Monday, February 8, 2016

Ending 22nd

From the BBC:
"Canada IS airstrikes: Trudeau announces 22 February end date"

Canada will stop bombing targets in Syria and Iraq belonging to the militant group known as Islamic State by 22 February at the latest, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said. Speaking in Ottawa on Monday, he said air strikes alone did not secure lasting stability for local people.  Mr Trudeau, who was elected in October, promised to withdraw six fighter jets from the region during his campaign.   But Canada will keep two surveillance planes in the region, he said. It will also keep refuelling aircraft in the area and will increase the number of Canadian soldiers training local troops who are fighting Islamic State (IS). "It is important to understand that while air strike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not on their own achieve long-term stability for local communities," Mr Trudeau said. "Canadians learned this lesson first hand during a very difficult decade in Afghanistan where our forces became expert military trainers, renowned around the world."  He said Canadian armed forces would instead allocate more military resources to training Iraqi security forces so that "a murderous gang of thugs who are terrorising some of the most vulnerable people on Earth" could be defeated.  Mr Trudeau's move has been criticised by the opposition, whose leader Rona Ambrose in parliament accused the government of "stepping back from the fight against IS when our allies are stepping up". "The reality is that when we talk about Canada's new approach to fighting IS... Canada is backing away," she said. But Mr Trudeau is adamant that his announcement on Monday makes sound strategic sense. "Call us old-fashioned, but we think that we ought to avoid doing precisely what our enemies want us to do. They want us to elevate them, to give in to fear, to indulge in hatred, to eye one another with suspicion and to take leave of our faculties," he said.  Many Canadians have lost enthusiasm for overseas military missions after a decade of involvement in Afghanistan that ended in 2011, correspondents say. More than 150 Canadian soldiers were killed over that period.

^ Trudeau contradicts himself in his own speech. He states that the airstrikes can be very useful, but don't solve the problem alone. I understand that part. What I don't understand is if they are useful as part of a wider military action then why get rid of them? If anything they should be continued alongside the new training and support operations. Trudeau is as green as Obama in dealing with military operations. Obama learned the hard way when he took the US out of Iraq completely and let ISIS become more powerful and deadly and then he had to "shallow" his pride, admit his mistake and bring the US back into Iraq and then into Syria. I have a feeling Trudeau will have to do the same. ISIS isn't just attacking Iraq and Syria. They are attacking  Russian planes over Egypt, holiday parties in California and different locations in Paris (not to mention all the operations around the world that have stopped potential attacks.) Canada can pull-back from the fight, but then will have to put it's head in the sand and ignore the reality around itself. Of course Canadians (and Americans and other nationalities) are sick and tired of having to fight Islamist terrorists for so many years. But ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. It only helps ISIS achieve its goals because ISIS (and other terrorist groups) want Canada, the US, etc. to become so tired of fighting them that we give up. Then ISIS will have even more power and can carry out even more attacks in the Middle East, Europe and North America. It is better to stop them before Canadians wake up to an attack inside Canada. Then it is too late. We know what ISIS has done and is currently doing so anyone (individual or country) that doesn't support the fight against them now can't claim ignorance tomorrow when they attack again - they can only claim stupidity. ^

Greedy Treasury

From Yahoo:
"Record Number of U.S. Citizens, Green-Card Holders Cut Ties With U.S. in 2015"
A record 4,279 individuals renounced their U.S. citizenship or long-term residency in 2015, according to data released by the Treasury Department. Last year was the third year in a row for record renunciations, according to Andrew Mitchel, an international lawyer in Centerbrook, Conn., who tallies and tracks renunciation data. The Treasury Department renunciation list for the fourth quarter, which contained 1,058 names, was released on Friday. “An increasing number of Americans appear to believe that having a U.S. passport or long-term residency isn’t worth the hassle and cost of complying with U.S. tax laws,” Mr. Mitchel said. Experts say the growing number of renunciations by citizens and long-term holders of green cards is related to an enforcement campaign by U.S. officials against undeclared offshore accounts. It intensified in 2009, after Swiss banking giant UBS AG admitted that it encouraged U.S. taxpayers to hide money abroad. Since then, the U.S. has collected more than $13.5 billion from individuals and foreign financial firms in taxes and penalties due on such accounts. This week, Swiss bank Julius Baer Group AG admitted it encouraged U.S. taxpayers to hide money abroad and agreed to pay $547 million to settle potential charges. However, the campaign by U.S. officials also has complicated the financial lives of an estimated 7 million or more Americans living abroad, leading growing numbers to sever their U.S. ties. Unlike many countries, the U.S. taxes nonresident citizens on income they earn abroad. According to Philip Hodgen, an international tax lawyer who practices in Pasadena, Calif., the law provides only partial offsets for double taxation when taxes are owed to both the U.S. and a foreign country, and complying with the law is onerous. Mr. Mitchel adds that since 1995, the penalties for noncompliance by Americans living abroad who didn’t intentionally avoid filing common IRS forms have increased dramatically—in some cases from as little as $2,000 to as much as $70,000 annually.
IRS scrutiny of Americans abroad is also intensifying because of a new law known as Fatca, which requires foreign financial institutions to report income information for their customers who are U.S. taxpayers to the IRS, or else face severe penalties. More than 180,000 foreign banks and other firms have signed up to comply with Fatca. The Treasury Department is required by law to publish quarterly lists of people who renounce their citizenship or long-term residency. The list doesn’t distinguish between people turning in passports and those turning in green cards, or indicate which other nationality the individuals hold. There is often a lag between when a person renounces and the government’s publication of his or her name. No information appears other than the name. In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2015, nearly 730,000 people became U.S. citizens, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of Homeland Security.
^ The trend seems to be high only because the US is now enforcing the new law. I don't think the US Government should be able to tax anything that is made outside the United States and the American isn't working for the US Government or Military. They are having to pay double the taxes. First they have to pay taxes in the country that they are living and working in and then they have to pay taxes to the US. That  is double taxing and should be illegal like double jeopardy is. I'm not talking about the US companies doing this, but individuals. The US Government has become too greedy and arrogant in this case and so it's no wonder that so many people are giving up their US citizenship. ^

Monkey Year!

Happy Year of the Monkey! I was born in the year of the monkey so that's probably why I love monkeys.

