Monday, October 5, 2015

Same Ole Same Ole

From Yahoo:
"Milosevic allies in power with new look, 15 years on"
When jubilant crowds stormed Belgrade's parliament 15 years ago and ousted Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, few could have imagined that his allies would be in power today -- and firmly backing European integration. Monday marks the anniversary of the overthrow of the late president, whose 13-year iron rule stoked brutal ethnic conflict and mass murder in the former Yugoslavia, resulting in international isolation and the crippling of the Serbian economy. After Milosevic refused to admit defeat in a September 2000 election, Serbs took to the streets for two weeks, culminating on October 5, 2000, when hundreds of thousands stormed the state media building and the federal parliament. The largely nonviolent uprising forced Milosevic to resign a day later. "It felt incredible, because before that day we thought David can beat Goliath only in legend -- or 'Lord Of The Rings'," said Srdja Popovic, a leader of the Otpor (Resistance) movement that galvanised the uprising. "I felt so proud of millions of my fellow citizens ready to risk their lives." Despite the elation of many over Milosevic's downfall, a decade-and-a-half later Serbia is run by a clutch of his former ultra-nationalist sidekicks -- but in the totally different guise of pro-European reformists.  Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, elected last year, served as information minister under Milosevic, and has a murky past of fiery far-right speeches during the 1990s drive for a Greater Serbia "cleansed" of Croats and Muslims. Vucic's predecessor and now deputy premier Ivica Dacic was Milosevic's spokesman, known as "Little Sloba", while current President Tomislav Nikolic is another former ultra-nationalist who was a minister while NATO bombs fell on Belgrade during the war with Kosovo. "I really didn't expect them to still be in politics," said 35-year-old Aleksandra, a unemployed Belgrader having lunch in the autumn sun in Pionirski Park, opposite the parliament where she took part in the historic protests. The uprising was orchestrated by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, a coalition of 19 parties against Milosevic, but it struggled to fulfil high hopes in a deeply troubled country. A blow to reform was the assassination in 2003 of Zoran Djindjic -- then prime minister and a leading light of the post-Milosevic era. Milosevic himself died in 2006 at The Hague, where he was on trial for war crimes. Although his dark shadow may seem to loom large over the current crop of leaders, they had to take a very different path to get elected. While Serbia is not yet an EU member, negotiations on its accession were opened in January 2014, and are widely supported. Vucic has expressed remorse for his past actions and is keen to be seen as a pro-Western reformer. A landmark deal reached with Kosovo and the treatment of migrants passing through Serbia under his watch have won plaudits. He said the three overall aims of the movement at the time were winning freedom, "stopping wars, and being good neighbours", and becoming a member of the European Union. While Vucic and his colleagues have clearly changed tack, some remain sceptical about whether their transformations are genuine, or superficial attempts to win and maintain power. "We see the erosion of media freedoms, a certain degree of authoritarianism creeping into system gradually," said Florian Bieber, a Balkans specialist at the University of Graz in Austria. He questioned whether Serbian institutions were able to withhold authoritarian pressure, saying no leaders since Milosevic have been "institution builders".
In addition, close links between business, politics and organised crime under the late strongman's rule "created power structures that persisted until today", Bieber said. Serbia has moved far from the pariah status it endured in the 1990s, but the economic challenges remain stark. Youth unemployment has been around 50 percent in recent years, the average monthly salary is less than 400 euros ($450), and foreign investment is much needed. The country will also have to wait at least five years to join the EU. While the capital Belgrade itself is bustling and increasingly popular with visitors, youngsters expressed concern over their prospects and the pace of change.
^ Serbians and the rest of the world need to be worry of people who served under Milosevic's dictatorship. Under his rule were wars against Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and NATO. There were mass murders, sieges, boycotts, sanctions and bombings. Milosevic is one of those historical figures that the world is much better off now because he has died since he brought nothing but death and destruction while he was alive. He tried to create a Greater Serbia in the Balkans and went after anyone who was a Serb regardless of where they lived. Of course he didn't do that by himself so anyone associated with him is suspect. Hopefully those who worked for him have really learned their lesson and won't repeat the mistakes of the past. Serbia needs to join the EU if it wants any hope to get out of its current economic and social woes/ ^

X-Mas Count

I am 99% done with my Christmas shopping (and have been since last month.) The other 1% I know what I am getting and just have to wait until it gets closer to December to order them. It would be a lot easier if everyone had an updated Amazon wish list and shared them freely with people (like I have - - wink, wink.)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

25th Reunion

From Yahoo:
"Historians still puzzling over East Germany after 25 years"
In a musty room inside a maze of offices in east Berlin, two women are working patiently on what may be the biggest puzzle the world has ever seen: more than half a billion pieces that together detail innumerable crimes by East Germany's secret police. The Ministry for State Security, better known as the Stasi, used a network of agents and informers to collect details of almost every citizen in East Germany, to better quash dissent. When the communist regime collapsed, Stasi officials tried desperately to destroy the evidence of their totalitarian surveillance apparatus. Even now, as Germany marks 25 years since reunification this weekend, historians are still putting together the pieces. There were so many files, East German shredders couldn't cope, said Juliane Schuetterle, who works at the Stasi records office, a special government institution set up to handle the files. "They had created such a large archive, that they couldn't destroy them using conventional methods. So they began destroying them by hand," she told The Associated Press in an interview. Stasi officers managed to tear up some 48 million pages filling over 16,000 brown sacks — each containing up to 40,000 shreds of paper. Together with about 112 kilometers (70 miles) of files that the Stasi was unable to destroy, they constitute a vast, but probably incomplete, catalog of mundane observations and cruel repression spanning 40 years. But piecing all the bits together would, by some estimates, have taken 800 years.  In an effort to speed up the process historians and scientists from the nearby Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology devised a method that allows computers to scan pre-sorted shreds and automatically find bits that match. "We're at the start of a pilot program for the virtual reconstruction," said Schuetterle, who oversees the project. "The software puzzles in the background, and where it gets stuck it receives support from our archivists." Nobody knows what will emerge as the files are put together again — and who may be exposed as a Stasi informer. That fact caused some concern after German reunification in 1990. However, a decision was made not only to keep the records but to make them accessible to those who wanted to see them, as a way for people to come to terms with a past in which their neighbors, friends and even family members may have spied on them. "It was important for the victims of the Stasi to have the opportunity to find out who had denounced them," said Heinrich August Winkler, a prominent German historian.  The decision to process the files and even put together those that were destroyed contrasts with the way Germans after World War II engaged in collective silence about their role in the Nazi state, said Winkler. "For a while that was psychologically understandable, but it was also a big burden," he said. "This process of reassessing the past was much more successful, I think, in the reunified Germany after 1990 than in West Germany after 1945." So much so, said Winkler, that other countries have copied Germany's model, particularly in the former communist Eastern bloc. Even today, interest in the files is unbroken in Germany, Schuetterle said. "We get about 5,000 requests a month from citizens who want to have their personal file or that of family members," she added. Many people who initially hesitated to request their files for fear of what they might find out are now doing so. Others are making repeat requests as new material comes to light.  One of those who chose to request his files is Manfred Teichmann. A retired engineer from Zossen, a town just south of Berlin, Teichmann managed to emigrate from East Germany in 1988, after petitioning to do so for years. "The main reasons for wanting to leave were the fact that East Germany was a people's prison, and that the economy in West Germany was better," he said. "I wanted to offer my family a better life." Such views inevitably put him on the radar of the Stasi. Once, Teichmann said, he found a man lurking outside his house, and neighbors claimed to have seen people enter their home while the family was out. Teichmann's suspicions were confirmed in the late 1990s. "Our Stasi files prove that our apartment was searched by members of the Stasi," he said. "They show Stasi agents made copies of our keys." The experience brought not only certainty, it also helped release some of the tension built up by decades of repression. "We laughed at some of the passages in there," Teichmann said.
^ It has been 25 years since Germany was reunited. The country was divided into Communist East Germany and Capitalist West Germany for 45 years so there is still a lot that needs to be addressed between the two former countries and the people that lived in them. The former East Germans feel as though their world was "stolen" from them by West German "carpet-baggers" while the former West Germans feel that they have sacrificed a lot to bring the standard of living in the former East up to Western standards and that the former East Germans are ungrateful. The Berlin Wall and the Inner-German Wall may have been torn down in 1989 and Germany reunited in 1990, but there still seems to be an "inner wall" in the minds of people from both former countries - especially among those over 40. I lived in both divided and reunited Germany. I have visited numerous times since as a tourist. I have many German friends (living in Germany, around Europe and in the US.) I have friends that are former West Germans and former East Germans. Over the years I have heard their comments about each other and about the past. I agree with this article when it says the Germans (on both sides) seem more open about dealing with their East Germany/West Germany past (especially the crimes of the Communists) than they have been with dealing with their Nazi Germany past and those horrible crimes. Maybe it is because the Nazis influenced the whole territory of modern-day Germany (along with territory that was lost after the war) while the Communists influenced a much smaller portion. There is a whole collective guilt about the crimes of 1933-1945 for the German people while the guilt of the crimes from 1945-1990 are limited to less than half of a reunited Germany. ^

