Sunday, November 23, 2014

Autism Solidarity

From USA Today:
"Pope Francis offers solidarity to people with autism"

Francis tenderly embraced children with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom avoided meeting his gaze, during an audience Saturday aimed at offering solidarity to people living with the condition.
The pope urged governments and institutions to respond to the needs of people with autism to help break "the isolation and, in many cases also the stigma" associated with the disorders, which are characterized by varying levels of social impairment and communication difficulties. "It is necessary the commitment of everyone, in order to promote encounters and solidarity, in a concrete action of support and renewed promotion of hope," the pontiff said. After offering a prayer, Francis greeting the young children and teens with autism and their families, kissing the children and cupping their faces in his hands as he circulated the auditorium at the Vatican. Some appeared to avoid the pope's eyes, while one teen whom the pope had greeted followed the pontiff and gave him another hug from behind. Families of children affected with autism were touched by the pope's words. "It was an explosion of emotions," said Maria Cristina Fiordi, a mother of a child with autism. "For us, we are parents of a child affected with autism, this meeting was very important. It was as an outstretched hand through a problem that is very often not considered in the right way." Franco Di Vincenzo, another parent of a child with autism, said he took strength from the pope's call not to hide, "that we should live with this problem in serenity." The audience was attended by some 7,000 people, including health care workers who had international conference on autism hosted by the Vatican's health care office this week. While autism is increasingly being diagnosed in places like the United States, where about 1 in 68 children are said to be on the spectrum, it is still largely unknown and undiagnosed elsewhere, including in the Vatican's own backyard of Italy, according to Dr. Stefano Vicari, head of pediatric neuropsychiatry at the Vatican-owned Bambin Gesu hospital in Rome.

^ It's always a good thing when an official (whether governmental or religious) brings awareness to any disability group. People need to know that while the disabled may need to do things a little differently they are just like everyone else. ^

Putin Life

From USA Today:
"Putin says he won't be Russia's president for life"

Vladimir Putin has said he won't remain Russia's president for life and will step down in line with the constitution no later than 2024, according to an interview with a Russian news agency released Sunday. Staying beyond that would be "detrimental for the country and I don't need this," he told the Tass news agency. Putin, 62, has effectively led Russia since he was first elected in 2000. He stepped aside after two four-year terms to abide with constitutional term limits, but retained power as prime minister and was elected in 2012 to a six-year term. Putin said his decision on whether to run for a fourth term in 2018 will depend on the situation in the country and his "own mood." Throughout the interview, Putin described efforts at home and abroad they he said were trying to undermine his rule.
He said the Western sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses over Ukraine were an attempt to punish his friends and were "driven by a desire to cause a split in the elite and then, perhaps, in society." But to the West's chagrin, Putin said, Russian society remained consolidated behind him.  He described Russian laws that restrict foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and foreign ownership of media organizations as necessary to prevent outside interests from influencing Russian politics. Putin acknowledged that not all Russians support him, which he said was fine as long as their criticism was constructive and they didn't violate the law. But he said his government would crush anyone who tried to weaken the state, describing them as "bacteria."
"They sit inside you, these bacilli, these bacteria, they are there all of the time," Putin said. "But when an organism is strong, you can always keep back the flu because of your immune system."

^ I think it's funny how he "won't be president for life" only for the next 10 years (which would mean he would have been president of Russia for 24 years.) How much more life do you need? ^

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wheeling Venice

From the BBC:
"Venice considers ban on 'noisy' wheeled suitcases"

The city of Venice is considering a ban on noisy wheeled suitcases amid concerns they are keeping locals awake at night. Officials want visitors to ditch the bags or switch to "noiseless" alternatives with wheels that are filled with air or liquid. It is hoped the move will also protect the city's ancient streets. Venice is one of Italy's major visitor attractions, with 27 million people flocking there each year. A statement on the Venetian council's website said the plan was drawn up to appease the city's residents. "The rule is designed to respond to the numerous citizens who have in recent years complained to the local council about the serious irritation caused by stuff being moved about at times of the day and night," it said. But one hotel manager told the BBC he thought the ban was not workable. He said that if the pavements were too noisy, maybe the city should switch the pavements instead of the suitcases. If introduced, anyone flouting the proposed rule would be liable to a fine of up to 500 euros (£396), according to AFP news agency.

^ The people and government of Venice should realize that the only thing bringing them money is tourism and by passing a law that openly "attacks' tourists they risk loosing that money. I have been to Venice and don't understand why people flock to the city or think it's so great. The water is dirty, it's too crowded and the only thing to see is Saint Mark's Square. ^

Overhaul Obama

From the BBC:
"Barack Obama enforces US immigration overhaul"

Millions of immigrants living illegally in the US will be allowed to apply for work permits under a major shake-up unveiled by President Barack Obama. They include immigrants who have been in the US for five years and have children staying legally in the US.  About four million people are expected to benefit from a reform package forced through using executive orders, which allow Mr Obama to bypass Congress. Republicans have accused the president of an "illegal power-grab".
There are estimated to be 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

^ It's clear Obama doesn't have a clue what he is doing (on anything) and just wants his name in the news. This isn't immigration overhaul it's illegal immigration overhaul. I support making it easier for foreigners who have never committed a crime (like illegally entering and living in the US) to come to the US. Instead Obama wants to aid those that are criminals (illegal = crime.) Why doesn't he focus on more important issues like: creating more jobs for Americans (instead of giving work permits to illegals to take the few jobs Americans have) or create a solid strategy to fight ISIS or do  something other than talking about Russian fighting in the Ukraine or do something that isn't self-serving but rather helps the ordinary American. Is it 2016 yet? ^

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kyiv's Santa

From the MT:
"Kiev Brings Back Orthodox Santa Claus Instead of Soviet-Era Father Frost"

New Year celebrations in Ukraine's capital Kiev this year will be spearheaded by Saint Mykolay — the country's Orthodox analogue of Santa Claus — instead of his secular Soviet-era counterpart Father Frost, according to an outline of the festivities published by the city administration. The holiday saint will be coming to the capital on Dec. 19, when his official "residence" will open to the public in Kiev's renowned St. Sophia Cathedral, the holiday program published on the administration's website this week said. Like in Russia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in accordance with the old Julian calendar and starts on Jan. 6, but for many of the country's residents the highlight of the holiday season is New Year's Eve. Ukrainian singer Oleh Skrypka, leader of the group Vopli Vidoplyasova, complained to the UNIAN news agency earlier this month that "New Year previously comprised an eclectic [mix] of the American and Soviet New Year." "It's some sort of competition for children between Santa Claus and Father Frost," he was quoted as saying, adding that he would "very much like to remember Saint Mykolay." The statement by the Kiev administration did not specify whether its decision to put Saint Mykolay in charge of the holidays was motivated by a wish to break away from Russian or Soviet practices. The Soviet regime, which frowned upon any demonstrations of religious faith, abolished all tsarist-era church holidays in the country after the Bolshevik Revolution. It then promoted New Year's Eve as a major holiday to allow the population accustomed to large-scale festivities at the turn of the year to keep their celebration. The Soviet New Year also took on some of the traditional Christmas attributes, with families decorating "New Year trees," and children receiving gifts from Father Frost, or Ded Moroz — who, like Santa Claus, is generally represented as a white-bearded man dressed in a red coat with white cuffs.

