Wednesday, May 25, 2016

EU Content Quota

From the BBC:
"Netflix and Amazon face quota on EU-made content"

On-demand video streaming services face a call that at least 20% of the catalogues they offer to EU subscribers should be made locally. The European Commission has also proposed that the programming must be given "good visibility".  It says there are cultural benefits to the move, which would affect Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, one expert suggested the new rules might not have as much impact on what was on offer as intended. The call is part of a proposed update to the 28-nation bloc's Audiovisual Media Services directive.

Other measures include:
  • a requirement that video-sharing platforms including YouTube adopt "better" measures to protect minors from violent content and people of all ages from clips that act as an incitement to hatred
  • a call for the creation of new symbols or phrases that would warn viewers of potentially harmful video content - such as bad language, sex or drugs - that would be used across the EU by both broadcasters and internet-based platforms
  • the ability for TV broadcasters to have more flexibility as to when they show adverts
EU rules already oblige TV broadcasters to:
  • invest about 20% of their revenues into making or commissioning original content
  • to spend at least 50% of their time showing European works, including material made in their own country
But since audiences are spending increasing amounts of their time watching on-demand services, the EU civil service thinks the new measure is required. On-demand platforms would have to ensure at least a 20% of the catalogue they offered to EU subscribers was made up of "European works" and that this content was given prominence on viewers' screens. This would not be enforced centrally from Brussels. Rather, individual countries would have the right to demand the likes of Netflix and Amazon invest in local productions and/or buy the rights to EU-made shows and films. Netflix said it was against quotas, but was already investing in local content.

^ I know many countries place these kinds of quotas and restrictions on radio stations, TV channels and movie theaters. I don't agree with it. It is censorship. People are going to see and listen to the media that they are interested in regardless if it is American-made, Canadian-made or EU-made. Those that make good quality and interesting media will have no issues finding an audience. ^

Nadiya Freed!

From the BBC:
"Nadiya Savchenko: Russia frees Ukraine servicewoman"

Russia has freed jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who became a symbol of resistance against Moscow. "I am free," Savchenko told a crowd of reporters and politicians as she arrived in Kiev as part of a prisoner swap with two alleged Russian soldiers. She was sentenced to 22 years in jail for killing two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, charges she denied. The two Russians - Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov - were earlier flown from Kiev to Moscow. Savchenko was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin before her return to Ukraine. In Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko pardoned the two Russian nationals. In a tweet (in Ukrainian) earlier on Wednesday, Mr Poroshenko wrote: "The presidential plane with Hero of Ukraine Nadiya Savchenko has landed!"  Speaking to reporters at Kiev's Boryspil airport, Savchenko was in defiant mood. "I am ready to once again give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield," she said. At a joint news conference with President Poroshenko later on Wednesday, Savchenko thanked her family and the people of Ukraine for supporting her while she was held in Russia. "Ukraine has the right to be, and it will be!" she said, pledging to do everything she could to free all Ukrainian nationals still being kept prisoner in Russia and in parts of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.  Meanwhile, President Poroshenko - who awarded Savchenko a Hero of Ukraine star - said: "This is our common victory!"  He also personally thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and US President Barack Obama for supporting Ukraine.  

^ Again the will and determination of the Ukrainian people - even against overwhelming odds (ie Russia) - continues to be strong and surprise the world. I have lived in Russia and do not believe that the majority of Russians would give up as much as the Ukrainians have. They (the Russians) would just put their heads down and not "rock the boat" as they have for centuries. The Ukrainians have survived being part of the Czarist Empire, the Soviet Union, the Nazi occupation and now are going through the Russian annexation of the Crimea and Russian-backed forces in the Donbass. The Ukrainians have proven they deserve to be independent and won't give that up so easily. ^

Monday, May 23, 2016

De-Commie Crimea

"Cities in occupied Donbas and Crimea lose their Soviet names"

Around one hundred cities and villages in occupied Crimea and parts of Donbas lost their names, assigned to them by the Soviet Union. Ukrainian Parliament renamed them in accordance with the decommunization process, started in the country after the events of the Maidan revolution, Ukraine Today reported.   Thus, Ukraine changed names of 61 villages and 12 cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Additionally, 74 villages and a city was renamed in Russian-occupied Crimea, according to Ukraine Today. Ukrainian lawmakers reported, the decision would come into force the day after it was published. Ukraine approved the law on the decommunization of the country in May, 2015. The country's deputies ordered to rename more than 160 cities and villages. Additionally, Ukrainian Ministry of Culture gave way to demolish about 800 Soviet monuments. The toppled statues of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin were greeted as a symbol of Ukraine's push to break from its communist past.

^ Every former Communist country needs to do this. It is the only way to fix the mistakes and the crimes of the past made during the Communist dictatorships. You can not claim to detest Communist crimes and at the same time honor them with monuments and place-names. ^

Victoria Day!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Hidden Jewelery

From the BBC:
"Auschwitz mug reveals jewellery hidden 70 years ago"

An enamel mug, one of thousands of exhibits at the Auschwitz museum, has been hiding a secret for over 70 years - a gold ring and necklace. Curators discovered the jewellery during maintenance work on its collection of enamel kitchenware. The jewellery had been concealed beneath the mug's fake bottom, which gradually eroded over time. Many Jews hid valuable items in their luggage when they were deported to Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz. Some 1.1 million Jews and more than 100,000 other prisoners were murdered between 1940 and 1945 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.  The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum said the jewellery - like other objects accidentally discovered - would be carefully documented and secured, but warned that the likelihood of finding the owners was slim "because there are no traces left on the objects to help identify them".  The mug is one of 12,000 cups, pots, bowls, kettles and jugs held by the museum; items looted by German forces from the luggage of people who arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War Two. "It turned out that one of the mugs has a double bottom," said Hanna Kubik of the museum's Memorial Collections. "It was very well hidden; however, due to the passage of time, the materials underwent gradual degradation, and the second bottom separated from the mug." Inside, they found a woman's ring made of gold and a necklace wrapped in a piece of canvas - and tests have concluded the pieces were made in Poland between 1921 and 1931.   The hiding of valuable objects is repeatedly mentioned in the accounts of survivors of the camps, said museum director Dr Piotr Cywinski. He said the Nazis "incessantly lied" to the Jewish people being rounded up - saying they were being resettled and could take a small amount luggage. In this way, the Germans could be "confident" that they would find "the last valuables of the deported families", he added. The fact that some of these items were hidden "proves on the one hand the awareness of the victims as to the robbery nature of the deportation, but on the other hand it shows that the Jewish families constantly had a ray of hope that these items will be required for their existence".