Russian Shift

From Yahoo:
"As Russia enters Syria's war, Ukrainians ask what it means for theirs"
Russia's military involvement in Syria has generated great unease among Ukrainians who fear Western cooperation with Moscow could lead to a weakening in support for Ukraine. Others hope that a distracted Russia, fighting on two fronts, may be more inclined to compromise over the rebel-held regions in the country’s east.  Many analysts in Kiev say Moscow's operation in Syria is a significant shift that has already been felt in Ukraine. As Russia began its Syria deployment a month ago the guns in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels formed breakaway republics in spring 2014, suddenly fell silent. While many welcome the cease-fire, they are concerned about what could emerge from backroom talks between Russia and the West over Syria's war, given the high stakes in the Middle East.  "This truce, which seems to be accompanied by a more constructive Russian position, makes people here wonder whether the West isn't wavering in its support for Ukraine in order to obtain Russian cooperation in Syria," says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. "There is still hope that this won't happen. But Ukrainians are very concerned."  When Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the podium on Monday at the United Nations General Assembly to make his pitch for a grand anti-terrorist alliance in Syria, the Ukrainian delegation walked out.  President Petro Poroshenko spoke the next day at the same podium. "Over the last few days we have heard conciliatory statements from the Russian side in which, in particular, it called for the establishment of anti-terrorist coalition," he said. "Cool story, but really hardly to believe! How can you urge an anti-terrorist coalition – if you inspire terrorism right in front of your door?" Vladimir Panchenko, a political expert with the International Center for Policy Studies in Kiev, says that a lot of Ukrainians agree with the need for an alliance to counter the spread of jihadism in the Middle East, but differ over what Russia's involvement means for their country. "Maybe the more Russia gets dragged into it, the more problems it will have," he says. "But everybody here thinks there is already cooperation happening between Russia and the West in Syria, and that this is not going to turn out in Ukraine's favor."  On Friday, leaders of the four powers that framed the Minsk-II peace accord for eastern Ukraine – Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France – will meet in Paris to chart the accord's final implementation. The 12-point deal calls for military disengagement and steps to resolve the contested status of the rebel-controlled regions. Russia has already indicated that it will prod its rebel allies to accept a new deal with Kiev based on regional autonomy in a decentralized Ukraine. Meanwhile, Western leaders seem more willing to urge Kiev to hold direct talks with rebel representatives, offer amnesty for separatist fighters, and restore economic links with the breakaway regions. Earlier this week the two sides agreed on a comprehensive pull back of weaponry from the conflict's front line, a deal one rebel leader said "could mean the end of the war." "There is certain progress in east Ukraine, but Russia still maintains all its levers of influence there," says Valery Ryabikh, an expert with Defense Express, a Kiev think tank. “Ukraine is a hostage to the situation as Russia moves into this new relationship with the West in Syria.”
^ It does seem that Russia has decided that they can't get much else from the Ukraine and so are now moving towards a new "project" in Syria with the hope of getting what they want there. It would be good if that was true and the war in the Ukraine would end, the Crimea given back and things  would become peaceful once again. ^

Thursday, October 1, 2015


It is already October 1st and Fall is here. I took the above picture myself. We had a day and a half of heavy rain, but today it was dry. This is the reason thousands of people come to New England to see the foliage.

Kazakh Teaches Truth

From the MT:
"Kazakh Textbooks to Remove Mention of 'Russian Crimea'"
The Kazakh Education Ministry will correct geography and history textbooks to remove references to Crimea as a Russian region, local news website reported Wednesday. Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year, but few nations have officially recognized the Black Sea region as part of Russia. quoted spokespeople from the Kazakh Education Ministry rapping the knuckles of a publisher of state textbooks: "On the subject of Crimea, the publishing house and the authors [of the books] failed to reflect fully Kazakhstan's official position [on the issue], as well as the international position."  Kazakhstan, which has a large Russian population, has particular reason to be wary of recognizing the annexation of Crimea. Moscow justified the land grab as essential to protect the Russian population against Ukrainian aggression, and some analysts have worried that it could use the same pretext against other neighboring states. The move by Kazakh authorities came after the Ukrainian Embassy in Kazakhstan sent a protest note last week to the country's Education Ministry, reported. The embassy's statement said that mention of Crimea as a part of Russia "contradicts the international position on the matter, as well as the official position of Kazakh leadership that has claimed its support of Ukraine's territorial integrity multiple times."

^ Kazakhstan, like most of the former Soviet Union, has a lot to fear from current Russian trends and attitudes and needs to walk a fine line between Russia, the West and what is best for Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs even moved their capital to the more ethnically-Russian north of their country (from the southern part) to try and keep the balance and sovereignty in-tact. In that respect Kazakhstan has made the correct decision in removing the phrase "Russian Crimea." It stopped being Russian in 1954 when the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic gave it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic - -both part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Russian Federation even recognized Ukrainian sovereignty over the Crimea in numerous legally-binding military, economic, etc agreements since the USSR collapsed in 1991. There may have been a case back in 1991, but after agreeing to the continued status of a Ukrainian Crimea for over 20 years there is legal recourse for Russia. Moscow knew that and that's why they had to invade, occupy and annex the Crimea so quickly. There was a "vote" held after the invasion and occupation which holds no legal binding nationally or internationally (especially since Putin himself revealed that Russia had plans to invade, occupy and annex the Crimea long before a vote could decide anything.) The only thing I can see the annexation of the Crimea has given Russia is: international sanctions, a move closer to a new Cold War, thousands of refugees and money being wasted in the Crimea that could have been used to help improve the lives of ordinary Russians throughout the Federation. Russia has now moved on to Syria and one can only hope they don't intend to later focus on any other territory to invade, occupy and annex. ^

Golden Hour

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Study: 'Golden Hour' rule saves lives of seriously wounded troops"