Crying ^

From the BBC:
"End of the circumflex? Changes in French spelling cause uproar"
Suggested new spellings for more than 2,000 French words have sparked controversy.  The Academie Francaise proposed changes in 1990, including the deletion of the circumflex accent (ˆ) and hyphens in some words, but they were optional. Now publishers say they will include the new spellings in schoolbooks. France's education minister has said the changes will not culminate in the end of the circumflex, and that old and new spellings will both remain correct. Despite this, the news sparked furious reaction on social media, with users arguing the changes constituted dumbing down.
^ The French seem to just like to cry about everything. They aren't even being forced to use the new changes. They can use either the old ways or the new way. ^

Friday, February 5, 2016

Roman-Orthodox Meet

From the BBC:
"Pope Francis set for historic Orthodox Patriarch meeting"
Pope Francis will hold a historic first meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russian Orthodox Church, in Cuba next week. The Russian Orthodox Church said the "persecution of Christians" would be the central theme of the meeting. Pope Francis will stop over in Cuba on his way to Mexico. It is the first papal meeting with a Russian Church head since the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split in the 11th Century. The meeting is due to take place at Havana airport, where the two leaders will sign a joint declaration. Patriarch Kirill is due in Cuba for an official visit at the same time as Pope Francis's stopover in Havana.  In a joint statement, the two churches said the meeting would "mark an important stage in relations between the two churches". They invited "all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits". Since becoming Pope in 2013, Pope Francis has called for better relations between the different branches of Christianity.  The foreign policy chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Illarion, told reporters that there were still differences between the two churches, in particular on western Ukraine. One particular issue is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which follows eastern church rites but answers to the Holy See.  The Russian Orthodox Church has considered western Ukraine its traditional territory, resenting papal influence there. But Metropolitan Illarion said that international events had pushed the leaders to meet. He said: "The situation in the Middle East, in northern and central Africa and in other regions where extremists are perpetrating a genocide of Christians, requires immediate action and an even closer co-operation between Christian churches. "In this tragic situation, we need to put aside internal disagreements and pool efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subject to most severe persecution." Patriarch Kirill has been the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since February 2009, while Pope Francis took up his role in March 2013. The Roman Catholic Church has more than a billion members worldwide, while the Russian Orthodox Church numbers about 165 million.    The Orthodox Church is made up of a number of separate churches around the world.  The Vatican has existing ties with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, but this will be the first meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of the Russian Church, which is the largest and most powerful Church in Orthodoxy.

^ Hopefully this meeting will do something concrete to bring the two religious groups together. ^

Amazon Stores

From Yahoo:
"Amazon plans to open 300-400 bookstores, says mall company CEO" Inc is planning to open hundreds of brick-and-mortar bookstores, the head of a major U.S. mall operator said. Such an expansion, which Amazon itself has not confirmed, would position the world's No. 1 online retailer as a competitor to booksellers such as Barnes & Noble Inc. At present, Amazon operates a single bookstore in its home city, Seattle. "You've got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400 bookstores," Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of General Growth Properties Inc, said on Tuesday. He was responding to question about mall traffic during a conference call with analysts, a day after the No.2 U.S. mall operator reported quarterly earnings. Amazon spokeswoman Sarah Gelman declined to comment. Amazon recently opened its first bookstore in Seattle's University Village, where visitors can also test-drive Amazon's Kindle, Fire TV and other devices. In-store and online book prices would be the same, Amazon said in November. Barnes & Noble, the largest U.S. bookstore chain, operated 640 bookstores across all 50 states as of Jan. 1.
^ I don't know if these new stores will be cost-effective, but it would be nice if it did since I really like going to real bookstores. The last time I went to a real bookstore was in Colorado Springs last Summer and before that it had been years as there aren't any bookstores anywhere near my house (I order them online and have them mailed to me.) ^

36 Hour Invasion

From Business Insider:
"Russia could steamroll into the capitals of NATO’s most exposed members in 36 hours"

With current force deployments, Russia could steamroll NATO forces in the Baltic states. 
In the most optimistic scenario for NATO, Moscow would be able to conquer all the way to Estonia's capital Tallinn in the course of 60 hours, according to a new report from the think tank RAND Corp.  The report, which attempted to answer the dual questions of what would happen should Russia invade the NATO-member Baltic states and what could be done to prevent such a scenario, paints an incredibly bleak picture of NATO's ability to defend its most exposed states.  Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are the three NATO nations most exposed to Russia. Situated between Russia, Russia's principle ally Belarus, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and the Baltic Sea, the three nations — with the exception of a sliver of Lithuania — lack any shared borders with fellow NATO nations.  This lack of a border, combined with the an ongoing drawdown of NATO forces relative to Russia's revanchist militarism, places the three nations at substantial risk from Russian adventurism.  The RAND report, between the summer of 2014 and the spring of 2015, simulated a series of war games with military and non-military experts in order to understand what would happen during a Russian invasion.  As current NATO force structures stand in Europe, RAND found that the military organization "cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members." In the best case scenarios for NATO, Russia was prevented from reaching the outskirts either the Latvian or Estonian capitals for 60 hours.  In the more dire scenarios, Russian forces were able to make it to the capitals in only 36 hours.  This report from RAND echoes similar concerns of current Chairman of the NATO Military Committee General Petr Pavel. On May 27, 2015 Pavel warned that Moscow would be able to conquer the three Baltic States within two days despite their NATO membership. Pavel believed this would be largely possible due to NATO's relatively slow-moving command structure.   "On the one hand, one of [NATO's] disadvantages is its complex process of decision making. It is because NATO has 28 members who have to reach consensus on all conclusions," Pavel told Czech news site CTK.  Russia's ability to conquer the Baltics is due to both the Kremlin's ongoing push to modernize its military in addition to a general decline in NATO's ability to defend itself.  Whereas Russia has undertaken massive pushes to modernize its fleet, with the possible outcome of denying NATO access to the Baltic Sea, and update its air force to deny the US air superiority, NATO military spending has largely fallen.  As Foreign Policy notes, the US Army has pulled two heavily armored divisions out of Germany and only maintains two in Europe at this point. And in 2015, only five NATO nations met the minimum defense spending limit that the organization urges its members to meet.  However, RAND notes that simple steps would change the calculus to enough of a degree as to prevent Russia's conquest of the Baltics. By deploying about seven brigades in Europe, NATO could ensure that it would have enough firepower to at least dissuade a Russian offensive. 
^ This report really isn't much of a surprise. Of course that doesn't mean that the report shouldn't be examined and the troop strength increased throughout NATO. As the report states Russia can do whatever it wants to and do it quickly because they have no one (NATO, the UN, etc.) to answer to. NATO and the US do and so any response would be extremely slow. These same reports were made throughout the Cold War (regarding an invasion of West Berlin and West Germany from the USSR and Warsaw Pact.) Americans and Europeans need to take this threat seriously and do more to protect themselves. ^


From the DW:
"Pacific rim nations sign TPP free-trade agreement"
A comprehensive trade deal has been inked by 12 Pacific nations at a ceremony in New Zealand. Angry protestors have swarmed the streets of Auckland to voice concern over environmental and sovereignty issues.  Trade representatives from 12 nations came together in Auckland, New Zealand, on Thursday to sign an international trade pact more than eight years in the making. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to reduce tariffs and remove hurdles from supply chains. The signatories were the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand. Other nations with Pacific coastline who have expressed interest in joining include Colombia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia. While governments and business have hailed the free trade agreement, activists in fields ranging from health to internet freedom, as well as trade unions and environmentalists, have condemned the TPP in no uncertain terms. The major concern amongst the deal's detractors is the power it provides to industrial concerns over humane ones, the strong environmental impact, and worries that it may drive income inequality.  The deal must now be ratified by individual parliaments. This may be unlikely in the US with a presidential campaign underway and a Congress hostile to President Barack Obama. Obama met with Republican leaders on Tuesday in a bid to get their support for the scheme, but House Speaker Paul Ryan left the meeting saying his party still had "a number of concerns" about the pact. Some of the resistance to the TPP has also come from within Obama's own Democratic Party.