^ I think this is a great idea. It is an alternative to the old, Soviet version and is a figure used throughout Ukrainian history (rather than just simply made up by the Communists.) Of course I believe that those people who celebrate Catholic Christmas (I've never heard a Ukrainian or a Russian refer to it as Protestant Christmas) on December 25th or Orthodox Christmas on January 7th or Chanukah or nothing should have the freedom to do that, but it's nice to see a local custom and tradition embraced. ^

Snow Feet

From the BBC:
"'Historic' US storm returns to snow-covered north-east"

 A fierce storm is bringing more snow to parts of the US north-east, with officials warning residents to be prepared for 3ft (1m) of new snow. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a "historic event", while a local official dubbed the storm "gigantic". Some places, including the city of Buffalo, are already underneath 5ft of snow, and eight people have died in New York state. Weather-related deaths were also reported in New Hampshire and Michigan.  Freezing temperatures have continued in many parts of the US, with heavy disruption to travel. The new storm blast spread across New York early on Thursday, bringing thunder, lightning and the spectre of several more feet of snow. "It's a force of nature, a massive force of nature,'' Deputy Erie County Commissioner Richard Tobe told reporters. "We're prepared, but the storm is gigantic and persistent.

^ I've seen the pictures of the feet of snow that the Buffalo area has received in a few days. All I can say is I'm glad I don't live in the Snow Belt. Living on a mountain gets me a good amount of snow as it is. ^

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

50 And Freezing

From the DW:
"Temperatures plummet to freezing across all 50 US states"

In an unseasonal cold blast, all 50 US states have been hit by freezing temperatures. Snowstorms, which have left four dead in the state of New York, have been described as "the worst in memory."  Americans across all 50 US states are still feeling the cold snap after temperatures plummeted to at least zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, leaving people trapped in their homes and vehicles. Such temperatures are not usually expected until late December and early January.
The unseasonal weather has spread across the whole of North America, while heavy snow prompted a state of emergency in western New York where four people died as a result of a huge storms - one in a car accident and three from heart attacks whilst shoveling snow. Troops from the National Guard were deployed to help residents cope with the extreme Arctic-born weather, which swept across the Rocky Mountains in northwestern America last week. Driving bans were also implemented in some areas. The snowstorms have also brought the unusual phenomenon of "thunder snow" or a lake-effect storm, which is the result of cold air passing over relatively warm water, such as that in Lake Erie in northwestern America. "Some parts of our country are going to receive a years worth of snowfall in three days," said Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz. In and around the city of Buffalo in upstate New York, a huge lake-effect snowstorm left behind between 1.2 - 1.5 meters (4-5 feet) of snow in less than 24 hours. Snow blown by strong winds also left some motorists stranded in a 6.4-kilometer (4-mile) tailback on a section of the interstate highway near Buffalo for almost 24 hours. Efforts to free vehicles were delayed further after two tractor trailers jack-knifed as they were being moved.
Even the state of Hawaii, known for its warm tropical climate in the North Pacific Ocean, was also bitten by chilling temperatures, the National Weather Service said. Tuesday morning was reported as the coldest across the country in November since 1976.

^ This doesn't sound like it's going to be a good winter. We have received some snow already, but nothing like western NY. We've had temperatures of 5 F (not including the wind chill) and strong winds. We've also had freezing rain and ice (which made it had to drive down my mountain to check my mailbox.) I would rather get a foot of snow than a trace of ice. ^

No Eastern Pay

From Yahoo:
"Teachers, doctors struggle on without pay in eastern Ukraine"

With Kiev cutting off their salaries and pro-Moscow rebels struggling to set up their statelets, teachers and doctors in eastern Ukraine are left wondering where their next pay cheque will come from. For English teacher Alla Rusinkevich, stopping work is simply not an option. "We are waiting for something but we don't know what. If we don't get any support, maybe we will die. Maybe someone else will pay," she says, sitting on a school chair in an empty classroom at School Number Nine in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. After 30 years in the job, she cannot consider leaving. "Almost everybody is still here," she says, her tired face breaking into a warm smile. A colleague sitting with her, Yury Kholyavkin, has also had to dig into his savings to get by. He claims he has a plan if things get really bad: "I will join the rebels, with camouflage and a Kalashnikov." The teachers say that Ukraine's cash-strapped government had not paid them for weeks even before announcing on Saturday that it was cutting off state services like schools and hospitals in the rebel-held east.  The separatists of the self-proclaimed separatist People's Republic of Donetsk gave Kholyavkin a handout of 3,000 hryvnias (157 euros, $195), slightly less than his regular monthly salary, last month. But they do not have the resources to cover regular pay for teachers and doctors which, until now, was Kiev's responsibility. "We're in the process of discussing all that. It's a difficult question," says Yanika Studenikina, a spokeswoman for the People's Republic of Donetsk's recently-established finance ministry. Viktor Kuchkovoy, the rebels' health minister in Donetsk, concedes that the "fledgling state" would have "difficulties paying doctors and medical staff" for the moment due to the lack of an administrative framework.  Most hospital workers in Donetsk have not been paid for months. Near the city centre, doctors at Rudnychna hospital have been waiting for their salaries since July.  The 15 emergency ward doctors have built up a pot of cash which any of them can dip into in case of need, to be paid back when peace comes. "The staff work as a matter of honour," said the head of the unit, Dr Andrei Kolesnikov, a bald, affable man in his 40s. "You see those nurses?" he asks, pointing at two young women who look away shyly. "They don't have any money so they have to walk to work." He says the hospital will be able to keep working for a month with the medicines currently available. He accepts he could work elsewhere -- "in France or in Yemen". But he adds: "The captain is always the last to leave the ship." His boss, who did not want to give his name, says that around 15 doctors have left the hospital because of the war "to rejoin Ukraine" but he says he is too old for that. Most residents of the rebel-held east do not see the area as part of Ukraine.
"If you are a doctor, you should stay here," he adds, fixing his eyes on a statue in his office of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. "But frankly, I have no idea who is going to pay."