^ I have heard and read about these kinds of hidden valuables, but it  is another thing when it is discovered 70+ years since the war. It just goes to show that no matter how long you study and research about a major historical event there are always new and interesting discoveries being made. ^

Crimea Return

"Prospects for Crimea return"

As Ukraine marks the anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people, the people should not only remember the tragic events of 1944 but also keep in mind the importance of a strategy to return the Russian-occupied Crimea in order to not let the ethnocide repeat today.  It seems the no one, except Russia, has any doubt that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. But these are just words. Unfortunately, the reality is different. More than two years ago, Russia occupied the Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea. And Crimea must definitely be returned. But the slogans like "Crimea is Ukraine” are not enough. Ukraine’s senior officials from time to time offer different formats of negotiations on the return of the Crimea, but aren’t they just showing off? What way should we choose to de-occupy Crimea, and what will be the outcome for the peninsula? There are more questions than answers by far... As the Ukrainian political arena witnesses daily internal battles and the public is engaged in lively discussion over the new composition of the Cabinet or the appointment of a new prosecutor general, it seems that the people in Crimea have been left out of the Ukrainian information field, alone with their problems. Despite the fact that almost every week, there is an increasing number of reports of searches, arrests, and even disappearances of people (for the most part, Crimean Tatars) in the annexed territory, it seems that amid today's problems in resolving the internal political crisis, the issue of de-occupation of the peninsula has gone way down in Ukraine’s political agenda. However, this is not really the case. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko a few months ago announced the possibility of Geneva Plus, the new international format of negotiations, calling it an important and necessary step toward Crimea’s de-occupation. The resolution of the European Parliament on human rights violations on the peninsula also mentions the possibility of resuming talks on de-occupation of Crimea in this Geneva format, that is with the involvement of the U.S., EU and possibly the Budapest Memorandum signatory states. The main purpose of this advanced format should be focusing exclusively on the Crimean issue and, what is extremely important, engaging Russia in these negotiations.
However, there are serious doubts that the Kremlin, which at the moment positions itself solely as a mediator in the talks, will agree to pose an aggressor state. And it is obvious that without Vladimir Putin, any negotiations in any shape will eventually come to naught, becoming just a bad copy of previous attempts to succeed on the issue. Bohdan Yaremenko, who is a diplomat and head of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation, shares this opinion: "Frankly, I don’t really believe in an individual negotiation format on the Crimean issue. The main problem for any format, created to discuss Crimea’s de-occupation will be attracting Russia. It [Russia] has no motivation to be attracted to these talks. And without Russia, such format will become a sort of a club, with little practical value." The diplomat believes that the Crimean subject should be raised in the existing formats of negotiations with simultaneous attempts to modify these talks and adjust their agenda. "We should start from afar, emphasizing some smaller issues related to the occupation, such as human rights or even smaller components of this issue," said the expert. As for the other formats for further talks on Crimea return, the most discussed idea is to adjust the notorious Minsk agreements which Moscow has long been successfully sabotaging. "We are dissatisfied that the Minsk agreements only address the situation in the east [of Ukraine], and not a word is said that Crimea must be freed. Obviously, the position of the president is that we first need to liberate Donbas, and then Crimea. From our perspective, this is wrong," said one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people Mustafa Dzhemilev. But there is another question: is it necessary to add to the text of the Minsk agreement a paragraph on de-occupation of Crimea if Russia has not been fulfilling its obligations on Donbas?  According to Bohdan Yaremenko, it is worth a try. That’s because raising the Crimean issue within the Minsk process will not lead to the withdrawal of Russia from the Minsk format while Moscow may choose to not enter the Geneva format at all. "No matter how difficult the task, its implementation is still more realistic than making Russia join a new international format on de-occupation of Crimea," he said. Meanwhile, Russia's position is unequivocal. As soon as the Geneva Plus format was offered, Putin’s spox Dmitry Peskov said that the subject of Crimea is “closed” for Russia. But in any case, the talks on Crimea will lead to positive changes, the experts say. "As long as Ukraine is unable to return Crimea with military-political methods, any formats involving our allies and keeping Russia nervous will be advantageous for us. Once Ukraine is ready and Russia weakens so much that it is concerned with its internal problems, we will get this issue resolved," says Ihor Semyvolos.
The fact that the issue of Crimea is very painful and irritating for the Kremlin is manifested in Russia's reaction to a victory of the Ukrainian singer Jamala in the Eurovision Song Contest this year with the entry titled "1944," referring to the deportation of Crimean Tatars. This victory has led to all of the major media outlets across the world overnight May 15 telling the audience about the Ukrainian singer of a Crimean Tatar origin and the content of her song. And thus, millions of those who had not heard of the deportation before, learned about this horrific tragedy. While solving the issue of Crimea return is a problem to be dealt with for at least several years, small steps must be already taken today. It is necessary to raise the Crimean issue at international negotiations and cover the problems of Crimea in the media. Ukraine is gradually making such steps. Thus, the Parliament on November 12, 2015, recognized as genocide the deportation of Crimean Tatars.  Besides, May 18, the date of the beginning of a deportation in 1944, is now marked as the Day of the victims of genocide of the Crimean Tatar people. In addition, after the illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia in spring 2014, May 18 is also defined as a Day of the fight for the rights of the Crimean Tatar people.Today, Ukraine calls upon the international community to extend political and diplomatic pressure on Russia in order to avoid a repetition of the tragedy of 1944. For, after the occupation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the policy of the occupying authorities have led to the fact that more than 20,000 Crimean Tatars fled their homes and moved to seek a better life in mainland Ukraine while the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people had to move its headquarters to Kyiv.It is heartwarming to see that Ukraine’s appeals have been heard by the international community. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed in his statement the inadmissibility of violation of human rights in the occupied Crimea. "Over the past two years, we have documented increasing persecution of the Crimean Tatars. Members of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar minority community, and its supporters have been intimidated, harassed and jailed, often on dubious charges," the High Commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, said at a briefing in Geneva.

^ A very thoughtful and engaging article on how to bring peace to the Crimea and to the Ukraine. ^

Thursday, May 19, 2016


"Dnipropetrovsk renamed Dnipro"

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada has decided that the city of Dnipropetrovsk should be renamed Dnipro as part of the decommunization drive, according to an UNIAN correspondent.   Resolution No. 3864 to rename the city was supported by 247 out of the 344 MPs registered in the session hall. The decision comes into force from the date of its adoption. An explanatory note to the resolution says that the city was named Dnipropetrovsk in 1926 as a compound word after the Dnipro River and after Bolshevik and Soviet Communist Party leader, head of the 1917 revolutionary movement and Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic Hryhoriy Petrovskiy (1978-1958). Petrovskiy later became one of the masterminds of the Holodomor artificial famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933. "The name carries symbols of the communist regime and, by law, it must be changed," the note says.

^ De-Communization (or lustration) is needed throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe - and not just for names, but symbols, organizations, politics, etc. Most countries support de-Natzification and so de-Communization is the next most logical step. More crimes and more people were affected by the Communists (mostly because they were power for 40-70 years while the Nazis were in power for 12.) Communism has only ever been good on paper and never in practice. Any country that has become Communist has also become a dictatorship that used/uses fear and murder to stay in power. It is a recipe that will never last since eventually people will become fed-up with the abuses and hypocrisy (ie. Communism - the so-called "class-less" society has more classes than a democracy) and demand change. Communist genocide and murder should not be praised or honored. Only it's victims should be. ^

Military Days

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Seattle Olympics

From Disability Scoop:
"Seattle To Host 2018 Special Olympics"

Seattle will host the next Special Olympics USA Games in July 2018. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and others presented the news late last week to a crowded room of Special Olympics fans and athletes, saying planning is already underway for the roughly one-week competition that will attract thousands of visitors from across the country. “We’re thrilled that our region has been selected to host the games,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said to the crowd. Added Seattle Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas: “Seattle is no stranger to big events, and this, I think, is going to be the biggest … sports event to be here since the Goodwill Games” in 1990. The Special Olympics USA Games are held every four years; the most recent were in New Jersey in 2014. Since 1968, when Chicago hosted the first International Special Olympics, the competitions have become widely celebrated as part of the largest global movement for empowering people with intellectual disabilities. The 2018 event will mark the games’ 50th year. About 3,500 athletes from all 50 states will compete in 16 individual and team sports, such as powerlifting and gymnastics, at facilities throughout the Seattle area July 1-6. The majority of events will be at the University of Washington. Transit officials will be working with games officials to mitigate traffic impacts. “We expect mass-transit connections — buses connecting with light rail — will play a key role as visitors attend events and explore the region,” said Metro Transit spokesman Jeff Switzer. The games are estimated to generate $50 million in tourism revenue, require the help of 10,000 local volunteers and attract 50,000 spectators, officials said. The competitions will be free to the public.

