Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kyiv Vetting

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: One million civil servants to be screened"

Ukraine will screen about one million civil servants to root out corrupt practices from the past, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said. The parliament passed a law on Tuesday, allowing the removal of government officials from their posts. All those who worked under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and also former senior Communist and KGB members will be affected. Ukraine has had months of unrest since Mr Yanukovych was ousted in February. Government troops had been fighting pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions for months, until a truce was signed on 5 September. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending its troops and heavy weaponry to help the rebels - a claim denied by the Kremlin. "About one million civil servants of different kinds will come under this law, including the whole cabinet of ministers, the interior ministry, the intelligence services, the prosecutor's office," Mr Yatseniuk said in a televised cabinet meeting.  Correspondents say the issues of vetting and corruption are emotional subjects for many in Ukraine, who want to cleanse the government of Mr Yanukovych's influence. The law on "lustration" - the cleansing of the ranks of power - was approved under huge pressure from activists, who took part in mass protests against Mr Yanukovych.  The bill was finally passed after several failed attempts when speaker Okexandr Turchynov warned MPs he would not allow them to leave parliament without a successful result.  The bill was approved on the same day as a new law granting self-rule to parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
^ The Ukraine (along with the majority of former Soviet Republics) needs to clean-out their government from the top-down. It should have been done after December 1991, but better late than never. Not only will former Communists and KGB be investigated but also corrupt officials of any party. Hopefully it will be successful and no just for show. ^

Not So Secret

From the BBC:
"White House security stepped up after intrusions"

The US Secret Service says it has stepped up security at the White House and launched a "comprehensive review" of procedures there after two attempted breaches in 24 hours. The more serious incident saw a man wielding a knife enter the building on Friday, prompting a partial evacuation. President Obama was not present at the time of the incident. The following day, another man drove up to a security gate. Both men have since been arrested. The man involved in Friday's incident, Omar Gonzalez, was only stopped after entering the North Portico doors, the Secret Service said. The review of security was initiated by director Julia Pierson, who also ordered "the immediate enhancement of officer patrols and surveillance capabilities" around the White House. A White House spokesman said the president expected the review to be conducted "with the same professionalism and commitment to duty that we and the American people expect from the US Secret Service".

^ It seems the Secret Service has more problems. From hiring hookers to security breaches. I have seen first-hand how "effective" the security is at the White House. Several years ago I was showing some friends around DC and we got a little lost and ended up right at the Rose Garden (with no one stopping us, etc.) It was also on the day they had some official from Israel there. When we realized where we were we turned around, but the fact that we got so close without any security dumbfounds me to this day. Maybe the Secret Service isn't doing such a good job at protecting government officials as the American people are made to believe. ^

Chechen Draft

From the MT:
"Russia to Start Drafting Chechen Men Into Army, Kadyrov Says"

Five years after a brutal war between Russian forces and Chechen separatists officially ended, the first 500 Chechen men will be drafted to serve in the Russian army, its leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said. "I was lucky enough to meet with [Russian] Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu," Kadyrov said late Thursday in a post on Instagram. "Of particular note, the minister — at our request — made the decision to this year draft 500 young [Chechen] men for regular military service." "This is the first time in many years that this has been done. In the future, the number of draftees will increase," he added. It remains unclear whether the men will serve together or whether they will be sent to various other Russian army units. During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a number of Chechen fighters have joined separatists in the east of that country, though Kadyrov has denied the presence of any "Chechen battalions" there and estimated the number of the men at only about two dozen. While Russia has a universal military draft for men aged 18-27, two bitter separatist wars in Chechnya that began in 1994 have resulted in the republic's inhabitants being made exempt from compulsory service. After its separatists were largely suppressed, Chechnya in 2003 approved a constitution that granted the region a significant degree of autonomy while proclaiming it a part of Russia. But the "counter-terrorism operation" against separatists continued until 2009, when Moscow proclaimed it officially over. In subsequent years, Chechnya's young men have been drafted for armed service, but only as interior troops stationed within the republic — part of a force that was widely seen as Kadyrov's personal army. Kadyrov said in August that he had ordered Chechnya's military commander Akhmed Dzheirakhanov to secure the draft of Chechen men into the army.
"Chechnya has tens of thousands of young men who are ready to become soldiers," he said on Instagram at that time. "But for reasons not understood by anybody and not expressed by anybody, they are not being sent into the army. The reasons, upon which the Russian Defense Ministry and other military agencies refused to comment according to news site Gazeta,ru, may include the bitter hostility that conscripts from other Russian regions may feel toward Chechen soldiers, or concerns about the soldiers' willingness to follow the orders of Russian commanders. Russian attempts to resume the draft of Chechen men have also been met with protests from the republic's residents, who argued their sons could face too much danger if required to serve in the same army that fought them in Chechnya. Chechnya, whose inhabitants rebelled against Moscow for hundreds of years since tsarist times, is renowned for its warrior culture, and a number of its men became officers in the Soviet army. One notable example is late Air Force General Dzhokhar Dudayev, a nuclear bomber pilot, who in 1994 as then-president of the Chechen republic led the separatist rebellion against Russia.

^ This just seems like a very bad idea all around. The Chechen soldiers will experience horrible hazing and abuse from the Russians (even ethnic Russians do everything in their power not to serve in the Russian military because of the abuse.) It seems Kadyrov just wants more power and influence and sending Chechens to different regions will enable him to do that. His post-war Chechnya has become a mini-Islamist state where patrols force women to cover their heads (even though Russian law allows religious freedom) and he built one of the largest mosques. I guess he is not satisfied with controlling Chechnya and wants more (I'm sure he is helping supply the ethnic Russian terrorists in the Ukraine with Chechen fighters - with Russia's approval.) Here's a question for Kadyrov: if so many Chechens want to be soldiers then why don't they join the regular Russian forces? You don't have to just be a conscript. ^

Protest March

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Thousands march in Moscow anti-war rally"

Tens of thousands of people are marching in Moscow in protest against Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict.  People are chanting "No to war!" and "Stop lying!" Similar rallies are taking place in St Petersburg and other Russian cities. Ukraine accuses Russia of arming rebels in the east and sending Russian troops across the border. Moscow denies this. More than 3,000 people have died in fighting since April. A truce was agreed on 5 September but there have been repeated violations since then. The fighting began after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in March - a move condemned by Ukraine and the West.  Demonstrators - with both Russian and Ukrainian flags - are marching from Pushkin Square to Sakharov Boulevard in central Moscow. Organisers earlier said they hoped up to 50,000 people would take part to denounce what they described as Russia's "aggressive foreign policy". It is Russia's first major anti-war rally since the fighting began five months ago in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

^ It's nice to see that not every Russian has drank the Kool-Aid. ^

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scots' Nay

From the BBC:
"Scottish referendum: Scotland votes 'No' to independence"

Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom after voters decisively rejected independence. With the results in from all 32 council areas, the "No" side won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 for "Yes". Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers. Prime Minister David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and that commitments on extra powers would be honoured "in full". Mr Cameron said the three main unionist parties at Westminster would now follow through with their pledge of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. He announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin, who led Glasgow's staging of the Commonwealth Games, would oversee the process to take forward the commitments, with new powers over tax, spending and welfare to be agreed by November, and draft legislation published by January.  The prime minister also acknowledged that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over their affairs. And he promised a solution to the West Lothian question - the fact that Scottish MPs can vote on English issues at Westminster, and not the other way round.