^ I can completely understand why Kyiv is no longer going to support the teachers and doctors. The pro-Russian terrorists that currently "run' that part of eastern Ukraine are fighting Kyiv. Russia is giving the terrorists weapons and men so why don't they pay their salaries? I guess it's hard to do that when the threat of economic collapse is threatening your own people. I only feel sorry for the doctors and nurses (not the teachers.) A doctor's job is to treat anyone and everyone whether they are a terrorist or a civilian. That's not so for a teacher (especially ones that flip to any side at a whim.) ^

Scared Madrid

From the BBC:
"Prosecutors in Spain to charge Catalonia leader Mas"

Spanish prosecutors are to file criminal charges against Catalan President Artur Mas in response to a 9 November unofficial independence vote. The non-binding vote went ahead despite fierce opposition by the Spanish government and a ruling by Spain's constitutional court. Catalan officials say more than 80% of those who voted backed independence. Charges will also be laid against Mr Mas's deputy, Joana Ortega, and Catalan Education Minister Irene Rigau. The three politicians face accusations ranging from disobedience and perverting the course of justice to misuse of public funds.
When the Spanish government appealed against the autonomous north-eastern region's plans for a referendum, Spain's constitutional court suspended the vote and ordered a ban on campaigning.  The Catalan government reacted by making the vote unofficial and non-binding, and gave the task of organising the ballot to thousands of volunteers. It went ahead weeks after Scottish voters had rejected independence in an official referendum, by a margin of 55% to 45%. Some 2.3 million people took part in the ballot, out of an electorate of 5.4 million, and Catalan officials said more than 80% had voted to back independence. Afterwards, Mr Mas said he would push for an official referendum. The Spanish government dismissed the exercise as a "useless sham" and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that most voters had not taken part, meaning it was a "deep failure". For four hours on Wednesday, Spain's Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce consulted a board of 24 senior prosecutors on whether to proceed with the criminal case.  All but two of the prosecutors backed the case, which will be put before the High Court of Justice in Catalonia

^ This just shows how scared the Spanish Government in Madrid really is of Catalonia. They (Madrid) should follow what Canada (with regards to Quebec) and the UK (with regards to Scotland) did and officially allow Catalonia to vote whether they want independence or not. If the "No" vote wins then Madrid will have a solid stance, but until then Catalonia holds all the cards. ^

Forced Crimea

From BusinessWeek:
"Russia Delivers a New Shock to Crimean Business: Forced Nationalization"

Business in Crimea has taken a beating since the peninsula’s annexation by Russia. Crimea’s tourism industry collapsed, and companies were cut off from vital suppliers and customers in Ukraine. Now comes the latest blow: nationalization. From bakeries to shipyards, Crimea’s Kremlin-backed government is moving aggressively to take over businesses that it deems “inefficient,” strategically important, or friendly to the government in Kiev. Krymkhleb, the peninsula’s biggest bread and confectionery maker, was nationalized on Nov. 12 by government authorities who accused its owners of laundering money to finance military operations against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. A company that supplies flour to Krymkhleb also was taken over. Also on Nov. 12, authorities seized a resort complex owned by the holding company of Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian oligarch who replaced the former pro-Russian governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region for several months earlier this year. Crimean authorities said the resort was seized because its management had illegally blocked public access to nearby park lands. Another recent target was Zaliv, Crimea’s largest civilian shipbuilder. In late August, men describing themselves as Crimean “self-defense” forces stormed the company’s headquarters in the port of Kerch and demanded that management hand over control to a Moscow-based company. “Currently, representatives of the legitimate government of [Zaliv] are not allowed to perform their functions,” the company said in a statement on its website, adding that its activities have been “completely blocked.” No official reason was given for the seizure, but Russian authorities have said they want to overhaul Crimea’s shipbuilding industry. “All enterprises on the peninsula that operate inefficiently, are on the verge of bankruptcy, or have been abandoned by their owners, will be nationalized.” Sergei Tsekov, a senator who represents Crimea in the Russian parliament in Moscow, told the Russian-language news service 15 Minutes on Nov. 13. Crimea also has threatened to seize companies that it claims are in debt to Russian banks. One such case involves Crimean solar-power generating stations developed and operated by Activ Solar, an Austrian company. Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s recently elected prime minister, contends that Activ Solar owes $300 million to Russian banks. The company disputes that, saying it has no loan exposure to Russian institutions. Russia moved swiftly after annexation to nationalize some Ukrainian state-owned enterprises, ranging from pipeline companies to health spas. It also took aim at  oligarchs such as Igor Kolomoyskiy, vocally pro-Kiev governor of Ukraine’s Dniepropetrovsk region. Kolomoyskiy’s Privat Bank closed its Crimean branches after the annexation, leaving depositors to seek compensation from Moscow. Besides taking depositors’ money, Crimean prime minister Kolomoyskiy has financed military operations against separatists in eastern Ukraine, Aksyonov told Crimea’s parliament in September, ITAR-Tass reported. “It is our moral right and our moral duty to carry out this nationalization,” he said. Recent laws enacted by the parliament have expanded the government’s right to foreclose” on private property, and, according to one of the new laws, to seize assets considered to have “particular social, cultural, or historical value.” In some cases, Crimean authorities have said they were seizing businesses at the behest of employees who were being cheated or mistreated by management. “Employees established control of the enterprise on their own,” Aksyonov said after the takeover of Krymkhleb. “We just helped them a little.” Such measures are turning Crimea into a “neo-Bolshevik criminal dictatorship,” Russian opposition party Yabloko said in a statement this week on its website. “The action to legitimize robbery must be cancelled, stolen property returned to owners, losses reimbursed.”

^ How else is Russia supposed to force itself onto the Crimea unless it follows old Soviet methods and nationalizes whatever it wants to? I feel sorry for the Crimeans that didn't vote for being annexed (despite Russian guns pointed at them) everyone else that did deserves what they are getting. I guess the grass isn't always greener someplace else. ^

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Visiting Pope

From the BBC:
"Pope Francis unveils plans to visit US in September 2015"

The Pope has announced plans to visit the US next September, his first trip there since his election last year. Pope Francis said he would attend an international Catholic conference on marriage in Philadelphia.  He is also expected to address the UN General Assembly in New York and meet President Barack Obama in Washington. The announcement, at an interreligious conference on family values in the Vatican, was eagerly awaited after months of speculation. Speaking at the Vatican on Monday, the pontiff said he would travel to Philadelphia for the "World Meeting of Families", a gathering sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church which takes place every three years.
The website of the conference said in a statement that Pope Francis would most likely travel there from 25 to 27 September, although dates are yet to be finalised. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who had personally invited the Pope, said he was "overjoyed" by the announcement, adding: "A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally.  "His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering." Pope Francis will become the fourth pope to visit the US, in a visit that Catholic officials say could draw up to a million people.
According to AP news agency, he had received invitations from President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Congress, as well as letters from more than 10,000 school children in Philadelphia, encouraging him to make the trip.

^ Pope Francis is carrying on Pope John Paul 2nd's mission of bringing the Catholic Church into the 21st Century. I am glad that he is coming to the US. I hope he continues to change how things have been done over the centuries and bring more people back to the Church. ^

Hurt Kremlin

From MT:
"10 Kremlin Moves That Hurt Russia's Economy"

As the Russian economy ambles toward recession, the government grapples with how to explain the downturn — no easy feat after 15 years of slowly mounting prosperity and President Vladimir Putin's campaign promises of lavish social spending. So far, the authorities have been inclined to blame external factors, such as sanctions imposed by the West over accusations of Russian meddling in Ukraine and the sliding price of oil, which at least some Kremlin backers blame on a covert deal between Washington and the Gulf monarchies. The approach is clearly working, with Putin's approval ratings resting comfortably above 80 percent, and widespread public adoration fueled by a patriotic euphoria over said meddling in Ukraine. But as the economy nosedives, the public mood threatens to plunge right alongside it — and some of the Kremlin's more questionable economic moves may come back to haunt the people who made them happen.  The Moscow Times has compiled a list of 10 economic moves currently hitting the Russian business community and/or the general populace that the government has had a hand in. The impact of most items on the list — up to and including the hypothetical risk of "smoker riots" — is expected to be felt in 2015, just around the corner.

