Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mandating Day Care

From the DW:
"Germany rules parents with no day care options can sue cities for lost earnings"

Germany's highest court has decided that muncipalities are the responsible party for the lack of legally-mandated day care spots for every child. The ruling comes after three mothers sued for lost earnings.  Germany's Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that parents may sue their town for lost earnings if there are no places for their child in day care facilities. The decision comes after a 2013 law guaranteeing a right to free care for German children above the age of one, a decision which left the question of responsibility shifting between Berlin, regional governments, and municipalities. The court in Karlsruhe was answering a suit brought forward by three mothers from Leipzig who said that they could not return to work after the births of their children in 2013 and 2014 because no nurseries had free places for them. They charged that the authorities had neglected the duties given to them by the 2013 statute. "This law is meant to improve the compatibility of work and family," said Chief Justice Ulrich Herrmann. The judge added the caveat that "the municipality cannot cite general financial bottlenecks" as a reason for lacking funds to construct kindergartens, as they are provided with money to this end from both the federal and state governments. However, they may not be held responsible if they have made reasonable efforts to recruit the requisite amount of personnel for the facilities but have been unable to do so. The current suit now goes back to the regional court in Dresden to address these issues and just how much the city of Leipzig is liable to the three plaintiffs. The mothers have asked for between 2,200 euros ($2,412) and 7,330 euros ($8,034) in lost earnings.

^ This is one reason why Germany and Europe is weakening. If you can't afford day care for your child than maybe you shouldn't have a child until you can. You can easily find out beforehand what child care options are in your area and if you are going to be responsible for a child for the next 18 years than you should be held completely responsible for them. The government doesn't force you to have children (or not to have children) so why should they be forced to take care of your children when you don't? People need to stop suing about everything because they are too lazy or too stupid to do things for themselves. They need to put their "big boy/girl pants on" and start taking responsibility for their own actions. ^

Bullying Craze

I know the latest "craze" is to call everyone a bully (mostly because they don't believe the same thing as you), but this trend will go the same way as the witch trials of the 1600s, the Communist scare of the 1930s and 1950s and the Political Correctness Craze of the 1990s. Until then people should relax and stop being so paranoid. Not everyone is a bully out to get you (and if you think they are then maybe you need to be in a padded room.) Also crying "bully" on everyone makes it more difficult to stop real bullies (like crying "wolf" when there isn't one.)

Casting Diversity

From Disability Scoop:
"CBS Launches Casting Diversity Initiative"

CBS is launching a major casting initiative designed to discover new performers from across the country and increase the pool of diverse talent for its current dramas and upcoming dramatic pilots. The announcement comes a little more than two months after the network came under fire for a fall lineup that included six new series all featuring white male leads. CBS has repeatedly been criticized for its lack of progress on the multiculturalism front — few of its programs in the last decade have featured a minority in a leading role, and it is the only broadcast network not to have a series built around a family of color. CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller said at that time that diversity has been and is a priority of the network. In announcing the new initiative, Geller said the objective is to address and correct those concerns by inviting performers who are not based in New York or Los Angeles to try out for CBS shows.  “We’re timing this initiative to pilot season,” he said. “The long-term goal is to broaden our already increasing pool of diverse talent.” The initiative will also serve as a counterpart to CBS’ annual Comedy Sketch Showcase, in which minority, LGBTQ and differently abled talent seeking representation perform for agents, managers and network executives. Performers who have been discovered through that showcase include Justin Hires (“MacGyver”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”). Through Oct. 28, actors 18 and older will be able to submit a self-taped monologue via According to the announcement, executives say applicants will be accepted from groups “that have traditionally been under-represented, including African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities. Actors should possess strong dramatic talent and a technical skill set.” Casting honchos will review all online submissions and make selections for regional callback auditions in Atlanta (Nov. 7, 8 and 9), Austin, Texas (Nov. 3 and 4), Chicago (Nov. 2, 3 and 4), Miami (Nov. 10 and 11) and San Francisco (Nov. 10 and 11). Those chosen for the callbacks will rehearse with casting executives and be put on tape. Following those regional casting sessions, 14-16 actors will be selected to travel to Los Angeles for a network screen test that will be used for casting opportunities for current series, pilot season and in the future. Geller added that producers and writers in the past months have pitched shows where “diversity is baked into the concept. That of course is step one in how we become more diverse, if it’s organic.” He also touted the diversity of the network’s reality slate, which includes the upcoming series “Hunted,” in which contestants participate in a nationwide manhunt and are challenged to run from some of the world’s most highly skilled investigators.

^ Hopefully this is more than a publicity stunt to gain attention and will actually result in real change on the screen. ^

Measurable Snow

From the Weather Channel:
"Higher-Elevation Snow Ahead in the Northeast After Record-Warm Temperatures"

The record warmth of this week will be a distant memory as snow is expected in some of the higher elevations of the Northeast this weekend. After very warm temperatures for mid-October, a pattern change is beginning to take place, that will usher in more fall-like temperatures. It may even feel more like winter to some. For those who prefer a warm, toasty fire to air conditioning, good news is ahead as a pattern change is on the way. Temperatures will remain warm for this time of year through Friday in the Northeast, but temperatures will not be as warm as earlier this week. By this weekend, temperatures will drop back to closer to average. Temperatures will even be slightly below average in spots, beginning Friday. Lows will be up to 10 degrees colder than average into next week.  These changes are courtesy of an upper-level trough that will move across the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region late this week. An area of low pressure, associated with this trough, will move through the Northeast, slowly moving northeastward into Canada this weekend. This area of low pressure will deepen and northwesterly winds will allow cold air to surge southward. This will set the stage for the possibility of some snow in the higher elevations. Moisture from a possible tropical system could be drawn northward, which may enhance precipitation in the Northeast. As this system slowly exits the region, some rain and snow showers may linger in the mountains through this weekend.  The first chance for snow showers will be in the Adirondacks and Catskills of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire on Saturday. Lake-effect rain showers are possible with this system as well, with the potential for a dusting of snow for the Tug Hill Plateau, especially Saturday night. Some locally heavy snow is even possible over the higher summits of the Adirondacks and Green Mountains through Sunday morning. Most areas, however, will see cold rain showers.  Sunday, additional light snow showers or flurries may be seen over the Adirondacks and into northern New England. A few snowflakes may linger into Sunday night and Monday in far northern New England and northern New York. Windy conditions are also expected this weekend, which could leave to some power outages given the risk of wet snow and leaves still on trees.  High pressure is then expected to build across the region early next week, bringing drier weather and temperatures that likely will remain cool.

^ While we have already had snow flurries this could be our first measurable snow of the snow. It wouldn't be such a big deal (we live in the mountains) if it hadn't been in the 80s and sunny just yesterday. ^


From the DW:
"What is behind the right-wing 'Reichsbürger' movement?"