^ The Special Olympics are an important opportunity for people with different disabilities to come together and compete. It's also a great way for the non-disabled to mix and learn with those with disabilities. It's a win-win for everyone and, I have heard, a lot of fun.  ^

Tatar Deportation

Overtime Pay

From USA Today:
"Millions more Americans to be eligible for overtime pay"

Moving to fatten low- and middle-income paychecks that have languished for years, the Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled a long-awaited rule that will make millions of Americans newly eligible for overtime pay. While some businesses welcome the measure, many say it will simply force them to reshuffle salaries to get around the regulation. Others fear it will mean demoting white-collar workers and altering workplace cultures.  The rule, slated to be formally released Wednesday, would essentially double the threshold at which executive, administrative and professional employees are exempt from overtime pay to $47,476 from the current $23,660. That’s expected to make 4.2 million additional workers eligible to receive time-and-a-half wages for each hour they put in beyond 40 a week. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the salary threshold was originally intended to exempt high-paid executives but instead has denied overtime to low-level retail supervisors and entry-level office workers who often toil 50 to 70 hours a week. “Too few people are getting the overtime that (federal law) intended,” he told reporters. “It’s simply not right.” The rule represents the administration's most prominent initiative to lift middle-class wages. President Obama's call to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to more than $10 has been stymied by Republicans in Congress. The share of full-time workers who qualify for overtime has fallen from 62% in 1975 to 7% today, according to the administration. The new rule, which would take effect Dec. 1,  would allow 35% of workers to qualify. Many companies expect to convert salaried workers to hourly employees who will need to punch a clock and track their hours, hurting morale in some cases. Some will likely maintain the status of salaried employees, but will still have to monitor their hours and net the extra pay for logging more than 40. Others will lift workers' base pay to the new threshold to avoid paying overtime. Many small businesses can’t absorb the added cost and will instruct employees to work no more than 40 hours a week, bringing on part-time workers to pick up the slack, says Dan Bosch, head of regulatory policy for the National Federation of Independent Business. Perez said that will still be a plus because it will restore leisure time to overworked employees. Yet some businesses plan to cut employees' base pay to offset the overtime, effectively skirting the requirement. “The Obama rule puts a huge cost and regulatory burden on employers, who will face pressure to cut back on benefits and full-time employees,” says Trey Kovacs, policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Perez said the new rule also clarifies the types of duties white-collar employees must perform to be exempt. That potentially makes eligible an additional 8.9 million workers now misclassified, he said, such as certain administrative employees who don’t supervise anyone.

^ This sounds like what happened under Obamacare where companies simply hired more part-time workers so they didn't have to provide health insurance or other benefits so in the end there were more jobs, but not more stable, benefitted positions. ^

Russian Charity

From the MT:
"Russian Charities to Be Exempt From 'Foreign Agent' Label"

Charities are no longer to be classified as “foreign agents” if they receive money from abroad, according to a new amendment approved by the Russian State Duma.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in areas such as art and culture will also be exempt from the “foreign agent” label, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday. Under laws passed in 2012, any group which receives funding from abroad and is engaged in a broadly-interpreted definition of “political activity” is legally required to identify itself as a “foreign agent” in all published material.  The law has been widely criticized by activists, who argue that it damages Russia's already fragile civil society. Several organizations have refused to use the label, while others have given up foreign funding to avoid it.  “With this amendment, these organizations can receive money from abroad without fear that their work will be somehow construed as political,” said the head of the Public and Religious Associations Committee, Yaroslav Nilov.  The lawmaker was quick to stress that safeguards would be put in place to ensure charities excluded from the law did not begin to engage in political work.  The term “foreign agent” dates back to the Soviet era, when it was used to refer to state enemies or spies.

^ Hopefully this amendment will fix the countless problems that Russian charities have faced since the law was signed in 2012. Charities in general relay on donations for their main basis of support and so to remove a donation sector (ie. from outside Russia) only hurts the charities and those that get aid from them. ^

Banned Memorial

"Crimean Tatars banned from honoring 1944 deportation victims"

Russian occupation authorities of Crimea banned memorial events dedicated to the forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars (the indigenous population of the Black Sea peninsula), under Stalin, according to Ukraine Today.  "As expected, Russian invaders forbid the holding of commemoration events all over the Crimean peninsula that were to take place on May 18," Refat Chubarov, the Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, wrote on Facebook, Ukraine Today reports. According to Chubarov, Russian occupants are doing their best to make Crimean Tatars participate only in official events organized by Kremlin-backed authorities and their supporters.The Mejlis (the elected government body of Crimean Tatars) suggested Crimean Tatars would meet near memorial stones, statues, and sites associated with the tragic event that occurred on May 18, 1944.  Crimean Tatars plan to hold a minute of silence to pay tribute to the deportation victims. There are numerous reports on violations of human rights in the Russia-occupied Crimea. On March 17, Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization, published a statement about the harassment, intimidation and arbitrary legal actions against Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority who openly opposed Russia's occupation. 

^ It is not surprising that Russia has banned remembering the 1944 deportations in occupied Crimea. Starting in May 1944 and lasting a month around 238,500 Tatar men, women and children were deported to the Central Asian Soviet Republics. It is estimated that half died during the deportation. The Soviets then went through the Crimea and removed any trace of Tatar culture, language or heritage. The Tatars were not allowed to return to the Crimea until the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991 and the Ukraine became independent. Just a few months shy of the 70th anniversary (2014) of the 1944 deportations Russia invaded, occupied and then annexed the Crimea. Since the annexation many Tatars (and Ukrainians) have fled to the rest of the Ukraine. Those that remain in annexed Crimea have to deal with the closure of Tatar and Ukrainian language schools, organizations and businesses along with Tatar and Ukrainian media being banned. There is also open discrimination -  including attacks - on anyone who speaks Tatar or Ukrainian instead of Russian. The 1944 deportation may have been 72 years ago, but the Crimea Tatars are still being discriminated against in their own homeland. ^

50th Cultural

From the BBC:
"Cultural Revolution: China's media breaks silence over anniversary"

China's state-run media has said the country can never allow a repeat of the "error" of the Cultural Revolution. The editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily is the first official comment following Monday's 50th anniversary of the start of the unrest. The campaign to "purge" society of Mao Zedong's political opponents ushered in years of bloodshed and turmoil. The era was "entirely wrong in both theory and practice", the paper said. China's ruling Communist Party has consistently restricted open discussion of the Cultural Revolution era, fearing it could undermine its legitimacy and public confidence in its leadership.  But it has previously also acknowledged that the Maoist policies of the era were flawed. 
What was the Cultural Revolution?
The Cultural Revolution was a campaign launched by Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1966 to purge his rivals in the ruling Communist Party. It ended up destroying much of China's social fabric.
What happened during it?
Chairman Mao gave licence to Chinese youth to destroy the so-called four "olds" or perceived enemies of Chinese culture: customs, habits, culture and thinking. In the early years, a chaotic kind of youth "tyranny" prevailed which saw schools and temples destroyed. Children turned on their parents and students turned on their teachers, intellectuals were exiled. Thousands were beaten to death or driven to suicide. Mao also encouraged a personality cult around himself, which led to people almost worshipping his writings and image.
How long did it last?
It officially ended only with Mao's death in 1976. Millions were denounced and punished during this time, but there are varying estimates as to how many people actually died.

