Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back In the USSR!

From the MT:
"Russia Is Trapped In 1991"

Every once in a while I have the traitorous thought that it might have been better if the putschists won in August 1991. It wasn't impossible; they could have arrested Yeltsin and found the necessary amount of loyal troops to disperse the crowds in Moscow. After all, there weren't any other crowds to disperse. Outside the two capitals, where decisive events in Russian history take place, all was quiet as usual. There was absolutely no mass movement for reforms in the Soviet Union. There were no significant public groups that could have supported a move toward a market economy and democracy. Even the government's reformers did not really expect the result they got. The game of democratization that Gorbachev started — in part, I believe, out of ignorance on the part of a Soviet apparatchik as to the depths and true nature of this type of process — was aimed at "restoring Leninist norms in the party." This clearly backfired. In short, the fall of the Soviet Union was not something the majority of people fought for. It came to them like a bolt from the blue, an unexpected present from the ruling elite playing their power games, including the elite of other Soviet republics. Suddenly, all the Communist Party leaders of the Soviet republics wanted to become presidents of independent nations, and so they did. The result of this overly speedy dissolution is that most people have tacitly supported the revival of the Soviet way of life at every opportunity. Russians traditionally consider those three days in 1991 — from Aug. 19 to 21 — to be the key, dramatic moment marking "the end of the Soviet empire." That was when everything was decided, right then. But it didn't, at least not entirely. The continuity between the Soviet Union and the current regime is obvious. This continuity is primarily found in the dismissive attitude toward individuals and their rights, which can be seen both in government actions and everyday interactions. It is also evident in the state's paternalistic regard for its citizens, and the citizens' lack of faith in nongovernmental organizations. For many, if an organization is not government-run, there is the chance they are suspicious anti-government subversive bodies. In all the years of the post-Soviet period, the country has still been unable to form stable civil-society institutions. The judicial system seems to be even more dependent on the executive branch than during the Soviet Union, when the direct dictatorial rule was at least mitigated by party bodies. Today's Russian parliament is painfully reminiscent of the obedient Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. The presence of "opposition" parties should not mislead anyone. The very word "democracy" has been completely discredited in the eyes of the Russian public. At the same time, the evolution of Russian society and the Russian government, a process in which August 1991 was just one of several intermediate episodes that did not change the essential character of the government or its relationship with its citizens, must be analyzed against the background of a longer period of time. I believe that to understand the transformation of the Russian state, which came into existence in the ninth century, we have to consider, at a minimum, the entire 20th century. After all, despite what was taught in Soviet schools, the U.S.S.R. was not a complete break from the Russian Empire. The level of continuity between the empire and the U.S.S.R. is even clearer now — take, for example, the similarities between serfdom and Soviet collective farms. This evolution, including a trend toward more personal freedoms, continues to the present. Russians today have more freedom than at any other point in the country's history, no matter what anyone says about President Vladimir Putin's regime. And this evolution will continue, through objective changes in technology, the information sphere and the general level of human culture.
Today's Russia faces essentially the same challenge that the Soviet Union faced on the eve of its dissolution, and one that the coup of 1991 failed to meet. This challenge is the need to energize the country and its society. Having failed to find an acceptable response to this challenge within the cultural and political system that was formed when the Soviet Union fell, Russia and its citizens are now trying to find it in Crimea and the so-called "Novorossia" of eastern Ukraine.
That's where they might find some new idea to fill the void left after the end of the Soviet Union and communist ideology. The fact that this undertaking might lead the country not only into total international isolation but also a historical dead end in terms of its own development is far from obvious to those generally known as the "moral majority."

^ To quote the Beatles (who were the most popular band in the Soviet Union despite being officially banned) - - -"Back In The USSR!" ^


Journalist Killed

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Former Stars and Stripes reporter James Foley beheaded by Islamic State"

The Islamic State militant group claimed Tuesday to have beheaded an American photojournalist in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. A video posted on YouTube, later removed, purported to show the execution of James Foley after he recited a statement in which he called the U.S. government “my real killers.” A second prisoner, said to be Steven Joel Sotloff — like Foley, an American journalist who disappeared while covering Syria’s civil war — then appears in the video. The masked executioner, speaking in English with what sounds like a British accent, identifies Sotloff and says that “the life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.” U.S. intelligence officials said they were still evaluating the video and could not immediately authenticate it. A White House statement said, “We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL,” one of several acronyms associated with the militants. “The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity,” said the statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available.” A European intelligence official said the British government was examining the video, and the speech of the purported executioner, to compare it with former Guantanamo Bay prisoners and other British residents thought to be have joined the Islamic State. A former Stars and Stripes reporter, Foley, 40, deployed to Afghanistan for Stripes in 2011. He was working in Syria as a freelance journalist for the Boston-based news website GlobalPost when he disappeared Nov. 22, 2012. Philip Balboni, GlobalPost’s chief executive and co-founder, made the following statement: “On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. Until we have that determination, we will not be in a position to make any further statement. We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 66 journalists, all but 10 of them Syrian, have been killed covering the Syrian war. If the video posted online Tuesday is authenticated, Foley will be the first American journalist known to be executed since the conflict began in early 2011. The video evoked the 2002 taped execution in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl by al-Qaeda. Islamic State, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, is the most powerful among a number of extremist organizations that have emerged during the Syrian civil war, which began as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad. Fighting against both Assad and U.S.-backed rebels, the militants now control much of eastern Syria and claim to have established an Islamic caliphate spanning Syria and neighboring Iraq. As the group has grown, it has merged with the group formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to U.S. intelligence, it numbers in the thousands, including foreign fighters from Europe and the United States. In April, Islamic State fighters swept across the border into northern Iraq, taking over the city of Mosul before moving southward to within 60 miles of Baghdad. Extensive reports of executions, including beheadings and crucifixions, have emerged from areas under the group’s control. Early this month, amid reports of stranded and besieged Iraqi minorities threatened with execution, the militants advanced eastward toward Irbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. On Aug. 7, President Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes to rescue stranded minorities and protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Irbil and Baghdad. On Monday, after a total of 68 strikes from fighter jets, bombers and drones, Obama announced that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with U.S. air support, had retaken a strategic dam north of Mosul from the militants and that they had been pushed back from Irbil. Within hours of that announcement, the Islamic State posted an online message warning it would attack Americans “in any place” in response to the airstrikes. “We will drown all of you in blood,” it said. Foley reported from some of the most dangerous recent crises and was imprisoned for 44 days in Libya in 2011 by forces loyal to deposed leader Moammar Gaddafi. According to GlobalPost, two eyewitnesses saw his interception by a group of armed men in a silver-colored van on a road near the town of Taftanaz in northern Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. Since then, GlobalPost “has mounted an extensive international investigation . . . to determine who kidnapped Foley and where he was being held,” GlobalPost said in an article on its website late Tuesday.

^ I didn't see the video, but still think it shows ISIS is getting desperate. While I don't think airstrikes alone will destroy them I hope that this video will make the US and other countries do more against ISIS and the threat they pose to everyone. ^


Letting Vets Down

From the G & M:
"Half of badly wounded veterans not getting disability cheque: watchdog"

  A new report by Canada’s veterans watchdog says nearly half of the country’s most severely disabled ex-soldiers are not receiving a government allowance intended to compensate them for their physical and mental wounds. Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent also concluded that those who are receiving the permanent impairment allowance, along with a recently introduced supplement, are only awarded the lowest grade of the benefit.  The criteria used by federal bureaucrats to evaluate disability do not match the intent of the allowance, and that the guidelines are too restrictive, the report said. “The evidence presented in the report clearly demonstrates that many severely impaired veterans are either not receiving these benefits or may be receiving them at a grade level that is too low,” Parent said in a statement. “This is unfair and needs to be corrected.” Investigators could find no evidence that Veterans Affairs adjudicators consider the effect of an enduring injury on an individual’s long-term employment and career prospects, he added. In defending itself against criticism that veterans are being short-changed, the Harper government has been quick to point to the allowance and the supplement as a sign of its generosity. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino told a House of Commons committee last spring that some permanently disabled soldiers receive more than $10,000 per month, but figures from his own department show that only four individuals in the entire country receive that much. The report also noted that when a veteran dies, the spouse automatically loses the allowance, creating financial hardship for the family. Under the old Pension Act system, the widow or widower continued to receive support. The permanent impairment allowance is a taxable benefit awarded to disabled soldiers in three grade levels as compensation for lost future earnings. The Harper government introduced a supplement to the allowance in 2011.
In some respects, that supplement contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of applications.
According to figures released by Veterans Affairs in June, there are 521 ex-soldiers who are deemed to be the most critically injured, but the vast majority of them — 92 per cent — receive the lowest grade of allowance support. The ombudsman’s report estimates Canada has a total of 1,911 severely wounded soldiers, 924 of whom receive no allowance at all.