In other developments:

  • US President Barack Obama welcomed Scots' decision to stay in the UK. "Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland's enormous contributions to the UK and the world," he said.
  • Police Scotland said Thursday's vote "passed off smoothly" with just six arrests across the country mainly for alleged breaches of the peace and assaults.
  • Share prices rose as Scotland voted against independence.
  • Polling officials said they were investigating 10 cases of suspected electoral fraud at polling stations in Glasgow.
  • Royal Bank of Scotland said it would keep its headquarters in Scotland following the "No" vote.
  • Wales's First Minister Carwyn Jones has called for more funding for his country after Scotland voted to stay in the Union.
  • Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said a vote on the future of Northern Ireland's border was not necessary following Scotland's 'No' vote.

The result became a mathematical certainty at 06:08, as the returning officer in Fife announced a comfortable No vote. Shortly afterwards, Mr Salmond said he accepted the defeat and called for national unity. He told supporters: "The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. "Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course - as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by March 27 next year.  And the first minister said: "Whatever else we can say about this referendum campaign, we have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics, these sections of the community have touched us and touched the political process." Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Cameron said the result was decisive. He said: "Now the debate has been settled for a generation, or as Alex Salmond has said: 'Perhaps for a lifetime'. "So there can be no disputes, no re-runs; we have heard the will of the Scottish people." The prime minister also spoke of the implications for the other nations of the UK.

^ It was a close call but Scotland has decided to stay within the United Kingdom. What I like about all of this is the other regions of the UK (ie Wales and Northern Ireland) are now pouncing for more regional powers for themselves. They seem like vultures circling for the results - whether it was a "yes" or a "no" to get more for themselves. ^

Singing Protest

From MT:
"U.S. Singer Rufus Wainwright Slams Russia's 'Gay Propaganda' Law at Moscow Concert"

American singer Rufus Wainwright condemned a Russian law forbidding the promotion of homosexual relations to minors during a concert in Moscow on Thursday, saying it was "disgusting," to a storm of applause. The law was especially offensive, the openly gay singer said, because "it's really young gay people who are under 18 who need our help, and need to learn and feel loved and accepted. To cut them out is a terrible crime." Wainwright then dedicated his next song "The Gay Messiah" to his "favorite gay Russian," composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
Tickets to Wainwright's concert at Dom Muzyki were marked "18 plus" because of the law, he said.
Wainwright's homosexuality was addressed early on in the show when he said "I'm gay," again to much applause from the audience. Despite his comments, it seems likely that this will not be Wainwright's last visit to Moscow. He enthused about the Tretyakov Gallery and said that his husband, German arts administrator Jörn Weisbrodt, had been to Moscow many times and even wanted the couple to move there.

^ People seem to forget about Russia's anti-gay law (mostly due to the Russian war in the Ukraine.) It's good that people - especially Russians - see that this is discrimination and that celebrities (gay or straight) make their voices heard. ^

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Russian Scotland

From MT:
"11 Reasons Why Scotland Should Join Russia Following a 'Yes' Vote"

As Scotland geared up to vote on breaking away from the U.K. on Thursday, The Moscow Times came into possession of a secret low-level memo produced by the Russian government discussing how to deal with possible Scottish independence.

How to Persuade Scotland to Become Part of Russia

1) Raise the Russian navy ensign — the blue-on-white St. Andrew's Cross — over the Kremlin and all government buildings once the Yes vote for independence comes in early Friday morning. As the Scottish flag is a white-on-blue St. Andrew's Cross, it will be the perfect welcoming signal to the new nation.
2) Remind the Scots how many of them have come to Russia and made their mark here. Stress the 17th-century ones who fled persecution, and those who served in the navy or army, like Jacob Bruce, as they refer to Yakov Vilimovich Bryus, who even took part in the Crimea campaign (!) under Peter the Great. Mikhail Lermontov and Napoleon-basher Mikhail Barclay de Tolly have a Scottish connection too, though ultimately they are of course our lads. DO NOT mention Mary Hamilton, lady-in-waiting to Catherine I, who was executed on the order of Peter the Great for theft, infanticide and other, possibly inherent, Scottish crimes. The tsar, so they say, picked up her head after she was decapitated, gave an anatomy lesson, kissed it and threw it away.
3) Raid the bits left of the Pension Fund once Rosneft and Novatek have taken what they want and buy up all of the single malt whisky in Scotland. Make Glenfiddich and Glenlivet the set drink in the better government canteens. Can we afford to buy the castles too? We have a couple already. They are really cool.
4) Show them how serious we are about Scotland joining Russia and how they will have far more independence than under the British yoke by letting them choose their new name: Scotorossia and Keltorossia are the most popular among our social media audience. Personally, I rather like Gibernia.* Remember, do not let them think they can come in as a republic! The most we can offer is oblast for now. Or what that Nenets autonomous thingy has at best. *Note scrawled in red pencil on this part of the memo reads: "This is Ireland, fool." 
5) The Scottish economy survives on oil. Show them how by copying the Russian model, the Scots can create a thriving, 21st-century democracy. Teach the Scots how easy it is to avoid environmental regulation when conducting oil and gas exploration. Point to the Arctic drilling now going on and the planned military base on the UNESCO-protected Wrangel Island as examples of how by joining Russia, Scotland can look for oil and gas without worrying about the puffins, or whatever wildlife they have up there, or the locals in the far northern regions.
6) Sack, silence the diplomat who made that joke about Scotland in the leaked tape earlier this year. You remember: Igor Chubarov, the ambassador to Eritrea, was caught saying "We've got Crimea, but that's not f**king all folks. In the future we'll damn well take your Catalonia and Venice, and Scotland and Alaska too" — which admittedly is a decent summary of our long-term policy — but he punned the word "Scotland" with our word "skot," so it came out as "Cattleland." Funny, but politically unwise, and technically wrong as it is more Sheepland.
7) Tell them how much it will annoy British Prime Minister David Cameron. This may be the clincher.
8) Additional benefit for us: The Man has already said that five of our universities must be ranked in the top 100 by 2020, so unless any of you fancy going to teach in Novopipets, we add St. Andrew's, Edinburgh and Glasgow to make up the five.
9) Possible problems. They do actually seem to want to be independent. Their health care system is free and actually works. So is ours of course, technically, but we may have to overcome some cognitive dissonance or get creative with reality.
10) The kilt problem. Do we go all Pussy Riot on the skirt-wearing haggis-munchers, or simply ban tartan as gay propaganda?
11) We may have to teach them to speak. Their accents are worse than Azeris.

^ This is just a funny article on the eve of the Scottish Independence vote. ^

Finding History

From JP:
"Gas chambers at Sobibor death camp uncovered in archaeological dig"

An archaeological dig in Poland has revealed the location of the gas chambers at the Sobibor death camp, Yad Vashem announced on Wednesday. Some 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor, but on October 14, 1943, about 600 prisoners revolted and briefly escaped. Between 100 and 120 prisoners survived the revolt, and 60 of those survived the war. After the camp uprising, the Nazis bulldozed the area and planted it over with pine trees to conceal their crimes. The archaeological dig at the camp, which has been carried out by an international team of experts since 2007, has in the past uncovered thousands of personal items belonging to those interned at the camp, including jewelry, perfume, medicine and utensils. A well was uncovered this week which was used by the prisoners in Camp 1, where the revolt took place. The well contained several personal items belonging to Jewish prisoners because German guards had thrown trash into it when the camp was being destroyed. Dr. David Silberklang, a senior researcher at the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust research said, "The discovery of the exact location of the gas chambers at the Sobibior Camp is a discovery of the utmost importance in Holocaust research." He said it was important to understand that "there are no remains from any Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers, and therefore these findings are the only thing left from those who were murdered." Silberklang said "a small window has been open into their daily suffering." He said for the first time researchers would be able to better understand the murder process in the camp and what the Jews went through before their death. "Finding the exact size of the gas chambers will enable us to understand what their capacity was and from there we can determine a more precise estimation of the number of people killed at the Sobibor Camp," Silberklang said. He said the finding will also help fill in the puzzle of what happened to the prisoners who escaped from the camp during the rebellion. Archaeologist Yoram Haimi said they were surprised at the size of the structure that housed the gas chambers and how well the chambers' walls were preserved. "The most exciting part is that we found near the gas chambers wedding rings with the inscription in Hebrew "Hare at mekudeshet li" (Behold, thou art consecrated to me)."
^ This is another victory that shows the Nazis didn't win and couldn't hide their crimes. ^

