Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Blaine Gaskill

From the Stars and Stripes:
"School resource officer helped stop gunman at a Maryland high school"

The officer who exchanged gun fire with a student who shot two classmates at Great Mills High School in Maryland Tuesday morning is Blaine Gaskill, a 34-year-old St. Mary's County Sheriff's Deputy providing security at the school. Officials didn't confirm whether Gaskill hit the attacker, who was pronounced dead and has not been identified, or whether he took his own life. But if Gaskill's shot stopped him, the deputy would be only second resource officer to gun down an active school shooter since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis of dozens of school shootings. In either case, St. Mary's County Sheriff Timothy Cameron said there was "no question" that Gaskill's quick arrival at the scene and immediate engagement with the shooter prevented more injuries.  Gaskill was not injured, Cameron said. Two students, ages 16 and 14, were taken to the hospital in critical condition. The number of school resource officers across the nation remains unknown, with no central agency tracking that data. The National Association of School Resource Officers has about 4,500 members but the organization estimates that there could be anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 school resource officers across the country. Gaskill has had encounters with armed suspects before. In July of 2016 he responded to a call not far from the high school where a man confronted him on the porch of a house with a pistol in his hand. In footage recorded by Gaskill's body camera, he is heard shouting at the man to put the gun down. The man refuses at first but eventually complies and is arrested with no shots fired. The man was found guilty in February of first degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, according to reports. A Facebook page for a woman who appears to be the officer's wife, Amber Gaskill, features a series of inspirational messages. One, pictures against a backdrop of the American flag, reads: "I'm a wife standing with the Thin Blue Line."  

^  Whether Gaskill actually killed the shooter or not at least he went towards the shooting and didn't wait outside the school. ^


20 Years: The Troubles

The Troubles officially lasted from 1968 to 1998. It was fought between two sides: 1.) The Protestants (ie. the British Government in London, the British Government in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the various Ulster Loyalist Paramilitary groups) and 2.) The Catholics (ie. the IRA and the various Irish Republican Paramilitary groups.) What started as a peaceful civil disobedience protest by the Northern Irish Catholics wanting equal rights, brought 38 years of British Military Deployment.

At first the Northern Irish Catholics saw the British Military as a neutral force to keep the peace between the Northern Irish Protestants and the Northern Irish Catholics, but on January 30, 1972  - Bloody Sunday - that all changed when the British Military (the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment) massacred 14 unarmed Catholics (6 of whom were 17 years old) and the British Government covered it up until 2010 when they finally admitted their guilt. From that day (in 1972) all sides used violence on the other.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 officially ended The Troubles and finally made Northern Irish Catholics equal citizens to Northern Irish Protestants as well as other British citizens (ie. the Scots, the Welsh, the English.) In those 30 years: 748 British soldiers, 301 RUC, 162 Ulster Loyalists, 368 Irish Republicans, 11 Republic of Ireland Gardai, 1,935 civilians (Catholic and Protestants) died and 47,500 were wounded.

What has happened in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement? The British Military left Northern Ireland in 2007, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) became the Police Service of Northern Ireland (the PSNI) in 2001 and the major paramilitary groups on both sides stopped their violent campaign. The Peace Walls still separate the Protestants and the Catholics, but are now open during the day. Different neighborhoods are still painted with colors to designate which side they are on (Red, White and Blue for the Protestants and Green, White and Orange for the Catholics) and you can get in trouble if you are on the “wrong” side.

The main issue is still violence from dissident Loyalist groups and dissident Republican groups. Since The Troubles ended in 1998: 2 British soldiers, 1 RUC, 2 PSNI, 2 Republic of Ireland Gardai, 27 Dissident Loyalists, 13 Irish Dissident Republicans, 97 civilians (Catholic and Protestant) died and 351 were wounded.

I was in Northern Ireland in 2010 and you could feel the tension on both sides right at the surface, but being American no one cared if I was Catholic or Protestant and while there was violence when I was there it happened a few days after I left Belfast and went to Derry/Londonderry. Things could get much worse with the impending Brexit since Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union (like the Republic of Ireland is.)


To Babka Or Not To Babka? That is the question.

Noor's Arrest

From Reuters:
"Minnesota officer charged with second-degree murder in Australian's death"