The main state media outlets had made virtually no mention of the anniversary on Monday. Only Hong Kong media, which enjoy greater freedoms than their counterparts on their mainland, gave coverage to the anniversary.  No official events were planned by the Chinese authorities to mark day, but it was being widely discussed on social media.  The People's Daily's editorial said the Communist Party had "long taken a solemn attitude toward bravely admitting, correctly analysing and firmly correcting the mistakes of our leadership figures" The paper said the era "cannot and will not come back. There is no place for it in today's China". "The decade of calamity caused severe damage, leaving permanent pain for many Chinese," it said, but added that the lessons learned from the era had "given the nation a certain immunity".

^ It only took 50 years or China to sort-of acknowledge the Cultural Revolution  - especially since it affected every single Chinese man, woman and child for about 10 years. I took a class back in college about the Pacific Rim and the teacher was Chinese and he told us a little about what happened to him and his family during the Cultural Revolution - apparently, there wasn't much culture, arts, education or anything really productive during that decade. ^

CP Comedy

From Disability Scoop:
"ABC Picks Up Comedy Focusing On Special Needs"

A major television network is set to air a comedy about a family with a child who has special needs.
ABC has picked up the 30-minute series “Speechless,” the network has confirmed to Disability Scoop. The show stars actress Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, a mother “who will do anything” for her husband and kids including her eldest son JJ, who has special needs.  “As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his ‘voice,'” according to the network’s description of the show. JJ is played by Micah Fowler, an actor who has cerebral palsy in real life. He previously appeared in the 2013 film “Labor Day.” ABC initially committed to a pilot for “Speechless” in January. Now, the network says it will air the series and production is expected to begin in August, though it is unclear exactly how many episodes are in the works or when it will premiere.

^ I am curious to see how this show will deal with disability and comedy at the same time. I think it's great that a major network is willing to lead the way in doing this and only hope it does justice to those with cerebral palsy and at the same time does o in a funny way - since it's a comedy. ^

Crimea Drop

From the MT:
"Crimea Sees Sharp Drop in Russian Tourists"

Russians are losing interest in traveling to Crimea, as the demand for flights to Simferopol among tourists has declined by more than 25 percent this year, the Kommersant newspaper reported Monday, citing data from Svyaznoy-Travel ticket agency.  The Biletix ticket booking agent saw demand for tickets to Crimea fall by 7.5 percent this summer. Package tours to Crimea, however, haven't suffered such a dramatic decline. There is currently a sales slowdown, but the demand for package tours is still 40-50 percent higher than last year, Romashkin told Kommersant. However, members of the tourism industry say this growth will have stopped by next year.  The Crimean authorities have denied the falling popularity of the peninsula among Russian tourists. Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Balbek, who oversees the tourism sector, said that Svyaznoy- Travel's data don't reflect the the real situation in the market.

^ There are probably a few more reasons why Russians aren't going to the Crimea than a lack of infrastructure. One is the "patriotic" fervor that enveloped Russia after Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the Crimea from the Ukraine is no longer as strong as it was. What many once saw as a victory (not sure over whom though) now is a reality of  a much lower standard of living for the majority of Russians due to the international sanctions placed over their actions in the Crimea and the falling oil prices. Maybe the average Russian is starting to wake-up from their Kool-Aid induced hangover and see the truth and how it differs from what they believed and were told (although having lived through the same thing during Soviet times they should have known better by now.) In a way it's nice to see that the average Russian is turning it's back on annexed Crimea. It can be seen as a silent protest against actions made by others without their consent. ^

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Open WiFi

From the DW:
"Germany to abolish provider liability law, open path to more free WiFi"

 The German government has cleared the way for open and private WiFi hotspots. A provider liability law that makes hotspot providers responsible for users' activity has long limited public WiFi and is set to be scrapped.  In a dispute over a new Telemedia Act, the German government agreed on Wednesday to relax the country's restrictive WiFi rules, which had previously left many German businesses unwilling to provide free Internet access to the public.  Private hotspot providers in Germany are liable for the misconduct of users. If, for example, a user were to download music or a movie on a particular hotspot, the provider ran the risk of being sued for piracy. As a result, public WiFi in Germany has long been hard to come by - much to the annoyance of the German public. Under the government's agreement, however, private as well as commercial providers, such as restaurant owners, will benefit from a liability privilege, meaning they will no longer by responsible for their users' online activity. "I am very pleased that we were able to achieve a breakthrough on the subject of WiFi today," Social Democrat politician Lars Klingbeil said. "We are able to implement one of the key objectives of the Digital Agenda: The path to more, free WiFi in Germany is finally open," he added. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas also praised the decision, writing on Twitter that the "abolishment of provider liability is an overdue and important step." Lawmakers look likely to debate the new legislation in the Bundestag - Germany's lower house of parliament - as soon as next week, with the view to implement the bill by the autumn.  The ruling "grand coalition" of Christian and Social democrats also agreed on Wednesday to allow open wireless access without a technical hurdle, such as an access encryption or a splash page. The two ruling parties have been locked in a debate over the new Telemedia Act for months. While the Social Democrats have long called for an abolition of provider liability, Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU repeatedly opposed the SPD's demands.

^ I will never understand how any country can place liability on an establishment (restaurant, store, etc.) when others use WiFi in that public place. It would be as though you could blame a beer company for a drunk driver instead of the person who drank the beer and then drove. The only person who should be at fault for doing something illegal is the person who commits that crime or a person who willingly knows about the crime and doesn't do anything. ^

Ukraine Wins!

From the BBC:
"Eurovision Song Contest: Ukraine's Jamala wins competition

Ukraine's Jamala has won this year's Eurovision Song Contest, held in Stockholm, Sweden. The country scored 534 points with its song 1944, about the deportation of Crimean Tatars under Josef Stalin. Australia finished second with 511 points, while Russia - which was the favourite going into the competition - was third with 491 points.  Jamala is the first ever Crimean Tatar to perform at the contest and caused controversy ahead of the show over her political song. The song references the year when Stalin deported almost all of the ethnic group from its native region of Crimea in what was then Soviet Russia (later to become part of Ukraine).  Simon Bennett, head of the International OGAE Eurovision fan club, told the BBC that former Soviet countries that would "normally vote for Russia" sent it a message by voting for Ukraine instead.  The singer had dedicated the song to her great grandmother who was forced to leave along with a quarter of a million Tatars, as a collective punishment for those who had collaborated during the Nazi occupation. It had been expected to finish in the top three but in a surprise result beat favourites Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and had been angered by the song. Collecting her award, an emotional Jamala thanked Europe for their votes, adding: "I really want peace and love to everyone."