^ It seems the growing world trend is to treat the soldiers and vets that fight and die for your country and people as poorly as you can. The VA scandal in the US, hazing and abuse in Russia and now Canada. The true sign of a great country is not how many battles and wars it fights and wins. but how it treats those that proudly serve. Special care needs to be given to the families of the soldiers that were killed along with those that became wounded/disabled. World governments have become like insurance companies in that they expect everything from you, but when you need something from them they "fight" you tooth and nail. This is something that no country and no one should allow. Those that serve should also be served by their country. ^


Monumental Task

From the MT:
"Russia Wants Bulgarians to Stop Vandalizing Soviet Monuments"

Russia is demanding that Bulgaria try harder to prevent vandalism of Soviet monuments, after yet another monument to Soviet troops in Sofia was spray-painted, ITAR-Tass reported. The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria has issued a note demanding that its former Soviet-era ally clean up the monument in Sofia's Lozenets district, identify and punish those responsible, and take "exhaustive measures" to prevent similar attacks in the future, the news agency reported Monday. The monument was sprayed with red paint on the eve of the Bulgarian Socialist Party's celebration of its 123rd anniversary, the Sofia-based Novinite news agency reported. The vandalism was the latest in a series of similar recent incidents in Bulgaria — each drawing angry criticism from Moscow. Early this year, unknown artists painted another monument to Soviet troops in Sofia in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In August last year, a Soviet army monument in Sofia was painted pink in an "artistic apology" for Bulgaria's support of Soviet troops who suppressed Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring revolt against Moscow-based communist rulers.

^ I can understand how the people in Eastern Europe (where there are dozens of Soviet memorials) feel. Some were on the Axis side during World War 2 (like Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Germany) and others were victims of both the Nazis and the Soviets (like Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia.) For all of them the repression didn't end with the war as the Soviet Union occupied these countries until the 1990s. While they (the Soviets) may have once been considered liberators in 1945 their deeds and actions for the next 45 +years have more impact on more generations of people that lived behind the Iron Curtain. I'm not saying that vandalizing these monuments is a good thing, but I can understand how the Eastern Europeans see what Russia is currently doing with what the Soviet Union did to them in the past. ^


Monday, August 18, 2014

20 - 4

From the Stars and Stripes:
"20 years, 4 branches: Servicemember is part of exclusive club"

When Jesus Yanez joined the Marine Corps in 1993, military service became a way of life.
Over the years, the El Paso, Texas, native went from one job to the next, one command to another. He requested downrange deployments and continued his years of service. More than 20 years later, the 39-year-old has a rather unusual military resumé. Deployed to Afghanistan from the Texas Air National Guard’s 204th Security Forces Squadron, Yanez has served in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The Defense Department doesn’t closely track how many troops have served in all four main branches, but it’s a pretty exclusive club. In the past 10 years, more than 2 million U.S. troops have deployed overseas. Of those, only 40,385 have served in more than one branch, according to Defense Department records “I didn’t do it intentionally,” Yanez said, laughing when reached by phone last month from Bagram Airfield, where he has been deployed since June. “It just happened.” Yanez — now serving with the 455th Expeditionary Base Defense Squadron — said he hadn’t really thought about it until a friend pointed it out to him. Yanez, the middle child of five raised by a single mother, grew up fast and was a worker, delivering newspapers, selling greeting cards and working at a local pizzeria. When he was a junior in high school, he sought out the local Marine recruiter and signed up through the delayed entry program. “I went looking for [the recruiter] before he could come looking for me,” Yanez said. “Everyone thought I was crazy, joining the Marines as a junior in high school.” Yanez was “in the rear with the gear” in logistics and as a warehouseman. He loved being a Marine. But then he got married, and after a few years, he decided to get out, separating in 1997. Soon after, he was divorced and said he got the itch to serve again.
“I guess that’s what I missed a lot, the military way,” he said. In 1999, he joined the Navy Reserve as a master at arms. But the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks prompted him to switch gears. He sought and received a conditional letter of release from the Navy so he could join the Army Reserve. “I really wanted to deploy,” he said. “I wanted to do my part.” In the Army Reserves, Yanez served as a heavy wheel mechanic at Fort Bliss, Texas. But he didn’t get to deploy, which led him to ask for another conditional release — this time to join the Air Force’s 204th Security Forces Squadron, which Yanez described as an Air Force “light infantry unit.” The full-time job, which he took in 2006, keeps him in El Paso, where he is raising his two children. “As a single father, this was a better option, because it avoided moving my kids to another place,” he said previously in an Air Force statement. It also allowed him to finally get downrange, first to Iraq in 2010, where he guarded Baghdad International Airport with a .50-caliber machine gun, and now to Afghanistan, where he checks vehicles and locals for contraband and vehicle-borne explosives. His experience has made him an asset to his unit and garnered the attention of his superiors “He brings a ton of experience to the fight,” 455th Expeditionary Base Defense Squadron's chief enlisted manager, Chief Master Sgt. Eric Soluri, said in the Air Force statement. “Younger airmen and NCOs look up to him, and he is the ‘go-to guy’ in his sector.” From the Marine Corps to the Navy, the Army to the Air Force, Yanez has noted more similarities in the branches than differences — in the camaraderie, teamwork and in the responsibility to take care of one another. Yet each branch has taught him lessons that he tries to instill in junior airmen. For one, he said, he got his discipline from the Marine Corps: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” For every bead of sweat shed in service of the country he loves, Yanez said he has been paid back in full. He is the only member of his family with a college degree. He received his master’s degree while serving. He has also earned the admiration of his children. “My son and daughter think of me as their hero,” he said. “They’re always bragging about me.” Yanez has 11 years in the active-duty military and 10 as a reservist. He plans to retire when he hits 30 years of service. He has no second thoughts about dedicating his life to the military. “Not a day goes by where I regret what I do,” he said. “If you want to do something for your country, you do it right.” At 39, Yanez said he has no plans of joining the Coast Guard, even though he has looked into it. "I’d have to go to their boot camp,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ve looked into it. ... I think I’ll just stay with the Air Force and retire.”
^ It's a little odd to change from one branch to another and even more so to join 4 branches at different times. Being a military brat and having family in the military I know there is a kinship among the soldiers in each military branch (ie once a Marine, always a Marine, etc) to go against that seems to say that you don't have that special kinship or you can't commit to one thing. While it's good that he served his country it seems that there is something much deeper for him to constantly look for validation and kinship in the different branches. ^

Open Politics

From the Havok Journal:
"An Open Letter to the Political Leaders of America"