Mohamed Noor, 32, turned himself in and was arrested for the death of Justine Damond, 40, who had called 911 about a possible sexual assault near her house, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a press conference announcing the charges.  “There is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat, appreciated a threat, investigated a threat or confirmed a threat that justified his decision to use deadly force,” Freeman told reporters. “Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun.”  After Noor shot her, Damond put her hands on the gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and said, “I’m dying” or “I’m dead,” Freeman said.  The shooting drew condemnation in Minnesota and Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it “shocking” and “inexplicable.” Then-Minneapolis police chief Jamee Harteau resigned after city officials said procedures had been violated and Damond “didn’t have to die.”  The third-degree murder charge accused Noor of committing an “eminently dangerous act” and showing a “depraved mind,” and the second-degree manslaughter charge cited “culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk,” the records showed.   The penalty for third-degree murder is up to 25 years in prison and second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 10 years, according to a state website.  Freeman, Minneapolis’ top prosecutor, had delayed his decision in December, saying his office needed more time and he did not have enough evidence to charge Noor.  Noor has been on paid leave and refused to be interviewed by Minnesota state investigators. Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, could not immediately be reached for comment.  Plunkett previously said Noor extended his “thoughts and wishes” to Damond’s family and raised concerns about Freeman’s objectivity.  The attorney for Damond’s family, Bob Bennett, could not be reached on Tuesday.   Damond’s fiance, Don Damond, and her father, John Ruszczyk, issued a joint statement in which they praised the decision to charge Noor and hoped it resulted in a conviction, calling it “one step toward justice for this iniquitous act.”  “No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect,” they said in the statement.  Damond, who was living in Minneapolis and engaged to be married, approached the police after their arrival, authorities have said. She had owned a meditation and life-coaching company.  Neither Noor, who came to the United States from Somalia as a child, nor Matthew Harrity, another officer in the patrol car, had their body cameras activated, police have said.  Harrity was startled by a loud sound near the patrol car shortly before Noor fired from the passenger seat of the patrol car through Harrity’s window, Freeman said.  Harrity, who pulled out his handgun during the incident but didn’t fire it, said both officers “got spooked” when Damond appeared “out of nowhere,” Freeman said.  Noor is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis. Prosecutors are asking that Noor’s bail be set at $500,000, Freeman said.  

^ It was clear to everyone from the very beginning that Noor shot Justine Damond with no valid reason and then tried to cover up his crime. I am glad that he is now finally being arrested and hopefully he will be found guilty and punished. Police officers across the nation have experienced protests and acts of violence against themselves because a few bad cops (like Noor.) By showing the country that the good cops out-weigh the bad and that justice will prevail hopefully the public can regain some of the lost confidence in the police that has been lost recently. ^

FB In 2018

From USA Today:
"Timeline: Is Facebook the Uber of 2018?"

Last year was Uber's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year. The tech company holding that title in 2018 is Facebook. Much like Uber, which started off 2017 weathering a #deleteUber campaign over its action during President Trump's travel ban, Facebook is dealing with its own scandal and calls by users to drop the service. Late last week, Facebook admitted it knew, but didn't notify users, that political intelligence firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained data on hundreds of thousands of Facebook users without their consent. It made this disclosure on the eve of investigative articles in the New York Times and The Guardian's The Observer, which detailed a scheme by the Trump campaign-linked firm to tap likes and posts from 50 million unwitting users to predict how they would vote.  Backlash against the abuse of user privacy was swift, with regulators, privacy experts and lawmakers calling for tighter regulations, investigations and company executives to step up. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is the latest in what has been a rough year for Facebook. Here's a recap:

January 11: Facebook unveils significant changes to its News Feed aimed at bumping up social interactions between friends and family over news articles, videos, or what they consider passive engagement. The overhaul came in response to increasing pressure Facebook endures over its potentially negative impact on society, from sharing violent videos to letting fake news run unchecked to its late acknowledgement that Russian operatives had used to platform to target U.S. voters.

January 23: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said Facebook should face regulations compared to cigarette companies for its addictive properties. "Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to rein that back," Benioff told CNBC.

January 31: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed a drop in the time users spent on the platform following big changes its to News Feed. During Facebook's fourth quarter earnings call, he said it amounted to users spending 50 million fewer hours each day.

February 5: Former employees of Facebook and Google help launch the education campaign The Truth About Tech to explore tech addiction and the mental health consequences of using social media. "They've created the attention economy and are now engaged in a full-blown arms race to capture and retain human attention, including the attention of kids," said former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris.

February 12: Research firm eMarketer found Facebook was losing younger users at a faster rate to messaging app Snapchat than first realized. The firm found less than half of U.S. Internet users ages 12 to 17 will use Facebook this year for the first time.

February 16: Facebook moves forward with its Messenger Kids app despite calls from critics to shut it down for attempting to pull kids toward its services at too young an age. The app is targeted to kids under 13 and lets parents approve who their kids message.

February 18: More than a quarter of Americans in a recent online survey said Facebook should receive a fine for its role in Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election.

February 23: Facebook apologized for featuring violent VR video games at its booth during the Conservative Political Action Conference. The event took place days after shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people dead.

March 5: Facebook comes under fire for a user survey which asked whether pedophiles should be able to proposition underage girls for sexually explicit photographs on the service. "It shouldn't have been part of this survey," said Guy Rosen, a vice president of product for Facebook.

March 14: The Federal Election Commission said it would start writing new disclosure rules for online ads in response to revelations Russian interests bought content on Facebook and other platforms in an attempt to meddle with the 2016 election.

March 16: Facebook found itself apologizing again after users discovered typing "video of" in the search bar would lead to inappropriate results when autocomplete was triggered. Facebook said it's investigating what caused the results to pop up.

March 17: One day after Facebook announced it had suspended Cambridge Analytica for improper access to user data, The New York Times and The Observer said the political consultancy had access to 50 million profiles and used them to target ads during the 2016 election. Facebook said it knew Cambridge had violated its policies by obtaining the data, which users had agreed to share with a personality prediction app that then, secretly, passed them on.  Facebook defended keeping users in the dark by saying it had thought Cambridge had deleted the data — and because it didn't qualify as a data breach, since users had agreed to share their data with the quiz app. That response didn't sit well with lawmakers, regulators and privacy activists.