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Russia's 30%

From MT:
"Report: Nearly 30% of Disabled Russian Kids Live in Orphanages"

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a damning report this week condemning the treatment of disabled children in Russia's orphanages, alleging abuse and neglect. Nearly 30 percent of Russian children with disabilities live in state-run orphanages, though most of them have at least one living parent, as whenever a child with a disability is born in Russia, health care workers pressure parents to give up their newborn baby to an orphanage, HRW said in a 94-page report released Monday.  Once in the system, children with a variety of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome and the specific Russian “diagnoses” of “debility” or “idiocy” are barred from opportunities to learn — including learning how to walk, the report said. The findings are based on visits by HRW researchers to 10 orphanages in six of Russia's regions, and more than 200 interviews with parents and with current and former wards of the institutions, the report said. In eight out of the 10 orphanages, researchers found children of all ages confined to cribs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and banned from getting up or using a wheelchair, even if the children were capable of learning to walk, the report said. “Staff justified keeping children confined to cribs stating that children were contagious (including in cases when children had non-communicable diseases such as schizophrenia); that children did not understand anything and therefore could not benefit from going outside or to classes, when the latter opportunities were available; or that the children’s health was too fragile to remove them from their beds,” the report said. Orphanage administrators also discourage employees from paying attention to children, playing with them, allowing them outside contact or taking them outdoors, arguing that attention would “spoil” the children, the report said.
Yet many of these children are able to thrive if given a chance, examples cited in the report indicate.
A case in point is a girl identified as Dasha D., now 14, who was born with Down's syndrome in 1999, and whose mother Anastasia initially gave her up to an orphanage under pressure from health workers, but decided to take her back a year later. “They told me she would die in my arms, that her illness was so severe that she would need constant care,” Anastasia was quoted as saying. “They compared her to a broken toy that you can return to the store.” But after returning home, Dasha learned to walk, talk and read and began attending school, the report said. She also enjoys taking care of her elderly grandmother and a younger sister, her mother said, and photos of Dasha included in the report show a smiling blonde girl, looking happy as she hugs her little sister or holds a toy. Dasha's fate would likely have been very different if she had remained in an orphanage. In eight of the 10 institutions visited for the report, HRW researchers “documented how staff issued threats against children, including death threats and threats of beating or psychiatric hospitalization, as punishment for behavior deemed 'bad' or 'wild'; called children derogatory names such as 'vegetables' and claimed children have no potential to learn or live independently,” the report said. The calumny of being unable to learn — and the sentence to a lifetime of misery it entails — is endorsed by a special term in Russia's orphanages: The children are declared “uneducable,” the report said. Those who get the label are often tied to cribs in “lying-down rooms” around the clock, according to the report. An independent Moscow-based pediatrician specializing in treating children with disabilities, who was identified only as Nina B., told Human Rights Watch that the severe restrictions on any opportunity to learn or even move often cause children from orphanages to become “atrophied.” Andrea Mazzarino, a Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and an author of the report, said in a statement that “violence and neglect of children with disabilities in orphanages is heartbreaking and completely deplorable.” “Many children with disabilities confined to ‘lying down’ rooms suffer stunning delays in their physical, emotional and intellectual development,” Mazzarino said. “Until the Russian government and donors act, tens of thousands of Russian children may spend their lives between four walls, isolated from their families, communities and peers, and denied the range of opportunities available to other children.”

^ I have seen first-hand how many Russians view and treat the disabled (I have written about it numerous times.) My only concern with this article is the 30% statement. I am sure the percentage is much higher. Only 10 places and 200 interviews were made to come up with that percentage and doesn't realistically reflect Russia's immense size and population. With that said, the disabled (children and adult) in Russia are generally treated as non-citizens that deserve to be treated as sub-humans for their "crime" of being born different and kept as far away from regular Russian society so ordinary Russians aren't made to think about them. That thinking and practice is something out of the Dark Ages and something the Russian Government on every level needs to work to fix. The disabled are just as capable of anyone else eve if they have to do things differently then everyone else. Hiding them away and treating them like animals is barbaric. ^

Another Nazi Charged

From the DW:
"Former Auschwitz guard charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder"

Germany has charged a 93-year-old man with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. The man worked as a prison guard for the Auschwitz death camp in 1944.  German prosecutors have charged a 93-year-old man with over 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, authorities announced on Monday. Oskar G. worked as a guard at the Auschwitz extermination camp between May and July 1944, in which time an estimated 450,000 people were brought in from Hungary. Those deemed unfit to work were gassed to death almost immediately. The vast majority were Jewish. He worked as a prison guard and was responsible for destroying their belongings so that new arrivals could not see them. He was also responsible for sorting out valuables - passing money on to the SS regime in Berlin, German federal prosecutors in Hanover said on Monday. "The traces of the mass killing of concentration camp prisoners were thereby supposed to be covered for subsequent inmates," prosecutors said in a statement. He thus enabled the regime to commit genocide. The defendant's lawyer declined to comment on the charges. G. has maintained that he, himself, was never involved in any of the atrocities that took place in Auschwitz during the time he was there. In 2005, he told the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" that he had witnessed violence, recounting an incident where another guard grabbed a baby by the feet and slammed it against a truck to silence it, AP news agency reported. In a renewed drive to bring perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice, Germany in 2011 passed a landmark ruling that allowed charges to be brought against those who worked for the Nazi regime in lesser positions. Up to that point, German courts only brought charges against Nazi war criminals who had personally committed atrocities. The German office investigating Nazi war crimes sent a list with the names of 30 former Auschwitz personnel to be investigated. G. was one of those. G.'s is the fourth case to be investigated in Hanover. Two have been shelved as the suspects were deemed unfit for trial and one was closed when the suspect died. Thomas Walther, who represents 20 Auschwitz victims and their families in the case against G., said this was their last chance to bring "justice to one of the SS men who had a part in the murder of their closest relatives." "Many of the co-plaintiffs are among the last survivors of Auschwitz," he told the Associated Press.

^ Germany continues to do what it has done since 1945 (portray itself as seeking justice to the world while at the same time getting the murderers off quietly.) I was hopeful when the 2011 law was created, but not much has changed with regards to German mentality in dealing with the Nazi era (I guess they don't want to punish their parents and grandparents for the crimes they did.) Even when Nazis and their helpers are charged the German judicial process makes it virtually impossible to bring them to justice. The criminals are either deemed to old/unfit to stand trial (what about all the disabled and elderly they murdered?) or the system drags on way too long and the criminals die before being sentenced. In a way it's "cleaver" for the German Government and those involved to play both sides. ^

Terrorist Amnesty

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Rebels granted self-rule and amnesty"