1. Falling Ruble

The ruble has lost 38 percent of its value versus the U.S. dollar since the start of the year, and earlier this month the Central Bank stopped supporting the exchange rate, apparently due to shrinking currency reserves. The devaluation is expected to hit all industries with foreign connections in the coming year, including retail, tourism and dining. About 25 percent of the restaurants in Moscow are expected to shut down next year, consumer confidence is sliding, and clothes shopping and travel abroad are becoming less accessible to middle-class Russians.

2. Borrowing Restrictions

The EU and U.S. have limited access to international capital for Russia's state-owned banks and corporations, including VTB, Sberbank and Rosneft, because of Russia's support for separatists in Ukraine. Other Russian banks and companies are also reportedly struggling to borrow internationally, with foreign lenders increasingly distrustful of Russian businesses in light of a geopolitical standoff. The end result is obstructed access to capital and rising borrowing costs for Russian companies, which already have a corporate debt of $600 billion as of October, according to Central Bank data.

3. Food Sanctions

One of the most questioned countermoves against the Western sanctions was an embargo on food exports from the U.S. and most European countries. The government promised that the embargo would boost domestic productivity, and that Asian and South American exports would make up for the rest. But dairy and meat imports have shrunk by a third, according to customs data, and food inflation this year has neared double digits, the State Statistics Service said this month.

4. Bashneft

In what has arguably been the highest-profile corporate scandal since the fall of oil giant Yukos in the 2000s, the government earlier this year voided the 2003 privatization deal for oil company Bashneft, nationalizing the controlling stake and placing its owner Vladimir Yevtushenkov under house arrest.
The selective inspection of a single privatization deal among dozens prompted speculations about its motives — with many commentators referring to it as a takeover attempt by state-run Rosneft. The company denied it, but the move — which highlighted a lack of property-right guarantees in Russia — did nothing to boost investor confidence, which had already taken a hit from political risks in the country.

5. New Business Duty

As falling oil prices ($79.2 per barrel of Brent as of Tuesday) drain the state coffers, the government is struggling for revenue and apparently expects small businesses to foot the bill. Though plans for a sales tax have been shelved, a government-penned bill under review in the State Duma proposes a new duty for small businesses of all stripes, from hairdressers to grocery stores, transportation firms and even public pay-per-use toilets.The quarterly municipal duty is to vary from 6,000 to 600,000 rubles ($130 to $13,000). Analysts said it would cripple Russia's already heavily taxed small and mid-sized businesses, which — according to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — account for a mere 20 percent of Russia's GDP, compared with 50-60 percent in developed countries.

6. Gas Prices

As oil prices plummet, gasoline prices in Russia continue to soar (9 percent since the start of the year, to about 33 rubles, or $0.70, per liter). A hike to 50 rubles ($1.06) per liter is expected in 2015 because of new duties. Given that Russia is a leading oil producer, the government will have a hard time selling the hike to millions of motorists nationwide — and that is without mentioning the negative impact of increased transportation costs on the economy.

7. Property Tax

Russian real estate tax is currently a blip on the radar of public spending, but new rules will cause it to surge 10 to 20 times by 2016, to between 5,000 and 26,000 rubles ($107 to $550) a year for typical Moscow apartments, according estimates by news site
The tax has been in talks for years, continually mothballed over fear of public discontent, especially among apartment owners in the lower income brackets. Given the slowing economy and rising prices, discontent is exactly what can be expected to happen when hefty new bills hit mailboxes everywhere.

8. Pension Freeze

The government has approved a freeze of a combined 540 billion rubles ($11.5 billion) of non-governmental pension fund savings for 2014 and 2015, with the money expected to be spent on more immediate state projects. Simultaneously, it expects to spend the last 3 trillion rubles ($64 billion) from the state's National Welfare Fund — intended as backup for the flagging, also state-run Pension Fund. The money has been earmarked for state corporations, with Rosneft and Russian Railways having already requested 1.5 trillion rubles each.Though the official line is that the savings will be returned, and emptying the National Welfare Fund will boost the economy, many observers are skeptical. The state risks running out of emergency savings, while simultaneously incurring the ire of 28 millions of Russians who keep their pension money in those plundered private funds.

9. Social Spending Cuts

State spending on health care and education will be slashed in 2015 by 21 percent and 6 percent year-on-year, respectively, as outlined in the draft state budget. In Moscow, a handful of public hospitals are slated to be shut down — and replaced by malls and high-end real estate — already triggering street protests by medics.

10. Tourism Slump

The Russian tourism industry is in its death throes, with dozens of travel agencies having declared bankruptcy this year, in many cases leaving hundreds of tourists stranded at a time. A story by the Kommersant newspaper in October linked the industry's turmoil to decreased revenues caused by the government prohibiting about 4 million officials, or 22 percent of all tourists, from traveling abroad over fears that they risked being seized by Western spy agencies. And that was before the ruble's devaluation and its devastating effect on tourism (see above).

Honorary Mention: Tobacco Tax Hike

The State Duma last week approved a new increase in tobacco excise tax, the second in two years. Cigarette brands used by 80 percent of smokers will become about 10 rubles ($0.20) more expensive per pack, Kommersant said. While modest, the hike may prove to be the final straw as far as public patience is concerned. In a country where the average salary is 22,000 rubles ($460) and half of the male population is smoking, "smoker riots" are undesirable but possible.

^  These explain how bad things in Russia are and how bad they will get - and why. ^

'80s Flying

From Yahoo:
"Remember the '80s of Flying"

At some point, you’ve been on a flight sitting next to some guy born before the NFL merger who’s rambling on about “the golden age of flying,” and how people used to wear tuxedos and evening gowns and eat filet and lobster on flights to Buffalo. And then about the time you stopped listening to him and told the flight attendant, “No thanks, you would not like the whole can of Sam’s Choice Cola,” you realized that you could probably go on a similar rant, if only some teenager would steal the old man’s seat when he went to the bathroom. And, sure, that teenager probably wouldn’t take off his Beats, but if he did… here are 15 things you could tell him about air travel in what you lovingly refer to as the “good old days.”

You could smoke
Yes, there was a “non-smoking section”, but whoever designed it forgot the laws of physics. Shockingly, smoke moved about the cabin as if the captain just turned off the fasten seatbelt light, and you typically exited a two-hour flight smelling like you’d spent the night in a dive bar.

 There were meals
They weren’t good meals, mind you, but it was food. You could typically expect a soggy croissant with rubbery turkey and some wilted vegetables, or roughly what they’ve been serving at Subway since the advent of the $5 foot long. But at least you didn’t have to sit next to the guy who brought Panda Express’ extra-spicy shrimp curry on board, nor did you have to stock up on Combos at the newsstand for a cross-country flight.

Music was only available through in-flight radio or your Walkman
Which meant the decision about which Motley Crue tape to bring was especially crucial. Or, accidentally grab your “Long Lonely Summer” mix from three years ago, and you could’ve been stuck listening to the same 14 Adult Contemporary songs on a fake “radio station” hosted by John Tesh.