^ I know that the vast majority of people (in the US and around the world) have no idea what the TPP is or how it will help/hurt their country. ^

Baghdad Wall

From the BBC:
"Iraq conflict: Baghdad building wall against IS"

Iraqi security forces have begun building a wall around the capital Baghdad in an effort to prevent attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS). The reported 300km (186 miles) barrier will surround the city from all sides, an official said. IS controls large swathes of northern and western Iraq and has claimed several recent attacks in the capital. Last month, 18 people were killed in an attack on a Baghdad shopping centre. Baghdad military spokesman Abdul Ameer al-Shammari said: "The security barrier around Baghdad will prevent terrorists from infiltrating the capital or smuggling explosives and car bombs to target innocent civilians."  No date has been given for the completion of the wall. The barrier will also have a two-metre deep trench running alongside it, Al-Sumariyah news website reported. Surveillance cameras, explosives detection devices and towers will also be installed. The walls and barriers around the so-called Green Zone are expected to remain, Reuters said. The heavily fortified zone, created after the US-led coalition toppled President Saddam Hussein in 2003, houses the government, parliament and many embassies including those of the US and Britain.
^ The world may be getting smaller, but more and more protective walls are being made around the world (to prevent terrorism and/or illegal immigration.) ^

Lifting Return

From the MT:
"EU Says Crimea Return Necessary for Lifting Russia Sanctions"

The European parliament has named the return of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, to Ukraine as one of the necessary conditions for lifting sanctions against the country, according to a resolution published on the parliament's website.  “The restoration of Ukrainian control over the peninsula is one of the prerequisites for re-establishing cooperative relations with the Russian Federation, including the suspension of related sanctions,” the resolution passed by the EU parliament on Thursday said.  Previously, EU leaders said that the lifting of sanctions depended only on the complete fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, aimed at eliminating conflict in eastern Ukraine, the RBC news website reported.  EU deputies condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and will continue the policy of non-recognition of Russia's occupation [of Crimea], the resolution stated.  The document also said that an “unprecedented level” of human rights violations had been perpetrated against Crimean residents, especially against Crimean Tatars.  The resolution was supported by 472 EU deputies, while 79 deputies voted against it, according to RBC.
^ This is a step in the right direction and hopefully the EU leaders will stay united and not buckle. ^

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Increased Europe

From the Stars and Stripes:
"DOD requesting 3,000-5,000 more troops for Europe in FY17 budget"
The Pentagon plans to sharply increase the number of troops, tanks and artillery positioned in Europe under a budget proposal that calls for a $2.6 billion spending increase aimed at strengthening the military’s posture across eastern Europe. The $3.4 billion request for the European Reassurance Initiative is about four times the amount of the department’s $780 million request in 2016. It would add an additional brigade’s worth of troops to the U.S. footprint in Europe — between 3,000 and 5,000 rotational soldiers. A brigade-size fleet of heavy vehicles and weaponry would also be delivered to storage sites throughout the Continent, defense officials told Stars and Stripes on Monday. The proposals are part of the Pentagon’s 2017 budget request, which aims to take on a series of vexing security challenges confronting the military as it faces “Great Power competition” from Russia and China, traditional terrorism threats and the instability brought on by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, during a speech Tuesday, is expected to unveil some details about the new budget. He is expected to announce a large increase to the counterterrorism budget request to fund an expanding fight against the Islamic State. Reuters, citing senior defense officials, reported that Carter would request more than $7 billion to fund operations against the extremist group. The Pentagon’s planned moves would amount to a surge in military presence and spending on a Continent that until two years ago was a steady target for troop cuts. But Russia’s annexation nearly two years ago of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its support of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has led the United States and NATO to dramatically step up their presence in eastern Europe. The budget serves as an acknowledgement that the post Cold War order in Europe, where NATO leaders spent two decades attempting a strategic partnership with Russia, is over. Since the European Reassurance Initiative was launched in late 2014, the funds have supported more frequent Air Force and Navy rotations into eastern Europe along with numerous infrastructure projects to sustain an increased presence, such as refurbished military runways, firing ranges, barracks and training grounds where allies conduct war games. By beefing up its presence, the Pentagon aims to reassure wary allies in close proximity to Russia and send a deterrent signal to Moscow, which has expanded its own military presence around NATO’s periphery. Russia did not immediately respond to the Pentagon plan to further bolster its force in Europe, but past announcements have been met with threats of countermeasures from Moscow. If the Pentagon budget is approved, it will provide a boost for U.S. Army Europe, which has faced sharp reductions in force structure in recent years. In recent years, the U.S. military has steadily drawn down its forces in Europe, which now stand at about 65,000 in total. The downsizing has left the military in Europe undermanned for the current security environment, EUCOM warned in a new strategy document issued last week.
^ It seems that the Pentagon is now dealing with reality on the ground rather than a continued sense of victory from winning the Cold War in December 1991. ^


Having a rodent choose our weather is like having Iowa or New Hampshire choose our President. By the way he predicts an early Spring.