To the political leaders of America,
I write to you today regarding my concerns about the current state in which we find our beloved planet and your efforts in resolving the many issues we face. Over the last decade, we have managed to allow our mighty position at the head of the table to dwindle down to a seat at the kids table, with our counsel being received as if it were that of a child making a suggestion on how to cure the world of evil: everyone thinks it is adorable, but no one takes it seriously. To put it politely, you all are about as successful in global politics as an overweight middle-aged American with a severe case of tetanus trying to perform fellatio on himself. 
Understanding that you have the attention span of indigenous forces undergoing rifle training, I give you the options of either reading this letter in its entirety or simply skipping to the last two paragraphs. Sadly, you neither get the reference about indigenous forces (ask your college educated SMEs and think tanks) nor are you capable of making a decision on what to do next. Go ahead and post a tweet asking for thoughts/advice and hashtag this out with the others. #hashtaggingworldproblemsisabsurd #noseriouslystopit  #itisridiculousandembarrassing  You have time, this letter will still be here.   Due your ineptitude in your decisions with regard to who we back with foreign aid, and your complete lack of a spine in dealing with global threats, we find ourselves, for the first time in ages, being looked at with eyes filled with disdain and disrespect. The mere mention of ‘America’ leaves a bad taste in the mouths of our friends and allies.  The prospects of being saved by our once-great nation are now nothing more than a fleeting thought in the hearts and minds of Third World Country natives who dream of a life with fewer hardships than ones they currently face—hardships that could be vanquished by the hands of a great nation and its allies.   We have entered into a time in which it is not only possible to spread one’s hate filled rhetoric, it is also actually profitable and protected.  Your understanding and misinterpretations of our founding freedoms are being used and twisted to further your own political agendas without any consideration for the people you are meant to represent.  Your understanding (or lack thereof) of our Constitution contributes to the complete madness of a country that is run where someone’s rights to desecrate the flag that represents these very freedoms is more important than the patriotic peoples who stand to protect it.  Allowing people to lose houses or be fined for flying the American flag on their property due to it offending someone or being against a housing covenants is beyond ludicrous. It’s both absurd and frightening.  These are just a few examples of countless rights that are being used to tear the very fabric of which this country is founded. 
You see, all of you have forgotten the very key that makes this country work. You fight for one’s freedoms to express their beliefs regardless of where their loyalties lie. Using our very own founding documents, you argue that it is ones right to speak and act freely on their beliefs, regardless of their view of this great nation.  For fear of offending someone to pure political motivations, you stand up for the very people that wish to tear you down. What you, as well as most Americans have forgotten is this: Those individual rights end where others begin! It may be ones right to protest a certain religions display or another’s stance on certain political views, however, it is also the others right to display and have those stand points.  If one is offended by a shirt displayed with an image of a gun, a flag of our nation, a statue representing their faith in their chosen religion or any other example; that is their right to be offended and speak out. However, it is the others right to wear that shirt, fly that flag, display that statue or whatever else they wish to do. Freedom cannot be one-sided.  The complete madness of political correctness is overwhelming. You have stripped away our 1st Amendment rights by disguising it as political correctness and making the very people that make this country great afraid of offending any and everyone.  I use these examples in our own country as the catalyst  that has spawned our current position on the global stage.  Through political motivation or just complete incompetence, your methods of governing our country have clouded your views and thought processes for helping forge a united world.  We stand at the table, with weak knees and shivering hands. Our word as a nation holding as much weight as that of our President doing curls in the gym. We have all seen the video… We live in a world where you can contest our very lands with flyovers without consequence.  A world where one can sweep through two entire countries, massacring everyone along the way with no fear repercussions. One where sanctions and empty threats are wielded as a mighty sword against the very enemies that threaten our existence. You fail to see that in today’s world, the pen is not mightier than the sword. You have demonstrated this time and time again over the last 13 years.  Take Afghanistan for example. Politics alone have been the source of Taliban resurgence. How could this be? Let me school you. In 2001, a mixture of CIA, Special Forces and other Special Operations Forces (SOF), in very limited numbers, swept through the entire country of Afghanistan, demolishing the Taliban forces that stood in its way. Thinking that the back had been broken, we backed off and brought more and more ground forces in the country. 
As time went on, more and more troops arrived and operational control was taken away from the Special Operations types, to make way for conventional commands. Along with this came more and more restricted Rules of Engagement.  Fast forward to 2006. Following more political moves and further NATO control, we found ourselves in an Afghanistan where the freedom of movement for the insurgents is unprecedented in Operation Enduring Freedom—a freedom of movement that not only limits NATO troops ground movements, but also has even the hardest of SOF elements avoiding a drive into Kandahar City.   So, NATO asked the US to help. Enter into the timeline, Operation Medusa. US Special Forces demolished the insurgent forces to the point that insurgent operations in the entire country dropped.  The morale of the insurgents also dropped to an all time low, the grounds upon which the new Afghan Government stands, are once again sturdy.  Now, fast forward to present day… What has happened? Are the insurgents in Afghanistan fleeing and backs broken? Far from it. All of this due to your politics. The war effort drawn down to a near standstill due to more and more pointless commands and approval process. All, in which serve to help some pointless commander to further his career and push some pointless political agenda.  You see, the current world in which we find ourselves isn’t one that can be tamed by the pen.  The evils of the world find protection behind the shield of your politics.  This is due to one simple fact.  You have no clue how to play this game.  You listen and make decisions based of your Subject Matter Experts who read about war in a book. You base your strategies on the opinions of ‘Think Tanks’ and conventional wisdom.  The answers to these problems being spoken by the men on the ground only to be silenced by ‘yes men’. Due to this, you will continue to fail. Not only will you fail in Afghanistan, you will fail in bringing peace and security back into this world.  All of these failures will be caused by you because of one simple factor:  none of you have the intestinal fortitude to do what is necessary. You will use your own misguided experiences and delusions gained in your failures in governing our own country as the grounds on which you base your strategies.  But understand this, you can’t defeat evil with butterflies and rainbows.  And you sure as hell can’t do it with pens and empty words.  Face it, for the most part, our Foreign Policy is a joke and your efforts on the global stage are nothing short of pathetic. Not going into the fact that you all are voted in for the people by the people to do a job, a job in which you are failing. At least you all aren’t receiving a ridiculous paycheck and benefits package for providing a public service. oh wait… Our saving grace is that there are still a handful of you that will find this, as frustrating as it is, accurate and motivating.  But, then again, if that was the case, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this situation. Oh the conundrum. We have faith in our abilities as a nation. We have faith in our abilities in unconventional war as well as faith in our ability to destroy the current threats to the world given the freedoms and support required to do so.  So, I write to you today calling you out. You have failed. It is time to hand that Capri Sun and straw over before you put your eye out. You’ve been poking at that hole for some time now.  You gave it your best lil buddies, but it’s time. Pull those trainers up around your waist, latch down the Velcro, and watch how real men fight wars. It is time to unleash the hounds.  You have had over a decade of war filled with warriors that would gladly step up and fight. These former service members are battle hardened and ready. More importantly, they understand the game. We stand at the gates, waiting to smite all that is evil in this world.  You will not defeat the current evils in this world by playing your political chess games because it is spreading at an alarming rate. Unleash us. Back us. Stand behind us. History has shown us that evil is only successful when the righteous stand aside and do nothing.  Let us show the world that it will not tolerate the likes of ISIS or Boko Haram. That there most certainly are repercussions for committing atrocities. Justice will come to them swift and brutal. Step aside and let us do what is necessary! We stand ready! 

^ I agree with about 98% of this "open letter." Our politicians and leaders have little to no experience in governing and yet we expect them to fix our domestic and international issues. We may still be the world's only Super Power, but that power is slipping away each day with our government's bad decisions. Our leaders talk "tough" on issues like: Syria, the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Russia, etc yet do little to nothing to back that talk up. The true leadership and character of a person is shown during times of crisis and we have seen how our current leadership handles things from invasions to Federal shutdowns/ It is a disgrace and we need to elect people into power that no only talk tough, but can also make things happen. Right now they can "talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?" ^


Currently Talking

From the JP:
"School curriculum to devote first two weeks to discussing Operation Protective Edge"

When the new school year kicks off on September 1, teachers will be devoting the first two weeks of studies to addressing the conflict that dominated the summer vacation. All students throughout the country, but particularly those in southern localities, will take part in a number of activities that focus on emotional response as well as strengthening personal resilience, the Education Ministry announced. The ministry said that it made the decision due to the security events that marked Operation Protective Edge and resulted in a disruption of the summer holidays.  During the first few days of the school year, teachers will lead discussion sessions in which the students will be able to share their personal experiences, such as what was hard for them and what helped them cope with the experience, the ministry said. The discussion sessions will also involve creating photo albums about the operation, as well as sharing expectations and dreams.  In addition to the teacher-led discussions will also be sessions with guidance counselors, and special activities to mark the entrance of new grades into their respective schools – such as kindergarteners, first graders and seventh graders, the ministry explained. Kindergarten teachers will focus on identifying the specific needs of children through observation, according to the ministry. The teachers will be aiming to deepen their knowledge of each child's unique personality, preferences, tendencies and needs. Helping students process their emotions, the teachers will also particularly help children who have experienced a difficult time to readjust to their routines, the ministry said. The ministry has also instructed parents to allow their children to bring a favorite object from home during the early weeks of kindergarten.
As far as grade schools are concerned, the ministry said that students will be able to take part in social, volunteer and pressure-relieving activities, such as field days, tours, visits to heritage sites, youth movement activities, music days, culture days, school happenings, debates, talent shows, video productions and more.  At educational institutions located between 0 and 7 kilometers from Gaza, students will take part in special activities tailored to their specific experiences, the Education Ministry explained. In particular, they will engage in therapeutic discussions, talking about separation from their families and homes, as well as feelings that their homes have lost strength. Kindergartens in the region will also make sure to take care of children who have returned to bed-wetting, and will supplement treatment as necessary, the ministry said.