There was no Internet to buy tickets
If you wanted to book a flight, you either had to call the airline, go to their office, or call a travel agent. If you tried to comparison shop while at said office, you were basically the equivalent of the guy who gets to the front of the line at Taco Bell and asks questions about every ingredient in a chalupa.

You showed up 20 minutes before your flight, and got on
Airport security in the ’80s was like stadium security today, but faster! And it smelled a lot better too, since everyone could leave their shoes on.

You had to pre-arrange your meeting time and place
Because there were no cell phones. And if you weren’t EXACTLY sure where “outside baggage claim 4, by the Marlboro ad” was, you got the momentary celebrity of getting paged over the airport loudspeaker. Which is why usually…

People met you at the gate
And though occasionally awesome, it was usually cripplingly embarrassing. Especially when Mom made a giant “Welcome Home” sign on your first trip back from college and showed up with the high school girlfriend you forgot you still had.

Unlimited checked bags, FO’ FREE
Airplanes actually had overhead space and legroom, because people weren’t trying to pack their entire spring semester’s wardrobe into a carry-on. Many airlines didn’t limit the number of bags you could take, and even the ones that did typically allowed at least two

No automated check-in
It’s amazing how now we push seven buttons, and we’re checked into our flight; we even get a boarding pass and baggage tag. In the ’80s, it took the airline desk agent 14,000 VERY loud key strokes on an IBM the size of an anvil just to find your reservation.

You needed ACTUAL tickets to board your flight
And the gut-punch you got when you arrived at the airport and realized you’d left them at home was worse than the feeling of forgetting to bring cash to a strip club.

You could bring whatever you wanted on planes
A few bottles of wine from France? Sure. A gallon of vodka from Russia? Absolutely! Some Ginsu knives you received for looking at a beach timeshare? No problem! Did this lead to the occasional booze-fueled knife fight? Probably. But there was no Twitter back then, so airlines were actually able to keep it quiet.

You got one movie. If you were lucky.
And it cost $7 to rent headphones to hear it. Typically, it was something starring Cory Feldman/Haim/both that showed on one screen and was “Edited for Airline Use,” which led to an entire generation of children thinking the most famous line from Die Hard was “Yippee ki-yay, motorfinger”.

Airports had lockers
Even though your carry-on wasn’t that heavy, it was still nice to put it away if you decided to explore a city during your layover. And since getting back through security wasn’t a bigger procedure than making polenta, coming and going to the terminal didn’t take much time.

Airport food sucked
You ever been to one of those crappy regional airports where your only choices for pre-flight food are roller hot dogs and a sad, lonely SuperPretzel? That was EVERY AIRPORT IN AMERICA, and the first time you saw a Little Caesars during a layover in Detroit it blew your freaking mind.

Flights cost more. A LOT more
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average round-trip domestic ticket in 1980 cost $592.55. Even with bag fees, water fees, oxygen fees and whatever other fee Spirit charges, the average cost in 2010 was $337.97. The moral of that story: you get what you pay for.

^ Even though I was young in the 1980s I still remember flying and my family and I did it many times as we lived in West Germany and flew back to the States often. Some things were better in the 1980s (like airport lockers (although many countries still have them), no liquids ban, anyone could go to the gate. Some things have improved like: the food (although you usually have to pay for it), having personal entertainment at your seat. ^

Reindeer Police

From MT:
"Russia Looks to Launch Reindeer Police Force"

Giving Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer a shot at alternative employment, Russian authorities have moved to launch a reindeer police force to combat crime above the Polar Circle. Reindeer are uniquely equipped to fight petty crime among Siberia's indigenous peoples, Izvestia daily reported Tuesday, citing police sources.  Siberia's indigenous minority groups tend to be savvy at handling reindeer, thus enabling them to sled off into the tundra when faced with the need to flee a crime scene, the report said. While chasing down criminal suspects, police are relegated to snowmobiles, but those are no match for reindeer, which tend not to break down or run out of gas in the middle of the tundra, a police official was cited as saying. Of 163 crimes registered in the Yamalsky municipality of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district in western Siberia during the first nine months of 2014, 127 were reportedly committed by representatives of indigenous minorities, according to Interfax. Citing local police, the report noted the figures are typical to the entire district.
Drunken fights, robberies and acts of hooliganism dominated the list of crimes committed in Yamalsky. Many Siberian indigenous people are known to be easily susceptible to alcoholism for genetic reasons.
Russian police have been asking for reindeers since 2012, but the ungulates have yet to be deployed to maintain public order in the tundra.  Plans for police camels, outlined at the same time, also remain tentative.  Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry is already using war mules and donkeys, deploying 150 of them for the use of Russia's mountain troops. The sturdy and sure-footed animals reportedly received rave reviews from the soldiers.

^ At first I thought this article was a joke, but I guess it's real. ^

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pet Protection

Found this on Facebook and it's true.

Crimea Rights

From MT:
"Report Warns of Human Rights Infringements in Crimea"

Human Rights Watch has slammed authorities in Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March, for what the group describes as serious human rights abuses against Crimean Tatars and residents who openly opposed the peninsula's annexation, which it calls Russia's "belligerent occupation."
On Monday, the organization published a 37-page report, titled "Rights in Retreat: Abuses in Crimea," based on 42 interviews with Crimean Tatars, activists, journalists, lawyers and others.
Treatment of the local Tatar community features predominantly in the report, which criticizes authorities for "invoking Russia's vaguely worded and overly broad anti-extremism legislation to issue multiple 'anti-extremist warnings' to the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar representative body," according to a summary of the report on the group's website. In addition, "invasive, and in some cases unwarranted," searches of mosques and Islamic schools have been carried out, along with searches in the homes of dozens of Crimean Tatars, the report said, and Crimean Tatar media outlets have been "harassed," along with pro-Ukrainian ones. Ukrainians who do not wish to accept Russian citizenship have also been victims of discrimination and harassment, according to the report. They are prohibited from holding government or municipal jobs and were given only one month to decide whether to accept Russian citizenship, and those who chose to retain Ukrainian citizenship faced numerous difficulties and "are now treated as foreigners in their own home territory," the report said.
"Russia is not really offering people a choice of citizenship, but forcing civilians under its control to choose between taking Russian citizenship or facing discrimination and worse," Yulia Gorbunova, a Europe and Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, was cited as saying in the report's summary. The organization refers to "Russia's occupation of Crimea" throughout the report, citing the definition of "occupation" from the 1949 Geneva Convention. Russia's presence in Crimea, "in the face of Ukrainian opposition and objection, constitutes a belligerent occupation," the report reads, adding that despite the "broad international outcry" over the situation, "it hasn't been enough to stop abuses." Russia's annexation of Crimea in March was condemned by the West and widely seen as a forceful occupation. Although a referendum was held to purportedly let Crimean residents decide their fate for themselves, many observers complained that the vote was done hurriedly, without proper preparations, and at gunpoint, as Russian soldiers stood guard on the peninsula.