Cameron's Deal

From the BBC:
"EU referendum: Draft reform deal worth fighting for, says Cameron"
David Cameron says the draft deal aimed at keeping Britain in the EU will deliver the "substantial change" he has been demanding to how it is run. But the UK prime minister said there was "detail to be worked on" before a crunch summit on 18-19 February.  The deal, which includes an "emergency brake" on migrant benefits, paves the way for the UK's EU referendum to take place as early as June.
Mr Cameron's proposed four year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrant workers could come into force immediately if the UK votes to remain in the Union.bBut it would have to be agreed by other EU nations and it would be "graduated", with more money from tax credits paid to migrants the longer they remain in the UK. It says Mr Cameron's demand to exempt Britain from the EU principle of "ever closer union" between member states would be written into a future treaty. There are also measures relating to protection for non-euro countries in the EU, a new way for member states to club together to block some new EU laws and on business regulations.
Did Cameron get changes he wanted?
Migration: The prime minister got his emergency welfare brake. But it is not clear how easy it will be to pull that brake or how long it will last, writes deputy political editor James Landale.
Benefits: While the in-work benefits of EU migrants will be curbed for four years if other countries agree, they will be gradually restored the longer they stay in the UK. EU migrants will be able to send child benefit back home, but would get a lower level if the cost of living in the country where the child is is lower. Mr Cameron had wanted to block all of it.
Sovereignty: The PM has secured a clear legal statement that the UK is not committed to further political integration and that the phrase "ever closer union" cannot be used to integrate the EU further. But it is not yet clear when or how this will be incorporated into the EU treaties. He has also got new powers for national parliaments to block new EU laws but the thresholds are pretty high before those powers can be used.
Competitiveness: The PM has got some language that commits the EU to strengthen the internal market and cut red tape. But they have been promising to do that for years.
Protecting non-euro countries: There will be a new mechanism to get the eurozone to think again about decisions that could hit the City of London.
Security: The PM has got some unexpected gains, making it easier for countries to stop terror suspects coming into the country even if the threat they pose is not imminent. There will also be a crackdown to stop people using sham marriages and other loopholes to gain access to the EU. Read more: Gavin Hewitt on what PM wanted v what he got
 Mr Cameron will visit Poland and Denmark on Friday, as he embarks on a whirlwind charm offensive to persuade the other 27 EU leaders to sign up to the Tusk package in Brussels on February 18-19. If Mr Cameron can get an agreement in February, he is expected to hold a referendum in June on whether Britain should remain in the EU. Mr Cameron has until the end of 2017 to hold a referendum. A July or September referendum remains a possibility but a repeat of last summer's migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe could make Mr Cameron's job of making the case for remaining in a reformed EU more difficult.
Will other EU nations accept it?
The BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler says: "My first instinct is that this is something everyone can work with.  "Eastern and Central European countries will continue to complain about the suspension of migrant in-work benefits.   "They are likely to argue that the EU has sold its principles down the river in an attempt to keep the UK in the EU.  "However it can be argued from this text that the so-called 'emergency brake' is not discriminatory because it's available for any country to use."
^ This agreement really just separates the UK from the rest of the EU even more than they already are. That's why I don't really understand why the Brits want to stay in the EU. The whole point of the EU was/is to have a unified Europe with everyone and everything equal. Having exemptions, etc. is not equal. The EU has had many problems over the more recent years and the UK is now one of them. ^

Female Draft

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Marines, Army: Time for women to sign up for draft"
The Marine Corps commandant and Army chief of staff told the Senate on Tuesday that they believe women should be required to sign up for the military draft now that they are being integrated into all combat positions. Marine Gen. Robert Neller and Army Gen. Mark Milley testified there should no longer be an exemption for women in the Selective Service program, while Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the opening of combat roles has raised the need for a national debate. The service leaders were called before the Senate Armed Services Committee for an oversight hearing on the ongoing effort to open about 225,000 combat military jobs — from boot camp to special operations units — to female troops. “Every American that is physically qualified should register for the draft,” said Neller, who had requested but was denied exclusions of women in some Marine combat jobs. Mabus, who has been a top supporter of women’s integration, was not so forceful with his recommendation on the draft, which has been used in the past to increase combat forces during wartime but has not been used since an all-volunteer force was created in the 1970s. Men, who had in the past filled combat roles, are still required to register with Selective Service in case a draft is again needed. But now that women will serve in all combat jobs — following an order by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December —the question of the draft is looming. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that women do not need to register because they do not fill critical combat occupation specialties, according to Sen. Claire McCaskil, D-Mo., and the question is again working through the courts. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case of National Coalition for Men vs. the Selective Service System on whether the draft should include women. McCaskil said she believes it is time for women to be part of the draft. “Part of me believes that asking women to register like we ask men to register would possible open up more recruits,” she said.
Registering with Selective Service could make them realize that a military career is an option, McCaskil said. But as the Pentagon moves forward with women’s integration, some lawmakers on the Senate panel remain skeptical of the move, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain pointed again to a Marine Corps integration study released last summer that found differences among women, specifically more injuries and lower performance in combat situations. He said it shows biological differences have implications on the battlefield.

^ I have said this for a long time and am glad that now military officials are starting to question the policy. If women are to be treated as equal with men and men have to register for the Draft then women should have to register for the Draft too. Fair is fair and equal is equal. ^

Monday, February 1, 2016

What Ceasefire?

From Yahoo:
"Russia still sending troops, weapons to east Ukraine: Poroshenko"
Ukraine's president Monday accused Russia of sending troops and weapons into the ex-Soviet state's conflict-torn east, and warned that a fragile peace deal was not being fully implemented. "It's terrible that after the Minsk agreement ... we still face serious security problems in the Donbass," Petro Poroshenko said in reference to the pro-Russian separatist region, ahead of talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Kiev and Moscow finalised a ceasefire deal brokered by France and Germany in the Belarus capital of Minsk last February, but sporadic clashes still took place on the frontline.  Poroshenko accused "Russia and its proxies" of failing to observe the ceasefire, and of some 1,200 shellings in January alone. Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are denied access to the border, he said, adding that "this is not surprising as Russia still supplies troops, heavy weapons and ammunition to Donbass over the border and does not want witnesses to these illicit activities." Merkel also noted that "unfortunately we still, as before, do not have a sustainable ceasefire". Noting that full implementation of the peace deal was a prerequisite to any easing of Western sanctions against Russia, the German leader said: "We think it is for the good of everybody if Minsk is implemented." Kiev and the West have accused Russia of supporting the insurgency and sending regular troops across the border, claims that Moscow has repeatedly denied. Over 9,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 injured in the conflict in Ukraine since April 2014, according to the United Nations.
^ Not much has changed in eastern Ukraine since the "ceasefire." People are still dying. The sanctions placed on Russia have hurt the ordinary Russian while the Government continues its fight in both eastern Ukraine and Syria. Russia denies being involved in eastern Ukraine (just like they did when they were first in the Crimea.) If Russia is really not supplying weapons and soldiers to the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine then Russia would willingly support an International Peacekeeping Mission to the region, but they fiercely "attack"  anyone who proposes that solution. I guess they don't want the world to know just how involved in the Ukraine they were and stay are. In the end, it's the Ukrainian people (ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians) that are paying the high-price for Russia's gamble in the Ukraine. ^