^ This shows the kind of detail that the Israelis show on most aspects of their society even to the littlest detail. Schools in Israel could over-look talking about what is currently going on (ie the bombings) as everyone in the country has been going through the same thing. Instead, the Israelis see the need to address the bombings and what they have done to the children. Many places bombed during wartime simply want to leave things in the past and move on rather than discuss their experiences (it wasn't until the 1960s that the majority of people in the US, Canada and Europe started talking about World War 2.) ^


Food Comp.

From the BBC:
"EU compensates fruit and veg growers hit by Russian ban"

The European Commission has announced emergency EU funding of 125m euros (£100m; $170m) for fruit and vegetable growers hit by Russia's ban on most imported Western food. The funding is compensation for fresh produce which will not be sold. Instead it will be distributed free to schools, hospitals and other institutions. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, grapes and pears are included in the scheme. Russia has banned many food imports, angry at EU-US sanctions over Ukraine. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on Monday that the EU sanctions must stay in place "in order to show how serious we are" on the Ukraine crisis. She was speaking in Latvia, an EU member state with a large ethnic Russian minority. Its Baltic neighbour Lithuania is especially hard hit by the Russian import ban. EU and US sanctions are targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors, such as energy and finance, as Western leaders accuse the Kremlin of destabilising eastern Ukraine by supporting the pro-Russian separatists there. The first round of Western sanctions came after Russia annexed Crimea in March. Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday he did not think the Russian ban would push up food prices, but he added: "I hope these measures won't last very long". Last week the Commission announced plans to pay peach and nectarine growers for 10% of their crop, and the new funding expands that aid to many more producers.  The crops affected by the EU compensation scheme are those in full season now, with no storage option for most of them and no immediate alternative market available, a statement from Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said. The measures will apply until the end of November.   The compensation will come from a special 420m-euro fund set up under the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), for farmers facing potentially ruinous emergencies. The food types covered by the new compensation scheme are: tomatoes, carrots, white cabbage, peppers, cauliflowers, cucumbers and gherkins, mushrooms, apples, pears, red berries, table grapes and kiwis.
On 7 August, Russia declared a one-year embargo on meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from the EU, the United States, Canada, Australia and Norway in retaliation for Western economic sanctions.  EU fruit exports to Russia last year were worth 1.07bn euros (£855m; $1.4bn) - the biggest agricultural export sector, ahead of dairy produce and meat. Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Denmark each face losses running into hundreds of millions of euros because of the Russian ban, the Financial Times reports.

^ It's good that the EU is working to help the fishermen, farmers and exporters of perishable food. ^


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Israelis Help Ukraine

From JP:
"Ukrainian teens spend summer in Israel"

Forty teens from Donetsk and other areas affected by the Ukrainian civil war have been brought to Israel for the summer by the Jewish Agency. The youngsters, aged 14 to 17, are staying at a camp in Kibbutz Kalya near the northern Dead Sea. The Jewish communities of Donetsk, Luhansk and other places in Ukraine’s Donbas region have begun to disintegrate under the pressure of the Moscow-backed insurgency and Kiev’s military campaign to stamp it out. While communication with those left in rebel-held areas has been spotty at best, it is clear that a significant portion of the Jewish residents of those towns have left, including senior community leaders. In Donetsk, Chabad Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski, an Israeli, has stayed behind, while Luhansk Rabbi Shalom Gopin, who fled to western Ukraine, has sent several teams of young men to sneak back into the city to facilitate the exit of their co-religionists.  By the end of July, the American Joint Distribution Committee was taking care of 500 refugees in Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa, according to website eJewish- Philanthropy.com. Between 150 and 200 other refugees are staying at a converted summer camp in Zhitomir organized by Chabad and sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
A total of 2,773 people immigrated to Israel from Ukraine between January and August, up 146 percent from the corresponding period in 2013, according to figures the Immigration and Absorption Ministry released last week. Donetsk had 11,000 Jews before the war, according to the local community. The Jewish Agency released its own immigration figures on Thursday, stating that it has brought out some 400 Jews from the war zone. The exodus, while small in comparison with Ukraine’s overall Jewish population of as many as 180,000, includes Jews from all over the country and not merely from the conflict areas. Inflation, political instability and other factors have made emigration a tempting prospect for many. As of the end of July, the Jewish Agency reported, 509 Jews had arrived from Odessa, 666 from Kharkov, 338 from Dnepropetrovsk, 114 from Simferopol and 305 from Kiev. The issue of Jewish immigration has a political dimension as well, with the IFCJ having announced that it will bring in several planeloads of refugees on its own, in what seems to be an effort to bypass the Jewish Agency. Asked about what role the Jewish Agency, the body officially responsible for aliya, will play in the flights, IFCJ President Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein replied that as a private organization, “we can do this better and quicker, with better results by seizing the moment.”
Eckstein, the former chairman of the agency’s Aliya and Rescue Committee, has been critical of the organization’s 2009 strategic shift, which emphasized identity and community building and which closed down the body’s aliya department, merging it with several other departments. During an acrimonious debate at an agency board meeting in 2011, Eckstein panned the agency’s new direction, asking if it “is not committed to having aliya as the sin que non of what the Jewish Agency does, then what does it do?” In response, Misha Galperin, the agency’s senior North American fund-raiser, replied that “in order for people to make aliya you have to have Jews and strengthen their identity but this is all over and above part of our central mission, which is aliya.” Asked about Eckstein’s plans, an Immigration and Absorption Ministry spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the ministry “is working with full cooperation with all the relevant organizations that work regarding aliya from the Ukraine... We welcome any initiative that is supposed to promote aliya from the Ukraine or worldwide.”

^ The Ukraine and Israel have had to deal with violence this year (that is currently on-ongoing for both places.) The fact that Israel is still considered the safest out of the two shows just how bad the pro-Russian terrorists are in eastern Ukraine (they are more Nazi/Fascist then anything.) With the terrorist-controlled "People's Republics" they have set out on their ethnic cleansing of ethnic Ukrainians, Gypsies and Jews to create a pure Russian territory. While the majority of the world simply talks and makes sanctions the Israelis, as usual, is actually doing something to help the Jews of eastern Ukraine. I don't know of any religion or country that has constantly worked to safe-guard and save as many of their people throughout the world ever (and Israel has been doing it since 1948.) Hopefully, the pro-ethnic Russian terrorists will be over-thrown and arrested and the violence in eastern Ukraine will end and everyone living in the Ukraine (including the Russian-annexed Crimea) can return to the peaceful way things were before. Then the Ukrainian Jews in Israel can go back home (if they want to) without fear of anti-Semitism that the ethnic Russians in the Ukraine have sanctioned and committed. ^


Slaves Meet Pope

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Former WWII sex slaves want solace, help from pope"