Ukrainian MPs have granted self-rule to parts of two eastern regions, and an amnesty to pro-Russian rebels there. The law affecting Donetsk and Luhansk regions - which is in line with the 5 September ceasefire - was condemned by some MPs as "capitulation". Meanwhile, Russia said it needed to boost troops in Crimea - Ukraine's peninsula annexed by Moscow in March. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said this was because of the Ukraine crisis and a foreign military build-up. He was apparently referring to a recent build-up of Nato troops in Central and Eastern Europe, and continuing military exercises involving Nato troops in western Ukraine. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian and European parliaments also voted to ratify a major EU-Ukraine association agreement that aims to bring the ex-Soviet republic closer to the EU. The pro-Russian rebels have been battling Ukrainian government forces since their seizure of a number of towns in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April.  Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatists with soldiers and heavy weapons. The Kremlin denies doing so. At least 3,000 people have been killed in the five-month conflict and more than 310,000 internally displaced in Ukraine, the UN says. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stressed that the legislation giving the special status to parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions for three-years would guarantee the "sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence" of Ukraine, while paving the way for decentralization.  The amnesty affects the rebels, but does not cover the shooting down of the MH17 passenger plane in July.  Western leaders believe rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet with a Russian missile - a charge the rebels and the Kremlin deny. The legislation means that pro-Russian separatists taken prisoner in the fighting should now be released.  Separatists holding government buildings are now supposed to leave them, hand over captured Ukrainian soldiers and other prisoners and surrender their weapons. Rebels accused of other "grave" crimes will not be covered by the new amnesty either. But some Ukrainian lawmakers described the self-rule law as a sell-off of Ukraine in what they see as a war against Russia. "A capitulation was announced today in this war," Oleh Tiagnybok, the leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, was quoted as saying by the Ukrainska Pravda website. Andriy Shevchenko, an MP in the Batkivshchyna party led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said he was "ashamed of this parliament". He said the law was voted in "a secret regime", violating normal parliamentary procedures.  Meanwhile, Andrei Purgin, a rebel leader in Donetsk, told AFP news agency that the eastern region "no longer has anything to do with Ukraine". "Ukraine is free to adopt any law it wants. But we are not planning any federalism with Ukraine." Many of the rebels are demanding full independence and speak of creating a new state called "Novorossiya", something Russian President Vladimir Putin has also mentioned in speeches. The EU-Ukraine agreement ratified on Tuesday lies at the root of Ukraine's crisis.  It was Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign the deal last November that triggered mass protests and his eventual fall from power. The votes ratifying the agreement took place simultaneously, with a live video link-up between the parliaments in Strasbourg and Kiev. Both President Poroshenko and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called it a historic day.  The agreement would make Ukraine compliant with EU standards in the areas of human rights, security and arms control, and would remove trade barriers.  But negotiations with Russia last week led to the free-trade part of the agreement being postponed until 2016.  There are fears in Ukraine that Russia will still try to scupper the deal. In return, Russia has pledged to maintain favourable trade rules in place for Ukraine as an ex-Soviet republic. Yet the crisis has already severely hit Russia-Ukraine trade ties, with the two neighbours imposing economic sanctions on each other.

^ I don't know if the Kyiv Government has much choice in all of this. The rebel terrorists are backed by both the Russian Government and military and while the West talks tough and creates sanctions it does little else to help the Ukraine - even after many Western citizens were murdered when the terrorists shot down the plane. ^

Baltics Threatened

From MT:
"Russia Sees Need to Protect Russian Speakers in NATO Baltic States"

Russia's Foreign Ministry says there are "whole segments of the Russian world" that may require Moscow's protection, and has singled out Baltic states by saying that Russia will not tolerate an "offensive" against its language there. If this sounds reminiscent of the rhetoric that accompanied Moscow's annexation of Crimea, the Foreign Ministry made no secret of the intended parallel. The ministry's chief monitor of human rights overseas, Konstantin Dolgov, cited the policies of Ukraine's government in Kiev as an example of a rise of "xenophobia" in Europe, according to a transcript of a speech published by the ministry Monday. But Ukraine is not the only place whose policies need correction, Dolgov said in his remarks, delivered over the weekend during a meeting with ethnic Russians in Latvia's capital, Riga. "It has to be stated with sadness that a huge number of our compatriots abroad, whole segments of the Russian world, continue to face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests," he said. "One of the obvious and, perhaps, key reasons for this state of affairs is the unrelenting growth of xenophobic and neo-Nazist sentiments in the world." "Neo-Nazi" was also a term that Moscow used to describe its opponents in Ukraine earlier in the crisis. "We will not tolerate the creeping offensive against the Russian language that we are seeing in the Baltics," Dolgov said. In what seemed to be a call for ethnically based discontent and allying with Moscow, Dolgov appealed to his ethnic Russian listeners to preserve their "true priorities and the strategic vision that unites us all." He also pledged that Russia would "provide the most serious support for you and your activities." Unlike Ukraine, the three former Soviet republics in the Baltic region — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are members of NATO and the European Union. During a visit to Estonia this month, U.S. President Barack Obama reassured the three countries of NATO readiness to defend them against possible Russian aggression. But the countries also have substantial ethnic Russian populations, whose rights Moscow has repeatedly claimed are being violated. Moscow also claims that the Baltic states make it difficult for Russians to obtain citizenship, whose requirements include being able to speak the local language. Dolgov's remarks follow a series of Russia's defiant moves against Baltic states. Russia has detained and is investigating for spying an Estonian officer who Estonia said was abducted on the border. Russia has also reopened decades-old criminal cases against Lithuanians who refused to serve in the Soviet army after their country declared independence in 1990, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office said this month, citing a request for "legal assistance" it had received from Moscow in connection with the case. In the wake of those cases, the Lithuanian State Security Department has urged the men who had refused to serve in the Soviet army in 1990-91 to avoid traveling to Russia and limit their travels to the European Union and NATO member countries.

^ Russia doesn't seem to learn from their past (even more recent) mistakes and continue to threaten the world with their propaganda. The US, NATO and the EU may not have done much to protect the Ukraine from Russia's invasion, annexation and fighting, but you can be assured that they would do more than just talk if Russia invaded or attacked Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This isn't 1939 and 1944 when the USSR came and took whatever it wanted. There is a reason that the Baltics (along with Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and numerous other countries) joined the EU and NATO and that was to protect them from being attacked and occupied by the Russians as they have in the past. I thought Russians were good at chess, but it seems they don't know how to make the right moves. ^

Monday, September 15, 2014

Richest US

From Yahoo:
"Here's the most affluent town in every state"

The geographic distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. is always a fascinating topic.
One of the many types of geography the Census Bureau tabulates figures for are "places." These are either legally incorporated cities or towns or Census-designated statistical equivalents. In this map, we consider places with at least 1,000 residents, according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Using income estimates from the ACS, we found the place with the highest median household income in each state. The map shows where the affluent towns are, and the median income in each Many of the affluent communities are wealthy suburbs of major cities such as Scarsdale, New York, and Darien, Connecticut, outside of New York City, and Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Great Falls, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. They all tend to be fairly small with populations ranging from about 1,000 (our chosen lower cutoff) to about 18,000.

^ This is interesting especially for someone like me who has lived in so many states. ^

Scots' Queen

From USA Today:
"Queen cautions Scots to think 'about the future'"

Britain's Queen Elizabeth urged Scottish voters Sunday to "think very carefully about the future" ahead of Thursday's referendum on independence. The sovereign's remarks, made during her stay at her Balmoral retreat in Scotland, mark the first time the queen has publicly waded into the debate over the ballot that could see Scotland leave the United Kingdom after 307 years of union with England.  Although the queen has been careful to remain above the fray in her role as a constitutionally impartial monarch, reports in the London Times and other publications cite palace officials who say the queen is privately "horrified" at the prospect of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom. Polls show that the anti-independence campaign has a slight lead three days ahead of the vote that is expected to see a record turnout with about 4.2 million of Scotland's 4.4 eligible voters participating.