March 19 Democrat Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal called for hearings into the situation and for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. Then three Republican Senators send a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding questions about the privacy breach answered, in writing. The calls echo lawmaker demands in other parts of the world.  Shares dropped 7%, the worst drop in four years.

March 20 The Federal Trade Commission probes potential misuse of data.  

^ It seems all is not well in Facebook land. ^

EU's Poland Deadline

From the DW:
"EU urges Poland to respect judicial reforms deadline or face Article 7 sanctions"
Tuesday is the last day Poland has to respond to Commission demands that it restore the rule of law or face proceedings under Article 7. But according to Polish reports, it has no intention of changing its laws.  The European Commission on Tuesday urged Poland to respond to its demands of restoring law and order before a midnight deadline. Poland faces punishment under the never-before-used Article 7 of the European Union for placing courts under political control.  "The Polish have time until the end of today to come with their response. I do expect them to do that," Timmermans told a Brussels news conference after the meeting. "If this idea that you have the right to reform the judiciary ... is understood as the right to put it under political control, then we have a problem." "Talking for talking's sake is not enough and I hope that today ... will give a clear signal that EU members support the European Commission in this essential matter," Germany's EU minister Michael Roth said. Polish European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski said he hoped member states would assess Warsaw's white paper in an "objective, unbiased, individual way," adding that Poland did not want a "passive duplication of someone else's opinion" among EU members.

Final hours: Tuesday is the last day Poland has to respond to Commission demands that it restore the rule of law or face proceedings under Article 7. Never used before: Article 7, which had previously never been activated since its establishment in the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam, allows the EU to punish members that seriously breach the EU's founding values. The multi-step process requires unanimous approval of the 27 member states other than Poland to pursue sanctions. However, member state Hungary has vowed to veto the move to strip Poland of its EU voting rights, which would stall the process.

Growing isolation: If the threat of Article 7 fails to reign in Poland's reforms, it could additionally face the loss of billions of euros in funding in bloc's the next long-term budget from 2021. Poland is currently the biggest beneficiary of EU handouts for infrastructure and other projects.

Controlling the courts: A series of laws introduced by Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) has granted the government significant control of the judiciary including the power to hire and fire judges.

Next meeting: The Commission will meet again next month to assess whether "steps forward were made or not."

^ The EU has a major problem and has for many years: the EU member-states in Eastern Europe tend to feel they are over-shadowed by the EU which is run by Germany and France. Even when Eastern European countries became full-fledged EU member countries they were discriminated against from the very beginning by many Western EU member states (quotas on how many could come live and work, etc.) There was no "freedom of movement" for many eastern EU member states for many years after joining. Poland is one of those Eastern European countries that feels this way and so I don't believe they will take the EU's threats or punishments without a fight. I'm not saying that Poland is right or wrong in this, but am merely showing that there is a huge divide between the western EU and the eastern EU. The fact that at least Hungary (if not more Eastern European EU member countries) will side with Poland and thus negate any official response from the EU  - since all other EU member countries have to agree - shows that the EU doesn't really know want it is doing or how to fix the numerous issues that is making it a weak organization.  Until the EU treats all of its member countries the same and there is no "us vs. them" (ie. western EU vs. eastern EU mentality) then the EU will not be a true union of Europe. ^

Glorifying Marx

From the BBC:
"German city installs Karl Marx traffic lights"

The home town of influential communist thinker Karl Marx is celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth... with new pedestrian lights. The philosopher and author of The Communist Manifesto was born in Trier in western Germany on 5 May 1818, and spent his first 17 years in the city. The new set of traffic lights were unveiled on Monday and see Marx lit up in green and red. "Trier is showing its colours for Marx," Mayor Wolfram Leibe said. A second set of lights will be installed close to Karl Marx's childhood home and museum in the coming weeks, according to the Trier.de website (in German). The anniversary of Marx's birth has caused some controversy in Trier after the city council voted to accept a bronze statue of the philosopher from the Chinese government last year.  The sculpture is due to be erected in May, but critics say that honouring Marx ignores the suffering that took place under communist ideology in the 20th Century. 

^ Remembering and glorifying Karl Marx is the same as glorifying and remembering Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh or any other Communist that supported violence and murder to achieve a Communist Revolution and where millions of innocent men, women and children were murdered. You would think the Germans (especially those that lived in Communist East Germany from 1945-1990) would know better than to praise a man like Marx. I guess they don't. Instead of glorifying his birth they should focus on commemorating every person killed by the Communists (and those that are still being killed by the Communists today.) ^

French Burgers

From the BBC:
"Hamburgers usurp classic baguette sandwich in France"