^ You hear all of these reports and stories and yet the US, Canada, the EU and the rest of the world do nothing but talk. Sometimes talk is cheap and that is clearly the case in the Ukraine. ^

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SSA Nazis

From Yahoo:
"Lawmakers move to strip former Nazis of benefits"

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to strip suspected Nazi war criminals of their Social Security benefits, insisting American taxpayers should not be underwriting the retirement of anyone who participated in the Third Reich's atrocities. The Nazi Social Security Benefits Termination Act comes in response to an Associated Press investigation published in October that revealed millions of dollars in benefits have been paid to dozens of former Nazis who were forced out of the United States. At least four are alive, living in Europe on U.S. Social Security.
The legislation would end benefits for Nazi suspects who have lost their American citizenship, a step called denaturalization. U.S. law currently requires a higher threshold — a final order of deportation — before benefits can be terminated. A companion bill to close this so-called loophole was introduced in the Senate. Mike Long, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said "we're eager to get this done" during the lame-duck session that will last until a new Congress begins in late January. AP's investigation found that the Justice Department used the loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. in exchange for Social Security benefits. If they agreed to go voluntarily, or simply fled the country before being deported, they could keep their Social Security benefits. The Justice Department denied using Social Security payments as a tool for expelling former Nazis. "Our bill will eliminate the loophole that has allowed Nazi war criminals to collect Social Security benefits," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the bill's main sponsor, said in a statement. "We should work in a bipartisan and expeditious manner to terminate these benefits once and for all."
Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Leonard Lance of New Jersey joined with Maloney to introduce the legislation. There are 11 other co-sponsors. The White House and the Social Security Administration have signaled support for denying benefits to former Nazis. The Justice Department said it is open to considering proposals that would terminate the Social Security payments. "This legislation is long overdue, and we are pleased that lawmakers in Congress are taking this seriously," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The legislation specifically targets individuals who were denaturalized because of their roles in the Nazi persecution or lost their citizenship through a settlement agreement with the Justice Department. The bill requires the Justice Department to notify the Social Security Administration of their identities and locations so the agency can shut off their benefits. The Justice Department and Social Security Administration also would be required to submit a report to Congress six months after the bill's enactment identifying the total number of individuals found to be participants in the Nazi persecution and the total number of individuals whose benefits were effectively revoked. The Social Security Administration has refused the AP's request for the overall number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts of the payments. The AP in October appealed the agency's denial of the information through the Freedom of Information Act. The appeal also cited several concerns about the Social Security Administration's handling of the FOIA request, including the agency's decision to change the request "in a manner serving both to undercut AP's inquiry while simultaneously sparing the SSA from having to disclose potentially embarrassing information," the Oct. 16 appeal said.

^ This is long over-due and shouldn't even need to be done, but thanks to the Justice Department (justice n name only) and stupid policymakers in the past we have to make sure Nazis do not receive any benefits. ^

Germany's Path

From the DW:
"Path of Remembrance: memorial to Germany's recent fallen soldiers in Potsdam"

Since 1955, thousands have died in the service of Germany's armed forces. They now have a quiet memorial in Potsdam. It means very much to those left behind. The "Path of Remembrance" is dedicated to the more than 3,000 members of the German military who have died since Germany reconstituted its army in 1955. German President Joachim Gauck and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen joined some 650 families at the memorial's opening on Saturday. The 150-meter (500-foot) path traverses a tunnel-shaped informational point featuring in bold bronze lettering the names of German soldiers who have died since 2002 - 37 from attacks or skirmishes, 67 due to "other circumstances," such as accidents or suicide. The Path of Remembrance begins at the headquarters of the operational command of the German armed forces, which relocated to the buildings in 2001; previously they had been used for air combat training under the Third Reich. Konstantin Menz died in 2011 in an attack in Afghanistan. His mother, Tanja, now has a place to mourn her son in peace. "You need a little piece, some time for yourself," said the 45-year-old mother. She now has three children after Konstantin's death. Berlin also has a memorial to fallen soldiers at the Defense Ministry.
^ It's  good for every country to have something similar to the men and women that serve in their armed forces. ^

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Always A Brat

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Military brats or CHAMPS? Authors' proposed name change riles up locals"

Area military families seem less than enthused about a proposed replacement for the term “military brat.” For about a year, the USO and other military organizations have worked with two women who wrote a book for elementary-aged children called "Little C.H.A.M.P.S.” It encourages military children to refer to themselves as C.H.A.M.P.S., or Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel, instead of the traditional term. A co-author Debbie Fink, told the USO in a news article from Oct. 2012, that they proposed the term change to help facilitate understanding between military and civilian children. The word brat likely originated from an acronym that dates back to the British Empire, originally standing for British Regiment Attached Traveler. Across the Internet, and most certainly along the Emerald Coast, people seem less than inclined to agree with Fink’s rationale.
“Their term does not connect with me,” said Michelle Moeller, whose father was stationed at Eglin and Hurlburt. “So many people are looking at this like, ‘Why are they trying to take my identity?’ ”
Moeller said numerous online forums are built around the military brat term, including Brats without Borders and the Military Brat Network, which put out a release Thursday condemning the name change.. A petition was also started by “All Past Present and Future Military Brats.” It was addressed to the company who published Fink’s book. As of Friday, it had been signed by more than 2,600 people. “I’ve been a brat my whole life,” Moeller said. “So why change it now?” Calls to the USO were directed to the authors, who are currently on tour. Daily News readers on Facebook were pretty united in their opinions. Laura LeNoir *rolls eyes* This is silly. Proud military (Air Force) BRAT right here. Grew up military and married military. I've NEVER found the term to be offensive or negative. I almost find it endearing! Leave it be already! Jeff Williams Did some little brat get his feelings hurt? Good grief, leave the terminology alone.... nothing wrong with being called a military brat, most of us in the area wear the term with pride and honor. Lara Lynn I'm a proud USAF brat. Not a hero. My dad was the hero. Ashley Parks Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel sounds a bit entitled and dependent... When in reality, we military brats are very independent, highly adaptable, and not entitled at all!

^ I am and always will be a military brat! This PC hysteria needs to stop! ^

Final Salute

From Yahoo:
"WWII veteran, 98, dons uniform for final salute"

On Veterans Day, Justus Belfield donned his Army uniform one more time, even though he was too weak to leave his bed at an upstate New York nursing home. The 98-year-old World War II veteran died the next day. The Daily Gazette of Schenectady reports that Belfield had worn his uniform every Veterans Day since he and his wife moved into Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Glenville, outside Albany, several years ago. On Tuesday, the former master sergeant wasn't able to get out of bed to participate in the facility's Veterans Day festivities, so he had the staff dress him in his uniform. A photograph accompanying the newspaper's story published Friday shows Belfield saluting while lying in bed. The nursing home staff said he died early Wednesday morning.
Belfield, originally from Utica, spent 16 years in the Army, including a stint in Europe where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He also served during the Korean War when he worked as a recruiter in Syracuse. Belfield told the newspaper last year that he never regretted serving in the military. "It was a good thing to do," he said in the interview on Veterans Day last year. "I loved it because it was my country. It's still my country." Ailing health prevented Belfield from participating in October's Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorials. Instead, local veterans presented Belfield with an Honor Flight T-shirt in his room at the nursing home, according to Albany's WTEN-TV, which reported his death Wednesday. Barbara Bradt, activities director at the nursing home, said Belfield had "such a spark for life." "He taught me no matter how old you are, you keep going, you put a smile on your face and you just appreciate every day because that's what he did." She said. Belfield and his wife, Lillian, have six children, 18 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. He was buried Friday with military honors at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