Free Snacks

From Yahoo (via Time):
"American Airlines is Bringing Back Something Flyers Love"
After 15 years of near austerity, U.S. airlines are restoring some small perks for passengers crammed into coach  Don't expect ample legroom or free checked bags. But fliers will find improved snacks, a larger selection of free movies and — on a few select routes — the return of free meals. Monday, American Airlines became the latest carrier to add something back. It announced the return of free snacks in the economy section and more free entertainment options on some aircraft. American, which recently merged with US Airways, hasn't offered free snacks since 2003. US Airways stripped passengers of snacks in 2008. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent recession, U.S. airlines removed almost every perk imaginable on domestic flights. Hot meals disappeared along with legroom, blankets and pillows. When Continental Airlines stopped giving out free cookies and mini bags of pretzels in 2011 — after its merger with United Airlines — it said the move would save $2.5 million a year. Since then, mergers have created four mega-carriers that control more than 80 percent of the domestic market. They started charging $25 for each checked suitcase. And more seats have been crammed into planes to maximize profits. Now the industry is making record profits. Now a bit of that wealth is trickling back to coach. This month, American will start offering Biscoff cookies or pretzels to passengers flying between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles. By April, those snacks will expand to all other domestic routes. In May, American will bring back full meal service for coach passengers between Dallas and Hawaii. "We know that we have customers who select our airline based on price and we're really excited to offer them a product that is superior to choosing an ultra-low cost carrier," Fernandez says. United recently announced the return of free snacks on its flights starting in February. Delta Air Lines — the other big legacy carrier — never removed snacks, even during bankruptcy. American is also expanding its complimentary entertainment on domestic flights with in-seat TVs. Passengers will be able to choose from up to 40 movies, 60 TV shows and 300 music albums. Delta has taken a different path, focusing more on entertainment that passengers can stream to their own devices. It now offers about 67 movies and 138 TV shows for free. "These are token investments in the passenger experience that will not cost airlines a lot of money but are small ways to make passengers a little bit happier," says Henry Harteveldt, the founder of travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group. "American and United realized: We don't let other airlines have an advantage on price, why let them have one on pretzels."
^ Whatever the reason for brining back these small comforts it is a great thing for both the airlines as well as the passengers. For years people have been treated like cattle while flying (from checking-in, through security and on-board) and now are starting to demand to be treated like people - especially since we are paying more for the "privilege." Even with the free snacks I don't plan on flying American if I can help it. I flew them to  Colorado in June 2015 and it was like being in a Third World country (and yes I have been in Third World countries.) I flew a different airline to Colorado in September 2015 and had a much nicer experience. So while snacks are a start, American (and many other airlines) need to switch the mentality of their staff (including those in customer service, gate agents and flight attendants.)  ^


I did watch "Grease Live" last night (well I DVRed it and so didn't watch it live.) I've seen the 1978 movie - my girlfriend made me watch it when it was re-released for the film's  anniversary. Also my high school gym class (which only became co-ed for volleyball and square dancing) made us dance to it one day - I guess the single, old record (and yes it was a record) for square dancing couldn't be found that day. So I knew the story and songs (not by heart as some people though.)
What caught my eye first was everyone posting before the show that they were going to watch Greece on TV. There is a difference between Greece and Grease and unless there was some big event going on in Athens there are a lot of people who need to go back to their Social Studies class.
The show itself was good. It had Julianne Hough (I had to look up most of these names) as Sandy and  Aaron Tveit was Danny. I didn't know it until someone told me a few hours ago, but I saw him when he was in "Wicked" on Broadway. Julianne and Aaron seemed to make a good couple. Vanessa Hudgens lost her father the day before the show, but you couldn't tell as she pulled everything together and went on. There were many other actors and actresses that did well too. They even had two of the original people from the movie.
I know this doesn't go in-depth as some others, but it was a good show. While it focused on a younger audience (as it is based in a high school) it did have some things - cars, racing and some little jokes-  for the older crowd. I don't know if I like this Live version over the Movie version, but it held it's own.

Equal Wall

From the DW:
"Israel approves mixed-sex prayer site at Jerusalem's Western Wall"
The Israeli government has voted to allow mixed prayer for women alongside men at Jerusalem's Western Wall, despite Orthodox objections. A women's reform group has called the move "groundbreaking." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's cabinet had reached a "creative decision" to build a new plaza for mixed gender prayer at the Jewish holy site, also known as the Wailing Wall.  The new plaza, estimated to cost around $9 million (8.3 million euros), will replace a temporary platform where for years the Women of the Wall group held monthly non-Orthodox prayers - practices regarded by ultra-Orthodox Jews as a provocation. Shira Pruce, spokeswoman for the Women of the Wall, said the historic decision was "groundbreaking for both women's rights and Jewish pluralism in Israel" after three decades of campaigning. Traditional and separated men's and women's sections will remain at the Wall's northern end, while the mixed gender section will be situated at its southern end.
^  This is a great solution. Not only does it allow men and women to pray separately if they want to, but it also allows men and women to pray together if they choose. No one looses anything they had before (except the right to pray together if they want.) ^

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Disabled Lego

From Disability Scoop:
"Lego Rolling Out Minifigure In Wheelchair"

Lego said it will include a boy in a wheelchair in a forthcoming set of its iconic minifigures. The toymaker confirmed the plan this week after a handful of websites that report on Lego revealed pictures and video of the new product taken at an industry event recently in Germany. The wheelchair will be part of a LEGO City set called “Fun in the Park” that will be available in June, said Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for LEGO Systems, Inc.  This isn’t the first time that Lego has included a wheelchair in its product line but McNally said it does mark the “first wheelchair molded at LEGO minifigure scale.” Previously, McNally indicated that the company offered buildable wheelchairs and a LEGO DUPLO wheelchair. Lego and other toymakers have been encouraged to offer products representative of people with disabilities by the U.K.-based campaign Toy Like Me. “This move by Lego is massive in terms of ending cultural marginalization, it will speak volumes to children, disabled or otherwise, the world over,” the group’s founder, Rebecca Atkinson, said in a statement.
^ Every time a major company or organization does something like this it brings a good awareness to those that are disabled as well as those that are not disabled. ^

Driverless Pods

From the BBC:
"London's first driverless cars based on Heathrow 'pods'"
The first driverless cars to be tested on the streets of London will resemble the electric passenger shuttles currently in use at Heathrow Airport. The group behind the project is currently adapting the pods for use on the roads. It has yet to unveil the exact design but confirmed that the adapted vehicles will not run on dedicated tracks. Greenwich is one of four places in the UK where driverless pods and public reaction to them are being tested. Trials will also take place in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. The £8m project is jointly funded by government agency Innovate UK and industry. The Greenwich Automated Transport Environment project - or Gateway - will see seven driverless pods tested on the pavements around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the O2 Arena is based, from July. Routes are still being worked out but are likely to include residential areas, the North Greenwich underground station and businesses around the arena. The so-called UltraPods currently in service at Heathrow carry passengers between the car park and Terminal 5. In the five years they have been in use, they have carried 1.5 million passengers and travelled 1.8 million miles (three million kilometres).  Westfield Sportscars, a British carmaker, will be responsible for manufacturing and testing of the pods. Heathrow Enterprise will design the software while a third British firm, Oxbotica, will provide mapping and other sensors to ensure the vehicles are safe. The pods will have three months of testing, first with invited users and then with the general public. Each pod can carry six passengers but will require a steward to be present at all times to press the emergency button in the case of a problem.
^ I don't like the idea of being in a driverless car when it's on a track. I really don't like the idea of being in a driverless car that's not on a track. There are too many things that could go wrong (bad weather, a malfunction, etc.) ^

