they will need in order to request assistance. “The reality is that it’s uncharted territory because most people at colleges and universities are unprepared for people with disabilities to attend,” she said. Simple steps like collecting more data about the disability services offered on college campuses and making it easier for students and their families to learn about such offerings would go a long way, Casey said. In particular, the senator recommended that the Department of Education move to make questions about disability services mandatory on questionnaires sent to colleges and universities and add a special search option on the agency’s College Navigator website so that students with disabilities can find relevant information. Casey also cited the Obama administration’s College Scorecard, a nearly 2-year-old website allowing families to compare colleges and universities based on cost, size, location and graduation rate, among other factors. Currently, however, he indicated the scorecard offers no information about disability services on campuses. Recently announced plans to create a National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students With Disabilities are a step in the right direction, Casey said. “These small yet significant changes will clarify to the thousands of students with disabilities graduating high school each year and their families that disability support services are available and that college is a place they can succeed,” Casey wrote. A spokesman for the Education Department said the agency had receive Casey’s letter and would be responding.
^ I remember having to deal with a 2 year community college and trying to get them to follow the ADA. I was helping a person who received her Master's after she became disabled and yet here she was being treated badly by a community college. It was regarding a baking certificate and the fact that the kitchen was completely renovated about 10 years before, but wasn't done to ADA-standards as the law requires. It was only through our persistence and the threat of getting the Federal Government's Disability watch-dog involved that she was admitted and thrived for the time she was there. The fact that we had to fight to get her in when she was beyond qualified merely because the community college was in the wrong (morally and legally) was just plain wrong. These are the kinds of issues that the disabled enrolling in any college (2 year or 4 year) face and they shouldn't have to. The laws are there for a reason and need to be strictly followed. ^



Sunday, November 29, 2015

1st Advent

Arlington Wreaths

From the Washington Post:
"Arlington National Cemetery short 30,000 wreaths due to lack of funding"

The nonprofit responsible for placing wreaths on 230,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery expects to be 30,000 wreaths short this year due to a lack of funding.Wreaths Across America said Wednesday night that it is $450,000 short of reaching its goal for its Tuesday deadline. More than 100 volunteers plan to place the wreaths on individual headstones on Dec. 12, and Wreaths Across America, which is not government sponsored, was supposed to raise $3.45 million to finish the project, The Washington Examiner reportedThe group’s team captain Bre Kingsbury said they are hoping for more donors to step forward before the fundraising deadline. Each wreath is $15 and donors can contribute directly at wreathsacrossamerica.org. “It’s a great way to honor our fallen friends and to pay tribute to them and to make sure that the families of the fallen know that they’re not forgotten, especially at the holidays, but all throughout the year,” Ms. Kingsbury told Fox News.

^ This is a sad story. This group only wants to remember the veterans who served to protect us and may not be able to give a wreath to every headstone. ^


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holodomor Day!

Today is Holodomor (Голодомо́р) Remembrance Day in the Ukraine and around the world. It remembers the 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians killed by a Moscow-imposed faminein 1932 and 1933. The Soviet Government helped the famine spread by: it's strict requisition quotas, criminalised gleaning, blacklisting anti-Communists, nationalists and intellectuals, restrictions on freedom of movement (peasants were not issued internal passports until the 1960s and so couldn't officially leave their regions), an information blockade throughout the USSR and the Ukraine itself, extensive export of grain and other food to get foreign currency, the refusal by the Moscow Government to provide aid for the starving. The Governments of: the Ukraine, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, Peru, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, the United States and the Vatican officially recognize the Holodomor as a genocide against the Ukrainian people.
The current Moscow-supported war in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine shows how not much changes over the years. Since February 20, 2014: 2,432 Ukrainians have been killed, 6,820 wounded, 378 are missing and 2,768 have been captured. They may not be killed or wounded during a famine, but both the Holodomor and the Crimea Crisis and Donbas War were/are being planned and carried out with the full support of the Federal Government in Moscow.