An estimated 359 lives were saved in Afghanistan after the U.S. military sought to treat critically-injured troops within the so-called “golden hour,” a study released Wednesday concluded. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first of its kind to substantiate the effectiveness of getting critically injured servicemembers to appropriate care within 60 minutes,said lead author Russ Kotwal, a medical doctor and retired Army colonel. Combing through years of medical records and flight data, researchers found that after implementation of the “golden hour” rule, about six percent fewer troops died before arriving at a military hospital. The decline occurred despite an increase in severity and complexity of battlefield wounds, as the cause of injuries shifted from gunshots to explosives. The report also found that more servicemembers returned to duty within 72 hours. After the rule was implemented, this rose from 33.5 percent to 47.3 percent. The percentage of overall fatalities, meanwhile, dropped from 13.7 percent to 7.6 percent. A total of 21,089 U.S. military casualties were examined during the Afghanistan conflict from Sept. 11, 2001, to March 31, 2014, according to the report. Given the nature of injuries in Afghanistan, early blood transfusions and initial treatment at field hospitals and by forward surgical teams also contributed to better survival rates, the study found. The study “demonstrates the effectiveness of combining advanced trauma care capability with informed policy,” said Todd Rasmussen, a doctor with the U.S. Combat Casualty Care Research Program, in a commentary published with the study. The U.S. military over the years has made great strides in getting the wounded to definitive care more quickly. Transport time shrunk from 10 hours in World War II to five hours in the Korean conflict to one hour in the Vietnam War, primarily owing to the use of helicopters, which had their operational debut in Korea. The one-hour standard was implemented in Iraq. But Afghanistan, with its rugged terrain, posed more of a challenge to trauma crews. On June 15, 2009, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a standard of 60 minutes or less from call to arrival at a trauma center for the transport of critically-injured troops in Afghanistan, cutting in half the previous goal of two hours. Gates directed that more medical evacuation helicopters be assigned to Afghanistan and at more forward bases closer to troops in the field. The study found that following Gates’ order, among 4,542 casualties with detailed data, the median transport time decreased from 90 minutes to 43 minutes. The number of air evacuation missions that achieved transport times under an hour jumped from 24.2 percent to 75.2 percent. Transport times and fatality rates in Afghanistan were already beginning to fall prior to the “golden hour” standard, but the study noted a more rapid decline after its implementation. Using statistical modeling, they estimate 359 lives were potentially saved. Other efforts reduced time between injury and treatment. Medics trained in blood-transfusion protocols and critical care paramedics and nurses were assigned to flights more routinely, resulting in earlier availability of blood products and advanced care. Small, mobile surgical teams were dispersed across the battlefield, bringing major surgical capability closer to the point of injury. Critically injured troops who received early blood transfusions saw some of the best short-term survival rates in the study. It found 6.8 percent of servicemembers who received a blood transfusion died while en route to care versus 51 percent who didn’t.
^ The US Military has done a lot over the years to improve the healthcare and life-saving techniques of its soldiers especially in a warzone. Many people may not think it has any bearing on civilian life, but the techniques used in the military can be modified to aid paramedics and hospitals around the country in saving more lives. ^

Bankrupt Russians

From the MT:
"Chaos Feared as Millions of Russians Gain Right to Go Bankrupt"
From Oct. 1, for the first time in the country's history, millions of Russians who cannot pay back their debts will be able to file for bankruptcy. The measure is meant to ease the financial situation of people struggling with repayments amid a deep recession, and it brings Russian law into line with similar systems in many other countries, where bankruptcy law gives rights and protections to both borrowers and banks. However, analysts warned that the introduction of the legislation could lead to a huge number of bankruptcy cases that will strain the court system and cause serious losses to banks. "Some unscrupulous borrowers are not repaying their loans on purpose and waiting for the new law to enter into force to declare bankruptcy," Sergei Grigoryan, head of analysis at the Association of Russian Banks, told The Moscow Times. Before the amendments to the law, only legal entities could file for bankruptcy.  The new legislation allows Russians with total debt of more than 500,000 rubles ($7,600) and over three months of missed payments to file for bankruptcy from Oct. 1. It also imposes penalties on debtors who fail to register as bankrupt. Debtors owing less than 500,000 rubles can also file for bankruptcy if they can prove they are not able to pay the loans. The procedure, which can be initiated either by the individual or a creditor, provides a framework for people with a stable income to restructure their loans, while those who are unable to repay due to low income or unemployment will see their assets sold and the money distributed among creditors.
Under the law, an individual can file for bankruptcy no more than once every five years.The move to introduce a personal bankruptcy law was triggered by a growing number of overdue loans as the economy began to slow in 2013.  It follows a boom in lending to individuals in recent years. Around 40 million people — or more than half the economically active population — have loans, the Vedomosti newspaper reported earlier this year, citing the data from the credit ratings agency Fitch. Many people have more than one.  And many of them are failing to repay. In May, the share of consumer loans overdue by more than three months reached 10 percent, up from 7.9 percent at the start of the year and a record high since 2008, the Interfax news agency reported, citing data from the Central Bank.  The total value of bank lending to individuals is around 10 trillion rubles ($150 billion), according to Central Bank data cited by Vedomosti, meaning that some 1 trillion rubles ($15 billion) is overdue.  Millions of people could use the new law. According to data from the United Credit Bureau, which monitors credit history, 580,000 Russians, or 1.5 percent of the total number of debt holders, will immediately qualify for bankruptcy on Oct. 1. The law could also potentially help another 6.5 million people who are now more than 90 days late on payments on smaller loans to ease their debt burden, the bureau said in a statement Tuesday.  The system may not be able to cope with those numbers, analysts said.  The bankruptcy procedure needs trained people who can manage a debtor's assets and repayments, and they don't appear to be being prepared, said Vasily Solodkov, director of the banking institute at Moscow's Higher School of Economics. It also requires that the court appoint a mediator between the bank and the debtor during the bankruptcy process, which will be an additional burden on courts that are already overloaded, according to the Association of Russian Banks' Grigoryan. The Finance Ministry has estimated that in Moscow alone, the courts will have to deal with about 4 million individual bankruptcy cases within the next year, Vedomosti reported Tuesday. If that happens, the court system will simply choke, Solodkov said.
^ Russians over the age of 40 grew-up in a time when private money and enterprise was not allowed. Then when that system collapsed in 1991 it was a free-for-all. Credit was given out at alarming rates to people who had no clue what to do with it.  They started to spend like never before in the history of the country. There have been several economic crisis' in Russia since 1991 (1998 and today) and many people can no longer pay for everything they have bought on credit. For the most part Russia is a cash-based society, but certain things (houses, dachas, cars, etc) are bought on credit. Russians may see this new bankruptcy law as a life-saver - especially with the internationally-imposed sanctions due to the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the self-imposed bans. While bankruptcy can help some it is not a good thing to file for or have on your "record." Like in 1991 I wonder how many Russians fully understand what bankruptcy is and what it all implies. ^