French people have bought more US-style hamburgers than their own classic jambon-beurre sandwich for the first time in history, a study suggests. Some 1.46 billion burgers were sold last year, compared with 1.22 billion baguettes filled with sliced ham, according to Gira Conseil consultants. The results suggest the nation known for its culinary pride has had a huge shift in its eating habits. The French ate 14 times fewer burgers a decade ago. "Jambon-beurre is a French tradition," Gira Conseil director Bernard Boutboul told Reuters news agency.  "But the French are now crazy about burgers. You find them everywhere, from fast food to Michelin-starred restaurants," the Paris-based restaurant consultant said. At least one burger is on the menu at 85% of French restaurants - most of which are full-table-service establishments. Only 30% of hamburgers sold are from fast food outlets. The European country's "burger frenzy" has been bubbling over the last few years, with the American sandwich steadily stealing more of the French sandwich's market.  "This year, we don't know how to describe the phenomenon. It's just crazy," Mr Boutboul told AFP. Hamburgers in the country have taken on a French twist - often being served with famous cheeses like Roquefort instead of cheddar. Even McDonald's, the US burger giant, has adapted its menu to appeal to French diners with McCamembert and McBaguette burgers with emmental cheese, Dijon mustard and even the French confectionary macarons for dessert.  Mr Boutboul believes "le burger" has become a French product, adding, "One wonders whether the burger might even overtake our famous steak-frites in France." 

^ We (Americans) continue to have our culture spread throughout the world. Even in a place (France) that is very arrogant when it comes to Americans - not matter how many times we saved their country - they are accepting our movies, television shows, music, fashion and our food. The trend is continuing throughout the world. ^


I can finally say that I am now done with all the Travelex drama. I ordered Polish Zlotys from them after I booked by trip to Poland. Getting the Zlotys was the first hassle. I was given a confirmation e-mail with the date they would arrive by either FedEx or UPS and that I would have to be home to sign for, but the afternoon of the day before they were supposed to arrive I still hadn't received an e-mail saying they had even shipped (even though my money had already cleared my bank and gone to Travelex.) I decided to call Travelex and see what was going on. I was sent to a Customer Service Department in the UK. The first guy I spoke with I could barely understand (his accent) and on top of that he admitted he had no clue what was going on and didn't offer to transfer me to someone who could find out. I made him transfer me rather than continuing with him. The second person took a long time (with me on hold) to figure out that everything was still on schedule and I asked him to send me that information via e-mail - which he did. I believe my order "fell through the cracks" and if I hadn't called the day before I would have been home waiting to sign for a package that wouldn't arrive.  There were no issues the next day when the money came. I signed for it and counted everything and it was fine. 
A month later I had something come up and so had to cancel my trip to Poland and so didn't need the Zlotys. When the Zlotys came there was a form to sell the unused currency bills back to Travelex and since there is no place anywhere near me to sell foreign currency I decided to use the form and send the Zlotys back to Travelex and get a check from them in US Dollars. I took the package with the currency to the Post Office and mailed t to Travelex with both a signature needed by them as well as me receiving a form that they had gotten the currency. A few days later I received the confirmation back from the Post Office that everything was delivered.
I waited a few weeks and after not hearing anything from Travelex (by mail, e-mail or telephone) I decided to e-mail Travelex myself and see what was going on. I got a response back that they had no idea what I was talking about  - that they had no record of receiving anything from me. I sent them a reply with all the tracking and confirmation numbers as well as the name of the Travelex person who signed for it. Of course with that proof they could no longer blame me, but now it was on them to fix it. A week later I received an e-mail saying they "found" my package and that I would receive a check.
I did receive a check from Travelex, but they used my first name once and my last name twice. I called my bank (not in my state) to make sure it would be fine to deposit a check for that amount in my account. They didn't want to accept the check at first but I stuck with them. The check had my name spelt correctly (just my last name added twice) and also had my home address written on it which is the same address on my bank account. I found out today that the check had cleared my bank.
Finally, after over a month of going back and forth with Travelex and my bank the drama was over. I have used Travelex several times in the past to have foreign currency mailed to my house before an international trip and this was the first time that I had an issue getting the money. Because of that record I will probably continue to use Travelex to get foreign currency mailed to me (or maybe I'll wait until I get to an airport and change my money there.) I do not think I will ever use Travelex's Buy-Back Program ever again. There are just too many things that could (and have) gone wrong. 

Uber Crash

From the BBC:
"Uber halts self-driving car tests after death"

Uber said it is suspending self-driving car tests in all North American cities after a fatal accident. A 49-year-old woman was hit by a car and killed as she crossed the street in Tempe, Arizona. While self-driving cars have been involved in multiple accidents, it is thought to be the first time an autonomous car has been involved in a fatal collision. Uber said that its "hearts go out to the victim's family". "We're fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident", the company said in a statement on Twitter. Police said the accident happened Sunday night while the car was in autonomous mode. A human monitor was also behind the wheel. Police said the woman, Elaine Herzberg, had not been using a crossing. Herzberg was taken to a local hospital where she died. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said they were sending teams to Tempe. Companies including Ford, General Motors, Tesla and Waymo are investing heavily in research to develop self-driving cars, which are often characterised as the future of the industry and hailed as a way to reduce traffic accidents.  Many states across America have welcomed the tests in the hope of keeping themselves at the forefront of new technology. However, there have been warnings that the technology is being deployed before it is ready. Anthony Foxx, who served as US Secretary of Transportation under former President Barack Obama, called the accident a "wake up call to the entire [autonomous vehicle] industry and government to put a high priority on safety." More than a dozen states in the US allow autonomous vehicles on the roads to some degree. Officials typically require a person to be on hand either in the car or remotely in case something goes wrong, according to the Center for Automotive Research.  The US is working on national safety guidelines for such vehicles.   Consumer Watchdog, a lobby group that has warned of the risks of autonomous cars, on Monday called for a moratorium of such vehicles on public roads, describing the accident as a "tragedy we have been fighting years to prevent".  "We hope our calls for real regulation of driverless cars will be taken seriously going forward by Silicon Valley and the Trump Administration," the group wrote on Twitter. Uber started testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh in 2016. The ride-hailing firm has also been testing driverless cars in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Toronto and the Phoenix area, which includes Tempe. The death comes a year after Uber took its self-driving cars off the road following an accident that left a Volvo SUV on its side in Arizona. The programme was later reinstated.  Carla Bailo, president and chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research, said more information about how the crash occurred is necessary before officials can say what went wrong and how the self-driving system should be improved. She also said the fatality should be considered in the context of all accidents.  More than 37,000 people, including almost 6,000 pedestrians, died in traffic accidents in the US in 2016, according to the US Department of Transportation. "We need to be fair and look at all the data," she said. "But I don't think anybody is taking this lightly. By far safety is the first concern. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said he supports autonomous car tests because of the technology's potential. He also praised Uber's decision to suspend the programme as "responsible". "Our city leadership and Tempe Police will pursue any and all answers to what happened in order to ensure safety moving forward," he said. 