Lee Yong-soo hopes a meeting Monday with Pope Francis will provide some solace for the pain that still feels fresh more than seven decades after Japanese soldiers forced her into prostitution during World War II. Lee, 86, and two other elderly former "comfort women" will sit in the front row during the last Mass of the pope's five-day trip to South Korea. Francis cannot solve a long-running grievance that has become a major hurdle to better ties between neighbors and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, but the women are looking for greater global attention as they push Japan for a new apology and compensation. They also want a chance to share with the pope their feelings on the brutality they suffered as girls. "If we do get a chance to speak with him, I want to cling to him in tears and ask him to help us resolve our pain," Lee, a devout Catholic who was 15 when forced into sexual slavery, said by telephone. "I want to ask him to help us end this problem in a peaceful way."
Time is running out. Only 55 of the 238 women registered as official victims of sexual slavery survive, according to Seoul's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family website. Their average age is 88. Two have died this year. The women plan to give the pope a copy of a painting of a young woman in traditional Korean clothes who represents victims who have died. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, suggested the pope might meet the women privately, something Francis did with relatives of the victims of a South Korean ferry sinking. It's unlikely that Francis will offer anything more than words of prayer and solidarity. Lombardi has previously said it's not Francis' place to intervene in political disputes but, instead, to offer pastoral care and comfort. Various historians estimate that 20,000 to 200,000 women from across Asia, many of them Koreans, were forced into Japan's military brothel system during the war. Japan has apologized many times over the years, including a landmark 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that acknowledges Japan's responsibility over military brothels and says wartime documents, statements and other records were enough to assume many women were deceived or forced into them. Some previous premiers have also written letters of apology to the women. But past apologies and efforts at private compensation are seen by many as insufficient, especially as they're consistently undermined by incendiary comments from Japanese politicians, officials and right-wing activists. There was renewed anger last week when three Japanese ministers visited a Tokyo shrine that honors World War II dead, including convicted war criminals. Kang Il-chul, 87, who was taken by the Japanese military to China when she was 14, has high expectations for the pope. "Even if I am soon on my deathbed, I'll be happy knowing that I have met this great man," Kang said by telephone. "Koreans, women and men, were dragged away by the Japanese military. I want the pope to amplify this message for future generations."

^ People around the world know basically everything that the Germans did during World War 2, but very few know about what the Japanese did. The Comfort Women are part of the horrible crimes the Japanese people did to the world during the war. Among these crimes are: the Rape of Nanjing  - where around 300,000 civilians were massacred (and other Chinese cities), the internment of British, Dutch, American, Australian, etc men, women and children with little to no food or medicines, the biological and chemical experiments done on those captured, the Bataan Death March (where 60-80,000 American and Filipino soldiers died), the torture, beheadings and burning alive or civilians and POWs, etc are only a part of the Japanese crimes committed. When you learn the whole story you don't second-guess the dropping of the atomic bombs (especially when you know that Japan refused to surrender after the first bomb was dropped and were still willing to fight to the bitter end which would have cost thousands of American and other Allied lives (especially if we had to invade the Japanese home islands.) After the war, the Japanese were basically left alone. There were a few war crime trials, but the majority of the guilty were free and a "wall of silence" was ingrained into Japanese society that still remains today. The Germans, on the other hand, were not allowed to forget what they had done as a nation and while there was a "wall of silence" that "wall" was broken in the 1970s when the younger German generations started questioning what their parents and grandparents had done. While the German Government has given compensation to their victims the Japanese have given little, if anything, to them and have even honored convicted war criminals on memorials and shrines throughout the country - which is beyond disgusting. A lot more needs to be done to make the Japanese Government and people understand just hat they did during the war and to give their victims throughout the world closure. ^


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Uphill Battle

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Spouses of the fallen face system that traps them in grief, taxes"

On Mother's Day 2010, Marine Sgt. Thomas Bagosy told his wife that he loved her and that he had completed his two purposes in life: He had served his country and helped bring their children into the world. The next day, after a battle with post-traumatic stress that spanned nearly half a decade, he put a .22 caliber pistol to his head and shot himself. His wife, Katie Bagosy, found out several hours later when a casualty notification officer from Camp Lejeune, N.C., pulled up to her door. In his hand: a gigantic three-ring binder with a fading American flag plastered from cover to binding and the "Widow's Survival Handbook" nestled within. "He hands me this gigantic binder with 'the days ahead' written on the side," Bagosy recalled. "It was too much to deal with." After more than 13 years of war that have seen more than 6,800 servicemembers killed, thousands of spouses of the fallen have found themselves in the same position — forced to navigate a complex and often perplexing system of benefits. And although the nation has largely moved on from Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal benefits system has made it hard for some survivors to do the same. The system rewards most generously those who don't remarry or find work and weans those who do from compensation and benefits. Starkly put, survivors say, it has put a price tag on the daunting process of moving on.
Bagosy, who has a part-time marketing job, recalls learning that if she were to earn an income over a certain amount, her deceased husband's Social Security payments would be reduced. The same rule applies to the widows and widowers of civilians, but it has hit survivors of the fallen — many of them young and lacking financial stability — particularly hard. "The rules associated with these benefits can discourage us from getting a job, or doing different things and making different decisions because we're afraid we're going to lose what benefits we do have," said Bagosy, a 31-year-old mother of two. Survivor benefits have been paid to those left behind by America's wars, in some capacity, since the late 1700s and have changed accordingly after each of the country's major conflicts. Now, long after the Continental Congress established a seven-year pension for the widows of Revolutionary War officers, the family members of Iraq and Afghanistan's dead are still struggling with a slew of taxes, lump sums, lifelong payments that dissuade an early remarriage and, above all, closure. Bagosy's first encounter with the benefits system came in the form of her husband's military life insurance, a $400,000 payment she received in a lump sum. She saw it as "blood money" and tried to get rid of it. And Bagosy ran, using the money to travel back and forth across the United States, flying from North Carolina to Florida, Texas, Nevada and California. Staying in one place too long made her feel anxious, and so any time she could get away, she would. Soon after Bagosy unpacked her bags for the last time, she began dating another Marine. It was a relationship, she said, that was fueled in part by some of the final words uttered by her husband the day before he took his life. "It's time for me to step back and let another man take over my family," Bagosy recounted her husband saying. The relationship quickly soured when she realized that the man she was dating was interested only in her survivor benefits, something that widows say is a common occurrence Eventually, Bagosy concluded that another relationship was not what would allow her to move on.
"I finally realized that finding that man that my husband spoke about was not going to be what fixed my family," Bagosy said. "I'm the only one who can heal my family, and after four years, that's what I've done." Bagosy now receives about $1,500 a month and has used the benefits to keep herself afloat and her kids in school. She said that she is "grateful for everything" but also that she realizes the benefits might not last forever. In the early months after her husband's death, she realized that if she met a man she loved, marrying him would mean losing her benefits. Under federal law, only surviving spouses who remarry after the age of 57 retain their annuities. "I saw it as unfair and a slap in the face," Bagosy said. With time, Bagosy said, she has come to terms with what remarriage would mean. But she and other survivors remain dogged by another rule, what they have come to call the "Widow's Tax." The Widow's Tax is the offset created by two benefits that cancel each other out when they are paid simultaneously to a surviving spouse. One is a survivor benefit that works much like a pension and is overseen by the Department of Defense. The other is a payment provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to survivors of troops who died during their time in service. The law stipulates that for each dollar paid out for one benefit, the other benefit be reduced by a dollar — to avoid "double-dipping." But in the case of many survivors whose spouses joined the military after Sept. 11, 2001, the result is that payments are sharply reduced. One widow, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is still in the military, said she receives only $14 a month after the two benefits cancel each other out. "What was I supposed to do? Go to McDonald's once a month?" she asked. "It was tough to wrap my head around that was what my husband's life was worth."
Bagosy, whose children were 4 and 2 when her husband died, had the option of splitting her benefits — she would receive one while her children would receive the other. She chose to divide the two annuities. It was a lifelong decision she had to make mere days after her husband died. "You're being asked to make this decision in the middle of one of the most difficult times of our lives," Bagosy said. "We don't even care about the money at that point. All we care about is that we're never going to see our husband again." Bagosy's choice to transfer some of her benefits to her kids would mean that the benefit given to her children would be taxable under federal and state law. The decision was an obvious one, for if she hadn't divided the two, she would have been subject to the Widow's Tax.
"The fact that our kids get taxed is insane to me," Bagosy said. "It's insane." In the months after Bagosy's husband's death, a friend told her to look at the blog of another widow whose husband had died two months earlier. The blog, A Little Pink in a World of Camo, is run by Rachel Porto, whose husband, Marine Cpl. Jon Porto, died when his armored vehicle rolled over into a canal in Marjah, Afghanistan, on March 14, 2010. Because both women still lived in Camp Lejeune, Bagosy reached out and set up a lunch date, eventually meeting up with Porto and her daughter Ariana, then 6 months old, at a Red Robin diner off-base. The two quickly became close. "My memory from the first year after Jonny died is pretty much gone," Porto said. "But I'll always remember meeting Katie."
Like Bagosy, Porto was awash in a mess of paperwork in the weeks that followed her husband's death, eventually deciding to split her two benefits between her and her daughter. She would receive the one while her 2-month-old would receive the taxable other. "My daughter ended up owing hundreds of dollars in taxes," Porto said. "And the thing is, no one knows how to do taxes for us."
In April 2013, Porto and 3-year-old Ariana went to the H&R Block in their local Wal-Mart to file their returns. "The lady cried," Porto said. "I handed her my paperwork, and she looked down and just started crying." "Tax time is our nightmare" Porto added. "Widows hate it." To deal with the confusion surrounding their benefits, surviving spouses have set up Facebook groups that allow those spread across the country to help make sense of what they're owed and learn about what some are trying to do to abolish the Widow's Tax. In one Facebook group, Porto pointed out a post detailing H.R. 32 and S. 734, two pieces of legislation that would eliminate the Widow's Tax. Most widows are pessimistic about the chances of either bill passing. "Every year we get these bills and rack up these sponsors. ... We thought this would be resolved by now," said Suzanne Gerstner of Gold Star Wives of America, a nationally recognized group of war widows. "But unless Congress makes this a priority and quits putting us at the back of the line, it's not going to happen." Until then, widows like Bagosy and Porto leaf through their dog-eared binders with "the days ahead" scrawled on the side, attempting to make their way through what seems like an endless bureaucratic maze. "It's like they want us to stay in our little, sad bubbles," Porto said. "We're young and we're supposed to be sad forever?"