^ It's great that the Ukraine won - especially with the song "1944" about the forced deportation of the Tartars (around 230,000 people) from the Crimea by the Soviets. People who complain that the song is too political  should understand that it is also very personal. Not only were direct relatives affected by the deportations, but so was the singer  herself.  The fact that the singer wasn't allowed to be born in the Crimea - the Tartars weren't allowed back until after the USSR collapsed in 1991- or that the Tartars are currently being discriminated against in Russian-occupied/annexed Crimea shows that some people don't learn from history.  ^

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Medical Errors

From USA Today:
"Second study says medical errors third-leading cause of death in U.S."

Medical errors kill about 250,000 people a year, a new study from a well-known Johns Hopkins medical school professor and author said Tuesday. The study by surgeon and Johns Hopkins professor Martin Makary is the second to report the mistakes represent the third-leading cause of deaths in the U.S. Death certificates in this country don't have a place for hospitals to acknowledge medical error, which the authors say shows reporting needs to be improved so the problem can be better estimated and addressed. Death certificates in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and more than 100 other countries rely on what's known as International Classification of Disease (ICD) code, so human and system errors can't be recorded, according to the World Health Organization. "People don’t just die from billing codes," said Makary, author of the 2013 book Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care. "We do not have an open and honest way of measuring medical error." Death certificates should include an additional form field where it could be noted whether patients' deaths stem directly from care they received and what type of problem it was. Makary and co-author Michael Daniel wrote that strategies to reduce death from medical care should include making errors "more visible" when they occur, having remedies available to "rescue patients," and making errors less frequent by following principles that take "human limitations" into account.  Calculating how many mistakes in hospitals actually caused deaths has been the subject of debate since the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine first estimated in 1999 that up to 98,000 are attributable to medical mistakes. In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general reported that up to 180,000 Medicare patients alone died a year from medical errors. John James, a NASA toxicologist whose son died of what he believes was a hospital error, did the last report on the subject in 2013 and estimated between 210,000 and 440,000 deaths a year could be attributed to medical error. Among the problems associated with calculating medical errors is that some are errors of omission rather than commission, James said in an interview Monday. Others include the fact that people are typically in hospitals because they aren't well, which means several factors can lead to death. James would know. His son died at age 19 in 2003 after he collapsed while running, because his potassium was depleted. No one at the hospital where he was treated replaced his potassium, as a guideline said they should. James blames a series of medical errors — of omission, diagnostics and communication. Makary says medical and legal protections are needed, as with hospital quality information, so causes of death are accurately reported. Doctors and others may not acknowledge mistakes for fear of malpractice suits, he says. It's complicated, says James, adding, "I don't know what the right answer is."

^ Doctors, nurses and hospitals need to be held accountable (just as everyone else is) if someone dies because of human error. It's not a question of protecting against mal-practice suits or anything like that, but of making sure the same mistakes aren't consistently being made and if it can save someone's life than any doctor, nurse or hospital should be more than willing to admit when mistakes are made and work hard to make sure they never happen again. That requires reporting the mistakes and recording those mistakes on official forms. ^

Real NH

From NH DMV:
"REAL ID will be available in January"

New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced today that REAL ID compliant licenses will be available starting on January 2, 2017 and that residents wishing to obtain a REAL ID compliant card should wait until their normal card renewal period to visit their local DMV office. Current New Hampshire driver licenses and non-driver identification cards will be accepted for travel at airports and entry into secure federal facilities until Oct. 1, 2020. After that date, anyone with a non-compliant card wishing to travel by air or to access a secure federal facility will need to provide additional identification such as a U.S. passport. "The DMV was closely following HB 1616 as it made its way through the NH House and Senate this session," Division of Motor Vehicles Director Elizabeth Bielecki said. "At this point, we are confident that we will be ready to issue REAL ID compliant driver licenses and identification cards on January 2, 2017, as the bill requires." REAL ID compliant cards are not mandatory and cost the same as the non-compliant cards, Bielecki said. Individuals seeking a REAL ID compliant card should wait until their normal renewal period to visit their local DMV office, she said. Applying for a REAL ID compliant card must be done in person and requires additional documentation than that required for a non-compliant card. Anyone interested in obtaining a REAL ID compliant card can find more information at The DMV will also make educational materials available at DMV offices and will include materials with card renewal forms sent to current card holders.

^ I think this is a good compromise. It allows those that want an ID or Driver's License that can be used at Federal institutions to get one and those that don't want "big government" to not have to get one. ^

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ed Complaints

From Disability Scoop:
"Complaints To Education Department Largely Disability-Related"

As the U.S. Department of Education fielded a record number of civil rights complaints last year, the agency said nearly half alleged some form of disability discrimination. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights received over 4,800 complaints asserting violations of disability laws during the 2015 fiscal year, according to a report released this week. Disability issues accounted for the largest group of complaints logged, representing 46 percent of the record-high 10,392 complaints received by the Office for Civil Rights, which is tasked with ensuring equal access and prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability and age in education programs.  While the overall number of disability-related complaints dropped slightly compared to the 4,919 filed in 2014, the Education Department said that reports of inappropriate restraint and seclusion as well as issues related to Web accessibility for students with disabilities were both on the rise. The greatest number of disability-related complaints lodged last year hinged on the right to a free, appropriate public education followed by complaints of retaliation and those centering on exclusion or different treatment. Many complaints crossed over into more than one of the 18 categories of disability discrimination that the office tracks, the report said. Over the course of the year, the Office for Civil Rights said it successfully resolved 4,655 of the disability complaints received. In addition to responding to individual complaints, the Education Department issued five guidance documents in 2015 addressing disability-rights issues in schools. “OCR’s work over the last year has been absolutely pivotal to advancing the department’s goal to increase equity and opportunity for all students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King. “Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection and investigatory work, the department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.” The caseload handled by the Education Department’s civil rights office has nearly doubled in the last decade even as staffing levels have declined to a record low, the agency noted.

^ I remembered having to file a disability-related complaint on a college a few years ago. It wasn't for myself, but I had a POA. The college was clearly in the wrong - they had renovated a part of their school just recently, but hadn't followed any of the ADA and so it wasn't a legal renovation. I tried working with the school to find a compromise between them and the person I was representing, but the school didn't want to budge. Shortly, after I filed the official disability complaint against them the school "all of the sudden" were more than willing to compromise. In the end we came to a mutual agreement and the complaint was dropped. It's sad that these kinds of things have to happen for people to not only follow the law, but also to do what is basic and right. ^

20 Years: Cobble Memories

From the DW:
"20 years of 'Stolpersteine'"