Yeltsin Center

From the MT:
"New Yeltsin Center to Answer Questions About Russia's 'Wild '90s' Legacy"
The opening of the center devoted to the legacy of Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president, on Nov. 25 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, came on the heels of speculations surfacing among politicians that the notorious presidential elections of 1996, when Yeltsin won in the second round of voting, were conducted with violations and cannot be considered fair. Just two months ago the former Kremlin official Oleg Morozov said in an interview with the Gazeta.ru news website that in the 1996 presidential elections — when Boris Yeltsin went neck and neck with the Communist candidate — were "solid evidence" that in the "wild '90s" the voting process could easily be manipulated. He echoed the rumor that gripped public attention in 2012, when Russian opposition leaders claimed Dmitry Medvedev, then president, told them during a meeting that Yeltsin wasn't the actual winner of the 1996 elections. The statement was quickly refuted by President Medvedev's spokespeople. "I categorically object to this point of view. The elections were absolutely fair," Naina Yeltsina, the first president's wife, said in an interview with the Gazeta.ru news website on Nov. 21. "It was impossible to falsify anything. We didn't know the results until the end. Anyone who has doubts can check with the elections protocols, it's all there," she said. While doubts about the legitimacy of Yeltsin's win are yet to be settled, one thing is clear: In 1996 independent media during elections races were replaced with propaganda, said Ivan Kurilla, a historian and professor at the European University in St. Petersburg. "It was then when we said good-bye to the independent journalism that turned into propaganda even on respectable television channels," he told The Moscow Times. This is not the only controversial issue discussed nowadays in relation to Yeltsin's legacy. Russian officialdom has continuously condemned Yeltsin's era, commonly called "the wild '90s," as a dark and unfortunate period of the country's history. At the same time, Russian society doesn't have a univocal evaluation of the 1990s. For some, Yeltsin's years are associated with freedom — both political and economical — that Russia embraced after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and some remember this decade as the time when poverty thrived and criminality and corruption blossomed, blaming their forebears for everything that looks unfortunate today. Founders of the Yeltsin Center, a historical and cultural institution, promise not to judge. "[At the center] no one will impose any judgements or appraisals. Everything is designed in order to give visitors willing to reflect on the subject, especially those who doesn't know a lot about it, to see and feel how it was back then," Alexander Drozdov, director of the center, told The Moscow Times. The center, 22,000 square meter large, includes a museum portion and several educational facilities for young visitors that will focus on different sciences. The museum portion is devoted to Russian history in general, from Novgorod princedom to the present day, though the history of the 1990s is exhibited in more detail, with, of course, Yeltsin as a focal point. Part of the exhibition called "The Chechen Tragedy" is devoted to the Chechen wars of the late 1990s, one of the most controversial and harrowing episodes in Russian history. Representatives of the center said they were trying to make the exhibit honest and objective by including the Chechen wars in it. Another large part of it is devoted to the controversial elections of 1996.  The center was founded under a federal law that outlines creating legacy centers devoted to each Russian president at their places of birth and partially funded from the federal budget — according to Drozdov, the center was assigned 4.9 billion rubles ($75 million). Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration, chairs its board, but Drozdov said no one from the Kremlin interfered with the center's work or content of the exhibitions.
^ Yeltsin was once a symbol of change especially when he stood by the tank against the Communist coup in 1991. He then became President of Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed and that's when the billionaires of today started to make their money. The 1990s in Russia was a time of complete chaos. Prices changed constantly. People weren't paid for months on-end. Maffia groups sprang-up across the country. Violence was widespread. That is the real legacy of the 1990s under Yeltsin. Towards the end of his reign he was too drunk to do much of anything and that's when Putin came out of no where and took over. I wonder if the Yeltsin Center will show those realities of the 1990s? ^



Friday, November 27, 2015

Foreign Military

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Fewer foreigners serving in US military getting American citizenship"
Danielle Felone left her home in Jamaica four years ago to join her father in New York and become a permanent U.S. resident. While she hoped to pursue a degree in computer science like she was doing in Jamaica, she quickly realized college tuition in the United States was more than she could afford. So she took the advice of her stepmother and in March joined the U.S. Navy, even though she was a foreign citizen. Felone was one of 15 military service members who became naturalized U.S. citizens Nov. 13 during a ceremony in Norfolk, home to one of the two immigration offices in Virginia. "I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. The cause is always the same, protecting the people, regardless of where you are," said Felone, a seaman based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach who deployed aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman on Nov. 16. "I'm serving the country, so why not be a U.S. citizen? Why not be a part of the country that you are trying to serve?" U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services figures show the number of foreigners serving in the U.S. military who become Americans is sharply declining. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 7,709 became U.S. citizens, down from 9,239 the year before, a drop of about 17 percent. That's the lowest number since 2007, when 5,895 service members were naturalized. Immigration officials say they're not sure why there has been a drop-off. About 5,000 foreign citizens enlist in the U.S. military every year, and there are about 25,000 foreign citizens on active duty, in the reserves or in the National Guard, according to the Defense Department. In 2011, Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica, Colombia and the Dominican Republic were the top countries of origin for foreign service members, according to the White House. They've served in American units since the Revolutionary War. Today, those who are lawful permanent residents can join the U.S. military. The defense secretary can authorize exceptions for others if it is deemed vital to the national interest, such as if someone possesses unique language skills. After 9/11, the path to citizenship was expedited for those serving in the military under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush. More than 109,000 foreign members of the military have become U.S. citizens since October 2001. In the first three quarters of the 2015 fiscal year, there was an average of 245 pending applications , up from 218 during the same time the previous year. The Norfolk field office is typically one of the five busiest in the country for military naturalizations, along with those in Chicago, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Charleston, S.C. Typically, the paperwork process for citizenship begins at basic training in another state and is transferred to Virginia when service members attend technical school or get their first assignments, Reffel said.
^ It's good that the US Government "rewards" foreigners who serve in the military to  protect the US by giving them a fast-track to US citizenship. Many countries do not. The French only allow foreigners in the French Foreign Legion and they serve outside of France (where they can then get French citizenship after their service) whereas a foreigner in the US military can be posted anywhere the US has troops - - - within the US or overseas. I have known many foreigners who became citizens after joining the US Military. If there is a trend of foreigners in the military not becoming citizens then I am not sure why that would be as the majority of the ones I know joined to help protect the country that helped them when they needed it. ^