^  I have said it before and will say it again: I have no desire to get into a driverless car. It is one thing to use driverless vehicles on a set-track (like a monorail) and another to use them on the highway or in a city. On the highway and in a city there are too many variables (weather, traffic, pedestrians, road conditions, etc.) A driverless car and the computer driving it can not decide things at a split second and that is a major problem. ^

LA Southerner

Saw a documentary on what it's like to be a Southerner (supposedly by Southerners) - - yet the main guy they keep interviewing was born and bred in Los Angeles (although they have to add subtitles when he speaks "English.")

Show Me The Money

From the BBC:
"Zimbabwe stolen funds amnesty: Millions still to be returned"

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa has released the names of hundreds of companies and individuals who failed to return $827m (£590m) illegally stashed abroad despite an amnesty. After taking office last year Mr Mnangagwa gave individuals and companies 90 days to give up the funds. He said on Monday it had resulted in $591m being returned, less than half the funds believed to be held abroad. He has warned that those who fail to comply are at risk of prosecution. Mr Mnangagwa, who promised to crackdown on corruption after being sworn into office last year, said he had been left with no choice but to release the 1,800 names, which include manufacturers, miners, small businesses, state-owned entities and even churches. The list of names is divided into three separate groups: export earnings which were kept offshore, companies which owe money for imports which never arrived and people and businesses which have allegedly put funds into foreign banks "under spurious circumstances". Mining companies dominate the top the first: African Associated Mines, Marange Resources, Canadile Miners, Mbada Diamonds and Jinan Mining are alleged to collectively owe more than $150m to the Zimbabwean government. Leading the second list is the Ekusileni Medical Centre, an upmarket hospital facility in Bulawayo which closed just a few days after its opening more than a decade ago. According to the list, it is accused of owing more than $3m to the government. The third list is dominated by people who have allegedly moved money to China.  

^ It must be difficult for an in-coming President to try and fix a broken country like Zimbabwe. For decades Mugabe allowed and encouraged corruption from the top-down and not the current President is trying to fix all of that so he can make Zimbabwe a stable and thriving country. ^


Monday, March 19, 2018

4th Nor'Easter

^ From being told no chance of snow from this storm on Saint Patrick's Day to now getting snow - with the possibility of higher amounts if it moves a few miles in-land. No more luck of the Irish here. ^

Easter Cards?

Easter Cards? - -  Because when you are brought-up right others just know.

Rejected Eagle

From Yahoo:
"Father sues Boy Scouts for rejecting son, 15, with Down syndrome, autism as Eagle Scout"