They are radical and violent. In recent years more and more people identifying themselves as Reichsbürger have drawn the attention of authorities. Who are they, and what kind of danger do they pose?  They think Germany is simply an administrative construct still occupied by the Western powers. For them, the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist. We are talking about so-called "Reichsbürger," which translates as "Citizens of the Reich," people who swamp German authorities with lawsuits and are not averse to violence. The Reichsbürger movement is made up of a number of small groups and individuals - mainly in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria. They do not accept the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany nor any of its government authorities. They refuse to pay taxes and have declared their own small "national territories," which they call the "Second German Empire," the "Free State of Prussia" or the "Principality of Germania." Members of these groups print passports and driver's licenses for their supposed states. They even produce T-shirts and flags for advertising purposes. Reichsbürger simply ignore the fact that such activity is illegal and not recognized by any German authority. They proudly announce their intention to "carry on the fight against the Federal Republic of Germany" on their websites.  State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution estimate that there are only a few hundred Reichsbürger in Germany. It is thought that some 150 to 200 are in Brandenburg. Most are male, on average they are over 50 years old and they tend to come from socially disadvantaged segments of society. Many members ascribe to right-wing populist, anti-Semitic and Nazi ideologies. A district court judge in Saxony-Anhalt has described them as "conspiracy theorists" and "malcontents." The growing radicalization of this group of people, however, is becoming a problem. That radicalization often begins with floods of motions and objections filed against court orders and payment demands issued by local authorities. Regardless of content, authorities are required to process every properly filed formal request they receive.  Mayors from a number of communities have protested that, beyond having to deal with so much senseless work, they have also been attacked by Reichsbürger, verbally and even physically. Members often film such attacks and then post them online. In Bavaria, a group of Reichsbürger actually stormed into a courtroom trial and stole documents from the judge's bench. Workers at Wittenburg city hall in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were given security training to deal with such attacks. All sharp instruments have since been removed from their desks and the building's doors are now locked. Brandenburg has tested emergency call systems for its tax offices. Meanwhile, the Brandenburg Institute for Local Community Advice has compiled a comprehensive guidebook for administrators seeking help on the issue. One of their suggestions: Don't attempt to counsel!  Of late, Reichsbürger have increasingly gained attention for committing violent acts. This spring a bailiff was threatened with a knife. Police also had to assist in a forced eviction this fall in Saxony-Anhalt to hinder an armed confrontation. In Reuden, Saxony-Anhalt a Reichsbürger fired upon security forces at his "State of Ur" property. Police have found large caches of weapons and ammunition during house searches, too. And Reichsbürger members are continuing to arm themselves. In Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia a group from the "Free State of Prussia" attempted to build up its own militia by smuggling in arms from outside the country. The "German Police Aid Organization" in Meissen, Saxony, is closely related to the Reichsbürger regarding the idea of creating an independent protection force. Police officers and bailiffs have fallen prey to the group. The district court has reacted by sentencing members of the group to jail terms of up to two-and-a-half years for the criminal offenses of extortion, deprivation of liberty and battery.   On Wednesday, a law enforcement officer was critically wounded during a raid on a 49-year-old Reichsbürger man's apartment in Georgesgmünd, Bavaria. Authorities said the man, a hunter, had a permit for his weapons but that he had since been deemed unfit to possess them. The raid, carried out by members of a special task force unit and police officers, was initiated to confiscate the firearms. Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Hermann announced that he will closely monitor Reichsbürger in the future.

^ Germany hasn't done enough to stop these so-called Reichbuergers over the decades. They are Neo-Nazis (they only recognize the 1937 Germany which was then under the Nazi dictatorship.) I lived in Germany and was always told that they had strict laws about the Nazis and Neo-Nazis, but clearly they don't or they don't enforce them that well since they are a major threat. These Neo-Nazis are all over the former East Germany  -which isn't surprising since the people there live in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945 and then Communist East Germany from 1945-1990 (57 years of direct and strict dictatorships.) With Germany accepting lots of refugees and the EU weakening these Neo-Nazi groups are only going to get stronger and something needs to be done right now to stop them. I know many Europeans live in a world of "lemon drops and moon beams" and think nothing bad can happen to them, but the recent attacks from IS and the growing Neo-Nazis show that isn't true. You have to actually do something other than hold rallies and hope things change. Hopefully the Germans and the rest of Europe can stop this threat before more violence comes. ^ürger-movement/a-36094740

Turing Law

From the BBC:
"'Alan Turing law': Thousands of gay men to be pardoned"

Gay and bisexual men convicted of now-abolished sexual offences in England and Wales are to receive posthumous pardons, the government has announced. Thousands of living men convicted over consensual same-sex relationships will also be eligible for the pardon. Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey, who proposed the amendment to the Policing and Crimes Bill, said it was "momentous". It follows the pardoning of World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing for gross indecency in 2013. Under the amendment - dubbed "Turing law" - deceased people who were convicted of sexual acts that are no longer deemed criminal will receive an automatic pardon.  Anyone living who has been convicted of such offences could already apply through the Home Office to have the offence wiped from their criminal records.  But now, if the Home Office agrees that the offence is no longer an offence under current law, they will automatically be pardoned. Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said it was "hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today". Lord Sharkey said he understood why some people may not want a pardon, or may "feel that it's wrong". But, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, "a pardon is probably the best way of acknowledging the real harm done by the unjust and cruel homophobic laws, which thankfully we've now repealed. And I do hope that a lot of people will feel exactly the same way". He said of the 65,000 men convicted under the laws, 15,000 are still alive.  George Montague was convicted in 1974 of gross indecency with a man. He says he wants an apology - not a pardon. "To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he told BBC Newsnight. "I think it was wrong to give Alan Turing - one of the heroes of my life - a pardon.  "What was he guilty of? He was guilty of the same as what they called me guilty of - being born only able to fall in love with another man." He added: "If I get an apology, I will not need a pardon." He added that there "never should have been an offence of gross indecency". "It didn't apply to heterosexuals. Heterosexuals could do what they liked, in the doorways, in passageways, the back of their car. "It only applied to gay men. That's not right, surely?"  The Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 in England and Wales, in 1967. The law was not changed in Scotland until 1980, or in Northern Ireland until 1982. Announcing the new plan, Mr Gyimah said the government would support Lord Sharkey's amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill - which would apply to England and Wales, but not Scotland and Northern Ireland as the Justice Department does not cover devolved administrations.  In 2013, the posthumous royal pardoning of Turing led to calls for wider pardons, and the launch of a petition in 2015. The petition gathered almost 640,000 signatories, including the actors Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Turing in the film about the enigma code, The Imitation Game. The charity Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said it has begun discussions with the Scottish government to allow similar procedures to be introduced in Scotland.  In Northern Ireland, the Rainbow Project, also a charity and campaign group, met with the justice minister in August to discuss the law around historical convictions.  Turing, the Bletchley Park code-breaker, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man. He was later chemically castrated and died in 1954 after poisoning himself with cyanide. His pardon, almost 60 years later, followed a Private Member's Bill introduced by Lord Sharkey. The Lib Dem peer said it was "a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK".  He said: "It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during the coalition."  Turing's great niece Rachel Barnes said the moment Turing's family heard he was to receive a pardon was "absolutely tremendous". She told the Today programme: "Alan Turing just so, so deserves this. To think that this is the man who cracked the enigma code and saved countless of millions of lives during World War Two and to think of the treatments that he went through at the hands of the government in 1952 is still unbelievable to us." She said that the family has always highlighted his achievements rather than the fact he was a gay man. She added: "Because we shouldn't be thinking about his sexuality, we should really be focusing on the successes of this incredible man in history who has done so much for the country and for the world".

^ I don't understand why men convicted of homosexuality who are now dead will automatically be pardoned and why those still living have to apply - it should also be automatic. ^

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Real Flight Prices

From USA Today:
"DOT mulls forcing airlines to include fees in fares. Again."