Budapest Docs

From Yahoo:
"Holocaust documents trove unearthed in Budapest apartment"
A vast and historically valuable trove of Holocaust-era documents, long thought destroyed during World War II, has been found hidden in a wall cavity by a couple renovating their Budapest apartment. The haul of 6,300 documents are from a 1944 census that was a precursor to the intended liquidation of the Hungarian capital's 200,000 Jews in Nazi death camps. Brigitte Berdefy, co-owner of the apartment overlooking Hungary's parliament, said that in August a worker detected paper after jamming a screwdriver through a crack in the wall. "We thought we'd ruined the neighbour's wallpaper," Berdefy told AFP. But then her husband Gabor peered through the crack and saw what looked like handwriting. Carefully removing each brick, the couple eased out some 61 kilogrammes (135 pounds) of dusty papers, many with bits of plaster caked on, but all more or less intact. With the ink still readable -- thanks to a lack of air in the cavity and nicotine from the heavy-smoking former owner -- the yellowed papers were given to the Budapest City Archives. Istvan Kenyeres, head of the archives, was amazed. "Most wartime papers are more faded or rotten than medieval documents, on bad quality paper due to the rationing," he told AFP. "The content and scale of the finding is unprecedented," he said. "It helps to fill a huge gap in the history of the Holocaust in Budapest." Since September, restorers at the archives have been literally ironing the papers to study them, pausing occasionally when they spot someone famous among the scrawled names. The May 1944 Budapest census was to identify houses to serve as holding locations for Jews before moving them to a planned walled ghetto in the city's seventh district. Two months earlier Nazi Germany had occupied Hungary and deportations in the countryside to the gas chambers of Auschwitz began almost immediately. The forms found in the Budapest apartment contain names of each building's inhabitants, and whether they are Jewish or not, with total numbers of Christians and Jews marked in the corners. "Jewish people filled in the forms honestly, they refused to believe where this might end up," said Kenyeres. Shortly after the census, around 200,000 Jews were moved into some 2,000 selected buildings, "Yellow Star Houses" with the Star-of-David Jewish symbol painted on the doors.
"Thanks to the Berdefys, we know that if a lot of Jews lived in a building then it likely became a Yellow Star House," Kenyeres said. In late 1944, they were crammed into the ghetto, where some died of starvation or were shot next to the river -- a poignant memorial of abandoned iron shoes today marks the spot. The arrival of the Russian army in January 1945 saved the rest though, and unlike the Jews from outside the city, most of Budapest's Jewish population survived. An estimated total of 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust, most in Auschwitz. Kenyeres said that an estimated 23,000 more documents may still be out there which would give further valuable insight into what happened in 1944 and would also be digitalised and made available to the public if they turned up. "People should look behind their walls, you never know in Budapest what could be there."
^ This is an interesting find. It reinforces the long-held belief that the Hungarian Jews did not know or did not believe the "rumors" that the Germans were killing people in death camps. Hungarian Jews were mostly spared until 1944 (after millions of Europe's other Jews had already been murdered and the Allied countries had concrete evidence of the crimes.) Then the Germans occupied all of Hungary, which had previously been a German ally - and began to deport the Jews. The Hungarian Jewish leaders throughout the country refused to believe that they were going to be killed even after receiving numerous first-hand accounts of the gas chambers.  It was only thanks to people like Raoul Wallenberg and the Soviet Army liberating Budapest and Hungary that all the Jews were not sent to their deaths. This census gives names to people who may have died during the war and so brings the number of 6 million even more of a face - as each name has a story. ^