^ Welcome to the corrupt, uncaring world of government benefits. Whether it is the Military or any other Federal (and sometimes State) Departments the attitude is the same: expect the soldiers/ employees to work hard and go above and beyond their duties (I many cases being wounded or dying) and then once they are no longer "useable" drop them like a bad habit - cold turkey. It is a sad way to run a country and a government yet it has been going on for years and the US isn't the only place that does this. ^


USPS Lying?

From JP:
"US customers complain post offices refusing mail delivery to Israel"

A number of local post offices in the United States have recently told customers that they are not accepting mail for delivery to Israel due to the conflict with Gaza, the Anti Defamation League reported on Thursday. The ADL has received complaints in recent days that local post offices in Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey were refusing to send mail to the Jewish state. “The postal employees have told these individuals that current USPS policy says that mail to Israel cannot be accepted because of the current crisis,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said.   “Only once employees sought clarification from supervisors in Washington did these post offices accept packages and letters to Israel,” he added. The ADL claimed that mail delivery was halted for 36 hours following the US Federal Aviation Authority's decision earlier this month to prohibit US airlines from flying to and from Ben-Gurion airport in light of the rocket threat from Gaza. However, with the lifting of the flight ban, mail delivery from the US to Israel was resumed. The ADL penned a letter to US Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, stating that postal authorities in the local branches had misunderstood the temporary ban on delivery to Israel as permanent. The League urged the Postal Service to ensure that all of its employees are aware that mail delivery to Israel has not been suspended. The FAA ban on flights, and subsequent temporary halt in mail delivery, came on July 22 after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a home in Yehud, less than 5 kilometers from Ben-Gurion airport.
The US Postal Service said in response,"There was no authorized announcement of a temporary suspension of international mail dispatched abroad by the US Postal Service to Israel during the FAA flight suspension affecting Ben-Gurion International Airport on July 22 and 23.  During this period, the US Postal Service continued to dispatch abroad US Mail and packages addressed to Israel through transportation on cargo flights and other carriers that were authorized to fly to Ben-Gurion airport into Israel.  Any Post Office that might have turned away customers tendering mail addressed to Israel and dispatched by the US Postal Service during this time did so in error, and we apologize to our customers for any inconvenience they experienced as a result."

^ You know how I feel about the USPS and how ineffective/unprofessional they have been throughout the years and this just enhances that previous opinion. You would think that the Postmaster General would open an investigation and find out which of his employees told their customers these lies and do something about it, but having deal with the USPS I don't think they will take this seriously or do anything about it. The organization and its employees don't seem to take their jobs seriously (long gone are the days of delivering the mail "through snow, rain, etc) and simply want to do as little as they can while at the same time constantly complain about how broke they are. ^


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Oath To A Queen

From G & M:
"Appeal court upholds oath to Queen in citizenship case"

When new citizens swear an oath to the Queen, they are not pledging allegiance to her personally, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday, rejecting a challenge by three permanent residents who have refused citizenship over an oath they say violates their political or religious beliefs. The group launched a constitutional challenge last year, arguing that forcing candidates for Canadian citizenship to swear allegiance to the Queen violates the protections for free speech and freedom of religion in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But in a decision issued on Wednesday, Ontario’s top court dismissed their objections to the oath, ruling the group was wrong to take the oath literally. The decision, citing previous rulings, says that would-be citizens are not actually swearing allegiance to the Queen herself as “the reference to the Queen is symbolic of our form of government and the unwritten constitutional principle of democracy.” The federal Conservative government has made several moves to boost the stature of the monarchy in Canada — including tacking the word 'royal' back onto the Royal Canadian Air Force. Not surprisingly, Ottawa mounted a vigorous court fight to uphold the oath to the Queen. Lawyers for the federal government argued that those who refuse to support Canada’s “foundational constitutional structure” are not entitled to the benefits of citizenship, such as the right to vote. Before the Court of Appeal in April, government lawyer Kristina Dragaitis argued that the Queen is at the “apex of the Constitution” and symbolizes the rule of law and the right to free speech: “The Queen and the Constitution protect their rights to dissent.” In a 22-page ruling last September, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan laid out the history of Canada’s evolution as a constitutional monarchy and turned down the request to void the oath. He ruled that while the oath did on its face appear to infringe the right to free expression in the Charter, it did so minimally. The violation, in the form of “compelled speech,” he ruled, was a “reasonable limit” on a constitutional right in light of Parliament’s objective to have new citizens swear allegiance to the country’s constitutional structure. However, the Court of Appeal on Wednesday also agreed with a cross-appeal filed by the federal government on this point and overturned Justice Morgan’s finding that the oath violates the Charter’s free expression rights, meaning that the government does not even need to justify it as a “reasonable limit” on free speech.

^ It's this simple: native-born Canadians (like myself) do not swear an oath to the Queen of Canada just like no other nationality makes its native-born citizens swear an oath (unless they go into government/military service.) If a person wants to become a naturalized Canadian then they have to accept everything that means and stands for and if they don't like a part of it then they can refuse and not be made a Canadian. No one is forcing them to do anything. It's free will. They knew the oath was there and that Canada has a Queen (if they didn't then they probably didn't pass the Canadian Citizenship Test and shouldn't be naturalized.) If and when Canadian citizens ever decide not to have a monarchy then the oath can be changed, but as long as Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada then the oath should reflect her the same way as the US Citizenship Oath reflects having a President. ^


Food For Thought

From USA Today:
"Russians already hurt by Western food import ban"