Housing Vets

From the LA Times:
"VA proposes hundreds of housing units plus services for homeless vets at West L.A. campus"
Federal officials released a blueprint Thursday for transforming the long-neglected West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus into a residential community with hundreds of housing units for homeless veterans, offering some potential relief as Los Angeles struggles to deal with an increase in homelessness across the city. The plan calls for construction of 1,200 permanent supportive housing units for disabled and traumatized veterans and more than 700 short-term units for homeless veterans in the midst of some of the city’s toniest neighborhoods. Some permanent housing could open as soon as next year, officials said, perhaps by adapting some of the 388-acre property’s historic buildings. The proposed new community would mark one of the most significant efforts to create new housing for the region’s rising homeless population, which is estimated to exceed 44,000 in Los Angeles County. The proposal includes a village for women, many of whom suffered sexual trauma in the military, gardens where veterans can relax and grow their own food, theaters, sports fields and gym facilities. Hammered out in months of meetings with veterans and community members, the project is also designed to serve as a beacon for non-homeless veterans, who can use the campus for recreation, cultural events and job development, as well as medical care, officials said.  “There’s amphitheaters, recreation facilities, everything for the physical health, the mental health and the spiritual health of veterans,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald said at a news conference. “They are going to try to make a community out of it,” said Steve Peck, president of U.S. Vets, a homeless veteran service group. Mayor Eric Garcetti last year vowed to house all homeless veterans by the end of 2015, but has since pushed back that deadline to later this year. He said Thursday that the number of homeless veterans in the city had dropped to fewer than 800. A survey last year estimated that there were about 2,700. Federal legislation must be approved to enable public-private partnerships to develop the housing. The development would be built on VA land and financed with public and private funds, backed by rent vouchers from the VA. Officials said the housing and services, as well as hundreds of federal rent subsidies for veterans that have flooded Los Angeles in recent years, would reverse the area’s distinction as the homeless veteran capital of the nation.
^ I hope this housing plan goes from thought to concrete. It could serve as a model for other cities and other states on how to help both homeless and non-homeless veterans. They did so much for us and for the most part the American Government and  the American people have forgotten them and that's just not right. We need to reverse that and start doing what we should have done the minute these men and women left the military. ^

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Obamacare Deadline

From Yahoo:
"Sunday night deadline for 2016 health insurance enrollment"

 Sunday night is the sign-up deadline for subsidized private health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law. Administration officials say the deadline is 11:59 p.m. PST, or 2:59 a.m. EST Monday. That's for the 38 states using the website. is faster, more reliable and easier to use this year. But premiums have gone up. Fines are also going up for people who remain uninsured in 2016. The minimum penalty is $695 for someone who's uninsured the full year. States running their own insurance markets may have different deadlines. Maryland is giving its residents until Feb. 5, due to the effects of the recent East Coast blizzard.

^ Better hurry and get coverage or our "great" leader will get you. Many people who can't afford the required coverage and don't meet the requirements to receive government assistance in getting coverage will now be fined. I wonder if those people who liked Obamacare when it was first passed will feel the same now that the government is starting to check everyone's coverage and fine people. Obama is so worried about what his legacy will be when he leaves office (luckily we only have to wait a little less than a year.) His legacy will include crippling an already crumbling health care system by throwing millions upon millions of new people into it while doing very little to actually fixing the services and problems first. He could have done a great job and given the health care system the reform it needed and also give all Americans the coverage we need. Instead he threatened every American to take part in the crumbling system or face penalties. A smart person either flees a sinking ship or works to fix the ship so it won't sink before forcing more on-board. ^

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Military Quality

From Yahoo:
"Pentagon chief announces measures to improve quality of life for military"
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at improving the quality of life for those serving in the U.S. military, including a doubling of maternity leave for most personnel to 12 weeks. Carter said the all-volunteer military is primarily a married force, and making it more family-friendly and responsive to the changing needs of a new generation would allow it to attract and retain the best talent available. "We are not Google, we are not Walmart - we are war-fighters. But that doesn't mean we should not be challenging ourselves just like the private sector to modernize our workplace and workforce," the secretary told reporters at the Pentagon. Women make up about 15 percent of the U.S. military, and thousands of women have served alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan. But many women leave the military at mid-career phases. Carter said women are "retained at a rate 30 percent lower than men across the services. He said 52 percent of the enlisted force and 70 percent of officers are married, and there are 84,000 military-to-military marriages. "What we do to strengthen quality of life for military families today and what we do to demonstrate that we are a family-friendly force to those we want to recruit is absolutely essential to our future strength," Carter said.
The measures Carter announced included:
- Setting paid maternity leave at 12 weeks for all services, double the current allowance for most personnel except for the 18 weeks offered by the Navy since last year. Carter said he had decided on the new level after weighing the "readiness cost." The 18 weeks would apply to Navy personnel currently pregnant.
- Increasing childcare provided at military facilities to 14 hours a day.
- Establishing nearly 3,600 mother's rooms in military facilities across the country to make it easier for breastfeeding mothers.
- Allowing family members to remain at a station of choice in exchange for additional active duty service.
- Covering the cost of freezing sperm or eggs through a pilot program for active duty service members.

^ As a military brat I know full well how the military often overlooks the spouses and children. The spouses and children have to endure long periods of separation and move to a new state or country all the time and yet there are few programs geared towards them. Military spouses (mostly wives) are just expected to stay at home and gossip. Military brats are just supposed to go to school and then home. The fact that whatever the spouse or child does directly affects the soldier's career shows that there needs to be more opportunities for all of them to do something productive while the soldier serves. If the soldier knows that the Military is taking care of their family then they can focus on their dangerous tasks and protect the country. ^

Russia's Legion

From the MT:
"Inside Russia's Would-Be Foreign Legion"
Four years ago, 18-year-old Vitaly Danilenko was conscripted into the Russian military after his family returned to Siberia from Alaska. Raised in America, the young conscript spoke very little Russian, and was unable to communicate with his comrades and superiors. This state of affairs lasted a mere two weeks before Danilenko went AWOL, deserting his post — a violation of Russian law that threatens up to seven years in prison — and going on the run. According to Russian media reports, his family said he fled because of the language barrier. No one was sure what to do with the young conscript. Russian military service laws, according to one Russian media report from the time, simply did not recognize inability to communicate in Russian as grounds for dismissal. No reports exist of his arrest. Danilenko's story serves as a cautionary tale to both the Russian military and foreigners who might be interested in joining its ranks and fighting in actual combat — an opportunity highlighted by President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 2, 2015, when he signed an order allowing foreigners to enlist. According to the Defense Ministry's official guidelines for foreign recruitment, any foreigner between the ages of 18 and 30 can enlist in the Russian military under a five-year contract, provided they can present proof from a Russian institution that they speak Russian, have no criminal record, and can pass a series of professional, psychological and medical exams administered by an official recruiter in Russia. The change was aimed at formalizing working relationships between the Russian military and citizens of Central Asian and former Soviet nations where Moscow has stationed troops and maintains bases, but does not explicitly deny Americans, or citizens of any nation, from joining. Despite well-documented instances of brutal hazing in the Russian military and the relatively low levels of pay enjoyed by Russian soldiers, news of Putin's foreign legion fell on receptive ears far beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. Broadly speaking, those Westerners interested in joining up appeared to hold relatively anti-establishment views — members of an audience that Russian foreign media outlets like RT deliberately target — or echoed positions championed by politicians such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. In this way, the allure of serving in Putin's military fits within the larger narrative of the Kremlin's success in engaging with and appealing to fringe elements of Western societies — taking advantage of their diverse nature by playing to the margins, where individuals often define themselves in opposition to the majority. The Defense Ministry's comparable language requirements have not stemmed interest from those who don't even have intermediate Russian, at least anecdotally. A former British Royal Air Force serviceman named Mark, who now resides in Australia, said that despite knowing just a handful of Russian phrases, he was "willing to take the oath [of service] for the Russian government and serve it well." Though Russian military leadership may entertain foreigners in their ranks, ordinary conscripts might not. As one soldier on the social networking site VKontakte told The Moscow Times: "Foreigners have no place in the Russian army!" 