Turkish Suspension

"TASS: Lavrov says Russia will suspend visa-free regime with Turkey in 2016"
Russia has decided to suspend the visa-free regime with Turkey from the beginning of 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Moscow, according to Russian news agency TASS.  "Russia's leadership has taken a decision to suspend the visa-free regime between Russia and Turkey. This decision will come into force from January 1," Lavrov said, TASS wrote. Lavrov reiterated that Russia had been concerned about growing terrorist threats coming from Turkey. "This is directly linked with the security of Russia and our citizens," he said. "There is a well-run traffic of gunmen via Turkey in various directions," he said, adding that Turkey has been reluctant to tell Russia about the cooperation in this issue. "These are not farfetched threats – these are quite real threats," Lavrov stressed. The visa-free regime between Russia and Turkey was introduced in 2011. The Russian-Turkish relations became tense after a Turkish F-16 fighter jet downed a Russian Su-24 frontline bomber on Tuesday. Turkey insists that the Russian aircraft had violated its airspace, while the Russian side denies that. The Russian customs houses have already started blocking imports from Turkey, and the Russian government announced it would present on November 28 a list of sanctions that might be introduced against Turkey.

^ While I do not know for sure if Turkey had given the Russian plane warning that it ignored before it was shot down I do know that Russia continues to self-isolate itself from the rest of the world and now Russians have one less country they will be able to visit without a visa.  Turks tend to go to Germany and the EU and not to Russia for vacation/work while Russians flocked to Turkey . ^


Germany Joins

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Germany joins coalition against Islamic State"

Germany decided Thursday it could no longer stay on the sidelines of the fight against Islamic State, announcing plans to send planes and a navy ship to help the new international military alliance against the Islamic State group. The decision to send four to six reconnaissance jets and the carrier was made at a meeting on Thursday of senior ministers in Berlin. The planned military action was a necessary strike against the militant terrorists, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of lawmakers from her conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union allies. “It’s not possible to fight Islamic State with words: You have to fight them militarily,” Merkel said earlier. “We have to end the talk and act because of the high value we place on security, and this demands decisive action.” According to media reports, Paris had wanted the jets to provide reconnaissance backup for the French military mission against Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for a night of terrorist attacks in Paris Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. Staying out of the coalition was not an option for Germany if the country wants to keep the terrorist threat at bay, Defense Minister Minister Ursula von der Leyen said. “Everyone can see that the problems will come our way if we don’t take care of them in a timely fashion,” she said. “If we want to fight terrorism and the reasons people are fleeing, then we have to do so locally.” In addition to the jets and warship, Germany agreed to deploy aircraft for the refueling of coalition fighter jets, and to send satellite reconnaissance information. The warship is likely to provide backup to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has been sent to the eastern Mediterranean. German participation in the coalition would be only the third time since the end of World War II that the nation’s military forces have joined such a combat mission. German jets were used in Serbia in 1999 during the Kosovo War.
More recently, members of the German army operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Germany also promised this week to send 650 soldiers to the United Nations military mission in Mali.
^ Germany is finally doing what other countries (mostly the US) has been doing for over a year - fighting to stop IS. It is joining other countries (Russia, etc) that have recently joined the fight only after they were attacked. While it is good that new countries are finally joining against IS it shouldn't take an attack to force you into doing something that is right. ^


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

JFK Tapes

From the BBC:
"JFK assassination: Woman sues for return of film"
A woman whose grandfather filmed the assassination of President John F Kennedy as a home movie is suing the US government for its return. Gayle Nix Jackson is also seeking $10m (£6.6m) in compensation over the film shot by Orville Nix in November 1963. He sold the film to a news agency that year but it was later handed to the government for its inquiries. Ms Nix Jackson says she was told this year the government agency believed to be in possession did not have the film. The 8mm Nix film was shot from the opposite side of the presidential limousine from where the famous Zapruder film was taken on 22 November 1963.  The Nix film shows the bullet hitting the president, First Lady Jackie Kennedy climbing on to the boot of the limousine, and secret service agent Clint Hill jumping into the vehicle. The film is shot from Dealey Plaza, showing Zapruder across the street and the famous grassy knoll, from where some witnesses thought they heard a shot fired. It is not as complete as the Zapruder movie, as it shows only part of the assassination. However, the lawsuit cites the Warren Commission - which investigated the assassination - as saying the Nix film was "nearly as important as the Zapruder film". The government purchased the Zapruder film for $16m in 1999 in a settlement with his heirs.  Orville Nix sold his film to UPI for $5,000 with an agreement for its return after 25 years. But it was handed over to the government for the inquiry. Its last known sighting was with the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. It was believed to have been handed to the National Archives and Records Administration, but the lawsuit says the agency has told Ms Nix Jackson, who lives in Fort Worth in Texas, it no longer has the movie. Ms Nix Jackson told the Associated Press it was incomprehensible authorities would lose "an important piece of historical evidence". She said: "I can understand little clerical issues. I don't understand the loss of evidence like this."
^ This is an interesting story. If the film was sold with the provision that it would be returned after 25 years and it has been over 50 years than it should be returned - - even if the Federal Government now has it. ^