As Transportation Department officials debate to force airlines to include fees for bags and seat assignments in fares, they already have hundreds of comments to consider. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Tuesday the department would conduct a rule-making to “explore” a requirement for all-in-one pricing that includes fees for baggage, seat assignment, change and cancellation of tickets. The goal would be to reduce piecemeal pricing for ancillary fees, which the industry calls unbundling, because it frustrates travelers by making it tougher to compare fares.  But the department already collected more than 750 comments for a rule-making posted in May 2014 governing ancillary fees. “This will be a step backwards from two earlier rule-makings,” said Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group. “If DOT is planning on starting from scratch, it will be an enormous retreat from overall airline pricing transparency.” Airlines contend that Congress deregulated the industry in 1978 and the department should allow competition without dictating how to market fares. For example, Southwest Airlines promotes its lack of bag fees, but other airlines charge a variety of fees depending on loyalty and other factors. The debate promises to remain contentious. In the 2014 rulemaking, travelers said the growth of fees and proliferation of choices has made buying tickets too difficult. For example, last year airlines collected $3.8 billion in bag fees and $3 billion in change and cancellation fees. “The airlines are difficult enough to navigate with the different boarding, seating, baggage, meals, by nickel-and-diming of the consumers, it will be almost impossible to find a flight and compare the final price,” said Joan Horn of Walkersville, Md. “Displaying all fees as part of the ticket price levels the playing field and makes it much easier for consumers to compare apples to apples,” said Matthew Kirkland of Watkinsville, Ga. In addition, the department was studying in 2014 whether to force airlines to charge the fees at the same time as the airfare, under a policy called “transactability.” The U.S. Travel Association said nearly half (45%) of the 1,031 travelers surveyed found it difficult to budget for travel because of fees and that one-fourth faced a fee at the airport they didn’t anticipate.

^ Of course the airlines are fighting this tooth-and-nail since they have swindled the flying public since 2001. Passengers have to pay for food, blankets, bags, seats, etc. and get treated as cattle through check-in, security and on-board (not to mention if there are delays at the terminal or on the plane.) Even when you pay for your bags and they get lost by the airline they keep the money rather than refund it. Airlines should display all their prices up-right to potential passengers as a sign of good-faith and that they actually want us rather than being forced to be a law. The fact that the airlines don't want to says a lot about them and how they view us "cattle." ^

75: German Deportations

From the DW:
"Commemoration marks 75 years since the start of Jewish deportations by the Nazis"

75 years ago, the Nazis began deporting Jews to death camps. The infamous Track 17 at Berlin's Grunewald station was the departure point. Contemporary witness, Horst Selbiger, shares his memories of the "shipments."  Horst Selbiger had prepared his speech well for the invited guests at the commemoration of the first deportations on October 19. Selbiger, now 88 years old, knew personally many of the people who were sent to their deaths from Track 17. There were many of his relatives and also close friends. He and his parents were lucky. They were not deported and survived.
Selbiger recently traveled from Berlin to the final destination of the transports to the East: the Polish city of Lodz. "And then all these things surfaced," explains Selbiger from his small, tidy kitchen in a high-rise apartment block. "It is unbelievable the brutality with which the Nazis housed and then gassed totally innocent people." In official Nazi documents the deportation is euphemistically referred to as a "resettlement" or "evacuation" or people being "deposited." In reality, people were taken with the German state railway to their deaths in ghettos, labor camps or concentration camps. At first they were transported in decommissioned carriages; later they were taken in cattle cars.  The first deportation left Track 17 of Berlin's Grunewald station on the 18th October 1941. 1089 children, women and men were taken by force to Lodz. By the end, some 50,000 Jews from Berlin were deported; victims of the Nazi "Reign of Terror." Today, these railway platforms are memorials situated on the edge of the capital. This is where Horst Selbiger will be holding his speech. "For me, Track 17 is the train station from where all the suffering began. Us kids were smarter than the grown ups. We knew by 1941 that the Jews were being exterminated like vermin." The adults were led to believe otherwise, but Selbiger, who was 13 at the time, as well as his classmates, had already been observing for a long time that the Jews were being carted off.  Horst Selbiger was born in Berlin in 1928. His mother was not Jewish, but due to the wishes of his Jewish father he was raised devoutly. He went to a Jewish school, until it was closed down. From 1942 he had to do forced labor. In February 1943 he was arrested, and he and his parents only narrowly escaped being deported to Auschwitz. After this, followed the years in East Germany. Selbiger wanted to help rebuild the country, but after being professionally disqualified and refused membership in the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), he moved to the West. But here he also found it difficult, saw how "fascism in the West was indestructible." In his mid 40s, with the scars to his body and soul, he took early retirement. He was simply exhausted from all he had been through.  For years, Selbiger has offered himself as a contemporary witness of the Nazi era, giving lectures and even helping to found the self-help association, "Child Survivors Deutschland – Surviving children of the Holocaust." In explaining why he goes to such efforts to prevent history from being forgotten, he says: "61 people with the name Selbiger were deported and killed. One of them was my first great love. And all these people call out to me: tell our story!" And he intends to do this for as long as he can. He will also be doing this when he holds his speech and remembers the horrors of Track 17 on the 75th anniversary of the first deportations from Berlin. At the end of our interview he says, "If I could hold a class reunion, then it would be held on Track 17," the station in Berlin Grunewald from where so many of his Jewish classmates were deported – taken by force by the Nazis to face certain death.

^ Any German who was 18 or older in 1945 and claims to not know what was happening to the Jews or any of the other groups the Nazis arrested is an out-right liar. They use the phrase "We didn't know" to make themselves feel better and to make themselves out to be the victims too. You can't trust those kind of people. The Germans started deporting full-Jews to the ghettos and death camps from Germany and Austria in 1941 (after 8 years of open discrimination and violence at home) and started deporting half-Jews and Jews married to non-Jews in 1943. From 1933 to 1943 the majority of Germans said nothing in protest and many openly participated in the attacks. The few times the German public did openly protest the attacks, deportations and killings (ie. the T 4 program where the handicapped where murdered and the Rosenstrasse protests where non-Jewish spouses demonstrated for their arrested Jewish relatives) the Nazis backed-down. Had the German public done more then millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children would have survived. Instead they did nothing or openly participated and then after the war the whole country got amnesia over-night that has lasted 7 decades. It may have been 75 years since the deportations began, but no amount of time passed can negate what the Germans at the time did and how the majority literally got away with murder even to this day. ^

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Maldives Is Out

From the BBC:
"Maldives leaves Commonwealth amid democracy row"

The Maldives has withdrawn from the Commonwealth, accusing it of interfering in domestic affairs and "unfair and unjust" treatment. The Commonwealth had warned the Maldives of possible suspension if it failed to show progress on democracy. It has faced questions over freedom of speech, the detention of opponents and the independence of the judiciary. The Indian Ocean nation became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. The Maldives foreign ministry said in a statement: "The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable. "Regrettably, the Commonwealth has not recognised progress and achievements that the Maldives accomplished in cultivating a culture of democracy in the country and in building and strengthening democratic institutions." It said that President Abdulla Yameen's government had introduced a raft of measures promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law.  It said the Commonwealth had "sought to become an active participant in the domestic political discourse in the Maldives, which is contrary to the principles of the charters of the UN and the Commonwealth". The Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland said in a statement she was saddened by the Maldives' decision to leave.
She added: "We hope that this will be a temporary separation and that Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course." One of the key issues for the Commonwealth was the detention of a number of political leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed. Anti-government protesters have expressed fears they could lose freedoms gained since the first multi-party elections in 2008. August saw a strict defamation law come into force, with stiff punishments for comments or actions considered insulting to Islam or which "contradict general social norms", and tighter restrictions on demonstrations. The death penalty is also being reintroduced, after a 60-year unofficial moratorium. In the past the Commonwealth has suspended some members, including Pakistan, Fiji, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, over government oppression or violence toward citizens.  No country has formally been expelled but some have withdrawn, including Zimbabwe in 2003 and most recently The Gambia in 2013. The Maldives is a largely Sunni Muslim nation made up of 1,192 individual islands. It is renowned as a holiday destination for its beaches and luxury resorts.