The father of a boy with Down syndrome and autism is suing the Boy Scouts of America for banning his son from becoming an Eagle Scout and revoking all of his badges. Logan Blythe, 15, has been a Boy Scout for the past three years through his local Utah chapter the National Parks Council. Despite his intellectual limitations, he has risen through the organization’s ranking system by the grace of the council, which makes accommodations when necessary. “For example, if a task is cooking and the instructions are to pour a cup of flour, Logan won’t stop pouring,” dad Chad Blythe tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In situations like that, the local chapter has awarded him a badge regardless, for his effort.” Blythe says he has always been transparent about the amendments made for Logan, periodically emailing his local chapter to ensure his son was on track. To become an Eagle Scout, the highest and most elite ranking in the Boy Scouts organization, boys must earn 22 different badges and demonstrate leadership through a service-based task such as painting a local school, building park benches, or fixing fences. In November, Logan got approval from his local chapter for his Eagle project: creating kits with onesies and blankets for special-needs babies and distributing them to hospitals. “This was the perfect task for Logan, who was excited to put the kits together and drop them off,” says Chad. However, 24 hours later, Chad says he received a text message stating that Logan’s project was inexplicably suspended. When family members met with their local chapter, they received more bad news. “The national office looked into how Logan had earned his badges and decided that he didn’t really meet the requirements,” says Chad. “The National Parks Council said their hands were tied and they apologized for letting Logan advance so many levels.” The dad says the council had good intentions, but he’s upset about the miscommunication. “We are moved by this young man’s desire to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” The Utah National Parks Council told Salt Lake City local news station KSL-TV. “We’ve worked closely with this young man and his family to attain the benefits of the Scouting program and are committed to continuing to do so. The Eagle Scout Award is a national award. Final decisions regarding the Eagle requirements are made at the National BSA level. Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has served youth members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Through the Disability Awareness Committee, the BSA enables youth to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. The Utah National Parks Council stands ready to assist all Scouts and their families who, despite extraordinary circumstances, have the desire to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.” A representative for Boy Scouts of America sent this statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “We continue to work closely with our Disabilities Awareness Committee, which is tasked with making sure Scouts with disabilities can actively participate in Scouting activities.  We worked with the committee and the Blythe family to offer Logan a path to earning alternative merit badges based on his abilities, as well as the option to work toward his Eagle rank past the age of 18 by completing the ‘Request for Registration Beyond the Age of Eligibility.’ This specific request is focused on supporting Scouts with permanent and severe disabilities so as to allow them to continue working toward an Eagle rank indefinitely.”  The rep added: “Children with special needs are welcome and empowered to participate in the program. They can do so by coming to troop meetings and functions, and don’t even need to earn merit badges to participate. For instance, any Scout can go camping and hiking with his troop, have fun through the program and never earn a merit badge. Advancement, which is in part accomplished through the earning of merit badges and can culminate in earning the highest rank of Eagle Scout, is only one aspect of the program.” “Boy Scouts with disabilities may qualify for the Eagle Scout rank. The Scout must earn as many of the Eagle-required merit badges as he can, and may then submit an application for alternative merit badges for those he cannot. His BSA local council may approve alternative merit  badge(s) for him to earn. Any alternatives must present the same challenge and learning level as those they replace. The Eagle Rank is an incredible achievement and a demonstration of living by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law.” Logan’s family has filed a lawsuit against  the Boy Scouts of America and the Utah National Parks  Council for “damages greater than one dollar” for “outrageous and reckless conduct and disregard of the emotional well-being of Logan.” “The Boy Scouts have lost their way,” Ted McBride, the Blythe family attorney, told KSL-TV. “The local Utah people did not want to enforce this discriminatory policy, but regrettably that turned out to be a bad decision for them. The Boy Scouts have made accommodations for those who identify as transgender, they have even accepted girls into the boy scouts, and they are going to fight this? For what? To protect the prestigious Eagle Scout badge?” Chad says the lawsuit is simply to restore Logan’s honor. “I want the Boy Scouts to change its policy,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They should reinstate Logan’s badges and acknowledge the fact that not all boys have the same capabilities.”

^ I am torn on this one. I was a Boy Scout and believe that the organization helps boys and young men to learn good habits and skills they need for the rest of their life. On the other hand, having worked with the disabled I know that many can not fulfill many requirements (for merit badges, etc.) without special adaptations made. I feel that in this case the local council (The National Parks Council) should have informed the National Council what they were doing from the beginning so that all sides (including Logan Blythe and his Dad) would know exactly what was offered, what would be accepted and what special adaptations would be given. I feel bad for the Scout, but ignorance (especially on the part of his Dad and the local council) isn't an excuse. Hopefully this will make the National Council become more involved with the chapter councils and vice versa so that a Scout (disabled or not) will not work towards something only to be told at the end that it wasn't following the rules. I also would like to see the National Council create a more organized disability program and train it's local councils. ^

Dealers Penalty

From the BBC:
"Trump urges death penalty for drug dealers"

US President Donald Trump has called for drug traffickers to face the death penalty as part of his plan to combat the US painkiller-addiction epidemic. He outlined the capital punishment plan during a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, a state hard hit by the opioid crisis. Mr Trump is also set to announce measures to tackle over-prescription and insufficient access to treatment. The epidemic claimed 63,600 Americans' lives in 2016, say US health officials. Mr Trump was cheered on Monday as he told a crowd: "If we don't get tough on the drug dealers we're wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty." Some 2.4 million Americans are estimated to be addicted to opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers and heroin. Mr Trump previously suggested the "ultimate" punishment for traffickers at a rally in Pennsylvania earlier this month. 

^ I think the death penalty should be used in cases of: rape, murder, terrorism and for drug dealers and other criminals that go "over-board" in their crimes. A drug dealer selling a few ounces shouldn't be put to death, but a drug dealer that sells kilos upon kilos of drugs (especially those also involved in international drug dealing, intra-state drug dealing, etc.) Those kinds of high-end drug dealers tend to also be involved in violent crimes, gun smuggling, human trafficking, etc. ^

Diplomatic Terrorist

From the BBC:
"French consulate worker 'smuggled arms from Gaza'"