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ottawa ?s

From the G & M:
"Canada’s refugee plan: What we know (and don’t know) so far"
What the Liberals promised: The Liberals’ election platform called for 25,000 refugees to be brought here by the end of 2015, all government-sponsored.
What they’re actually doing: The government announced Tuesday that 15,000 of the refugees will be government-sponsored, and 10,000 would be sponsored privately. Only 10,000 will come in before the end of December; most of the rest will be in Canada by the end of February.
Why they changed their minds: In London, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the Paris terrorist attacks, saying they changed Canadians’ perceptions of security risks.
How will they be screened?
The Liberals say they’ll be taking more time to screen applicants overseas, which means they’ll be checked in countries such as Turkey and Lebanon before they can fly to Canada. But it’s unclear how long that might take, or whether the personnel Canada is sending to expedite the process will be enough.
When do they get here?
The new plan depends more heavily on private sponsorship, which can be a time-consuming and difficult process for refugee applicants. ( Here’s a fuller explanation from Joe Friesen of how it works.) Once here, though, they could spend weeks waiting to be redistributed across the country to the 36 service hubs offering resettlement assistance to refugees.
How do they get here?
Refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft, though the military is also on call to provide airlift every 48 hours if necessary. What it would take to engage them in that role is unclear.
Who gets to come through?
Federal officials have put conditions on who to admit, focusing on families, children and members of the LGBT community. Single men will be admitted only if they are accompanied by their parents or identify as LGBT.  The Harper government also tried prioritizing some groups of Syrian refugees
when it sought to fast-track Christians and religious and ethnic groups they
felt were being targeted by Islamic State. The policy attracted controversy at
the time.
Who’s paying for their arrival?
Ottawa’s new deadlines and financial arrangements put additional strain on private sponsorship groups. Ratna Omidvar, a member of the sponsorship group Team Everest and chair of the organization Lifeline Syria, told The Globe that while money is less of an issue for her group, housing presents a significant challenge.
What will the provinces do?Ottawa will depend on the support of provinces in accommodating the refugees, but different premiers have their own perspectives on how to do that and how many refugees they can realistically take.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall lauded Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday for abandoning the Dec. 31 deadline, adding that “I still don’t believe there should be a specific deadline at all.” Mr. Wall said Wednesday that his province is preparing for the arrival of about 850 Syrian refugees, but cautions the figure has not yet been confirmed by the federal government.
The Quebec government says it will accept 3,650 Syrian refugees before the end of this year and another 3,650 in 2016. Pierre Moreau, the province’s acting public security minister, said Wednesday that the plan calls for Ottawa to house new arrivals in federally operated welcome centres before the province relocates them to one of 13 communities in the province.
 Where will they live?
Canadian Forces bases across the country are on standby for a potential influx of refugees. Captain Evelyne Lemire, a spokeswoman at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, told The Canadian Press that they have not yet been told if they’ll receive refugees, but they were asked to see how many they could accommodate.
Global refugee resettlement is directed by the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees. In 2013, the agency asked for 130,000 spaces to be made available by 2016, whether through direct refugee resettlement programs or humanitarian admission. Not all countries accept UN refugees for resettlement. And, in addition to what the UNHCR is asking, many European and Middle Eastern countries are also dealing with the impromptu flow of Syrians across their borders as they attempt to find new homes on their own.
United States: The UN has so far submitted 22,427 Syrian refugees to the United States for resettlement consideration. The United States has recently pledged to resettle 10,000 in the next year.
United Kingdom: 216 Syrian refugees have been accepted under a relocation program. In September, the government pledged to expand that program by accepting up to 20,000 Syrians until 2020.
Germany: 20,000 humanitarian admission, 18,500 individual sponsorship.
France: Since 2012, France has provided 1,880 asylum visas for Syrians, which enable them to travel to France for the purpose of applying for asylum. Last week, they announced they will take 30,000.