^ I no very little about the Maldives - except what a few Russian friends have told me about it after vacationing there - but I do know a lot about the Commonwealth and know that it could and should do a lot more than it currently has with its member states. I am a Canadian citizen and so also a Commonwealth citizen and as such see the Commonwealth having great potential, but not seizing that potential. It is a mish-mosh of countries around the world (all but two former British colonies) and that British legacy seems to be the only thing "uniting" the Commonwealth. There are the Commonwealth Realm countries that have the same monarch (ie. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of the UK, Queen of Canada, etc.) but that is where the similarities seem to end. Some people have compared the Commonwealth of Nations with the European Union, but the Commonwealth doesn't have freedom of movement, free trade, a common currency, etc. The vast majority of the Commonwealth is part of the Third World with places like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand part of the First World and so having free trade and immigration wouldn't be a good possibility right now. It will be interesting to see what the UK (who basically runs the Commonwealth) does - if anything - once they leave the EU. ^

Rum It Up

From the BBC:
"US-Cuba ties: Rules eased on cigars and rum"

American travellers to Cuba will now be able to bring back far more rum and cigars, after the Obama administration announced new trade measures. The previous $100 (£82) limit has been lifted, meaning most visitors could bring home up to 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. The latest measures reflect continuing moves by the former Cold War rivals to normalise relations after 53 years.  President Barack Obama paid a historic visit to Cuba in March. The latest raft of measures are in an administrative order by the president, meaning he can sidestep the Republican-controlled Congress. Analysts say he wants to cement the new trade relations before he leaves office in January.
Other measures in the latest batch include:
  • lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the nations
  • easing rules on joint medical research
  • allowing export to Cuba of some US goods sold online
  • allowing US firms to improve some Cuban infrastructure
  • allowing Cuban pharmaceutical firms to apply for US approval
But the cigar and rum measures will be the most beneficial for Cuba. Given the high value of some cigars in particular, the Cuban government could benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  Mr Obama said in a statement: "Challenges remain - and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights - but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values." More than 160,000 Americans went to Cuba in 2015 and the figure could double this year. In July, Cuba and the United States formally re-established relations.

^ It seems that Obama is just getting himself ready to retire to Havana this January and wants to make sure he can have all the cigars and rum he wants. It seems that so far all this re-establishing of relations has been one-sided with the US giving Cuba everything. Regular Americans still can't go to Cuba without official US permission and I don't understand why anyone would want to. I would have liked to have gone to the Soviet Union before it collapsed, but that is different than Cuba. The USSR was a world Super Power and I am a Russophile. Cuba is just a sinking communist country that is struggling on with rafts (get the joke there) until communism there falls. I don't get what all the hype is about. If I go back to the Caribbean I would want to go to Bermuda, Montserrat or back to the Bahamas - definitely not Cuba. ^

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Disabled-Friendly Cities

From Disability Scoop:
"Cities Named Most Disability-Friendly"

A new analysis is ranking the nation’s most populated cities based on how desirable they are for people with disabilities. Overland Park, Kan. is number one on the list followed by Scottsdale, Ariz. and Lincoln, Neb. Two other Arizona cities — Gilbert and Peoria — round out the top five. The listing comes from the personal finance website WalletHub, which assessed 25 factors ranging from availability of doctors to employment rates and park accessibility, in order to compile the ranking of 150 locales across the country. WalletHub said its ranking is designed to “determine the most disability-friendly locations in America” by looking at a cross-section of economic factors, quality of life issues and access to health care for those with disabilities.Extra consideration was given to workforce participation and pay for individuals with disabilities in each city as well as the number of people within this population living in poverty. One factor that significantly boosted Overland Park’s standing: the city had the highest median earnings for people with disabilities at $46,345, WalletHub said. Coming in at the bottom of the list are Worcester, Mass., Anchorage, Alaska and Providence, R.I.

^ I have never heard of the places in Kansas or Arizona so can't really say anything about them other than the fact that since I haven't heard of them they are most-likely very small and it surprises me that small towns would rank at the top of the list. I live in a small town and it is anything but disabled-friendly. I have been to Worcester, Anchorage and Providence and am not surprised that Worcester and Anchorage are on the bottom -- they weren't that nice for non-disabled people so I can imagine how the disabled would view it. I am a little surprised at Providence because I thought it was pretty nice. ^

France's Guard

From the DW:
"France creates National Guard to combat terror threat"

The security initiative is expected to develop a force of 84,000 people by 2018. It will pool together the police and armed forces, as well as volunteers who wish to serve their country.  France's government on Wednesday approved the creation of a National Guard to bolster the country's security against potential terrorist threats.  The Guard is expected to reach 84,000 people by 2018 and will relieve traditional security forces. France's police and military have been stretched following a series of devastating terror attacks across the country in the last two years. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve presented the decree to the cabinet during its weekly meeting on Wednesday, where it was approved. The French National Guard will not be a completely new initiative. Rather, it will bring together personnel from the police, gendarmerie and armed forces under the National Guard umbrella – currently totaling around 63,000 reservists. The decree also borrows from the US National Guard as it aims to encourage citizens to get involved and serve their country. A dedicated government-backed website hopes to win over a number of new volunteers.  French President Francois Hollande first proposed the creation of a French National Guard following the Islamist terror attacks in Paris on November 13, which killed 130 people. The plans were pushed ahead and concretized following the attack in Nice on July 14, which left 86 people dead. Since the Nice attack, approximately 5,500 police and military staff have been patrolling the streets of major French cities. That number is expected to rise to around 10,000 with the deployment of a National Guard. Tasks will vary from patrolling major cities, to securing major sports and celebratory events, to even working in military offices.

^ Hopefully this will help the French to stop the attacks before they happen. ^

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Paris Drug Room

From the BBC:
"France's first drug room for addicts to inject opens in Paris"

A Paris hospital is now housing France's first "shooting gallery" - a safe place where drug addicts can inject under medical supervision. The controversial drug room was opened by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Health Minister Marisol Touraine on Tuesday. It is near the Gare du Nord, a busy station where drug crime is common. The users will exchange hard drugs like heroin and crack for substitutes, along with sterile injection kits. Critics fear it could fuel drug abuse. Ms Touraine said France had become the tenth country to set up drug rooms, which Switzerland pioneered in 1986. There are plans to open two more - in Strasbourg, eastern France, and Bordeaux in the south-west. "This is a very important moment in the battle against the blight of addiction," Ms Touraine said.  One of the chief arguments for such places is that they put addicts - often poor, marginalised and sick - in touch with medics and social workers, who can help them. Consuming substitute drugs in a clean environment also reduces the risk that addicts face from contaminated hard drugs bought from criminal dealers. The Paris facility is in the Lariboisiere Hospital, and has a separate entrance. It will formally open its doors to addicts on Friday, and about 200 are expected there daily. The addicts will have to register, but are not obliged to give their real name, and will not be pursued by police for going there. The facility has a dozen cubicles affording some privacy to addicts when they inject. It is run by Gaia, an association that helps to treat addicts, and the annual running cost is put at €1.2m (£1.1m; $1.3m).  A leading Paris politician in the centre-right Republicans party, Philippe Goujon, is among the opponents who fear the initiative will undermine efforts to stop the hard drugs trade. "We're moving from a policy of risk reduction to a policy of making drugs an everyday, legitimate thing. The state is saying 'you can't take drugs, but we'll help you to do so anyway," he told the daily Le Figaro (in French). According to French health ministry data from 2011, more than 10% of drug abusers in France have HIV/Aids and more than 40% are infected with hepatitis C. Dirty needles and unprotected sex are the main routes for virus transmission. Drug rooms exist officially in several European countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Spain, as well as in Canada and Australia.