Russians are already paying a price — literally — for the ban on food imports from Europe and the United States that Russia imposed last week to retaliate for American and European economic sanctions. Suppliers and consumers are facing shortages and price hikes on staples such as fish and fruit, as well as gourmet items such as Italian Parmesan and French Brie cheese. Suppliers have raised prices for some fish by 20-36%, one of Russia's biggest retailers, X5 Retail Group, complained to Russia's government, the Kommersant business daily reported on Wednesday. Suppliers reported shortages and higher prices for fruit, retailers braced for milk prices to go up, and some meat suppliers were engaging in price speculation, Kommersant reported. "I was at the market, you can already see there's no Polish apples, and prices for berries have (gone up)," said Vladlen Maksimov, head of the Inter-regional Union of Entrepreneurs, a Russian group that includes small businesses and retailers. The economic warfare began as an attempt by the United States and European Union to use sanctions to deter Russia from aiding ethnic Russian separatists fighting for autonomy in eastern Ukraine. Russia is one of the world's leading importers of food, and its ban on fruit, meat, poultry, fish and milk products is hurting European suppliers. (The U.S. exports much less food to Russia.) But the ban is also hurting Russians who have acquired a taste in recent years for imported European products. Although fears of empty shelves reminiscent of chronic food shortages during the Soviet era have not materialized, some hoarding has been reported in the media, such as people buying up all the cases of imported cheese they could get. Consumers found empty shelves at a number of discount stores on the outskirts of Moscow, where clerks said some customers were buying out of panic. Moscow authorities announced Wednesday that retailers would be required to provide lists of their current imported stock and when they expected to sell it, the pro-government Izvestia daily newspaper reported. It said police would raid stores found to be carrying banned goods that were not disclosed. Ian Zilberkweit, president of the Nash Xleb Bakery Group, which has a chain of cafes across Moscow and St. Petersburg, said the ban will force his business to look for other suppliers for his company's dairy and fruit products, though some, like Grana Padano and Brie cheeses, are irreplaceable. "We're going to have to switch in the next 10 days either to Russian or Belorussian dairy products," he said. "The taste is going to be a bit different." Russia's Central Bank warned last week that the sanctions are likely to increase an already rising inflation rate. Even so, Russia's government has pledged that prices will not go up as a result of the import ban, promising that the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service will check reports of suppliers raising prices. In the worst case, the government could resort to price controls, Kommersant reported. Russia's state-owned media have touted the import ban as a boon for local industry. They have claimed the ban will harm European businesses, forcing Europe to rethink the energy and financial sanctions it imposed on Russia last month over its aid to Ukrainian insurgency. So far, the public strongly supports the food ban. According to a poll released by the Levada Center last week, 82% of Russians supported some form of retaliatory sanctions, and 76% supported the ban on imported fruit. Local industry may not be able to take up the slack, however. "Russian producers have a number of problems," Vladlen Maksimov, the head of the Inter-regional Union of Entrepreneurs said. "One of them is lack of proper storage equipment. It's not that we can't produce the food, it's that we can't store it. Polish apples picked in August, stored adequately, are sold for 11 months. Our apples can't keep." Prominent nationalist commentators have ridiculed those complaining about the import ban as pampered middle-class consumers who have developed an elitist taste for foreign cheese and prosciutto. In response, some Russians say the ban interferes with their personal freedom, not their personal tastes. "It's not just about what we can and can't eat. I'd like to understand who exactly is going to benefit from this import ban," said Sonya Sokolova, who heads an online music site, "because it looks like this will be bad for everybody."

^ The ban has just started and is already affecting ordinary Russians. Some may not think it is a big deal to ban Western food, but considering Russia has never been able to sustain itself on the food that it grows within its territory there is a lot more at stake than just craving Polish kielbasa or French cheeses. You can't ban something like food and have no substitute for it. That leads more than empty shelves (which Russians are used to) but also empty stomachs and that's just wrong. It looks like the Putin popularity bubble will burst when people either can't afford the food prices or there's no food for them to buy at all. The 1917 Communist Revolution occurred mostly because people couldn't even get bread (a Russian staple.) I'm not saying that will happen this time, but history does seem to repeat itself especially when people are hungry. ^


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Terror Prisoners

From the BBC:
"Prisoners of 'Demon' in war-torn Ukraine"

A Ukrainian army officer's wife has described how she managed to stay with him while he was a prisoner of a rebel commander nicknamed "Demon" in the war-ravaged city of Horlivka. Capt Roman Zasukha was captured by the pro-Russian separatists in Horlivka, about 35km (22 miles) north-east of Donetsk, and kept there for more than a month.  His wife Oksana joined him and stayed there until her husband was released at the end of July.  Before serving in the 72nd Guards Mechanised Brigade, Roman worked as a history teacher.  He only had basic military training - as all university students did in Soviet times - before joining the Ukrainian army in March as a volunteer.
Soon he found himself fighting separatists in eastern Ukraine.  In late June he was due to have 10 days' leave back home. Capt Zasukha and five other officers - all unarmed - were heading home at night when they got lost and stumbled upon a rebel checkpoint, manned by the so-called "Russian Orthodox Army".   Oksana found out about his capture after seeing him in video footage on Russian TV. He had been beaten up and was being interrogated. She knew that she had to go to Horlivka and save him.  Roman's first days in captivity did not bode well. One of his interrogators shot him in the foot. Luckily the bullet missed the bone and tendons. According to Russian TV reports, he was wounded while trying to escape.  "When I reached Dnipropetrovsk region, Roman called me and said he had been taken hostage in Horlivka," Oksana told the BBC.  "He was trying to persuade me not to travel there. I let him know I was close to the place and would not go back without him."   Roman and his comrades had been transferred to the militants commanded by Igor Bezler, nicknamed "Bes" (demon). Oksana had to find a way to contact him when she reached the Donetsk region.
"On the second day, in the morning, Igor Nikolayevich [Bezler] personally gave me a call and promised all would be all right with me if I came. Soon Bezler's rebels met me at Donetsk railway station and drove me to my husband. I was treated normally, even with respect. And everyone was shocked by my decision [to go there]." The hostages were kept in a police building. Roman and Oksana ended up staying in one of the rooms with iron bars on the windows, half blocked up by sandbags with small gun slits. All they had was a table in the corner and a mattress with bed linen under one of the windows.  "Bezler stressed we were his guests, not his hostages," Oksana recalled.
"Apart from me there were also two mothers of captives from the 25th Brigade. We worked together in the kitchen, helping the cooks hired by the separatists. I worked shifts, from five in the evening until midnight, sometimes longer. "I did some shopping a few times and straight away went back to my husband. I was told I could leave any time. But I stayed there until the end, when fighting was going on all around us.  "We felt Horlivka was being surrounded. Later there was shelling.   Capt Zasukha said: "There were some officers among us, that is why the rebels handed us over to Bezler.
"He wanted to have more 'important prisoners' so that he could later exchange them. He chose his nickname Demon himself. His authority among all the militants was unchallenged, and his orders were never contested.  "Bezler said that we should join him and fight against the Ukrainian Army. I was offered the position of battalion commander, and his bodyguards were very impressed. They found it a great display of his trust in me."  But when 14 men in Bezler's group were killed "they said it was our fault", Capt Zasukha continued.  "My comrades were taken to the basement to be shot. But apparently God saved them - they were not shot."  Continuing his story, he said the prisoners included "a Swedish guy who had been detained at a checkpoint - he had a map like those sold at petrol stations, hardly a military one, but he was accused of being a spotter".  "We were exchanged by a rebel commander nicknamed 'Botsman' (Bosun). By that time Bezler had been absent for four days. Bezler had said that he was a lieutenant colonel and was leaving for Moscow to get a new rank. He said he had been promoted to major general. His subordinates had great trust in him. He wore a badge on his sleeve saying 'Russians do not betray their own'."

^ Stories like this continue to show the reserve of not only the Ukrainian Military, but also ordinary Ukrainians against the Russians and their support of the ethnic-Russian terrorists. I read lots of these kind of heroic stories after the Russian military invaded and occupied the Crimea and the Ukrainians there were barricaded and then had to either join the Russians or leave all their things in the Crimea and most left with nothing, but what they could carry. The Russians always try to portray themselves as liberators in the Ukraine (the Crimea and eastern Ukraine) but what the stories, pictures, videos, etc show are scenes of Ukrainian civilians fleeing the violence and death from either the Russian military or the ethnic-Russian terrorists the same way the Ukrainians had to from the Nazis during World War 2. If the pictures were in black-and-white you would have a hard time guessing if they were taken in 1941 or 2014. The strength of the Ukrainian people as a whole has been tested and so far they continue to surprise and amaze me at every turn. They are patient, caring, strongly patriotic and stand-up for what is right knowing full-well that they are no military match against the Russians. ^


DJ Williams

From USA Today:
"Real-life 'Vietnam' DJ recalls Williams' portrayal"

Actor Robin Williams, who died on Monday, got his breakout movie role in "Good Morning Vietnam," a fictionalized account of Adrian Cronauer's stint in Vietnam as an Air Force disc jockey. The movie took many historical liberties. In the movie, Williams' character becomes friends with a Vietnamese boy who turns out to be a Viet Cong terrorist. Eventually, the fictional Adrian Cronauer is forced to leave Vietnam before the end of his tour. None of which happened in real life. "Those of you who have been in the military know that if I had done stuff that Robin Williams did in that movie, I'd still be in Leavenworth," Cronauer told the American Veterans Center during its 2008 conference.
But Cronauer, who left the Air Force as a sergeant in 1966, said he has no issues with Williams' performance in the movie. "It was never intended to be a point-by point accurate biography," he told Military Times on Tuesday. "It was intended to be a piece of entertainment, and it certainly was that. It was nominated for an Academy Award and you don't get much better than that." In an interview on Tuesday, Cronauer reflected on his memories of the late actor and the movie that made Williams a bona fide movie star.