 ^ So many questions so little time to get them answered. I am all for letting in refugees, but before any of them touch Canadian soil they need to be vetted/screened by the Government. You can not simply allow anyone and everyone in as they could be criminals, terrorists, etc. There needs to be some sort of processing center set up outside of Canada where the refugees will be safe and taken care of while they wait on their interviews, background checks and other tests. Then, if/when they pass all their screening they should be allowed into Canada to settle. This same model should be used by all the countries that want to take in any refugees from any part of the world. Doing so will not only protect the refugees, but also the countries willing to help them. ^


Cutting More Ties

From the BBC:
"Ukraine closes airspace to all Russian planes"

Ukraine has banned all Russian planes from using its airspace and exports of Russian gas to Ukraine have been halted by state-controlled giant Gazprom. The decision was announced by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a televised government meeting. Gazprom said it had halted gas deliveries to Ukraine because it had used up all the gas it had paid for. But Ukraine said it had stopped buying from Gazprom because it could get cheaper gas from Europe. The airspace ban applies to military planes as well as civil airliners. "The Ukrainian government has decided to ban all transit flights for all Russian airlines in Ukraine's airspace," said Mr Yatsenyuk. "The government is instructing [aviation authority] Ukraerorukh, in line with the norms of international law, to inform the Russian Federation that Russian airlines and Russian aircraft do not have the right to use Ukraine's airspace any longer."  Following previous clashes over gas supplies, the two countries had agreed that Ukraine would pay for its gas in advance. Russia cut off gas to Ukraine in June 2014 as the conflict between the government in Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated. However, it resumed them following the pre-payment deal.   About 15% of gas used in Europe travels through Ukraine. The EU has been holding talks aimed at keeping supplies running between the two sides.

^ It is good for the Ukraine to continually stop its reliance on Russia especially since Russia annexed the Crimea and is supplying the ethnic Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine. Russia tries to play the victim is all of this when in fact they are the aggressors who planned all of this years ago. Russia is struggling as its economy and people are hurt from the international sanctions placed on it over the Ukraine and for the low price of oil on the international market. I hope those in Moscow will finally start to see the error of their ways and try to rejoin the international community again rather than trying to make the world more unstable. ^


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kurds' Canadian Plea!

From the G & M:
"Kurds plead for more Canadian support against the Islamic State"
The top diplomat for northern Iraq’s Kurds is asking Canada to give priority to his people and region over Baghdad’s government forces as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ponder how they will fulfill a pledge to expand training and assistance in the war against the Islamic State. Falah Mustafa Bakir said the Kurds would prefer Canada continue air strikes in Iraq and Syria but added that if Mr. Trudeau’s government is set on withdrawing fighter planes, then they would ask for a renewed commitment on other forms of aid. “We would like to tell them that the air strikes have been effective, they have helped us a great deal. They have helped save lives. They have helped to destroy the enemy,” Mr. Bakir, foreign affairs minister for the Kurdistan Regional Government, said in an interview. “And if it were for us [to decide], we request that to continue. But if the decision has been made to stop them, we hope that the other type of support would continue,” he said. Mr. Bakir met with Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend. He’s now on a brief tour of the country, including Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa, to thank Canada for all the military aid this country has given the Kurds over the past 14 months but, more importantly, to make the case to Canadians to keep the focus on his region. The Trudeau Liberals are promising to expand training of forces fighting the Islamic State to make up for pulling CF-18 fighters from the fray. In media interviews last week, Mr. Sajjan raised the prospect of moving beyond the Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq to provide military training to Baghdad government forces. Mr. Bakir says his region is in dire need of more help, noting that the Kurdistan Regional Government can’t even make its payroll obligation. “We are three months behind in paying the salaries of peshmerga and the civil servants,” he said. “This has been a costly war … to be engaged in daily confrontation with [the Islamic State] on a front line that is 1,050 kilometres long is not an easy task.” Mr. Bakir argued the Kurds have proven to be a “reliable partner” for Canada, the United States and the rest of the anti-IS coalition. “We have regained territory.” He said the Kurds would like more military training but also help in firefighting, policing and handling chemical and biological hazards. The Kurds recently took back the northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State militants, and the Kurdish envoy said they could use help rebuilding it. “Now we are challenged with cleaning the area of mines and vehicle-borne bombs, returning it safely to the population and helping rebuild it.” Canada’s military campaign against the Islamic State to date has been largely focused on northern Iraq, in aid of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
^ Canada really needs to rethink how it supports the fight against IS and how it helps those, like the Kurds, who have been fighting them for years and doing a great job.  The recent attacks in Paris, the bombing of the plane in Egypt and even the attacks on Canadian soldiers in Ottawa last year show that Canada can not simply put it's head in the sand and believe everything will magically work itself out or relay solely on the US (which most countries around the world tend to do.) Canada is in the fight whether it wants to be or not and now is the time to show what its made of rather than run-away and hide.  ^