^ I have great respect for Queen Elizabeth II (whether she is representing the UK, Canada or any other Commonwealth country), but she did seem to go against her impartiality in this statement. While she didn't out-right tell Scottish voters to vote to stay in the UK her words did show which side she heavily leaned to. ^

Preserving The Past

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Holocaust experts work to preserve WWII-era items"

With survivors dying in growing numbers and their live testimonies soon to be a thing of the past, Holocaust commemoration efforts are increasingly focused around preserving the belongings that contain their stories. This week Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial held a first of its kind workshop devoted to the physical and digital preservation of documents. Over three days, visiting international experts discussed the ethical and technical challenges of both conserving originals for history's sake while creating a vast digital archive to make them more accessible and user-friendly.
"The two approaches are not mutually exclusive," said Doris A. Hamburg, director of preservation projects at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. "Accessibility is a major goal for so many institutions and conservation helps to facilitate that." In the underground Yad Vashem archive containing stacks upon stacks of original documents, books and microfilm, its director Haim Gertner carefully slipped on a pair of white gloves before sifting through a pile of cracked yellowing pages from a diary rescued from a burning synagogue on Kristallnacht - the notorious Night of Broken Glass in November 1938 when Nazi-incited riots marked the start of a campaign to destroy European Jewry. The brittle pages were falling apart; their corners still had traces of soot. From it he read the following meticulously handwritten phrase: "Memory is the only heaven from which you cannot be expelled." It's the central challenge for Yad Vashem and other Holocaust museums around the world - keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive after its last survivors pass away. The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry. In addition to rounding up Jews and shipping them to death camps, the Nazis also confiscated their possessions and stole their valuables, leaving little behind. Those who survived often had just a small item or two they managed to keep. Many have clung to the sentimental objects ever since. In recent years, Yad Vashem has embarked on a last-ditch effort to collect as many items as possible from Israel's aging population of less than 200,000 survivors and their relatives. The goal of the "Gathering the Fragments" project is to collect as many artifacts as possible before the survivors - and their stories - are gone forever. The diary in Gertner's hands was just one such item to be recently acquired. But for such a relic to survive, the museum can't allow every visitor to get his or her hands on it. Upon arrival at Yad Vashem, the items go through a sorting process. They are then disinfected and scanned for posterity before it is decided whether they are in good enough condition to go on display in the museum or whether they should be stored in the archives. The institute's paper conversion laboratory is often referred to as the "hospital" for fragile documents and items, where they are treated and preserved with an attempt to maintain their original feel. Then they go to the digital services department where they are scanned, photographed and filed. The scanning provides a secure copy in case the original deteriorates and allows the documents to be posted online for those unable to visit the museum. Gertner said Yad Vashem scans nearly 20 million documents a year and has accumulated 350,000 hours of audio and video testimony. Within four to five years, all of Yad Vashem will be digitized, he said. But for many wanting to connect emotionally, the virtual experience is not enough, said Jane E. Klinger, the chief conservator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "In a typical digitization program, the focus is to capture information on a page without necessarily capturing the context of that information and the context of the page," she said.
"If digitization were enough why is it that, at least in the United States, in this digital age, museum attendance is increasing overall?" she asked. "It's because people want to see the original. They want to get the material sense of it. Artifacts, whether they are documents, manuscripts, photographs, bowls from Auschwitz - I see them as memory in a concrete form, in tangible form. Somebody can tell you a memory, you can remember something, but you can't really hold it or see it."
^ This statement is constantly being said over the past few years, but it can not be over-stated. Artifacts are important, but more so are the testimonies of the survivors. I understand that some people want to see the original item, but to me having the copy made available so it can be viewed by more people then could see if it was at a museum (even a travelling exhibit.) ^

Told You So!

From the MT:
"Crimea's First Russian Election: 'No Political Competition'

Six months after Russia annexed Crimea, residents of the Black Sea peninsula cast their first votes in a Russian election — an election many of them are calling unfair and undemocratic. Campaigning before Sunday's local and regional elections was characterised by favoritism towards the ruling party loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and repression of its opponents, according to residents in Crimea who spoke by telephone. Crimean politics has come to resemble the Soviet political landscape since Russia annexed Crimea in March, said Andrei Brezhnev, who leads new Communist Party of Social Justice, and is the grandson of the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. "Now we have no political competition either," he said. His party is competing in the regional parliamentary race and in a poll for one of the main cities, Sevastopol. People had been forced to sign up for membership in the pro-Putin United Russia Party before the vote, he said. "About two months ago everybody, wholesale, was forced to 'voluntarily' sign up for membership in United Russia here — officials, heads of local administrations, shops directors, medical workers," he said. "Suddenly, in three months, everything became United Russia here." United Russia's victory in a parliamentary election in 2011 sparked accusations of voting violations and launched the biggest anti-Putin street protests in his more than decade-long rule. Crimea, facing water and electricity shortages following its annexation by Russia, is also seeing a rise in probable politically motivated human rights violations, a top European rights envoy said Friday. Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, also said pressure has increased on ethnic Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority, who are facing raids on their businesses and schools. Nariman Dzhelyalov, a local politician, who represents Crimean Tatars, said the Tatar community assembly he sits on had called for a boycott of the vote. "There are no opposition parties. All the parties here are pro-Kremlin, pro-Putin. All of them support his policy, all of them love him," said Dzhelyalov. "We called all the citizens of Crimea regardless of their ethnicity not to take part in those elections," he said. "We believe voting legislation does not give the indigenous population of Crimea an opportunity to be represented in elected government bodies appropriately." A Russian state television reporter said that "everything was running smoothly" at Crimean polling stations in Crimea. But independent vote monitor Golos said their observers were prevented from entering several polling stations, Russian news wires reported. Elections are being carried out in 84 of the 85 country's regions, state television channel Russia 24 said.

^ Told you so! I don't understand why the Crimeans are so shocked that the elections are not real considering what had happened in Russia and reported in a free Crimea last year. Also any one in the Crimea who is 40 years or older clearly remembers life in the Soviet Union and these current elections seem to be just like they were over 20 years ago. ^

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Canadians' Views

From the G & M:
"What Canadians really think about Harper, Obama and Putin"

There are a host of differences between the leaders of Canada and Russia, but Stephen Harper and Vladimir Putin do have one thing in common: about 40 per cent of Canadians would describe both leaders as "secretive." Polling firm Angus Reid Global surveyed more than 1,500 respondents and asked them to select up to six words from a predetermined list that they would use to describe various world leaders. Here are the most popular choices for each prime minister or president.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Canadians polled by Angus Reid were more likely to use negative words to describe Mr. Harper, with"secretive" the choice of 39 per cent, followed most frequently by"arrogant" (37 per cent),"dishonest" (31 per cent),"strategic" (26 per cent) and"boring" (26 per cent).

U.S. President Barack Obama
The most popular words picked by respondents to describe Mr. Obama were "influential" (46 per cent), "charismatic" (43 per cent), "compassionate" (33 per cent), "inspiring" (32 per cent), and "credible" (29 per cent). "The love story with [Mr. Obama] continues," Shachi Kurl, vice-president of Angus Reid Global, said. "Canadians hold him in higher esteem than their own prime minister."
(And in higher esteem than Americans, who elected him -- the U.S. President frequently polls better in Canada than he does back home.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Respondents described Mr. Putin as "arrogant" (54 per cent),"corrupt" (52 per cent),"bully" (52 per cent),"dishonest" (45 per cent), and "secretive" (41 per cent).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Ms. Merkel was most often described as"strong" (33 per cent),"influential" (33 per cent),"credible" (26 per cent),"strategic" (22 per cent) and"courageous" (16 per cent).

British Prime Minister David Cameron
Mr. Cameron, who had the least name recognition among these five leaders, was described by respondents as"influential" (24 per cent),"credible" (21 per cent),"strategic" (19 per cent),"strong" (16 per cent) and"honest" (14 per cent).