Aging Canadians

From the G & M:
"Canada shows its age as seniors outnumber children for first time"
Canada has reached a milestone on its path, shared by the rest of the industrialized West, toward a much older population: The country now contains more seniors than children. The finding, released by Statistics Canada on Tuesday, is stark: 16 per cent of Canadians were 14 or younger as of July 1, while 16.1 per cent were 65 or older. The news has been greeted by researchers with some anxiety but also a surprising dose of optimism. They point out that while health-care bills and pension liabilities will rise as baby boomers enter their senescence, this generation of seniors is richer and fitter than any before it, and that Canada still has time to adjust to its new demographic reality. The country has been moving in this direction for years, but has now crossed a “magic line,” said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics and a nearly 30-year veteran of Statscan. The impact is more symbolic than anything, but Mr. Norris said numbers such as these should help policy-makers focus on the needs of aging boomers, many of whom are reaching retirement age. Mr. Norris pointed to skyrocketing rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as a key problem for governments to confront in the next decade or so. Even areas of policy such as city planning will have to adjust, Mr. Norris predicted, as senior mobility becomes a more urgent concern. “We’re a suburban country in large part … but when you get older into your 70s and 80s, I’m not so sure about suburban living. How do you get to the doctor’s?” he said.
Aging and stagnant populations are a problem across the developed world, and by those low standards Canada is faring well, the Statscan report notes. Though the country’s population is getting older, it is relatively youthful compared with other large industrialized countries. In Japan, 26 per cent of the population is 65 or older, compared with 16.1 per cent in Canada. Only the United States, at 15 per cent, has a lower proportion of seniors among G7 economies. The health-care system will have to adapt dramatically to them, said Cindy Forbes, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). At the current rate of growth, seniors will eat up 62 per cent of provincial health-care budgets by 2036, the CMA estimates, a 15-per-cent increase over what seniors consume now. To curtail that kind of spending binge, Dr. Forbes says Canada needs to move “from a hospital-based system to a community-based system” that emphasizes live-in services and palliative care. Where a Canadian hospital bed costs about $1,000 a day on average, home care costs $50 a day, Dr. Forbes said.
^ This is a difficult milestone to celebrate. On the one hand it's nice to know that so many people are living longer, but on the other side Canadian society now has to change to accommodate the special needs of the senior citizens. Of course it shouldn't be such a surprise since the records would have shown this trend coming and yet, as usual, most people and governments put it off until it becomes a major issue like now. The same thing happened with the Baby Boomers. In the late 1940s-early 1960s millions of babies were born and yet governments, etc did little to prepare (lack of schools, social activities, welfare services, etc.) Now the pension, healthcare and social welfare programs are going to be strained and yet little will be done until it's too late. ^

Ludmilla Alexeeva

From the DW:
"Ludmilla Alexeeva: 'Russia is moving away from Europe'"

The Council of Europe has honored Ludmilla Alexeeva, one of Russia's oldest human rights activists. She told DW about the state of democracy in Russia and revealed the one question she plans to ask President Putin.
Deutsche Welle: You have just received the Vaclav Have Human Rights Prize. What does it mean to you? Ludmilla Alexeeva: First, it means a lot to me that the award is in Vaclav Havel's name. I had the honor to meet him in person. He founded Charter 77, which started the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Secondly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe handed me the award at a time when our country is moving away from Europe and the entire civilized world. This year, the Russian human rights movement turns 50, and that includes the Soviet years. I've been active from the start and I know from experience under what difficult conditions we work. This prize is for everyone who is involved in the human rights movement in our country. After all, I don't stand alone.
How do you rate the state of democracy in Russia?
When the Soviet Union collapsed, we were on our way to democracy. If you look at Chapter 2 of the Russian Constitution - which outlines human rights and basic freedom - you'll find that we don't have fewer rights and liberties than the developed nations. But in recent years, there has been a regression, the reason being that my country has known almost no times at all marked by freedom in its history. The era from 1987 to mid-2000 may well be the longest such period. When the USSR collapsed, we got all rights and liberties almost for free, since the Soviet Union broke down of its own accord. Easy come, easy go: we hadn't fought for our freedom. Now we'll have to wage that slow and agonizing battle. I don't think I will be around to see Russia as a democratic state of law. But it will happen, because we are a European nation, geographically, historically, by religion and our people's culture.
So it's wrong to say that the Russian people's pursuit of democracy was stronger in the late 1980s than today? Back then, people thought we'll chase out the communists and live like in the US. Alexander Ausan, dean of the Economics Department at Moscow State University, was right when he said recently: "My fellow countrymen didn't want democracy, they wanted to be consumers, they wanted the supply shortages to end." Today, we're a consumer society. At least we don't have to suffer hunger anymore, and stand in line for bread, potatos and butter, which is humiliating. Now we can also think about freedom.
In 2012, you left Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights. Later, you returned - why was that? I returned because human rights activists always have a difficult time in our country. The Council for Human Rights is one of the few platforms where you can take action and at least find someone to listen. I'll be heading to Moscow soon for a session planned for October 1 in the presence of the president. The Council usually convenes twice a year. This time, I want to raise the issue of the legislation on foreign agents. Luckily, the Moscow Helsinki Group doesn't fall under that law. But many highly reputable organizations are on this scandalous and unfair list. I want to convince the president to do something about it. I want to ask him: "Vladimir Vladimirovitsch, why is it praiseworthy when Gazprom or an entrepreneur gets money from abroad, which is regarded as an investment. Our country lends money abroad, too, which is also commended. Why then is a charitable organization regarded as a foreign agent when it receives money from abroad and acts in the interest of its own country. I can't find an asnwer to this question. I don't understand why we are mistrusted.
Ludmilla Alexeeva, 88, is a historian, human rights activist and former Soviet dissident. She was a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976. A year later, she was forced to leave the Soviet Union, but she continued her human rights work from the US. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexeeva returned to Russia in 1993. She has served as chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group since 1996 and is regarded as one of the most outspoken critics of the Kremlin.
^ It's people like Ludmilla Alexeeva that know the truth about what is going on inside of Russia today and want to make that public to the citizens of Russia and the rest of the world. She was a dissident in the Soviet Union and spoke out against the Communist dictatorship Super Power despite everything being against her and her cause. The things she had to endure just to make her country better back then are hard  to imagine. Now she is speaking out against what she is seeing in modern Russia and trying to improve things better once more. While the majority of Russians have either drank the Kool-Aid or will "wait and see" it is pioneering people like Alexeeva who actually want change. ^

TSA Calls Out Kuwait

From Yahoo:
"US finds Kuwait airline discriminates against Israelis"
In a challenge to boycotts of Israel, the U.S. government has found that Kuwait Airways unlawfully discriminated against a passenger traveling on an Israeli passport by refusing to sell him a ticket for a New York to London flight. Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, complained to the Department of Transportation that in 2013 he was unable to buy a ticket from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to London Heathrow Airport through Kuwait Airways because the airline's online booking system prevented him from selecting Israel as his passport-issuing country. The department investigated and initially rejected Gatt's discrimination complaint, according to a statement and letter provided by transportation officials. But when Gatt appealed the department's decision, the case was reopened and the department ultimately concluded that the airline had violated a different federal law than the one initially cited by Gatt. "We considered Mr. Gatt's claim upon an alternative ground ... which holds that an 'air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person, place, port, or type of traffic in foreign air transportation to unreasonable discrimination,'" Blane Workie, DOT's assistant general counsel for enforcement said in a letter to the airline. By refusing to transport Israeli citizens to and from the U.S. and a third country that accepts Israeli citizens, in this case the United Kingdom, the airline is in violation of the law, the letter said. "We expect (Kuwait Airways) to sell tickets to and transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark based on the laws of that country," Workie said. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the case is a warning that "any airline that wishes to operate in the U.S. should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies." The airline explained that it's against the law in Kuwait to do business with any Israeli citizen or company, and that punishment for a violation could result in imprisonment and hard labor, according to the department. "We do not find the interest of Kuwait in the enforcement of its laws in this case to be greater than the interest of the United States in the enforcement of its laws," the letter said. "It is our view that the U.S. interest in providing nondiscriminatory access to air transportation to an individual traveling from the U.S. to a third country that allows that individual's entry is greater than Kuwait's interest in applying its economic boycott of Israel." The department said it is aware of another, similar complaint. The department has given the airline 15 days to respond. A range of enforcement actions are possible, beginning with civil penalties. Kuwait Airways officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
^ I have been to Kuwait and didn't really care for it. The Kuwait Airport was completely chaotic and dirty. I didn't fly Kuwait Airlines (I went British Airways) so I can't comment about that. It does surprise me a little that an Israeli would want to fly on an airline of a country that has officially declared their desire to see Israel wiped off the face of the map. Maybe he was just trying to make a statement to get awareness to the boycott since many people outside of the Middle East don't know about it. With that said I'm glad the US TSA ruled that Kuwait Airlines was discriminating against him and that they actually have the authority to do something about it. The stupid boycott is the only way the Muslim/Arab countries have to try and harm Israel since they have never won any of their numerous wars against Israel since 1948  despite having massive more amounts of soldiers and weapons. I am curious to see what, if anything, Kuwait does now since they need the US more than we need them - especially with the situation in Iraq and ISIS. Will they stop their open discrimination against Israel and the Jews and move into the 2nd decade of the 21st Century? ^