The artist Gunter Demnig has placed almost 60,000 "Stolpersteine" cobblestones across Europe. The first 50 were placed in Berlin in May 1996. Illegally. Now, it is the biggest decentralized monument in the world.  It was a beautiful sunny day in central Berlin, right in the former Scheunenviertel, which once housed a sizable Jewish population, predominantly from Eastern and Central Europe. An eclectic group had gathered - men and women, elderly and young, from Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Canada (students on a Holocaust-study tour) and elsewhere. There was some apprehension; it was a somber occasion. Wearing his trademark hat, Gunter Demnig arrived. He was laden with buckets of cement, his tools and two brand new, shiny Stolpersteine, commemorative stones, bearing the names Erzsebet and Jakob Honig. After a few brief introductions, he got down on his knees and started to dig a hole. Behind the onlookers, children played in the vast, leafy empty space where once several buildings stood, housing dozens of families, many of which were forced out, perhaps later murdered in Auschwitz. The artist was done in 10 minutes. Once the Stolpersteine were fitted snugly into the pavement, he polished them, took off his hat and got back into this van.  In the evening, at a ceremony to mark 20 years of Stolpersteine - literally "stumbling stones" - Demnig said that he had placed the cobblestones at 17 Berlin addresses that day. This is not untypical for him. He calculated that last year he was on the road for 258 days, placing Stolpersteine in up to three villages, towns or cities a day, all over Europe. Unimaginable in 1996, when he placed the first Stolpersteine in Berlin for 50 Jewish inhabitants of the district of Kreuzberg, as part of an artists' project examining Auschwitz. They were illegal then. There was no press, no police, no relatives, just a few curious onlookers. Now, there are over 7,000 in the German capital alone and almost 60,000 across Europe, from Trondheim, Norway in the north to Thessaloniki, Greece in the south, Orel, Russia in the east and l'Aiguillon-sur-Mer, France in the west. They have become a familiar part of the landscape in Germany and the Netherlands. There are guided Stolperstein tours in Amsterdam, Budapest and Rome. There are so many that Gunter Demnig no longer has time to both make and lay Stolpersteine. Since 2005, each Stolperstein has been made by hand by the sculptor Michael Friedrichs-Friedländer in his studio outside Berlin. He told DW that each is as moving as the next, but that he was particularly moved by 34 Stolpersteine he once made for 30 orphans and their four carers to be placed in front of an orphanage in Hamburg. "They were between three and five years old. I couldn't sleep for weeks." Over 20 years, the Stolperstein project has become the largest decentralized monument in the world, a grassroots "social sculpture" that involves volunteers, students, schoolchildren and the relatives of Holocaust victims all over the world. Contrary to popular belief, the Stolpersteine commemorate all victims of National Socialism, those who were murdered in Auschwitz and other camps of course, as well as those who survived, but also those who escaped them by fleeing to Palestine, the US or elsewhere.  The large majority have been placed for Jewish victims, but they exist also for Roma and Sinti, for gays, for dissidents or people killed in mass euthanasia programs and for those whom the Nazis labeled "asocial". Just this year, five Stolpersteine were placed on Berlin's central Alexanderplatz for five homeless people who were rounded up in the 1930s and sent to camps for "re-education" to become "worthy" members of society. Stolpersteine are thus a way of showing the diversity of inhabitants in Germany before 1933 and paying homage to those who disappeared by returning their names to the places in which they led their lives. But, of course, they are also about the present. If you bow down to read the inscription of a Stolperstein, you quickly start thinking: That person was my age when he was murdered or the age of my daughter, or born the same year as my grandmother. You start to reflect, you start to wonder what would have happened to you, what would you have done if you had noticed that the family in the opposite flat had disappeared in the middle of the night. What would you do today if your neighbors disappeared? They are a way of making unfathomable figures fathomable, they are a way of making cold facts personal. After Gunter Demnig had left the group in central Berlin, an elderly lady stepped forward to place a bunch of red roses on the two Stolpersteine. Then she talked about Erzsebet and Jakob Honig for whom they had been placed. Erzsebet was her aunt but they never met - what little she knew she gleaned from her aging mother. Born in Budapest in 1896, Erzsebet divorced her husband one year after giving birth to a daughter. She went to Berlin in search of a job, leaving the child with her parents. She became a hairdresser and met Jakob. "They were in love." They married and once they had settled, Erzsebet's daughter was able to come from Budapest. She was sent to Palestine for her safety when the Nazis came to power. She was 16 years old. One of her son's came from Israel for the laying ceremony. He said that seeing the Stolpersteine being lowered into the ground was an incredibly moving moment. It is unclear what happened to Erzsebet and Jakob. Their German inscriptions read "Schicksal Unbekannt" - "Fate Unknown".

^ People tend to only remember events like the Holocaust when there is an anniversary. These stolpersteines are daily reminders to people that real people with a name and a story were  victims. They are not simply a number (as the Nazis made them into and as the world tends to remember - whether 6 million or 11 million.) There should be these kinds of mini-memorials around the world to help keep their stories alive. ^

Health Challenge

From Yahoo:
"U.S. judge hands win to Republicans in Obamacare challenge"

A U.S. judge on Thursday handed a victory to congressional Republicans who challenged the implementation of a provision of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law involving reimbursements from the government to private health insurers. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, based in Washington, ruled that the Obama administration cannot spend funds Congress did not appropriate in reimbursing insurance companies for reductions they are required to make under the law to customers' out-of-pocket medical payments. Collyer said the administration has spent "billions of dollars" on such reimbursements since January 2014. The ruling will not have an immediate effect on the 2010 law, considered Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, because the judge stayed the ruling pending appeal. As part of the expected appeal, the administration is likely to press its argument that the House does not have legal standing to sue. The case focuses on a cost-sharing provision of Obamacare that requires insurers to reduce deductibles and co-pays. Insurers are supposed to be reimbursed for these costs by the federal government. The Obama administration has interpreted the provision as a type of federal spending that does not have to be explicitly authorized by Congress, but the House Republicans who filed the challenge disagreed. The House Republicans argued that the administration's action violated the U.S. Constitution because it is the legislative branch, not the executive branch, that authorizes government spending. The judge rejected the Obama administration's contention that the appropriation should be viewed as permanent because the alternative interpretation would lead to "absurd economic, fiscal and healthcare policy results."

^ Any time something in Obamacare is shot-down by the courts is a win for the decaying healthcare system and those who have to use it (of course because of Obama EVERYONE is now FORCED to use it.) It's good to see that people and the courts are starting to question some of the things Obama has done and is doing while in office. He has done a lot to find loop-holes and change the meaning of words to suite his own agenda. It is because of his ultra liberal stance and his lack (even after two terms) of knowledge in domestic and international issues that the current Presidential Election is been the ultra conservative and the ultra liberal. I don't like either of those groups as they tend to be too one-sided and not care about anything but themselves. I am liberal on some issues and conservative on others. I have always said I support healthcare reform, but do not think Obamacare was the right way to do it - putting a Band-Aid on a sinking ship rather than fixing that ship. ^

US Shield

From the BBC:
"US activates $800m missile shield base in Romania"

The US has activated a land-based missile defence station in Romania, which will form part of a larger and controversial European shield.  Senior US and Nato officials attended the ceremony in Deveselu, southern Romania. The US says the Aegis system is a shield to protect Nato countries from short and medium-range missiles, particularly from the Middle East. But Russia sees it as a security threat - a claim denied by Nato. Relations between the West and Russia have deteriorated since Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in 2014. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other senior officials from the military alliance attended the opening ceremony at an old Romanian air base in Deveselu., 180km (110 miles) south-west of Bucharest. The site hosts radar and SM-2 missile interceptors, and will be integrated into Nato's missile shield when the bloc meets this summer.   Both Nato and US officials have attempted to reassure Russia that the shield in Romania, and a similar one in Poland, does not undermine Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. "The interceptors are too few and located too far south or too close to Russia to be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles," Mr Stoltenberg said. He said the interceptors were designed "instead to tackle the potential threat posed by short and medium- range attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area". The defence system allows on-shore sites and warships to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles while they are still in space. The interceptor missiles are fired to hit missiles before they re-enter the atmosphere, stopping them well before there is any danger of causing any damage. The US is believed to have spent $800m (£554m) on the site in Romania, where work began in 2013.  On Friday, another phase of the project will be launched in Poland with a groundbreaking ceremony at Redzikowo, near the Baltic Sea. Aegis missiles are to become operational there in 2018.