'President who?'
The 1,502 Canadians who were surveyed online by Angus Reid Global on July 22 and 23 couldn't identify all the world leaders they were asked about. Seventy-six per cent didn't know Matteo Renzi (the Prime Minister of Italy since February), followed by question marks around Narendra Modi (Indian Prime Minister since May), Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil), Shinzo Abe (Prime Minister of Japan) and Xi Jinping (Chinese President). Only two per cent of respondents said they did not know Mr. Obama or Mr. Harper. Ms. Kurl said she was surprised by how many world leaders Canadians didn't have an opinion of. "This has been a summer when international news has really driven the headlines," she said, citing the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and the World Cup. The margin of error on all these responses is plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

 ^ This poll isn't surprising. The fact that Canadians don't know much about the world around them is made even more clear by the fact that the majority of Canadians don't even understand their own government or country. Most have no idea that Queen Elizabeth II is THEIR Queen. She is only the Queen of the UK when dealing with British issues, but when she deals with Canadian issues she is the Queen of Canada. If people in any country are going to understand the complex world around them they first need to understand their own country. ^

Merkel's Stand

From the BBC:
"Merkel to speak in Berlin against anti-Semitism"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to speak at a mass rally against anti-Semitism later, amid a sharp rise in attacks on Germany's Jews. The event in Berlin comes 75 years after the outbreak of the World War Two, in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany. Mrs Merkel has vowed to do everything she can "to ensure anti-Semitism doesn't have a chance". The surge in anti-Semitism follows the summer's conflict in Gaza. The rally at the Brandenburg Gate - under the banner "Stand Up: Jew Hatred - Never Again!" - coincides with a World Jewish Congress (WJC) meeting in the capital.  Speaking in her weekly podcast, Chancellor Merkel said Germany had "a lot of work ahead of us" to tackle the rise in anti-Semitism.  She said there was "not a single Jewish institution" in the country that does not require police protection in the current climate.  "That's something that very much concerns me," she added. Some demonstrators were reported to have shouted slogans saying "Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians" and yelled that Jews should be "gassed".  Last week, a swastika and the words "Jews" and the Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil" were spray-painted on to a local newspaper building in the eastern city of Cottbus. Organisers of Sunday's rally hope more than 10,000 people will attend.

^ It's a good sign that the Chancellor of a country such as Germany, with it's well-known mass murder of Jews and others, speaks out against modern-day attacks on those same groups. Hopefully, the talk will be followed-up by real action to stop anyone from attacking (either verbally or physically) others. ^

Paisley's Gone!

From the BBC:
"Obituary: Ian Paisley"

Ian Paisley was famous for his thunder. He was known to his supporters as "the big man" whose most reported words were "no", "never" and "not an inch". Yet in a political career that spanned nearly 40 years, he went from throwing snowballs at one Irish prime minister to embracing another one; from political "never man" to Northern Ireland's first minister. With his thunderous rhetoric and his bull-like voice, Ian Paisley was always the epitome of an American Deep South preacher. He was born in 1926 in Armagh. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother a preacher. He grew up in Ballymena, which was to become his political powerbase. But before politics, he was a preacher, delivering his first sermon aged 16 in a mission hall in County Tyrone. He was just 25 years old when he founded the Free Presbyterian Church. His early reputation as a Protestant extremist was forged in the 1960s. He once produced a Roman Catholic Eucharist wafer during a televised speech to the Oxford Union mocking it and those who who believed it sacred.  When Irish Prime Minister Sean Lemass was invited to Belfast in 1965 by NI Prime Minister Terence O'Neill, Paisley was furious and led 1,000 loyalists to Stormont to demonstrate. Two years later, he famously threw snowballs at another Irish Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, when he visited Northern Ireland.  He often took to the streets. He was sent to prison for six weeks for unlawful assembly when he organised a demonstration on 30 November 1968 and forced civil rights marchers to cut short their parade in the city of Armagh. He stood as a Protestant unionist and was elected to the Stormont Parliament in 1970. Two months later he took the North Antrim seat at Westminster. By 1971, he had founded the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and he began a long battle with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) for the trust of the unionist electorate. He opposed the formation of a power-sharing executive at Stormont in 1973 and became involved in the Ulster Workers Council strike that brought Northern Ireland to a standstill and led to the executive's collapse. Though he could be kindly and amusing in private, to his enemies and critics Ian Paisley was a sinister figure, a bigot and a dangerous presence.
They pointed to his involvement in Ulster Resistance. In 1981, he organised a demonstration of 500 men who paraded late at night on a County Antrim hillside, brandishing gun licences. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 saw him join forces with the then Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux. Thousands attended a protest meeting under the banner "Ulster Says No" in Belfast city centre. He was totally opposed to the 1993 Downing Street Declaration between the British and Irish governments, and one meeting with John Major ended abruptly with the DUP being asked to leave.
The party was convinced a secret deal had been done to secure the 1994 IRA ceasefire.  Paisley opposed the peace process from the beginning. He agreed to attend talks at Stormont in 1996, but when Sinn Fein was allowed in the following year, he walked out. He came back on the night before Good Friday 1998 to register his disgust. The Yes camp won and, in a new assembly, the DUP was in the same political arena as Sinn Féin, even if they did not sit around a cabinet table together. Ian Paisley never hid his hatred of republicanism, but he did nominate two DUP ministers to a new executive.  Mr Paisley's hardline stance of "no surrender" and "not an inch" seemed gradually less sure in his final years as other parties inched towards accommodation. He decided not to stand again for the European Parliament in 2004. In his career, he launched countless attacks on Catholicism and Irish republicanism. He condemned the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church as "the whore of Babylon" and staged a one-man protest against the Pope when the pontiff addressed the Strasbourg Parliament in October 1988.

^ There are some people (especially political leaders) who have done so many horrible things in their life that when they die the world breathes a sigh of relief and then rejoices. That is the case here with Paisley.  He was a so-called minister who did everything in his power to go against the preachings of the Christian Bible he claimed to adore (Protestant or Catholic) and preached nothing but hatred and violence. He helped lead Northern Ireland to almost 30 years of The Troubles. He refused basic civil rights to people and then had them attacked when they peacefully demonstrated. He is the Northern Ireland's equal to the bigoted, racist American Southern. I have been to England, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and have heard of him while over there, but the one thing I will never understand is why anyone ever followed him or his hatred. All I have to say is: good riddance to bad rubbish! The world is now better despite of you. ^

Fresh Sanctions

From the MT:
"U.S. Ramps Up Sanctions on Russia, Putin Warns of Reprisals"

The United States hit Russia's largest bank, a major arms maker and Arctic, deepwater and shale exploration by its biggest oil companies with new sanctions on Friday to punish Moscow for intervening in Ukraine. The sanctions target companies including Sberbank, the country's largest bank by assets, and Rostec, a conglomerate that makes everything from Kalashnikovs to cars, by limiting their ability to access the U.S. debt markets. They will also bar U.S. companies from providing goods or services to help five Russian energy companies conduct deepwater, Arctic offshore and shale projects. The Russian companies affected are Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas and Rosneft. The sanctions seek to ban cooperation with Russian oil firms on energy technology and services by companies including Exxon Mobil and BP. Russia is one of the world's top oil producers and is the main energy supplier to Europe. Exxon signed a $3.2 billion agreement in 2011 with Russia's Rosneft to develop the Arctic. The sanctions are the latest imposed by the United States and the EU following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March and what the West sees as an effort since to further destabilize Ukraine by backing pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms. U.S. officials said Washington took the steps because Russia has intensified its involvement in Ukraine by sending troops and arms to support pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country and by shelling it across the border. The U.S. officials stressed that the sanctions could be removed if Russia, which denies sending troops into eastern Ukraine and arming the separatists, took a series of steps including the withdrawal of all of its forces from its neighbor. "What we're looking for with regard to Russian action is the complete removal of all military personnel, military equipment, support for military and mercenaries on the territory of Ukraine, release of all hostages," a senior U.S. official told reporters in a conference call explaining the sanctions. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States wanted to see the creation of a buffer zone on both sides of the border, which the official said was particularly important to stop shelling of Ukraine by Russia. The new U.S. sanctions, which for the first time targeted Russia's Sberbank, were timed to coincide with new European Union economic penalties that included restrictions on financing for some Russian state-owned companies and asset freezes on leading Russian politicians. The U.S. Treasury Department said the sanctions include a ban on U.S. individuals or companies dealing with Rostec, a major Russian technology and defense conglomerate, in debt transactions of more than 30 days maturity. Assets also were blocked for five state-owned defense technology firms, Dolgoprudny Research Production Enterprise, Mytishchinski Mashinostroitelny Zavod, Kalinin Machine Plant, Almaz-Antei, and NIIP. The new sanctions also tighten the financial noose on six Russian banks, including Sberbank, by barring U.S. individuals and companies from dealing in any debt they issue of longer than 30 days maturity. The five banks previously covered had only faced a restriction on debt maturities of more than 90 days. Like those five, Sberbank now also faces a ban on U.S. equity financing. The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions prohibiting U.S. individuals and companies from dealing in new debt of greater than 90 days maturity issued by Russian energy companies Gazprom Neft and Transneft. "These steps underscore the continued resolve of the international community against Russia's aggression," U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement. "Russia's economic and diplomatic isolation will continue to grow as long as its actions do not live up to its words."