Not Shutting Down

From Yahoo:
"No shutdown: House approves bill to keep government open"

Congress is sending legislation to President Barack Obama that would head off the threat of a government shutdown at midnight Wednesday. Democrats helped embattled House GOP leaders pass the measure by a sweeping 277-151 vote with just hours to spare. The Senate passed the legislation by a 78-20 tally earlier in the day. Approval of such stopgap measures used to be routine, but debate this year was delayed by tea party lawmakers who demanded that the must-pass bill be used to punish Planned Parenthood, stripping it of federal money because of its practice of supplying tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research. The bill provides 10 weeks to negotiate a more wide-ranging budget deal that would carry past the 2016 presidential election.

^ They starved it off for now, but we will be in the same situation again in 10 weeks. ^

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pull-Out Not A Given

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Capture of Kunduz could mean more US troops will stay in Afghanistan"
The U.S. drawdown of forces in Afghanistan could once again stall as military leaders and advisers weigh the options in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure Monday of a key city in the country’s north. The seizure of Kunduz from the U.S.-trained Afghan National Security Forces has raised questions about the country’s ability to defend itself from extremists in the absence of the U.S. military. According to the Wall Street Journal, military leaders will once again advise the president to retain a larger force in Afghanistan than he’d initially planned. U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, the top military commander in Afghanistan, has provided Pentagon and NATO officials five plans addressing the drawdown, according to the newspaper. Campbell’s options include maintaining current troop levels through 2016, or shrinking them to 8,000, 5,000 or less than 1,000. Campbell is expected to testify in front of Congress next week. A Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that the Department of Defense has not made a formal recommendation to President Barack Obama about the drawdown. Any such guidance, said Army Maj. Roger Cabiness, would include input from Obama’s national security team, commanders on the ground in Afghanistan including Campbell, and the Afghan government and military. For now, Cabiness said, the Pentagon remains committed to the president’s current plan, which calls for the current level of 9,800 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan, primarily serving in an advisory role, through the end of 2015. However, he said, it has not yet been determined how quickly it will draw down to less than 1,000 troops next year. "The specific trajectory of the 2016 drawdown will be established later this year to enable our final consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016, with a security assistance component,” he said. The loss of Kunduz, which might only be temporary as the Afghans regrouped to launch a counteroffensive, was an obvious “setback” for the ANSF, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. It’s the first seizure of a major city by the Taliban since 2001.
^ This is not a surprise especially after Obama removed all our troops from Iraq and then let ISIS take over large parts of that country and Syria. It showed he (Obama) and his advisors don't have a grasp of military reality and would rather work to keep their campaign promises rather than keeping Americans safe. We are in a much worse situation now in the Middle East than we were before we first left Iraq. If Obama removes all US troops from Afghanistan now - especially when the Taliban have taken a large city - it will just show his continued lack of military knowledge. The US needs to get other nations together for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and work out a better campaign then what is currently going on since none of it is really working. ^

Obama Sues School

From Disability Scoop:
"Obama Administration Sues School Over Service Dog"
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing an elementary school for allegedly barring a student with disabilities from bringing her service dog to class unless a handler comes too. n a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the Justice Department said that the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, N.Y. is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for “failing to reasonably modify its policies, practices or procedures” to allow a student known in court papers as D.P. to bring her service dog to school without conditions. D.P. has Angelman syndrome, autism, epilepsy, asthma and hypotonia, according the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The child’s service animal is trained to detect oncoming seizures and apply pressure to prevent or minimize meltdowns and stimming. In addition, the animal is trained to sit down to prevent D.P. from wandering, the lawsuit states. Though D.P. already has a one-to-one assisting her throughout the school day, the Justice Department said that the school district declined repeated requests for school staff to help accommodate the child’s service dog. Instead, the district allegedly would not allow the animal to attend unless accompanied by a full-time adult handler at the family’s expense. “It is no longer acceptable — if ever it was — for a district to refuse reasonable modifications to a child who seeks to handle her own service dog,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. of the Western District of New York. “Certainly since passage of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990, such failure not only violates the dictates of conscience, it also violates the law. This office will simply not tolerate any discrimination against any person of any age who may happen to be affected by disabilities.” Since 2012, D.P.’s mother has paid more than $25,000 for a handler to attend school with the child and her service dog, the lawsuit indicates. The Justice Department is asking that the school district be ordered to allow D.P. to handle her service dog with assistance from school staff. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages for D.P. and her mother. In a statement, the Gates Chili Central School District said “the district believes the lawsuit has no merit.”

^ This is one time I completely agree with Obama and his actions. It still amazes me (in a bad way) that school districts, businesses, etc continue to openly discriminate against the disabled. The ADA passed in 1990 and yet people pretend to not be aware of the law or what they are obligated to do. I could sort-of understand if a business/organization, etc had to pay to make something more accessible to comply with the law (and think the State and Federal Governments should help out with that), but when it only entails allowing a service dog there is no excuse. Had the school district allowed the service dog without a special handler then they wouldn't have even had to pay the back fees for that, but since they fought the ADA and made life unbearable for the student and her family the school should not only allow the service dog, but also back the $25,000 for the handler. The school and its officials are only teaching ALL of their students to treat the disabled poorly and not as regular people when they should be doing the opposite. ^