^ If a country allows these drug rooms than they should just make all drugs legal since they already are sanctioning its usage. I don't believe in things like this as it doesn't help the drug problem, but merely makes it easier for people to do them. ^

Yom Kippur

Monday, October 10, 2016

175 Pay

From the DW:
"Germany to pay convicted gays 30 million euros - media"

Germany is to compensate more than 50 thousand men who were jailed for their sexual orientation under a historic law. Paragraph 175 continued to be applied until the late 1960s.  The plans, which will see 30 million euros ($33.6 million) set aside to compensate homosexuals convicted under a historic law for their sexual preferences, were revealed by the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) on Saturday. Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas of the Social Democrats (SPD) told the paper that compensation would "depend on concrete individual cases," taking sentence duration into consideration.  A draft law, set to be formally announced this month, will provide for "relatively uncomplicated" individual claims, Maas said. It also allows for collective compensation. Convicted homosexuals would also have their names cleared. The minister told "SZ" that he expects more than five thousand men to have a personal claim.  The infamous Paragraph 175, which was part of Germany's criminal code from 1871 to 1994, made homosexual acts between men a crime. Over 140,000 men were convicted in total, with around 50,000 of them having been prosecuted since the end of World War II. The anti-gay code was tightened during the Nazi era, which saw thousands of gay and bisexual men rounded up and taken to concentration camps. After the war, gay men were often arrested again. As well as being jailed, they often lost their jobs and homes and suffered social exclusion.  In 1968, the former East Germany stopped applying the law, a year before the West, and the code was eventually abolished altogether in 1994. Nazi-era convictions of homosexuals were lifted in 2002 but there has been no pardon for those sentenced over the past 70 years. Germany's Green and Left parties have often demanded compensation for those affected by the legislation; the Green's spokeswoman Katja Keul described the lack of willingness to make amends before now "a monstrous disgrace."

^ This is about righting a wrong. This is not solely a Nazi crime. It was used in Kaiser Germany, the Weimer Republic, Nazi Germany, East Germany, West Germany and reunited Germany. It was only completely repealed in 1994. 22 years later the Germans finally decide to not only compensate the victims of Paragraph 175, but clear their names. Like most crimes, the money can't fix the past or the injustices the homosexuals suffered. If Germany really wants to atone for what they did to the homosexuals then they need to allow gay marriage. Giving full and equal rights to the homosexuals is the only way to show that Germany is fully accepting. ^


Happy Thanksgiving! Joyeux Action de Graces!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

No Glasses Travel

From US State Department's Website:
"No Glasses After November 1st"

Beginning November 1st, 2016, customers applying for their U.S. passport or U.S visa or renewing their U.S. passport must remove glasses for their photo. Last year, more than 200,000 U.S. passport customers submitted poor quality photos which we couldn't accept. The #1 problem was glasses. We had to put their passport applications on hold because we couldn't clearly identify them from their photo.  Many U.S. visa applications have been delayed due to the same problem. If the photo of you in your unexpired U.S. passport or U.S. visa has glasses, don't worry about it. You don't have to get a passport or visa now. Next time you renew your passport or apply for a new visa, though, you'll have to take your glasses off. This policy change helps us and it helps you. We can see you more clearly now and you will experience fewer U.S. passport and U.S. visa application delays and can move faster through U.S. ports of entry. Don't get us wrong, we love your glasses, but take them off for your U.S. passport or U.S. visa photo.* For more information on photos, check out our passport photo requirements and photo examples or visa photo requirements and photo examples. *If you must wear eye glasses for medical reasons, you'll need to obtain and submit a signed statement with your U.S. passport or U.S. visa application from a medical professional or health practitioner.

^ This has got to be one of the dumbest requirements I have ever heard. There is clearly something wrong with the visa and passport manufacturing procedures  since people have worn glasses in passport pictures since the early 1900s and there hasn't been any issues until now. I guess we can expect lots of passport and visa pictures of people "blindly" looking into space since they won't be able to see the camera. Good job State Department. You seem to really be on the ball with this. Smart Government = Oxymoron. ^

Election: 1 Month

Exactly 1 month before we know who will win. Then we can say good-bye to: 1) all those that have loudly said they would leave the country if their person didn't win (good riddance) 2) stop seeing and hearing all the dumb political ads, calls, e-mails, regular mail and posts 3.) stop taking all of this over-board and so personally as though our actual life depended on it to the point that we un-friend or stop talking to friends and family and pick fights with strangers. This is a no-win situation. We have had bad Presidents in the past and have continued for 240 years. I don't see that changing over the next 4.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

From the BBC:
"Hurricane Matthew: US states order evacuations as 'serious' storm looms"

Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida and South Carolina have been told to evacuate as Hurricane Matthew churns towards the US east coast. "This is a serious storm," warned President Barack Obama, adding that it would have a "significant" impact on Florida by Thursday morning.  Traffic jams are reported in the city of Charleston, in South Carolina, as residents flee the area. The category three system is currently battering the Bahamas. Matthew carved a trail of destruction across Haiti where thousands have been displaced and at least two people died. The giant storm also hit Cuba. Early reports suggested its impact was not as bad as in Haiti, but the town of Baracoa in the province of Guantanamo was badly hit, destroying many homes and scattering debris in the streets. An infrared satellite photo of Hurricane Matthew, resembling a human skull, has gone viral. Paul Meyer, a NASA atmospheric scientist, told CNN that what appears to be the skull's "teeth" in the image are actually cold convective clouds.   Forecasters say the storm will move across the Bahamas and should reach Florida's east coast late on Thursday. Although downgraded from category four to category three, it is packing sustained winds of up to 115mph (185km/h) as it grinds slowly north-northwest. Matthew would be the first category three hurricane to make landfall in the US since Wilma struck Florida in 2005, causing five deaths and an estimated $23bn (£18bn) of damage.  In Florida, mandatory and voluntary evacuations were taking place on Wednesday in vulnerable areas. "We will likely start to see impacts on Florida within the next 24 hours and through the weekend," Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted. The Florida Division of Emergency Management said Matthew was forecast to move parallel to the coast on Thursday and Friday.  President Barack Obama urged Florida residents to prepare for the hurricane and the tropical force winds it could bring, adding that it "could have a devastating effect". "Now is the time for you to prepare in the event that you have to evacuate," Mr Obama said at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters.   "Impacts will be dependent on the track Matthew takes; a more westward path would bring hurricane conditions to many east coast areas," it warned. The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a storm surge warning for the coast from West Palm Beach north to Palm Bay. In the neighbouring state of Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency order for 13 counties while South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said evacuations in part of the state would begin on Thursday.
Schools along South Carolina's Atlantic coast and in some central districts are to close. In the Bahamas, Prime Minister Perry Christie urged residents in coastal areas to move to higher ground, the Nassau Guardian reported. "If you live on the southern coast of any islands you will be exposed to risk," he said. He warned that the main island of New Providence was due to take "a direct hit". Cruise ships have been rerouted from their scheduled Caribbean and Bahamas ports to Key West in Florida.   In Haiti, at least 10,000 people were in shelters and there were reports of overcrowded hospitals suffering shortages of fresh water, Mourad Wahba, the UN special representative for Haiti, said. The storm knocked down communications and blocked roads, hampering emergency efforts. The collapse of a bridge cut off the only link between the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the southern part of the country, and officials said it would be difficult to reach the region. At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the storm, five of which were reported in Haiti. Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries, with many residents living in flimsy housing in flood-prone areas.