^ Let's see if these new sanctions will do anything. ^

Friday, September 12, 2014

Coalition Expectations

From the Stars and Stripes:
"What can we expect from the anti-Islamic State coalition?"

U.S. officials are working hard to build a broad, international coalition to combat Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. What’s unclear is whether the international effort will produce a coalition of consequence or one in name only. At the NATO summit last week, the U.S. announced formation of a 10-nation “core coalition” that includes nine NATO members plus Australia. It has since grown.
In all, about 40 countries have expressed solidarity in the effort, according to the State Department, although some countries have not spelled out in detail what they are prepared to contribute. So far, most contributions from allies have centered on ferrying humanitarian aid into Iraq and limited arming of Kurdish forces in the north. Major Arab states are all likely to play a role in the fight against the Islamic State, said Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow with the Royal United Services Institute in London. “The bigger question is what type of cooperation,” he said. Some Arab states may limit their contributions to allowing the U.S. to use their military facilities to launch airstrikes, Joshi said. But few will likely commit their forces with perhaps the exception of the United Arab Emirates, which is reported to have carried out airstrikes last month in Libya against Islamist-linked militia. The UAE has denied doing so. Jordan may also provide special forces, he said. It will be difficult for the U.S. to persuade the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab rulers to play a more public role for various reasons, Joshi said. They include fears of Islamic State retaliation and inadvertently boosting the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Arab countries in the Persian Gulf also risk domestic political problems due to public sympathy for the Islamic State, which some Sunnis believe are fighting for Sunni interests against Iran and its fellow Shiite allies in the region. The U.S. has been urging Sunni allies such as Qatar and Kuwait to crack down on donations to the Islamic State by their citizens. Not on the list of potential partners is Iran, though its interests coincide with those of the U.S. regarding the Islamic State’s threat to the Shiite-led Baghdad government. Nevertheless, Joshi does not expect the U.S. will seek overt cooperation because of Iran’s close ties to Assad and the delicate balancing act with Sunni Arab nations. “At least publicly, a prominent Iranian role is not conducive to Arab participation,” he said. For President Barack Obama, the decision to go after Islamic State militants in Syria also creates a dilemma, as doing so could help Assad, who Obama has said needs to relinquish power. “Whilst it’s true that attacks will serve Syrian ends, it will also serve the ends of Syrian opposition groups, whom Obama has committed to supporting,” Joshi said. The Islamic State may be weakened, “but the opposition will also be getting stronger and that’s bad news for Assad.” Below is a look at some of the key players and how they are contributing or may contribute to the international coalition or support U.S. operations.
The United States: On Aug. 8, the U.S. began a bombing campaign against Islamic State militants, hitting targets at strategic points in northern and western Iraq. So far, nearly 200 strikes have been carried out. In addition, President Obama announced on Wednesday that he would be sending 450 more U.S. troops into Iraq to work as advisers and to fly surveillance aircraft. That will bring the total number of military personnel in Iraq to 1,600. Obama has said the troops will not take part in ground operations against the Islamic State.
United Kingdom: Britain has dropped humanitarian supplies into Iraq and provided arms to Kurdish fighters and carried out surveillance flights. Government officials have not ruled out participation in the U.S. air campaign. Iraq’s new central government must first prove itself as inclusive, encompassing Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds before British forces get involved, government officials have said.
France: Paris has said it will send arms to Kurdish forces leading the fight against the Islamic State. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that France “will participate, if necessary, in military air action.”
Germany: Berlin also has agreed to send weapons to semi-autonomous Kurdistan, marking a major shift for a country that has avoided foreign military entanglements since World War II. While it is unlikely Germany would participate in direct military action, it is conceivable that Berlin could take part in an advisory mission if Baghdad were to seek NATO training assistance.
Poland: Poland was named as one of the 10-core nations that are part of the U.S.-led coalition, but what it will contribute isn’t yet clear. Poland possesses experienced, battle-tested troops who have spent the past decade fighting in Afghanistan. Warsaw could contribute some of those soldiers as advisers to Iraqi forces. Like many others in the coalition, Warsaw already has helped in the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Iraq.
Australia: Australian aircraft took part in the initial humanitarian intervention in northern Iraq last month, and Canberra is supplying weapons to forces countering the Islamic State. Australian officials haven’t ruled out joining the U.S. in future airstrikes.
Canada: Canada has provided aircraft to help deliver humanitarian supplies into northern Iraq and has delivered weapons to Kurdish fighters. The Canadian government is also considering sending a small team of military advisers into Iraq.
Italy: The NATO ally took part in initial humanitarian relief efforts in northern Iraq in August. At NATO’s recent summit in Wales, Italy also said it would join the U.S.-led coalition in the effort to counter the Islamic State. It remains unclear whether that support will involve airstrikes or sending in trainers to work with Iraqi security forces.
Denmark: Danish aircraft have delivered both humanitarian supplies and weapons into northern Iraq. Though Denmark is one of NATO’s smallest members, it often is a part of alliance-led military action, including sending forces into Afghanistan and taking part in the Libya intervention in 2011.
Turkey: The NATO member is among the “core coalition,” but its role remains murky. Allies have been pressuring Turkey to tighten controls along its border with Syria, which has functioned as a main transit route for those fighting the regime of Bashar Assad. Islamic State militants have been among the fighters moving through Turkish territory. U.S. plans to strike at Islamic State targets in Syria could undermine Turkey’s main objective in the region, Assad’s removal from power. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is holding about 40 Turkish government officials and aid workers hostage, which also could limit Istanbul’s willingness to play a prominent role in fighting the militants.
Saudi Arabia: U.S. officials say the kingdom on Wednesday agreed to host a program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants and the Syrian regime.
Kuwait: The U.S. already maintains a handful of bases in the country, including an air base, a large desert ground maneuver training facility and a forward headquarters for the three-star Army component of U.S. Central Command. Kuwait was the primary logistics hub for the Iraq War. It also donated $10 million in July to help with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Arab League: The league of 22 Arab nations on Monday agreed to confront the Islamic State militarily and politically, but hasn’t elaborated on how it would do so.
Bahrain: The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based here. The U.S. maintains an airfield here and has had access to a second to move heavy equipment used in the war in Afghanistan. Bahrain’s prime minister on Thursday urged Muslim countries to strengthen cooperation to tackle regional threats, but did not mention Islamic State.
Jordan: The kingdom routinely hosts U.S. troops for training, but, despite speaking out against “transnational terrorists,” hasn’t committed to action in Syria.
Qatar: The country hosts two major U.S. installations, one an air base used for bombing missions over Afghanistan and cargo movement through the Middle East, the other an Army base used by Central Command to stage military equipment and supplies. The Qataris have also sent planeloads of aid to help with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
United Arab Emirates: The U.S. maintains an air base and has access to ports here.
^ You would think that the Arab and Muslim countries would be the first ones to go out and do more to combat ISIS regardless of what kind of Islam they practice since ISIS directly affects and threatens them. My dad leaves today to head back to Iraq (he has been there and Afghanistan off-on for the past 9 years.) It doesn't make sense that the US is the only country that is trying desperately to do something active against ISIS. ^