^ This shown light on a topic that I didn't really know about. I knew about the bullying, hazing, low pay, etc. in the Russian military but not that so many non-former Soviet citizens were trying to join. What I don't really understand is there shouldn't be a shortage of manpower in the Russian military since technically every man has to serve (although I know only one person who didn't get a deferment, medical certificate or take military training in college, but actually served in the Military.) I guess even with Two Draft Call-ups every year the Russian Military needs to have non-Russian citizens to fill their ranks. As for the foreigners who serve. I believe that if you serve in another countries' military (unless your country is occupied - like Poles serving in the British Military during World War 2 when Poland was occupied by the Germans) then you have shown your true allegiance. If you are willing to risk your life for another country than you probably don't love your own country and so maybe that should be reflected when you try to come "home" after your military service is done. ^

Ottawa-Tehran Ties

From the G & M:
"Canada to lift sanctions against Iran, reopen Tehran embassy"
Canada will act “in a speedy fashion” to remove economic sanctions against Iran and normalize relations, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has announced. Mr. Dion told Parliament Tuesday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has met United Nations-imposed conditions to curb its nuclear program under a landmark treaty worked out between major world powers and Tehran. The United Nations has asked the countries in question to lift the sanctions related to the treaty that is designed to prevent Iran from using nuclear weapons,” he said. “Canada will lift those sanctions.” Mr. Dion said Ottawa will also reopen the Canadian embassy in Tehran, closed by the Harper government in 2012. The Tories, he said, were wrong to cut off diplomatic ties to such an important player in the Middle East. “With the misleading approach of the former government, Canada is not in Iran,” Mr. Dion said in the House of Commons in response to a question on normalizing relations. “It is not good for the people of Iran, it is not good for the promotion of human rights, it is not good for our strategic interests in the region, it is not good for Israel. It is good for nobody. We will change this policy.” A senior official told The Globe and Mail that the government “for sure would be reopening the embassy as the Prime Minister has promised to do so for more than a year.” The official did not say when diplomatic relations would be re-established. Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, called Ottawa’s moves on Iran an “internal Canadian affair” but went on to warn that Iran “remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.” “Iran is a sponsor of international terrorism, including terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which hides more than 80,000 missiles in densely populated cities in Lebanon, targeting most of Israel,” Mr. Barak said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
^ I recently wrote about Canada and Russia so it seems a little odd to hear about Canada and Iran so soon. The Trudeau Government may be biting more than they can chew. If they can re-establish good ties with both Russia and Iran without simply giving in to them then it could be a positive move, but if they just rush through disregard reality than it will make Canada a puppet country. ^

25 Year Crackdown

From the DW:
"Lithuania prosecutes ex-Soviet soldiers over Cold War crackdown"

Lithuanian authorities have opened a mass trial against 65 former Soviet officials for their role in a deadly 1991 crackdown. Only two defendants appeared in court, with many others believed to be in Russia. The trial, which started on Wednesday, deals with the aftermath of the Soviet military push against Lithuanian independence. Moscow's show of force in Vilnius saw 14 people dead and over 1,000 more injured in January 1991. The prosecutors claim that the 65 defendants were involved in war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity and other offenses. However, only two defendants attended the beginning of the mass trial, both of them soldiers. KGB officers, members of the Communist party and military leaders are also among the accused, including the last Soviet defense minister Dmitry Yazov. Lithuanian officials intend to trial almost all of them in absentia, after Russia refused to extradite a large number of suspects. Both of the defendants who appeared before the court are Russian citizens. They pleaded not guilty, saying that they simply followed orders. "I could not make any decisions on my own," former paratrooper Genady Ivanov told journalists ahead of the hearing. Ivanov also said he handed over his resignation immediately after the crackdown, adding that he cooperated with Lithuanian investigators ahead of his trial. The ex-Soviet officer currently lives in Lithuania . The second defendant, Yuri Mel, was arrested by border police in 2014. He was allegedly inside one of the Soviet tanks on the streets of Vilnius during the raid. The fist leader of Lithuania after the Soviet break up, Vytautas Landsbergis, welcomed the start of the trial, but added that those responsible would probably not face justice. He also said "the main suspect was left out, it is Mikhail Gorbachev," referring to the last Soviet president. Gorbachev resigned less than a year after the crackdown. Hundreds of witnesses are expected to appear at the trial, which could last for several months.
^ It is now 25 years since these events took place and the USSR collapsed. This trial is more a symbol than anything else. I think the people involved should be tried by the World Court since it would show Russia and the world that it is fair (I'm not saying that Lithuania couldn't be fair, but it would hold more weight.)

Past Struggling

From Yahoo:
"Romania struggles to confront Holocaust past"
More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the suffering of survivors in Romania is often overlooked or played down, even if the country has taken some steps towards recognising what happened, historians and survivors say.  After denying its role in the Holocaust for years, in 2003 Romania set up an international commission of historians led by survivor and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel to look into the matter. Its report said between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews died during the Holocaust in territories run by the pro-Nazi Romanian regime of Ion Antonescu from 1940-1944. But historian Alexandru Climescu said understanding of this dark chapter in Romania's history was still poor and he warned against a tendency to put the blame for massacres and deportations to the Nazi death camps on German forces. He points to the case of two Romanian officers jailed after the war for their part in a notorious pogrom in Iasi, in the country's north, in which some 13,000 Jews perished in June 1941. The two men were cleared posthumously in 1998 after an unusual appeal by the state prosecutor who put the blame on the Germans, saying the two men were simply obeying orders. "Acquitting those who were nicknamed the Eichmanns of Romania... is to deny again that the deportations in the north and the Iasi pogrom itself even took place," Climescu said. Iancu Tucarman, 92, who survived the Iasi massacre -- in which Jews were gunned down by guards and suffocated in overcrowded train wagons -- also condemned the court's decision. "In my wagon, 137 Jews were put on board instead of 45, the normal capacity for a wagon transporting goods. After a nine-hour ordeal, only eight were still alive and got off the wagon," he said. "If war criminals can win their legal cases, that means their crimes didn't take place," Tucarman added. "Can the victims also ask the courts to cancel their deaths?" Alexandru Florian, director of the Elie Wiesel National Institute for Studying the Holocaust in Romania, shares his indignation. "Public institutions are sometimes contributing to the rewriting of history and they are twisting it. Those two officers will now forever remain 'innocent' from a legal point of view," Florian said. There are now around 5,700 Jews living in Romania, down from some 800,000 before World War II. And while the Holocaust survivors interviewed by AFP said they do not experience regular anti-Semitism, polls suggest more than one in 10 Romanians say they don't want anything to do with Jews. "For decades under the communist regime there was an attempt to destroy the memory," said Liviu Beris, 88, another survivor. "The mindset people have, formed under this regime, it can't change overnight." Recognising Romania's role in the Holocaust has been accompanied in recent years by more concrete measures including school lessons and laws banning Holocaust denial, Climescu told AFP. But he warned "symbolic acquittals" are still going on, giving the example of war criminals being made "citizens of honour" in some towns, streets still bearing Antonescu's name and museums showing the wartime leader in a heroic light. "The biggest danger is that people who directly contributed to the persecution and extermination of Jews might be legitimised in the public view as symbols, martyrs and heroes," he said.