'Crazy' Russians

From MT:
"Russian Psychiatric Care Homes in Need of Drastic Reforms, Say Experts"
Seventy-five percent of Russians approve of committing people who suffer from mental illnesses to psychiatric institutions against their will, a survey by the independent pollster Levada Center revealed earlier this month. "In Russian society the level of social trust is low, as is the feeling of safety, and that's why Russians try to keep away from those they consider dangerous," Karina Pipiya, a sociologist for the Levada Center, told The Moscow Times in written comments. Dangerous or otherwise, thousands of people in Russia spend decades locked up in psychiatric care homes: facilities for people with psychiatric or neurological disabilities who are deemed incapable of living on their own and who have nowhere else to go or no one to take care of them. In April this year, there were 531 psychiatric care homes in Russia with more than 150,000 residents, officials said at a social workers' forum in the city of Yaroslavl.  As of Jan. 1, out of 1,917 buildings occupied by psychiatric facilities, 63 were in need of major renovation work, 47 were declared dilapidated and 17 were in a critical state, Nadezhda Uskova, deputy minister for social security in the Moscow region, was cited by the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper as saying. Russia's psychiatric homes have been described by media and human rights advocates as prisons where residents are stripped of their rights and pumped full of strong psychotropic medications while the administration takes advantage of their helplessness to appropriate their property and welfare benefits. Alexander Prokhorov was sent to a care home in St. Petersburg directly from an orphanage after he turned 18. He suffers from severe kyphosis (excessive curvature of the spine), and says he was also diagnosed with learning difficulties in order to make him eligible for incarceration in a care home.  Prokhorov, 31, spent more than 10 years there before he finally got the apartment to which he was entitled by law as an orphan.  He describes his years in the facility as far from happy. The building was old and dilapidated, the food was bad and residents were forced to take psychotropic medications and threatened with being committed to a mental hospital for bad behavior, he told The Moscow Times in a phone interview. "Do you think I would've left [to live in my apartment] if it was a good place? If I had been able to get back massages [for his condition], or [exercise] in a swimming pool? But there was nothing," Prokhorov said. There was physiotherapy, he said, but "most of the time the instructor just sat there and played with his phone, telling me to do it on my own." Andrei Druzhinin, 33, was diagnosed with autism as a child and was committed to a care home when he was 28 by his aunt, who took possession of his apartment in the center of Moscow.  His girlfriend Nadezhda Pelepets describes him as a man fully capable of living a normal life — just shy and sometimes impractical. His aunt, an employee of a psychiatric institution herself, had him committed to a mental hospital where he was diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Soon after the court declared him incapable and sent him to a care home. The four years Druzhinin spent in the facility seriously damaged his physical and emotional wellbeing, Pelepets told The Moscow Times, because he was forced to take strong medications that he didn't need, and because life there was monotonous and depressing.  "There was a corridor, and a room with a TV set," she said in a phone interview. "So he could walk along the corridor or watch TV, and basically, that's it," she said.  The facility's administration resisted her attempts to take him out — even for a few hours or a day — to make his life more interesting, as well as her attempts to have him declared capable, she said. "The only reason Andrei got out was because I officially became his guardian," she said. There are three types of residents in psychiatric care homes, said Tatyana Malchikova, president of the Civic Commission for Human Rights, an NGO that specializes in human rights violations in psychiatry.  There are those who suffer from serious neurological or mental illnesses and need specialized care, orphans who have had to leave their institutes after turning 18 and have been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, and those who were falsely committed on the basis of a fabricated diagnosis. "The system of psychiatric care homes is the most rotten part of the country's psychiatry infrastructure," Malchikova told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.  "Most of the complaints we've dealt with during the last 15 years concerned psychiatric care homes," she said.  All orphans declared to have psychiatric or neurological disabilities are sent to live in psychiatric care homes after they turn 18, the human rights advocate said. Most of them are diagnosed with learning difficulties, but that's often incorrect, she said. "These children often don't know how to read or write; they behave inappropriately because no one worked with them, no one taught them," which gives social workers grounds to conclude that they have learning difficulties, Malchikova told The Moscow Times. So instead of getting their own apartments as orphans are entitled to by law, they end up in care homes — along with adults put there by relatives who want to claim their property or other assets.  "The scheme is simple. A person reports their relative as dangerous to society to the police or nearest psychiatric institution, then commits that relative to a mental hospital where they are pumped full of drugs," Malchikova said. "Then the person goes to court and demands that their relative be declared incapable. Even if the relative is present at the hearing, imagine the condition they're in after all the medications they have been given: They look [unwell] and behave oddly, so the judge easily declares them incapable," and the relative is sent to a psychiatric care home, leaving their property at the disposal of family members, she said. "But the most frequent violation is declaring kids [from orphanages] incapable without them even knowing," she said.  "This way the care home becomes the guardian of its residents and is allowed to use their property, whatever that is — real estate outside of the home, or any welfare payments they receive, or other things," she told The Moscow Times. Residents of these facilities are often kept under lock and key, according to Malchikova, with their passports confiscated by the administration and medical staff giving them strong psychotropic medications and punishing them for "bad" behavior. Means of punishment vary, she said. The care home administration may seize their property, such as phones or laptops, send them to a psychiatric hospital or simply lock them up in improvised punishment cells, just like in prison. The system of psychiatric care homes needs reforming, said Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova, a member of Russia's Civic Chamber that monitors the situation in the homes together with NGOs and human rights activists.  "The system is ponderous, it was formed a long time ago and it is difficult to change it and carry out reforms. But at the same time it is so outdated from the point of view of both medicine and social services that changes need to be made," Topoleva-Soldunova told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.
Society and NGOs realized this some time ago, she said, and have recently started a dialogue with decision-makers. "We've put together a working group at the Labor Ministry and started discussing ways of reforming the system," Topoleva-Soldunova said.  She echoed Murashov's statement about outdated standards and said that today, providing food and basic necessities was not enough for the residents of the homes.  "We want them to lead dignified lives there, or be adopted by families, or live on their own [outside the care homes] if they're capable of doing so," Topoleva-Soldunova said.  First and foremost, according to her, reform should be aimed at preventing teenagers from orphanages being sent to care homes, because they don't develop there: They don't study or work, and spend their days surrounded by walls and fences.  A lot of them can live on their own with the help of social workers, said Topoleva-Soldunova.  Another important goal is to initiate rehabilitation for residents of care homes whose condition is serious. At present they are often simply constrained to their beds. "But medical science is moving forward, and a lot can be done for them," said Topoleva-Soldunova.
^ I worked with the disabled (physically and mentally) for 4 summers at an overnight summer camp. Every year we watched a documentary about the Willowbrook Institution in New York and how horrible the conditions for the patients were there before it was shut down. The care that most mentally disabled people receive in the West has improved by leaps and bounds since the 1970s. The rest of the world (Russia included) continue to treat the mentally disabled as criminals who deserve to be completely hidden away from society with no hope of any future and where any method of treatment or punishment is allowed. The last time I was studying in Yaroslavl I went to a different location around the city with my teacher everyday to both practice my Russian and learn about everyday life. I went to places like: the police station, hospital, wedding palace, fire department, a woman's shelter, a charity that helps the homeless, a city government office, etc. I wanted to go to an institution for the mentally disabled in the city (since I knew the Soviets placed many dissidents and anti-Communists/Soviets in these kinds of hospitals once they closed the Gulags in the 1960s.) My teacher refused out-right to even ask for permission to visit. I did "fight" for and finally get to visit a hospital for disabled children and learned a great deal about how the system has changed and how it has remained the same throughout the decades. I was also taught that the majority of Russians historically have seen the disabled (physically or mentally) as God's work and so the disabled are sinners who deserve what they have received and so they shouldn't get any help in becoming members of society and that the best thing for them and everyone else is to keep them away from ordinary people. I only spent several hours with the disabled children, but I learned more in that short time then I did visiting any of the other places. The fact that my teacher refused to even consider me going to see the mentally disabled - even one's with "mild" mental disabilities -  gave me more of an insight too. The mentally disabled around the world deserve to be treated like everyone else and given the same basic rights and opportunities. While not everyone who is mentally disabled can live on their own they should still be treated like humans, given proper food, shelter, basic education, care and love. ^