Crimean Russians

From the MT:
"Nearly All Crimeans Now Russian Citizens"

Some 98 percent of Crimeans have acquired Russian citizenship since Russia annexed the peninsula last March, Interfax reported Thursday, citing regional migration officials.   "As of today, 98 percent of Crimeans have received Russian passports. This is a wonderful number," said Pyotr Yarosh, the head of the Federal Migration Service's Crimea branch, according to Interfax. Yarosh added that the remaining two percent of residents had yet to be granted Russian citizenship simply because they did "not come" and apply for the document. Registered residents of Crimea who hold Russian, Ukrainian or Soviet passports will be allowed to cast a ballot Sunday during the republic's first parliamentary elections as a Russian federal subject, according to the Crimean election commission.
Russia does not require Crimeans with Ukrainian passports to relinquish their Ukrainian citizenship although law enforcement officials and civil servants are obliged to surrender their Ukrainian passports if they wish to remain in their positions

^ This doesn't surprise me. The Russians came in and told everyone they had until a certain date and that date has come and passed. ^

Thursday, September 11, 2014

13: 9-11

From Yahoo:
"Changes surround 9/11 anniversary commemoration"

A solemn reading of the names. Moments of silence to mark the precise times of tragedy. Stifled sobs of those still mourning.  As the nation pauses Thursday to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, little about the annual ceremony at ground zero has changed. But so much around it has. For the first time, the National September 11 Museum — which includes gut-wrenching artifacts and graphic photos of the attacks — will be open on the anniversary. Fences around the memorial plaza have come down, integrating the sacred site more fully with the streets of Manhattan while completely opening it up to the public and camera-wielding tourists. A new mayor is in office, Bill de Blasio, one far less linked to the attacks and their aftermath than his immediate predecessors. And finally, a nearly completed One World Trade Center has risen 1,776 feet above ground zero and will be filled with office workers by this date in 2015, another sign that a page in the city's history may be turning. For some who lost loved ones in the attacks, the increasing feel of a return to normalcy in the area threatens to obscure the tragedy that took place there and interfere with their grief. "Instead of a quiet place of reflection, it's where kids are running around," said Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother, George Cain, was killed in the attacks. "Some people forget this is a cemetery. I would never go to the Holocaust museum and take a selfie."  But for others, the changes are an important part of the healing process. "When I first saw (One World Trade Center), it really made my heart sing," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles Burlingame was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. "It does every time I see it because it's so symbolic of what the country went through." "I want to see it bustling," she said. "I want to see more housing down there; I want to see it alive and bursting with businesses." As happens annually, family members of those killed in the attacks will gather Thursday morning to read the names of the deceased, pausing the sad roll call only four times: to mark the times when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, when the second plane struck, when the first tower fell and when the second tower fell. The memorial plaza will be closed to the public for most of the day and available only to family members. It will reopen at 6 p.m., at which point thousands of New Yorkers are expected to mark the anniversary at the twin reflecting pools where the towers once stood. In May, when the museum opened in a ceremony attended by President Barack Obama, the fences that had surrounded the plaza for years disappeared, as did the need for visitors to obtain a timed ticket. Now, thousands of people freely visit every day, from cellphone-toting travelers to workers on a lunch break, and those crowds will only swell further this year when One World Trade Center finally opens. "The memorial and museum is extremely important to those impacted on 9/11," said Mary Fetchet, whose son died in the attacks. "And surrounding that memorial, lower Manhattan has been revitalized." The first ceremony at the site was held six months after the Twin Towers fell and was organized by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides. Bloomberg, who took office just three months after the attacks, remained in charge, acting as the master of ceremonies for the next decade. After other elected officials attempted to gain a larger role at the solemn event, in 2012, all politicians — including Bloomberg — were prohibited from speaking at the event. That remains the case now, as de Blasio, who took office in January, agreed to let the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation organize the commemoration ceremony. Bloomberg is the foundation's chairman.

^ I don't care how many years go by people need to remember 9-11 (and not just those who either personally went through it or had family and friends go through it.) I have said it before. I used to go with my mom to the World Trade Center for about a week every few months. She had to work at the local branch of her office and I came along. While she was working I would stand in the TKTS line inside and get tickets for a Broadway show  - depending on what was available. Not only that, but my college roommate and I were standing right outside the WTC the Sunday before the attacks. We had come to the city to say good-bye to a friend who was going back to Russia and afterwards we had to decide whether to spend out money (we were college students and didn't have much) on lunch or go to the top of the WTC. I had been there numerous times before, but my friend never had. I told him that the WTC would be there later and we should go eat lunch. I had some friends who were nearby the World Trade Center on 9-11, but luckily none of them were hurt. My mom worked in DC and my dad at the Pentagon so I worried about them and their safety for several hours before I got a hold of them. It ahs been 13 years since 9-11 and it seems the Muslim terrorists groups are getting more organized and more violent (ie Al-Qaeda, Hamas and ISIS.) People around the world have become too immune from all these terrorist attacks and that needs to change. ^;_ylt=AwrTWfyGixFUI0kAHVvQtDMD

Kyiv Wall

From Yahoo:
"Ukraine Starts Building Wall to Keep Russia Out"

Ukraine has started building a wall along its border with Russia to block an influx of fighters and weapons across its frontiers and guard itself from the former Soviet neighbor that has become an "aggressor," the government said. "On the orders of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, priority work on installing fortifications and assembling engineering barriers along certain border stretches has begun," the command of Ukraine's anti-terrorist forces said Wednesday on its Facebook page. "Two defense lines have been planned, and their main goal is to prevent the infiltration by the adversary into the territory of Ukraine," the statement said.
Defense lines will include a 60-kilometer stretch of a "non-explosive barrier," thousands of kilometers worth of trenches for personnel, armored vehicles and communication lines, and 4,000 army dugouts, the statement said. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced the start of "Project 'Wall'" earlier this month, saying that Ukraine should be clear about who its enemy is.
Speaking last Wednesday, Yatsenyuk said his country needed a new military doctrine, "clearly defining who the aggressor is, and who is a threat," according to a statement published on the government website. "In the new military doctrine, the Russian Federation should be acknowledged as the only threat and as the aggressor that threatens Ukraine's territorial integrity," he added.
Russia has repeatedly dismissed Ukrainian and Western appeals to seal its border to prevent Russian fighters and weapons from crossing into Ukraine, with Moscow insisting that it was not meddling in the Ukrainian conflict and had no troops there. It later conceded that a few of Russian paratroopers who were detained in Ukraine had "accidentally" wandered across the border. But a Kremlin adviser said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Poroshenko had both expressed "satisfaction" during a telephone conversation this week on how a ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and separatists was holding, Reuters reported. Following a major military offensive by Ukraine's pro-Moscow rebels in late August — an operation that Ukraine said was aided by Russian forces –— Poroshenko said Wednesday that "70 percent of Russian troops have moved back across the border," according to a remarks published by his administration. "I have no doubt: There will be peace in Ukraine," he told a government meeting.

^ It's sad that the Ukraine needs to build a wall to protect itself from Russia (it's like the US and Canada needing to build a wall to separate them from each other.) Of course the Russians can just easily come through from the Crimea since they have annexed it. ^