No Lifting

From the MT:
"U.S. Will Not Lift Russian Sanctions in Exchange for Syria Cooperation"

The United States will not lift sanctions imposed on Russia in exchange for an expansion of its counter-terrorism operation in Syria, White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced at a press conference Monday, posted on the White House briefing room website.  "I do not envision a scenario in which sanctions relief is offered to Russia in exchange for greater contributions to Islamic State," Earnest said.  The sanctions were imposed over Russia for its role in the Ukrainian crisis and would be lifted only after full implementation of the Minsk agreements, he said.  He added that the United States would welcome Russia in an anti-terrorist coalition if Russia would change its strategy to focus on the fight against terror rather than supporting regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.  European Union leaders has also agreed to keep sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukrainian crisis, a senior diplomat told the Reuters news agency on Saturday. EU sanctions have been extended for at least six more months, the diplomat said, Reuters reported.  Following the G20 summit last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that joint efforts from all G20 members are needed to defeat Islamic State, and that discussion of Syria's political reforms should be put aside for the moment, the TASS news agency reported at the time.  Putin's proposals were echoed by French President Francois Hollande who spoke to the French Parliament of the need to create an anti-terror coalition that would include Russia.  Islamic State is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.

^ The sanctions placed on Russia for it's invasion, occupation and annexation of the Crimea should have no bearing on cooperation between the US, Canada, the EU and Russia in fighting IS. They are two separate things. The sanctions should only be lifted when Russia returns control of the Crimea back to the Ukraine. ^


School Drill

From the BBC:
"Paris attacks: Schools step up security"

France has stepped up security in schools as the country continues to enforce its anti-terrorism system, Vigipirate. Schools will follow a series of measures introduced by the country's ministry of education. Two different versions - one for schools within the Ile-de-France region around Paris and another for those outside - have been implemented. They include introducing special "smoking areas" within school grounds. The ministry says it has placed "special attention" on areas immediately outside establishments, to avoid crowds "detrimental to school safety".  It added that special outdoor spaces will be arranged within secondary schools to prevent students leaving the premises - especially for smoking. Other measures include bag checks and a ban on parking outside schools.  In Ile-de-France, school trips within the region will be banned until 29 November. Trips outside the region - including those abroad - must be reported to authorities, which may choose to forbid them. Schools must also carry out two safety drills by the Christmas holidays - a fire drill and shelter evacuation.  Suzanne, a 17-year-old student from Paris, said: "I don't have to be left terrorised because I don't want to play the terrorists' game. But I am not relaxed. Not in school, not outside. The measures are useful but symbolic."

^ It's a sad state when schools have to do measures like this. France has a huge Muslim population mostly from their former colonies and there could be many "sleeper cells' or "5th columnists" waiting to carry out and attack. I remember going to a school in Vitry (outside of Paris) with my school on an exchange. The French kids came to our school in October (a month before I had moved back to the US) and the American kids went to their school the next April. Our school was a wealthy, large suburban school and the French one was fairly poor (the next year my school changed school exchanges.) In Vitry you could see all the low-income, government housing where nearly everyone was an immigrant. We were there to use our French, but the French they spoke in Vitry was not the traditional French they use and teach throughout France (we could have saved our money and gone to Quebec if we wanted to hear non-traditional French.) The school we went to have pretty tight security - something we Americans weren't used to as it was pre-9-11.  We were told it was because there were lots of Middle Eastern and Northern African gangs in the area. While we didn't experience any terrorism or any violence during our exchange there you could see the differences between the in Vitry and those in Paris and it was just a short commuter stop away. It has been several years since my trip and I know the relationships between the immigrants and the French have only gotten worse. I have been back to Paris (as a tourist) since but didn't go back to Vitry. You could see the differences so clearly between the immigrants in Vitry and those in Paris several years ago and that was before Al-Qaida or IS. Maybe the French should have done more to vet their new immigrants (although it is harder to do now since they have open borders with the Schengen..) ^