^ The Nazis were not the only ones who directly participated in the Holocaust. They had immense help from regular Germans and from citizens in every part of Europe that was occupied. That fact tended to be hidden by countries for decades after 1945 so they all could be seen as "victims." The truth is well-known around the world and so it's important that countries in Europe stop lying to themselves, their citizens and the world and admit the truth. Every country has a dark past and the sign of a truly great  country is that they can admit their past mistakes and work to make sure they never happen again. Romania has started on that path, but they (like several others) still have a long way to go. ^

Bridging The Gulf

From the DW:
"The vast gulf between Russians and Ukrainians"
Russia has been sending conciliatory signals to Kyiv, but many Ukrainians are skeptical. The general consensus among Ukrainians is that a revival of the old friendship with Moscow will be difficult.  The gigantic metal rainbow still stands on the hilly bank of the Dnipro River in Kyiv. Built during the Soviet era, the monument is a reminder of the "union of Ukraine with Russia" in 1654, when Ukrainian Cossacks sought protection from the czar in Moscow. Since the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the war in eastern Ukraine, the monument pays tribute to something that no longer exists: friendship between the two countries. The sculpture shows solidarity between a Russian and a Ukrainian. Today, the base of the monument is adorned by obscene words directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Serhiy Zelowalnik would like to have the arch demolished. "What kind of a friendship is it, when Russian troops have come here with tanks," defiantly states the former chief architect of the Ukrainian capital in an interview with DW in September 2015. However, authorities in Kyiv have probably decided that the monument – "the yoke" as the people derisively refer to it – should stay there. In the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, however, a column symbolizing Russian-Ukrainian friendship was dismantled in November. Yet the Russian side has been increasingly sending signals of reconciliation to Kyiv. "In the end, normal relations between our countries will certainly be restored," said Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council and Putin confidante, on Tuesday in a newspaper interview. Similar messages were also heard from the Kremlin and from the Russian foreign ministry. "Moscow is ready for a constructive dialogue with Kyiv." In the core issues, however, Russia remains adamant: the status of Crimea is not negotiable. At the end of December a "page of friendship" went online in Russia. The URL already suggests that Russians and Ukrainians are one people ( and should thus put conflicts aside. The page portrays itself as a platform "without politics and propaganda" and promotes a direct dialogue with citizens. It is unclear who is behind the project – there is no site notice on the website.  Russian embassies in Ukraine still encounter great suspicion. "What friendship with Russia?" criticized a popular Ukrainian blogger at the beginning of January. "Look at our men who have lost arms and legs in this war! Stop looking at Russia as a 'brother nation'." Quite a few people in Ukraine agree with the young Kyiv poet, Anastasia Dmytruk. Her poem addressing Russians after the Crimean annexation called "We will never be brothers" is still very popular in the country. The video of Dmytruk reciting the poem has been viewed on YouTube over six million times. Volodymyr Paniotto does not believe that the Ukrainians will soon love the Russians again. "This is a very difficult process," said the director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KMIS). Too much damage has been done. According to his institute's survey, the Ukrainians' positive attitude toward Russia declined dramatically after the annexation of Crimea: from 78 percent in February 2014 to 30 percent in May 2015. At first glance it may seem all the more surprising that the negative attitude towards the other side in Russia is even more pronounced than in Ukraine. In a recent survey conducted by Moscow's Levada Center, 59 percent of Russians said their perception of Ukraine is negative. Only 27 percent disagreed. The reason for this was Russian propaganda against Ukraine and the people who live there, says Lev Gudkov, head of the center. The Moscow sociologist views recent Russian overtures to Ukraine as a tactical maneuver. "I believe that these signals are a game, an attempt to soften the West's sanctions and the pressure on Russia," says Gudkov, "it does not help resolve the confict with Ukraine."

^ It took years and sometimes decades for Europeans to trust the Germans after World War 2, but now the majority are part of the European Union, which Germany basically runs, and things seem to have turned out well. It took about 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union for countries in Eastern Europe that was once dominated and occupied by the Soviets to start to trust Russia (the sole successor of the USSR) and now all that has gone downhill with the Crimea Crisis and the Donbass War. The Ukraine has had to overcome its Soviet history, the effects of Chernobyl, several violent demonstrations, and invasion/occupation and annexation of part of their territory as well as a war in the eastern part of their country while at the same time trying to reform their laws, end corruption, improve their economy and enhance bilateral ties with other countries. Do I believe that Russia and the Ukraine will improve their countries' ties? If Russia returns the Crimea and stops supporting the ethnic Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine then I think the Ukrainians will be willing to open themselves back to things Russian. Until that happens I only see the Ukraine moving further out of the "Russian sphere of influence" and towards the EU/US. That would make Russia even more paranoid than they already are, but right now it's the Ukraine's only chance of survival since they are a small country trying to keep their independence while one of the largest countries in the world attacks them. The ball is now in Russia's court. They can easily end all of this violence and insecurity if they really wanted to. ^

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

WWI Memorial

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Top WWI memorial design: 'The Weight of Sacrifice'"
The winning design for a World War I memorial, announced Tuesday, pays tribute to freedom gained through sacrifice, combining classic and modern elements. “The Weight of Sacrifice” by Chicago architect Joe Weishaar and New York sculptor Sabin Howard was one of five finalists in a design competition that had nearly 350 submissions. Each of the finalists won a $25,000 prize and were linked with professional architectural firms to develop their concepts. The design, to be built in Pershing Park in downtown DC, features a raised lawn and statues surrounded by bronze walls with bas-relief sculpture. A description of the design concept reads in part: “Each cubic foot of the memorial represents an American soldier lost in the war; 116,516 in all. Upon this unified mass spreads a verdant lawn. This is a space for freedom built upon the great weight of sacrifice.” The concept has to be approved, and changes are expected during that process. If the design passes all regulatory and review hurdles, the monument should be in place by Nov. 11, 2018, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which initially marked the close of WWI but now is referred to as Veterans Day in the United States.
 ^ It is long over-due. We have national memorials to World War 2, Korea and Vietnam, but not a national memorial to World War 1. I personally like the design of this memorial and hope it gets approved and built quickly. ^