^ This was a cool story (not only because I used to live in the area, but because it shows the true commitment a soldier has even when he is no longer serving.) ^

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jan Palach

From Wikipedia:
"Jan Palach"

Jan Palach (11 August 1948 – 19 January 1969; was a Czech student of history and political economy at Charles University. He committed suicide by self-immolation as a political protest against the end of the Prague Spring resulting from the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact
armies. In August 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the liberalising reforms of Alexander Dubček's government during what was known as the Prague Spring. Prague-born Palach decided to sacrifice himself in protest of the invasion and set himself on fire, in Wenceslas Square, on 16 January 1969. According to a letter he sent to several public figures, an entire clandestine resistance organization had been established with the purpose of practicing self-immolation until their demands were met; however, it seems that such a group never existed. The demands declared in the letter were the abolition of censorship and a halt to the distribution of Zprávy, the official newspaper of the Soviet occupying forces. In addition, the letter called for the Czech and the Slovak peoples to go on a general strike in support of these demands. An earlier draft of the letter that Palach wrote also called for the resignation of a number of pro-Soviet politicians, but that demand did not make it into the final version, which included the remark that "our demands are not extreme, on the contrary". Palach died from his burns several days after his act, at the hospital. On his deathbed, he was visited by a female acquaintance from his college and by a student leader, to whom he had addressed one of the copies of his letter. It was reported that he had pleaded for others not to do what he had done but instead to continue the struggle by other means, although it has been doubted whether he really said that.  According to Jaroslava Moserová, a burns specialist who was the first to provide care to Palach at the Charles University Faculty Hospital, Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the "demoralization" of Czechoslovakian citizens caused by the occupation.

"It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, that all the decent people were on the verge of making compromises

The funeral of Palach turned into a major protest against the occupation, and a month later (on 25 February 1969) another student, Jan Zajíc, burned himself to death in the same place, followed in April of the same year by Evžen Plocek in Jihlava. Palach was initially interred in Olšany Cemetery. As his gravesite was growing into a national shrine, the Czechoslovak secret police (StB) set out to destroy any memory of Palach's deed and exhumed his remains on the night of 25 October 1973. His body was then cremated and sent to his mother in Palach's native town of Všetaty while an anonymous old woman from a rest home was laid in the grave. Palach's mother was not allowed to deposit the urn in the local cemetery until 1974. On 25 October 1990 the urn was officially returned to its initial site in Prague. On the 20th anniversary of Palach's death, protests ostensibly in memory of Palach (but intended as criticism of the regime) escalated into what would be called "Palach Week". The series of anticommunist demonstrations in Prague between 15 and 21 January 1989 were suppressed by the police, who beat demonstrators and used water cannons, often catching passers-by in the fray. Palach Week is considered one of the catalyst demonstrations which preceded the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia 10 months later. After the Velvet Revolution, Palach (along with Zajíc) was commemorated in Prague by a bronze cross embedded at the spot where he fell outside the National Museum, as well as a square named in his honour. The Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek, who left Czechoslovakia the following year, named an asteroid which had been discovered on 22 August 1969, after Jan Palach (1834 Palach.)
There are several other memorials to Palach in cities throughout Europe, including a small memorial inside the glacier tunnels beneath the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.  The Jan Palach Square in central Prague was named after Palach, there are Palachovo náměstí (Palach Square) in Brno. He also had streets named after him in Luxembourg city (Luxembourg), Angers and Parthenay (France), Kraków (Poland), Assen and Haarlem (Netherlands), Varna (Bulgaria) and Nantwich (United Kingdom). In Rome (Italy) (as well as in many other Italian towns), there is a central square named after Palach with a commemorative statue.
The oldest rock club in Croatia is named Palach. It is situated in Rijeka since 1969 to this day. There is a bus station in the town of Curepipe, Mauritius named after Jan Palach. A student hall in Venice, Italy on the Giudecca island has also been given the name of Jan Palach.

^ I included this about Jan Palach because I didn't go into much detail about him when I wrote about "The Burning Bush" movie - since the movie deals mostly with what happened in the years after his death.) Not many people - especially the young - get involved in anything and yet Jan Palach did and tried to do something to show the Czechoslovak citizens, the Czechoslovak Communists and the Soviets just how deeply the Czechoslovaks want basic freedoms. I don't know if setting himself on fire was the best way to show that, but it's what he chose. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 to topple the Czechoslovak Communists Jan Palach and everything he stood for has been brought into the forefront of Czech society some 35 years after his act.   There is also a memorial website in several languages for Jan Palach at:    ^

Burning Bush (2013)

This Czech mini-series is about the true story of what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1969. In the late 1960s the Czechoslovak Communists tried to modernize the country and the Party in what was known as the Prague Spring. The reforms included: a  partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms included: a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel for their citizens. In August 1968 the Soviets (and other Warsaw Pact countries) invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia to stop the reforms and bring the country back under the tight control of the Soviet Union. Around 108 Czechoslovaks were killed in the invasion and around 500 were wounded.
The Soviet occupation and it's repressive response to the reforms led many Czechoslovaks to resist. This movie is about what happened after one person, a student, named Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague on January 16, 1969. At first the Czechoslovak Communists treated Jan Palach as a hero and even allowed a major funeral to be held. Then they decided (probably due to Soviet influence) to put a stop to people "worshipping" Palach and what he stood for. They (the Communists) make Jan out to be a n unstable person.  Palach's mother tries  to sue the Czechoslovak  Communist Party for defaming her son's name and gets lawyer Dagmar Burešová (played by Tatiana Pauhofova) involved in the case. Of course the Czechoslovak Communist Party wins the case (because their power was re-established and tightened with help from the USSR.) Those who tried to help the Palach's (including Dagmar Buresova) had their lives monitored and changed for the worse.
I had heard about Jan Palach setting himself on fire, but not about what happened afterwards and this movie did a great job in showing the reality of the Czechoslovak and Soviet Communist rule in Czechoslovakia from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Told You So!