Dark Crimea

From the BBC:
"Crimea power blackout hits economy as workers stay home"
Only essential services and government offices are operating in Crimea after key electricity pylons connected to the peninsula were knocked down in Ukraine, causing a major blackout. Most of Crimea's two million people have been hit by the power cut. There are also some water shortages.  Anti-Russian activists were blamed for the cut. Russian forces annexed Crimea in March 2014, during Ukraine's crisis. Public transport is still running and Crimean hospitals are using generators.  A state of emergency was imposed in Crimea on Sunday after two more key pylons were damaged - bringing the total to four. Monday was declared a non-working day. It is still not clear how exactly the pylons were damaged in Kherson, a Ukrainian region adjacent to Crimea. That region has been tense since Russia's annexation of Crimea - an act that was condemned internationally. Crimean Tatar activists, denying repair workers access to the damaged power lines, suggested that the weakened pylons were blown down by the wind. But Ukraine's state energy company, Ukrenergo, said the damage was caused by "shelling or the use of explosive devices".   Russia has blamed Ukrainian nationalists from far-right party Right Sector as well as Crimean Tatar activists, calling it "an act of terrorism". The blackout has knocked out street lighting and cut cable and mobile internet. It has also forced the closure of some 150 schools. Crimean Tatar activists accuse Russia of abusing Tatar rights and denying them a voice since a pro-Moscow government was installed in Crimea. Only 30% of Crimea's electricity is generated locally - the rest comes from Ukraine, Russia's government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.
^ If the  Crimea is part of Russia (according only to Russia) then they should get their own power. You can't expect the Ukraine (which is fighting ethnic Russian terrorists being supplied men and weapons  from Russia in eastern Ukraine) to supply the Russian-annexed Crimea. Russia says this was an act of terrorism, but if it was dome by the Tartars then it is an act of resistance the same way Soviet partisans fought the Nazis during World War 2. You can't invade, occupy and annex a territory and expect the local people to just give-up willingly. ^


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Passport Change

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Passport change is coming that could affect frequent travelers"

Frequent overseas travelers might want to check their passports. The State Department said Thursday it is about to end the practice of adding new pages to existing passport books. Starting Jan. 1, adults running out of space for new visas in their 28-page passports will have to pay $110 for a new passport of either 28 or 52 pages. Until the end of this year, they can still pay $82 to have an extra 24 pages stitched in. The prices are slightly lower for minors. The State Department said the decision to stop adding pages was made for security reasons. "When a passport gets larger and larger, it's more difficult to keep the same security standards," said William Cocks, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Anyone applying for a new passport will get the old one back. Though the passport will be canceled, any unused visas in the old book will still be valid, Cocks said The State Department began routinely issuing 52-page passports last fall to anyone applying for a new passport at embassies and consulates around the world. More than 124 million U.S. passports are in circulation, up dramatically from 14 million in 1991, the first year the Department of State began tracking the number. That's the same number the State Department issued in 2014 alone. About 38 percent of American citizens have passports. Passports are valid for 10 years, though in practice they can be less useful in the final year because many countries require a passport valid for six months before they issue a visa. Even before the new rule takes effect, the State Department has been bracing for a surge in passport applications in upcoming years. Security measures that went into effect after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 required passports for Americans traveling to and from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, three countries where Americans could travel passport-free before. Those passports issued initially after the law took effect will start to expire soon.
^ When I applied for my latest passport a few years ago I couldn't get the extra visa pages added at the same time. I had to wait until I got my new passport and then mailed it in and paid the fee to have them added. My dad got his latest passport after me and was able to have them added for free at  the same time. Since the passports are valid for 10 years and its free to add the extra pages I don't see why everyone applying for a new or renewed passport doesn't just ask for the extra pages to be put in since you never know when or where you will be travelling in the next 10 years. ^


Thanking Soldiers

It's  important to remember the men and women in the US Military that won't be home for Thanksgiving this Thursday because they are helping protect us so we can enjoy the holiday at home with our families. Usually my father is in Iraq for the holiday, but this year he will be home (but will be back in Iraq for Christmas) and my brother left today for Afghanistan so he won't be home with his family for either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

27 X-Mas Vacation

From Mental Floss:
"27 Things You Might Not Know About 'Christmas Vacation'"
On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. In honor of the movie’s 25th birthday, we’ve discovered 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.


Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” Oddly, when he’s watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”


If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.


Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”


Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty, starred in both.


In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.


In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.


In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted in a recent interview. “That was really a special cast.”


Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik recalled to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”


“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” said Chechik. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.


A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.


Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation from the get-go. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”


But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 13 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprises the role here. Eric Idle also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”


At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”


Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.


National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a Website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.


Nope, not a word.


Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.


At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake occurred. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.


Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the U.K. too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.


Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.


Which may just sound like a fun, albeit random, fact. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.


In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.


The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.


In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he had kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”


In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”


Chase and D’Angelo may have their own ideas, but the studio is already moving ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Co-writer-directors John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses) are currently filming a new Vacation movie, which is set for release in 2015. It features a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip. Leslie Mann will play Audrey and both Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are listed as part of the cast on the movie’s IMDb page.
^ I have liked this movie ever since it came out. It's hard to believe it has been 26 years. I watch it  every Christmas. ^