A French citizen in Israel has been charged with smuggling weapons to Palestinians for financial gain.  Israeli security services say the man, Romain Franck, 23, worked as a driver for the French consulate in Jerusalem.  He is accused of transferring dozens of guns between Gaza and the occupied West Bank, using a consular car to avoid Israeli security checks.  He appeared in court in southern Israel, along with several Palestinian suspects.  A French embassy spokesman said France was working closely with the Israeli authorities on the matter.  Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Mr Franck was arrested in February. He is accused of transferring 70 pistols and two assault rifles. He is one of nine suspects arrested so far. Shin Bet said Mr Franck acted for his own financial gain. The agency said he received the weapons from a Palestinian employed at the French Cultural Center in Gaza and transferred them to a third person in the West Bank in the course of five trips. "This is a most serious incident, cynically exploiting the immunity and additional privileges extended to foreign representatives to Israel," the agency said in a statement.  A spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv told the AFP news agency: "We take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities." Mr Franck worked at the consulate as an "international volunteer", a status that allows young adults to gain work experience abroad. At the Erez border crossing, foreign journalists, non-governmental organisation workers and Palestinians with permits go through rigorous Israeli security screening.  However, diplomatic privileges allow consular workers to drive in and out of Gaza with virtually no checks.  Shin Bet accuses Romain Franck of taking advantage of this arrangement to smuggle weapons. Little is known about Mr Franck, who held a junior position at the French consulate.  However, a Facebook page set up in his name shows a young man similar in appearance to the one in the photograph published by Shin Bet.  A post from January 2017 says the account holder is leaving for Jerusalem. He writes: "It's the big day, departure to a new adventure." Another caption says: "Feeling good in Palestine".  Israel has long tried to prevent arms reaching Palestinian militants. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around the Gaza Strip to prevent weapons smuggling and attacks by Gaza-based militants. There are also tight security measures to stop arms getting into the hands of militant cells in the West Bank.   

^ He may have been doing this for the money, but he still was working with the internationally-recognized terrorist group, Hamas, and so should be treated as an accomplice. Gaza is a lawless terrorist territory and there needs to be a lot more oversight on who enters and leaves (from Israel, Egypt, the UN and the world.) ^

Anti-Semitic Lawmaker

From the BBC:
"Lawmaker sorry for spreading anti-Semitic weather conspiracy"

A local lawmaker in Washington, DC, has apologised for sharing a video based on a conspiracy theory that Jewish financiers control the weather. Councilman Trayon White Sr posted a video of snow flurries on Friday and warned of "climate manipulation". He blamed the Rothschilds, a famous Jewish business dynasty, who are a target of anti-Semitic conspiracies. Mr White apologised for his comments on social media and said he "did not intend to be anti-Semitic". "I really do apologise," he said on Twitter. "I work very closely with the Jewish community and never want to offend anyone, especially with Anti-Semitic remarks." The lawmaker said his Jewish friends were helping him realise the way his comments said in the Facebook video were rooted in anti-Semitic thought that dates back centuries. "I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues," he said.  The video, posted on Facebook on Friday morning, is shot through the windshield of a car driving in downtown Washington. "Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y'all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation," he is heard saying.  "And DC keep talking about, 'We a resilient city.' And that's a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful." Conspiracy theorists allege that the Rothschilds, in conjunction with the famed American Rockefeller family, use technology to secretly manipulate the weather.  The Rockefeller Foundation's Resilient Cities initiative, which provides grants to cities that address climate change, is the target of many of these theories.  Mr White's comments insinuate the long-standing theory that the family manipulates world events for their own personal gain. He initially confirmed his voice in the video to the Washington Post. When asked to clarify his comments in a series of text messages, he said: "The video says what it says."  He later apologised in a full statement.  Jews for Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group that endorsed the official in 2016, said it was working with him to understand how his comments were anti-Semitic.   Fellow council member Brianne Nadeau, also a Democrat, said she believed Mr White did not intend to offend the Jewish community.  "I believe he is being truthful when he says he didn't realize what his statement implied," she told local radio station WTOP. 

^ I lived in the Metro DC area for many years and have seen how most of the politicians (both at the Federal and the Local level) are complete idiots. This Councilman is clearly one of them. Not only is he anti-Semitic, but he doesn't have any sort of grammar education. He seems to be one of those people who hears someone else say something and then whole-heartedly agrees with it just because he doesn't have the intelligence himself. The fact that other Council members (like Ms. Nadeau) believe he didn't mean to offend anyone shows just how deep the lack of intelligence runs in DC. ^

Accessible Maps

From Disability Scoop:
"Google Now Includes Accessible Routes"

With a new Google Maps feature, the technology giant is looking to make it easier for people with disabilities to get around. Google said this month that it is adding information on its Maps platform to point people to accessible public transit stops in cities around the world. The “wheelchair accessible” routes feature is rolling out initially in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston and Sydney. The company said it plans to work with transit agencies in additional cities to expand the routes capability to other locales. “In city centers, buses and trains are often the best way to get around, which presents a challenge for people who use wheelchairs or with other mobility needs. Information about which stations and routes are wheelchair friendly isn’t always readily available or easy to find,” wrote Rio Akasaka, product manager for Google Maps, in announcing the feature. “We’re introducing ‘wheelchair accessible’ routes in transit navigation to make getting around easier for those with mobility needs.” In order to find an accessible public transit route, users can type in a destination on Google Maps, then select “directions” and the public transportation icon. Next, choose “wheelchair accessible” under “options.” “When you select this option, Google Maps will show you a list of possible routes that take mobility needs into consideration,” Akasaka said. This is not Google’s first effort to add accessibility details to Maps. In 2016, Google Maps started including information on business listings indicating if a location is wheelchair accessible. What’s more, the company said it is increasingly offering imagery of transit stations through its Street View capability so users can preview a site before visiting.  