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Avoiding A Shutdown

From USA Today:
"Congress gears up for major budget talks with White House"
Congressional leaders are gearing up to begin budget talks with the White House aimed at setting federal budget outlines for the next two years in the hopes of averting another government shutdown threat in December. The House and Senate are moving toward passage of a funding bill that will stave off a federal government shutdown when the fiscal year expires Wednesday night. The plan will extend current spending levels through Dec. 11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that he and departing Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have discussed with President Obama the prospect of starting budget talks, and "we expect them to start very soon." He added that he hopes to be able to "settle on a top line for both years" — fiscal years 2016 and 2017 — so that next year Congress can return to the regular process of passing spending bills for various agencies under an agreed-upon overall budget target. McConnell said that this year, Democrats objected to spending bills drafted under existing tight budget caps — known as sequestration — because they want more spending for domestic programs. Republicans are seeking more defense spending than the current caps allow. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the "Republican leader has already conceded that budget negotiations will crack the budget caps" and added that getting a two-year deal "would be wonderful." Reid said there is "stuff going on — at the staff level" to get the talks started, and "if there are any talks I'll be invited." These talks are likely to be a rerun of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations at the end of 2012. Any negotiations on a spending bill will likely have to include a wide range of contentious issues, such as funding for highway construction and extending billions of dollars worth of tax cuts. Congress also needs to again raise the federal debt limit this fall, which could be included in the same negotiations. The process is complicated by the fact that Boehner announced last week he is resigning from Congress effective Oct. 30, and Republicans in the House are scrambling to choose a new leadership team. Nevertheless, Reid said he hoped the parties could reach agreement before Boehner leaves.
^ The Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency need to do what is right for the whole country and avoid another government shutdown. Hopefully, they will come up with a budget before the deadline. ^

Polish Question

From Yahoo:
"Poland moves to take in ethnic Poles from former USSR"

Poland has earmarked funds to bring in tens of thousands of ethnic Poles now living in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, its finance minister said Tuesday. The long-neglected issue was raised recently amid a heated debate over the European Union's plan to share 120,000 refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia among its 28 members. Poland has said it will host 7,000 of them. Critics of the refugee program, however, say Poland's first obligation is toward the ethnic Poles who Soviet dictator Josef Stalin expelled by hundreds of thousands from their homes, and to their descendants. Most of the expulsions took place during World War II, when Soviet authorities forcefully sent Poles from areas overtaken by the Red Army to Siberia or the bare steppes of Kazakhstan. The families were not allowed to return for decades under communism, both in the Soviet Union and Poland, until the 1990s. Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek said Tuesday the Cabinet has put aside funds for the repatriations — and the Interior Ministry said it would be 30 million zlotys ($8 million) in 2016 alone. The money — for housing, Polish language lessons and professional training — would go to local governments to encourage them to take in the arrivals. Under the EU refugee program, funds for people from Syria and Eritrea will come from the bloc. Democratic Poland started the ethnic repatriation program in the late 1990s but the reluctance of local governments has been a chief obstacle. So far, some 5,000 ethnic Poles have been brought to Poland from Kazakhstan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, according to the Interior Ministry. Another 180 were evacuated from war-torn eastern Ukraine in February. But tens of thousands more are waiting. There are at least 34,000 ethnic Poles in Kazakhstan alone, according to estimates.

^ It does seem like too little too late. The Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended 24 years ago. That is when the program would have been most helpful to ethnic Poles living in the former USSR. Germany did the same back in the 1970s and 1980s, but it wasn't until the Iron Curtain fell in the 1990s that the majority of ethnic Germans fled the collapsing Communist countries of Eastern Europe. It seems the Poles are just really focusing on this "issue" now so they can say they are too busy getting ethnic Poles back home then taking care of non-European migrants and refugees. I would hope that is the case since the alternative would follow every single Polish joke known in the US. ^

Kviv Ban

From Yahoo:
"Russia closes airspace to Ukraine airlines from Oct 25"

Russia on Monday said it would close its airspace to Ukrainian airlines from October 25 in reprisal for a ban that Ukraine has slapped on two Russian firms. Acting on instructions from Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, the federal transport agency "has been asked to inform (Ukrainian) air companies providing flights to Russia that they will be forbidden to use Russian airspace from October 25," the official Tass news agency said, quoting a transport ministry spokesman. The measure is in response to a decision by the Ukrainian authorities last week that banned the Russian companies Aeroflot and Transaero from flying into the country, also from October 25. Russian transit flights will also be banned if the aircraft carry military personnel or dual-use goods, under the decision announced in Kiev. The move -- aimed at punishing Russia for its annexation of Crimea and alleged support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine -- was branded by Moscow as an "act of madness." On September 16, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expanded a list of sanctions against Russian companies and individuals, targeting 400 officials and 90 companies.
^ This is no surprise. Russia is doing the same thing the Ukraine did - of course after the fact - to try and save face. I don't know why the Ukraine is doing all of this now - over a year after Russia annexed the Crimea. I think the Ukrainians were hoping that the US, Canada, the EU,  NATO, the UN, etc would do something first and since they really haven't it is up to the Ukrainians. I don't know of any country at war with another country (especially where land was taken and annexed unilaterally) that has had such cordial relations as the Ukraine and Russia have. It shows great restraint on the part of Kyiv since I have no doubt Russia would never have tolerated the same thing if it happened to them. ^

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Blesses Disabled

From Disability Scoop:
"Pope Blesses Kids With Special Needs"
Michael Keating, age 10, has had more than his share to bear. Born prematurely, the Berks County boy has cerebral palsy. He can’t use his arms or legs. He suffers from seizures, and his brain cannot process what he sees or hears. He has intellectual disabilities. Last year, he had spinal fusion surgery, and in August, doctors replaced his hips. More surgeries are likely. Yet for all that, Michael’s family says he knows joy. He loves music, he loves Shiloh, his black Lab. And he especially loves kisses, lots of kisses. Saturday, Michael received a kiss, a gift, that by now has welled up tears around the world, a story told and retold: How Pope Francis stopped the car that was whisking him off the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, walked up to a boy in a wheelchair to bless him, and gently placed a kiss on his forehead. Since then, Michael’s parents Chuck and Kristin, both teachers, have heard from hundreds of family, friends and former students. “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” want to interview them.  But more than anything else, the family from Elverson Borough is feeling grateful and awestruck by the simple, caring gesture of a humble pope. “I feel I will be less apprehensive because I know he’s been blessed by the pope,” said mother Kristin, referring to the additional surgeries Michael faces. “I always hoped he would be blessed, but when it happened, it was unreal,” said Chuck. When the pope’s plane touched down, Chuck Keating was leading Bishop Shanahan High School’s Marching Eagles band. He also teaches music. As the pope appeared in the aircraft’s doorway, the band launched into the theme from “Rocky.” By the time Francis was being slowly driven away in his black Fiat 500L, they were playing “Ode to Joy.” But then the car turned, headed toward the band, and stopped. Francis waved to bystanders and gave the band a thumbs-up. Then he saw Michael. And got out of the car. Michael’s twin brother Christopher and sister Katie, 13, both welled up. Kristin Keating cried and thanked Francis, who took her hand. Kids in the band called out, “We love you, Francis!” The pope’s visit, of course, had only begun. No sooner did he enter the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City than he spied two more children with disabilities, with their mothers in the front row. Like the Keatings, Delaware moms Nancy Lemus and Luz Moyao had driven up early, hoping against hope for a blessing. Lemus’ son Christopher Garcia, 10, has severe cerebral palsy. Moyao’s son Angel Zavaleta, 8, has TARP Syndrome. Francis “came right to the boys, hugged them, blessed them and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads,” Lemus said. There are no words for the emotions of the parents. “It was once in a lifetime,” Lemus said. Michael Keating’s father said, “I was just blown away by it, truly blown away.” After the blessing at the airport, Michael Keating, a purple bag of rosary beads in his lap, was smiling. Michael and his brother, who is typically developing, were adopted. It wasn’t long before doctors told Chuck and Kristin Keating that Michael had grave problems. Chuck said it didn’t matter. “There was never a thought about it,” he said. “As soon as the first time we held them, they were our sons.” If anything, he said, Michael’s challenges “have brought us together as family.” Christopher and his sister Katie, who is also adopted, attend Twin Valley Middle School in Elverson. Michael attends the Child and Career Development Center in Coatesville. “We’re all feeling great and very fortunate,” said Kristin, who teaches elementary school in the Great Valley School District.
On Saturday, the family left home before 3 a.m. to get to the airport. As the hours wore on, Michael was becoming testy, restless. But during the pope’s blessing, he was calm. His father was struck by Francis’ “incredible presence, just an aura.” He thinks his son may have sensed it, too. “I think he felt something, because he smiled.”
^ I have said this before about Pope Francis and can gladly say it again. Pope Francis is truly the embodiment of what a religious leader should be. He puts others before himself and doesn't matter if they are criminals, poor, disabled, etc. He is continuing the kind of Catholic Church that Pope John Paul 2nd led (we will simply forget there ever was a German Nazi Pope in-between.) Like with Pope John Paul 2nd I have heard from many Protestants and Jews saying they would like to be Catholic if everything was done like these two men (John Paul and Francis) did/do. That says a lot. I don't always agree with what the Catholic Church preaches or does, but it is times like this where I'm proud to be Catholic and only wish more people (from the ordinary parishioners to priests, nuns, cardinals, etc) would follow the example of these two great men and make the Catholic Church and the world even better. ^