Q: What was your reaction to news of Robin Williams' death?
Answer: There's a British phrase that I've heard that describes it: "Gobsmacked."
It just hit me. The guy was only 63 years old. I suppose for someone who's 20, that seems like he's older than Methuselah, but for me in my 70s, I think that's still a young age and he should have had a lot more to do.

Q: What do you think the movie did for the portrayal of service members in the Vietnam War?
First of all, as far as I know, it's the first film that began to show Americans in Vietnam as they really were instead of a bunch of murderers and rapists and baby-killers and dope addicts and psychotics. That was sorely needed at the time.

Q: Did you interact with Williams?
No, the director Barry Levinson deliberately kept us apart. He was afraid that if Robin and I met, that Robin would somehow start to do an unconscious imitation of me, which would change his characterization. So we were kept deliberately apart all through the filming until the film was supposed to premiere in New York. Robin and I were introduced before the film was shown. We shook hands and he said, "Well, I'm glad to finally meet you." And I said, "Well, I'm glad to finally meet me, too." We got along fine after that. We exchanged Christmas cards and in 1991 his wife at the time, Marsha, invited 200 or 300 of his very closest friends to California to celebrate his 40th birthday. His mother was the star of the show because she was already in her 80s. She had to leave early because she had a hot date that night. So the apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

Q: Do you have a memory of Williams that stands out, that shows what kind of a person he was?
I have a memory of Robin, but it doesn't show what he was because he was always on. When you walked up to him and said, "Hello," he started doing a routine for you. The only time my wife and I ever saw him let that down was one time when he was playing with his little kids. They are, you see, no threat to him. It's unconditional love. That allowed him to let down the facade a little bit.
He obviously loved (his daughter) Zelda. She wrapped him around her little finger — only 5 years old, but she did it.

Q: What do you feel should be included in this story given your unique relationship with Williams?
He and I are politically way far from each other but I enjoyed very much knowing that he was going over to Afghanistan, to Iraq to various places in the Middle East — that he was going over there to entertain the troops. Regardless of what he felt like politically, he recognized the fact nobody seemed to recognize during Vietnam, which was that there's a difference between the people who are making the policy and the people who are carrying out that policy, the military.

^ This is another movie I liked Robin Williams in. Cronauer is right that this is one of a few movies bout the Vietnam War that shows the American soldiers as they really were and not as the ant-war, the hippies or Hollywood wanted us to see. Whether you agree with the War or not youshould still show it how it really was. ^


English Eh

From G & M:
"Who is speaking up for Canadian English?"

The elusive Canadian identity is often defined by what it isn’t, a spirit of absence that may explain what’s gone missing from the story of our language. Canada doesn’t have its own dictionary.
Ten years ago on Sunday, what turned out to be the final edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary was officially published to great acclaim and not a little pride – the kind of peculiar, parochial Canadian pride that celebrates the lexical enshrinement of the hoserish phrase May Two-Four (“noun Cdn informal Victoria Day”) and finds it a small betrayal to ask for the restroom or the loo.  Four years later, the research unit that monitored Canadian English was shut down, and the task of watching over the country’s linguistic quirks was reassigned to Oxford’s lexicographers in the United States and Britain – foreign places where a request for the washroom brings a blank stare if not a hint of condescending scorn. Could there be a better way of putting Canadian English in its place, humbling its aspirations to independence from the superpowers that set the pace for a globalized language and its bathroom breaks? “We’re going back now from being a country that establishes its own norms to being one that is almost dictated to from outside,” says Stefan Dollinger, professor of linguistics at University of British Columbia and editor of the forthcoming Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. “Frankly, I don’t believe they’ll do a thorough job of revising the Canadian dictionary because that’s not really their major focus.” The Canadian Oxford was the last of the country’s research-driven print dictionaries, definitive volumes intended for a broad national readership that yearned for guidance, enlightenment and occasional delight. Its disappearance left a vacuum that has proved hard to fill. The text of the 2004 edition remains available, and is still consulted by those who feel its coverage of Canadian English is as timeless as the vocabulary and speech it describes – colour is still colour after all these years, eh? Never mind that, as Dr. Dollinger slyly points out, the “–our” ending we use to distinguish ourselves from our American neighbours/neighbors only became the Canadian standard at the newsprint level when The Globe and Mail overturned its century-old Americanized style in 1990. Many of those who study the vagaries of Canadian English don’t believe the stratified 2004 edition can keep pace with the fluctuations of language and the discoveries made by researchers searching for the distinctive markers of Canadian style. “Language is always changing and that’s the business I’m in,” says Sali Tagliamonte, a linguistics professor at University of Toronto who has found, contrary to received wisdom, that the automatic, patriotic “eh” is disappearing among younger Canadians. “And if you don’t have these changes being documented in a dictionary, and you don’t have someone taking care of the lexicon of Canadian English, that’s a problem. These little things give us an inkling of who we are, how we fit in, and where we come from.” Some countries care more about their lexical identity: Think of the Académie française, France’s ultimate authority on vocabulary, grammar and usage. Canada’s history as a former British colony with a strong French presence in the shadow of a culturally dominant American neighbour has made it difficult to argue for a distinct brand of Canadian English, and perhaps encouraged a laissez-faire approach to national standards. When Heather Sangster, an editor at Strong Finish Editorial Design in Toronto, has to make a judgment call for a corporate client wondering whether it’s (Oxford-preferred) pyjamas or pajamas or even PJs, her guiding rule is: “Consider your audience. You don’t want style conventions to override the message.”
Canadian dictionaries have traditionally focused on low-level innovations in vocabulary to distinguish our English from other people’s; double-double, cube van, gas bar, bachelor apartment, garburator and stickhandle are classic indicators of Canadian Speak. But in the real world of Canadian English, a better indication of a native speaker is someone who knows about the American, British and regional variations for running shoes (sneakers, trainers, runners, Nikes) or a backpack (knapsack, book bag, rucksack) but isn’t always sure which choice is true-blue Canuck. And, of course, pronounces the word “about” in a perfectly normal way that Americans mishear as “aboot.”
Does it really matter? “Canadians are still going to sound Canadian even if they don’t have a Canadian dictionary,” says Charles Boberg, a professor of linguistics at McGill University. “The debates on Canadian English fixate on relatively superficial things like zed versus zee or how you spell colour. But in fact we mainly convey our identity to people through the pronunciation of ordinary words, which is something you learn from your peers. You say ‘house’ and ‘south’ like a good Canadian not because a teacher told you to do it or because you looked it up in a dictionary but because of the people you grew up with.” The traditional national dictionary can’t handle fine details of pronunciation that are the instant markers of identity. It’s also out of step with the way people approach language and its problems in a digital age. Online searches take place in a linguistic world that often transcends national boundaries, and the universal reach of modern English might make a Canadianized lexicon seem unnecessarily self-limiting. “We try to be a resource that can cover Canadian English as part of global English,” says Katherine Martin, the New-York-based head of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford University Press. Ms. Martin insists that the “specificity” of Canadian English can still be monitored and maintained in a centralized, non-Canadian office – freelance readers scour books and periodicals for her, and Oxford increasingly relies on automated filtering of online Canadian material to supply updated glimpses of our distinct national phrasing.
“We’re looking at the Canadian word ‘keener,’” she says. “It’s such a great word. I’d like to bring it into American English.”

^ It does seem odd that Canada doesn't have it's own dictionary or any other body to follow its variant of English. Canadian English uses both American and British words, spellings and grammar and yet schools and regular people have to use either a textbook/dictionary made in the UK or from the US which leaves out part of the Canadian speech. I took a TEFL/TESL certification course in Toronto and it was so funny to hear the differences (like saying "Zed-bra" instead of "Zee-bra" for "Zebra.") They also use a bunch of -re and -our's in the spellings. I have since learned Canadian English (I figured I should since I'm Canadian) and so with my already knowing American English I should be all set for where ever I go and whatever English they learned. ^