^ It is times like this one where I am glad we get snow storms and not direct hurricanes. For a snow storm you stay home, but for a major hurricane you usually have to evacuate. ^

Hurricane Prep

Deaf Juror

From the BBC:
"Gaye Lyons: Australian deaf woman loses legal battle to be juror"

A woman from Queensland has lost her legal battle to become the first deaf juror in Australia. Gaye Lyons' fight began when she was prevented from being a juror for a trial near Brisbane in 2012. She argued the Queensland government unlawfully discriminated against her by refusing to provide an interpreter, but the High Court unanimously disagreed. "Why should the powers that be decide what's right for me," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Why should they decide what I can and can't do." "Jury duty was something I really wanted to take part in." Ms Lyons can lip-read but needs an Australian Sign Language interpreter to communicate.  The court said the law did not permit an interpreter to assist when the jury was in confidential deliberations, which would make her unable to perform her duties as a juror. The "decision not to include the appellant in a jury panel did not constitute unlawful discrimination in the performance of her functions or the exercise of her powers under Queensland law," the ruling said. Ms Lyons, 69, rejected concerns raised by lawyers for the government about ensuring the accuracy of translations, noting that interpreters were already allowed in other court proceedings. Describing the verdict as "disappointing", the Disabled People's Organisations Australia called for Queensland law to be changed to allow deaf people to serve as jurors.

^ This does seem like out-right discrimination by the Queensland Government on the deaf. A jury is supposed to be made of your peers and by not allowing the deaf to participate regulates them to second-class citizens. What would the Queensland Government do if a deaf person was on trial or a witness? Would they give them an interpreter? If the answer is "yes" then there is no reason a deaf person can not be given one and sit on a jury. ^

Naming Units

"Ukraine names specific units of Russian army who seized Crimea in 2014"

The Military Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine for the first time named the exact units of the Russian Armed Forces that took part in seizing Crimea and told about the training of the so-called Russian “little green men”, according to Hromadske Radio. "The investigation established and found enough evidence for me to claim with confidence what units [of the Russian army] there were, " Military Prosecutor Ruslan Kravchenko told Hromadske Radio. "In particular, it was the 31st Separate Air Assault Brigade of the Russian Airborne Troops, 45th Detached Special Forces Regiment of the Russian Airborne Troops (military unit 28 337), 18th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, 58th Army of the Southern Military District of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the 98th Airborne Division of the Russian Airborne Troops (military unit 65 451), 76th Air Assault Division of the Russian Airborne Troops, 15th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade of Russia’s peacekeeping forces (military unit 90 600)." Also, the prosecutor noted that in the process of preparation and conduct of aggressive warfare, all tactical signs and insignia had been removed in advance from military equipment and uniform of the Russian soldiers who participated in the annexation of Crimea.

^ It's no surprise that Russia had this invasion, occupation and annexation well-planned long before the referendum (not recognized by the international community) in the Crimea. The "Little Green Men" weren't fooling anyone. ^

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Chip Anniversary

From USA Today:
"Chip-enabled credit cards mark a bittersweet 1-year anniversary"

One year after the U.S. reached a milestone in its switch to credit cards that require a dip instead of a swipe, the ability to use such cards has dramatically increased. But potential headaches loom heading into the holiday season, with some shoppers complaining that checking out with a chip takes too long and stores continuing to encounter delays getting chip-reading terminals up and running. "This whole transition has been a challenge for merchants and for our customers," says Mallory Duncan, general counsel for the National Retail Federation. "It’s not one we wanted. It’s extraordinarily expensive. It’s cumbersome, and worst of all it doesn’t really protect our customers to the extent we want." Chip-enabled — or EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa — cards are more secure than those with only a magnetic stripe because they generate a unique code for every transaction, making them more difficult to counterfeit. To expedite the switch, a liability shift occurred last Oct. 1 so that U.S. merchants are now held liable for fraudulent transactions made with counterfeit cards if they did not have a chip-reading terminal.  Since then, the pace of adoption has dramatically accelerated. As of July, 88% of MasterCard consumer credit cards in the U.S. were chip-enabled, a 105% uptick since October, while 2 million merchant locations were able to handle EMV transactions. Meanwhile, as of August, there were over 363 million chip-enabled Visa cards in the U.S., a 156% bump over that month the previous year. Among U.S. storefronts, 32% are now able to process chip transactions, and more than 75% of those are supermarkets, neighborhood drugstores and other small and midsize businesses, Visa says.  "We’re on pace with what we’ve seen in other countries," says Stephanie Ericksen, vice president of risk and authentication products for Visa, who noted that Australia, Brazil and Canada each took roughly two years to get to where 60% of transactions involved a chip card used in a chip terminal. "We’re about halfway to that point. And with this being a more complex environment in terms of the number of entities in the payment system ... we’re doing really well." But a shift that the NRF says is costing retailers $30 billion to $35 billion to implement also has its critics. An NRF study released in August found that 76% of retailers said the new chip technology was one of their biggest payment challenges of the past year. Retail advocates complain that the better, more secure option would have been a switch to chip cards that require a PIN rather than simply a signature. With a PIN, "If someone steals your card out of your gym locker or purse and goes on a spending spree  ... the card would be useless," says Duncan. "With a chip-and-signature card, the thief just goes and signs your name." Among those who participated in the NRF’s survey, 86%  had already put equipment in place or planned to be ready to process EMV transactions by the end of this year. But Duncan says many merchants have been delayed in actually using the terminals because there is a backlog in getting the equipment tested and certified. MasterCard and Visa have each taken steps to streamline the process, but, Duncan says, all major card brands, including Discover and American Express, have to sign off on a terminal, and "there’s a massive backlog ... in the pipeline." And the backlog may not  just be behind the scenes. Some shoppers fear logjams at a stores' checkouts as well.  A September survey by the payment technology company Cayan, found that 71% of consumers say that they are definitely or somewhat likely to make their purchases online this holiday season instead of at a brick-and-mortar store because of their perception that chip cards will lead to longer wait times. Additionally, 83% of shoppers polled were unsure whether retailers accept chip cards or not. "The clear shopper frustration with chip card technology is going to create significant hurdles for retailers this holiday season," Cayan CEO and co-founder Henry Helgeson said in a statement. "The real answer is working to subtract time from the transaction time, something processors around the country are working hard right now to do."

^ The switch to these chip cards has been a headache. Even going into my small town one place has the chip machine and the next you still have to swipe and you are just supposed to remember for every place you go to. Also, swiping is a lot faster. It takes forever for the chip machine to recognize the chip and it just a hassle. I have done most of my shopping online for years now and really only use my cards in person for gas (just swipe), the market and a few other places. In the end those that created and mandated these chip cards didn't do a very good job to make sure the switch was seamless. I would give them a D-. ^

National Registration

From MT:
"Russia’s National Guard to Carry out Compulsory Fingerprint Registration"

Russia’s recently-formed National Guard police has been given the task of registering every citizen’s fingerprints in a national database by presidential decree, published online Tuesday.  President Vladimir Putin signed the decree “On the Federal Service of Troops of the National Guard,” giving the force a range of new powers and responsibilities. According to the document, the force will also work to develop safety measures to be used in civilian aviation and will be responsible for evaluating the defensive capabilities of buildings and other facilities against terrorist attacks. The document also outlines the National Guard’s role in national defense, stating it will form a network of regional structures managed by a central office. The force would also operate alongside the military in defense projects and in times of war, it said. Putin created the body in April, naming its primary duties as providing public order and territorial defense. Answerable only to the president, some experts speculate that its primary function is to suppress potential opposition protest actions.