^ This is a very important application - especially for disabled tourists and businessmen/women not familiar with a particular city. Seeing what route is accessible (whether it is driving, walking or taking public transportation) is crucial in gaining more independence and freedom. ^


Dog Change

From the NY Daily News:
"Protesters demand justice for dog that died aboard United flight"
Nearly two-dozen barking mad protesters were joined by their canine companions Sunday at LaGuardia Airport, where they demanded justice for a 10-month-old French bulldog killed after being stuffed in an overhead bin by a United Airlines flight attendant. The poor pooch, Kokito, was in a dog carrier aboard a flight from Houston to LaGuardia. The flight crew said the case was blocking the aisle, so a flight attendant put it in the overhead storage bin, according to Kokito’s owner, Catalina Robledo. The dog was dead when the flight landed. Robledo’s 11-year-old daughter, Sophia Ceballos, remained distraught about the dog’s demise.

“I just think about him every day at school and I can't concentrate,” she said. “I cry every night for him because it feels really bad without him.

Around 20 protesters in the parking lot for Terminal A shook their heads in disgust, some holding dogs in their arms. Other pups sat on the pavement, wagging their tails. The “dog-in” was organized by State Senator Marisol Alcantara, who vowed to introduce legislation clarifying rules for pets on flights. She dubbed the proposed rules Kokito’s Law. United called the incident a “tragic accident that should never have occurred.”  But Robledo’s attorney, Evan Oshan, said the flight attendant who stashed Kokito in the bin should be criminally charged. The employee has not been publicly identified. “There has been no apology from her,” Oshen said. “We want accountability and we want justice.” Alcantara’s legislation would explicitly ban placing pets in overhead bins on flights, among other measures. “Make no bones about it, United is in the dog house and we will not tolerate their cruelty towards animals,” Alcantara said.

^ There does need to be Federal laws protecting animals  - especially pets (on flights, against abuse and untimely death.) United has an awful record with transporting animals (which has gotten worse with Kokito's death and other incidents of diverting planes because an animal was on-board when it shouldn't have been. I can not understand why there are not more Federal, airport and airline over-sight. The flight attendant also needs to be held accountable for her role in the dog's death. ^

Putin Win

From the BBC:
"Russia election: Vladimir Putin wins by big margin"

Vladimir Putin will lead Russia for another six years, after securing an expected victory in Sunday's presidential election. With almost all the ballots counted, he had received more than 76% of the vote, the central election commission said. The main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race. Addressing a rally in Moscow after the early results were declared, Mr Putin said voters had "recognised the achievements of the last few years". Speaking to reporters, he laughed off a question about running again in another six years. "What you are saying is a bit funny. Do you think that I will stay here until I'm 100 years old? No!" he said. The scale of victory - which had been widely predicted - appears to be a marked increase in his share of the vote from 2012, when he won 64%. Mr Putin's nearest competitor, millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, received about 12%. The race also included Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality TV host, and veteran nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky - they got less than 2% and about 6% respectively. A state exit poll put the turnout at over 60%. Mr Putin's campaign had hoped for a large turnout, to give him the strongest possible mandate. His campaign team said it was an "incredible victory". "The percentage that we have just seen speaks for itself. It's a mandate which Putin needs for future decisions, and he has a lot of them to make," a spokesman told Russia's Interfax. In some areas, free food and discounts in local shops were on offer near polling stations. Video recordings from polling stations showed irregularities in a number of towns and cities across Russia. Several showed election officials stuffing boxes with ballot papers. Mr Navalny was excluded from the election because of an embezzlement conviction that he said was manufactured by the Kremlin. In his first reaction to the news, Mr Navalny indicated he had been unable to contain his anger. "Now is the season of Lent. I took it upon myself never to get angry and not to raise my voice. Oh well, I'll try again next year," he tweeted.

During polling day, independent election monitoring group Golos reported hundreds of irregularities, including:

- Voting papers found in some ballot boxes before polls opened
- Observers were barred from entering some polling stations
- Some people were bussed in amid suspicion of forced voting
- Webcams at polling stations were obstructed by balloons and other obstacles

Videos taken from the election commission's live stream of polling stations also appeared to show some instances of officials stuffing ballots into boxes. In Dagestan, one election official said he was prevented from doing his job by a crowd of men who blocked the ballot box. But Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said no serious violations had been registered yet. "We have analysed and monitored everything we could, everything that has arrived. Thank goodness, it's all rather modest so far," she told a commission meeting while speaking about violations.  She had earlier said that anyone involved in violations would be caught. Sunday's vote was also the first in Crimea since Russia seized the region from Ukraine. Mr Putin was scheduled to speak at a rally scheduled for the fourth anniversary of the annexation - the same day as the election. The annexation was bitterly contested by Kiev and ratcheted up tensions between Russia and the West. Russians living in Ukraine were unable to take part in Sunday's vote because access to Russian diplomatic missions was blocked by the Kiev government. 

^ Anyone who thought Putin wouldn't win is living under a rock. The same is true with anyone who thought that the Russian Elections wouldn't be rigged. There's no need to worry about outside (ie. foreign) influence in Russian voting because the Russian Government was already taking care of things themselves. ^