^ Who cares if Russia feels threatened about the missile shield? If Russia would stop invading, occupying and annexing territories around them then I would say we need to consider Russia in this equation, but while Russia is bent on taking several territories (the Crimea, South Ossetia, Abkhazia) and creating instability within Europe then the US and NATO need to do whatever we will is right to protect out interests - whether the shield is to protect us against Russia or ISIS or Al-Qaida or anyone else. Until Russia decides to obey international laws (that they once agreed to) then they are a destabilizing force to world peace. ^

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Free Bags

From Yahoo:
"Senators to airlines: Drop bag fees to shorten airport lines"

Two U.S. senators say one way to reduce long airport security lines this summer is for airlines to drop their fees on checking luggage. It's the latest suggestion for dealing with what could be a hellish summer at the nation's airports. Airlines are already warning passengers to arrive at least two hours early to get through security and catch their flights. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday they asked executives at 12 airlines to drop checked-bag fees this summer. The senators say suspending the fees won't eliminate lines but it's a start. A spokeswoman for the nation's largest airlines called the senators' proposal a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and warned it could make airline travel more expensive — fares would rise to offset the loss of income from fees. Jean Medina of Airlines for America said it would be better if the Transportation Security Administration had more staffing at the busiest airports and encouraged more travelers to sign up for PreCheck, a program that lets known travelers zip through security faster without removing shoes, belts, jackets and laptops. Last week her group encouraged travelers to post pictures of long lines on social media with the hashtag #IHateTheWait. TSA is under growing pressure to fix the long lines. Some airports use private contractors instead of TSA for screening. Officials for the big New York City-area airports and Seattle have indicated they are considering such a move. Bag fees have grown rapidly since 2008, when American Airlines became the first big carrier to charge for checking even one bag. It was a tool that the then-financially troubled industry used to deal with rising fuel prices. Since then, fuel prices have fallen and airlines have earned record profits. The bag fees have remained; they brought in $3.8 billion last year, according to government figures. Many passengers avoid the fees by carrying more luggage on the plane, leading to competition for limited space in the overhead bins. Markey and Blumenthal said the TSA told them that passengers using checkpoints near airlines that charge bag fees have 27 percent more rolling carry-on bags. Long lines aren't limited to airports where the main airlines charge bag fees. Recently passengers tweeted pictures of long TSA lines at Baltimore and other airports that are dominated by Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for the first two bags. Spokesmen for American and Delta Air Lines said their airlines were loaning workers to help TSA with non-screening duties like handling bins and managing the lines at checkpoints and even offering recommendations for redesigning checkpoints for better flow.

^ While I believe there shouldn't be fees for luggage on planes I don't  think that it will fix the long TSA lines. The airlines will never get rid of these fees because they bring in so much extra money for them (although the baggage fees should be refunded when the bags are lost and you have to wait for them.) The TSA is the main issue here (and around the country.) They are under-staffed, under-trained and as government workers have no incentive to work faster or be more productive since they won't be fired or replaced. I can see having private security companies  - that have to follow government regulations - would be more effective since an airport could get rid of the bad company and/or individual employees more easily than they can now with a government employee. Of course the Federal Government would have to do a lot more checking on the airports than they did pre-9-11 and than they do now since both of those systems didn't/don't work. I have flown around the country and the world and have seen first-hand that you can go through a crowded airport security line with a friendly yet professional screener. Unfortunately, those are extremely hard to find in the US as of right now. ^

Germany's Annullment

From the DW:
"Germany set to annul historical convictions of gay men"

Men who were convicted on the basis of a 19th century criminalizing homosexuality now have a chance at getting late justice in the wake of an expert study commissioned by the Anti-Discrimination Agency.  Their supposed crime was the same during the Nazi era as it was in the federal republic founded in 1949: They loved other men and had homosexual sex. Those who were caught engaging in homosexual acts or who were denounced as homosexuals were spared no mercy by the state. The law containing the infamous Paragraph 175 outlawing sexual relations between men dates back to the 19th century, but it was applied especially zealously under Nazi rule. The law remained intact even after 1945. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, but Paragraph 175 was not abolished until 1994. By that time, more than 50,000 men had been convicted for being gay, something that "violated the very core of their human dignity," said Christine Lüders, the head of the government's Anti-Discrimination Authority, in Berlin on Wednesday. At her side was Martin Burgi of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. The legal expert has compiled a study on the rehabilitation of homosexuals convicted under the law. He's confident it can be done, saying there's no legal barrier to rehabilitating the men. For laypeople, it's hard to understand why men convicted under Paragraph 175 by the Nazis have been rehabilitated since 2002, while verdicts handed down in the post-war era are still being upheld. The logic is as appalling as it is banal: The Nazi dictatorship was declared an unjust state; the Federal Republic of Germany, on the other hand, is based on democratic principles. That means the men who had the misfortune to be found guilty of homosexuality in the post-war era still have criminal records. But Burgi says that "collective rehabilitation" of those affected by the law can be achieved with the help of social and democratic principles. One of the men who stands to benefit from this is Heinz Schmitz, who was sentenced to two years on probation by a juvenile court in 1962 for being gay. Schmitz is a pseudonym; the 73-year-old prefers not to reveal his real name in public. The reason: Family members received anonymous threats after he first spoke publicly about his homosexuality.  But Heinz Schmitz had the courage to go on the offensive about his fate. As part of a rehabilitation initiative, he appears in a short video for the Anti-Discrimination Agency. In it, there's a sentence that remains painful to Schmitz all these years later: "There comes the pig from Freiburg." That's how he was greeted by a guard at a juvenile detention center where he'd been ordered to spend three weeks. It was supposed to be a kind of educational measure. Otherwise, Schmitz remembers his judge as being someone with a "good heart." A lot of other homosexuals received much tougher sentences. The chances that his conviction will be annulled more than 50 years after he was sentenced are good. Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas has already said he will draw up the necessary legislation. "We will never be able to completely eliminate these outrages by the state, but we want to rehabilitate the victims," Maas said. If the convictions are annulled, there will also likely be financial compensation for the victims. Burgi has already spoken of plans for "collective compensation." Heinz Schmitz says rehabilitation would make him happy, even if it comes after such a massive delay. When asked how he would react, he answers candidly: "I would cry."