^ It seems that paranoia has set in. Fingerprinting every Russian doesn't seem like that big of a deal (especially since they have been doing it when you apply for the mandatory internal passport- now a card.) The Czar had his own personal, elite troops that only answered to him and he was still over-thrown so I don't know how great this new force will be compared to what is already in place. ^

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ranking Services

From Disability Scoop:
"Ranking Names States With Best Disability Services"

A new national ranking of developmental disability services finds states with top offerings coast to coast, but warns that a growing number of people are facing long waits for supports. The best Medicaid service systems for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are found in Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, Michigan and Hawaii, according to the annual Case for Inclusion report released by United Cerebral Palsy. This is the fifth year that Arizona has taken the number one spot on the list.  The analysis looks at a variety of data points to assess how people with disabilities live and participate in their communities, their ability to access supports and how satisfied they are with their lives. The findings are based on the most recent data available, primarily from 2014. Nationally, nearly 350,000 people are on waiting lists for community-based services, an additional 28,000 over last year, the report found, though an increasing number of states — now 18 — have little or no wait.The analysis also found growth in the number of states allowing individuals to use self-directed services, providing family supports to a large number of residents and placing at least a third of those with developmental disabilities in competitive employment. Some states — Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi and Texas — have consistently performed poorly in the ranking since 2007, the report notes. Montana rounded out the bottom five on the list this year. As in past years, top-performing states included those that are both big and small, rich and poor, high and low tax as well as large and small spenders. “The fact is real progress is being made. More Americans with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) are living in the community rather than being isolated in large state institutions. But much more work needs to be done to reduce waiting lists, increase employment and expand support to families,” said Tarren Bragdon, the author of the report. “This annual ranking clearly shows the true picture of what’s happening and what should be happening in the states for our friends and neighbors with (intellectual and developmental disabilities).”

^ The disabled are receiving better services than ever before, but the fact is that a lot more needs to be done. The states at the bottom of this ranking need to step-up their work in integrating the disabled and providing them with the services they need as well as are required by law. ^

It's Not Funny

Farc Deal Rejected

From the BBC:
"Colombia referendum: Voters reject Farc peace deal"

Voters in Colombia have rejected a landmark peace deal with Farc rebels in a shock referendum result, with 50.24% voting against it. The deal was signed last week by President Juan Manuel Santos and Farc leader Timoleon Jimenez after nearly four years of negotiations.  But it needed to be ratified by Colombians in order to come into force. Addressing the nation, President Santos said he accepted the result but would continue working to achieve peace. He said the current ceasefire remained in place and that he had ordered negotiators to travel to Cuba to consult Farc leaders on the next move. "I won't give up," he said. "I'll continue the search for peace until the last moment of my mandate because that's the way to leave a better country to our children."  Meanwhile the Farc leader, known as Timochenko, said the group remained committed to securing an end to the war. The rebels earlier agreed to lay down their weapons after 52 years of conflict to join the political process. But critics said the deal treated the Farc, which the US still considers a terrorist group, too leniently.  The agreement was rejected with 50.2% of voters against it and 49.8% in favour - a difference of less than 63,000 votes out of 13 million ballots.  The surprise result means the peace process is now shrouded by uncertainty.  Former President Alvaro Uribe, who headed the "no" campaign, said all Colombians wanted peace but that the deal needed what he called corrections.  "We want to contribute to a national accord and be heard," he said.  President Santos had previously warned that there was no plan B for ending the war, which has killed 260,000 people. The result is a major setback to the president, who since his election in 2010 had pledged to end a conflict blamed for displacing about eight million people. Less than a week ago, he was celebrating with world leaders and Farc commanders the end of Latin America's last and longest-running armed conflict at a ceremony in the historic city of Cartagena.  The rebels were making plans to lay down their weapons and become a political party within six months. But the president is now facing one of the most difficult moments in Colombia's recent history, says the BBC's Americas Editor Leonardo Rocha. If he sticks to his word about there being no plan B, the bilateral ceasefire will be lifted and the war will resume, our correspondent says.

The Farc's 52-year fight:
1964: Set up as armed wing of Communist Party
2002: At its height, it had an army of 20,000 fighters controlling up to a third of the country. Senator Ingrid Betancourt kidnapped and held for six years along with 14 other hostages
2008: The Farc suffers a series of defeats in its worst year
2012: Start of peace talks in Havana
2016: Definitive ceasefire

The 297-page peace deal is a deeply divisive issue in Colombia, and the government has been accused of taking victory for granted. Many of those opposed to the deal were angry that it would have spared the rebels time in prison when they were responsible for so many deaths and displacements. The government tried to offset these concerns throughout the referendum campaign by spending heavily on television adverts in addition to staging concerts and peace rallies throughout the country in a bid to get people out to vote.  It called on the support of U2's Bono and former Beatle Ringo Starr - and for the first time in an election made ballots available in Braille so blind Colombians could vote.

^ It seems the people of Colombia have spoken and they want a deal that will both end the fighting and punish those responsible for the 260,000 people killed. I don't know a whole lot about the Farc and their war with Colombia, but from what I do know the peace deal didn't go far enough. Hopefully, a new deal can be reached that ends the fighting and punishes those responsible. ^

Sunday, October 2, 2016

German Reunification Day!

^ The Germans call it German Unity Day, but we call it German Reunification Day! ^

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Space Flag

From the BBC:
"Gay pride flag launched into space 'to spread peace'"

The rainbow flag that symbolises gay pride has been sent into space for the first time via a high-altitude balloon. Planting Peace, a US-based non-profit group that seeks to "spread peace in a hurting world", launched the flag near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 17 August. The balloon captured video with a GoPro camera as it floated 21.1 miles (34.1km) above earth for three hours. Organisers said they wanted to declare space gay friendly, "in a peaceful, beautiful way".  The balloon and its flag returned to earth, but the episode was captured in striking footage that shows the planet's surface from above, with the sun beaming behind the flag.  The non-profit group said: "The primary purpose of this declaration is to support the ongoing fight for the fundamental human rights of our LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer] family, moving us closer to a universal understanding that all people deserve to live freely and love freely without fear and discrimination." It added that the stunt emphasised the need for the gay community to have a safe space in every corner of the universe.
As well as gay rights activism, Planting Peace runs humanitarian aid projects and environmental initiatives across the world.

^ I guess it's good that the flag landed in a country that accepts homosexuality. Had it fallen in Russia or most of Africa or the Middle East and some random person picked it up they could have been beaten, sent to jail or even killed. It was a good symbol to show the world that they need to stop and rethink things and get involved - even if you aren't gay (there's the "Straight but not Narrow" thinking. Every major social change can about because others helped. Men helped women get their basic civil right, Whites helped Blacks, etc. so Straight people helping Homosexuals get their basic civil rights isn't unheard of throughout history. ^

75: Babi Yar

From USA Today:
"75 years ago: 33,771 Jews slaughtered at Babi Yar"