New England Foliage

From Yankee Foliage:
"New England Foliage Map"

^ I found this site that does a good job of letting people know the foliage reports for New England. You can also move the map around and see places like New York. ^

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood Moon

NH Foliage

"Foliage Tracker"

When is the Right Time to Visit? Figuring out the perfect time to catch peak foliage in New Hampshire can be a bit of a leap of faith, but our foliage tracker below will help you select the perfect time to see nature's fireworks. Use the sliding bar to view approximate color change weekly throughout the fall season. Click on a region to view that area's up-to-date foliage report. Foliage reports are updated twice weekly through the end of October. - See more at:

^ I like these kinds of sites that help residents and visitors plan their vacations/trips. ^

Friday, September 25, 2015

Farc Peace

From the BBC:
"Colombia peace deal with Farc rebels 'within six months'"
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Farc rebel group have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal. President Santos and the rebel leader known as Timochenko shook hands in Cuba, where the two sides have been holding peace talks since 2012. On Wednesday, they reached agreement on how to punish human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The issue had been seen as one of the biggest hurdles on the road to peace.  We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said.  "On 23 March 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas," he added.  "Let's join efforts to achieve peace," Farc leader Timochenko later posted on the rebels' Twitter feed.   The guerrilla group also agreed to surrender its weapons within 60 days of a final accord being signed.  US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the deal as "historic progress" and expressed his "deep appreciation to Pope Francis for his moral leadership and the Vatican's good offices in the quest for peace". During his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis had alluded to previous failed peace negotiations between the two sides and warned them that "we can't allow another failure on the road to peace and reconciliation".
Who will mete out justice?
Special courts and a peace tribunal will be set up to deal with alleged crimes related to the conflict and will try all participants in the conflict, including members of the security forces.
Will there be an amnesty?
Yes and no. Combatants will be covered by an amnesty, but war crimes and crimes against humanity will not fall under it.
Will Farc leaders be sent to jail?
That depends. Those who confess to the most serious crimes will see their "freedom restricted" and be confined, but not in ordinary jails. It is not yet clear where they would serve their sentence instead. Those who confess past a certain deadline or refuse to admit their crimes altogether will go to prison for up to 20 years.
Will the guilty pay for their crimes?
Even those who will not be sent to prison will have to carry out work aimed at repairing some of the damage caused in more than 50 years of conflict, such as helping to clear landmines and plant alternative crops where coca was grown.
President Santos said that he had given his negotiating team instructions to hammer out the outstanding issues before 23 March 2016. He said it would be "no easy task as many difficult points still need to be agreed". Since starting official peace talks in Havana in November 2012, the two sides have struck deals on land reform, political participation, illegal drugs and now transitional justice. However, none of these agreements will come into force until both sides put their signatures to the final agreement.  It will then be put to the Colombian people in a referendum.  While many Colombians have welcomed Wednesday's breakthrough, some - among them victims of the Farc - say it means perpetrators of serious crimes will enjoy impunity.  Former President Alvaro Uribe, a hardliner and harsh critic of President Santos, tweeted that "it's not peace that's near, it's the surrender to Farc and the tyranny of Venezuela" in a reference to the role Colombia's neighbour has played accompanying the talks.
Conflict totals:
•An estimated 220,000 killed
•More than five million internally displaced
•More than seven million registered victims
•About 8,000 Farc rebels continue fighting

^ I have heard about the Farc rebels in Columbia for years, but have no real idea what they are fighting for or against. It seems though that the fighting and violence will finally come to an end after so many decades and hopefully Columbia will be able to transition to peace in such a way that everyone - including the victims - get justice. ^

Plane Ban

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Kiev bans Russian airlines' flights"
Ukraine has said it will ban Russian airlines from flying into the country as part of sanctions over Moscow's support for rebels in the east. Kiev said the measures would take effect on 25 October and would include major Russian airlines Aeroflot and Transaero. Russian transit flights will also be banned if the planes carry military personnel or dual-use goods. Moscow described the move as "an act of madness", promising firm response. In a separate development, Ukraine and Russia reached an agreement on supplies of natural gas to Kiev for the coming winter, ending month of tough negotiations. The deal - brokered by the European Union - was initialled in Brussels. However, it requires "further procedures" before it can be signed.  Past gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have led to interruptions in supply and caused major disruptions in shipments of Russian gas to EU countries. The flight ban was announced by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk. "Russian planes with the Russian tricolour have no business in Ukrainian airports," he said. Ukraine's aviation authorities later said the ban would take effect on 25 October. Last week, Ukraine imposed sanctions against 400 people and 90 legal entities - most of them from Russia - held responsible for Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Responding to Ukraine's ban announcement, Russian officials said they would be forced to take adequate measures.
Dmirty Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said - that if implemented - such a ban would be "another act of madness".  Almost 8,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of arming the separatists and also sending its regular troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Moscow denies this, but admits that Russian "volunteers" fight alongside the rebels. The EU and the US have imposed their own sanctions against Russian officials and top allies of President Putin. A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has been holding in the last two weeks, although there have been reports of occasional shelling.
^ I think the Russians' response was funny. They called it an "act of madness." To many people around the world the madness is when Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the Crimea and then supplied troops and weapons to the ethnic Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine. They started a war that has killed and displaced so many innocent people and has changed the international dynamic that was relatively stable since the Cold War ended in 1991. That is true madness. I'm still surprised and amazed at how cordial the Ukrainians continue to be toward the Russians. It is a war like none other. The Ukraine continues to supply Russian-annexed Crimea because Russia can't/won't. Now Russia is moving on to fight in Syria to help their dictator-friend there. That is also madness. I can only hope that the Russian madness will soon end and that the Ukraine will finally be allowed to chose its own future for itself rather than be bullied like it has been for centuries. ^