^ This is long over-due (as is usual when you talk about Germany correcting the mistakes of their past - even their recent past.) The Germans were anti-gay before the Nazis, but only murdered them during the Nazi years. Rather than learning the lessons of what hate towards any group (Jews, gays, the disabled, etc) after the war they (both the East and West Germans) continued their open discrimination. The only "good" thing was that they no longer killed people for being gay. It even took 4 years for a reunited Germany to finally make homosexuality legal and eventually gay civil unions were allowed - but not gay marriage. The only way for Germany (or any country) that openly discriminated against homosexuals is to both make gay marriage legal and to annul the past  convictions. ^

Cubans Flee

From the BBC:
"Panama to close Colombia border to halt Cuba migrants"

 Key crossings on Panama's border with Colombia are to be closed to control the flow of Cuban migrants heading to the United States.  President Juan Carlos Varela said the decision was necessary as Costa Rica and Nicaragua had recently closed their borders to Cubans heading north. Panama has also agreed to transfer more than 3,500 Cubans hoping to reach the US to a town in northern Mexico.
President Varela said the flights to Mexico could last two to three weeks. The Cubans have been stranded in Panama for months. They are hoping to reach the US under a decades-old law which gives them privileged entry and a fast track to residency.  The number of Cubans trying to reach the US has increased lately because of fears that warming relations between the two countries could mean the end of the preferential treatment they receive.

^ Some people say this sounds like what happened in Europe in the 1980s when thousands fled Communism for Western Europe. I don't think it really does. Back in the 1980s people went from one Communist country to another Communist country with the hope of getting to a non-Communist country (ie East Germans going to Hungary to get to West Germany.) Here the Cubans are going to a non-Communist country to get to the United States. That may not seem like a big difference but it is. The East Germans had to pretend they were going to Hungary on vacation and then had to stay at the West German Embassy not knowing if they would be allowed to freedom or sent back to East Germany and prison. The Cubans are allowed to freely leave Cuba and go to Colombia and could stay there - a non-Communist country - without fear of being sent to prison in Cuba. They would just rather go to the US because of the law that states that any Cuban that reaches American soil automatically gets permanent residency. ^

Friendly Scotland

From the BBC:
"Scotland rated most 'gay friendly' country in Europe"

This country would be rated as the most gay friendly and tolerant nation in Europe if it were separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, new research has found. A survey measuring equality and human rights found that Scotland would top a European league table after meeting 90% of the 52 criteria looked at by the advocacy group International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association-Europe, better known as ILGA-Europe. The Rainbow Index, compiled each year, placed the entire United Kingdom in third place at 81% behind Malta at 88% and Belgium at 82%, mostly because of Northern Ireland's refusal to adopt same-sex marriage laws. In the single digits were Azerbaijan at 5%, Armenia and Russia at 7% and Turkey at 9%. Malta made it to the top after scoring 77% in 2015 when it enacted a number of laws favorable to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people in the past year. The United Kingdom as a whole was in first place last year with an 86% rating, and Belgium was at 83%.  However, the report also found that more needed to be done in Scotland to achieve full equality, such as better legislation to protect the rights of intersex people, those born with reproductive organs and anatomy that may be a combination of male and female. The index measures the impact of laws and policies on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in six categories: equality and non-discrimination, family, bias-motivated speech or violence, legal gender recognition, freedom of assembly, association and expression, and asylum.  In 2010, a number of anti-discrimination laws were brought into force to protect the rights of LGBT people in Scotland, and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2014. Scotland was judged to have a slightly better law and policy on intersex equality than the rest of the United Kingdom, and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt children and stepchildren. Following last week’s election, the Scottish Parliament now has the highest level of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual members, 7.8%, in the world. Ten of the 129 members of the Scottish Parliament are openly lesbian, gay or bisexual, compared to the Netherlands, the second highest where 7.3% of members openly lesbian, gay or bisexual. Two of the main party leaders, Conservative Ruth Davidson and Labour's Kezia Dugdale, are openly gay while the Green Party's Patrick Harvie is bisexual. David Coburn, Scotland's U.K. Independence Party member of the European Parliament, is open about his homosexuality. David Mundell, Scotland's only Conservative member of Parliament in London, also recently came out as gay. Rights are actively being eroded for LGBTI people in countries at the bottom of the ranking. Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, said these rights are a very mixed picture on the continent with some governments that were leading the way toward equality a few years ago now slowing their work. “The countries who are on this upward curve tend to be the ones who have protected people from discrimination on grounds of gender identity or legislated to protect the bodily integrity of intersex people and who have ingrained this change in every-day measures such as equality action plans,” she said.

^ I had never heard of this "Rainbow Index" before. They have a website that has an interactive map of Europe that shows which countries are "gay" friendly and which aren't.  The link to that site is: ^

Disabled Web

From Disability Scoop:
"Justice Department Postpones Web Accessibility Rules"

The Obama administration is further delaying plans to address how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the Internet. In a notice published this week in the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Justice said it is seeking additional public comment on proposed regulations outlining accessibility standards for state and local government websites. The move comes nearly six years after the agency first solicited comments on the very same topic.  “Since the department issued its 2010 (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) on Web accessibility, the Internet, accessibility tools and assistive technologies have evolved. They have become more available, less expensive and more widely used,” reads a Justice Department notice explaining the need for additional public comment. The delay comes in what is anticipated to be a first step to establishing baseline expectations for Web accessibility. The Justice Department has signaled that it intends to issue standards for government sites before setting broader requirements for other parts of the Web. In a document last fall, the agency outlined plans to release rules “early in fiscal year 2016” applying to state and local governments, with additional regulations for non-government websites expected in 2018. Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, called the decision to solicit additional public comment “deplorable.” “Delaying the equal access of the blind to American society by failing to provide clarity in technology accessibility is inconsistent with the administration’s goal of full participation by people with disabilities,” Riccobono said. “The questions that DOJ raises in the Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking did not newly arise in the six years since the original Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, nor is the continuing evolution of technology an excuse for revisiting them.”

^ It seems like the Justice Department is just falling for the different groups and organizations that don't want the web accessibility rules rather than passing them into law and helping the disabled. ^

Italian Unions

From the DW:
"Italy to go ahead with gay civil unions"

The Italian parliament has voted for the introduction of gay civil unions. Italy is no longer the last major Western country not to legally recognize same-sex relationships.  Members of parliament (MPs) in the Chamber of Deputies, Italy's lower house of parliament, voted 372-51 with 99 abstentions to approve legislation already passed in February by the Senate. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of a "day for celebrations for many." His center-left government had called for a vote of confidence knowing it could count on a solid majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The bill grants same-sex couples similar rights to married ones in terms of inheritance, housing and pension rights and hospital visits, and also allows them to take on the same surname. Originally it also included a stepchild adoption clause, allowing for the adoptions of a partner's children, but this was ditched after centrists in the ruling coalition led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano complained. Italy has long faced calls from its own constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights to make the move, but all past reform proposals have been derailed by the Vatican and conservative  politicians. The government's tactics have been condemned by conservative opposition parties and the Italian Catholic Church as "limiting democratic debate."  Nationwide pro- and anti-reform rallies attracted over 1 million people in January. The Catholic groups that mobilized against the bill won no direct endorsement from Pope Francis, however. "The pope does not meddle with Italian politics," Francis said in February on the way back from a trip to Mexico. "The law does not grant us full equality yet, because that will come only with same-sex marriages, but it definitely represents a historic step, because it is the first law to recognize many of the rights that we have been fighting for for 30 years. It is a historic step; there is no other way to call it," according to Gabriele Piazzoni, the National Secretary of gay rights group Arcigay.

^ It's a step in the right direction. Not fully equal rights, but close. ^