The slaughter of 33,771 Jews began in a valley near Nazi-occupied Kiev 75 years ago Thursday, one of the most grim atrocities of the 20th century. The mass executions of men, women and children at the Babi Yar massacre took place over 48-hours between Sept. 29-30, 1941. They were ordered to strip, then marched to the ravine and shot to death by machine-gun fire. The massacre was an early example of how Nazi Germany learned how to commit murder on an unprecedented scale. Ukraine is marking the massacre's anniversary with a weeklong memorial attended by delegations from the United States and Israel, including President Reuven Rivlin.  Rivlin, who cut short his trip to attend the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, addressed Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday. "The blood of our brothers and sisters, that was spilled at that dark time, places upon us the duty to remember, and teach the whole world, about the dangers of not just anti-semitism, but of all hatred, and all racism. While we mourn the past, we must also speak about the present, and look to the future," he said. Ukrainians, Romani and other non-Jewish groups were also killed at Babi Yar at the hands of Nazis with the help of Ukrainians. "While Babi Yar was organized by the Nazis, there were willing helpers in the Ukrainian militia," said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. "This happened all across Europe. In almost every occupied country, local people helped the Germans round up their Jews. In some cases, the locals were even more enthusiastic in their killing than the Nazis. And that is what happened at Babi Yar." Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko spoke Thursday about the importance of creating a memorial center dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Ukraine, and those killed at Babi Yar. “The creation of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center is very significant for the whole of humanity. This center must become a part of the efforts of civilized people to assure the triumph of human values in the research of historical truth,” Poroshenko said. The center is expected to open in 2021, and will coincide with the 80th anniversary of Babi Yar. Up to 6 million Jews — approximately two-thirds of Jews in Europe — were murdered during the Holocaust. Millions of non-Jewish people were also exterminated including communists, homosexuals, resistance fighters and people with physical and mental disabilities.

^ Babi Yar is one of the worst massacres of the European-theater of World War 2. I visited Babi Yar (and took the picture above) when I was in Kyiv, the Ukraine. It is such a hollowed place and yet it is used by ordinary people - including families - everyday. I doubt that the majority of those people even know what happened there despite the different memorials. After the war the Soviets (who were very anti-Semitic) allowed a memorial a mile away from the actual massacre site and it couldn't mention the Jewish victims (even though 99.9%  of the 33,771 were Jews) and could only mention the Soviet victims in general. It wasn't until after the USSR collapsed and the Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 that the memorials were put in the exact site that the crime happened. 75 years may have gone by since the massacre, but it is still a very important part of 20th Century history as well as World History in general. ^

Monday, September 26, 2016

Saving Collapse

From the MT:
"Putin Says Soviet Union Could Have Been Saved"

 As he does from time to time, President Vladimir Putin today made another ambiguous public statement about the fate of the Soviet Union, this time stating that its dissolution was unnecessary, were it not for the Soviet Communist Party’s policies. “You know how I feel about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was entirely unnecessary to do this. It would have been possible to carry out reforms, including democratic reforms, without this [dissolution],” Putin said during a meeting at the Kremlin with the leaders of the political parties represented in the new State Duma. He then faulted the Soviet Communist Party for mismanaging the Soviet Union, blaming it for promoting “ideas of nationalism” and “other destructive ideas that are ruinous to any state.”  Earlier this year, Putin compared Soviet nationalist policies to an “atomic bomb” placed by Lenin and his allies “under a building called Russia” that only exploded later.

^ As I have said before, and history has proven every time, communism can never work in real-life. There will always be a class-based society (for better or worse.) Even during Soviet times there were the "good" Communists who got more perks (ie. travel, better apartments, jobs, access to foreign products, etc.) and those that didn't - which shows that everyone wasn't equal in this "class-less" society. Also anytime a country has to place strict controls on it's citizens (for travel abroad, travel within the country, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.) you know it wouldn't last. It may be several decades later, but eventually it will collapse - as the Soviet Union did. The sign of a great country is one that has to keep people (illegals) out and not one that has to keep its own people in. The USSR collapsed, in-part, because the Soviet Government had wasted what little money they had (ie. foreign currency) on its military and internal "security" rather than on its people. Eventually, the Soviet people had had enough and wanted basic services and products to make life bearable (there's something wrong when a country has rationing when there's no war or natural disaster.) Once the Soviet Government relaxed a little to the people's demands it was only a matter of time before the whole system collapsed. Once people see the truth (ie. that they could have a decent standard of living as the rest of the world) they were not going to go back to the lies of the past. I do not believe that Russia will ever fully become the Soviet Union of the past (despite the Russian Government's stance on bringing back Soviet symbols and practices.) The Russian people (even those that have never left Russia) have seen what the world has to offer and while they still want/need a strong leader to tell them what to do (it is a common thread in Czarist, Soviet and modern Russia) in the end I doubt they would give-up the freedoms and practices that they have lived with for the past 25 years.  Even on the off chance that Russia went back to Soviet times the dictatorship system would eventually collapse for the same reasons as stated above. History tends to repeat itself - especially when you don't learn from your past mistakes. ^

Speaking Up

^Have used this phrase for all the telemarketers and political calls today (when I usually let the machine get them.) Since the Do Not Call List is a joke and doesn't work you have to have some fun with them, but you have to play the part and shout it (as though you really can't hear them because of a towel.) Their surprise is priceless and then you hang up. It's the little things that make life fun. ^

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Royals Visit

From The G & M:
"Where’s William? Your guide to the royal visit to Western Canada"

British Columbia will be a bit extra-British this weekend as William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and their young children make an eight-day visit to Canada. Stay tuned for updates on their journey and background on the Royal Family’s Canadian connections.  The royal couple and their children arrive in Victoria on Saturday for an official greeting at the B.C. Legislature and a military service at the Cenotaph. Their itinerary in Vancouver on Sunday includes a tour of Sheway – a program in the Downtown Eastside that helps mothers with addiction problems care for their children – and meeting newly arrived Syrian refugees at an immigrant welcome centre.

Monday, Sept. 26: The Duke and Duchess will visit Heiltsuk First Nation territory in Bella Bella to get a flyover tour of the Great Bear Rainforest. Prince William is endorsing the region, dubbed the “jewel in the crown” of Canada’s protected wilderness areas, as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy forest-conservation initiative.

  • Tuesday, Sept. 27: In Kelowna, the royals will join in anniversary celebrations at UBC’s Okanagan campus before heading to Whitehorse to inspect the Canadian Rangers, a reserve Arctic patrol force that counts Prince William and his brother Harry are honorary members.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 28: The royals will see Whitehorse’s MacBride Museum, attend a community art festival, be welcomed to Carcross/Tagish First Nation territory and see a mountain-biking demonstration on Montana Mountain.
  • Thursday, Sept. 29: The whole family regroups in Victoria for a children’s tea party with military families.
  • Friday, Sept. 30: The Duke and Duchess will tour Haida Gwaii, take a canoe ride, visit a new hospital and fish with youth from Skidegate.
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: Back in Victoria again, the royals will spend their last day visiting family-care and mental-health workers and sailing on a tall ship run by a program that mentors young people.

  • Why are they visiting? Canada turns 150 next year, and Ottawa is pulling out all the stops, budgeting $210-million for projects and events marking the anniversary of Confederation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited the Duke and Duchess to visit Canada earlier this summer. The Trudeau government has expressed hope that 2017 will be a turning point in Canada’s relationship with indigenous people, and having a future monarch strengthen ties with B.C. First Nations aligns well with that objective.  The B.C. lieutenant-governor’s residence in Victoria, Government House, will be the Duke and Duchess’s headquarters while they’re in Canada. Prince George and Princess Charlotte are staying behind in Victoria while their parents travel. Victorians are the only ones who’ll get a look at George and Charlotte – three and one years old, respectively – when the royals arrive and leave, and at a children’s tea party on Thursday. This is both children’s first visit to Canada, and Charlotte’s first tour overseas.

    ^ The Duke will  one-day be King of Canada (as will his son) so it's good that they take the time now to visit the country. Canada is the most visited Commonwealth country by Queen Elizabeth II (Queen of Canada) so maybe it will continue to hold that distinction with the Duke and his family. ^