From Stars and Stripes:
"Iraq force authorization reopens debate on war"

President Barack Obama’s decision to reverse course and seek a congressional authorization for the war against the Islamic State has so far served only to reignite criticism of his entire military strategy against the extremists.  On Thursday, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said any authorization that bars ground troops — Obama has insisted Americans will not wage ground combat — would be dead on arrival in Congress. “I will not support sending our military into harm’s way with their arms tied behind their backs,” said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif. The day after the midterm elections, Obama appeared to change tack; saying he would welcome Congress’ input. “I’m going to begin engaging Congress over a new authorization to use military force against ISIL,” he said. “The world needs to know we are united behind this effort and the men and women of our military deserve our clear and unified support.” Meanwhile, about six competing authorization bills are now circulating on Capitol Hill and the White House has not yet told lawmakers what it expects from the new war authority, despite requests from congressional leaders. The lack of direction is making the process more difficult, said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who sponsored one of the bills. Kaine has argued that Congress is abdicating its duty under the Constitution to declare war by not voting on the Obama administration’s air and proxy war. His bill would lay out rules for humanitarian operations, counter-terror operations against Islamic State leaders, and the training of regional forces as well as include a sunset clause that would require lawmakers to revisit the use of force after one year. Congress is under mounting pressure to weigh in on the new conflict and decide on parameters for Operation Inherent Resolve as the administration strategy evolves. This week alone, U.S. and coalition forces conducted 23 more air strikes in Iraq and Syria at a cost of about $8 million per day, a total of about $776 million since Aug. 8, to push back the Islamist radicals who have seized large swaths of those countries, according to the Department of Defense. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the military is now considering limited deployment of ground troops to fight alongside Iraqi forces — despite assurances from Obama it would not happen. The administration is now basing its legal justification for the war on authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 after 9/11 and in 2002 about six months before the invasion of Iraq.
 ^ This is not surprising. Obama always says one thing and does something else. He is as close to LBJ as you can get (minus LBJ's domestic policies.) It was clear from the beginning (at least to those of us with eyes and ears) that Obama was going to send in ground troops to Iraq even though he said he never would because he knows he made things much worse for Iraq and the US when he completely withdrew US soldiers in 2011. He is now trying to backtrack on everything. He has nothing to fear since his popularity is already at an all-time low and he can't be re-elected. To all those who voted for him a second time (after seeing what he did and did not do during his first term) I say: "Told you so!" People drank the kool-aid he gave them even after years of seeing him do nothing in both domestic and international affairs. ^ 

Radical Turkey

From the BBC:
"Turkish protesters attack US sailors in Istanbul"

Turkish nationalist protesters have assaulted three US sailors in Istanbul, trying to put hoods on them and chanting "Yankees go home". The protesters, who posted a video of the attack on an ultra-nationalist website, also threw red paint and chased the sailors down a street. The sailors returned unharmed to their ship, the USS Ross, which was docked nearby, a US military spokesman said.
US officials condemned the attack, but said it appeared to be a one-off event. Turkish police arrested 12 people in connection with Wednesday's incident, but later released them, local media reported.
The group, members of the nationalist Turkish Youth Union, were told they could still face charges of insult, injury and breaching laws on public protests, the Dogan news agency said. 'Local thugs' Just before the assault, one of the protesters shouted in English at the sailors: "Because we define you as murderers, as killers, we want you to get out of our land."  The protesters then started throwing objects at the sailors and grabbed hold of at least one of them, briefly pulling a white sack over his head. Col Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, called the attack "ugly and disturbing".  He described the assailants as "local thugs", saying they brought "great discredit upon the Turks and the Turkish reputation for hospitality". "We're working closely with Turkish authorities to have this investigated and to get to the bottom of exactly what happened," he said. The Turkish foreign ministry also condemned the attack, calling it "in no way tolerable".

^ It seems Turkey is becoming more and more radical. That needs to be stopped. Hopefully the Turkish Government will do that so no one else will have to. ^

Criminal Charity

From the BBC:
"#BBCTrending: Arnold Abbot, 90, vows to feed homeless despite arrest threat"

Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old Florida man, has been called a hero for opposing new restrictions on feeding the homeless outdoors in Fort Lauderdale. The new laws say that organisations wishing to feed the homeless must do so at designated feeding sites, or must provide portable restrooms and running water.  Abbott, who has fed the hungry at the beach on Wednesdays for eight years, refuses to comply. This Wednesday he plans to set up his feeding station at the beach and could confront his third citation in two weeks. Violators of the rule can face 60 days in jail or a $500 fine. Thousands of people have expressed support for Abbott online.  The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Jack Seiler, said his city does not think a piecemeal approach to helping the homeless is effective, and that the designated feeding centres have more resources to help those in need. The BBC's Fernando Peinado talked to both Abbott and the mayor.

^ The reason the majority of people stop helping those in need or giving to charity is because of stupid laws like this one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the people who create them. I understand that some homeless commit crime, etc, but this law is not about that - it's about having running water and bathrooms for them to use when what they really need is food. Florida has long been the butt of many jokes because of their stupidity (ie hanging chads, etc) and this just re-enforces the rest of the country's and the world's view of that. ^

Germany's New Role

From the BBC:
"Time for German military to take more active role?"

Remembrance of the fallen, and the fall of a wall. How we remember the past defines the future.
Look at London, then at Berlin last weekend, and you will understand the intense debate in Europe's richest country - does it dare to lead again? mA wave of red flowers laps against the walls of an ancient fortress, a brass band echoes the demolition work of the trumpets of Jericho with the addition of unbiblical balloons. The toll of bells and then a silence broken only by the cry of gulls to honour those who died. In Germany there are not many memorials to the fallen, but I found one at the Brandenburg HQ of the modern German army. It was rescued from a demolished East German barracks; no-one was sure of its exact dates. Maybe post-WW1, maybe earlier.I ask Cpl Stephen Giese, 21, who has been in the German Army a year and a month, what he thinks of those Germans who died in the two world wars. "I'm very proud of how they served the army considering the circumstances and knowing that the war was probably lost anyway. "I think today you can't approve of it, but their courage and steadfast duty is impressive," he said. It is a welcome relief from the two-dimensional world of the tabloids where heroes are always on the right side and their opponents are bad, or mad, and always cowardly. His reflective, thoughtful approach to war is very German. But the young soldier is also determined that his country's past should not hamstring its future. "It is part of the education [of a potential officer] to be sent overseas. I think it is our job and our duty to protect the liberty and democracy of our own country and I'm ready to do so.  "I think there are regions in this world where it is necessary to fight, because talking isn't enough or people wouldn't agree on talking.  If nations define themselves, and their sense of history, by what they choose to remember, and what they choose to forget, then Germany is unique. It chooses to remember with dogged determination its darkest sins, rubbing its own face in the mess of its past, to teach itself a lesson.
But history does not stand still. Ever since the fall of the wall there has been a debate about when Germany can become a "normal" country. It is sometimes rather more philosophical than political.
But now the debate has reached a tipping point - what more can the richest and most powerful country in Europe do in a very uncertain world? Earlier this year German President Joachim Gauck made a rare political intervention.  He said the country could not continue to hide behind its past.He warned that there were "people who use Germany's guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world". Forcefully, he added: "At this very moment, the world's only superpower is reconsidering the scale and form of its global engagement.  "Europe, its partner, is busy navel-gazing. I don't believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments." The foreign minister and the defence minister have followed suit, arguing that Germany should do more.

^ Germany, and the rest of Europe (and the rest of the world) need to stop always talking and actually start doing something real to stop all the threats. Even when a country (like Germany) goes into a place (like Afghanistan) it is usually as a support-unit to the US. The same thing is happening in Iraq and Syria. The reason the US has had to become the "world's policeman" is because other countries do little, if anything, to make the world safe. It's time for Germany, and all the other countries, to take their heads out of the sand and live in reality. ^